Friday, May 31, 2013

Trapiche Coffee Plantation and Sugar Cane Tour

Today also included a tour of a Costa Rican farm. The harvest coffee and sugar, and are recently including cocoa. Their cocoa production is new, so they are getting the fruits elsewhere and harvesting them on their farm, with plans to expand production once they have their own trees.

It was interesting to learn that coffee beans are not brown when they come off the vine. The fruit is red when ripe, but the seeds are white. We learned about the processes the beans go through to become coffee. We also tasted sugar cane. I remember a neighbor (Kent Foster) we had when I was a child having sugar cane and tasting it years ago. We saw the old fashioned way the juices were extracted from the cane—oxen walking round and round, and we also saw the more modern way that the oxen prefer. We made candy from the sugary, molasses like syrup. Finally, we saw a glimpse of the process it takes to make chocolate. It makes me appreciate that chocolate I love so much that much more.

The cacao fruit is larger than I realized. Once you cut it open, you see the moist seeds. We got to try them—the slime made me gag and I spit it out. The next step is the drying. We peeled the shells off and ate the cocoa nibs. I like dark chocolate, so this tasted good to me--the flavors are very bitter, but you can taste that hint of cocoa. Next, we saw the process that grinds the dried cocoa beans. Because of the fat content of the cacao bean, this makes a pasty yet gritty creamy substance. Yes, I liked this too. Finally, we ground that with some sugar. This was the best flavored. Cocoa butter, cocoa, and sugar—what could be bad about that? 


 Coffee Beans drying out

 Coffee Beans

 Coffee Processing Equipment

 Cacao Beans fermenting

 These are gross at this stage-cacao beans. 

 Cacao beans drying

 Cacao powder ground with some sugar 

Sugar syrup from the cane juice

Ticos and Conservation

Day 6
May 30, 2013

Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos. As I have mentioned, they are very proud of their country. They realize what a gift their ecologically diverse land is. For such a small country—about two times the size of Vermont—they realize it packs quite a punch and they aspire to keep it that way.

How do they do this? We see recycling containers everywhere we go. Many people and establishments here also compost. Our student tour guides showed us their greenhouse and how they repurpose items. For instance, the cardboard like containers that many items come in (soup, broth, tomatoes, wine) can be cut in half and used as planters. The material breaks down over time. They also use plastic bottles to decorate borders and such. Their art teacher has them use the last of the paint from bottles to mix with water and pour into plastic bottles to decorate them. This then makes colorful borders for their garden plots.

Our CPI guide, Selma, explained to us how Costa Rica as a nation has tried to balance the need for development with the desire to protect their beautiful lands and wildlife. They value their environment many times over the colones ($) they may receive for other development, which I think is neat and speaks volumes about their culture.  It’s a trade-off, but it has worked well for them.

Another issue I have not yet discussed is the bathrooms. The plumbing system is not the best here. Thus, they cannot flush toilet paper down the toilet. There is a medium to large sized trashcan in every bathroom. To flush TP down is to flood the bathroom, and who wants to do that? So, that has taken some getting used to for obvious reasons. 

The water you see is a bay in the Pacific. The fog/cloudy skies make it difficult to capture the beauty. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Monteverde Centro de Educación Creativa

Day 5
Monteverde Cloud School Visit
The Monteverde Centro de Educación Creativa (CEC), is a unique bilingual private school where about 70% of the children who attend are on scholarship. Founded by involved parents about 21 years ago, its mission is, “to encourage a new generation of ecologically aware, bilingual individuals with the skills and motivation to make environmentally and socially conscious decisions on a local, national, and global scale.”  The school educates just over 200 students, preK-11, per year. Costa Ricans graduate after 11th grade. The school includes about 5% international students as well.  Students who begin here do not know English. They have classrooms with both an English speaking and a Spanish speaking teacher. By high school, most of their lessons are in English and the students are bilingual. This model also has the effect of the students teaching their parents English. Parents have said they have been caught off guard when their young child begins speaking English to tourists on the streets.

CEC sets up on the side of a mountain and our visit involved a walk up said mountain. “Burn, baby burn,” is what my legs kept screaming. Anyhow, the CEC model combines typical academics with efforts related to environmental sustainability. A science unit may include the reasons why composting is useful for the environment as well as a hands-on component where the class actually starts a compost pile from scraps from the school cafeteria and observes it throughout the year. 8th grade ambassadors who spoke flawless English showed us around the campus. They did not know any English when they began this school in PreK or K. The students were very knowledgeable of their school’s history and proud of its mission. We were all very impressed by their maturity, confidence, and knowledge.

The school is spread out and includes open classrooms across the side of the mountain. I want to go to school there! They welcome many species of birds as a part of their classroom, as well as monkeys and other wildlife. I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story. 

 The end of the LONG steep walk up the hill. The entrance to the school is just to the right of the people you see. 

 Part of the greenhouse area.Wonderful outdoor classroom. I just liked the lighting and textures in this scene. 

Kindergarten classroom. I love all of the natural lighting and the views are awesome. 

One of the many beautiful views from la escuela. 

More Differences

Day 5
May 29, 2013

Costa Ricans go to bed early and are early to rise. For example, last night everyone went to bed around 9:00. The TV never came on. The time between dinner and bed was spent showing my pictures, drawing (Genesis), and cleaning the kitchen. Mi hermanos y hermanas appear to all love and appreciate each other—they tease, help, and generally get along. Genesis is the bebe of the family and is a sweet girl that the entire family adores. She is especially endearing when she puts the chile spice (finer than crushed red pepper, but just as potent) on her food as her mama and I do, and then tries to pretend that it is not hot. She is a tough (stubborn) one.

I hear the family begin to wake up around 5. The roosters crow, the dogs bark, and the sun rises all around at this time. Papa tico is out the door by 6 if not sooner. He works in the factorica de queso, as does the oldest hermano. I plan on going there soon for what I hear is the best ice cream. Mi hermanas leave for school around 6:30. School starts at 7. When you go outside around 7, you see many kids walking to school, some with their parents, some without, some on motorcycles or four-wheelers. There are no bicycles, and the ones I have seen have been for adults. I imagine this is because of the hills here. The town/area is named Monteverde—green mountain. I expect to have buns and legs of steel after this two-week stay. The main hill from mi casa to the school is dirt/rock. I think superman would have difficulty riding a bike up it, and to go down it would be insane and surely a hospital visit would ensue.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


May 28
It has been interesting to observe the differences between here and the U.S., some obvious and some not so much.

Houses here are small. I am staying with a family of six. Our house is maybe half the size of mine, if not smaller. There are not a lot of creature comforts, but everything is efficient. The kitchen is small, and I haven’t seen a pantry yet, though there is an outside room where bananas and plantains hang to ripen. My bedroom here is smaller than my master bathroom at home. There is no closet, only shelves. Mama tica and papa tico share a room with the youngest daughter. I wonder if my room is not hers typically. The twins, Victor y Victoria, share a room with bunk beds. The older son has a room at the back of the house that might be an add-on. There is one bathroom with a shower.

Now, as for hot water—it is not hot. There is a switch on the showerhead that you slide, then turn the water pressure down low, and you might get lukewarm water. Parents, I know how you can limit your children’s shower time. I am glad my parents did not know this trick. I like my showers long and steamy. J Needless to say, I take quick showers here.

I am here to learn Spanish, but it is a work in progress. For example, this morning, everyone had left except for me y mama tica. We were at the table while I was eating breakfast and studying. I successfully communicated that I would be home after 8, as we had a movie night at CPI (Spanish school). She asked me if I wanted her to save me a place for when I arrived home. At least that’s what I thought she asked me. Imagine my surprise when I arrived home at 8:20, and no one had eaten. They had all waited for me. Papa tica was in bed, but hadn’t yet had dinner, so of course he got up and joined us. Now I think she may have asked me if I wanted the family to wait for me, or maybe she asked me if I wanted to eat dinner here. No matter. I felt so badly, and other than, “Gracias,” I did not have the words to thank them for waiting. I also want learn how to tell them not to wait for me next time. As soon as dinner was over, Genesis comes to me to say, “Bueno noches,” as it was past her bedtime. Mi familia es muy simpatico. Oh, and dinner was muy rico (very good). Tonight was pasta with tomato sauce, spices, and a small amount of meat plus a yummy salad. I am so glad we did not have arroz con frijoles. Again. 

 The bright green is mi Mama Tica's clothing store. The roof you see to the lower right is mi casa de Monteverde. 
Some of the houses on the hill near mine. This was taken when walking down the biggest hill ever (after walking up it this a.m.). 


Day 4
May 28, 2013

The national bird of Costa Rica is the yigüirro. Amazingly, of the over 800 species of beautiful birds in Costa Rica, the national bird is one that is a dull brown.  As the story goes, God ran out of colors when he was making birds, thus the yigüirro is colorless. However, the yigüirro was given a wonderful gift—the gift of beautiful song. Legend has it that la yigüirro announces the winter season, i.e. rainy season, with song, as well as the rain that comes daily to many parts of the country.

While we were in La Fortuna, we saw many beautiful birds—hummingbirds, flycatchers, toucans, and others I am not able to name. A classmate and I saw these two brown birds. She commented that they looked like they belonged in Oklahoma, not here in the land of bright colors.

Once we heard the story about the yigüirro, we felt bad. That brings to mind the popular proverb we all know—don’t judge a book by its cover.

From an education standpoint, particularly special education, this also is analogous to the fact that all students (and all individuals) have gifts to share, even though they may not always be obvious. Please take the time to recognize what gift(s) each person you encounter has to offer; you never know what you may miss otherwise. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Leaps of Faith

Day 3
May 27, 2013

When I look back on the things I’ve done in my life that I found scary or fearful, I think this experience ranks at the top. I was anxious when at age 24, I moved halfway across the country to a city where I knew no one. That experience, and the friends I met then, played a profound part of shaping my life, of who I am today. I never regretted taking that giant step—a small town Oklahoma girl up and leaving family and all things familiar. Many of the people I met are still friends today, 15 years later.

Next, I quit my well paying banking job at the age of 30. I was back in school, working on a special education M. ED. degree. Again, I was fearful. I didn’t yet have a teaching job, but I just up and quit my steady job with benefits. I know quitting a job when you do not yet have a job is not one of the best professional moves, but I consider it a leap of faith. I was hired for my first teaching job about a month later, when teacher in-service had already begun.  I started the next day and never looked back. That first year was difficult, but again I am so thankful for taking that leap. The students and families I have met along the way have enriched my life. I am able to count several parents of my former students as friends today. This year, two of my first students are graduating from high school at the age of 22. Another is graduating at 19. Yet another that I taught after moving back to OK is finished his 5th year of high school and will be moving on to adulthood. Teaching individuals with special needs is what I was meant to do, though I did not find my way here directly. Thank goodness for leaps of faith.

Finally, and the most frightening, is this experience. Walking away from CPI with my host family, the place I will sleep for the next two weeks, was frightening. They do not speak English. I barely speak any Spanish. Talk about a leap of faith!
I wonder what my reflections years from now will be on this experience?

I expect I will be able to look back, much as I have on those other frightening experiences, and be thankful I took that leap of faith. I think I will gain an extension of mi familia, both with this family and my next in Heredia. I hope to one day return and actually be able to have a conversation, unlike now when I am saying words but without any hint of proper grammar. And while I hope to learn enough Spanish to be functional, I think the still greater thing that will be gained is the experience to live in another culture whose values appear so different from ours in the USA. 

Residential street in La Fortuna