Saturday, March 9, 2013

San Isidro del General

There's a current stereotype circulating through the Central American isthmus which declares de Ticos to be arrogant, condescending and materialistic. In our three months in Costa Rica we met a wide variety of people of all ethnicities, professions and economic classes. Granted, we didn't visit the entire country, nor did we meet the entire population, but the people we did have the fortune of meeting proved otherwise.

The fact is that, like most stereotypes, it is the stigma -and often the people whom adhere to it - that results as superficial and condescending. It seems ridiculous to expect a specific behavior from the grand majority of a population as soon as you cross the threshold of a country.
It would be interesting to investigate how such general judgments of character come to be, for, through traveling - or meeting travelers - one discovers that every person is unique, and that there are personality types of all sizes and colors in every country, region, city or neighborhood.
Of course, there are distinctive features in different cultures which set us apart from one another, which are often confused and called stereotypes. These are not stereotypes, they are traditions.
We learned this the easy way, by tuning our daily routines in accordance to local conventions, in one of Costa Rica's most traditional towns. The most important city in the south Pacific region of the country, San Isidro dwells in the Valley of the General, cradled by the mountain ranges which forge the backbone of the country - a topographic spectacle. Comfortably sized and located, it offers an ideal alternative to the hectic, thick agglomeration of San Jose. On all sides, nature's elegant grandeur is expressed in variant forms.

The mountains host several types of ecosystems; lowland, cloud and highland forests, which alternate with each passing mile, as one circulates the torturous roads intersecting them.
To the east, the beaches offer a convenient escape, only half an hour from the city. To the west, the highest peak in Costa Rica - Cerro Chirripo - oversees the development of the whole nation. At its feet, the steady traffic of the interamerican highway and the organic plantations; in the distance, volcanoes, jungles and the two oceans compete to attract international tourism.
During our stay in San Isidro del General we became acquainted with many people whom we will remember for a long, long time.
 Everyone we crossed paths with during that month provided us with an opportunity to discover just how the stereotype strays far from the truth.

The main contributors to making our sojourn such a special experience were Rafa, our coworker and flat-mate, who casually and gleefully shared his appartment and his humor with us; Beate and Federico, the founders and directors of Planet Conservation - the reason we were in San Isidro; and of course, our sweet and affectionate neighbor, Ester, who was accomodating beyond belief, and endued us with a sense of familiar belonging which is often longed when one is away from home during the holiday season.

At last but not least, are Diego and Karina, a young and spirited couple with a perennial duet of smiles and laughter. Not even Diego's blossoming music - an original fusion of the smooth warmth of bossa nova, the irreverent passion of a Latino and the soul filled energy of writing about one's own intimacies and skepticism - could surpass their immaculate attitude towards us.
Whether we were out having fun, working, or at home, all of these people and many others made sure that we had a home, friends and family.

Despite working in an office - a rare setting for backpackers - we felt the mellowed detachment of a vacation much more than in Palmera. The main factor responsible for such an irreverent attitude towards standard office etiquette was the flexible ambiance of Planet Conservation. Federico and Beate have created a special atmosphere to work, perfectly adapted to the typical informality of the town. Music, jokes and laughter would blatantly eclipse the rustling sound of keyboards and printers. It was a rather enticing mood to work in, without being a time-consuming distraction. After all, at the end of the day, the work that needed to be done, was done.
Planet Conservation is a young organization specialized in serving as a link between tourists and students seeking to volunteer or intern at community based environmental and sustainable projects. In addition, they offer consulting to local businesses and hospitality establishments seeking to obtain green certification.

In celebration of their five year anniversary, they want to institute their own programs in order to directly participate in the preservation of the planet. Aside from routine office work such as translations or accounting, our main collaboration was in that department. We researched, drafted project proposals and searched for funding opportunities for two programs: turtle conservation and environmental education for children. In addition, we built a playground made of recycled materials in a kindergarten for children from low-income families; for which we gathered donations throughout the town.

Overall, our time in San Isidro was educational, interactive and inspirational. We were able to visit the mountains and the beach, made lifetime friendships, and met people of all characters and backgrounds, all willing to share their lives and homes with us.