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Archive for February, 2012

While the majority of my time in CR has been quite luxurious and vastly different from what I expect to find in Peace Corps, some facets of this excursion are likely to be relevant to what I will encounter in Panama.  Particularly, my progress with Spanish and my short stint working on a permaculture farm. So fair warning, I already mentioned most of the exciting stuff last post. :)

I’m finally beginning to understand the depths of the phrase “language barrier.” I mean, I’ve never claimed to be fluent in Spanish, at least not without a lot of implied sarcasm, but it is seriously difficult to convey your personality in another language.  I have no real troubles getting by, I can genuinely communicate any needs or desires, but actually holding a conversation and sharing stories is sooo difficult; it often forces me to silence.  It’s been fun trying to communicate with Javier’s parents, who only speak Spanish.  Facial expressions, hand gestures and a lot of patience on their part has been helpful.  But I can definitely understand how it will become frustrating, particularly in a setting where I’m trying to assess needs and desires of a peoples I know little about. Trying to understand Javier’s friends has been far more challenging. Between the random Costa Rican slang and speed, and the fact that they’ve known each other so long they essentially read each others minds, I’ve had some challenges following basic conversations.  I’ve definitely noticed an improvement but there’s a long road ahead.

Lesson learned: spend the next few months actually studying spanish.  Reading the headlines on BBC Mundo no longer counts.

And then of course, The Farm. It’s called Finca Fruicion. And I had no clue what I was signing up for.

It started with an adventurous cab ride (after a 3 hour bus) from San Isidro del General, Perez Zeledon, to the farm.  When I got off the bus not a soul knew what I was talking about when I asked about Finca Fruicion.  One cab drive seemed to understand the place I was talking about. He lied.  We stopped about 8 times asking for “la finca de los gringos en San Augustin?” Literally the words “let’s turn around” were on the tip of my tongue when we found the Finca Fruicion sign. The following week was a bit chaotic (something I also intend to find in Peace Corps).  Since I was only there for about a week and it’s the dry season, I only worked on a couple different projects.  I mostly helped with construction of a bunk bed, playing with the two older kids (7 and 4), mulching, and harvesting salads for dinner.

“Babysitting” my 4-year old nature guide to one of the waterfalls on the property.

Honestly, I was hoping to get more involved in the permaculture aspects of the farm, but the resident permaculture expert was out of town while I was there, plus not as much farming is done in the dry season.  But Alana was kind enough to give a tour and explain a few concepts of permaculture.  One of the principle concepts, it seems, is the idea of of observing and sustainably harvesting what the land and climate are already producing.  On this farm, for instance, there’s a fresh spring that produces clean water which is used for all water needs on the property.  They give all leftover food waste to the animals or turn it into compost, as well as composting human and goat manure.  The chickens run freely during the day through pastures with fruit trees, eating bugs and leaving presents (and thus fertilizing)  the trees.  In the fish pond, they have a predator fish, tilapia and minnows.  This helps keep the balance so the bond doesn’t overpopulate with tilapia.  The tilapia eat water lettuce in the pond, which is then harvested to be used as a fertilizer in the vegetable garden.

Tilapia pond pre-water lettuce harvest

Tilapia pond post-water lettuce harvest. Not bad, eh?

Furthermore, all of the structures on the property are built largely from materials found on the land. This typically means that much of the wood for walls and thatched roofs are found from trees on the land. Even cooler, part of the “downstairs” (by downstairs, I mean about a 10 minute hike down the side of a mountain) area of the farm was made of cob building.  This was the first I’d heard of cob building and I wish I could have been more involved with it.  It’s essentially similar to adobe and very effective in areas with a lot of seismic activity. Perfect choice for Costa Rica where I experienced two (baby) earthquakes in one week. The buildings here even used some old wine and olive oil bottles to bring in some natural light. Plus you can make some cool designs!!

My personal favorite aspect of the built environment on the Finca was the solar shower. Yum. Seriously. Don’t knock it until you shower outside in perfect weather, under warm, natural spring water, with a view of distant mountains to one side and tropical fauna on the other. Yeah, like I said. Yum.  This picture does it zero justice, but it’s impossible to capture all that.

And, finally the most relevant part of the Farm experience – getting sick. Yup, I died. And I had to use a compost latrine (outdoor pit in the ground and separate #1 and #2). And it’s likely to happen again in Peace Corps many more times, with less accommodating sanitation facilities. Be thankful for indoor plumbing people. Seriously.

Lessons Learned:   
Buy animals, feed them what you don’t want, use their poop as fertilizer.  
Working on a farm for one week is not long enough. 
Cob building looks cool. Investigate further. 
Outdoor solar showers are sa-weeeet.


Thanks for reading all of this, Mom.

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If I have money and time, it’s pretty much a guarantee that I’m leaving the US.  Scratch that, if I have time and at least enough money for a plane ticket, it’s pretty much a guarantee that I’m leaving the US.

I planned this trip with the intent of visiting Javier, Pamela and Enric in Costa Rica as well as practicing some Spanish without the added challenges of not knowing people, culture or having indoor plumbing.  Plus we had a mini-Prague reunion because Hodges came down to visit for 10 days, and we saw some incredible beaches, volcanoes and wildlife.  This post will be a little recap of the fun stuff.

So about a month ago, I stepped off a plane and found myself in Paradise (also known as Costa Rica).  My first night here we stayed at a super nice hotel near Playa Hermosa in the province of Guanacaste using a “Tico Discount.”  Soooo  Javier and Pamela checked in while Enric and I stayed in the car so as not to give ourselves away as non-ticos.  They have a sixth sense about those things.  Plus I look super gringa. I was immediately impressed with the white sandy beaches surrounded by mountains. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Here’s a picture so ya’ll can be jealous.

Ok, so in a nutshell, the food is great: gallo pinto & lizano sauce (rice and beans), fresh fruit and fruit juices (like picked from a tree 2 feet away), great seafood – shrimp, calamari, tilapia and bass. The beaches are equally delicious (ref picture above), and adventurous tourism opportunities are abundant. While here I was able to see up close and personal: monkeys (howler and white face), sloths, Jesus Christ lizards, herons, toucans, huge spiders, hermit crabs, pizotes (like racoons) and even one boa constrictor. I did admittedly murder one spider that I found in my tent. I still feel a little bad about that one.

White-faced monkey like two feet from my face at Manuel Antonio National Park

Pizote that wanted to cozy up with me and Javier at Volcan Irazu

In one sentence my Costa Rica adventures are as follows. I toured two volcanoes (Irazu and Arenal), went ziplining next to one of them, rode horses through a coffee plantation on the side of a mountain, swam in hot springs, slept in a treehouse, hiked to a couple waterfalls, attempted surfing and experienced two earthquakes. Ok the earthquakes were more like baby earthquakes, but still.

First time on a horse!!!

All in all it was a decent month.  Despite all the vacationing, I promise I did expend some energy and time trying to prepare myself for the next two years which are likely to be the most challenging of my life.  But that’s for the next post.


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