Most of my mornings this week began at 5 a.m with the word "beach" filtering in through my screen window, the only word that could wake me up that early. I'd throw on a bathing suit still damp from the day before and walk outside to meet a small group waiting between the bungalows. With rented surfboards tucked under our arms, we'd begin our slippery trek into the rainforest. By sunrise, we were in the water.
I could be writing a brochure. Costa Rica is paradise.
We stayed in Uvita, a town of about 700 on the Pacific coast. Travis, a Peace Corps volunteer who loves the town so much he's moving there, showed us around. It's the standard Costa Rican rural community: main dirt road, school, soccer field, small houses and lots of open space roamed by cattle and stray dogs. Only in the last five years has Uvita installed a water system, not because they could finally afford it, but because they didn't need it until then. Recent development (a lot of foreigners buy up land cheaply to build on) has contaminated the water source, making it necessary to pump clean water from the mountain run-offs. Travis told us how Uvita, like much of Costa Rica, is trying to deal with its rising tourism, which brings money into the community but also causes unwanted side-effects like environmental damage.
It breaks my heart to think that if I return to Uvita in fifteen years, I probably won't recognize it. High rises on the now untouched beach. Tracts of forest cut down and divided up. It's hard to imagine anything other than the locals' small, one-level houses fitting in in this environment.
The earth just seems more alive in Costa Rica. You can almost perceive everything breathing and growing. I can't adequately describe the syrup air, sticky and sweet, that is constantly abuzz with the sounds of life. When we weren't on the beach or doing orientation things, we were hiking through the rain forest to jump off a waterfall.Or kayaking through mangroves. Or taking a boat trip to Tano Island, where we snorkeled on the reef. Or searching for sea turtles late at night as they came up on the beach to lay their eggs, probably the same beach where they had been hatched.
And in between it all, we actually had orientation. Apart from the safety and program detail stuff, we introduced some of our big questions for the trip, like what is development? How did poverty come to be? How big is the world? I've been a little overwhelmed this week, thinking of the entire eight months at once. So I'm really excited to start in Ecuador and focus on one thing at a time. In a little while, we're leaving for Quito where we'll have a day and a half of country specific orientation before we leave for Bua.
Hanging out on the beach and getting to know everyone has been great, but I'm ready to start. At least there will still be gallo pinto (rice and beans) for every meal in Ecuador, as a constant reminder of this week in Costa Rica. My first week of this journey.