We did our second Volunteer activity in Puntarenas, on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, near the Peninsula of Nicoya. It’s a small town that in its golden age was a bustling port city. Unfortunately, with the opening of more convenient ports on the Caribbean side of the country, Puntarenas has lost much of its old glory. Today it is struggling against pollution, which is why the Universidad Nacional – as a part of RED-UNIVES, a national network of college student volunteers – helped sponsor an educational Environmental Fair and a beach clean-up on October 14 and 15. Ryan and I were two of four gringos; also with us were Catherine of IFSA and Alex of ISEP, two very good friends of ours. (In the photo, the two on the left.)
The first day we left the campus at 6 am and got into Puntarenas around 10 am. We went by bus with about six ticos (the rest would be coming later in the day) and the amazing UNAventura Volunteer program coordinator Esteban. After doing two overnight volunteerships with this man, we’ve come to the conclusion that he’s a superhuman being that never sleeps. Seriously. He always has energy to work. And we’ve never seen him sleep. (In the photo, he’s the second to last on the right.)
We spent most of the first day making decorations for the fair, which meant stringing together bottles and CDs. It was kind of frustrating and tedious work at times, but once we got a system down, we turned into bottle-stringing machines and it was actually a lot of fun. During a short break while waiting for supplies, we played a few rounds of Bananagrams in Spanish, and got to know our companions a little better. Later, when the rest of the group from UNA showed up, we had to hang painted plastic bags from a giant fishing net. Then we were told to start tying together the white plastic bags in rows of four. We were just as confused as you probably are now, but we did it anyway. Alex, Ryan and I formed one bag-tying team, and I still swear that “the Kayley side” of our bag banner was prettier than “the Ryan-and-Alex side.” After we had what looked like the train of a wedding dress, we started vacilando with the ticos, or as we’d say in the US, goofing around. By the time they told us we could go to bed around 10 at night, we were all sitting around playing with walkie-talkies and learning slang in each other’s languages.
The next morning we went to the beach to collect garbage, which we had to sort into three different types: recyclable plastic (white bags), bottles (blue bags), and “inorganic residuals” aka the rest of the garbage (black bags). We found toothbrushes, about twenty different shoes, jacks, silverware, a syringe, lots of Styrofoam, and a whole lot of unidentifiable refuse. But the beach was spotless when we left, and we all felt satisfied with the work we’d put in.
The fair was fun, and the decorations came out SUPER beautiful, but we were all pretty tired out at this point. So we went and got “Churchills,” a type of granizado that Puntarenas is known for that includes a slushy-like substance layered with powdered milk, sweetened condensed milk, and ice cream. In other words, sugary deliciousness. Then we played some Bananagrams and enjoyed some of the local music and dancing that was being performed. We ended up leaving around 3 pm and not getting back to Heredia until after dark, but we spent the entire bus ride talking with the tico students and only hesitantly parted ways in Heredia after sharing Facebook contact information. We made a lot of great new friends there, especially Peter (on the right in the above photo), Walter, Elías, and Diego, and I’m thrilled to say we’ve all kept in touch.
(Walter on the right, Elías in front)
You see, that’s the thing about volunteering here. It’s an awesome experience to give back to nature and the community. Really cool things happen, like opening coconuts with rocks, seeing shooting stars on the beach at night, trying local foods, and learning lots of new things about oneself. But the truly magical thing about it all is the relationship you develop with someone after working next to them all day toward a common goal, sleeping next to them on the floor for half the amount of time you really needed, then getting up and working some more. It’s incomparable. It’s what makes it all worth it in the end. That’s what I truly love about the hours I’ve spent volunteering in Costa Rica.