At age 14, I was chosen to attend the Costa Rica Rainforest Outward Bound School (CRROBS) Girl Scout’s Service Challenge (http://www.crrobs.org/courses/itinerary_gs_sc.html). The 15-day expedition allowed me to go backpacking in the rainforest with 20 Girl Scouts from around the nation and experience the Costa Rican land and lifestyle firsthand while performing community service.
Base camp was approximately 15 miles east of the capitol city of San Jose, and we enjoyed a quiet night there before heading out. On our first day of backpacking, our guides told us that our destination was approximately three hours away. We arrived about 10 hours later. Surviving that first day of backpacking took both physical and mental strength, but we were all proud that we made it. Along the way, we were exposed to the biodiversity and beauty of the rainforest, an incredible experience.
We were greeted upon arrival at our first homestay by Magda Lopez and a cup of juice the color of Kraft cheese that tasted like bananas and coconut. It was delicious and one of a variety of new tastes, sounds, and sights I encountered while on the trip. The home also allowed us the luxury of a shower (in a tin box with cold water, but a shower nonetheless) and the chance to hang our laundry. It was here that I learned the meaning of “¿Que pasa?” (translation: what’s up?), a favorite phrase of Magda’s two boys. The next morning we woke up to a surprise – our guides would not be accompanying us on the next phase of our journey. It was up to us to make our way to the next home without direction as the “solo” portion of our Outward Bound experience. All the information we got from Magda’s son was that the house was green and had a tin roof. Luckily, the village of Piedras Blancas is quite spread out; the house of Flor Lopez was the only one around for miles. The sight of it emitted a triumphant yell from the group, only slightly stifled by the sight of our guides sitting inside. They had apparently run around the short way after we left. Flor was a 55-year-old woman with 18 children and lots of grandchildren who warmly welcomed us into her home. Although a family this big would seem strange in the U.S., it felt perfectly normal there. There was a constant presence of youth and innocent fun mixed with elderly wisdom and an overall family connection that was powerful and comforting. Even though the Ticos (a fond nickname for the people of the rainforest) lived, ate, and spoke differently, it was clear that they had strong family values and were little different than us, if not more open-hearted and welcoming.
While on the expedition, I had the chance to taste and harvest sugar cane, do a technical tree climb, rappel down a waterfall, go white-water rafting and rescue someone from the rapids, work at an orphanage, and build a greenhouse for the local school. I also learned to surf at the San Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific Ocean. I learned about myself, teamwork, pushing my limits, medicinal plants, the ecosystems of the rainforest, and the Spanish language, as well as the welcoming nature of the Ticos and the differences and similarities between our cultures. It was a truly eye-opening and exhilarating learning experience that I am glad I had at a young age, for I feel the lessons I learned about different cultures and common values will serve me throughout life. This is a trip I would recommend to people of all ages.
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