Friday, June 21, 2013

Final Thoughts & Pura Vida!

June 20-21

So, I expect this to be my last entry here though I may have one more once I get home and can completely regroup. And of course, once I return to Costa Rica, I will revive this blog. 

This has been a wonderful experience, an eye opening experience, a rejuvenating experience, and hopefully the beginning of a relationship with another country and culture. I’ve been sucked in and I can’t wait until I can return again and again and again—to my tico home in Monteverde, to the beautiful beaches of Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo, and Manzanillo. The people here are wonderful—warm, inviting, and engaging. I love the food. Gallo pinto, arroz con pollo, and casado are all delicious. Then there are the fruits. Piña, coco, mango, mandarina, limón, cas, guanabana (soursop), granadillo (passion fruit), among many others. I love them all.

I haven’t talked much about the differences I observed between Monteverde and San Joaquin de Flores (Heredia), which are the two places most of my time here has been spent. I loved Monteverde. It had everything I wanted and needed for this experience—a warm and inviting family, a peaceful and tranquil setting, fresh clean air, access to many outdoor attractions, much wildlife and pretty things, and hills. OK, I didn’t really want the hills, but I think all of the walking on them did my body good.

San Joaquin is a bedroom community of sorts, a suburb of Heredia, which is a suburb of San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. There is a lot of traffic here, but nowhere near the number of tourists we saw in Monteverde. After walking around for two hours my first morning here, I didn’t really have a desire to walk anymore. There wasn’t anything to see except houses and businesses and churches…after a while, they all look alike, which may be part of the reason I was disoriented. Oh, you see the pretty yards and the eye-catching things like a horse in front of a large house or a snow white with her seven dwarfs in a yard, but nothing especially interesting. There is not peace and tranquility here. We have had some interesting half-day trips from here—Cartago, a school visit, Café Britt (coffee roasters), but that’s it. I guess it’s obvious which locale I preferred?

As for my families, both have been nice and treated me well. However, I felt a part of my family in Monteverde, but here in San Joaquin, I feel more like a guest. I know some of my classmates have felt the same way. Families seem busier, but also less formal about meals and family time. My family of 6 in Monteverde always had dinner together. Someone always sat down to help me with my homework and was interested in what I was learning. Here, meals are usually just my Tica mama and me. My Tica hermana (24) either doesn’t eat or eats upstairs in her room in front of the TV. If she does eat with us, she asks to be excused as soon as possible.

My house in San Joaquin is more modern in looks, but it doesn't have hot water! There is a garage and a courtyard area behind it to hang laundry, as well as an area in the front with plants, but otherwise there is not any land. My house in Monteverde had land around it--there was the dress shop, the house next door that I believe they owned, a small driveway, a chicken. 

My group’s research project was on tourism. Basically, we interviewed 7 Ticos and 7 North Americans and asked each a set of questions regarding tourism—how they felt about it in Costa Rica, their opinions of the effects of it on the environment, on their communities, on their children, if they felt tourists of different countries were treated differently. We were surprised to find out that Ticos felt that if tourism didn’t exist, they would find other commerce—their economy would be OK. One commented that North Americans treated the environment better than Ticos did. All interviewed felt that a benefit of tourism aside from the economy is the dimension of multiculturalism it provides. It broadens the Ticos’ world, especially the children. They benefit from being exposed to English (among other languages).  

One thing we all considered regarding tourism is how the has to be that balance between the carbon footprint left by tourists—think of buses, consumption of goods, trash left, etc.— with the education and appreciation of the environment we all desire to experience and learn about. Some other North American students mentioned this as well. I don’t know what the perfect answer is, but I will say that all of the hotels we stayed at emphasize things like recycling, reusing towels, conserving. Most of the schools we visited have composts and gardens and begin teaching the students about them at a young age, so hopefully this beautiful place will be around for many years without being negatively impacted by tourism.

Caribbean vs. Pacific
It’s hard to say which beach towns I liked better. I liked certain aspects of both. Of course, the Caribbean is bluer, which you can really only tell when the sun was shining. The waves were rough on both sides, which meant for much fun in the water.
The largest differences was the communities surrounding the beaches. Manual Antonio in general was much more touristy. It seems like I saw more non-Ticos than Ticos. The main road through the town was usually full of traffic. What I really liked was the walk thru the National Park to the lovely beach surrounded by wildlife and different nature hikes you could take. It was amazing. The Caribbean was less crowded, at least the area we were at, which I prefer. It seemed less touched by tourists. I loved the chocolate tour we took and the passion for sustainability exhibited by our guide. The views were amazing. However, we were warned about people approaching us with drugs. No one witnessed this that I know of, but you could smell it out there. It did feel maybe slightly less “safe” but then maybe that’s because of all the seemingly high people around. The beach across from our hotel was very nice and not crowded and just beautiful. I would definitely go back to both places, but think I would choose the less populated area of the pacific if I could only choose one.

Final Story
Earlier this week, I went into the pharmacy to buy some icy hot like stuff for my neck. The male pharmacist was an older man full of smiles. He immediately told me he didn’t speak English, and I told him my Spanish was weak but I was learning and he laughed. So, I was able to convey what I was there for, and he brought me some possibilities. At one point, I was using my dictionary on my phone and he covered it up and pointed to his head and laughed, as if to say, “Come on, think about it. You know it!” I made my purchase, and as I was leaving, I told him to have a nice day—Que tenga un bien dia! He had already gone around the corner, but ran back and looked absolutely THRILLED with my Spanish and that I had used it to offer him a greeting. How wonderful to be treated so well in a country where I don’t have a handle on the language. Many times, it seems North Americans can be impatient and/or annoyed at those who don’t speak our language, but maybe a smile and generous heart will go a long way to help others wanting to learn our language as well. 

The End.

Pura Vida! 

View I pass on the way to CPI in San Joaquin de Flores-looking north

Looking the other way--notice the giant windmills in the distance? 

View north from 2nd floor of CPI

House I pass on the way to school

I miss all of the wildlife we saw in Monteverde

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