I write to you from Hotel Mi Tierra in Alajuela, at the top of the fire escape, where I can sit on a dry ledge and watch the rain come down over the city in swells. By now, all of you have ascended into the sky, and the city is foggy with cloud, each almond leaf gleaming beneath the orange street lamps. In a moment, Jonny and Sandro and Ric and I will walk down that same hill you know so well, from the Casablanca to the Taco Bar, to have our final dinner together—to reflect on the amazing time we spent these past weeks.
By the time you read this, you will be deep inside your fall. Your mosquito bites will have healed, your Isla Cana sunburn will have faded, and you will no longer be used to mud and a daily explosion of rain. Perhaps you will have forgotten some of our inside jokes, or gone on to explore another fabulous place. Perhaps you’ve been busy with college applications and athletics schedules. But in this Time Capsule, I want to call you back to Rancho Quemado, to your brightly painted cabinas and the open-air biblioteca and the warmth of a hospedaje dinner.
I want you to remember what it felt like the first time you communicated with a community member, whether fluently or in halting attempts at Spanish. I want you to remember the conversation we had about service work: what it means to really partner with a community, to build relationships rather than Instagramming strangers, and why we ate lunch at Laguna each day. Remember weaving up a dirt road on a borrowed bike, walking up a river in rubber boots, seeing monkeys dangle from the trees and scarlet macaws loudly cackle above your heads, plunging into a refreshing jungle pool. Remember what it felt like to take ownership of the group as Leader of the Day, the quiet intimacy of sharing the stories of our lives, and the realizations we came to about how culture shapes our needs and wants.
Remember pulling rusted nails from boards with a hammer; remember digging holes and wrestling with tire tubes and planting seedlings into black plastic bags. Remember working alongside Pilo and Yolanda and Marvin and Nudia and Jonathan. Remember what it felt like to rush onto the boat in Drake Bay, and what it was like to sidle up to whales and dolphins. Remember how your friendships were built under that hot sun, cracking open coconuts. Remember the songs you danced to on the bus and the way Ric said, “Hola, chicos.”
You were only in Costa Rica fourteen days, but what a fourteen days they were! By the time we circled up last night in the dining room of Hotel Mi Tierra, I was stunned by what we had built together, and what a loss it would be to leave. By now, of course, you know more about the way you’ve taken your experiences with you—whether through a greater openness in your friendships or a new take on world events or a new passion for Spanish.
I believe each of you took with you a little bit of the pura vida ethic, a rich perspective and vitality that I hope is still enriching your lives. In Costa Rica, you were brave: facing a spider egg sac explosion in your bedroom (!), snakes at service, and the height of a zipline in the canopy. In Costa Rica, you acknowledged to your peers what might be able to do better, and you applauded them for what they did well. Most of all, you examined what you had been told about the world and service and what it means to “empower” a community. What is poverty, and what is simplicity? What do we need and what do we want? What is the best way to live with each other? And most important to me, how will you amazing people be of service to the world in the future? What will it look like for you to be the change you wish to see in the world?
Will you bring the people you care so much about to Rancho Quemado, to help this little community in its search for sustainable, community-based ecotourism?
We will be missing you these next months, chicos—the hotel seems so quiet without your echoes—but we also want you out there, connecting with your home communities and planning your next travels. Go be your biggest selves—and please stay in touch if you need anything.
All our best,
-Kati, with love from Jonny and Ric