Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Wild Rhino Ride
by: Margie Davis

Instead of going to the beach with the rest of the country for Semana Santa (Holy Week), I left the Central Valley and headed for a tiny town called Atirro, about 20 minutes beyond Turrialba, which is on the way to the Caribbean coast.

I had met Ginnee online and she invited me out to where she and husband Phil bought 1,270 acres of land - rain forest, cloud forest, 20 waterfalls, primary forest, pasture and farmland with jaguars, ocelots, anteaters, monkeys and all types of birds, including quetzals and toucans.

Ginnee and Phil moved from Florida to Costa Rica to be land conservationists. They are growing construction-grade bamboo, a wood that meets earthquake code because it has a stronger tensile strength than steel.

They are also growing vetevier, a grass from India with roots nine feet deep, which prevent erosion and landslides and stabilize land by the river that receives about 300 inches of rain a year. Their long-term plan includes growing organic produce for themselves and their workers, and a plant nursery, which was Phil's profession before moving to Costa Rica.

This couple is very generous with their time and attention to the Tico family that is the live-in caretaker for their farm, Finca Quijote de Esperanza. While I was there, Ginnee, an excellent cook, barbecued seven or eight chickens and made a big bowl of scalloped potatoes and pumpkin bread (pan de ayote), which we took to the caretaker's house for a big meal. Ginnee's housekeeper, Carmen, and her family joined us. In all, about 15 of us enjoyed the feast.

The mode of transportation to get to the farm and back to their house, a distance of about six kilometers, is in a beast called the Rhino, which looks like a souped-up dune buggy. It's a Yamaha quad vehicle that goes up to 40 mph, gets 43 miles per gallon, has roll bars and a hydraulic-assist dump bed.

There is no covered roof or sides - you buckle yourself in with the seat belt and hope you don't fall out on the sharp ruts and sudden curves. Ginnee drives the Rhino like a fearless rodeo rider. On the way back to her house from the feast, we got soaked by a chilling rain, but we had more fun than on a wild ride at DisneyWorld, opening our mouths like kids to drink in the rain. Yahoo!
Back at their house, I changed into dry clothes that had been donated for the schoolchildren in their town. While Phil focuses on land development, Ginnee is involved in raising funds and supplies to help the poor children in the community.

I got to see more of this community at the Easter eve church service where a couple dozen folks gathered in the community church. I was surprised to see the service led by two young women, wearing a t-shirt and a tank top, no less! Where was the priest, I wondered. The town of Atirro is too small to have its own priest, I learned. The priest who visits this town once a month is also responsible for 13 other towns. The young women who led the service (in Spanish) is from a youth ministry in Cartago, a city about an hour away. One of them even gave the sacrament and delivered a sermon - without notes! I was impressed with the knowledge and confidence that these young people showed. The people at church were very friendly, and insisted that we stay after the service to eat the dinner they had prepared.

One of the main purposes of my trip was to learn some basic cooking instruction from Ginnee. This is the year I am going to learn to put together menus and cook recipes that call for more than three ingredients. So when we got back from church, we set up shop in the very spacious kitchen.

I had bought big, ripe eggplants from AutoMercado in the Central Valley because her little pulpería didn't carry such an exotic vegetable. Working together, we made eggplant parmesan that turned out delicious. Ginnee's philosophy on cooking is: Cook once, eat twice or thrice. We made enough for a second dinner that night and for eggplant omelettes the next morning. And there was enough for me to take back home with me.

Although the drive to Atirro took me only two hours and fifteen minutes through tiny towns and beautiful coffee plantations, I felt like I had vacationed in a different country. I saw a part of Costa Rica that many vacationers and residents don't see.

Dining with a Tico family in the campo (countryside) was a heart-warming experience that I won't soon forget. And witnessing the plans and effort that Ginnee and Phil are putting into their land and humanitarian projects, I saw how expats can make a big difference in this beautiful country.

Written by Margie Davis - Retirement Advisor for Women in Costa Rica. If you're a woman thinking about moving to Costa Rica, Margie can help pave your way, please contact Margie at:

Friday, May 11, 2007

This morning about 7:15 we went to visit the neighbors. I was hoping that they were out of bed and dressed at that uncivilized hour. You do not want to visit me at that hour, I don’t even take phone calls before 9. We discovered that this is the perfect time to get invited to breakfast; who knew? Our plan was to stop at a soda for a breakfast bite when we were in Turrialba. I would have ordered 2 slices of fried semi-duro queso while Phil had the pinto with lots of eggs.

The food was fantastic and I am not a breakfast person. Then I spotted the cheese, I am a cheese eater and I have missed great, creamy, French cheese, and Brie. After my first bite, “Where did you get this cheese?” May I have more? They make it, in their refrigerator and it only takes a week or two. My first batch of Turrialba Brie, is now aging in my refrigerator. Who knew it would, or could, be so easy. If I can wait for two weeks, I will give you a bite by bite review of my cheese. This is a brilliant discovery, a defining moment in my food history. I love good cheese. My idea of breakfast is cheese or soup. I have taught Phil to fix his own raw oatmeal and flax seed mixture in the morning so that I do not have to do it for him on a daily basis. If I am on the go it’s definitely cheese for breakfast as I can grab it and run. Soup gets so messy when you are running with it.

Mario, Michele, Deborah, and their dogs, Isis and Roger went riding in the Rhino up a muddy mountain to look at property with us today. The views were stunning. The mud, slippery and thick in places but the Yamaha Rhino was not challenged at all. This vehicle is totally amazing. Overloaded (it only has two seats) we locked into 4 wheel drive and picked our way uphill being careful not to launch ourselves off the cliff. The dogs actually climbed on their own but we brought them home in the Rhino as they were caked in mud. They had a fantastic time and when they were thirsty they found a spring with lovely fresh water.

The Yamaha Rhino is truly a superior vehicle in every way. It has high clearance, great traction; fantastic gas mileage, high speeds, and can really handle a load. We looked at diesels, they have no ground clearance, are as slow as a turtle, and not cute. If Dark Angel were still in production this vehicle would be on that show. It is that cool.
My friend Margie is a writer and a writing teacher here in Costa Rica. Following her visit during Easter she wrote an article what was just published about her visit with us. You can read her article as it is posted above on my blog.

We really enjoy company like Margie; fun, witty, quick to laugh and a pleasure to have. We laugh a lot here actually; it is a requirement for sanity preservation. No matter who you are or where you live, you must find time for a few good laughs.

Phil just loves his horses. Why you ask, well, because they are his and they look so pretty in the various pastures. As our man Dog was putting them in a new pasture today the little filly saw Phil and came running over to him. He scratched her favorite spot under her chin lovingly and when she was finished she turned a bit and tried to kick him. He deflected her “playfulness” and her aloft hoof merely touched his hand. Silly filly, Dog came, captured her and she joined the others in their paradise, guava-land.

Of course our man Dog has another name, it is Parro (Dog in Spanish).
Costa Rican rainforest weather has returned to normal with beautiful sunny mornings and cool afternoon siesta rains.

I went to see my Columbian friend Maria this morning. Maria is a wonderful cook, mother, and the wife of Dr. Alberto Gomez. She is also a great gardener with beds of herbs, collard greens, carrots, and lettuce. Her backyard has happy chickens of all colors, even very large blackish chickens with white poka-dots. Very beautiful birds that live in a protected sanctuary with herbs, water gardens, perches, a hen house and life could not be much better for a chicken. Just ask the very large Long Island Red that I saw yesterday on a front lawn in La Suiza with a string tied to his leg and a cement block. Where is my machete when I need it? I would have freed that bird from his prison but he would have probably flipped out thinking I was about to behead him.

On Sunday afternoon we will take the Doctor and Maria to the Mission for Sunday afternoon service. This will be their first visit and I look forward to this outing. I always enjoy our joyful time at the Mission. The return trip home with the live obstacle course of people in black and cows all over the excessively winding mountain road that follows the rivers course is stressful and my screams of terror bring my Zen down a bit. Other than those small details it is often a highlight of my week. Much to our delight we have not fallen down the ravine again. That was one of our most embarrassing moments of driving history and right there in the top 5 of the most dangerous category.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

EARTH University student Karen Albuja, has started writing her blog. It is written in Spanish but if you do not read Spanish you can translate it at google Just cut and paste Karen’s web address in the language tool and it will translate the web page for you. It is not perfect but you will be able to read and understand it. This is a story worthy of your time. Please click on the link and read about her life threatening adventure. Karen is a very sweet, compassionate, bright young lady who has a lot to say regarding the future and life in our troubled world.
Her classmate Sharon is a another special young woman who is from Uganda and is in her second year at EARTH University in Costa Rica. When we met and she told me where she was from, I must have been mentally processing Uganda for she then asked, do you remember Ide Amin? Whoa! Ide Amin was a nightmare. That is Sharon’s country. Her first post is the one I promised you about the day the students were trapped on the other side of the Rio Oro due to the flash flood of water coming down from the mountain. I hope that Sharon will dig deep into her past and tell us the story of her life in the near future. Documenting her journey to this time and place is important. They do not believe in educating girls in her country, Sharon has achieved much in her short lifespan and she has much to teach all of us about life and the struggle to be educated. One statement from Sharon that is still ringing in our head is that, “Failure is not an option for me.” Think about that for moment, …… failure, is not an option for Sharon!

Sharon speaks many languages, 6 or more, but when she started at Earth University in Costa Rica, she did not speak Spanish. My first impression was the same as Sharon’s, that all of the classes were taught in English. Wrong, they are all in Spanish. You must be bilingual and speak English but all classes are taught in Spanish. Talk about a handicap on Day 1, but failure is not an option for Karen. I love smart, liberated, still struggling woman. It is the struggle that makes us stronger, smarter, and capable of overcoming every obstacle.

Sharon has a scholarship to EARTH, because of the generosity of 2 different people who found it in their hearts to pay her way. She is the first person in her family to go to a University, and she is a woman, from Uganda; that is big. I expect we have much to learn from Uganda’s finest young woman, including, “Failure, is not an option for me.”

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

EARTH University students have been visiting our home and farm since Friday. Thirteen smart, exciting, very bright, joyful students have enriched our lives. They gave us demonstrations as to how they make EM and MM as well as evaluating our farm and making recommendations. Then they went hiking to the waterfalls.

I gave them cooking lessons and taught those that were interested how to make hamburger buns, ajote pan, sopa de ajote, Asian pancakes, oatmeal raisin cookies, Thai lentil coconut soup and pizza.

Yesterday they went hiking to different waterfalls on the other side of the Rio Oro. On their way back down the mountain, it started to rain and they discovered how much water comes off of the mountain and down the river as they were now trapped on the other side of the Rio Oro. Cold and shaking from the freezing torrential mountain downpour, they were approached by an old rail thin man wearing a black garbage bag cape. Felipe the caretaker, invited them into his home. His home is the hotel we have been trying to buy for about 3 years. It has no roof, just a few black plastic bags that do nothing to keep the place dry. The entire floor was a puddle of water.

Gunther, the previous property owner of our land who is also visiting with us, called me to tell me the students were stuck on the other side of the Oro. I was wondering how I would tell their teacher Panfilo that they would not return because they were stranded by a now wild river filled with debris, bolders and rocks. This flash flood occurs with every hard rain, but the students were not prepared to see a sweet stream become a raging torrent of furry. Hours went by while they were stranded and Gunther was rescuing them. He tied a rope onto his Galloper and pulled the students across the threatening river. When they arrived back at our home they were swaddled in blankets and bedding from our caretakers house. Their clothing was so muddy that we washed them in the sink before we washed them in the washing machine.

The students told us today that they feel they must come back to help the old man at the hotel who welcomed them to come in out of the cold and to stand in front of his fire. They feel so bad that any human should live in those conditions.

The caretaker, Felipe, was hired to guard the hotel by a man who does not own the hotel. This is a convoluted story of a very dysfunctional family. The truth of what happened may never be known but still to this day the undercurrents of dysfunction continue to bubble up as ugly and deceptive as the vortex that destroyed the relationships within this family. Greed, false surveys, lies, theft, liens, corruption, debauchery, hatred, death, it is all here in one not-so-neat, ugly package that continues to ooze. Felipe has been guarding the structure for about 18 months now, he is about to come into his second rainy season.

Our EARTH students are among the finest group of young, caring people that exist. We were talking at lunch today with Gunther and we think that it does not get any better than these young people, in this age group, and in this year of 2007. We have had many young people stay with us, we were host parents of 16 kids at a time in Florida, and I have my own children who are now adults. To have 13 students, of this caliber, and so well behaved, was a privilege.

I look forward to receiving the student’s stories as told by each of them and when I receive them, I will post them on the blog for your enjoyment. Their adventure is one they will never forget, and one that most of you will never experience. Rural off the grid Costa Rica can be every extreme, and so very beautiful as the mist falls over the fila drenching the forest while giving life back into the rivers.

Costa Rica has been in a drought for months. It is the dry season but we should still have rain every afternoon because we are in a Rainforest. The result is that many areas are now having their water turned off by the government for part of everyday. Because our electricity is fueled by hydroelectric power plants and because our rivers are dry we have had country wide power failures this week from one end to the other. At some point everyday, our power goes off for 3 to 4 hours. We never know when that will be until everything fails. I am waiting for the switch to drop at any moment yet today.

We have water from a spring at the house and our spring has plenty of water. We have plenty of water at the farm but it is way down from what it should be. The farm gets about 300 inches of rain a year. It is currently in a drought. My 3,500 vetevier starts are hurting; I hope they will come back. In 3 weeks, I am scheduled to receive 7,000 more starts. My Guadua Angustifolia Bamboo has rooted in and is rocketing upward.

Our little house is looking good, the interior stucco is on and it did come colored in the sacks. The earthy color finished clay floor tile is down but not yet grouted. The kitchen is going in, compact and efficient. It is a cute little house; it is tiny, almost a doll house. I have been in Habitat for Humanity houses in the US and they are bigger. But what does a family really need? Shelter, a place to sleep, 3 bedrooms and a bathroom, all very efficient and functional; I think it will meet their needs and be easy to care for.

Yesterday I saw a red Toucan outside my bedroom window. He had red feathers around his neck with what appeared to be a black body, but no, it was a red body under the black wings; very surprising and beautiful.

I had a witness here with me. My friend Blanca was here teaching me how to break into my account at our Costa Rican bank. It only took several hours and many phone calls to the bank until we had success. It was wonderful to have a bird interruption of the fascinating kind. She had never seen a roho (red) toucan before and neither have I. It is a good thing to have trees and plants all around your home because it invites the birds and animals.

I smoked bacon this week that I have been curing. Guava smoked, apple cured, no nitrate bacon. I know what we are having for breakfast tomorrow.

Earth Day, I think I will celebrate by enjoying and observing our piece of earth. It would please me if it rained hard all day long as Costa Rica’s earth and animals would love a cool refreshing drink.