Tuesday morning, we rose around 7 am to eat breakfast with our host families and get ready for volunteering. Pick up was supposed to be at 8 am, but as we waited in the front rooms of our Costa Rican homes, it became obvious that there was a delay. Sure enough, a protest against Uber by local taxi drivers had slowed down our chauffeur. As we would learn more and more each day, this is one of the many reasons for the Costa Rican expression synonymous with their way of life: “Pura Vida.” It translates to “pure life,” but also signifies a need to go with the flow and enjoy the moment.
We made it to the animal rescue center around 9:30 am and started our tour with Adriana, one of the owners. She introduced us to every animal on the property, including peccaries (wild pigs), parrots, macaws, spider monkeys, a porcupine, an agouti (pictured below), and more. The center’s trails go in a giant circle with a new enclosure of animals every several feet and small bridges connecting the land over pools of the lagoon. Roaming free on land and water, we also took in sights of caimans, a snapping turtle, iguanas, herons, butterflies, hummingbirds, and of course, dogs and cats of various shapes and colors.
As we went along, Adriana told us the stories of each animal, where they came from, how they got to the center, and whether or not they might one day be released. Their histories varied, from Perla the peccary who was abandoned as a baby and has become a people’s pig, rolling on her side for all to pet her bristle-y belly, to the rainbow-colored macaws who live for 80 years and once were pets, but no longer. Adriana explained that it is not enough to care for the animals if the Costa Rican people continue to bring more and more to the center every year. For this reason, they must branch out into educating their communities so less people will take in wild animals as pets as well as understand the tragic effects of the animal trafficking industry in their country.
Once the tour was over, the students got their hands dirty, suiting up with work boots and gloves and grabbing tools such as shovels and wheelbarrows. Some students began working in the bird enclosures, painting them, removing debris, hosing and scrubbing the floors. Others helped prep for the new peccary enclosure by moving cinder blocks, shoveling sand and rocks, and mixing cement. It rained on and off in the morning, as we took a break to drink lemonade and snack on watermelon, but the afternoon was a cool and steady 80 degrees.
Toward the end of the day, we learned about a neighborhood Zumba class! Half of the group was adventurous enough to sign on for that, while the other half decided to take advantage of downtime with friends. The latter part of the group met up as they walked from one host home to the next, meeting one another’s new families and exploring the neighborhood. Rumor has it, ten kids tried to watch a scary movie, but the furniture they sat on didn’t exactly hold their weight…
Meanwhile, Ms. Hampton accompanied half a dozen ladies to Zumba. Upon arrival, it was clear that this was a true community event, with people from all over el pueblo coming together under the bare bones, outdoor shelter to shake what their mamas gave them. We even saw our chauffeur and the cook from the rescue center there, and everyone who came seemed to bring 5 of their closest friends and family. There was also an entire middle school group there, dancing along in uniform, and in formation! Many mothers held weights while juggling the complex dance moves AND watching their small children wandering nearby. Everyone seemed to know each other, and when it was over, the Zumba teacher thanked her “Chicago friends” for coming. It was difficult to catch on at times, but all of the Comer Catamounts gave it their best go, laughing and sweating equally hard along the way.
After that, it was time to return to our respective homes, eat dinner, and get ready for bed. Some students caught up with family and friends, telling them of all the different animals they encountered and showing them the pets and rooms in their houses over video chat. We slept hard and long, knowing that the next day would be full of volunteering, rain or shine.