by Josh Goldman
As the bus winds around the mountains, I sense how far the hacienda is from the rush of city life. But when we get out of the bus to walk over a bridge (it can't handle the weight of the bus and passengers) the adventure begins. (Note from Organizer: The bridge can now hold the full weight of the bus, luggage and all passengers!). Hiking, birdwatching, horseback riding, music everywhere, rafting, and lounging by the pool doing nothing are followed by nights of Contra dancing to the beat of the Clayfoot Strutters.
But now, months later, I treasure most the community and connections we made. Marcia and I didn't know anyone else on the trip, but very quickly they became a very important part of our world.
When we got to the hacienda, Ana and Johnny Soto welcomed us to their ranch and into their family. Their warmth created the environment for our community to coalesce. Of course dancing together is a great way to connect especially after you've helped each other on a hike earlier in the day.
There are always things to do during the day: hikes, swimming in the river, a rafting trip, an overnight hike, horseback riding, ... There so many things to do, but sometimes doing nothing (or listening to a impromptu band) is just the right thing to do. The Costa Rican sense of time seeps into your soul.
The days have a rhythm. For me, I woke to the birds in the morning, spent the day hiking, and then we all danced to the music of the Clayfoot Strutters in the evening. Although I sometimes thought I was too tired from the day to dance, the beat of the music and the eyes of my partners always pulled me in. The local Ticos (what Costa Ricans call themselves) joined our dance. After the Contra dance ended (sigh), we joined them in Salsa dancing. We taught them contras and they taught us Salsa. (Either they were better students or we were better teachers--salsa has a tricky beat.)
The vistas around the ranch are amazing. The views were also beautiful on the hikes but most of the time I was looking down at my feet; it is muddy (rubber boots are great). My new physical fitness goal is to have the same definition of “an easy hike” as the Ticos. I felt pretty good about getting through a steep climb but then realized that the local horses were able to climb up the trail.
Being on a working ranch that is a key part of the local community helped us be visiting the Ticos in their country rather than just being tourists in Costa Rica. Ana and Johnny are working hard to restore and preserve the environment on their ranch. They are experimenting with sustainable, organic agriculture on their coffee plantation and have a tillipia hatchery (we caught supper with a net one night). Johnny has helped found a school for the indigenous Cabecar children. Some of them walk hours each day to get to the school. They learn to read and write in Spanish and in the Cabecar language. If you come to the hacienda and want to bring some supplies for the school, check with Ana and see what they need (almost everything).
The rooms at the ranch are comfortable, airy, and have lots of light and natural wood, but there are 4-6 in a room so Marcia and I brought a tent and set it up on the lawn.
At the end of the week, I asked people to tell me their highlights from the week and they said:
. . . being relaxed for a whole week . . . I've never felt like boogying in the middle of a Contra dance before . . . the Clayfoot Strutters rock . . . meeting people from all over who love Contra dancing and the outdoors as much as I do . . . going on the overnight hike, it was hard, and I loved it waking up early in the morning and watching the birds from the porch . . . rafting down the Pacuare and being on the overnight hike, we were a team and could count on each other . . . dancing with the Ticos in the open air barn, teaching them to Contra dance and learning Salsa dancing from them . . . hiking with German, he cut flutes and walking sticks with his machete, identified flowers and birds (Gracia and Joe translated), showed us how the forest was recovering from being cut for firewood 50 years ago, and stomped on the mounds to show us the ants . . . meeting the Ticos at the dance and the indigenous Cabecar on the hikes (if you meet a Cabecar, "estem eschina" is hello and "mappa" is adios) . . . Ana giving us a brief history of Costa Rica on a shopping trip to Turrialba . . . when German casually tossed this enormous beetle to Gracia on a hike . . .
The trip is definitely more than just contra dancing in an exotic location. Being outdoors, having adventures, and connecting with the cultures of the Tico and Cabecar communities are as integral to the experience as the dancing. The warmth of the Sotos, the instant sense of community, the beat of the Clayfoot Strutters, the dancing, the hiking, all together made it an amazing vacation. (Of course now that I'm back home with work and chores, “just contra dancing in an exotic location” sounds very appealing.)
For information about the next trip to Costa Rica, check the Pura Vida website (www.puravidadancecamp.com). If you can't make the next trip, but have a group that wants to stay at the Hacienda, you can contact Ana and Johnny at (506 - Costa Rica's country code) 229-2974 or by email at: email@example.com (may take a week to get a response).
--- Pura Vida Dance Camp 2003
By Emil Jarczynski
Pura Vida Dance Camp is part of an annual trek to Albergue Hacienda in Moravia de Chirripo, Costa Rica, a working ranch in an idyllic setting at the edge of a rainforest. ("Pura Vida" means pure life, and that reflects the zest for life you find here.) The Clayfoot Strutters, a band from Vermont and New York provide the music. They play their own style of world beat music, grooved-based contra. And they play it as easily as breathing. They were joined by twenty-five of us dancers, from Fritz Creek, Alaska to Cottonwood, Arizona and Flemington, New Jersey to Ypsilanti, Michigan, who came to hone our dance skills and hike the rainforest, ride horseback, and raft the Pecuare River.
Riding the small tour bus on the way to the ranch from Alajuela near the airport, absorbing more of the country the deeper we went, I shared a seat with LaDonna and learned that on a Saturday night in Arizona you can not only do Contra, but Balkan, Cajun, clog, Irish or Israeli. Who knew? As we traded stories, the towns got smaller, the roads steeper and narrower with switch backs, and the countryside more lush and verdant - in Turialba we bought fresh baked pecan swirls, in Grano de Oro we passed some villagers riding double on horseback, and there were orange colored poro trees.
At the ranch, the dances are held every night in an open-air pavilion. The sweet night smells of the tropical garden mix with the finely ground corn meal that's spread on the dance floor to help our feet glide. Kathy Andersen, from Ohio, calls the dance in both English and Spanish. The Ticos (the name the Costa Ricans call themselves) come to join us. They gather on one side. Mostly young people, colorfully dressed, they stand in little knots or sit on the benches that line the dance floor. We invite them as partners and form the two lines that make the Contra. Mothers lean over the railing, encouraging the little ones to step out onto the floor too. This is new for most of the Ticos. With fragments of Spanish and animated demonstrations of a dosi-do and a left-hand-star we show them some of the basic moves. "Izquierda, a la izquierda," we say as we nudge the circle left. They catch on quickly. We all laugh at our first few missteps. Kathy moves us through all the steps as she teaches us this new dance. "I learned this one from an old caller back home," she says. I think the old caller would have been pleased that the dance he made up, maybe in a barn in Ohio, had taken a road trip south and was now a hispano-americano danza. "Allaman right" becomes "Allaman derecho."
After a full evening of Contra dancing where the Strutters had played their hearts out and we're still pumped with adrenalin, the Ticos bring their Latin CDs and teach us Salsa and Merengue. The Salsa was full of turns, the Merengue lively and quick. Our young instructors, Oscar with the immutable smile, and Jenny, winsome and not much more than sixteen, are tireless teachers. We take to it eagerly. Stepping up and back, forward on your toes, trying underhand and backhand turns. But finally, as we had danced our fill, we have to say good night. Just a little out of breath, we step down from the open-air dance floor. Strolling back to the ranch with Pam and Jean and Sandra, my new dance partners from Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, we catch glimpses of the moon between palm trees. The moon looks different down here somehow, the color of a peach, hanging lazy in the sky.
At the ranch you're on Tico time. The chalkboard by the always-open front door says the morning hike starts at nine. But nine really means after breakfast. And breakfast isn't done until you've had the first dessert of the day - raw sugar cane from the field, or some gallimaufry of berries and cream. That evening the band starts at eight, for the Contra Dance, but not until you've sampled the guaro after dinner - a little like tequila, but lighter. The band makes their way over to the small stage, we saunter across the lawn learning a little more about each other. Johnny and Ana Soto, our gracious hosts, smile as we file past. The Ticos begin to gather. There's a ripple of anticipation, but no one seems to rush. The dance will start soon, it always does. Down here it's Pura Vida! Tico time.
--- Pura Vida Dance Camp 2007