Hola a todos, I am the last of those to write a blog about our trip to Costa Rica. As our time came to a close, I was able to reflect on all of the activities we participated in and around Las Juntas. Though I think we are all happy to be traveling back to our families, dogs, homes and (hopefully) cooler weather, there are many things I’m sure we will all miss about our trip. Probably not
the bugs or the heat, but you can’t ask for everything! The sense of community that emanated from each person in town and the friendly attitude of each individual was truly refreshing, and the lively energy that pervaded each space we visited was remarkable. By the end of our stay, I could walk down the street and genuinely wave hello to each person I saw. The lifestyle in Las Juntas is truly more simple and predicated upon interpersonal relationships- modern distractions, luxuries and objects are not as important. For instance, while we all complained about the lack of AC (especially me, it was hot!) the townspeople grew accustomed to heat, because they knew that what truly mattered was the fact that they were all together as a family, whether that meant with or without air conditioning. I also learned how this happiness and relaxed way of living contributed to the sustainability of culture in the town.
When asked how they were doing, most people would respond with “pura vida”, or pure life. They believed that if they lived a pure life and continued to do so, and if their children and great grandchildren continued to do so as well, then they would survive for generations to come. They would find ways to make money and support themselves while doing what they loved, they would find ways to help the environment and sustain it for the future, and most importantly, they would find ways to remain content with their lives. In this way, I find myself, as I’m sure all the rest of my classmates do as well, appreciating and truly grasping the concept of this “pura vida” lifestyle. At the same time, it allows me to reflect on my own lifestyle and appreciate my family and the home I grew up in, and the way I hope to sustain my family and my life in the future.
The title of our class was “Community Sustainability in Costa Rica”. I believe that through this trip, I’ve discovered the real value of community sustainability culturally, environmentally and economically, both in Costa Rica and back home.
We kicked off our last full day in Las Juntas with our usual breakfast at Chayito’s, complete with delicious avocado slices and fresh fruit juice. After breakfast we had a brief break before starting class at Carlos and Elieth’s house at 9:30. There, we heard from all the student research groups, who were reporting on their research findings. The public health group started off the morning with a presentation on Costa Rica’s publicly funded health clinics and the perceptions of their efficacy by residents of Las Juntas. Next came the agriculture group, which shared with the class the differences between the small, forest-looking family farms in Las Juntas compared with the large factory farms we are used to in the USA. Then the education research group talked about the four pillars of the education system in Costa Rica: how to know, how to make, how to live together, and how to be.
Their presentation was followed by a visit from Ana, a local artisan who makes jewelry out of scrap mining materials. She had brought a handful of unique and beautiful pieces for students to purchase as souvenirs. From there we took a break from class and walked down the block for our very last meal
at Chayito’s. A large group of students then went to Yipi for a last smoothy or ice cream cone from Estaban, the store’s kind and hospitable owner whom we visited nearly everyday in our time in Las Juntas. Knowing that we were leaving Las Juntas the following morning, Estaban sent us off by sharing some fresh watermelon free of charge and indulging us in a selfie.
After the lunch break, it was back to Carlos and Elieth’s porch to hear presentations from the women in business and water groups.The students studying women in business previewed us to a five minute clip of their documentary, for which they conducted interviews with local women who find fulfillment by running their own businesses. Finally, the water group reported on their testings and confirmed to us that drinking the tap water in Las Juntas for the last two weeks was nothing to worry about.
After research presentations, we convened as a group to have a reflective conversation about our experience in Las Juntas. We discussed stereotypes and biases, our role as Americans in the international system, community and environmental sustainability, and what it means to be developed or developing (still unsure if the US is a developed country or just a developing one with iPhones and fast food). From there we had some down time before our final dinner together to say goodbye to this beautiful town that made us feel at home.
Thank you again for everything! Have a lovely summer.
During our class on Friday night, we talked a lot about our initial impressions of Las Juntas. Everyone had something to say about the overwhelming sense of community within the town. On our very first day, we saw a group of people rush to help someone whose car had stalled in the middle of the street. Initially, we were all surprised by this support, but once we started interacting with the community, we realized it was just what people did here. They want to get to know the people in their town and more importantly they want to help them.
For my service project I worked at the elementary school, on the first two days I helped to clear a path in the garden so that new plants could be planted. This task was specifically important to this school because they focus on sustainable thinking. As such, the administrators try to give them exposure to green initiatives such as growing food and composting. On our third and last day of community service we assisted the English teacher with his lessons. For many students, this was the first time they had ever heard a native English speaker. It was interesting to see how they perceived out presence in the classroom. It was definitely a welcome environment but they were also very curious about what we were doing in their classroom.
As someone in the education program, this was particularly interesting to me because we need multiple clearances in order to step into to a school. But here I was able to just walk in and teach a lesson. I definitely think there is unevenness in that we were seen as fit to teach students simply because we were from America, which would not necessarily be the case if the situation was reversed and we were Costa Rican students trying to teach spanish to Americans. Overall I grateful for the experience, I thought our community service experience was much different than that of our classmates, it allowed me to perhaps gain a better grasp on my privilege as it relates to going abroad.
Our second day at Hacienda Gauchipelín in Rincón de la Vieja was rather refreshing as we got to engage in a variety of tourist activities. During our stay here we went on a nature hike through an active volcano site in which
we saw numerous active sites with boiling sulfur water and mud. I was taken aback by how green the site was, even in spite of the volcanic activity. The summer heat was increased due to the steamy hot spots, but I enjoyed the time we spent appreciating the magnificence and magnitude of the volcanic activity. One of the biggest surprises during the hike were the many strangler figs, hollowed out over the years as its host tree died and decomposed. It was humbling to be around so much nature in a volcano site because of how long nature takes to regenerate after an eruption. Afterward some folks took a brief dip in the pool while others stayed in their hotel rooms and enjoyed the air conditioning before our return to the more rustic conditions in Las Juntas. Our overnight vacation was very relaxing but we were ready to get back to Las Juntas and wrap-up our research projects, and to reflect on our experiences.
Today we traveled to the volcanic region in Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja for a much needed one day vacation from our hard work. On the way to the hotel our bus took a pit stop at a large waterfall where we were able to swim and of course take a scenic photoshoot in front of the falling water. After a refreshing swim there, we continued to our destination Hotel Hacienda Gauchipelín in Rincón de la Vieja. Once we arrived, our class was greeted with a marimba player and delicious pineapple drinks. While our rooms were being prepared we spent time tanning by the pool and eating a buffet lunch in the restaurant. Having a variety of foods to choose from other than our usual rice and beans was a fantastic change. After a filling lunch, we were able to check into our room, unpack, and prepare for the rest of the day’s adventures.
After, we went to visit another waterfall and an area with volcanic activity. To get to the second waterfall we hiked through the rain-forest. Here we were able to jump of a short cliff into a beautiful pool of clear water at the bottom of the waterfall as well as go swimming. After the waterfall we traveled a short way to hike through the forest again to volcanic mud baths and hot springs. At the site, we were able to use the volcanic mud as a skin mask. After letting it dry and rinsing off in the river, we swam in natural hot springs. The water was so warm and blue, it’s incredible to think that something like that occurs naturally. That night we came back to the hotel for a buffet dinner and hung out playing cards until we were ready to sleep (on real beds!)
On Thursday, we started off our morning with a boat tour along the Rio Tempisque. Even though the water wasn’t the clearest, the view of the mountains was absolutely breathtaking. We had the opportunity to see different species of birds rest on the shore of the islands around us. We also saw two crocodiles! On our way back to the bus, some of us bought flavored ices from a local vendor to cool down.
Before lunch we visited the Women’s Co-op Hydroponic Plant. At this plant, a group of 8 women in Abangares work together to grow different herbs and produce. It was incredible to see how much the community supports women in the workforce. Cemex, the company that supports the co-op, provides housing for the families of the women who work there and private schooling for their children. Additionally, the women are able to directly sell their produce to the Abangares community every Thursday so they can earn a living for themselves and their families.
On Tuesday afternoon, we had planned to visit the Ecomuseo in Las Juntas that some of our group had worked on their service projects. However, a wicked storm was abrewin’ so Ricardo made the hike optional and those who wished to rest for the afternoon stayed home while the more adventurous of the bunch went on the hike.
At the Ecomuseo, we reunited with our main man Victor Hugo who runs the mining/ecology museum. We spent some time looking at the artifacts on display from the time from the days of industrial gold mining (1880s to 1930s). We saw the bottles that contained the mercury that was used in the extraction process and metal clamps that were used to carry hot crucibles. The hiking group also got to meet the super cute spiders that the service group had to deal with each day they worked at the Ecomuseo and the bats that occupied the bathrooms.
We began our hike in the outdoor area around the Ecomuseo where we saw some of the old machinery that was manufactured in the United States and transported to Costa Rica to be used by the mining company. As we hiked up the mountain path, Victor Hugo and Ricardo continued to explain what the mining process entailed and pointed out where certain structures were located such as the train track or the excavation sites. The view from the 7-story facility was awesome.
Highlights of the trip include exploring one of the mine tunnels that remains open and hearing the howler monkeys respond to Ricardo’s calls. Unfortunately, they were on the other side of the valley so we didn’t see them. Descending the slippery trail down the mountain proved to be a bigger challenge compared to the steep trail we climbed up. A few of us took a spill but we made it down unscathed for the most part!
May 30 is Ricardo’s birthday so we had to celebrate! Ricardo’s favorite food is tamales so they were made special for us, and two cakes were provided by his good friends. It was a fun night! Tomorrow we are off to explore Rincon de la Vieja National Park – an active Volcanic site.
Hola! On Saturday, May 27th, we began our small trip from Las Juntas to Monteverde. The night before we spent some time discussing our first impressions/thoughts about the trip so far. While Las Juntas and Monteverde are both in Costa Rica, they cannot be compared in terms of how they operate or function. Las Juntas isn’t the first place a typical tourist would travel to. On the contrary, Monteverde is an area that is accessed by many people all over the world. It is a place that accommodates those that only speak English. I really appreciated being exposed to both ends of the spectrum because I feel not many people who travel from the United States to Costa Rica get to see how both kinds of communities operate. The road to Monteverde is not long and should have only taken us about 30 minutes, however, it ended up taking close to an hour and a half due to the lack of unpaved condition. Along this road, we stopped for a caffeine pick-me-up at this quaint coffee shop overlooking the mountains. Upon our arrival, we checked into our cabins and were off to lunch and then the Cloud Forest Reserve! As a group, we were exposed to so many different kinds of wildlife and vegetation. My favorite was the white-faced monkey. After our small walk through the forest, we were able to see the hummingbird garden and yet another caffeine pick-me-up. I don’t want to leave this beautiful place. Now that I’ve actually tasted the best coffee in the entire world, I’m not sure I want to come home. I would 100% stay here for the coffee. P.s. Shout out to my wonderful parents who celebrated their 27th anniversary today! Pura Vida
Though the clouds hung low, our smiles rose high as we spent a lovely day in Monteverde and Santa Elena. The bus ride to the gorgeous hilly town was along back roads which graced our eyes with some of the most breathtaking views of clouds hugging the trees and slopes. The temperature dropped dramatically which was a nice break from sticky Las Juntas! While hiking through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, we manage to spot a group of white face monkeys, a quetzal, and a Toucan feeding it’s young.
To revitalise ourselves post-hike we visited a women’s artisan co-op (CASEM) and The Monteverde Coffee Center where we were able to indulge in some delicious coffee. The mocha was DEVINE! The rain poured relentlessly for the rest of the night which made it impossible to do the night hike we were excited about. But after seeing the lightening illuminate the black sky, we all agreed that we’d be better off staying inside!
Though it is nice to have a break, I am looking forward to continuing our documentary project over the week back in Las Juntas. We so far have had three successful interviews with women involved in government and small businesses. I am very appreciative of their openness to our questions and our camera and I am excited to share our final project with all of the people involved! Hopefully we are able to exchange something valuable for their generosity and time!
For my community service, I cleaned the Ecomuseo in La Sierra with a few other people. Today, we finished our service early and my group ended up sitting around the table talking about the aspects of the Spanish and English language. While this was interesting, I did not want to waste the opportunity to hike and explore the surrounding forest! I ventured off down the trail, up old stone stairs, and back down the trail. Halfway through it started to pour and that enhanced the adventure. The views and sounds were perfect.
In my downtime (time not spent walking the town or researching), I love to sit on the balcony at the student house. I’ve done this every day, but I really started to think about my life in relation to my experiences here. Observing the area, I noticed the same cat make its third round looking for food or fun, lizards of some sort, climbing the fence, people walking and riding bikes, children playing soccer and games, and students playing instruments (at varying skill levels!). It is a very peaceful time for me and I started to realize that life is simpler here. Everything one needs is in walking distance. The sense of community is very strong here. Back home, some towns that do claim a sense of unity use that as their boosting point. In Las Juntas, and probably Costa Rica, strong communal ties are the norm- not something that’s rare. I am not looking forward to coming home to my long drives, traffic, large price tags, air pollution, lawn work, loud noises, bright lights, and poor produce. Pura Vida