After leaving the Buena Finca in Saripiqui, R and I decided to cross from Costa Rica to Panama at the Sixaola-Guabito border crossing. We felt that this border crossing had some advantages. First, given its remote location in Costa Rica, far from the Pan-American highway, we hoped it would be quicker than crossing at one of the other two available crossings. Second, it would put us in a corner of Panama that is only accessible by one road, which we likely would not have traveled at all if we entered Panama on the Pan-American which provides a more direct route to Panama City and the Canal Zone. Finally, it would require us to travel to the Caribbean coast, which we’ve not been able to do so far in eight months of driving Mexico and Central America.
The trip through the lowlands of Costa Rica took us through banana plantations grown under the Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte flags. Thousands of banana bunches had bags hung around them to keep off the birds and presumably to hasten the process so they can be cut and exported. Bananas are like a delicious but worthless currency and we haven’t purchased one in months because the places we’ve been have had a bunch hanging from the rafters and you can walk by and help yourself.
This wild toucan helped itself to the plantains that hung at the Buena Finca
Rows and rows of banana plants for as far as the eye can see. At one point, this area of Costa Rica was all owned by the U.S. corporation United Fruit Company.
Follow that truck!
One of the things we’ve enjoyed is the ability to scavenge from the fruit-bearing trees that grow everywhere – tamarindo, orange, guaba, lime, water apple, star fruit, coconuts, and mangoes – and often have a pile of rotting fruit underneath.
Mangoes are delicious and free mangoes are even better! Here, R gathers the sweet fruit from where it has fallen, unloved, along the side of the road.
I got this Star Fruit before it hit the ground. These fruit get their name because when cut, the pieces resemble stars.
We set foot on the palm fringed, black sand shores of Cahuita, Costa Rica, 514 years after Columbus, but the indigenous tribes he encountered remain. Now, however, they are sprinkled liberally with descendants of the Africans and Caribbean Islanders who were brought to the mainland to work the banana plantations. Given this blend of cultures, the coast has a different look and vibe to it than the rest of Costa Rica and plays to a Bob Marley soundtrack.
Water droplets on the camera lens smudged this shot, but I think you get the idea.
It was here that the pre-trip contact lens fitting I had finally paid off. We snorkeled Cahuita National Park and one of the last living reefs in Costa Rica and I was actually able to see the reef sharks, sting rays, and other fish of various shapes, sizes, and colors.
J and I prepare to plunge into the icy waters of the Caribbean in search of fish.
J was very excited to be snorkeling. Here, he points to a major discovery.
R confirms it is nothing more dangerous than a reef shark
We survived our three-hour snorkeling tour unscathed. Coconut, noticeably absent from this photo, was the only casualty.
After coming in under our daily budget for two weeks running while at the Buena Finca we had a little extra cash in our pockets so at our next stop down the coast we decided to travel like we are on vacation and Puerto Viejo is the perfect place for a gringo tourist to blow a wad of cash. We splurged for a room at a small hotel with a beautiful garden, went to a sushi buffet, and paid to have our laundry done. We also went to a jaguar rescue center where there are no jaguars, but lots of other jungle animals waiting to heal and be released to the wild. The monkeys were having a blast and I’ve got it narrowed down to coming back as either a spider monkey or Mick Jagger in my next life.
Baby sloths, even ones that have been electrocuted by hanging on wires, are cute!
But monkeys are cuter! This fellow was a baby and had a crib all to himself. He looks a bit frightened, but put monkeys together and they wrestle, swing, and seem to have no worries at all.
Costa Rica doesn’t have seasons (actually, it does, the dry season and the rainy season, but both are hot and humid) but it does have times of day when it is possible to be outside and not have sweat droplets form behind your ears. As I sat on the beach in Puerto Viejo center watching the day wind down while a cool ocean breeze blew the mosquitoes and worries away, I regretted our small, stuffy room and wished we were camped in Wesley at water’s edge. We haven’t done much wild camping (or any), mostly because we don’t have a toilet, but this would have been the place to squeeze our cheeks together and tempt fate.
Locals try their hand at catching dinner at the end of a hot day in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
Sunken barge or fishing pier?
With our plan to cross to Panama the next day in mind, I reflected on the time we spent in Costa Rica. We didn’t expect to like it much, (mostly because of the cost, and it’s true we didn’t like spending $40 every time we went to the grocery for milk, eggs, and canned tuna) but we did end up having a great experience.
Yes, the natural beauty, whitewater, beaches, and other ways to spend your cash that it offers helped us make some memories, but whenever we talk about Costa Rica now it will always be defined by the time we spent with Tom and Esteban, Tom’s family, and the other good folks we met at the Buena Casa. Whether we ever see them again or not, we’ll still have that time together to remember.
But, now, Panama beckons. There are other adventures to have.
We won’t be the first American adventurers in Panama, or the last. But we will be adventurers in Panama!
We are very much in favor of family adventures here at All Over the Map. And we are very much in favor of social activism as a family activity. So we were interested to hear about how one family from Nigeria took their activism to the ends of the earth. To the North Pole, in fact.
Og and Joy Amazu, along with their young daughters Aimee and Monica, travelled to the geographic North Pole from Barneo, where the parents skydived from 10,000 feet onto the ice, with Og then diving under the icecap to walk upside down on the actual site of the Geographic North Pole. They became the first Nigerians to reach the geographic North Pole.
The family took on this challenging adventure to remember the 219 Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted last year by Boko Haram and to launch their philanthropic foundation Challenge 100.
Founded by Og and Joy Amazu, Challenge 100 is a foundation set up by the family, based on the three pillars of entrepreneurialism, philanthropy and family, with the aim of inspiring charitable acts in others.
“We are delighted to reach the North Pole and become the first Nigerians to do so. Raising awareness of Challenge 100 and launching the Foundation is our goal today and this really is the first step on our journey. However it is poignant that we achieve this a year since the tragic events in Chibok and we remember all those that are still effected by that tragedy,” said Og Amazu.
The GPS device showing that the Amazu family had reached the geographic North Pole at 90 degrees latitude
We find this family North Pole adventure really inspiring. Do you know of other travelers who have gone to extremes to bring attention to causes dear to them?
Image by Visions Service Adventures via Flickr
When you imagine taking your family on a volunteer vacation, what do you envision? Do you imagine yourselves feeding hungry orphans, seeing a look of undying gratitude in their eyes, instilling in your kids a deep sense of appreciation for what they have and a lifelong dedication to helping those in need? Do you see yourselves, machetes in hand, hacking back vegetation to clear hiking trails through the jungle? Do you envision early mornings of milking cows, great communal lunches in the fields, and aching muscles at the end of a day of work on an organic farm?
These are all possible scenarios, but it is very important to do the research before you head away from the comforts of home so that you can match your expectations with reality. The website VolunTourism has some very helpful, if a little academic, articles on how to choose a volunteer vacation experience.
Earn your keep
One way to cut out some of your travel costs is to work somewhere in exchange for room and board, and there are several websites that act as clearinghouses for these opportunities.
All of these sites simply offer ways for you to find volunteer and homestay opportunities that might work for you; it’s up to you to contact the hosts and to make the match work. It is possible to find opportunities for families, but you will have to contact the hosts to make specific arrangements. It is always a good idea to exchange multiple emails before committing, and certainly before departing on your voyage. You want to be sure both hosts and volunteers know what to expect.
If you know of others, please post them in the comments section and I will update the list.
Next time – Volunteer Vacation Resources pt. 2 – Pay Your Way – Organized Volunteer Tours