On May 5th we started our first real hiking tour. This trail for me was the second most beautiful trail out of our entire journey and Naranjillo was the first. At 7:30 am we started walking towards the south west (Providencia) from San Gerardo. We said goodbye to the Monje family (who we stayed with) and began our tour.

As we were walking, we saw a remalious where frogs lay eggs and nest in there. They use that plant as a root for eating, hunting, and harvesting. We also saw Sortova which is a traditional food for holly days and Easter. This plant is very sour and rare. During this tour we saw lots of plants (yellow monkey fruit) and traces of animals such as puma.

In 1954 this trail was used as a trading route. Using horses and donkeys people travelled through here. In 1949 it was settled and it officially became a route from San Gerardo to Providencia. Some also used this tour as a form of communication. For example, people would travel this entire trail to visit their lovers.

Once the hiking route was over, we started to drive towards Ana and Enrique’s place. Along the side of the road we saw painted water bottles attached to stones which were all done by volunteers.

Anna provided us a tour of her coffee farm. She is an expert when it comes to coffee and I learned quite a bit from her. She explained that coffee beans are two semi twins. You can store coffee up to two years without losing its flavor. There are 5-6 different types of coffee Arabica. While growing coffee, being 1800 meters above the ground is much better quality and it cannot exceed 2200 meters. Coffee starts to peak about January-February and is ready for harvest by December.

Ana and Enrique’s farm is about 2 acres of land. Growth of coffee depends on season and the weather conditions. In 2015, they believe it is going to be a great year. While producing coffee, bees play a huge role in the process. Once coffee flowers grow, bees must pollinate. This is very important because, if a flower is not pollinated, it does not become ready and there will be no beans. Once the flowers are opened but not pollinated, they are not ready. Both shade and fertilizer are the two most important jobs for the banana trees. Depending on the time of the year, sometimes birds eat up to 70 bananas a day. Porro is useful to fix nitrogen as well as shade.

Coffee trees grow up to 20 years old on average. Once they get big, farmers cut them and allow them to start growing again. In Ana’s farm, there were trees that were up to 50 years old which her father planted them. Ana and Enrique used to use organic fertilizer until the sun was too strong and the plants became tired and lost all their leaves. Corporates receive coffee while they re green. The skin part of the coffee is called chancado. Overall, it takes about 6-7 days for coffee beans to roast. If they are roasted quickly they burn and become very acidic.

Lastly, we all had a chance to grind some green coffee, which was very difficult and we had to use most of our forces. And we also got to see how Ana and Enrique roast coffee using their oven.

Rozhin Sheikhi

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Come Experience the Heart of Gold

For more information on what to expect from the Heart Of Gold Eco Tour follow these links to access video.

Thanks for watching, we hope to see you soon in Costa Rica!

Kaitlyn Atkinson

Bachelor of Tourism Management

Vancouver Island University

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Heart of Gold


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Heart of Gold 2015 Experience


During the month of May, 7 students, including myself, departed for Costa Rica to participate in the Heart of Gold Project. Taking place in the beautiful country side of the Los Santos region, we hiked a 50km eco trail over 10 days from the fertile mountains down to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way we stopped in a number of different villages for wonderfully authentic homestays where we partook in local activities and traditions, visited coffee and fruit farms, and immersed ourselves in Costa Rican culture. Outlined below is a highlight of my experience, accompanied with a village feature to further enhance the experience that was the Los Santos Eco Tour.

I have travelled to Costa Rica before so I was familiar with the country and what to expect upon departing for my field school. I expected sweaty sunny days, humid monsoon-like rains, Imperial beer, and friendly smiling locals living the pura vida lifestyle; but by the end of the 10 day eco tour, my outlook on what I thought I knew to be Costa Rica was forever changed, in the best way possible.

Yes, there were sweaty sunny days, monsoon rains, many Imperials and friendly locals, but there was also so much more than that. Without an understatement, these families opened up their hearts and homes (literally) and invited the 7 students participating on the trip into their lives as if we were family. Speaking no Spanish, other than your basic hola and gracias, it was truly incredible how we were still all able to connect, communicate and have a mutual understanding. The individuals involved with the set up and delivery of the tour are what make it memorable and is the driving force behind what makes you want to go back again and again. The overall feeling of the tour is that of deep pride, care and love. Every moment of the tour, from the home cooked food to the activities planned were always authentic.

The people of Costa Rica were the obvious highlight for me, but another honorable mention would have to be the scenery and natural beauty of the landscape. We hiked through lush, wet ‘jungle’ and more sparse dry forest. There were always different wild flowers and odd looking mushrooms to be found and we even saw a plant that was said to be from prehistoric time. The sounds in the forests were incredibly beautiful.  Our guides were very knowledgeable about the local wildlife and, to say the very least, knew a lot about birds.
I truly believe that I never really appreciate an experience until I am removed from the situation and have time to reflect; such was the case with this trip. I felt honored and humbled at how the families were proud to not only share with us what they had made their life doing, but completely immerse ourselves in the farm culture. With all that in mind, I’m going to highlight one of these farming villages that we were fortunate enough to stay in along our eco tour trek: Copey.

Located about an 1.5 hours from the capital city of San Jose, and our 3rd stop in our journey, Copey instantly became one of my favourite villages we visited.


Local Talent Show

As soon as we arrived in Copey we went ‘into town’ and much to our delighted surprise walked right into a community wide local talent show with singers and bands of all ages! After finishing the show, we headed back to our homestay and spent the evening singing and dancing to the infamous DJ Manny Loco and his mix of Latin music infused with the mega hits from 2009. Copey was home to the most beautiful and the most, how do I put this in a nice way… utterly disgusting beetles and bugs I witnessed the entire trip. Lets start with the most beautiful.. fireflies! At night we would set up our blankets right outside our cabina and watch both fireflies dance above us and lightening roar over the distance mountains. It was one of those surreal moments where you almost need to pinch yourself. On the exact opposite side of that coin were these big flying beetles that seemed to zone in on your hair, face and clothing and literally chase you. Around dinner time everynight in Copey hundreds (I swear!) rhinoceros sized beetles seemed to all plan an attack to fly into our eating quarters and aim straight for hair (where they would get stuck). I may be over exaggerating a little, but these were moments I definitely won’t forget! The real star highlights of Copey were the different fruit and coffee farms we were able to visit.


One farm we were so, so fortunate to visit was the Chinchilla family farm. Greeted with delicious juice and treats we were first given a tour of their farm and then gathered to hear the history of both the Chinchilla family and of the village of Copey.

The other farm we were fortunate enough to was a beautiful fruit farm. Hosting two types of apples, one for eating and one better fit for apple sauce or juice, there were also a wide10351738_10152988635521964_3546773630362285760_n variety of other fruits produced on their farm including: granadilla (passion fruit), and plums. Working closely with the local government and university, the farm was in their first year of testing a new innovative process to create natural fertilizer.

Beginning with 1 Kilo of cooked rice, they were able to extract and cultivate micro-organisms and place them all around the farm to act as a natural fertilizer and compost. Micro-organisms have the potential to replace the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. What was amazing about this process was the fact that they only needed to extract these micro-organisms one time, yet were able to duplicate this process, and ensure a life-time amount of sustainable fertilizer for the entire farm. The farm currently uses a 90 % natural and 10% chemical fertilizing process and is hoping to move toward totalmente orgánico.


I always find I can never truly appreciate an experience (especially travel) while I’m actually living it; it’s always weeks or months later when you take the time to look at pictures or recall memories from that trip where you get to reflect and see the real beauty behind the moments; such was the case with my journey on the Los Santos Eco Tour. The intimate connections made with the families involved with the tour are what make this tour memorable, unforgettable and different than any experience I’ve ever had before.  To say the least, this was a beautiful journey both in scenery and spirit and for anyone wanting to partake on an authentic experience and be a part of something bigger than yourself; this is the tour for you.


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Heart of Gold 2015- Day 5 Fundación Nubotrópica

The Heart of Gold project was an unforgettable experience that I really need to share! David our professor on charge of the Heart of Gold project assigned each of us a day of the tour to take notes and pictures and I was assigned the fifth day. Therefore I’ll share a bit of the knowledge that I gained and what our fifth day looked like. Towards the end of the blog I share a bit of my overall wonderful experience.

On the fifth day of the tour we were in Fundacion Nubotropica, located in Santa Maria de Dota where we had a beautiful panorama. During the morning we visited one of Fernando’s farm where he cultivates chicken, pigs, coffee, and different vegetables. Fernando, the president of the FAALS is an amazing, fun person and a very talented singer. He has a wealth of knowledge about the history of the area and tons of stories that he loves to share. On our way to the farm, Fernando showed us a plant called “Higuerilla” and explained that it’s a plant that was used a lot of years ago to make biodiesel and it was used as a source for lighting. Currently it is being sold at a cost of $6 per kg, which works as coffee shadow revenue. There are experiments being done with the plant trying to produce sunscreen.


From left to right: Harry, a HofG student originally from India, then Don fernando explaining about Higuerilla plant, and finally Tom our awesome tour guide!

Fernando also shared with us that 30 years ago; there was a problem with the coffee harvest because flies laid their eggs on the coffee. The cooperative of Santa Maria de Dota keep experimenting different organic ways by treating the plants with calcium to avoid flies laying eggs. Worms were used before to compost but they figured that calcium speeds up the process. Fernando’s farm also partners with the local seed bank where they keep seeds that are in danger of extinction. Afterwards we helped filling up compost bags for coffee plants.


The team helping to fill bags of compost for coffee plants.

Each of us had the opportunity to plant coffee and they also showed us the coffee trees that previous students from the Heart of Gold team have planted in previous years. It was encouraging to know that if we go back our coffee trees would still be there and I would love to come back and see the growth progress.


Valeria (myself) planting a coffee tree and Don Fernando helping.

After our hands on experience, the wonderful stories, and interesting information at Fernando’s farm we went to Julio’s house where we helped prepare a delicious lunch, and we had great conversations, and a delightful time.



The group and the families having a delicious meal and a great time at Julio’s house.

Afterwards, one of their friends came and showed us the process of how to make the traditional baskets to collect coffee which in some places they are still currently used. He started making the basket from scratch with strings of wood from a type of tree that we had seen during our hikes. A total of 16 branches are needed to make a basket. It was a cool experience followed by a tasty snack and of course we would not skip the fresh organic coffee that I will always miss.


This gentleman was showing us the process of how to make a basket to collect coffee from scratch.

After this lovely afternoon we went back to Nubotropica, and to top it all off, we had a beautiful evening where all the families we had met came together to Fundacion Nubotropica and made a barbeque. They made a huge bonfire and we had a blast dancing with the families and the kids. At the end of the day a lot of emotions came together since it was the last time we would see some of the families and it turned a little sad, but I am very grateful that we had the chance to meet them and share great moments. The hardest part for me was seeing my two beautiful angels for the last time. All the kids that we met were the most pure and joyful kids that will steal your heart since the first time you meet them.


Myself with my two beautiful angels. The most adorable kids ever!

After all those wonderful memories, beautiful places, everlasting friendships I think there aren’t any reasons not to go back. It was unique experience for me that totally changed my perspective. Meeting the most humble loving people makes you appreciate the little things that sometimes we take for granted. Rather than us contributing to them they contributed a lot more to our lives.


Last group picture of the team with FAALS.

Last but not least the diversity of our group also made this trip very special by sharing our different traditions and perspectives. There were seven of us and we had people from India, Mexico, Iran, Poland, and of course Canada, which made our experience so unique and fun. We did not only make lovely friendships with the families in Costa Rica but we also made friendships within our group that would last forever. The entire trip was a once in a lifetime experience and I would not change any tiny piece of it. Pura Vida!!!!


The Heart of Gold team 2015 in Manuel Antonio (missing Amy).

Valeria Robles

4th Year Student- Bachelor Tourism Management.

Vancouver Island University.




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The Heart of Gold Eco-Tour, 2015

My field school experience with the Heart of Gold project in Costa Rica was both exactly what I expected, and nothing like I expected; they sound like contradictions but I assure you they are both completely possible. Let me explain…

What I expected:

Like most everyone who’s heard the name “Costa Rica” I associated the country with three things, coffee, adventure, and beautiful natural landscapes. Of course Costa Rica delivered on both fronts, excellent coffee made by the locals and a landscape so diverse for such a small country. I wouldn’t call the country mountainous… it certainly wasn’t flat but the closest things to mountains were volcanoes and the “mountains” are hills that cover the whole country and create a feeling of separation the moment you start to drive through them. Beautiful beaches, great waves, winding roads that scream road trip… whats not to love? Costa Rica was made for adventure, the hot and humid weather mixed with the diversity of both Pacific and Caribbean oceans and terrain that just was never the same. Lets not forget the animals, seeing a sloth, and not just one but many was a highlight, as well as monkeys, bats, and many small bugs that I’m okay not seeing again. Your adventure is Costa Rica can be anything you want it to be, if your into the beach, drinks, and the pool that’s just fine, if your into caving, rafting, hiking, bungee jumping, zip lining, and surfing, plenty of that too. Bars, restaurants, museums… you name it, Costa Rica has it.


Before I left for Costa Rica the Heart of Gold project was a relatively abstract idea to me of hiking, meeting new people, and as Dave frequently mentioned, bird watching, however the trip was so much more than I expected and that’s where we come to the second part of this blog… what I didn’t expect.

What I Didn’t Expect:

You expect new people to be friendly, but not overly friendly, or at least that’s the common North American experience when meeting new people; Costa Ricans and the families that are part of the tour are simply phenomenal people. These people work so hard, for often very little but are not at all unhappy. Everyone on the tour was welcomed with hugs, hellos, and of course dinner. I can say that meeting new people who are genuinely interested in communicating and getting to know you is a refreshing experience in today’s world. Of course the families had cell phones and electronics but their lives were for the most part about community, friends, and love. Being with the families in Costa Rica life seemed so simple, far from the worries and fast paced (often stressful) lives we tend to have. As a frequent traveller I know its common to meet fellow travellers who genuinely want to connect but its less common to find all the locals that friendly as well; Costa Ricans genuinely want to share their lives with you, and that is precious.


About The Tour:

The tour takes place over about 10 days and includes a 50km hike over those 10 days (trust me its manageable). Hiking through old trails connecting the Los Santos villages you are privy to paths that few outsiders know about or have ever travelled. Each day of hiking begins with a filling and usually excellent breakfast (for those who love coffee, there is coffee usually 3 times a day) and the receipt of a packed lunch for the trail prepared by the family you have stayed with. The hike is usually 4-6 hours and ends or begins with a drive in the bus to or from a trailhead. Lunch happens when a particularly scenic spot on the trail is found and includes about a half hour break. Once reaching the next village you meet the next family and get comfortable in your room (usually dorm, or cottage style lodging). Snacks and dinner should come shortly. Each day has one or several pre planned activities by your host family and should showcase something particular about that region or village. Days in between hikes are relax, bonding, and activity days.


Should You Go:

This tour taught me about farming, food, cooking, and myself. You come away with so many connections to people you cant help to want to meet again, you leave with a lighter heart and a better understanding of why those who live in Costa Rica have been ranked as some of the happiest in the world. If your looking for the real deal, no fluff, home cooked meals, a unique place to sleep and an even more unique way of seeing the country then absolutely this trip is for you. For someone who is visiting Costa Rica just for the tour this tour will make you want to come back for longer next time, and for those who are making the tour a small part of their Costa Rican adventure I can promise it will be the most memorable part of your stay. I suggest being a part of the Heart of Gold, live the life of adventure. Pura Vida (pure life).


Kaitlyn Atkinson

Bachelor of Tourism Management Student

Vancouver Island University


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Becca’s 3 Highlights

            For the month of May 2014, I had my second field school experience with VIU, this time in Costa Rica for the Heart of Gold project. This year’s field school was incredible. It was such an unbelievable experience. There were moments that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I feel so lucky to have experienced everything I did. From start to finish it was amazing, but there were three things that stood out to me more than anything else: the people, the scenery, and the project itself. I am going to expand on each of them.

The first one that I am going to talk about is the people. I have met my share of people around the world, but I have never met people that are so welcoming before. I thought that Canadians were hospitable, but we have nothing on Costa Ricans. Each and everyone I met greeted us with open arms and took all of us in like we were their own families. Part of the project was for us to get to know the families and they made it extremely easy to do that. These people have the biggest hearts out of all the people I have encountered. I have made connections that will last a lifetime. After only meeting them for a short period of time, without hesitation, I can say that I have gained so many family members. These people are the most beautiful people inside and out. I will admit that I have a family oriented mind, but Costa Ricans are so wonderfully amazing! Everyday I am not with them, I will be thinking of them for sure.

Speaking of people, I am a firm believer that the people you are actually travelling with can make or break your trip. I seriously could not have picked out a better group of people to share this adventure. Each and every one of the 9 others I was travelling with have their own unique and lovely personalities. All of them were so accepting of one another. When we needed encouragement from each other, we always knew what to do. Everyone truly had a heart of gold!

Secondly, the scenery! Before I left I had numerous people telling me how beautiful Costa Rica is. I have seen my fair share of beautiful places, but this country does not even come close to comparing to any of them. There were times when my breath was actually taken away, because of the pure beauty that surrounded me. I even had to pinch myself to make sure I was actually alive to witness the beauty. Starting 3500 metres above sea level and ending right at the Pacific Ocean, we got to experience all different terrains. Sometimes the views were in a location where you could see 360 degrees with mountains on one side and the ocean on the other side, or in a place being sheltered by huge green luscious trees. I took some pictures, but they certainly do not do this place justice.

Last, but not least, the project. I had heard about this project ever since I entered first year in the tourism program at VIU. However, it was not until this past fall that I got really interested. I knew it was a life changing experience for some, but now I am part of that group of people. I know why this project is called the heart of gold. I got to experience more then I could have ever imagined. The project has so much love, support, and joy. I seriously have nothing bad to say about it. During the second day of hiking, I felt an overwhelming amount of love pass through me. All the people that I was with at that moment made me feel so comfortable and welcoming. It also had to do with knowing how many different people had taken this same journey previously and how they had stepped on the path before me. Hearing all the stories about how this trail came to be made me realize how the land itself has had so much love. Experiencing all three of those things made tears fall, happy tears and I am so grateful for them. Now that I know how much the project can change my life, I have made a promise to the land and to the people and to myself that I will return next year. As I was leaving the country, I did not say goodbye Costa Rica, I said hasta luego (see you later)! Muchos Gracias (many thanks)!

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Nichola’s Video Blog – The 2013 Heart of Gold Experience

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The Heart of Gold Project Eco-Trail by Jonny Bierman

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Looking into the Future Con Mucho Gusto

The Heart of Gold team successfully piloted the 8-day Eco tour traveling through the cloud forest in five different Los Santos communities. The journeys consisted of many culturally educational experiences, quality community bonding, and plenty of opportunity for mobilizing knowledge. The team was hard at work all May working in the field by hosting and going to meetings, a SWOT Workshop, mini meetings among the group, a presentation with a Los Santos school, upgrading the Heart of Gold website, translating documents, working on daily and weekly blogs, and making deep rooted connections with our host families.

Next year the project has already gathered a rather large list of action items that must be addressed. The agenda looks a little like this:
– Run one last pilot tour under the training of Thomas (the avid bird watcher/ Rainforest Alliance Member) potentially in February.
– Have people from the Heart of Gold Project (VIU students and/or FAALS) to make an appearance at Earth University as well as meet with Rainforest Alliance for capacity building.
– Start on a marketing plan. Find groups to market and promote the tour through as well as set up volunteer expeditions through one of the projects partners.
– Find more funding. Applying for grants and competitions such as this years g-project are always on the go. If you have not heard already, the Heart of Gold Project was issued in the online news paper called matador network as one of the top 10 projects that are going to change the world! Click here to see the article.
– Creating a blue print of the 8-day tour.
– Connecting with other volunteer groups in the Los Santos area to help with project tasks.
– If the trails are re-done and the tour is ready to go, look into creating a project expansion plan.
– Then create a 5-year vision plan for the trail.
Con mucho gusto (with great pleasure), is a very popular saying in Costa Rica. People say it when they meet someone new and to say thank you (de nada) for something. This is a word that personally stands out to me, as this visit has been- very pleasurable working on this project. Now coming to a close on our 2013 mission to Costa Rica, the trip has proven to be a successful progression. With still a bit of work ahead of us to go, we are well on our way to running an official tourist packed tour for 2014.
The learning curb has been immense this cooperative education. This project was a great reminder of the importance of connectivity. The stresses of our world sometimes take the pleasure out of human interaction. Human interaction and relationships are vital in anyone’s life they promote inspiration, idea building, trust and lifelong friendships. So take the time to converse and network, get to know your community and contribute to the bigger picture. Thanks for following us through our 2013 Costa Rican Heart of Gold excursions. Pura Vida folks. Stay tuned for next year’s adventures!

¡Con Mucho gusto!

The Test Pilot Crew on Day 1 of the Hike!

Written by:Jennifer Dorby

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