A visit to Manuel Antonio, Quepos.

Some of my colleagues and I at Abriendo Mentes decided it was time for a little adventure. So, we rented a car, bought ourselves a generous supply of snacks and set off to visit Manuel Antonio, a beach town located in the south-west of Costa Rica along the pacific coast.

After a long but very entertaining ride from Playa Potrero (in the North Pacific) all the way half-down the country to Manuel Antonio (in the South Pacific) we finally arrived at our hostel at 10 pm. The hostel was located on top of a hill from which you could look over the jungle paradise of the place and look out over the exotic white-sand beach that run along the deep blue waters of the pacific.

When we got our dorm keys, some clean sheets and a towel we followed the receptionist downstairs to our dorm. We stayed in a tiny room overcrowded with bunk beds that were all occupied by other tourists. We dumped our backpacks in a corner and headed outside to the terrace, escaping the nasty heat and body smell that had been brewing in that room throughout the day from all the people staying there. The terrance was not really cosy either as there were a few old rusty chairs and tables, a very basic kitchen for people to cook in and an army of flies that were set to sting you and take your blood. After having sprayed our bodies with insect repellent we snapped open some imperial beers and sat back gazing into the pitch-black sky covered with a glittering collage of stars, listening to the orchestra of crickets playing in the background.

The next morning we woke up very early, without having had much sleep in that dusty suffocating room, we packed a small bag for our excursion to the national park and headed out for some good breakfast. On the street directly opposite to our hostel there was a small local café that served well-portioned traditional Costa Rican breakfast, gallo pinto, and a strong cup of black filter coffee. Once our tummies were filled, our caffeine levels back to normal and we had regained the energy we had lost during a sleepless night, we were on our way down hill to the national park. On our walk down we saw many interesting restaurants and pubs along the way we would check out that evening. There were beautiful gigantic green trees along the road and monkeys walking on the sidewalk trying to search the street bins for food and curiously checking out tourists that got infatuated by them.

Down at the beach is were the life of the little town was. There were plenty of small supermarkets and souvenir stores as well as restaurants, cafés and surf shops. Along and on the public beach, Playa Manuel Antonio, there were locals selling all sorts of crafts like hats made from palm tree leaves and self made ethnic jewellery as well as exotic fruits like coconuts, pineapples and mangos. Local surfers were out riding clean medium-sized tides which would last for many seconds, almost minutes under the burning hot sun. After catching a wave, surfers paddled out again to wait for the next tide, trying to detect it by staring out into the horizon of the vast ocean waters, sitting on their boards and waiting patiently for nature to give them their high.

We turned away from the main beach are and took a small street that continued into the depths of the jungle were the entrance of the national park was located. The park is a jungle paradise, packed with one of the most diverse natural habitats in the world, it is also abundant with wildlife. While we tracked through the park’s natural trails we came across many animal species including the Capuchin and Howler monkeys, iguanas, agoutis, different bird species and sloths to name a few. Apart from the exotic, green rainforest nature, there are two twin beaches inside the park: Manuel Antonio Beach and Espadilla Beach. Both white-sand beaches had different but spectacular views which one could admire while relaxing in the sun or taking a dip in the transparent waters of the ocean. Manuel Antonio Beach had a more caribbean touch as the sand looked whiter, had more palm trees aligning its beaches and the ocean had lighter blue waters. Playa Espadilla had more vegetation, different kind of trees, including some growing beautiful pink and red flowers, and had an ocean of rougher turquoise blue waters.

After having tracked for some time through the park and having discovered all the funny-looking animals through the lenses of our cameras we finally made it to the twin beaches. We laid down our towels, kicked off our shows and stripped to our swimsuits to enjoy the warmth of the sun on our skin and the laid-back mood that reigned the place. Once the heat became to much we let our bodies be embraced by the cool water of the ocean that rocked us back and forth while we floated in its waves. I looked out to the horizon and noticed the vastness of the pacific, the energy of its water and the life it held within it. The others left to find the confort in their towels while tanning. Suddenly all the noise that was being made by other loud tourists around me faded and I heard nothing anymore, there was a calm and profound silence that I had created from within. In that moment I was able to become intimate with nature, allowing it to infatuate me with its majestic presence. Fresh air filling my lungs, pumping my body with energy and leaving the same way it came; bright colours illuminating my sight; silence, soothing my ears and mind; inner peace growing from my heart while connecting with the nature around me.

While I was getting carried away spiritually by the ocean, my friends were hiding under the shade of a tree trying to find some relaxation themselves when a Capuchin monkey climbed down a branch determined to steal the bananas that we had smuggled into the park in case we got hungry. With an impressive agility and no fear for humans it managed to make its way to the bags that we had left on one of the towels besides us. My friends were up on their feet as fast as the monkey could run towards them, trying to defend our property however they could. It was a funny and highly entertaining sight from a distance.

Hiking back felt like a bigger effort. I guess we were tired from the whole day and worn out by the warmth of the beaming sun on our heads. We started getting used to our surroundings and we were less easily amazed by the exotic nature around us by the time we got to the exit of the national park. Hunger got the best of us and we could not concentrate on something other than food. Witty locals were waiting outside the exit for all the worn-out hungry tourists with carts full of delicious fresh fruits that made all our mouths watery. I got myself a fresh cold coconut, and the others got some freshly cut mango. The walk back to the beach town became more bearable as I could sip from my coconut and they could chew on their tasty mangos to rid ourselves of the hunger we were feeling. When we got to the street that ran parallel to the beach and was filled with restaurants and cafes we decided we might as well stay for dinner and watch the sunset from the beach. The batch of surfers had become less than in the morning but there were still some people left catching the perfect waves at Playa Manuel Antonio, as if they had been enchanted or hypnotised by the ocean not to leave its waters.

After ordering some greasy but incredibly tasty burgers and some margaritas we went to chill on the beach while watching the beautiful orange-purple sunset. There was a huge silence that fell on the town when everyone stopped doing what they were busy with and let themselves be amazed by the beautiful image of the sun fading slowly and the sound of the waves kissing the shore repeatedly. Even the surfers stopped catching waves for some minutes and just sat on their boards, in the middle of the sea, looking out to the horizon. What a beautiful picture. What a beautiful day to remember.

Living in Playa Potrero, Guanacaste

Playa Potrero is a small rural village of about 300 inhabitants that is composed of a few blocks of houses in the center and some on the outskirts by the forest where most local families live. There is a football court which everyone calls the main square or ‘plaza’ and where all Potrereños gather to play sports or just hang out. This plaza is a focal point in the village as everyone living in and around Potrero describes their home address by measuring the kilometers between their home and the plaza.

All the important public places of Potrero are located either directly around or very close to this football court. There are two tiny supermarkets, which are insanely expensive, as they have to import everything from other parts of the country. Their product selection seemed very limited at first because I wasn’t able to recognize many products due to their different packages and the way everything is just cramped up together on shelves without having different sections for different kinds of products. Next to Super Potrero, my favorite supermarket because of the nice lady that is always behind the counter, there is the ‘salon communal’, which I described in my previous post, and is used as the main gathering point for festivities and local activities of the community. Beside the ‘salon communal’ is where the main classroom of Abriendo Mentes is located and where all children and adults can come to receive English and computer classes as well as academic support or participate in community development or sports programs. The community school is located opposite to the Abriendo Mentes classroom on the other side of the football court and is a tiny place with three classrooms, a small kitchen that provides children with lunch, a tiny office for the director and a hall where parents and children can gather. I had never seen such a tiny complex operating as a school for that many children, but it seems to work.

I learned that Potrero used to be an agricultural community made up of only ticos who lived of fishing and working their lands. In recent years there has been a huge influx of “Gringos” (the Costa Rican name for Americans), who started buying the lands of locals for very low prices and turning them into tourist resorts all around the area of Potrero. The more foreigners arrived in the community the more locals have spread out throughout the area and moved inland to keep working in agriculture. However, soon locals have been pushed out of business because of foreigners implanting a third-sector economy into one that used to function perfectly as a primary-sector one. This has led to increasing poverty of locals who can’t compete with the modern businesses that have been set up, lacking the education and skills most of the time to find a job in this new tourism-based economy. As prices of commodities have also risen with this change, many locals are too poor to be able to afford basic needs. 

Even though much has changed in the community, the old soul of the village still remains. People live pure and simple lives, connected to their natural surroundings, which creates an immense serenity. With every single day that goes by I feel increasingly at home here in this tiny village.  The first days of living in Potrero drove me crazy and made me nostalgic for the many impulses and distractions The Hague provided me with. During the first month, I used to wake up with a hyperactive state of mind, searching for productive things to do and accelerating my pace of life to match my city routine. I became frustrated here because I felt I was doing nothing useful with my time, or at least not getting enough useful results. Every moment of the day for me lasted an eternity. I had so much time to spend with myself it made my deepest and most frightening thoughts and emotions surface to be confronted. In the Netherlands, I was able to avoid them by filling my day with more tasks than I could get done and by letting myself be carried away by many distractions. Here there is silence and there is no escape.

With time I have gotten used to the different pace of life and the serenity that reined the place. I learned to give every moment of my day the time it required to live it in a state of deep consciousness. By practicing this I have been able to confront the thoughts and emotions came to haunt me from the dark and closed place I had put them in. I started feeling at peace with myself in total solitude. The emptiness that had once grown inside of me when I felt I had lost the essence of whom I was had now been filled up again. Spending time alone allowed me to reconnect with the rawest, purest and most instinctual version of myself. This has put my mind, heart and soul at peace. The old soul of the village has knocked on my door and I have embraced its ways. I know understand the magic of living a simple and pure life, of feeling connected to nature and allowing its serenity to penetrate my soul.

The First Day at Abriendo Mentes.

Abriendo Mentes School in Potrero, Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

I reported to the Abriendo Mentes office at 10 in the morning on the 15th of January of 2019. I was so excited to hear about all the (communication) projects I was going to help out with that I came over-prepared with all possible utensils I might need in my 30l backpack. I had with me a thick purple notebook, my agenda, a pen, my camera, five different cables and chargers, my classes and a water bottle. Rachael, the executive director, and Martin, my Argentinean housemate, were waiting for me in the office, which was cooled by an ultra powerful air-conditioning system in order to keep out the heat from outside. I learned later that day that Martin, the new development and communications associate, and I would be working closely together on the 10-year anniversary campaign of Abriendo Mentes that would be the main communications project I would be working on.

I got a thorough introduction of the organization and its values as well as the do’s and don’ts while working and living in the community. I had to be careful not to walk alone at night or carry valuables on me just in case I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I could go out to this one bar at the beach called Brisas, especially on Wednesdays when they organized a ladies night but it was heavily advised to always go to and from the party in groups of more than 3 people, preferably including males. During the round of introductions of the team I met Karen and Erica, two lovely middle-aged Costa Rican women that were working at Abriendo Mentes, one as the site director of Potrero and the other one as youth development coordinator and English teacher. They were both extremely sweet and friendly towards the newcomers and I felt I would be learning a great deal from them about how to engage and learn more about the local communities of Brasilito and Potrero. They both always had a big smile on their faces and transmitted an extremely relaxed and positive energy. It was probably the “Pura Vida” that shaped their character in this way. It made me feel accepted and at ease with myself, propelling me to be daring, make mistakes, learn from them and grow from the work I would be doing in the communities. I have to admit that that my boss Rachael, even though she is American, had always a character as patient and relaxed as the rest of the ticos.

I got shown the little building next to the ‘salon communal’, which was the main classroom of Abriendo Mentes in Potrero. The communal hall or ‘salon communal’ is a place where the members of the community can get together for different kinds of activities and festivities, but it is also used for indoor clothes and food market every Thursday morning, for Zumba classes every Tuesday and Thursday night and sometimes it is lent to Abriendo Mentes for the organization to host its program activities. I have never seen a room with absolutely nothing in it have so much use and fulfill so many different purposes for a community. I entered into the small colorfully painted building that was the classroom and stood surprised at how beautifully it had been decorated from the outside as well as from the inside by the paintings and crafts of the children and older students. I kept thinking in my head I had never seen such a fun and entertaining classroom until this moment. During our first meeting as a team in the classroom, I met my fellow volunteers from the United States, Mike and Courtney, who had given most of what had been their life from what I understood to come live and work in Costa Rica. Camille, the other volunteer, was half French and British and had moved together with her family to live in Surfside, an expat community of Americans and Europeans near Potrero.

We sat around the one table that stood in the classroom, introducing ourselves while we ate a delicious ‘arroz con pollo’, which was offered to us by Rachael from an exquisite local cook that drove around the area selling his home-made meals to the citizens of Potrero. We also got some ice tea, which, to my surprise, was packaged in small plastic bags. You had to open the pressured bag with your teeth and drink the liquid from the bag without it spilling all over you. Trust me, it was way harder than it looked. Most of the newcomers, especially me, had spilled the ice-tea all over the table.

After lunch, Karen gave a short but powerful presentation about her culture, including the way people like to greet each other here in Costa Rica, typical food and festivities that were common around this area. There is a culture in Costa Rica, in which being direct in your way of speaking to a person is considered rood. When addressing a person, even if you know them or just want to ask for a pen, you have to start by saying, “Good Morning, how are you today? I hope you are fine.” Whatever you could ask a person normally in one sentence in Europe, for example, has to be at least three sentences long filled with nice and friendly expressions here. The one element of the Tico language that caught my attention the post was their two-worded expression: “Pura Vida”. Literally translated it means pure life but the expression contains so much more than that and probably means different things to different people but most of all it is a way of life. What I interpret in it is living an authentic life, true to oneself and one’s one values, being thankful for what one has and enjoying the beauty of life day by day.

Arriving in Playa Potrero, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

I arrived at midnight at what was going to be my new home for the next three months. Rachael, my internship coordinator was waiting for me in front of a reasonable big green house, La casa verde. She had mentioned it to me before in an email when we were communicating about my tasks as the new communications coordinator of Abriendo Mentes, an NGO set up by two Americans in the rural communities of Potrero and Brasilito in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. I was surprised at the surroundings of La Casa Verde. The surroundings were mostly green and wild with vegetation growing everywhere. Monkeys were lying on branches high in the trees were there was somewhat more of a breeze to escape the overwhelming heat of the place. All around the neighbourhood there were local families living either in tin shed huts or houses made out of wood and earth. The wealthier ones were able to afford a house made out of brick and stones. There was a fence built all around La Casa Verde, which I was guessing was to keep intruders out.

When I opened my front door, I stepped in to what was a true luxury of a house, even in the context of European housing. The living room had a sofa and two armchairs that surrounded a small table in the middle. Furthermore there was a TV and shelves filled with novels in English that other volunteers had been leaving since the first one that joined the organisation. The kitchen was quite big too. There was a huge family-sized table for all the volunteers to sit at and share a meal as would be done by the local Ticos. There was big fridge to store most of the food that risks rotting in the insufferable heat of the place. There were ceiling fans in the kitchen, the living room and all bedrooms in the house, which truly was a luxury. Then, there was a small stove with some pots and pans placed on top of it that looked ancient and needed to be scrubbed profoundly before use. Next to the kitchen there was what I call the laundry area with a washing machine almost the size of the fridge dating from around World War 2. There were some metal threads span across the little room that functioned as a drying racks.

I got to choose a room out of two that were left. I went for the bigger one with a private bathroom. I sat down on the bed with my backpack still on my back and contemplated the light blue painted walls around me. A smile appeared on my face at the surprise of what a cosy and beautiful home I was lucky enough to have for the next three months of my life. That night I went to sleep peacefully and excited to what I would start discovering the next days about the community of Potrero.

As beaming rays of sun shone through my window, I woke up to the sound of tropical birds, barking dogs, miauing cats and crowing hens. Aaa, good morning Costa Rica! I was surprised to see it was 6 in the morning and I was wide-awake to start my day. It was probably the jetlag that tricked my body into thinking it was later because I never wake up that early if I don’t have to. Today was my first day of work at Abriendo Mentes as the new Communications Coordinator! I was excited to start learning more about what my tasks and responsibilities would be in the organization and with what kind of projects I would be helping out with. I had 3 hours to kill before I had to report to the office for my first meeting with my new colleagues. I put on a bikini, a t-shirt, some shorts, jumped into my flip-flops and left the house to go and explore my neighbourhood.

There was no one on the streets and everything, by that I mean the one café and supermarket around the corner, were closed. The day was yet to start in the small town of Potrero and I was ahead of everyone else. I walked along a small sandy path that was aligned with wooden houses of local people on one side and a lawn with many trees on the other. I kept on walking and arrived at what was a small bay with the most beautiful white sand and blue waters I had ever seen. Playa Penca was the name of this hidden treasure that would become my private beach to laze around on Sundays when I was off duty.

Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Flamingo Beach, Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Hey Guys! Did you just graduate from University and are you feeling stuck on what to do in your professional life? Is this becoming such a big issue that it is dominating your personal life and who you are in essence? I totally get you!

After having finished my MSc in International Organization and having completed an internship in communications at a Peace building NGO in the Netherlands I came to the conclusion that I was seeking to achieve high professional goals in order to develop an exceptional career that would provide me with the security needed to live a wealthy life and be impressive. But whom was I really doing this for? I mean, I completed a degree in political science but to be honest I still have no clue of what I want to do for the rest of my life. The pressure I felt from the society I was living in told me I had to get to the top and have a good career in order to have a good life. I was following the crowd and felt deeply lost as I had, nor have, clear set goals for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I have experienced that professional life and the status you get from it greatly defines who you are in the Netherlands.

I was feeling a great need to escape my life in the Netherlands to be able to contemplate my life from a different angle and re-evaluate what I want from life and truly get to know who I am aside from any kind of professional life. I guess you are thinking, does she really need to move to Costa Rica to figure that out? My answer is, I’m not sure, but breaking with the iron routine of what my life was the Netherlands and getting away from all the heavy expectations that are laid on top of you as young adult seemed like a good first step to take.  

I have decided to take the step of relocating to Potrero a small rural village in the province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica for the period of 3 months. I want to explore how it is to live in country outside of Europe and deepen myself into a culture that is supposedly very different from the two that are native to me, the Spanish and the Dutch. I will be working for a local NGO called Abriendo Mentes, which provides free education to children and adults of the rural communities of Potrero and Brasilito in Gunacaste, Costa Rica. I will live in the community amongst the locals, many of which attend the school of Abriendo Mentes. Do want to know how this adventure is going for me? Stay tuned with my latest short stories of my daily life in Costa Rica!

Why a Blog?

It is a very simple answer: because shared experiences do wonders. By retelling different kinds of first-hand experiences in life in the form of stories I want to pass on knowledge and little insights that might be helpful to potential readers. There are three main topics through which I will weave the contents of this blog: stories, wanderlust and lifestyle. Traveling (a.k.a. wanderlust) are my life passion, which inspires my lifestyle and the many stories I will share.

I know what you guys are thinking: it’s just one more blog talking about the same subjects as every other blogger on the world wide web. Well, you are wrong. I aim to entertain you with my writing using humor, something many sites lack if I may say so. I want to incite people to think about important aspects of life like love, freedom and self-empowerment. I want to share with people what I have learned from my own experiences in life. Why? Because I believe that we learn and grow by sharing our personal experiences.