Saturday, October 20, 2012

San José, Costa Rica

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Jane Goodall

I've been in San José for two days, Julia just one, and we already feel like this trip was worth it. San José may not be the most beautiful city in the world, but it has quenched the initial assault of our thirst for adventure. I arrived here on Thursday night, as planned, although three hours late due to a problem with the aircraft's fuel line. Julia was on the standby list and didn't manage to board a plane until the next morning.

Upon my arrival, I served as tourist bait to the ageless trick of airport taxis, and received a prolonged voyage, which I amiably accepted, happy to be near the end of a lengthy and weary day. Sadly, the scenery wasn't one to marvel at, although I did receive an in-depth guide of local alcohols and foods, as well as a complete chronicle of accidents the driver witnessed in the last few weeks. As the clock neared midnight, I arrived at Tomoko's house. Tomoko is our couchsurfing host during our sojourn in San José, but she means much more than that to us. Not only has she absorbed our capricious arrivals incredibly graciously  she also put us in contact with Gail, the director of the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation, whom she had worked with in the past. Together, they are the gateway to our adventure.
Regarding security, it's important to note that despite the repeated assurances of safety by the locals, probably advertising the charm of their beloved land, any locale, business place or home worth more than a favela is protected by fences topped by menacing barbed wire. Nonetheless, I must admit that so far we haven't felt unsafe or threatened at any point.

In fact, the biggest threat is the competitive and chaotic driving that the locals employ. Especially in the center of town, where a mix of overpopulated streets and imprudent pedestrians give way to the most unorganized and unkempt traffic I've witnessed.

I spent a restful night at Tomoko's house, a luxurious apartment complex. Not preposterous, yet definitely inconsistent with the squalid neighborhood not two hundred meters down the road, and the tin huts scattered across the mountains sighted from her eight floor balcony.

In the morning, aided by the amenable directions of the building's security guard, I explored my way to two different buses, one to the center of town, and from there to the airport. While waiting for Julia, I observed the mechanics of the lyrical battle between official airport taxi drivers and the competition; freelance bargainers always ready to offer you "ten dollars less sir!"
The past two days have left the awe of discovery imprinted in our expression as we visited San José in our comings and goings while getting acquainted with the local culture and putting the finishing touches to our backpacks, or as Julia call hers, "my room." However, the most impactful experience was the hour long conversation with a curious and inspiring personality, 
Gail, or Giselle, as the locals call her, unable to pronounce her name, has invited us to participate in a project that we couldn't be more excited about. We do not know yet the full extent of our involvement on the project, but she made it clear to us that we are to play a decisive role in the lives of the Cabécar indigenous community. Isolated from advancements in medicine, technology and dispersed in their own land, they have been in close contact with the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation for the past 15 years. The foundation has carried out a harmonious and fruitful effort to provide the community with education, adequate housing and modern communication tools; while managing to cultivate their desire to move forward but maintaining them as the conductors of progress. Despite the collaboration with the foundation, the Cabécares still lack many of the privileges that most of us would consider essential, even rudimentary.
Starting tomorrow, we will live among them, hoping to teach as much as we will undoubtedly learn from them. For at least a month, we will be ever so fortunate to cohabitate with these shy and enigmatic people, assessing their situation and reporting back to Gail.
I dare not say more about this for fear of communicating false concepts, I'd rather be able to write on a blank page, than to have to write over the stains of an eraser.
Moments ago, we finished a most gratifying dinner with Tomoko, as we shared recipes from around the world. We provided Spanish Tortilla, while she served a savory home made plate of Japanese fried chicken, crowned with a palatable sauce and an assortment of vegetables. I'm typing this as Julia learns origami from Tomoko, and, counterintuitively, teaches her a folding trick of her own!
Tomorrow we leave San José at 6:30 in the morning and we don't know for sure when we will be in touch again.

We are forever grateful to Tomoko, Gail and the fate that brought us to them, for having placed this road before our feet.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”  - Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods

It's hard to believe we have but two days until our departure. We've both been dreaming of that day for years, ruminating on the idea in our separate consciousness for much of our lives. Of course, and I speak for myself now, I was never sure what that day would bring, what the opportunity, prompt for seizing, would entail, or who would accompany me.

Close to a year ago, a fateful meeting between passion, fear and uncertainty injected a boiling shot of courage into our blood, giving way to an expression of love. Love for life, for justice; and for adventure, discovery. Love for a shared belief. Belief in the ideals quickly losing meaning in the parade of content and effortless philanthropy of the privileged. Of course, love and belief would need sacrifice in order to materialize, else they would fall into the deceit of feeling satisfied for having felt compassion, as if it made a difference. That we knew. Sacrifice is what separates ideals from action, dreams from reality.

Until recently, it has all seemed unreal. Borrowed from a great adventure story, too epic to dare explain it for fear of ridicule, too distant to confess our full ambition. It is clear to me that without the help and support of those who believe in us, and the commitment of others who share our cause, it would all have remained unsubstantial.

A mere few nights away from consummating months of gambling with our futures and juggling dozens of plans and decisions, the proportions of our journey have sized down from exaltedly epic to achievable. The details are perhaps not punctual enough, at least not enough to guarantee the conviction that we would wish to see in our loved ones, and perhaps ourselves. Nonetheless, the dream is lifted, and carried by the strength of our curiosity, youth and determination. Simultaneously, fear and uncertainty unwillingly yield to our desire to change ourselves and to discover another side of this world, with the prospect that, as Gandhi promised, "the tendencies in the world would also change".

At this moment, and perhaps not for many years after today, I cannot imagine the limitations of this adventure. I cannot predict how far our feet will take us, nor can I conceive what it might take to stop them. That is indeed an uncomfortable thought. Despite our vision and careful schemes, we cannot ever be the true masters of our future. However, I do believe that we have full governance of our present choices, and that is a very appeasing sentiment.