I have now been in Costa Rica for more than 3 weeks. It is amazing how time flies when you are having fun. Having never left the United States the first week was a lot of culture shock. I had to learn a lot about Costa Rican culture and how to speak Spanish. Although my Spanish is not great just yet, it is enough to get around the town. The last week our group visited the legislative branch of government here in Costa Rica. It was very interesting to see another form of government, up close and personal. We toured the building and even got to sit in the chairs that elected officials sit in during debates. I realized how similar the United States government is to this democratic system of government. It was interesting to note that in Costa Rica they allow anyone who is interested to come and watch the debate take place. I thought this was very intriguing and would encourage citizens to hold their elected officials accountable.
Today we visited a unique place called EARTH University. Located in a secluded, rural area, the university specializes in agriculture and organic farming. Students from around the world come to EARTH University for a hands-on education that will hopefully provide them with a future in agriculture or farming. We got to see many aspects of the university like the medicinal plant garden; however, the most interesting was the banana plantations. EARTH has acres and acres of banana plantations and we got to see the whole process of banana farming from where they’re grown to where they get loaded into a truck to be shipped all over the world. Being one of Costa Rica’s largest exports, it was interesting to see how the popularity of bananas came together with modern university education.
As soon as we got to Limon you could tell it was a very vibrant place- from the colors, to the music, to the waves crashing, and the coconut infused food. There were people flooding the streets looking happy whether they were walking, shopping, selling goods, or talking to friends. This was more of the Costa Rican city style I had been imagining before we left the United States. It automatically gave you the tropical vibe. For our little time in Limon we had lunch at a famous restaurant on a street corner. It was very busy with people coming in and out. At my table, we all had typical Caribbean style food particular to this area. We had a variety of meat with coconut sauce, rice and beans with coconut milk, a plantain, and a very strong ginger ale like drink called ael (pronounced “ale”). I really enjoyed the food especially with the slight coconut flavor. It was very different than the typical gallo pinto and meat dishes in the San Jose area of Costa Rica. When we all packed up back into our van, we drove along the shore, which we hadn’t realized, was so close to where we ate and was visible from many spots in the town. The beach was beautiful. The sun was out and the sand wasn’t crowded with tourists or even very many locals. It was a great last sight of our short stop in Limon and a great intro to the rest of our weekend out of the city and in the Caribbean.
Today was our first full day in Cahuita. We had planned to go to the National Park in the morning and have an open afternoon, but it was raining. So we had some time to relax at the hotel for a few hours hoping the weather would improve. Luckily for us, it did and we were able to head into town for lunch. I got the typical Afro-Caribbean dish of Coconut Curry with Chicken fillet. It was absolutely delicious! Then we all drove to the White Beach National Park. We had a few hours to spend there, so our professor Manuel and another student and I walked a few blocks to Mr. Walter Ferguson’s house. He is a very young ninety-four years old. He sang little bits of songs he remembered once in a while, told us stories about his childhood, and recounted African legends in English and Spanish. He is such a happy and intelligent man. I couldn’t believe I actually got to meet and talk with the famous Calypsonian for such a long time. That was truly a once in a lifetime experience that I will always treasure.
This weekend was a much-needed break: a trip to the Caribbean in Cahuita. A nice day at the beach on the first day was definitely needed. After being cramped up in the vus (van/bus) it was nice to be able to run around and get in the water for a couple hours. The whole weekend of music and the beach was so relaxing but this weekend was not just about relaxation and fun. This weekend we had a speaker come and talk to us about modern and historic Cahuita and Calypso music. Being able to have the opportunity to hear a famous Calypsonian play his music was absolutely fantastic, but being able to sit down and hear him sing along with one of my fellow classmates was absolutely incredible. The two of them at the time sounded great but then the other three of us were asked to sing with them and from my perspective my voice just didn’t quite match up. This combination of listening and trying to sing was a perfect end to a nearly perfect weekend.
I can’t believe we’re nearly a month into our time in Costa Rica. It seems like yesterday that we were trudging through the terrain of the Wind River Mountains. This weekend we’re in coastal Cahuita. Located on the southeastern side of Costa Rica (almost in Panama, to be exact) lies the small Caribbean town of Cahuita. With its laissez faire feeling and Rastafarian influences, it’s a place you would expect to find in Jamaica or Trinidad. We came here to further learn about Calypsonian culture and lifestyle. Our weekend features walking around downtown Cahuita, listening to an authentic Calypso band perform, and plenty of time at the beach. Though it’s a bit rainy, nothing will stop us from enjoying our time here. After all, where else can you go to the beach in November?
Today, we did community service at an orphanage with 45 children. Our group arrived in the morning with food for lunch. We all walked through the large house heading for the open-aired kitchen in the back. After dropping things off and hearing from the mom and founder of the orphanage, we all milled around the kitchen a while longer, trying to figure out what our next step should be. Eventually, a majority of us just began playing with the children while a few went to work in the front yard on the tree house. I approached a girl intently playing with some action figures and asked her name. She glanced up and responded, “Brittney.” Then without hesitation continued, “¿Caballo?” I smiled. If my time babysitting has taught me nothing else, I am a pretty excellent caballo. We raced around the front yard. She sat securely on my shoulders, clinging to my hair for extra security. She would steer me, “A la derecha, izquierda, izquierda, izquierda…” inevitably commanding I gallop in circles. Then, we sat and she became a hairdresser. She mumbled to herself in Spanish while flinging and twirling the ends of my hair into knots. Then she’d tap my shoulder, “¡Muchacha! Su pelo…” And she’d pull the length out to its farthest in case I wasn’t aware of my own hair. We moved place to place as my hairstyle changed. She would giggle and tell me something while twisting one strand and I couldn’t help but laugh along with her. After a while of this, I thanked her for the hair do and excused myself from the salon to help with lunch in the kitchen. This was just one child I had the opportunity to spend time with today. There are several others that I will never forget and feel so lucky to have met.
We spent this past Tuesday volunteering at Hogar de Pan Orphange. When we arrived the mother of all the children living at this orphanage told us her story behind why she started taking children in. When her daughter was very young, doctors told her that she was terminally ill. Another sick child was being taken care of in a bed next to the daughter, a young Nicaraguan boy who was abandoned by his parents. The mother took him in and took care of both him and her daughter. Today, both children have survived 35 years later. Ever since initially adopting this boy, the mother has been taking in more children in need of a home. Currently, the house we visited holds forty-five children, the youngest being only three months old. In addition, some of the children living there have some form of mental or physical disability. During the morning I hung out a lot with a young autistic boy. He could not speak, but he enjoyed holding my hand and walk around the property. He would motion for me to pick up any object on the floor which we walked past so he could tap on and feel the top and the bottom of the object. Later I held and entertained a baby for about an hour and attempted to talk to her in Spanish. By the afternoon I had comforted three crying children and pushed children on a swing for two hours. This day was one of the most exhausting days I’ve spent in Costa Rica so far.
Last week we spent a full day at an orphanage not far from where we are living here in Costa Rica. Once we were let in through the gate to the orphanage, we were immediately greeted with children who helped us carry in the food we had brought for lunch. We followed those few through the front yard and continued further until we reached the outside kitchen. To our shock, this orphanage houses fprty-five children their ages varying from a few months to seventeen years old. The only thing these children wanted from us was our full attention. That day was very bittersweet for me personally. I was so happy to spend time with the kids whether it was walking around, playing on the playground, or simply holding the babies. I was also happy that the woman who started this house is so willing to care for all of the children there. What made me so sad was the fact that there are so many children who are living there without a family, but that made me realize that collectively, they are their own family. I was also sad that these children only have a few adults there with them so that to me, means that they get very little individual attention on a regular basis. The worst part of the day was leaving them. They grew very attached to us and I think we did to them too. I hope that other volunteer groups will be coming soon and hopefully can spend an extended period time at the orphanage.
This week I was able to cross another activity off of my “Bucket List”; I was able to go white water rafting. Showing up at the river I was not quite sure what to expect other than a lot of water and a lot of fun. Once we got in the boat it had begun. After a 15 minutes of paddling we got to the first rapid and that set the tone for the rest of the day. The whole day was a blast and surprisingly got even better once it started to rain. The fact that the river water and the rain were both warm made this experience ten times better. There are not many times when you hear, “ok so now who wants to get out of the boat and float down these rapids?” Well after hearing that I knew I was never going to get a chance like this again so I took it. I jumped in the water and trying to keep my feet out in front of me floated down through the rapids. Being a very outdoorsy type person the optional rafting activity wasn’t very “optional” to me, I had to do it and thankfully I was able to.