Day Four: From El Cocal to Espadilla

The day began with a hurried walk over to the central bus terminal in Quepos, where we could catch the bus that would take us to the beach.  While there some last-minute scares of potentially forgotten beach paraphernalia, everyone eagerly climbed aboard the bus and took a seat. The beach visit had already been postponed once due to torrential downpour, and the day’s forecast was not all that different from then but we took our chances.

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As the bus meandered up a steep, serpentine road, I thought to myself how interesting it was to see the other side of Quepos.  This side was characterised by large English-language billboards advertising adventure activities such as zip-lining or catamaran rides, restaurants with a specified cuisine such as sushi, and of course the several lodging establishments ranging from backpacker’s hostels to high-end villas and surely everything in between.  This side was drastically different from what we had seen so far in the town but it was especially different from our experiences in El Cocal.  I could not help but think of the contrast just a few kilometres down the road. After what seemed like a ten-minute bus ride we arrived at our stop.

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My initial thoughts on the contrast of the town, for better or for worse, were entirely suspended once I caught my first glance of the water.  As the ocean revealed itself in between coconut trees as we approached the beach from the bus stop, it was difficult to be focused on anything else. Luckily the weather had cooperated, as the sun was shining brightly with only a handful of clouds.  Once there, no time was spared in going in the water.

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After having cooked in the heat of the Costa Rican sun, we all grabbed a seat in what looked like the council chambers at Quepos City Hall. It was in this air-conditioned room that we had a very informative presentation by Warren, who is directly involved with waste management for the municipality.  Despite having to use an interpreter for translating the information, he was able to clarify several of the things we had still been unclear of with regards to garbage collection and disposal in the town.  However, with respect to El Cocal, and the way in which the municipality regards that community and its members as a part of Quepos while simultaneously declaring them illegitimate thus freeing themselves of any responsibility to provide them anything let alone garbage removal certainly left me with more questions than answers.

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Tercero Día en Quepos

Today we woke up to a sunny Quepos, with another set of interviews ahead. This time we were allowed more freedom with the questions and after a group discussion on what the goals for the day were, what information we wanted to gain from the people in Quepos, and their views towards El Cocal, we got assigned our interviewees and went our separate ways. After the first set of interviews and some failed attempts to contact the assigned interviewees, we all got together for lunch and even had some time for a dive in the pool and do some sun bathing. We ordered lunch at the hostel and in all honesty I don’t remember the last time I ate such a delicious fish plate. Ten out of ten recommend. If you haven’t, you should try that option on the menu. We then went back to the interviews and at the municipal waste headquarters, some of us had the chance to visit Quepos’ Recycling Waste Holding Facility. Our experience was one of welcomeness and willingness to collaborate and even gain some additional information from the people we interviewed at the Municipality. All the groups got together to reflect on their interviews and share their experiences and what they had learnt from it. I personally had some time for an amazing nap between that reflection and an activity GVI prepared for the group which was not only fun it was also highly informative. I would say however to be careful on the naps, because Nash might come to aggressively wake you up, and you run the chance to give him a killer look unintentionally.

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Day 3 – Quepos

Mañana.
En la mañana is when we prepared for our interviews with some locals of Quepos, and although we’ve been through the interviewing process prior in El Cocal, there were certain factors that we could not help but notice which slightly changed the course of the day because of the nature of the city. Two of the groups were successfully able to conduct their interviews, whereas one group was delayed because the interviewee was not present at the time. The original person our group was meant to interview, Don Rolando, unfortunately got into a car crash and obviously could not attend our interview. Although these situations had occurred, each group was able to conduct their interviews, even with interviewees that were not expected. This is the way of Pura Vida, being able to carry on and see the positive side of things even if it may seem negative.

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Tarde.
En la tarde is when our group was able to interview the manager of the Wide Mouth Frog Hostel, Don Jorge; as well as a local Spanish teacher, Doña Runia. Both gave two slightly different perspectives on their experiences with El Cocal and how they think the general relationship between Quepos and El Cocal is.

Across all of the interviews that we have all conducted as a group a very common thing
has been said which Don Jorge stated very well,

“you can either give them a fish to feed them for a day, or teach them how to fish to
feed them forever”.

Doña Runia was able to provide us with a different perspective from any other Quepeña (Tica
de Boca Vieja).
She’s lived on the bay/canal that is right across El Cocal and remembers many times enjoying the beach there as a kid and even has many friends there today.
One of the main issues she sees that is preventing El Cocal from a stronger future is the amount of people that are building houses there without permission or permits, which
brings more garbage.

Collectively our groups were able to learn of two different forms of how Quepos deals
with their garbage. The first being run by the municipality which picks up the garbage
6 days a week; and the other being a company called Aso Pro Quepos run by a local businessman, Warren who picks up recycling every 15 days.

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Noche.
En la noche we were able to work on an group exercise that helped us understand the different environmental challenges at hand, along with the different ways that this information could be delivered or presented to the people of El Cocal, Quepos, and possibly other cities.

…Oh yea, and Andrew got his luggage.
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Day Two

Early this morning, we headed into El Cocal to speak with some of the stakeholders in the community. Day one had equipped us with a basic understanding of the people and environment but, today we took the next important step into gaining a deeper understanding of the interacting factors within the community. Stories from elders like Doña Nicasia and Don Enrique not only gave us a sense of empathy but, provided us with different perspectives of their diverse values, desires, and attitudes.

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Mangos, Mangos, Mangos

During our interview with Doña Nicasia, an elder and an active participant in driving change within the community, mangos dropped from the several trees in the yard, sometimes bouncing off the sheet metal roof of their shed. At the end of our conversation, I asked what they did with those mangos. They then answered me by gifting me a box full of the beautiful ripe fruit. This gesture reinforced that feeling being welcome that I felt from day one and gave us a genuine interaction with the type of people we will be working during the next few weeks. These are people who are struggling to receive the necessary daily resources but are still willing to give.

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The Youth

Just from walking onto the beach, the state of the current waste management solutions were visible. A hole in the ground accompanied by a burning pit was situated behind the kids playground. The youth have no vision for the community. They go to school, try to get through it and whether they do or not, they will most likely end up working outside of the community.” Don Enrique expressed to us his worries regarding the disconnect between the youth and the ownership of the land and how this plays a large role in progressing toward a modernization of the current waste management system.

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Day Two: Interviews in El Cocal

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DAY TWO: Community Interviews

Introduction

After our first visit in El Cocal yesterday, the class was eager to dive into interviewing El Cocal’s community members. Our interest in the stories and perspectives of the community members was immediately heightened after finally seeing El Cocal when we had only heard about or researched it in the upcoming weeks to our arrival in Costa Rica. Immediately after our first arrival in Cocal, it was clear to me that this was a community filled with friendly faces, a breathtaking landscape and a lot to offer from its environment. Despite all of the positive aspects El Cocal has to offer, the problems with rubbish taking over the landscape as a result of the lack of waste management are undeniably affecting all of the community members as talk of solutions loom but nothing seems to change.

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Interviews

Upon seeing waste management problems first hand, GVI was quick to organize interviews between our class and the community members for Day Two – today. Our group spoke to community members of all different perspectives. Age, country of origin, time spent living in El Cocal, profession, and location within El Cocal were some of the major factors that changed the realities of each community member we interviewed. Our first interviewee, Claudia, is a mother of six and has been in Cocal for 3 years. Claudia sells fresh fruits and vegetables purchased from a neighbouring town to community members near her house in the central part of El Cocal. Our second interviewee, Cristobalina, is an older community member from Costa Rica who has been in Cocal for 16 years. Cristobalina works at GVIs community center with the children in the community and lives on the opposite end of Cocal (furthest from the boat service) and often lives alone because her son is out working. Finally, we talked to another woman also named Claudia, a middle-aged mother who owns a convenience store in the central part of the town. She has lived in Cocal just over 10 years and came from Nicaragua.

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Perspectives 

While perspectives often changed from interview to interview, their hopes for the future of the community were very much the same. Our first interviewee Claudia, for example, felt that Cocal often received a bad reputation as being unsafe and felt more tourists should view Cocal as beautiful. On the other hand, our second interviewee, Cristobalina, felt Cocal was unsafe at night and that the rumours of gang violence were most-definitely true. However, Claudia is living more central, is younger, and has a larger family than Cristobalina. In regards to waste management, Cristobalina and Claudia hire someone in some way to assist them in moving their garbage off Cocal via boats whereas Claudia from our third interview is close enough to the docks that she can move her garbage herself for a cheaper cost. Regardless, all of our interviewees felt the community would benefit from a waste collection service and that everyone in the community would have to be informed. They were all also concerned about the upkeep of these services with the lack of community involvement and how little the government and municipality would be willing to step in to help.

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Each family and individual in the community experiences a different reality. Regardless, they all agree that El Cocal needs to implement a waste management system. Managing the waste could boost morale, encourage tourism, and create a safer environment for their children. However, the challenges the community has faced in the past with lack of involvement from community members and government officials is still a major barrier that needs to be addressed. Overall, I am beyond thankful to each of these wonderful, nice women for taking time out of their day to talk to us and discuss their opinions and ideas to improve their community.

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Dia Uno: First impressions of El Cocal

Today the OCADU x GVI crew took our first trip to El Cocal, the community we will be working with for the next three weeks. Once again, the day is crazy hot and muggy as we head off on foot to the boat terminal which will take us across to El Cocal. El Cocal is situated to the north-west of downtown Quepos on a peninsula just off the coast. Though actually connected by land, it is often referred to as an island for its difficulty accessing on ground. The trip across takes just a couple minutes and with 4-5 boats in constant circulation, the wait time is almost nothing. The cost for the trip is 150 colones, or about 30 cents Canadian. Although the distance is quite minimal, I was surprised by how easy and cheap the crossing is. Hearing about the slow increase in tourism to El Cocal, I have to imagine that sometime in the future the drivers may capitalize and start to charge more for visitors. From the boat landing, we walked straight down the main – and only – drag of El Cocal. Immediately, we pass by the schoolhouse just as a group of kids are being released. After a short four-hour school day, the children rush home eagerly, serving up smiles and the odd greeting as they pass.

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The scenery is pretty much what I expected; a dirt road laden with muddy potholes, the homes are bare bones and some are more run down than others. Overall, it’s a quaint and welcoming setting. The presence of garbage is evident but not overwhelming from the curbside view. Eventually we reach a clearing in the homes and the beachfront emerges, but we continue on down the road to satisfy our rumbling tummies. Lunch is provided by long-time resident and GVI collaborator Eneyda, and it hits the spot as home cooking always does. Eneyda goes on a long-winded account of her traveling to and living in El Cocal, of which I’m confident some heavy-hearted details are lost in translation. I’m amazed to hear about her journey from Nicaragua to El Cocal where she raised twelve children, some of which already have grand children of their own. After lunch we head to the community center located directly in front of the beach clearing. We have a quick huddle about the story behind the center, and half-way through a doggie enters the circle and tries to distract me with cuteness.
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We walk to the beach and are met with a glorious stretch of sea and sand, hardly contested by any I’ve ever seen. The warm water drifts lazily up the beach in long, drawn-out intervals and we wet our feet. I’m surprised to see the beach is almost deserted, save for a few locals kicking around a soccer ball. A few of our own soccer enthusiasts join in for quick game of pick up. Near the water the beach is almost immaculate, but further inland the garbage becomes visible once again.
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We venture back to the road and across behind the houses opposite. Here is where the mangrove forest begins and the backyards here are more depicting of the waste crisis. Large piles of yard waste mixed with discarded packaging line the border between the properties and the edge of the mangrove, which will likely remain inanimate for quite some time. We trek back to the boat landing to head home amidst a sudden burst of downpour.
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After all, El Cocal is quite similar in person as I imagined from the descriptions prior, but a few things did come as a surprise. It actually is quite smaller than I pictured, only having one road all the way down, though I imagined a few side-shooting streets. I also expected a few more tourists, although I suppose we are slightly beyond peak season. To be perfectly honest, I thought the garbage problem was going to be worse. Yes it is there and yes it is noticeable, and I’m probably being naive, but I didn’t really notice anywhere that was absolutely over-flowing with waste. This comes with an added sense of optimism, and the opportunity to strike before things get out of hand. As I was saying on the walk back, I feel sad for the issues facing El Cocal, but it’s impossible to be in a bad mood. An attitude that seems to extend to the locals as well! Anyway, that’s my blog post folks, stay tuned for more from the rest of the crew!

Hasta Luego!!!!

Day 1: Introduction to El Cocal

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

After researching the island of El Cocal it was difficult to know exactly what to expect. Considering the poor reputation and lack of acknowledgement from the Costa Rican government my assumptions of the community were that it may not be inviting to foreigners. Thankfully I couldn’t have been more wrong, not only was the environment breathtaking but the locals were open and friendly. As we walked through El Cocal there was an astounding feeling as though we were truly welcomed from the people we experienced. Whether it was the school children engaging with us unprompted, waving, laughing, playing or the people walking past flashing a simple smile.

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CHALLENGES

With this said, although the locals seemed happy from first impressions the state of the community was worse than I expected. You didn’t need to look far to find wrappers, plastic, bottles, cans, clothing and organic waste such as palm leaves, wood scraps and coconut shells. The main road and fronts of houses seemed relatively maintained, although the mangroves and backs of houses were clearly neglected. Piles of previously burnt garbage were apparent every few houses or so. I noticed some houses bagging their garbage but it wasn’t as common. 

GOALS

As discussed today there will need to be a drastic behaviour change amongst the community and their relationship to garbage/environment. For generations throwing waste on the ground has not been destructive as it was almost entirely biodegradable. This same practice continues but with most indestructible material known to man, plastic. Something as simple as a plastic bag can take as long as 1000 years to decompose. Although with education and time to implement a sustainable solution that is simple for locals I believe this could drastically improve the state of the environment.