Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cattle and pasture

Here are some cattle in a pasture near Barra Honda National Park, southeast of Tamarindo. The Guanacaste region of Costa Rica has a strong cattle ranching tradition. The lushness of the pastures and hills is evident in this photo and makes this area very suitable for cattle.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Horseback ride and living fences

Horseback riding is another popular activity for visitors to Costa Rica. This photo from a horseback ride is another example of Costa Rican "living fences."

If you look closely between the trees, you will see barbed wire. The trees were planted in a straight line that separates the pastures from the trail where my wife and were riding. Rather than the expense and trouble of installing fence posts, the barbed wire fencing was strung between the trees. This is common in Costa Rica and is called living fences. On September 18 I previously posted a photo of living fences in a cattle pasture.

Living fences have several advantages. They are beneficial for the environment, provide shade for the animals, are a windbreak, save money for fenceposts, and are attractive. Have you ever seen a traditional barbed wire fence that looked as inviting as the trail created between these living fences?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Blue tanager

I believe that this is a blue tanager. Blue-gray tanagers are more common and look like this bird, except with a gray body and blue wings. This is blue in both its wings and body. Therefore, I believe it to be a blue tanager, although my Costa Rican wildlife and bird books do not show a photo or illustration of a blue tanager.

After posting several photos about ugly ants, I figured I better show a photo of an attractive animal to try to redeem the visual appeal of this website.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Leafcutter ants on the move

What looks like little bits of leaves in this photo are actually leaves being carried by leaf cutter ants. If you click on the photo to enlarge it and then zoom in, you will be able to see that there is an ant carrying each of the leaves in the photo. On the forest floor there will at times be a stream of green leaf fragments as the leaf cutter ants form a line to carry the leaves back to their nest.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lunch for leaf cutter ants?

Yesterday I posted a photo of leaf cutter ants carrying leaves back to their nest. Here is a leaf that has had holes cut out by leaf cutter ants. Do you think that the ants have eaten the leaves that they have cut out?

Actually, the leaf cutter ants do not eat the leaves. They carry the leaves back to their nests in order to feed a fungi that they cultivate inside their underground nests. They then eat the fungi. Different species of leaf cutter ants cultivate different variations of fungi, and the ants know which specific type of leaves are good for the fungi and which are poisonous to the fungi.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Leafcutter ants

Leafcutter ants walk in rows back and forth from the source of the leaves to their nests. Here are a few ants on their procession back to their home. The leaves they are carrying are much larger than their bodies.

These ants were walking across a branch. It is more common to see trails of ants walking in the forest floor. Sometimes there are so many leafcutter ants carrying leaves across the ground that it looks like a small green river.

The ants that forage for leaves are subject to attack by a tiny fly parasite that lays its eggs in the crevaces of the ant's head. Sometimes small ants will ride on the larger ants to help defend them from attack. Tomorrow, I will reveal why the ants carry leaves back to their nests.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ant hill

This is an ant hill in the forest in Rincon de la Vieja National Park. It is more than one meter high and at least twice that far in diameter. I hope that the photo gives a impression of the huge volume of this ant hill. In some tropical rain forests, ants are the largest biomass of the animal world.

There can be as many as 8 million leaf cutter ants in one colony. The ants are divided into four groups or castes with specialized duties, depending on their size. The smaller ones remain in the nest tending to food production. I will reveal how they do that the day after tomorrow. The next larger groups defends the nest. The next larger group carries the leaves back to the nest. The largest ants are defenders of the ants that carry the leaves back to the nest.

I posted a photo a week or so ago ago of a caterpillar and mentioned that I usually refrain from showing bugs, other than butterflies. I was surprised to receive several comments from people who encouraged me to go ahead and show bugs. Therefore, I am posting this ant hill today and tomorrow will show the an example of the remarkable behavior of leaf cutter ants.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I am posting this photo of a surfer on Playa Langosta as a tribute to the Costa Rican national surfing team. Costa Rican came in 5th place at the recent international surfing championships held in Portugal. With a combined team score of more than 10,000 points, Costa Rica was only one point behind France for 4th place. Next year, the international surfing championships will be hosted by Costa Rica.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bananas ready for export

Here is the final stage of the banana processing plant that I have been showing this week. Workers are taking bunches of bananas wrapped in plastic from the trays on the conveyor and are packing them into boxes for export.

When shoppers buy bananas they are not in plastic bags. My guess is that the bananas are floated in water in the packaging plant and are packed in plastic bags to reduce the opportunity for insects to travel with the bananas from the tropics to the destination.

Bananas are native to Asia and were introduced in Central American in the late 1800's. The United Fruit Company has historically been a major force in the economy and politics of Costa Rica and other Central American countries. The photos I have shown this week show that working conditions in the plant look pretty good. That has not always been the case, and there have been major labor disputes due to the poor treatment of workers in the past.

After outbreaks of diseases in the 1930's and 1940's and labor unrest in the banana plantations in the Caribbean region of Costa Rica, United Fruit abandoned its Caribbean operations and moved its plantations to southwestern Costa Rica. After a 72-day strike in 1985, United Fruit ceased growing bananas in the Pacific side of Costa Rica.

Today, many of the bananas are grown by agricultural cooperatives and sold to the banana companies. The processing plant shown in my photos this week supplies more than one company. Today's photo shows boxes for export by Del Monte, but we also saw empty boxes being stored with the labels of other companies, so the plant on other days must do packaging for other companies.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Yes, we've got bananas

This worker is taking what appears to be a sea of bananas and loading them onto trays for transporting in the banana processing plant. The volume of production is apparent in this photo.

Bananas have recently been replaced by tourism as the leading source of foreign currency for Costa Rica. The number of acres of land in banana production today is approximately double what it was in the 1980's. Export demand for bananas has increased, as the healthful effects of bananas are appreciated more today. Nearly all of the bananas are cultivated in the coastal areas along the Caribbean.

Exports are important for Costa Rica, but of course in many countries there is support for protecting local industries from foreign competition. Because of the strong democratic traditions of Costa Rica, groups seeking to protect local industries were able to force a national referendum on Costa Rica's ratification of the Central American Free Trade Act (CAFTA). Last year the voters approved the ratification of CAFTA, which makes Costa Rica the only country to approve a free trade agreement through a vote of the people.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Banana processing plant

At this stage of banana processing, the workers are placing bunches of bananas in plastic bags just before they are placed in boxes for export. Bananas and coffee are the two traditional agricultural export crops of Costa Rican.

This photo illustrates the benefits of one of the steps to be taken as part of the Banana Industry Action Plan Against Climate Change that I described in my post a couple of days ago. Using biodegradable plastics for the many plastic bags used in the industry will help, primarily in the consumer countries such as the USA and Canada, where the plastic bags you see in this photo will be disposed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Banana workers (2)

Here are workers on the assembly line at the banana packaging plant. The plant is open air, modern and clean. In the distance you can see a worker loading bananas onto a conveyor belt to send the bananas into the assembly line.

In Costa Rica many of the field workers in agriculture are from Nicaragua. There are estimated to be between 300,000 to 500,000 Nicaraguans working in Costa Rica, some legally and some not. A few years ago the government tried to curtail undocumented Nicaraguan labor, but doing so hurt the economy because the agricultural and constructions industries lacked enough local workers.

This is characteristic of the worldwide phenomena of lower wage jobs being filled by immigrant labor to do the work that more prosperous local citizens prefer not to do. The workers in the banana processing plant make more money than agricultural field labor.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Banana workers

Here are workers in a banana processing plant that is located in the banana fields near the Caribbean coast. The bananas are being floated to an area where they are bagged and boxed for export. It takes only about a week for bananas to go from growing on a tree in Costa Rica to the supermarket shelf in the USA or Canada.

As I mentioned yesterday, the banana industry and Costa Rican government have reached an agreement for the industry to become carbon neutral within four years. They adopted a Banana Industry Action Plan against Climate Change. It will begin with the measurement of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses created by the industry. The industry will then take specific steps to reduce the emissions.

The steps the banana industry will take to fight global warming include reforestation of some lands, using bio-fuels, replacing traditional fertilizers and pesticides with bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides, using biodegradable plastics, and more.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Banana plantations fight global warming

This is a banana plantation on the Carribbean side of Costa Rica. The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is very different than the Pacific side. The land is flat and the climate is more humid.

Some of the bunches of bananas have been identified for picking by the plastic bags that are visible in this photo. Bunches of bananas grow upside down on the trees.

Last week the banana industry and Costa Rican government announced an agreement for the industry to achieve carbon-neutral status in four years. This is consistent with the goal of Costa Rica to become the world's first carbon-neutral country by 2021 to lead the world in the battle against global warming. Costa Rica already has the world's first carbon-neutral airline.

Tomorrow I will show a photo of the workers in a banana processing plant and that mentions some of the steps the banana industry will take to achieve carbon-neutral status within the next four years.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


I normally do not post photos of bugs or insects, as I surmise that many people, such as my wife, would find them creepy and repulsive. Butterflies are an exception, of course, as people are attracted to their beauty. I will make another exception for this caterpillar, however, due to its distinctive color and patterns.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


This is an unusual flower in the garden of our condo on Langosta beach. I believe that it is one of the many varieties of heliconia. It has what look to be little teeth growing up from stems near the center of the flower.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Costa Rican housing

These are typical houses in the village with the Tico lunch shack that I have featured in some of my photos during the past week. These are average houses in a local village without tourist influences. These houses are functional and well maintained.

I have previously posted some photos of upscale condos in tourist areas such as Tamarindo and Langosta. The newspaper last week carried an article that Costa Rica is adopting a progressive property tax law that will increase the property tax rates for more expensive homes and condos. Property tax rates will increase for residences valued at more than $182,000 U.S. dollars, with additional increases at higher levels.

The money raised by the higher property tax rates will be used to provide housing for low income people. Although the taxes will go up on our two condos, I think this is a good idea. It will help people who need better housing. I also think it will promote the good atmosphere that exists in Costa Rica regarding the large number of foreigners who have bought retirement or vacation homes and condos in the country.

Prime beach resorts, such as Tamarindo and Langosta, are now occupied primarily by international residents. I have not noticed resentment by local people, as the development of beach resorts is good for the economy. The progressive property tax should cause Costa Ricans to continue to welcome foreign investment in housing because the tax revenues will directly benefit Costa Ricans most in need of assistance to upgrade their housing.

What do you think of a progressive property tax? I am sure that in the U.S. former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin would say that Joe the Plumber would say that it sounds like socialism. In Costa Rica property taxes are very low, and a modest increase to help improve housing for needy families seems reasonable to me and is a more creative way to raise funds necessary to improve housing conditions for those who otherwise could not afford decent housing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Facilities" at the Tico lunch shack

I recently posted photos of a little lunch shack in a small village in a rural area near where wildlife tours are provided. The shack was developed to provide lunches for tourists after they finish their morning wildlife river excursions.

Although the lunch shack is rather primitive, it nevertheless provides "facilities" with plumbing for tourists. Sandals on the door mark the women's room and a machete marks the men's room. There are also decent restroom facilities at the national park where tourists board and unload from the boats used for wildlife viewing excursions.

Tourism is Costa Rica's number one industry, so the government and the free market have developed tourist services, including the many tour operators who provide vans and guides to take tourists to scenic places and to enjoy various activities, places for lunch, shopping, road side stops, and "facilities" for use by tourists.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Costa Rican food

Here is a traditional meal of typical Costa Rican food. This lunch featured fish, rice, and beans, garnished with a grilled banana, vegetables and sprouts, served on a banana leaf. It is more common for the rice and beans to be served together, rather than in the pastry shell holding the beans in this presentation.

This lunch was included as part of a hiking tour of Rincon de la Vieja National Park. Tour excursion operators pick up tourists in Tamarindo, drive them to the park, guide them on hiking trails, then stop for lunch on the way back to Tamarindo. I thought it might be of interest to post a photo for those who visit Tamarindo and might wonder what type of lunch may be included with the various tours that are offered for tourists.

This lunch was served at a large, mostly outdoor restaurant across the road very close to the entrance to the international airport in Liberia.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kitchen in Tico lunch shack

This is the cooking area of the kitchen of the lunch shack shown in yesterday's photo. It is not a typical restaurant kitchen, as the lunch shack is not a typical restaurant.

The equivalent of a multiple burner wood stove has been built on a counter top, capable of supporting multiple skillets at the same time.
Here is a close up of the food cooking in a skillet.

This lunch shack was built in a very small village in a rural area near Palo Verde National Park. It operates to serve the vans that bring tourists for wildlife boat tours. It gives people a local lunch experience after a wildlife boat tour, before the van returns to Tamarindo. The lunch is included in the cost of the wildlife boat excursion.

Tomorrow I will show a photo of a typical lunch of traditional Costa Rica food.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tico lunch shack

This is a lunch shack in a little Costa Rican village. They cook over a wood fired stove behind the thatched roof seating area. The village does not have any tourist amenities except for this lunch place. Some wildlife boat tours in the area stop here to give tourists a taste of typical Costa Rican food.

Most of the restaurants in Tamarindo feature international cuisine, so this lunch shack offers the contrast of a local food experience. The mainstay of traditional Costa Rican food is called casado. Casado means marriage. It is a rice and beans dish, and its name signifies that rice and beans go together like a husband and wife. Added to the rice and beans can be a variety of other ingredients, such as chicken.

It was at this lunch shack that my wife and I were asked if we wanted to sample iguana as an addition to the rice and beans. As I mentioned in my post last week about an iguana, it tasted like chicken. I will show some additional photos of this lunch experience in the next few days.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Langosta estuary

This is the mouth of the Langosta estuary, looking from the ocean inland. The bird shown in yesterday's photo was walking along at this spot. The estuary provides habitat for wildlife on the south side of Tamarindo. The Tamarindo estuary provides wildlife habitat on the north side of Tamarindo.

The Langosta estuary is available for fishing and kayaking. It also provides a natural boundary that separates Langosta from the rest of Tamarindo, except for the one road along the beach that leads from Tamarindo into Langosta.

There is a master-planned development, called the Tamarindo Preserve, that intends to build trails, a nature center, and other facilities, including condos, shops and restaurants, on the Tamarindo side of the Langosta estuary, outside the wetlands area.

The Tamarindo estuary on the north side of Tamarindo is much larger and is part of the Las Baulas National Marine Park. Boat tours of the mangrove wetlands allow wildlife viewing opportunities.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Here is a bird that I think is a sandpiper, although I could not find a bird exactly like this in my books about Costa Rican birds and wildlife. It is larger than most sandpipers, however, and it could be a gull. This bird was walking along the beach near the mouth of the Langosta estuary. Costa Rica has more species of birds than the USA and Canada combined, so I hope you will excuse me if I use that as an excuse to post this photo of a bird that I cannot positively identify. Perhaps someone can leave a comment to help identify the bird.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Langosta Beach

It has been a while since I posted a photo of the beach. Because Tamarindo is most widely known for its beach, here is another photo of Langosta beach.

This photo was taken south of the Langosta estuary looking north towards the main part of Langosta. The beach continues south for miles. You may
click here for a photo of the beach south from this same place, which I posted on September 19.

With a beach like this just behind our Langosta condo, you can hopefully understand why we love to walk for miles along the beach to the south, or walk north to the beach in Tamarindo.

I have noticed on my website tracker that some people land on my site after doing Google searches with search terms about water quality. Langosta beach has consistently been ranked as a Blue Flag certified beach. That means that it passes tests for international standards for the highest level of cleanliness and water quality. Tamarindo beach also passes tests that the water is safe.

One other word about water quality is that in Costa Rica visitors from the USA, Canada and Europe can dring the tap water and eat the food without the problems that are experienced in visiting some other countries.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Here are some bats sleeping on the underside of a tree along the river bank. This photo was taken from a boat on a wildlife viewing trip such as yesterday's raft trip. The bats were sleeping during the day on the shady part of a tree. At night they will fly off the tree on which they roost to eat insects. At night they will use a different tree to roost while feeding.

Bats are the second most common type of mammals. Only rodents have more species than bats. 105 of the world's 980 species of bats live in Costa Rica. I have seen bats only in small groups such as this on a wildlife viewing river trip, but have not seen bats flying around at night in Costa Rica.

Bats such as these tend to hang upside down because it makes it easier for them to take off and fly by dropping from their roost rather than having to take off and overcome gravity. They tend to feed mostly in the hours after dusk and before dawn, being less active in the middle of the night, and being inactive during the day.

I cannot identify the specific type of bats shown in this photo, as I was content to view them from a distance from a river boat, rather than getting up close. I prefer to let sleeping bats hang.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Howler monkeys

These are howler monkeys frolicking in a tree. It is possible to see and study howler monkeys while on wildlife viewing river trips like the photo I posted yesterday, while hiking on a trail, road or along the beach, or while driving down a country road.

It is a delight to see monkeys in the wild. They swing freely from branch to branch. They stay in close family units, often grooming each other and frequently with a mother with a baby clinging to her back. They do not mind being stared at by humans.

They can be a challenge to photograph, however. As in the first picture above, usually they are photographed from below, looking up into the sky. The backlighting and black coloration of the howler monkeys mean that the photos are usually dark silhouettes. For that reason I have posed the second photo to show what they look like. My wife took this photo on a wildlife river trip, such as the trip shown on yesterday's photo, when a group of howlers were feeding close to the river bank.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Wildlife viewing raft trip

I have posted a number of photos of wildlife in the area, but have not posted photos of the wildlife river trips that are popular ways to view wildlife. Here is a photo of the river guide and my wife as they begin a float down a river to see animals up close.

Some wildlife viewing river trips use rafts like this one, and other trips use motor boats that seat up to about 20 people, with a canopy roof for shade. The larger boats are similar to the Jungle Cruise at Disney World, except without the corny jokes and puns by the narrator. The guides will pick up visitors in Tamarindo and drive them to the river trips.

The guides are very skilled in spotting birds, monkeys, sloths, and other wildlife. They will linger near animals so visitors can watch them in the wild and take photos. The rivers used for the wildlife trips are smooth. Other rivers in Costa Rica offer whitewater raft trips with rapids.

This photo was taken by our friend Sharon, who visited from Phoenix, Arizona. She runs Phoenix Daily Photo, which you can access by
clicking here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Iguana in tree

This colorful iguana perched in a tree shows off some of the adornments of iguanas, such as the spines on his back. There are 38 species of iguanas in Costa Rica. This is a green iguana, even though it is not green.

Green iguanas are identified by their long scales running down the crest of their spine, the large circular scale at their jaw, and a skin sac, called a dewlap, hanging from their throat. I previously posted a photo of the
profile of a green iguana.

Iguanas can change in color at different times of the day. They can migrate the color pigment granules within their individual cells. If the pigment granules are clustered into a spot within each cell, the color will be less intense than if the pigment granules are spread throughout the cells. They use darker colors to absorb more heat from the sun, as they are cold-blooded reptiles, of course.

The are harmless to humans. They eat leaves and twigs as adults. Teenage iguanas prefer insects. They spend most of their time in trees. If threatened, they can drop from the branches into a stream and swim away.

Some local people eat iguana. I have been served grilled iguana by locals once or twice. They said that it tasted like chicken. My Costa Rican wildlife guidebook says that it is an acquired taste. I decided that was one taste I did not need to acquire.

Green iguanas are also called a common iguana or locally called a garrabo. Its scientific name is the rather uncreative "iguana iguana."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Langosta sidewalk

This is a Playa Langosta version of a sidewalk. This walkway cuts through the block across the street from our condo. People who live or stay in condos a block or two away take this path to walk to the beach behind our condo.

This illustrates the lush vegetation that grows in the tropical Costa Rican climate. With sidewalks like these, it is no wonder that people from the USA and Canada have made a community of vacation and retirement homes and condos in communities such as Langosta, Tamarindo, and other places in Costa Rica. As inviting as the beach is behind our condo, we also like walking around the community.

We walk to dinner, rather than driving, most nights. On the way to dinner, we might see raccoons walking along side the road. On the way home from dinner, we may be serenaded by frogs and we often see fire flies dancing around in wooded areas.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Monthly theme: Bookstore with Costa Rican music

The Nov. 1 Daily Photo theme is books and bookstores. Tamarindo has one bookstore, named Jaime Peligro. For the photo, I am showing its display of music from Papaya Music, a Costa Rican record label that produces CDs of Central American music.
Papaya Music is sort of like a Central American version of Putumayo.

The American owner of the Jaime Peligro bookstore, Jim Parisi, researches and writes the liner notes for some of the Papaya Music CDs. They asked him to do so after reading his knowledgeable music and entertainment reviews that he writes for the Tamarindo News, a monthly community newspaper.

Papaya Music was formed in 2003 by a consortium of Costa Rican musicians and others who wanted to maintain the traditions of Central American music. They produce a diverse range of music, from folk ballads and instrumentals reflecting the Spanish heritage of Costa Rica to gospel music sung in English from the culture of Jamaican immigrants on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast.

Papaya Music has its own website that gives information about its history, a catalogue of its CDs, and you can listen to samples of its music.

For those who will be visiting Tamarindo during the upcoming tourist high season, the Jaime Peligro bookstore is located in central Tamarindo about a block towards Langosta on the road to Langosta. It is on the left, just past the convenience market and before you get to Carolina's Restaurant. You will find the owner, Jim, very knowledgeable and helpful.

Click here to view thumbnails for all participants in the Daily Photo theme day
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