Hello All! I must first apologize for the lack of postcards and emails. We are in Mastatal until April 30 and this town of about 150 people doesn't have a post office. There is an internet place but it will be easiest for me to report back to you by writing to everyone on this blog.
On Saturday we were picked up at our hotel by Fernando who took us on the two hour drive to Rancho Mastatal. The ride went over hills and mountains, and then into valleys and up over more mountains. The views were beautiful and we went through small towns and along very winding roads. The road got narrower as we got farther from Alejuela and beyond Puriscal until it finally became entirely gravel. Eventually we turned off and soon arrived at Rancho Mastatal at 8.30 on Saturday morning.
We were surprised to hear many many voices and see a full table of people eating breakfast. We were welcomed and joined the table for the meal. We spent most of the day hanging out and getting our bearings a bit, eventually getting a tour of the Rancho. The place consists of a main house where everyone share breakfast, lunch and dinner (there is also a library and some rooms where people stay as well as a porch around the whole place for reading and hanging out), several houses where people sleep. Some of the buildings were already there when the land was purchased, but many of them were built since they have been here. These buildings were all made using natural building techniques, combining bamboo, wood, wattle and daub and other ways of creating unique and beautiful dwellings full of light and air. There are also a couple of houses a little bit farther away which belong to friends of the ranch and are also part of the the whole thing. Right now we are staying at “Jeannie's”, where most of the volunteers stay, which is right next to the only hot showers (passive solar) as well as a plant nursery, laundry lines and the classroom building which is where I have been practicing yoga every morning.
The first two days that we were here were not work days and we joined in some of the r and r, such as sushi night (with costumes) and a walk through the rain forest to a waterfall for swimming. We have gotten a sense of how things work around mostly from other interns and volunteers. Starting on Monday we joined in with every one else for the morning meeting after breakfast. At that time we go through all the tasks that will be worked on that day and who will work on it. The first day I helped plant and work on some new swales and then joined in working on a new structure for a toilet that is being built. This project was started by a class to build a two seater toilet which supplies a biodigestor which supplies methane for one of the gas stoves in the kitchen. The structure has been built and now the walls are being made with a natural building technique called wattle and daub. The wattle is a framework of bamboo and it is covered with daub, which is a mixture of sand, clay, manure, straw and water that is best mixed by several feet stomping on it until it forms a good building material. It is carefully plastered on to the wattle to form a wall. It is a very time consuming, very hands on way of building which can yield some amazing shapes and forms. I've been working on that a lot, but today I spent some time at the local elementary school working with the kids.
Ray helped make a foot washing station (using his tiling knowledge), he's also helped daubing and working on another house nearby. Its taken a few days, but we are gradually becoming some part of the group and hopefully in the next few weeks we will be able to learn more and contribute more to the projects here. We have also had a chance to explore some of Mastatal. We are pretty much in the center of town which is quite small and consists of a cantina, a soda (a little store/restaurant), the secondary school, elementary school, internet place, a church (used only for major holidays apparently), and a pulperia (a tiny convenience store). There are other farms nearby, including a chocolate farm which we plan to visit.
I haven't seen any really exotic wildlife yet, but a lot of interesting plants. Lizards in various sizes, ants (army, leafcutter, and the kind that bites), some frogs and toads... We have had some serious afternoon/evening downpours which means that you have to shout to be heard and will get completely soaked if you have to go from one building to another. The weather is hot and humid and we sweat a lot. We have met lots of interesting and friendly people. Some have been here for months, some just arrived, some are leaving soon. We are having a really good time so far! I hope everyone is doing well and check back for more from us sometime in the next week!
-Anna and Ray