Archive for February, 2011

Un dia en la finca

Often rising at 4:30AM, not because I have to, but so I have time to prepare my days breakfast and lunch, and more importantly, to clean up after myself so as to prevent the colonization of ants and fruit flies. My previous home-stay family taught me well in the art of Zip-locking, double wrapping, and always doing the dishes…because if you don’t – the ants march in procession.

The sun rises just before 6 so I have ample light to work with the animals

Lately, I’ve been making my way to the chicken pen at 6AM, just as the sun gives passing to the darkness of night. Greeted by the crow of both roosters, the peep of new born chicks, and the growl of setting hens, I proceed to clean all dishes and give everyone new feed and water.

At the chicken coop first thing in the AM

On to milk Shelby and Milagra (Miracle), two female goats. Shelby goes first and makes her way right towards the food! I have her food ready so I can start milking. Tom, one of the farm cats, eagerly waits for some warm goat milk. The first three squeezes from each tit go to the cat, not because she perhs and rubs up against you all cat-like, but because the first milk is exposed to the air and thus subject to bacterial growth. Shelby takes under ten minutes, and Milagra, a third of that time, yielding approximately a one-gallon sum of milk.

Tom anxiously looks on...

Shelby has a pretty good view from her pasture...

Next up are the baby goats. We have four of them and they like to be tied up in new locations every day to eat new grass. They can be a little stubborn when it comes to herding them out of their pen and into the pastures, but they waste no time when it comes to eating – their only daily undertaking.

The babies cry for their mom every morning... baaahh baahh!

and the tug-a-war ensues...

Now I have to clean up the goat pens, feed the pig, and wrap everything up. I shovel up and store the goat droppings for composting and soil enrichment. Before washing and scrubbing the goat pens with water and broom, I feed the pig so she doesn’t drink the water as I spray down the goats pen.

She eats anything but onions, garlic, ginger, coffee grind, and red peppers

Cleaning "The Pit"

Once everything is clean and put away, I wash up – with Clorox soap – and make my way to milk the cows with Magel. There are three cows to milk now as two recently had a baby each. We milk two at a time; Magel milks one and I milk the other.  The milk begins to flow! The third cow is left up to Magel because she’s a little aggressive, standing nigh six feet tall – with horns! (see her in the background of the following picture). 

The Jersey cow

Now the actual work-day begins – and it’s about 9AM. I do this everyday, even on my day off because it’s something I really enjoy doing. After about 9am, Magel and I care for the farm accordingly, whether we’re cutting up fallen banana trees, fixing fences, shoveling ditches, repairing gates, maintaining pasture trails, cutting grass, or a myriad other odd ends and jobs. We finish by 3pm with much of the day still at our disposal! 5:30pm marks the reverse of my morning routine when I bring in the animals for the night.

Friday is usually my day off and Saturday is a whole different ball game. Saturday is a Mavin-day – which deserves a new blog entry all unto itself…

Until next week…


Flowers of Costa Rica






Six-Course Dinner for Twenty-three

Well, I’m going to keep this post shorter than anticipated only because we have another dinner party this Sunday and I will document and photograph the event in more detail.

Fresh from the farm's garden

Red or White?

Essentially, the farm owner hosts dinner parties at the request of locals. It’s not just any dinner party however – no no no – this isn’t just some event you attend and eat good food. It’s more of a dinner ceremony, or a renewed dinner experience of fine cuisine; food freshly selected, all ingredients made from scratch (save flour), and six dishes prepared and served comfortably over the course of 3 hours at a farm in tropical Costa Rica.

Keep in mind, as a server, we get the less than ideal looking plates:)

Serving so many people, so many courses takes but two days of preparation…that being said, and may I speak on behalf of the chef, that the mental preparation for such an event yields at least a weeks worth of work. Lo: Choosing or working with a dinner theme; selecting the number of dishes and the dishes themselves; considering the price and availability of food in our area; carrying out the grocery shopping, revising a dish or two after shopping when the shrimp guy didn’t have shrimp because his car broke down and he couldn’t make it to the beach; expecting the unexpected; timing each dish accordingly (did I mention there were six courses served over 2 – 3 hours?); balancing the grocery bill against the cost of each individual (I doubt this kind of thing is feasible); never using the same recipe twice; ETC!

Happy Valentines Day. Mixed greens w/ homemade Gorgonzola & strawberry balsamic vinegrette

However, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the whole is the chef’s love of food and service while the sum are the parts listed above. Oh! And I forgot to mention, many of the ingredients come right from the farm, from cheese, to chocolate, to herbs and some vegetables, and sometimes meats.

So, we’ve got:

– 5 cups concentrated planning

– 3 rounded tablespoons preparation

– 1 Farm in Costa Rica

– 3 assistants (two Tica’s, one Canadian)

– a massive fridge and extra freezer

– a dash of help

– a pinch of luck

– 1 heaping cow’s utter full of love and passion

and voila! A six-course, melt in your mouth, pura vida, dinner ceremony extraordinaire.

Serves: 23

Mango pineapple cobbler w/ almond coconut macaroon topping. Chocolate covered stawberries and sweet salami with drizzled farm-made chocolate



Day 3: Milked Ma First Cow

That was probably the most exciting part of the day; I’ve never milked an animal before and it’s difficult business! I know it’s all glamorized on television but it takes a lot more skill than just squeezing a tit! Forefinger and thumb clasp the milk in the tit followed by a successive squeeze from your following fingers. I was slow as molasses, while Marvin on the other side was shootin’ milk out like torpedoes! Not sure how many times I hit my shoe instead of the milk bucket…

As for the rest of the day, we continued repairing the barbed wire fence. Lots of digging, pounding soil, and trying to make out what my two Spanish co-workers were saying.

What’s really interesting is how we have a living fence line. Many of the fence posts are actually trees, and their subsequent new limbs become fence posts for future use. The soil and environment is so rich and nourishing almost anything grows if you just stick it in the ground. That being said, what’s of more interest is how crops and fence posts are affected by the lunar cycle. I believe it’s the three days prior to a full moon and the following twelve days which yield optimal growing conditions. I’m not sure why but Natalie (the farm owner) mentioned the moons gravitational influence may be stronger as we are so close to the equator and that might play a role in promoting growth on cyclic intervals.

Pictures to come!


Life on La Finca

My goodness, readers, you won’t believe what farm life is like in Costa Rica! I’m living and working on a farm just outside of Arenal. To sum it up in a string of events; I wake up before the sun rises; tend to the livestock; ride horses into pastures, fix fences by the lunar cycle; make cheese and yogurt, and drink fresh milk; and a frenzy of other farm duties and delights. It’s not all good times and lake-views from my guesthouse however; The work is tough, volatile, and can be downright stinky cleaning up pig and goat pens.

This is the view from my front door. Notice the lake!

Day Uno on La Finca! 4:30AM – I arose from my bachelor suit slumber to a medley of tropical farm melodies declaring the coming of morn. After a hot shower and a hotter cup of Costa Rican coffee, I had some farm-made yogurt with fresh mango and farm grown passion fruit, alongside cereal with milk and a banana. Quarter to six, I was outside among nature waiting for my co-worker, an aged and earthly-experienced Tico who speaks some native form of Spanish. My first lesson was how to ride a horse. The native Tico, Marvin, pointed at the horse, said something in his native Spanish tongue – and that’s how I learned to ride the horse. Through barbed wire fences, across roads, and up pasture trails we proceeded to begin work.


The Kitchen and living room

Apparently, there was a dispute between some Toro’s, who, in their best efforts to resolve the clash of horns, destroyed a few hundred meters of fencing! Nothing Marvin hasn’t seen before I’m sure and as we assessed the damage and marked off where new fencing was required, I nodded along not understanding a word he was saying. While I may not have understood Marvin’s verbal language, I did understand his body language and watched for patterns in work. Things actually went really smooth.

We cut a new path through some dense jungle in a riparian zone, well, Marvin did. He wields his 30-inch long machete like it ain’t no thang! Marvin may or may not have been born with a machete in hand.

After some heavy work, Marvin showed me this small waterfall and water-hole for swimming in the heat of the day. Scampering from river rock to river rock, Marvin pointed out and named a number of trees, only one of which I remember. He cut off a segment of a small tree resembling bamboo, edged his machete lengthwise to remove the outer shell, and revealed a succulent white inner portion. It came out like the center of a carrot. I didn’t hesitate to chomp down and try it.


Typical view from the upper pastures

Forty-minute lunch and back to work, actually, the horses did most of the work this time around dragging large tree trunks along the fence line which would be new posts.

My behind has never been so sore after roughly five hours of horseback riding, no pun intended.


This was my work horse for the day.

Front porch on at the farm house

These guys were on my front porch. They follow you around the farm and squack the entire time.

My Room on La Finca!









Back to School – Asentamiento

Better than usual road conditions on a sunny afternoon.


Time for some quick work at a local school. Asentimiento is a poor and under funded elementary school located about 25 minutes outside of Arenal. It’s easiest to get there by foot or horseback unless you have a rugged 4×4 to handle car-eating mud pits, pot holes, and downright lack of infrastructure. Lucky for us, Jeff has just the truck.


Asentamiento Escuela


Today, our major project was the bathroom. After being tiled the previous day, we grouted the tiles and buffered em’ up good. Some new plumbing went in, along with a securely fastened sink and new toilet seat.

Laying the grout

Scott gave the bathroom door a well-needed upgrade and organized some lighting wires in the main classroom.

Friends, Jeff and Allison, have been long time supporters of Asentimiento, donating their time and money to improve and maintain the structure and integrity of the school. Janet and Scott have joined in the effort by doing the same each year to improve the learning environment of the students. Rockon to locals giving back to the community!


The Finished Product!



Alright, this post is long overdue!! But I’ve been busy working on the farm, which you can read all about on my other page.

Playa de Tamarindo – a beach on the pacific coast of Costa Rica pseudo-named TamaGringo and for good reason. Tourism, trash, theft, surfing, and partying are of this beaches nature. Why I went? Just for the surfing, actually.

El bus was muy barato (very cheap) but took about 7 hours from Arenal to Tileran to Canas to Liberia and finally to Tamarindo. The busing system is pretty volatile and all of Costa Rica is on big estacion de buses, meaning the buses will pick you up anywhere; in front of your house, on a twisty road, or on the highway; just as long as you wave the driver down.

The pool at The Bottle of Milk!


I arrived at La Botelle de Leche (The Bottle of Milk) hostel, set up camp, and awaited my inaugural surf lesson with Fransisco, a righteous surf teacher from Argentina. Surfing is actually really easy with a teacher because he tells you where to go, when to get on the the (very long) board, when to start paddling, and then he finally gives you a push just as the wave is mounting to break, whereafter you immediately thrust yourself up to a standing position, no problema. The difficulties come in paddling for long periods of time, reading the waves, and catching it on your own, not to mention carving the wave instead of just surfing in a linear line loosing all of the waves momentum within seconds.

Beach an hours walk from Tamarindo


Back at the The Bottle of Milk, Canadians and Europeans dominated the scene. Canada, Austria, Germany, Finland, Switzerland – O the languages. I met a number of interesting worldly-folk all with their own unique countenance and stories to tell. Among the many, were four girls; two from Switzerland and and two from London who made for good company and laughs all around.

After some beaching around, bumming around, two more surf lessons, and one pair of lost shorts later, I made my way home one day early to help out at a local school before school actually started.

Just another pacific coast sun-set