Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sand in My Snow Boots

We biked along the oceanside road, winding through the groves of tall trees, it teased us with glimpses of the turquoise Caribbean waters. Lazily pedalling past the restaurants, cabanas, yoga retreats and chocolate tours that are tucked behind the luscious bushes, we made our way back to Puerto Viejo. The late afternoon sun filtered through the leafy branches and lit up the salted air, settling on our sun-kissed skin like magical pixie dust.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Sun Will Always Rise in the East

"The days are long, but the years are short." Gretchen Rubin

I have been debating with myself for weeks. Christmas carols, "Should I listen to them?" Every other year there would be no second thoughts, they would be playing non-stop from November 1st right through to New Years. But this is not like every other year. I am not at home, I am not going to have a white Christmas, I am not going to eat Turkey, stuffing and so many shortbread cookies that I have to unbutton my pants. "Should I subject myself to all of the memories and feelings associated with listening to Christmas carols?" I pondered. 

Today I cracked; before I even knew what my hands were doing, I was typing in 'Christmas Playlist' on YouTube. I am listening to "I am dreaming of a white Christmas" and drinking apple cinnamon spiced tea as I write this, reflecting on how this Christmas feels completely different than any other, and how grateful I am for that. 

This week has been the hardest since I have been here. The tides keep turning in my head and as the waves crash upon the shores of my thoughts, I don't fight them. I float, letting them pull me out to have wonderful new experiences, and then pull me back in, where the nostalgia of a white Christmas momentarily leaves me stranded on the shore. While embracing this complex suite of emotions, it has underscored that nothing in life stays the same. Whether we embrace it or not, the world is always changing, we are always changing, time continues to pass, and we continue to live.

Friday, December 13, 2013

   Spanish Headaches and Hydro-dams

    A Natural Resource Conflict Resolution Mini-Course

     "When you live on a round planet, there is no choosing sides." Wayne Dyer

I stood shyly in front of 20 people, including my boss and 19 other natural resource professionals that I had just met. "Disculpame, mi espaƱol no es perfecto" I said as I began to introduce a Director of a Guatemalan Univsersity. A part of me wanted to run away, pass at the opportunity to participate, in fear of what? People making fun of me for trying to speak their language? What is the worst that could happen? I will make a few mistakes. I recalled my days in France, when it dawned on me that I could try to speak, and eventually improve, or I could not say anything at all and have a very silent three months. With this re-affirmation I pushed my nervousness aside, smiled and did my best to introduce my new classmate. This 45 seconds on my Monday morning was a privotal moment, demolishing my fears and setting me up for a week of mini-presentations, rich conversations and enlightening presentations.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Black Coffee and Bosques

Taking a little walk around campus at lunch

There is nothing like waking up in Costa Rica. The sun rises shortly after 5am, I cannot for the life of me sleep in past 8 and whenever I walk out the door in the morning I get a boost of energy. The sunshine is warm on my face, the breeze fresh on my skin, and with sounds of the beautiful birds singing I can't help but to smile. As I make my way down to the centre of campus I turn around. Is the volcano showing its' face today? Often it is lost behind the clouds, and the first time I saw the volcano's peak, I was slightly alarmed and fascinated that it was smoking! Although I have learned it is completely normal that is releases gases. 

The Turrialba volcano on my way to work
The cool air engulfs me as I enter the Wallace building. I was a bit nervous on my first day, what if I don't understand them? What if they don't understand me? What if I am not the right person for the job? My nervousness quickly dissipated as I was warmly welcomed by the other Cuso volunteers, introduced to many people in the building and shown to my office. Within an hour I had been asked several times if I drink coffee, a simple "si" seemed easier than explaining that I prefer tea, but I sometimes drink coffee in the afternoon. I learned that 9am was the office coffee time and they drink their coffee black, so there I was, drinking black coffee and conversing in my broken spanish. Two weeks later, I must confess I am slightly addicted to the stuff. 

I have been spending my time getting to know CATIE itself, the work that it does, as well as the current needs and priorities of the Model Forest. I think my work here will be very rewarding and a rich professional experience. I have already attended two meetings and done a field visit. What I have pieced together from these meetings, as well as the piles of books I have been wading through, is that there are three current priorities for Bosque Modelo Reventazon (ABOMORE).

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

18 Hours in Panama

Taxi Service, Bocas del Toro

I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed on Thursday morning, it was piled up with posts about loving snow, hating snow, people getting stuck in snow, people skiing and pulling sleighs in snow. Snow was everywhere, and what was more the CP Holiday Train was due in Merrickville that night. My heart sunk a little, thinking about the holiday festivities I was missing. Pulling out my winter boots for the first time, feet crunching through fresh snow, looking up to the sky as the flakes fall. Most of all, I missed sipping hot chocolate and baileys with my bestie Danielle, watching the Holiday Train pull into town, completely lit up and blaring Christmas carols.

“It’s fine” I thought to myself, “I am going to the beach this weekend.” Pulling my attention away from the computer screen, I focused on the lawn outside my apartment. It was now a lake. The ‘rain shower’ was not letting up. If Ontario was getting 20cm of snow, I was sure that Turrialba was getting 40cm of rain. I suddenly understood why they call it ‘lluvialba’, when it rains, it pours, and it pours all day long. I packed my bag, put on it’s rain cover (amazing invention), my rain coat, flip flops and umbrella and made my way out to the bus stop along the highway.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Rat and Wonderland 

The main CATIE building, where my office is located. 

It was 2 o’clock in the morning and I could hear something very close to me. It sounded like it was in the walls. No my dresser. Or maybe the garbage can. I flicked on the light and put on my glasses, just in time to see a GIANT rat squeeze through the crack between the floor and the door to my room. I was disgusted and terrified.

Looking back now it seems rather ridiculous, that such a small animal could inflict such fear in a human being. What’s the worst it could do? Other than bite, possibly transmitting rat-bite fever, the plague, salmonellosis and about 8 other diseases? I spent two nights tossing and turning, half awake making sure my little ‘roommate’ didn’t mistake me for dinner. After seeing him dash out of the room, I promptly barricaded my door, with my yoga mat, umbrella and moldy knapsack. There, I could get 5 hours of sleep before getting up and moving to Turrialba.

My last week in San Jose felt bitter sweet. I had really enjoyed the time with Maria and Marlene, the Costa Rican ladies I was staying with, practicing Spanish with my friend Laura, and treating myself to a latte at the coffee shop around the corner in the afternoons. I spent my last afternoon walking through the side streets of the city, stumbling on parks and buildings I wished I had discovered early. My favourite encounter was of the Rainbow Eucalyptus trees. Why aren’t these planted everywhere? Surely oxygen and rainbows would make everyone’s day a little bit happier. Maybe The Model Forest of Rainbows should be our next venture?

Whatever state of euphoria the trees had put me in, the rat certainly snapped me out of, and I was quite happy to move to my final destination, the Center for Tropical Agriculture Research and Education (CATIE) where I will be living and working for the next year.

My apartment is wonderful. My new abode is on the ground floor, has a great kitchen for whipping up delectable dishes made with fresh fruits and veggies from the farmer’s market. I was also pleasantly surprised that there are two bedrooms. One for me, and one for my guests! Start booking your flights people, this place is a wonderland! Seriously though, I took a walk through the CATIE campus and it looked like I just stepped into a fantasy. The afternoon rain ‘shower’ or as you may call it, downpour, left the air fresh and mist hanging over the mountains. Walking through my new wonderland, clouds hung low in my head, as they did in the sky. The first few raindrops of homesickness and culture shock hit the ground. Luckily they dissipated, but inevitably the storm is coming. Good thing the weather is always changing, and once the rainy season is over the dry season will follow.

The lake on the CATIE campus. Beautiful birds and no crocodile sitings today. 
 I walked down my street, and over to the lake, which boasts our very own resident crocodiles (don’t worry, they are the small species, only 2.5 meters in length) and various birds. There are over 850 bird species in Costa Rica, and 300 of those have been spotted in and around the CATIE campus. I continued along the road, gazing up in awe at the trees, completely mesmerized by the various mosses, plants, vines, flowers and birds that engulfed them. I smiled to myself, reflecting on the words of another CUSO co-operant, ‘CATIE is the luxury location of volunteering’. I think I would have to agree.  

Tomorrow will be my first day with the Bosque Modelo Reventazon! Wish me luck and thanks for reading!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Living my Pura Vida

 La Pura Vida. I think this Tico proverb captures the essence of Costa Rican culture. Pura Vida, the ‘pure life’ or the ‘good life’, is something that is used in everyday greetings. From hello, “Pura Vida.” To ‘how are you?’ “Pura Vida?” to ‘I am good’ “Si, Pura Vida.” To ‘Cheers’ “Pura Vida”. For me, it is a subtle reminder to enjoy the small things in life, and embrace the ‘good life’.

For me, La Pura Vida means:
1.     Enjoying the moment.
2.     Embracing new experiences
3.     Realizing that you are one small piece of life’s puzzle.
4.     Accepting that you can’t control everything.

Monday, November 11, 2013


“An unhurried sense of time is in itself a sort of wealth.”-Bonnie Friedman

I arrived in Costa Rica with a lot of baggage, both literally and figuratively. The weeks leading up to my trip were scheduled and booked solid. On top of tying loose ends at the Canadian Model Forest
Our CUSO Volunteer Training group!
Network, I rushed around to appointments, attended a five day volunteer training, made a trip to Montreal, threw a party, packed my suitcases, packed up my room and most difficult of all, said goodbye to my friends and family.

Too often in North America we rush through the day, scheduling every hour, so that we do not ‘lose’ a second. There is a sense of urgency and impatience, that somehow the earth would be thrown off its axis, if we dared to abandon the clock, turn off the computer screen and let life’s beautiful unexpected moments, unfold.

I knew coming to Costa Rica that one of the most challenging adaptations I would need to make is my perception of time. Arriving, with my life in a suitcase, after weeks of chaos and scheduling, I suddenly had hours on end simply, free! 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Digging Into San Jose

The rain pours down hard on the roof, thunder rumbles, the curtains blow gently in the breeze, as the open window lets the cool air in, cutting slightly, the humid and mildew blanketed air in my bedroom.  I have now spent five days in San Jose, and the 4 o’clock down pour is becoming expected. The sun greets me in the morning at about 5am with clear skies, quickly heating up to a slightly humid 27 degrees Celsius. As it approaches mid-day the clouds begin to appear, hanging low over the mountains, teasing me with sprinkles of rain before the skies open up in the late afternoon.