Saturday, March 26, 2016

Crossing over from Las Cruces by Haylie Butler

Our three-week stay at Estación Biológica Las Cruces, a “biological station meets botanical garden” located near the Panamanian border, has provided us with a number of unique opportunities to crossover. By “crossover” I mean venture beyond the confines of the OTS station, integrate ourselves into the outside community, and explore a number of cultural and medicinal practices (and if you know that Las Cruces directly translates to “The Crosses,” you can appreciate my attempt at some play on words).
During our stay, we were able to visit three separate indigenous communities: the Ngöbe in La Casona, the Brunca, and a small group of Ngöbe in Las Alturas. I loved talking with the Ngöbe’s traditional healer at the EBAIS in La Casona, and making homemade rice tamales with the older Boruca women at Finca Kan Tan. However, my most memorable experience was in Las Alturas when we spent an entire morning teaching kids about the importance of recycling at a local grade school. In order to make the activity entertaining and the lesson applicable for the younger age group, our OTS class of twelve decided to make “trash monsters” before arrival. Each trash monster represented a different recycling bin and it was our job to teach the children through stories, activities, and fun relay races which trash monster ate glass, paper, metal, or organic material. All in all, the outreach activity was a success and we found our time playing, talking, and running around with the kids to be extremely fun and rewarding.
Because our entire time at Las Cruces focused on the study of ethnobiology, or how humans interact and utilize their surrounding environment, we also spent a significant portion of our stay in Las Alturas walking through gardens and identifying useful plants. While one of these “walks” turned out to be a strenuous five-hour hike up a mountain, we saw some pretty neat things along the way. My favorite tree we learned about, Salutaris, produces a sap called sangre de drago (dragon’s blood), which is known to heal wounds, stop bleeding, and reduce stomach inflammation.

 It’s safe to say that these past three weeks have brought some pretty neat experiences, but they’ve also brought some challenges (the worst not being my five-hour trek in Las Alturas). Over the course of 18 days, I managed to contract a stomach virus, visit the ER, and sprain my ankle. That being said, the visits to these three indigenous communities made it all worthwhile—put it all in perspective. In Costa Rica, I am constantly reminded that these special moments and profound human interactions are worth every twisted ankle and every ER visit—that the view is always worth the climb.

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