The road to Rancho Mastatal (first travel intern’s final travel blog)

La Cangreja park: the view from Mastatal

“Have Ithaca always in your mind

Your arrival there is what you are destined for.

But don’t in the least hurry the journey.

Better it lasts for years,

So that when you reach the island you are old,

Rich with all you have gained on the way,

Not expecting Ithaca to give you wealth.

Ithaca gave you a splendid journey.

Without her you would not have set out.

She hasn’t anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca hasn’t deceived you.

So wise you have become, of such experience,

That already you’ll have understood what these Ithacas mean.”

– Excerpt from the poem Ithaca by Constantine Cavafy

One of the many Mastatal art installations”

I have returned home to Northern California after wrapping up the travel portion of my Travel Internship at Rancho Mastatal: an environmental learning and sustainable living center located on the edge of one of the last remaining virgin rainforests in Costa Rica.

“The Hooch” a bamboo house at Rancho Mastatal

I found Rancho Mastatal 4 years ago while traveling and working on organic farms that I located through the aptly named Willing Workers On Organic Farms, an organizations that lists opportunities to work in exchange for room and board in many countries around the world. (For more information about these types of programs check out the Appropedia page on work for accommodation.)

Robin, aka: the godmother”

What makes Rancho Mastatal so spectacular is more than the impressive array of beautiful natural buildings, the works of functional art scattered throughout the property and the myriad of well planned and executed Appropriate Technology projects. It stretches beyond the stunning rainforest preserve that serves as a wilderness corridor between national parks and the sweeping mountain views and waterfalls.

Timo and their shining daughter Sole (photo by Ian Woofenden)”

There is a quality to the community created in and through Mastatal that is unique and dare I say…magical. A synergistic balance seems to perpetually exist amongst the many dedicated volunteers who visit the Ranch and also between the Ranch and the local people in the town of Mastatal . This balance can no doubt be accredited to many things, however, the much of the credit should be given to Tim and Robin, the visionary- chief-mastermind- owners of Rancho Mastatal who steer the ship, empowering those around them to bring forth their unique gifts and talents. Tim and Robin, Thank you for your example!

“La Chosa” Tim and Robin’s cob/waddle n daub home”

For many of the places that I visited, the idea of “sustainablility” is their illusive Ithaca. However, it may be a mistake to think of Sustainability as some fixed point we will “get to”.

It is not a mythical island. It is a process, an evolution. It IS the journey. My time at Rancho Mastatal has reminded me that on this journey we are better equipped if we carry a few things. We need community involvement and support; we have to get our hands dirty and feet muddy; it helps to let loose, be silly, sing and celebrate; we need to think carefully about the implications of our work and actions and consider the effects of past events. But most of all, I believe we need to empower one another…because we can’t do this alone.

Now that I am home from my travels, I will be taking a lot of the information I gathered and making pages for Appropedia. Look forward to future blogs highlighting some of the exciting technologies, projects techniques and tools I ran across along my way.

the plane ride home…”

The Appropedia Travel Internship has been a life changing experience. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about this opportunity you can read more about it through the link above. There is a whole world waiting to be documented….

Thanks for following my travels!

The San Isidro, Costa Rica area… a grassroots epicenter!

I am writing from Finca Amrta, a small nature reserve and farm in the foothills of the Talamaca mountains in Costa Rica’s southern zone. Finca Amrta has, among other things, served as base for me to explore the area around San Isidro, Costa Rica. This area has so much to offer and is truly the epicenter of an ecological, grassroots, back to the earth movement here in Costa Rica! I have barely been able to scratch the surface of what this area has to offer in my 10 days here. Within a 30km range of where I sit there are, according to my locally verified list, 14 established Appropriate Technology/permaculture farm/school/intentional community type places…Incredible!

Each Thursday there is a farmer’s market and most of the organizations, farms and groups in the area meet here to sell their overflow and to connect and build community. At the last market, I was able to make quite a few contacts and was invited to visit several projects in the area. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to make a choice, bounce around like a butterfly, briefly introducing people to Appropedia and getting a glimpse of what their project is about, or… try to cover just a few projects in depth.

The San Isidro Market

My decision was to visit just a few places and attempt more in depth documentation of their projects. So I am working on pages about some of the elegant “low-tech” projects at Finca Amrta and New Dawn. Both farms have been a presence in the area for over 20 years and have some simple solutions figured out for this particular climate in regards to farming, bamboo building, composting systems, etc. My hosts and the stewards of Finca Amrta, Susanna and Miguel, have been dedicated to living and demonstrating ecological land use and earth-based principles since they bought this land in 1989. My time here has been deeply grounding and enriching. Simply following Susanna and Miguel to watching them work and live has been nothing short of awe inspiring.

Susanna and Miguel of Finca Amrta
My "room" at Finca Amrta

As an added bonus, renowned medicinal plant expert Ed Bernhardt, N.D. and his wife Jessica live just next door. Ed has been working with tropical medicinal plants & gardens in Costa Rica for 20+ years and he and his wife now run the New Dawn school where they teach natural health care and permaculture classes on their land where students can eat from the garden and live in their bamboo- waddle and daub cabin (Appropedia page coming soon!)

Bamboo waddle-and-daub cabin at New Dawn

Despite my decision to stay put, I couldn’t resist the invitation to make one quick stop to visit Finca Fruicion, mostly because I felt a connection with Alana, Jason and their amazing new arrival (baby boy) Cedar. On the bus ride over to I asked the woman next to me if she knew which stop to get off for Finca Fruicion. As it turns out, this woman was Desiree Wells, who is now living and offering permaculture courses on the farm. Alana and Jason just bought the farm in 2008, are raising 2 young boys and just had a 3rd in May. Given the circumstances, I assumed I would be visiting a site with still very much in its infancy. I am happy to admit I was completely incorrect in my assumptions and am blown away with their accomplishments which include (among other things): tilapia aquaculture ponds, a chicken coop, a goat pen, a thatched roof rancho, biodiesel run school bus cabins , a greenhouse, composting toilets, solar heated showers, the sturdy beginnings of permaculture gardens, and over 150 young fruit trees! . Needless to say I could not document these projects during my one-day stay. Looks like we need another Appropedia Travel Intern to follow up on this gem of a project (as well as numerous others in the area and, actually, in the world)!

Another friendly face at Finca Fruicion

This area is also a hot-spot for anyone interested in learning about bamboo construction. I will soon be posting pages documenting some of the bamboo-building methods my good friend Arya has learned while working at the local bamboo shop. Also, Arya and I paid a visit another larger bamboo factory in the area called Bambu Tico. We were quite inspired by their operation and the myriad of bamboo products they have to offer.

Bambu Tico Factory

I have to say that my favorite tid-bit about bamboo construction came from Ed over at New Dawn; his simple bamboo-curing method. Simply cut the pieces of bamboo you would like to use and leave them standing in the bamboo stand for about 2 months resting on a rock (so they don’t act as straws). The bamboo stand acts as a natural pest and mold repellent for the curing bamboo. After a few months in the stand remove the bamboo and let the pieces bake in the sun for about 2 weeks. .. and that is that! It has worked for Ed and his building for years!

The Bamboo composting toilet at New Dawn

My fantastic voyage is approaching its last stop, one of my favorite places in the world: Rancho Mastatal!!! They have some amazing natural buildings, composting toilets, permaculture gardens, a bio-digester, solar electric and water, rainwater catch and more! I was lucky enough to visit Rancho Mastatal 4 years ago; the spirit of the land and the community made a lasting impression and I am excited to return and to have a chance to share what is happening there with the Appropedia community!

That’s all for now. Thanks for checking in!