¿Cómo te va?
Pura vida. Pura vida.
Sunset on the Central Valley
How does a boy begin his adventure through a tropical wonderland? By visiting a landfill and waste water treatment plant. Basura. Yale University posts a study every few years ranking the countries with least environment footprint. For years, Costa Rica boasted about in its tourist magazines and earned a reputation for its top ten rank. That was until the university updated the criteria to include waste water and solid waste disposal treatment, causing this country about the size of West Virginia to fall outside of the top 50 environmentally-friendly nations. So the cloud forests and coasts were put on hold as my new friends and I traveled to the town of La Carpio, the host of a landfill at 95% capacity and Costa Rica’s only sewage treatment plant. Hermoso.
On the way back from el Río Torres
La Carpio is a largely Nicaraguan immigrant community of about 40,000 residents located on an “island” between two rivers. Dust from the landfill permeated the air as we maneuvered throughout the tin homes wedged between more permanent cement structures. It was time to take water quality measurements at the river bank where only several hundred meters away treated gray and black water (sewage water) is released back into the natural environment. On the way down, residents greeted our group, and we were overwhelmed with hospitality and curiosity. This was the moment I knew I was in the right study abroad program. I knew this was not a vacation; it was experiential learning at its best.
We had the opportunity to sit down with a La Carpio family. It brought us much joy to see the perseverance and strength of this community who face the noise of trash trucks and the ramifications of informal dumping on a daily basis. Trash does not just go “away.” I do not throw trash away; I throw it into a person’s backyard. I throw it into the air as a form of toxic gas inhaled by those unfortunate enough to live a kilometer away from a methane burner. I fill a fish’s stomach with bits of plastic and fill a tajo, or gravel pit, until it becomes an insurmountable pile of trash. We all do, and we all have to talk about it.
The landfill on the edge of La Carpio
I did not have to come to Costa Rica to see this or learn with what we have stuffed our only planet. I had to come and see the ground zero of sustainable development and ecological conservation. There is so much hope for the future here, and it is visible in the eyes of my peers, professors, and most importantly, Costa Ricans.
When the staff told us that rice and beans are served at every meal, they were not exaggerating. I was so fortunate to spend the last few days in Alajuela, just outside the capital city, to see the effects of urbanization and to experience life where three-fourths of Costa Ricans reside. The reality set before us will give us a new appreciation of the beauty to come. Plus, I think I can get used to wearing sandals all day, every day.