Our group came together for the first time on June 23. Everyone finally got through customs and the small San Jose airport at around 9 pm local time. We took a shuttle to our quaint little hostel we and began to settle into the central american lifestyle with some delicious local cuisine. Everyone ordered in spanish this first night and enjoyed the great food! After filling our bellies and getting to know each other a bit, we went to bed, tired and happy.
After some much needed rest in the hostel, we awoke to a bountiful breakfast prepared for us by the hostel host. After the proper quantities of eggs, toast, beans rice and coffee were ingested, we were ready to begin this long, educational day. The nice teachers from Costa Rica Learning Academy came by the hostel and gave us a short but strong spanish language lesson. Using flash cards and posters, the teachers were able to give us a well-rounded introductory language lesson in two hours. After this, the teachers broke out a boombox and taught us to dance meringue and salsa. Que divertido! Sam caught on quickly and was shaking his hips like a native. The dance lesson lasted one hour, and everyone got to try their new moves on everyone else at least once. After the dance lesson, the teachers prepared us a traditional lunch: empanadas. This simple, yet savory dish consists of flour, cheese and beans, wrapped together in a ball then flattened and fried. Everyone was able to get their “hands wet” and make a few empanadas of their own. James commented, “it’s like a piñata you can eat!” After the teachers left, we took a quick siesta since we were still tired from the night before, then we left for the city on foot. We walked down the “avenida central,” which is the main walking street in San Jose. The streets were truly alive! Vendors were literally everywhere and the scents of local food filled the air. Elena and Anna Marie found a cool traditional gift store in the main cultural marketplace, and everyone got a few things for themselves or friends/family back home. After this, the rain set in and we made our way back to the hostel to plan meals for the next five days. We ate at a Chinese/Japanese/Costa Rican restaurant that had just about every dish you could imagine! We then went to sleep so that we could wake early the next morning.
Another breakfast at the hostel on our second morning together, we boarded a bus and left promptly at 7 am for Canaan de Rivas. The bus driver, Erecl was very knowledgeable and informative. We made our way first to San Isidro, which is a medium-sized city in the southern region of Costa Rica, near Canaan de Rivas. Here we went to a supermarket and bought food for the following five days. There was a strike occurring in San Isidro with the taxi drivers and professors, and traffic was very intense on this day. Upon arrival in Canaan de Rivas, we promptly prepared a late lunch and soaked in the high-mountain beauty of the small pueblo. We set up our tents in the town center/gymnasium so we were sure to be dry during our stay. The gym sits right next to a soccer field, in which some local boys were playing soccer. We asked to join them and played a great game all afternoon! Charles M. and Charlie R. played fantastically on the winning team. The local boys let us borrow their soccer ball for the following day. It began to rain after our game, so we settled into our home, prepared dinner and were off to bed.
On Wednesday we went to the school at Canaan and were greeted with a ceremony prepared especially for us. The elementary school kids sang their national anthem, then we sang ours. Then the children did a (very elaborate) dance routine to a variety of different styles of music. The girls then changed into traditional flowery dresses and did another special dance in the Costa Rican style. It was very impressive! A delicious breakfast consisting of rice, beans and plantains was prepared for us by the school workers. Additionally, we drank sugar cane tea which was exceptional. After fueling up, we were ready to begin our service work on the school. The school consists of several buildings, one of which is in unusable disrepair. Our first task was to clean the dirt off the walls, and remove some of the faulty doors and windows. We then painted primer on all of the walls, inside and out. We broke for lunch, and returned to a schoolhouse ready to be painted. We painted the wood panels “cafe claro” or light brown and the lower concrete section “cafe oscuro” or dark brown. We finished all of this painting in just one day! We returned to the gym and played soccer and basketball with the local schoolchildren, who were extremely excited to play with us. We ate burritos and went to sleep.
Thursday, another service day. We met our service leader and outdoor liaison Carlos at the school at 8 this morning. The schoolhouse looked better, but it still needed another coat of paint. We discovered that some parts of the schoolhouse had been infested with termites, and needed to be removed. These tasks took up the majority of the day, and by the end, the schoolhouse looked unlike what it did before. Another afternoon spent playing soccer in the clouds. We bought aged swiss cheese from the local cheese farmer that tasted amazing! At night, the most extravagant moths came out and displayed their brilliantly colored wingspans for us. Many of them looked just like leaves- it was incredible!
Today we awoke and hiked 4 kilometers to the nearest hotsprings. They lie on top of a mountain, in a secluded forest. Sam was ecstatic to bathe in warm water for the first time since arriving in Costa Rica (all of the showers thus far have been cold). We played marco-polo and did hand-stands in the water for a few hours. We then descended our secret garden back to Canaan to get some afternoon service work in. The rain came early today, and made outdoor work difficult, yet we were able to put some finishing touches on the paint job inside. We cleaned the floor thoroughly and retired to the gym to finish the evening with more games and food.