Visiting Alto Katsi
Alto Katsi is a small, remote community in the mountains of Talamanca, Costa Rica. There are about 16 houses and approximately 80 people. I had the pleasure and priveledge of visiting this community with another volunteer, Chiara Nardi, during the early part of May.
The purpose for the trip was to disperse medicines and vitamins to animals. I had been given a donation by family friends to spend during my internship here and chose to spend part towards animals after speaking with a few people here about how it could best be used. In communities such as Alto Katsi, where people and their animals live in close proximity, animal health is important. Healthy animals mean healthy people.
So, the supplies were collected at the vetrinarian in Bribri, our bags were packed and off we went…let the adventure begin!
Life in Alto Katsi
Disclaimer: It has been a challenge to write this part of my experience because life in Alto Katsi is another reality. I have grown up in one reality and one way of living on the planet. Alto Katsi is a different way of living in this world, going through daily life, experiencing nature. It is not fair to say one way is better than the other or place judgement. So please read the following, knowing that is written through my lens and perspective on the world and I hope I can do some justice to what was an amazing experience.
Life in Alto Katsi is peaceful, beautiful, serene and surrounded by nature. It is a hard life for residents as there is not consistent work for those who live there. Most work daily is a matter of survival: on their farms producing and cultivating for their own consumption. Harvest is not a source of earnings and savings, for most it is the source of food. In these times of food security issues, perhaps this kind of knowledge and production is some of the most sound. What is poverty? Who defines development?
There is no electricity and no running water. As someone who has grown up in North American culture, with running water and electricity, I first assumed this would be a priority need for people. Not so. Living without electricity means there is a peace that comes from not having neighbors blaring music or televisions. The people I did speak with who have experienced how life is with electricity said they preferred living without electricty.
I found the evenings, after the sun went down and the rooms were lit with lamps and candles, became a sacred time of day for me. People speaking quietly in Bribri in the room above where we had set up our tents, watching fireflies outside, or learning new words in Bribri. Everyone went to sleep early, everyone woke up early. Chiara’s best friend was the family rooster, who was very punctual each morning at 3:00amJ.
The source of water for everyone is the river. The river is to bathe, to drink, to fish, to wash dishes, to wash clothes,….From what I could tell, most houses are located very near the river, perhaps a five minute walk. On a particularly rainy, muddy day I was feeling grateful that the non-running water situation was temporary. However, that said, the novelty of this beautiful river did not wear off during my four days there. Beyond the novelty, however, are people who live here daily and it is not a temporary situation. It is one full of economic, educational, nutritional challenges as well as limited access to basic needs.
Everyday is an adventure in Alto Katsi…crossing rivers on foot and on horseback, watching with great amusement and pigs, goats and cows were being chased and lasooed to receive their injections, battling mosquitoes, navigating muddy paths, bathing in the river, the kindness and generosity of the people we shared with and last, but certainly not lease the grand finale: the balsa.
How would we get back to Bambu? Horse? Bus? Hmmmm…. Justo told us on Saturday that we would get back by “Balsa” on the river. I did not know what a Balsa was, but I understood via river so I assumed boat. Then later on Saturday Justo told us that he and Diego would get up early on Sunday to make the Balsa and that we would leave together after that.
**Rebecca is thinking “MAKE the Balsa??!! Ok, what is a Balsa?”
Think Huck Finn. Think six Balsa logs tied together with rope. Approaching the river and seeing the Balsa, my first thought was fear. What the hell were we in for?
Then the fear subsided as I saw the expertly crafted basic transport, the knots, the design and built by people who know the river as well as I know my childhood streets and roads. Not only that, but a bench had been crafted and tied together for Chiara and I to sit on so we didn’t get wet. I felt peace as we launched off and was very touched by the thoughtfulness, care and time that was put into this. The ride back to Bambu lasted a little under two hours and it was beautiful. When we reached the riverbank at Bambu, the knots were untied, the logs were set loose and all that remained of the beautiful Balsa was the rope – to be saved for another use and another day. There is a lot of wisdom, knowledge and expertise here when it comes to living with nature.
I feel most grateful for this four days. Much love and thanks to Diego, Justo, Marina and their family for being such kind and thoughtful hosts, and to Chiara who was a great traveller to share this intense experience with.
Rebecca Uncles, intern for Tropical Adventures