We awoke to a tropical downpour to be expected now that we are on the Caribbean side of the mountains. We donned our ponchos and headed to breakfast. I really love sitting in the open-air dining rooms rain or shine, no walls just the warm air and sound of rain on the tile roof.
I haven’t mentioned how much we love the morning display of fresh, flavorful fruits, pineapple, papaya, watermelon, and cantaloupe, always sweet and juicy. Again at lunch fresh fruit and often for dessert some form of fruit or rice pudding. The meals are simple but very flavorful and always rice and black beans in some form or another; at breakfast mixed together in what is called gallo pinto, served with fried plantains and fresh fruit. At lunch casado, rice and beans side by side, perhaps with fruit, chicken or vegetable added to the rice.
Andres proclaimed today “A Day in the Life” and after breakfast we headed to a small village for visit with a local family, to attend a folk dance performance at the elementary school and to enjoy a home-hosted lunch with a local family. With his incredible eyesight Andres is always on the lookout for birds and spotted a Green Kingfisher sitting on the edge of a bridge – we stopped for photos then a Jesus Christ lizard stretched out on a plant as we drove by, another quick stop.
Arriving in the village of Sonafluca the family was waiting to greet us and welcome us into their home. We meet the mother (Sonia), father and two daughters. The oldest daughter had to leave right away for the school. She will be performing for us later and needed to get into her costume and prepare. Their home was a simply furnished five-room house and it wasn’t long before we had all congregated in the kitchen, the heart of every home.
As is typical in the tropics, the family uses an indoor and outdoor kitchen. Indoors there was an electric stove, sink, refrigerator and table. Outdoors a wood fired stove where most of the cooking actually takes place. Sonia began a demonstration on how to make empanadas with the help of her daughter and made enough dough for everyone to try their hand at creating a perfect cheese stuffed empanada. Her husband cooked them for us over the wood fired stove and while we may not get style points for perfect appearance they were quite tasty.
In the yard, under a tree, a platform had been constructed where papaya and bananas were placed to feed the birds; Kiskadees and Passerini’s and blue-gray tanagers flocked to the feeder, hard to imagine papaya so plentiful that it is used as bird food.
The family grows taro, sweet potato, green beans and other vegetables and has both papaya and avocado trees to meet most of their dietary needs.
We thanked this lovely family for their hospitality and bid them farewell, moving on to the elementary school where we were met by a group of students in traditional costumes. One by one as we exited the van they stepped up to take our hands and lead us into a covered outdoor court where they would perform. The Principal greeted us and began introductions of students, teachers and some parents who would later host lunch for the group. He explained the dances we would see, the music started and the dancing began. The kids were wonderful, the tiniest member, kindergartner came forward and introduced each dance. The kids were well rehearsed and danced with great enthusiasm. There was even one dance in which we all participation, it was great fun.
The performance was followed by a question and answer period. The children wanted to know about us, what other countries we had visited, what our favorite country was, what we did for a living and this involved some explanation for we had a microbiologist, anesthesiologist and patent chemist. We asked them what they wanted to be and were interested to find many of the girls wanted to be business managers, one a dentist, a few wanted to be tour guides and some teachers.
Each student again took one of us by the hand and led us outside to visit their garden. Part of their curriculum includes an organic vegetable garden that they all work to maintain. It was quite large and teaches them environmentally friendly techniques that they can also put into use at home. A young lad named Francisco guided me.
One of the teachers in our group wanted to see a classroom so we visited a 6th grade class. It was in sharp contrast to our school classrooms, very stark and unadorned. The school had been on winter break for two weeks so that could have been why but I think this was the normal state. Desks were very, very old wooden style. This was Francisco’s class so he proudly showed me his desk.
Back in the courtyard area some of the women had displayed their crafts for sale. These were items they make using old newspaper and magazines, recycling is important in Costa Rica and some of the jewelry and purses made from recycled paper were quite nice.
We split up into smaller groups and we were driven to our host families for lunch. Francisco had chosen us and his parents were waiting outside when we arrived. They did not speak English although the father did seem to understand a little. It was challenging but we managed to communicate. Lunch was served in a covered outdoor eating area off the kitchen. Mary had prepared casado (rice and beans) with diced chicken, a salad of very small banana slices in some type of dressing – very good – squash and for dessert papaya and rice pudding.
After lunch we walked through Mary’s flower and herb garden, she had some beautiful specimens and was obviously very proud of her efforts. Francisco then gave us a tour of their vegetable garden. The family, Andres explained, are poverty level by our standards, the house if sparsely decorated but they meet all their needs and grow their own food – bananas, papayas, green beans, sweet potatoes, chayote squash, pineapple, taro, coconut palms – they have chickens and cows. Francisco picked a coconut and skillfully sliced off the top so we could taste the coconut water and then sliced it so we could taste fresh coconut. This was a treat compared to the dried, very juicy and a much milder flavor. We also sampled some of his homemade cheese, again very mild flavor but oh so fresh. The food is not spicy as it can be in Mexico.
Back on the porch we sat around the table while Mary and Francisco introduced us to the rest of their family and extended family through a photo album. We also saw young Francisco’s report cards, a good student and his parents are extremely proud of their little boy. Francisco was getting bored, too much adult talk, he brought out a deck of cards, Uno, and as we began to shuffle the cards Andres appeared . . . time to go. Francisco was very disappointed that we had not gotten to play and I that he time had gone too quickly. This is a lovely and loving family; we thoroughly enjoyed our time with them. It always surprises me that after a short time the language barrier seems to dissolve and maybe it is the simple act of sitting down together and sharing a meal.
Back in the van we shared our experiences with the different families and it appeared to be a very positive interaction for everyone.
A late afternoon horseback ride in the hills adjoining the resort was beautiful, especially in the late afternoon light. We detoured into the forest on the way back so Andres could collect plant specimens. That was tricky, muddy and really no pathway we were ducking limbs and coaxing the horses on, not my favorite part of the ride. I have not ridden many horses so never feel completely at ease but this was a gentle horse and we got along just fine expect for his nasty habit of biting any other horse that got too close.
Arriving back in time for dinner I delighted in the sea bass, squash, a salad of tomato and farmer’s cheese with delicious coconut custard with caramel sauce for dessert. We never did get into the hot springs pools although they looked quite inviting, we ran out energy and time. We were exhausted by the time dinner was done and the ½ mile plus walk to the pools along a not well lit at path didn’t sound as good as bed so we left the pools to those younger and more adventurous.