As I descended through the skies onto Costa Rican territory, the clouds parted ways and revealed a horizon of rolling green hills ornamented by colorful homes, radiating with culture.
My first challenge was explaining to the Custom’s Officer that my twenty-five packs of film needed to forgo the X-ray process. Thankfully, the combination of my broken-Spanish and his broken-English met a medium, and allowed me to pass. Through the chaotic swarms of travelers and taxicabs, I spotted a cute old Tica (native Costa Rican woman), waving a bright yellow smiley-face flag. “Bienvenidos a Costa Rica!”
After meeting the fellow volunteers and checking in at the Maximo Nivel volunteer headquarters, I was dropped off in Cedros where I was introduced to my House Mom, Maria. She welcomed me warmly and showed me to my room. The home is cozy, simple, and modest, seemingly on par with the Cerados way of life.
My days start around 6AM with a cold shower, followed by breakfast at 7AM—sharp. Maria appreciates punctuality. At 8, I catch the bus to Maximo Nivel and spend an hour each morning exploring the city before Spanish class at the volunteer center. After class, a couple volunteers and I wait at, “Beautiful Church” bus stop. (A vast majority of the streets have no names, so we rely on the landmarks to guide us.) We disembark at “Sex Shop” stop and walk to “Chicken Stand” stop where we transfer onto the bus for Rio Azul.
Our volunteer placement is in Rio Azul, a quaint branch of San Jose—sort of like the Bronx to NYC, but on a much smaller scale. I work in a daycare for underprivileged children, called Rayito. There are about twenty-five children ranging from infancy to ten-years-old, many lacking fundamental hygiene. The administrators and kids speak no English, which led to a little initial disorganization but over the last week we’ve developed an unspoken unison. The children are kind and outgoing; our first day was spent outside playing tag and tickle fights. When one of the volunteers brought out bubbles, the kids were fascinated and excited. Their appreciation for such simplicities is inspiring.
The volunteers and I have been helping with feeding and nutrition, proper hygiene, and simply nurturing, which too many of these children lack. We’ve been conducting outside playtime activities and crafts to keep the kids entertained. I, of course, have already fallen in love with many of these kids. But, one little niño in particular has stolen my heart. He shares his toy car with me, parades me through the daycare, and teaches me things. Every time I’m sitting, he sprints over and jumps into my lap.
When I brought out my SLR camera the kids were mesmerized; some are shy but most love to be photographed and see themselves. I even let a few of the older kids take a turn and they loved it. I brought a smaller, more durable digital camera that I let them all use and everyday a few new kids take a turn. The results have been amazing. On Thursday, I finally brought out the Polaroids. I began photographing each kid, and letting them photograph each other. You can imagine the thrill on their faces when they see a photo of themselves instantly. This week we will be finishing photographing each child and making little booklets with their Polaroids pasted on the front. Inside will be their name, birthday, age, favorite thing to do, hero, and favorite color. The children will be able to design and personalize it themselves, as our final craft project together.
This first week has been exhausting between bus transportation, lessons, and volunteering. Luckily, we have weekends off so myself and five other volunteers decided to take advantage—or ‘taking the piss’ as they say in London, which I’ve recently learned. Friday, we took a bus trip five hours from San Jose to La Fortuna. The waterfall there was certainly the highlight. It was raining and a little bit cool but that didn’t keep me from the water. As I floated there, listening to the uninterrupted fluidity of nature, I felt it cleansing my soul. It was so powerful and peaceful there.
Afterward, we went for a jungle nature hike and stumbled upon some amazing plant life, even some viper snakes. Unfortunately we couldn’t really see the Arenal Volcano because of the rain and fog, but the company made up for it. After a stop at the hot springs we headed to our hostel and slept like babies, preparing for another early morning. The next day we headed to Monte Verde, a journey adorned by beautiful green sloping hillsides and mountains lush with vegetation, attracting a wild assortment of exotic birds. After a quick lunch we headed to La Selvatura Adventure Park for zip lining. It was still foggy, but it added to the fear factor as we glided off over 1000m into the white abyss. Really felt like flying. We ended the night with beautiful vegan tacos and too much guacamole. Sunday, we had a nice relaxing morning in the sleepy town and hopped on the bus for a five-hour ride back to San Jose.
I missed the kids and look forward to another week with them. Work hard, play hard! As they say here in Costa Rica Pura Vida, which means Pure Life ❤
This is the last week of volunteering and on Friday I will be purchasing as many toys and art supplies I can for the kids before I leave. Any donations received will go directly to these children and this facility. Contributions can be made via Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org