Clean. Of all impressions least like most Latin American countries I’ve been to, this was the most striking. As I knelt on the tile floor of our hotel room and peered beneath the bed for any personal items that may have strayed into hiding, I couldn’t help but notice how clean everything was. Not even a dust bunny lingered in the hidden corners of the room. This impression would follow me for most of the remainder of our vacation.

After breakfasting on fresh fruit and coffee, we retrieved our miniature vehicle (aka our Flintstone mobile, the lack of horse power sometimes making us think we should propel it with our feet)–and hit the road. Today, our goal includes meeting the family that hosted our son during his three months attending a Spanish immersion program. CISA–Christian Immersion Spanish Academy. (http://www.cisacostarica.com) After his three months, our son returned home conversing well in Spanish and having nothing but good to say about his experience there.

According to the GPS, it is just under 80 km, about 45 miles, and 2 1/2 hours away. Alright then!

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Thank God, we soon reached the outskirts of San Jose and our driving experience improved dramatically. While still having to be aware of motorcycles and random passing vehicles where you would least expect them to pass (I guess they thought the Flintstone mobile also a bit lazy), we at least got to enjoy the freedom of only one vehicle per lane. The road snakes back and forth and we rose higher and higher into the rich green mountains.

Costa Rica has two main industries: tourism and agriculture. Here in the beauty of the mountains at the center of the country, tourism is limited by the few roads available and  the condition of said roads. The scenery and many fruit stands along the way make the drive worth doing.

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We drove past potato farms, banana plantations, and pastures with cattle grazing contentedly on hillsides overlooking killer views of the valleys. The hillsides are often so steep, we fully expected to witness a cow catapulting past us as he misstepped off the path.

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Most of the cows were Zebu, the white ox/cow(?) with the big hump on the shoulder. Does anyone else want to burst out with a Veggie Tales’ song when hearing the name Zebu?

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To traverse between road “A” to road “B”, the GPS took us on a muddy dirt trail lined by tall rock retaining walls, and filled with potholes nearly deep enough to engulf our mini vehicle.  Note to self: Don’t always trust your GPS to figure the best route for you. Ask a local.

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Bright colored birds flitted along the wall, but none stayed still long enough to let me take a picture.

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On the other side of the mountains agriculture becomes even more prevalent, and now, sheltered in the shade of the trees, coffee plants grow. In open fields the tall feathered spikes of ripe sugar cane wave in the breeze.

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The largest town close to our destination is Turrialba. We stopped at the plaza for a much needed stretch and potty break, along with the desire to feed our curiosity. When we asked the lady selling parking tickets where the closest restroom was, she not only told us, but walked us down the block, around the corner, and through the halls of the public clinic and all the way to the doors of the desired facility. Refusing a tip, she smiled and waved, then returned to her work.

Once again I was struck by the cleanliness of the facility. In the hallway, a housekeeper busied herself wiping down a chair. I commented to her about my observation and she beamed. “That’s because we are Costa Rican,” she said.

After purchasing some mysterious fruit at a roadside cart, we sought a store in which to buy a knife. The lady at the counter not only helped us with our purchase, but insisted on washing the fruit for us and instructed us on how to eat it without staining our faces with the juice. Once again, a tip for her help was refused.

We arrived at CISA in time for lunch. The host family, Gatica and Marco, had invited us to join them for lunch and so were watching for our arrival. Gatica was responsible for serving lunch to the current seven students at the school, so we got to sit with them on the back patio and discuss their experiences at the school. One couple, a bit older than ourselves, were there to learn Spanish in preparation for a mission tour they are planning to do. They happen to live about an hour from our home!

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After a short visit and the mandatory showing off of our son’s wedding pictures, we took off to see the school itself.

Daniel, one of the founders of the school, excitedly showed us the grounds and shared the mission of the school. Not only do they desire to teach Spanish, they desire to do everything to glorify God and help the local people to better take care of themselves. In the smaller villages, work is hard to come by. This is especially true for the indigenous people, for women, and for the elderly. Host families were chosen among solid Christians in the community. Instead of building a dorm, living with families provides work for the local women within their own homes, as well as providing the students with a more thorough immersion.

Some local coffee plantations were being neglected, belonging mostly to older folk who no longer had the energy, resources, or technology to keep up with the work. The school offered to help with these plantations, with the agreement that the work would be provided primarily by indigenous people, women, and the elderly from the area. The missionaries have been able to use their school connections to begin exportation of the local coffee, adding incentive for the owners and workers to continually improve their product. The townsfolk now not only indulge in their own high quality coffee, but are proud to be named as a location providing a superior product.

For those animal lovers out there, Daniel not only has a heart for the local people, but has a soft spot for the injured and neglected dogs roaming the area. A portion of the profits from one of the coffee beans they sell goes to help with veterinary costs and caring for the strays that have adopted the school.

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Piyi has a coffee named after her!

After our tour of the school and coffee processing area, we returned to visit with Gatica and Marco, sipping on our own cup of local coffee. They are intensely friendly and hospitable, eager to share what they have and talk about their family and their experiences with our son. This will remain in our memory as one of the highlights of our trip. We came away feeling like we had new members added to our family.

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Thanks for joining me. I’ll be back tomorrow as we head over even bigger mountains and to the more touristy area of the Pacific coast.

If any of you have experienced the Central Valley of Costa Rica, I would love to hear about it!

Brenda Gates

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