Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Day in Lina’s Life at the Ranch

Here’s a sample day at the Ranch

5:30am: Go to the main house to make breakfast. Today we served poached eggs, fresh fruit, kefir and crepes (peanut butter banana, mango cream cheese, and bean filled).

7:30am: Meeting Time. This is when all the volunteers at the ranch meet and talk about what project are going on during the day and what specific things need to be done.

8:00am: Design menu for lunch and dinner for everyone at the Ranch.

8:30am: Goats! I go out to the “Goat Slope” as we call it to give the goats and chickens their second feeding of the day. This includes walking around the Ranch to find greens for our three goats. We have two babies named Agnes and Mabel and a one-year-old named Bonnie. I also give them some left over fruit rinds from breakfast. After their feeding I need to cleanout the goat house, which mainly just consists of sweeping, sometimes a bit more.
Then I make my way over to the crazy chickens. As of now we have about 35 chickens. By the time I come out they are going a bit crazy and I have to use diversion tactics to be able to step into the house without them pecking me to death! All the while avoiding the four ducks that hang out waiting for handfuls of chicken food when I come out of the house. I also have a constant reminder of the goats who start to bray as soon as I am out of sight. It’s a zoo out there!

10:00am: Out to the main garden! Today I took cuttings of Brazilian Spinach and sweet potato and transplanted a some older cuttings of the spinach. Then I organized the vivero (nursery) and did some piddling among the garden like weeding etc.

12:30: Lunch. Yummy…I then proceed to stuff myself like usual. ;-) Today Jorge, from the local chocolate farm, came selling chocolate. So of course I had to get my weekly chocolate fix. It’s delicious organic dark chocolate in many flavors!

1:30- 4:00pm: I helped a bit with baking and learned two types of stitches to make macramé bracelets, very cool! Then I made kimchi. Kimchi is similar to sauerkraut, it’s a fermented cabbage side dish with ginger, chili, onion, garlic and cilantro. It will take about a week for the entire process to finish.

4:00-6:45pm: Down Time. I worked more on my bracelet, read a little and eventually helped cut up the bagels for dinner. Oh, and I drank a beer!

6:45pm: Dinner

8:30pm: Bed, or at least thoughts of bed. I normally go to sleep by about 9:30 or 10. If I make it to ten it’s real late! Crazy times! Now don’t you all wanna come visit!?

The Gully

The Gully

We’ve decided to name our new orchard area the Gully, after Fern Gully (the movie) because we needed to clear out a bunch of old unproductive Mango trees and we labeled them with a painted X to show we would cut them, it was straight out of the movie! Minus the fairies of course! ;-) We’ve got a ton of fruit trees in and we’ve been planting handfuls of nitrogen fixing trees called Gallinazo (locally) or Shizlobium (latin) along with creating a footpath lined by vetiver to hold the soil in place. Harvesting vetiver is a dangerous job! For those of you who are not familiar it is a type of deep rooted grass that is great for erosion control. BUT…here’s the catch…it has sharp edges that like to slice your arms, legs and hands while harvesting. You look like you’ve been through a battle when you’re done, but it’s worth it to save the soil and the hill!!
Anyway I’ve been learning a ton working here with all the awesome mentors that are here. Sometimes I surprise myself by how much knowledge about species and processes that I have gained. (I just gave myself a little pat on the back there!)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What is Permaculture??

Official Definition: Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material and strategic components in a pattern, which functions to benefit life in ALL it’s forms. It seeks to provide a sustainable and secure place for living things on this earth.

I have recently finished a 14 day intensive Permaculture course at the Ranch. It was taught by an ex-pat who has been living in Nicaragua on a Permaculture farm called Bonafide (look it up, he’s doing some pretty cool stuff!) I learned a ton from this course and am really hoping to put many of the practices into use. I’m hoping to help my parents design their house and plan out the rest of their land in the future.

Many of the Permaculture principles involve common sense, but in our world of technology and pre-packaged everything a lot of the ideas that our ancestors employed have been left behind, and with those ideas left behind we’re slowing hurting the earth. This course has taught me a different way of thinking about what I do in my everyday life. Many of these things I have never realized because I’m so used to the mainstream way of doing them. And it doesn’t just involve gardening and food, it reaches all the way out to community organization and the use of water and animals all in a synergistic system. There are several communities around the world and in the USA based on Permaculture principles. I hope to do some traveling when I leave here to go visit some of these communities, and I know what some of you might be thinking and they’re not just some crazy “hippie commune!”

· Village Homes in Davis, CA is a model community based on what is now known as the New Urbanism Movement

· Curitiba, Brazil is a model city designed with the land and the people in mind

Learning about Permaculture has given me an opportunity to explore future options for myself. The community section of the course reminded me of a class I took my senior year of college that I absolutely loved called Intro to Design and Environmental Analysis. This brought back a lot of the ideas I was having during that class and hopefully I can find a way to follow through and turn it into a way of living or a career.

It has been an overall great experience that was capped off with a field trip to CATIE, an experimental research and learning center. It’s the biggest in the world and has books on all sorts of Agroforestry topics you can’t find anywhere else. We went there and walked through the gardens and collected seeds for the Ranch AND tried a huge amount of tropical fruits like cumquat, sapote, lemon drop mangosteen, jackfruit, black sapote, asai and coffee straight off the tree! My favorite was the lemon drop mangosteen, it literally tasted like the lemon drop candies I used to eat except juicier! The second day we were there I even climbed up the tree to find more! Then we went to Puerto Viejo to a farm to buy a whole bunch of trees and other plants for the Ranch. We’ve created a looot of work for ourselves! But it’ll be fun!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Leaving Granada

We had a nice enough time in Granada but were happy when it was time to leave. It’s a pretty colonial bustling city and we got our shopping done, we arrived in Granada with 3 pairs of shoes and left with 8 pairs!! I only bought two pairs and Alex bought one, the rest are for others. We now have matching flip flops. Awwww how cuuuute! Hehehe….

Any way, we went to catch the bus to Rivas to take us to San Juan del Sur at 12pm. We, of course were running a little late so we approached the bus stop at about 11:55. Then some guy in a school bus starts yelling to us so we started running towards him. I couldn’t understand anything he said but thankfully Alex was there, although he told me later he didn’t understand much either. (heavy Nicaraguan accent) Anyway we got the point that we needed to switch buses to get to Rivas cause the normal bus wasn’t running because it was Sunday. Now we’re on this super duper packed bus with just enough standing space and every one assured us they’d tell us where to get off. I thought we’d get left off at another bus station. In reality they left us off at the side of the road and said cross the road and wait at that truck over there for the bus. We were literally in the middle of nowhere and it was starting to rain and we had a ton of stuff with us. About 5 minutes later, sure enough came along a bus to Rivas. We flagged it down and it picked us up. Again it was super packed but better than the first one. We couldn’t get my pack to fit so the guy was like here give it to me! And we were like okay… and he went around and brought it back on the bus through the back. It worked out rather nicely.

The buses here in Nicaragua are really fun cause every time it stops people come on and sell food and drinks, it’s just a fun cultural expereience. We asked a police officer where to get off and he told us where the bus to San Juan del Sur was. The bus station in Rivas is kinda dirty and there are people selling and yelling all over the place. We then got approached by a real sketchy guy asking for a taxi and we just kept ignoring him. Then another guy came up and said $10 to San Juan. This time he actually had a car marked “taxi”, so we felt good about it. It definitely made the rest of the journey faster and more comfortable, I think we only would’ve saved like 6 bucks on the bus.

We decided that we had a lot of luck in our travels thus far, especially on this day. And to top it off when we got to San Juan del Sur we went to a hotel I had read about and it was $20 a night but it was full. We decided to walk to another one that I had read about and on the way we bumped into this guy who owns Hostel Sunrise which is located about half a block from the ocean and was $15 a night with free internet. The other one was really far away also. So now we’re here and it’s beautiful and relaxing and we don’t know why we didn’t come here sooner! Let’s hope the rest of our journey comes with as much luck as this part did!

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Yesterday Alex and I departed for Nicaragua. We’re now in Granada and I have to say it has been a nothing but interesting journey so far! First of all we decided to take the cheaper route and use the local buses to get here. What this means is that the bus took us to the frontera (border) and then it was up to us to cross it and get all the paper work done. Ohhhh boy was that interesting! I went into it thinking that just because Alex is from Costa Rica and speaks fluent Spanish that it would be super easy, that was not the case. He’d never done it before and all of a sudden I was the one with experience. It’s just so hard at borders because everyone attacks and wants you to use their services. We exchanged some money and totally got ripped off, I knew that we should only do it with the “legal” exchangers, the ones with badges, but at the time with everyone yelling at us and us being really tired we just said the hell with it and went…. 20,000 colones is about $40, 21 cordobas (the Nica currency) is equal to one dollar. We exchanged 20,000 colones and got 420 cordobas back….thats about $20. So we basically got ripped off by half. That sucked, but whats done is done.

Then we went through immigration and customs, all the while having two taxi drivers following us around, which went really smoothly and quickly. I for some reason always get really nervous crossing boarders. But it was fine! Alex said that the immigration in the States should be as easy as it is in Nicaragua! So then we find out that we got in about ½ after the last bus to Granada left. It was dark and we were confused and tired and there were two very persistent “taxi” drivers hounding us. We eventually decided to go with one of them and he took us all the way to Granada. He ended up being really cool and gave us his number if we ever need anything. But the whole ride up here I was nervous he was gonna highjack us or something ridiculous like that. Oh and I forgot to mention that we had to walk across the boarder. From where the bus left us in Costa Rica it’s a 1 ½ kilometer walk to the immigration post in Nicaragua. Makes for an interesting walk though!

Alls well and good now. We found what seems like the last double bed room in Granada, thanks to a local who brought us around to all the hotels, by about 10:30 at night. We went out to the main strip after to get some food. I had an amazing papaya and milk batido (it’s like a yummy smoothy) and Alex ordered a plate of rice with vegetables. The plate cost $4 and it was huuuuuge! We didn’t eat it all and then this little boy came up to us from the street and asked if he could have it. We weren’t going to bring it home so I said yes. After it got packed up we left to find him. I just kind of put my hand out to give it to him and another little boy grabbed it from me. I said it was for the other one and just kinda left. When I looked back they were fighting over it, like for real fighting. I felt bad but I figured its better to get it into one of their stomachs than have it be thrown away. And that concludes our first exciting day in Nicaragua, only 60 more hours here! (I have to be out of the country from 72 hours to renew my visa.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Me working hard on the rebar cages to make the foundation for the library project! Look at that awesomeness!

Mango Harvest! These are just a few of the mangos we harvested from some of the trees around the property. Sole was very excited about all of them!

The Cork. This is where I am living. It is a timber frame, waddle and daub structure and it is beautiful! For those of you who don't know timber framing is a natural style of building that is built to take advantage of the strength of the wood it's self. There are no nails in this whole structure and technically it could be disassembled, although I think it might be kind of difficult! Waddle and daub is an earthen building technique using a mixture of clay, sand, straw and manure. It is then applied to a bamboo frame that is woven like a basket to makeup the back bone of the walls. Last year I helped to daub all these walls so it's really nice to see it up and running.

This is just one view of the house, its actually the room that I'm living in too. You'll notice a pirate flag...the explanation for that is that the house has a nautical theme and is based off of an interpretation of a song called The Starboard Cork.
This is Ion plucking feathers off of our first chicken dinner at the Ranch! I helped him when I was involved in my first ever chicken slaughter. I saw it all the way from the chicken coop to the dinner table! It was pretty awesome. It really makes you appreciate the animal and the food you eat when you see the whole process.
A view of one of the beautiful gardens at the Ranch, with a ray of sun peeking through!

Alex and I in our friday night best!


Yesterday I accompanied Chepo (Alex’s Dad and a main player in the community) to pick corn. Here they use elote to say corn on the cob and after that it is maiz again. The farm is located in the town next to Mastatal, called San Miguel. I asked Chepo why his farm is all the way over there and not in Mastatal and he said because there is a fundation called ADALAI or something like that that promotes agriculture and they bought sections of land for people years ago, and now that is where his farm is. He also said it’s cause it has a beautiful view, and oh man…..he was right. The farm is on an incredibly steep hill and you can see the whole national park, La Congreja. It is a beautiful beautiful mountain range and there is nothing like that view! It was a really fun experience, tiring but fun. As I have been getting more into the gardening here it’s really an incredible experience to harvest food. The fact that I can plant something and then see it through to the kitchen is pretty amazing. Now I know why all of you gardeners love gardening so much!! I’ve always appreciated it but have never had my own experience with it.

Any way we harvested sweet potatoes (camotes), corn (elote) and plantains (platanos). And we also learned how to walk on this super steep hill. Chepo was just bopping around up and down the slope and Mary and I (another volunteer) were scrambling around and trying our best not to fall and knock down all the corn stalks! Chepo told us a story about how he moved from this area east towards the carribean coast where the terrain in really flat. He lived there for several years and soon became accustomed to the flat land. BUT then…. He moved back here to the mountains and had to recondition his legs again to the steep terrain. I don’t think I’m quite accustomed to the mountains yet!!


The Tercio is the most dangerous and venomous snake in the region. If you get bit by one and can’t get to the hospital in an efficient amount of time there is a high possibility that you will not make it. In all the time I’ve spent here I’ve never had a close encounter with one. Sure, pretty regularly you hear about people killing a tercio (fer de lance in English) but I’ve never encountered one myself…until this past weekend.

Alex, Ion (Alex’s sister Kattia’s son) and I went down to the waterfall this past Sunday and we were walking along when we noticed there was a weird patch of wind above us. Very strange because there wasn’t much wind and it was only in this one patch that we noticed it. So we all stopped to look up to see what it might be. It was then that Alex heard what he describes as the sound of a fish moving in water and looked down to see a huge tercio pelo moving off the side of the path about 2 feet from where we were standing. It was probably about 4-5 feet long and a little thinner than the width of my wrist. I thankfully only saw the tail of it when it was scurrying away but Ion and Alex both saw the whole thing and were completely scared. The weird thing is that venomous snakes normally attack and don’t normally run off like this one did. We attribute it to the fact that we stopped and maybe didn’t scare it. And we stopped because of the strange patch of wind. Who knows why that wind was there and what would have happened if we had scared it enough to strike at one of us…..

Oh life in the Jungle!!


Thursday, June 24, 2010

La Biblioteca

We’ve broken ground finally on the Library project. There are 24 bases to be created and another 24 holes to be dug. I helped make the rebar cages, with much direction from Alex, called armadura in Spanish. By the end of the 24 cages I was a pro and was tying knots realll quickly. It was nice to actually be a part of the construction process. It’s a little hard to be involved since the skills are very specific and Tyler (the head carpenter) is on a really tight time schedule so he doesn’t have time to sit down and explain things to me. But I’m making myself get in there! Alex and Junior (his brother) joke that I should just bring them coffee and cookies every afternoon. So yes…this is a little offensive….but it’s actually something I totally would do and like to do! The other day I made fresh squeezed lemonade for Ty and Alex and they were very excited about it!

I’ve also completely taken over the accounts. I am keeping one in dollars and one in colones. The one in colones is a bit confusing because I’m working with such huge numbers like 1,234,550.00. That’s a lot of numbers!! We got a big shipment of gravel and cement and sand in the other day and I went and paid the guy. It was kind of exciting! He then asked if I was Robin’s sister (Robin and Timo own the ranch). But no, I told him, only a friend. Silly man! We look nothing alike!

Saturday, June 12, 2010


So....I had a bunch of lovely blogs prepared to upload for you all....but unfortunately my computer crashed. What a nice surprise! So now I have a new hard drive and am back up and running. I never thought this would be the case but this is probably the best place to have a computer crash! There are so many people with so many programs and different tastes in music that I already have a bunch of new music and the Microsoft Office Suite AND Photoshop! Que bueno! Me alegre. It was kinda exciting having to set up a new computer!

Anyway, things are going well here. We're about to break ground on the library project, we've gotten the full shipment of wood in and everything is set up and waiting for us to build! I will be taking over the accounting on Monday. It should be fun! The new group of interns just arrived yesterday and are starting orientation now. I will be helping train them as much as I can. I was named "head baker"--- thats a big role to fill!

Yesterday I planted a couple coconut trees, it felt fun and tropical! I've been helping out a lot in the gardens and reading and doing and reading and doing. I'm really enjoying getting a good feel for working in gardens.

The world cup started yesterday. I'm really glad I'm in a place where people are super into soccer its great! There is a guy at the ranch right now who is from Argentina so he's really into the cup now. We're actually really international at the ranch right now. We've got people from England, Scotland, Australia, Argentina, Canada and USA. And of course we're surrounded by Ticos (the Costa Rican people). It should be a fun 30 days of watching soccer! I'm pulling for Italy and either Spain or Chile in the finals!

My next post will include some photos I promise!! Hasta luego amigos!

Monday, May 10, 2010


My friend Nicole is in charge of most of the gardening here and after I had a pretty rough day (on the anniversary of his death), she offered to let me plant a tree and dedicate it to him. We chose the Jack Fruit Tree, a crazy big tree that produces a very controversial fruit, some people absolutely love it and others can’t stand it. It’s hearty and beautiful. I thought it seemed pretty fitting for Mr. Keith. Anyway we planted that on the Ranch and said a few words, it was really nice and made me feel good. This is me planting the tree. It’s just a baby right now

Aquaduct Repair

Often times in the rainy season we are left without water, which may seem odd because we get at least a couple inches of rain almost every day here. (The other day we had a total of 3.4 inches!!) In total we have had about 8 inches of rain thus far in May. So it’s pretty normal when Rafael shows up at the gate before breakfast requesting one or two able bodies to dig out the pipe, repair it and recover it. One morning I volunteered to help….it was ….an interesting experience. Rafael is really nice and like every good Tico starts out the conversation “Are you going to the dance in a week?” “Do you have a boyfriend in Costa Rica?” But he’s harmless and a good talker. This day we realized the leak in the pipe was on the deepest buried pipe in this area (not the easily accessible top pipe, of course.) We ended up digging and throwing dirt for about two hours before we finally had cleared out enough for him to cut the PVC pipe and cover the hole with a new piece of pipe. Then….we had to recover the pipes, more hauling of dirt. In the end San Miguel had water again and everything thing was good. But I don’t think I’ll be helping out on that front for awhile. It killed by back for about a week or so, I’m just now getting back into digging and hauling various items.

The storms are pretty incredible here. I’ve never actually been scared in a lighting storm before. But it’s not uncommon here for buildings, lamp posts, or even people to be struck by lighting here. One of the structures on the ranch got struck the other day and almost all the light sockets were blown out and the switches all need to be replaced. Thank you to the lighting storm for creating more work for us!! Yay! (Not that I know anything about fixing electricity…) We’ve moved into the Cork now which is about an 1/8 of a mile away from la casa principal (the main house) which results in me having some interesting walks back to the house for dinner. Yesterday I was alternating between sprinting and walking because everytime I saw a bolt of lighting it lite some fire under my ass, if you will! I got scared! But I was wearing my rain coat and using an umbrella so I didn’t get too wet in the torrential downpour!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sunday Funday!!!

Sunday Funday

Sundays here are the one full day of rest, but this day normally turns out to be one filled with soccer and cerveza. This Sunday we all loaded into a cattle truck to go to La Vasconia to play soccer, both the women and the men. The trip was about 45 minutes long, but it was full of events. The truck was uncovered but for some metal poles for a canvas to sit atop, not for 20 people to hang on to. Needless to say it did not stay secure throughout the whole trip. Every pothole we hit made the top a little bit looser until the final pothole we hit and it went flying forward and we were stuck in the ditch. Thankfully another truck was just passing as we got stuck so they pulled us out of the ditch and we ended up making it to the games unscathed. In combination with the soccer there was also a Cabalongata which basically is a horse parade. There were lots of stallions being shown for breeding purposes and a long parade of all the horses. The Costa Rican horse riding style is cool to see they ride high and tight with the horses necks really curved and upright, I guess it stems from a Spanish riding style. It was really cool to see and one of the girls here now is really into riding and was able to tell me a lot about what was going on.

The boys played two games and ended up losing each by one point, the first game they lost in a shoot out, kinda sad. Then we (las mujeres) played and ended up winning 5-2. I had an assist after a break away from half field. Alex’s sister Annia scored off of my pass, it was her first ever goal in a game. After that we hung out, ate some arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) and drank some Imperials (the beer of CR). In the middle of the boys second game it started pouring so we were nice and wet to return home, in an uncovered cow truck. It was a dark, wet and cold ride home. But it was fun! We all had to hang on to the people who were lucky enough to have a spot on the outside wall of the truck, so that it wasn’t human dominoes the whole ride! But I did get a chance to check the waterproofing on my camera and took a few shots on the cattle truck. Gotta love rural Costa Rica!! that I'm at the internet I realized I forgot to bring my camera. next time! I promise!

Week 1 in Mastatal

So my adventure started right away, about 15 minutes after I got off the plane. There is this policy in Costa Rica that you need to have a return flight upon entrance to the country…I do not have a return flight. The last three times I entered the country I only had a return ticket once, and I’ve never been asked about it. This time, I was questioned about how long I would be here and I stupidly replied “no se….” (I don’t know). And yes, I was having this conversation in Spanish, which I believe threw me off a little. So then we go through this banter about how I might only be here for two weeks, then I freaked out and made sure I still had the 90 day visa and the woman turns to me and goes (in Spanish of course) “Carolyn, yes- you do have the 90 day visa but if you stay longer than 90 days there will be problems.” Dun dun dun….. In the end she let me through and just said to make sure I had a ticket next time but I really thought that she wasn’t going to let me in and my heart was pounding so hard and I thought I was going to have to buy a ticket straight back to NY! Now I have to admit I’m a little worried the government has tagged my name and they’re looking for me now, although Alex says I’m crazy. We made it back to the Ranch the same day to a warm welcome from Robin and Sole (the owner and her 22 month old daughter) and Natilla, the new ranch dog, she’s a beautiful white wolf dog with blue eyes. Natilla is Spanish for sour cream (just a side note there!)

Thus far things have been going really well, and my stress level has dissolved by about 90%. The gardens are exploding and the rains are falling. It’s amazing the difference in just the two months that I’ve been gone from here. The main focus right now is on digging a Tilapia pond. I’m really excited about this and hope to be really involved in this project. We start digging tomorrow and the pond should be 2m at it’s deepest and 1m at the shallow end. It should be fun!! Then we’ll be able to eat fish at least once a week, as soon as they are fully mature. I’m also taking on a small construction project, along with someone who actually knows what they are doing! But I’ll learn…I will! The library/community center project has been put on hold for a little while we figure out the pond project but we’re having a meeting about that later this week.

Monday, April 19, 2010


I am currently sitting in the airport in Tampa awaiting my flight to go to CR. I got up at 5:45 this morning....I don't know when the last time I got up that early was!! Lauren, Bida and I spent a nice few days in the sunshiny Largo, FL. We went to the beach almost every day, except Sunday when it was raining all day. Its always good to reunite with people you haven't seen in a year and pick up exactly where you left off. I love it. We capped off the weekend with a delicious meal at Coconut Thai where I tried to order my favorite soup Tom Khai but accidently ordered Tom Yum...I was a little upset by that!

I've been thrown a bit of a curve ball with the job I was going to take in Mastatal, so it's kinda up in the air what I'm going to do. I think I'll look into teaching jobs in San Jose or some kind of nanny-ing job in CR. There's also been talk of Spain...we'll see what happens! Hopefully I'll figure that out w/in the first couple months down there. It will be quite the adventure I think. I just want to immerse myself in the culture and perfect my Spanish! Vamos a ver...

I was very happy with Spirit airlines because they offered to check my pack at the gate for free! I already have one checked so I might as well check them all, it makes it a hell of a lot easier to get around the airport!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

In Preparation to Leave...

As you all probably already know I am headed off to Costa Rica again in about 14 days! This time I will be helping to build and organize a community center/library. I will be the person to talk with the community and help get everyone really excited and involved. It should prove to be exciting and challenging for me, I know I'll be able to perfect my Spanish! I will be in the same village I was living in before, Mastatal, Costa Rica.

Now I am organizing and trying to tie up loose ends here in NY. This is my last week of work which will culminate in a fun filled weekend, Imagine-Imagine That re-opening party on Friday and my own going away party on Saturday at Empire! I will then leave to go visit my good friends Bida and Lauren in Florida for 5 days before heading off to Costa Rica. I'm going to try and update this blog as much as possible to keep you all updated on my adventures.