(Andreas) Today we woke up at around 5:00 and headed out of the hotel in a van, heading for Sarapiquí to start the bulk of our trip. We all enjoyed the heat and cool breeze that the Costa Rican climate had to offer, especially after a freezing couple of days back in New York. Our tour guide, Walter, stopped the van at a beautiful waterfall that jutted out from high in the rocks. Walter told us a short history of the waterfall.
“This rapid used to be a class six rapid, which just means that it’s impossible. But then this crazy American guy came down to Costa Rica and he kayaked the waterfall, so it became a class five rapid. You know, it only becomes a class five rapid if you survive. There has been an earthquake, though, so I think it has become a class six again, because it’s all new.”
I don’t know if this really soothed any of our concerns about rafting, but it was certainly an interesting story. The drive lasted around three hours, as the van climbed up around the mountain range that divides San José from our exploratory territory. We were stopped again once the terrain had flattened, exposing rows and rows of spiky green tops that protruded out of the reddish soil. Walter asked us:
“Do you guys know what’s around us?”
We all swiveled our heads around to get a better view of what was outside, and someone eventually decided that they were pineapples.
“Wait, don’t pineapples grow on trees?” a voice asked from the back of the van.
Walter then proceeded to explain to us that pineapples did not, in fact, grow on trees, and that each crown in the soil was the top to an individual pineapple, which kind of blew all of our minds. Walter then gave us the insider secrets to how to pick the perfect pineapple:
“Well for starters, the crown of the fruit should be the same size as the body. If the body or the crown is too long, then the pineapple will not taste good. The eyes of the pineapple, you know, the little circles on the skin, should be large, and only the first row of eyes should be yellow. If you see all these things, the pineapple will taste very sweet.”
We arrived at the farm at around 9:00, but it felt like the day was almost over because we had waked up so early. Our itinerary didn’t to care much though, as a multi-hour tour was waiting ahead of us. Luckily, it was one of the most interesting things that I have ever done. We started by feeding the pigs. Daniel, the owner of the farm, led us up a path and to the pigpen, where a gigantic pig was waiting hungrily, hooves hanging over the fence. Daniel handed us a each a stalk of a special plant he uses to feed his pigs.
We next went to a nearby shelter, where there were six bags waiting for us. Horse poop, cow poop, pig poop, chicken poop, calcium, and phosphorus rocks. We poured each bag onto the ground in front of us and created layers of each. Then we used shovels to break down the pieces and them mix them together. In this way, we created fertilizer that had all the things plants would need to survive.
The next station was the pepper competition. Pepper is grown on vines, and each vine is curled around a tree or wooden post. We walked to a whole field filled with these plants, most of them unripe. The way we were able to tell which were ripe and which were not is if at least on of the peppers on the stalk was red or dark. We separated into three groups and raced each other to find as many ripe peppers as possible (side note: my group won).
After that we visited vanilla bean plants in the forest, and then went to the biofuel place, where they used poop to create food for the house. We then ate in the house, and it was incredibly delicious.
Our afternoon was greeted with a very friendly man named Jaime. Right from the start, he was very welcoming, a trend we've been noticing with everyone we meet here. We began with a jungle hike, where we saw monkeys, poisonous frogs, four hundred year old vines, and more. After, we took a walk over to Jamie's house, and started our session with ethnobotany. Jaime began by passing around leaves from his garden and having us smell them and taste them, explaining the uses and the history behind it and often throwing in some very funny jokes. One big hit was the lipstick plant, a bright red fruit that you could put on your face. Jaime also had a machete, and we gave him coconuts for him to slice open for us. The juice was absolutely delicious.
Overall, my first day was absolutely incredible. I was amazed at how much Spanish I could understand in our interactions with local Costa Ricans. I'm already feeling at home, and looking forward to the next two nights with my homestay families. ¡Pura vida!