I spent the morning of my last day in Costa Rica with Andrew. He took to me a local orphanage run by a woman named Doña Melba. Doña Melba is a unique woman. Here’s why: Most of the orphanages in Costa Rica are state run. Two tías run each organization and are cycled around. This means that each orphanage is constantly changing because workers are shifting and making new rules. Moreover, orphans are also forced to switch orphanages every six months unless they find a foster home. This makes their lives even tougher as they’re never able to fully settle into a place for long.
Doña Melba, on the other hand, runs her orphanage completely different. She’s not affiliated with the state at all. She currently houses 46 children, funded and supported solely through private donations and help. Doña Melba does not ask for money either. She was discussing with Andrew while we were there that her husband was recently diagnosed with skin cancer in his nose. I didn’t really understand the conversation but Andrew informed me that she didn’t ask for money or assistance once despite not having enough for the operation. He says she has always been like this. She trusts God to provide for her and her family. We didn’t get to stay for too long because Andrew had to swing back to San José to pick up his daughter, but it was still an enlightening experience. It was humbling to meet people of such incredible faith and genuine kindness. Most of the kids there have some sort of illness, too, which made me truly grateful for the life I’ve been blessed with. It left me wanting to help more given my privileged background. With that, we journeyed back to downtown San José and I said goodbye to Andrew. I’m truly impressed by the work Andrew does and am excited for everything he is working towards.
Even after a week of staying in Costa Rica, I felt like I still hadn’t made much of an effort to understand the country. I also wanted to kill some time in the afternoon, so I decided to venture to the National Museum of Costa Rica. I thought this would be a good way to learn more about the culture and history. The first exhibit at the museum was a butterfly sanctuary. I was able to spot the exact same butterfly I saw at Tikal, Guatemala. It was more exciting this time, though, because the one in Tikal was dead. I really don’t know that much about butterflies, so I worked through this exhibit quickly. The next stop was an entire room dedicated to Costa Rica’s Coco Island. Coco Island is about 600 km northeast of the Galápagos Islands but shares the same rich biodiversity. I learned that the ocean space Costa Rica owns is 10-12X larger than the country itself. It’s technically neighbors with Columbia and Ecuador because of its presence in the Pacific. I was immediately intrigued because most of the exhibit depicted the marine life, which tied directly to my diving in Utila. I was able to identify many of the fish species without having to read the explanations. There was a fascinating 3D model that simulated a 24 hour period on the island. The whole exhibit made me want to see whale sharks/dive even more.
The rest of the museum was a wholistic walkthrough of Costa Rica’s history starting in the Pre-Columbian era to modern day. The Pre-Columbian history was interesting, but I was more captivated by the influence of the conquistadors than anything. The museum communicated an unfiltered perspective on how brutal the Europeans were to the Native populations. Between the “manifest destiny” ideaology, the want to control valuable resources, and the disease they brought with them, the conquistadores decimated the natives. Before their arrival, the natives had a well-oiled economic system centered on agriculture and trading. The Europeans uprooted their entire system and within only a few years, almost 80% or more of the population was deceased. There were a few cases of successful coups and resistance from the locals, but for the most part, they were forced to assimilate or die. The Spanish had guns, crossbows, and metal handheld weapons like swords and lances. The Native’s weapons forged from wood and bones were incomparable.
The exhibit continued by reflecting the development and termination of the slave trade in the America’s. Some 11 million Africans were brought over by the Europeans under conditions that strikingly resembled how the Nazis treated their victims during WWII. Many replaced Costa Rican field laborers in the coffee, tobacco, and corn farming industries. The Costa Rican government tried to center its economy around various crops for decades until finally realizing the unprecedented value of coffee. Costa Rica eventually became the “Country of Coffee,” driving adoption around the world. Europe was the largest importer but quickly fell into second place after the United States declared independence and experienced tremendous growth.
I was somewhat pressed for time towards the end of the exhibit because the afternoon monsoon was approaching outside and I was not equipped. Thus, I only briefly scanned over much of the modern history. It was really interesting to view various global events from Costa Rica’s perspective that I had traditionally only viewed from the United State’s perspective. For instance, the Great Depression depreciated Costa Rica’s banana industry because many of the large-scale banana companies in operation were American. Moreover, similar to the way women permanently moved into the workforce in the States, Costa Rica also experienced a period where women moved out of traditional gender roles and into the workforce. I learned that Costa Rica had a 44-day Civil War in the late 1940’s that claimed the lives of thousands. Because of this, the next sitting President completely eliminated the Costa Rican army. To this day Costa Rica is one of a handful of countries that has no standing army. Overall, I think visiting the National Museum was a worthwhile experience.
I’m currently on a bus with WiFi (I know I feel like I’m in 3018) headed to Bocas Del Toro, Panama. With only six days left in Central America, my plan is to split the remaining time between Bocas Del Toro and Panama City. I can’t believe this trip is almost over already. I’m going to try to enjoy it as much as I can still! Thanks for reading and watching!
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