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Rancho Leona
La Virgen de Sarapiqui, Heredia, Costa Rica

MY CHILDREN GREW UP AS PART OF RANCHO LEONA

The back side of the original Rancho Leona building is still standing and still crumbling at the edges

When I first went to Sarapiqui, the ‘Rancho’ was a rambling old building; creaky floors; night sounds from crickets, toads, opossum and bats. Amazing frog concerts serenaded us every night; boa constrictors slithered into the kitchen, wrapping themselves along the rafters and it was a nightly adventure just getting to the outhouse and shower. And….

IT WOULD BE ‘HOME’ FOR A LONG TIME!

Getting to Sarapiqui from San Jose (capital of Costa Rica), took six hours. The road was like an old riverbed, full of rocks and gullies. The bus ride (often standing room only), was very bumpy. The bus would wind through lush  jungle, pass by steep drops and maneuver around hairpin turns. Breath taking waterfalls and giant leaves were witness to the occasional tourist.

EVERY LEAF WAS PREGNANT WITH THE SMELL OF RAIN!

Bridges got washed out, forcing us to get off the bus, walk across a log and pile into another bus, waiting on the other side. Once swollen rivers subsided, bridges could be repaired for the next buses and cars.

WHERE WERE ALL THESE PASSENGERS GOING?
They were traveling to homes in villages along the Sarapiqui River! 

Breathtaking Sights
Swollen Rivers

ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS BORN! 

The Sarapiqui flowed innocently next to the Rancho but could become a raging torrent at a moments notice. It often came within a cat’s whisker of entereing our kitchen!

Earning a living was not easy in a town like La Virgen de Sarapiqui. You had to be Jack of all trades. There was no choice but to be entrepreneurs. ECLECTIC at that! In the years to come we did an assortment of things to stay afloat.

First Rancho Leona was a place to lodge and eat. Eventually it became an international tourist destination for backpackers, adventure seekers, birdwatchers and ecology lovers. Only very adventuresome people came to this remote area. A young German brought his kayak, stayed at the Rancho and was the first to run the Pozo Azul Waterfall. Roger was followed by countless other kayakers in the years to come.  

Kayaking down the Pozo Azul Waterfall

Soon my husband, Ken Upcraft, started buying kayaks and developed an easy ‘class one’ trip for tourists, down the Sarapiqui River. ‘Kayak Jungle ToursbeganExperienced kayakers from around the world started coming to Rancho Leona and bringing their own kayaks. They were experts looking to kayak the Sarapiqui and other rivers with class 4 and 5 rapids.

We added other services for tourists, making their stay at Rancho Leona memorable. We made arts and crafts to decorate the old building and offers our products to the guests. 

 

KAYAK JUNGLE TOURS A FLOAT FOR BEGINNERS 

I designed the stained glass pieces, T-shirts, and jewelry (Seeds and Beads). The whole family helped put together the stained glass which eventually went international. My husband, a master craftsman and musician did the glass work. Along with running an eco-business, we served great food and provided awesome service to our collection of international adventure tourists.

COMMUNITY OUTREACH AND TEACHING

Indian legend presented at Selva Verde Lodge 

Along with the Rancho Leona business, I became a mentor for the villagers and did a lot of community outreach. I taught EFL ABOUT LEONA to many of the villagers in Sarapiqui, and later did theater with students. I wrote plays which involved environmental, cultural and historic awareness. We had exchange activities with visiting high school students from USA. All this work was life changing for many of my students as well as community members. As one of my students says:

I thought Leona’s art classes were the best, like when we went to Doña Elba’s and Mechi’s where we’d sketch flowers, landscapes and fruit. I especially remember the theater group, and the plays we did at Selva Verde with the script she wrote about protecting nature…

Cindy Porras, Grecia, Costa Rica Manager, Tamarindo Transfers and Tours

Another student says: “…I think of you often and am so thankful for everything you did for me. You really inspired me in my love for languages and cultures, which led me to where I am now. So many kids (now adults) from Sarapiqui have become successful individuals because you believed in us. I hope I can see you again one day.”

Lorna Fair, Tham Spanish Teacher, Marietta, Georgia

I also wrote and produced a major puppet play for  children at risk.  The project was sponsored by ‘Fundación Ser y Crecer’ and the play toured all over Costa Rica helping children deal with or denounce sex abuse. 

Additionally, I was a guest lecturer at Selva Verde Lodge for Elder Hostel groups. This was  sponsored by Friends for the University of Peace in Santa Ana, Costa Rica. I would promote the community to the groups and even managed to get a scholarship for one of my students: 

“…I also had the opportunity to go to the States as a Rotary exchange student, which was a life-changing experience. Thank you, Leona, for helping me not only academically but in every single way you could. I’ve not had another opportunity like that one with her. But one thing I know, if I ever have the opportunity to help someone (like you did me), I will!”

~Yazmín Menjivar Miranda, now English teacher at Liberty Christian Academy Costa Rica

My wide experience developing curricula and teaching EFL to biologists, engineers, bankers and local organizations gave birth to my ‘Deep Roots of English program for which I offer presentations and workshops as well as my upcoming book to help ESL/EFL teachers worldwide preserve the world’s bridge language (Lingua Franca). I eventually left Sarapiqui and became an international lecturer and teacher trainer but I owe a lot of my expertise to my years at Rancho Leona in La Virgen de Sarapiqui, Costa Rica. 

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