From the Rainforest of Costa Rica and Back to Baristaville

You wouldn’t consider Alan Smith, front man for the Montclair band The Porchistas, to be a snow bird, though he does manage to spend three months (yes, between January and March) each year living in a tropical rainforest. He’s more like a work-your-butt-off, hands-on environmental activist who manages a sustainable living and natural building education center in rural Costa Rica.

Smith says that on a typical day, he’s up at 5 a.m., on kitchen duty to start and then continues on with a variety of labor-intensive tasks. “Its usually in Jersey that I get a bit of physical relaxation,” observed Smith.

The mission of Rancho Mastatal — other than to keep Smith warm in the winter — is to practice, promote and teach about living responsibly in the last remaining virgin rainforest of Costa Rica. Over the past few years, Smith and a few friends designed and built a solar-powered house called Starboard Cork (named for a Porchistas song about a house that looks like a ship and floats on a sea of wine). Complete with a coconut shower head, Smith is living a part-year life that most of us can only fantasize about — assuming composting toilets, waddle and daub construction (which has cow manure as a prime material), spectacular views and hard physical effort are appealing.

When asked about going back and forth between the widely divergent lifestyles of Baristaville and Rancho Mastatal, Smith said that the adjustment is “challenging.”

“In Costa Rica, I live in a community where most of our food is grown on our property, and much of our eggs and milk come from our own animals or one of a few local farmers in the immediate vicinity. It feels like I’m living my life the way its supposed to be lived,” he said, adding that its obviously harder to keep that lifestyle going in New Jersey. While Smith has a small garden in his Baristaville home, his Jersey lifestyle does satisfy his other creative needs. Like being a rock star. Smith also teaches writing at Montclair State University.

“I love the Montclair community and I love living here, so every year I try to incorporate a little bit more of my Costa Rica life into my life here. I don’t prefer one over the other. I’m lucky to be able to say that I love both ends of my life.”

Just in time for Earth Month, The Porchistas will be releasing their new album, Save the Earth on April 16th at Tierney’s Tavern in Montclair. They’ll share the stage with two Jersey City bands; Cecilia Celeste and The One and Nines. The Porchistas will take the stage at 11pm.

You can download the band’s classic earth-friendly song, Hope for the Flowers here.

The Starboard Cork video was shot and edited by Michael McLean.
The song Starboard Cork was written by former Porchista, Baristaville musician and artist Deivis Garcia.

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  1. What an experience! Costa Rica is moving from being eco centric to a sustainability platform, and Rancho Mastata looks like a perfect example of the latter.

    Cheers, Tee

    Tee is the founder and senior editor of Costa Rica CLOSEUP a Travel Guide to Costa Rica with Events, Articles and Information for everyone traveling, retiring and/or purchasing real estate in Costa Rica. Please visit for more information.

  2. Hey this is Porchista Alan here – Thanx Erika for the sweet writeup – and THANX to Deivis Garcia for bringing us Starboard Cork a few years back and inspiring the theme for the house you see above – thanx D –

    Comeon out Saturday night Montclair – Lets have a party – Montclair style, Tierneys style, Porchista style

  3. Great story, Erika. Very cool video. I don’t know about manure in the walls or getting up at 5 am, but otherwise I’m down with the lifestyle!

  4. Alan again, in response to costarica closeup – Its not the case that Rancho Mastatal is a microcosm of a larger phenomenah in Costa Rica – I’m not sure what you mean by “ecocentric” but in my opinion Costa Rica is being exploited (or sells itself) as the “Eco” country, in the interest of bringing in big spending Western tourists – and good for them. Economically Costa Rica does well via tourism. But all anyone has to do is go to any one of the “popular” tourist beach towns (Jaco, Manual Antonio, etc) to realize that influxes of large groups of people on a regular basis into a community is not an ecologically sustainable enterprise – So sustainability and tourism is not a realistic partnership – but it is a nice sell economically.

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