Costa Rica GREEN Program: Day 6 (1/13/14)

8:30 am – Water Safari

11am – Las Pumas. wildlife rehabilitation center

noon – lunch

2pm – Taboga Sugar Cane Plant Visit

4pm – Ice cream (We were hungry and it was hot…also, ice cream)

6pm – Snacks (did we mention we were hungry?) and tour of Viggo’s house

Once again I found myself being the seemingly anti-environmental asshole questioning skeptic. I am an environmentalist. But among other environmentalists, I am the critic.

Viggo’s house was gorgeous – one story with large, open rooms – designed almost like you had never left the US suburbs. But obviously there were several glaring differences. His backyard looked out onto a beautiful, hilly, Costa Rican landscape. He had built the house himself, and local trees twisting from floor to ceiling had become integrated into the architecture. And he was entirely off the grid, thanks to a wind-turbine, a handful of solar panels, and lots of batteries.

My biggest issue? Being off the grid is not inherently “better” or “eco-friendly”: you lose so much energy from charging and discharging batteries that it is normally much more efficient (and therefore sustainable) to hook your solar panels directly to the grid. My questioning brought out the reveal that he would have had to pay ICE for the power lines to his house.  At roughly $1million/mile, that’s not cheap. Economics, I understand.

My second biggest issue (sort of spawned from the first)? It is so much more environmentally friendly (land footprint, CO2 emissions from driving, etc) to live in a city than taking up all this land in the middle of nowhere. Check yoselves, ex-pats.

As stubbornly opinionated as I am, I did really like the house. Viggo’s former occupation was a chef in Norway with little formal education. He built he and his wife and children an amazing life. With no technical background, he built a house. He read up on how to do everything and learned the rest from trial and error. I can barely assemble a shelf from Walmart and he built a house. There must have been so much practical, seemingly mundane, but utterly fascinating knowledge that he had that I would have loved to absorb and add to my own projects. His anecdotes on wordplay and red tape, and meshing in with new cultures at the local bar were both hilarious and telling of his true nature and brilliance, despite the constant self-deflation that we were all smarter than him. I was torn at the message of if I can do this, everyone can – because no, not everyone can retire and build their own house in Costa Rica – but you can handle the scary unknown with a combination of giant leaps and baby steps.

9pm – Dinner, finally (though I was full from the snacks, and the dinner was something fancy my 5 year old pallet couldn’t handle)