Every day during an EF Gap program is different; join Lilly P. as she takes us through a day in the life of a Service & Sustainability student in Monteverde, Costa Rica.
It had rained overnight, and our hostel room felt humid as the sun began to stream through the thin curtains. Rolling over, I took in the yellow walls and linoleum floors our messy room while listening to the songs of birds I had never heard before. My roommate Emma was still sleeping, so I took a moment to gather my thoughts before she woke up and we headed down to the dining space for breakfast together. Each morning we'd meet as a cohort and sleepily recount our learnings from the previous day so we could reflect and set our intention for the day ahead's work.
At breakfast, we quickly grabbed some fresh fruit, gallo pinto, and eggs with a glorious cup of freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee. This beverage cannot even compare to what I usually drink—the flavor was deep and rich, not bitter and brewed to perfection every single time.
After breakfast, I headed back to our room with Emma to gather my supplies for the day and quickly get ready. We sift through our room where our clothes were scattered everywhere, all the while blasting our favorite 2000s hits. On this program, the gotta-have-'em essentials consist of sunscreen (for both your face and body), garden gloves (always), and a portable speaker (so we can play music).
We board the bus as a group and we're off, all 14 of us heading to our destination. We're lucky because the bus has air conditioning, and our bus driver Christian and Tour Director Rhyan are always entertaining. As we take the half-hour ride, we listen to a variety of music from reggaetón to rock. We all try to wake up to take on the day as best we can.
When we pull up to the Institute of Monteverde, my breath is taken away by the beauty that surrounds me. In my home state, we have tons of evergreen trees so I'm used to dense forest, but these trees were very different; they were lush with large leaves and foliage larger than I could have ever imagined.
We are met by the experts at Monteverde Institute, where they teach us about biodiversity and reforestation in the area, as well as the history of natural resource management in Costa Rica. We are told that we will be harvesting sapling trees and moving them to a new area to build up the cloud forest on a private piece of land to restore the forest that was lost due to loggers and fires from 1940s-1980s.
Before we began our work, the team at the Institute took us on a nature walk where they pointed out the different types of plants and animals in the area. As we walked along the dirt path, we passed by Glass Winged Butterflies and Saddleback Moth Caterpillars, which—up until then—were things I had only seen in pictures. The walk was stunning and extremely educational as our guide was one of the resident plant and animal experts at Monteverde. I was really intrigued by the Three-Wattled Bell Bird, which are an extremely vulnerable species, as there are only about 300 left in wild in Monteverde. We could only hear the bird for the majority of our walk and followed its call all around the forest until finally, our guide spotted the bird and we were able to view this magnificent creature, all three wattles and all!
The nature walk really helped me understand the importance of what we were doing that day and I was glad to be a part of the project.
At lunchtime, the cohort went to this lovely room that was in the middle of the Monteverde Institute and it felt like we were sitting outside because the windows were so big. We had potato chips, gallo pinto, and pico de gallo alongside some fresh soursop juice. I really enjoyed the meal and went back for seconds. Fresh food that is simply prepared is the best, especially when I knew we were going to be doing some heavy labor later in the day.
After lunch, we spent time moving tree saplings, which takes more effort than you might think. For being so little, the saplings were quite heavy, so we needed to use a wheelbarrow to move more than one at once. After we had finished loading the pickup truck with 200 saplings, we piled back into the bus and followed the truck to the first site, which acted as another green-house type of space.
Once there, we worked again as a team to load more saplings of varied species into the tall truck bed. We harvested three total areas before moving to the area where we would then plant the trees, which would grow to help build the cloud forest which, in turn, revitalizes the biome of the area.
Once we arrived at the transplant site, we had several tasks to complete before we could get the saplings in the ground. The first thing we did was unload them in a large area that was barren of any forest, which was quite different since we had just come from such a lush area to what essentially was a barren spot surrounded by forest. Then we needed to prepare the ground to plant the saplings by removing any debris from the site and turning over the soil so it contained more oxygen and would be more receptive for the new trees. It was difficult and muddy work, but it felt great to know I was doing something to help this area restore its natural habitat and rebuild the environment so it could flourish as it once had.
All 12 students, our bus driver Christian, and our Tour Director Rhyan worked as a team prepare the ground. We laughed and listened to our friend Genesis’s various playlists to keep us motivated as we worked to give these saplings their best chance at survival. When we finished prepping the land, we unloaded all the trees from the truck, but did not plant them yet as it was too late in the day to start the process—instead, we went through and performed a quality check on the land we just worked to make sure it was ready for planting the following day.
After a very physical yet rewarding day, the group headed to the bus to ride back to the hotel. I tried to brush off as much dirt as possible prior to boarding the bus, but I knew it was a shower I needed to fully de-mud myself. It felt so good to have completed this task and do my part to help the local environment.
Exhausted, I needed a quick nap to gather my energy for the evening activities. I showered and quickly fell into my bed, where the ceiling fan lulled me to sleep. I was startled awake when my alarm went off an hour later! In a bit of a rush, I got ready and headed down to dinner.
Once again, I was so pleased with the food that had been prepared for us and I was very hungry after the day’s work. The smell of the platanos and chicken were fantastic. The wholesome, delicious food re-energized my body and mind for the evening activities that I did not want to miss—there was too much fun to be had!
After dinner, I sat down with my roommate and a few friends from the cohort and to play a few rounds of card games. The amount of giggling that occurred during this game was unbelievable. I never really knew how to play the game, so none of the rules were accurately followed and I had no idea what I was doing. How did I keep ending up with negative scores? It became clear that I am not Vegas-bound with my card playing skills!
Rhyan, our Tour Director, suggested we head out to a karaoke bar so everyone who wanted to go (which was all of us) walked together into town to Bar Amigos. The place was full of people, which gave me an opportunity to take it all in. To our surprise, it wasn’t karaoke night, so we were able to experience live music from people who could actually sing! By this time in the tour, the cohort was a pretty bonded unit and we hit the dance floor to vibe with this awesome band.
When we returned to the hotel, I was absolutely spent, but the day was so rewarding and fun I didn’t mind how tired I was. I organized my clothes and supplies for the following morning.
As I tucked into my comfortable bed and let the fan lull me to sleep once again, I reflected on the long and fulfilling day and wondered what adventure tomorrow would bring.