– All Because She is a Girl Scout!
Anna Vogts will tell you that she was born into Girl Scouts and that her passion for the organization has only grown as she has.
This summer, Anna, who is from Overland Park, Kansas took her very first international trip as part of the Girl Scout destinations’ program. She explored Central America and studied sea turtles.
On June 20, Anna and eight other high school Girl Scouts from around the country left home to explore Panama and Costa Rica and observe and study the habitats of sea turtles. Two weeks later, she returned home with an incredible story and 7 new friends. Enjoy a few excerpts from Anna’s travel journal.
On the first day of my trip I traveled from Kansas City to San Jose, Costa Rica. I was nervous because it was the first time I flew internationally and by myself. I got into San Jose in the mid-afternoon and then met up with Outward Bound Costa Rica. Once we got to base camp, I started to get to know the girls who were going on the course with me.
This morning we drove to the Panama/Costa Rica border. The six hour car ride included a trip through immigration and concluded with a boat ride to the beach and our arrival in San San Pons Sack where the sea turtle conservation area is.
Once we got to the beach we started to learn about the type of conservation work we would be doing there. After touring the property, we began our conservation work by making covers for the sea turtle nest in the compound. My group was a little slow because none of us knew how to sew, but it all worked out! While working on the covers, the other girls and I got to know each other a lot more.
Later that night, we got to work on a nightly patrol to try to find Leatherback Sea Turtles. The goal was to bring eggs that had just been laid to the compound where they would be safe from predators and increase their survival rate. Amazingly, within the first few minutes of patrol we found a turtle that was just beginning the laying process. We took measurements and checked for any injuries to guess age of the turtle and estimate number of eggs that will be laid. After taking the measurements for the turtle, I was picked to hold the bag that the turtle eggs dropped into. I was literally only inches away from the turtle, which I thought was amazing. Little did I know that the next day I would get to have an even more up close and personal experience with the Leatherback Sea Turtles.
Today was our first full day in San San Ponsak. We started off with exhumation of sea turtle eggs that hadn’t developed and were left over in the nest in the hatchery. After digging them up from the ground, we had to and sort the undeveloped eggs to help the conservation workers know what the problem was. Although I really didn’t like smell of the eggs, I thought it was really interesting to see the amount of eggs that didn’t develop. When added to the number of turtles that hatched from the nest, it was 50-80 eggs total. The mothers know that not all the eggs will survive so they lay a lot, which just shows you how amazing the Leatherback Sea Turtles are.
Next, we got exciting news that there was a batch of baby turtles that were ready to be released. I was super excited to get to hold the baby turtles. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and it really made me feel like I was making a difference in the world.
Our sea turtle adventure continued that night when four other girls and I went on a night patrol. We spent most of the time walking the beach with no sight of a turtle; but, as we were on the way back to the nursery we spotted one. As done the night before, we worked together to gather the data needed to track the turtle and we successfully got the eggs to put in the nursery.
Today we visited the pineapple plantation that is in San San Pond Sack. I found it really interesting to see how pineapples grow because we don’t have anything like that where I’m from.
After the eventful morning at the pineapple plantation, we packed up everything and took a boat back to the mainland to our journey to Bocas del Toro. Bocas del Toro was breathtaking; there is ocean for miles and giant looking mountains that tower over the vibrant city that would become my home for the next nine days.
Upon arrival to our hut we all got into our swimsuits and grabbed our scuba mask and started to explore the new underwater surroundings. The underwater life near our hut was amazing to interact with. The creatures were harmless and we could touch most of the wildlife we encountered! My personal favorite was the moon jellies and the starfish because I wasn’t expecting to get the opportunity to see these animals, let alone hold them.
Today we went into the city of Bocas del Toro and took a biking tour of the city. The city had lots of vibrant colors and amazing architecture. My favorite part was biking on the beach and taking in the amazing scenery.
After the biking tour, we stopped at a local beach where I got to boogie board for the first time.
When we got back to the hut, we went wakeboarding. At first, I had a difficult time because I couldn’t standup and ended up face planting more than I would have liked to, but I got the concept after about bazillion times! To my devastation, I face planted right after that.
The first thing we did today was zip line at a local resort in the canopy of the rainforest. It was amazing how far away you could see; I could see the ocean, the mountains, and the rainforest. This helped me truly see the beauty of Panama.
After our zip lining adventure, we went to the resort’s beach and hung out there for the afternoon. I boogie boarded again and I actually caught some real waves! While at the beach we also saw a sloth, this was one of the animals that I really wanted to see while on my destination!
On the seventh day of the destination we went into the city to shop and take a tour of the artisan area of Bocas del Toro. Bocas is very vibrant and colorful, which really reflected the chill vibes there. When we got back to our hut we geared-up and went snorkeling in the open water. It was so awesome because I got a closer look at what we would be seeing while scuba diving.
Today our instructors surprised us with a kayaking trip around the island on which we were staying. I was excited because I kayak all the time at home. We had seen a lot of Bocas del Toro, but little of the island we were staying on. My partner and I started out strong, but it began to feel like lunch was never going to come. I definitely learned that sea kayaking is for pros and lake kayaking is for me! Despite the hard work, I enjoyed myself and felt very accomplished for the day! Once our instructors finally told us that we were stopping for lunch, we were overjoyed. For lunch we had PB&Js, but with guava and pineapple jelly, which was surprisingly really good! On our trip we saw everything, from the harbors of Bocas to the vibrant colors on the island. It was beautiful and amazing and definitely an image I will remember forever. Right before we made it back home, the waves started to get rough and even white capping. We made it back to the hut and rested for the long days ahead of diving into the underwater world.
Today was one of the most exciting days on our trip; it was the first day of scuba diving! Personally, I was a little nervous because I had a hard time snorkeling, but then again it was a challenge I knew I could concur. After getting all strapped into our gear, we got into the ocean and went over basic diving procedures. Once we had mastered the skills needed to be successful divers, we ventured under the water and practiced our skills again and again so we could past the skills test at the end of the week. While practicing, we toured some of the nearby coral. The underwater world was amazing to see for the first time and made me super excited for the rest of the week.
No rest for the weary! We started of the morning with scuba diving skills practice and took another coral tour – but this time we went to about 40ft allowing us to get much closer to the coral. We even got to hold a moon jelly, a shrimp and a starfish, touch an amenamy, and see a lion fish and a sting ray!
After scuba diving, we went wakeboarding again. Surprisingly, I actually got up on the wakeboard every time and had some pretty long rides. To me this was a major accomplishment because this is something I’ve never done before and I got to learn how to do it in Panama.
Today was probably my favorite day of the whole trip because I made huge progress in my scuba diving. I passed the skills portion of the test and then got to do a shipwreck dive. The wreck dive is one of my best memories of the trip because it was something I was not expecting to do and was a lot different than the coral we had been exploring.
Later that night, we went on a night dive in a coral area of the ocean. The luminescence of the coral was really neat to see and we found a coral shark, which was a little terrifying at the time. However, now I can say I swam with a shark! For dinner that night we made empanadas, which is basically fried dough with cheese and beans in the middle. This ended up being my favorite meal and I’m pretty sure I had four or five. It was bittersweet because it was our last night, so we all slept outside our tents and fell asleep to the sounds of the ocean.
Today was our final day in Panama and was the day of the big scuba diving test. I was again nervous about the test because I really wanted to come home with my certification. After doing some last minute cramming, the beginner scuba divers took the NAUI scuba diving exam and the advanced divers went for a 90 ft. dive. I passed the test and am now a certified scuba diver!!!!! After testing was over, we took in our surroundings one last time, in the hope of remembering the beauty of Bocas del Toro forever.
Right before we left, we sadly said goodbye to the family who owns the hut we stayed in.
After all the goodbyes, we left by boat. I was so sad to leave because my time in Bocas had taught me a lot about myself and about the world around me. I truly left a changed person. We journeyed back to base camp and continued to try to soak up as much Latin American culture before the end of the trip.
This was the final full day of our time together and our instructor surprised us with a trip into San Jose.
We took a local city bus into the downtown area of San Jose and got to experience the city life.
We headed to a local market to do some shopping. The best thing I got was a wooden mug that has a sea turtle painted on it. After that, we went to a local café and had lunch, including a traditional Costa Rican drink that is similar to a milkshake. Next, we went on a tour of downtown San Jose.
We ended the tour at an ice cream shop that had homemade ice cream that was amazing.
The San Jose tour was a wonderful way to end the trip because it really showed how close our group had become and how hard the next day would be.
This day was the hardest day of our trip, the day I had to leave the place I was starting to consider a second home. It was hard for me to leave, I had really learned a lot about myself and the impact I can make on the world. The best part of the trip was the amazing friendships I had created with girls all throughout the country.
Is your Girl Scout ready for an adventure of a lifetime just like Anna? There are many kinds of Girl Scout destination trips, both local and international. Learn more about the travel opportunities that you can give your Girl Scout today!