Travel Journal: Costa Rica
The past several days have been an eye-opening experience since our group has arrived in the Caribbean. It's fascinating to see the stark contrast in culture, from ethnicity of the people to their accents. It's hard to imagine that Puerto Viejo is part of Costa Rica. It's a true Rastafarian town with plenty of immigrants that have redefined the culture of this place over the last several years.
Upon arrival one of the first things I noticed was the amount of insects, particularly mosquitos, greatly increased. The Limón province is infamous for its mosquitos, which thrive on the humid weather. All the same, I really enjoyed the black sand beaches and the warm water of the Caribbean Sea. Our most significant academic adventure was a day trip to the Bribri Reserve, where we spent time with an indigenous Bribri guide named Walter. He described his way of life and how it's similar and different to the life of the average Costa Rican. The most notable difference is the language. I thought I'd be able to understand at least parts of what Walter was saying, but it was nearly impossible. Fortunately, he speaks fluent Spanish! Many students took turns asking Walter questions in Spanish and translating his responses for the rest of the group...now that’s a study abroad experience!
After a few days in Puerto Viejo we headed for the border and crossed into Panamá. The vast majority of the group had never crossed a border on foot, and this was a major learning experience for us all. I kept thinking that I was powerless during the nearly four hours it took the group to navigate the seemingly arbitrary process. As an International Relations student, I was quick to notice how little my American passport mattered in this part of the world. No amount of apple pie, Apple technology, or Beach Boys was going to speed up the process. Many in the group also noticed boys asking for money from tourists only to later go into the army pavilion and empty out what they had collected for the soldiers on duty. Needless to say, we didn’t need a textbook to figure out what was going on, and I found myself wishing I were in Dr. Cutright’s anthropology class so I could hear the subsequent discussion.
All the same, we finally arrived in Bocas del Toro to celebrate the 4th of July, Panamanian style...kinda. Even here there were American expatriates, and we all gathered to watch a very impressive fireworks show, though it didn’t quite match Thunder Over Louisville. The following few days in Bocas were all about exploring. It’s a group of islands that are accessible by boat and for about $15 we had a six-hour excursion, which included snorkeling and visiting Red Frog Beach, an awesome beach with some pretty rough surf.
I really liked Bocas for its entertainment value, but not what it offered in culture. In my opinion, the majority of Bocas is focused on tourism, which inherently saps a place of its original culture. We were fortunate to spend a night with a turtle conservation organization, dedicated to protecting turtles and their eggs as they come onto the shore. It's common for the eggs to be poached or eaten by dogs roaming the beach. After hours of walking up and down the beach, we didn’t see any turtles and I didn’t bring Finding Nemo in my DVD case so we didn’t get to experience Squirt and Crush’s dynamic relationship. "Pound it, Noggin’...Duuuuudddeeeee"—amazing movie.
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