My husband and I immediately knew that after our first visit to Rancho Margot in El Castillo, this friendly, beautiful place was one that high school students would enjoy. We were so impressed with this ecologically aware and sustainability-conscious ranch we knew the trip would be eye-opening and informative on many levels.
So, on June 18, through the generosity of the newly formed GA XP (Germantown Academy Experience) Program, off we went with 18 students from grades 10 through 12. Although our travel day was long and tiring, with a lengthy flight and four-hour bus ride, our arrival at the ranch immediately made us forget the exhaustion.
The next morning, we were up at 6, readying ourselves for 7 a.m. yoga on a beautiful covered porch on the river, followed by an unusual breakfast of rice and beans, along with the expected American choices. From that day on, the students had morning as well as afternoon workshops with staff members, learning about soap- and cheesemaking and farming practices, as well as milking cows and holding adorable piglets. We even had a session with the owner of the ranch, Juan Sostheim, who told us about the circuitous route that brought him to create Rancho Margot. Throughout the week, members of the staff, no matter their jobs, often sat down with us to eat (the food was all grown or raised on the ranch), telling us about their countries of origin, their lives, and their reasons for working at the ranch.
The students not only had opportunities to perform some chores on the property — they enjoyed the benefits of the ranch, hiking along trails to watch the sunrise over the volcano (at 4 a.m.), swimming in a freshwater pool, and riding horseback along Lake Arenal in the rain. In El Castillo, they went zip-lining through the canopy of the rain forest and kayaking in the lake. A guided tour of a nearby butterfly conservatory and sightseeing in La Fortuna were additional highlights of our trip. One impromptu activity was a soccer game with teams composed of local elementary school students, the Rancho Margot staff, and our GA students. It was a joy to watch, and no one knew or cared which side won.
There were so many positive, rewarding moments of this adventure, too many to name. The most wonderful outcome of the trip, however, was the obvious appreciation and wide-eyed wonder the students had for Costa Rica and its people. Their daily journal entries revealed what a true learning experience this trip was for them, teaching them about the beauty of other countries and cultures, and the imperative to do what is necessary to protect the earth for future generations. The students did not want to leave, and our departure was sad, indeed. With long goodbyes and promises to return, we hopped on our bus for our journey home.