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Preparing to Explore Costa Rica with Kids

04/10/02 12:00AM By Ted Levin

(Host) Commentator Ted Levin is going to spend spring break in Costa Rica with his two sons and a group of high school students. He says just getting ready for the trip is an adventure.

(Levin) I love to travel. Before I leave home, I study guidebooks and read regional literature to evoke a sense of place. I pour over maps and make a mental list of what animals or plants or geologic features I most want to see. And as my boys get involved, the pre-trip planning in the days or weeks or months before we leave, becomes something of an event in itself.

Take Jordy, who's six, and who knows we're going to Costa Rica on twelfth of April. Just after Christmas he packed his snorkeling paraphernalia, leaving it by the downstairs toilet, so he could think about what else he needed to take several times a day. And Jordy's nature discovery belt, complete with plastic collecting jars, a pair of tweezers, and a hand lens was relocated from his bedroom to the dining room two months ago. The belt appears on the dinner table almost as frequently as our flatware.

Because Costa Rica is half the size of Ohio and supports more species of birds than all of North America, I introduced the boys to some of more colorful species we might see, some of whose names alone conjure up the whimsical, mystical elements of the New World tropics: jabiru, wattled jacana, Gray-headed chachalaca and motmots, puffbirds, aricaris, toucanets and piculets, which are small relatives of woodpeckers. The boys and I agree that a poet must have named the hummingbirds: crowned wood nymph, purple-throated mountain gem, magenta-throated woodstar, band-tailed barbthroat, to mention just a few species. But my favorite Costa Rican bird names belong to a pair of crow-sized songbirds called the bare-necked umbrella bird and the three-wattled bell bird, the male of which looks as if he's had three earthworms grafted to his bill.

We're traveling in the company of twenty-six high school seniors from Hanover and Thetford, so I expect there won't be a dull moment. At our pre-trip meeting, I met a boy who was convinced Costa Rica was an island and a girl who was terrified of turtles. Turtlephobia is a rather strange affliction for someone who just paid a great deal of money to be lead down a remote Caribbean beach at midnight to see lascivious reptiles the size of Volkswagons roil in the breakers and eventually emerge from the surf to lay their eggs, hopefully at our feet.

My oldest son, Casey, who is 14, expects to engage Costa Rica as a sporting event. He wants to see the hot drool of the Earth spill out of the mouth of a volcano, wants to bathe in thermal springs, and climb on a zip line through the canopy of a cloud forest.

Our ability to communicate to native Costa Ricans will depend solely on Casey's six weeks of Spanish, part of an Introduction to Language course taught at Thetford Academy. So far, he can count to twenty and rattle off a series of appropriate greetings and salutations. And for those moments when I need more than water to quench my thirst, add to that the only sentence that stuck with me after three years of elementary school Spanish and six weeks of on-site practice in Peru, "Uno cervaza senor, por favor," and I'm sure the trip and its logistics will fall into place.

This is Ted Levin from Gillette Swamp in Thetford Center, Vermont.

Ted Levin is a writer and photographer specializing in natural history.
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