Tag Archives: Caribbean

Plastic Fantastic?

24 Aug

During my recent adventures in Costa Rica I spent a week of it volunteering for a fantastic project called Parismina Turtles, in the tiny village of Parismina on the Caribbean coast.

Everyone joked before I left that I was “off to save the turtles” and I just had to prove them right. I was keen to lend a hand and see these beautiful creatures up close.

What I was not expecting was both the education I received in their habits but also  in ours.

The only time we were out patrolling the beaches (to ensure poachers were scared off from approaching the sea turtles as they laid their eggs on the beach) was during the evening. But a four-hour slog along the seriously soft-sanded beach was not our only workout – during the day we helped to clean up the shores around the village.

Garbage picking was not what I expected but I have never been so glad to do such a gruelling task – sand fleas bit at my feet (I counted 50 bites on each foot one day), while the sun beat down on my continual sun burn, and my back ached from leaning down to pick up the rubbish.

The beach in Parismina at sunset post-clean up

‘What was all of this garbage?’ you may ask. ‘Was the village filled with trash throwing plebs who knew not where trash went?’ you may presume. The answer to the latter is, most certainly, no. All of this garbage being thrown up onto the sands each day was coming from that great blue ocean that spanned the horizon around the village. And if you’ve ever wondered where old shoes go to die, well, you’ll find a hell of a lot of them there. Along with toys, bottles and used needles.

I always knew our oceans were being filled with trash, but seeing it there all of the time, and labouring to clean it up suddenly put me face to face with just how we are ruining our planet with everything we throw out.

What was worse? All of those plastic water bottles that are floating about are now breaking down to such small levels that young sea turtles think they are plankton and consuming the bits until they die.

So, yes, it was about saving the sea turtles. About being there to watch them lay their eggs and see their amazing, powerful flippers scoop out buckets of sand, and huff and puff back down the beach after their laborious childbirth.

But the experience also taught me a little bit about how we are slowly choking (not only the creatures of the sea) but our land masses as well. It was definitely, not, a Gwilty Pleasure.

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Farm Life

29 Jul

Growing up, I lived on a farm. A beautiful, back woods, Canadian parcel of sprawling land (640 acres), surrounded by mountains, trees, rivers and all the nature a rambling, imaginative kid could ask for. It was, idyllic, I would confidently suggest.

So, as I was planning my current trip to Costa Rica, I made the decision to get myself rooted back to the earth for a while, to find my way back to nature. I signed up for a week-long volunteer experience at Finca Rio Perla, in the Northern Caribbean highlands of this stunning country.

Directions to paradise

And there, I learned just how hard it must have been for my family – how much work really goes into running a farm. Sure I had seen it with my own eyes for years, but as a kid, you don’t really realise how hard your parents are working their butts off so you can sit in the peace and quiet of the country with your friendly black labrador (named, Bob, in my case).

But back to the farm here in Costa Rica. It is a beautiful space, set over 100 acres and includes macadamia fields, private waterfalls, crisp water, horses, chickens, dogs, cows, goats…I could go on but will leave it to your imagination (or direct you to their website, www.fincarioperla.com).

Their schedule runs a bit out of time from my normal London life with the day starting around 5:30am. It’s fairly impossible to sleep later than that when the monkeys are howling and the roosters crowing. Not that I minded soon enough…I was exhausted by 9pm every night. It’s also vegetarian…so I was really signing myself up for a different lifestyle.

The farm is run by two American quasi-ex pats, Lauren and Paul – the former an ex-natural foods broker, the latter an employee with the World Bank. Then there is Rick, the walking encyclopaedia of knowledge on all things plants, bugs and horticulture, and a whole handful of fantastic other characters who help run the place.

My day consisted of planting tree bags (100 of them…yes I counted), planting veggies and fruit trees, and sweating like the proverbial pig. When it was too hot, Rick would chop down a pipa for me (read: green coconut), crack open a hole with his machete, and I’d drink the coconut water straight from the source, letting it run down my chin and mix with the mud that was, well, everywhere.

Waterfalls and a swimming pond on the farm

It was exhausting in that Caribbean heat, but as I was digging my hands through a wheelbarrow full of matured pig dung and top soil, my mind was free from the stress of London life, the intense pace and constant need to be “on”. I didn’t miss internet, communication or tv. The hammock at the end of the day after a shower had cleaned off the ingrained muck (or most of it) was enough. Some days we hiked down to a 30 foot waterfall, hidden in an enclave of jungle to swim in the spring water, or (as I decided one day, to very sore results) to jump off of the cliff into the deep, rich pools below.

And, as I was doing yoga one night in the palm grove (trying to ignore the evil “ormigas”, or ants, biting my feet), staring out at the endless vista of jungle and flowering trees, I suddenly felt so at peace, I understood why “getting away from it all” (in my case, the hectic London life) is sometimes so necessary. And, why, my parents must have loved their patch of fresh air freedom in the Canadian countryside. It was, inevitably, damn hard work to keep it going, but that quiet peace at the day’s end kind of beats the office life. And it certainly satisfied a much-needed (and missing) Gwilty Pleasure…remembering why nature is such a beautiful being, and why working with her is so enriching.

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