Finca Soley-Soley Farm

Our room at the Finca.

Finca Soley is an interesting place. Isa and Milton rent the property which  is about 22 hectares (just over 54 acres). Isa is from Germany and Milton grew up in a large family  on a Nicaraguan horse farm. They have 2 young daughters (Basilia almost 4, Molly almost 3). There are currently 13 horses, 3 cats, 5 dogs, and assorted chickens and roosters.

The farm is on rented land about 20 minutes from the town of Turrialba. The area is very rural and anything that hasn’t been cleared on the farm is jungle.

Students of all ages come from all over the world, mainly Germany, to learn natural horsemanship…learning to care for and ride the horses in the most natural way using psychology and the physics of how bodies work. The students pay a weekly fee to live at the farm, work on the farm, and learn/ride the horses. The weekly fee includes all of their meals and access to the washing machine.

Each student has a “project” horse, one that they work with primarily and another project such as teaching English to the students in the local schools. I’m not sure what all of the options for the projects are. Students generally stay 1-6 months. There is a Spanish class available one afternoon a week which is included in the fee as well (they can pay for additional classes if they want).

The farm appears to run pretty smoothly. They have daily meetings to discuss what needs to be done, one or more students are in charge of cooking the food for a given period of time, and I’ve not seen any conflicts between anyone.

In our case we are renting a room in the bed and breakfast part where we have a private bedroom and bath. (Students are housed dormitory style in the lower level of the same building.) There are 6 rooms available for the B&B although we have been the only guests most of the time that we have been here (lucked into the slow time of the year). We get an awesome breakfast each morning included: usually scrambled eggs, fresh fruit (bananas fresh off the stalk, pineapple, mango, watermelon), gallo pinto (rice and beans), oven fried potatoes and squash, toast, muffins, fresh juice, milk, and coffee.

Generally I enjoy my time here although it is more humid and has more bugs (especially roaches and mosquitoes) than I would like. These things come with the territory since there is jungle around here.

We hear lots of birds every morning. As we started out on our walk this morning we saw about 6 green parrots flying over the trees. We also hear the geckos and frogs. Pictures of the farm and area.

 

Animals on the Road In Nicaragua

Pigs on the road.

In another post I briefly talked about animals on/along the roads in Nicaragua. They may be tethered or may roam freely. I’m told that the owners keep an eye on them and bring them back in every night. Theft is not an issue according to the guide who talked to us about them.

Here are just a few of the animals that we saw roaming freely. I didn’t have a chance to get a picture of the cow in the middle of the road as we were riding in a vehicle but it didn’t want to move until the driver honked the horn! Here are just a few animals we saw on the road.

 

 

Handicapped Parking In Costa Rica?

Handicap parking space with removable barrier.

Most of the handicapped parking spaces that I have seen in Costa Rica have a removable barrier in front of them. I don’t understand the rationale for this. In one place there was a security person and he would move it if someone drove up and qualified to use it. But other places I haven’t seen anyone around to provide that service so I’m not sure what a person does…

Costa Rican Home

Bedroom in Monteverde. Note the area above and to the right of the bed where there is no wall covering; this is one area we used for shelves.

When we were in the Monteverde area we stayed in a couple of different Tico homes (Tico/Tica is one of the preferred words that the Costa Ricans use to refer to themselves). Both homes were modest and in USA terms unfinished although quite functional.

Water heater for shower.

Both had the Tico hot water for the shower and no other hot water anywhere in the house. Hot water is not used to wash clothes, hands, dishes, etc. The device in the shower uses electricity to heat the water, the more water you use, the more cold water that is added to the mix so turning the faucet all the way up gives you a colder shower. This actually works pretty well and avoids a lot of wasted water while you wait for the hot water to move from the hot water heater to the shower.

I prefer hot water to wash my hands and dishes but we never have gotten ill so I guess it isn’t really necessary!

Exterior sink on legs and what we would consider an outside spigot with the commode and shower in a separate room. Note the trash can by the commode. In most of Costa Rica and Nicaragua (and probably other countries as well), the septic systems can’t handle paper so you don’t flush your toilet paper, you put it in the trash can.

As is common in many homes and public places, the area to wash your hands after you use the toilet is outside the actual toilet (and shower) area. It isn’t a bad way to plan things since it frees up the time that while someone is taking a shower or using the commode, someone else can wash their hands, brush their teeth, etc.

Typical cinder block Tico home; often brightly painted, no screens on windows, minimal landscaping.

Most Tico houses are made of cinder blocks and have bars on the windows/doors or at least a substantial fence around the premise. (Our homestay family was unusual in that there were no bars/fence.

Floors are usually large ceramic tiles and are the most finished looking part of the house. They are extremely durable and easy to keep clean. Just don’t drop anything breakable on them.

Roofs are usually tin, often old and rusty, although I saw one house with a roof made of faded cardboard and magazines. It had been there for a while and with almost daily ran (often hard), I don’t know how long it lasts.

Back exterior of above house. All tin. Note the window that Dan added to the living room. Prior to that, there was only a small set of windows in the living area on one side and a window in the adjoining kitchen so the living room was unbearably hot many afternoons.

When we stayed in the stick built house in San Isadora, Ana has her home for sale but said it would probably sell to a foreigner since Ticos don’t like that it isn’t made of cinder blocks and doesn’t have bars on the window. (This requirement of bars/fences is interesting for a country with a low crime rate and no army.)

In the home we stayed the longest in Monteverde, there was not ceilings below the tin roof in most of the house. Nor was there much in the way of sheetrocked walls. Outer walls had more of a solid look to them, in part because I think in some areas they do put a sheet of something, different from sheetrock but something. The inner walls had the studs and cross bar framing exposed which actually wasn’t bad since you could use the cross bars as shelves for small items. In one B&B we stayed at, they used a contrasting bright enamel paint on the studs and cross bar framing to brighten up the room and it looked quite nice.

Houses generally don’t have any type of heat which is fine in the warmer areas but in Monte Verde it is very chilly from the wind and humidity. Several layers of clothes are sufficient to get warm though.

I may have mentioned this in an earlier blog entry but Ticos usually have a two compartment washing machine. Water (usually just cold) comes into the left side where clothes are placed with the detergent. When that side is finished agitating and rinsing, clothes are moved to the right side where they most of the water is spun out. I found out that these machines are actually about half the cost of a “regular” machine.

Tico washing machine.

Prancing Horse Parade

When we arrived in Tilaron on April 29 we saw some horses and riders in the town. We didn’t think a lot about it except to take note but when we went out to get some dinner we realized that there was a festival of some kind going on, a significant part of which centered around a night parade of prancing horses. It was a great pleasure to watch the horses and we thought you would enjoy a little bit of video that we shot. (If it looks a bit chaotic, it was! Imagine dozens and dozens of horses walking down the street, prancing sometimes, being temperamental others. People, music, lights, vendors…very busy to say the least.)

Education in Costa Rica

Dan, Lindie, and Eveline, Monteverde

We’ve spoken with several people about the education system in Costa Rica, especially our two Spanish teachers: Eveline at the Monte Verde Institute and Ronny at Finca Soley. Unlike Nicaragua where teachers are poorly trained and students attend school only half day, Costa Rica has a very comprehensive education system which is, in many ways, quite the opposite of that in the United States.

According to WIKI, Costa Rica education system is ranked 20th in the “Global Competitiveness Report 2013–14″, and is described as of “high quality”. The literacy rate in Costa Rica is 94.9%. It is 2 points over the average for Latin-America and Caribbean countries.

I’m not positive at what age children start to school however I know they are in school by age 7 if not before. School is mandatory through age 17. The older grades are called “colegio” or college and there are two general tracks: technical and academic. Students in seventh through ninth grade technical schools study, among other things sustainable agriculture and tourism; tenth-twelfth grades study food and beverage, accounting, ecological tourism and rural tourism. (Not sure about all of the distinctions between the areas of study.)

Interestingly, students on the academic track only go through the eleventh grade, not the twelfth.

Public school students of all ages wear uniforms to lessen the perceived differences that economic status may make. Private school students do not wear uniforms.

Somewhere around 10-13% of the money the government receives each year from taxes goes towards education, grades 1-12. An additional approximately 8% is spent on higher education. This is possible because they don’t spend anything on a military.

When a student wants to get higher education, they must take a very difficult exam. Those that score well on the exam can go to the public university for free, including tuition, room/board, books. The person’s (family’s?) income is considered in this calculation so families with money do pay for their higher education.

For undergraduates, the university is a full time “job” and if the student goes to one of the 3 main universities (there are local campuses in the major towns for each university), they can’t work while they are undergraduates because they are taking 7-8 classes per semester! University is generally 4 years with a Bachillerato degree received once they graduate. This is similar to our Bachelor’s degree.

They have an additional degree for one more year of university which gives them a Licenciatura degree. We don’t have any equivalent to that degree and it doesn’t give the student much additional income when they work.

A Maestria (Masters) requires a total of 7 years at the university and a Doctorado 8 years. The pay increases significantly with both of those degrees.

Each year approximately 40,000 students take the exam for the university and about 13,000 score high enough to go to the public universities. The remaining students can go to the private universities where they have to pay and generally (although not always), the education is considered inferior to the public universities’.

 

Riding Lessons

The riding arena is approximately 100′ by 75′ and has a beautiful view.

When I was an adolescent and teen our neighbors behind us, the Pollocks, had an old pony that we would ride bareback. I don’t remember the horse’s name but I do remember riding it around the streets of our rural neighborhood.

Since then, I have ridden horses a few times but never really enjoyed it because the horse had me figured out…I was afraid and didn’t know how to control it. The last time I remember riding was with my good friend Becky Haber, probably in Arizona. That was pretty much a disaster because the horse wouldn’t do anything I wanted it to do…like follow the trail out from the stable.

But now we are staying at a horse farm for about a month so we decided to take lessons. The area is beautiful (hot and humid most days but beautiful) so it is motivating to be out. More on Finca Soley (Soley Farm) in another blog. For now, this is about the riding lessons.

At first I was really afraid of the horse kicking me even though I knew you always let the horse know where you are so there are no surprises. I’m getting more comfortable with that and more comfortable with giving my horse, Ronaldo, commands and he mostly does what I ask him to do.

At Finca Soley they do “natural horse training” which means they use the natural physics of the horse’s body and its mind to tell it what to do. Most everything is 4 steps of increasing requests to the horse, starting out with maybe just a motion or sound and working up to being firmer and firmer to get the horse to do what you want. It is really amazing to just point to the horse’s hoof and he will pick it up so that I can clean it!!! I have a long way to go but at least I feel that we can rent horses when we are out; it is a wonderful way to see the countryside.

I don’t plan a lot of lessons, just enough so that I can get the horse to walk or stop as I want. We have done 2 trail rides (very short ones) so far and on Friday we will do a longer one. I can really feel how the horse’s slow gait stimulates posture. Michael used to relax and yet sit up with little assistance when he rode. My posture is much better on the horse as well.

Here is an animation of today’s trail ride with Milton.

Street Crossing Signs

Usually when I think about a street crossing sign I think of something bland looking, possibly with a stick figure crossing slowly or a hand to indicate not to cross.

I love the signs in Costa Rica. They are in color and the pedestrian is walking at a very fast pace. Makes it more fun to me. (Like we are seeing more and more in the states, there is an auditory signal to walk that sounds like a bird tweeting.)

Parrots

There are a number of parrots in Nicaragua and Costa Rica and if you hear a discordant harsh noise it may be one or more parrots. The ones we have seen were always up in trees or flying. When we were in Fortuna we saw flocks of 20-30 flying but the owner said that in a few weeks there would be thousands in a flock! Didn’t get good pictures, in fact we never got really good pics of parrots in the wild but we did get these on a day trip on Ometepe in Nicaragua. They are probably Olive Throated Parrots and were about 30 feet up in the air.

I never knew how much noise a parrot makes; I don’t think I could stand to be around “thousands”!

 

English Lessons Given to Elementary Students in Atirra

The workers at Finca Soley give English lessons to the 6 or 7 students (one boy and the rest are girls) between ages 7-12 who attend the local school that is walking distance from Finca Soley. This is a one room school with one teacher.

I watched the class last week and interacted with a few of the students. I was extremely impressed with the woman from Finca Soley, Dora, who conducted the class. Without any background in teaching, she designed a one hour class that had the children up and moving, listening, repeating, and copying some English words. Since children are usually very kinesthetic, this is a perfect way to teach.

They took turns throwing a ball around the circle and saying their name (complete sentences) or saying what they liked to do using verbs they had studied. Later they talked about the different feelings like happy, sad, etc. and copied the words from the board and colored the faces on their papers. The hour ended with a refresher on body parts and that favorite song, “Head, Shoulder, Knees, and Toes” going faster and faster each time. They loved it!

Great job Dora!

Here is a short video of Dan and Caro working with the kids. They walk around until she stops the music and then they have to find what she says. (Note, Caro is German and she taught them “table” for “desk” but she was going to correct that at the next class.)

On a side note, students in public schools in Costa Rica wear uniforms and the ones in private schools don’t! Just the opposite of many schools in the USA.