So it has been quite a while since I have updated my blog, not really for any particular reason, just because life has been happening and my energy has been focused elsewhere. There is a lot that has happened in the time I’ve been here, and while it’s hard to believe that I have only been here a little over two months, it’s hard to believe that I will be leaving here in another two months or so. One thing that happened recently was that my friend Maya came down to visit me for her spring break (thank you Maya, it was amazing having your company down here!), we travelled around the country for a week, and snuck out of the country to see our friend Daniel in Panama on Isla Pastor near Bocas del Toro. She reminded me that when we don’t talk to someone in a while, when we finally get around to it, the conversation we need to have becomes increasingly long, and we can’t communicate everything we really want to. In the spirit of her wisdom, I’m going to try to catch up on my blogs here so that you all can know what’s up down here. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email letting me know what’s going on in your life, I would love to hear some stories!!! The night that Maya came down, I took the bus to the airport and picked her up from the airport and we went to my host family’s house for dinner and to hang out for a little bit. She had a reservation at a hostel that is about 4 blocks from my house, and at around 11:30 we walked over together so she could check in and we could both get some sleep in order to get on the bus around 5 and go to Puerto Viejo. After dropping her off, as I walked back to my house, iPhone and wallet full of travelling money in my pockets, a few people passed me on the street, the last of which was a couple. As I continued to walk, I could hear them arguing, and the guy said that he was turn around, to the protests of the woman. As I listened to the stream of crude street Spanish, it dawned on me that the guy was no longer addressing the woman, he was addressing me. I glanced over at him, and he was showing me a gun in his waistband; I was getting robbed. After I tried to push my phone at him to get him to leave, the woman, no longer protesting, searched a couple of my pockets, but didn’t find my wallet. The guy, growing angry (probably not an uncommon occurrence for him), yelled at me to give him the wallet, and when I tried to pull out my drivers license, he punched me in the face, knocking my glasses off, took my wallet, and told me to run. This whole time, Maya was 100 feet away, checking into the hostel, oblivious to what was happening outside; I am extremely thankful that she was safe when this happened, and I can’t imagine how our trip would have turned out if she had lost both her bags before we even got on the road. I lost $70 or so, my glasses, and my iPhone, but it wasn’t a huge deal materially. More so this has been a big deal psychologically, the trust that I had for Costa Rican society has been diminished, and I have to stop and consider whether or not I really want to continue riding my bike 10 kilometers home from places like the climbing gym at 11 pm. Unfortunately in this region, many thieves look for young gringos like me, thinking that we will have a bunch of valuables, and this time the thief was right, but I usually have under $20 on me, and now my phone is probably only worth the same amount, if that. It has to be considered, the economic stratification in this world is such that white males like myself, especially when able to live outside of their own country, are on a more stable plane than the people who end up robbing targets with that same profile. I am not happy that I got robbed, but I have to stop and thank the forces that be that I am in a position where I’m more likely to get robbed than to be a robber. For a young Costa Rican man who grew up in relative poverty in a society that didn’t give him the opportunities or guidance for success that I have been provided, a person like me walking alone late at night is a perfect opportunity to redistribute the wealth. I couldn’t find the quote, but I think it was Saul Alinsky who pointed out that many of the most intelligent and resourceful young men and women in poverty use their skills to rob and steal, because other opportunities either aren’t available, or do not seem realistic or worth it. A quote from Saul Alinsky that I do have is the following: “A major revolution to be won in the immediate future is the dissipation of man’s illusion that his own welfare can be separate from that of others. As long as man is shackled to this myth, so long will the human spirit languish.” Security is not barbed wire, fences, car alarms and concealed weapons, security is an environment of trust, and I would like to see the whole world extend the trust that most of us already extend to our loved ones. This reality cannot be achieved when 1% of the population lives in luxury as the bottom half of the world’s population live in squalor and scarcity. People can tell that the world is not fair, and some of those people are so fed up with it that the prowl the streets late at night with a gun, looking for unsuspecting people of slightly higher economic standing to prey on, yet doing nothing to change the status quo that will continue to deny them opportunities when they run out of whatever money they manage to steal. I was overjoyed to be able to escape with Maya from the city after this unfortunate encounter, and find myself on Isla Pastor two days later, surrounded by vibrant human beings, brimming with positivity, hope, and vision. The project that our friend Daniel is involved in is called The Maya Point Project (http://mayapoint.wordpress.com/about/), and is essentially a tropical classroom for permaculture to be implemented in and experimented with. They are doing a number of different things all at once, growing cacao, fruits, yucca, beans, bananas, pineapple, squash, and a bunch of other stuff, while experimenting with tropical aquaponics (using fish to provide nutrients to a hydroponic growing system) to grow more veggies, and tropical mycology (the study of mushrooms) to grow Oyster mushrooms on the empty cacao pods. The community environment on the island is such that everybody helps out in some fashion, feelings are expressed openly, and meals are a communal ordeal. In addition to the travelers and volunteers that cycle through the project, some of the local residents on the island have been given jobs to provide various services, and these locals are welcomed into the community with open arms. The result is a wonderful experience for anyone who wants to wander through, with real actions being taking to fortify the sustainability of the community while giving anyone who comes through the information and inspiration to take similar ideas and employ them elsewhere. Variety is the spice of life, and with such radically different experiences happening in close succession, my thirst for adventure and excitement was certainly satiated. We had hardly gotten done with our trip from Panama than we started another trip to Monteverde. We had spent 3 days between Puerto Viejo and Isla Pastor, and had one night back in Heredia, which we spent hanging out with some of my friends in this crazy student building on campus that is covered in graffiti on the inside, jammed some tunes with them, then went to our respective sleeping quarters (we took a taxi to the hostel and to my home after hanging out this time). We woke at 5 to get to Monteverde the next day, and arrived around 10:30 with the day ahead of us. We got lunch at a somewhat traditional Costa Rican place, then did a beastly hike up Cerro Amigos, encountering a French guy along the way, who I then later climbed a radio tower on top of the peak with. Looking out over the cloud forest from the top of that peak was powerful, seeing the hills rolling on and on, no patches touched by human development, only touched by the clouds as they rolled over the hills, somehow continually dissipating as they reached our perch on the peak. The next day we did some more hiking around the region, saw some of my friends from the first week I spent in Monteverde, and got ready to head off to Montezuma. The travel day to Montezuma was pretty interesting, involving 2 busses and a ferry ride. On the ferry, we met a gringo who was all bandaged up on his knees and was wearing a very large, somewhat bloody shirt. When we were about to get off, we asked him what had happened, and he told (probably for the 10th time that day) us the story of how he had been shot the night before while walking alone in Santa Teresa. I asked him what he had on him, and he said all he had was an old ipod, and that they had forced him to his knees and shot him through the shoulder before he had even had a chance to give them what he had. Crazy, crazy, crazy!!! People from San Jose have apparently been making weekend trips to touristy areas like Santa Teresa in order to rob people, and it certainly didn’t do anything to calm my fears from what had just happened. But we continued with the journey, and found ourselves at a hostel called Luz en el Cielo in Montezuma that was absolutely amazing. The employees were super awesome, they had locally brewed craft beer that was delicious, and our dormmates were super cool as well, one a 21 year old girl from England, Lucy, and one a 61 year old guy from Texas whose name I am blanking on (Maya if you’re reading this, help me out!). We went to the beach that day and chilled, cooked ourselves some pasta for dinner at the hostel, and headed to the waterfalls the next day. The waterfalls were friggin amazing, I don’t have any pictures because I decided I didn’t want to risk having my camera stolen, but I believe Maya does, and maybe she can send them to me to post here. Most of my other pictures are just of dogs from Montezuma because I’ve started a picture taking project for my friend Taylor to show her all the beautiful pups of this country!! There’s a couple crazy trees from the bus ride out as well, and we were thinking how cool it would be if all the dead grass in the pastures was instead those crazy huge trees we saw peppered among the dry grass. At the waterfalls though, I met some locals, who were super cool at the start, and showed me a trail to get to some upper waterfalls, but near the end, I started to get strange vibes from them, and one of them tried to ask me where we were staying in Montezuma. He had also told me earlier that robberies almost never happen at the waterfall, and when I got back to the hostel and asked the Texan what his thoughts about that were, he said that it was a load of crap and that they happen all the time. I’m pretty sure he was trying to rob us as we were leaving, but luckily I caught on and we left without him, we left him with no useable information to find us. AAHHH this country is so crazy, I wish that we could just travel without worries, but people who have never left their home regions because of finances, and constantly see well-off travelers coming through are bound to try to profit off of it. If they can’t get a job in tourism, well, they just rob tourists. So after 2 months of living here in Costa Rica with hardly a hint of trouble presenting itself, 3 times we were presented with the reality of this situation, once with my robbery, once with the dude on the ferry, and once with the close call at the waterfalls. I don’t know how that bad luck managed to materialize, but we had a great time in the face of it all, and we learned some valuable lessons about travelling in Latin America: keep your guard up, but keep your spirits high as well. It’s been kind of hard to not let this experience affect me, especially since it happened so close to where I currently sit typing this, but a similar event happened to me back in Olympia about 4 years ago, and I still love that place as well. At the end of the day, I must give thanks that my circumstances are such that not only can I survive after sustaining a financial loss, but I can also make sense of the seemingly senseless events in a social/historical context. I also know that these sort of things don’t have to happen, and only do so because of the current social arrangement; if anything this encounter has reinforced my belief that we need to work to restructure society so that people have equal opportunities to acquire resources in non-predatory manners, and so that at the end of the day, economic discrepancies are not so drastic that jealousy and anger are invoked by it. A very nice friend of mine, who happens to be an editor of a newspaper for ex-pats here, upon hearing that I was robbed, told me that I could write an article about my experience and that she would pay me 20,000 colones, or $40, to help me recuperate my losses. Many of my Costa Rican friends, upon hearing about this event, have also expressed their disgust with the actions, and have done a great job of reminding me that this is not how most people here are. The fact that I’m actually going to get an article published in a real (albeit online) publication is actually quite an exciting outcome, and since that same friend is letting me write an article about a beer festival tomorrow as well, I should be able to recuperate the financial losses relatively soon. (http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/04/03/3rd-annual-craft-beer-festival-happening-saturday) Getting in difficult situations and having bad experiences always make me do some soul searching, but I am determined to continue having adventures in this country, and keep living life to the fullest. Thanks to all the people who have helped me through this, thanks to Maya for coming to brighten my week, thanks for Daniel for working towards amazing goals on Isla Pastor, and thanks to everyone who read this, even if you didn’t make it this far! 😉 Much love to all of you, and as always, feel free to leave me a comment if you’d like! Below is just a random picture I took today on my bike ride. Apparently this was a “road”, but I won’t believe it until I see a truck drive on it!