We started the day with bird watching with Alexa on the walk to the main campus. We saw an Emerald Toucanet, Masked Tityras, and heard a Long Tailed Manakin, but only caught a glimpse of the latter. Although the sun was shining, a faint mist began to drift along the breeze, the pelo de gato or “hair of the cat” rain that the cloud forests are known for. The droplets are so light they don’t seem to drop like rain, but move on the breezes as if flying of their own accord. After breakfast we finally got to meet Eduardo, the logistics manager who had been so much help planning our trip and adjusting to the unexpected. He’s a nice young local who got a computer science degree from Heredia, and seems to do a great job handling the lab computers along with all his other duties.
After breakfast Sam gave us a tour of the UGA Costa Rica Botanical Garden, accompanied by the two women who were staying at the lab as tourists. (One of the women, Helen, is the mother of Nate Nibbelink, one of the researchers we met at the lab.) The garden was developed and maintained by Lucas Ramirez, a Costa Rican with a wealth of knowledge about culinary and medicinal plants. The collection consisted of clumps of plants (citronella, rosemary, wormweed, smilax, verbena, nettle, etc) scattered along the hillside, separated by grass covered paths. Colorful butterflies flitted from plant to plant, including several iridescent blue morphos. The sun had come out, and by the time we got back to the student center I regretted not wearing my hat.
After lunch we met Alexa again for a tour of a local coffee farm. We walked to the farm, down the dusty rutted road, turning onto another road to climb higher up the side of the valley. Amy and I were getting winded on the uphill stretches when we reached the farm, Finca La Bella. Our tour was given by a soft spoken young farmer with the rangy strength of a man who’s worked hard all his life. His name was Oldemar, and he showed us the equipment he uses to process the different stages of the beans, narrating in spanish while Alexa translated. The first thing he pointed out was a two toed sloth asleep high in a tree over his driveway–from our vantage below it was hard to make out anything but a fuzzy lump about 2 feet in diameter.
Oldemar handles every part of the process on his farm, from planting the seedlings to harvesting, drying, cleaning, roasting and even marketing under the brand name La Bella Tica, and he packages his coffee in bags made of recycled paper made by a local artisan collective, EcoBambu. After he walked us through the processing we then toured his garden, asking questions as we passed bananas, tomatos and other household garden vegetables. Oldemar was proud of the fact that he gardens organically, even though it’s more difficult. When we asked him why his explanation was earnest and extensive: his children help him on the farm, and play amongst the rows of plants, and they all eat the produce they grow. Then he led us over to a tree with a cavity filled with buzzing bees. He explained through Alexa that these particular bees were very good pollinators, and they increased the productivity of his crops, but they were very sensitive to pesticides, and those farms that used pesticides didn’t have as many bees. He chose to grow organically to protect his family, and the bees reward him by helping his crops produce.
After our garden tour Oldemar invited us into his kitchen for coffee and arrepas, prepared by his wife Ersi. They were gracious and accommodating, and with shelves at one end of the kitchen it was obvious that this was part of their business, but I felt a bit awkward imposing on their hospitality. The coffee and arrepas were delicious, and it was nice to see that there seemed to be a sincere and mutual friendship between Alexa and the family, but I still felt a bit like we were imposing. We took coffee home, thinking to give one package to a friend, but it was so tasty we drank it all.
When we got back to the cabinas we were pleasantly tired, but got a bit of excitement when we were visited by a White-Headed Capuchin, who appeared in the brush next to our porch and seemed aggressively interested in our presence. Amy tried to pretend she was still painting, and I took a few photos, but it was hard to get a clear look at him/her without staring, which they warn against. We’d talked to Scott the night before, and he’d mentioned that the deck chairs that were always knocked over were due to the monkeys throwing them at their reflections in the windows, so we tried to remain inconspicuous while the monkey postured and stared, shaking the branch he sat on and glaring in our direction.
After dinner we traveled over to San Luis with Nate and Scott to visit Justin Welch, another former Shaved Monkey. Justin has been in Costa Rica for several years after getting his Master’s from the Odum School of Ecology, and is now Programs Director with the Monteverde Institute. We hung out at his house for a while, playing really bad darts and catching up on all the changes since we’d seen each other last.