"I can't believe it - a real, live sea turtle!" my best friend Jess whispered as we observed a leatherback turtle.
Jess, our teacher Mr. Merritt, and I all stood in awe as we realized that we had finally reached Costa Rica. The chance to go to a foreign country does not happen every day, so when my AP Environmental Science instructor told me he was taking some students to Costa Rica, I was excited.
Our group consisted of 13 students and six chaperones. Our first outing in Tortuguero was to begin our search for sea turtles. We split into four groups with two shifts (8 p. m. to midnight, and midnight to 4 a.m.), when each group walked the humid beaches with only a few hours of moonlight. My group was lucky not only to find and witness two turtles, but also see them lay their eggs. The first night we came across a leatherback, whom we named Eleanor, and on the second night, we found a green sea turtle, whom we named Louisa, after our tour guide. Watching Eleanor and Louisa lay over a total of 150 eggs was truly amazing.
Living in the suburbs, the only wildlife I see are birds or squirrels. Spending just one day in the jungle of Sarapaqui opened my eyes to how many species live symbiotically. Our group took a river tour and saw everything from a three-toed sloth high in the trees to a camouflaged caiman in the water shrubs! Everything I had studied about the jungle and wildlife became clear to me!
I also noticed how distinctively happy Costa Ricans are. They are very friendly and optimistic. When we walked through Tortuguero's plaza, all we saw were bright-eyed children laughing, running, playing and cheering with music blaring from a hut. No one would guess that they live in what Americans would call run-down, unsanitary housing.
Traveling to a foreign country changed my life. Seeing and interacting with this different culture has made me curious and sparked my interest in travel. I have experienced so much, and just telling stories that begin "When I was in Costa Rica ..." brings me joy. This has inspired me to work my hardest at everything I do and be thankful that I have a safe home to sleep in every night!
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.