I am a lover of horticulture, gardening and the environment. At age 8, I sent away for a package of Zinnia seeds for 10 cents and I've been hooked ever since. After 25 years of being self-employed, I retired. That only lasted 4 years and I now work in a water conservation program: I buy grass from homeowners who are willing to convert to desert landscaping and lose that thirsty green stuff. I pursue what interests me and you can blame my sister for getting me into this blogging thing.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Banana Plantation -Part 6

For some reason a lot of expressions have permeated our culture having to do with bananas. Going bananas, stepping on a banana peel, a banana republic (either a small Latin American country or a trendy clothing store), second banana, Chiquita banana are all terms we're familiar with. Why there's even a banana museum! One of the first fruits we feed our kids is the banana. It is purported to have all sorts of health benefits. Bananas are rich in vitamin B6 and they are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium. Wow, can you think of anything better than a banana split? On this trip I even learned to enjoy fried plantains...a type of banana.

Do you ever think about how they're grown? I had a vague idea but loved seeing an actual banana plantation. They're not actually grown on trees, it's more like a stalk that only bears fruit once. It's cut down and and a sucker grows for the next crop. The bananas are covered with plastic bags to protect them from insects while they ripen. The farm we visited was run by Del Monte and they went to great lengths to ensure all the critters were cleaned off before they were boxed and shipped off to our supermarkets. Unfortunately we visited on a Sunday so we didn't see the actual operation at work. I do know I have a new appreciation for what it takes to put that banana into my cereal in the morning.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Tortuguero-Sea Turtle refuge - Part 5 continued

For our river cruises, we were required to wear life jackets, and because it was raining, a slicker. Here's John strapping on his life jacket and me looking like a 200 lb. canary in my slicker. We learned it rains 180 inches a year here, in Las Vegas, it rains less than 4" per year. We saw snowy egrets, great egrets, chestnut mandible toucans, great blue herons, anhinguas, black river turtles, spider monkeys, sloths, iguana and Jesus Christ lizards. When they are juveniles, they can run across the surface of the water, hence the name. At the end of one cruise, there was a giant crocodile. They are really scary beasts. We were about 25 feet away from one that was laying on the shore. He didn't like our visit and he moved really, really fast. The next day we went on the second cruise and ended up in Nicaragua, actually, it was just a sign, and we only went about 10 feet over the border. We saw a spider web that was as tight as a soccer goal. There were bats hugging a tree trunk and you could barely distinguish them from the tree. Our guides had very sharp eyes.

Tortuguero-Sea Turtle refuge - Part 5

I think visiting Tortuguero was one of my favorite parts of our trip to Costa Rica. It is home to more than 300 species of birds. I was glad we brought our binoculars. We stayed for two nights in wonderful wooden cottages built on stilts. My least favorite part was being awakened early in the morning by the howler monkeys. The meals were buffet style with lots of rice and beans, plenty of fresh fruit, and pleasant dinner companions. We took two cruises on the rivers in Tortuguero National Park and it was the only time we were rained on. No matter, it was still fun, and besides we were in the rainforest. We were treated to Carribean style music in the evenings. Interestingly enough, some of the young people working at the lodge were from Nicaragua. They have immigrated to have greater opportunities in a more politically stable country. Many of the locals go to the cities to work at the hotels. Our guide, a local man, used to hunt sea turtles with his father. They sold the meat for export to restaurants in Europe and North America. Because of the hunting, the sea turtle population declined. He is showing our group a turtle egg shell left on the beach after hatching. Currently, eco-tourism is providing jobs so people can support their families. A large conservation program was started by a Florida man and it promotes habitat protection, research, conservation and education. Many Americans volunteer with the Carribean Conservation Corporation to preserve the last major green turtle nesting beach in the western hemisphere. We were a couple of weeks too early to see the Green Sea Turtle arrive at the nesting habitat but during our visit we saw a life size model in a display of the work being done there.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Rain Forest - Part 4

The aerial tram through the rainforest was amazing. In order to preserve the pristine forest, as well as giving visitors the chance to observe many different types of plants, everyone is required to take the tram. First we went on a lower level, then through the top of the canopy of the forest. It amazed me to see how plants have adapted to this environment. Some change color to protect itself from being eaten. We seldom think of plants that way.
Some are bright to attract pollinators... birds, bees, etc. The little beauty on the right is a lipstick plant, the petals look like lips. Some plants have adapted so they can actually move into the light. On the left is a walking palm, if I remember correctly, it can move a foot a year. It is very bright at the top of the rainforest but quite dim near the floor. The picture on the left is near the floor of the canopy, the right picture shows the top of the forest. The last picture shows the lowly ant, cleaning the debris from the floor of the rainforest. One ant carries it back to the nest and others sit on top of the cut leaf cleaning it's surface. Look closely and you'll see these determined insects.

More about Costa Rica-Part 3

One of our trips was to
Poas Volcano, it is in a national park. It has been dormant since 1991. The crater is over a mile wide and is usually covered in clouds, due to humidity and sulfur fumes. We arrived at a perfect break in the weather, in another 10 minutes, you couldn't see a thing. There were a lot of interesting plants and birds there. It was a good hike up to the observation platform and I have to admit to taking a break along the way. I wasn't successful at getting any bird pictures but we saw lots of little birds along the paths.

More about Costa Rica-Part 2

I thought the gold, the carvings and the pottery done in pre-Columbian times was very advanced. We were able to see specimans quite close, not like most US museums.
For example, the metates, a kind of grinding stone, were laborately carved. The metates I have seen in the southwestern US are very plain, mainly a hollowed out spot in the center of a flat rock used to grind corn with another rounded stone. The advanced methods used by the indigenous people was quite impressive. I believe they used the lost wax method to create many of the gold objects they created. The gold was often mixed with copper because it had a lower melting point. I wondered how many centuries it took to develop and create so much skill at producing these objects. In addition, they were skilled at trade and used semi-precious stones that could only have been acquired by trading.

In San Jose, the landscape was fairly urban. We did travel in some areas where the people lived very poorly. Since I was an architectural photographer in another life, I find unique buildings interesting. This is a metal building, one of two we saw, that was imported from Belgium. It is currently being used as a girl's school. Education is mandatory through the 12th grade, so the literacy rate is an amazing 95%.

This is the central park in San Jose, people stroll through the area, admire the interesting plants and enjoy the serenity of the day.

More to come in part 3.

Pura Vida-Costa Rica Part 1

This lovely greeting was taught to us by our guide on our recent trip to Costa Rica, it is the national 'hello' and 'good bye' and is the affirmation of 'pure life' or 'pura vida'. . It is how Tico's greet each other, that's slang for a native. Since we're getting older, we decided an escorted tour would be the best way to see as much of the country as we could. It was a good decision. No driving on unfamiliar roads, no decisions about restaurants, no hassles with hotels. By and large, we were very satisfied with the company sponsoring the tour, Caravan tours. Our guide was an affable young man, Elston Valentin. He was extremely knowledgeable, didn't ruffle anyone's feathers and saw to it that all problems were solved in a reasonable way. He is a credit to his country.

In San Jose, the capital city,

we visited the Gold Museum and the National Museum. I was impressed by the detail of the pre-Columbian gold objects we saw. As in most Central and South American city, the center of town is a plaza with fountains and parks. We wandered the center of the city and had lunch in a local restaurant. I bought some macadamia nuts, my favorite, for a very reasonable price. We stopped in a souvenir shop which sold lovely wooden object made by local artisans. If only I had known they had the best prices we would find in Costa Rica, I would have bought more. I treated myself to a lovely box made of rosewood with a blue morpho butterfly sandwiched between two pieces of glass. It is my treasure from this trip.
Our hotel was the lovely Barcelo Palacio, and it was indeed palatial.

Since I am having a problem uploading my pictures, this is to be continued in another entry.