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Costa Rica trip a revelation for Sewickley Academy student

| Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Katelyn Ripple, 17, ziplines during her trip to Costa Rica this summer through a travel scholarship from the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh.
Katelyn Ripple, 17, ziplines during her trip to Costa Rica this summer through a travel scholarship from the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh.

After living in the rain forest and other regions in Costa Rica, Katelyn Ripple realized it's possible to live without electricity, hot water, a clothes dryer, technology and even food from the grocery store — and she liked it.

“All you need is the people you love around you, and you'll be happy,” Ripple said after spending four weeks participating in a Costa Rican biodiversity, ecology and sustainability summer travel program.

Ripple, 17, a senior this fall at Sewickley Academy, was one of 12 Pittsburgh area students to receive a global travel scholarship through the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh — a nonprofit dedicated to increasing awareness of international issues.

An avid volunteer, Ripple was the only student to choose an international learning experiment program in Costa Rica. She said it had the community service and environmental components she wanted.

“I made friendships that will last a lifetime, because there were no phones to distract us,” said Ripple, of Harmony Township. “We just had each other, and went on these crazy adventures together and helped the community. We could just sit and play cards, and we were perfectly content.”

Ripple said her favorite part of the trip was staying for three days without electricity or hot water in a small hut on the Proyecta Campanario — a biological station in the lowland tropical rain forest of the Osa Peninsula.

Students participated in eco-education projects and hiked in Corcovado National Park.

She saw how much pride the people there take in sustainable living. “They are always working toward keeping their environment clean and protecting it,” she said.

“We ate mangoes, coconuts and leaves from the trees. The bark of the tree tasted like marshmallows.”

She and her group often saw monkeys looking in their hut windows, and they ate live termites, which Ripple said are a good source of protein.

“They tasted like pepper,” she said. “It was crazy.”

Part of her trip also was spent with her host family in a three-room home with a metal sheet for a roof in the tiny town of Pejibaye.

Despite the Spanish-English language barrier, she managed to communicate and learn new things from her host parents, such as making a rope hammock, copper wire scorpions and praying mantes and cooking.

Activities included white water rafting.

Near the end of the month, they helped clean up the beach at the Ostional Wildlife National Refuge, where they saw turtles lay eggs at night.

“There were natural miracles all around us,” Ripple said.

Students also painted murals and did other volunteer activities at Pejibaye Environmental High School.

Ripple said the trip made her want to live a more sustainable life, and perhaps study sustainability in college.

Ripple's mother, Terri, said her daughter, who always was interested in the environment, is even more focused on it now. She is trying to teach her family part of what the Costa Rican people taught her — puravida.

“It's a saying they have that means living a simple life and not rushing through your life and enjoying it,” her mother said.

Ripple also plans to make presentations about her trip at Sewickley Academy and to the World Affairs Council, and to organize a Costa Rican dinner and a kids' day at a park where she will teach Spanish dances.

Funds raised from the events will be donated to the Proyecta Campanario. “I know it changed my life,” said Ripple, who plans to go back to the area as an intern or volunteer.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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