When change becomes a teacher

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Courtesy Ballena Aventura / El Colectivo 506

Fish were his livelihood. Not just his: generations of fisherman, fathers and grandfathers, had plumbed the waters off of Quepos, working their way south to Bahía Ballena. He grew up hoping, assuming, that these Pacific waters would sustain his descendents, too.

Then a national park was created, not just on land but the ocean. The waters that had been his office, his factory floor, his bank account, were gone forever from his grasp.

Or were they?

He took out tourists in his lancha. Just a few, at first. Backpackers who braved the dirt roads to what seemed like the end of the earth, a whale’s-tail-shaped paradise.

Each year, more came. So did experience and expertise. So did national certification. Fish had been his livelihood: now, he depended on whales, the tourists’ delight. And the whales depended on him. Every trip became a chance to serve and educate. How can we keep trash or fuel from polluting the water? How can we avoid causing stress to the whales? How can we make our tourists happy, motivate them to join us in making a change?

It would have been so easy to give up, back then. To view those closed-off waters with resentment. Instead, he saw what they could be: a classroom, and a fisherman, the teacher.

Text by Katherine Stanley Obando, inspired by the story of don Maximino “Chumi” Vásquez Umaña, owner of Ballena Aventura. Our weekly Media Naranja column tells short love stories with a Costa Rican twist. During our August edition, “Symbiosis,” it has focused on love of many kinds related to Costa Rica’s national parks and other protected areas.

Courtesy Ballena Aventura / El Colectivo 506

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