Costa Rica - Bodhi Garden

Welcome to our new blog look and feel!

For the inaugural post on this fresh new blog canvas, we’re going to Costa Rica, where a surf school like no other we know of is helping transform its hometown community into a showcase of engaged local eco-action, and sending ripples of positive, sustainable “pura vida” out into the wider world.

Photo Credit: Bodhi Surf & Yoga Camp
Image Credit: Bodhi Surf & Yoga Camp

Bodhi Surf & Yoga Camp is located in Bahia Ballena, Uvitaa lively small town on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, next to the richly biodiverse Osa Peninsula. As the winners of Bodhi’s 2014 My Ocean Guardian Journey Contest, we – Chantal, our son Jyoti, and I – had the unique privilege of spending a week at Bodhi earlier this fall. In Spanish, “la pura vida” means “the pure life”, and that is what Bodhi is cultivating in so many ways.

The heart and soul of Bodhi are two dynamic couples – Pilar & Travis and Adrianne & Gibran – who are committed to living as sustainably as possible, and that includes as plastic-free as possible.

The focus of this post is Bodhi’s sustainability and community-oriented approach and actions, but if you would like to read about our own personal yoga and surfing experiences while at Bodhi, then please feel free to check out our review of this gem of a surf and yoga camp on Tripadvisor (there are also lots of others you can check out too).

Bodhi has a concrete corporate social and environmental responsibility approach to their actions, which they call their Ocean Guardian Journey. Much of the action manifests through their Travelers’ Philanthropy Program whereby a percentage of each vacation package Bodhi sells is donated to locally-based non-profits whose work impacts local marine conservation and youth development – and it gives guests an opportunity to match or add to the donation to support the local community. Powerful effective stuff.

The Bodhi crew pursue numerous Everyday Impact Reduction Measures to lessen their negative impact on the environment and expand their positive influence. These include eco-friendly building techniques and materials for their lodge construction, extensive recycling, composting, and energy conservation. Bodhi 6RsThey have also implemented numerous specific measures to reduce their plastic consumption, and to encourage their guests to do the same:  dispensers of hand and bath soap to avoid waste and packaging, providing reusable grocery bags for guests, reusable water coolers and water bottles and natural fruit snacks are used at surf lessons – we were treated to lovely local watermelon and papaya!

The 6Rs (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Reinvent, Recycle) and are highlighted on colourful 6R signs situated in strategic places around the property to encourage guests to take action on their own.  The Bodhi crew are already very aware of the plastic pollution issue and acting on it in many ways.

Community Engaged Eco-ACTION

Bodhi is highly engaged in its home community of Bahia Ballena, Uvita. I’ll take you on a quick tour of several of their actions, many of which are already building significant awareness about the plastic issue and tangibly decreasing plastic pollution in their community and beyond.

Amy and Travis in a Bodhi Surf stance
Amy and Travis in a Bodhi Surf stance

I’ll begin with the one that we came to know best, in part because it is evident throughout the town, but also because one of the key participants in this project, the delightful Amy, was living at Bodhi while were there.

Amy is the Director of a non-profit organization called Geoporter, which helps communities learn to use cutting edge global positioning system (GPS) technologies to examine local resources and address local issues. Bodhi has teamed up with Geoporter, supporting and assisting them in three key initiatives under the project banner of “Maps That Make a Difference“:

  • Clean Streets, Clean Waters – Over a year, community members of all ages participated in communal trash cleanups on the streets of Bahia Ballena using GPS technology to map out the collected solid waste in every 24 cubic meter quadrant.
    Photo credit: Bodhi
    Photo credit: Bodhi
    Signs - Bodhi trash cleanup
    Photo credit: Bodhi

    With Geoporter’s assistance and training, community volunteers plotted this trash map on a satellite image of the area. This allowed them to pinpoint garbage “hot spots” – areas of dense trash accumulation such as near grocery stores and the community center – and strategically place garbage bins throughout the community for proper disposal of trash. What’s more, garbage and recycling bins were made by community members and visiting guests. As part of an Earth Day activity, hand painted signs with colourful positive messages promoting eco-actions were made by the community and placed all over town. Our favorite was the ubiquitous “Yo no tiro basura” (I don’t throw garbage), which became a little song we would sing to ourselves through the week. The messages were deliberately positive and personal, rather than a cold order like “Don’t litter.” Yo no tiro basuraYes, much thought went into all of this. And the underlying theme was how to make it as effective, positive and all-inclusive for this particular community. The result: A massive reduction in the trash around town. In our time there we saw very little around town, and on the beach during the whole week, we came across about five or six pieces of trash – all plastic.

  • Participatory Whale Mapping in the Marina Ballena National Park – Local boat tour operators and guides take visitors out daily to experience sightings of whales, dolphins, sea turtles, coral reefs and other marine life. They are the “lifeguards” of the marine life. Using GPS technology to map sightings, the data collected is then used to develop proactive policies to better conserve the park’s resources, for example, by planning safe boating routes that don’t disrupt the natural migration patterns of whales dolphins and sea turtles.
  • Equipping Youth with Empowering Technology – Geoporter teaches the community youth how to use geospatial tools to map their community, learn geography, practice geometry, and even calculate how fast they can run. These fun activities have developed the local youths into “tech savvy” change agents.

Beyond the mapping projects with Geoporter, here are a few other community engagement projects Bodhi is involved with – note that they all ingeniously leverage Bodhi offerings in exchange for community service:

  • Service and Surf Saturdays – Every second Saturday, Bodhi holds beach clean-ups, inviting community members and visitors for an hour and a half of keeping trash (especially plastic) out of the ocean. The environmental responsibility element is followed by free surf lessons for all who want them, and time to hang out on the beach together meeting new people.
Marino Ballena National Park Beach
Marino Ballena National Park Beach
  • bodhi-yoga-classes
    Image credit: Bodhi

    Yoga for the Community – Once a week Pilar offers community members the opportunity to participate in a yoga class in return for them “paying forward” by donating an equivalent amount of their time to the community. As they explain, “the possibilities are quite inspiring: 75 minutes of Pilar’s time teaching a class of six people translates to 7.5 hours of work per week for the community and up to 390 hours of work per year”!

  • This past summer, in collaboration with the travel company, Global Leadership Adventures (GLA), Bodhi hosted four groups of high school students which each contributed 30 hours of community service work creating biogardens and other water filtration systems to address the community’s greywater issue.
Thoreau heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads
Image credit: Bodhi

And then of course there is also the My Ocean Guardian Journey Contest, for which we personally are enormously thankful.

Without that showcasing of grassroots environmental stewardship I would not be writing these words, nor would we have made such inspiring new friends, or surfed for the first time, or downward dogged amid the trees, or had the opportunity to share all this Bodhi beauty and action with you.

Mother Ocean Bodhi

Helping build a plastic-free future together

Our spontaneous dinner conversations sparked some exciting ideas for future collaboration with Bodhi and Geoporter…

Travis is very interested in Bodhi becoming more plastic-free than it already is and leading the plastic-free charge among surf schools around the world. With a glint in his eye he dreamed of Bodhi being the first certified plastic-free surf school. And that may involve even creating the actual certification program.

They are considering doing an audit of their current use of plastic and looking into more ways to reduce plastics and switch to alternatives. As well, we are preparing a little presentation on the plastics issue that they can use to educate their guests and encourage them to decrease their own plastic use.

And moving out into the community, we talked of working together to create a “plastic free” (i.e., minimizing plastic as much as possible) tourism destination. This could involve doing presentations and trainings to specific Uvita community stakeholder groups to help educate them about the issue, assess their current plastic use, and offer suggestions for decreasing it. We would begin with marine tour operators, local restaurants and hotels in Bahia Ballena, then potentially move onward to the greater Osa Peninsula region via the Caminos de Osa Initiative — do check out this initiative, it’s another amazing conservation effort that Bodhi has it’s hand in!

For all of the above, and so much more, we are deeply grateful and stoked about the change we will create together with our newfound Bodhi friends.

The bottom line is this:  At the core of “la pura vida” is service to others and this amazing Mother Earth we all share.

Stay tuned!

2015-11-07 13.38.09
L-R: Jay, Chantal, Travis, Jyoti, camera-shy Coco