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Costa Rica “Gift of Happiness”, Part 4: Sarapiqui School Visit

Read Part 3 of our “Gift of Happiness” adventure.

Prior to our Costa Rica trip, we had learned about a program called Pack for a Purpose, in which participating hotels offer the opportunity for guests to bring items from a list to be donated to local schools. Because La Quinta de Sarapiqui is a participating inn, we packed art and school supplies. Dana and her family, fellow “Gift of Happiness” recipients that we met on the trip, had done a drive at their daughter’s school and brought a box of school supplies, backpacks and athletic shoes. When Ana mentioned to our families that she would be visiting the local school, Llano Grande, in the morning, we all jumped at the chance to tag along. Little did we know it would be one of the most special and memorable experiences of our whole trip.

Ana explained to the children, who seemed to range in age from about 9 to 12,¬† that we were all recipients of a “Gift of Happiness” tour and had come to see the “Happiest Country the Planet” so we could go home and share with others that “Costa Rica is a happy country, full of smiles”.

The kids were all very attentive and interested in the group of visitors. In our matching khaki shorts and cameras, I wanted to say, “We have a uniform, just as you do!” We shared a little bit about where we lived and what we did. I asked (in the best Spanish I could) what the students wanted to be when they grew up. They went around the room, sharing, some boldly, some shyly, Ana translating as needed. There were two future policemen, a fireman, a writer, an English teacher, more teachers, and two farmers. We were told that many of them were children of pineapple and yucca farmers.

Below, Ana and the Ekarintaragun family. Michael (Lippy) “illustrating” his work as a cartoonist. One boy was especially excited when he said he worked on computer and video games. (We did notice a computer in the classroom.)

At recess time, the kids went outside to play basketball and soccer, joined by the classroom of younger children. It was so much fun to just watch them laugh and play.

Food is harvested from the large school garden throughout the year. We were told that, while primary education is mandatory in Costa Rica, and school lunches subsidized, many children stop their education before high school because the families can no longer afford the lunch. We were also told that some of the children in rural Costa Rica live with as many as five families in a small house. We also learned that the school uniform in Costa Rica is universal, which seems like it would be very helpful for these kids and families, as uniforms can be passed down and other clothes aren’t needed for school.

After washing up, the children went back to their respective classrooms. We gave our supplies to the kids. The teacher mentioned that one boy, who wasn’t there, would be so happy with the shoes, as he didn’t have any. All the kids nodded in agreement.

Anna, the Sarapiqui Inn co-owner, Leo, and the teacher posed with the children.

Michael asked to share one more thought with the kids. In his best Spanish, and a little help from Ana, he told them that it may seem like Americans have a lot of things, but that they, the Costa Rican children, who lived in a beautiful, natural country that cared deeply about and was practicing sustainability, were truly the children of the 21st century. It was a beautiful thought that encapsulated much that we had already learned about Costa Rica in our couple of short days there.

We all left very moved and hoping to be able to visit again.

Stay tuned for Part 5 of our “Gift of Happiness” adventure.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Costa Rica “Gift of Happiness”, Part 3: La Quinta de Sarapiqui

Read Part 2 of our Gift of Happiness adventure.

After a short ride from the coffee plantation, we arrived at the extremely lush, tropical and friendly inn, La Quinta de Sarapiqui, in the fertile central valley of Costa Rica. Manager Ana greeted us with lemonade in the open-air lobby, and we quickly got settled into our room and then began to explore the surroundings, which included two swimming pools, an enclosed butterfly garden, a forested trail, the Sarapiqui River, educational displays, and a walkway where neon-colored frogs came out at night. Anna felt very at home on the room’s veranda. (See if you can find her, below.)

The butterfly garden was amazing. I love butterflies and the opportunity to see exotic local species close-up was very exciting. I first encountered this magnificent owl butterfly. It was so still, beautiful, perfect and large, that at first I didn’t think it was real. I since learned that the pattern offers camouflage, while the “eye” may also work to fool predators into attacking a non-vital part of the butterfly. Owl butterflies love fermented bananas and pineapples, and the hotel staff had left plenty out. When this one finally flew from its perch, it revealed a stunning periwinkle-colored interior.

The blue morpho is a very common, though no less phenomenal, large and beautiful butterfly with bright, iridescent wings. I saw these throughout Costa Rica.

This is what the blue morpho looks like with its wings closed.

Pretty crimson patch butterflies fed on flower nectar and skittered around the butterfly house.

Ana, La Quinta’s manager, led me out to the nearby Sarapiqui River to see a rare sunbittern and its nest (and egg!)

At night, Anna and I took a walk in what had become a driving rainstorm to see the small poison dart frogs (we were warned about these) and green frogs jumping over the footpaths from one muddy spot to the next. This is La Quinta’s “weather station”.

La Quinta de Sarapiqui has earned a rare 5 leaves, the highest level available from the Costa Rica Tourism Board’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST). Enjoying the grounds and watching Ana and the others care for them, I felt a deep sense of harmony with nature. The hotel is also a teaching facility. I pictured gathered congregations of naturalists.

We noticed that nightfall descended quickly in the Costa Rican valley. Over buffet dinner, we met and chatted with Dana, Chai, Brittany and Cameron, from Florida, who were also on the “Gift of Happiness” tour! And we met a group of students and chaperones from a Michigan high school. We stayed in the open-air lobby, talking and playing low-key games as rain pelted around us. The thunder was among the loudest I’d ever heard.

The next day, we would visit a nearby school. Stay tuned for Part 4 of our Gift of Happiness adventure.

 Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Costa Rica “Gift of Happiness”, Part 2: Mi Cafecito Coffee Tour

Read Part 1 of our Gift of Happiness adventure.

We left Costa Rica’s capitol (and largest) city and immediately swung into the charming town of Alajuela, whose pastel-colored farmacias, cafes and small eateries, called sodas, were largely shuttered because it was Sunday. From there, we found ourselves rising through the mountains of Costa Rica, heading north. The landscape was dotted with coffee plantations; squat stucco houses painted pastel pink and bright blue and chartreuse seemingly sunk into the dirt, with small tiled front porches and laundry drying outside on lines; and small pineapple, banana and other farms, or fincas. Carlos explained what each town was known for and what the different fincas were growing. Like many people we would meet in Costa Rica, he also had a great sense of humor and fun.

On the way, we saw a cow (and a man) pulling one of these traditional colorful ox carts. I didn’t get a good picture. Luckily, Red Gage did.

People were selling fruit from stands and in front of homes. We pulled over on a high mountain road to buy some strawberries and Anna apples (yes, they were called that!) Turismo vans, like ours, passed us, threading up into the hills.

We passed one of several stunning waterfalls (I believe this is the La Paz waterfall) and Carlos stopped so I could snap a picture. Families played in the water at its base.

We wound further on mountain roads, surrounded by lush greenery, until we arrived at the Coope Sarapiqui Mi Cafecito coffee plantation.

We quickly met Walter, our extremely knowledgeable and engaging tour guide, who explained that the co-op includes 137 local small coffee growers and that it is committed to organic and fair trade practices and products, which include employing local people — a hallmark of many Costa Rican enterprises that we would come across. Walter is a second-generation co-op member.

We learned how coffee seeds are planted and coffee grown and harvested. This was especially exciting because we had recently taken a tour of the Highwire Coffee roasting plant back home and now we were seeing where similar coffee was grown.

Trees mature in 3-5 years, and coffee fruit is ripe for picking when it turns red. The beans are actually inside this red “coffee cherry” fruit. At busy times of the year, more locals are called in to harvest the seeds.

Each fruit contains 1-3 seeds. Michael, Anna and I each managed to pick a fruit with a different number of seeds. In addition, Anna got a peaberry, which is a single seed, rather than the usual double. (4% of coffee cherries produce peaberries.)

Because the farm is completely organic, pest-control is handled in a low-impact way, by a series of paper cups with alcohol inside, which attracts and then kills beetles and other unwanted creatures.

Walter demonstrated an old hand-cranked machine that shells the fruits and leaves the remaining coffee beans.

This is the newer version:

Coffee beans are then sun-dried, roasted in an oven called an horno, and packed into burlap bags for shipping.

After getting a close-up tour of sustainable coffee making. we trekked through the surrounding forest. It was humid, though not terribly hot, and we were already slapping at new mosquito bites on our apparently delicious North American skin.

The plants and flowers were exotic and beautiful, including the poisonous, hallucinogenic Angel’s Trumpet:

We looked out over the Sarapiqui River and visited the elaborate composting room — not the only one we’d see on our tour of this incredibly eco-conscious country.

Time for lunch and coffee! Lovely meals of house-farmed tilapia, traditional rice and beans, and banana plantains were brought to us. We also enjoyed the dark-roasted full-bodied Mi Cafecito coffee so much that we bought some to bring home.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman, Red Gage, Carlos

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our Gift of Happiness adventure.

 

 

 

 

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