Friday, August 30, 2013

Bittersweet and beautiful

My last day at Colegio was bittersweet and beautiful.  It began with an intimate gathering of about twenty students, as well as Karen, Francisco, and the principal of the school. We enjoyed a delightful selection of pineapple, cookies, finger sandwiches, and punch prepared especially for the occasion. We shared all sorts of different music with each other, and I was impressed and excited to discover a group of the students listening to one of my favorite new songs by one of my favorite German rock groups; truly astounding to hear in the mountains of Monteverde.

After our snack I was honored with a very official document certifying my contributions to the school (which I be certain to have framed), and some very sweet words from Karen thanking me for my service. After these touching formalities we immediately reverted back to happily enjoying each others’ company, listening to music, and playing a game where one person was lifted up in a chair as high as the others could get them, something I haven't experienced in over ten years since my Bar Mitzvah.

There was talk of soccer. I was determined to play on my last day even though I knew the students would be running circles around me with ease.

While we were waiting for a ball, Karen lead the group in a fun game called "Buffalo" where one must be quick-thinking and react extremely fast to stay in. Buffalo turned into "tag" and I got a grim preview of just how agile and speedy the students were; I was in big trouble.

Playing tag

Soon a soccer ball showed up and we played for nearly an hour in the blazing sun. I did not score any goals (big surprise, I blame my dress shoes), but had a blast nonetheless, as did everyone else. Then it was time for lunch and before I knew it I was saying goodbye to everyone.

However, thanks to Maggie and Karen's collective excellence, it was arranged for me to play another game of soccer with a different group of students after lunch! After a very quick power nap at the hotel, I returned to campus, went down to the gym, and was soundly trounced again for the better part of two hours. My legs are still recovering from all of that running around, but at least this time I scored a few goals! It should be noted, however, that I only scored when there were no goalies present.

Karen and Maggie

Justing playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with the students in Spanish 
Piedra, Papel, Tijera! 

I could not think of a more excellent way to end my service trip. I will always remember the amazing students and staff of C.T.P. Santa Elena. I hope to return one day and see how the chain of volunteers has furthered the interests of such a fantastic and productive institution. Already I miss everyone dearly.

Entry submitted by: Justin

Message of the Day - Maggie: “You give little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” – Kahlil Gibran

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Capturing creepy crawlies!

Thursday morning began bright and early with Profesora Marisela in her gorgeously painted classroom. I was to enjoin her students on an adventure through the woods to find and collect as many native insects as we could find. Such an assignment was both a frightening and exciting prospect considering the significant nastiness of certain many-legged creatures that, most certainly, had no interest in being captured and collected for study.

Almost immediately upon venturing out of the classroom, a giant hawk-wasp darted out from the forest and landed heavily on a nearby leaf, feeling around frantically with its bright yellow antennae, seemingly daring us to come closer. Nope. The brute took off and Mario bravely swung at it with a plastic bag, but just barely missed (perhaps thankfully).

Profe Marisela then divided the group into smaller teams and directed us towards different sections of the campus; my team ventured up into the shady trail area. En route I spied a beautiful yellow-and-black-striped moth resting on a classroom window and gently captured it in a glass vial, taking care not to disturb the students inside who were evidently engrossed in a test; they did not seem to mind the temporary distraction. After entering the forest it was not long at all before our group was uncovering ants, aphids, spiders, grasshoppers, roaches, moths, butterflies, beetles, and even a few creepy-crawlies that I couldn't identify.

Soon we were running out of places to put the bugs and, with the best intentions, decided to group the more compatible-looking ones together. Unfortunately, this tactic did not work very well as one tiny bug (la chincha) decided to deploy its trademark defense mechanism, which I learned was an explosive release of its bowels, thereby killing everything else in the vial except for an ant which was hard at work dismembering a hapless cricket. By the end of the period there stood several large glass cases at the front of the classroom within each containing the ensuing chaos from the collective findings of each team.

After a tasty lunch it was time for English lessons with Profesor Sergio's class. The students gathered into two teams, each team had one member that would face the others while I held an English word or phrase over their heads so the one facing the others could not see what was written. It was the task of the rest of the team to try and help that student guess the word or phrase without saying it directly. Each correct answer would earn that team one point, and each team had 60 seconds to guess as many correct words or phrases as possible before the next team would take over. I was delighted by the student's enthusiasm and energetic response to this activity, and soon we had successfully navigated through nearly six dozen flash cards; both teams were clear winners. We rounded out the end of class with a few games purely in the interests of fun and friendship: one in which a "Maestro" was secretly selected by the profe while a single student was outside of the room. The Maestro would lead the other students in clapping, snapping, or tapping gestures while trying not to let on to the "outsider" who was the leading the group, although they were almost always found out after the first few guesses. Everyone was in hysterics by the end of class and before I knew it the school day was over and I was sadly ending my last full day at Colegio.

Students guessing vocabulary in English

Students clearly enjoying the guessing 
game in English with Justin

Entry submitted by: Justin  

Message of the Day – Justin: "You must be free from prejudice and fanaticism, beholding no differences between the races and religions. You must look to God, for He is the real Shepherd, and all humanity are His sheep. He loves them and loves them equally. As this is true, should the sheep quarrel among themselves? They should manifest gratitude and thankfulness to God, and the best way to thank God is to love one another.

"Beware lest ye offend any heart, lest ye speak against anyone in his absence, lest ye estrange yourselves from the servants of God. You must consider all His servants as your own family and relations. Direct your whole effort toward the happiness of those who are despondent, bestow food upon the hungry, clothe the needy, and glorify the humble. Be a helper to every helpless one, and manifest kindness to your fellow creatures in order that ye may attain the good pleasure of God. This is conducive to the illumination of the world of humanity and eternal felicity for yourselves. I seek from God everlasting glory in your behalf; therefore, this is my prayer and exhortation." – Abdul Baha

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Proud to be serving

I began the morning with Don Luis, where we were tasked with sweeping, mopping, and cleaning the surfaces of the learning kitchen area. Once this job was completed, we moved on to collecting trash around the cafeteria and café. I was a bit surprised and rather disappointed that many students do not seem to have any qualms with leaving their refuse on the grounds of their beautiful campus. After clearing the area, we moved on to sweeping and mopping the boy's bathroom as well as the main corridor between classrooms. Don Luis gently reminded me to keep my posture straight and upright while cleaning, which I imagine is good for both the body and the preservation of dignity while performing a job that many people (especially Americans) would consider "lowly"; I was proud to have the students seeing me doing this kind of work, as proof of my sincere devotion to serving them and their school. 

Soon enough it was time for the morning snack break which I enjoyed with Maggie, Farid, Calero, and Henry; the sweet fresh fruit was very welcome and helped alleviate much of my sleepiness. Then I headed down to the gym with Karen, Sergio, and a troupe of students to begin setting up the space for the annual "Traspaso de Poderes", where the new student government officers will be ceremoniously sworn in. We brought down 42 chairs from various classrooms (taking care not to disturb any of the students taking tests) and set them up on either side of a stage comprised of 34 wood risers that Sergio and I brought out from storage. Karen led a group of students in making beautiful decorations in the colors of the Costa Rican flag which were adorned on the recently assembled stage, which was adorned by both coffee bean sacks (a nice aesthetic touch) as well as a soccer goal draped in to bright white sheets upon which were affixed shimmering blue letters bearing the title of the event. Sergio then facilitated my leading of an English-language game of "Simon Says" which was both very enjoyable for everyone involved and productive as a teaching aid. 

Playing Simon Says! 

After a super tasty lunch, I returned to Sergio's classroom to assist him in preparing his students for their oral examinations. The test topics included naming the various parts of a house (in English) as well as all of the interior rooms and the various items that might be found in each one. Then we covered an extremely important topic in both Costa Rican and North American culture: making coffee. I led the students in reviewing the step-by-step process of brewing a pot of coffee as well as challenged them to name each individual part of the coffee-making machine. I noticed that the students had particular difficulty pronouncing the word "reservoir" (which isn't even English), specifically the "v" sound, but after slow, clear, repeated demonstration of how to form one’s lips in the pronunciation, most everyone caught on. I was pleased that this group of students was much more engaged, attentive, and respectful than the last class we worked with. After our review I led the students in smaller group learning sessions focused on identifying and correctly pronouncing English letters, animals, and phrases, while Sergio called in the students one by one to test them. 

Students listening attentively to Justin 
go over rooms in a house in English class 

Justin and Franciny 

After class we ventured down to the gym and to witness the transfer of powers ceremony, which included a short skit and speeches from both newly-elected officials and the principal of the school. As a veteran of Student Government affairs (Sophomore and Junior class VP, as well as overall school President), I was touched with vicarious pride for these young leaders and recounted fond memories of my own experiences. It was wonderful to see the students so earnestly invested in the betterment of their school. Surely they will continue to make excellent and upstanding leaders in their community!

Entry submitted by: Justin

Message of the Day – Maggie: “The highest reward for a person’s work is not what they get for it, but what they become because of it.” – John Ruskin

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Honored, humbled, and feeling part of the community

Maggie and I were very sad to learn that Jorge was suffering from back pains this morning. Thus my planned activities in the vegetable garden were postponed and instead I headed out with Don Chepe and a group of students to an overgrown spot by the fishpond to carve out a large composting pit. One student hastily hacked away at the tall grass with a machete while I attempted to accomplish the same task with my shovel - not as easy, but definitely fun and enjoyably toilsome. This particular group of students did not speak very much English at all, but still we were able to work effectively as a team and enjoy some of the North American rap music that one of the students was playing from his phone. Almost as soon as we had cleared the area and dug out a good-sized pit, the clouds swept in over us and unleashed a torrential downpour, causing us to scurry up the hill and seek shelter next to the rather stinky pig pens. 

Digging a composting pit

Once the rain let up enough to venture down the hill we returned to Jorge's classroom (still without Jorge =( .....) where the students immediately set to coordinating and choreographing a dance routine to a Spanish/English version of "In The Still Of The Night"; I spent the time writing in my personal diary about the past weekend's activities, which included a beautifully serene solo hike into the woods where I discovered a tree comprised of spiral-bent branches that formed a veritable organic portal up into the canopy. Fernando Luis, the young man whom I became fast friends with during the classroom painting activity, convinced me with a wide grin to put down my notebook and dance with them for a little while; he's quite the smooth salesman.

After class I enjoyed a scrumptious lunch with Maggie that comprised of flattened, fried plantains and a colorful array of steamed vegetables, rice, and beans; I think I am becoming addicted to the local Lizano sauce! After lunch I headed over to Sergio's classroom where I reviewed different means of transportation with the students, including written and oral comparisons (which car is bigger, faster, more expensive, etc.). I was pleased with the knowledge, proficiency, and progress I witnessed during these exercises. At the conclusion of this class period I joined Karen in the teacher's salon to continue working on the bilingual brochure for C.T.P. We added a sixth and final category to the catalogue: Colegio will offer tours of the grounds, classrooms, and all four major products that the students are engaged in. The proceeds from these tours will go towards helping fund the projects themselves. I am proud to have contributed to such an important undertaking that will surely benefit the school by offering an English translation for those guests who would need it. The day was joyously concluded with a short but exciting game of dominoes between me, the vice principal of the school, and the accounting teacher. I am continuously honored and humbled by how wonderfully well the staff treats me; I truly feel like a part of the community. 

Entry submitted by: Justin

Message of the Day – Justin: “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.” – Andrew Carnegie

Monday, August 26, 2013

Working on a very important brochure

Today was spent almost entirely in the teacher's salon working with Karen on one of the most important tasks so far: creating a bilingual pamphlet detailing the five main projects undertaken by the students of Colegio. These projects include:
   1) raising and selling both young and mature pigs (for commercial and culinary purposes, respectively) 
   2) caring for nearly 100 ponedora hens (and collecting their fresh and delicious eggs on a daily basis) 
   3) feeding and milking cows (and making cheese, which has an excellent reputation amongst the locals and    never stays on the shelf for more than a few hours) 
4) maintaining the fish pond, which cleanses the water recycled from the pig pens by means of tilapia and  oysters 
   5) the construction of a butterfly/hummingbird garden, the benefits of which will include not only increased beauty but also facilitate the flourishing of plants and animals that are only indigenous to the Monteverde region. 

I found that working with Karen, in addition to being a pleasure (as usual!), was extremely helpful in my understanding of Spanish and I believe she was able to bolster her English language skills as well. 

We took a short break to enjoy the exquisite culinary preparations presented by the students in the Food and Drink program, which included fresh fruits, sweet snacks, and a colorful array of garnishes in the shape of owls, butterflies, swans, and other happy-looking creatures. ¡Qué rico! I have no doubts that each and every one of these students is bound to excel in their field of choice. 

Tomorrow we shall continue working on the brochure. 

Entry submitted by: Justin

Message of the Day – Maggie: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

Friday, August 23, 2013

Top Ten Favorite Experiences in Costa Rica

At 5:50 in the morning my mom, Maggie, and Justin took a spin class. After, we all ate breakfast and walked to the school. The school prepared a party for our leaving. They had turned oranges into butterflies and swans. They made and served dips, fruits, and tuna sandwiches. They presented my mother and me with certificates for our volunteering. Then the classroom and teachers began to salsa dance. We said our goodbyes and headed back to Alajuela. 

Karen with Jen and Lena
and their certificates

Final Celebration with Rural Tourism students

Karen teaching Justin to salsa! 

On our drive down we visited a black sand beach. They had a truck there that had Churchills (pronounced Church-e). It was ice cream, fruit, water ice, and cookie crumbs, layered in a large cup. We also created a list of our top ten favorite experiences (they are in no particular order).

My Mother's: 
  1. Maggie
  2. Justin
  3. Casem and the walk home from it
  4. Meeting Karen and the other teachers
  5. Santa Elena Reserve and meeting Johnny
  6. Chocolate Tour and Night Walk
  7. Planting/cultivating a garden
  8. Service to the school
  9. Walking in Alajuela (exploring a new city and trying new foods alone together)
  10. Mother and daughter time
My List:
  1. Maggie
  2. Justin
  3. Casem and the walk home from it
  4. Meeting Karen
  5. Being with my mom
  6. Chocolate tour
  7. Volunteering
  8. Santa Elena Reserve
  9. Teaching English
  10. Crepes and agua dulce (sweet water)
  11. Playa Porta Caldera
Saturday at the airport:

A family on the same plane as us (both coming to and going home from Costa Rica) stopped us and said, "We remember you. You two were so excited to be in Costa Rica on the way down." In the airport, two people independently complimented my mom on her Spanish.

Entry submitted by: Lena

Message of the Day - Lena: 
"Do all the good you can, 
by all the means you can, 
in all the ways you can, 
at all the times you can, 
to all the people you can, 
as long as you ever can." 
                    - Jon Wesley

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Extra special bonding time

Today we painted one wall of the outside and one wall of the inside of a classroom. We worked through our breakfast break but broke early for lunch, which was capped by delicious fried plantains with butter and cinnamon. The chipping off of the old paint before applying the new paint was the hardest of the work. The vapors in the small space were hard, too, but we had face masks we could wear. (The students did not, but thought we were funny to want ours.) 

Getting ready to paint! 

Scraping away

Karen sharing her expertise 

Profesor Jorge, Lena, Jen, and Justing on a painting mission 

We finished just in time before the rain swept in. The morning had been the prettiest weather of the week and there were gorgeous views of the water from the top of the hill where the classroom that we were painting perched. It was mesmerizing watching the fog roll in, bringing the rain with it.

The view from the classroom we painted in the morning 

The view in the afternoon 

Freshly painted! 

When the rain halted us, we played games and listened to music. There was greater comfort between the volunteers and students then, which was nice. After dinner we went to the snake tour and had crepes and prepared for the next day’s activities. As half the team is leaving, it was extra special bonding time, having the last night together. What a unique and amazing week, trip, and experience.

Entry submitted by: Jen  

Message of the Day – Jen: “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” – Abraham Lincoln  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fun interaction with students

This morning we woke up and had breakfast. Then we walked down to the Colegio. We started off the morning by helping them with building a butterfly garden. It turned out to involve carrying concrete blocks up the hill for the garden site. First we each carried a block up the hill. Then we formed a line with the students to bring them up. It began to pour rain and we went inside the classroom. Justin and I showed the students magic tricks. Then we played tic-tac-toe. Two girls and Maggie (who loves salsa) taught my mother how to dance salsa. Justin explained to a few students how to play dominoes and I joined their game. It was very fun to interact with the students.

Jen being taught how to salsa! 

Lena and Justin with the ecotourism class

Team #224 with Karen and the fun ecotourism class

After lunch, which consisted of rice, beans, salad, and fish, we taught English. I was very happy because it was with seventh graders who were my age. Justin played a game where they said their names, favorite colors, and favorite foods in English. While my mom and I had conversations with students. They were very interested in the World Trade towers. We explained the story of what it was like and how it affected America. We also turned their names with different pronunciations to English ones. My mom spoke in English and Spanish and the teacher translated. By the end of the time I had made friends with three girls – Kiley, Kimberly, and Melanie – who were particularly interested in my life.

After their recess we worked with Jorge on his vegetable garden again, taking out weeds and planting beans and coriander. After work we headed to Casem, the local women’s art center. There we had agua dulce (sweet water) in their restaurant. We walked back to Santa Elena and had a delicious dinner at Morphos, which had beautiful paintings of trees and butterflies all around it.  

Tasting the delicious agua dulce

Team #224 on a very memorable walk 

Entry submitted by: Lena

Message of the Day - Lena: “I expect to pass through life but once.  If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”  - William Penn

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Feeling spoiled by our team leader in Costa Rica

Our scheduled plan to paint a classroom today had to be postponed as the pain had not yet arrived. (It is an oil-based paint they use and the machine to make it required repair.) So we will plan to paint later in the week. In preparation for the afternoon classroom (ecotourism), we went up to the Santa Elena Preserve (altitude 5,000 feet) in the morning. Maggie worked hard to make the logistics work and the effort was more than worth it! To make it happen, we met at 6:00 a.m. for breakfast to take a 6:30 van to the reserve. We had a great guide, Johnny, who led us around with a telescope! He showed us indigenous and endemic birds, owls, beetles, butterflies, and tarantulas. We climbed to the top of the observatory tower for a magnificent view - too many clouds to see the five volcanoes one can occasionally view from these, but that’s why they call it the cloud forest!

Santa Elena Preserve 

Santa Elena Preserve

We had lunch at the school and then helped Sergio teach English to one of his ninth grade classes. The theme was modes of transportation. We broke up into small groups. Some kids spoke some English, some not at all. Like any school in existence, the students displayed varying levels of interest, engagement, and excellence. Almost all seemed to feel nervous in our presence (but it’s only our second day in the school and I think we feel nervous, too).

Justin had a great icebreaker after class with a hacky sack – over half the class spent recess playing with us. Justin seems to have already developed a great sense of commitment, involvement, and approachability. I predict his second week here without us will be quite different and even more rewarding as I almost guarantee students will find his big brother approach and charm irresistible and inspirational.

We ended our day at Colegio with Karen and her ninth grade rural tourism classroom where the students were giving PowerPoint presentations on First Aid. First we had introductions (which lasted over 30 minutes). Then we heard two presentations. The kids presented information they had gathered on the internet (some of which they understood more or less). Their teacher explained to them in gentle, supportive, and incredibly informative ways the proper techniques in dealing with various injuries and accidents, infections, and illnesses. The emphasis in the teachings was everything a tour guide would need to get a tourist to proper medical attention in a timely fashion (i.e. basic EMT for a tourist guide). I was impressed with the fund of knowledge of the teacher and her ability to convey information to her students in a way they seemed able to accept and absorb. She is one of the most superb teachers I have had the pleasure to witness.

We met for dinner at 5:30 p.m. so we would have time to go to the snake tour and shops in town (but half the team needed to go to sleep instead). At this point in the trip I am feeling comfortable with the hotel, with the daily routine, with the food, and with my Spanish (albeit NOT fluent).

I am feeling spoiled by our team leader, Maggie, as she takes care of everything for us with a smile and makes everything fun with her laughter and giggles, and inspired by our teammate, Justin. He clearly feels the commitment and devotion of serving others and I feel the world is a better place for having him in it. I know he will continue to make a difference in the world and I suspect will inspire many in his lifetime.

Maggie - our team leader who spoils us - with Lena and me 

I must confess I am feeling homesick. We finally figured out how to use Skype to call home without phone service (thanks, Justin!). I miss my younger daughter and husband very much having never traveled without them both. But I cannot regret one moment of precious time I have with my first born, exploring the world and its vastness and strangeness and beauty together. I remain committed to our mission of serving those who have not been as fortunate as we. And when I am not sure exactly how much I am impacting, I remind myself it is not what I am doing to help others, it is that I am helping others. 

Entry submitted by: Jen

Message of the Day – Justin: "I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve." –Albert Schweitzer 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Our first day volunteering at Colegio

We woke up and had breakfast in the hotel. Then we walked to the Colegio. We walked to the principal’s office where we were greeted by Karen. She took us around to each classroom and answered all of our questions. After we saw the classrooms, we moved on to the farm. We saw the dairy (which later in the day we would clean). The women in the cafeteria gave us some fruit – pineapple, papaya, watermelon, and bananas – as a snack. The group went to the pig pens. There we saw the largest pig any of us has ever seen and some little piglets. Following we saw the hens. Maggie told Justin and me about how they are called hen’s eggs in Spanish and people used to laugh at her when she was learning Spanish and said "chicken eggs."

After the tour we went to lunch at the soda. My mother and I had a lunch of beef, rice, beans, and salad. Justin and Maggie had fish, rice, beans, and salad. Justin was wearing very nice clothes (he looked very presentable for introductions) so he and Maggie went back to the hotel to change. Then we went to Jorge’s classroom. There we did introductions with the students. Three students came with our team to power wash and clean the dairy building. We began one wall at a time. We began to clean some of the inner walls as well as the sides and back of the building. After that we mopped the floor and swept the excess water into the gutter. Don Chepe brought in the cows so he could milk them. I was quite excited when I was able to actually milk a cow as well. After the team had all had a chance to milk the cows, we saw where it was stored and we saw the fresh cheese they made every day, but we didn’t eat it. 

Don Cheme letting the cows in to be milked 

Jen milking a cow 

Lena having a go 

And, of course, Justin, too! 

Proceeding we went back to Jorge’s classroom. With his eight grade class we went up and helped them plant cilantro in the beds. We turned the soil and drew lines in the dirt for the seeds to be planted in. The teacher then left for a meeting with parents and we had a chance to interact with the students.

Working in the school vegetable garden

Justin tried to teach everyone (wih Maggie translating) the Rubik’s cube. We had an early dinner of rice, beans, cauliflower, carrots, and chicken. Maggie left her phone in her room, so Franciso came to see if we were alright. They needed to discuss the plans for tomorrow. 

We then went on a night tour at the coffee and chocolate plantation as a team. We learned that the coffee berries have four layers and how to remove each layer. We also learned about cocoa beans. Then we had a discussion about the difference between light roast coffee and dark roast. Light roast has more caffeine, but also has more flavor. Dark roast has a bitter taste because it is dried for longer. Afterwards we were given samples of coffee and the best-tasting chocolate in the entire world. They were so nice and gave us extra chocolate. The night tour followed and we saw sloths, millipedes, spiders, crickets, and toads, and we heard a frog we couldn’t see. We saw a banana tree and a few bananas dropped so we were able to eat them. I told the tour guide, “Your friend says he likes dark roasted coffee best.” He replied, “He also might drink it with milk. He is part of the 99%.” The day was full of lasting memories and we were able to complete many of our goals in the first day.

Cacao - where the deliciousness comes from 

Deemed the best-tasting chocolates 
in the whole world by Team #224 

Entry submitted by: Lena

Message of the Day - Maggie: "Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love." - Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Learning about Costa Rica

The day began with a lovely group discussion in the semi-open air dining room, complete with chirping humming birds flitting about. After breakfast we began our official orientation to our service program, which went exceptionally smoothly due to our diligent study of the Volunteer Manual before our trip actually began. We then set, discussed, and agreed upon a list of nine goals that we’d like to accomplish by the week’s end – ambitious, absolutely, but entirely doable:

1) To explore the cloud forest and its wildlife

2) To go on an excursion as a team
3) To make meaningful contributions, including a tangible improvement
4) To build positive relationships and/or friendships
5) To interact with locals in a non-structured way, possibly being invited to somewhere outside Colegio
6) To be active
7) To try new foods and learn new customs
8) To become more proficient in Spanish
9) To visit CASEM

We also discussed the types of qualities and characteristics we need to display in order to achieve these goals:

flexible                       respectful                     responsible                  dedicated 
energetic                    open                            positive                        optimistic
friendly                      punctual                       hardworking                mindful

After this session Maggie guided us to a lovely open-air café-restaurant where I got my first (but definitely not last) taste of Costa Rican coffee - ¡muy bueno!

Maggie and Lena with their drinks at lunch 

Upon our arrival back at the Hotel 1915, we were greeted by Don Félix, who was to take us up through the mountains to Monteverde. The drive was gorgeous, albeit bumpy and extremely curvaceous, but Don Félix, clearly a master of the terrain, guided us safely and quickly through the misty trail and to our destination. I was impressed and humbled by the sight of so many Costa Ricans living right in the midst of the majestic mountain, many in modestly-made homes of metal and wood; surely their backyard views are unmatched across the whole world. Don Félix was kind enough to stop the van and let us out to photograph a couple of monkeys that were hanging out on the power lines; they seemed entirely accustomed to the attention and paid us almost no mind at all. 

Our lively conversation carried us through the rest of the journey, all the way to the lovely Mar Inn. We were introduced to the proprietor (Ánthony) and his mother and little sister before settling into our rooms.

After showering and changing, we met back up for a cursory overview of important Spanish words, phrases, and concepts, which I found to be extremely helpful. Then we enjoyed a tasty dinner prepared by Ánthony’s mother, met the directors of the Colegio, and discussed our free time plans for the week - all the while enjoying the sounds of a mariachi band playing next door. Now it is time to sleep; tomorrow is a big day! Buenas noches.

Entry submitted by: Justin