Bonaire

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by Gia Delia ’18

Tropical Storm Bret didn’t take as strong as a toll as expected. There were some worries about how it would affect the island. Yesterday, there were strong wind gusts and spontaneous rain showers. Last night we lost power at the Lizard Inn, and we were told the streets would be flooded by this morning. Despite these concerns, I woke up to a sunny and beautiful Bonaire. The aftermath of the storm was unpredictable, but thankfully no effects were severe. Bonaire doesn’t have drain pipes in the street, unlike where we live, and the water from the storm is standing in puddles.

We had great weather all day and the group went to the donkey sanctuary, where I was able to see over seven hundred donkeys and feed them carrots. There was even a two-day old donkey. It was another element of Bonaire I was able to experience. We went to dinner at Mezze, a Mediterranean restaurant. I have tried a vast majority of new foods on this trip, and have learned a lot of Bonaire culture over the course of this trip.

We have been doing trash cleanup on the beach and the severity of the storm could have widely affected the trash and the debris left on the beach. We filled two truckloads of trash and dropped it off at Dive Friends where they will recycle it. I have learned the simplicity of the island and the ecological service that we are doing and how it is benefiting Bonaire. I am sad that in two days this trip will come to an end, but I am so grateful for all I have experienced over these past two weeks.

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Vietnam

by Juliette ’18

Today we woke up around 6:20 a.m. and had breakfast at 7:00 a.m. After breakfast, we departed for the community center where we continued our work from the day before. We began with shoveling dirt and then quickly shifted to forming an assembly line with the women of the village to transport rubble from a demolished building. We passed large pieces of concrete down the line and eventually discarded them into a ditch to create the foundation for a new building. The work was exhausting and hot, but in my opinion, it was preferable to digging and shoveling. It was wonderful to see the work that can be accomplished when a community comes together. The people in the village were all invested in the goal of building a new communal cooking area, thus improving the quality of life for all the inhabitants of the village. We took a break for lunch around 11:30 a.m. After lunch, Paige, Tommy and I went shopping in town. The afternoon heat was really intense and it took a lot of effort to mentally prepare for the hours of work ahead of us. We returned to work around 2:00 p.m. As predicted, the afternoon work proved to be grueling mainly because of the heat. We returned to the house at 5:00 p.m. and I took a nap while others went out shopping, exploring in town. We all regrouped for dinner. Everyone enjoyed the delicacy of fried grasshoppers. I was surprised how easy it was to eat grasshoppers if I didn’t look at them closely. Exhausted, we went to bed early, around 8:30 p.m.!

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Costa Rica

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by Kate

Rather than beginning my reflection at the start of the day – more specifically, when we gathered for breakfast at 7:00 a.m. – I would like to open with a few thoughts about the night before. Last night, mere minutes before check-in, we found ourselves lying on the dock of Tortuguero, staring at the stars. They were noticeably brighter than the stars back home, and we were provided with a perfect spot to reflect on the service of the day. It is difficult to avoid comparisons between aspects of the environment back home, compared to here. Something that has stuck with me, especially because of the Quaker environment George School strives to achieve, are the Quaker “SPICES.” In middle school, I learned that these ideals are the basis of the Quaker belief: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship.

Simplicity

I can say that I have felt a closer connection with nature (and my surroundings) than ever before. I came upon an instance of this today, during our morning boat ride departing from “Pachira Lodge” in Tortuguero. Climbing aboard, the only open seat available was next to a small girl, who I later learned was named Elly. I didn’t ask her where she was from, because I didn’t have to. In a way, I didn’t want to ask. Something I have learned here, is that forming a connection with someone has little-to-nothing to do with where you are from. Sometimes, keeping an interaction simple is the best thing to do, because it can still have a significant impact.

Peace

As we traveled the canal, we slowed as we passed by three men on a small boat. The vessel was already mostly full of bagged sand, from the small island they were standing on. The two men, both young and physically fit, hauled the bags from the patch of sand back onto the boat. The third, an older looking man, was up to his neck in the water. My initial interpretation was that they must have been “gruff” (physically AND mentally). This was proven wrong, when they all took the time out of their strenuous work to stop and give us a respectful smile and wave. The main reason why I felt this was so significant was because of the genuine respect I felt for the three men in that moment.

Integrity

The honesty that the Costa Ricans have, resulting from living such a present life, may be from creating such a strong connection and appreciation for their surroundings. This has caused me to significantly question my ability to be present back home. Leaving behind a seemingly inescapable addiction to technology has surprisingly proven to be easier than I initially expected, most likely because of the people here and their own commitment to being present.

Community

At 9:45 a.m., our bus pulled up to “Escuela Vega del Río Palacios,” our first stop at any Costa Rican school. Trying to create a natural environment of ease, we found a soccer ball, set up the goals, and began to play. Slowly, the group of children began to leave their classroom to come join us for their recess break. Some were more hesitant than others, like the group of four young girls standing off to the side. I approached them with a smile, and invited them to play. One thing I kept in mind was that this was their community, and we were mere visitors. Although they were much younger than us, I felt that a large feeling of admiration for the kids. As we began to play soccer together, laughter and yelling filled the air. High-fives were exchanged, and Kevin even served as a great goalie. We had previously learned the song “Count On Me” by Bruno Mars, to sing to the schoolchildren. We wanted to make a connection based off of the music, and they even treated us to a song of their own as we sat with smiles on our faces. The school supplies were presented to one of the teachers, as we thanked them copiously and departed.

Equality

We arrived at the “Selva Verde Lodge” in Chilimate, at around 1:35 p.m. We walked to the local Learning Center, which was first developed in the early 90’s. Last year, they created a program to help the local community and its families. It formed a connection between the parents and the children. Separate from other environmental programs, the center assisted illiterate adults by having some of the children read to them. Additionally, the Minister of Science and Technology began training seminars of how to use technology such as Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. As our guide thoughtfully put it, they wanted to “empower the surrounding community, to help improve ecotourism.” In order to help the citizens find meaningful jobs near them, they helped them learn English. They aid around ten families, and twenty kids during each semester when they visit local schools.

Stewardship

Tomorrow, we will embark on a day filled with service activities. We plan to repaint community buildings, plant trees, recycle tires, and wash the outside of a local church. I look forward to giving back to a community, which has provided me with so much to look back on already.

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Costa Rica

by Spencer

It has officially been a week since we arrived here in Costa Rica—a whole seven days. While it honestly feels like I have spent more than a week here, it is still strange to think that a whole week has passed. For whatever reason, I feel as though time works differently here, in the sense that time passes slower. Our itinerary accounts for so much to do everyday, but we somehow still have time to rest and relax, making the days seem noticeably longer than at home. Perhaps it is the early wake ups, or the two hour time difference, which is not long enough to cause jet lag, but long enough to confuse one’s biological clock. Whatever the cause is, I can say with certainty that I will miss the unusually long days.

All that aside, Day 7 of our service trip accounted for a morning boat tour of the canals of Tortuguero National Park and an afternoon of Tortuguero beach cleanup.  The park’s canals run parallel to the ocean with only a sliver of land separating them.  Some of the canals are natural, but loggers dug up other ones in the 1940’s.  Now, visitors to the park use the canals when in search for rare and unique wildlife.

After a typical Costa Rican breakfast, we gathered the necessities for the boat tour and departed at 8:15 a.m. We were treated to an authentic Costa Rican wildlife tour, as there was a light rain throughout a majority of the 2.5 hour tour. The highlights of the tour were some sightings a plethora of exotic birds, including but not limited to toucans, kingfishers, Jacanas with really long feet that had yellow highlights, Anhingas with long necks and long beaks, night herons, parrots, in addition to a startlingly large wolf spider, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, basilisk lizards, and a cayman, which is basically a small crocodile. It wasn’t until I saw the cayman that I truly began to appreciate the fact that we are in such a unique environment, an environment that may not be around much longer due to pollution and global warming. To think that such incredible fauna is in danger, the colorful birds and fearless monkeys, and such beautiful flora, the giant palm trees and vibrant fruit. I feel blessed to have been able to experience Costa Rica while it is still flourishing.

Later in the day we took a short boat ride from our hotel across the Tortuguero River to access the beach and clean up some trash that has washed in or left by visitors. We walked down a narrow pathway from where the boat docked to get to a small green shelter that would serve as our “base camp.” Once we got all our work gloves on and were designated trash bags (general trash, plastic, and metal), we headed to the beach. Along the way, we were lucky enough to spot a dozen Great Green Macaws, an endemic and endangered species of large parrots only found in Costa Rica and Panama. This provided another opportunity to appreciate the fantastic and one-of-a-kind fauna that exists in this truly special country.

Once on the beach, we were certainly not at a loss for trash to clean up. We mostly focused on plastic items since that can harm turtles when ingested.  All in all, we covered half a kilometer of beach and found lots of small plastic items.  After some time, I was alerted by Pacho’s voice indicating that he had found something of interest. Once everyone had gathered, he revealed that he had found a broken turtle egg, probably a very common site in later months, but not in June, as we learned yesterday. (Yesterday we visited a Tortuguero Sea Turtle research and care conservatory to learn of the important of sea turtles). As one of the staff had explained, it is most important for people to have real, visceral experiences with sea turtles in order to understand their importance, as those experiences are far more effective than facts and statistics. I had obviously never had a true experience with sea turtles until I touched the baby turtle shell today and felt for myself how frail and easily breakable they are. More than any video or lecture could have ever influenced me, my experience with the turtle shell gave me a true appreciation for the impertinence of nature and how important it is to protect the environment.

 

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Vietnam

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by Devon ’18

To begin our first working day in Mai Chau, we woke up after a restful sleep (despite the lack of AC). We had a delicious breakfast of banana pancake fritters and dragon fruit. At 8:00 a.m., we walked to the community center where the townspeople were working; they are expanding the center and so we were asked to level the dirt piles and fill in what used to be a pond. Two of the large piles were dry and rock based. Another was predominantly clay. In the morning we could hardly see a difference although we worked for a few hours. We broke at noon, which is really 11:30 a.m. in Vietnam, for a filling and delicious lunch. After, the girls’ house took a long siesta, and we returned to work around 3:00 p.m. After an hour and a half of work, the townspeople decided to use a backhoe to move the dirt. To us, it really seemed like our work was destroyed but the organizers explained that our work had to get done first for the backhoe to come into the area and do its job. While we all watched the machine do ten times faster what we were doing, Julian became friends with a little boy. He was very strong but very small, and we all had many laughs together. I have really noticed how happy these kids are without electronics. To me, that is really special and has made me think a lot about kids in the U.S.  Julian and I were also greeted by my little friend Jiang and her cousin Nguyen when we came back home. Very graciously, they brought us cold bottles of water. We soon left for showers and dinner. None of us could wait to eat the great food they make here.  After the meal, most of the group played a round of cards but I chose to sit in the hammock next to the table and journal while Julian watched many head lamps moving and working in the rice patties. The work was hard, but overall we had all had another great day. 9:30 p.m. bedtime was fine with most of us!

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Bonaire

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by Aubrey Saunders ’18

Today we started with a fish I.D. survey and then made our way over to the meeting place of the STINAPA Junior Rangers. The Junior Rangers is an environmental educational youth group, and some of the participants are even part of Jong Bonaire. The Junior Rangers usually meet once a week to discuss a plan of service to be carried out on Saturdays. They had invited us to take part in one of their meetings to inform them on the details of our service trip and take part in some simple conversation about culture and service. Everyone there was very nice and made us feel welcome. We split up into five groups to make it easier to talk about our service and get to know one another. It was interesting to hear how different Bonairian life is, compared to American life, as well as how they are helping to make an impact on the future of Bonaire.

Following this meeting, the group traveled to the same shore we visited to clean up oil last week. This time we were returning to clean up the massive amount of trash that had washed up on the beach from Bonaire’s neighbor, Venezuela. It was impossible to ignore the fact that it seemed like our efforts to clean up the oil barely made even the smallest impact. Nevertheless, we got to work cleaning up trash by trying to fill about two large bags per person. We tried to pick up things that would be most harmful to the environment. As we finished our work, all of our trash put together made it seem as though we had really made an impact. However, looking back at the shore, that was not the case. While it may seem like we are barely making a dent in the efforts to clean up the East coast shore, I realize that every effort counts no matter how small and that without it, no progress would be made. That is why it is important for groups to continue to support the preservation of Bonaire’s east coast beaches.

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Bonaire

by Ivy O’Neal-Odom ’17

Today was a great day for me to stop feeling sick! Most of the gang went on a dive on the East coast. Too exciting for me! Gia, Kathleen, and I had a late morning and then went snorkeling at Eden Beach. After lunch we all went to Jong Bonaire. I met someone (I’ll call her Julia) who I started teaching HTML 5. It was so refreshing to teach someone the same age and gender as myself! Most of the people I’ve taught at Jong Bonaire have been boys, so I was glad to see that STEM interests on Bonaire are far from limited to a single gender. Julia, like myself, recently graduated high school. She plans on going to Holland for college (a relatively common practice here) with “her girl.” She was very happy to meet another gay woman! It doesn’t seem like there are many people here who share that aspect of her identity. All in all, probably my favorite day here.

 

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Vietnam

By Gavin ’18

Today we had a mission: to get to Mai Chau without any casualties! The bus trip was long but after taking a long nap, I awoke to daunting mountains and a miraculous landscape right outside my window. The view was special and I knew that I was not in Kansas anymore. Mountains just up into the sky, and wild cows and chickens roam the fields below. When we finally arrived to Mai Chau, we were greeted by a big, happy family who graciously led us into their home. Their houses on stilts are similar to all the others in the village. Our village is actually next to the town of Mai Chau, and it is called Pom Coong. We sat down to lunch, and I tasted the best chicken ever. Everything on the table was locally grown or raised, and not tainted by chemicals or sweeteners, as common in American food. The village has about 60 houses (constructed from bamboo and stone) and is relatively undeveloped and natural. They make their living by renting rooms for tourists or selling handmade wares. We walked around and many people greeted us with smiles; it felt good to see people happy, living such simple lives out in the country. Pom Coong’s simplicity really puts into perspective the convoluted American society to which I am so familiar. It is peaceful here and that is wonderful. We went to bed at 9:30 p.m. and we begin work tomorrow!

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Costa Rica Day 6

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By Zach

A bug just flew into my face. As I’m sitting by the pool, typing up my experiences, planning my blog in my head, the thing smacked me. It went for my stomach, and I’m just glad I had my flip-flops on me. Ah, there’s a beetle on my sleeve. This is an exciting writing session.

Anyway, more than anything, these bugs remind me where I am. Like the animals, plants, and culture demonstrate, I’m far away from home. For the time I am here, the best thing I can do is appreciate the differences between here and the US, even if it means dealing with a few large, green, flying guys. Besides, I can always move seats.

Today was largely a travel day. We spent a few hours in the bus before we took a boat to Tortuguero. To get here we needed to start our journey at 5:00 a.m. driving three hours, stopping for breakfast, driving yet another hour and then riding on a motor boat down the Sarapiqui and Tortuguero Rivers for another two and a half hours until reaching the Caribbean Sea. I immediately noticed how isolated the area was, with the trip down the river being the only way of reaching it.  Soon after settling in our lodge, we visited the nearby Sea Turtle Conservancy Center.

Started in 1956, the conservancy works to protect turtles from illegal hunting while researching them and their movement patterns throughout their lives. When Archie Carr came to Tortuguero, he noticed the turtles were being killed, and their eggs and shells were often sold.  After going to the Costa Rican government and asked for help in preserving the turtles of Tortuguero, he and his organization shifted the area’s economic focus away from selling shells and eggs, and towards the tourism that the turtles’ presence brought. Carr managed to convince the Tico government to set aside 20 miles of Caribbean beach to protect the Green and Leatherhead nesting sites. The organization has been extremely successful, not only with the formation of the National Park, but in changing the local practices of harvesting eggs and turtle meat. Today, a total of 35 miles of black sand Tortuguero beach is protected. The turtle population has been growing (last year they counted 46,000 nests), and Archie Carr’s vision is still an inspiration to the world. Many dangers are posed to turtles today, such as plastic trash that they mistake for jellyfish and beach renovation that removes the land where turtle eggs are hatching, and where turtle’s need to return to lay their own eggs. After 20 years, female sea turtles always return to their birthplace to nest. Tortuguero has the largest Green Sea Turtle nesting colony in the hemisphere. The conservancy has been tracking turtles born on its beaches since the 50s, and continues to learn from them today.  The STC has been protecting sea turtles longer than any other organization worldwide.

Here’s where I noticed a difference. Living up to its “Pura Vida” motto, Costa Rica was one of the first countries to use the amount of clean energy that it does. Everywhere I go, there are signs asking me to turn off the lights, or save water. Sure, there’s plenty of similar speech in the US, but what is a hotly debated issue at home is the standard way of life here in Costa Rica. It is pretty cool. I imagine it is one of the reasons that draw so many people to Costa Rica. Not only does it have such a huge biodiversity, it actively works to protect it so that we can appreciate it.  Over 28 percent of its territory is set aside for national parks, nature preserves, and wildlife refuges.

From a foggy volcanoes to gigantic beetles, I have been noticing the differences and appreciating them as much as possible. I am especially interested in the way Costa Rica approaches its environment. Maybe it takes a beautiful mountain view for people to want to protect the environment that sustains its flora and fauna.

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Costa Rica Day 5

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by Andreas

Pleasant:

That word would be an understatement when describing the sight of the beautiful mountainous landscape just outside the windows of our bus throughout our trip from our ‘lodge in the clouds’ in Monteverde to our new home in Arenal Paraiso. It was impossible to not feel some sort of overwhelming happiness when looking out at the different shades of light and dark green vegetation that covered every inch of the mountains.

Unbelievable:

That would be a more accurate word to describe not just the scenery on the bus ride, but also the distant view of Arenal’s huge active volcano from our small boat that sailed us across Lake Arenal, a 39 kilometer long reservoir built in 1979 to generate most of Costa Rica’s electricity. We all sat on the edge of our seats, prepared to snap a photo whenever we got the perfect vision of the volcano and the rest of the stunning Costa Rican landscape. We saw lots of kingfishers, a nesting anhing, and raptors.  About half a million pictures later, we were greeted with a dam, which marked the end of our boat ride. We next boarded another bus and admired similar scenery on our ride to Hotel Arenal Paraíso.

Refreshing:

That word would describe our greeting to the hotel, as we relaxed on the couches in the lobby drinking a complementary mixed fruit cocktail consisting of mango, papaya (a fan-favorite here in Costa Rica), and cherry on top. After enjoying that drink, we were met with another very tasty juice, made from Cas, a sour guava, at lunch. We loved our lunch about as much as we loved the perfect view of the active volcano right behind us, but maybe not as much as we loved our passion fruit pastries for dessert prepared with cool sauce-made designs that differed for each plate.

Absorbing:

That word would properly describe my thoughts on the ride from the hotel to the entrance of the path we would take to hike to the base of the volcano. Our bus passed by small house where I saw a young boy sharpening a machete. Surprisingly, this is not the first time I saw a machete on the trip; I have actually seen locals carrying them in multiple occasions. I believe they are used for cutting through the thick vegetation that fills the rainforest terrain that consumes most of the country. This sight, for some reason, sparked me to compare the very different cultures and lifestyles in the United States and Costa Rica. While Americans much more often live more traditionally ‘luxurious’ lives with many more resources and more advanced technology, Costa Rica is considered one of the happiest countries on Earth. How could this be? My theory is that it has to do with Costa Ricans’ connection with nature and their more simplistic and peaceful lifestyles.

Verdant:

Surprisingly, this word would describe the land surrounding the active volcano that we walked through to get to the volcano’s base. After years of hourly eruptions from the year it woke up (1968), the volcano started becoming progressively less active starting from 2005 until it had its last eruption to this point in 2010. Arenal grew hundreds of feet at it deposited billions of tons of rock and ash on its steep slopes. While you might expect a lot of dark, lifeless land to result from the many eruptions over time, the land was actually very green and lively, such as the rest of Costa Rica. Most of the vegetation in the beginning of our hike was wild cane, or gray cane, which specifically grows after volcanic eruptions. My best description of it would be a tall skinny cane of grass. Now you see shrubs, ferns, and lots of Cecropia seedling. However, while the land is already quite vibrant, it can take up to hundreds of years after a big eruption for this land to return to its previous form.

Interesting:

This word would describe all of the cool information that Pacho and our tour guide, Eric, told us on our hike. We passed by lots of intriguing wildlife in our walk to the volcano’s base. One example would be a Ceiba Tree: a gigantic tree that has most likely lived for about 500 years (and is the home of many Daddy Longlegs as we found out while posing for a picture in front of it) that was spared by the eruption of 68. It was surrounded by a small patch of primary forest that somehow escaped the devastation of the volcano blowing its top. Another example would be the constant sounds of Oropendulas, which are similar to Orioles but much bigger, sending out mating calls.

Delight:

This would be a word to describe the feeling we felt when we finally reached the base of the mountain after lots of walking and finally saw the volcano up close. We climbed over boulders of all sizes from the 92-93 lava flows that just stopped short of the primary forest.  The top of the mountain was covered in cloud. Luckily for us, the clouds decided to part just as we arrived and we were able to take many great photos of us on the rocks in front of the volcano. After our mini photo-shoot, we grabbed a small pieces of pumice rock as a souvenir and headed back to the lodge.

Awesome:

This would be the perfect word to describe this Day 5 of our service trip. No additional explanation needed.

Finally, if you put together the first letter of each of the words I discussed, you get two words that describe Costa Rica perfectly: Pura Vida (Pure Life).

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