Written By Sasha
Hey everyone, my name is Sasha and I will be reporting on the activities and places we’ve done this week (February 15th- February 23th). This week we were primarily stationed in the beautiful eco retreating Chilamante, Costa Rica until the 21st when we left for our next spot – Turrialba for language school.
While at the resort our primary focuses were: nature and building connections with each other. Each day the activities we did were designed with the intention touring us individually close to nature and begin to create an environment in which our relationships with each other is strengthened.
As we are all on this program for our own personal intentions, I decided to ask the participants and staff to describe how each of the activities has impacted them personally.
We began with a morning yoga class lead by Rachael, one of our Overseas Educators, to open the mind, body, and soul though powerful stretching, breathing, and meditation. She describes that the yoga class helps to connect the participants to nature and to each other though the ideology that “we have natural connections to nature and though yoga practices (breathing, movement, stretching) its able to come out naturally. And this connection to nature is strengthened when we all participate together. In yoga we are united and the synonymous breathing and movement brings us together from the shared experience as well.”
We began the day off with an excursion to a gorgeous waterfall, Pozo Azul. The waterfall was nestled in a secluded area that Megan, our host at the ecolodge, suggested that we visit. It was preserved by a friend of Megans on his property to conserve the natural forest and land of Costa Rica. We were able to swim in the water and spend the morning in a hidden oasis. Tyler, one of the participants, describes the experience of being there as “something he’s never truly experienced before” as he is from the Northwest. He further explains that to him “it was if he was totally immersed in the unknown, it was calming” and “for that time I [he] wasn’t worrying and I [he] was living fully in the moment”.
Later in the day, we had a salsa class lead by Adam, our other Overseas Educator here with us. We had this beautiful open meet up area that had enough space for us to learn how to dance. He believes that though dance he is able to “connect us [the participants] to the culture of Costa Rica and Latin America.” He describes he sees dance as “the keys and open the door to the beauty of the culture and language, providing us with a deeper understanding of the culture of Latin America”.
Wednesday it rained the whole day, so we used this time to really have a chill day. The leadership roles were introduced today. We were split off into pairs and given different tasks per week, and each week the pair and the role changes. Cece, another participant whose role is to be the designated bug remover, describes that “these types of activities require full participation with in turn strengthens us together as a unit which is paramount to the success of the group”.
One of the biggest ways we’ve also have been able to connect to each other is through meal times. Each meal we eat with 1-2 other people, rotating as needed to get to know each other. As Maggie describes that though the small group setting and date style we are “able to form strong connections over incredible food”.
We visited a farm Thursday morning, where we learned how an organic family owned farm is able to produce healthy products in a way that is sustainable for the world. Organic farming is a method that is taboo in a lot of Costa Rica, as it’s not as important as money. We heard how destructive big fruit companies are and the true impact from someone who had witnessed it with his own eyes. Don Daniel taught us how the big plantations are destroying the soil, environment, and many many lives of animals. One of the most important things Audrey, a participant, took away from the experience was “how hard work and dedication to what you love and are passionate about will pay off, and encourages us to work that much harder” a lesson we will all take into our lives.
After the farm, we spent the afternoon in Puerto Viejo, a town that was close to us. We were able to explore the town and speak with locals to practice our Spanish and interact in a setting, safely with extra precautions, that was more open than just our group. Mia, a participant, describes this experience as “ a strengthening exercise, as we are all different levels of Spanish to help each other out to find places and learn from each other.” As well as “ a very intimate experience as the people of the town are opening their world to us and we are able to peek into the secret garden that is the community of Puerto Viejo”
Friday we did a Scavenger hunt though the community surrounding the ecolodge in which we needed to find 5 different places in which we needed to do an activity; make tortillas, milk a cow, learn how to dance: salsa, bachata, merengue, and cumbia, raft across the river, interview someone in Spanish. The scavenger hunt really pushed us out of our comfort zones and gave us a way to look into daily lives of people in the community. Cole, a participant, describes this experience as “ a great way to connect with people in the community, practice our Spanish, and learn about the lives and skills that are necessary for those in the community”.
Later that night around sun set we began a nature hike at night to explore the beautiful world of the forest at night. It was an experience that opened our eyes to the beautiful side of the dark. Many of us were terrified and in awe during the hike. As Balkhiis, a participant, depicts “ we observed the night individually but it was as if one person was observing it with 28 eyes, we were all present and strengthened us in the oddest way without realizing it fully.”
We began the weekend with forest therapy with Megan, who is a certified forest therapy guide. She opened the door to a deeper connection to nature though experiences that strengthened our individual connection to nature. It opened up an area of vulnerability that we had yet to expose ourself to. Veronica, a participant, describes the experience as “ challenging as we had to be around each other but without talking and removing ourselves from the group and being present in what we individually wanted out of the experience. It also pushed our boundaries as we were sharing our emotions in a group setting and couldn’t hide behind humor or anything else”
Another big part of connecting with nature is our excursions to the river. We went to spend one final day at the river after forest therapy. Being so close to something super powerful such as the rapids of the river is a eye opening experience. The river has a circular current which provides a similar experience as a lazy river ride in which you can float down the river in a relaxing ride. However to get to the lazy river one must trust in the current and allow it to pick you up. As Hank, a participant, describes “ the lazy river strengthened our connection to nature because we were able to see how strong the river was, and at the end of the day nature will prevail and we can never beat nature”.
Sunday we finished up our group agreements, which is a set of rules for what we want to get out of our trip. One of the biggest takeaways from this process was the group making intentions for our trip that we can follow but keeping in mind we are all at different places and while we are a group our trip takeaways are individual as well. Macy, a participant, describes how while “ we didn’t write down everything said at each of the discussions about the group agreements, its integral to be open and honest with each other so we can navigate individual needs coupled with the support of the group”.
After we finished the agreements and all signed we said our goodbyes to Megan and her family. And began the journey to the next place: Turrialba. We arrived around 3pm and met our Spanish teachers at 4pm to be put into groups for Spanish classes.
Monday was our first day of Spanish class, and as we are all in different levels of Spanish speaking we have 3 separate levels with a teacher per group. The teachers are from Turrialba and only speak Spanish. We learn from a combination of seeing and doing so having teachers who only speak Spanish forces us to pick it up and learn. Alma, a participant, describes how her teacher is “native to the area so learning from someone who has direct experiences with the culture, traditions, and language we can learn so much more than from reading a textbook with a teacher that speaks English most of the time.”
After Spanish we had our first rotation for cooking. In Chilamate we were fortunate enough to have staff to cook for us but in Turrialba we are staying in a hostel with only lunch provided for us. We have 3 groups of 4 and a rotation of jobs: cook, clean, and day off. Monday night was our first night, with group A, Sasha (me), Balkhiis, Maggie, and Mia. Our group has decided to rotate different recipes and cook leaders. I started off with a dish that combined a little of what I’ve learned through experience, with a challenge. I love to cook creatively and go with the process rather than sticking with a recipe. So we used yucca, a root very popular to Costa Rica, with twist. We made a “yuccasagna” with fried yucca replacing the pasta aspect of the lasagna, a bolognese sauce and mozzarella to top. It had its learning curves but as we are all learning together and growing together which strengthens the group individually and wholly.
This week we all have grown closer to each other and the community surrounding us. There is never a dull moment on this trip and we grow closer every second. I hope you all back home are safe and healthy we miss you all. Pura Vida!