One of the first questions I asked Camille when I was “courting” her was to choose between mountains or beaches. Her choice was both.
After beach-hopping for 2 weeks from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, it was time for a change in weather and landscape. Our escape was the mountain town of San Gerardo de Rivas, population 303. At the entrance of Costa Rica’s highest national park, Chirripo, was the quaint Casa Mariposa run by the fabulous owners, John and Jill.
To get to this lovely hostel lodge one would take a 90 minute bus from San Isidro to the town of San Gerardo de Rivas. Cruise until you get to final stop at football field in front of the blue church. From there it’s only a 1.5 kilometer hike up the road, which could have easily been a former riverbed given the bumps, rocks, and uneven mountain terrain. We we’re fortunate enough to get a ride from Jill and were presented with 2 weeks (with an additional week extension making it 3) of afternoon/evening hostel shifts. We got mornings off for what she said was for us to go out and play. Upon arriving we were able to unwind with a transient community of hikers staying in Tripadvisor’s number one choice for lodging in the area. The work exchange we received from Casa Mariposa was our first experience with HelpX, a website dedicated to people (mostly travelers) who are looking for work in exchange of either lodging; board or both. Most owners of hostels, ranches and plantations (among other places) needing help, post their requirements online and from there you can pick and choose which types of work fits you best.
For the next few weeks and the majority of our month’s stay in Costa Rica we found a home between two different locations. Our first accommodation was an open-spaced wooden deck with two walls (made from eco-bricks) located across the first bamboo bridge along a creek which we crossed each morning. This turned out to be a great time with a beautiful hammock across the deck looking out towards the surrounding mountains, a small garden and a pond. Each morning at sunrise we would be woken up to bird songs coming from various tanagers, honey-creepers, and a variety of others bird families.
The work exchange provided us with different challenges and helped us gain new skills. Our time here also provided us with the realization that Camille and I worked well as a team. It was the first time we’ve ever “worked” together. Initially we had some negotiating to do in terms of dividing our work load and found we struck a good balance with each other, hosting guests night in and night out. Camille used the kitchen at every possible opportunity making us stir fry dishes, pesto pasta, teriyaki pork-chops, and whatever else magic she could create with the limited resources she had. When she wasn’t making meals for us she would be baking. The list of desserts she made included cheesecake flan, oatmeal and chocolate revel bars, strawberry basil pops, and brownies. She was continually inspired as she offered up these treats with payments being by donation. Along side her was a Kiwi gal, also volunteering, who happened to be a pastry chef. We even met a French pastry chef who was happy to help Camille by giving her any recipes.
I had a lot of the same duties as Camille, doing laundry, locking down the house at night, giving information about local tours and hikes for guests, answering calls, and keeping a good welcoming home for those that came through the door seeking refuge after 18 hours of hiking up and down Costa Rica’s highest mountain. Aside from that I was able to learn about mixing concrete and helped make a concrete table for the garden (I’m not a handyman at all). I also started a new self-directed Birding 101 course and became the resident birder. In addition, I beefed up my Spanish skills by preparng tours and calling local businesses including Jose the horse-back riding man, Carmen the owner of a local art galleria and the family running Quesos Canaan.
Of course all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. During our times out and about we hiked tons of trails, made tamales with the local community in preparation for two big annual events and did a full-day tour through Sendero (Trail) Los Angeles hitting the cheese place and hot springs on our way home. Life in the mountains provided a lovely retreat from the heat of the beach and the busyness of the road and the city. In your world there should be a balance between work and play we found ours in and around Casa Mariposa.
Also, enjoy some of the birds below right out of the kitchen window.