Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pura vida, tuanis maje!

Meaning, “Life’s good, cool dude.” Which is how you’re supposed to respond in Costa Rica when asked “¿Cómo estás? It’s also a direct parallel to the way I’ve seen that life is lived down here. The people are friendly, relaxed, and laid back. They enjoy the beauty of the beaches are forests around them, and take care of these places in return. There’s so much adventure to be had and nature to appreciate here, how can they afford not to?

While I expected that sort of slow pace and the nature, Costa Rica is not exactly how I imagined it. It is very much a “developing” country. I had heard of all of the eco-villages and communities found around the country—places where rich Americans come to retire or own second homes—so I imagined Costa Rica as touristy, resorty, upscale. From what I’ve seen, though, that is not so. The town of Bahia de Ballena, where our hotel is located, has a population of only 850. The local elementary school, which goes through 6th grade, is as far as the majority of the children here make it through the education system. Electricity was installed in the year 2000. Hotels tout signs advertising hot water and air conditioning (both of which our hotel lacks.) And I know this is far more developed and advanced than many, many other places. We can still walk to a grocery store, post office, or restaurant to get things we need. These are luxuries which we’ll soon be losing.

We’re located near the Osa Peninsula, which boasts a biodiversity of animals. So far, I’ve glimpsed alligators and toucans from a bus; ziplined over a sloth; watched dolphins, whales, and sea turtles from a boat; nearly stepped on a giant iguana during a run; snorkeled above vibrantly colored fish; and seen countless geckos, spiders, crabs, horses, and more. We’ve gotten to do a lot of fun things outside in the natural playground. Some turn out better than others…while kayaking, Loren and Luisa flipped into the murky water. Jessie and I both had to urgently use the restroom, and so we somehow found a way to go off the sides of our kayak. Today on our boat trip out to Caño Island, I think three people got seasick and threw up overboard.

We’ve been learning too. The last week and a half has seemed like a month, at least. Each day is so packed with seminars, discussions, and other activities, that they seem to last forever. Not only about safety and culture, but about development, foreign aid, and economics as well. We debated about our summer reading books, finished another book, and are expected to read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, written by John Perkins, in the next week. There hasn’t been one moment where I have not had something I’ve needed to do.

The group is getting to know one another better, and we’re becoming more comfortable with each other. Everyone’s really supportive and open to talk, which is a great thing to have from the beginning.

I already have a list of things that I wish I had brought! I guess it’s impossible to know exactly what I’d need before I came on the trip, though. Tomorrow, we leave for San Jose, where we’ve been told we’ll be visiting a mall. Everyone is pretty excited to stock up on much-needed supplies for Ecuador. Then Monday, we fly to Quito where we’ll stay for a few days before we head to Los Naranjos for our first homestay.

Tonight, we’re having some sort of “closing activity” for our orientation. Rumor is that there is some sort of ritual involved…we’ll see. Rachel and I splurged and purchased the first episode of the new season of Gossip Girl online, so watching that is also on our agenda for tonight. Technology is amazing.

I’ll keep updating as the adventure continues!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hola from Costa Rica

This is my first post from abroad!

Hola from Costa Rica! We arrived in San Jose Wednesday night after our flight from Miami via San Salvador. We stayed at a hostel overnight before loading up on a bus for a four and a half hour bus ride South to Uvita, a small town on the Pacific coast. In Uvita, we're staying at Hotel Canto de Ballenas (translation is call of the whale.) We're in little bungalows arranged around a nice grassy lawn and pool. There were surprise centipedes waiting for us in the bathroom and some pretty big spiders as well. We avoided these, got settled, and changed into our bathing suits for a walk to the beach. Usually it's a mile walk away, but they hadn't cut the trail yet, so it took us about 40 minutes to walk by road. The waves were HUGE and the water was almost bath temperature. So pretty. After dinner, we had our first discussion. The topic: what is development? Everyone seemed to really have thought about it and contributed a lot of really good ideas, so it was very interesting. And we have work to do already! We received a packet with excerpts from the book
Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo, which we have to read by next Thursday.

This morning, I woke up to run with Lauren (another runner on the trip) before breakfast. Even at 7 am, we could feel the humidity and heat. Our adventure of the day was a hike to a gorgeous waterfall and swimming hole. We picked up burritos along the way and ate them on top of rocks in the middle of the stream. The sun definitely left its mark on my shoulders and arms though.

We have lots of other fun things coming up in our ten days in Costa Rica. Tomorrow we're taking surfing lessons, the next day we have a yoga session, then there's ziplining, a kayak trip, and a boat trip to Caño Island. We also have more discussions and briefings over the program awaiting. And I'm sure there will be more gallos pintos (rice and beans) to be eaten. So far, I've had it at every meal but one! But there are lots of yummy juices to look forward to. Last night it was from a guanabana fruit. Who knows what other new fruits I'll find while I'm here.

Adios for now!