Saturday, February 28, 2009
Arenal lava flow at night
Here is a link to the Google maps aerial satellite photo of Arenal volcano. If you enlarge the satellite photo, you will be able to see the red lava inside the crater.
Volcano monitoring is very important, as Arenal volcano erupts most of the time, but the lava flows stay within the boundaries of the two national parks that encompass the volcanic craters. If the eruption increases, however, nearby hotels, restaurants, farms, and towns could be threatened.
Volcano monitoring made the news this week. In the Republican speech as a rebuttal to President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal criticized the spending in the economic stimulus law, and he said that volcano monitoring equipment was an example of the wasteful spending. It seems odd for a Governor of Louisiana to be criticizing preparedness for natural disasters.
Volcanoes are serious business. When the USA installs the new volcano monitoring equipment in the volcanoes in the USA, maybe they can send the existing equipment down to Costa Rica if it is still useful.
By the way, since I mentioned foreign aid from the USA, this gives me an excuse to say that Costa Rica is grateful for the aid that it receives from some foreign sources, including monetary system support and aid for the victims of the earthquake a few months ago. Two decades ago, Costa Rica's commitment to peace caused it to lose most of the foreign aid that it could have received.
In the 1980's, the Reagan Administration offerred lots of money to Costa Rica in exchange for using Costa Rican territory to train contra rebels to attack the Sandinistas in neighboring Nicaragua. The President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, instead went to Nicaragua and brokered a peaceful solution to the conflict. The USA lost interest in giving the large amounts of aid to Costa Rica, but Oscar Arias was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Oscar Arias is again the President of Costa Rica today, and his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize is a source of national pride in such a small country.
Costa Rica's commitment to peace and the abolition of its military in 1949 is a man-made wonder in a country most known for natural wonders, such as Arenal volcano.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Arenal volcano summit
Thursday, February 26, 2009
The top of Arenal volcano
The town of La Fortuna is now the center of the visitor activities for the many tourists who come to see the nearby Arenal volcano. It was given the name of La Fortuna because of its good fortune of the volcanic flow diverting around and saving the town during the big 1968 eruption.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Arenal volcano crater in the clouds
The volcanic activity occurs at several different places in the volcano, not merely at the top. There are several craters, and there are fumaroles that release volcanic activity about two-thirds of the way up the volcanic mountain.
The volcano is active most of the time, and at times the eruptions are especially intense. In 1993 one wall of the crater collapsed and there were four fiery avalanches of molten lava. In 1998 there were 23 rivers of lava flowing from one of the 5 main craters.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
Arenal Sky Tram
How does one reach such a high vantage point? The easy way is shown in the second photo.
The second photo shows the path of the sky tram extending up the mountainside from the lake. Here is a link to the website of the sky tram. It is possible to walk down, or, for the adventurous, to take zip lines down. (I will show more photos of that later.)
With such a lush forest in this area, perhaps you can understand that my very good friend and high school debate partner from St. Louis, Missouri, USA, made a decision to give up his law practice and to start a ginger farm in the Arenal area of Costa Rica. He has built a guest lodge for people to stay in his tropical paradise.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Coati is the correct name given to the species by the indigenous peoples. Some people call them coatimundi, but that is not correct. Coatimundi is the native term to refer to a single coati, rather than a group of coatis. A coati traveling alone is usually a male, as females travel in groups.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
For a link to the website of the Swiss-themed Hotel Los Heroes, click here.
I enjoy people who have imported their architecture from their countries of origin when they have moved to other areas of the world, as long as it is tastefully done and fits within its setting, rather than being touristy kitsch, like a Las Vegas theme hotel.
I think the Swiss touches of this farmstead and hotel fit in just fine because of the green, mountain setting. It reminds me of the Lakes region of Patagonia in Argentina, particularly the town of Bariloche and the village of Villa la Angustura. Many of the hotels, lodges, and restaurants in that area are built in a Swiss or German style, similar to this farm and hotel in Costa Rica.
Perhaps immigrants feel more comfortable if they recreate the architecture of their home country even when they move far away. That is certainly the case with English people. I recently went to Australia and New Zealand for the first time, and the architecture there looks more classically British than England. In Australia, a store clerk, even referred to my wife and me, both Americans, as being "ex-empire." I had never heard that expression, and we certainly don't think of ourselves as being formerly British subjects.
On Victoria Island, British Columbia, Canada, they have a slogan that they are more British than the English. Maybe the more distant people are from their homeland, the more extreme they are in trying to recreate its architecture to remind them of home, as it will be less likely that they will return home to visit.
Carrying on the traditions of the homeland is present on the shores of Lake Arenal in other ways besides the Los Heroes Swiss hotel. An Englishman has carried on the gardening tradition of his homeland in creating the Jardin Botanical Arenal, a botanical garden containing 2,200 species of native plants that thrive in the ideal climate and rich volcanic soil of the Arenal area.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Swiss barn and Inn at Lake Arenal
For a link to the website of the Hotel Los Heroes, which describes how they started by building a Swiss barn in 1989, and then added the restaurant, hotel, and even obtained the railroad parts from Switzerland, click here.
As I mentioned in my post yesterday, there is beautiful scenery and a variety of tourist activities in this area. The most spectacular scene in the area is the Arenal volcano, which I will show in a couple of days.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
There are a variety of kingfishers in Costa Rica, and unfortunately, the kingisher in this photo is not show in my books on Costa Rica birds and wildlife. Kingfishers dive into the water to feed on fish. Some types of kinfgishers prefer smaller streams and others prefer open water, such as lakes and tidal estuaries.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Great Egret in Flight at Lake Arenal
There are 15 species of egrets and herons in Costa Rica. I believe that this is a great egret because of the combination of a yellow beak and black legs. By clicking on the "birds" tab in my index to topics on this website below (or using the links below) you can compare different types of egrets that I have posted. On July 2, 2008, I posted a photo of a snowy egret. On July 16, 2008 I posted a photo of a bare-throated tiger egret. On August 29, 2009, I posted a group of cattle egrets. On December 4, 2008, I posted another photo of a another snowy egret.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
There are tourist activities in the area, including hanging bridges and a sky tram through the rain forest, horseback riding, windsurfing, botanical gardens, bird and wildlife cruises on the lake, fishing (particularly bass fishing), hiking, mountain biking, and more.
The lake was created in 1973 by an earthen dam that is 56 m. (184 ft.) high and 88 m. (288 ft.) high. It generates s significant part of the country's electricity, and 70% of Costa Rica's electricity is generated from hydro power. There are also wind turbines in the area to generate renewable energy.
Laguna de Arenal, as it is called in Spanish, is located in the eastern part of the Guanacaste province that includes Tamarindo and comprises northwest Costa Rica, which places it in the north central area of the country.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Banana boss and the banana industry
There is good news and bad news. The good news is that the banana industry, Costa Rica's leading export crop, is on track to be carbon neutral in only 3 or 4 years. (Coffee is second largest export crop.) The bad news is that bananas are grown in large plantations, often foreign owned. Many of the workers are Nicaraguans. Some estimates are that as many as 1 million Nicaraguans live in Costa Rica, a country with a population of only 4 million.
The banana industry has a fascinating and profound historical role in the country. Costa Rica was the original "banana republic." In the 1870's, it used the same technique to build a railroad as the USA did in the American West -- give away land as incentive and payment for a company to build a railroad. Costa Rica gave 320,000 hectares (470,000 acres) to U.S. interests to build the "jungle railway" to connect Costa Rica's central valleys with the Caribbean coast.
5,000 workers died building the railway though mountainous jungle. Originally, Chinese and Italian laborers were brought in to lay the 150 km (93 miles) or railroad track, but they succumbed to malaria at a high rate. Jamaican laborers of African descent were then used, with much more success.
At the end of the railroad on the Caribbean coast, many of the Jamaican laborers had to wait to collect their pay, and they ended up settling in the area. The railroad was the reason that Costa Rica has a minority population of Jamaican/African origin, largely on the Caribbean coast, many of whom still speak English as their primary language.
With the railroad, banana exports jumped form 100,000 stems in 1883 to 1 million in 1890, and 11 million in 1913. Because of labor unions and plant diseases in the Caribbean lowlands, in the 1930's the banana industry left the Caribbean side of the country and relocated to the central and southern Pacific side. Today, the banana industry is back on the Caribbean side.
We do not have banana plantations in the northwest Pacific region of Guanacaste because, unlike other areas of Costa Rica, we have a long dry season with very little rain from November until May. The sunny dry weather is great for tourism, but not for bananas. Trees actually drop their leaves to conserve moisture.
The banana industry has had a profound impact on the economy and culture, affecting issues such as land ownership and race. The small African minority was restricted to the Caribbean coast until 1948, when there was a democratic movement and they were given full citizenship. Today, sadly, 2.8% of landowners own 47% of the country's farmland, usually banana plantations or, in Guanacaste, cattle ranches. More than half of Costa Rican farmers own less than 10 hectares, or 14.7 acres, adding up to only 5% of the farmland. Many of those farms are too small to support a family, even when growing coffee.
The other day Kate left a comment asking about pesticide use in banana fields, and that is an issue. They are trying to use natural methods to reduce the use of pesticides, but some of the pests if not controlled would be very harmful to the banana workers as they work in the plantations. Unfortunately, it is not good for the environment, throughout the world, to have large tracks of land devoted to a single purpose, whether it be growing the same crop or cattle ranching. Diversity is better, and that is a major focus of Costa Rica's efforts to plant 7 million trees per year -- to reintroduce a variety of trees into cattle and plantation areas.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Weddings and Valentine's Day
Friday, February 13, 2009
Another first: free trade
The USA and Central American countries have adopted the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA. Because Costa Rica has such a strong democratic tradition (unlike many Latin American countries), people were successful in forcing a national referendum election in Costa Rica on whether to ratify CAFTA a year or so ago. Many Costa Ricans, particularly farmers, opposed the treaty because they feared that a flood of cheaper imports would undermine local businesses and jobs.
Think about your own country. If there were a public vote on whether to make it easier for foreign products to compete with the products made by workers in your own country, do you think the people would vote for it?
The Nobel Peace Prize winning President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, explained to the people that CAFTA would benefit the regional economy by opening up other markets to products made in Costa Rica. This was a "tough sell" to Costa Rica, which is still heavily agricultural and most farmers are small family farmers and they feared having to compete with the giant U.S. agri-businesses.
The voters approved CAFTA by a narrow margin, which made Costa Rica the only country on earth that has approved a free trade agreement by a vote of the people. This is strong evidence not only of the democratic tradition in the country, but of the educational system that the voting public could and did think through the long-range implications of the complex issue of foreign trade.
So, what has happened in the year or so since CAFTA was ratified? Well, during the past week two significant developments have happened. After a 3 year process of negotiations, inspections, and U.S. government review, Costa Rica has been approved to be able to export tomatoes and peppers to the U.S. This will help the Costa Rican economy, and greenhouses will be built and expanded to produce these crops year-round for export.
The news from Europe is not as good. There are negotiations going on right now between Central American and European trade authorities, and they are going very slowly and progress is not satisfactory. The European Union has proposed only modest reductions in the tariffs on banana imports. I am sure that there are not local banana farmers in Europe that they are trying to protect, so why make bananas more expensive for Europeans?
I have used a photo today of banana workers to illustrate this discussion of free trade. For the Europeans who read this blog, wouldn't you like some Costa Rican bananas at a cheaper price?
I apologize for discussing a "heavy" economic subject, and I promise that tomorrow I will return to the usual photos of beaches, wildlife and plants that you typically see on this website. But after sharing the news yesterday of the BioGem designation of Costa Rica, I thought I would share the news on the issue of foreign trade, as anything that stimulates the economy is so important to Costa Rica and the world in these challenging times.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Costa Rica is the first "BioGem" country
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Playa Flamingo and sports fishing
Playa Flamingo has a pretty bay and a small beach. There are a number of other small beaches in the area around Flamingo. There are a few hotels, restaurants and condos, as you can see in this photo. My wife and I prefer the much longer beach for walking and swimming and the much larger availability of restaurants, activities and shops in Tamarindo and Playa Langosta, but this is a matter of personal preference and some people prefer the Playa Flamingo area.
Costa Rica is adding marina facilities as part of its national commitment to continue to develop infrastructure for tourism. Playa Flamingo has a natural harbor behind the peninsula shown in this photo. (Some of the sports fishing boats are visible if you enlarge the photo.) The government put out for bid a marina development project for Playa Flamingo and the winning bid was a $90 million (USD) project that would include a cruise ship pier and a hotel, as well as a marina for private boats and yachts.
The companies who lost the bid have started legal action to challenge the winning bid, and the investment money for the winning bid was from U.S. business interests. The combination of the legal complications and the recession have created uncertainly about the project.
One also has to wonder how it would change the area if cruise ships start arriving nearby. I am sure that the businesses that own shops and run tourist activities would welcome the additional crowds, and the rest of us would make sure to plan our activities on days when the cruise ships are not in port.
There is a new marina that opened recently in the Gulf of Papagayo, a little further north.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Surfing and sportsfishing
A recent newspaper article reported that 20% of tourists who come to Costa Rica go surfing. That means that more than 200,000 people each year come to Costa Rica to enjoy surfing. Tamarindo and Jaco are the two leading towns for surfing, the paper reported. Jaco will host the 2009 Billabong World Surfing Championships in July, which will help showcase Costa Rica's outstanding surfing to the world. Costa Rica was awarded the surfing championships over competing bids from much larger countries, such as Brazil and South Africa.
The sports fishing boat shown in this photo beyond the surf is typical of the fishing boats in Tamarindo available for hire. Tamarindo has great deep sea fishing, including sail fish and marlin. I have not yet been deep sea fishing, but I plan to do so with my younger son, Stuart, when he comes down to visit Tamarindo from Scottsdale, Arizona in May. I will give a further report about the fishing after that date.
Monday, February 9, 2009
They are 3 feet (90 cm) long and have a wingspan of 3.8 feet (1.1 meters) Their Spanish name is pato aguja, which means needle duck, which is a good name for them.
Anhingas are relatives of cormorants. They differ from cormorants and most other water birds because they spear their fish with their beaks, which have a hook on the end. Most water birds swallow fish rather than spear them. Anhingas thrust their necks as they spear fish, which is why the are sometimes called darters. In addition to fish, anhingas will also eat baby turtles, baby caiman, and snakes.
Because their feathers are not as water repellent as other water birds, when they swim in the water their bodies are submerged and only their long necks stick up above the water, which is why they are sometimes called snake birds. Their scientific name is anhinga anhinga. I don't know why they repeat the word.
My wife took this photo from a raft as she floated on the Penas Blancas River right underneath this anhinga's drying, outstretched wings. That meant that she was shooting up into a bright sky and she had no opportunity to change the angle of the photo. Nevertheless, she got a great shot even though she had to act fast to capture the photo while floating under the bird.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Hacienda Guachipelin restaurant
They skipped the mud baths, but they did not skip lunch. This is a photo of the restaurant where they ate at the Hacienda Guachipelin, which is a working cattle ranch that has rooms for guests to stay, as well as a restaurant and tourist activities. Its website is www.guachipelin.com. It is an ideal place for exploring Rincon de la Vieja, which is located very close to Guachipelin.
This photo reflects the excellent tourist infrastructure in Costa Rica. It makes it a much more pleasant day when tourists can hike, horseback ride, see volcanic activity and wildlife, and do all of the other activities in a spectacular ecosystem such as Rincon de la Vieja, yet tourists can still have lunch in a quality restaurant and pleasant surroundings.
In many developing countries, there would not be the hotels and restaurants to support tourists (except backpackers). In Costa Rica, eco-tourism is the country's number one industry, and there is a national priority on developing and improving the facilities for tourism. In fact, Costa Rica is about to build an entirely new airport terminal at Liberia, the international airport that brings foreign tourists directly to the northwest Pacific province of Guanacaste.
One thing stikes me as curious about today's photo of Hacienda Guachipelin restaurant, however. As you can see from the photo, it is open air, as are most of the restaurants in Costa Rica. It has large windows to look out at the jungle. It also has a stained glass window hanging in one of the window spaces, with a tropical scene displayed in stained glass. I like stained glass, but it seems funny to to me to have a stained glass jungle scene hanging in a window when you could see a real jungle scene out the same window. That is just my opinion, which of course you may not share.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Huge tree, and 7 million more on the way
The biodiversity of Costa Rican cloud forests is illustrated by something that I read recently about Monteverde, Costa Rica. In 10 square miles (26 square kilometers) of the Monteverde cloud forest, there are as many different plant species as there are in all of the USA and Canada combined. I find that stunning.
My wife (who operates Scottsdale, Arizona Daily Photo) took this photo on a hike with our friend Sharon (who operates Phoenix Daily Photo), and certainly Sharon's presence in this photo helps to illustrate the giant size of some of the trees.
Here is some good news about trees in Costa Rica. In 2007, the country planted 5.9 million new trees. It set the goal of 7 million new trees for 2008, and the newspaper reported this week that the 2008 results were that 7,007,323 new trees were planted.
Many of the trees were planted by school children who participate in the country's "A que sembras un arbol" program, which translates as "Bet you will plant a tree." This is part of Costa Rica's commitment to become the world's first carbon neutral country by 2021.
1.3 million of the 7 million new trees were planted in Guanacaste, the northwest Pacific region where Tamarindo is located. The tree planting program is in part to reverse some of the effects of the deforestation of parts of Guanacaste that occurred during the Spanish colonial period, when large cattle haciendas were created. The cattle raising in the area has continued to the present day, although it is now on the decline.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Baby iguana (2)
There are several ways to distinguish between iguanas and baby geckos. Iguanas come out in the day, and geckos are nocturnal. Iguanas have claws, whereas geckos have round pads on their toes, with tiny hooks underneath, too small to see, that they can use for climbing up walls and hanging on ceilings. Iguanas usually have round eyes, whereas a gecko's eyes have vertical slits for vision at night.
I hope that my posts during the last couple of days did not build up expectations for something more dramatic than a baby iguana. We did see a toucan, monkeys and a capybara on this same hike.
My favorite jungle wildlife story occurred in the Amazon rather than in Costa Rica. I can brag that I deflected a full speed attack by a wild animal at night with my lightning-quick reflexes, as the animal bounced off my forearm, which I raised in front of my face in the nick of time. What type of animal was it, you may wonder? A hummingbird.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Tamarindo offers an ideal beach location, but it is not isolated on an island. It is part of a remarkable, diverse country. There is much more to do than beach activities, such as hiking tropical cloud forests like the one shown in this photo.
The thickness of the forest canopy in blocking the sunlight is shown by the blurred effect of the water cascading between the rocky pools in this photo. There was not enough light to have a fast enough shutter speed to capture the water without the flowing, blurred effect. I did not slow down the shutter speed on purpose to create that effect.
Several days ago I posted a photo of the stream that is crossed by the foot bridge that I showed in my photos on Feb. 1 and 2. Kate posted a comment that the stream looked larger than a babbling brook, and I agree. Today's photo shows what I would consider to be in the babbling brook category.
Tomorrow I will show you a photo of a small critter that greeted us when we crossed this creek, and then the next day I will show a photo to illustrate the biodiversity of the plant life in the area.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Log bridge over creek
On Sunday, I showed a hanging bridge over a river for the Feb. 1 theme day of "paths and pathways." Several people wondered if it is sturdy, and it is. So I decided today to show this photo of a trail in Rincon de la Vieja National Park that does not have the sturdiness of the bridge suspended from cables, with wire cage sides and handrails.
The two hikers shown in this photo are my two sons. One lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the other lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA. It is nice that they can "meet halfway" in Costa Rica to vacation together with my wife and me.
Tomorrow I will show you the creek traversed by this log, followed by a photo of the creature we saw immediately after crossing this log bridge.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
River in Rincon de la Vieja
This stream crossing is near the bottom of the cloud forest, and the thick vegetation visible on both sides of the river is characteristic of the cloud forest. There are hiking trails in both the higher elevation cloud forest and the lower elevation dry forest. The fumaroles, or geysers and bubbling, steaming mud pots, that I have shown in the past are in the lower elevation dry forest. You can find those photos by clicking on the index labels for Volcanoes or Rincon de la Vieja on the left side of this website.
This photo offers a chance to discuss something about Costa Rica that I have not mentioned previously. Costa Rica generates about 70% of its electricity from hydro power. The country does not have oil, of course, but its topography gives it the opportunity to develop hydro power because it has a spine of high mountains running down the length of the country's interior. Although Guanacaste is sunny and dry much of the year, it rains in the mountains, and some of the rivers are used to generate electricity.
The growth of the country means that there is a need for the development of more electricity generation capacity. Costa Rica has adopted the goal of becoming the world's first carbon-neutral country -- by 2021. It has also set aside more than 25% of its land for national parks and nature reserves, more than any other nation.
Tomorrow I will show a view of the vegetation in the cloud forest.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Foot bridge over river
To answer the question directly, the bridge is very sturdy. It has cables from which the bridge is hanging, with wire fencing on the sides and a wire floor. It does sway a little, but not very much.
Tomorrow I will show a photo looking up river from the bridge, followed the next day by a photo showing a much trickier crossing of a creek up the trail.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Monthly theme: Paths & Pathways
Rincon de la Vieja National Park is a transitional area, from the lowland coastal dry forest, to the higher elevation cloud forest. The volcano provides the sharp elevation gain, which also causes the 32 rivers and 16 seasonal creeks, plus many waterfalls, to exist in the park.
I have shown some of the waterfalls and geothermal and geyser activity in the park in past photos. The path across the river shown here leads into the woods where visitors can see tropical plants and wildlife. I showed some photos recently of a toucan at the Las Pumas Rescue Center and some readers commented that they would like to see a toucan in the wild. I have seen a toucan in the wild in the trees above the trail on the other side of this bridge. Unfortunately, it was too dark in the forest and he was obscured behind leaves and branches, so we had to enjoy spotting and hearing it, but we were not able to photograph it.
Click here to view thumbnails for all participants