Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Life is full of lessons

I've been living in Costa Rica for 9 weeks. Talk about a life-changing experience. I feel like I'm always saying this, but it really is impossible for me to put into words all the beautiful things I am seeing and emotions I am feeling. This isn't even the halfway point, so I know that there is much more still to be learned. All the same, I felt compelled to write this blog on the small things I have learned thus far in my adventures. Some are silly, some practical, and some serious. But they are all certainly worth the read...
  1. I could live minimally and still lead an exceptionally happy life. 
  2. Good coffee really does make a difference.
  3. Fresh fruits and vegetables really are better.
  4. Don't just go willy nilly picking things up!
  5. Lizano sauce is absolutely delicious.. on everything. (Yes, Candace, you were right.)
  6. Wearing no makeup will decrease your perceived "need" for makeup. It's all relative. 
  7. Dry shampoo would be very nice to have as hot showers are not always available.
  8. T-shirts work just fine as pillowcases (don't judge me). 
  9. There is no need to spend tons of money on a coffee machine when you can use a percolator for around $8 (or more if you want a fancy decorative one, but still..)
  10. Men instantly become more attractive when they know how to dance with you.. at least for me they do ;).
  11. Costa Rica really isn't that much cheaper than the United States. Sources say it is actually the 4th most expensive country in Latin America to live in.
  12. Spanish (or any second language for that matter) is VERY difficult to learn. I seriously respect those people who are bilingual.
  13. You learn who your true friends are when you leave them to travel abroad. Love you guys!
  14. Driving isn't necessary with the proper personal motivation and public transportation.
  15. There is so much to be learned about the world and all the people that make it up. I will never stop learning. 
  16. Life is not worth all the worry.
  17. Money is just paper that we allow to run our lives. 
  18. Fear is just something we allow in our brains that keeps us from fully experiencing life.
  19. Shyness, in the same manner, is just a way that we let another person's perception of us change the way we act. So just dance. Don't worry, they're just jealous. 
  20. We may all come from different cities in different parts of the world, but in the end, we have much more in common than we thought.
Things are changing. I am changing. I could not have asked for a better experience. And this is still just the beginning. Perhaps later I will brief you in more detail :)

But, as for now, I must call it a night and get some real work done.
As always, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The beauty of nature

A few weeks ago we got the opportunity to travel to a fairly "undiscovered" beach community in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Playa Coyote is a fishing community that has yet to truly be developed for tourism and visitors, but it is definitely worth the trip! It took us about 10 hours of driving in CATIE vans/buses to get all the way up the Pacific coast and back down the Nicoya Peninsula. Most of the roads further down the peninsula are unpaved and require much more time to get to your destination.. especially if it is raining (you better have 4-wheel drive).

This community relies heavily on fishing and realized a few years ago that their fish populations off the coast of the Nicoya Peninsula were quickly decreasing and endangered species were being harmed due to trolling careless fishing practices. These beaches are also home to several different species of Sea Turtles who come there specifically to lay their eggs. In order to protect these areas PRETOMA was created. In the last 16 years, this organization has been able to get approximately 35,000 square hectares of ocean and beach protected from poachers and unsustainable fishing practices.

Over the course of the weekend we were able to go out in the Pacific Ocean with local fishermen (my Dad would be pleased to hear that I didn't get sick!). They took us out and taught us their sustainable process for line setting. These lines are made to sit at the bottom of the ocean and each line usually has around 500-1000 hooks baited. Ordinarily each line is set in the evening and left overnight, but since we didn't have that much time we set the line and went a little further out for a swim in the ocean and came back about an hour later.

And the grand total of fish we caught... ONE! And one other one we had to throw back. But we won't count that one. Granted, the lines weren't out there for very long. Still I think it is a good example of the fish population and how much they have been depleted. It made for an incredible day though.. I mean, how often do you get to go swimming in the Pacific Ocean?? Sure I was scared out of my mind most of the time, but hey, there's a first time for everything!

That night Erick took us out to one of their protected beaches to patrol for turtle nests. Now this was interesting for me. First of all, I'm partially night blind, so my eyes don't really adjust to the darkness and I can hardly see without a flashlight (big thanks to Kaitlyn and Nikki for being my guides!). Secondly, it was really late and we were all tired, but in the end it was WAY worth it.

Not many people get to go out and witness turtles laying their eggs, but that night.. we got to. I don't even know how to begin explaining it. It was like stepping into a TV episode on the Discovery Channel. We walked down the beach a bit and then Erick disappeared into the darkness only to run back to us saying he had found a turtle.

Now I'm sure you are wondering how we actually saw these turtles in the pure darkness.. and the answer is by red light. For some reason the red light doesn't disturb the turtles as a normal white light would. But either way, it was fascinating. We stood there in pure silence watching as these turtles dug a nest and laid their eggs in the sand only to return back to the sea. It was beautiful.

After something as incredible as that, the rest of the weekend seemed to pale in comparison. But of course, that was something I will never EVER forget.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Bri Bri

Imagine riding in a canoe upstream on the Yorkin River between Costa Rica and Panama, powered only by one small motor on the back and the strength of a guide at the front of the canoe with a staff to ward off the rocks. The view is breathtaking. All around you is clear river water, steep rocks, and dense forest. Occasionally you spot the natural waterfall hidden in the mountains or the beautiful red flowers set against the dense green background. A colorful bird taking flight. The landscape is absolutely unbelievable..

This is the only way to get to the indigenous Bri Bri tribe of Costa Rica. The trip is not a short one and few people actually choose to make it. We were in the canoes for at least an hour, if not more, being guided by the strength of the natives who know these rivers and navigate them on a daily basis. The closest "grocery store" (which is more like a small convenient store) is where we got on the river. But for a long ride, it certainly is worth the view. As we got closer to our destination we could see the tribe's "huts" in the forest, built by the hand with wood and dried up leaves.

Now let me tell you, I really didn't know what to expect on this field trip. Our professor had done a pretty good job of preparing us for the worst by telling us we would be rowing our boats for 4 hours (or more depending on the weather), then hiking another 2 hours in the rain to our final destination. He told us there were going to be huge bugs and snakes and that our sleeping conditions would be closer to the like of sleeping in tents in the rain forest. We were also told that if we "survived" this weekend, we would be golden for the rest of the year. Oh Dr. Vargas.. you and your jokes.

So what actually happened was... the boat ride took only a little over an hour (we didn't even get to row ourselves!), and the 2 hour hike took about 5 minutes as the community naturally lives very close to the river (for obvious reasons).

The reality was that we were visiting the ecotourism operation of an indigenous tribe. So there was no electricity and the few lights that they have are completely solar powered. The showers weren't heated, there was no A/C, and the "dorms" were simply huts in the forest. Honestly, the sleeping quarters were much better than I had expected. Granted, we did have to enter them that night in complete darkness (you know, the kind where it is just as dark with your eyes closed as it is when they are open) and search each of our beds for spiders, scorpions, and other insects by the light of my trusty flashlight. But it was all a part of the experience and each of us is stronger having "survived" it.

About 20 years ago, a Bri Bri woman named Bernarda had a vision for the future of her tribe. As a community they were at a point where they needed to increase income and find a way to do so sustainably. At the time, their culture was very much "machismo" where the men were seen as the workers and decision-makers and the women took care of the home. So Bernarda did not have an easy time trying to get her idea heard.

She wanted to be able to preserve their forests while offering a unique tourism experience for visitors. She worked with two other women from the community on their project. Each of their husbands was working for the banana industry and they were slowly starting to feel the effects of the chemicals in their work environment. Long story short, these women fought for their idea and eventually gained enough support from the community to make it all happen. Bernarda was only 19 when she started this project. Talk about an inspiration..

Her creation has helped to preserve their forests and educate visitors on the importance of culture and the environment. Seeing how they are able to live happy lives on so little is truly inspiring. After just spending one night there, I had a better grasp on how unimportant material things are to our happiness. It made me feel grateful with the blessings that have been bestowed on me and really stop to think about "need vs. want." If one night made such an impact on my, I can only imagine the impact it has on other visitors. A lot of times we complain about all of the things that we don’t have. When we really need to sit back and appreciate all that we do. Our lives are rich in culture, family, and friends. We have access to food and water and are lucky enough to be able to live comfortably. Women are respected and considered equal in the US. These families live with much less than we do, yet they are still able to see the beauty in life and work hard to protect what is theirs. 

Over that short trip, we were able to interact with their community, hike through the forest, make pure 100% cacao, and experience the life of an indigenous tribe. It may have been full of bugs and miles of hiking in the rain, but the peace and serenity of sleeping in pure darkness with no chance of hearing cars or trains or even airplanes was worth it. 

After visiting the Bri Bri, we went to the Cahuita National Park to see one of Costa Rica's greatest public parks. It is 
a nature preserve with forest, mangroves, and beautiful beach all wrapped into one. If you're lucky (and we were) you can even see monkeys in the trees. It was a nice and relaxing day on the beach after which we headed home. 

I know it has taken me forever to write this, but I wanted to make sure that it did justice to the experiences we had that weekend. Thanks for sticking with me! 

Save the penguins!

It's been quite some time since I've felt inspired to write and publish a blog, but guess what?!? I have found inspiration! And ...