Category Archives: local culture

A Costa Rica Family Adventure To Remember

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During the Christmas holidays, our family of 4 took a trip to Costa Rica. We were 2
middle-aged (but in pretty good shape physically) and active adults, and a 19 and 17 year old. It
isn’t easy to plan a trip that will satisfy all of the wishes and wants of 2 adults and a college age
and a high school age teen. Usually, we plan our own trips, but this one called for some savvy
and well-informed assistance.
We had read in Conde Nast Traveler magazine about some travel agencies that specialized in
Costa Rica, so I took their recommendations and called 4 places. I gave each one a description of
our group, and our wish lists and priorities, as well as the time frame. We then carefully read and
evaluated the proposed tips itineraries and budgets.
Greenspot stood out from the beginning. We liked their suggestions, and felt that they “got”
what our family is like and what we were looking for. And they were so pleasant and easy to
deal with.
The trip turned out to be absolutely wonderful- we’d do it all over again in a minute! We were so
happy with all of the choices of accomodations and activities. What made the trip so enjoyable
and stress-free was that the logistics were flawless. Greenspot made sure that, at every transfer,
we were met by drivers who knew exactly what to do and where to go. They were always there,
waiting for us, pleasant and prepared to do their jobs. So we could relax and just enjoy
ourselves.

Read more about some of our highlights of the trip next.

Everybody wants to be a local

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By Irene Edwards

I just came back from Brazil, where I was accompanying my husband at the Global Travel and Tourism Summit, hosted this year by the Government of Florianopolis and the Government of Brazil.

We stayed at the beautiful and isolated Costao Do Santinho Resort, where you can easily get lost in the relaxing ambiance of the Island where it’s located.

Brazil - Florianopolis
As I was sitting on my lounge chair at the beach, thinking about the difference between the kind of trips that we offer at GreenSpot, with the kind of experience I was having, suddenly the fishermen who had been there for the last four hours, started running around and yelling at each other in their language, what sounded like a series of instructions. They started pushing the little boat into the ocean and getting the fishing nets ready to get the fish that one of them saw jumping in the ocean. As they started moving, the tourists that were like me just sitting there relaxing, got up with such excitement and started walking along with the locals, helping them with the fishing net,  and asking them about the  technique used by the fishermen, and really getting involved in the event as it was happening.

Brazil - Tourists and Fishermen in Florianopolis
After the excitement was over, I talked to the owner of the boat, who explained to me that the fish they caught was going to be divided between every single person who helped to pull out the fishing net (including my husband), I was like, is there enough fish for everybody? He said, yes and make sure your husband gets his share. I was just amazed by this system – the community working together to feed their families and at the same time (even though they didn’t know this) they were giving the tourists an unforgettable experience.

It made me think that many times we just don’t know what a perfect vacation is. Yes, being by the beach with a cold drink under the palm trees sounds ideal, but is that really what exploring a different country is all about?

It seems to me that today travelers are looking for more memorable travel instead of the “gringo vacation”. It is all about getting to know the culture by being part of what the locals do, eat, and experience every day. But we as travel agencies are the ones that have to be part of this change, by offering and looking for opportunities to get the communities involved in the trips we offer, and most important to spread the word to our travelers.

Brazil - Tourists fishing with fishermen on Florianopolis beach

Tierra Del Volcan ¡n Ecuador

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The more places like Tierra del Volcan I discover in this world, the more optimistic I am about the future. GreenSpot.travel continues to find and showcase projects such as Tierra del Volcan because without them, the world of travel would not have such a bright future.

Tierra del Volcan is doing so many great things in Ecuador, it’s hard to list them all. But I’d like to take the opportunity here to describe some of the services for the community, some of the creative and innovative green building technologies they are using, and just how well they are embodying the philosophy of ecotourism.

Tierra del Volcan

A little about Tierra del Volcan:

Tierra del Volcan (Volcano Land) High Adventure, operates three working haciendas or farms: Hacienda El Porvenir, Hacienda El Tambo Quilindana and Hacienda Santa Rita Ecological Reserve, in the region surrounding the Cotopaxi Volcano, each one with its charm, ecosystem and distinctive touch. This area is known as the land of the four corners due to the four surrounding volcanoes: A  Rumiahui 4,712 m (15,455 ft), Pasochoa 4200 m (13,776 ft), Sincholagua 4893 m (16049 ft) and Quilindana 4878 m (16000 ft), with snow capped Cotopaxi at it’s center.

A broad range of activities are available on the haciendas, from horseback riding while experiencing the culture of the Chagra (the Ecuadorian highland cowboy), dining in traditional straw-roofed farmhouses, camping in small valleys hidden between mountain folds, trekking around the premises taking in the magnificent scenery, climbing impressive peaks immersed in awe-inspiring landscapes. At the farmhouses they provide the chance to participate in the daily life of the haciendas or relax in front of a crackling fire.

Tierra Del Volcan views

Their philosophy “Mi casa es su casa” encompasses not only the service they provide, but their goals of protecting the surrounding natural environment and investing in social and educational development of their local communities.

Tierra del Volcan has been recognized for their initiatives by United Nations World Tourism Organization as a company committed to sustainable practices, they have partnered with the Nature Conservancy in the conservation of the Condor Bio Reserve- a conservation corridor that links several protected areas of the SNAP (Ecuadorian National Park and Preserved Areas System) and are certified for their ecotourism practices by the Ecuador Ministry of Tourism and Smart Voyager 2008.

Tierra del Volcan has been very active over the past decade in the conservation of the Paramos, native threatened vegetation, by commissioning studies, contributing volunteers, training local people, creating monitoring programs and conducting large scale reforestation.

Maybe most impressive are the construction and operations of their haciendas.

Tierra del Volcan Santa RitaHacienda El Porvenir is their main center of operation. It is a traditional hacienda house build 20 years ago in traditional constructive methods such as earth bricks (adobe), hay roof and wood. This house was initially built to lodge the family, but in 1999 was adapted for tourism needs. Since opening their doors to guests form all over the world, they have learned about sustainable development, better ecotourism practices and strong community relations and much more.

Carbon reduction

“We are a  forward- looking company committed to the preservation of Natural Resources, therefore we are committed to reducing our carbon emissions and compensate them 100% by 2015. Some of the actions taken to fulfil this goal are:

•    Waste management (reduce, reuse and recycle, plus composting organic wate)
•    Reduce energy consumption ( by replacing light bulbs with saving bulbs, training staff and increasing awareness of tourists about energy consumption,  building strategies to save electricity by taking advantage of natural light, building strategies to isolate cold weather and minimize the heat loss, drying clothes and hotel implements with wind and sun.
•    House temperature and heating – chimneys are one of the heating mechanisms used for the house. Our commitment is that we only burn eucalyptus wood (an introduced tree specie that is highly efficient) that we bring from plantations of timber from the valleys. Also we have planted 200 hectares of native trees to give back to the land, something we are using.

•    Purchasing policies to buy less contaminating and more energy saving products.
•    Eradicate “slash and burn” traditional practices at the three haciendas we run.”

Community support and education  programs

Ecology club: The ecology club was founded to improve the scientific knowledge of the students from the Loreto and Pedregal schools nearby.

Tierra Del Volcan school programIn the Club children of different ages can discuss themes as geology, biology, ecology, chemistry and geography among others. The Club’s activities also focus on waste management, cleaning of natural environments and pollution. All those activities are backed with experiments, artistic expressions and field trips.

This program is funded by volunteers who come to the participate in the program for at least one month. 35 per cent of the total value that each volunteer contributes is used for the acquisition of materials.

Volunteers for the school program:  The volunteers’ project for the schools is an initiative that was deemed necessary by the schools and its teachers. The volunteers assist the classes and help the teachers with the school management and lesson preparation. They also teach English, arts, theatre and sports.

Informal meetings and motivating courses for sustainable development:
Various informal meetings with the Loreto and Pedregal communities about: The importance of a conservation policy for all of us and the future generations.

Adaptation of the schools and installations
:Volunteers paint the schools, update the installations, make sure that the hygienic services work well and assess the overall needs of the schools so that they can be provided. Programs have been worked out with the schools located in the central area of the National Park of Cotopaxi.

Reforestation
: With support from international volunteers more than 2000 species of native trees have been bought and planted; raised at the community’s green house in 2008. This program will help to recover eroded land on the wetlands of Pita River, one of the water reservoirs of Quito.

Cotopaxi: an active volcano:
The volcano “Cotopaxi” is considered a volcano with a moderate to high risk to explode. Therefore it is of significant importance to take certain measurements against the risks involved in case of an eruption. This program evaluated the present situation of the inhabitants of the Cotopaxi area regarding the knowledge they possess about the risks a volcano eruption can cause. It was found that the inhabitants of the area had little knowledge of such risks.

Tierra del Volcan

The project “Cotopaxi; An active volcano” has as first objective to find solutions to future risks regarding the activity of the Cotopaxi volcano. It works with the different actors who are in the risk zone, educating the people in order to prevent human disasters and to minimize loss of materials.

They try to achieve integration between the different actors; communities, haciendas, farmers, tour operators etc. in order to work together on themes like healthiness, evacuation, education and others.

The project has evolved since it was born (2003) and since 2006 Tierra del Volcan is promoting Semana del Volcan ( Week of the Volcano) working with local school and presenting this new knowledge to the community in Open Houses; working with the women and young members of the community in Volcanic Hand Crafts, as an economic solution and for people living in high risk areas.

For further information about these projects please contact:
mariajose@tierradelvolcan.com  or visit Tierra del Volcan at: http://www.tierradelvolcan.com/

Meeting Doña Mara

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Meeting Doña Mara, the famous lady in our Costa Rica trips, was really special.

I learned how to make tortillas, not only from scratch, but on a wood stove, outside in a “Rancho” which is basically like a gazebo; a covered kitchen with a rustic, old-fashioned oven.

First we walked along the dirt road over to her neigbor’s farm where they grown sugar cane, corn, and lots of other fruits and vegetables. Here they take the fresh corn and grind it, making it into the corn flour called “masa.”   They also have an old-fashioned “Trapiche” which is a manually-operated sugar cane grinder.

Corn grinding  Corn grinding machine

In case you are wondering, Doña (which is pronounced Don-ya and means Señora or Mrs.) is the way all married or older ladies are addressed in Costa Rica. Men are addressed as Don – Don Luis, or Don Jose, etc.  It’s a sign of respect, even used among friends. Part of the travel experience is learning the culture right? For me it’s the part I love the most!

Doña Mara and I watched and waited for the corn masa, paid for it as well as for some “Limones” basically a cross between a lime, lemon and orange, to make fresh juice to go along with our tortillas, and “Tamal”.  Tamal is like a coconut & corn bread… so yummy.

Making tortillas is actually fairly easy, it’s amazing that we most often buy them in packages. But nothing compares to a fresh one off the stove. A little crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside.

Doña Mara getting coals ready  Doña Mara

Often families visit Doña Mara and her family for the afternoon, to get a slice of rural Costa Rican culture, fill their bellies on tasty fresh food, and of course try their hand at making authentic tortillas. While it’s just one afternoon, and a fun and memorable experience for the travelers, it really helps the people there. It’s a direct contribution to not only Doña Mara’s family, but the neighbors where she buys her corn, and lots of GreenSpot travelers also visit the local school, and make donations to our community development project.

Doña Mara's grandson Evans  Lunch table in Rancho

Another bonus is getting to meet her adorable grandkids!

It’s amazing to me how rising early (as is the norm in rural Costa Rica), spending the day in a breezy rancho, cooking (which I barely ever do at home), and just taking in the sights, sounds and views of the farm, can be the most relaxing, peaceful and heartwarming experience. There’s something to be said for taking pleasure in the simple things in life.

– Kelly Galaski

Have you met Doña Mara? Tell us about your experience!

Santuario Filaverde “Green Line Sanctuary”

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Pablo Ureña’s family has been preserving primary forest on their farm for three generations.  As vast deserts of pineapple plantations encroach upon his property, and offers from Del Monte to sell his land are resisted, it becomes ever more apparent that his work is essential in maintaining the natural environment of the area, but he needs help.

After spending 12 years in the U.S., Pablo returned to the farm in Costa Rica to take care of his aging dad and to get back to a simpler life.  He named his farm Santuario Filaverde, or “Green Line Sanctuary”  because he knows the area is one of the last remaining pieces of primary forest in this land of corporate pineapple plantations. The forest is significant also because it continues the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor, providing essential habitat for resident capuchin monkeys, birds, and there is even a family of pumas, one of which they recently photographed.

Pablo, his son Juan Pablo, his dad and sister, had Jim, Usha and I over for lunch after our morning hike in the Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary nearby. They made us some delicious vegetables including squash (ayote & chayote), rice and beans and chicken, with freshly blended “fresco” of pineapple juice. 

 

 Santuario Filaverde -  Ureña family  Jim and Usha in Pablos truck

 

Then we set out for a walk on the farm, riding first in the back of the truck through the pasture towards their forest sanctuary. The most beautiful aspect of their forest is the towering matapalo or strangler fig trees and winding vines, evidence of it being never touched for hundreds of years.

 

Santuario Filaverde -  Matapalo tree  Santuario Filaverde - Pablo up in Matapalo tree

 

Emerging out of the forest the contrast of the surrounding pineapple plantations is striking. Knowing that the area was all natural primary rainforest and is now a vast field of pineapples that are sprayed with pesticides and injected with hormones to grow faster makes you think twice about that next pineapple, and you hope that it has come from someone’s farm, grown naturally among other plants.

 

 

 Pineapple plantations Pineapples

 

 

Pablo loves to give tours of his property, and makes a great snack of pupusas – fried tortillas filled with cheese, and coffee of course after the nice walk. His sense of humour and passion for his forest are contagious. All he needs is more visitors so that he can benefit from preserving this precious piece of nature.

 

-  Kelly Galaski

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