Sunday, April 21, 2013

Jungle wildlife in Sarapiquí

After spending the day at Earth University on our second day, we stayed at the La Quinta Sarapiquí Inn (not related to the La Quinta chain of hotels in the US!). 

During breakfast the next morning, there were several colorful birds and a green basilisk lizard eating bugs on the roof across the way. It is very colorful! I also saw the related brown color Jesus Christ down by the pond that I walked to on the grounds.

He would stick his head in between the tiles, presumably looking for insects to eat!

A female green honeycreeper.

I believe that this is the male green honeycreeper along with an unidentified brown bird. The greenish color of the make and female is different which is weird... Actually that blue one is maybe a different species of bird...

In not quite sure what that blue bird is doing to the brown bird's behind! Ha ha! Just kidding - awkward photo angle, I think. If I'm identifying them right, the right is the female green honeyvcreeper

Two blue-gray tanagers.

These Passerini's tanagers were common.

Breakfast at La Quinta - a typical Costa Rican breakfast includes gallo pinto (black beans and rice), eggs, plantains, and fresh fruit.

A cool red flower at the hotel grounds.

The third morning, we went to the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS)'s La Selva Biological Reserve, which is one of the most well-known rainforest research centers in the world. I read about it during my college days! We climbed a 41meter high tower! There was one tower that went to 30 something meters, followed by this bridge across to another one, which went another 10 m. It was awesome. We were atop the canopy! Researchers use it to study various aspects of the rainforest canopy world. We just clamped in and had the gorgeous headgear for safety.

This is a view of another canopy across the way from the one we climbed.

We saw a sloth right outside the La Selva office/headquarters/cafeteria. This is a terrible picture, but it's the best I got! I got better sloth photos last trip.

While at La Selva, we saw a troop of black-faced howler monkeys, including a mom with a baby! Not while we were in the canopy, but we did hear them up there. Again not a good photo at all, but it's all I could get!

This is the blue jean frog, a species of poison dart frog that is about 1 cm long! Tiny! We saw it on a hike through the jungle at the Organization for Tropical Studies' La Selva Biological Station.

We also saw a green and black poison dart frog. They are bigger than the blue jeans frog (which is only about 1cm long!)

We saw these adorable Honduran white bats (tent making bats) under a huge leaf at La Selva. 

A view of the rainforest canopy from above. 
The third day, we went to the Tirimbina Biological Reserve and Rainforest Center, which has a sustainable Cacao plantation on site, where they showed us how to go from the fruit (which is yellow) to the seeds, to the chocolate! 
They ferment the seeds, and then roast them in the sun, and then grind them and add sugar. We got to sample the cacao/chocolate roasted, with sugar, and as a drink with cinnamon. Yum!

This is the Sarapiqui River we crossed on a reallllly long suspension bridge to get to the cacao plantation at Tirimbina Reserve.
A cacao tree. For some reason the trunks arch! That's how you can tell them apart from other trees. Also the cacao fruit grows right out of the trunk! That trait is known as cauliflory.

As we walked across the long suspension bridge at Tirimbina, these iguanas were visible in the tree over the river. Massive tree iguanas: Whoduthunk it?

And a hint of what is to come next... this is a most beautiful sunset at Playa Grande on our second to last evening. This is the magical place where I had a most memorable two weeks in 1999 reporting on leatherback sea turtle nesting for Discovery Channel. Check out the archived Love & Death on Turtle Beach.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Growing Bananas (sustainably)!

Earth University's sustainable banana farm - block 2 - which we visited on our second day in Costa Rica.  Finca means farm, so Finca Bananera Earth means "Earth Banana Farm." All photos Copyright (c) 2013 Wendee Nicole

On day 2, Heidi and I visited Earth University, which I'd previously visited in Oct 2011 for the Planet, People, Peace (P3) conference (there are some other really cool images from that visit here). The next P3 conference is coming up in Nov, and I'm considering attending again! It was really cool. Anyway, this was a trip to report on agritourism and sustainable agriculture practices, as well as ecotourism and Costa Rica's efforts to become the first - or one of the first - carbon-neutral nations in the world. Imagine the US government having an official policy of trying to become carbon-neutral? Even if Costa Rica doesn't achieve neutrality by the deadline - and there are rumors already of the date being pushed back - it is a commendable thing in itself that they have the goal. And they are certainly making efforts. I will be writing about it for Earth Island Journal and possibly another publication. Below are some images, and a video, from the banana farm visit. Earth University is a fascinating place, and they are a carbon-neutral operation. 

This is Michelle Medina, New Business Developer for Earth University product division. The banana plantation is actually a for-profit venture, whereas the university itself is nonprofit. However, 100% of the funds raised go into scholarships for Earth U students. They have shown that sustainability can be profitable. Some of the bananas go to Whole Foods in the US. 
The bags protect the bananas from pesticides. The banana plantation is not organic, but they employ various techniques to reduce the use of chemicals and other problems associated with traditional farms. Inside the bags they put chile pepper and garlic to repel insects, rather than chemicals. The plantation is still sprayed with fungicides to repel an otherwise devastating fungus called sigatoka. They spray by airplane - using GPS to make sure it is only sprayed on the plantation - 3 of 4 weeks, and during the other week, the plantation is sprayed with beneficial organisms. By using these beneficial microorganisms, they have been able to reduce chemical use by 30%. There are also fears of a new strain of Panama disease, a former version of which wiped out banana crops in the 1980s. Because all of the bananas are clones of one another and hence genetically identical, they are particularly susceptible to epidemics...
The banana man leads the "banana train." In other plantations, workers carry or drag all the banana bunches! Earth U created this trolley system to improve worker conditions.

Another view of the "banana train."
A video of the banana workers processing the bananas from the bunches. First they're cut into smaller bunches and then washed. I believe they use chlorine in this process and water, but don't quote me on that!
Heidi and I with our sexy hair nets!

The foam inserts are removed and the blue plastic is removed and recycled. They make plastic terra cotta roof tiles from the banana bags that are used all over Costa Rica.
The workers cut the bottom bananas to test the ripeness. A "good" bunch will be white inside, and green outside, and they take about two weeks after cutting to ripen. if they are too ripe when cut, they cant be shipped to other markets so are either composted, or they are sold to local markets. This bunch - he told us - were too ripe. 

Once bananas come off the banana train, they get washed and then placed on the conveyer belt, where workers put them in boxes.
The ones on the left go to local (Costa Rica) markets, while the ones on the right go to Europe. 
These bananas - the best quality - are shipped to Whole Foods markets in the U.S. 
Earth University student Niyi, from Nigeria, showed us around the university's intensive farm operations where students learn various aspects of sustainable ag. I visited here also in 2011! This "vehicle" is now planted with crops! They demonstrate how to make use of any and all items that would otherwise go into a landfill. 
Niyi is a musician and you can see his cool Feliz Navidad (Merry Christmas) video from Earth University above!
A yummy cafe mocha from Earth University's Aroma coffee shop, made with Earth University coop coffee (CoopeDota carbon-neutral coffee). 


Thursday, April 11, 2013

A day in San Jose (que tuanis!)

A blooming Savannah Oak. Beautiful! (just like my daughter Savannah!) :)

I am in Costa Rica! These are pictures from our first day. I'm here with my friend and colleague Heidi, and we arrived via the same flight into San Jose Monday around noon, where we were greeted by Gustavo, the guide who would be showing us around for the next few days. First we drove to the El Presidente hotel, where we were staying. We got situated in our room and then walked around a little bit. The hotel is right on La Rue Fernandez Güell, or "Central Avenue" which is a pathway that people walk up and down on, lined by shops and restaurants. At 3pm, we met up with a guide from Chepe Cletas, a nonprofit organization that offers tours of San Jose to locals and tourists, and is attempting to change the perception of the city from the old attitude that it had crime and there was nothing to see, to the current reality, which is that it's a relatively safe city and it has a lot to offer visitors and locals alike. Chepe Cletas started out doing bicycle tours (Cletas is short for bicicletas). These photos are out of order, but these are some of the sights we saw!

The plaza here adjacent to the National Theater has a lot of pigeons. Underneath the plaza is the Gold Museum.

A pigeon on a colorful fountain on Central Avenue.

Outside of the National Theater.

A statue of a flautist outside the National Theater.

The inside is gorgeous! Marble floors, intricate ceilings and walls, and several statues representing the various arts.

Another photo of the inside of the theater.

This statue represents dialogue. I think that might be Plato's head... not sure.

This statue inside the theater represents poverty. It was controversial at the time it was built to include it in the opulent theater which served the elite. However, today there is not so much difference in Costa Rica between rich and poor as in the past.

This is an elementary school that is made out of metal, and called "The metal school."

This round structure is the Temple of Music inside Morazon Park. There were some locals dancing and hanging out there in the temple, which really isn't a temple, but rather just a place to hang out and perform.

Inside of the Music Temple at Morazon Park.

Heidi and I at Morazon Park.

We stopped at La Criollita cafe for a cup of good coffee.

This is me trying to play the animal flute thing that I bought from a street vendor outside the National Theater. Don't laugh!

Heidi and our guide for the city tour, Jose.

This is a side of the National Museum, which is across the street from the Parliamentary building. It was dusk and these phone pictures turned out kinda cool!

Another view of the National Museum.

Graffiti on the wall across from the Costa Rican Parliamentary building in the capital city of San Jose that says some of the lyrics from their national anthem "Vida siempre trabajo [paz]" which means something like "May peace and labor ever live." Above the peace are three fists that say Fotografia Lucha (fight photocopying) which I thought was appropriate as a writer!

The blue house is part of the Parliamentary building complex.

Democracy Plaza, across from the Parliament.

This is the entrance to the Center for Art and Culture. It used to be the National Liquor Factory!

Inside are some crane sculptures that I thought were cool.

These are part of the old distillery.

These are the giant calderas or ovens.

Jose and I in the National Park (there are several parks throughout the city!)

This is a sundial that they screwed up on, and so it only tells time half the day. Not only that, they made some major errors when building it, so that there's a correction table underneath it!

Heidi and I in National Park.

The top of the main statue complex in National Park. The women represent Central America's fight against William Walker who overthrew Nicaragua and tried to overthrow Costa Rica but they raised an army of farmers and overthrew them

At the end of the tour, Heidi and I went to dinner at El Patio and then walked a bit along the Central Avenue, where we happened along this very gordo woman statue! Her official name is El Chola and apparently it's good luck to rub her backside! We saw several people walk along and touch her and I went and looked it up, and sure enough that is apparently good luck! There ya go.

Another view.