Assessment of the Rancho Mastatal Community
Starting in the mid 1980s Costa Rica was one of the first countries to realize the possibilities of ecotourism. In the early1990s Costa Rica jumped ahead of older nature travel destinations such as the Galapagos Islands, Kenya and Nepal as the “number one ecotourism destination in the world” (Honey, 2003). In contrast to massive tourism in Mexico and the Caribbean, Costa Rica encourages construction of small, locally-owned hotels, and links tourism with environmental protection (Honey, 2003).
An ally of environmental protection, ecotourism encompasses minimizing of ecological and cultural consequences as well as contributes to conservation, environmental education, and advancing political consciousness. Rancho Mastatal, located in the town of Mastatal in Central Costa Rica, is an excellent example of the aforementioned tourism that provides true ecotourism as defined by the Ecotourism Society. Coined in 1991 the Society’s definition reads, “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well being of local people” (Honey, 1998).
Rancho Mastatal is a sustainable living center offering lodging, environmental learning and volunteer opportunities. Surrounded by heavily forested undeveloped property the lodging and learning facilities of Rancho Mastatal are an exceptional destination for the conscientious traveler. “[The Ranch] encompasses 300 plus acres of picture perfect waterfalls, crystal clear rivers, and impressive trees in one of Costa Rica’s most undiscovered regions” (Rancho Mastatal, 2005). Welcoming to volunteers, students, interns and travelers the Ranch is host to memorable experiences grounded in a unique strength of community. Guest work and live among likeminded compassionate people while participating in a manner of living that respects, enhances and protects nature.
As an ecotourism facility, Rancho Mastatal is more then a vacation destination or hotel; it is a welcoming community. This paper will discuss what qualities make Rancho Mastatal a community versus merely an ecotourism accommodation. Additionally the communal qualities of the Ranch will be used as determinants to measure the strength of the community. Lastly appreciating Rancho Mastatal as uniquely special, this paper attempts to identify and credit what and who, compose what is a truly kindred community.
Before attempting to analyze the community of Rancho Mastatal I have first defined the community. The concept of community can be as simple as whom and what surrounds us – that is, the environment we inhabit. Merriam Webster defines community as, “unified body of individuals, people with common interest living in a particular area; broadly: the area itself” (Webster’s Dictionary, 2005). However, once we see community as simply what and who surround us, we make a profound division between it and ourselves. We give up the understanding that we and our environment create one another, depend on one another, and are literally part of one another. Our land passes in and out of our bodies just as our bodies pass in and out of our land. We and our land are part of one another. Community encompasses all who are living as a part of one another which includes humans, plants and animals. Community cannot possibly flourish alone; therefore I define the Rancho Mastatal community as locale interactions of diverse populations and various species.
METHODS AND MATERIALS
In effort to understand Rancho Mastatal’s community I have read guest book entries looking for common language which describe qualities of the Ranch. I found four repeated key viewpoints – hospitality, a desire to return to Rancho Mastatal in the future, personal growth and/or change, and feeling a connection of community. I read through 258 guest book entries noting the frequency of these key qualities. The 258 entries are from two different books. The first book has 69 entries, the second has 189 entries. In total I found 253 expressions of any one of these four qualities. A numerical breakdown of their frequency is detailed below in Graph I, labeled Key Word Entries.
To analyze the community of Rancho Mastatal I compare the key qualities, as defined by the guest books, to Table I taken from Kibel and Stein-Seroussi’s Effective community mobilization: Lessons from experience. Table I exhibits five indicators of both strong and week communities. Table II places Rancho Mastatal where it best coincides within Table I. Evaluating the placement of Rancho Mastatal’s communal qualities within Table I (Table II), I define the Ranch’s strength of community according to Kibel and Stein-Seroussi’s classification.
For Graph I, Key Word Entries, I used Microsoft Excel to compute and create the graph. The numerical data was pulled in July of 2005 from guest books provided by the Ranch owners; Tim O’Hara and Robin Nunes.
Table I, is from the book Effective community mobilization: Lessons from experience credited in the literature cited section of this paper.
Qualities Contributing to the Strength of Community at Rancho Mastatal
Series 1 is the first guest book with 69 entries. Series 2 is the second guest book with 189 entries. Column 1 is hospitality. Column 2 is a desire to return to Rancho Mastatal in the future. Column 3 is personal growth and/or change. Column 4 is feeling a connection of community. Of the total 258 entries 98% had some mention of any one of the four key qualities. 26 % express hospitality. 33% express a desire to return. 27% express personal growth and/or change. 14% express feeling a connection of community. The range of distribution of the four qualities is 20, all are within the curve of normal distribution; there is no significant outlier. In light of the four qualities having similar substantial frequency of occurrences in the guest books, I accept all four as contributing to the strength of community at Rancho Mastatal. These qualities are now then compared with So and So’s table.
Table I (Kibel et al, 1997)
Below in bold I place the four key qualities of the Rancho Mastatal community into Kibel and Stein-Seroussi’s table (Table I). Excerpts from guest book entries accompany the key qualities as supportive data.
Table I Adapted to Appropriate Community Qualities of Rancho Mastatal
Five out of five rows in the Strong column correspond to Rancho Mastatal’s key communal qualities and guest book entries. Only one out of five rows in the Weak column suite the Ranch’s key communal qualities and guest book entries. From these numbers I conclude, as hypothesized, that Rancho Mastatal is a strong community.
Members of the community - including all guest, past and present, animals, and the surrounding ecological diversity – are to be credited with contributing to strength of the community. However, special attention should be given to the founders, owners, and operators; Tim O’Hara and Robin Nunes, long-term volunteer Roger, frequent visitor and educator Tom McDonald, residents of Mastatal, the always welcoming Pico and Mangy, the beautiful and mystical forest that unites the community of Rancho Mastatal. There may have been, and my still be, others to add to this list.
Rancho Mastatal community members create the qualities that define it as a strong community. It is the visitors of the past and the guest of tomorrow that participate in the practices that define the community as a way of life. Rancho Mastatal’s commitment to sustainable community living is beyond ecotourism and differentiates Rancho Mastatal as a unique and special dwelling.
Considerations for Further Studies
Having only collected data from the guest books did not include all guest and visitors of the Ranch, nor did it include all the human guest and visitors of the Ranch. Additionally the guest book entries lend way to bias because the guest book does not serve as an evaluation survey asking for both positive and negative feedback. As a recommendation I suggest polling the community members/guest with a survey asking for a range of feedback. Although the guest book entries do provide insight into the feel of the community of Rancho Mastatal I would consider broadening the data set to include a variety of data sources.
This paper did not detail activities of the Ranch or aspects of community members that help to create the key qualities and strength of the community. Defining and understanding the community of Rancho Mastatal is in no way complete, much like the list of contributing members of the community.
Honey, M. (2003). Giving a grade to Costa Rica’s green tourism [Electronic version]. NACLA Report on the Americas, 36(6), 39.
Honey, M. (1998). Ecotourism and sustainable development: Who owns paradise? Oakland, CA: Island Press.
Kibel, B., Stein-Seroussi, A. (1997). Effective community mobilization: Lessons from the past. Rockville, MD: Health and Human Service Department.
Rancho Mastatal. (2005). About Rancho Mastatal. Retrieved August 20, 2005. From http://www.ranchomastatal.com
Silva, E. (2003). Selling sustainable development and shortchanging social ecology in Costa Rican forest policy [Electronic version]. Latin American Politics and Society, 45(3), 93.
Webster’s Dictionary. (2005). Community. Retrieved August 20, 2005. From http://www.webster.com