Greetings from Costa Rica! It´s been about two and a half weeks now and I just completed my IVHQ volunteer project in Monte Verde. La Bella Tica Coffee Farm is owned and run by Oldemar and his wife Ersi. The two of them and their daughters gave us a first-hand view of what it takes to produce organic coffee.
From accommodating volunteers to giving tours, the business is entirely operated by the family. As a volunteer, I got the opportunity to house with others from around the world. We went out into the fields, picked coffee berries, sorted good berries from debris, saw the roasting process, and packaged prepared beans. At one point, Oldemar explained that in order to produce one bag of coffee, it takes over 50 steps from start to finish. Ersi also mentioned they started the business while only living in shack, but as of now, people come to them asking for advice about how to build a business.
Reflecting on experience now, I truly believe what they do is a labor of love. This thought leads me to another few points about Tico living.
The famous saying in Costa Rica is Pura Vida which many think just translates to “Pure Living.” It’s close but it actually means “Life is Good!” This phrase resonates throughout the entire country. There is a level of ease and friendliness in the people. Throughout my stay, I did not hear one local raise their voice. In fact there was only one time I heard people on the bus arguing and it was between two Americans, go figure.
Ticos, meaning Costa Ricans, have another phrase called “Tico Time.” It means Ticos are in no rush to get anywhere. It is common to show up 15 minutes late to plans and everybody accepts it as normal. My only advice is to not assume the long distance buses run by “Tico Time.” They were generally pretty efficient and leave right on the dot so don’t be late!
Other than that, take it slow, relax, have patience, and soak in the beautiful landscapes. On this trip, I met some amazing locals, interacted with world travelers, ate delicious food, and saw the most lush-filled national forests and exotic wildlife.
Now don’t be mistaken, it`s not all sunshine and rainbows around here folks. There are also signs of poverty everywhere you look. I was told they have a law in Costa Rica that prohibits children from being homeless. If a child is seen in the streets without a home, they are taken to an orphanage where they are fed and sheltered. IVHQ offers other programs geared towards volunteering to help people facing similar misfortunes. For example, they also facilitate volunteering for education, childcare, and healthcare. So if you`re interested in doing something besides coffee farming, this might be the route for you.
Would I recommend an IVHQ volunteer project to other SDSU students who are looking to study abroad? Absolutely! Just keep an open mind and stay flexible with your plans.
Until next time, PURA VIDA MAE!
Sarah Villalpando is a foods and nutrition major also completing the didactic program in dietetics. She spent Winter Break volunteering on a coffee farm in Costa Rica