Sunday, October 14, 2012

18 ways of Pinto and Gallo: Our adventures in Sitio De Mata, Tayutic Valley, Costa Rica

Sitio de Mata
July 22nd: We arrive in San Jose Airport at 1:00pm local time and took the reserved car to the village. On the way, we stopped at Multi Mall to pick up a phone sim card and a USB wireless card. Getting the phone card was not a problem. It seems the unlocked phone we brought with us was locked so we ended up buying a local phone and sim card for $54 dollars. That included phone plus 70 mins of US calling. The wireless card for the laptop was much harder. A vendor called Movistar had a USB device in which you insert a data sim card and it supposedly provides mobile internet access. However, for whatever reason that device did not work on our laptop. After spending approx two hours trying to troubleshoot the data card, we gave up and continued our journey. It is approximately 2 hours from the airport to Sitio de Mata. Yoselin and her husband Norberto and their teenage daughter Charlene were waiting for us as we arrived. We received a very warm welcome. They had prepared a typical Rican dinner for us that included gallo, pinto, fried fish, salad, and a vegetable. After dinner we were too exhausted to do anything else, so we all crashed and went to bed. The kids had one bedroom with bunk beds and I had the 2nd bedroom with 2 twin beds.
July 23rd: Charlene left for her high school at 8:00am. She takes a bus from the village to Turrialba the closest town approximately 20 min bus ride. We had breakfast of Pinto Gallo and fried eggs, fresh queso and caffe. Kids chose to eat cereal. After breakfast Yoselin took us around the village community to introduce us to various folks and see the various parts of the village. First we met Dona Fressy con Arraga, the primary host for the village. Most student and teacher groups who come to Sitio de Mata generally stay at her house and she along with her son Marlon started this program of inviting teachers and students to visit their small community. Donna Fressy and Yoslin determined that my son would start teach Taikwondo that day at 3:00pm. Next we went to visit the local school. Approxmiately, 74 kids study there. There were two classrooms; one for younger kids…mostly young kids.. maybe K to 3 and then one class for the older kids (4 & 5). There was one principal (director) and another teacher for the older kids. The school had a cafeteria, a small playground). School starts from 7 am until 12:30 pm ish.
Tayutic Plantation
Tayutic Plantation Church
After that we went to visit the Tayutic resort, a local boutique high end resort. We learnt that George Clooney came to this resort and stayed at there for 2-3 days (it is a small local hacienda style the middle of sugarcane, coffee and macademia nut plantation). It is a beautiful area..surrounded by mountains on all sides and the river Reventazon flowing through the valley. The village sits on a hill top with Turrialba volcano across the valley. The mountains are always covered by clouds during this rainy season, but the whole area is incredibly green.
After the hotel we walked to the plantation. There the caretaker Another Donna Fressy don Sandoval showed us the sugar mill; where they juice the sugarcane and cook the juice into sugar (dulce). Then we saw an outdoor wedding gazebo and the party hall where birthdays, and weddings take place. The gazebo and the hall were surrounded by beautiful gardens. Also part of this plantation was a small coffee mill, they hand collect, crush, dry, roast and grind coffee locally. Most of the work is done manually and its all organic.
After our walk we came back home, Yoselin cooked our lunch, we rested for a bit. At three o clock my son taught the Taekwondo class. It was awkward for both the village kids and my son. The class lasted about 30 mins this day. After taekwondo, Yoslin took us to meet another American visiting the community. Her name was Teresa a school teacher from Arizona. She had come initially to Costa Rica as part of the teacher’s free trip and heard about Sitio de Mata women making Jewellery from recycled materials. Teresa is also big into making Jewellery and came here to learn what materials the women here use and how and she in turn is teaching them what she uses and how. For us, it was great being able to talk to someone else in English and more importantly having someone who can translate for us…though Teresa is not fluent in Spanish either. She knows much more than us and is able to converse much better. After having tea with Teresa’s host (Elissabeth who is Norberto’s sister) we came back home. A few neighbors came to chit chat.. and then we had dinner of Rice and beans, pan fried ham/pork steak and Salad. I did my little bit of helping by cleaning our dishes and in the days to come, that became my chore.. I would clean our dishes after every meal.
A bit about the houses in Sitio de Mata…they are if nothing but quite open with plenty of ventilation. The front and back doors are always open. There is about a foot of gap between the roof and the walls (interior and exterior).. that keeps the air circulating especially during the rainy season. The traditional kitchen is outdoor with wood burning stoves. More and more houses seem to be building an inside kitchen as well, with electric burners, refrigerator, sink and running water. The houses have no heating  nor cooling. The temperature stays a pretty steady 70 – 80 degrees.  Most of the houses are built by the owner themselves.

Guanacaste Day Celebrations at the local school
July 24 (Tues): Guanacaste Day. At 9 am we visited the kindergarten school. There were about a dozen little kids that performed a dance for us. Then we all drew pictures and ate a snack. Around 10:30, we left kindergarten school and walked to the upper school (1st grade until 6th grade). The school was celebrating Guanacaste Day, a Costa Rican holiday celebrating Costa Rica's annexation of Guanacaste province from Nicaragua in 1824. There were dance performances by all grade levels including kindergarten and the teachers. The whole celebration wrapped up around 2:00pm at which point we came home. Jayant taught his taekwondo class at 3:00pm.
Sitio de Mata women hosts
July 25 (wed): A bunch of American HS kids camping with Costa Rican Resource in their LEAD program visited Sitio de Mata for the day. These HS kids conducted the summer camp for local kids, which included soccer games, sack races, water balloon fight. They made sandwiches for the local kids for lunch and presented a brief talk on Environment and recycling. Both my kids spent the day outdoors with local kids and other American kids. We learnt that that student group was scheduled to go rafting in Pacquare river the next day. I spoke with Tom Ranieri about us joining. Tom arranged for an extra raft and river guide.
Sitio de Mata kids
Pacquare River Rafting\
Pacquare river camp site
Lunch spread by the river guides
July 26 – 27 (Thursday & Friday): We were picked up from Sitio de Mata around 9:30am en-route to Pacuare River rafting drop off location. There were three of us, the 9 students from US and 10 locals consisting of the river guides and the student trip counselors. The Río Pacuare is a popular location in the world for white water rafting, and kayaking. It is surrounded by rainforest that is home to indigenous Indian tribe, to exotic animal species such as jaguars, monkeys, ocelots, and a very large number of birds. Also it is considered one of the 5 nicest rivers to practice rafting. After drop off, we hiked downhill approximately a mile to the river. We picked up our life jackets, paddles and helmets and were divided into three rafts. On day 1 we rafted mostly level 1, 2 and 3. The river was surrounded by rainforest and we rafted by several beautiful waterfalls. After 2 hours we stopped for lunch (sandwiches prepared by the river guides). We did a short walk to a waterfall and swam in the water hole. We rafted for another 2 hours until we stopped at the camp site. The overnight camping was definitely unique. The camp site was right by the river. It included about 20 or so camp sites, an open air lounge and a small kitchen. The bathrooms and showers were all au natural (enclosed on four sides but open from the top). There was no electricity at the camp. The dinner was prepared by the river guides and we dined by candlelight. All the kids including mine spent a huge chunk of the night talking and sharing stories with other kids. My teenager really enjoyed meeting other kids and being able to speak in a familiar language. The kids and local guides played soccer, did headstands, and wrestled each other. One highlight was a competition among boys and the men to see who could climb up to the lounge level (approx 10 foot high) without using the stairs. Jay literally flew through that height with very little effort and was the envy of all.  We slept in camping tents. The tents were set up on platforms approx 2 foot high. The tents were covered by a roof (made either of tin or tarp) to protect from heavy downpour. It poured all night. We could hear all kind of critters at night. Next morning several of us commented on weird dreams that night. Almost no one slept well… for me it was the uncomfortable mattress, for kids it was the sound of heavy rain and the fact that we were in the middle of a rainforest. The following morning after breakfast we all got ready and started rafting again. If we thought day 1 was great, day 2 was simply amazing. We rafted some wonderful class 4 rapids, went through gorgeous canyons and saw amazing waterfalls. Along the way we passed Pacuare River Lodge, a supposedly beautiful and boutique hotel nestled right on the Pacuare River and the only way to get to it is through the river. The kids jumped off several rocks in the river to swim as the water was relatively comfortable.. not too cold. While it rained quite a bit it was not a downpour, we were able to raft in relative comfort..

Sat: July 28th It rained the whole night and whole day. Our hosts had made plans to take us to Turrialba to show us an archaeological site and museum but due to the heavy downpour, we had to cancel those plans. The rain was so heavy and loud, that we could barely hear each other talk. The fact that the roof of the house was made of aluminum sheets further magnified the sound. We had a breakfast of pancakes, scrambled eggs, fresh queso and tortilla with caffe and tea. The kids played cards, read their books and surfed the internet to pass the time indoors.. until….
Homes washed away by landslides
We found out around 2-3 o’clock in the afternoon, that a house in the village had been completely washed away by a landslide. We all put on our rain jackets and slippers and ran to see the damage. One house was completely gone. The house and all badly damaged …was on top of another house across the road. The only road in and out of the villge was blocked by a huge mound of trees and mud. The adjoining two houses were severely damaged. Their side and back walls were crumbling under the pressure of rain and sliding mud. These two houses were being evacuated to their family/neighbors houses. The drainage gutters along the two sides of the road was overflowing with muddy water. Many houses along the road were fighting flooding from these overflowing gutters and were building temporary walls to prevent the water from coming inside the houses. Around this same time, the water pipe to the village broke (by sliding mud and rocks) and our host’s house lost all water and electricity.
We ourselves were completely soaked and our feet covered by mud. There was not much anyone could do until the water stopped. The men from the village brought their shovels, carts whatever they had to help dig additional gutters around houses, clean the existing gutters from the fast collecting debris of stones, plants and mud, help carry belongings from the two risky houses to adjoining houses and so forth. The Tayutic Hacienda (the boutique hotel and plantation in the village) sent their bulldozer (fortunately, they kept a bulldozer and few other machinery on site with ongoing field and construction work) to help clear the road. The mud was collecting as fast as the bull dozer was clearing. We heard the bull dozer go up and down the road several times that night to keep the road somewhat clear.
This whole mess started me thinking about when we will be able to leave the village and if it made sense to leave the village a week early. More rain was expected rest of the week. It was still pouring dogs and cats, so nothing could be done but wait until the rain stopped.
Sunday July 29th: We woke this morning to find out that rain had let up somewhat. While the bull dozer had worked all night to keep the road open, the two at-risk houses were badly damaged but still standing. The village was now a proud owner of a brand new waterfall.  The entire valley area was covered by heavy fog and drizzling rain. Several sections along the sides of the road had washed away making the road even narrower. The men were busy digging out a supply truck that was stuck in mud. That while the local village road was passable, the road that connected Sitio de Mata to Turrialba was not passable. That highway had several landslides blocking the road, several other sections (narrow passes) were completely water logged, and several poles with live electric wires were down. There was no direct way in and out of Sitio de Mata to Turrialba or to Siquirres (another big town) and the rest of the world.
It was no longer possible for my husband to come to Turrialba or Sitio de Mata. It was no longer a possibility of us going to Limon or Puerto Veijo (a carribean beach town) to spend our last few days in Costa Rica. The roads from Sitio de Mata to Limon (a big port town) was closed until water ebbed and damage could be assessed by local authorities.
Most importantly, our only option was now to go back to San Jose, the moment the roads became passable. We determined that we should try and get out of Sitio de Mata today while the rain was stopped. More rain was expected rest of the week and that if we did not leave the village today, we could be stuck for another whole week. While the electricity was back, there was still no running water to the house. Our hosts were also beginning to feel anxious. If we stayed, there was not much we could do to pass our time pleasantly in the village, the rain and landslides had closed all schools for several days, we could not travel to Turrialba or other places as we had planned. Staying inside the house with a book and sporadic internet made them and me feel uncomfortable. It was determined, that we would try to leave the village in a round about way.. go from Sitio de Mata to another few villages further inside and then try to catch the road to Turrialba from a different point. I called Tom to see if he could arrange a car. It was determined that, one of the river guides who lived in Turrialba and grew up in the village and knew of this back road will try and make his way to Sitio de Mata. If he managed to make it, he would take us to San Jose and Tom will book us into a Hotel for the rest of the week. Around 2 pm, fortunately, the river guide named Marlon made it. We hastily packed our bags and left before the rain started again. I had already settled our payment with Yoselin (our host). Along the way, we saw several major landslides, and areas where the river Reventazon was flowing much higher than normal. Near the city of Cartago, approx an hour from San Jose, the rain started again, but this time, we were not worried as we had cleared the mountain area and the landslide areas. Marlon dropped us off at Hotel Grano de Oro, an expensive boutique hotel close to San Jose downtown area that seemed quite popular with older American Tourists.  

Finally, Sunday night drew to a close after major excitement, high adventure and bit of bitterness. After eating Pinto and Gallo for the last week, we decided to celebrate our escape from a potentially horrifying situation by eating the American way.. we had burgers and fries at a nearby McDonald’s.

Monday, July 30th : Grano de Ore was a beautiful but expensive hotel. While it is located in downtown San Jose, it is not very central to the shopping and entertainment areas of downtown San Jose. For those that do not have a car and plan to spend a couple of days in San Jose, there are three other hotels that seemed more interesting. Hotel Balmoral, Hotel Presidente and Gran Hotel. We chose Balmoral Hotel, a modest 4 star in the heart of financial and business district where all activities and nightlife were easily accessible. (On a prior trip we had stayed at Gran hotel, a bit older but still nice 4 star hotel central to all activities and entertainment). Balmoral was quite mediocre, the room decor and furnishings could use updating, but the rooms were comfortable and clean. It had a nice café and restaurant. We found a local grocery store nearby and bought twits (the famous Rican Ice cream sandwiches). I am hoping we can use this same store to buy water, snacks and some laundry soap. Tomorrow we will head out to look for a local laundromat where we can do some much needed laundry.
Playa Tamarindo
July 31st Tuesday: After breakfast, we headed to Laundromat. We found a dry cleaning place that did laundry. Our cost came to approx $12 for 4 kilos of laundry. We walked a bit but not much…the kids just want to hang out in the room reading and catching up on Olympic games. Our 3rd week in Costa Rica we plan to go to Guanacaste area, a very popular and sought after beach resort area of Costa Rica.  After much research and talking to local folks, we picked Tamarindo resort. Since we will have a rental car, we decided not to go for an all inclusive, which turned out to be great. Tamarindo resort was located in the middle of Tamarindo town and right on Tamarindo Beach. 
Tamarindo Beach

To end our trip on a positive note and reflection of the last week.. overall I think our week in Sitio de Mata was fantastic and well worth it. Kids were forced to converse in  Spanish. My older one was able to teach kids Taikwondo for a couple of days. We saw heavy monsoon and soil erosion and its impact on a community in live action. Neither kid complained about eating Pinto and Gallo 18 times in a row. We got a chance to raft level 4 in Pacuare river. And so many other positives. It’s a pity we had to leave the village early but such things are always for the best.


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