Written by Carolyn C. of Head Royce School
Day Five: Thursday June 19th
We awoke feeling rested and comfortable in our plush beds, then walked to the restaurant alongside the blue-tiled pool where we would have breakfast. After munching on cereal and sweet tropical fruit, it was time to depart to an organic farm, which was a ten minute drive from our hotel. We didn’t know exactly what the farm grew (“It’s a surprise,” Humberto told us), but we were excited all the same to see what it was. At last, we pulled up on a gravel driveway to the farm, where tall branches of unknown plants rustled in the breeze, and banana trees sprouted up in the distance. Once we clambered out of the van and applied sunscreen and insect repellent, our tour began. Our guide explained to us the purpose of the farm in Spanish while Humberto translated. It was to grow healthy, organic food that was native to Costa Rica, and by doing this, would enhance the surrounding community and their country. He explained that on our tour, we would learn about different plants and taste a variety of flavors: bitter, spicy, and sweet.
Our first tasting was of the “Costa Rican grape,” a hard round plant which turned out not to be a grape, but a peppercorn-like plant. We guzzled water to try to get the stinging flavor out of our mouths. After the effects had worn off, we laughed at their trick and continued on to the next stop, walking along the circumference of a circle of plants, which were planted that way to keep away insects, they claimed, although I wasn’t sure how. We delved deeper into the farm, and arrived at the beginning of the banana tree plantation. Pulling a machete out from a sheath at his side, our guide swiftly cut down a stalk from a tree and chose a volunteer for the next demonstration. As we cleared away from our guide, he poised his arm as if to throw his machete, which worried us until he brought it to meet the stalk, and rapidly hewed off pieces from the stalk, which flew at the volunteer as he twisted and ducked to avoid the flying banana tree rounds. We cheered him on, sighing in relief that he hadn’t had to avoid a machete instead!
As we walked along, he showed us medicinal plants claimed to lower cholesterol, and passion flowers that buzzed with pollinators. The day was hot, and we rushed under the shade of a tree, while the guide led away four volunteers into the bushes to gather another plant. Soon, they emerged with hands cupped over each other, hiding whatever strange plant was contained within. The guide explained that they wished to give a few of our classmates “face massages,” but after the peppercorn incident, we were all wary as they chose their victims. Once the participants had all closed their eyes, the volunteers finally revealed what they held: a fruit with red juice, which they spread over their victims faces like face paint. Once they were satisfied with their application, they allowed the victims to open their eyes, and they exclaimed in surprise as they saw the others with their painted faces; touching their own to find that theirs had been painted, too.
We ventured further along the gravel path, pausing to inspect pink and purple flowers and berries that grew along a fence. Our guide encouraged us to try them, promising that they could sustain us in the wild if we ever found them. We plucked the violet berries from their stems, and found that they tasted somewhat like blueberries: not the flesh, just the skin. The next plants we got to taste were sour, tiny melons, which we sucked on as we walked towards the next stop on our tour. It was a circle, with pegs all around the clearing we stood in. A rope wound through the pegs. Taking the rope, the guides demonstrated that the circumference is really the diameter times Pi. They unwound the rope and re-wound it, crossing the center of the clearing Pi (approximately 3.14) times.
After we replaced the rope, we were offered a green juice made from a medicinal plant our guide pointed out earlier. It was hot outside, and we were all sweating profusely, so any offer of a cool drink was naturally accepted immediately. We drank up the refreshing drink: it had a flavor unlike anything I’ve tasted before, but not in a bad way. Once we finished our drinks and wiped the sweat from our foreheads, our guide invited us to walk along another path and just take in the varying plants and textures and smells. Once we crunched our way through gravel, dirt, and different types of groundcover, admiring the hedges and pines, we made our way back and walked further. Next to the path, a troop of leafcutter ants carrying bright bits of green wove their way through the groundcover to their destination. As I watched them crawl, I was handed a sprig of what seemed to be lemon verbena, which smelled amazing.
We came to another stop in the path. Our guide chose another volunteer, and using his machete, cut down a few branches of what appeared to be a yucca plant before he handed her the machete to finish the job. Once she cut down the branches, we cheered as she tried to pull up the root, which we would eat for lunch. I was chosen to help her pull it up, and grasping the remaining branch stubs, we finally heaved it up out of the dirt- it was massive, and heavy, too!
The guide revealed the next plant to taste, promising it was really spicy. Only a handful of brave volunteers chose to eat it, and when they did, they gasped for water and fanned their mouths, overwhelmed by its heat. This time, they handed out a leaf for everyone to taste. We ate it all together- it was bitter.
We walked along the path past a fountain, where we splashed cool water onto ourselves, then to a another spot where tall trees provided ample shade, and moss covered rocks were arranged in a circle on the edge of a rushing river. The guide invited us to close our eyes and just enjoy the sounds of nature: the gurgling river, the birdsong, and the chirping insects. As we shut our eyes, the cool shade and calm surroundings encouraged a sense of peacefulness, and we let the hum of wildlife wash over us. We opened our eyes after a period of time, and our guide explained what a special place it was, and how during the different seasons, the sounds shifted and changed.
We walked to our next stop: the small enclosures where the pigs and a cow were kept. The cow’s name was Chocolate, and they explained that the farm used her excrement as fertilizer and used the methane to power the farm. We walked past chickens and cooed at the snuffling pigs, then went to our final stop on the tour. We rested under a shady, cool structure, where a juicer sat in the center of a gathering of benches. The guide picked a few more volunteers, then produced a stalk of sugarcane. He fed it through the juicer as two volunteers tried to spin the cranks, and the third helped pull it through the other end, while its juice was caught and streamed tidily into a glass pitcher. Once one jug was filled, they pushed the stalk through again and got every drop out, filling another pitcher. They poured the pale, cream-colored juice into small glasses, which we quickly guzzled down: it was sweet and delicious, and we held out our drained glasses for more. They also passed around sugar cane candies with mint, which tasted like peppermints but better. The tour ended on this sweet note, and we walked over to the kitchen to eat lunch.
Before we ate, though, we washed our hands and helped make tortillas! The kitchen staff handed us balls of dough, which we flattened into circles while trying not to have the dough stick to our hands. We passed our uncooked tortillas to the staff, who cooked them on large pans. Soon, lunch was ready: yucca chips, delicious fish with our homemade tortillas, a sort of salsa, salad, veggies, avocado, rice, and beans. It was scrumptious, and an excellent way to end the tour.
After lunch, it was time for us to plant trees on the edge of the property. We headed off into the forest, where we gathered small tree saplings, buckets of fertilizer, and spades, and worked in teams to dig holes, toss in a handful of fertilizer, plant the tree, and fill in the hole, while avoiding the numerous insects that crawled in the brush and groundcover. We followed a garden staff-person as he cleared spots for us to plant trees with his machete, where we then dug a hole. Soon, most of the trees had been planted, but then it began to rain, hard.
We quickly grabbed our belongings, set them aside at the foot of a tree, and scrambled through the forest to the neighbors’ shelter, which they had let us stay in for the duration of the storm. It was an open air patio, covered with a corrugated metal roof, and held a sink and counter, as well as several chairs, some benches, and a couch. We ran through the forest, trying to avoid tripping over the plants, and gratefully took shelter under their roof as the rain pelted down on it noisily. They offered us tropical fruit juice, oranges and starfruit, and homemade bread, which we ate thankfully while we attempted to make conversation over the sound of the rainstorm. The storm seemed to pass quickly, and we dried off and piled back into the van. We said goodbye to our guide, the staff, and the family who had let us stay on their patio, and drove back to the hotel. We had a few hours of free time before we returned to the organic farm for dinner, so we gathered our dirty clothes into bags to be laundered, and relaxed after the busy day.
We left for the organic farm again, excited to taste more of the delicious food. For dinner we ate salad, vegetables, rice, beans, and meats, notably fresh-caught fish from the river that ran alongside the farm. Dinner was just as good as lunch, and we savored every bite of the organic food. We returned to the hotel and, after a check-in, prepared our bags for tomorrow’s departure. I fell asleep quickly, filled with good food and memories, anxious to make more tomorrow.