We each stumbled out of bed at our own pace, many of us still feeling quite tired. Though we had arrived the previous night the combination of darkness and our sheer exhaustion had prevented us from exploring and appreciating the magic of the place we had spent an entire day traveling to arrive at. Excitement broke through the fog of sleepiness as we set our eyes on the landscape in the light of the slowly rising sun. A wave of energy crashed through us when we heard the sloth mother and baby had been spotted. Enthusiasm continued as brightly colored birds were discovered and a delicious breakfast feast was laid out, including a fresh tropical fruit salad.
We ambled about, looking at the classrooms, the luscious plants, and the various leisure spots- a covered deck overlooking the sloth tree, hanging rope chairs, a hammock. We began to meet the various staff, exchanging names, attempting to relay appreciation that was still forming.
After we had all ceased our wandering long enough to eat some breakfast we piled back into the vans we had gotten out of all to recently, eating empanadas as we rode for a refreshingly short time. We piled out of the vans and spent a few moments wandering around a gift shop full of items made of local stones and woods- jewelry, statues, masks. After a few moments we were joined by Alfonz, who owned the shop and started the river walk project which we were basing our English curriculums on. He guided us to the the start point of the river walk- a sugar cane press.
We took turns turning the press and pushing the sugar cane through and were rewarded with large cups of sweet sugar cane juice. Energized by the rush of sugar we began our walk. Before making it into the forest we walked through farm land. Alfonz showed us the "ornamental plants" grown there, explaining the process of growing the plants for export to Europe, cutting rings of bark around higher sections of the plants and painting them with root hormone in order to produce plants with roots that had never touched the local soil.
As we continued through the land worked by man we asked questions about local agriculture, Costa Rican environmental policy, and issues of environmental pollution in the area and were met with detailed answers. Finally, we made our way into the forest. Looking up we saw a high canopy dropping vines down all around us. Circling us foreign vegetation sprang from the ground- leaves so different from those Vermont, bright flowers in strange shapes, and large seed pods that appeared to be art projects or delicate baskets. The floor was populated with ant colonies of various types, some of them crawling up our ankles to bite us and some carrying leaves up and down their created highways. There were bright and fluorescent frogs so appealing that it was a challenge to remember that they were poisonous and we shouldn't pick them up.
When we reached the first section of river we observed fish and what at first seemed to be some type of insect, but in fact was a group of dark frogs so small that at least a dozen would fit on a single fingernail. Some of us snapped pictures ferociously while others hurled question after question with a curiosity that could not be quenched.
Eventually, we reached the place where the two sections of river met, a stark contrast between them. The one we had been following was rushing, clear, and filled with life. The small rapids unleashed liquid crystal, gurgling the sound of life- water itself, the noises of the gut, the joy of living. The second section of river was murky, rushing only to meet, become one with the living section. We followed this sad river back, noting a single turtle as the only sign of life in it along the way. As we emerged from the forest we continued to be amazed by the vegetation, stumbling upon clumps of bamboo.
Alfonz invited us to his veranda where he chopped the tops off of fresh "pipas" (coconuts), filled to the brim with sweet juice, giving one to each of us. After lounging, sipping, and chatting we made our way back to the vans refreshed and hydrated.
Back at Centro Espiral Mana we were welcomed with another great spread for lunch. Hot, tired, and full we got to work. We had our first workshop with Mary, Amanda, Roger, and Emma. We broke the ice with line-up exercises, arranging ourselves alphabetically by first name, then by age, and finally by amount of teaching experiencing, ending with the note that for the next 10 days we were working with a combined 140 years of teaching experience.
We were given the opportunity to ask any questions we might have about our stay and Centro Espiral Mana. Then we worked in groups to determine what needs were most relevant to our students in the classroom setting using a set of cards based in the Compassionate Communication framework. As the final stage of the workshop we were encouraged to ask any questions we might have about Costa Rican culture, after which we were rewarded with sweet pineapple cake.
After our short interlude of afternoon snack we got into our teaching groups with our guides/observers for our short visit at Centro Espiral Mana. We drew out the various aspects and layers of what we wanted to teach on poster sized pieces of paper and each chose a game/activity to lead for the first class.
The rest of the evening was our own, in a way. We worked to plan our first day, individually and in our groups, ate dinner at our leisure, roamed into town to visit the stores and around the school, chatting excited and stressed simultaneously. We wandered off to sleep on our own clocks anxious for what the morning, creeping up so quickly, held in store. For some of us it would be straight to teaching for others it would be more prep, but for all of us it would be the dawn of a day that seemed to go on for many, the first of ten, which would all prove too short in the end.
-Ariel Viktor Qadesh
12 students from Marlboro College came to our school to teach English to local children and young adults. Their project is to teach "Environmental English" so that at the end of the 8 day course the students can take a hike and talk about nature (in English) and do activities on the trail that help them develop their awareness of tropical river ecology. Our town, San Isidro de Peñas Blancas has created the River walk to raise awareness of environmental issues affecting our area.