In Nica, I'll plug into the backpacker's community along the Gringo trail to get recommendations and stories from other American, European, South American, Israeli, UK and Commonwealth Nations travelers in hostels and through couch surfing. I found a great language school in Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala by chatting with travelers and I think that its the best way both for value and experience. Booking from home is booking blind.
Two or three weeks of language study and then I'm off to WWOOF at Finca El Yunque. It's located in San Antonio de Upa, near Matagalpa***. This plantation is named by its owner Miguel Angel Guzmán, a man born in New York of Spanish parents. "Yunque" is Spanish for "anvil' which Miguel says is apropos, as the land has been difficult to farm due to years of unsustainable use prior to this finca which has gone organic and all natural. It is also totally off the grid, so no power apart from small solar panels for lights and such. There might be some cell reception.
Work on the farm might prove to be rough, this is from the email Miguel sent me:
"As per WWOOF standards, you are expected to work at least 5 hours per day and work begins at 06:00 (you want to avoid the afternoon’s sun!) and ends around 12:00 (employees leave around 14:30). You must be up and have finished breakfast before you begin work in order to feel part of the program. I want to stress that this is MANUAL labor and unless you have some other talent, are an engineer or a computer whiz that can help us out with a web-site, you will be expected to work on the needs of the farm or why else would someone come to a finca?"
But he also says that if you don't want to do so much of the nitty gritty* you can present your own project ideas to him and develop the farm or educate the community on manners of health/education/skills**. I want to get my hands dirty, but I also think that I might be able to to offer more. The sun is too hot to work in its rays in the afternoon, but I could work indoors to create a few systems I think could be beneficial. I have seen setups in Guatemala and Honduras that trap the suns heat in water to provide heated water without needing to burn fuel or power with electricity.
A tangent for background. For the most part, folks don't have hot water in Central America, except for the most modern buildings in the most modern cities (the capitols, for the most part), showers with "heated" water have instant electric heaters mounted on the end of the shower head to cut the sting of the cold water. I'd guess that the majority of the world is the same. When I last Lived in Central America, I never thought they ever got warm. Plus they always have scary dangling rusted wires and I always feel like I'm getting electrocuted a little bit...lol.
Anyway, in areas where there is no electricity to power those taser-showers, folks sometimes build these solar water-heaters which direct the suns heat into the water directly (no pv panels) and stores it for bathing or other uses. They have no hot water on the farm because no one knows how to build a water heater. However, in NYC, I have YouTube and found a how-to video that really makes it accessible to even a dummy like me. Lets hope I can figure it out...thanks debeshbhattarai!
Ok, so that's kind of where my plans for this trip end...I have a return ticket to New York in April, but only purchased that so that if the Costa Rican customs officials need me to prove intent to exit within 90 days of entry, I have the ticket booked. However, I may choose to change the date or departure city at any time. After El Yunque, I may go on to WWOOF at another finca, or I may travel on to another country, or another continent. I may come home to NYC, or follow a dream Californee way.
Some final thoughts... It occurs to me that some of my friends and family think that taking and extended trip without meticulous prior planning, financing, and scrutinizing is either crazy or stupid. Some would say that I am wasting time or treading circles or running away. I thank them for caring enough to speak their minds. To those who have supported me, and those few who showed true enthusiasm, or the fewer who showed understanding--thank you for the lifeline. To my parents who see me as capable of making my own choices, regardless of if they agree with them or not--thank you for giving me the latitude to beat my drum.
*"preparing mediums for seeds and plants, sowing seeds, weeding, planting trees, gathering organic matter, pruning and deadwood clearing, mulching trees and bushes, staking plants for protection, gathering herbs for drying, inventorying plants/animals, plant care, animal housing maintenance, animal maintenance (bathing), building cloches (plant protection), fetching water, food foraging, building structures and furniture, painting, website design, light office work."
**"help educating the community in a score of things, such as hygiene, food (diet) planning, women sexual issues (family planning), the danger and physiological damage to the human body for contaminating the water sources and using pesticides so close to living areas, environmental protection issues (garbage removal methods). Also, trying to emphasis the importance of keeping children in school (many don't attend). "
***"The "community" which is contiguous with El Yunque is a hamlet, with approximately 100 families, a lot of children and all of the workers live in the area. Also, there is an hacienda (Buenas Esperanza), which has a large population (up to 3,000 people) at coffee-picking time. Urban Matagalpa (city) is approximately 40 kilometers away from the farm."