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New Guanacaste Projects
Tropical Adventures is happy to announce some new projects in the Guanacaste Province:
The National Wildlife Reserve of Camaronal was founded in 1994 as part
of the System of National Conservation Areas, and specifically of the
Tempisque Conservation Area (ACT), which includes the Nicoya Peninsula. Tropical Adventures
partnered with ACT in 2007 to support their many projects in the
Tempisque area. As you can see, it's taken us a while to get this info on the website!
main purpose is to protect the our species of marine turtles nesting in
this beach, which are: Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback and Black
turtles. This is a great project for families, as it's .
Camaronal Sea Turtle Project is different from our other sea turtle
projects as it receives much less funding and support -- and is in much
greater need of
help. Some other advantages of this project are the facts that
volunteers can spend
some of their time helping in a nearby elementary school (with only 5
students) as well as in environmental education and the fact that it's
our only sea turtle project that allows children under the age of 17. For these reasons, this project is especially great for families.
GoGirlfriend Managing Editor, Julia Rosien, recently interviewed Scott Pralinsky, Executive Director of the Tropical Adventures Foundation.
This interview appeared in three different posts. Because Julia's questions were very similar to the questions we get everyday from potential volunteers and voluntour travelers, we thought we'd share Scott's answers with you.
Poverty Increases with Food Costs
One sore subject in Costa Rica -- and around the world -- is the rising cost of basic food. Our basic food basket here in Costa Rica during the first quarter of 2008 rose 13.3%. This basket is made up of 10 items, such as rice, beans, vegetables and eggs.
Of course the subject is complicated and there are several factors leading to this constant rise. This includes the ever-increasing oil cost, the fact that
Also contributing to the problem is the fact that Costa Rica has had a long-term dependency on imports and holds a terrible score on supporting local production and farming. This is supposedly about to change. The Arias administration announced at the end of last month a plan to promote national production and to come up with solutions to help the poor cover food costs.
The average Costa Rican earns 259,722 colones -- or about $529 USD according to a recent study by the Spanish-language daily, Al Dia. And as a family of four needs about 447,788 ($911) to cover basic monthly expenses, such as transportation, mortgage, utilities, and food -- it's a struggle for the average family to just "get by."
Acknowledging that something has to be done is a great first step. But I'm afraid that putting measures into place could take a very long time. In the meantime, there are a great number of people who can't afford to eat. And they certainly can't afford to eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Long-term, we're talking about some potential health issues as well.
I'm willing to bet that the average tourist would be surprised to find out that over 500,000 children under the age of 17 are living in poverty in Costa Rica, according to the University of Costa Rica. Overall, it's estimated that 22% overall live in poverty here.1
More shocking is knowing how many people live on less than two dollars a day, which is almost 10% of the population.2 Living under $1 per day you'll find 3.3% of the population. That's approximately 140,000 people.3
These are exactly the people whom Tropical Adventures is targeting their efforts. We don't feel like we can "save the world," but a little at a time we strive to share tools by which families, groups and communities can find sustainable ways to live -- and the opportunity to share what they are learning with others. Pictured in this blog entry are children we have provided food to, as well as a picture of some of our volunteers handing out baby formula.
We only hope that together we can make a difference. Food is such a basic part of living. There aren't many more painful things than to see a family -- especially a child -- who has nothing to eat.
The Tropical Adventures Foundation started with a dual purpose of helping communities in Costa Rica, while at the same time opening the hearts and expanding the minds of the people who come to participate in our program. Another side benefit we've found is that participating in our programs seems to encourage a volunteer ethic in our clients.
When we originally started, all our volunteers wanted to come and participate for a couple of weeks or more in one particular project. Throughout the last couple of years we've been finding a trend -- especially with families traveling together on vacation -- whereby people want to combine a vacation with volunteering. This is known in the travel industry as voluntouring or voluntourism.
Tropical Adventures is now offering custom-designed voluntour packages. Though we do cater to individuals, our average clients are families. These families usually stay for 10 days to 2 weeks, spending an average of 40% of their time volunteering. The rest of their time touring Costa Rica enjoying the amazing natural beauty we have to offer here, as well as adventure tours such as zip-line (canopy) tours, kayaking, indigenous tours, volcano tours, river rafting, surfing and many off-the-beaten-path adventures.
Our own full-time travel agent listens to the needs, desires and financial limitations of the participant, family or group and then comes up with completely custom-tailored and specialized itinerary suggestions and pricing.
The Mudd Family from Indiana who visited recently commented:
This has been a great way for us as a non-profit foundation to continue supporting our local community projects as it brings in more people, more help, more exposure to what some of these community organization's needs are. And because most of the hotels, transportation options and tour operators give us a 20% commission, we're able to take that money and apply it directly to supporting our initiatives in the communities where we work.
Because all of us here at Tropical Adventures are Costa Rican citizens, we know the areas, providers and services well. We can make great suggestions and find ways to maximize our participants time here -- all while saving them money.
If you're considering a vacation to Costa Rica and want to see "behind the scenes" and have the adventure of your life -- please contact us for more information. We'd love to help!
Random Travel Tips
I just thought I'd share with you some random travel tips that were on my mind today. Best to be prepared!
1. The water here is safe to drink! Exceptions may be in certain remote or beach areas. Best to check with someone in the area you'll be traveling to. Bottled water is not expensive. Better to be safe than sorry.
2. Some people go and get a bunch of inoculations before visiting. They were told to do this by their travel agents or weary friends. A tetanus shot or booster is of course always a good idea. The chance of catching something here is not high. But best to read the documentation on the US Centers for Disease Control website and US State Department site. Then see your doctor.
3. The sun here is can be nasty. We are only ten degrees North of the Equator, so bring sunscreen and use it. You can burn to a crisp in 30 minutes if you run around unprotected. The UV factor here is at least double that of Florida or Arizona. A wonderful vacation can be made not so wonderful if you are in pain and red as a lobster!
4. If you rent a car here, remember there are few or no street signs here. There are also no street addresses. The larger highways are marked, but as soon as you leave them, you're on your own. Costa Ricans are creative drivers and often pay little or no attention to traffic laws. Be very careful!
If you have an accident here, you must remain at the site without moving the vehicles until both the police and the insurance agent show up. If you don't, you're guilty and you may have no insurance.
Many traffic laws are different here, like handling traffic circles (rotundas). Lanes often end without notice. Many bridges are narrow and one way (alternating). The potholes here are deep and dangerous. Manhole covers are optional (not really, but it may take months to get a new cover). Occasionally, trees grow in the streets. Good idea! Do NOT drive at night until you thoroughly know what you are doing.
5. Credit Cards. Use your credit card as much as possible for purchases as you will always get the correct exchange rate.
Use your ATM card if you need cash funds in colones. Don't do a cash advance thing unless you wanna pay silly interest rates. Now saying that... I have traveled extensively and I believe Costa Rica is about the ONLY country that does not extort money when you exchange foreign currencies. There are exceptions, but in general, you will be treated fairly.
Finally, and VERY important, tell your bank you are going to Costa Rica. Tell your credit card companies too. Many will block your credit cards, especially for cash withdrawals. Also, set a daily withdrawal limit that fits your needs. See #14 below.
6. Be very careful of petty theft like pickpockets, grab and run... etc. You are very unlikely to be the subject of a violent crime, but you are always at risk for the small stuff. Don't carry your passport. Have a copy made of your front page and the entry stamp. The police here are cordial to tourists and unless you act like a jerk, all will accept that as valid ID.
7. You can eat the food here. It is quite good and some of the best spots are the little roadside restaurants and 'sodas.' There is often some little old abuelita (grandmother) working in the kitchen and she likely makes a truly excellent meal.
8. While you can't legally drive drunk, you can legally drink and drive in Costa Rica. Now... go back re-read #4 above and give this some thought.
9. While you do not usually need to worry about malaria or typhoid, you do need to worry about Dengue Fever. This is especially true if you visit the tropical areas, rainforests or beaches. However, it also affects the Central Valley.
Dengue comes in two varieties. The first causes flu-like symptoms and though you are uncomfortable, you are not dead. The second is NASTY and extremely painful and makes you wish you WERE dead... which you can be without treatment.
The good news is that this is easily avoidable. Bring bug repellent or buy some here. Use it especially during the daytime hours (dengue is spread by a mosquito that ONLY bites in the daytime!). We have never had a guest, friend, volunteer, tourist of ours infected with Dengue as we are careful to remind them to use their bug repellent.
11. Distances here are weird. Folks (read men) always look at a map and say things like, "We can drive that in an hour, honey!" No you can't. There are mountains, traffic, bad roads...you name it. The general rule I use is that you will average 25-30 MPH. So if you see a place that is 100KM away (about 66 miles), plan on two hours PLUS to get there.
12. "Oh, they accept dollars everywhere in Costa Rica."
No, they do NOT. Hotels and big restaurants take credit cards, and many will accept dollars, but there are MANY places especially outside the Central Valley where nothing is accepted except the colon. This includes some fine restaurants. And here is a hint...some of the best stuff you can buy at great prices are in the more remote areas. And they will happily accept colones, but will not take credit cards or dollars. The good news is that Costa Rica is full of ATM's where you can use your bank card to get some colones at the proper exchange rate.
13. When you leave Costa Rica, you will need an exit visa. This costs $26.00 per person. You get them inside the airports, at certain local banks and at the immigration buildings at the frontiers (if you are driving or taking a bus). At the airport location, you can pay with a Visa card, dollars or colones.
14. When renting a car here, huge deposits get pre authorized on your credit card. This could freeze your funds and cause you trouble if you have a low spending limit. Organize your credit and cash needs before you come. Read #5 above.
Tourism on the Rise
Despite a US economy that seems to be headed downhill quite quickly, Costa Rica has managed to see an increase in tourism again so far this year. Tourist arrivals alone seem to be averaging between 13% and 15% between our two international airports, our main Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) outside of San Jose and the Daniel Oduber Quirós Airport (LIR) in Guanacaste.
Last year in 2007, Costa Rica saw an 11.5% increase in tourist arrivals over 2006, bringing in a total of 1.9 million international visitors.
As Costa Rica is so heavily dependent on tourism, all eyes have been on the United States and the economy there. So as we've been seeing our number of visitors increase, we've been sighing a breath of relief -- for now.
The Tropical Adventures Foundation isn't so worried about the big travel agencies as much as we worry about all the families and small communities who would suffer greatly at the loss of tourist traffic and the dollars they bring in with them. We're hoping things continue to go well.