I was awoken early this morning by a cow making a sound that can only be described as a rusty lawn mower struggling to start. I have finally become accustomed to the sounds of the insects and frogs while I sleep, as I live in a forested area, but the sounds of livestock are still foreign to me. This moaning was anything but comforting, as it sounded like a cry for help from our bovine friends. After pondering the simple existence of these animals, I headed to breakfast and indulged in a plate of fresh and scrumptious fruit.
Our troop departed from Hacienda Guachapelin at 8:00 a.m. and began a long day’s journey down the Guanacaste Mt. range and up the Tilaran Mt. range to Monteverde, our final destination. We were delighted to know that we were going to make a few stops along the way, including a supermarket trip and an excursion to Playa Junquillal, a protected natural preserve set up by the government for Ticos to enjoy a pristine ecosystem. It a little know jewel of preserve that not even our guide Erick had visited in his 20 years as nature guide. We were going there for the purposes of both pleasure and service. Upon arriving at the supermarket, many of my trip mates were stunned by the exchange rate here in Costa Rica. There is quite a large disparity, specifically US$1 = 570 Colones. It makes one feel powerful when they buy a soda and are given change with the number “2000” printed on it, along with a beautiful painting of a coral reef. However, it made me interested to know more about how Costa Rica’s economy operates. For instance, their weak dollar means their exports are quite cheap, and their country will be more appealing to tourists due to cheaper prices, but they cannot become a world power with their currency in this state. This has made me wonder a few things: What are Costa Rica’s economic goals, are they meeting them, and how does their economy compare to that of the surrounding countries?
After a short ride from the market, we arrived at Playa Junquillal with high hopes for clear water and golden sand – and we were not disappointed. We were its only human visitors, thus the whole mile-long cove was all to ourselves (besides the wildlife). The sand felt like velvet between my toes and the water was some of the bluest that I’ve ever seen. There were islands in the distance that created an image so magnificent and picturesque that it almost seemed to be a fantasy since there were no buildings or boats to be seen. We also made a few friends along the way; we met quite a few iguanas and other lizards of varying sizes and colors, but I was most excited about what we saw in the water. There were also lots of shore birds like Magnificent Frigatebirds, Whimbrels, an American Oystercatcher, an Osprey, Little Egrets, and other songbirds including an owl. The ocean was so clear that we were able to see ethereal fish swimming about without having to strain our eyes. They were colored with hues of azure and light ochre and seemed completely content with our invasion of their habitat. They swam around us and didn’t avoid our touch – one even jumped out of the water as if to show us what he could do. After an hour of luxuriating in the salty water, we dried and got to our service. Even though the facility was clean, there were tiny pieces of plastic and metal scattered around from the visitors and from being washed in by the surf. We fanned out picked up trash and recyclables around the beach and in the picnic area and along the beachhead. Among some of the more interesting findings were assorted toys, a broken flashlight, and a two-liter bottle filled with sand. Most of the littler was tiny pieces of plastic string of pieces of plastic bags. The beach was clean in comparison to those in America, but it was still polluted in a very harmful way. We gather at the end to show and tell what we have found. We discussed how sea turtles and sea birds consume tiny bits of plastic, which sit undigested in their stomachs and die. We hope that our efforts will inspire others who come to the beach to not litter, along with helping the coastal ecosystems.
After rinsing off and 45 minutes in the bus filled with music and laughter, we stopped at a restaurant called “Route 1” for a traditional Costa Rican lunch, which was cooked to perfection. Being a steadfast vegetarian, I was worried that I would not find enough to eat when I embarked on this journey, but everyone has been very accommodating to my needs. We then rode for another two hours en route to Montaña Monteverde, our next destination and lodge. The roads going up the mountain were winding and precarious, and everyone’s eyes we glued to the windows as we gained altitude. We climbed a mile high, literally since the Santa Helena’s altitude is 1,600 meters above sea level. We saw beautiful peaks and valleys that seemed to be a painting, and saw goats, cows, and horses grazing in the forefront of these masterpieces created by nature. We also saw quite a few houses and stores as we went further, and were stunned by their simplistic beauty. When we finally arrived at the lodge, we were rapped in a blanket of mist. I am literally sitting inside a cloud – more specifically, a cloud forest. It is a beautiful place to spend two days, and I believe that I will find both relaxation and intrigue in the mountains. As our trip in Costa Rica continues, with full day of service tomorrow, I feel that I am beginning to understand the true meaning of “Pura Vida.”