A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: HanaRose

Creating A Beautiful Place For Shit

Bamboo Composting-Toilet Building Project

I have always had a dream of someday designing and building my home with my own two hands. My father built the majority of the wind and solar powered home I grew-up in and one of the greatest things I have learned from him is that you can teach yourself anything and do anything if you really want to. So I have been looking for a way to gain some hands on experience with sustainable building so that when the time comes I can do it myself without any doubts holding me back. Prior to departure, I had heard from the intern coordinator that there would be the opportunity to help with a community library building project in the town of Mastatal. Based on this notion my ultimate goal for my internship experience at Rancho Mastatal was to spend the summer learning to design and build with a variety of natural materials alongside experienced and passionate sustainable builders.

About 2 months later, after spending the majority of my summer doing every-day farm work which only differed from how I would have spent my summer at home in that the work was surrounded by the tropical rainforest, I realized that I only had one month left to make my goal come to fruition. So I talked to Tyler, one of the semi-permanent residents of the ranch who has been single-handedly working on the community library project, and told him that I really wanted to design and build something from start to finish. He said that he has been trying to find time to build a latrine for his house for a couple years now and asked me if I would like to give it a try despite the limited time we had left. I enthusiastically assured him that I would go full force into making it happen. I then asked one of the other interns Bert, also my friend who had previously expressed interest in building something, if he wanted to be my partner on the project and a few days later we sat down to start designing. From the beginning we both agreed that we weren't going to just do it the quickest and easiest way possible, we wanted to learn how to build with bamboo in the process and we wanted it to be the most beautiful place for shitting on the ranch.

We designed the whole building and got approval within the first 3 days (we were also given a mocking "good luck" because no one believed we could finish in only 1 month), we spent about a week in the wood shop preparing the parts of the building like puzzle pieces, we broke ground and poured the foundation in one day, laid the floor boards in one day, and finished the remainder of the structure in about 2 weeks. Unfortunately, my flight home was 3 days before the internal components of the latrine were functioning but I was still able to have the satisfaction of seeing the building roughly sketched out on paper and seeing it standing in real life.

The entire project took just over 4 weeks and as you can see from the pictures we did not skimp on details. It was an incredibly challenging learning experience for both Bert and I, we learned a lot about ourselves in the process (mostly about patience). Neither of us had ever worked with Bamboo before and had no idea how many problems it was about to give us, but we pushed through and made it work beautifully. During the many hours of back-breaking work it was great to have Bert there to constantly remind me to smile and be positive. During the construction we considered several different names for the building, we often considered making it into a meditation space due to the beauty of the structure, but in the end we decided on the Kakhut (which in Dutch literally means Shitshack).

Special thanks to the many people who took some time to help with the project - especially Tyler, Todd, Bea, Alex, Junior, and Fabio.


Posted by HanaRose 17:28 Comments (10)

A Visit From Italia

Fabio Comes Across the Ocean To See Me At The Ranch

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So this idea came about many months ago when during one of our many "skype-dates" I questioned the potential for two such drastically different people coming from different continents and cultures and backgrounds to have the ability to comfortably meld their lives together. After many hours of talking it out over the soft glow of the computer screen, Fabio finally came up with the idea to come visit me while I would be in Costa Rica so he could witness first hand what it is that makes me tick and try to learn more about the sustainable lifestyle. Maybe, this way we could see if he had what it takes to take the plunge into my preferred lifestyle. I thought it was a grand idea. And here we were, several months later, experiencing life in the mountains of Costa Rica together.

I can not even begin to describe to you how overwhelmingly I was overtaken with anticipation of his arrival at the ranch. From my first day at the ranch, whenever I would learn or see something new I would find myself thinking "I can't wait to show this to Fabio". Finally, the day had come; I got up at 4:30am so I could take the buses into the city to meet him at the airport, and as I eagerly waited in the greeting area of the airport, I shamelessly held up a sign that I made with his name inside a big gaudy heart. When I saw him come around the corner I couldn't help but jump and squeal with excitement as I ran and jumped into his arms :)
From that moment on things didn't go exactly how I had been dreaming (due to some unexpected revelations... which I won't get into here...) we still managed to have a unforgettable beautiful shared experience in CR. I am so happy that I was able to share my favorite country with him and introduce him to the alluring magic of the tropical rainforest.

His visit came during an unusually eventful time in Mastatal. His first night at the ranch happened to be the same night as a big dance in town which set the fun bar pretty high for an otherwise fairly boring and uneventful tiny village. Then a couple days later, we broke ground for the bamboo composting toilet project (with which he was a great help), and at the end of the first week we took a group trip to the beach for a few days. We went on a couple hikes to the beautiful nearby waterfalls and spent a lot of quality conversation time together over the course of his two week visit. In fact, as a fellow intern so accurately put it "never have I ever, spent an entire 36 hours talking to only one person"... hehe, but honestly we needed it. So here's a few pictures of the time we shared.


Posted by HanaRose 12:47 Comments (0)

Permaculture Design Certified


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Sorry it has been soo long since my last entry. Due to a general lack of reliable internet access, being extremely busy with my building project, and having my entire world be turned upside down through heartbreak I just haven't gotten around to keeping this thing up to date. Fortunately, I arrived home this morning and now I have every intention of filling you all in on what has happened in the past month or so. So stay tuned and enjoy :)

First of all I am now officially "permaculture design certified". Not sure exactly what that means in terms of credibility but it sounds cool. The course was a great experience and honestly it was nice to take a break from the ranch work and do something a bit more structured and educational. Within the first couple days I realized that from my alternative upbringing and my college education, I actually already new most of the concepts of permaculture and I didn't even know it. I think I could have a good possibility of getting a permaculture-related job if I wanted, or atleast design my own homestead property someday. During the course I often fantasized about how the concepts could be applied to a theoretical piece of property in Italy ;)
So most of the course was just review of what I already knew with a little elaboration, but it was still great to meet a bunch of new people who came from all around the world to take this course at the ranch. We had a lot of fun together :)

The course culminated in a final design project of a mock piece of property with mock clients. We broke into 4 groups and 2 of the groups had a client who wanted to have a ninja training camp and the other two groups had clients who were Russian porn stars/producers who had a soap making business as a cover-up... Yes you read that correctly, that is really what our final projects were. So as part of the challenge we had to still maintain a level of serious-ness and professionalism despite the absurd topics. Trust me, it was a big challenge for our group as we seemed to be the group with the most silly non-serious people in it and we were assigned the porn clients... haha we sure did have fun. Nonetheless, I think we did a pretty good job designing the property while utilizing the permaculture concepts... and getting very creative with how we incorporated the clients desires ;)

At the end of the course the whole class went on a field trip to visit a couple botantical gardens to learn a bit more (but mostly to collect seeds and plants to bring back to the ranch although this wasn't exactly allowed...). We also drove to the Caribbean coast to spend a day on the beach and a great night of dancing. That night, a few of us decided to sleep in hammocks for $5, I slept very well although this may have been influenced by the free triple shot daiquiris we had at ladies night... Anyway it was a great memorable trip and it was hard to see my fellow permaculturists go their separate ways in the end, but so goes the life of a traveler.


Posted by HanaRose 11:00 Comments (0)

General Update

too many different topics to focus on one

sunny 85 °F

So I have temporarily resigned from my duties as a ranch intern and will be spending the majority of my time as a student in a Permaculture Design Course for these next 2 weeks. There are 7 interns as well as 7 or 8 other students from around the world enrolled in the course. There are people from England, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Austalia, Costa Rica, Spain, and ofcourse the states. The course is taught by a world renowned permaculturist and upon completion of the course we will be dubbed certified permaculturists. The course lectures and hands-on applications range from "bioregional designs, natural building, renewable energy choices in North America and the Tropics, agroforestry, composting toilets, methane biodigesters, watershed management, community development, tropical and temperate garden and orchard design, energy and nutrient cycling, and the integration of animals into cultivated ecosystems". I am hoping that this course will not only help me design my own sustainable homestead in the future, but also open job opportunites at some point.

My original motivations for coming here were to learn hands-on how to build a house from the design process to the finished structure. Unfortunately, as time has gone by rapidly here I started to realize that my goal was probably not going to be accomplished... until I talked to another intern who was realizing the same disappointment and we came up with an idea together. So we are in the designing stages of a bamboo composting toilet structure which we will hopefully be able to finish before the end of the internship. It may be a bit smaller scale that I was orignally thinking but at least I will see the process through and build something with my own hands :)

Last weekend I went to the beach with a bunch of the locals. It was nice to finally see the ocean after being here for almost 2 months and only being about 7km from the ocean. On that note, one interesting fact is that even though the beach is only 7km away it actually takes 1-4 hours to get there depending on whether you take private or public transportation. Luckily it only took us one hour. Anyway, it was a great trip to get to spend some time with the local families and get a chance to observe their culture a bit more. We spent most of the day playing soccer on the beach, but ofcourse I also headed down the beach solo for a bit of quiet time on the more wild part of the beach, it was really beautiful. A funny moment I observed with the locals was when we made a quick stop at a grocery store on the way home and one of the little kids peed his pants, so all of sudden each mother grabbed her respective child and carried them to parking-lot with their pants down to let them pee. At one time there were about 6-7 little kids peeing all at the same time next to our bus. Robin, one of the ranch owners, has raised her daughter diaper-free and has managed to convince several of the local women to do so as well instead of their usual backyard diaper landfill/burning method. It was really cool to witness.

Playa Esterillos

Playa Esterillos

Mermaid Statue

Mermaid Statue

That same night there was a big dance in a nearby town that a bunch of us interns went to. The town converted their community center into a giant life-like dance club with huge speakers and lights and everything. People came from all of the surrounding towns and their ended up being about a 50/50 mix of gringos to ticos. We all danced the entire time and had a ton of fun. When we finally decided to leave we thought it was a good idea to start walking home (about 3 miles up and down a steep dirt road through the countryside) rather than try to get a ride from one of the drunk locals in the back of their pick-up truck like everyone else was. We made it about half-way after coming across a poisonous coral snake and getting a bit tired when one of the public buses came barreling down the road behind us with the music pumping, and they stopped to let us on to take us the rest of the way. There will be one more dance in mid-august that we are all looking forward to.

DSCN9019.jpgDSCN9020.jpgDSCN9025.jpgsunset over the ranch

sunset over the ranch

dinner table

dinner table

Baking Day - sourdough in a cob oven

Baking Day - sourdough in a cob oven

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A boquet I made <img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15'

Amy, Sole, and Pico

Amy, Sole, and Pico

Pura Vida

Posted by HanaRose 13:41 Comments (2)

Life on the Ranch

A look into an average day at Rancho Mastatal

rain 80 °F

5:30am-7:00am: wake up and/or breakfast prep
> there is a weekly sign-up sheet for all volunteers and interns to assign cooking and cleaning shift
> optional yoga and meditation sessions for the early birds

7:00-7:30am: breakfast
> usually consisting of pancakes, 'egg-toasties', or muffins, eggs, granola, fresh tropical fruit, and homemade keifer (fermentation is an integral part of the ranch diet; ie keifer, saurkraut, kimchi, ginger beer, cheese, kombucha, fruit vinegars and meades, etc.)

7:30-8:00am: daily meeting
> volunteers and interns sign up for daily tasks and projects

8:30am-12:30pm: go time for morning tasks and work projects
> during the rainy season in Costa Rica (which is now) it rains pretty much every day and quite predictably in the afternoon around 2 or 3pm for a couple hours. So, the morning is for work that requires sunshine and no rain.
> this is often a time for things like daubing (natural building), garden or nursery work, construction, etc.

initial shock of stepping into several inches of fresh manure

initial shock of stepping into several inches of fresh manure

Using Manure and Clay to Seal the New Fish Pond

Using Manure and Clay to Seal the New Fish Pond

Harvesting corn with Chepo

Harvesting corn with Chepo

Chepo's corn fields

Chepo's corn fields

giant corn-eating grasshopper

giant corn-eating grasshopper

(9:30am-12:30pm: lunch prep with local women of Mastatal, good time to practice spanish and catch up on all the gossip in town)

12:30pm-2:00pm: lunch and recharging
> during the World Cup many people go to the bar with their lunch to watch the game on the tiny 12inch tv. Honestly, this is the first time in my life that I have watched any of the world cup, let alone most of it. Who would have thought the Costa Rican rainforest would be the place for my first time.


2:00-5:00pm: Afternoon tasks and projects
> during the rainy season this is often a good time for indoor work such as glass or candle making, baking or jam making, woodshop work, etc.
(2:00-6:00pm: dinner prep with local women of Mastatal)

Handgrinding peanut butter

Handgrinding peanut butter

5:00-6:45pm: generally free time
> a good time to shower, make phone calls or use the internet if the afternoon storm hasn't taken the power out, read/write, hammock rest, and socialize before dinner.

6:45pm: circle time (the most important time of the day)
> a time before dinner when everyone holds hands around the dinner table (at times up to 40 people) and says something they are thankful for from that day. It concludes with the phrase "Gracias a la madre (tierra) y buen provecho"

7:00-8:30pm: dinner and socializing time
(7:45-8:45pm: dinner clean up)

at about 9-9:30pm on weekdays, almost everyone returns to their respective houses and goes to bed as we are often exhausted after a long day of hard work.
Then it starts all over again bright and early the next morning.

Saturdays are half work days and sundays are our one whole day off from work. During free time people can take hikes into the national forest and/or go to the waterfall swimming hole, go to the sunday soccer games, or just simply relax Pura Vida style :)


Posted by HanaRose 15:24 Comments (1)

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