We left early the sixth day, making our first stop at the Hanging Bridges right outside La Fortuna. I went on a nature walk with Toledo, our guide; Christopher, a ten year old boy; and Claire, his grandmother. At the beginning of the first hanging bridge Toledo pointed out three small viper snakes curled up sleeping beside the path. These are very poisonous snakes, one of many poisonous snakes in the country.
The first hanging bridge, a thin metal strip over a deep gorge, was the longest and seemed to go on and on and on. Finally, we reached the other side to a thin pathway next to rainforest of towering trees on the mountainside. Toledo pointed out a line of leaf cutter ants, ants that carry a small leaf on their backs back to their next nest to grow fungi to feed the worker ants. There was a line of tiny ants with the leaf on their back moving forward. Next we saw a long line of termites, colorful birds in the trees springing out over the gorge, and then spider monkeys. Then Toledo let out a big howl at the monkeys and Christopher did his best imitation of a howl. The monkeys howled back. Toledo said it was a Costa Rican male practice to howl at monkeys.
We reached the second hanging bridge, a shorter one, and crossed it, looking out at the towering trees on all sides. I thought of Ezra Pound's lines: "You shall know the good green world which is thy place." Toledo said that the land owner was getting paid by the government to protect the forest. Later I learned that prior to the 1990s Costa Rica had high rates of deforestation where the forest had been cut down to back farms and pastures for cattle we had been seeing on our drives around the country.
The country began to change its policies in the 1990s to develop ecotourism such as this present tour and to think how to stop deforestation. From 2002-2006 Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, the Minister of Energy and Environment, developed a new policy. He imposed a carbon emissions tax of 3.5% on market value of fossil fuels which went to indigenous communities to protect their forests and to reforest degraded areas.The landowners who owned the land we stood on with the hanging bridges received tax money to protect these forests. Manuel Rodriguez also developed a water tax on major water users such as hydroelectric dams, farms, and big drinking water providers which also want to villages upstream to keep the rivers pristine. By 2008 Costa Rica had twice as much forest land as twenty years before.
After our nature walk, we reboarded our bus which drove around Lake Arenal, the country's largest lake amidst rolling green hills, and then headed west to the Pacific. Not far from Lake Arenal Toledo pointed out hydroelectric turbines that generated electricity and told us 95% of Costa Rica's energy comes from renewable sources: hydroelectric; wind mills; and geothermal. Costa Rica is competing with Iceland and New Zealand to be the world's first 100% carbon neural country, and hopes to be 100% carbon neutral by 2021, the 200th year anniversary of its independence.
Then we drove to Pacific Coast to the Doubletree Resort in Puntarenas: a resort Disneyland where our tour members were issued a card to drink all you could drink and buffet to drink all you could drink. All three pools were wading pools. The largest had a bar in the middle. I love to swim laps for exercise and had been disappointed in the previous hotel pools which were all wading pools. Randy, a swimmer in our tour, told me he got up early at 6am swam laps in the 3-4' deep wading pools. If he could do it, so could I. I swam laps that afternoon, swimming around the people standing up, but the hotel needs a real pool to swim laps.
We left the ninth day, stopped at Britt coffee plantation where three actors--two men and a woman-- dressed up like coffee plantation workers in white cotton hats--stood next to the deep green coffee plants telling us how the coffee beans were harvested when red. Then we followed then into the coffee processing plant where the actors explained to us the roasting process standing next to the huge metal roasters. Finally, we entered a small theater where the actors gave us an amusing skit with slide show on the history of coffee over the last 300 years. I found it fascinating to learn how the three major export crops of Costa Rica--bananas, pineapples, and coffee--were harvested and processed.
Back in San Jose our tour was over but my traveling companion and I planned to spend another day in Costa Rica. First, we stopped at Galerie Namu, which has Native people's superb arts based on depicting the natural world: fierce carved wooden masks; superb woven baskets; painted ceramic plates and cups. We walked around Barrio Amon just north of downtown which has lovely old buildings many transformed into hotels as well as consulates from other countries. On one street a truck spewed out a cloud of black diesel smoke; no, Costa Rica wasn't environmental perfection. We had lunch on the patio amidst green trees and flowers at Cafe Monde in Barrio Amon, a cafe much like a Parisian bistro where well-dressed Costa Ricans crowded onto the patio and inside around the bar for lunch.
Then we visited the National Museum, which was the former Bellavista Fortress and is pockmarked with bullet holes. In 1948 after a civil war President Jose Figueres abolished the army in Costa Rica. Figueres used a sledgehammer to smash at the Bellavista fortress walls and then gave the keys of the fortess to the Minster of Public Education and transformed the fort into a national museum. Ever since then the military budget is no more. Instead the country puts the money into schools, having one of the highest literary rates in the world and put the money into a national single payer health care system with health rate statistics as good as the United States. We saw the museums's excellent exhibit on the history of Costa Rica from pre-Columbian hunter gathers' stone spearheads to the Nobel Prize won by President Oscar Arias for bringing helping to end the civil wars ripping apart other Central American countries in the late 1980s to post-2000 policies to protect the good green world.
Causes Julia Stein Supports
Doctors Without Borders