So there I was, alone at the airport in San José, with my suitcase, hand luggage, and a little basic Spanish. My goal was to reach my accommodation in Heredia, where my fellow volunteers were waiting for me. And so I got into the first taxi outside the airport and greeted the driver with “¿Habla inglés?” As it happened, he did speak a little English, so I gave him my destination and we set off right away. The lights of San José were breathtaking. For the first few minutes of the journey, my eyes roamed over the city’s skyline. I realised I was finally there—the place I had been looking forward to for so long. The drive took about twenty minutes. I was a bit overtired and drained after the long journey. When we arrived in Heredia we ran into a problem: as there are no street names, we didn’t know exactly where to go. I called a teammate and unfortunately got her voicemail. When the taxi driver heard the voice on the recording, however, he asked why we didn’t speak German to one another! This made things a little easier and we managed to find my first stop.
La Familia/Mi Casa es Su Casa
Banana plantations to the left, right, and all around: that was the three-hour bus journey from San José to Puerto Limón. Time passed quickly as I spoke with my companions. On leaving the bus, the first thing I noticed was the tropical climate. I made my way to my host family with my co-workers Julius and Chris. They greeted me so warmly I might have been their own son returning home after years of absence. I felt very comfortable with them right away, despite a few communication difficulties at the start.
And then it was daylight. On the first day, Julius and I installed lighting in the school. Thanks to German, our Costa Rican colleague, the task was completed easily. At 5pm we had finished our first day of work. From Wednesday through Saturday we spent our time digging a trench to lay water pipes. Shovel or mattock? As we had only the simplest tools and the trench needed to be 1.5m deep, 1m wide and 20m long, it took a long time. Work was made a little more difficult by the heat and the frequent rain showers. But it didn’t bother us, thanks to the support of a local woman who brought us drinks every hour. It was also interesting to have many residents, young and old, come and support us. Finally, the floor of the bathroom was also finished on Saturday.
Ronaldo or Messi?
I spent nearly every evening with my host family. My host father and brother took me on exciting tours of the city. On the nights they didn’t, there was a different highlight: at 5pm every day, we all—children and adults—played football. And when we took a break, we talked about football. Who is your favourite player? Which club would you like to play for? And who’s better—Ronaldo or Messi? That way, we got together and spent a few pleasant hours together. At the end of the day, football unites people.
What did I take from the experience? The idea of “tranquila” (peacefulness). In Costa Rica, it’s a kind of warmth and simplicity. I think the most important thing is to have been there and to have helped in person. Those are experiences that make a person grow, and can’t be taken away. It definitely won’t be the last time I volunteer. I’m thankful for the wonderful time I had.