I learned a valuable lesson in ecotourism today. I thought it was all about doing sports in a natural environment so whenever I went white-water rafting or four-wheeling, I was participating in ecotourism. But those are just outdoor sports; they are a part of ecotourism, but that’s not all of it. Ecotourism is much more than that. It’s about connecting with and respecting nature, the local cultures, and doing volunteer work. It’s about experiencing nature without destroying any part of it. Wow! What a lesson! That really wasn’t what I was expecting when we got to Costa Rica.
This morning we ate gallo pinto for breakfast. It’s just rice and beans, but I thought the name for it here was awesome. Gallo pinto translates to “painted rooster.” Where do they come up with these names? After breakfast, we met a tour bus in front of the hotel. The tour guide, Sergio, said that we weren’t far from the spot we were going, but there were a lot of trucks going to and from the port, so we’d be stuck in traffic for a little while. It looked like rush hour traffic back home. I do think the scenery was a lot prettier than back home, though. We passed by a lot of banana and pineapple plantations. It was so green!
We made a left turn somewhere and ended up in a small town. Sergio told us to get off the bus because we had arrived. I asked him where we’d arrived because I didn’t see any water, ATVs, jeeps, trails to hike or nothing of the sort. That’s when Sergio schooled the group about what ecotourism really was. He said that before we could enjoy the fruits of nature, we must pay our respects. First we were going to plant trees to help the environment and to beautify the grounds of a small park in town. Then we were going to help fix the roof of the only school in town. Lastly we were going to travel a few miles to help clean up the beach. I was happy to do all these things. We met some of the local people, who were happy to talk to us and take pictures.
We saw kayaks when we got to the end of the area we were cleaning. I was hoping that our hard work for the day had paid off and we were finally going to get to the sports. Don’t get me wrong, it warmed my heart to help those townspeople. I would love to go back and see them again. But I was ready for a different kind of fun. Turns out I was right. We kayaked down the river. There were all kinds of birds flying around. At times I had to concentrate hard because the water got a little choppy, but it was a fun ride. After the kayaks, we hiked back to the bus. Some people swore they saw spider monkeys, but I didn’t see any. I just kept seeing different species of birds. We passed some gorgeous waterfalls and took more incredible pictures. All in all, it was a great experience!