So… I loved my trip and I’m slightly bummed that the Tico lifestyle is not my reality. Thinking about my Abuela and the brilliant, smiling faces of the Herradura children brings me to tears. Since I returned, I’ve been debating whether it would be better to stay in touch or to emotionally distance myself but the latter would be for selfish reasons such as avoiding a long distance pen pal relationship along with the burden of writing letters and not getting them in time, and the painful truth of knowing it would be a long while before I ever got to see them again, if ever.
You know how people tend to have a “fear of the unknown”? Well surely I was handicapped by fear in the past; fear of getting hurt, fear of unfamiliarity, fear of failure, fear of…what it would take to conquer my fears. But in just two weeks I surfed and rafted, neither of which are things I ever thought I’d have an interest in trying. I lived in a jungle surrounded by a vast variation of wildlife, therefore, my neighbor’s dogs, Buddy and Fiona don’t scare me anymore which chalks up the score to Precious- 1, friendly dalmatians- 0. For this miraculous victory over my fear of animals (yes, ALL animals) I owe thanks to the lizards, spiders, dogs, birds, cows, horses, monkeys, and all the other creatures that I encountered in Costa Rica.
In the past, I’ve dedicated my time and money (but mostly my time) to volunteering and trying to help people in any way that I can. But never like this. None of my volunteer work has ever been an ongoing project where I had to dedicate so much of myself physically and mentally. But the physically demanding nature of our project was greatly surpassed by the village life in general. These people joyfully welcomed us into their homes and pampered us with a genuine, loving hospitality that put my worries to rest. It was then, when I came to the realization that they were happy to have us there, that I started to make the connections between their lives and my own. I can count the differences on one hand but the similarities are endless. The most significant similarity that I noticed was that they celebrate a family based culture. The elders are looked to for their wisdom, the adults are very respected, the men and women’s roles respectively, the kids are the parents’ source of joy, and their culture gives life to the tired proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
There’s a lot of this world that remains a mystery to me. To be able to leave the country with a purpose and return with such irrefutable testimonies of triumph and new experiences was the first step to me conquering whatever it is that separates me from the world I live in. My heart has finally been exposed to travel and has shone a new light on nature in all its captivating beauty. I’ll never forget how big and green everything seemed to me when we first arrived in the Pura Suerte jungle. Or how I spent two weeks drinking my air instead of breathing it; I would gladly choose Colorado’s dry air over Costa Rica’s thick humidity any day! Or how I attended a Catholic service entirely in Spanish. No matter how many pictures we could have taken, no matter how high the resolution, no camera could have accurately captured the breathtaking, luminous elegance of the beach sunset. This journey has stripped me of my predictable, surface humanitarian tendencies and aroused my inner global citizen.
Now… how’s THAT for culture shock? read more →
I still remember our last day in Senegal like it was yesterday. We had the chance to sleep in until 9:30, then we went to eat a delicious French breakfast of chocolate croissants, yogurt, mango, and bananas! After a fulfilling breakfast, we prepared for a busy but fun day!
Our first stop was African Renaissance Monument, a 49 meter-tall bronze statue outside of Dakar. It was huge! But it was nice to see the statue up close. After walking up and down many stories of stairs, we went back to our trusty cab and we head off to the markets. In my opinion, I love and hate the markets; I love the pretty and colorful stalls of handmade products, as well as having the chance to bargain with the vendors. However, I hate the persistent and too friendly salesmen, who would push you to come look at their shops. Overall, I must say that our shopping experience turned out successful. Many of the girls bought what they wanted, like jerseys, bracelets, man catchers, and ataya (Senegalese tea). After all of the shopping, we went to the best place on earth…N’ICE CREAM! Dakar’s widest selection of ice-cream, that place is heaven. There’s so much ice cream, selecting 2 flavors is already hard! But in the end, I decided on pistachio and a milkshake, let’s just say it was a very yummy lunch. Then we went to our hotel, to spend our afternoon in the pool under the hot sun.
After a good relaxing time in the pool, we had our closing and last meeting. It was bittersweet, I really enjoyed having the opportunity to talk about the trip and everything we gained from it; the lessons learned, the culture we experience, and our overall thoughts about it. However, it was sad knowing that our time in Senegal was coming to an end. Our final dinner was at a nice restaurant near the water, a with a really pretty view from where we were sitting! Everyone had a delicious fresh seafood dinner.
Then at 6 am, we left our friends and the Calao hotel and went to the airport. Farewell Senegal, hello Seattle!
Coming back from Senegal, I had some time to reflect back on this trip. I must say that this was the best trip I had ever taken. This experience was neither a vacation, nor a trip where I can be a tourist. I truly felt like a traveler on this trip. I was immersed in the culture and I had the chance to experience the life of a Senegalese person. I wore pants that were long enough to cover my knees so I could fit in with the cultural norms, I tried eating with my hands, lived in a village, spoke French and learned pulaar. But I have to say that living in the village was the most challenging, memorable and satisfying part of this trip. It reminds me of what our leader James told me on this trip; of how you can go on a trip and have the most easy and relaxing time of your life, but without challenges on the trip, there’s no way it can be satisfying enough.
The challenge faced throughout this trip for me was definitely the new way of living that I had to adapt to. The squat toilets, hot sun, and the food were hard to deal with at first, but after a while I got over it; everything became a breeze. There were days when we were working in the sun which became unbearable because it was so hot, as well as nights where you couldn’t escape the heat! Weird as this may sound, I found it very refreshing when I had limited access to electricity and the internet; since I found other ways to occupy my time without those things that would consume most of my time in the U.S. But thinking about the little challenges on this trip, and knowing that I overcame them made everything worth it. Especially, when I know I put my time in to good use by helping the homestay community build a library, planted plants in the farm, and picked up trash in the village. Knowing that I helped better the community with my group is the best feeling ever.
However, this trip wasn’t all about the challenges; I had so much fun as well. I love the little moments I had with my family. I remember how I excited I became when I helped my mother make cous cous for dinner. I remember when my mother and brother tried to scare me with the flying bugs in the village at night and everyone got a good laugh from it. I love how my brother Motard was always there to lend a helping hand whether it was doing the laundry or finding one of my missing earrings in my room. I’ll never forget how much my youngest brother Boobah loves to eat food. I’ll remember the struggling moments of our language barrier when I had a hard time communicating with the people in the village. I can’t thank one girl from the village enough who spent 4 hours braiding my hair. Last but not least, I’ll never ever forget how beautiful the stars were at night in Dindefelo!
There were so many memories I made with my family, andI really hope I will have the chance to come back in the future and visit them.
Let’s just say I will never forget this summer; when I went to Senegal, met some of the sweetest and caring people I know, tried out some really good, spoke French and pulaar, and made a difference in Dindefelo! read more →
Sunday, July 24- We left the Herradura village and headed to Hotel Espadilla in Manuel Antonio. Almost immediately after arriving to the hotel we hung out at the pool for a couple of hours until we left for the beach. Overcome with joy, I sprinted for the water with my feet sinking into the soft, powdery sand. I was awe struck by the beauty of the sun sandwiched between the sky and the water as it kissed the horiz0n good night. The waves were calm so we had a blast being carried by their gentleness. I’m at a loss for words when it comes to accurately describing the captivating beauty of the beach that I got to experience for the first time ever on this trip.
Monday, July 25- Monday was another peaceful day enjoying ourselves at the beach. When we first arrived, we looked through the shops that we had seen the day before, searching for accessories, souvenirs, and gifts for friends and family back home. When we were done shopping (or exhausted all our funds, rather) we played volleyball with another group of Walking Tree Travelers and had lunch until it was time for our surf lessons. Our instructor demonstrated on a surfboard what we were supposed to do and when; then we all took turns practicing how to paddle, get into “set” position, and how to stand. Unfortunately, my struggles began before I even entered the water! I tried dragging then pulling my surf board to the water because I couldn’t lift it, but eventually one of the instructors lifted it and placed it on my head. Almost as soon as I set foot in the water I was knocked over by waves while trying to keep track of my board, which I guess wasn’t so hard considering it was strapped to my ankle. During my first attempt to master the waves, on my instructors command I lifted myself and stood on what I thought was a safe spot on my board but I slipped and crashed into the rushing water where I was pulled and tossed around by my board. I decided to give it one more try but with the same result, I called it quits.
Tuesday, July 26- In the morning we visited the National Park where we saw monkeys swinging from trees and shooed raccoons away during our PB&J sandwiches, tortilla chips and salsa, potato chips, and oreos picnic lunch. In the afternoon we traveled to the capital, San Jose, where we strolled through the mall, had dinner and watched the newest Harry Potter movie together. Personally, I’m not a fan and I never could keep up with the books or movies. It was no surprise that I was confused and bored during the first 45 minutes of the movie so I “accidentally” fell asleep and ended up missing the rest of the movie. Oops.
Wednesday, July 27- Apart from experiencing a beach for the first time, I’ve also never been rafting. I haven´t been as terrified as I was yesterday in a while but I had to trust our guide otherwise I would have decided against going altogether. Once I learned how to paddle I eventually became a little more relaxed and got comfortable with the rocking of the boat even when it crashed against the rocks. Every so often we would be able to stop, and look up, and just soak in the beauty of the greenery surrounding us. We stopped halfway for lunch and got back in the raft for another hour or so. After we returned to the hotel, we got ready for what would be our final group dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant in San Jose. We embraced the restless night that we knew would surely find us because only six hours remained until we would leave the hotel for our flights home.
Thursday, July 28- It’s a little after 3 a.m here and we’ll be leaving for the airport in about forty minutes and that, my friends, will conclude this journey.
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Yesterday was our last day working in the Herradura village. With the last water pipe inserted, we were overcome with mixed feelings of pride and humility, quickly followed by sighs of relief. It´s very satisfying to know that our efforts are much appreciated by the community. The village showed their gratitude by throwing us a fiesta last night. We danced the night away together, swaying to the beats of bachata, merengue, and salsa music.
Leaving this village means that I will be leaving behind working long days in the sun, trying to avoid greedy, stray dogs at lunch time, and waking up to fresh bug bites every morning. Unfortunately, it also means that I´ll be leaving behind the only “grandmother” I’ve ever known. It was a new, unfamiliar setting at first living with someone who gladly waited on me, cooked all my meals and did my laundry but after nights of long talks full of her words of wisdom, I feel like I’ve known her all my life. I´m excited to move on to our next location but I can´t help but feel like I´ll be leaving a piece of my heart behind.
Our vacation is a little more than halfway over and I´m still trying to suppress feelings of homesickness. I think about my family every day, wonder what they´re doing, I dream about them and imagine what it would be like to see them for just five minutes. My heart won´t allow me to call them because I know that my whole attitude will turn sour and I´ll want to hop on the first plane back to Colorado. I did get a piece of home today when I went to the Catholic church with my Abuela. Although I´m not Catholic, it was refreshing to be in a church for the first time in a couple of weeks.
We had to write a letter to ourselves that Paul (one of our group leaders) will mail to us in a couple of years. If nothing else, I want to remember how much I’ve grown during this trip. I’ve become more aware of the world that I live in. My likes (working with children and helping others) have been reinforced and my dislikes (physical labor and working under pressure) have been brought to light. I now seek to understand others and our similarities as well as embrace the beauty of our differences. It´s been quite an experience and it seems that I´m learning something new about myself everyday.
Tomorrow we´ll be off to the beach and I can´t wait to see what´s in store for us in these last few days.
Today’s the third day we’ve been in the village. There is so much to do, see, and eat when in a different country! When we first arrived, the local community members of all ages greeted us with welcoming hugs and from there we were assigned to our host families. Some of us had more than eight siblings whereas others had none. I live with my Abuela (grandma), Abuelo (grandpa), and their dog. Although having a smaller family is a more comfortable setting and we have people constantly passing through it does get pretty quiet in the house sometimes. My Abuela doesn’t speak any English so there’s a lot of pointing and gesturing required for us to communicate with each other and it has actually become a fun little game!
A lot of us seem to be having dreams in Spanish or go in and out of Spanglish when conversing. I guess learning a new language becomes a totally new experience when you are immersed in the culture because you have to use your Spanish every day whether you’re greeting people passing by, talking to your family, or trying to communicate with the community members assisting us with our service project. Our service project is by far one of the most physically demanding jobs I’ve ever had to do. We are digging around the community and inserting water pipes and if we work hard it’s usually done around lunch time.
Experiencing the cuisine has been one of the most exciting parts of this trip. The mystery of what will be for breakfast and questioning the contents of your colorful omelette has almost become routine. There are many different types of fruit drinks, all with their own distinct sweetness and the milk here is fresh and so much richer than the watery kind we have at home. Lots of the meals include rice and/or beans so here I’ve attached a recipe to one of the most popular dishes courtesy my Abuela. I haven’t tried out this recipe for Gallo Pinto yet myself and the measurements are a little off so if yours doesn’t turn out as delicious as you had hoped, do not fret for I will perfect it myself when I get home.
1 cuchara de aceite
3 rodajas de cebolla
1 diente de ajo
2.5 tazas de arroz (cocinado el dia anterior)
2.5 tazas de frijoles negros cocinado
.5 cuchara de la salsa Lizano
Ponga aceite en un sartén un poco caliente, agregue cebolla y ajo, sofría todo junto, luego ponga el arroz, los frijoles y la salsa, mezcle todo y dejar a fuego lento, moviendo ocasionalmente hasta cuando los sabores se combinen y espolvorear el culantro picado finalmente. ¡Sirva y disfrute!
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 slices of onion
1 clove of garlic
2.5 bowls of rice (cooked the day before)
2.5 bowls of cooked black beans
.5 tablespoon of salsa Lizano
Put the vegetable oil in a pot over low heat, add the sliced onion and diced gloves of garlic, stir it all together, then add the rice, beans, and salsa, mix everything over medium heat, let simmer and stir periodically, sprinkle chopped cilantro last. Serve and enjoy!