Even though we are getting on a plane to go to Europe in 11 days (holycrapicantbeleiveit) we have to look a little bit ahead to reserve some of the key activities we will be doing in Costa Rica in August. These specific places book up very far in advance, so even though I feel thoroughly unprepared for the second week in Europe (no lodging, no train tickets…11 days and counting) I do have the first two weeks of the Costa Rica adventure booked 134 days in advance. Typical.
The first stop we had to secure in advance is a stay at Rancho Margot. This eco-lodge is very close to El Castillo and Volcan Arenal (which is still throwing lava and ash around like a champ.) My Rough Guide to CR lists the ranch as,
A self sufficient farm and wildlife rescue center, Rancho Margot encourages a very hands-on stay; you can milk the cows; make cheese, wine or marmalade; or help till the organic gardens.
Sounds fantastic, but eco-lodges are a huge touristy attraction in Central America and I was a little suspicious of the term. That little prefix is applied to many of the ‘experiences’ I was researching for the trip and I was a little concerned that it was being applied in the same way that ‘all natural‘ is slapped on every other product in the supermarket, including Tab soda.
The ATEC (Asociacion Talamanquena de Ecoturisom y Conservacion) has a really good, if not a bit tetchey, definition of eco-tourism:
Eco-tourism means more than bird books and binoculars. Eco-tourism means more than native art hanging on hotel walls or ethnic dishes on the restaurant menu, Eco-tourism is not mass tourism behind a green mask.
Eco-tourism is a cooperative relationship between the non-wealthy local community and those sincere, open-minded tourists who want to enjoy themselves in a Third World setting and, at the same time, enrich their consciousness by means of significant educational and cultural experiences.
Take that, ornithologists!
With all that in mind, I kept digging into Rancho Margot, and was very pleased to find out that they truly do kick ass at the eco-thang. They are a net negative carbon emitter (removing more from the atmosphere than is emitted by operations) partly due to doing these awesome things:
- Generate their own electricity.
- Create bio-gas (liquid waste from the pigpens are fed into a bio-digester which produces methane gas, which they pipe underground into the kitchen to use for cooking meals.
- Use aerobic compost ovens to heat the water.
- Make their own soap and laundry detergent with used cooking oil.
- Harvest fresh vegetables and fruits by hand (you can help too.)
- Make all dairy products and butcher their own meats, all within walking distance of the kitchen.
- 10 of their 400 acres are dedicated to chemical free agriculture.
- They use natural pesticides, including companion plants such as basil and celery, and a mixture they make from microorganisms gathered in the forest.
- Free of GMO seeds.
- Free range cows, pigs and chickens are fed natural products grown on the ranch.
- Consolidates trips with neighboring businesses to reduce travel into and out of the resort. No suppliers travel exclusively to the Ranch.
- Before putting the first shovel in the ground, Rancho Margot rented a bus to take children to La Fortuna town every day to attend school and continue to fund the school in El Castillo.
- Offer yoga training, Spanish immersion courses and support the community through the onsite Chorotega pottery studio.
I’m super stoked about making marmalade, learning how to milk a cow and having a good shot at not f*cking up the earth for a whole week.
This is the reason we chose/I forced us to visit Costa Rica…and may be the reason we/I never come back. Visiting the Sloth Sanctuary, or a John calls it, ‘the Sloth Farm’ or ‘Sloth Factory’ has been a dream of mine for years. The Sanctuary is run by an Ex-Alaskan named Judy Avey-Arroyo, she and her husband moved to CR in the 70’s and built up a successful restaurant and pontoon tour business. In the early 90’s, after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake destroyed their home, they built a small hotel. Shortly after they opened, three local girls brought a orphaned three-fingered baby sloth to their door. After trying to get some help from the local zoo, who had no idea what to do, they took Buttercup in and raised her themselves. Two years later, another orphaned baby showed up at their door. The word got out that Judy had a knack for saving sloths and they became an authorized rescue center in the late 90’s.
The have rescued over 500 sloths, 149 of which still live at the sanctuary. They are currently tagging wild sloths with TRACKING BACKPACKS to understand what they guys are doing in the wild, including how far they range and what their diet consists of.
We will be staying at the Sanctuary for two, squeak filled days, and will be going behind the scenes to meet some of the sloths in person. I might explode to death in excitement. Watch the Meet the Sloths channel here and tell me you wouldn’t do the same.