Tarcoles, Costa Rica... Locura de Lapas
Mar 26, 2005
|I was first approached by Fiona at the end of December to help put together a festival to raise awareness and funds for the local scarlet macaw population. At the time, I remember being quite scared by the sheer amount of work and responsibility bestowed on me, and I backed away. She then told me, I wouldn't be working alone, that there would be other members of LAPPA (the local organisation working together to conserve the scarlet macaws in the Central Pacific Region). So I accepted this challenage - though taking on only the official title of "graphics designer".
Though we had lots of time, and Fiona and I spent lots and lots of time planning the festival - things never quite worked out that way. In the beginning, we arranged meetings with Lisa, a Canadian lady who first conceived this idea. The meetings went well, where everyone felt quite inspired and motivated to take the next step. Except when we met again, we would find that no-one had done anything. Fiona was aware of this Tico tendency, though we had really expected more commitment from a Westener - even if her business was struggling, she's in the middle of a process to emigrate to Australia, and has a brat of a five years old daughter to look after.
Even though we had to downscale the project in the end (moving it from the very touristy infested town Jaco, to our more humble village Tarcoles), we learnt a lot in the process. Fiona and I spent a lot of time discussing the festival, drafted a business proposal to hand out to local companies for sponsorship, as well as a booklet for the local municipal office for planning permission.
As I was in charge of graphics, sifted through Fiona's library of scarlet macaw photos, and shortlisted a few to become the logo. Had even designed promotional leaflets and posters - which we calculatd would work out perfectly with Fiona, Sami and my travel plans to go to Panama, Nicaragua, and Honduras (respectively) to hand them out to travellers and stick them in bus stops and hostels as publicity. Spent many hours on the design, and when I came back after a belated weekend trip, found the disk was in the exact same place as I had left it. "We don't have any money to print them," Adrian, a senior member of LAPPA explained. Grrrr!!
As you can see, things didn't quite go according to plan. There were so many ups and downs (when we were inspired, and when we were let down), that after a while, both Fiona and I were quite disheartened. Despite of that, we didn't quite want to give up the idea, as we had put in so much work already.
With the arrival of new volunteers Carrie (an assistant to Fiona on the more practical and specialised biological field work) and Jack (a fun loving, crazy and laid back Welsh sheep shagger) there was new hope for the project. They were quite intimidated by the task I wanted to trasnfer onto them (they both had stronger Spanish foundation than me), and took a while for them to acclimatise. Plus, Carrie's main work in Costa Rica was with the macaws - not in organising the festival. Unfortunately for Jack, since he lived in the same village, I had lots of time harassing him and making him work for us!
We came up with Plan C, with a calender proposal of community work and fundraising events leading up to the main festival. However after discussing it with Miriam and Yahira (who helped with the project much more than I had expected) we found out that it was much more complicated than we had first thought... So, again, out of the window.
Came up with an multi-functional plan instead. Inspired by Carla's cake sales, we baked cookies in the shape of scarlet macaws, and sold them in Tarcoles village and also in Jaco. This would raise some funds for us, as well as leaving a more memorable taste, as our customers would appreciate the extra effort that went into making the shape. Problem with this was that they required lots and lots of time to make, and gas bills which our families became relucant to pay.
By the time I left for my two weeks vacation up to the Bay Islands in Honduras, I was uncertain about how things would go. Publicity of the festival was spread verbally, and many fellow travellers were intrigued by the project. But they wouldn't commit to arriving - it was still a while away. That showed me how passionate and involved I had got with the whole project.
When I got back, there were only two more weeks until the festival. By then, Fiona had spoken with Miriam, and the project took on a differnet tact. It would be in Tarcoles, combined with a football game. This would ensure some spectators to buy refreshment from us. Then there would also be live entertainment to attract an afternoon crowd, and later on in the afternoon, there would be busloads of tourists to see the macaws in their natural environment. By early evening, a DJ would be present to lure people to the beach for a barbeque and a beach party. A full day of fun!
Though there was little time left, we managed to recycle some of our previous work. My contribution was making recycled paper (big thanks to Jack for staying up late with me to shred the paper and then uncomplainingly went back and forth to make each laminate with care), cutting stencils of the line drawings of the macaws I had designed, and then painting them onto the paper. Turned out pretty well, though still not made as quickly as I had hoped. Melissa, an enthusiastic young French girl (who later annoyed everyone in the whole village) was in charge of making jewellery, and arranging entertainment. Jack and I continued labourously with more macaw cookies (galletas en la forma de lapas), and became familiar sights in the village with our basket of goodies. Fiona and Carrie got children to paint posters to put up in Tarcoles, Jaco and the neighbouring fishing village of Playa Azul, as well as more jewelley. Unexpectedly, Ginny, a former volunteer who loved Tarcoles at first sight, came back to lend us a hand, and diffused a lot of tension, especially between Melissa and I (who now lived in my house).
We worked hard over those two weeks. Between the six of us, and with a budget of US$300 (LAPPA gave us $200 last minute to buy food), we put together Locura de Lapas. The publicity was pretty lame, so the fat gringos didn't come. Hence most of our products didn't sell. After the entertainment, the crowd left, and the sky was also threatening with rain.
So the plan changed yet again, and we moved all the food, and some of the jewellery to the pagoda in the Parque Central. By then Carrie was getting pretty drunk (it was her 23rd birthday), and Fiona increasinly depressed. She saw the festival as a huge failure. But we managed to flog off a lot of the skewers, to minimise food wastage, though it's still more than I would have liked.
Though the festival was over, there was still work to do. Mainly to get rid of all of our leftovers. Fi and I worked hard refunding or selling them at reduced price to the villagers. As they felt sorry for us, we managed to break even, and even made a little bit of profit.
Fiona was still very down, and felt that we had wasted our time.
Ok, so it wasn't a blinding success, but I felt we had still achieved two out of three of our objectives. We had certainly raised awareness within the community and strengthened their identity of being only one of two areas living with the macaws. When I walked down the village, many people would ask me how the lapa festival was going. They also called me "Lapa Loca" (Crazy macaw) for putting so much time and effort into the project - though Fiona was the original Lapa Loca, and also the inspiration to the name of the festival. We had also raised some funds for LAPPA - not in the regions of thousands of dollars, but still a little - plus more aftersales of our products to American kids on Fi's environmental education course. The only thing was that we didn't bring in more tourists.
It was a relief to see the end of the project, though my life in Tarcoles felt eerily empty with relatively little to occupy myself with now. But it's been a huge learning experience for me, and I felt very fortunate to be able to play a decisive role in such a fun project, which had made a difference - no matter how small.