Camas High School Students experiencing the hospitality of L.A. Pital, Costa Rica

March 2019

 It was an early start for our group- meeting at PDX at 4:20 am, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and excited to embark on a new adventure. We said our goodbyes to our family and friends who had come to see us off, and before we knew it we were settled into our airplane seats, hunkering down for the first of two 6 hour flights. Landing in San Jose, our final destination, we met up with Allan (our Courts for Kids staff member who would be our guide), before piling into vans and heading to the hotel. After 13 long hours of travel, we were all exhausted and soon fell asleep in our soft beds.

 We woke up to a traditional Costa Rican breakfast with rice and beans before grabbing our things and piling into the bus that would take us from San Jose to Los Angeles de Pital. As we neared the community, we began to see fields and fields of their main agricultural crop: pineapple! We arrived in LA de Pital and were greeted with a delicious soup for lunch, with yuca, plantains, pork, and more.  They cut open fresh coconuts for us to drink the coconut milk straight from the coconut. After lunch we settled into our rooms, putting up our mosquito nets and pumping up mattresses. There was an “opening ceremony” at the high school, and kids of all ages danced traditional dances and sang traditional songs, and one high schooler even read us a welcome letter he had written! Some of us had the opportunity to go up and try some of the dances, making everyone laugh. We played bingo and ate a yummy dinner of beans, rice, cabbage salad, and pineapple juice. We walked back to our rooms, and played a little soccer on the turf field the community had opened up for public use while we were there (it was normally a private facility). After another day of travel and fun, we fell asleep quickly.

 Today was the first half-day of actual construction.  We met a few locals who helped with the court. We had four teams of 6 people rotating between four stations- gravel, wheelbarrows, sand, and break.  During break we would go up to the kitchen and eat fresh juicy mango and pineapple. We stopped work at 12:30 and went on a hike through the jungle to a river which we were able to swim in and it felt so refreshing.  There were monkeys swinging from the trees overhead as we swam. A few locals who we met came with us on the hike. On the way back to town, we made a couple stops to see some sloths hanging in the trees, and even got to see a mother and baby sloth! That night we played soccer on the turf field again and had a blast playing with the locals.

 This was the first full day of construction. We kept the same rotations as the day before. There were a few more locals helping today, and we doubled our pace- making one lane of court in half the time! We began to play hacky sack with the locals and the Peace Corps volunteers on break and in between working our stations, which made the time fly by. We stopped work at 3:30 and headed back over to the high school where we played soccer, volleyball, and basketball with the local teenagers. We ate dinner at the high school; beans, rice and beet salad. We were able to connect and get to know a lot of the teenagers that night, and it was a powerful cultural exchange.

 Another full day of construction, with even more locals at the site, dancing to music, working each station and enjoying the Costa Rican culture. We were even more efficient, almost doubling our work again! When we stopped for lunch, it began to pour warm tropical rain, and many of us went out and just stood there, letting the rain soak through our clothes. It cleared quickly and we continued working. After work we went to a zumba class led by the high school principal. We worked up quite a sweat and got a little lost on the steps, but had a great time. After zumba we had some free time to socialize and get to know the locals better. It was an incredible experience being able to hear about their community, their dreams, and their overall love for life. We had another delicious dinner and headed to bed.

 We woke up and had a yummy breakfast like usual and worked on the court again. We were rapidly nearing the end of construction! There were more and more locals spending time by the court each day and the kids love playing hacky sack and talking with us! At lunch time, many from the group laid down on the bleachers for a power nap before heading back to work on the court. The morale of the group stayed positive and lively despite the hard work and heat of the daily construction. After work we walked to a nearby store and it was interesting to see the kinds of foods they had in their store that we had never seen in the states. Shortly after returning we were called into the kitchen for a tamale assembly line! It was incredible to see what went into the tamales, and what the process looked like. Although many of us stumbled along with the assembly, the cocineras (the women who cooked in the kitchen) were very patient with us and didn’t mind reteaching us until we understood. That night the girls from our group played a local girls soccer team, and the boys played a local boys team right after! It was fun to play, though many of us didn’t play soccer, and to be able to participate in a sport that was popular  in both of our cultures.

 It was the final day of construction. It was beginning to sink in that we would be leaving soon, and the thought was sad. We finished the court by mid-day, so we decided to use some of the excess materials to construct an access ramp, connecting the pre-existing concrete stairs to the brand new court. It was incredible to see all the that had been accomplished by the community and us working together over the past 4 days! We went in for lunch and then lounged around, played card games, soccer, and talked. Everyone was called into the kitchen and they surprised one of our chaperones on her birthday with a beautiful birthday cake! We sang happy birthday to her in Spanish and then went to the turf field where the locals had set up a pinata. It was a memorable celebration with everyone laughing and cheering. Shortly after, a few of the locals took us on a short nature hike to a beautiful lagoon.  We watched the sky turn brilliant shades of orange and pink as the sun set below the tree line. For dinner, we enjoyed the tamales we had made the day before, and they were delicious! After dinner we played another game of soccer against another girls team which was a little less competitive, and we all had a blast. It was another day full of fun and cultural exchange.

 That morning we woke up an hour later because we didn’t have construction, and ate yet another delicious breakfast before heading out on a walk to explore the community, lead by our local friends. We walked around the community, and had the opportunity to see cows, chickens, more sloths, native plants, parakeets, beautiful flowers, and even a very large iguana! We were warmly welcomed into every house, farm, and store we stopped at.  Iit was wonderful to experience that level of hospitality which is rare in the US. After exploring the community we ate lunch and had some time free time to play more soccer, talk, and play more card games. That evening was the opening ceremony for the court and we all dressed up in formal clothes, which felt awkward after days of construction clothes. We played on the court with the locals, and many people came to watch! A couple people gave really touching speeches about the bond created between us and the community, and we cut the ribbon, officially opening the court! That night there was a dance and karaoke to celebrate our last night in the community. We were all very impressed with the locals singing (especially Roger the cement mixer operator)! At the end of the dance, tears were shed as it hit us that we would be saying goodbye to all these incredible people the very next morning, and we fell asleep wishing we could slow time.

 That morning we woke up and had a final breakfast, our last meal with rice and beans, and packed all of our things. The bus arrived and we had to say our goodbyes to the beautiful people of Los Angeles de Pital. We exchanged gifts, thanks, hugs, and tears as we savored our last moments with the community. After one final group picture, we hopped on the bus and drove away, leaving our new-found friends and a little bit of ourselves behind.  On our way out of town, there were people standing outside their homes waving good-bye. We had a nice surprise when we stopped at a hot springs where we were able to relax and reflect on the trip. After a few hours we headed back to the bus and made our way to the hotel, arriving in time for a Costa Rican style hamburger dinner! That night we were each able to share our fondest memories, our biggest surprises, and our most important lessons we learned.  We all agreed we how impactful this trip was on our lives and how much we would miss Costa Rica.

Going into this trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew I was travelling to Costa Rica with a group of other Camas High students, most of whom I had never met before, to build a court with a community that I knew nearly nothing about. Needless to say, I was a little uncertain of how the trip would pan out, yet excited, nonetheless. From the minute I laid eyes on the small town of LA Pital, I became certain of one thing: this was about to be an experience I would never forget. During the following, short, nine days, I would meet and form connections with so many incredible people; locals, peace corps volunteers, even with peers from my very own hometown who I had never taken the chance to get to know. I fell in love with Costa Rica: the beautiful culture, the breathtaking nature, the delicious food (made by the cocineras whom I can’t thank enough!), the inspiring people, and the pura vida lifestyle. I felt like I learned a new way to look at life from each person I met. From Carlos (Junior), I learned to appreciate each fleeting moment life gives you, good or bad. From Josue, I learned that everyone deserves the chance to be happy and accepted, and that is all anyone ever wants. From the cocineras, I learned the value of true hospitality, and how it feels to be sincerely welcomed. From Allan, I learned the importance of taking time to interact with anyone, no matter what age, and giving them undivided attention. From Annalin, I learned that to communicate, all you need is kindness and patience. There was so much I learned in such a short period of time and there is no way to put into words each and every truly valuable life lesson, experience, and relationship Costa Rica gave me; the truth is, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  – Jen, Camas High School student

One thing I do know at the end of this trip is that I want to keep exploring new places and cultures. I want to look into the idea of being a Peace Corps volunteer, and I definitely want to do another Courts for Kids trip. Thanks for everything Costa Rica!” – Jennifer

“From the community I learned how to be selfless. The people here give everything they have when they don’t have much. They made us feel like family the entire week and showed us they cared in every way. I want to take those ideals back home with me.” – Annalin

“… I learned how quickly not only myself, but how my peers were able to adapt to these changes. Excluding the language barrier, it was as easy as in the United States to interact with locals within the community. This was an expectation of mine that changed completely and showed me how humans are willing to connect despite physical distance and language.” – James

“I feel this trip changed me by making me more confident and showing me how we take for granted. I’ve gone far out my comfort zone and after doing so I am more confident in myself and my abilities.” – Josef

“I no longer see objects in a materialistic way and I believe that memories and experiences are worth more than any amount of money or ‘things’ one could possibly have.”  – Jessica

“My favorite memory of this trip was interacting with the ‘cocineras’. They spent all day in the kitchen form breakfast to after dinner, preparing for us the most delicious home cooked Costa Rican specialties.” – Jamie

“My favorite memories from this trip are dancing on the last night, seeing the court upon completion and exploring the community. It was nice to see everyone become closer during these events. I feel like I built everlasting relationships”.  – Matthew