After a month off the virtual face of the planet Tyler and I are finally back online. I'm sitting in a Hotel in San Jose with a fast internet connection, a warm cup of tea, and the bewildering feeling I get when something profound and life changing just happened but I don't know quite how to process it. We spent the last month volunteering at Rancho Mastatal an sustainable living retreat and education center a bit off the beaten path.
We lived well but simply. It's amazing how much American society makes us feel we can't live without that, in actuality, we don't need at all. And by having a happy satisfying life without all the things I "need" like constant internet access, telephones, or dependably passable roads showed me a lot about what truly is a neccesity. It was much the same experiment that Thoreau made while writing Walden (and, incidentally, crafting the phrase 'Live Deliberately'). Although I suspected I could live without some things (Unpassable roads=no problem. No internet=Is that even possible?) the ranch surprised me with some others I'd always taken for granted.
This is 'The Hooch' where we spent most nights. It's a bamboo structure in the shape of an inverted pyramid overlooking a ridge. It didn't have running water indoors (nor, come to think of it, did it have doors). It is located high enough that each morning we awoke with the sun to a 360 degree view out into the forest canopy chattering with animals. An utterly amazing experience, even for an anti-morning person like myself.
Life without walls, we found, has many benefits and a few drawbacks. The breeze and sun was wonderful, but the wildlife was a mixed blessing. The mosquito netting slowed down some of the bigger bugs, but as I drifted off to sleep each night the little no-see-ums had a feeding frenzy. One advantage, on the other hand, is that the Hooch had a huge wrap around urinal with a spectacular view.
Does it count as a indoor plumbing
if one uses their plumbing indoors?
It wasn't only our home that wasn't blessed with walls. Other places I had thought them to be pretty important were lacking them as well. Like, for example, the homebuilt outdoor composting toilets. It might seem odd, but it's remarkably pleasant to sit on a throne looking out into the jungle.
Or they had the best cold water (somewhat solar heated) showers I ever had the pleasure of having. After a long hot day working a cold shower looking out into a lush jungle is a transcendent experience. You feel uterrly refreshed, and connected to the whole world. It's kind of like skinny dipping without dipping.
We worked hard all day on a few different projects. We laid the concrete and built a bamboo framework for the new classroom.
And we were cobbing machines on Tim and Robins new home.
But all that hard work made the exotic vegetarian food taste even better. We started with odd new foods like this Pahibohi (sp?)...
...which magically became a delicious communal meal. Never in my life have I eaten so well and regularly!
The only thing I enjoyed more than the spectacular natural beauty of Costa Rica...
... was the wonderful people we met there.
I love backpackers, and have thrived on the culture of travelers we've met thus far in our journey but this was something else. There were 17 U Washington students there most of the time there and hanging out with them was a bit different in a really neat way. When a bird flys by a bunch of backpackers we'd usually say "Whoa, Bird, Cool!" This group, on the other hand, would discuss what kind of bird it is, if this is it's normal territory and what effect humans may be having on it. Every single one of them, aside from their instructor Chuck, are really good hearted and earnestly committed to making the world a better place. Everyone had their own interest and specialties but were quick to help eachother out, have a merry night out on the town (ie. they went to the one small bar/store/local hangout), and help make the Ranch thrive.
Another wonderful thing about the Ranch is how hard it's founders work to integrate into it's tiny community. There are less than a hundred people in the town of Mastatal and I met most of them during my time there. While working with them on various projects, slicing vegetables in the kitchen or hanging out at the Pulperia I found them all to be friendly, clever and hell of a lot of fun to be around.
The other volunteers and the staff of Rancho Mastatal really made it wonderful. Only a certain type of traveler takes time on their vacation to work for fun and I've discovered that I really love getting to know that type. Roger, an Englishman who's been with the Ranch for years plays a critical role in keeping things running via a magical combination of dirty jokes, clever know how and boundless enthusiasm. Finally the founders of Rancho Mastatal, Tim and Robin are truly inspiring people. It's not often you meet someone who comes up with a crazy idealistic impossible vision... and then does it. By virtue of their personal charisma and clear ideals they set the stage for a little farmhouse in the middle of the jungle to grow into something magical.
We arrived to a quiet and peaceful ranch, an hour before the students arrived and we left it on a similarly peaceful note. In between, however, things built to insane crescendo. The students left one with a huge blowout. We got things started with a skit and awards ceremony revolving around the Team America theme (Sustainability, Fuck yeah!), a Cob oven Pizza party, and then the night decended into insanity. The party raged from the ranch to the pulperia. Then, as the students were packing up their bus to the airport Tyler and I found ourselves on the back of a Ticans pickup speeding out of town for even more insanity. I woke up having unwittingly lost my camera (Tragedy! I feel blind!) but with three of most impressive hickies I've ever had in my life.
The next few days we peaceful and pleasant. We hung out with the remaining volunteers, got to know a couple Ranch newbies and started getting ready to go. We finished the cob wall on Tim and Robins new house on our very last day and caught a ride out of town early the next morning. We went to San Jose to meet our Mom MacAllen, who just came out to catch up with us and get us fully immersed in the next chapter of this wild, wild adventure.