This week Dear Husband and I returned from a 10 day trip to Costa Rica. We went with our church for a mission trip so it wasn’t exactly relaxing but it was amazing none-the-less. We went with 63 other church members including high schoolers, college kids and adults. We went to Campamento Roblealto to help them with construction projects that they don’t have the man power to complete on their own. Camp Roblealto is a summer camp for kids of all walks of life. It is in the mountains of central Costa Rica about an hour outside of San Jose. Yes, we sang the chorus of Do You Know The Way to San Jose multiple times on the plane.
When we arrived a weekend camp was already in progress for kids who would be considered “at risk” or inner city kids. Many came from situations where there wasn’t really any home life to speak of and they got hooked up with the camp through the neighborhood programs that they are involved with that take kids like this under their wing. This was a chance for them to have a normal kid experience. We were told that inner city neighborhoods are extremely territorial and many of these kids had never been out of their neighborhood other than to go to school and back. For the weekend our task was to just hang out with the kids during their free time, serve them meals and clean up after them and take it easy. This proved to be a very difficult task for many people. We came with the impression that we were going to be put to work right away only to learn that we would spend the first two days just hanging out and trying to communicate with a group of kids (who seemed to range in the ages of 8 – 16) who didn’t speak English. One of the kids in our group did speak Spanish really well and became the “cool kid” among the Spanish speaking kids. We also had a few adults in our group who were fluent in Spanish and became invaluable at the work site to make sure we all knew what we were supposed to be doing. We discovered that one of the major cultural differences between Americans and Latin Americans is that Americans are task and work driven while Latin Americans are family and relationship driven. For example, they may say lunch is going to be at 12:00 but if they get caught up talking with a friend or doing something for a neighbor, well then, lunch will be whenever they get around to it. Taking care of family and relationships trumps everything else. Americans have a hard time with this concept as we are so scheduled and thrive on successfully completing tasks and kicking ass while doing it.
Turns out that living on Tico Time was a good lesson for us all. The youth in our group played games with the Costa Rica youth and formed relationships, despite the language barrier, that were valuable for both sets of kids. We shared our belongings with the campers and they loved the new stuff. Spanglish hugs all around. The campers invited us to share in their closing service and we learned just how valuable the experience was for them. One boy who put on a tough exterior and who looked to be about 8 or 9 opened up his heart to the group and tearfully said that this was the first time he could remember receiving so much hugs and affection. This boy was about the same age as my own. Humbling to say the least.
We stayed at the camp, in cabins and ate the tico diet which consisted of rice and beans at every meal plus some sort of meat and fruit. Two mornings the kitchen ladies took pity on the teenagers in our group and served us cold cereal and pancakes. You would think it was manna from heaven.
This is a panoramic view of where we stayed. Because we were at a high elevation, the clouds rolled in everyday and gave us a little shower. Despite its close proximity to the equator the temps during the day were only around 80 and could get down to 60 at night. There was usually a lot of cloud cover so it was actually very pleasant most of the time.
One thing that took me a long time to get used to was all the hills. The camp was set in the mountains so I felt like I was constantly walking uphill everywhere I went. I was so sore the first 3 days that I thought I had developed an acute case of full body arthritis or meningitis. Even when I was walking downhill I was still in pain. Thankfully my sore muscles got used to it and I became a lean mean hill climbing machine (not really).
As you can guess the flora and fauna were beautiful. We were pleased to learn that the spiders weren’t poisonous and that we didn’t have to worry about poison ivy or poison oak. Good thing because our cabin was home to several spiders and most of us spent the week hacking through the brush. One day we saw a trail of leaf cutter ants who had created a super highway of ants from a tree back to their huge colony. It was pretty amazing. There was a little ground cover plant that closed up when you touched it. Everybody was pretty amazed by it and I dubbed it the “scaredy cat plant”.