The One Where I Turn 20

That’s right – I’m no longer a teenager, and celebrating my birthday in Costa Rica was nothing short of amazing. This past weekend was packed with things to do (and with our last weekend in this country, why would we just sit around?). From the topiary gardens of Zarcero to a huge dog sanctuary to whitewater rafting, stay tuned to read about my adventures.

Last Friday after class, Abbey, her roommate Chelsea, and I headed to Zarcero, a small town about 45 min from San Ramón. It’s well known for its beautifully sculpted topiary garden designed by Evangelisto Blanco in the 1960s. Walking around through the arches, we could spot shrubs sculpted as elephants, monkeys, ducks, and many more. Another one of the main attractions in this quaint town is the stunning church behind the garden. Known as the Iglesia de San Rafael, it had beautiful paintings and intricate designs as you walked up to the altar.

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The next day, six of us woke up (barely) at 4am to take a bus to the Territorio de Zaguates, the world’s largest no-kill dog sanctuary. Apologies in advance to my roommates and parents if I come home with 10 or more dogs. After 1 bus, a walk to McDonald’s (anyone want a McPinto??), and an Uber ride, we finally made it to the entrance. Have you ever had that dream where hundreds of dogs come running at you? This was our reality – 800 dogs lived and are cared for at this shelter and on our hike up to the hilltop, we were able to play with every single one of them. Honestly, I would’ve done the (FREE, I might add) hike for just the views. On top of the hills we were able to see all the houses of Alajuela beneath us.

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From Alajuela Abbey and I headed to San José where we met up with our friend Angela at the cutest Airbnb place (shoutout to Sofia who was the sweetest person ever even when our plans changed last minute and made our apartment adorable and right at home). Craving Chinese food, the three of us headed out to the first place Google pointed us out to. Not sure what to expect, we walked into Flor de Loto and were immediately stunned – could not have asked for better food (and bigger portions). Also, if you don’t eat your Chinese food family style, you’re missing out; we were able to try 3 different meals for the price of one.

The next day, AKA my birthday, we woke up at 4am (again…I’m sensing a trend) to meet the bus that was picking us up for our whitewater rafting tour. I highly recommend Exploradores Outdoors for any of your rafting needs. We got transportation, breakfast, and lunch (oh, and also rafting) all included in our fee. I really wish I could show some pictures, but take my word for it – it was amazing!! The Pacuare river is the #1 river to go whitewater rafting in Costa Rica and in the top 5 in the world, so it definitely didn’t disappoint. There’s no way to describe the feeling as we floated through the forest, the warm rain water falling on top of us, in awe at waterfall beside us. It was something out of a movie. I would also just like to point out that this was my first time and even with Class III-IV rapids I didn’t fall out!

That’s all for now. Today was my last day of classes and tomorrow I wake up at 3am (what a shock) to head back to Jacksonville. I’m trying not to imagine what it’s going to be like not hanging out with my host family (listening to them speak veryyy slowly as I try to understand), seeing Abbey every day, who’ll head back to Ohio (900 miles from Jacksonville oh god), or casually running into my new friends on the streets of Costa Rica on the way to a cafe.

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