Category Archives: local culture

Costa Rica Cooking Lessons

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After a nice drive over the Talamanca mountains and through “Cerro la Muerte” a cloudy mountaintop where so many people died during the creation of the highway they call it the peak of death, we arrived at the small restaurant (called a “soda” by Costa Ricans), El Tabacon, that is owned by the family I used to live with. Dona Sidey and her daughter Daniela were waiting for us with fresh pineapple juice and the food prepared for us to start our “Costa Rican Typical Food” cooking lesson. We cut local vegetables from their farm called Ayote and Chayote, which are two different squashes that are really tasty when chopped up into small cubes and cooked with some onions, red peppers, cilantro and other simple ingredients that create a healthy dish.

Usha making tortillas with Daniela and Sidey Usha making tortillas

Then Usha tried her hand at tortillas, flattening the corn flour and water mixture into it round shape and throwing them into the frying pan for just a few minutes, and then grilling them on an open flame. Mmmm, yummy homemade tortillas! We also had homemade guacamole, rice and beans, and a salad made with shredded cabbage, tomato and cucumber with lime juice and cilantro for a dressing.

James and Usha having lunch at the El Tabacon soda Sidey with James and Usha in the soda

It was great to see Sidey, who was my host-mom when I lived here last year, but was more like a really good friend and confidante. We welled up with tears at the sight of each other, and were so happy to see each other even though it was just last year when I was here but without a phone or internet it is hard for us to keep in touch. Her daughters came over to the soda, along with her husband and two little most adorable grandchildren (on tractor) and our driver said he could see by how my face lit up how happy I was to see them. They are really wonderful people I’m lucky to be back. It’s amazing how some people can touch your heart and make you feel like family.

My Trip to Costa Rica

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– Kelly Galaski

I have to say I feel pretty lucky to be going back to Costa Rica already. I’m going to be visiting some of my favorite places, and people, for an authentic cultural and nature experience. First we will be at Savegre Lodge where the rainforest sights and sounds are at your fingertips.

Then we’ll be off to my beloved friends and “family” in the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor. This is the area that has two protected nature preserves, one named after the famous ornithologist that lived there and studied the birds and other wildlife in the rainforest for 60 years!

La Escondida  Las Nubes Cloud Forest

It will be great to see everyone again. We are going to do some “comida tipica” or traditional food lessons, learn how to make some yummy “tica” food. We will be staying at La Escondida, the “Hidden Farm”, a sustainable coffee farm and home of Luis Angel Rojas, his wife Carmen and their family. I can’t wait to see the toucans and monkeys that come every morning while you’re eating breakfast!

Then we’ll be off to the coast, to the beautiful and wild Uvita area, to La Cusinga ecolodge, which sits up on the coast with beautiful views of the ocean, and tons of birds on the property that are always in view from their outdoor dining area.

Come on the trip with us! Vamos a Costa Rica 🙂

Experiencing the Heart of Costa Rica

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By Kelly Galaski

Have you ever experienced a vacation that stayed not only in your memories, but in your heart?  Have you had the chance to interact with people, to get to know locals and feel a part of their family – an authentic cultural experience?  I had this opportunity last year in Costa Rica and my life is forever changed. I have more than friends there now, I have a home, with a family that cares for me like their own.

When I first arrived in Costa Rica in January 2008 I found myself in a kitchen surrounded by rapidly-speaking Spanish family members and felt pretty lost and a little scared. But from day 1 I was treated like a special guest. And each day I was able to communicate more, and meet more people – neighbors and friends that made me feel welcome in these small communities of Santa Elena and Quizarra, in the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor.

The Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor is named for the famous ornithologist, Alexander Skutch (a bird biologist) that lived in the area on a private farm-turned-nature-preserve for 60 years studying the diverse bird and wildlife of the area.  The “corridor” is the area between two nature preserves, the Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary – where Skutch lived, and the Las Nubes Forest Preserve – a cloud forest donated to York University for conservation and research. There are several small farming communities all connected by coffee and sugar cane farms, small community centers, soccer fields, churches and schools.  The people here love to host volunteers, students and birdwatchers, and anyone interested in preserving their beautiful environment and learning about their culture.

Las Nubes Cloud Forest Sustainable Coffee farm

Andres and NatalieI was fortunate to stay with two families, the Hidalgo-Blanco family and the Valverde-Godinez family, as well as spend lots of time with Luis Angel Rojas at La Escondida “the hidden farm.” All in all I had 4 sisters, 3 brothers, 2 nieces, 2 nephews and two sets of parents/friends!  They filled me up with yummy breakfasts of eggs and “gallo pinto” – Costa Rica’s native dish of rice & beans, Lizano sauce, cilantro, celery & red pepper all mixed together. I had lots of lunches of garlic fish fillets (my favorite), pastas, fried plantains and “frescos” – fresh blended juices. There was also no shortage of fresh avocados from the tree outside and other fruits and vegetables from the farm. And I certainly can’t forget the “cafecitos” (pronounced cafe-sitos), which means literally little coffees, which are afternoon coffee breaks that I had almost every day around 3 o’clock chatting with my “mom” and friends.

Walking along there were always offers of rides from neighbors, and invitations to community meetings, festivals, and dances. The communities are small and friendly, everyone knowing each other, so it is one of the safest parts of the country.

Till this day I keep in touch with the friends I made there, who helped me learn Spanish, and made me feel like a part of their world in rural Costa Rica.  Since being back I have wanted to help more people experience this special place, as well as give back to these wonderful people. So I helped create an itinerary that brings people to the area for a couple of days, to stay in a small cabin on a private sustainable coffee farm,  “La Birdwatching at La EscondidaEscondida,” where toucans and monkeys come to play in the mornings and evenings, among tons of other colorful bird species.  Travelers can meet the “mom” I lived with, Sidey, and have a traditional food cooking lesson learning how to make tortillas or another dish. They can go with a local guide through the Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary and spot white-faced capuchin monkeys as well as see Alexander Skutch’s home and ancient mysterious petroglyphs. They can also visit another good friend Pablo, on his farm “Santuario Filaverde” where he gives a tour of his primary forest that he is trying to protect from encroaching pineapple plantations. See the full description of the trip, Costa Rica Cultural Experience, here which can be modified to suit individual tastes.

Another opportunity for those that are looking to volunteer for a longer period of time, for the summer between years of school or just for an international experience, a “Teaching English and Environmental Conservation” voluntour was set up with Students or other volunteers can stay with a family and help out the schools and community groups who are trying to learn English by providing lessons as well as work with a tree nursery group on conservation activities – all while learning Spanish and experiencing the real heart of Costa Rica.

Helping plant trees and coffee Quizarra School

For further information on visiting the area, contact us at, we would be happy to help you contribute to this special community.

Memories of Colombia

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Already since I’ve been back I’ve seen news about Colombia, negative news regarding conflicts in parts of the country. Unfortunately this is the image Colombia has had for a long time and continues to have. Of course there are problems in the country. But I would like people to know that you can go there and have an amazing trip and meet wonderful people, never knowing or being exposed to any of these things that are reported on by the media.

After travelling from the capital city of Bogotá, to the beautiful islands of San Andrés and Providencia with their unique Caribbean culture, to the fascinating colonial city of Cartagena and to Tayrona National Park, my interests were piqued – and I couldn’t have imagined what more the country had to offer.

Our trade show in Bogotá gave me the chance to meet the many tour operators who have picked the best places in the country to visit. There is the desert of Guajira, the archaological sites of San Augustín, the Amazon region, the Pacific coast where there are ecolodges and whale watching and surfing, the colonial and modern cities, the coffee regions where some of the world’s best coffee comes from, and I could go on. I hope I have the opportunity to go back one day and explore some more.

I wanted to thank Proexport, the Colombian government for inviting us on the trip, the hotels we stayed at, the amazing restaurants we ate at (still can’t get that yummy food out of my head!), and the fun dive instructors we had. And a special thanks to Lorena Zapata for being our group’s leader, making sure we got everywhere we had to get to on time as much as possible and for being flexible with all of us, who each had different interests and independent personalities!  Lorena invited me into her home and became a great friend. She and her family, who moved to Bogota from Ecuador 10 years ago and fell in love with the country, charged me with becoming an Ambassador to Colombia! So I am attempting to fulfill my promise, with pleasure.

Here are a few more random pics of our “Chiva” driver in Bogota, Punta Faro, Cartagena, and sunset at Taganga.

Chiva or Taxi driver Punta Faro hotel on Mucura Island

Buildings in the old city, Cartagena Sunset at Taganga

Providence Island: Relaxation & Reggae

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Ultimate relaxation here on Ol’ Providence or La Isla Providencia. It’s super tranquilo, no big hotels, just small cabin-like places built in the style of architecture of island homes. The homes and cabins are wooden two-storey or bungalow structures painted in bright colours, like the one we stayed in called Sol Caribe.  As Jennifer, our host, explains, “the island itself is the 5 star.” They don’t have big resorts or expansive 5 star hotels because they want the island to remain in as much of its natural state and local style as possible.

As we did in San Andres, we took a tour of the island to see some of the cultural and historical sites, like the first church, school, etc. I think sometimes locals must think tourists are crazy for taking pictures of things like an old school made out of wood, but to us these things are just so different it’s really fascinating. Inside the school there were two signs that touched my heart. One said, “We make studying a party” and the other said, “We bring our backpacks filled with love, creativity, discipline, responsibility and respect.”


In tropical countries, you never know what you will see on the road. In Cambodia I saw oxcarts, in Indonesia whole families on scooters (this is pretty common in a lot of places, including Colombia, but it was in Indonesia that I saw a little naked maybe 2-year-old boy standing up on the front of the scooter holding the handlebars!). Here we got to see a young boy on his way home from fishing taking his catch on his bike. Nothing like fresh fish! Then we were stopped on the road by a herd of cows and the herder, on motorbike was directing them up the road waving a branch.  There’s something to be said for simplicity in this world…

Another thing I love about the tropics is the fresh fruit and natural bounty surrounding you at all times. Have you ever seen almonds in their natural form, growing from trees?  Our lovely Providencian friend, Jennifer, found some for us and broke open the fruit to reveal the nut inside – a fresh raw almond.

Our days on Providencia included amazing meals at Miss Mary’s and Caribbean’s Place.  The small restaurants serve up fresh fish, crab and lobster served beautifully presented with fresh blended juices or wine if you prefer. The food has been SOO good the whole time, we’ve all been really satisfied and stuffed full!

Maybe the best part for me, being a huge reggae fan, was going to Richard’s place and watching the sun go down over the sea and grooving to some nice tunes while chatting with Richard himself. Alfonso, the friendly Rasta pictured below made us drinks and we swapped stories about Jamaica, where of course the culture of this island has its roots. An unforgettable place.





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