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Costa Rica 2016 - Chapter 1

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Costa Rica 2016- Chapter 1
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Written by Brenda Fenderson
We arrived at the San Francisco International Airport around 10 pm on Thursday night, the 18th of March, 2016. Our ‘red-eye’ flight, originally scheduled for 1:30 AM was delayed until 2:10. The long flight to San Jose, Costa Rica yielded only a few hours of uncomfortable sleep followed by a day of malaise and bouts of sleepiness. ‘Narcolepsy’ came to mind from time to time as we quickly fell asleep as conversations waned. As we were riding on the bus to Guapiles, Costa Rica, we discussed sending home, as the first day’s photos, the funny pictures Pacific Union College (PUC) students were taking of each other as they dozed after a week of finals, a 2 AM flight departure, and at best, 4 hours of neck-straining sleep in crowded economy class seats.

This mission trip was partially conceived by, and largely consisted of pre-medical and pre-dental students wanting to experience ‘jungle’ medicine and maybe even get the opportunity to pull a tooth. Growing out of their desire to serve, they formed a club at PUC and named it “Thaumatrope.” …?? it! The adults included two dentists, Darnell Dickson and
Art Garbutt, and two physicians, Andrew Chang and Keith Fenderson, who would be providing free med/dent care in the towns and villages, and opportunities for the students to experience medical and dental care from the doctor side.

I don’t know if it was fatigue or the gregarious personality of 12-year-old Lidia, but as we traveled by bus to Guapiles, these bright college minds were enjoying the ‘challenge’ posed by Lidia’s riddle after riddle. “Lidia really loves riddles,” her father, Hernan Granados, a Bible teacher, dean, and pastor at PUC, shared with me. It was quickly apparent that Lidia was capable of holding her own against about anyone’s wit. At PUC, she hangs out, eats and plays with the college kids, especially the boys in her dad’s dorm, who tease her and treat her like a beloved little sister. Dean Granados was invited to be the preacher for our evangelistic meetings. His wife wasn’t able to come, as she is a CPA and is elbow-deep in tax season.

The bus ride from the San Jose airport, which looks very much like a newer US airport, introduced us to the city and countryside. San Jose, Costa Rica, is a large city, a mixture of new retail, commercial and industrial buildings next to a far greater number of older buildings badly needing renovation. As we drove out of the city, we saw a couple lean-to communities consisting of rusted corrugated tin structures representing the living conditions of those trapped in poverty. Generally speaking, Costa Rica does not consider itself to be a 3rd world country so these were not common. We observed industrial and manufacturing businesses, as one would see in a country with a healthy economy. Costa Ricans experiencing unemployment, I was told, are largely those who aren’t motivated to get and hold a job. The people are reported to be quite considerate and helpful to unemployed neighbors in need, reducing dependency on government programs.
As our elevation increased, heading to Guapiles (gua’-pil-ese), the largest and most prosperous town in the region, we drove a winding mountain road through a Hawaii-like rain forest.  The fern-covered hillsides were lush and beautiful, with a canopy of trees hanging over the road.  We arrived in Costa Rica during the ‘dry’ season. That means there are some days when it may not rain. When it does, it rains for a few minutes to an hour or two guaranteeing high humidity for the day. Temperatures peak in the mid-80’s, which is comfortable if you are near a fan or not moving around much.

Unlike Africa, Costa Rica doesn’t have a “Big 5,” defined as the 5 animals tourists most want to see. But the bus pulled over to allow us to see a slow-moving sloth up in a tree. He was well camouflaged and hard to pick out. The expectations for seeing wildlife, I have discovered, are not high. Maybe a Toucan. A Canadian dentist and his wife, Darnell & Julie Dickson, who joined our group, observed a bridge prior to our arrival under which live a number of large hungry crocodiles. It was suggested that it is unlikely that even DNA would survive an encounter with this pack of unfriendly ‘lizards.’ Later in the week, I learned that crocodiles are not indigenous to Costa Rica, but are becoming an increasing problem in their many waterways, as they have no natural preditors.

As we drove into the parking area of our accommodations, we were greatly pleased to see we would not be sharing the floor of empty school classrooms with geckos and cockroaches, or staying in stained old hotel rooms. With it’s recently-built, air conditioned, duplex-style ‘residences,’ we were going to be staying about 20 minutes out of town in the beautiful, amenity-rich Hotel Los Rios.  Swimming in the pool, anyone? Dr. Andrew Chang, along with his son, Alex, coordinated with Maranatha Volunteers to plan the trip. He sort of apologized for the $10-15 per night additional cost --sort of apologized, I say, but not really. It was obviously worth the upgrade in price. One feels a little guilty being so comfortable (although it goes away pretty fast) because we are, after all, on a mission trip. No one has complained about the clean, cozy beds, the warm, designer-tiled showers or dining at every meal on the outdoor dining terrace.

With a restaurant onsite, we are being well fed. Meals so far revolve around plantains, white rice, black beans as well as fish, chicken or other meat. With the carnivores out-ranking the vege’s by 5 to 1, us vege’s are having a little trouble communicating that we would like a CUP of black beans to replace the meat. At about 2 tablespoons of black beans mixed in with white rice, we won’t starve or go without protein. It just confounds us to understand why we can’t talk them into replacing the meat with larger servings of beans. Topping off our meals are fresh, local fruits including pineapple, papaya and watermelon. Needless to say, we are being well taken care of. Thank-you, Andrew!!

Our first evening was Friday evening. The evangelistic meetings at the school were scheduled to begin at 6:30 pm. When we arrived, we went directly to the restaurant to eat, as it had been awhile. The restaurant welcomed us by serving their blended fresh pineapple and ice drink. “Niiiice,” as my 2-year-old granddaughter would say. We had enough time for an hour nap and a change of clothes, which most of the ‘missionaries’ took advantage of. Then we boarded the bus to go to the school initiating our frequently morphing mission project. 

Our duplex-style 'residences' at Hotel Los Rios.

The restaurant where we ate our meals. We're all lined up for the buffet-style meal they served us.

A view of our view out the sliding door in our rooms. These comfortable, air-conditioned rooms were enjoyed and appreciated by all.