PURA VIDA! Volunteering in Costa Rica

“Encore” Volunteer Joyce Chesbrough reflects on the lighthearted spirit of Costa Rican culture.

Pura Vida! That’s the salutation commonly used by ticos (Costa Ricans) in Costa Rica, sort of like “Go Blue” in Ann Arbor where I live. Though it literally means “Pure Life,” it’s really a paean to their beautiful country. We heard it a lot during our experience in Monteverde, the cloud forest region of Costa Rica. We were fortunate to work under the direction of an inspired community leader – Nery Gómez, the manager of CASEM, a woman’s cooperative. She was one of its eight founding members who in 1982 defied custom and a patriarchal society to come to gather to form a cooperative, secretly create and sell handicrafts, and seek to better themselves and their families.

Because of her dedication, intelligence, and energy, CASEM today is an attractive, well-maintained store much frequented by tourists, birders, ex-pats, and bus tours aided by many improvements added over the years by Global Volunteers teams.

Our whole group was housed in a comfortable little hotel in Santa Elena where we also ate our meals. On the weekend, ten of us traveled to La Fortuna, a bustling tourist mecca with a live volcano, Arenal, looming over us and sprouting puffs of smoke during the day and burning fingers of lava at night. Costa Rica is the mother-lode of biodiversity and we had several opportunities to experience it: spider monkeys, sloths, tarantulas, strangler figs, stinky-toe trees, iguanas, quetzals – the list is endless. Our most memorable experiences, however, were the many interactions with the citizens as we worked together toward a common goal.

The highlight, without a doubt, was living and working in the community of Santa Elena. Participating in the everyday life of a country provides a very different and very gratifying travel experience. The Global Volunteers mantra is that we are servant/workers making ourselves available to carry out the wishes and plans of the local organization. In doing so, we observe and learn and hopefully gain insights into another culture while being good ambassadors of our own. ¡Pura Vida!

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