In Central America where the tenuous little strip of land separating North and South America becomes especially thin (just 10 degrees north of the equator) lies a tiny little country called Costa Rica. Considered the Switzerland of Latin America, it is known for eco-tourism and a higher quality of life than many other Central American countries. In fact, “Ticos” (as the local inhabitants refer to themselves) place lots of importance on family, friends and “pura vida” – a saying shared by locals which, strictly translated, means “pure life”.
On the northwestern coast of Costa Rica in the Guanacaste Province is a small beach called Playa Flamingo. There isn’t really a town located here – just a few quiet resorts and some high-end homes overlooking the coast. My family recently spent some quiet time here, at a place called Flamingo Beach Resort & Spa.
The hotel is located directly on Playa Flamingo (Flamingo Beach). The beach itself is beautiful, featuring light gray sand and beautiful blue water. Northwestern Costa Rica is known for it’s excellent surfing conditions and while we were there we experienced strong waves and light undercurrents while swimming in the ocean.
As a wedding photojournalist, I can tell you that Flamingo Beach Resort is a great location for weddings. It has all of the luxuries and conveniences that you would find in most luxury hotels anywhere combined with the privacy and anonymity you can only find in a place that is off the grid. Consider this: Flamingo Beach Resort isn’t associated with a town, per se; it is remotely located at where a road dead ends at a beach, where almost no one else has access to – a big selling point for someone who wants privacy.
One of the things that my family and I will probably always remember about our stay at Playa Flamingo is how genuinely friendly the staff were. We had initially read conflicting online reviews for Flamingo Beach Resort regarding how friendly staff were. But any reservations that we had regarding the issue were quickly allayed by the outgoing and personable staff treatment we received during our stay. Front desk staff including Pedro, Jose and others were always helpful and inquisitive as to whether we needed assistance. They were always saying hello and asking how our day was going.
Other staff at the hotel also exceeded our expectations. My son, who’s 18 months old, made friends with the cleaning staff and looked forward to seeing his friend Dora every day when she would visit our room in the mornings to turn down our beds, sweep, mop and drop off clean towels. Staff during our regular morning breakfast also made life lots of fun for my son. They were always warm and playful with him and encouraged him to engage them in conversation and fun.
Another favorite experience of mine was getting to know hotel staff at the upstairs patio bar, which had a fantastic view of the beach and coastline. Several of our nights were spent chatting with Oscar, the talented and friendly bartender, who makes fantastic mixed drinks, including the best Mojito that I’ve ever had (seriously!). Oscar was always glad to discuss recipes for his delicious drinks, Costa Rican lifestyle or a quick Spanish lesson (he, like most staff in the hotel, is bilingual).
As you can tell, we spent time getting to know the staff which is a testament to how important service is in the hotel. Flamingo Beach Resort is a full service hotel, offering services above and beyond the norm including, child care, quick laundry service, full sized rooms with kitchenette, daily turn down service, pool bar, world-class foods served fresh 3 times per day (room service available), transportation service, workout room, tennis courts, and a casino!
Our trip was during the end of September and the beginning of October, which is smack-dab in the middle of the off season for this region. This means that there were days where we rarely saw any tourists or anyone for that matter in the hotel or on the beach, which was great, given that our vacation objective was to enjoy a quiet week away from the hectic life that we live in Austin, Texas.
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I recently found some old photos that I took in Costa Rica back in 2005 that I wanted to share. When I was single I used to spend more time doing less self serving things because I had more time on my hands and I had some altruistic influences in my life as well.
One of the more fun volunteer programs that I participated in was for volunteers who wanted to help preserve sea turtle nesting sites in a small village called Parismina, located in Eastern Costa Rica. As many folks are aware, sea turtle numbers have been dwindling for years because of poaching, over fishing and other factors. The people of Parismina, Costa Rica started a volunteer program in 2001 that allows people to come from all over the world and help preserve turtle habitat.
What was special about my experience in Parismina was getting to live with a local family for 3 weeks. I ate the same delicious, home-cooked Costa Rican dishes they ate, walked the same paths that they did and played marbles with their children (playing marbles on the dirt paths is big with the kids). In the end I really felt like I had made a difference, albeit a small one and I felt lucky to have been a part of such a great program. And I made some great friends in the process.
I included some photos of some baby sea turtles that were emerging from their nests on the beach in the early morning hours. The babies usually make a run for the surf in the middle of the night or before dawn, braving unbelievably daunting odds against survival. It was amazing and spiritual to witness this age old ceremony first hand. I will be forever changed from many of my experiences in Costa Rica.
I wanted to take a moment to share information about our friends in Costa Rica who are promoting and supporting a sustainable coffee farming initiative. My wife and I met Ken Lander while staying in Monte Verde, Costa Rica earlier this year. He’s started a great organization (San Rafael Sustainable Coffee Initiative – SRSCI) which produces world-class coffee in a sustainable environment which supports local farmers and their families in Costa Rica. It seems like a win-win situation to me and my wife, which is why I’m sharing.
At the moment the SRSCI is asking for new members to join and help with making micro-loans to the farmers (as little as $35) in order to grow their operation and produce more sustainable coffee, which in turn helps their local economy. I love the idea and I must say that the coffee is some of the best I’ve ever had. If you join as a new member you also get fresh coffee mailed straight to your doorstep from their Costa Rican farms, which means great coffee, at a great price which helps local farmers and eliminates the corporate (for profit) middle man.
The power of the San Rafael Sustainable Coffee Initiative is that the coffee drinker has the opportunity for the first time to be involved in the production of his or her own cup. Obviously, purchasing coffee from the SRSCI is a wonderful way to support the SRSCI (and we welcome your continued orders for coffee!), but this year, the coffee lover has the opportunity to invest in the SRSCI directly. We are asking you to consider both ordering coffee and giving the SRSCI a one-time micro-loan to help capitalize this year’s 23 hectares and liberate farmers from the need to find capital through the current cooperative and old value chain that follows.
Your micro-loan will return 100% to you in the form of a $70.00 credit on your future order from next year’s crop. If 600 hands raise and join this effort, the SRSCI will generate $21,000.00 in capital just from the micro-loans alone. However, this is a relationship between you and the farmer, so the farmers of the SRSCI commit to contribute from the proceeds of the sale of coffee from this drive a matching $21,000.00 in capital from the profits of the sale of the coffee.