by Hannah Nevitt, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Abroad participant
Along with conservation comes sustainability, and sustainable farming is a lifestyle in Costa Rica. Many families grow their own fruits and vegetables, they milk their own cows, and they raise their own chickens and pigs for protein. When my host mother prepares our food, it always amazes me how fresh and simple the process is. For example, I watch as she peels six freshly-picked oranges, slices them into halves, hand-squeezes the juice into a pitcher, then adds water and a spoonful of sugar. Orange juice—simple, delicious, and refreshing.
The juice is only one example. Every day I eat fresh eggs , sliced tomatoes, ripe fruit and delicate cheeses. Without the wide variety of condiments one could find in their home country, I have come to enjoy the simple flavor of a squeezed lemon or lime as dressing on my salad; complimented only with a tiny dash of salt. Try it, it is delicious! I have also come to love how they enjoy freshly ground coffee multiple times a day. In fact, the gurgling sound of coffee roasting in the morning while I sit and read a book—is a comforting and fond memory I think I will have for many years.
With beliefs strongly rooted in peace, Costa Rica is often referred to as the “Switzerland of the Americas.” Since abolishing its army in 1948, the country has endured peace and democracy. Ticos, in general, try to avoid confrontation whenever possible…however they will participate in demonstrations when they disagree with governmental decisions or to protect human rights. As I have observed, Ticos can be very vocal…which is loudly evident if you have ever attended a local soccer match!
Along with the importance of peace, is the deeply ingrained practice of respect. I have heard my host mother on many occasions, remind the kids about the importance of “respeto” (respect). Respect for family values, respect for elders, respect for all individuals; regardless of social class, religious affiliation, or lifestyle choice—as well as to practice respect for the natural environment.
Although every country has its issues, it is nice to appreciate what each country values culturally. In Costa Rica, the kids learn about the importance of respect, peace, and environmental education since their first days in kindergarten. Even as I sit here writing, my 7 and 10 year old host siblings are watching a television program about endangered animals on National Geographic; running over to me every few minutes saying…”Mira, Mira” (Look! Look!), while I glance over my shoulder to see images of colorful monkeys and birds perched in the branches of exotic-looking trees.
Each country has different values, but I guess if you are constantly surrounded by it, you would value it and want to protect it too.
Looking around, this country truly is a “nature-lover’s paradise.” According to my Costa Rica travel book, “about a quarter of the country is now designated as national parks, private reserves, and conservation areas.” Lush protected rainforests, quaint wild animal rescue centers, and the infamous, “Tortuguero Nacional Parque”…a refuge created to protect the most important nesting site of the green turtle in the western hemisphere; they all stand as clear examples of how important restoration and conservation is to Costa Rica. It is clear to see that an abundance of flora, fauna, and wildlife continue to be protected in this country by its people.
Like many days before, I am walking the grounds of Proyecto Asis, the wild animal rescue center in which I now work… saying, “Buenos Dias” to the rare Spider Monkeys as they reach out to hold my hand; but today, things are different…I am beginning to understand what it all means. I am beginning to feel a connection to this country and to appreciate its mission of conservation. I am beginning to understand that the smallest change I can make still has an impact.
Maybe there is a reason why I am here, learning this lesson now; maybe being here has an impact all its own. It is possible. Perhaps with time, I will come to know for sure…
To Peace, Respect, and Conservation.