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December 22, 2010
OAT travelers’ life-changing adventure in Costa Rica
As the year comes to a close, I often think about who and what has inspired me most during the past year. Undoubtedly, the rousing personal story of Martha and Bill Dowd is among my favorites in recent memory ...
Long attracted to the culture and lifestyle of South and Central America, Martha and Bill of Scottsdale, Arizona, visited Peru, Chile, and Ecuador on several OAT adventures. But when the now 5-time travelers journeyed to Costa Rica with OAT several years ago, they had no idea how profoundly it would change their lives, as well as those of people they had yet to meet.
As their group traveled down a rural back road one day during the trip, their Trip Leader pointed out a 90-acre lot and house for sale—at which point Martha said to Bill, “We could sell everything and move down here.” Back in Arizona, Martha’s comment lingered in Bill’s mind until a year later when he asked if she had been serious. “Yes,” she said.
It took another year and a half for them to sell their home and belongings, and to have a new home built in the Costa Rican village of San Francisco de Penas Blancas—which they first visited with OAT. But in 2009, they finally realized their dream and moved in. What I find particularly touching about the Martha and Bill’s move down to Costa Rica was that it was more than a “permanent vacation” for them ...
The couple immediately set about immersing themselves in the community —beginning at the local school. Though not teachers by trade (Bill had been in real estate, Martha had been in the restaurant industry), they started out by helping to teach English. Today, Martha helps out with the first-grade class, while Bill takes on the kindergartners. He notes that the Costa Rican government does not recognize kindergarten; regardless, he has helped 13 of the 19 students learn to write their names. In addition to teaching, they help with maintenance work. As Bill puts it, “If something needs fixing, we’ll take care of it if we can.”
“Being connected with the school made our transition from Arizona much easier,” Bill observes. “The schools in Costa Rica, especially in the rural areas, take all the help they can get.” While the couple has no children of their own, he says that they actually have “195 children”— referring to the students at the San Francisco School. And that feeling of warmth and connection embraces the entire village. “Every town down here has a church, a school, a grocery store, and a soccer field,” Bill says. "And most of the people are related—aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins. To us, they’re like a second family.”
People so often say that they can't do something, but Martha and Bill are a perfect example of people who realized what they could do. And by completely changing their lives—including moving some 2,000 miles away—they made it a reality. Now, that’s inspirational.
During your own travels with OAT, have you ever been inspired to completely change your life? If so, I’d love to hear more. You can share your thoughts and experiences with others by posting your comments below this Journal entry, or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the coming weeks, we’ll spotlight our highlights of 2010, as well as our new adventures in Turkey, the Balkans, and Iceland for 2011. If you’ve explored any of these fascinating destinations on existing OAT adventures—or on your own—I hope you’ll send your stories and pictures to me at email@example.com.