There is more excitement to come today. Well rested, with our rucksacks packed and our bellies full of breakfast, we leave our hotel and head for one of Costa Rica’s zip wire experiences over the jungle canopy. Although I am quite adventurous, speed and flying through the air on a zip wire has never been on my wish list of things to do. But here I am and it is difficult to dip out given that I may not have this opportunity again.
As soon as we arrive, this well-oiled tourist attraction ‘processes us’. First we get a briefing on how to slow down, spread our legs and come to a stop, and then one by one we are kitted out with ropes, harnesses, helmet and gloves. This particular wire is nearly a kilometre long and is split into seven sections; some faster than others. Once you set out there is no turning back….
I get to the back of the queue so as to allow myself enough time to back-step should the anxiety in me rise. However, before I know it, it is my turn to go. I take a deep breath and I am soon zooming over the forest….. This first wire is the worst, my helmet is not on properly and is buffeted by the wind, the noise of the wire, the height and the speed all take my breath away, and as I come to an abrupt stop, I have to catch my breath and psyche up for the next. I cannot remember the vista…just the clinging on tightly.
From here on in, I begin to relax and start to look around as I zoom over this amazing canopy. The forest green sweeps down towards the blue coast to the huge bays and deltas that mark the end of the land and the beginning of the ocean. We are fortunate with the weather and the breeze can only be felt in certain angles. One by one the view alternates between forest and ocean. The last wire is the fastest, and by this time I am pleased that I have overcome any anxieties and try to really enjoy the experience. Looking back, given the chance, a canopy walk would have served me better as then I could have immersed myself in this environment and breathed in the trees, the orchids, the bromeliads and the birds. This was all over too fast.There was no wildlife to see apart from a couple of spiders as we queued up for the next wire.
Back on terra firma and back on the bus. We are making our way to our next stop, a remote village school. My experiences of visiting primary schools in other countries has made me feel rather uncomfortable; ….something left over from imperialism…like rich gawping, smug colonials. But, I am pleasantly surprised. By comparison, this is a lovely experience. Lead by a warm, generous teacher we are welcomed with traditional dances and songs. Here the majority of pupils are Nicaraguan. They are smiley and charming, and very pleased to welcome us to their school so that we can join them for dancing and football. It is really heart warming to see them doing well despite the poverty that they may have come from in Nicaragua. Here they receive a reasonable standard of education given freely by the Costa Ricans. Some are doing really well.
Our students enjoy the experienced and throw themselves into the dancing and football. They, too, are gentle folk and it is lovely to see their responses to these small children who laugh and giggle as they score the majority of goals. We all leave surprisingly uplifted by the experience.
Soon it is lunch and then a big drive Westwards back to the hotel in San Jose. Coming into the city for the second time, more things become noticeable; not least the obvious anxiety of the San Joseans. Despite its rising middle class Costa Rica has its fair share of homelessness and crime; more visible in San Jose than other places. Panama to the south is affluent due to its famous canal whereas Nicaragua to the north is profoundly poor and like other places in the world, there is a flow of migrant labour from Nicaragua. There are more opportunities to work in Costa Rica and workers are provided with free education and health care. They do the jobs that Costa Ricans no longer want to do. Sadly with them travel drugs and crime. In San Jose properties have barred windows and are surrounded by high barbed wire fencing. There is palpable fear in the neighbourhoods and no home owner wants their property to look unprotected. This fear in the Costa Rican psyche is perhaps also instilled by the lack of an army and the small population (4.7 million plus 1 million economic migrants). Historically there have been conflicts between Nicaragua and Costa Rica with other nations offering each one support. And yet, as the village school showed us, there is relatively little animosity towards the Nicaraguans that work here.
Back at the hotel, we check in and unpack for what we think is the last time. We meet the students around the pool where we discuss their assignments, what we have seen and done and how they might approach writing up their reports. There is an honest discussion of the field trip; what works and what doesn’t, and how much the students have gleaned. They are a really nice group of young people, all keen to learn and do well. And they have been really nice company. We all have dinner and get a good night’s sleep. The trip is going faster than we could imagine.