THIS IS WHAT RANCHO LEONA LOOKED LIKE:
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. This was set in a tiny village surrounded by dense jungle.
BUT IT WOULD BE ‘HOME’ FOR A LONG TIME!
Most of the time the Sarapiqui River flowed innocently next to the Rancho and provided swimming playing and diving fun for all the children of the village.
My children’s wore floaties and swimsuits, The locals had never seen a floatie and would not dream of owning a swimsuit. They would just jump in with sports clothes. I don’t have a picture of those swims but this picture is like a memory come back to me.
As wonderful as the river was, it could become a raging torrent at a moment’s notice. It often came roaring within a cat’s whisker of our kitchen and you could hear the rumbling sounds of rocks clashing against each other and see logs and even cattle floating by as the river suddenly became the color of chocolate.
There was only one road to get to Sarapiqui from San Jose and it took six hours by bus over what looked like an old river bed. Often there was more than one bridge out along the road and we would have to clamber off one public bus onto another waiting bus on the other side of the river after crossing a log that had been put where the bridge had been.
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 entrepreneurs at that! in the years to come we did an assortment of things to stay afloat.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS BORN!
First Rancho 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 for several weeks and was the first to run the Pozo Azul Waterfall.
Roger was followed by countless other kayakers throughout the years to kayak over the Pozo Azul Waterfall.
Soon my husband, Ken Upcraft, started buying kayaks and river gear from passing tourists and he developed an easy ‘class one’ trip for tourists, down the Sarapiqui River. He called it ‘Kayak Jungle Tours.’
KAYAK JUNGLE TOURS A FLOAT FOR BEGINNERS
The kayak tours began. Experienced 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 like the Toro Amarillo and the Sucio, with class 4/5 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 offered our products to the guests. My children earned their spare money waiting on tables and helping with the crafts.
I designed stained glass pieces, T-shirts and jewelry (Seeds and Beads). The whole family helped run the lodge and take care of the guests. Our stained glass pieces eventually went international as we sold custom windows to people from different countries. My husband, a master craftsman and musician did the glass work and I created the custom patterns.
Along with running an eco-business, we served great food and customer care to our collection of adventure tourists.
COMMUNITY OUTREACH AND TEACHING
Along with the Rancho Leona business, I became a mentor for the villagers and did a lot of community outreach. I taught EFL 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 who said:
“…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.
I still go back to Sarapiqui to see my old friends an help with community activities. Recently
WOULD YOU LIKE TO HELP GIVE BACK SOMETHING OF LASTING VALUE TO THIS AMAZING COMMUNITY?