My STEP Signature project consisted of a 10-day long Buck-I-SERV trip, in partnership with the Outdoor Adventure Center, to Costa Rica. We spent the first five days traveling from San Jose, to San Isidero, to las Piedras Blancas, and then to Brujo where we completed two days of community service. Then we spent the last three days white water rafting to la Playa Uvita, where we spent our last days learning to surf.
The biggest reason that I advocate traveling is because it gives you a look at the world outside of the U.S. Often we can become wrapped up the bubble of the United States since it surrounds us on a day to day basis. However, it’s important to remember that there are many other cultures, values, beliefs, and lifestyles throughout the world that are just as important and relevant as ours. Travel, at a very basic level, promotes understanding and cultural osmosis.
On our second day in Costa Rica we left our homestay from the night before and embarked on the journey to our next homestay, a house located in las Piedras Blancas, which is only accessible by climbing Cuesta Roja (“Red Hill”). As it turns out, Cuesta Roja is a four-hour hike of straight ascent. The fact that the locals considered the hill worthy of naming should have been the first sign that I may have gotten myself into a situation I wasn’t prepared for. Before this trip I considered myself an active, fit person, however, Cuesta Roja had me questioning everything in a near delirious state of mental and physical exhaustion. The point of this anecdote is more so the boy from the homestay who came to bring us lunch rather than my physical trials. After we had eaten lunch, we started the remainder of our trek with the 12-year-old boy, Daniel, acting as the leader. While the entirety of our group floundered on the side of the mountain, Daniel picked his footholds strategically and scaled the mountain with a grace only gained through years of practice. Daniel never complained that he was sweaty, that he was tired, or that he was out of breath. Leading our group was a part of contributing to the tourism business that supported his family, and so he waited patiently for us to catch up while we all watched, astounded at his hill-climbing prowess.
My objective in providing that short anecdote is to provide insight into the lives of the people we met in Costa Rica. I realize it’s said often, but the lifestyle we lead in the United States is somewhat cushy in comparison to other countries. The people of Costa Rica, especially those living in rural areas, must work for everything they have. They grow their own sugar, they raise their own livestock, they provide most necessities for their families themselves. The work ethic in Costa Rica is by far the aspect I am most impressed by, and an area in myself I spent a of time reflecting on as a result. Daniel never complained about Cuesta Roja, and subsequently I started noticing when I complained. If this 12-year-old could climb this hill multiple times a week, then I could climb it once with minimal griping. Daniel was only 12 and already helping with the family business by guiding tourists and delivering lunch.
It didn’t just end at Daniel, everyone we met seemed to work hard every second of the day. Our host families prepared us three meals a day, in addition to a small snack provided during afternoon coffee at 3:30pm every day. That’s a lot of cooking when they’re housing a group of 16 as well as their own family. Not to mention the fact that most of the food we ate had to be grown by the families themselves. It was about half way through the trip before we realized that any meat we were eating had been raised and butchered by the families themselves. This is something few people must deal with in the United States and was incredibly eye opening. Manos and Abraham, our guides, leave their families in Brujo for days on end to lead tourists and support their families. Some of the kids in the village walk two hours to get to the nearest high school.
Everyone we interacted with worked so hard at everything they did, and it caused me to evaluate my life back home in the States numerous times a day. If I want to eat chicken for dinner, I simply go to the store. I don’t ever have to hike, period, let alone hike Cuesta Roja weekly. The approach they have to life was probably the most memorable and admirable part of the trip for me, and my goal since getting back has been to give more of myself to whatever I do. If I could develop even a fraction of the work ethic they have, I’d be a much better person.
I hope to bring back to the U.S. with me a better attitude. That’s not to say that I’ve ever considered myself to have a bad attitude, but I want to incorporate more of the zest for life found in the people of Costa Rica into my everyday life. I hope that whenever work gets me down that I think of Daniel and his patience in getting us up the hill.