Central American nation rustic, simple and beautiful

By: Amy Westfield

By: Amy Westfield

By: Amy Westfield

It had been a decade since I last visited Costa Rica, and I had been itching to return to its beautiful land.

Chaperoning Centennial High students to Latin America and throughout Europe is nothing new to me, but a trip that included an intensive language study was. This is why Samara Beach, Costa Rica, seemed so intriguing.

Eleven Spanish students, one parent, colleague Annes Do and I departed at the crack of dawn June 7. The goal was to experience Tican (Costa Rican) life, language and every bit of culture we could in eight days at Samara Beach, a quaint village on the Pacific Coast.

Once there, we tested our oral proficiency skills, which would be the basis for class levels for the next week. Then we were taken to various host families' homes, all very rustic, some even resembling tiki huts.

The luxuries, the hustle and bustle of American living were very few, but that's what makes Samaran life so simple, with daily preoccupancies far and few between.

All 14 of us attended four hours of intensive coursework each day at La Escuela Intercultura, a beautiful oceanfront campus. Unlike school in Champaign, class sizes were four or five students per instructor and sometimes as small as two like that of Do's and mine.

Intercultura offers courses to high school and college students from across the world and adults learning a second, third or fourth language. Prices for school vary depending of length of study. The Web site is http://www.samaralanguageschool.com.

Two favorite nonschool activities among our group were zip-lining and surf lessons. Boards in hands, we hit the waves, many of us for first-ever lessons.

Michaela Kearney, the only student with surfing experience, just tore up the waves!

Apart from the water, our last day included zipping through trees hundreds of feet in the air on nothing but a cable connected from one tree to another. At midpoint, we stopped on one platform, enjoyed a fresh fruit snack and gazed at the gorgeous landscape of mountains and ocean. Truly heavenly!

Other adventures included hiking and biking to other area beaches (particularly Playa Izquierda, which is renowned as surfer haven), a sea turtle study, a typical Tican cooking class, beachside bonfires, salsa lessons and karaoke.

You won't leave Samara Beach without being tempted by the most famous local cuisine, "el casado," a dish of beef, fish, or chicken with a bed of rice and beans with a fresh salad of local produce. Seafood was delightfully fresh, and some restaurants presented the fresh catch for us to choose which we would like.

Surprisingly, Italian restaurants were quite popular. If you go, don't escape before diving into the pizza and tropical salads at Pizza GoGo.

My particular favorite, however, was the fresh fruit. The pineapple, mango, banana, and watermelon were simply divine. Do and I made it a point to stop at a local fruit stand for the morning fruit plate. We watched the owner choose fresh fruits from the baskets, peel, cut and serve, heaped a mile high ... all for about 500 colones, or $1.

Although there are many luxurious vacation spots to visit, I highly recommend Samara if you're looking for a rustic and simple, yet beautiful getaway which can be combined with language study. Samara provides a retreat to nature and self-relaxation. The people, the sights and the culture as a whole are simply delightful.

Pura Vida!

Amy Westfield is a Spanish instructor at Centennial High School in Champaign. She lives in Savoy with husband Jonathan and five sons. Westfield and Do are starting an adoption program with a school in Costa Rica, to where they will send school supplies and soccer uniforms. Anyone wishing to help with donations may contact her at westfiam@champaignschools.org.

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