My name is Frank Zumaeta and I took a trip to Costa Rica a couple of years ago. My journey to Costa Rica was one I’ll never forget, and one I hope to have again someday. An organization appropriately called “The Road Less Traveled” sponsored a trip for a lucky group of twelve students and three supervisors to Costa Rica for three weeks. The organization based out of Chicago, IL gave me an opportunity to do the two things I love most, traveling and community service. Our first stop from the airport was a youth hostel where we stayed for two nights and got to know each other better. We realized our common goal of helping people and were willing to do so at an international level. I met some great people from all over the United States with similar ideals to mine and it made me feel right at home.
After all the “ice-breaking” was done, we traveled about three hours south of Costa Rica’s capital San Jose to the little village where we would be staying. When our bus strayed away from the paved road and down a steep descent of gravel and puddles, I knew we were close. After a twenty minute downhill drive, we arrived at an empty gymnasium where we set up camp. With our tents pitched and clothes unpacked, it was time to meet the locals. Our “tour guide” for this journey told us about the local church which doubled as a school for the thirteen kids in the village, the youngest being five and the oldest at thirteen. Their only teacher had to travel two hours by foot, down that steep entrance to the village, each day for class. “The Road Less Traveled” took advantage of this situation and decided to build her a house right next to the church. I was on the second of three of groups to travel and help construct her new home. We painted the house in and out and dug trenches so it wouldn’t flood during the harsh Costa Rican rain storms. We also decided to build a small basketball court for the children and engraved their names in the wet concrete.
It seemed like every person in that village had the same thing to say: “Pura Vida.” It literally means “pure life” in Spanish but the Costa Ricans have adopted it to mean “full of life” or “this is living!” It is their motto as well as my own personal motto. They use it as greetings and farewells to express how grateful they are for life and how we should be too. The village seemed almost rural at first for the fifteen privileged Americans visiting, but in reality, they were better off than we thought. They lived their lives without complaints or grudges. They were grateful for what they had and never asked for more. The look on the school teacher’s face made that all apparent to me. When she realized her journey to school would be made that much easier, her tears of gratitude made me feel like I accomplished something. I had helped someone I never met and it made her life better, in turn making my life better.
After our stay in the village, we canoed down the local river to our next stop to explore the Costa Rican rainforest. Although we visited the beautiful beaches with twelve foot high waves, walked through trees which monkeys used as playgrounds, danced in waterfalls, hiked up mountains, attempted a high ropes course and kayaked the ocean, we never forgot the true purpose of our trip. The reason we had signed up to visit a foreign land. We came to make a difference. To take the road less traveled.
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