20 September 2008

After a short plane ride spent catching up on my world news, we arrived in Quito and were taken to our brightly colored hostel. We checked out the local market and then some of us went for a run to acclimate ourselves to the high altitude, in anticipation for Macchu Picchu. Apparently altitude sickness can keep you from sleeping, who knew. The next day we went to the offices of our partner in Ecuador, Yanapuma. They gave us an overview of the country and the specific community we´re spending this month in, Bua. We also had a short Spanish lesson and were taken to the city´s basilica, completed in the late 80s. We climbed steep ladders up one of the towers, for an amazing view of the city, which is about 50 kilometers long.

The next morning, we got on a bus for what would be the most beautiful drive of my life thus far. Ecuador is the most biodiverse country in the world, do largely to the fact that it has one of the greatest differences in altitude over a short distance. The dream of a cross South America road trip is forming in my mind...
We arrived in Santo Domingo and piled into the back of a truck for the ride to Bua. We arrived at the cultural center, a stick structure in the center of the rainforest, to be welcomed by the president of ShinoPi (the cultural organization), Alfonso. We were taken to see the ecological toilet like the ones we have begun to built and for a hike around the land. Then they dropped us at our host families homes.

I'm staying with the Loches, parents with a daughter Milena (7) and son Jesus (5). The kids have started warming up to me, even if I don't have much to say as I play with them.
. . . .

There is a ton more to say but I don't have any more time at this internet cafe in Santo Domingo. I am healthy and happy and constantly thinking, so no worries.

13 September 2008

All of my burps taste like gallo pinto

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. 

05 September 2008

Alive in San Jose

I have safely arrived in Costa Rica. We just finished breakfast at our hostel run by two brothers wearing Bob Marley shirts. We´re about to leave for the small beach town we´ll be staying at for the next week. That means a four hour drive, after an entire day of travel yesterday (at least this one will be scenic). All three of my flights had some complication: CT to Charlotte was missing a passenger, Charlotte to Houston had electrical problems, and Houston to Costa Rica encountered fog making us land in Panama to refuel and turn around. But I got here. I met everyone in Houston and it seems like a great group, ten girls and six boys from all over the country with completely different backgrounds. Strangers now but not for long.
With a delicious Costa Rican breakfast in my belly, it´s time to go.