Category Archives: Memories

Our Ladies of Chachagua

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Chachagua. It sounds like the name of Chewbaca’s sister, but it’s actually a town in Costa Rica.  Despite its proximity to Arenal volcano, it’s a pass-through place and tourists seldom stop here. However, GreenSpot knows it’s a must-see for travelers looking to experience an authentic Costa Rican community.

When I found out I would be visiting Irene’s mother, Dona Mara, who lives in Chachagua, I was intrigued despite not being able to find it on any maps. Upon arriving late at night by bus, I was worried since I had no idea where Dona Mara lived or even her last name. But, perhaps the best thing about small towns is that everybody knows everybody. My worries disappeared after I asked four different people where Dona Mara lived, and each of them gave me the same directions. Across from the school and next to the yucca plant.

The best way to get to know a new place is to walk it, and that’s why I took Dona Mara up on her offer to join her and her lady friends on their morning walk around Chachagua. None of them speak English, but with my basic Spanish, I was able to find out that they walk every day of the week at 7am for ninety minutes.

No sooner then after we had turned down the old dirt road, Dona Mara began rambling. Five minutes later, it seemed she was still in the middle of a monologue. Naturally, I thought this was odd. Especially since there was little inflection in her voice, and the story she seemed to be telling was far from animated or interesting. Why didn’t the other ladies interrupt her and change the subject? Of course, I didn’t know what she was saying because it was in rapid Spanish. About the time she passed some beads to one of the other ladies who immediately launched into her own monologue, I realized that they were saying the rosary. Richard had told me to expect small town gossip during the walk, which admittedly I was looking forward to, but instead, the walk began with prayer.


It was a surreal sanctification of sorts—to be speedwalking in the Costa Rican countryside while praying in another language with three local women. It’s normal for them as they do this every day, but for this traveler, it was an honor and the highlight of my trip to tag along. While you won’t find the Rambling Mara in any guidebooks (yet), we would be happy to set you up with this enlightening experience/exercise on your next trip to Costa Rica.





(Photos: The Catholic church in Chachagua. Dona Mara has the keys & gave me a private tour. She was in charge of decorating the church for Lent. Bottom, the papaya plantation we passed on our walk. No surprise that our post-walk snack was very refreshing fruit!)




Better not propose at this beach

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Meaning “Cape White” Cabo Blanco beach on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica sounds like the perfect place to pop the question. But this serene, white sand beach located within a huge nature reserve is one of the worst places to propose. Here’s the logic: there is a 50/50 chance she’ll say no. That probability exists everywhere, but Cabo Blanco beach isn’t the place where you want to test it. Why not? Because it takes two hours of strenuous hiking in the jungle to reach it! I recently made my first trip to Cabo Blanco with a male friend of mine who is a tico*. At least I thought we were just friends. The hike was challenging, but thanks to a well-marked trail and the abundance of flora and fauna, it was well worth the work. Upon reaching the secluded beach, Jose cut to the chase and commented that this very spot would be the perfect place to ask his future wife to marry him. There may have been a wink involved, but before I could even blink, I blurted out that it was the worst idea ever because if she said no, he’d have two torturous hours of hiking back with her.

Crushed, Jose did not appreciate my candor, and there has been a substantial rift in our relationship ever since. That was two months ago, but yesterday I returned to Cabo Blanco solo and made the trek again. I couldn’t help but notice it was mostly couples I passed on the trail. Today being Valentine’s Day, I was toying with the idea of returning. Last night a local artisan was hard at work crafting ring bands at his table on the main street in nearby Montezuma. Although I’m working on having a more optimistic outlook on love, I wonder what his return policy is like.



Established in 1963, the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve was the first protected area in Costa Rica. It is still home to a diverse population of trees, birds, and many other species. If you’re interested in visiting Cabo Blanco, solo or as a couple, we’d be happy to provide more information and maybe, upon request, a few proposal tips.





The price for a *tico(a) to visit is only $2 compared to $10 for a foreigner.                                               Regardless, it’s a small price to pay to experience nature at its finest.

*Ticos or ticas if female, are the terms Costa Ricans use to refer to themselves. 


Solo at Cabo Blanco yesterday. Oh, the stories these trees could tell!

Every traveler's dream…

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Seriously, this is a question that has come to my mind so many times as well. And I always have a hard time answering it, as I would love to go so many places, that I can’t think what will be my preferred choices. Oh wait, there’s no limit on the cost of the trip… I think I would just travel the entire world. What about you?

A Panama Indigenous Experience

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By Irene Edwards & Kelly Galaski

Our venture into indigenous culture began when our guide picked us up from our hotel in Panama City and it took about 30 minutes to get to the dock on the Chagres river in order to take a boat to the Embera village.

Embera Canoes Entrance to village

Men dressed in loincloths waited in canoes to take people across the river to the village.  The boat ride takes about 20 minutes – depending if you are in a motorized canoe called a “piragua,” or more traditional one. 

Embera arts & craftsThe women were waiting in the village, where there were people playing drums and other instruments. The area has several small villages, with about six families each.  There are small artisan shops to buy the colorful fabrics and jewelry made by the women. Their food comes from the surrounding river and forests and their own farms, such as fresh fish, plantains, and yucca (yummy!).  
Their houses are small thatched-roof open huts. The men were in charge of the music while the women performed a traditional dance.  The delicious lunch was fried tilapia and “Patacones” which are fried flattened plantains, all served on banana leaves.  Tourism here is managed by a community association that works with tour operators to bring visitors to the community to boost their income. Sometimes travelers stay with villagers for a night or two to really get the experience.   
The website for the community association, Embera Drua describes the history of how they began inviting people to their community, how they first received assistance from the Panama Tourism Board, the World Bank and local NGOs with training and to be connected with tour operators. Most of the adult members of the village are part of the association/NGO and they have elected a board of directors to work with the tour operators. They speak of the benefits tourism brings so that they can send their children to secondary school, pay for healthcare, and purchase cooking equipment and supplies. 

Embera dancing and music Embera kids

It has become pretty popular with lots of buses around at the docks. Some people argue that this type of tourism is exploitative, and others argue that it supports the communities. Depending on how the association manages the income and how the village residents feel, both sides could have some truth. We would like to pose the question to our readers.  Do you think that communities such as the Embera Drua are benefiting from having visitors to their villages and homes?

Embera home top

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.




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