Brief Guide for Brigades
Program Regional Affiliates of Occidente (San Ramón), Pacífico Central (Esparza), Cartago, Península de Nicoya, Monteverde, and Alajuela
National Director José Pedro Sánchez Gómez
Physical Address

Hábitat para la Humanidad – Costa Rica

500 mts norte del Hospital, casa amarilla a mano izquierda con rótulo de Hábitat

San Ramón, Alajuela Costa Rica, América Central
Telphone

Brigade Coordinator

Tel/fax       011-(506) 447-2330 / 447-1272 / 447-1274

Elizabeth Ervin,e-mail:hphcrbrigades@yahoo.com                                 

Climate

The climate in Costa Rica varies. We have two seasons: summer (January-April) is very dry and winter (the rest of the year) is rainy. Rainy season follow the general pattern of being sunny in the mornings, with rain in the afternoons. October and November tend to see the most rain. Also, during the months of December and January it is generally very windy, and nights can be very cool in the highlands. The weather in Esparza and Nicoya is very warm year-round.

Costs

Brigade leaders are asked to bring a cashier's check with them that includes $30 per person per day that the brigade will be working with Habitat. This cost covers transportation to and from the airport, lodging, breakfast, dinner, and transportation to and from the site each day.

 Lodging

Habitat for Humanity Costa Rica will determine the best lodging option and inform the leader, giving thought to the size and needs of the group.

HOTEL: There are simple hotels (hostel), with rooms for 2, 3, or 4 people. There are also rooms with double beds. There are rooms with private baths and some rooms share a bathroom. The hotels normally provide towels and bedding, though the brigade coordinator will let you know well in advance if not. Hotels are provided in Esparza, Monteverde and Nicoya.

FUNDACION ESPRIT/EL SERÁFICO: (Only for groups going to San Ramón and Alajuela) These two installations are similar. One is a former boarding school for the deaf, with dorm-style rooms and a large dining-meeting room. The other is a brand new Catholic retreat center, with similar dining and meeting rooms. You will need to bring your own towels to these facilities.

FAMILY HOMESTAY: Many families are eager to participate in a cultural exchange with brigade members from other countries. These families provide not only breakfast, dinner, and a bed for those lodging with them, but also an interesting insight into Costa Rican culture.  *This is only an option for brigades of 8 people or less.

Transportation to the site

Daily transportation to the site will be arranged by HFH-CR:

Brigade members staying at hotels or with families may either take public transportation (bus or taxi) or walk (20 - 30 minutes) to the construction sites. Under many circumstances transport will be provided.Private transportation in the form of tourist buses may be arranged ahead of time for excursions at the expense of the team.For the brigade members staying at the Fundación Esprit and El Seráfico, we would need to provide private transportation to get them to the construction site in the morning and return to the facility in the afternoon. It is possible to hire the same company to make trips into town at night if necessary, though this would be at the expense of the team. There are also taxi and public bus services, which run sporadically.

Meals

For those not staying in a hotel, breakfast and dinner will be prepared by local volunteers and committee members. For breakfast we will eat typical Costa Rican food, such as eggs, rice and beans, sour cream, bread, coffee, tea, etc. For dinner, we will have “casado”, which is a typical dish made up of rice, beans, accompanied by chopped mixed vegetables or meat, eggs or meat, and salad. *Lunch is not included in the daily fee.

The brigade leader will do the grocery shopping–perhaps bread, cheese, soda and fruit for lunches. Lunches should be made the night before, with the brigade leader assigning preparation duty! A cooler will be lent to the group to take to the site daily. If anyone has special dietary needs, please let us know ahead of time. Remember that vegetarianism is not the norm in these countries, but simple requests for no beef or pork can be easily honored. Special meals cannot be prepared. Costa Ricans drink water directly from the tap. Bottled water is available in supermarkets should anyone feel uncomfortable drinking tap water, though ALL WATER IS TREATED AND SAFE TO DRINK.

Construction

The Habitat houses in Costa Rica are 48-51 square meters (6m x 8m or 8m x 6m). Houses are built of concrete block and re-bar, sheet metal roofing and smooth cement floors. The interior walls are made of Fibrolit (fiber-cement) with wood framing. Houses in Peninsula Nicoya are also stuccoed inside. The house is divided into: livingroom/dining-room/kitchen, two or three bedrooms and bathroom. 

The housing style in Monteverde is a semi-prefabricated system called Habicón. Please see Afiliado de Monteverde, above, for more details. When you arrive, you may help the recipient families build their septic tanks and drainage systems, dig, and lay the floors, lay concrete block and re-bar for walls, or help put on roofs. You may not see the entire house constructed while you are on your brigade, but the work you do will provide greatly needed help for the homeowners. The support and example you give will continue to motivate them after you have gone.
What should you bring?

Here are some suggestions:

WORK CLOTHES: Bring jeans, or better, quick-drying long pants for the work sites, (almost no dryers are available and you will have to rely on sun-drying), and shorts, t-shirts, light weight long-sleeve shirts, work shoes if possible as many of the sites are muddy, gloves, hats. (NOTE: Habitat Affiliate t-shirts ($10), baseball caps and fanny packs ($7) and key rings ($2), will be available for purchase).

CASUAL CLOTHES: We recommend bringing a light-weight jacket for the evenings, even on the coast, light-weight dresses, shorts, shirts, and any quick-drying clothes. A lightweight raincoat is helpful most of the year. *Cultural note: You will not generally see Costa Rica women in shorts.  

FIRST AID ITEMS: You should bring lots of sunblock WITH A HIGH SPF (the sun is very intense here), hand lotion, and insect repellent. Remember your prescription medicines if you’re taking any. In addition, bring over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin, Tylenol, Band-Aids, etc. which you normally take. However, most pharmacy products are readily available here.

PERSONAL ITEMS: Soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, towel and bedding (if needed), shampoo, etc. pencil, pen, note pad, Bible, camera, film, English/Spanish dictionary. At the site, there is running water, but it would be best if you take water with you from your living quarters, so you should bring water bottles or canteens.

Description of the Communities

San Ramón is the second largest district in Alajuela province. It is located in the Central Valley of Costa Rica.

San Ramon is a medium-sized community, with most production geared toward agriculture. Coffee is a very important product of this region, but sugar cane, corn, tomatoes and other agricultural product are also grown. There are numerous small businesses in town, however, many people from San Ramón commute daily to the capital (San José) for their jobs. The town is laid out in easy grid form, and the system of buses is convenient. There are also numerous taxis. City electricity and potable water serve ninety-eight percent of the population in this town. The San Ramón affiliate has been a regional affiliate since it’s birth in 1996, serving the communities of not only San Ramón, but also Palmares, Naranjo, Grecia, Sarchí y Zarcero. HFH is currently building in San Ramón, Palmares, Grecia, Bajo Rodriquez and Naranjo, with over 150 houses completed in Spring 2002. Brigades stay at a former school for the deaf, the Fundación Esprit, in basic/rustic dorm-style accommodations. Committee members will cook breakfast and dinner for the group at the center. 

Afiliado Regional Peninsula de Nicoya is the second regional affiliate in Costa Rica. This peninsula juts south from the northwest coast and features many of Costa Rica’s largest beach resorts.

Habitat for Humanity had completed over 40 house in the Nicoya Region in spring 2002. Brigade work generally includes mixing cement, framing, laying block and floors, and excavating to place septic tanks. Furthermore, participants have the opportunity to interact and share with the homeowners and their families as well as other members of the community. The internal road system is poor, while that along the coast is quite reasonable. If not working in tourism, local economy is focused on fishing and agriculture. Brigades stay at a hotel within walking distance to the affiliate office where they will eat breakfast and dinner prepared by committee members.

Afiliado Regional Pacífico Central is located west of San Ramón, and is the first sizable town after descending from the Central Valley. Located just 20 minutes from the Pacific coast, Esparza enjoys a warm, tropical climate year round. Dry season leaves the area fairly arid from Jan-March.

Volunteers work mixing concrete, framing, laying block and floors, and excavating to place septic tanks. Participants will have the opportunity to interact and share with the homeowners and their families as well as other members of the community.Tourist sites near Esparza include the port city of Puntarenas, where many local fairs and singing competitions are held, and great seafood is prevalent. A nearby beach called “Playa Tibivis” is a short ride away as well as “Playa Doña Ana”. A Ecological Reserve is located in Miramar, 30 minutes away. A bit longer ride leads one to the popular resort beach of Jacó. Brigades stay at a small rustic hotel near the affiliate office in Esparza or at a similar hotel in the community of Miramar, south of Esparza, depending on where the group will be building.

Afiliado Regional de Cartago is located south-east of San José, in what was the capital of Costa Rica until 1841. Founded in 1563, it is one of the most historic cities in Costa Rica. Volcano Irazú is just outside the city, and provides a beautiful view from the top. Hot springs, orchid and butterfly gardens, and Costa Rica’s only rafting river are located nearby. Weather tends to be coolish in this area, although brigades still have to liberally apply the sunscreen!

Work began in February 2001, and through Spring 2002, Habitat had completed over 15 houses in the region. Brigades stay in a Catholic retreat center called Juan XXIII or a hostel in nearby Orosi, a quaint, calm village 15-20 minutes from the work sites.  

Afiliado de Monteverde is unique in Costa Rica because it is a region that was settled by the American Quakers in the 1950s. It is also one of the most touristed regions of the country as it holds a beautiful virgin cloud forest. Habitat Monteverde is the only affiliate that has been approved to build with Habicon. Habicon is a prefabricated construction system--concrete pieces will be manufactured in Cartago, and then transported to the worksite to be assembled. This system was developed by the Technological Institute in Cartago, a premier Costa Rican university that is striving to create the strongest house for low-income families. Habicon houses are advantageous in Monteverde because they are earthquake resistant, can be built on an incline, and the floors do not touch the ground, which will prevent the foundation from getting wet.

Options for your free time: The main attractions in Monteverde are the rain and cloud forests in the area. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve (a private biological reserve) and the Santa Elena Forest Reserve (another cloud forest) draw crowds all year. Monteverde also boasts the first international children's rainforest--Bosque Eterno de los Niños. Many people choose to see the forests through Sky Trek, a system of cables that take you above and through the forests. Keep in mind that Monteverde is a rainy region and has only one block of paved road – the streets are muddy in the rainy season and dusty in their short dry season.

Brigades stay in small, basic, clean hotels near the work sites. 

Afiliado Regional de Alajuela is located in the largest city and capital of the province with the same name. It is located about 20 minutes west of San José , the capital of Costa Rica, and one mile from the international airport.  The town is still celebrating the recent championship win of La Liga, Alajuela's Division 1 soccer team. Other important events include Juan Santamaria Day, held April 11th in honor of Costa Rica's National Hero, and the Mango Festival, in July, highlighted by parades, music, food markets, and arts and crafts fairs. In the center of the town you will find the central park and cathedral, topped with a red dome, a national landmark. 

Options for free time:  The main attractions near Alajuela include the museums in San José, the city of Heredia – the heart of coffee country, The Butterfly Garden, canopy tours in the Braulio Carrillo rain forest, and more! 

Brigades stay in one of two Catholic retreat centers near the center of town in dorm style accomodations.   

In all affiliates, Habitat works with families who have land, are willing to partner with us, and are selected without discrimination by the local committee.