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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

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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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Traditional Living in Costa Rica – Part 1

Published October 20, 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…….

We are on day 4 of our trip, and I can honestly say already that if we had to return home for some unknown reason, that I would be content with our experience. Today was everything that I had hoped to achieve on our travels, and more!

We are currently in Monteverde, a mountaintop community, located in Costa Rica’s northern highlands. “Green Mountain”, the translation of Monteverde, couldn’t be more accurate. Every direction you look, there are plants of seemingly endless descriptions and green mountains stretch as far as the eye can see. We know this for sure, as the Air BnB that we booked is perfectly perched on the side of one such mountain, and the vista below is absolutely breathtaking. We can see all the way west to the Nicoya Peninsula, and in the right light the “Golfo de Nicoya” (Gulf of Nicoya) in front of the peninsula, dances and sparkles in the sunlight.

Read on to hear about our experiences so far…….

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After spending 2 nights in Alajuela, the neighbouring city to Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, and feeling that we had recovered sufficiently from our dreaded red eye flight from Calgary, through Toronto, we decided to head into the interior of Costa Rica, instead of hitting the beach. We will be house sitting right on the beach for 2 months at the end of October, so we will have lots of beach time to come. The mountains were calling us.

In 2004, my last visit to Costa Rica, I had visited a small mountain town called Monteverde. I had very fond memories of this place, but such as it was back then, our main motivation was to get to the beach, so we only spent a night or two. I longed to come back to explore more of this area, and to try and get a better feel for life in the highlands.

I did a search for Monteverde on my Air BnB app, to see what would come up. There were many options in many price ranges, but as I scrolled the list, one caught my eye. “Paradise House Monteverde #2 – Farmstay”.  The description definitely called to my yearning to learn more about the Costa Rican life.  Check it out below:

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Turns out that as it is the low season, and the internet had been washed out with the latest Hurricane, we got a discount and only paid $68 for 3 nights!

I quickly read it out to Chris and he said “Yes! Book it!”

Our plan was set! Here was our chance to learn about a traditional Costa Rican way of life. My goal with travelling is always to connect with locals, to see how others are living, to learn their way of life, and to share it with others. This sounded like a perfect fit! I booked 3 nights, knowing that would give us 2 full days to enjoy ourselves in a lovely, peaceful location.

3 nights = $68 CAD

With the help of our host in Alajuela, we booked a bus trip up into the mountains. Costing just $15 US (including a $5 booking fee for booking online), the bus would leave Alajuela at 3:00 and arrive at 7:00pm. In the tropics, every day of the year, it is dark by 6:00, so I knew that it would be dark when we arrived at our location. I messaged this to Orlando, our farm host, and he assured me that since they were located well out of Monteverde proper, he would arrange a transport to pick us up at the Bus stop.

The bus ride was a typical one, driving quickly down paved highways, weaving along the coastline of the Gulf of Nicoya, until all of a sudden we took a sharp, right hairpin turn onto a gravel road. After 2 hours on the road, we were finally headed into the mountains. Immediately there was a sign that said Monteverde 35km. I commented to Chris that surely it can’t take 2 more hours to go 35 kilometres. However, I was sorely wrong!

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Note:  It took us almost 4 hours to reach Monteverde.  Mind you, we were on a large bus, a private vehicle is likely quicker.

Within minutes, make that seconds, I could see that YES, this definitely could take 2 hours! The road was windy, narrow, steep and seeming impossibly small to accommodate the bus that we were riding on. As we were seated in the front two seats to the right of the driver, my favourite spot to “see it all” we got a full spectacle of what was to transpire. Corner after corner, sharp curve after sharp curve, we wound our way up the tight mountain road. With the recent rains of Hurricane Nate , having wreaked havoc with many mountain roads, we witnessed a few places where part of the road was washed away down the mountain. In these instances, the bus would slowly but surely, squeeze itself down the inside lane, hugging as close as it would dare to the inside ditch, without falling into it. We also watched the Humidity indicator that was located at the front of the bus go from 50% to 90% as we approached the clouds and entered an area aptly known as the Cloud Forest. We watched numerous small frogs leap across the road, scurrying out of the way of the large bus wheels, some we knew made it, others we weren’t so sure. Never the less, we cheered them on as we saw them.

Many times we would come across another vehicle going down the road, each time both of us would squeeze as tight as we could to the opposite shoulders of the road, literally inching past each other. However, in one instance, we came head to head with a driver of a commercial utility truck. It was now dark and drizzling rain and there was clearly no way for both vehicles to pass each other on the current stretch of road.

After both vehicles flashed their lights at each other a couple times, the driver of the truck finally realized that if anyone was to back up, it was him. He jumped out of his truck to survey the situation around him, and to come up with a solution, a way to pull over so that we could pass each other. After realizing that the other driver needed assistance in backing up (so that he didn’t drive off the road and over the cliff side) our driver jumped out to direct him. The amusement in the bus was hilarious as the locals chitter chatted back and forth laughing and carrying on about the situation. I couldn’t help but think about if the same situation would have happened in Canada; Number one, there would not be a public bus driving on a road such as this in Canada (unless of course it was guaranteed to be the only vehicle driving back and forth), and Number 2, if a bus load of people were held up in this way, there would be more than one very unhappy person. However, the mood was jovial, and everyone was just happy to have the entertainment.

Finally, as our driver helped the other driver back up down the windy road, and into a slightly wider section, another man, that we had picked up at a rest stop, and who had been chatting with the driver at the front of the bus ever since, jumped into the drivers seat and started driving the bus down to meet him. Chris and I burst out laughing, as we had no idea who this guy was, but trusted that he knew what he was doing either way. What little choice did we have after all? Thankfully, he safely drove us the couple hundred meters forward to pick up our other driver, but not before passing the transfer truck and another vehicle behind it on the cliff side of the road, with mere inches to spare between us (and I’m sure mere inches to spare with the side of the road, and in turn, the cliff as well.)

I mentioned to Chris more than once that I was thankful that it was dark because although we knew that we were driving up the side of the mountain, we were unable to see just how perilous and treacherous that it was if we were to simply slide down into the abyss below.

As we started to approach a more populated area, made obvious by the lights that now lit the road ahead of us, many locals would signal to the driver to be let off in various areas. Again, NOT something you would necessarily see in Canada.

Despite all of this, we arrived in Monteverde at about 6:50pm. We departed the bus and stacked our luggage against the wall. Other travellers scampered around grabbing taxis or staring into their iPhones to figure out their next move. Nobody approached us about a ride, so I poked my head around the corner and locked eyes with a man standing next to a van. He gave me a look of approval so I walked over to him to show him the address of where we were going. Before I had a chance to do that, and much to my surprise, he showed me a picture on his phone of Chris and I! I realized that it was our Air BnB profile photo, and that our host must have sent it to him so that he knew who to pick up. “Perfecto!” I announced and patted him on the shoulder. I ran off to grab Chris and our luggage, and we were whisked away into the darkness, along another bumpy and washed out gravel road.

Unfortunately, I never did get our drivers name, but he quickly realized that I spoke a bit of Spanish, and we were able to carry out a simple conversation. He explained to me that the reason the roads were so bad was because of the extensive rains that the hurricane had deposited on the area. There were many more washed out areas along the next section of road that we travelled, and even a couple of crews working late into the night to repair them.

After about 15 minutes, we pulled into a tiny gap in a fence, and his headlights illuminated our home for the next few days. It was absolutely pitch black, but we could tell by the lights in the distance and below us, that we were perched on a hillside of sorts. He helped us with our luggage, found the key and opened the door, and then wished us well. I asked about when we would meet our host, Orlando, and he said something about “Manana”. Good enough, we would see him tomorrow.

We quickly unpacked our food and got busy with making some dinner. The house was simple, with 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and a small kitchen where we could make our meals over the course of our stay. We took turns running in and out of the front doors, both ecstatic with our location, and wanting desperately for it to be the next day, so that we could see the fantastic view that we knew was spread out before us.

But alas, we knew that we would have to wait. In the meantime, we ate our dinner, sat on our front porch, and stared off into the vast unknown. Tomorrow would bring the light and a whole new adventure!

** Thanks for reading! This is part of a larger group of blog posts about us letting go of all of our possessions to go traveling. If you would like to read from the beginning, click here.**

To see more photos, and to follow our progress on Facebook, please follow our page.

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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