The interview was conducted by travel and environmental writer Josh Marks.
Josh Marks: What motivated you to start a Jewish Eco Tour of Costa Rica?
Ami Greener: After my IDF service I traveled to Central America and I fell in love with Costa Rica, its natural beauty and its people.
In 2010 I founded Greener Travel, combining my love for the environment and travel, while creating a unique trip that would be fun for Jewish professionals. This summer I’m going to lead my eighth trip there!
JM: What makes this trip Jewish and what makes this trip eco?
AG: The first weekend we spend Shabbat in the capital San Jose, and visit the local Jewish community. On Friday our group hosts an oneg at the local synagogue, following a unique tri-lingual service!
We get to learn a bit about the local Jewish history, and places such as an Israeli hummus joint in the rainforest. We spend the last weekend on a Jewish-owned eco-farm, Finca Rio Perla, in the Caribbean Highlands.
As a long-time environmentalist, it was important for me to establish Greener Travel as an eco-tour company (having the right family name didn’t hurt either!). Eco-tourism means minimizing the environmental impact on one hand and maximizing the beneficial impact on the communities we visit.
For example, we stay in local, family-owned lodges so the majority of the profits stay and benefit the community. We work with local guides who grew up in the area and form personal relationships with them. For example, Junior Palmer, a native of Puerto Viejo, invites us to his home for a unique kosher style Caribbean cooking class. Tino, one of our naturalist guides, grew up in the Gandoca-Manzanillo wildlife refuge, and will take us on an unforgettable rainforest hike. We also include an element of volunteering on our tour and in the past we helped a local women’s cooperative farm build a bio-digester. This way I connect our tour to the Jewish tenant of Tikkun Olam — not just taking photos and having fun but also improving the lives of those that we visit.
JM: If a Jewish young professional is considering an organized trip, why would they choose yours?
AG: Our tour is all about the experience! After visiting San Jose, we go white water rafting on the Pacuare River, considered one of the most scenic runs in the world. We also go zip lining, take several naturalist-led jungle hikes, sail the canals of Tortuguero National Park, see 200-pound green turtles lay their eggs on the beach, visit a jungle animal rescue center, learn to make organic chocolate, swim in amazing, secluded waterfalls and experience the unique Caribbean vibe of Puerto Viejo and it’s amazing beaches, eat great food – and there is more!
What is the biggest concern trip participants have before going?
Participants are concerned by visiting the rainforests for the first time; malaria (non-existent where we visit); personal safety (just like you are alert in any big city in the States, be alert in Costa Rica and don’t carry too many valuables.); not knowing anybody on the trip (by the second day everyone is good friends or friendships begin).
What do past participants have to say about their experience in Costa Rica?
“This trip ignited my sense of adventure, awakened my hunger and desire for exploring the world, and once again opened up my eyes to what matters in life most,” says Faina, who went on the June 2012 trip.
“The perfect mixture of non-stop adventure travel,” says Jenn, who also participated on the trip in June 2012. “Book now with Ami & you won’t regret it! See you on his next trip!”
JM: Why is Costa Rica an appealing tourist destination?
AG: Costa Rica – a country the size of West Virginia, seems to have it all. Amazing beaches. Breathtaking rainforest scenery. A huge biodiversity of animals and plants. And people that are probably the happiest in the world. Couple that with adventure activities such as zip lining, rafting and water sports – and there is something for everyone in Costa. Rica. It’s also an example of a country that made a conscious decision to protect large swaths of the country for the benefit of future generations which allows it to be a prime eco-tourist destination.
JM: Can accommodations be made for someone who is observant?
AG: The trip is actually is designed to take account of Shabbat observers. On the first weekend the hotel is walking distance from the synagogue and downtown, and the second weekend we stay on the farm with no activities needing work or transportation. All the places we eat have strict vegetarian/vegan options although the food is not certified kosher.
JM: What is your favorite part about going to Costa Rica?
AG: The rainforest! And Kabbalat Shabbat near the waterfalls in Finca Rio Perla – the best place to appreciate the wonders of this world!
JM: When does the trip take place? When does registration end? How much does it cost?
AG: The trip will take place Friday, August 1st to Sunday, August 10th 2014. Eight days or nine days for those that choose to arrive on Friday. Registration ends July 1st but we have early bird price for those registering before April 17th. The cost of the trip is $1,875 and it includes lodging, transportation, activities as well as most meals. All the information can be found on our trip page.
JM: Anything else you would like to add about why a Jewish young professional should consider going on your Costa Rica adventure?
AG: They will have the experience of their lifetime and will connect with other likeminded Jewish young professionals from DC and all over North America.
JM: What other trips do you offer?
This July we are offering a unique Mountain & Glacier Jewish trip to Alaska. In mid-September we are offering our first Jewish exciting adventure to Trinidad & Tobago. In mid June we are offering a 3-day canoeing Shabbaton on the Delaware River (close to metro areas of New York, Philadelphia and D.C.)
Interview conducted by travel and environmental writer Josh Marks. Josh writes for sustainable design site Inhabitat and blogs about his adventures around the world at Josh’s Travel Blog and about the transition to the sustainable economy at Green Forward.