After some family time over the Christmas I have now made my way to the other side of the world to the lovely city of Cartago in Costa Rica. I arrived here on Friday and today was supposed to mark my first day of volunteering here. However, as I have learned during my other travels in Latin America, on this side of the world you cannot really count on things going the way you expect. Hence, it didn’t really surprise me that today I found myself ringing the bell of the kindergarten where I am supposed to volunteer without no one answering the door. I was later informed that the kindergarten is closed today, and it is yet to be clarified when I’ll be able to start there. However, tomorrow I will instead participate to another volunteering project which to my understanding takes place in an orphanage, so instead of getting to know only one project I’ll get to know two during the six weeks I’ll spend here. Pura vida, as the locals would say!
This volunteering experience is organized by AIESEC which is an international organization working in 126 countries. The organization was established after the Second World War to facilitate cultural exchange and that way to prevent third world war from arising. Trough AIESEC people between the ages of 18-30 can apply for different projects and offer their helping hand for e.g. poverty reduction or quality education as in my case. The participants cover their own costs but AIESEC helps to make it more budget-friendly by finding a host family and collecting a lump sum of 400€ to cover the accommodation costs and most of the food during the project. As the costs of participating raise quite high when you add up the participation fee of 400€, flights (for me approximately 1000€), insurance, some money to spend for food, commuting, etc. one really needs to be motivated to volunteer as this is neither cheap nor a holiday.
Even though the doors of the kindergarten didn’t open today, it doesn’t really matter as I have had some lovely encounters with other people already during the first days here. I am living in a family of a single mum and a son of the age of 8 years. We have been getting to know the city together, eaten some local cuisine and visited many of their relatives already now. I have gotten to know so many people in such a short time that I already lost the count! Everybody has been really welcoming towards me offering help, travel tips and taking me here and there. In addition to the friends of my host family, I have been very welcomed by strangers and, for example today, when waiting for a bus, an older couple wanted to take a photo with me to immortalize their first encounter with a Finn! So, blondish hair and green eyes dressed with an open-hearted smile work as a nice icebreaker also in this corner of Latin America.
Even though Costa Rican people, ticos, certainly have their own culture, I have not experienced a huge culture shock so far as my experiences from other parts of Latin America have probably levelled my expectations on the right hight, and it helps a lot that I speak Spanish which makes it rather easy for me to communicate even though the local way of speaking is a bit challenging to understand at times. As I feel almost like home here, the hardest part during the first days has been not having had warm water in the shower but even that was my own fault as I learned only today how to make the shower work properly. Luckily I only suffered for three days instead of finding this out on my sixth week!
The functioning of the shower is not the only knew technology I have discovered as making coffee here is also from another world. You don’t really need a coffee machine as you can just boil water and pour it through a bag/sock that is first filled with coffee. Tadaa – after a few moments you’ll have your mug filled with the best coffee you’ve ever tasted! Unfortunately, the great coffee comes also with almost a Finnish price tag as you need to pay for 2€ per cup. Eating out is not cheap either as the breakfast pintortilla I had on Sunday cost more than 5 euros, which is normal here. To conclude, Costa Rica is not at all a cheap place to travel to but I have a hunch that it’ll be worth it.
So tomorrow is an exciting day as I’ll participate to the project I have no clue about. Luckily, there will be other foreign volunteers in addition to the friendly ticos to help me out so I believe I’ll survive. Let’s see in the next post if I did in the end!