Our volunteer vacation in Costa Rica: Pura Vida!

volunteer-vacations-costa-ricaIn April 2010, as best friends, we embarked on our Globe Aware volunteer program, traveling to Parismina, Costa Rica. Pearl owns a micro-brewery in Sackets Harbor, NY with her husband Tom. Jennifer is CFO and Corporate Vice President of a non-profit substance use disorder treatment and prevention center in Seminole County, Florida.  Neither of us knew what to expect- this was our first out of country service project!  We were told that our jobs could vary so we went with open minds, ready to take on whatever task was handed to us.

The heavy rains kept us in San Jose for an extra day before we were able to drive to the Caribbean Coast with our guide, Federico. On Sunday we reached our destination as our little boat pulled into the tiny Port of Parismina, population around 600.

The next week turned out to be, hands down, one of the best weeks of our lives…EVER. Although our accommodations at first appeared rudimentary, by the time we left our Casona was our castle.

The food prepared by our host mom, Seylin was always plentiful and delicious, prepared with love and “secret” ingredient, Lizano sauce!! We had fresh juices at every meal…the tamarind juice and limeade were our favorites.  Seylin and her children Jeremy and Kendri were all fantastic to have around, and they made for great guides around the island on our morning and afternoon walks. The people of the island were all so friendly and welcoming…even the spiders were nice!

We loved stopping in the little store each day to purchase platanas and cookies for the kids. In the evenings, a visit to Alex’s Bar, Rancha La Palma, for an Imperial was always a special treat. Seylin’s brother Imer was our faithful companion. He was always there to find and open up water coconuts for us when we were thirsty. He helped us clean turtle bones and shovel sand in the recycling center. He taught us how to fish with an empty plastic bottle and fishing line. He enthusiastically searched for the enigmatic sloth to show to us, and helped us paint the turtle shack. He definitely gets the award for best ambassador to Parismina.

The kids of the island we will remember always … Cristopher with his dramatic gesturing, Melanie with her sweet disposition and school books, Bianca- Beautiful Bianca, Kendri- the first one we met and therefore the nearest and dearest to us, little precocious Jefferson, and so many more. They were always there, ready to laugh and play, but also often accompanied us to work, not hesitating to grab a shovel and help out. On the evening when we had no electricity, the kids entertained us with songs and games. They were very forgiving of our bungled Spanish and when we’d say “no entiendo- mas lento, por favor” they would slow it down and enunciate each syllable of each word so that we’d comprehend.

In retrospect, we both wished we had brushed up on our Spanish speaking skills a bit more before our trip. Although the people were so kind and patient with our “Spanglish”, it would have been nice to be able to converse with them a little more. That being said, we did just fine and had some hilarious moments trying to understand each other with sign language, drawing pictures and scouring our dictionaries for the right words! And if there was one thing we wished we would have brought with us, it would have been some soccer balls! They love soccer (“futbol”), especially the kids and it would have been so simple to have tossed in them into our bags!

We really went into with this with an open mind and that’s the key. You have to be prepared to just roll with the ways of the island, the people, their lifestyle…as long as you do that, you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way…It was one of the best experiences of our lives- truly. We are definitely going back and look forward to the day when we will see all our Parismina friends again!

Pura Vida!!!!!!

Jennifer Small


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