Sunday, March 31, 2013

Life in Mastatal

In Santa Maria de Dota

We are finishing up our fourth day here in the small rural village of Mastatal – we are  now over halfway through our Costa Rica expedition. We rolled in Saturday evening after spending the morning in San Marcos visiting a coffee farm way up in the highlands and stopping for lunch in town…all settled into open-air bunks upon arrival in Mastatal, and were greeted by a cacophony of bird sounds the next morning. A tour of the Villas Mastatal, the sustainability center and organic farm where we are staying, was followed by a hike through the rainforest to a waterfall – terrific relief from the heat and humidity down here in the lowlands!  Sunday night we all went into town to have dinner at the community center, followed by a rousing evening of Bingo (Nicole was our big winter, taking home two different prizes!). Monday morning we had a tour of another nearby sustainability center (Rancho Mastatal)  and then took another hike through tropical forest to a river where we all swam with local Costa Rican families enjoying the afternoon. This week, the one before Easter, is Semana Santa – kids are out of school and many families are on holiday.
Villas Mastatal, with La Cangeja National Park in background

Enjoying fresh watermelon in the dormatorio, Villas Mastatal

Nicole with a big win at bingo night in Mastatal!

Hiking the river at Villas Mastatal
Monday evening everyone had a chance to experience a homestay, pairing up to spend the night with local families. This morning all reunited at the local primary school and did some service work, transplanting some grasses and trees onto a steep slope adjacent to the school.
Yesterday afternoon we were visited by a local “medicine man” from the nearby indigenous village of Zapaton. He described several various local forest plants that are traditionally used for medicinal purposes – a great chance for students to get a glimpse of a different (and fading fast) world! We finished off the afternoon by making straw baskets in the traditional manner of the residents of Zapaton.
Visiting with Gerardo from Zapaton

Tree planting in Mastatal

Today we started off the day by planting native trees around a spring (water source) at Villas Mastatal - in addition to offsetting our carbon footprint stemming from the flights to get to our Costa Rice Expedition, these plantings will help shade the water source and help stabilize the riparian zone. We planted over 45 plants in under two hours - hitting our estimated 2-3 plants per person target to offset the carbon output associated with our trip. In the afternoon we hiked up to see a cacao plantation belonging to local farmer Juan Luis - and then spent a few hours learning about chocolate production - including a hands-on session extracting seeds and grinding them to make chocolate confections (which we also sampled extensively!). We celebrated our time in Mastatal with a big send-off, eating homemade pizzas made in Javier's earth oven. Tomorrow it's off to the coast!
Hiking down from cacao plantation
With Juan Luis in the cacao plantation

Processing cacao
Crossing the river during our cacao hike

Enjoying confections at La Iguana Chocoolate!

Pizza night farewell to Villas Mastatal!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

TarrazĂș - coffee, coffee everywhere!

Leaving the Central Valley behind!

We began our first full day in Costa Rica with an open-air breakfast in the Alajuela hotel, followed by a drive across the Central  Valley through the old capital city of Cartago, and up into the highlands to the TarrazĂș coffee growing region. In the town of Santa Maria de Dota, surrounded by hillsides covered with coffee fields, we had lunch at the home of a local coffee farmer. In the afternoon we had a tour of the CoopeDota coffee mill and roaster in town (which included lessons in coffee tasting - and the chance to buy coffee directly from the cooperative) followed by a terrific barbecue dinner this evening. Spirits were high as everyone retired early in anticipation of a long day tomorrow  - we’ll get up for an early breakfast before heading out to explore some more coffee farms en route to the rainforest.

Checking out Dota coffee varieties
The group checking out the sun-dried coffee process
Coffee tasting at Dota

Visiting a coffee farm
Lunch in Santa Maria de Dota

On the bus!
The Expedition Fellows group, consisting of freshmen and sophomores from UW Tacoma, along with Peer Advisor Gloria Shin, had a chance tonight to meet a UWT graduate who is living in Costa Rica with his family for the next few years conducting research for his Ph.D. Levi Keesecker, who was an Environmental Science major, is now a graduate student at the University of Idaho in an interdisciplinary program that culminates in a two-year fieldwork stint in Costa Rica in conjunction with CATIE, a university in Turrialba that focuses on applied ecology & sustainable agriculture. The students had a chance to hear about Levi’s pathway to graduate school (including international experiences doing research in Costa Rica and Yucatan while an undergraduate at UWT) while enjoying tonight’s barbecue dinner – hopefully an inspiration for some as they learn more about opportunities available to them!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Expedition Fellows 2013 - Costa Rica!

UW Tacoma Expedition Fellows is underway - we are all settled in Alajuela, Costa Rica, ready for an exciting 10-day adventure. Tomorrow morning we are heading up to the highlands, where we'll spend a few days exploring the process of coffee production, from farm to roasting...then we'll head down into the mountains to spend several days in a small farming community doing some community service, restoration planting, and learning about tropical forests and cacoa plantations....then it's off to the coast for a few days to check out mangrove ecosystems and explore coastal ecotourism development. Stay tuned for more updates on our adventure!