INDIANOLA, Iowa -- Before the Simpson men's soccer team returns to campus later this month to start the 2019 campaign, the squad takes it's talents to Costa Rica for a nine-day trip.
The Storm embark on the trip and will play in three matches with the 21 players making the journey outside the country. Along with competing, the team will tour the capital city, San José, volunteer at a local orphanage, whitewater raft, visit natural hot springs, hike up a waterfall and partake in a catamaran tour.
During the trip, members of the team will post daily blogs of their encounters.
Day One — Aug. 6 — Head coach Rick Isaacson
Our trip is officially underway. You can follow the team and learn more about this unique experience through our daily blog. We will have a different member of our team provide you with an update each day. I'm set to lead off so without further ado...
Day one was a long day of travel, but this guy was thankful that every member of our traveling party brought their passport (a huge relief no doubt). We departed MCI Airport in Kansas City at 6:15 a.m. before touching down in Houston for our connecting flight. The flight from Kansas City to Houston was uneventful and most of the boys got some needed shut eye. After a brief layover in Houston (the last chance to eat American food for nine days), we were wheels up and on our way to beautiful San José, Costa Rica.
Upon arriving in San Jose, we were greeted by the wonderful staff from Costa Rica Soccer Tours. Having previously made this trip with the soccer team back in 2014, I was prepared for the warm welcome that awaited us. Our players, however, got their first taste of just how friendly the people of Costa Rica are. It was nice to finally meet the people I have worked so closely with while planning this trip.
From there, we loaded our charter bus and began the short drive to the Crowne Plaza hotel. A delicious lunch was waiting for the group … easing the anxiety of our pickiest eaters. Our team learned a lot about Costa Rica during the "welcome presentation" that ensued. The group proved to be collectively smarter than I give them credit for during the trivia portion of the presentation. I was both surprised and proud of their ability to retain information about a foreign country. Perhaps I need a Costa Rican accent to get through to these guys. ;)
After grabbing a bite to eat and getting settled into the hotel, we embarked on a walking tour of the capital city. We saw the rich history of this country while visiting the National Museum, Legislative Assembly, Supreme Court, National Park and Central Park. Before returning to the hotel, we also got to shop at a local souvenir market.
We got our first taste of Costa Rica traffic during rush hour when leaving the downtown San Jose area. What should have been a 10-15 minute drive became an hour long return trip. The good news = it was fascinating to watch our bus driver navigate narrow streets while witnessing motorcycles/scooters zipping through tight spaces between cars and narrow openings in traffic. The bus driver is skilled!
Another authentic Costa Rican meal was prepared for dinner. After dinner the team had some free time to swim, check out the hotel casino, or listen to some live music in the hotel lounge.
Day one of our trip could not have gone much better. I saw a lot of laughter and smiling faces throughout the day. It was a joy to watch our team interact outside the lines of a soccer pitch.
Watch for blog #2 from senior goalkeeper, Jake Potratz, next. We play our first exhibition match tomorrow so check in to find out the result.
Day Two — Aug. 7 — Senior Jake Potratz
Dia dos of our Costa Rica trip was spent in the capital city of San José. We started the day off with breakfast as a team at our hotel, where the meals have been stellar and have become a fan favorite early in the trip. We then loaded up the bus and headed off to our first training session. Traveling around this part of the country is a hassle with the traffic but our driver is a pro and leaves us little doubt he can get us anywhere we need. Plus, the long drives give us a chance to check out the incredible landscapes and sights this country has to offer. Most notably were the mountains and rivers scattered around the city.
Training went well and it felt nice to be back as a unit playing some footy and working off the jet lag. The field was also nestled in nicely with the picturesque Costa Rican landscape giving us some amazing views of the las montañas. After training, we headed off to the biggest stadium in Costa Rica which happened to be just blocks from our hotel. This stadium is home to the Costa Rican national team and we got an up close and personal look at their home digs. Definitely an incredible place to host a match and left us all impressed.
We had some downtime after that before we headed off for our first match. On deck this evening was a top tier side, Carmelita. They were fantastic hosts and gave us a great match. The pitch was wet and that played right into our style. We started the scoring off and never looked back. Ended the match with a 4-1 result in our favor (including a game-winner from my roommate, Brendan Owings). It was great to be back on the field competing as a team and we looked sharp for our first run of the season together.
Day two was busy with soccer, but that's what we're here for and the experience didn't disappoint. We had a fantastic time on the pitch and made some friends from across the world. The sights have been amazing everywhere we've been and it's only bound to get better as well. Day two was a blast, tomorrow it's wheels up to the rainforest and the fun is just getting started.
Day Three — Aug. 8 — Senior Connor Robson
Day three started with our last meal in the city of San José as we were moving on to our next destination. On the way out of the city, we got the opportunity to visit a local children's shelter for kids nine months to 12 years in age. The shelter provides a place for kids to go during the day and after school. All of the kids at this shelter face a lot of adversity in their everyday life, so the shelter provides opportunities and necessities they might not receive at home.
The visit to the shelter started off with the kids, who were all 2 to 5 years old, charging at all of us to give us a huge welcome hug. From there out, it was pure chaos. The kids had each one of us chasing after them in what seemed to be a never ending game of tag where we were always it. Our play time with the kids also included basketball, soccer and the rare opportunity to sit down before one of the kids was pulling you back up to play. Unfortunately, our time with the kids was too short and we gave our hugs goodbye. I think that each one of us wishes we could start each day visiting the kids because of how much joy they gave us.
We then hopped on the bus for a long ride to the rain forest where we were able to see much more of the beauty that Costa Rica has to offer along the way. Upon arriving, we received another amazing meal and checked in our rooms. In our little down time, many players got close with nature and possibly a little too close. Fun fact, iguanas can bite.
Our last stop of the day was at one of the largest hot springs in the world. There were over 30 hot spring pools that we were able relax in, as well as many water slides. I think it is safe to say that these water slides may not be legal back home in the United States. One slide actually had a warning that the potential top speed a rider could reach was 27 mph and the sign was not joking. Of course, this was absolutely perfect for a bunch of 18+ year old guys. Every guy rode the slides countless times, each time still in awe of how fast we were going. Finally, we headed back to the hotel for some much needed sleep after a long day. If you can't tell, I don't think anyone would mind having a repeat of day three. Thankfully, tomorrow is another great day to have a great day with a whole new set of adventures.
Day Four — Aug. 9 — Senior Matt Turnley
Day four started off with the questionable decision by Coach Isaacson to give me full control of the blog. This should be fun.
Everyone survived our first night in the rainforest (even after the infamous iguana incident). The morning began with what might have been the most exciting activity thus far - whitewater rafting. The river we were slated to raft included Class 3 and 4 rapids, or in layman's terms, a freaking blast. The scenery we floated past was surreal. The surrounding rainforest was filled with unique flora and fauna, a dark green backdrop that towered above us. Picture Jurassic Park before all the gore. You couldn't keep your eyes up for too long though, the rapids were as frequent as they were unforgiving. A raft may have flipped; even the most athletic of us may have fallen in, but those secrets will stay in Costa Rica. Somehow we all made it down the river in one piece, albeit completely soaked. I don't think we'll forget whitewater rafting in Central America any time soon.
The major evening activity was our second game of the trip. We played the really solid club, A.D. San Carlos, whose top squad won the Costa Rican First Division last season. Their stadium was nestled into the nearby mountains, and intermittent tropical showers made for a really cool atmosphere to play in. While we ended up dropping the game, it was competitive throughout the 90 minute-contest, a welcome challenge for each team. Both Jake Potratz and Simon Van Den Abbeele put up solid performances in the net (Jake is my roommate next year, I'm trying to stay on his good side). Matt Turnley also played well, according to multiple anonymous (but largely reputable) sources. We're looking forward to bouncing back with our final game of the trip in a couple days.
I know I speak for the whole group when saying that we feel incredibly fortunate to be experiencing all that this beautiful and amicable country has to offer. We're excited for all that the rest of our time here will bring - the best is yet to come.
Day Five — Aug. 9 — Junior Ian Dean
I must begin by saying, I'm quite surprised Coach Isaacson has enough faith and trust in me to blog one of our days, but here we are, so let's go. Lots of travel planned for today so maybe that's why I was assigned this day.
Day five in Costa Rica began with us packing up our bags and moving out of our rooms at the Tilajari resort. We ate yet another good meal for breakfast (still haven't heard a complaint from anyone about the food) and checked out of the resort. From there, we headed to La Fortuna waterfall.
Upon arrival, we were all given ponchos as the rain was really starting to come down. The hike was quick and once we got there the sights and scenes were incredible. Lots of large round rocks, cascading splashes and a beautiful jungle. A lot of the team took a swim and socialized with another school group that was at the falls. Easily some of the best sights of the trip were seen here. After we finished up at the waterfall, the hike through the trail we came down was tough. Coach Isaacson has been incorporating disguised fitness all trip and this was yet another instance of it.
We then left the falls and took a quick pit stop at the grocery store, to prep for our long road trip, before heading in to town for a traditional Costa Rican meal. Lunch was tasty & upon interviewing multiple members of the team graded out, on average, at approximately 7.6/10. We've had fun with critiquing every meal on this type of scale. After lunch was finished we hit the road, headed for la playa.
Some sights along the way were cool, but a majority of the squad slept, played card games, or listened to music. We took one stop at a souvenir shop on our way and a lot of the guys acquired more gifts and clothing to give friends and family back home. After the pit stop, we had another hour on the bus before being welcomed into a beautiful Margaritaville beach resort with fruity welcome drinks, I had to help myself to two.
We then got settled into our rooms and headed out to the beach. Fortunately, the sun was just beginning to set and we got some of the best views that a Costa Rican beach has to offer. A lot of the guys took some quality photos and launched themselves into the Pacific Ocean's waves.
Next up, we enjoyed the pool before eating a dinner that rated out at 8.9/10 on a squad average. The highest rating of any meal all trip. After dinner we all got ourselves cleaned up & put on a nice set of clothes, besides a few of the young bucks. They have been really big fans of Margaritaville supplying us with robes. The nightlife included hitting the resorts disco bar for live music and a lot of salsa dancing. I must say, Peter Gaspari showed up in his robe & danced it away. He jumped a lot of spots on my list of favorite underclassmen last night.
Night one in Margaritaville was one for the books and displayed early signs that this will be the best stop of the trip. Beach training in the morning should treat a few of the guys extra nice, myself included, and the Catamaran tour set for tomorrow has been something the whole group has been looking forward to. Thanks for tuning in to day five's blog, this is Ian Dean signing off.
Day Six — Aug. 11 — Brendan Owings
Day six in Costa Rica began with a light breakfast as the group was greeted with a stunning ocean view right by our hotel. After breakfast, we took the beach by "storm" for our second training session (pun definitely intended). The sand made for a formidable opponent as it was keen to thwart our every effort during the relay races. Alas, it was great just to be out there playing soccer on the beach.
We had a few hours of free time before the most anticipated expedition of the trip, the Catamaran Tour. During this time, we were able to enjoy the ocean, the pool, the swim-up bar, or all three. And for the rest of today, we will be taking advantage of the snorkeling and scenery the catamaran tour to has to offer.
Once at our destination, we set sail around a cove. The boat traversed the waters at a leisure pace, making sure we all were able to soak in the fantastic views. To interject, I would like to thank the captain, his crew and the bartender for making this such an amazing trip (and for tolerating us). At the cove, we dropped anchor and suited up for snorkeling. We saw tropical fish as well as a starfish here and there. Our very own, very excited environmental scientist spotted an elusive stingray near the shallows.
Also, we had time to free swim and dive off of the boat. Many of us showed off some tricks, and some (he won't be named) had a tricky time learning to back-flip. Unfortunately, his perseverance was unyielding; but his determination will see fit for success in the near future (maybe). As we turned and sailed away from the cove, we were welcomed with calm waters and a breathtaking sunset.
I think everyone on this trip would tell you this has been an amazing, unforgettable experience. We only have a few more days left, and we will be making the most of it. Our season anxiously awaits us back home. Although some of us may shed a tear as we depart, we cannot wait for the season to arrive.
Next up, we will continue to enjoy the beach and play in our last game tomorrow evening.
Day Seven — Aug. 12 — Enrique Idehen
After a beautiful day on the catamaran boat tour, day seven began with a delicious breakfast at the Banana Wind Cafe at the Margaritaville Beach Resort. With no planned events for the morning, the team spent their free time relaxing, swimming at the pool, playing pool volleyball and wave jumping in the North Pacific Ocean. Some even added some extra fitness by taking a jog on the beach (preparing to beat this Cooper guy people have been talking about). There was a fun water games race, which had our guide Paula claiming the first-place finish. Ian Dean and Darius Doswell are still debating who came in second place (blowing a balloon was surprisingly tough for these two)!
After a superb chicken and fish lunch, the boys hopped on the bus and got dialed in for our third and final opponent. It was a thriller, but we fell on the wrong side of the score line. The goalkeepers on both teams received the MVP award and we took a team picture along side the Liberia soccer team. It's been a memorable experience playing against some top notch teams. We ended our Costa Rica soccer tour commemorating our fearless leader Jack Arndt for his time with the program. He was also presented with an "icy" surprise!
We got back to the resort with dinner waiting for us. Burgers, fries and mac and cheese were on the menu (a true American meal for the gringos). The final evening at Margaritaville was chill and relaxed. Some spent it having social drinks at the resort bar and others just mingled in their rooms. Regardless of what people did that evening, everyone reminisced about their favorite parts of the trip.
Our time in Costa Rica has been beyond memorable. From whitewater rafting to running around with kindergarteners to snorkeling, every activity we took part in has enhanced our team chemistry. The memories created here will stay with us forever. The Pura Vida culture has taught us that having healthy relationships with the people around you is KEY to a peaceful atmosphere and lifestyle. We grew as individuals and grew even stronger as teammates. The lessons learned here will be a factor to our success in the upcoming season. I love my team and I'm excited to continue our journey to the National Tournament with preseason back on campus. This is Big Tuna with your day seven blog!
Day Eight — Aug. 13 — Asst. Coach Connor Nightingale
For some, the morning of day eight came a bit sooner than they would have preferred. However, those that skipped breakfast earned the right to do so through stellar performances the night prior.
Once everyone was awake, the morning was ours to enjoy a few more hours of what the hotel and the beach had to offer. Many of the boys took this opportunity to get in the ocean one last time or soak up the powerful morning sun.
After a quick yet tasty lunch, we loaded up the bus and set out for San José. Our bus driver Yensi allowed us the chance to stop at a very typical roadside restaurant about halfway through our journey. A small market and cafeteria style food offerings had us all feeling like native Ticos. Enough cannot be said about how awesome Yensi was. We came for the soccer and activities, but great people like Yensi are what we will remember most about traveling through such a pretty country.
As happy as we were to get off the bus after a four-plus hour trek, there was also a general air of reluctance to do so, as it signaled that our trip ended right where it began. The fellas followed up another highly rated dinner with free time at the hotel to walk around, relax and try their luck at the casino. With such a long day ahead of us tomorrow, we were fortunate to be able to wind down and rest up tonight.