Have you ever imagined visiting Central America?
Just think about it.
You could raft down a whitewater river or speed down a zip-line through a rainforest. Snorkel among tropical fish at a coral reef or maybe body surf on a secluded Caribbean beach. Hike atop a volcano and peer into the one of the world's largest craters or peer into the eyes of a river crocodile on a boat safari.
A group of Scouts from Troop 33 in DeKalb didn't have to imagine these things. They flew to Central America earlier this month to experience all those adventures and more.
A group of 10 Scouts and leaders from Troop 33 spent 11 days on a high-adventure tour of Central America. In addition to travel and adventure, the trip included home-stay visits with families from Troop 78 of Escazu, Costa Rica.
The trip began by flying to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., followed by a second flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. They based themselves in the city of Escazu, a San Jose suburb. Pairs of Scouts were assigned to Costa Rican families for the first night and for future nights in Escazu.
On the second day, Scouts traveled to Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. They slept overnight in tents set up under the tin roof of a jungle lodge. The pounding surf of the ocean was only a few hundred feet from their tents.
The next three days were spent in Panama. A bus took them deeper into the jungle to the border town of Sixaola, Costa Rica. From there they walked across the Panamanian border, which consisted of a 100-year-old trestle bridge high above the Sixaola River. Walking across the long bridge span, people share the narrow single lane with large semi-trucks.
In Panama, Scouts traveled by bus, and later by boat. Their boat plied a waterway route through the Changuinola River, then mangrove wetlands inhabited by manatee, and the Soropta Canal along the San-Pondsak National Preserve. Passing wooden shanty homes built on stilts, they saw native Ngobe Indians in dugout canoes fishing along the banks. After 15 miles of waterways they eventually reached the open waters of the Caribbean and Isla Colon, home to the town of Bocas del Toro, Panama.
Their activities based from Bocas del Toro included watching bottle-nosed dophins at Dolphin Bay on the south side of Isla Cristobal, snorkeling at Coral Cay, snorkeling at Hospital Point off Isla Solarte, and body surfing and boogie boarding at Red Frog Beach on the north shore of Isla Bastimentos. Red Frog Beach is named after the strawberry poison-dart frog abundant in that area.
In addition to their adventures on the sea, they explored Bocas del Toro, which locals refer to simply as Bocas. Restaurants, shops, small hotels and vendor stalls lined the streets. Scouts visited various shops and dined on authentic Panamanian dishes, which included ingredients like beans, rice and fried patacones (similar to bananas).
Returning to Costa Rica, they passed through large banana plantations, endless jungle and stopped in Puerto Limon - the nation's largest port. Back in Escazu, Scouts were united with their host families for the next two nights.
During the day, they explored the city of San Jose with its parks and markets and toured the National Museum of Costa Rica.
On another day, they hiked high atop the Poas volcano, which has the second-largest crater in the world. The view was often interrupted by clouds drifting across the volcano. Scouts also visited the spectacular La Paz waterfall, where they followed a trail that allowed them to stand behind the waterfall.
Their next great series of adventures took them into the Sarapiqui lowlands in northern Costa Rica, about 15 miles south of Nicaragua. They stayed overnight in a jungle lodge surrounded by rain forest. The sun set early, shortly after 6 p.m.
A night hike through a rainforest took them sliding down muddy trails, climbing over downed trees and making their way carefully over slippery rocks across shallow streams. Their guide, who was born in that area, pointed out various species using his flashlight, including several tropical spiders and a poisonous snake. The highlight was hiking along a small lake where they discovered several crocodiles, whose eyes reflected in their lights.
During a morning boat safari on the Sarapiqui River, they saw river otter, cormorant, bare-throated tiger heron, a variety of exotic birds, crocodile, caiman, howler monkeys, a poison dart frog, iguanas and a basilisk lizard.
Scouts enjoyed a zip-line canopy tour of the jungle, climbing to the top of 17 different towers to race down 12 cable systems, traveling at high speeds. Scouts also observed the rainforest from an elevated suspension bridge, which took them high into the canopy.
A wilder section of Saraquipi River provided whitewater thrills when Scouts paddled through technical rapids on a rafting trip. Quieter sections between rapids provided opportunities for observing wildlife. They visited an enclosed butterfly refuge, which included several species of rare tropical butterflies.
The final evening in Costa Rica was spent with Troop 78 of Escazu at their awards night, highlighted by the presentation of the Gold Clover Award, their version of the Eagle Scout Award. DeKalb Scouts presented gifts to their host families. Following the awards presentation, a great fiesta was held, highlighted by home-cooked foods, music and dancing. Troop 33 Scouts returned to DeKalb with more than just memories of places and activities; they returned with many new friendships created throughout their journey in Central America.
Costa Rican's often use the phrase, “pura vida,” which translates to mean “pure life.” The phrase “pura vida” has come to represent the Boy Scouts' incredible tour of Central America. It is an adventure the boys will always remember as a time when they experienced pure life.
The Scouts visited a butterfly sanctuary; pictured is a Caligo Memnon butterfly. Provided photo
This caiman was spotted during a river safari on the Sarapiqui River. A caiman is a subspecies of the crocodile that is native to wetlands in Central and South America. Provided photo
This little girl was dancing in traditional dress at the fiesta on the Boy Scouts’ final night in Costa Rica. Provided photo
Pictured is a traditional Nagobe Indian dwelling along the Soropta Canal in Panama. Provided photo