Friday, March 28, 2008

Our Second Coffee Harvest in El Empalme San Ramon

As someone who has spent most of his life in cities and college towns, it remains an unexpected turn to own an organic coffee and fruit farm. These are THE crops of Costa Rica and before tourism and foreign investment became such a powerful part of the economy, coffee and bananas ruled.

My farm in El Empalme has an amazing ocean view and the sunset in the Pacific is an inspiring experience. El Empalme is one of the highest altitudes in the area making it ideal for coffee farming. It is also part of Costa Rican history. During the revolution that formed the modern Costa Rican state, El Empalme was where the rebels gained their strategic advantage over the government troops below due to its long views both towards Puntarenas and the Central Valley. A former Costa Rican President and San Ramon’s most famous citizen Jose Figueres had a weekend home in El Empalme. Figueres was an intellectual leader and one of the many architects of the modern Costa Rica who considered San Ramon their home. The elimination of the military, health care and education for all, and a stable democracy have roots in San Ramon.

Our farm produces just enough coffee for our own consumption and some to give away. The shade plants for the coffee are bananas, plantanos, limons and other fruit trees. Coffee is harvested once a year between December and February depending on the specific location. This is plenty to keep track of for me but there are many coffee farms in the area that are significant businesses.

Our friend Martin Rodriguez roasts the coffee for us at his farm in Bolivar. He can be seen selling his coffee most weekends at the San Ramon farmers market. I feel most grateful to Ivania, our El Empalme neighbor, who helps take care of most aspects of the farm for us.

We have a small farmhouse on the property, nicely oriented to the view. We hope to renovate it during July and August. Our goal is to retain it’s traditional nature while making it a comfortable living space.

Life is full of surprises and my farm in El Empalme has been one of the more unexpected chapters in my recent life.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Where the Streets Have No Name ....and the Houses Have No Numbers

In San Ramon, and most of Costa Rica (except San Jose), the streets have no names and the houses have no numbers. It makes asking directions and finding places comical and a true adventure. Every location is identified as a certain number of meters from a known landmark. In the era of Big Brother, the Costa Rican address system feels protective of your privacy and anonymity but also slow, impractical and difficult.

As an answer to my question for directions, a person will come outside and say something like … go to the big tree and then go 180 meters, make a left and when you see an old man in a chair on his porch go 50 meters and you are there. Also, people use references of store names that have changed years ago and impossible for the novice to know. But of course everyone is really helpful, smiling and friendly.

Police in San Ramon are friends and neighbors and clearly not looking for conflict. They don’t keep their hands on their pistols or look over their shoulders. They can be seen in the park, shaking hands, riding their bicycles and hanging out. Asking the Police for information has led to many fun conversations and developing friendships. Police interaction feels much different and lighter in San Ramon.

Many aspects of life in San Ramon bear little resemblance to my former life. The good news is it’s often filled with more laughs and new friends.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My Vacation in the Snow

It was time to take a short break out of Costa Rica. We landed at JFK in NYC at 2AM just as a major snowstorm was materializing. We were one of the last flights that landed. Wow! After leaving the 70's and sunny San Ramon. Contrast.

There was 9 inches of snow in the NYC area as we drove a rental car to Ithaca at 3AM. The good news was there were few cars on the road; the bad news was that we couldn't see much of the road as the snow was piling up. It all ended well as we arrived in Ithaca after our 9 hour drive that normally takes 5 hours.

It's been fun being in Ithaca and we're heading for a few days in NYC. Back to Costa Rica on Friday after 2 weeks vacationing in NYS. I loved reading the NY Times, eating Chinese, Thai and Pizza and seeing friends and family. pero/but it's been very cold and snowy. People are mostly in their houses or cars ... not much street life.

We are flying back on Taca ( which feels better than flying with the majors. On our flight here, they gave us a nice dinner, free liquor and free headsets for movies. Taca flights offer good leg room and good price. To accomplish this, Taca often flys at extreme times, very early or very late. It's worth checking out if you're flying to/from one of their hubs.

I'm ready to go back to San Ramon and settle into my life; the swimming pool, bars and restaurants, and back to my simple but nice life.

Postscript: I have been back in San Ramon for 24 hours and I’m embraced by the friendliness on the street, relaxed by the sunny mild weather, relieved by the inexpensive cost of living …. and amused to watch my mind and body so flexible and tranquilo.