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.
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
On our first full day in Las Juntas was a long one but we learned a lot about the town and the people. We started our day off by taking taxis to las minas (the mines). We then split up into two groups and went through the mines for a tour! Our tour guide, Bernie was a miner and was able to teach us all about the different levels of the mines as we went in about 200km. On our way out of the mines, we passed by a natural spring and Bernie explained that there was an old mining tradition behind the spring. As we each passed by, we had the chance to touch the water and thank god that we were able to get out safely just as the miners do!
After a lunch of rice and beans at Chayito, we all geared up and went for a walking tour around Las Juntas with Carlos and Elieth. We saw a lot of important locations around the town including the church, the oldest house in the town and a local elementary school. It was really interesting to see the town from a local’s point of view. Now that we know where a lot of the cool places are around town, we are excited to continue exploring!
Yesterday we went to a farm where we helped plant trees to construct a natural fence.
This natural fence is used to reinforce an older barbed wire fence that is already in place to contain animals like horses and cows. We used cuttings from existing trees and planted them about one foot apart along the existing fence. It was a hot and sweaty morning, with heavy lifting and lots of digging but our contribution has multiple benefits for the community. First, the fence will contain the animals on the farm as the old fence begins to deteriorate. Second, planting new trees benefits the environment. Plants take up carbon from the surroundings and sequester, or hold on to, it. Carbon sequestration helps decrease the negative effects that excessive carbon has on the climate. New trees grow rapidly, quickly removing carbon from the ambient environment. Also, since these newly planted trees are permanent the atmospheric carbon captured will be stored long term. The sequestration of carbon dioxide and other forms of carbon helps to mitigate or defer global warming.
After planting over 100 trees along the fence line, I inspired a class dip in the stream. The water was chilly, but it felt so nice in contrast to the sun-baked fields. It was great to rinse off the sticky sweat and feel the water rushing by. At night will split up to have dinner with host families.