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Traditional Living in Costa Rica – Part 2

Published October 23, 2017 by jillamatt

Over the course of 9 months in 2017, my partner and I sold all of our possessions, including 2 vehicles, and a house full of stuff. In order to sell the house for its maximum value, we also completed 3 months of renovations that had been lingering for over 3 years. We wrapped up 2 businesses and left a town and tight knit community that we both cherished. We did all of this in order to seek out a life of freedom, away from the hustle and bustle of the 9-5 life, but most importantly, we did it so that we could travel. This is our story…….

To read part one of this story, please click here.

We awoke at about 8:30 the next morning to see blue sky and sunshine peeking through our bedroom curtains. I jumped out of bed and ran straight to the double front doors and swung them open. Spread out before us was a magical green carpet, rife with plants of every description, birds flying this way and that, hummingbirds drinking the nectars of the flowers, and a slight breeze carrying unbelievably sweet smells which floated across the landscape. In the distance, the Gulf of Nicoya was glistening in the sunlight, as the prominent peninsula of the same name, stood on guard behind it.

I sat on the futon, appropriately placed on the front porch, and just stared in amazement. THIS is Costa Rica!

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Need I say more?  This is the view from the front doors of our Casa on the Farm.

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They opened to reveal this!

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We spent much time out here contemplating life and watching the birds and butterflies go by.

After Chris joined me, we ran around the yard and inspected every flower and plant that we could find. Interestingly enough, many of them were familiar and also grew back in Canada, however, many of them were also simply house plants, that never would dare to go outside into the cooler temperatures. Here, they were happily growing in the ground, enjoying the stable tropical temperatures year round.

Soon enough, our host, Orlando arrived to let us know where we could get breakfast, over in the neighbouring property, and made sure that everything was to our satisfaction. I started out trying to speak with him in Spanish, but in no time he realized that it would just be easier if he spoke English. Later we found out that he is 20 years old, but he carried himself as if he had many more years than that under his belt. Well spoken and very friendly, I immediately felt completely at ease with his gentle nature.

We made our way over to “El Rancho” to find some breakfast. Coming into the property we saw that there were a few different buildings, none with any markers or indicators as to what was what. We wandered around for a bit until we found a lady outside of one house. I approached her and introduced myself. Her name was Yolanda, and I later realized that she is Orlando’s mother. In my broken Spanish, I made her to understand that we were looking for a place for breakfast. She understood, and after many back and forth exchanges, she finally realized that we were ready for breakfast at that moment. Little did I know that she was the cook!

She took us up to El Rancho and proceeded to cook up a wonderful feast for us. Gallo (pronounced gai-yo) Pinto, or rice and beans, is a main staple in most of Central America, was combined with Eggs (heuvos), fresh, handmade corn tortillas, fresh papaya, some sort of spreadable cream, and of course, Coffee (cafe). As Chris doesn’t drink coffee in the morning, he was offered fresh sugar cane juice combined with hot water to substitute as a tea of sorts. We sat in El Rancho, and stared off over the land, this view equally as spectacular as the one from our own casa (house).

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Breakfast at El Rancho.

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Okay, seriously!  This was SO GOOD!!  FRESH, handmade corn tortillas, Gallo Pinto, Eggs and delicious fresh Papaya and fruit!  Not too mention Costa Rican coffee and sugar cane juice with hot water for Chris!

We met Orlando Senior, the head of the family, and I had fun listening to him and practicing my Spanish in return, when I had the opportunity.

When we booked the Air BnB, I had sent a message to tell them that we were very interested in learning about farming techniques in other countries, and would welcome the chance to see the Dairy in action. After breakfast, Orlando Junior told us that the milking of the cows would again be done at 4:00pm, and we could come and watch if we wanted.

We eagerly agreed and then headed off in our own directions for the remainder of the day.

Four O’Clock came around and we headed off to the farm. We arrived as the cows were entering the stable, where the milking would take place. Orlando showed us the whole process and explained each step along the way. Now-a-days they have machines to milk the cows, they simply put a machine that acts like a vacuum on each teat, and it milks approximately 16 litres of milk in about 5 minutes. He told us that when the storms happened, and the power went out for 4 days, they had to milk by hand and it was MUCH harder!  His dad also was quick to tell us that he milked by hand for many years, and that the younger generations are lucky that they have it so easy. I sensed a small bit of jealousy in his tone.

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Molasses for dessert!

Orlando explained to us that they have recently been doing tours for students, to come and learn the techniques of the farm. In the next couple weeks he will be hosting students from Canada, the US and Europe. Over the past few years, he has done much research to learn about different ways that he can make the farm organic, and it has been met with great success. The land has been cultivated differently, trees have been planted in specific locations to provide different nutrients to the soils, and the cows are grazing in rotations, so the grass has time to grow back and provide more nutrients to them. At such a young age, we were very impressed with his ambition to make the farm more sustainable. He told us that in recent years the price of dairy has dropped, but the price of feed has risen, making it harder and harder to maintain a living. By learning about Air BnB, he has brought in much more money to the farm, and is constantly learning about other ways to bring more tourists into the area. This in turn will help the community by allowing them to hire more help from town, and will also help his family prosper more in these challenging times.

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Chris and Orlando!  Meeting new friends while travelling is the best!

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Couldn’t resist a visit to the baby cows!

While there, we told him about other ways to get more help on the farm, without putting out a lot of money. We told him about the Wwoofing (to learn about our previous wwoofing experience in Greece, click here) network, where he can have volunteers come and help on the farm, in exchange for housing and feeding them. He wasn’t aware of this program, and we were happy to give him a different outlook on getting help on the farm, without having to dole out precious income. We also told him about some of the permaculture techniques that we had used in our gardening back in Canada. He was very curious about theses new ways, and he took no time to look them up on the internet, to confirm what we had told him was true.

He also told us that he has taken 2 years of University to learn Accounting. He loves his life on the farm, and all of his education is going towards helping the farm to thrive in ways that his father and grandfather before him hadn’t. Unfortunately, this year, he wasn’t able to go back to school, as his dad needs him around to help, but his goal is to get the farm to a sustainable place, through the Air BnB’s and through farm tours, so that they can maybe afford to hire somebody to help while he finishes his education.

After we watched a few cows being milked, he took us on a tour of the farm to show us some of the agricultural practices that he had put into place in the last couple years. The property is so spectacular, it’s almost too hard to comprehend. We were thankful when he said that he loved it there, and had no need to leave, he only wanted to improve upon what was started. Thankfully his parents are open to new ideas and ways of doing things.

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This is the pasture for the cows.  It’s very different than th eland that most cows in Canada graze on.  These cows are in good shape from climbing up and down hills all day!  Notice the rotation of the grazing, which allows the grass to grow back in nicely before it is grazed on again.

On the way back to El Rancho, Orlando grabbed a bucket of fresh warm milk, and told us that his mom would show us how to make cheese from it. Chris quite quickly realized that the process that they use here to make cheese, is identical to how he had learned in Canada. While Yolanda made the cheese, we chatted with Orlando, met his sister Carolina, and looked out over the land, watching the most spectacular sunset unfold. He said that sunsets like this are unusual for this time of year, and are normally reserved for around Christmas time. I guess we got our presents early this year! The sunset, the company and the whole experience was truly magical!

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Yolanda making cheese with a fabulous view out the “Cocina” (kitchen) window.

When the cheese was finished, we sat down with the whole family, except Orlando Senior, and took part in an incredible feast. Yolanda made some coffee, fresh tortillas and we ate the fresh cheese and an amazing type of bread pudding that is also a traditional Costa Rican dish. It was such a wonderful evening, and I could have pinched myself for being so lucky to have had the chance to experience such authenticity from their culture. THIS is truly what I am looking for. To feel a part of their experience, not just an observer, even if only for a short time.

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Fresh, handmade tortillas, a huge mound of fresh “Queso” (cheese), coffee and some traditional bread pudding.  Soooooo good!!

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This sunset was exceptional!  The end to a spectacular day!

While learning as much as we could about them, we were also able to show them pictures of where we are from, to provide them a broader perspective on the world as well. Orlando said that his dream is to make more money for the farm, and to do more travelling in the future. His ambitions are admirable and we have no doubt that he can accomplish them.

We spent one more night on the “Finca” (farm), and had one more exquisite “Desayuno” (breakfast), and then bid our lovely hosts goodbye. We told them that we had to go do some house sitting for a couple months, but I have a feeling that we will be back in the New Year.

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Monteverde

We also spent 2 nights in the Santa Elena/Monteverde town.  It was also an enjoyable time, but we definitely felt that were more a part of the typical tourist scene.  However, we had some cool experiences…….

Accomodation:  Santa Elena Hostel Resort – We had a lovely stay here.  The rooms are clean, and tidy, the common use areas are well kept, and there are hammocks, a bar and a restaurant where you can relax.  The front fest was very helpful in booking tours and answering any questions that we had.  As we were here during the off season, rooms were 40% off.  We paid $35/night for our own room that could accommodate up to 3 people.

Things to do:   Monteverde Orchid Garden – This is located next to the Hostel where we stayed.  The garden has been cared for a nurtured for 12 years now, and some of the species have been collected for 30.  There are over 100 orchids in bloom here on any given day.  The guide was absolutely excellent and provided us with more information than it is possible to retain.  We highly recommend visiting it.  $12/person for a 40 minute tour.

Kinkajou Night Walk – We took part in a popular jungle night walk.  We went out on the early one that started at 5:30, as recommended by our front desk at the hostel.  We were not disappointed!  The guide was very knowledgeable and told us too many things to remember.  He knew exactly where to look for various animals and we managed to see a Tarantula, Sloth, Kinkajou (a very rare sighting), numerous frogs, 2 Toucans sleeping in the trees, 4 bright green vipers (2 were mating!), numerous stick bugs and many other amazing creatures.  It was a 2 hour tour and well worth the money at $25/person.

Selvatura Hanging Bridges –  As we had no other plans to go into any of the surrounding forests of Monteverde, we decided to book a trip to the Selvatura Hanging Bridges.  At a cost of $30 each, including transportation there and back, we expected to have a guide telling us about the plants, something similar to our night walk the night before.  However, it was a completely self guided tour but over 6 pretty impressive bridges.  Being above, or level with, the canopy, gives a different perspective of the forest.  Looking down on massive ferns and so many other plants and trees, was pretty neat.  It’s expensive for what you get, but worth the experience.

At the hanging bridges, there is also a hummingbird garden that attracts the hummingbirds with your standard typical hummingbird feeders.  There were some cool hummingbirds, but overall the set up wasn’t what I would expect.  We both kind of thought that there would be flowers attracting them…..maybe that was over the top wishful thinking.  It was fun to watch them anyways, and they were so beautiful.

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Current Location:  Samara, Costa Rica

Current Travel Plans:  We will be staying here until the 27th of October when we head to Quepos for a couple nights.  From there we will be heading to Playa Matapalo where we will be house sitting for 2 months.  

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To see more photos, and to follow our progress on Facebook, please follow our Facebook page Just Some Wandering

Please follow my Instagram Page Just Some Wandering by clicking on the bottom right hand corner of this feed.

To learn about where I have previously traveled, click here.

To see my blog post menu, click here.

To email me directly, please do so at jillamatt@me.com.

 

 

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Idle working days on Paros Island. 

Published December 25, 2015 by jillamatt

Capturing an experience such as this, is difficult to describe in words. However, I feel it necessary to spread the joy that we have experienced, and so, I will give it a whirl. 

Our Wwoofing (see my last post ‘Gone Wwoofin’ to learn about woofing) hosts, Jim (from England) and Irini (from Greece), are fabulous! They have been sculpting the land they live on for 15 years.  And when I say sculpting, I mean sculpting! With the help of numerous Wwoofers, they have turned a hillside of prickle bushes and scrub brush into a venerable landscaped oasis. 

Jim, Irini and their dogs. Taken circa 2013

 
Brilliant plants, constantly bursting into various colours, line impossibly adorable pathways, that lead to even more adorable cottages. We have spent the last two weeks absolutely in awe of the utter beauty around   us, that looks like it has been dropped from the heavens.  

Just one of the beautiful cottages to rent, and the one we were fortunate enough to call home for two weeks.


 

The closeup of ‘our cottage.’

 
 

Gorgeous handbuilt pathways run every which way!

    

Yes, thats a Rosemary bush! And there are many more like it!

 

More adorable cottages, more adorable pathways!

   
On a daily basis, we inspect the plants, and constantly find something new that we didn’t know existed before.  Some days I feel like Alice in Wonderland, completely aware and wide eyed, discovering new and exciting plants and nooks and crannies, around every corner. 

   

Aloe Vera!

  

  

 Yes, there has been work. But it’s been the sort of work that provides so much reward.  At the beginning of our time with them, I asked Jim what he expected in terms of how many hours we needed to contribute in a day, in exchange for our accommodation and meals. We are both very honest, hard working people, and the last thing we want is to be taking more than we are giving.

Succulents bloom everywhere!

Bouganvillia cascading from above.

Yes, that is a Geranium, planted in the ground and huge!

 Jim’s answer wasn’t exactly cut and dried. Instead of demanding 5 or 6 hours per day, Mon-Fri,
with weekends off, he attempted to explain his philosophy while successfully sidestepping my question. 
It became clear to us, quite quickly, that Jim does NOT do the nine to five routine. He is more free wheeling and doesn’t conform to any sort of “societal standards.”  

So, it was no surprise to me to hear his philosophy on the whole Wwoofing process. His philosophy, in basic terms, is that humans are meant to interact, learn things from each other, inspire each other, help each other, lean on each other. We are meant to cooperate as a community. We are meant to trust in each other, see the good in each other, celebrate each other’s talents, and help each other to improve. 

He really wants nothing more than to see people learn and grow, as they contribute to the improvement, and overall vision of his property.  And his hope is that they will take their learned knowledge out into the world, to positively contribute to the growth of humanity. 

He and Irini, have created, from scratch, a place where people can come to explore themselves. Whether it be through Wwoofing, as a guest, or as a paid customer in the cottages, they encourage a space of personal freedom, inspiration and growth.  

The oasis from above

 While his property isn’t technically a “farm”, and we haven’t learned much about what we set out to learn originally (about growing different foods in other parts of the world), we have come away completely inspired, and better as humans than when we arrived. If it wasn’t for some amazing travelling that we still need to do, I would be super excited (and still will be at the end of the trip), to get home and tackle my yard!

They operate the development of the property using perma-culture techniques. Everything that is pulled out of one thing, is used somewhere else. We started out constructing a pathway, and my thoughts were that we need to get it done as quick as possible, which is the hurried, more corporate way of things. However, we spent more time sifting the soil, removing rocks, combing through massive piles of rocks, to find just the right one to line the path, and getting everything ‘just right’ before moving on to the next step. 

For example, the stones we pulled out of the surface of the pathways that we built, were piled up to be used to build walls, or become filler for areas of the property that needed to be raised up a bit. Like I said, everything is used, nothing is wasted.  

Before

After

In progress

 

After. Jim had previously constructed the round concrete bits from leftover concrete used for larger projects. I was happy to put my mosaic skills to good use.

 
Jim made it clear that slow, intentional steps, are more important than rushing about, and doing things hastily, therefore possibly creating problems in the future. He also assured me that if he felt our work wasn’t a fair exchange, he would let me know. Good enough. 

We worked away on an area of the property that started out as a few small plants (and when I say small plants, I mean massive Rosemary bushes,) and ended up as a sculptured garden, with pathways and rock walls, ready to be transformed into another garden oasis. Jim was pleased with our work, and we are thrilled with what we accomplished. As a first Wwoofing experience, we both couldn’t be happier with the results! 

 

Before

 

After

  
Our work days ran from approximately 9:00 or 9:30, and ended pretty much when we had finished a section of what we were working on. Sometimes it was 4:00, other times it was 2:00. As long as progress was made, everyone was happy.  

I think everyone is happy!

 Our evenings were spent in Jim and Irini’s house, sometimes with other Wwoofers, around the fireplace. Here, many philosophical conversations were held, as we imparted our individual views on the world to each other. Incredible meals were constructed by Irini (and sometimes Jim), and we generally followed that up with a movie or tv series of some sort.  

Not alot of room for Humans in this house! :). They like to relax by the fire as well!

 Our accomodations were spectacular!  Normally, Wwoofers stay off the main house, but because another girl was there before us, we were able to stay in our own guest cottage. Let me tell you, it may well be the cutest fairy tale cottage that I have ever stayed in! 

Stairs up to the bedroom, stairs down to the kitchen.

Looking down on our living area and the entrance.

I can’t imagine Hansel and Gretel having a cuter kitchen. Can you?

 In the summer (but also year round if necessary), these beautiful cottages are rented out to vacationers and the like. It’s called ‘Living in the Garden’, and let me be the first to tell you that, YES, you will be living in the garden! 

(Click here for their website and to book a stay.)  

Because they are both artists themselves, they have a special knack for attracting similar craftsmen, that are doing artist retreats, or who come to help with working on the property, in exchange for the chance to work on their art and become inspired. They are open and welcoming to many different arrangements, because, as Jim insists, their aim is to inspire. 

Jim, himself, is currently creating the most magnificent Men’s rings from scratch (but will also do Women’s by request), which, in his words is “managing to finance our way through the diabolical Greek economic crisis.”  His years of craftsmanship are paying off, and he feels extremely lucky to be able to survive in the hard economic times that the entire country is facing.  

 

Visit his Etsy shop here!

Our days on Paros were not all filled with work, we did a couple excursions to explore this island, and also a trip to Antiparos, a neighbouring island. But those stories will have to wait for another post. 

For now, I would just like to wish everyone an amazing Christmas!  We are so very thankful to be exactly where we are, and hope that happiness and joy is finding everyone, today and always.  

  

 

We are off to Santorini tomorrow!  Can’t wait to see this amazing spectacle. 

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