Pura Vida – Part 2 – Rancho Mastatal

I am now in Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina but wanted to catch up a bit on my postings on Costa Rica before I leave for Antarctica tomorrow.  Internet access has been intermittent which has made blogging a bit of a challenge. But I will try to keep you all abreast of my whereabouts as time goes on!

welcome sign to town of MastatalRancho Mastatal is another permaculture farm started by gringos from the States – Tim (Timo) O’Hara and Robin Nunes – whom I unfortunately did not get to meet as they were in the US visiting family with their daughter Sole. Unlike VerdEnergia which can really only be reached by bus and then car (or a good long hike) Mastatal is on a bus route which does make it a slightly more convenient place to live/visit. Yet, even so, if one wants to run errands in nearby Puriscal it’s an 11 hour return-trip beginning at 5:30 am so it’s not a journey made to pick up a couple items.

bridge at the tilapia pond

Bridge at the tilapia pond

One of the bedrooms in the Hankey House

One of the bedrooms in the Hankey House

The Rancho was begun in 2001 and is spread out over 550 acres. Their buildings are not only sustainably constructed from local wood, mud, and bamboo but they are also very attractive. Located at the crossroads of Mastatal, the rancho sits across from the local soda (a small café where everyone from the finca eats on Sunday nights) and next to that is the police station and across from it is the bar. Thus the area’s main attractions are literally a stone’s throw from the main house, with the exception of The Iguana Chocolate Farm only 1 km down the road.

James enjoying some quiet time on a Sunday afternoon

James, one of the volunteer interns, enjoying some quiet time in the Hankey House on a Sunday afternoon

The Hooch, mi casa for several nights

The Hooch, my home for several nights

I stayed in “The Hooch” – a lofty two-story “hut.” Built primarily from native bamboo it is very elegant and airy. I felt privileged to stay in it as I think it’s one of the prettiest buildings on the property. There are no windows or walls, just tarps to help keep it dry during the rainy or “green” season as it is often called. The only downside of this hut is that it sways when there is a strong wind or when someone else walks across the room. The other issue is that to get to the second floor bedroom you have to climb up a ladder so it’s not good if you are afraid of heights or need to make a trip to the bathroom (a couple buildings away) during the middle of the night.

Which brings me to the subject of the bathrooms.  Both the fincas I visited had flush toilets in the house reserved for just peeing. All toilet paper goes in a trash bin next to the toilet and then gets composted (something I found is a common practice in Costa Rica to avoid clogged toilets).  Both places also had separate composting toilets that TP would go into along with a scoop of sawdust to help the process along.  But unique to Rancho Mastatal was their “Bio-D” toilet.  I had seen a video once about these bio-digestor toilets so it was interesting to get to see/use one in person.

The Bio-Digester toilets.  On the outside are mosaics illustrating the cycle created by using them.

The amazing Bio-Digester toilets. On the outside are mosaics illustrating the cycle created by using them. To note: the views from all the bathrooms and showers are quiet lush and green!

A bio-d toilet is similar to a composting toilet but is used for solid waste.There is a hose next to the toilet to “flush” down the contents into a holding tank underneath it. I believe this added water also helps with the process of converting the waste into methane fuel that then gets pumped up a small hill to the kitchen and gets used for cooking.  I know this might seem a bit repulsive to the uninitiated but I can attest from the cup of tea I made using the little stove it fuels that there is no residual smell.Actually, I think it’s kind of brilliant and is a good example of how Rancho Mastatal is committed to the full cycle of sustainable living.

The 3 stages of Mastal's composting stalls

The 3 stages of Mastal's composting stalls - another sign of their commitment to the cycle of sustainable living: The signs read: Let Me Be, Use Me, and Feed Me.

a shelf of books on food issues in the Rancho's library

Just one shelf of the Rancho's great collection of books on food, environmental and political issues

When I first arrived I was given a tour by Katina who, along with her partner Tyler, is acting as caretaker while Tim and Robin are away. The gardens here contained many of the same fruits and vegetables as at VerdEnergia: bananas, pineapple, passion fruit, cranberry hyacinth, peppers, water spinach, and various herbs to name a few. They also have lots of fruit trees spread out across their property. By the main house are hydroponic beds in which some eggplants and small tomatoes are being grown. The main water container for this set-up contained tilapia fish that will become food for their table once they got bigger.

A view of the main house looking across the verdant front garden.

Looking across the verdant front yard gardens to the main house.

Chepo, a local Tico who has worked at Mastatal since its inception

Chepo, a local Tico who has worked at Mastatal since its inception, carrys greens to feed the goats.

The Rancho employs several local Ticos who help cook and maintain the property. They are in integral part of the Rancho’s success. Besides various jobs around the farm, the volunteer interns help cook in the kitchen and are fully in charge of Sunday brunch. Needless to say the food here – like at VerdEnergia is delicious and farm fresh.  I got very spoiled.

The farm has 6 goats, about 25 hens, and 1 cocky rooster plus several cats and dogs. Approximately 30-35 eggs a day are collected, not always enough to feed all the guests but a fair amount all the same. I left the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and there was talk having chicken for their holiday dinner. I am sorry I had to leave before then since, as an occasional meat-eater, I would like to have participated in the butchering of the hens to feel more connected to what I eat.

Simon carrying a basket of fresh chicken eggs

Simon carrying a basket of fresh chicken eggs

The two billy goats in their stalls

The farm's two billy goats (Oliver and Fenway) in their stalls

Liv, her hands sticky from making empanadas, stands in front of the Rancho's wood burning stove

Liv, her hands sticky from making empanadas, stands in front of the Rancho's wood burning stove

Priscilla and Chet from France - making crepes and falafels for Sunday brunch.

Prescilla and Chet, volunteers from France, making crepes and falafels for Sunday's brunch.

The current residents at Mastatal were mostly Americans but they often have Europeans, such as Chet and Prescilla from France, who find their way there.  Most visitors are young adults ranging from their late teens to their early 30’s but there was also Stacy, a mom in her early 40’s, and her two adorable daughters – Mica, 11 and Liv, 9. One lasting memory I will take away with me from my stay there was Liv asking her Mom if she could use the machete.  (The answer was “yes” as long as there was adult supervision. Talk about trust).

Like VerdEnergia, Mastatal also accepts volunteer interns who are eager to get some dirt under their fingernails and learn more about sustainable agriculture. Just spending three days at each of these fincas left a lasting impression on me.  I look forward to the day I can return for a longer visit and help with more than just photographing their exemplary work.

Rancho Mastatal, where even the dogs are politically engaged

Rancho Mastatal, where even the dogs are politically engaged.

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