Friday, December 26, 2008

Finca Northwoods

Look at my clean face!

Over and over again in my life when i ask the universe for something, even specifically, an answer comes, sometimes within the hour. Last i left off, i was headed around lake Arenal from the tourist mecca of Fortuna towards the backroads to Monteverde. I did leave in that direction, but after riding for 20 miles with a canadian woman i was easily turned back to Fortuna with a new route planned. Monteverde is just another tourist trap hard to get to, way overpriced, and has the same jungle as anywhere else around here, she told me. So, we biked back to town, spent the night there and in the morning i took off to the south towards San Ramon and the pacific coast.

The ride was fun, kind of. Big rolling hills through green valleys on a nice rain free afternoon, but my mind was moving faster than my wheels could spin. I kept thinking to myself that what i really wanted to be doing was hanging out with some good people on a farm. I passed numerous internet cafes, at each one very tempted to pull over and check out the wwoof directory. Thats willing workers on organic farms for those who are unfamiliar. For whatever reason i peddaled on until i reached the town of La Tigre where an ice cream cone tempted me off my bike for a while. After the delicious break i was approached by a gringo woman who was intrigued by my bicycle. We got to talking about her brother in law who is currently riding his bicycle alone around the world. He is in India now coming from London. Meghan informed me that she and her husband ran a private school up in the mountains outside of town and that if i wanted to i could spend the night there. All i had to do was push my bike 3km up a rock road. The offer sounded nice, i was tired, and i figured that it is not every day this happens.

Up the hill, an hour later, i roll up at Finca Northwoods. The big beautiful house overlooks the enitre valley with sweeping views. Lush gardens, ponds filled with big tilapia fish, and about 100 acres of private rain forest. In fact the farm abuts hundreds of thousands of acres of protected forest. There house basically abuts the Monteverde reserve.
I was warmly greeted by a number of people at the house, some of which students, some workers. Finca Northwoods is a satellite program from a program in Idaho, with the same name, that is a private boarding school for at-risk teens. There are only four students here right now, but many more are in Idaho, and they usually cycle through in four or five month periods. Here, the kids have school for half a day and spend the rest working on the farm. A lot of the kids have quite troubled pasts and this program is definately a wake up call. There is nothing like working in a hot humid rainforest getting swarmed by giant ants and mosquitos to help woop someone into shape. After spending time with the kids i can tell that the program works.

Dave and Meghan who run the school were so inviting and kind when i showed up that i decided to spend another day here and do some work on the farm with them. I helped clear a plot of land that will be used to plant beans in the near future. The staff i worked with were amazing. Freddy is a local guy who is also one of the host families that house the students. All students live within the local community to get a better grasp on life in Costa Rica.

X-Mas break was coming up and everyone was clearing house so Dave asked me if i would watch over the place while they were gone. I was thrilled of course! So here i am, living up on the hill with the house and land to myself. My companion is Woody, the valiant dog of the finca, and I have the keys to the 1959 land rover which is by far the most fun car ive ever driven. They come back from vacation in a couple days and after that i will head through some big mountains before the coast. I have been warned that the roads are insane from here.

Isnt it amazing that right after i have the thought of stopping somewhere for a little bit i end up in a sort of fairytale land. This place isnt great for just the natural beauty, but also for what it stands for. In a world of corporate boarding schools and programs that are based on discipline and punishment for past actions, Northwoods is a place where kids are given skills to take control of their lives in an open community. The staff here is great and is based around supporting not only the students but also the local community. In the process, the farm is transforming into a place that will make the school self-sufficient agriculturally.
I have a feeling that the connection i have made to this place will last longer than the extent of my house sitting gig. These are good people.
What is even more is the connection ive made to local families here. I had christmas dinner last night with Freddy and his family and they warmly welcomed me. This is what i wish all my journeys were like; getting off the road and into the communities, talking to locals, eating, sharing, laughing. It can be so easy to be trapped on the road and tourist circuits, but when i can make good friends who are real and not in anyway affiliated with tourism it is a great feeling.

1 comment:

  1. hey pal, here is a post from my parents, who tried to post this but couldnt. add them to your mass email list if you can. Hope the Kuna Yala is incredible and strange! From Debbie and Drew:

    "We recognize that croc, we drove over that bridge with Andrew and can only imagine a bike ride on the road from Quepos. Your reports are wonderful . Keep them coming and stay well and remember that Jan 20 is almost here. Home is getting to be a much better country."