So, here is one thing I learned – never touch squirrels. Even if they’re just inches from your face and looking cute and innocent, just don’t do it. This is one of my more embarrassing stories. We were at a little private zoo in La Paz, just looking at some animals and strolling around. My friend Anjali and I found a couple of tropical squirrels that had their noses right up against the bars of the cage. As I said hello to one of the squirrels, it crawled up the cage and yes, I admit, I reached out and patted its belly. Clearly, I should know better, being a biology major and all. It was one of those momentary lapses of judgment inevitably caused by cute, furry animals and their furry bellies. Anyway, long story short, the squirrel projectile-peed all over my head. So, that was unpleasant. There’s a reason why we’re always told to “Please not touch the animals.” They may bite. Or pee on you.
Other than that little life-learning experience, our day trips to see two volcanoes last weekend were very enjoyable! We went to Poás Volcano and La Paz on Saturday and Irazú volcano on Sunday. At La Paz, we saw some gorgeous waterfalls and, of course, the zoo. This was our first weekend away from the beach, and I thoroughly enjoyed the change in weather. It was nice to wear sweatshirts and pants again, especially since I’ve been really missing the autumn season lately. The views were absolutely amazing, and both of these places are definitely worth a trip if you ever happen to be in Costa Rica.
Side note – on the way up to La Paz, we stopped at a coffee plantation. I think it was called Doka Estate. I have to take a moment and say that the coffee in Costa Rica is some of the best I’ve ever tasted (and that is saying a lot, because my Dad is known for making VERY good coffee). The flavor is rich and delicious and a cup of coffee with milk costs about the equivalent of $1.00. My half-hearted attempts to overcome my coffee addiction were left in the dust pretty quickly upon arriving here. It really is the best.
On Wednesday last week, I was very excited to get a chance to volunteer in San Jose, which is something that had I had been hoping to do upon arriving here! Universidad Veritas and a nearby orphanage have a system worked out where university students who would like to help out at the orphanage can be driven over for a couple of hours. I went with a group of six students on Wednesday afternoon. The orphanage was relatively small – it was basically a large house with dorm rooms on the first and second floor. I didn’t get the exact number, but I think that around twenty children live there. One thing that surprised me was that many of the children were siblings. There was one family of five siblings living there, and another family of three siblings. The children ranged in age from one year old to sixteen years old. The house was relatively nice, but extremely noisy. I can see how the constant noise and activity would be hard on the kids, especially the older ones, who go to school and have homework and studying to worry about.
There were plenty of adorable little toddlers running around, and some of the other university students immediately began befriending them. I spent most of my time talking to the older girls, who were playing hand-clapping games, which seems to be a universal pastime of middle-school aged girls. I have always loved those games, so I joined in, and ended up talking to the oldest girl for quite a while. Like so many of the Ticos and Ticas, she was extremely patient with my attempts to speak Spanish, and we managed to have a nice conversation about her favorite sports and activities, about the orphanage and her life there, and about her siblings (she had two younger ones). I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to be the oldest girl in the orphanage, acting as an older sister to basically all of the other kids. I was impressed with her outgoing attitude and maturity. Some of the other older girls were also very nice, but a little shyer. The girl I talked to said that they enjoyed the visits by University students, which is good to know.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when looking at twenty orphans. They are all healthy, dressed, fed, and taken care of by the women who run the orphanage. Still, I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like to be an orphan, and there is really not very much that I can do to help. However, as cheesy as it might sound, I truly believe that friendships can make an enormous difference in anyone’s life. Our group is planning to go back every week to spend time with the kids, so hopefully we will have the chance to form some real friendships with them.
One last note that is unrelated to Costa Rica – I just got the new Mumford & Sons album and it is absolutely wonderful.
Last week was a long week! I will be posting again very soon with an update from this past weekend!