Hola, amigos! Monteverde has been amazing so far. The cloud forest has truly lived up to my expectations, and I continue to learn more and more each day. I attribute some of this understanding to the extra free time, which has given me time to reflect and think about what I’ve learned. Specifically, the impact of foreigners on the country has peaked my interest, and I want to discuss this here.
One thing I did not know about Costa Rica is how large of a role Americans played in shaping their history (and vice versa). For instance, they do not teach us about William Walker in grade school, though he plays a huge part in both of our histories. It might be one of the most interesting facts I learned: Apparently, William Walker attempted to become president of Costa Rica to annex both Costa Rica and Nicaragua to the United States. Many historians, such as our tour guide, Mario, believe that this may have had an impact on the outcome of the war, since these two countries would have fought alongside the South for slavery! This hit home hard with me, since I am African American. Walker did become president of Nicaragua, so I am grateful that Costa Rica helped Nicaragua to free themselves because otherwise, it’s possible things could be different for me now.
But thankfully, our name is not only written in Costa Rican history under a bad light. Yesterday in Monteverde, we learned from Don Guillermo that Quakers in the 1900’s traveled to here to escape war and practice their passivity elsewhere. When they arrived, they could not fathom how beautiful the area was. We learned that the natives had been using deforestation techniques too frequently to clear some of the forests, but they were not aware of the negative implications of such actions. Quakers taught them that they needed to stop using deforestation and conserve the land. They were not selfish, and they did not try to take the land from them. In fact, they helped the natives to restore and even improve the land by leading efforts to better their water supply. These Quakers played a key role in the promotion of sustainability in Costa Rica, and without their help, perhaps things would be different.
Today, we met a real-live Quaker, Marvin Rockwell. He actually was one of the Quakers who came from Alabama! He taught us about the struggles he faced arriving to the country, adjusting to Costa Rica, and building the areas around Monteverde. After his presentation, I asked him if he knew of any other Americans who did things like what they did; he explained, “A few Quakers from California did similar work in Columbia, but it fizzled out after a year or so. We were kind-of the only ones who got it to stick, haha!” I asked him what he thinks they did differently than these other groups, and he just humbly explained that they were truly invested and that they took a hands-on approach. This makes sense to me. After all, Monteverde was their home too, and I bet they simply saw it as them improving their own community. It was arduous work, but he persevered and selflessly contributed his time to this country. He and his other Quaker friends owned plantations at the reserve in which we went hiking today, and these plantations affected the economy in a positive way: by creating jobs and by increasing exports to increase overall GDP. Apparently, he worked 10 years leading tours too; he and his wife also owned an apartment, which they rented out to backpackers and tourists. The combination of these efforts has helped ecotourism in Monteverde.
Learning about these Quakers was so cool to me, as was learning about how Andrew Carnegie selflessly funding the creation of two buildings in the country (The only one remaining now lies in San José.) These facts have further solidified my belief that Americans can be kind and that our foreign affairs are not always so bad… Hopefully, it stays that way for a little bit longer. Until next time…