Our trip ended in contrast to what we are hoping to accomplish
at Finca Las Brisas. We had an early AM flight, so the afternoon
before we left we drove from the Finca to Playa Hermosa, which
is about a 20 minute drive from the airport. This location
attracts tourist buses full of people eager to get to the beach
once they land at Liberia Airport. We stayed in a lovely little
hotel, with gracious hosts and spectacular views of the ocean.
The only problem is that it is a three story concrete structure
sticking out of the hillside like the 100 other hotels, homes
and condos in the area. All of these are filled with the mostly
Americans that crowd the small beach areas and descend on the
restaurants at the end of the day. We felt a little bad about
being there too.
"They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
and a swinging hot spot
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot." - Joni Mitchell
Fortunately Costa Rica no longer allows anyone to build right on
the beaches like we continue to do in most coastal areas in the
US, but it seems we are determined to spread our notion of
tourism and vacationing with disregard for the environment, the
wildlife and the culture.
In contrast to many of the rapidly developing tourist beaches
near the Liberia International Airport is Hotel Punta Islita;
about on hour's drive south of Finca Las Brisas (much shorter in
the dry season). The is a world famous hotel and spa; including
a 9 hole golf course, and offering everything that most
Americans, Canadian and Europeans want in a luxury hotel.
Except, unlike most tourist and international developers, they
have worked hard to protect and improve the environment, while
contributing to the local community economically, socially and
culturally. They are an inspiration and great example to all of
Block prints made
by children from
hotel sheets are shown in the photo to the left.
Their structures blend well with the surrounding hills, and they
work hard to contribute to the community and local culture. In
our photo album we have pictures of their children’s art school,
computer lab and surrounding buildings in the little town.
Hotel Punta Islita is a great example to us as we work to
make Finca Las Brisas a good financial investment, good for the
environment and good for the people living there and in the
communities around us.
Good for the people…
Currently, we have two full-time workers on staff, Hector (the
one with the constant big smile) and Rodolfo with the strongest
handshake. We have a full-time contract project manager.
Three additional workers have been hired as contractors to
finish Phase I of the community center.
Additional local workers are employed for special projects as
they come up. For example, we hired several local guys to apply
some permaculture water retention techniques on our lot and to
do some additional planting and trail blazing.
Six workers and six trail
bikes. A couple of years ago the workers were walking
two hours down the mountain and two hours back up at the end
of the day. They wall seem to have trail bikes now.
of the workers are extremely happy for the work and they are a
great group of guys.
We plan to build or start Phase I of
our places so there will be plenty of work for these local
workers when dry season begins. When other lots are sold we will
continue on to Phase II and Phase III of the community center,
pool and grounds.
A good soccer field is important socially for a community. Last
week when we stayed up on the finca, the locals were playing
soccer on the field we leveled for them next to the school
house. Currently the soccer grass seed they use on fields in
Costa Rica is depleted and the new grass seed is sitting in the
hull of a ship stuck in customs. We hope to seed the new field
New soccer field, minus the
grass seed stuck in customs
One day we envision a thriving local community around the little
one room school house with a strong cottage industry and local
The road up to the finca has never been better and all of the
locals appreciate the work we have done and we appreciate their
Most of our neighbors do not have cars and a couple have dirt
bikes, so a smooth road for walking or horses is a welcomed
Good for the environment…
Prior to our project, the area’s tropical dry forest had been
stripped due to unsustainable cattle ranching, indiscriminate
hunting, slash-and-burn agriculture and the planting of teak
farms. Fortunately, our river corridors have strong secondary
forests that have been protected by the government and by
difficult access. One of the ranchers that we purchased part of
our finca from had squatted the land and then cut down valuable
ancient hardwood trees; taking them one-by-one over the years
via ox cart to Nicoya to sell. He cleared his land for cattle
and there are signs of serious erosion in many places.
One of the greatest joys this trip was to visit the finca and
see the efforts of our reforestation. The place is truly coming
alive and nature and wildlife is coming back.
Looking over the community center from the hills above, as
our PM said, "The place is really starting to have the feeling
of Shangri-La." Creating Shangri-La was never one of our
objectives but with the energy, remoteness, and natural beauty
we can't help but have those feelings from time to time.
In the photo to the
right, the community center and finca is seen from the hills
We have been able to utilize a very high percentage of local
renewable materials and resources for our construction to date.
Aside from the concrete and block used for the base of the
casitas (we had to cut earth here due to grade), we have been
able to source all materials on site or from surrounding farms.
This includes: palm thatch (re-grows every year), teak (local
farm raised), sand/gravel (from Carrillo beach area), form
lumber (dead trees from farm), Madera negra posts for rancho
(blow-downs from adjacent farms, these were pulled out with
The roof for the casitas will be constructed of re-claimed
antique barrel tile from Nicaragua. All the 2nd floor walls will
be built of earthen plaster over heavy wire mesh. Our earthen
plaster consulting expert tells us our soil is the ideal type
for this process and he will be spending several days on site
during August training our crews on how to properly apply the
mixture. Wide roof overhangs will keep the casitas cool and
protect the plaster from heavy rains. Interiors will be finished
with teak beams and floors along with other re-claimed downed
hardwood lumber for trim work.
Most all of our workers are from the neighboring village of
This past week, we hired local men to begin permaculture contour
lines to begin retaining the water on our building lot that is
still suffering from erosion issues. We planted a grove of
banana trees in one ravine, ground cover, aloe vera, coconut,
jasmine, and avocado.
We cut a trail from our building lot that joins our new
community trail running from the community center down to the
rivers and falls. Mark, Dave, Dave and Rich, you’ll enjoy this
trail near your lots – it connects to the main trail nicely. The
guys are putting steps in critical areas and we will review and
improve this next dry season.
Finca Las Brisas is a perfect project to apply permaculture
design techniques to repair the environmental damage, bring back
all of the forest zones and provide a food forest and business
model for the local economy. See:
Basic overview of permaculture
This past year we did a lot of work on the 4.5 kilometer road up
to the finca. Those efforts were either repair or structural
components like culverts that protect the road. Chances are
we’ll have to repair again, which leads us to an opportunity -
we believe that reforestation and permaculture water retention
methods now hold the long term solution to having a smooth
functional road that isn’t being heavily damaged each year
during the rainy season, and has a positive impact on the
environment. We’ll continue to research these methods and work
on the road in the years to come.
Ray met with the owners of
La Selva Wildlife Refuge at the south end of Playa Carrillo.
Currently, they rescue, rehab and release local reptiles,
animals and birds in several of the national parks. They are
thrilled by the possibility of releasing in our river corridor.
Good for our investment…
We are nearing the end of the first phase of the community
center. The caretaker’s quarters will be dry in a month. The
guest cabina is wonderful. The roads have never been better and
the new trail system to both rivers and the series of seven
falls is incredible.
We saw fruit on many of the hundreds of fruit trees planted in
the last two seasons. We expect pretty serious output in another
couple of years.
The water system is in and fully functional. The workshop has
full solar power and has the best shower Ray claims to have ever
experienced. Darlene referred to her shower after our hike to
plant trees as a “Peak Experience.” The community center will be
operating on solar power within a couple of months.
Last Saturday we stayed in the guest cabina. We built a fire
next to the community center (not too close!) under a full moon
over the ocean on a perfect night. There is some serious energy
up there as Ray Dar and Ben all compared notes on some really
wild and crazy dreams they had that night. Finca Las Brisas is
becoming an incredible place.
We now have a Falls Loop trail system that takes the hiker by
most all of the numerous falls on the two rivers and larger
feeder streams that cross Finca Las Brisas. Owning property at
Finca Las Brisas is nothing short of owning one of the many
beautiful state parks in the US. We are working hard to reforest
and protect this area from development for future generations
and since we are near the source of these waters, protect the
water for people and the wildlife down stream as the Rio Frio
enters the Pacific at Playa Buena Vista about 4 kilometers
northwest of Playa Samara.
We’re already making plans to return later this year. Hopefully
you’ll join us there!
For more photos of the latest adventure tour, please click here
Costa Rican Coffee
This trip we found out that several of the
workers on the finca have coffee farms in the
higher elevations above us.
I have had good coffee in Costa Rica and I
always bring some home but the thought of
bringing home coffee from the local community
sounded like a lot of fun.
We also planted about 50 coffee plants on
the finca a couple of years ago so we have
dreams of having our own coffee there some day.
Both Darlene and I are coffee lovers. I grew up
in Seattle and begin drinking coffee at 14 and I
use to visit the first Starbucks in the Public
Market. In Tampa, we live near the area that
was the cigar manufacturing capital of world.
Coffee is a big part of cigar manufacturing and
served formally three times a day to rollers.
There is a strong coffee tradition still here
today and we get our coffee from a third
generation coffee roaster in Ybor City.
After twenty years of marriage, I still get a
cafe latte and the newspaper in bed most
mornings when I am home. On the finca, I went
down to the workshop which is the only solar
outlet for a coffee maker and Darlene got her
coffee in bed this trip.
When we found out that Bernardo and Holjer had
coffee farms above us we asked to buy some of
their coffee. They refused to sell us any and
brought us several pounds of their coffee to
take home as a gift.
The photo to the
left shows Mark in front of the local
coffee bean depot in nearby Zaragosa, where
local coffee growers drop off their dried beans
for pick-up at a later date. Zaragosa is a small
town up the mountain directly above us near
where Holjer and Bernardo have their farms.
Darlene and I both agree there coffee might be
the best coffee we have ever had. We have given
out some samples and everyone is telling us
pretty much the same thing. "This coffee is
I am having a cup right now as I write.
Medical Care in Costa Rica
I have had questions by many prospective buyers
on the quality of health care in Costa Rica.
I don't think I know more about the health care
there than the average gringo. I do believe that
they have one of the best systems in the world -
for a 3rd world country. That it is free if you
are a national and that there are special
hospitals/facilities for internationals. I know
medical tourism is becoming very popular. The
cost savings for dental and medical treatments
Freddy Soto and me during one of my
Our project manager is able to get international health
insurance for his family of three for about
The major regional hospital is 30 minutes away
from us at Finca Las Brisas and there is even a
Tico clinic at the end of our road.
Personally, I have been to the pharmacy and the
local gringo clinic in Samara almost every trip.
This time I fell and broke some ribs and I
skinned up my feet tying to surf for the first
time. So off to the doctor I went - about five
total times this trip.
Frustrated with health care in the US I joined a
boutique medical practice. Basically that means
that my doctor has a couple of hundred patients
instead of the 4,000 average per the typical
general practitioner. What that boils down to is
that when I have an appointment there isn't
anyone else in the waiting room. If I want to
have a conversation with my doctor I call him
up, go see him, email him, he may make a house
visit - he is never in a hurry.
So far, I have had the same general experience
in Costa Rica that I have had with the fee based
practice I belong to here in the US. The only
real difference so far seems to be cost. For my
recent five visits at the Samara clinic, five
pain shots, two other shots and bag of
medication, it cost me around $230.
there I am hugging two plastic bottles of water.
No, I am not holding them for Dr. Soto, they are
mine. We did buy bottled water, maybe 15 small
and large bottles when we first got arrived in
Costa Rica and then we refilled them each time
we would visit the finca. Maybe next trip we
will try to source some permanent glass jugs and
By the way, Freddy (above) and my doctor Michael
here in the US went to the same medical school.
Michael is a coffee drinker. I don't know about
Freddie. Michael agrees that Bernardo's and
Holjer's coffee is really great coffee!
Videos by Sally Richards
Sally shooting video on the finca
Green Waste Treatment (17 minute version)
Green Waste Treatment (short version)
Visit to El Centro Verde
Amateur You Tube video clips:
Finca Las Brisas Community Center Construction
Water Falls on the new River Trail at Finca Las
Howler Monkeys come for lunch
Pass it along
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Bottles, bottles and more bottles
I am not going to pretend to be something I am
not. Right now I have a plastic bottle on my
desk, but I know how bad plastic is for the
environment and I know how much energy and water
it takes to produce one bottle of water.
I am trying to remove as much plastic as I can
from my life. According to the American
Chemistry Council, 116 billion pounds of plastic
was produced (not the total amount consumed) in
the US last year. In 2006 the US Environmental
Protection Agency claimed that 12% of our
municipal solid waste is now plastic. Up from 1%
I don't buy bottled water at home and last
December I began to bottle my own seltzer.
Seltzer makers work well by the way and are easy
to use. I estimate that mine saves us about
$1,500 a year, not counting all of the cans and
bottles we use to waste. Plus I don't have to
carry it from the store anymore.
When I read this article yesterday about an
entire town eliminating bottled water
reminded me about how happy I was to have water
at Finca Las Brisas now so I don't need to
purchase liters of bottled water each day when
I am in Costa Rica.
The well water at the finca tastes great and is
I am also delighted with the water pressure. The
shower at our workshop area is the best one I
have experienced in years and the water pressure
so good at my building lot I have been spending
time this past week designing the shower.