Friday, June 15, 2012

Last Thoughts Of Costa Rica

United Flight 1446 made a long sweeping turn shortly after takeoff from Aeropuerto Internacional Daniel Oduber Quirós airport yesterday afternoon, giving TigerBlog one more opportunity to marvel at the stunning natural beauty that is Costa Rica.

He’s pretty sure the plane flew over the Caribbean Sea coast, as opposed to the Pacific Ocean one, as TB could see the forest that went right up to the water’s edge, as Diego, one of the three guides on the Princeton men’s lacrosse trip, said it did.

The astonishing colors of green that make up any Costa Rican landscape all blended together from the air. Eventually, the plane climbed above some cloud cover and then out of Costa Rican airspace, and the Tigers’ week in the country was officially over.

TigerBlog hopes his recaps and blogs on the trip weren’t redundant or boring, because it’s really hard to oversell the experience that the men’s lacrosse team had in its seven days in Costa Rica.

The NCAA permits teams to make one international trip every four years, giving each player the opportunity to go once. Or, if you’re Zach Drexler, a player on the team four years ago that went to Spain and Ireland and the undergraduate assistant coach this past year, you can go twice.

Drexler didn’t hesitate to say that he liked this trip better than that last, and he didn’t hesitate to describe Spain and Ireland in one word: great.

That’s an indication of what this trip was.

The  biggest difference between the two trips was of course the impact that the Tigers had on the locals.

In Spain, Princeton stayed at a great resort and played two great lacrosse games against the English national team. In Ireland, Princeton stayed right in the heart of the Temple Bar district of Dublin, which is still the nicest city TigerBlog has ever been to, but the Irish people that the Tigers met were in restaurants and bars and on the streets and were exclusively adults. 

Both countries offered a great cultural opportunity, and there isn't a person who was on that trip four years ago who doesn't smile when remembering the time there.

Greg Raymond, Princeton’s assistant coach, took nearly 500 pictures from that trip four years ago, and for some reason, every one of them is still on TB’s hard drive. Through the years since, TB has gone through them and thought about what a great time he had and how awesome the whole trip was.

In fact, the background on his desktop since he returned from the 2008 trip has been the picture Raymond took of the Upper Lake at Glendalough, about 90 minutes from Dublin.

Still, TB has to agree with Drexler on this one. This most recent trip wasn’t just awesome for the whitewater rafting and ziplining (which, by the way, TB didn’t do, skipping the zipping, as it were, to hang out with John McPhee).

No, this one was made by the people that the Tigers met, mostly the children, and hopefully those people feel the same.

International travel is a big luxury that not every team at every school can afford to do every four years. The lacrosse programs at Princeton are lucky in this regard, and the women’s team will be heading to Malta and London in the fall.

TigerBlog remembers the end of the Princeton-Yale game in the Ivy League tournament back in early May, when the Tigers were beaten by a Yale team that played two games that weekend as well as lacrosse can be played. When the NCAA tournament field was announced later in the day and Princeton was in it, TB's first thought was that he was happy for the team, especially the seniors, whose careers didn’t have to end with that empty feeling of losing at home.

Princeton fell 6-5 to UVa in the first round of the NCAA tournament on a day when the difference between the two teams was a fluke goal at the end of the first half and an act of bravery (insanity?) on the part of Virginia’s Chris LaPierre, who stepped in front of a rocket from Forest Sonnenfeldt that might have tied the game in the final seconds.

As this trip went along, TB was sure that the feeling of not going further in the tournament was fading, in favor of realizing that the team had won the Ivy League championship with a perfect 6-0 record one year after missing the Ivy tournament, let alone the NCAA tournament.

And that feeling was helped along by this time away together again as this Prineton team for the last time.

When the recent grads look back to how their Princeton experience ended, they’ll remember Costa Rica first and not that they lost in the tournament.

When the three mini-buses pulled up to the airport Thursday morning and the Tigers got off one last time, the saddest people were the guides and drivers who had been with the team every minute of the last week. 

Diego and Victor were on TB's bus. The other guides were Hurben and Jheudi; the other drivers were Jose and Carlos. All six of them were awesome.

Diego called the Tigers one of his top five favorite groups that he’s ever worked with. He had every person on his bus sign one of his company shirts, and he made sure to get everyone’s email address. 

Earlier, he climbed into the middle of the bus, which had 15 members of the travel party on it, and got his picture taken. As he did, Victor, the driver, pretended to pull off to the side to get in as well. When the bus reached the airport, there were more pictures, including with Victor, and each of the other buses were doing the same thing.

The first thing TB did when the team landed at Newark Liberty last night was to email Diego to tell him that the group got back without a problem and to thank him for everything. When each player on the bus woke up today, he was greeted with an email from Diego thanking him for making the week so great and with two pictures attached.

Before the buses left the hotel on the beach in Tamarindo, head coach Chris Bates stood facing out to the ocean, soaking it in again, not wanting to let it go.

It was 10 times tougher to say goodbye to Diego, Victor and the others.

That was the kind of trip it was.

Marvel at the natural beauty.

Touch, and be touched by, the people.

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