Ecotourism is a relatively new concept, and because of this, there is no definition of the word that is accepted universally. Ecotourism’s goal is to allow tourists to travel and experience nature, leaving little or no ecological impact. Education about one’s surroundings is almost always a part of the experience, and in this way ecotourists develop a deeper respect for the natural wonders they visit, and are thus more likely to take the initiative in keeping their trip sustainable, as well as know the most effective ways in which to do this.
In many ways, Costa Rica is the perfect place for ecotourism. With its many waterfalls, beaches, rainforests, volcanoes and mountains, it is ideal for outdoor adventuring, and due to the extremely diverse biology, learning opportunities abound. The word “ecotourism” itself was coined here, and Costa Rica pledged to be the first carbon-neutral country by 2015.
An increasingly popular way to travel Costa Rica and Central America in general is through volunteerism and work/stay programs. Montezuma Gardens Bed & Breakfast piloted their work/stay program in 2007, opening positions for two participants who were to work in the butterfly garden in exchange for their room and 2 meals per day. Due to the success of the work/stay program, owners Ryan and Josh Bickle decided to build a guest house on their property to accommodate more workers. There are now 6 participants living and working together, including myself.
This is the living area of the guest house in which the workers stay:
And here is the bedroom that four of us share (two are staying in a tent in the laboratory of the butterfly garden):
As you can see, we live in tight quarters.
It has become an objective of my internship to study the group dynamics of our situation, and to implement systems and strategies to keep things running smoothly. To make matters more complicated, all of us are transient; this means the systems must be able to stay in place even as workers come and go.
In many ways, I look to Shimer College as an inspiration where small groups are concerned, and because of this I have been using Shimer as a model for our work/stay program here in Montezuma. So far, I have implemented a cross between Assembly and Community Tuesdays. Basically, every Tuesday we have a chance over our communal lunch to discuss changes in the schedule, ideas for making our work more efficient, and over all check in with everyone and see whether or not the systems are effective. Since we are only 6 people. our votes are informal (there is no head count), but we are consensus based.
Overall, things are developing organically; it is simply our job to record the shapes that form to benefit future participants, and to use systems as guides to a more efficient, liveable situation.
The workers’ main objective in staying at Montezuma Gardens is to travel sustainably; this means that our work is only in exchange for lodging and food, and that we have free time open to them to explore all that Montezuma has to offer. A typical work day starts at 8am after breakfast, and goes until noon, when we have a community lunch. We work to make the B&B itself more sustainable by building chicken coops, planting vegetables in the garden, and taking care of butterflies. This offsets any kind of impact we might have had on the environment to get here, and helps us be able to stay here longer and for less money than we otherwise would have been able.