When TigerBlog heard that the Princeton men’s lacrosse team was going to Costa Rica, he probably couldn’t have found the country on a map.
He could have come close, of course. It’s just that he didn’t really know much about the country, other than that it was in Central America and that it was famous for ziplining.
Now, after four days in Costa Rica as part of the men’s lacrosse team’s trip, TigerBlog is fascinated by the country.
It’s a wildly varying place, with areas of obvious poverty and filthy streets surrounded by intense natural beauty, as far up into the mountains as can be seen.
It’s a country that has been gifted by a nearly perfect climate for growing some of the most sought-after commodities in the world, such as pineapples, bananas, coffee and others.
The wind blows from northeast to southwest, in from the Caribbean Sea and through the mountains in the middle of the country, bringing with it moisture that makes for the greenest of colors, along with species of insects and birds that most countries can’t match. Everywhere one looks, the view is of plants or flowers or crops that aren’t seen in too many other spots on the planet.
There are times when TB cannot believe what he is seeing here, from a positive and negative standpoint.
Nowhere was this more evident than during yesterday’s five-hour bus ride from San Jose, the capital, to Samara, where the Tigers have transitioned to their service-oriented – and beach-oriented - portion of the trip.
Driving north and west, the Princeton mini-buses went on a highway that was either one lane or two lanes each way.
Looking out the window, TB could see shacks, businesses struggling to get by (or those that have already been abandoned), stray dogs and garbage piled up. In fact, the stadium where Princeton played the Costa Rican national team Sunday before the bus ride was framed on three sides by many of these sites.
He could see houses, packed closely together, many with locked gates topped by razor wire. TB assumes this is a crime-prevention necessity.
At the same time, he could see mountain tops, with rolling white clouds just below the summits, all framed by crystal clear shades of green. When the bus would drive over a bridge on the highway, more often than not it was connecting roadway above gorges that were deep and beautiful.
Diego, the guide in TigerBlog’s bus, has been joking that to create a town in Costa Rica, start with a flat piece of grass for a soccer field and then add a bar and a church.
In addition to being a quick wit, Diego is also a conservationist, and he is able to identify the various species of plants and animals that are visible throughout the travels. For someone with his interest on the subject (he holds a bachelor’s degree as well), Costa Rica is a paradise.
And Diego himself certainly personifies the Costa Rican motto of “Pura Vida,” or “pure life.” From Wikipedia:
Pura Vida literally means Pura = pure and vida = life, but "Pure life" in Spanish would be "Vida pura" instead, so the real meaning is closer to "plenty of life", "full of life", "this is living!", "going great", "real living", "Awesome!" or "cool!". It can be used both as a greeting or a farewell, universally known in Costa Rica and it has been used by many Costa Ricans (and expatriates) since 1956
The three most important pieces to the Costa Rican economy are the microchips produced here for Intel, the agricultural sector and of course tourism.
Each year, two million Americans alone come to this country, with a population of its own of four millions. About two-thirds come to the coastal regions that include Samara and Tamarindo, Princeton’s last stop on the trip.
Looking out the window of the buses has been an education for TigerBlog.
And, hopefully, for the Princeton players.
For TB, that’s as interesting a piece of the puzzle as there is.
The economy depends so much on tourism, yet how could the locals not be at least a bit resentful of people who come here and have so much more than they do and then leave after a week or two, leaving them to worry about the country’s issues?
That’s even truer, it would seem, of a college lacrosse team from the Ivy League.
Do the players have a sense of what is going on here beyond just the whitewater rafting, ziplines and nightlife?
That’s been a big part of the trip, or at least that’s the hope.
The second half of the trip includes service activities through Fields of Growth, the organization that has done so much with lacrosse – and with Princeton’s Chad Wiedmaier and now Tom Schrieber – in Uganda.
The goal is to have Princeton’s players leave here Thursday with a much greater sense of what they have in life, the great gift they’ve been given to study at a place like Princeton, play the sport they love and not have the day-to-day worries that many in Costa Rica live with.
Almost from the time the wheels of the plane touched down last Thursday night, those lessons have been there for the Princeton players to see first-hand.
Hey, it’s been slapping them in the face.
Hopefully they’ve noticed. And taken it all in.
After all, there is much to be learned from this fascinating place.
And not all of the lessons are in the conservation books that Diego reads.
Some have to be learned by themselves, visible each day through the windows of the mini-buses and in the eyes of the locals.