Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Working Vacation

The hotel in Tamarindo, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, has a certain hint of paradise to it.

There is an open-air lobby, one that leads to the pool and then beyond that to the ocean. There are shops and restaurants throughout the immediate area, and of course each member of the Princeton men's lacrosse travel party has an ocean view from the rooms, almost all of which have a balcony.

Between arrival late Tuesday afternoon and departure for the airport and return trip home Thursday, there is only one scheduled activity - surfing, to be held Wednesday morning. Other than that, it's pure relaxation.

After the four hours that Princeton spent at the Samara community center Tuesday, the Tigers deserve a little leisure time.

Princeton's trip to Costa Rica is now reaching its end.

It has been an extraordinary trip, and if it's main goal was to show a group of American college students what life is like throughout this country, then it has been a raging success. 

As TigerBlog learned, about two million American tourists come here each year, and about two-thirds of them, or 1.3 million, go only to the coastal resorts, like the one in Tamarindo.

Princeton, on the other hand, has been almost everywhere, from the mountainous region for ziplining to the capital city of San Jose to the Pequare River for whitewater rafting and now to one of the high-end beach resorts. 

In between was the town of Samara, also on the beach and also at a resort. 

In Samara, about a two-hour drive from Tamarindo, the Tigers really got their hands dirty, literally and figuratively.

First, there was a trip to a field Monday for clinics and then an exhibition game for the children of the town.

Then it was back to the field Tuesday, this time for some hard work.

Princeton was back at the field to help with some much-needed renovating. Included in the tasks were building benches and bleachers, painting goal posts and painting the interior of the open-air building next to the field.

The work started with some humor. 

Head coach Chris Bates wanted to randomly divide the team into five groups, to be assigned different tasks. To accomplish this, Bates wanted the team to count off, which led to this:

The next person was supposed to start over and say "one," and when everyone was done, then all the ones would be the first group, all the twos would be the second group and so on.

Except that the next person was a bit unclear, so he said: "Six."

Once that was all straightened out, it was on to the work itself. And it was not easy.

For starters, it was oppressively hot and humid. For another, this was serious, hard work.

The Tigers attacked the project, perhaps owing to the competitive nature of being in these groups and not wanting to be the group that slacked off. 

In fact, no member of the travel party did that. TigerBlog was going to list the people who did the most work, but it was really everyone. Okay, maybe he'll single out Hunter deButts, Tucker Shanley, Mike MacDonald, Alex Beatty. Maybe not. 

As he writes this, he realizes that it was everyone, players, coaches, members of the travel party, Nick Bates, TigerBlog Jr. - everyone.

John McPhee, a man in his 80s, was painting fence posts next to team physician Margot Putukian. Everyone was involved.

It was an incredible moment, seeing this group of people - mostly young college athletes - buy into the idea of doing something so selfless, and doing so with great precision, competence and humor. There were maybe five kids there watching and playing around with the players, but the majority of the people who will use the center were elsewhere during this time.

This wasn't a photo op. This wasn't a self-serving moment. 

This was a genuine effort to help a local community, and it was one of the defining moments of this trip. By the time four hours went by, the center looked 100 percent better, with new benches and fresh paint everywhere - and an obvious sense of pride on the part of those who had made it happen.

After the work was done, there was time for some "horsing around," as three players - Peter Smyth, Jeff Froccaro, Cliff Larkin - made the 100-yard or so walk to the beach and came back on horseback.

There was also time for Larkin to do something that was much more serious.

Most of the people on the paint crew signed their name (or nickname or uniform number) to the benches in the center's building.

Larkin wrote in red paint against a white background in the very corner of the benches the name "Ann Bates," the late wife of Chris Bates and Nick's mother.

From what TB knows about Ann Bates, the trip to the community center would have been right in her wheelhouse. She would have been the first one with a piece of sand paper or paint brush or shovel or hammer - and she probably would have been the first to ride back on a horse to the group when they were done.

It was a great gesture on Larkin's part. 

And the whole day was something Ann would have been proud of.

And you should be proud too, proud of what the Princeton men's lacrosse team did in a small coastal town in Costa Rica, one that was a much better place when the Tigers left than it was when they got there two days earlier, better because of the way the Tigers touched up the center itself - and touched the people who will use it.

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