Before leaving for Costa Rica my friends and I were talking, they joked that I wouldn’t be able to survive. I’m a picky eater who is used to city life. I’ve lived in New York my entire life and go to a boarding school right outside of Boston, Massachusetts. The only “jungles” I had ever encountered were the concrete kind. And here I was going to spend a week on a ranch in the middle of the dense Costa Rican jungle. But I wasn’t scared. I was excited. Ever since I was little I loved learning about the environment and learning how to care for it.
The first day we arrived in Costa Rica we stayed at a cozy Bed and Breakfast in the capital city of San Jose. It wasn’t too much of a culture shock. Yet…
When we left for Rancho Mastatal the next morning we were warned about the bumpy roads that we were going to be experiencing for most of our drive there. I was generally secure about my lack of car sickness and took a seat in the very back. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was looking out of the window and taking pictures of the scenery. I kept looking back and forth between still pictures and the blur of moving sights.
Halfway there we stopped for some snacks and a bathroom break. That was when my third mistake took place. I had only eaten fruit and bread that morning because I woke up late and had to hurry to leave at our scheduled time. As a group we had gotten some wafer snacks that looked harmless enough and easy to eat. I ate a couple thinking it would be fine and that’s when the roads turned bumpy and hit me hard. I began to regret everything I ate that day. Our driver was used to these roads and went over the bumps and potholes without a care in the world. All the while me and another girl were holding our heads down and clutching the seats in front of us. Eventually, it was too much to bear, I asked to stop and promptly threw up on the side of the road. Welcome to Costa Rica!
When we finally arrived at Rancho Mastatal it was like a breath of fresh air. It was so beautiful! Buildings that were made out of materials found on the Earth (and they were completely stable!) were placed around the property, surrounded by dense trees, bushes and all kinds of plants. It was fascinating. In my mind I kept thinking wow that terrible car ride was completely worth it.
The first dinner at the Rancho was salad, rice and beans and some fermented salad toppings. I got a little bit of everything and decided that it actually tasted really good. It felt nice and fresh. It wasn’t greasy and it didn’t have that fatty feeling of processed foods I was used to eating. Later on I learned that the food that we ate there was completely grown at the Rancho by all the apprentices that were living there. Twice that week, the group and I woke up early to help the apprentices with chores at six thirty in the morning. The first day I helped one of them with weeding. I got up close and personal with a banana spider (yikes!) and got to learn more about the girl I was working with, Jamie. I learned a lot about the plants and fruits and vegetables they grew on the ranch. The second day I worked with one of the guys on the Bio-D. It was an interesting experience that involved cow manure and methane. We moved the manure that was ready to be put into the tank to be put into another tank where methane would be extracted from the now liquid manure. Then after doing that we put a new bag of manure down where the old manure was taken. I learned that the methane from the toilet waste combined with cow manure would be sent to the kitchen to fuel it. I even got cow manure splashed onto me!
The Rancho was completely self-sustainable. There were several compost piles and compost toilets all over the ranch. We utilized the compost piles several times and learned that in the piles was food leftover from all meals during the day, dead plants from all over the ranch and the remnants of our potato art. In addition to the gardens and composts they had goats and chickens and a large amount of biodiversity among plant species. It was a magical place and a wonderful experience. I got to learn how to make soap, chocolate, make star fruit balm (which is the Rancho’s version of soda with lots of probiotics!) and even got to ferment a large bin of vegetables.
We were lucky to have discussions with Timo, the man who created the Rancho with his wife years ago. He taught us about permaculture, to be self sustainable and independent, and helped us brainstorm ways to incorporate sustainable practices into everyday life. He helped us map out and make our sustainable action plans. Taking them from our heads to paper and eventually developing them into real life events. We only got to have discussions with him a few days that week but I can confidently say that working alongside him and learning from him was much more effective than reading about it in a book. Timo built all the houses we saw on the ranch, he was actually living what he was teaching us and it was absolutely remarkable. The passion he and the apprentices had made it so easy to soak up the information and inspired all of us as well.
I have been researching plans for building compost piles at my boarding school. Timo taught us a lot about them, they’re fairly easy to maintain. However, you have to roll them over every so often so the compost at the bottom of the pile can get air flowing through it and mixed with the rest of the material. Composts take time to make, they won’t be ready to use in a month or two, it can take a long time to be ready to use.
I’ve also been looking into utilizing the greenhouse on campus and growing some of our own fruits and vegetables to be served in the dining hall. Until School starts again, I have been working on being more sustainable at home as well. I’ve been getting my family to turn off lights when not in use, especially during the day time when we have natural light pouring in. After experiencing the cold showers in Costa Rica I realized there isn’t a great need to take long steaming hot showers. We have also been utilizing our own garden more and using what we grow in our backyard to eat as food every day.
Through Sustainable Summer in Costa Rica I was able to see amazing sights and experience nature hikes that lead to refreshingly wonderful waterfalls. It was a privilege to spend a week with such intelligent and interesting people with so many different experiences. To see different kinds of people coming together for one cause was one of the most amazing things I’d ever experienced and I’m so thankful to have had this journey. I’ve grown and learned so much and I’m so excited to share everything I’ve learned with the people around me and my school.