Outside the Classroom: Eco-sustainability in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
I traveled with two Northeastern peers to Costa Rica to research and document the Costa Rican environmental reality. We landed in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a world-class surf town on the Caribbean coast. Unpaved roads lined with jewelry stands, outdoor grills, and sandy beaches wound through this idyllic setting. We rented bikes and set out to get to know this town. We wanted to see if the perception of Costa Rica as a conservationist’s haven held true in any town, not just the eco-tourist hotspots.
We carried our cameras and microphones everywhere we went. We began our research with a traditional eco-tour of one of the neighboring mountains inhabited by an indigenous tribe, the Bri-Bri. Our tour guide directed us to one of his favorite restaurants in town. The chocolate the cooks use to bake the deserts is all supplied by Caribeans, a bean to bar factory that is only locally sourced. Paul, Caribeans’s owner, trains women in a Bri-Bri village how to commercialize their own cocoa plants to earn an income to be able to send their children to school. Paul connected Family Art, a small business in the Bri-Bri village that creates carvings in cocoa bean shells and other naturally fallen materials, to Pure Jungle Spa. The Spa purchases some of Family Art’s work for decoration, and uses scrap cocoa from the village for chocolate-based skin treatments. Typically, the coca scrap would be thrown away, but now the village can earn money by selling it to the Spa. The Spa has a relationship with Hotel Shawandha, a hotel that uses local wells to supply their guests’ water demands and allows local families to use their well infrastructure to supply their families’ water demands.
I could go on and on about how Puerto Viejo is truly interdependent and community driven. One establishment would lead us to the next, and always bring us full circle. A full circle is the basis of sustainability. It is the recycling symbol. It is how we depict the Earth’s water cycle. What we discovered is how when a community works together, they discover their competitive advantages and can create a functioning society simply by recognizing the vast resources locally available to them.
The images we captured and the stories told are coming together to compose the documentary, Conservation Complex. We hope to have it all completed in 2013 and cannot wait to show the magical spirit of Puerto Viejo and the fantastic lessons that can be learned from its perfect, and sometimes imperfect, relationship with the nature within and around it.
-Laura Mueller-Soppart, Political Science/Economics