By the time Ojai Valley School students hit middle school, most of them have hiked through the Piedra Blanca formations near Rose Valley. This Spring Break, 14 Spuds got to hike a similarly named, but vastly different, Piedras Blancas about 2,900 miles away. It was one of many adventures the OVS middle schoolers experienced during their 9-day stay in the heart of Costa Rica. Between April 8-16, they lived almost entirely off the grid and became white-water rafting, sugar-cane making, jungle-trekking eco-tourists. OVS kicked off the trip with an overnight stay in San Isidro General, then woke up early the next morning for a 4×4 off-road expedition to the community of Brujo. From there, the students, their chaperones and guides worked up an appetite with a 4-hour hike through the rainforest.
“The hike to our first homestay to the Lopez farm was incredibly challenging,” said 5th grade teacher and trip chaperone Michele Floyd. “I was very proud of the students for their ability to persevere and have a good attitude about it. They were mindful of hydrating, eating properly, and were patient and encouraging of each other.”
Their reward was a hearty, authentic Costa Rican meal prepared by Doña Flor in the Lopez family home. As they digested their gallo pinto, they got to know the Lopez family and explore the river that runs through the village. The next day, the Spuds helped their homestay family collect and prepare sugar cane. It’s hard work, the kids discovered, creating sweet treats — but so worth it in the end when they got a chance to taste their own sugar. They even made their own snacks by combining it with peanut butter.
But before they saw the finished product, they grabbed their gear and rappelled down a 120-foot waterfall surrounded by lush greenery. The Spuds also made time for community service. Back in Brujo, the students grabbed paintbrushes and helped paint a local church.
“For many, painting was a first-time experience (other than art class),” said Floyd. “They loved it and were very excited to know that this was a surprise for the priest who was arriving later in the week.”
The next day brought a visit to a local school, where the kids proudly presented a large donation of supplies for the teachers and student alike. On day 5, the Spuds got back on the water. A lack of rain this year gave the kids the opportunity to raft on Rio Savegre, dubbed the cleanest river in the Americas.
“Normally the Rio Savegre has class 4 rapids throughout,” said Floyd. But this spring, they were at a much safer class 2 or class 3. “The kids were attentive during the safety lesson and did outstanding during the adventure. Lots of laughs and smiling faces. We had many opportunities to jump out along the way and swim in calm pools along the river,” Floyd added. The group camped along the river, then got back in their rafts and headed toward the coast and lounged on a beach. There, they battled adorable — and crafty — monkeys. “While they were super cute, we quickly learned they are quite clever and persistent in their pursuit of human goodies,” Floyd said.
Ziplining, surfing and team-building activities — along with sightings of sloth, coati, raccoons, leaf-cutter ants, birds, bats, giant cockroaches and countless other creatures — rounded out an adventure that won’t soon be forgotten by the OVS crew.