This past summer, my high school took a group of students to volunteer in Sitio de Mata, Costa Rica, where we stayed in the homes of the local people. There are two major things that I realized during that experience.
First, there is much more biodiversity in Costa Rica than I experience on the average day in North Carolina. My friend Maddie and I ended up going on a hike with our housemama's husband, Roberto, an older man and a teenage boy named Andre. We hiked up the mountain that Sitio de Mata sits on. There, we received a personal tour from the three men.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
We saw a plethora of plants and animals: many butterflies, little fern things that close when touched, two sloths, vibrant flowers, anthills with thousands of ants in them, at least three different types of ants; squirrels, beetles, birds that make noises like a robot while swinging upside down in trees, sugar cane, “rainbow sherbet” trees, strange, edible fruits, and much, much more. Everything had a name in Spanish that we were told by Roberto or the older man. I could look anywhere and see something new. Back home, I often only see a lot of trees, some bugs and birds, a few small mammals, and a few flowers and butterflies.
In North Carolina, there is more flora and fauna, but I just don't pay much attention to them. I travel in cars and stay indoors most of the time. In Sitio de Mata, I didn’t set foot in a car or bus for most of the trip. I walked up a mountain and back, walked to the other buildings and back, walked everywhere. It forced me to take notice of the outside surroundings. My camera card is full of the wonders that nature has to offer in Costa Rica. 5% of the world’s species live there, making it the most biodiverse country on the planet. It's completely different from where I've lived all my life.
Second, that was the dirtiest that I’ve been in almost six years. The last time I was that covered in mud was when my grade went to the Barrier Islands of South Carolina and walked through decaying organic matter in a marsh up to our necks. In Sitio de Mata, my group worked on digging three trenches for a compost center greenhouse. Digging involved getting on my hands and knees breaking apart the clumps of dirt and removing weeds, sticks and rocks. My hands still had dirt on them after two full scrubbings.
There is something about digging in dirt that is just…fun. I’m not a fan of getting that dirty, but I jumped right in and made the best of it. We didn't have tools other than a hoe and shovel in order to dig up the initial dirt. Everyone just used their hands to dig. The best part about being a dirty mess was that I was covered in mud for someone else’s benefit. As well as being fun, digging in the dirt made me feel good because I was doing something for the people of Sitio de Mata, who had opened their hearts and homes to me and the rest of the group.
I experienced so much more in Costa Rica than I ever could have imagined. I was given an opportunity to experience a natural side of this world that I’ve never seen before, and I was pushed beyond my comfort zone to experience a side of me that’s often hidden: a joyfulness in getting dirt under my nails to help others.
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