Monday, December 31, 2012

Infiltrated volunteers: Matapalo

It’s remarkably inspiring to witness the amount of people who gladly sacrifice their time, and often money, to become part of a cause much larger than themselves. Since arriving in San Isidro in early December, we have had the chance to meet and work with several volunteers. Whether they are committing their efforts entirely selflessly or as a way to expand their knowledge on a specific subject, the result is undeniably constructive.
Volunteering is able to decrease the disparities in society, such as poverty, segregation and exclusion. The pillars of volunteerism; solidarity and commitment are comforting constants upon which we can rely as the driving force for the crucial adjustments we must make to our way of living; both as individuals and as a society. The principles of volunteerism are remarkably pertinent in increasing the competence of those exposed, vulnerable and weak so they can attain a safe and sustainable living situation as well as to improve their physical, financial, spiritual and social well-being. 

Although by many standards we are considered volunteers, we have decided to create a different term for our specific situation to be able to differentiate ourselves from the many charitable people we have crossed during our work at Planet Conservation. We have recently begun calling ourselves “freelance volunteers”. By no means do we intend to emphasize our work with this differentiation. In fact, our work lacks any real, or quantitative, value until we finish the journey and are able to produce substantial and defined conclusions, while ‘regular’ volunteering yields direct results.
In fact, we began calling ourselves this rather pompous name when we attempted to explain the type of work we have been doing and not many people seemed to understand that we have traveled here on our own account. While we have the most sincere respect for genuine eco-volunteering and ‘voluntourism’, we are not in the business of paying to do work. Our trip has different goals.

The benefit of being freelance volunteers is that – so far – we cohabit and collaborate with a broad assortment of people with different perspectives, backgrounds, ideas and knowledge and learn about countless topics. By volunteering with different organizations, we can improve our understanding of the obstacles, the solutions and the issues faced by enterprises intended to promote and improve the global well-being.
We do not intend to limit our work to foundations, NGOs, or government projects. It has been repeatedly but appropriately recognized that small acts can have a huge impact. Groups of organized neighbors, families and even individuals can immensely influence other people’s lives, communities and the habitat that surrounds them. These actions, born out of altruism are perhaps more effective than those of massive, institutionalized, bureaucratic organizations.
After only one week of living in San Isidro we got to discover just how powerful a relatively small act can become. Not only in the purpose of the act itself, but in the economic and moral improvement of a whole community.

Twenty-five years ago, in Matapalo, a small fishing village in the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, a humble, ordinary family dared to confront a shortsighted and selfish tradition and changed the future of a whole town and innumerable creatures. The mother, thoughtful and loving as mothers ought to be, acknowledged a problem where others only saw food and business. Attentive, she had witnessed how year after year, the sea turtle arrivals in the colossal esplanade of Playa Matapalo were no longer counted in the thousands. The locals, who eagerly awaited turtle season to consume and sell the delicious and expensive eggs, had perhaps never considered that those eggs would eventually grow to be the turtles that fed them.
Moved by what she considered a problem of utmost significance, she convinced her family to build a makeshift hatchery in their backyard. Judiciously, they would patrol the beach at night in search of nesting mothers. As the turtles placidly descended towards the ocean after finishing the phenomenal, yet arduous task of laying eggs, they would run in and carefully excavate the camouflaged pits and take the eggs to the hatchery, where they could shelter the hundreds of unborn hatchlings from menacing predators.

The family turned a deaf ear to the complaints, threats and general unhappiness of their fellow citizens and continued with this process for nearly 6 years until, in 1991, a local Costa Rican Organization stepped in and elevated the project to another level. Now, the ASVO Matapalo Turtle Conservation Program is the oldest communal turtle conservation project in the nation's Pacific coast. An area which once suffered a 100% loss of nests is now down to almost zero.
Our placement at Planet Conservation was opportune enough that we were able to spend a weekend visiting the project before turtle season ended. The motive for deploying us at the Matapalo Project was to examine and analyze how a turtle conservation program operates. For three days, we lived and worked as regular volunteers in the ASVO house. We were ecstatic about the prospect of witnessing a turtle (although not an arribada, a communal arrival of hundreds of turtles for a few nights) or perhaps the birth of a nest; but our chances were faint, given that the season was practically over. Our main hope resided on the mere eight nests that remained in the hatchery.
The first night we patrolled the beach in complete darkness for two hours, covering the four kilometers under the auspices of ASVO with the guidance of a young, but experienced volunteer. Robert is one of thousands German high school graduates volunteering abroad. A sign of a progressive country headed in the right direction, the German government subsidizes young men and women who wish to expand their knowledge and gain a bit of expertise in a chosen subject before beginning the next step of their academic career.

It was too much to ask to see a turtle, but we did enjoy the serenity of walking through a misty beach depending only on the stars and a couple of fishing boats for illumination. Patrolling is only one of the many duties of the volunteers and staff. Depending on the month, various teams ranging from one to three people keep their eyes peeled as they march through the sand retrieving nests.

The other important duty is done in three turns of four hours. From dusk till dawn, teams of two must watch over the hatchery in case of births and to keep any predators – human or otherwise – away. The rest of the volunteer responsibilities are domestic, such as cleaning the house and washing the dishes.
On Saturday, our second day at the project, we participated in cleaning duties, played a rough football match on the beach and celebrated an early Christmas with the staff and volunteers, who joined hands to cook a lavish feast of local dishes. In the afternoon, we visited the edge of a natural park; where a river, a beach and a forest have created a peaceful sanctuary. We accompanied a crew of volunteers and staff to this remote location with an honorable purpose, to liberate a young raccoon. A few months back, a local farmer had brought Miko, a cub, and his sister to the ASVO volunteer home, hoping that they could heal their wounds. Miko, unable to bury his instincts, had grown into a young, quarrelsome and rebellious pet. Sadly, the female didn’t survive surgery. After a passionate debate, the staff had decided that the most humane solution was to set him free.

On our second and final night we were appointed to guard the hatchery from midnight until four in the morning. Since we didn’t want to miss the possible, but improbable birth of baby turtles, we asked the volunteers taking the first shift to warn us in case of any hatchings. To their surprise, they encountered a nest full of nervous hatchlings, zealously waiting to flee for the open ocean.

 With the fresh, luscious taste of passion fruit mousse lingering in our palates, we eagerly bequeathed our unfinished plates and sprinted towards the hatchery.
Methodically, but unable to conceal our enthusiasm, we counted the 85 newborns and moved them to the beach in a large container. Our hands were tremulous with excitement, as we set the bucket down six meters from the water and carefully placed every single courageous little creature on the sand. Once the last of the instinctive wanderlusters had departed, the nervous giggle we had uttered throughout the process was suddenly amplified into a triumphant, exuberant laughter to escort the turtles past the breaking waves as it echoed in the dark.
We couldn’t help but compare our lives to those of the valiant young turtles. The adorable, even jocular display is a rather didactic event for us. Yet to taste the sweet tenderness of a mother’s care, they must confront many of nature’s most bitter lessons. The friable pack embarks without any deliberation on a quest towards a most unsure and ambiguous objective; life. Granted, instinct, not reason, is the driving force of their actions. But wouldn’t our lives be more valuable, and worth living if we devoted them to do what we know to be right without fear of the obstacles that may stand in our path?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Puerto Viejo

It's unequivocal by now that we are tracing the footprints of Lady Luck. However capricious a mistress she might be, her love affair with our journey blooms splendidly in our favor. We must not grow arrogant though, for fortune is perfidious, and of many lovers. So, we walk cautiously, aware and informed, but intrepidly, for, after all, fortune favors the brave.

Although we relished the unexpected opportunity to visit Cahuita, we started to grow restless after a breezy week of idle strolls. We had nowhere to go until Tuesday the 11th of December - commencement date of our assignment with Planet Conservation in San Isidro del General. Thus, we woke up early on an unusually bright morning, decided to follow the trail of traditional tourism and headed south towards Puerto Viejo. Our main intention was to spend a placid day at the beach, for, despite all the attractions and entertaining possibilities, our budget had already suffered enough from the inflated touristic prices. Also, we wanted to find a hostel whose name we didn't remember, and whose owners we didn't personally know.

A few months ago, when we first made public our plans of embarking on our current voyage, Michael Pepple, a dear friend of ours, put us in contact with David Sloan and Danielle Kravetz, the owners of La Ruka, a friendly and accommodating lodge near Cocles beach, in the vicinity of Puerto Viejo. Regrettably, by the time we arrived in the unbridled, colorful enclave of Puerto Viejo, we had forgotten the name of the hostel, and had the wrong phone number.  After a few futile attempts at asking for directions to hostel 'La Amistad' or 'La Alegria', I, stifled by the heat, gave up.
However, Julia, persistent as ever, amicably approached a store to inquire "one last time, otherwise we'll go to the beach." The shopkeeper, another Spaniard far from home, cordially invited us to use his computer to investigate further, as he, despite publishing a monthly local magazine, had never heard of the made up hostels which we were naming.

With the correct name but no directions, we continued our unguided walk to the beach. Then, as if it had magically appeared out of the jungle, we saw it: La Ruka. Dave and Danielle have recently acquired the locale from its cynical past owner, and now live there with Dave's brothers, who work as members of the friendly staff. La Ruka is the quintessence of its proud owners who, through love and dedication have created a home for themselves, and anyone who wishes it to be. Easily appreciated at first glance, the hostel is a harmonious assemblage of jubilation, relaxation and camaraderie.

Dave and Danielle were amusingly baffled with our sudden appearance. Following a brief introduction, they offered us a pair of dowdy bikes and sent us on our way to Manzanillo, a remote village where the streets end and paradise begins.

The easternmost spot in Costa Rica, Manzanillo is an appetizer of the gaudy wildlife that extends behind its kilometric beach. Lined with coconut trees, soothing waves and wooden dories, Playa Manzanillo ends gently as the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Reserve begins. There, the prolific jungle is adamant to the frequent onslaught of the indomitable waves, who repeatedly smash against reef and rock, creating an instant raw spectacle for those who venture into the hidden treasures of fine sand. As one roams the hills outlining the coast, the serpentine roots of the corpulent, propitious trees serve as natural steps. Occasionally we would hear a vociferous troop of howler monkeys, but, despite its famed reputation as an animal sanctuary, we didn't see any animals, marine or terrestrial. Nonetheless, the breathtaking views were worth the bike ride.

Upon our return to La Ruka, we learned that we missed out on the best part of the reserve, for we didn't reach the end of the path. Exploring without a local guide has its negative consequences, but we were able to admire the mystic scenery by ourselves. Since Dani and Dave had been too busy to spend the day with us, we decided to meet in Cahuita the next day. After a peaceful morning exchanging stories and experiences at the beach, they invited us back to Puerto Viejo for the night to celebrate the life of a dog. Earlier that morning, the owner of the Tasty Waves Cantina - a close friend of Dani and Dave - had lost his lovable pet: a droll, adventurous dog appropriately named Nacho Borracho. A party unlike any others; somehow both tender and wild, it was a great occasion for us to discover just why they call Puerto Viejo "Costa Rica´s Miami." Music and exultance swarm the electric streets as the mingling, exuberant crowd of tourists and locals lavishly partakes in carefree celebrations.

The next morning, enchanted by the jaunty atmosphere of Puerto Viejo, and by the comfort of  real beds, we decided to stay one more day. Dani and Dave, incredibly generous and considerate, didn't hesitate to invite us again to spend the night at La Ruka, even offering us surf boards, bikes or scuba equipment to liven up yet another lovely day. We tried our luck with surfing, but the gnarly waves furiously hurled us around before we even attempted to swim beyond their breaking point.

Eventually, our fleeting visit to the Caribbean had to end. After two idyllic, gratifying nights in Puerto Viejo, we said goodbye to La Ruka and its endearing owners and returned to Cahuita. The next morning, we woke up early and sat out on the main road hoping to catch a ride, all the way to San Jose, where we had to find a bus that would take us to San Isidro del General.

After 45 minutes of potential cars bypassing our friendly sign, Julia stood up and determinedly announced: "the second car to appear is our ride". Astonishingly, the second car did pull over! The driver was another Spaniard, Juanca. The three of us enjoyed the road trip to San Jose, remembering our home country and cheerfully sharing our experiences in Costa Rica. After a long day of traveling, we stepped off the bus and were met by Federico Solorzano and Rafa Quesada, our colleagues and hosts in San Isidro del General. But that, our dear readers, is a whole 'nother story...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Lulled by the sound of calypso and reggae drifting through the heat of eternal summer, Cahuita lies in tranquility between Limon, the most important port of the South Caribbean; and Puerto Viejo, a haven for nonconformist renegades, surfers, tourists and backpackers. It is is escorted by an uninhibited, paradisaical black sand beach to the northwest and the monumental jungle of the Cahuita National Park to the southeast. This minuscule town is, metaphorically and geographically, wedged between two worlds.

Originally, the animals that are currently found in the National Park roamed freely, exempt from hunters. Visitors are easily delighted by the sloths, caymans, monkeys, snakes and several species of colorful birds that approach the jungle path conquered by ants and mosquitoes.

However, the green and hawksbill turtles that once chose the secluded shore to lay their eggs have long been absent from this breathtaking ecosystem.
In the 1750s, when only the most fearsome pirates dared navigate through the sheltering reef outlining the coast, the Miskito Indians of Nicaragua traveled south following the migration patterns of sea turtles in search of food. By 1828 they had permanently settled in the prominent tip, naming it “kawe” “ta”, or “point where the Sangrillo trees grow.” The sangrillo trees were of special significance to the new dwellers, for they used the red sap emanating from the trunks to dye their fishing nets, thus avoiding the reflection of the sun on the nets through the pristine waters.

In the 19th century, the slave ships traveling near the coast often collided with the treacherous reef. The natives, attentive and considerate, rescued the auspicious survivors who had just evaded a life of forced labor in the cocoa plantations. This altruistic practice gave birth to the current community of Afro-Caribbeans that give Cahuita its soul and essence. Today, the exotic cuisine, the long dreaded surfers, and the centenary, colorful wooden houses built on pillars serve as reminders of the town’s heritage. 
However, the traditional carefree demeanor of the Afro-Caribbean population has transformed into a lazy and detached attitude which has paved the roads of the picturesque town for foreigners trying to escape from their stressed and burdened lives. 

Increasingly, local businesses and jobs are seized by Europeans and North Americans, who arrive with more capital and proficiency. While the locals complain about the lack of job opportunities, the new residents blame them for their lack of interest and organization.
Nonetheless, there is one local whose interest in the progress of the community is unquestionable and whose struggle and determination are exemplary despite his years. His name is Winston Brooks. In an ironic parallel to his restaurant, whose superb quality is not demonstrated by its usually void tables, Winston is a man who projects intelligence and vigor beyond his humble and rusty appearance. "A duck wishing to be a chicken," he prefers the life of a farmer despite his private education and versed dialect. Thus, he hermits away in his farm, choosing the other Cahuita. The one that smells of sugarcane, labor and tar.

Although there is much to reveal about Winston and Cahuita's internal issues, we must first explain how we arrived at his doorstep.

On the morning of November 29th, we found ourselves wistfully but eagerly descending the mountain in pursue of our next adventure; leaving behind not just a remarkable family, but friends that would live in our hearts forever. Before exiting the Indigenous Territory, we picked up Irene, the campestral and buoyant Spanish teacher at the local high school. We had helped Irene with personal and professional matters during our time there, and in return, she put us in contact with Winston, who gladly invited us to stay at his Posada. As the usual route was obstructed by the flooded river, we were 

forced to deviate and hike for three hours through an infamous location known for armed robberies which ended with a hanging bridge much more frightening than any delinquent.
For this reason, we accompanied Irene on the way out, as Leo guided us through the dodgy, yet scenic trail.

After a hasty goodbye with Irene, one of many in our incipient journey, we arrived safely in Limon, following a quiet bus ride with Leo, as the three of us certainly contemplated our imminent farewell. Although we had lunch with Leo in Limon, the lingering feeling of separation made the meal a delay of events rather than an enjoyable final feast. Happily, before we realized, we were stepping off a bus in an intriguing new destination with an incurable air of summer bliss; Cahuita.

In Cahuita, we were met by Sonia, a spiritual nomad with a distinct Spanish guise. As she would likely say, life had taken her there, where she lived in Winston’s ancestral home with her boyfriend and Winston’s ex-wife, Lucy.

The home, worthy of a museum, is a 150 year old wooden structure which appears to stand on wishful thinking and temperament, rather than firm foundations. Adjacent to it is the Posada; erected but unpainted, and the restaurant; full with potential rather than clients.
During our time there, we walked through the streets, spent hours in the idyllic white beach of the national park and befriended a few charming locals, who were pleased to converse with visitors concerned with local events. Apart from being devoured by mosquitoes and marveling at the devastating force of the laboring ants, we spotted a baby sloth, iguanas, a basilisk, troops of howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins, caymans and a friendly talking parrot.
Whenever Winston was able, we would sit down with him and enjoy a captivating conversation about local politics, imperialism, or any relevant topic about which he could offer an opinionated view. During the day, he would work in his organic plantation, where he took us once so we could learn about the difference between bananas and plantains and how to plant them.

Our experience in Cahuita was brief yet unforgettable. There, we met all kinds of interesting characters with incredible backgrounds and stories. Its rich diversity – despite its minute size – is both an obstacle towards communal understanding and progress and an attraction for tourists of any kind. Its cultural and natural wealth is an ocean of fascinating creatures and tales, where one can spend days upon days wading through stories and adventures before realizing that time has swiftly gone by.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wektë bas ra: Projects and Daily Life in Palmera

We arrived in Palmera on October 21st with a plethora of objectives. Some were commissioned by the Humanitarian Foundation, whereas others were personal. Our primary instruction from them was to complete a report which would enhance their understanding of the community, their progress and their needs. 
To do so, we carried out two workshops at  the local high school. One was dedicated to their academic and professional futures, in hope of encouraging them to continue their education after graduation and fulfil their potential. The other consisted of a cultural exchange, hoping to emphasize the importance of their identity; helping them comprehend the significance of retaining their native culture. For many of the students, it is a sacrifice to attend school everyday. Many of the females are mothers and housewives, while the young men could be earning a living for their families at the plantations. Furthermore, the average student walks for an hour to get to school, and some have to walk for up to three hours, as they live in houses wildly scattered across the mountain. Thus, we were incensed when we discovered a grave and pertinent problem affecting the educational institutions. Casually conversing with teachers, locals and in our visits to the school, we found out that a couple of key functionaries of the educational institutions were malignantly involved in negligence and embezzlement, leaving the students without lunch on a daily basis and the teachers without equipment. Having ignited our fire within, we urged them to take action. On behalf of the community, we helped them draft a letter to the regional authorities, asking for an internal investigation, a new directive and a series of requisites in order to achieve transparency and a more efficient administration in the years to come.

The foundation, who has been involved in numerous projects for the community, also collaborates closely with a group of artisan women. Envisioning increased visibility and documentation, we were asked to create a brief documentary on the intricate process of their craft; including pictures, videos and short biographies. However, we were disappointed by their lack of interest and cooperation when we summoned them to share their art. Sadly, the documentary will be undermined as a result. Similarly, the letter wasn´t signed by most of the people who initially endorsed it. What we initially thought to be fear of retribution may have turned out to be simply passivity or apathy. At the time of our departure, the powerful letter rested impotently in a dusty folder.

On a more positive note, we helped Leo, our host, write a proposal to build a lodge which will greatly improve the development and well being of the community. The Cabecar Cabin, as it will be named, will host tourists, students, researchers and will serve as a locale to impart technical courses. The foundation is now using this proposal to find the necessary funds to bring the project to life.

Needless to say, our time in Palmera was a rich and fruitful adventure, and the perfect beginning to our journey. Not a single day went by without a new experience or lesson.
For a month and a half, we were graciously hosted by a most exceptional indigenous family led by Genni and Leonel. Humbly but joyously, they live with Marilin (8), their cute and mischievous daughter, and their hardworking and curious son Junior (14), who loves Iron Maiden and playing the guitar. Their home is also graced by the presence of Genni´s lovely and bright stepsister Karen (10), who is a best friend and sister to Marilin; and Genni´s youngest brother Julio (16), who decided to leave the city of Limon and moved to Palmera this August, where he enjoys the peaceful and healthy life of the mountain and learns from Leo to become a working man.

In the mountain, away from electricity, the sun is the axis of time. There, daily life is ruled by the beaming star much more significantly than in the smog forests of concrete. Work, travel and any outdoor activity is determined by its light, and must first consult with its appearance. In a rare day at the reserve, we witnessed a momentous event in the advancement of the community. Curiously, it further increased their dependence on the sun. In the largest gathering we experienced, representatives of 35 households bought a small solar panel from a local development NGO. The panel gathers enough energy to power three light bulbs and charge a cellphone, but it is far from producing enough electricity to sustain all the needs of a modern home. Although lacking electricity has many repercussions, most of them are simple annoyances.
At dawn, the persistent rooster would succeed after three hours of irritating attempts of waking us from our   slumber. If rain was pouring, we stayed at home and wrote in our journals or drafted projects. We would read, relax in the hammock on the porch, play with the kids or philosophized as we contemplated the waterfalls cascading over the roof. Regularly, the rain would overflow the source of water used in the home - a small basin in the ravine a couple hundred meters into the forest. If so, we would accompany one of hosts, following the hose from the house through the scenic and wild creek.

When the weather permitted it, we would walk to the school or hike around the mountain, machete in hand. Also, we would help with domestic duties, such as cutting down trees, chopping them up for wood and carrying them back to the house; and collecting leaves and flowers to make paint, as well as picking oranges, lemons, cacao and other local fruits and vegetables. A week before the rain invaded us, we helped Leo dismantle the small warehouse adjoined to the house, and construct an additional room made of gorgeous red pilón (Hieronyma alchorneoides) taken from the "backyard".

Breakfast, lunch and diner consisted of rice, beans, and a boiled unripe banana. Often, they were accompanied by chicken, pork, or tuna, and never lacked a scrumptious glass of fresh juice. Vegetables would rarely be included in the meal. However, when they were, they had the flavour of fresh harvest that one can only savor in the mountain. Palmito (palm heart), shirabata (fern), malanga, yuca, carambola (starfruit) and sugar cane are some of the plants with which we delighted our palates. On occasion of our birthdays, we enjoyed a traditional feast, where we witnessed the slaughter of a 50 kg pig, which we marinated for a whole night and smoked it over a bonfire for a few hours. 

Before the rain dominated the local scenery, we would walk to the plaza at three in the afternoon, to participate barefoot in the mehenga - a pickup football game in a dirt field mined with cow excrement and sharp stones. Girls and boys of all ages above 15 played, showcasing their well trained abilities. Of course, they have a lot of practice, as football is the only sport leisure activity practiced by the community. Usually, we played until darkness would force us to return home covered in dirt, sweat and else. At the house, we would shower with the same water used for drinking and cooking, which is diverted to and from the "bath". Albeit cold, showering outdoors with buckets of water is revitalizing. In the late afternoon, as we waited for dinner, we would sing and play with the children or converse about culture and problems in the community or listen to stories. After dinner, we would retreat to our humble room by 7:30 pm, tired and fulfilled.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Jishtiä ba shkina: Cabecar Culture and Landscape

Deep in the jungle, where the imposing Cordillera Central begins its steep bow to the flatlands, the Cabecar community of Palmera live sheltered by the effervescent Zent river. From there, a sea of plantations distance the indians from the susceptible waters of the Caribbean, painting a never ending horizon melted between the clouds and the murky tree tops.
Two hours uphill from the river a bastion between two cultures struggling to coexist an exceptional family shared their home, lifestyle and affection with us for a month and a half. Their insatiable curiosity, motivation and courage made our stay a blissful and uniquely memorable experience.

There, only the patios are cleared for the commodity of the inhabitants. Every other inch of land is cloaked with an uncontrollable curtain of green, which impetuously overflows into the prints of humankind. The diverse and lively rain forest is appalling; palm trees of every kind, centenary giants, covered with vines which sprout from everywhere and climb the massive columns of red, white and green bark. Also, fleeting specs of colorful birds, frogs and flowery ornaments adorn the evergreen sight. Fortuitously, toucans, parrots, lovebirds and smaller melodies in motion would visit the line of trees around the house, thus announcing a halt to the incessant rain.

For the first three weeks, the sun burned our skin, sharply, as if through a magnifying glass. The rain, backstage, awaited its opportunity to shine - or rather, dim - briefly appearing to freshen the air and feed the soil. At night, the moon was a mirror image of the sun, projecting all of its might. It shone so bright that shadows grew from our feet as we marvelled at the infinite spectacle of the milky way.
The masonry of the Cabecar women is dictated by the lunar periods. Only during the three days before and after the full moon can they begin the formidable labour of collecting mastate; the source of the material from which all of their clothes were made in past times. For many years, the mastate tree went unused, as the ancient knowledge of the craft had been forgotten. However, recently, the women rediscovered the skill thanks to an elder (our host´s father), who had retained the knowledge. But now that their clothes are products of a foreign culture, the material is used to make art instead.
Although the women sell these art pieces, the local economy is not impacted by these products, as they haven´t yet reached their full market potential. As of now, they only receive symbolic amounts from the few tourists who approach the secluded area or from good willing acquaintances of the Humanitarian Foundation, who serve as intermediaries and sell the art themselves.
Most of the men work strenuously in the banana and palm oil plantations on the edge of the reserve, while the women take care of their small crops and farm animals. Moreover, the women spend countless hours cooking meals over wood and fire, waking up as early as three in the morning to have breakfast ready by six. Children and teenagers, as well as some inquisitive mothers, attend school a decade-long concept for them. Speaking of motherhood, grandmothers who haven´t reached thirty years of age may be shocking to most of us, but to them it´s an ordinary occurrence. Judging by their intricate and confusing genealogy, their family trees must look like a map of the Madrid subway system.
Upon our arrival, we had a romantic vision of archaic indians, alienated from the far reaching hand of globalization, but confused as they observe how modernity attacks their identities and impedes their way of life. We have found a timid community, but one that is aware of the events happening far beyond their land. Sadly, they absorb the new culture faster than they are able to preserve their own. 

The fear and preoccupation for the loss of identity and culture is notable among the adults, and some of the youth. However, greed, comfort and a hint of innocent ignorance have submerged them into the convenience and amenity of the modern world. They are years past the traditional indigenous group that we erroneously imagined, but they still have a grip, however fragile, on the values and traditions that have persisted through history. The main channel through which this inheritance has travelled down the generations is the language. Cabecar is one of the four indigenous languages that are still active in Costa Rica, but marginalization leads many to reject their mother tongue and their roots altogether.
Life among the Cabecars is simple and quiet, but laborious. One does not need much, nor is there much to have, as humans do not own; nature does. The only possessions are their zinc roofed homes ‒ scattered around the mountain, it can take three hours to visit certain neighbors and the bare necessities; bought at a supermarket across the river. Everything else is taken from the mountain respectfully, previously asking for permission in order to avoid the lethal bite of the terciopelo (bothrops asper) snake.
Silence is constant, peaceful and harmonious. It is only interrupted by animals, rain and laughter the lighthearted reaction to problems. Silence, often mistaken by outsiders as stupidity, is a means of communication. However, it is much more than that, it is a protecting veil under which their affluent spirituality and philosophy has survived against the currents of imposing civilizations. 
It is our hope that this sensational culture finds a way to avoid fading into the quickly rising tide of capitalism and evolves to maintain its own traditions while absorbing the benefits of technology and modern life.