Last weekend I took a three-day field trip with my Ecotourism class. Field trips are heavily integrated into the curriculum here at Veritas University. They are used to help us apply what we learn in the classroom to the outside environment of Costa Rica.
Our trip was to Cerro de la Muerte, a mountain area about two hours outside of the city of San José. We were going to stay at an ecolodge called Cerro las Vueltas. I knew nothing going into this experience. All I knew is that we were probably going to be in the middle of the forest and were probably going to go on a hike. Awesome. I borrowed rubber boots from school and packed warm layers. I charged my Airpods. And we left.
Upon arriving on one of the bumpiest roads I’ve ever driven through, we were greeted by a smiling blonde family standing on the porch of a beautiful wood lodge. Four dogs of various sizes milled around them, equally excited to see us. The head of the lodge was Wendy, and her family included her two sisters and their daughters. The view from the lodge was breathtaking – rolling hills and foggy valleys, clouds that seemed to be at eye level on the horizon. They had one horse grazing in a pasture below, and the outside of the porch was generously decorated with various hanging plants.
For whatever reason, I immediately felt at home there. I was curious to hear about the family’s story and what made the farm a sustainable ecolodge. It turns out that the family legacy in Costa Rica began decades ago, in the 1950s. Wendy’s mother and father grew up in Michigan and hated the political environment of the United States. They were pacifists and did not want their children to have to enlist, and they were environmentalists and saw the country being destroyed around them. They decided to hop on a bus and travel somewhere they’d only heard of – Costa Rica. The main drawing factor was the fact that Costa Rica does not have an army. It was abolished in 1948, on December 5th. I actually am sitting down to write this on the anniversary of Abolition Day. Costa Rica also plays against Germany in the World Cup, so there is expected to be a giant celebration downtown throughout the day.
Anyway, Wendy’s parents made it to Costa Rica not knowing a lick of Spanish and decided it would be the perfect place to make home for their growing family. They set up camp at Cerro de la Muerte, high in the mountains in a region colder than most of the country. Since then, they’ve saved an entire forest from logging, had their home taken away from them, rebuilt using only found fallen trees, and created a fully functional, sustainable organic farm and home.
The weekend was a balance of downtime for reflection and relaxation, and adventure lead by Wendy while she shared her knowledge of nature and farming. The farm has several animals and collects their waste in a biodigester. This was one of my favorite parts of the lodge. The contraption collects the waste in a large plastic bag and allows methane gas to be released. The bag slowly fills, and the gas is transported through a tube up to the main house to be used as fuel for cooking!! They obviously drink the milk produced by their cows, and use it to make cheese and baked goods. Pigs are eventually slaughtered and eaten as well. Talk about a closed system!
I could probably write for days about Cerro las Vueltas because the experience caught me by surprise. The family was so warm and welcoming, and worked tirelessly to maintain the farm with smiles on their faces. Their children were all homeschooled and the house had no TV. They were some of the most driven, hard-working people I’ve met, 1000 times better-versed in plants, natural remedies, animal care, and cooking than I am.
I’ll end by sharing some photos of the gorgeous view from the lodge so you can hopefully feel some of the peace I felt while visiting.