Costa Rica – Update (Days 4-7): Rancho Mastatal

After arriving in Rancho Mastatal, we began the morning of Day 3 with a meet-and-greet with the interns of the permacultural center. The interns gave us an opportunity to cogitate the principles of sustainability. We then toured the ranch and discovered the ecological interrelationships between the human inhabitants, the agriculture, and the wildlife. Tim, the director of the ranch, was very hospitable alongside the rest of the interns and served us a delicious organic dinner. The main principle that the ranch values is permaculture, the holistic design of ecosystems in which all life thrives in mutual symbiosis. We learned first about the permacultural principles underlying the agricultural systems of the ranch. We learned about zonation, the system of organization that underlies permacultural design, and we learned about planting, harvesting, and consuming food. We then learned about fermentation and its importance, and we fermented food ourselves. All the food we’ve eaten this past week has been grown on-site.

The next day was focused on the permacultural engineering of the capture, transfer, and delivery of water and the hydrologic cycle. We discussed the finite nature of water and what that means for the future of our planet. Later in the day, we planted vetiver and nitrogen fixing trees on the ranch, making sure we didn’t step on the roaming hens in the process! We really got our hands dirty in the pouring rain — precipitation no different from any other day. In honor of Independence Day, we engaged in a lively debate regarding the topic “Are the citizens of the United States really free?”

The following day was energy-themed. We thought critically about the current global energy crisis and the climatic issues generated by the greenhouse gasses emitted from the burning of fossil fuels. We discussed a handful of alternative energy technologies and solutions in depth, from hydroelectric dams to photovoltaic cells to geothermal energy harvesting to wind-power farms. We all devised a plan in which we could become more sustainable with our energy consumption back when we returned to the States. Later, the entire community of Mastatal came together at the home of a local shop owner to watch the live World Cup match between Costa Rica and the Netherlands. After an invigorating game in which the Costa Rican team performed extraordinarily well, the Netherlands team triumphed in our unfortunate defeat in which they scored one more penalty kick than the Costa Rican team. Although it was an unfortunate ending, it was beautiful to see the entire community come together as we experienced local culture firsthand.

Yesterday, we went on a full-day horseback ride through the mountains to a beautiful waterfall. The view of the valleys were rich with a biodiversity of plants, and the waterfall itself was breathtaking like nothing we had ever seen before. We were led by a cowboy who could not speak English, so this proved as an opportunity in which we could really practice our Spanish.

Today we toured a chocolate farm, in which we learned how chocolate was extracted from the beans of a cacao fruit. We tasted everything from the cacao fruit to the beans to the end product — in fact, we made our own chocolate by engaging in the full process and grinding cacao beans into powder, and then mixing it with pure sugarcane. The raw chocolate is considered a superfood by nutritionists, and totally differs from the highly-processed chocolate we find in the United States. It was a truly educational and hands-on day. Tonight we plan to go on a nighttime hike to explore the nocturnal wildlife!

That’s all for now! All the students are having a wonderful time, and the entire group has truly bonded into a family. The minimal internet here is extremely hard to access, so forgive the latency in this blog post and the impending ones. We are all loving it here and we’re having a fantastic adventure rich with education, culture, science, creativity, and exercise. The landscapes are beautiful beyond words, the activities are adventurous and exciting, the food is organically grown and delicious, the animals and birds make up the entire color spectrum, and the culture is unabridged.

On behalf of the nine students that make up our Sustainable Summer family, I express wholehearted gratitude for this adventure.

To be continued.

– Josh Nodiff