A Week in Samara: Spanish, Surfing, and Service

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Tucked away on the coast of Guanacaste, I, along with 33 other M-A students, had the opportunity to partake in a service and cultural exchange trip in the vibrant town of Sámara, Costa Rica this mid-winter break.

After two flights and a three-hour bus ride, we arrived at our hotel. My group, ‘Pura Vida,’ stayed in the Tico Adventure Lodge, a cozy collection of cabinas complete with a pool, a balcony serving coffee and an assortment of fresh fruits, and even a hammock and swing on each front porch. We dropped off our luggage and sprinted to the beach, which was three minutes up the road. The water was warm, salty, and extremely refreshing after a long day of traveling. We were then introduced to our guides: Michael, Gato, and Alfredo. After a delicious dinner and a fresh goblet of passion fruit juice at Casa Esmeralda (where we ate all our meals), we headed back to bed at the hotel. 

We awoke on Sunday morning with pancakes for breakfast and then as a whole group we were given a tour of the town, where we were able to see the beautiful landscapes, local people, and shops in Sámara. We then got to the local church we were refurbishing and immediately got to work. We began painting the outside first, instructed to work from top to bottom on each wall with rollers and then with smaller brushes to articulate the fine details. We then went upstairs to practice Spanish, splitting into groups of beginners, advanced, and native speakers. The instructors were warm, understanding, and a joy to practice our Spanish with. We then went to the beach where we tanned as well as played beach volleyball for a few hours with the local people, had dinner, and spent quality time with each other at our individual hotels.

On Monday, we awoke to an early sunrise for surf lessons at the beach. A few of us were new to surfing, but it was exhilarating as we got used to the rhythm. After a few hours, many of us got fresh fruit smoothies from a shop on the beach, and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t the most delicious strawberry smoothie I had ever had. After lunch, we headed to Spanish lessons where we played charades as a group. We then returned to the church and finished painting the inside, as well as sweeping the floors and making sure we covered every inch of the wall nicely, taking breaks where we munched on fresh watermelon. It was heartwarming to see many of the local people gathering and singing songs together in the church later that night.

On Tuesday, we woke up to the rustling of palm trees with a slight tropical storm. However, it died down after breakfast and we headed to the local elementary school where we had the opportunity to laugh and play with the children. It was certainly an experience I will cherish forever. Despite the language barrier many of us had, we really got to experience what it felt like to be a kid again as we formed these incredible connections with the students. We reluctantly left our new friends for lunch and then the beach, where we spent a few hours tanning, playing in the ocean, and enjoying virgin pina coladas. We then headed to Spanish lessons, where we learned about opposites as well as some details about the language that aren’t taught much in school. After some hotel time where we relaxed and read by the pool, we headed to dinner and then bed, where we were shocked to find a lizard in our room.

Wednesday morning was a hard one for many of us as it meant the last day we got to spend time with the kids at the school. I personally got a very educational gymnastics lesson from my new friends, Lia and Dana, who were second graders. We went to the beach for more surf practice, where we got scorched as the UV was over 12. After changing at the hotel, we spent more time together in our individual hotels before bed, taking advantage of Tico’s invitingly spacious porches. 

We woke up early Thursday morning for a zipline canopy tour. After breakfast, we drove up in groups to the mountain where we were met with a beautiful view of the jungle and ocean. Ziplining was a blast as we played reggae in a mini speaker as we traveled throughout the forest, being greeted with the calls of howler monkeys from the branches above. We then headed to lunch, followed by more beach time where I bought three consecutive virgin piña coladas, and then scoured the local beach shop where I got a woven bracelet as well as an embroidered top. We were given bags of coffee from the Spanish teachers who also owned a coffee company. Afterward, a small ‘graduation’ was held where we got certificates for completing our lessons, and a few fluent speakers gave speeches thanking the teachers and staff. After dinner, we went to the beach to play soccer as a whole group, where a few of us played with a few local kids and got to know them. 

Friday was sentimental for everyone as it was our last full day. With some spare time between lunch, we soaked up some of our last moments at the beach, exploring local shops, as well as just laying in the waves. After lunch, we returned for one last surf practice and then some free time where many of us decided to stay at the beach while others explored the town. Finally, we had a bonfire with pizza near the ocean as a whole group where we reflected on our experiences and cherished the time we had left in Sámara. 

Wrapping up our week in Sámara, the beach bonfire marked the perfect ending to a mix of surf, service, and unforgettable experiences, as I got to spend quality time with people from my own school that I had never even met. Are you thinking about going next year? Just go for it—it’s an experience that you’ll cherish forever (and you’ll be able to drink nine pina coladas in the span of three days). 

Penelope is a sophomore at M-A, and this is her first year in journalism. She is interested in writing music reviews as well as incorporating unique student perspectives into her stories. In her free time, you can find her practicing tennis, watercolor painting, or knotting away at her growing collection of friendship bracelets.

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