Sitting here on my last day in Costa Rica it’s incredible to think back to the beginning of my trip. After two plane rides and a five-hour bus ride, I found myself in the pitch dark being greeted by four strangers, climbing in an Xterra and taking a half an hour drive down a bumpy, potholed road. Exhausted and nervous I spent the ride thinking about all the reasons why this trip could go terribly wrong. There I was, a seventeen-year-old girl stuffed in a car with four men whose names I had already forgotten, heading towards an indigenous reservation where I would be spending the next two weeks. As I soon found out, my worrying was for nothing. My time spent in Bambu was some of the best I’ve ever had.
The four strange men turned out to be Isaac, one of the cofounders of Tropical Adventures, Mauro our project coordinator, Ryan a 23 year old from Canada, and Markus a 35 year old from Switzerland, all of whom were great and extremely easy to be around. Together, we spent the next two weeks teaching English, working at a retirement home, and being immersed in the beautiful culture of the Bribri people.
We would start out our mornings working at the retirement home, where the residents were sweet, hilarious, and ecstatic to have our company. After spending time with the residents painting, talking and just enjoying each other’s company, we headed over to the elementary school where we were teaching English.
We would spend an hour or more working with the fifth and sixth graders helping them to broaden their understanding of English through writing, reading, talking, and arts & crafts. As with any class, in any country, there were a few students who seemed completely uninterested in what we had to offer, but the majority of the students loved the opportunity to learn.
Our afternoons were spent eating the delicious food Fulbia had prepared, sleeping in hammocks, and playing with the kids from the family. In the evening, the entire community was invited over to learn English. By the end of the two weeks we had a regular group of about ten that would come every night to learn. These lessons went great because they were small and very personal. Also, everyone who was there chose to be there and so they were very receptive and willing to learn.
Along with our work, we spent a great deal of time enjoying the incredible tours Bambu had to offer. The most memorable was a six-hour hike into the mountains where we played in a nearby waterfall, learned about the life of farmers in Costa Rica, and slept in an open air room, staring at a sky filled with stars.
When we weren’t enjoying the incredible scenery, we would spend time with Danilo, the man who built the community center where we slept, as well as with his entire family, who I found to be some of the warmest, most loving people I have ever met. Even with the language barrier (I knew only a handful of Spanish words when I arrived in Costa Rica) we all bonded instantly. Taking long walks with Danilo at night, playing with Fulbia’s son Lucas, and laughing as we struggled to speak each other’s languages, the family made me feel as if I was just another member of their family who had stopped into town for a visit.
As hard as leaving Bambu was, I was excited to explore other parts of Costa Rica. When our two weeks were up I said a very tearful goodbye and headed into Puerto Viejo for a night of relaxation and enjoying the nightlife. We then traveled to La Fortuna, where I spent two more nights relaxing and enjoying the Arenal Volcano. From Bambu we had traveled across the country, through the central valley and then headed over to the Pacific coast for our next project.
On the Pacific coast I spent one week working at the Camaronal sea turtle conservation project. Helping to build paths, tearing down the decrepit nursery, and walking the 3 km of beach in search of garbage, I was able to get a bit of physical labor in. Julian, Domenica, and German, the three rangers who work at the beach, were incredible hosts. Again, I enjoyed struggling to speak Spanish with them and loved the lessons they gave us about turtles as we did our daily beach patrol.
We spent 2 hours everyday during the morning, from 4 a.m. until 6 a.m., or in the evening, walking along the beach in search of turtles that had come up on shore to lay their eggs. On our last night we had the honor of witnessing the entire process of egg laying; it was completely awe inspiring and certainly an event I will never forget. Camaronal was extremely isolated and was exactly what I needed to learn how to relax. Once again, when our time was up I was sad to leave Camaronal and the incredible people who work there.
For my last few nights in Costa Rica, I have been sleeping in the Monte Alto nature reserve, in a cabin placed literally in the middle of the rainforest. The park is gorgeous and the people who work there are extremely dedicated to their jobs. Monte Alto gave me a chance to truly enjoy nature, waking up to howler monkeys in the morning and falling asleep to the tapping of rain against our tin roof, and to once again get some physical labor in, digging up paths and moving stones to line the path we had created.
Overall, my trip has been life changing. The places I have visited and the people I have met along the way will stay with me forever. I’m going home with a greater knowledge of Spanish, incredible pictures, an obsession with travel, the ability to relax and enjoy my own company, and a complete admiration for Costa Rica and the amazing people who live here.