The earth opens at daybreak with the song of exotic birds, the howls of monkeys in the trees and the crowing of the ever-present rooster.

Daughter Angela Winkle, when she was in the Peace Corps in Costa de Pajaros.
Daughter Angela Winkle, when she was in the Peace Corps in Costa de Pajaros.

Even before the sun awakens, fishermen untangle their nets and begin daily tasks they learned as young boys from their fathers and grandfathers. Every evening, they return to shore, with its sun-kissed backdrop of oranges, reds and purples — the parch of the day rests as dusk brings a cool breeze and refreshing mist.

The women fry up the day’s catch over wood-burning stoves. Children find a cool place to play in the open beams underneath an abandoned house. Young men break into a spontaneous game of soccer. Water splashes as the Pacific’s salty curls cool their feet, which are calloused from daily exposure to the steaming sand.

As the evening meal is set on the wooden table next to the outdoor kitchen, all join together togive thanks for the day’s bounty. The mind quiets as the gifts of the day, in the simple village of Costa de Pajaros, Costa Rica, subside into sleep.

As a tourist, when you think of Costa Rica, the common image is that of the gorgeous five-star hotel, scuba diving trips or, for the more adventuresome, parasailing.

Children play in the shade of an abandoned building in Costa de Pajaros.
Children play in the shade of an abandoned building in Costa de Pajaros.

However, another way to enjoy Costa Rica is from the inside of a local fishing community. Often these villages are very poor, at least financially, but very rich in hospitality and genuine warmth when you, the tourist, come to visit.

The next time you go on an exotic vacation, take a day to do something within the local outskirts of the city you are visiting. Do a bit of research with the local government of the city you plan to visit. Find out if there are any volunteers in the area, such as Peace Corps, missionaries and student interns.

Volunteer connection

Once you have the information you need, begin a “penpal relationship” with the volunteer. Yes, I know, “penpal” is an outdated term from long ago. However, in the rural and poorer areas, postal mail may be the only communication with the outside world.

After you have connected with the volunteer, share your desire to learn about the culture by being a part of the community for a day. Ask if they have a project that could use your help or expertise. Offer to be their “student helper” for a day, or maybe two, depending on your schedule.

When you arrive to meet your new teacher, be sure you have a basket full of the favorite foods that they have missed from home. The result of your day can be a mutually satisfying friendship.

The volunteer gets to have a helping hand and a spark of new energy into a project they may have been working on for more than a year. And you, the tourist, gain a rich experience that will never show up in a guidebook.

Fortunately for me, my daughter, Angela, was a Peace Corps volunteer in the fishing village of Costa de Pajaros, a village that’s locally famous for its huge and very tasty shrimp.

The vast majority of the community lives in at a poverty level, and many of the children are lacking in formal education skills. Besides having the opportunity to help my daughter with some of the children’s programs, I also was able to be a beneficiary of the warmth and love of the people in this friendly community.

My daughter made arrangements to be off site for a few days for a Costa Rican adventure with me.

The travel day from Costa de Pajaros to the city of San Jose could be described as a rustic but rich experience. The bus was extremely crowded, had no bathrooms and was hot and muggy.

The first two hours of the five-hour ride are bumpy and often you are traveling on very narrow dirt roads. My daughter never complained about any of the travel or living conditions. She chalked up all her experiences, the good and the bad, as just part of being a Peace Corps volunteer. I tried to follow her example, at first figuring I could just close my eyes if the road looked scary, but later, I developed a better technique — just focus on the beauty.

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