Volunteering in Costa Rica

When each of my kids is 12, I take them volunteering on a dad/kid trip with Globe Aware. This spring break it was Delaney’s turn. We just returned from a week in the Orisi Valley of Costa Rica. Like when I did this in China in 2013 with Andrew, who is now 16, I wrote a daily email home and am just posting them all here chronologically with a few photos.

Day One
Picked up delaney at school on friday before spring break at 1pm. Flew to Houston, and had dinner there. two hours on the connection then on to San Jose, Costa Rica. We got an upgrade on that second flight due to my status, so had first class. 3 hour second flight. Arrived just before midnight (it’s the same time zone as colorado here). Luggage came quickly, super easy customs, took 5 minutes. I changed a little money into local currency. After saying no gracias to 35 taxis, we Found the pickup point for the courtyard shuttle, and were at the hotel less than 30 minutes after landing so that was nice. The hotel is a marriott courtyard right next to the airport. We went to bed. we haven’t seen anything yet but the airport since we arrived late at night.


Day Two
We both slept until 9:30 or so. We opened the curtains to our first view of the airport area near San Jose.
We got up, and walked over to the nearby ‘city mall’. On the way there we crossed over a bridge with a small river running under it. The river was super polluted, with tons of trash along the side of it and in the river itself. Cars were zooming by us, as there is no barrier between the small sidewalk and the high speed road. It was about a 15 minute walk to the mall. The mall was very familiar with many US brands, very nice, American music, etc. Delaney noticed the American music and said her first impressions were that Costa Rica was very high tech and familiar.  My impression is that it’s much more familiar than many Latin American and South American cities I’ve been in.   Many people here speak English. I went into a sporting good store to find Rollie a soccer jersey of the local team. The people there spoke no English, but I was pretty proud of myself to string together enough broken Spanish to get what I wanted. Camisa por un nino, El Nino tiene ocho anos. Camisa de futbol, equipe de Costa Rica official. The salesman responded by showing me the right thing! My first language win!  He told me this was the team of the local area that we were in now, and I understood what he was saying (in Spanish). So I bought it. Of course, I have no idea what it cost. ;-).  The local money is colons but I just used a credit card to save cash.  Delaney wanted to find a small pillow/stuffy to sleep with as she forgot to bring one, so of course she found a cat pillow at the mall without trouble.
A quick stop for Mexican for lunch (a local place kind of like Chipotle in the US) and then a small froyo as we sensed it might be the last chance to have something like that for a while.
We walked back to the hotel to wait in the room for our group to meet up for the ride to the Orisi valley. On the walk back we talked about the polluted river, how normal things seem here (apart from language), and the language. Delaney has picked up a few words better now that she’s seem some stop signs (alto), bathrooms signs, and heard several people say gracias to her. I already notice she’s got a few words she can use.
At 1:30pm we checked out of the courtyard hotel as it was the latest checkout time we could get. The meetup with globe aware and the other volunteers was not until 2:30, so we went downstairs to hang out and wait. Federico, our guide, was already there waiting. we said hello and chatted for a bit. Right away another family came and thought they were a bit late. They had their time zone off by an hour. The third family showed up early too, so we were now all there and it was still only about 2:00. So, Federico started loading the van. Interestingly, most of the luggage (all but ours actually) went on top, and was covered in case of rain. That was a first for me, I hadn’t been in a van with luggage on top like this before.
I sat in front with Federico, and Delaney was towards the back with all the other kids. Legroom was an issue and only worked a certain way, basically with the adults towards the front. We were told the drive would be around two hours. Windows open, in the cool summer air. We set out and went through the city (San Jose) first. There is no freeway through there, so you’re dealing with city traffic. The whole country is just 5m people, so probably half of them are in San Jose. At least it felt like they were on this day. Traffic was heavy once we reached the city. Federico explained that this was the only time we’d really see any of San Jose, so he told us a bit about it as we passed through, and I got a few photos. Delaney was chatting with the other kids in the back – there are a couple right around her age, including another 12 year old girl who is in 6th grade (Delaney is in 7th). The other families seem nice/sane/easy going.  One family is from Chicago, with a mom, dad, and two kids. The other is from Philadelphia, with a mom, dad, and 3 kids. Their youngest is about 9 years old, I think.
After going through the city, we headed for the mountains. We end up at the American highway, which is apparently the same road as the PCH in California. We took this for a while and then headed into some pretty rural areas and up towards the mountains. Federico is a great driver, but it took us a while to get used to the “crazy” that is driving here and in many parts of the world. Stop (“alto”) signs are merely a suggestion, it seems. We kept getting behind this one truck that was spewing toxic smoke, which you can see in some of the photos. The houses along the way varied from what I’m used to seeing in the US down to shacks with tin roofs. When we were about 20 minutes from our destination, we abruptly stopped in the last small town at a market where Federico announced he would go get our dinner. He came back with a bunch of chicken to cook later. We set out on the final leg to the home we’d be stayin in at the Orisi valley, and low and behold, we were behind that same damn truck again.  We followed it down into the valley, to some spectacular views and tried to breathe.
Arriving at the house, we met the caretaker of the property, the “gardener” who lives in a small house at the entry with his wife and 3 small children. He opened a gate for us and we entered the property, which is really beautiful.  We met the peacock and other resident birds.
The property has several buildings. Delaney and I have a room in the main house, with 5 bunk beds in it and one single bed. Another room next to us is empty, it has 6 or 8 beds also. In the main house is also the kitchen, there is a small basketball court outside.  There is a small trail around the property, which has stunning views of the Orisi valley. It’s extremely lush, and very natural here. After our little walk, a light (almost misty) rain starts, and it feels like we’re in a tropical rain forest, which I guess we are.
The second building has two rooms each with about 8 bunks in them, so each of the other two families took one of those. We actually have a good bit of privacy here. This stands in stark contrast to my China trip with Andrew, where the two of us were the only English speaking people (besides our guide) anywhere in sight, and we were staying in a tiny motel in a single tiny room, with the toilet inside the shower stall and a couple of rock hard beds. Costa Rica feels very familiar. The accommodations are simple, but spacious. Our beds are each single bunks.
I’m surprised that we have cell service here, it feels like we are in the middle of nowhere. There is wifi too, but I haven’t been able to get it to work, and the coverage area is basically the kitchen only. I learn throughout the night that the cell service comes and goes randomly. It doesn’t feel like bad coverage, it just feels like it’s being turned off and on for some reason. Works great for a while, then not at all for a while even though it shows good signal.
Now the rain starts to be heavier, a consistent medium rain. Looks like this will last all night.
Federico made the chicken for dinner, along with rice and beans, and a nice salad. It was very good. The kids played Uno together while the adults ate outside and talked about the week a little bit. After dinner, Federico did a 30 minute orientation about the week, the house, etc. all the kids were super well behaved and listened carefully, even though some of them had been up since 5am to catch flights. It sounds like the work will be light construction on a community center this week. A reminder that toilet paper doesn’t go in the toilet, but in the trash, as the hardest thing for Americans to remember. I’m now glad we have our own bathroom. And a caretaker (gardener) who comes and takes out the trash each day.
After orientation, Delaney and I took in a movie, “Nine lives” in our room, laying in a single bunk together. She’s asleep as I write this now, at about 9:30pm.
We were told to expect the birds to make lots of noise around 5am when the sun comes up. Our room has a fan and open windows with a screen. Each bunk has a bug drape that you pull around the bed. Off to sleep now to the beautifully quiet and steady sound of the rain, until then.
Day 3
The birds started at about 4am, actually. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it might be. I slept fitfully until 6am woke up to nature calling, then dozed off again until 7am. The rain had stopped overnight, but the air was still cool and damp. The sun was covered by lots of clouds. I got up and took a quick shower, then went the kitchen at 730 and besides Federico who was cooking already, I was the first one there which surprised me. I went back to wake Delaney up by around 8am, and the other families started to appear around the same time.
I woke up with sore legs and back. This bed is tiny and super hard. Delaney said she slept fine, only woken up once by my snoring. I’ve been wearing breathe right strips for her. 🙂
The valley in the morning is gorgeous, with clouds moving very quickly across our view. We watched the hummingbirds and tried to snap photos of them. Delaney and I made some breakfast for ourselves. She cracked 4 eggs and I got the stove going. Delaney made scrambled eggs for us both and I made some toast (which she still doesn’t like) and put some of Federico’s fried onion/bean stuff on top of it, which was surprisingly good.
None of us were exactly sure what we’d be doing today. As it was sunday, we weren’t sure if it would be a work day. The group had a fair amount of consuion about what to expect to this Sunday, but we were told to be ready to head out around 10am. And we did. We sunscreened up, packed a small backpack with a few supplies, and jumped back in the van. This time it was not as tight as we didn’t have any luggage to worry about and people had less stuff. I was nominated for the front again as one of the tall people who needed legroom, but also as the only uncoupled adult. We made a quick stop at an overlook of the valley, which allowed us to see a waterfall and several of the towns nearby.
Federico drove us to Cartego, where we’d spend much of the day. We first went to a building which used to be a jail, but was now an art museum. It had a big mural that was painted in 2015 depicting the history of Costa Rica, and we learned much of that story from Federico. It took two years to create this (2014/2015) and it was already visibly wearing from the elements as it was partially outside, for some reason.
Next we were off the farmers market. Federico told us to “scram” and meet him 30 minutes later at a certain spot. He wanted us to go and check out the market. It was a mostly indoor market. Tons of fruits, vegetables, etc. Delaney found a candy shop and ordered a mixed bag. Well actually I ordered it using my mixed Spanish, she didn’t want to try just yet. I paid what was about a dollar using Colons.
We then sat down at a little pop up cafe and I used my poor Spanish to order two orange Fantas. The woman handed me two fantas, but not orange. Oops. I pointed. We enjoyed. We paid, after the woman in the booth had to write down “1600” on a piece of paper for me. Money uses large figures/notes here, like “10 mil” (which means 10000) – which is worth somewhere around $17 I think.
We met Federico for lunch, he had ordered some various empanadas and cheese thingies for us. Some strange juices, also. Everything was good, but not as good as Mexican food. Even Federico said that.
Next we walked around town some more, and found a neat public park that had some Roman influence, with ponds, etc. We then walked to the church. It was packed with people as it was the start of the Easter holiday. We were able to look inside a bit and listen for a while.
Then off to Orisi, one of the towns we had seen from the view at the first stop that morning. The roads were very winding, and Federico gets the van to perform amazingly well.  By now we figured out there is no work today, because it’s Sunday. In Orisi, we parked near a coffee shop. It happened to be near a futbol field, so I was able to watch some soccer for a while. These were 20-30 year olds, it appeared, and they were very good. The game was fast paced, and we saw a couple of goals. at the coffee shop, delaney got a fresa milkshake (strawberry, Federico was jealous of size and scope) and I had a scoop of chocolate ice cream. We then walked to a grocery store and bought a few things for the house including a 6 pack of local beer.
We headed home and arrived by 4pm. We are told that dinner is with families nearby at 6pm, so we have a couple of hours of downtime. Delaney and I shoot hoops on the basketball court for 15 minutes.
We sat outside, each reading our books. I finished mine, which was “How we decide” (excellent by the way). Next I’ll start on “The Lessons of History”. As I finished, the air turned cool again. No rain yet, but there seems to be a pattern.
We headed out to dinner, just 5 minutes down the road. The “road” is basically on the top of the world, it’s like you’re on a roller coaster – constantly going up and down this giant hilly/mountain terrain which is made of lava rock from the explosion of the nearby volcano about 60 years ago. At that time, ash covered the whole area for 2 years.
When we got to the house, friends of our host Federico greeted us. No English here, so it was immersion time. Chris, one of the other dads, is quite good with Spanish. I’m second or third best, and was able to have some small conversations. A soccer game was on, apparently an important one, when we arrived. “Mama” got arrival kisses on the right cheek from everyone, and had made us dinner consisting of pieces of fried meat, rice, and vegetable soup. It was all quite good. We met the patriarch of the family as well, I think there were 4 generations all living nearby, and one of the younger ladies had a baby on the way as well. We ate while the family watched the game. Our table was in front of where they were all sitting, so we were all trying to stay out of the way. Apparently, they’ve been feeding volunteers for some time! They were amazing hosts. The kids went to a different nearby house for dinner, and had something similar. It was the first time we were split up. Federico went with the kids.
After our dinner, we tried to talk more to the family and they were very nice and patient with us. When the left to go get the kids from the other house. They were in the middle of a long game of 10-player Uno. I wondered if they called it “One” around here.  The kids were all laughing and having a great time. We waited for the game to finish, and then piled back into the van.
In the van on the way home, just 5 minutes, you could tell the kids had bonded. It was the first time they were all laughing and really chatting each other up on the trip. Before it had been families talking amongst themselves, and this seemed to flip the switch to the kids being one gang. I think that will be nice for Delaney.  When we got home, the kids all raided the food from our earlier grocery run. I guess they didn’t eat much with their hosts.
Everyone heads to their rooms after dinner. Federico starts the trend, as he’s been with us for 13 hours. I don’t blame him!  So everyone takes the hint and heads for quite time at night. Delaney is in bed now (8:40) reading again. I’m writing this, then going to try to watch a movie, or maybe start the new book. Tomorrow we head to the work site at 8:30am, so alarm set for 7am to make breakfast and enjoy the morning a bit before that.
Day 4
Monday morning. Time to go to work. Wake up at 7am, shower, make some toast and have a granola bar. Wake Delaney up at 730, again at 745, and again (emphatically) at 7:55. We are leaving at 8:30, so she has time for breakfast, but just barely. Work clothes today. Federico warns it will be hot, the valley cloud have burned off early today so he knows what that means. Sunscreen up and head out.
We arrive at the La Flor work site by 8:45. It’s a new community center, and has up only some of the outer framing. At one end is a giant pile of direct and rocks, and at the far end is ground that needs to be leveled to prepare for concrete. 5 wheelbarrels, 8 shovels. Move that to there and evenly distribute it so the land is flat. By 9am we’re underway. 90 minutes of shoveling, hauling, pouring. At first it’s chaotic, everyone has started with tons of energy. Nobody has a set job, everyone is figuring out their rhythm. Delaney is working hard, not complaining at all. All the kids are like this. There are 6 kids, and only 5 adults. Gustavo is supervising us. They tell us to take a break every 20 minutes and have water. I usually use the time to empty the pebbles from my shoes also.  Around 10:15 the kids all go down the street for ice cream (yep, 10:15 am). That’s ok, they’re working hard, and it’s hot. We go until 10:30am, when we have a watermelon break. Back at it after 15 minutes. Now it’s getting hot, around 11am, buckets of sweat on everyone. The kids start asking about soccer, but hang in there and keep working. Now there’s more of a rhythm. Girls evening out the direct at the destination, boys running wheelbarrels back and forth, adults mostly shoveling with one at a time taking a break.  We’re not a bad team.
We go until high noon, when Federico appears and tells us we’re heading to lunch. Adults in the van, kids walking to Mamma Luz, where we had dinner the night before. So far they are splitting the kids from adults  for meals – they go one place and we go another. The kids seem to like it, they’re all getting along really well. Our lunch was at one of Mamma Luz kids houses, about 5 minutes farther down the road. Great lunch, it was friend chicken tenders, rice and black beans, a green salsa, plantains, and fruit juice. Very good meal! We are all very tired already. We walk back to the work site to meet at the soccer field across the street. There’s some shade. Chris, who speaks Spanish, is also pretty good at soccer, and he’s kicking with some of the kids (everyone seems to be descended from Mamma Luz). We hang out around the soccer field taking it easy for another 30 minutes.
Back to work at 1:30. Now it’s really really hot. The kids find a puppy at the house next door and make regular trips to say hello through the fence.
Around 2:30, we have moved enough dirt and rocks to Fill in the areas we were working on today. The giant pile is 2/3 moved. A bunch of people work on smoothing it out so that a piece of wood can glide on the framing over the top of the dirt/rocks without catching. I move to a different project at the same site for a change of pace, along with Chris and one of his kids. We’re leveling out land outside the structure, basically just moving high dirt to low areas with shovels.  More frequent breaks are required int he afternoon, to grab water and a few minutes of shade. 3:00 finally comes, and we’re done for the day.
We pile into the van and everyone is tired but in a good mood. We ask Federico if every week they move all the rocks and dirt that the vounteers have moved back into the big pile for the next group. We all had a good laugh.
Back at the house, the 3 dads each have a beer, as well as one of the moms. That was a damn good beer.
We laugh some more about the work on the porch, enjoying the view. The kids all scatter and disappear. Snacks are consumed ravenously by the kids. Good thing we made that grocery run. Most of the kids go for showers. I wasn’t far behind, the shower felt great. You get really dirty doing that work.  A little reading in the hammock before dinner.  Somehow a couple of the boys find the energy to shoot hoops.  The kids play some card games together.
Early dinner tonight. Easter week is messing with the normal schedule. A procession is scheduled on our street at 6pm, so we head back to Mamma Luz’s for dinner. Rice, beans, califlower. Hot sauce. Repeat. Everyone eats quite a bit tonight. We’re done by 545pm with dinner, and Mama Luz heads out to walk to the procession. She’s in great shape, we are told she’s around 75 years old. Everyone we have met and are told about is somehow related to her and her husband, Paco.
This country is very catholic, so these processions are a big deal and happen all over town. They make 14 stops as they walk up and down these mountains. Across the street, some men dressed as Romans are practicing their part, and begin walking to the procession start. We pile in the van and ride to the front of the procession which will head towards us. The van has to stay in front of it, or we won’t be able to get home as the streets are blocked by the procession. Everyone piles out of the van to go see the procession. Federico waits ahead of it. Most of us come back quickly and get in the van, but some of us are in the middle of the procession. Federico keeps moving the van to stay ahead of the procession, sometimes by just a few yards. One time he didn’t realize how close they were and almost got overtaken by it. Those in the van laugh as we see the last of our group walking through the procession itself (the streets a very narrow and hilly) trying to catch the van. We finally get everyone back, and head for home.
We’re home by 630pm, and the kids break out marshmallows, chocolate, and something that is kind of like graham crackers. Apparently they had bought s’mores stuff at the grocery, or as close to it as they could find. Federico makes a fire on the porch. These were some weird marshmallows, and thus some weird s’mores. But they made it work. The adults enjoyed a bottle of wine and some popcorn, and good discussion. Delaney and Lela are really hitting it off (Lela is a little bit younger 12 year old, in 6th grade). At the end of the night, they exchanged phone numbers. Delaney and Arjay are also hitting it off and laughing a lot, he’s 10. It reminds me of Delaney and Rollie and how close they are.
The adults have invented the code word “going to read now” to mean I’m exhausted and going to pretend to read but actually will probably fall alseep by 9pm, if not sooner. I use the time to write this. Delaney is writing each day as well. It’s 8:20 now so I’ll try read a bit and make it to 9pm myself. Tomorrow is another work day like today, we think. Federico is purposefully a bit light on advance information. He just says be ready to leave by 8:30, just like we did today.
Day 5
I was up at 7 again, and got showered. I had some toast for breakfast. I tried to wake Delaney at 730, but got her up at 745. The morning started off a little frustrating for me, as Delaney was moving slowly. Yesterday had been a full day of very hard work and I wanted us to be ready for the long day at 830, which is when Federico said the bus would be leaving. Delaney got up and got dressed, but didn’t take care of herself. I have been trying to stay out of the way and let her fend for herself here, which is somewhat what this whole trip is about. So I asked her at about 8:10 if she had had breakfast, brushed her teeth, found her hat, or anything. She said no, and kept playing cards. Luckily one of the families had made pancakes so she ate one or two of those at the last minute. She lost her hat on the first work day. Federico gave her a hat to borrow, which was not as good. Today she was dressed in long pants and long sleeves, because she got a bit of sunburn yesterday.  Federico went into the yard and found some aloe leaves and cut them open for any of the kids who were burned, which was pretty much all of them in at least one place on their body. That was cool – fresh aloe. Some of the parents remarked that Delaney is a hard worker, and doens’t like to take breaks. That’s probably why she got a bit of extra sun yesterday. I decided today I’d force her to take more breaks.
The van left at 830. We went to the work site in La Flor, at what will become the new community center. Most of the group worked on pounding the rocks and dirt we had laid yesterday to make it more level and flat. Taylor (another dad) and I decided to take on a new project, which was digging a trench for the kitchen water. We had a long pipe (probably 25 feet or so) and needed to dig the trench for it to go in. It had to have a slight decline. The only problem? It had to do so uphill. That meant it needed to be descending and the trench needed to be deeper as it was going uphill.
The two of us worked on that 25 feet of trench from 9am to noon. This involved a pick axe to loosen dirt, a spade to loosen dirt, and a shovel in the tight area of the trench. This was much harder work than shoveling and moving the rocks and dirty yesterday. Taylor was struggling with some back pain from tweaking it the day before, and I was being careful not to end up with the same fate.
Our usual 10:30am watermelon break, and the kids go for ice cream down the street. Yep, we’ve all decided that they deserve ice cream at 1030am on a work day. Then ew all got back to it. Breaks were very frequent – it was very hot – and it was very hard work. By noon we had the pipe in place but the lower half was level, and it needed to be on a small decline. We’d have to dig out a bit more, but we were close.  Delaney has working hard to flatten the rooms inside the building.
Then it was time for lunch. Taylor and I wanted 15 more minutes because we thought We were very close to being done with putting the pipe in the trench, and it felt like that would be an accomplishment. But we decided to finish it after lunch.
We headed back to the same house as the day before for lunch. More rice, a different kind of bean, a few tomato chunks. Some more green salsa, and this time some kind of pink fruit juice. It was all very good, but it’s basically the same meal all the time. Still, I enjoyed it. As before, the kids went to a different house but apparently it’s community cooking because they always have the same meal as we do. The family must share the cooking duties somehow, even though the houses are half a mile apart.
Piling back in the bus to get get the kids and head back to the work site around 1:15, Federico announced that we wouldn’t have an afternoon work session today. He thought we got a lot done in two days, and that the kids needed some fun. We picked the kids up and told them about the rest of the day. The kids made the sounds that the parents couldn’t, a roar of approval. We headed home to pick up swimsuits and towels, then headed to a park by the lake.
Driving here is a trip. Life is about the road. It’s just one road in the mountains, with semis, trucks, motorcycles, bikes, people, etc. No sidewalks. There are dogs everywhere. Every house has a dog, but dogs are for outside here. Cars go fast and then suddenly go to zero for a speed bump or series of potholes. Riding in the front is a trip, it feels like a roller coaster and you can see everything.  People stop and talk on the road. They park on the road to pick up a friend or drop something off. It’s choas sometimes. Dogs wander in front of your car, but as just as confident they won’t get hit as we are they’ll get out of the way. They always get out of the way. I guess all the dogs who don’t get out of the way are already gone. It’s orderly, these dogs just get it. Many literally look left and right before leaving their house. The doors to these houses are right on the road. It’s so hilly that if we slipped off the road, we’d be in a living room or on a stoop for sure.
The park had a swimming pool, and the younger 4 kids played Marco Polo for about 90 minutes. I kept wondering if the locals thought they were saying something about a chicken (“pollo”). It was a beautiful park right on the lake, with lots of trees and shade, a little store, a restaurant, and playgrounds. The kids ran around and swam for hours. Chris (another dad) and I set a record juggling the soccer ball at 26 touches. Laffable by local standards, I’m sure, but we were happy with ourselves.  I had a beer in that park. I kept thinking that Next time someone was doing construction for me or my family, I would bring them beer at 5pm. It tastes really good after a long day of work, or in this case, even a half day.
When we headed back home It was 4pm. I took a shower and wrote some of this daily update.  Another thing – showers feel incredible after construction work. Incredible.  I’ve been finding that this time between getting home and dinner is my “introvert hour”. Delaney plays cards with the other kids during this time.  We’re told dinner is at 630 tonight, and there is another Easter procession.
Before dinner, one of the other parents tells me privately that delaney is a real trooper. She has a great attitude about the work, is having fun with it and has really come out of her shell with the other kids. I’m proud of her for working hard and not complaining even once so far. She’s just rolling with it, contributing, and making friends.
Off to dinner at 630. We’re back at Mamma Luz’s house.   Surprise, no beans tonight. Some kind of pumpkin sauce for the rice. And some vegetable that I’ve never heard of that tastes a bit like potato. It was very good with hot sauce. They eat simple here, but it’s actually pretty good if not that varied. You can fill up on as much rice as you want. I don’t think there’s been one meal without rice.
The kids again go to another house for dinner. This time it’s quick, we’re done by 730. Chris (the dad who’s a doctor) sees one of Mama Luz’s kids for some skin thing before we go. Nothing seroius, I guess. The kids waited patiently in the van for 30 minutes for this, and he head home around 8:00. Everyone is tired, off to bed. I got to speak to Jil and Rollie tonight before bed, which was nice as I hadn’t spoken to them since we left. Rollie sounded great, happy. Jil reminded me that it’s nice to work on something here that will be a long term part of the community – that community center. Even though what we’ll do is just a little, it wouldn’t exist without us. The church has no money to pay for the labor, and the volunteers are a big part of getting it done and making it a reality. It hit home a bit tonight that Mama Luz and Paco were married in the community center that is being replaced, 52 years ago.
Tomorrow we head to work early, at 8am, to work until noon and then a visit to Paco’s farm (Paco is Mama Luz’s husband of 52 years). I have that trench on my mind – we were close to burying it and calling it done. That would have felt like an accomplishment, and I’m just slightly bummed we didn’t get to finish it today.
Day 6
Up at 730, breakfast on the porch per usual, delaney up at 745, and we left at 830. Today we had our stuff together better and delaney was ready without hassle. At the work site by 845am, and Taylor and I continued on our trench. Time to turn it 45 degrees and head downhill with the kitchen water runoff tubing. Lots of pick axe work to loosen up the dirt. It was tough going through a layer of wet clay. Today was the first day I felt like I had less energy. I was dragging, and the work was hard. Delaney was working on leveling the ground in the main building again. By 10am, we stopped for a run to the store. Usually just the kids go and get their 1030am ice cream. Today by 10 we all wanted to go. I had my first morning ice cream. Now I get it. Wow, that helps. It’s just a Popsicle sort of thing, but super refreshing. Add a Powerade to the mix and you have a winner. As we’re sitting there acting it, Federico runs up and says that one of the local ladies has made us fresh homemade ice cream. It’s in plastic bags, you bite the bottom of the bag off and eat the chocolate ice cream with a few peanut pieces mixed in. It was very good, but also very different.
Back to work after the break, until 1145. Taylor and I recruited some of the older boys to help with pick axe work as we were both getting sore. Around this time we started breaking through a fire ant colony. I would estimate there were 100,000 ants visible to us. It was insane, and boy were they pissed off at us. When shoveling them out we had to jump in the pit, shovel fast, and get out, then stop our feet to make sure there were none on us. None of us working on the trench ever got bit by them, but Chris wandered over to see and jumped in for just a minute to dig in the trench (mostly to see the ants) and he got a couple ants in his pants, literally.  By lunch time we had only about 4 feet to go to connect the second tube to where the tank will be placed. So I think we can finish that tomorrow.
Off to Katia’s for lunch (one of Mama Luz’s daughters). Rice, beans, shredded chicken.
Then to Paco’s farm. Paco turns out to be super awesome, the grandpa we all know. He’s great with kids, picking fruits for them to try off of the trees and opening them with his giant knife, posing with them for cute shots.  They grow every type of herb, vegetable and fruit on this farm. 6 people work here. There are about 15 dogs, but they’re all tied up to trees along a central path, which was a big strange. They’re friendly, and like the visitors. Dogs continue to be everywhere here. We take a bunch of photos on the farm, as a group.
Now to the store on the way home, because the women want to make chocolate chip cookies for all the Mamma Luz relatives (one plate per house) and one for the gardener Luis, who lives near the gate with his wife and 3 children, and watches the place like a caretaker. Luis is the one who has been coming in the house each day to straighten up when we are out, including taking out the trash in each bathroom. This is key because you don’t flush toilet paper here. You place used toilet paper in the trash can in your bathroom. So…. good thing someone empties that every day!   Cookies done, we’ll deliver most at dinner tonight.
The kids are playing together this afternoon, Ghost in the Graveyard, Hide and Seek, etc. They still have energy. I take a 1 hour nap. Then some card games with Delaney for another hour. We spend the whole afternoon at the house. Some basketball, some reading. Before we know it, it’s time for dinner. We pile in the van and head to Mamma Luz (where the kids eat) and we eat dinner at Katia’s again. A welcome change tonight to spaghetti with cheese on top! I bet the kids are excited (they always seem to have the same meal as us even though in houses a half mile apart). After dinner we go to pick up the kids, but they’re in a game of Uno and want to play more. so the adults decide to walk home. It’s about a 30 minute walk on the road. Dogs everywhere warning us away from their yards. The other people walking are very friendly, we say hola and coma esta and Buenos noches as we cross paths. It feels very friendly. Someone commented that it feels like we’re on a episode of “homeland” or something. Super hilly, luckily mostly downhill from here.  A few of us start to wonder if it’s weird that we’ve left our kids in the middle of Costa Rica with people whose last names we don’t even know. We’ve walked miles away from them now.  Federico and the van full of kids catches up to us just as we get to the house.
The kids are still full of energy today, so more ghost in the graveyard in the dark, using cell phone flashlights. They’re all becoming good friends. The adults leave them along to hang out and make popcorn as I write this.
The last day of work tomorrow, 830am go time.
Day 7
After the usual morning routine, we left for the work site at 830. I really wanted to finish our kitchen water line and trench since today is our last work day. Vikas, me, and Taylor finished the last few feet, leveled it make sure it was all downhill, and broke ground on where the tank would be at the end of the line. We connected the two pipes with an L connector by the 1030am ice cream and watermelon break.  Around this time, Juan Pablo showed up, he’s one of the grandkids of the Mamma Luz clan. The son of Gustavo who has been supervising us.  He was super cute, and hung out with all the kids for a while. We bought him an ice cream too.
The break ended at 10:50 and Taylor and I knew this was our last hour of work. So we asked if instead of digging the tank area out we could fill in the trench and bury the two lengths of pipe. Gustavo checked the levels and then said we could bury it! Turns out putting dirt back into a trench is much easier and than taking it out, and two days of dirt went back in within 20 minutes. Everyone seemed to want to help fill the trench – that’s the easy part! Delaney came to help too. It was nice seeing that part finished. We had about 20 minutes left over so I ran a few more wheelbarrows full of leveling dirt to the ladies who were working on the classrooms. And, just like that, work was done.
We took a group photo in the building and took turns thanking and hugging Gustavo. One last lunch at Katia’s house for the adults and at Mamma Luz’s house for the kids. When we picked the up we waved goodbye to Mamma Luz and Paco, knowing none of us would likely every see them again. They had been great hosts. They said thank you for the work.
We went home to rest, then headed out at 3pm to another lake area, and explored there some. We took some nice photos, and for the first time sat down in a restaurant, which felt kind of weird. We just ordered some French fries and drinks. It was just a change of pace.
Then back to the house by 6pm to start on BBQ dinner. This would be the first dinner we made for ourselves, and our first in our house. Only breakfast had been here so far, except for the first night. there were a couple of chefs in the group, so they prepared salsa, steak, fish, chicken, salad, etc for the night. My job was to get the “grill” going. So I went down to find it and it turns out the grill is just a grill top and a fire pit. So I found some paper and started a fire with wood from the yard and a little deisel to help get it going. It took an hour for the fire to even out. We finally got dinner ready around 730pm, the kids were starving. I ended up manning the grill for most of the night. I have to say, it was excellent. The chicken was really good, as was the steak. No rice or beans in sight!
After dinner I pullled Delaney aside and told her she did good on this trip, she worked hard, didn’t complain, and helped people. I told her good job, and I gave her a hug. It was a kind of a moment, at least for me.
9:30 now, everyone is in bed as we are leaving at 7am tomorrow to go zip lining. After that we’ll head to a hike, then to the hot springs. We won’t be back at the house – it’s an all day outing. Our “fun” day on our last day together.
Taylor’s family is leaving super early Sunday because they have tickets to the final 4, which they bought at the last minute with Loyola (their team) made it. So we’ll likely say goodbye to them friday night.
Day 8
Up early today at 645am. It’s our fun day. we each have a waffle (toaster style) and are out the door with a full backpack for the day. We won’t be back here until around 8pm, Federico says. We each bring a second pair of shoes, and a pullover, swim suit, and a book.
By 730 we’re off, and arrive at the zip line office in Orisi by 8am. We’re afraid of processions and church stuff, since it’s Good Friday. But no trouble getting there. At the zip line office, we each get a harness and a helmet. We place a lunch order and most people put on bug spray, but not me and Delaney. Turns out it’s a grueling 45 minute van ride (now in their van) up the mountain, and I mean UP. Waaaay up, over rocky roads to the top top top of the mountain, in the clouds. It’s spitting rain steadily here,  but it’s so light that you don’t really even feel it. Basically a rain forest and in the canopy at the top in the clouds. You see the clouds going by you, literally. At the top delaney and I put on bug spray. Bugs really haven’t been a problem at all on this trip – we’ve seen very few mosquitos. We notice the guides laughing at us a bit for putting on bug spray. They probably think it’s silly when it’s not that hot and spitting rain. We harness up and then there’s a hike. It’s a pretty tough hike, especially carrying the extra gear around your waist. It’s muddy, slippery, and a little technical. We stop to rest a couple of times including at the school rope station. In about 25 minutes, we’re at the first point to zip line from, which is basically from standing on top of a picnic table.
This doens’t look too crazy, I’d say the height in the trees on this first run is 20 feet. Some of the other kids go first, and then delaney. I go right after Delaney. I wasn’t too sure at first, but after that first run, I can tell she really likes this! So do I. A couple more zips across lines, and we’re easily 150 feet up now in the canopy. It’s a very looooong way down. One one in our group is a bit scared of heights, but even he does great. We zip a few more times, then cross a bridge, zip, zip, down a ladder, and now some really long zips. On the last long zip, it’s raining more steadily now. They tell us this will be the last one because they can’t operate in heavy rain (the hand brakes don’t work and they’ve had a few incidents – likely people hitting trees at the bottom). That’s ok, we all actually feel like we’ve had our fill. Another slippery hike down, then the slow van ride down the mountain into the town.
Back in town, there’s a procession starting. These things are meant to embody “suffering” and they are very very slow moving. The people in the procession walk very very slowly, and Carry big Jesus figures through the streets, among other things. We watch that for a few moments, and then head back to the zip line office which has a small restaurant next door. We sit down there, and get our mediocre meal of the usual chicken/rice etc. It came with a glass of tea, which was a nice change. Delaney even had rice pudding for dessert, which she likes.
Now off to a hike. Delaney is a bit reluctant, but since all the other kids are going she decides to come along. We drive to a very remote area that looks like more rainforest. It’s been raining all day today, but it’s so light you don’t really care. And it’s very cloudy. We all wondered where all those clouds were during our hours of labor in the sun earlier in the week. We drive 3.5 kilometers down a bumpy rocky road to the hiking trail. At the start of the trail are walking sticks others have left behind. We each grab on, and start a pretty serious uphill hike for about 20 minutes. This is very remote, and we don’t pass anyone on the trail. Now there’s a little building and some gardens.  Federico says anyone that doesn’t want to go on can wait here for 30 minutes while the others do the hardest part. Delaney decides she wants to stay, so I stay with her. Everyone else goes.
Now Delaney looks sad. I wonder if she just doens’t like to hike, or what. I ask her what’s wrong, but she won’t speak. I’ve seen this before. When we’re gone from her mom for more than a week, she usually gets very homesick. I realize it’s been exactly a week. This is her being homesick. I tell her it’s ok to feel that way, and we’re going home tomorrow. I think she just needed to let it out. She cried a bit there and I just sat with her and told her I loved her. I offered for her to call home, but she declined.
When the others circled back, we hiked back down and she seemed ok now. Back in the van, 3.5 kiliometers back to the paved road, and off the hot springs.
When we got the hot springs, we grabbed a table. Delaney and I decided to pace ourselves, and read for 30 minutes or so. Everyone else got into the pools and told us it was like a hot tub, but maybe not quite as hot. Then we went in, and it was nice. Nowhere near as hot as a hot tub, but it felt good. This is natural hot springs fed into a typical looking set of pools at various temperatures. The extra hot spring water runs down the mountain. All of this water is cooled by cold water or it would burn you, they tell us. We stay in the pool for an hour or so, chatting and having fun. Then Delaney rejoins the kids and becomes a kid again for 2 more hours of playing in the pool with the others. All is well.
At 6, we have dinner at the hot springs. It’s quite good. Tacos with chicken, rice, beans, make your own sort of thing. We meet an interesting American there who builds battery powered electric bikes and has some ties to Boulder. He joins us and chats us up for a bit.
Then around 7 we head home. Federico wanted to wait until 8, thinking there may still be some church stuff going on. It’s hard to overstate how much this Easter stuff means here. Almost everything is closed the second half of this week. We’ve seen several processions during the week, and Mamma Luz and her family have been a part of several of them.
We run dead into a procession. We pull off on the side of the road. Man, these Roman soldier guys move slow. It’s like 1 half step every 3 seconds. Federico says we may have to wait. I make a joke and say that he should ask the guy (gesturing at the Roman soldier who is about 5 feet in front of our van now) how long the procession will be. I say that he’ll be here to ask in the next 5 minutes or so (implying he’s moving at about a foot a minute). Federico Bursts out laughing along the rest of the van.  None of us are sure it’s appropriate be laughing so close the procession. At the last minute Federico decides to pull out into the procession, onto a side street, and make a quick turn to escape us waiting there for an hour. so we take the long way home.
Almost home now, it’s after 8. We’re a mile away from our house in the area we’re all familiar with. But suddenly there’s a guard in the street, motioning to pull over. Another procession. No way around this one, we’ll have to pull over and wait it out. I capture it on time lapse, thinking it will look like normal speed when i watch it. Instead, it looks like a stop motion film gone wrong. We wait.
Not too horrible, about 20 minutes of a delay. Then we head home. It’s raining now, like on the first night. I was wrong about the pattern, it really only seems to rain here one or two nights a week.
We pack. We say goodbye to the O’Malleys, who are leaving at 630am to catch an early flight, as they have tickets to the final 4 and their team (Loyola) has made it. They’ll be in standing room only tomorrow night. Sounds like a long day.
We leave at 730am. I try to get an earlier flight, but everything is sold out. We can stand by but our flights not until 130pm. We’ll likely be at the airport by 9am. it will be a long travel day tomorrow. So time to sleep, but first a couple reflections on this trip.
First, it’s very different from my trip with andrew. That trip to china was culturally very hard. Food was hard. Language was hard. Our motel was really crappy. Poverty was really hard. And we were alone. Just us and billions of Chinese. By contrast, Costa Rica has been culturally easy. Food is good, water is good out of the tap, and the accommodations are nice. And we’re here with 3 other families, so there are kids for delaney to hang out with, and American adults for me to talk to. The work was much much harder here in Costa Rica than it was in China. China was much more about sightseeing. The one thing I’ll always remember about china is the home visit to see the little girls family. I think Andrew remembers that too. And it changed him. I wonder what will change Delaney. I suspect it’s just seeing how everyone here lives. Simply. Nobody is wealthy. Houses are simple. Food is simple. Life is simple. But like in China, people are happy. I think she’ll remember the zip lining and hanging out with me, but I hope she remembers that the simple things bring happiness.  She saw generations of families who have everything that many of us with more means don’t have.  Happiness and togetherness and a sense of real community.
Tomorrow we go home to ours.
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