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Three Weeks in Costa Rica was the perfect amount of time to truly get a feel for the small town where we were staying. Gandoca was by far the smallest town I’ve ever spent time in, and it seemed to follow the template for los pueblos en Costa Rica very accurately, according to Braulio, one of our guides who we got to know very well over the course of the trip. He said there are two things that every single town in Costa Rica will have, a church, and a soccer field, and this was true everywhere we went. The town consisted mostly of small houses and fields with roaming horses or cattle, connected by gravel roads. We got to know the layout of it pretty quickly, as we spent much of the first couple days walking around, either to the soccer field to workout, or down to the beach for a beach clean or turtle related activity. To describe Costa Rica in one phrase, I would say ‘everything wants to live’. I thought of this as I fought to stay calm amidst some of the biggest and scariest bugs I have ever seen, and when we worked with plant life, clearing the backyard of the local schools and police station. Things just want to grow there because the soil and conditions are so perfect. No matter where you go there are beautiful plants, the canopy is full of monkeys and sloths, and the trees are heavy with ripe fruits and coconuts.

To describe Costa Rica in one phrase, I would say ‘everything wants to live.’

– Phoenix Clarke, Stanford Beach Volleyball

Our fourth night there was one of my favorite memories from the trip. It was around ten at night, and we were walking on the beach doing a turtle patrol. It was raining and there was heat lightning in the distance, something I had never seen before. There were also stars in the sky and the ocean waves were crashing near our feet, bringing with them bioluminescence that would light up when we stepped on the wet sand. It didn’t feel real to me, the whole thing felt like a dream, and maybe part of it was how caffeinated I was from eating tons of the chocolate we had made earlier that day, but I’ll never forget how magical and special it felt to be out on the beach that night. Another thing that stood out to me was the first time we heard howler monkeys. We had just arrived at the lagoon and were getting ready to go on the boat ride, when we heard these insanely loud calls. At first I was confused, it sounded to me like when you go on a ride at Disneyland and they have those huge speakers to make the rides more realistic and scary, that’s how loud it was. I was looking all around, like, “I know we’re basically in the middle of nowhere, but where are the speakers?”

Bananas were the theme of the trip! We had some form of banana or plantain with nearly every meal, and it was amazing. I would never have imagined all the ways one could prepare bananas, but we were served countless different dishes. To begin with, we had the classic banana pancakes, banana nut muffins, and the delectable fried plantains, which I plan to replicate for my family and serve with vanilla ice cream. However, the list continues and becomes more unusual with banana juice, banana pudding, and banana salsa, which was made with onions, lemon juice, and cilantro and served as a side. One way they cooked plantains was especially interesting, boiled and served as a starch, tasting almost exactly like a potato. We called them ‘potato bananas’, and they quickly became one of my favorites, often appearing in soups and stews, or as a side to a meat and rice dish. Bananas aside, the food was spectacular, always very healthy and fresh, but with tons of flavor and variety. One note is that dessert was not a part of the meals we were served, which was a bit of a culture shock for me, after a year of being a dedicated regular to the incredible dessert table at Athlete Dining. Thankfully, I had come prepared with a one-pound milk chocolate bar from Trader Joe’s which helped satisfy my sweet tooth and soothe my homesickness.

The work we did also inspired me to want to change the way I live.

– Phoenix Clarke, Stanford Beach Volleyball

Overall, three things I took away from the trip were the incredible friendships I formed with the community members and with the other student-athletes from Stanford and Duke, an appreciation for a simpler way of life, and an inspiration to alter the way I live. I’m so thankful for the Rubenstein and Bing families for making this trip possible and for allowing me to meet and spend time with the absolute most amazing group of people. Everyone was so unique and interesting, yet we all meshed so well together and it felt like everyone was friends with everyone. Being ‘away from the real world’ for three weeks was also an incredible experience, it forced me to slow down, take a break from my phone and all the worries that I usually have about school, my sport, my future, and to really just live in the moment. I remember telling someone about a week into the trip, ‘I think I’m living too much in the moment, I feel like I haven’t had a single conscious thought this entire trip except about what we’re currently doing and about how to survive’. I did eventually settle in a bit more and sort of ‘regain consciousness,’ but it was still nice to not have to think too much about things that normally occupy so much of my headspace. The work we did also inspired me to want to change the way I live. Seeing so much plastic on the beaches was devastating, and made me think about how much consumerism and the American lifestyle is harming the planet. I plan to limit the amount of stuff I own and buy, and work to avoid single use plastics.

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