Monday, July 04, 2005

Costa Rica excites students

Eau Gallie High SchoolBy Erika Pesantes
Florida Today

Eau Gallie High School students hiked an extinct volcano, kayaked and zip-lined through dense Costa Rican rainforests. No, they weren't on a reality TV show.

The group of six made the village of La Fortuna their living and breathing classroom for eight days last month during an excursion that explored one of the world's most diverse ecological wonders.

Shawn Heflick, a former Brevard Zoo curator, led the tour. He's hosted eco-tours to the Amazon for the past five years, but it was the first time Heflick invited students.

"Costa Rica was such an eye-opener," said Becky Pucher, 15.

The action-packed trip included whitewater rafting, exploring caves and having close encounters with monkeys, frogs, snakes, bats, iguanas, toucans and caimans.

But the Melbourne students were most impressed by majestic and unpredictable volcanoes.

A four-hour hike through tough terrain leading to a volcano, where gnarled roots were to blame for Becky's collection of scrapes and bruises, was the "ultimate," she said.

Student Josh Humphries said one of his greatest feats was climbing the extinct volcano where they swam in a water hole inside its crater.

"It was like being in the middle of a cloud, because the clouds were low," he said.

For Dominic Vita, 17, the trip reaffirmed plans for his future. He wants to major in marine biology, he said.

Said Heflick: "That hike was probably what really changed how you perceived yourself, it was a pretty strenuous hike. It's kind of empowering."

And the experience seems to have made an impact, parents said.

"When they're away from home and they have the opportunity to make decisions on their own, they just grow. It's a self-esteem builder," said Vicki Humphries, Josh's mother.

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