The Fieldtrip...

Trip Start Jan 10, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Sunday, September 23, 2007

They had never seen the ocean before. For most of them Cartago is a big city, San Jose another world completely. The idea of traveling in a bus for more than two hours, let alone five, was something completely foreign - exciting but scary. But that's what we did.

The English Club kids wanted to go to Guanacaste. Living in the cold mountains where it rains for most of the year, the idea of a hot, dry place filled with famously beautiful beaches enchanted them. So I did the necessary research. So, do you guys swim? Well, sort of...kind of...we can doggy paddle in the stagnant pond behind the soccer field. Ok, so we're not going to the beach. But where to go? And how to make this educational? And then I discovered Las Pumas, a small animal reserve that takes in animals from the wild that have been hurt because of human development. When the animals are healed (if they ever are), they are returned to the wild. But until then, the reserve has an impressive collection of large cats that aren't easily seen in the wild. When I called them, they were thrilled to have us, and even offered to give a talk on conservation and what it means for an animal to be extinct. Perfect. And then afterwards we can go and hang out for a bit in Canas, a typical Guanacaste town very different from La Estrella. Excellent. And now to convince the parents that their children will be safe with me, and that going to Guanacaste isn't really the ends of the Earth. I don't think I realized just how difficult this might be.

After a week of scared mothers coming up to me demanding that they be able to come too (I had already said a decisive no to bringing any babies!), I finally relented. It was the only way really. So I found a larger buseta that would hold all the English Club kids and each of their mothers. All was set, all were happy. And then the day before the trip, four kids couldn't come after all. Then the mothers decided they didn't really want to go anymore, but could Tio Danny come? How about the older sister, Andrea? She's in colegio, but very mature for her age. I said yes to all, tired and unable at that late date to change to a smaller bus. At 9 pm the night before I was still getting calls about bringing other older siblings. By the time we finally left, only two mothers actually ended up joining us. But, this is Costa Rica. At least the no baby rule was followed.

We met down in front of the church at 4:30 am so that we would have plenty of time at the reserve before the rains began. And everything started out smoothly. The bus was only fifteen minutes late and all the kids were more or less on time as well. When one mother not coming with us grabbed my arm and looked into my eyes beseeching me to keep an eye on her daughter and bring her back safely, I easily extracted myself and assured her that Fernanda would be fine. Once on the bus, all the kids stretched out on the back seats, as far away from Teacher as possible (kids are really the same all over the world), and immediately fell asleep. I was about to doze off myself when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Andrea, Omar's sister, asking if I had a towel. What? Why? What happened? Why did she need a towel? Then she mimed her brother throwing up. I looked down the aisle, and sure enough, it was as I had feared. Now, I had brought Dramamine and had passed out puke bags in the event that someone felt the urge to spill the contents of their stomach. I had felt that I had taken all the necessary precautions. I had not thought to bring towels to mop up vomit from the floor. Luckily, though, there was an old rag on the floor for wiping feet that worked perfectly for wiping up puke too. After that, the ride to Las Pumas went quickly and smoothly...thank God!

And when we arrived, emerging from the buseta stretching and yawning, the kids seemed equally amazed by the heat as the exotic birds in the nearest enclosure. And sure enough, it did feel like a completely different country from the one that we had left that morning. Sweatshirts that we had hugged to our bodies only four hours before were flung back on the buseta and pant legs rolled up. The air was steamy though it was only 9 am. Everyone looked around them in astonishment with even the most mundane things...but these weren't just any trees or rocks, these were trees and rocks in Guanacaste.

After acclimating ourselves to our new surroundings, a young scientist came to give a speech about conservation and what human development does to animals in Costa Rica. I beamed as my students stood in rapture, intently listening with growing concern to what the woman was saying. They had no idea that animals could disappear forever. How horrible that they may never get a chance to see native Costa Rican animals that someone from Germany has seen. Cloistered in their little La Estrella world they had no idea the extent to which their country has been developed (mostly by foreign investors), and just how much harm this has done to their country. Fascinated by the pictures of these mysterious animals, of the molds taken from their footprints, and the sad stories of what is happening to them, questions flew left and right. At first shy and hesitant to speak, they came alive with their growing interest. I stood a little apart, bursting with pride for my students who were not only well-behaved but engaged too. I wanted to jump up and down with joy as Johnny, my oldest boy who never talks in class, became the one raising his hand the most.

And then we went to see the animals. We saw various types of wild cats and toucans and monkeys and parrots. Each had a story and some were even missing limbs, but they all elicited gasps of wonder and joy from my students. When we came up to the jaguar's enclosure they couldn't believe their eyes. He was so big and so beautiful, totally unconcerned with the crowd staring at him in awe; to them, he was a picture come to life. Even when the rains started, it was hard to tear the kids away from these fabulous new creatures. And we're talking about kids who get out their umbrellas at the slightest misting. By the time we got back on the bus to spend some time in Canas, they were giddy with excitement. Just wait till the guys at home hear that they saw a real live jaguar...and monkeys!!!

In Canas we ate ice cream in the parque central, admiring the mosaic-covered church and nativity scene bandstand. I was afraid that they would get bored without a planned activity, but when I suggested we head back to La Estrella, they all groaned in protest. So we stayed and took silly pictures and explored and just relaxed, enjoying the luxury of having absolutely nothing that we had to do. And then they discovered the public telephones, so everyone just had to call home (remember, phones are still somewhat of a novelty in La Estrella). I mean, who could resist making a phone call from Guanacaste?! But then it was time to herd everyone back on the bus, laden down with enough snacks to keep their sugar high going for the next four hours.

But we weren't finished yet. About an hour into our trip, the driver whispered for me to come to the front seat. Do you think they know the ocean? And I looked at him, and he was smiling, and I smiled back. Let's go, I said. So we made the turn off for Puntarenas while most of the bus was asleep (despite the sugary snacks and cokes they'd be sipping). And then all of a sudden, there it was. El mar. I poked Johnny who was sitting across from me. Look, I said. And he did. And I will always remember that face, at first only half awake and then just totally awestruck. And suddenly everybody was up and at the windows, pointing and gasping and giggling at the unexpected surprise. The driver, grinning just about as wide as was possible, pulled over and suggested that we go down and get a closer look.

It wasn't a beautiful beach, not the white sand blue water kind that are so prized by American travelers (myself included), but at that moment it couldn't have been more perfect. We ran down to the water, slipping and sliding in the sand, loving the feeling of a texture so foreign. I tried to keep my teacher authority going, but when they looked at me with eyes begging to get at least part way into the waves how could I say no? Within seconds of me giving the ok, shoes and socks were thrown into a pile while their owners splashed into the water - soaked almost immediately. They would play with the waves, running back to land when the big ones came and then bravely striding back in knee deep when they went out again. It was like watching those little kids at the beach rolling around in the sand with those huge wedgies and even bigger smiles on their little faces. It was pure, innocent fun. Infectious laughter carried on the fresh sea breeze, whipping back hair and leaving a slightly salty taste on the tongue. When I was finally cajoled into putting my camera away and joining the fun, I felt like I was twelve again skipping barefoot with my pants rolled up into the surf. As my toes met the water, a giggle escaped from lips parted in a wide grin, and my students' giddiness became my own.

I don't remember the first time that I saw the ocean; probably too young to remember. But on this day, the day my students first saw that vast expanse of water disappearing into the horizon, I was able to see it through new eyes - their eyes. All those memories of all those other times in all those different places were gone, swept away by the laughter still carried along on the wind. Together we saw the sea for the first time; together we experienced this gift - from me to them and from them to me.

Thank you once again to all those generous people who, through your kind donations, have made this day possible. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
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dadofdivaboots on

...moving! what a great Teacher you are!

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