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:

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