Every Smile Counts

An isolated Tortuguero Village proved to be the perfect location for TWB to spread a little joy.  Accessible only by a 45-minute boat taxi, Tortuguero Village is a remote outpost guarded by thick jungle and brown waterways.  Clearly this would be an ideal location for us as the kids here sported a deep passion for the game.

From the people to the food to the buildings, this place radiates the lazy, romanticized atmosphere of a quintessential Caribbean town.  Children roam the streets at all hours of the day and night.  Teenage sweethearts share a single bicycle as they swerve around village elders on their walk home.  Lethargic dogs stray free, groggy from the energy-sucking humidity.

Except for the small number of things that are grown, found or made locally, everything that is in Tortuguero Village arrives the same way the people do – by boat.  This means that soccer balls can’t be a high priority when shipments of building supplies, food, and other essential items take priority…this is where we come in.

We started down the main drag towards Parque Nacional Tortuguero to take the 2 km stroll to the Caribbean Sea.  Right before we reached the gate to the national park, three youngsters were standing on the path greeting passing walkers with a friendly “Hola.”  I started recording, anticipating a timely reaction from William and Jan.  It was William’s turn to give out a ball, and when he lowered his backpack to reveal the ball, shouts of “Pelota! Pelota! Pelota!” burst out alongside giddy jumps and bubbling smiles.  William reinforced that the ball was “para todos” just in time before they threw it down and christened it in the dirt and mud.

Our walk yielded an extensive view of the misty coastline (and a few more undeserving mosquito bites).  The journey back to the village lifted our spirits even higher when we saw the kids (now about an hour later) still playing with the ball in the middle of the path.  By age 6 or 7, the kids are already talented little footballers, but without a ball it is difficult for them to tune their game.  As Leonel, the receptionist at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, put it: the people of Costa Rica have a natural tie to the game, but many of them lack the courage and drive to pursue it.  Hopefully a few fresh balls in Tortuguero Village will help encourage the game for years to come.

The night sky gulped up any remaining daylight.  We had such great luck on our morning canoe tour that we decided to keep testing our luck on a night walk with the same guide (Jan’s latest post comments further on this questionable decision).  Four boys sitting on the top of the monkey bars kicked at the open air beneath their feet.  We had some time before our tour so we approached them with the intent to translate their airy kicks into playful whacks at a ball.  Once again, Jan worked her Spanish as the boys quickly realized that we came bearing one of the most coveted items around.  More kids joined in and the ball bounced around in a jumbled game of keep-away.  When the boys asked who got to keep the ball at night, we assigned the youngest, smallest player with the honor.

Knowing how rare good soccer balls are in Tortuguero Village made our two scores feel very satisfying.  Between the poverty and geographic remoteness of the village, quality soccer balls are intangible objects of a player’s dreams.  These kids need to game of soccer and it’s our mission to one-by-one transform their dreams into reality by making sure they have the proper balls to play their beloved sport.

Every smile counts,