Hello! I’m William Halbert, 16, part of the 2018 URJ Mitzvah Corps trip to Sarapiqui, Costa Rica. As could be expected, Costa Rica is a beautiful country. While riding through the countryside’s mountains, rivers, and pineapple farms provided some perspective, ziplining among the canopy trees and rafting up and down the Sarapiqui River’s waves was surreal. In particular, I love the howling monkeys and birds that wake me up with the sunrises along with the dozens of cormorants spreading out to dry their wings. Indisputably, Costa Rica’s wildlife surpasses anything I’ve ever seen.
However, most remarkable of all are the local “Ticos.” I came into Sarapiqui where we stayed (and the town we serviced in, San Ramon) expecting a ragtag village resembling Hoovervilles. Rather, I was met with a neighborhood of happy families, towns that are the result of decades of hard work and a very encouraging family-oriented community.
Speaking of hard work, about 60 percent of the community here produces its own food. Edgar, a guide of ours from Rustic Pathways, works as a dairy farmer and is a local with lots of family in San Ramon. We met his wife, mom, and sister just on the side of the road. That doesn’t happen in the United States. Along with the agriculture, San Ramon has to get its own water. Since 1974, they have assembled an aqueduct of fiberglass pipes, lined from three mountain springs to 2,500 homes. In fact, we assisted the committee, in particular my new local friends, Henry, Randal, and Victor, in charge of the local aqueduct by moving pipes and even mixing and laying cement for their main shed. They certainly have their hands full, and it was a pleasure to support them in the midst of the major project. Currently, the committee is focusing its efforts on maintenance and expanding the aqueduct to more remote homes.
When not on the job, the local Ticos embrace family life and their favorite sport, “futbol.” Here, soccer is called the game of friendship. Amazingly, the emphasis is on fun competition and friendship, and not winning! For me, this was a huge shift from U.S. sports. Moreover, soccer is a means of social activity and–appropriately–the main soccer field is in the center of San Ramon. During weekend games, children play with the rest of the family watching from benches surrounding the fields. As the kids run and try moves, they display their growth and thrive in the community. However, the kids don’t care about being the best…it’s just fun! Our group painted the benches and even the trees and truly revamped and refreshed the setting. Edgar, growing up on that very field, really pushed how important this was to local families due to how much time is spent there.