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Entries about ecotourism

The Ultimate House Build for charity

Costa Rica unedited

Here's another attempt at a video showing how our building project went.... really! I know YoutTube killed my last soundtrack so I made a more "natural" one! :-)

Posted by beckywicks 03:22 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

The Costa Rican chiwawa killer...

Last night, our taxi driver murdered a dog. One of those small, yappy numbers who frequent the handbags of rich “it” girls like Paris Hilton and whose death quite probably did the human race a favour… but still, it was murder, and not a very nice one. The thing is… it happened after we were all involved in a few murders ourselves and thus presents a bit of a quandary. Is it right to be disturbed over the death of a living creature, when just minutes before, I had fished a happy trout from a pond and handed its pleading, flapping body over to a man who snapped its head off and marinated it in deliciousness, before serving it to me on a plate?

We were driving home from another great night on the trout farm, bellies full and glad accomplices to fish murder, when our taxi driver mowed right over a small chiwawa, which was standing in the middle of the road. We’d narrowly missed him on the way to the farm – his tiny beady eyes narrowed briefly in confusion at our approaching headlights, before he trotted swiftly off to the side. On our way back, he wasn’t so quick. In fact, he didn’t even move at all…just kind of stood there with his Tom Jones tan coloured fur shining in the moonlight, watching his short dog years flash before him. And then, BAM. So tragic.

Perhaps it was suicide. Perhaps he was so depressed with his lazy life in the lush green land of small town San Ramon that he wanted to end it all. Or perhaps, like many chiwawas, he was just a little bit thick. Either way, he’s dead.

The worst thing was though, the taxi driver didn’t even blink!! The 4 of us in the back couldn’t BELIEVE it. Not a flash of recognition registered on his face as we all felt the chiwawa sized bump beneath our car. Our ice-skating champion wanted to go back to see if it was ok, but one of us heard it crack and squelch as our wheels ploughed over it, so we didn’t think that would be wise. Stray dogs are everywhere in Costa Rica… maybe the taxi driver views them as having zero worth, but seriously, he didn’t even slow down. On a clear road, on a clear night, he didn’t even swerve. Perhaps he actually tries to squash them on a daily basis, counting up his sick puppy killing score on a secret sheet of paper in his glove box. Perhaps, after he dropped off his witnesses, looking shocked and outraged as we walked to the pub, he drove back to photograph the evidence in order to brag to a troop of equally murderous dog crunchers. We can’t speak Spanish, so we couldn’t ask.

Costa Rica is lovely and so are its people. But I wouldn’t want to be a dog.

Posted by beckywicks 09:17 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Frogs and crocs not of the shoe kind...

Last weekend we took the bus to La Fortuna, a touristy town about 2 and a half hours away from here that sits at the foot of an active volcano – Volcan Arenal. It last blew its top in 1968, previous to which they just thought it was a big hill. Doh. They used to climb up it, too. Imagine being up there on a nice little hill trek at the moment it decides to burp and belch! Error. Anyway, according to Lonely Planet one of the lakes in one of its four craters has experienced sinking water levels recently, which means it could well be up for another eruption pretty soon. Even though in volcano years, that may mean 300 years from now. Boring.

We larged it at the gorgeous Tabacon hot springs and spa thermal resort (thanks for the tip Hannah and Kate!) It was probably one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen – oh and it’s a part of the leading hotels of the world group, so it should be really! It consists of all these hot and cold water pools formed from the river, all of which house pasty white sprawling Americans sporting various degrees of sunburn, and a few awesome waterfalls to sit under too,… and it’s all in the midst of this luscious rainforest setting, think bright red and tropical plants and a heap of luminous green lizards. Beautiful.

We also got the chance to take a couple of rainforest tours – one was based around a series of hanging bridges, the highest of which was a scary 600 feet above the forest canopy. Awesome! I never thought I’d have the guts to look straight into a tarantula’s hole but I DID IT!! Are you proud of me mummy? Our guide shone his torch right in there and we could see his hairy fat legs…eeeeeergh. Makes me puke just thinking about it. We also saw these amazing little frogs, bright red with blue legs. Red poisonous dart frogs. “They’re only poisonous when they eat toxic critters though”, said our guide as he scooped one of a tree! Crazy man. Aside from that we saw howler monkeys, a crocodile (that was on the boat tour, not hanging from a tree, don’t be stupid) and tons of birds….. ooh we even saw a big yellow beaked toucan through our guide’s telescope. Did you know they mate for life? They sing to each other all day too, bless. Aaaaah, such a nice life.

Oh, I think the leaf cutter ants are the most impressive creatures though. They spend all day carrying massive bits of leaf and twig three times their size, in a straight row like a little production line towards their nest. A queen ant can live up to 20 years and apparently when she dies, the army dies too. How tragic. But they’re such dedicated little workers – way more dedicated than me, sifting my fricking sand from a giant pile all day. You don’t see ants complaining, heading off to spa resort for some sweet relaxation, even though they clearly could. They just shift stuff around all day to please some expectant lady on a throne who probably doesn’t even know their names. That has to be the best job in the world, come to think of it. The power!!

Costa Rican wildlife really is something else… and even though, just like in Kenya when we went on safari, I was slightly disappointed that the animals weren’t all lining up to greet me and my telephoto lens, it was such an incredible experience being in the rainforest, knowing that there were a hundred pairs of eyes on us even though we couldn’t see them. I’ve heard the scenery, beaches and animals up in Manuel Antonio is even better, but unfortunately we won’t have a chance to go up there on this trip. Perhaps that would be best saved for sometime when it’s not pissing it down every 5 minutes – they don’t call it the rainy season for nothing! I KNOW I said I wanted rain and that I was sick of the dusty dryness of Dubai but seriously… I take it back. Please god, give us one day with rain!!!

Posted by beckywicks 09:16 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

A local place for local people...

So far, I think I’ve really fallen in love with Cosa Rica. Or maybe it’s the nature singing out at me from every corner; the way the chicadas, birds and crickets create a soundtrack to every single moment that’s just missing in Dubai. There’s a lot to be said for the way mother nature makes you feel – I guess it’s sort of bringing me back to reality in a way. And life here is so simple too, well, especially in this little town of San Ramon, where our host family live. They have a small house, with just one bathroom for the 5 of them and all the guests that filter in and out – bringing them just 12 dollars a day per person from the volunteer organisation I to i.

Our host mum works as a cleaner and also makes beautifully tacky art from used wine bottles – seriously, it’s stunning stuff, the kind of things you’d see in little country cottages on windowsills, adorned with a curled up cat. She coats them in coloured sand and sticks painted clay animals like parrots and toucans on the sides. Feels a bit wrong to like them, but they’re fab. She even gave us one last night after we expressed our interest. There’s a festival here at the moment – the San Ramon festival. He was the bloke who founded the city… I think. Not quite sure, but it means the town is alive with music, dancing, bingo games, food and arts and craft stalls. We told Mama Tico she should have a stall there for her bottles but she says it costs $300 for the two-week privilege. We all know they don’t have that much money.

Our host daddy works 3 jobs just to pay the bills and put rice and beans on the table. He comes in late at night in his fast food uniform looking worn out, but honestly, I have never known such a happy man! He lights up the room when he smiles and when he looks at his wife it’s so adorable, you just know he feels like the luckiest man alive. They’ve been married for 16 years and she’s about 10 years older than him. They dated for one day before they got married. ONE DAY. Can you imagine that? Imagine knowing that someone’s right for you after just one day – how much drama, hassle and heartbreak that would save! Or maybe life is so simple, so black and white here, they don’t need to spend hours over analysing emotions and feelings, pouring over text messages and reading between the lines of emails. Maybe love is love and like is like and that’s the end of that. They’ve got 3 kids who are all gorgeous, bright and happy so they must be doing something right, even if they have to work so hard and give up their home to volunteers, like me, who can’t speak a word of Spanish and just has to sit there, clogging up the armchair like a rich mute, tapping away at an expensive laptop.

I feel a bit funny about that, really… I think it’s inadequate, maybe a bit stupid? They’re such interesting people. I really want to talk to them instead of waiting for translations. I can tell she’s got a wicked sense of humour. The daughter, Veronica is 13 and really wants to talk to me too. She bought me some earrings yesterday from one of the festival stall. I’d love to tell them all about Dubai and to hear about their own lives – we bought them a book about the city and they love it, they keep pouring over the photos of the glitzy buildings and asking us where we live. I’m not used to feeling like I can’t communicate,… it’s a really unsettling feeling that actually makes me feel a bit more grateful that I can write, even if it’s just in English. I’m going to have to learn Spanish,… get one of those audio lesson kits or something. It would be amazing to come back in a few years and talk to them properly.

Personally I don’t think they get paid enough from I to i. I’m not going to harp on about how I think I to I need to pay more attention to the needs of their volunteers or host families, as they’re doing a good job in getting people to the projects in the first place, but when you take into consideration that we spent 4 days waiting for the right tools to enable us to do our jobs on the site properly, and so far all we’ve been expected to do is dig a hole and sieve rocks from a giant pile of sand… arrgh. I don’t know, maybe I’m just being picky. I just think they could be filtering a lot more of that fat profit they’re allegedly not really making, into the projects we’re here to be a part of. Maybe I should have done a teaching project – there’s an orphanage here with 11 kids that 2 volunteers are working with – although allegedly they’re not doing much for them either, just a lot of sitting around getting ignored by the local staff. Whatever… I just don’t think building’s for me. I don’t get along too well with mud… unless it’s part of a spa treatment. I DEFINITELY have a new found respect for Dubai’s labourers though. It’s a tough job standing out in that heat all day, letting the monotony drive you mental! Standing there sifting took me back to my days in the factory, wiping the rims of pots of coleslaw, wandering as to the meaning of life. Or MY life… more specifically.

Anyway, we only have one more day left here and then it’s off to Nicaragua, where we’re heading to a place that looks like paradise. Little Corn island…

Posted by beckywicks 09:16 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Diet Coke Break! (sort of)

Whoop whoop, just what every building site needs!

Here's something you might not see on building sites in Dubai. Or anywhere for that matter :-)

Posted by beckywicks 11:15 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

The first video on site...

Look how hard we're working!

Here's a little video installment of our group hard at work on the building site in Costa Rica. If this is coming up on a facebook note and you can't see it, click here to watch it on You Tube!
Unfortunately though, if you watch it on You Tube, they have snipped the soundtrack off it,... b*stards! I edited to "The House that Jack Built" by Aretha Franklin cos it was PERFECT, but oooooh noooo, that's not allowed (sulk). I thought it still worked on the blog but obviously not... just play the track over it yourselves, hehe!

Posted by beckywicks 16:06 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

The house that Becky (and others) built...

and a shed load more rain

rain 25 °C
View WESTWARD BOUND on beckywicks's travel map.

It’s still bloody raining. Comes rolling over the mountains at about lunch time and hammers it down well into the night, which means we had to cut the project short today, pull on our sexy waterproof jackets and head home pretty much after lunch. I hate to say it but we’ve actually been hoping for rain. Means we get the afternoons free, (we’re not allowed to work in the rain, according to the boss) but there’s really not much else to do in this town when we’re not on the site, except sit indoors and type… oh, I filmed a little video on the building site though, edited it quickly and amateurishly on iMovie so you can see where we’re located and what goes on. It’s not what we were expecting at all!

I think I imagined true poverty, possibly corrugated tin walls… sloshing through mud amongst chickens as the waiting family slept rough on the opposite doorstep, watching our every move with teary eyes. In actual fact, the plot of land is spacious with a view of the entire rainforest and a pony down the road. The house will have 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and an open living room and kitchen. It has slabs of concrete for walls and when it’s done, it will have a porch with potential for hanging baskets, electricity and the Internet. We met the would-be tenants yesterday; a smiley, pretty mum of four, well dressed with bright red corset and matching lip gloss. Two of her kids were glossy haired and grinning in their matching school uniforms. The girl spoke in English as she skipped away, and I waved to her from my place beside the hole we’ve been digging in the blazing sunshine, for her family’s impending bowel deposits. Is it wrong to feel a little disappointed?

The project so far is f***ing hard work, but fun fun fun! We’ve got a pretty good group of 6 of us,… me and the man, Fel and John from Montreal, who are actually doing this as part of their honeymoon, Chantal from the UK, who’s the current British figure skating gold champion (I SHIT YOU NOT, she’s a star) and Brandon from Toronto. As if bonding over the need to dig a giant 15 foot hole for a septic tank wasn’t working, we headed to Benz, the local bar last night for some Imperial beers and met a bunch more student volunteers, one of whom is a 17 year old, chain smoking rich kid from London. You get all types, volunteering,… and some of them, you have no idea why they’re here.

Anyway, the site is about a 10 minute bus ride from San Ramon where we’re based with our host family. I am happy to report the microwave is more than adequate… the whole house is actually nothing like I expected. We’re in our own room, which is nice. Even if we’re in bunk beds. I got the bottom bunk, naturally. I hate climbing down for a pee in the middle of the night, not to mention that I’m slightly more blind than I was when I shared them with my friend Claire, 20 years ago. TWENTY YEARS AGO! Jesus, I’m old. The family are awesome, the little 3 year old is the cutest child I’ve ever met, and although I’m slightly… shall we say cautious of the rice and beans, I can tell it’s going to be an altogether enlightening experience.

Will be uploading some photos soon, and in the meantime we’re planning a possible weekend jaunt to La Fortuna to see another volcano and maybe do some white water rafting, OR we may head out to discover some secret hot springs I heard about from an expat American who's been living off the tourist trail for 20 years. Whoo hooo! Just wish the rain would piss off when we're ready to start exploring...

Posted by beckywicks 15:49 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Costa Rica Rain!

Yes,... it's still raining....

rain 25 °C
View WESTWARD BOUND on beckywicks's travel map.

Here we are in Costa Rica baby!! And it’s PISSING IT DOWN. We knew it would be wet as it’s the “green season”, which I suppose keeps this country looking like the emerald city you see in sweeping tv documentaries, shot to the sound of birds squawking and monkeys grunting,… but we didn’t reeeeally expect to be crammed into a youth hostel with nowhere to go but two supermarkets and a Chinese restaurant (which is actually pretty good). Still, we have met some really great people so far and it’s surprisingly good fun getting back to my uni days, swigging beer and watching 90210 with a group of students and waiting for the rain to stop. We’re off out to a casino later,… following a meal of rice and beans which allegedly is something we’re gonna have to get used to (urrgh). We’ve already located Taco Bell and McDonalds. Sad, but essential. Tomorrow morning we’re leaving this small town Alajuela for San Ramon, the base of our house building project – yay!

Most of the other volunteers are younger – we’re talking 18/19/20. Gap years, uni breaks, rich kids with loaded parents, they’re all out here working on the various projects. Another group are going to do a sea turtle conservation project but there’s a slight controversy around it so far, as one group just returned with tales of how they only “worked” a couple of hours a day and only saw one turtle. They come out at night and are extremely shy. So the group just basically sat about on a beach in Mataea Palo for 2 weeks, smoking pot and getting pissed all day. Sounds fun… if you’re 20. Imagine paying 500 quid at age 29, generally aiming to improve the life of endangered sea turtles and being stuck with a group of delinquents who remind you how you used to act yourself, but now just consequently make you feel old as they grind their stick thin figures to pop and bottles of Smirnoff Ice? Hmmmm, quite glad we didn’t pick that project to be honest, though clearly I would have LOVED it back in the Lincoln days. Kind of wish I knew about it when I was 18, but it feels like so long ago now that I don’t think the turtles were actually endangered back then… hmmm…

Anyway, like I said tonight we’re going to a casino, whoop! Getting some practice in for Vegas. And tomorrow I can’t wait to meet the host family – we’ve seen photos of their house and it looks pretty good, even the microwave. Luckily it’s located a block from another supermarket so if they insist on those rice and beans three times a day (we’ve been promised as much) at least we can sneak it to the dog and nip off for some Pringles. Bring on the building!

Posted by beckywicks 15:47 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

The little house that Becky built

Do volunteer builders get manicures?

So the second port of call on our trip is with an association called i-to-i, who are sending us to Costa Rica on August 16th to build houses. Like I said before, we’ve been wanting to “give something back” after living what some may call quite a privileged lifestyle in Dubai… (ahem) and this charity allows volunteers like us to live with Costa Rican families, who will feed us rice and beans three times a day and, according to the trip-notes, provide us with “a microwave” and “hot water”. I’m assuming we won’t be expected to heat the aforementioned rice and beans ourselves in the aforementioned microwave. I haven’t even washed my own dishes in a year and a half, let alone attempted to re-heat any food I haven’t cooked.

The family who are kindly giving us their guest room in their house near the active Arenal volcano, have three children and a dog and we’re expected to buy the children some gifts. This is fair enough, seeing as we’ll be using all their hot water and microwave. We’re waiting to hear back from our “country advisor” on how old they are before we buy anything. Presenting a 23 year old with crayons would look silly in any culture, and I sure as hell don’t know the Spanish for “Sorry but that’s all Carrefour had at such late notice; you should be glad I didn’t bring you an ornate camel”. I actually had one of those, before I shipped it home for the ‘rents to enjoy yesterday. Sigh. Everything’s changing.

At first, the idea of house-building was quite a romantic one, in my head. I would of course show up looking cute, tanned and ready to rock with a matching hat and drill set. My toned ass wouldn’t sag at all below my Jess Simpson style hot pants as all the Costa Rican boys sat about bare-chested, marveling along with my man at my instant ability to speak Spanish AND throw a wall on the side of a house without breaking a sweat. In reality of course, my man will be lifting bricks, operating heavy machinery and mixing cement, while I’ll be crouched on the ground, pulling weeds out.

I thought for a minute, maybe we’ll all get our OWN house to build?? How exciting! Although, mine would inevitably look like this:

Whilst my perfectionist man’s would, of course look like this:

We’re also traveling in the rainy season, which means we’re having to buy macs and waterproof jackets. Not very sexy. Shorts aren’t advised – it’s khakis all the way. But hopefully my mani/pedi won’t get too scuffed as I’ll also be wearing some hip working gloves and chunky boots (with thick socks to keep the critters out). Hurrah!

The truth is, I don't actually know WHAT to expect. Either way, I reckon it’s all gonna be quite an eye-opening experience. Especially if the volcano erupts.

Posted by beckywicks 03:08 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

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