I arrived in Costa Rica last week and it was love at first sight. This.place.is.AMAZING.

Hands down, Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful, scenic places I’ve ever been to. I have to pinch myself whenever I realize that I’ll be living here for 7 weeks. The town I am living in is called Playa Potrero. It is on the western coast of Costa Rica and is a small community whose claim to fame is the soccer field in the town’s center as well as it convenient location on the coast. There is currently only one restaurant open, Las Brisas, and it’s right on the beach:

pura vida costa rica

There are a few “sodas” which are local stands that sell Costa Rican food. Other than that, there are farm fields, dirt roads, small supers (grocery stores but they each only have 2-3 aisles), and a large fruit stand just outside of town.

I am living in an apartment (below) with two other volunteers which is a hearty 30ish minute walk from the town center. I’m working on getting a bike to get around and will hopefully have one by next week as it’s quite toasty here and walking leads to excessive water loss from my body. There is a pool in my apartment complex but it is only half way filled with water from a small flood they had before I arrived. My lack of wheels and water in the piscina are my biggest problems here so it is quite a change of pace from Peru!

pura vida costa rica

Potrero is surrounded by other equally as beautiful beaches, such as the one below, Playa Penca which is a 3 minute walk from the town center. It is seriously like paradise. I still can’t get over how gorgeous it is here and I don’t think I ever will. The biggest nearby tourist hot spots are Tamarindo and Playa Flamingo. Playa Conchal is supposed to be the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica and it’s a 20 minute drive from Potrero. Each beach has its own “uniqueness” I’m told and I’m really excited to explore them all.

pura vida costa rica

The organization I’m volunteering for is called Abriendo Mentes which means Opening Minds. It was started only three years ago by a young couple who visited here and saw the need for more stimulation for the local children. Public school in Costa Rica is only a few hours per day and if a teacher is sick or can’t make it, class doesn’t happen. Since Potrero is a small, sleepy town, there is not much for the kids to do. AM’s main focus is to teach English to the children as their fluency will be an invaluable skill when they enter the job market in the future since Costa Rica’s economy is highly dependent on tourism.

Abriendo Mentes also provides numerous other services for the kids, including computer lessons, a LaCrosse league, field trips, arts & crafts, Fun Fridays with games and activities, and much more. However, their focus has grown beyond the children and it is really more of a community development program. They offer a Women’s Group which features opportunities for the women to teach volunteers their skills in order to boost their self-esteem. There’s also English and computer classes for adults, and a computer lab for all Potrero citizens to use.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve already attended multiple orientations, a Halloween party for the kids, sat in a Technology meeting, attended a volunteer event, and I’m already going on a field trip to a water park tomorrow. The organization of AM is very impressive and quite different from my previous volunteer experiences which were more of the “sink or swim” type. There are about 25 volunteers here at the moment and AM works really hard to place everyone in their area of interest. There are different committees to join and there is literally always something to do from yoga with the women to painting with the kids to planning out lessons for how to teach adults who have never used a computer how to use a mouse. Volunteers can also get involved with development of the organization itself and assist in applying for grants, etc.

The kid’s program in Potrero has been so successful that they started a neighboring branch in nearby Playa Brasilito. I will be working there everyday and it’s really exciting because the kids there are so enthusiastic and appreciative for the program. There is a set curriculum each day and volunteers are expected to lesson plan based off that. I may need to get some assistance from my teacher friends as I’ve never planned a lesson in my life before.

Abriendo Mentes is extremely well-run and everyone here takes their work seriously which is good because being in such a beautiful place, there is a lot of distraction. The “pura vida” lifestyle is very laid back and I’ve adjusted to it quite quickly. It’s hard to feel stressed in such an ideallic setting. My biggest concerns are avoiding scorpions and tarantulas at all costs, making sure I always have adequate amounts of sunscreen and bug spray on, and not overheating.

I have been really busy since my arrival in Potrero and it’s the kind of work that I really enjoy and feel that I wouldn’t need to be paid for…which is a good thing, since I have no income. But I feel like being in this beautiful place and helping this small community is really fulfilling and I am so happy and grateful to be here. The next month and a half is going to fly by, I can already tell, so I’m really going to try to soak up this experience for all it’s worth.