25 June 2010

The Terrestrial Side of Talamanca, Costa Rica

Our group’s last couple of days in the Caribbean focused on the terrestrial side. Thursday we visited the most productive organic farm I’ve ever visited, Punta Mona. After college, I spent an idyllic few months as a volunteer at Punta Mona, helping the owner, Stephen Brooks, get the farm going with a group of friends. That time ignited an interest in sustainable agriculture that continues today as I work to turn my entire yard into a garden.

In the ten years since I worked at Punta Mona, the place has gone from a fairly productive farm with 20 or so varieties of food to a super-productive farm with more than 200 species of fruit trees alone. Literally everything growing in this place has some sort of value, whether medicinal, nutritional, spiritual, or cultural. Our group has never tasted, smelled, or adorned ourselves with so many natural items in one short span. Our tour guide, Richard, the farm manager, overwhelmed every one of our senses on this hike.

Stephen is one of the most interesting characters you will ever meet. In addition to founding the farm years ago, he also started a student ecotravel company called Costa Rican Adventures (now sold to others and with whom I did my first tour guiding) and more recently started an organic food company called Kopali Organics. Look for them at natural food stores (I recommend the chocolate covered Gogi berries). His passion for sustainability and plants is contagious and his vision is inspiring.

The next morning, we met Tino, in my opinion Costa Rica’s best nature guide, despite the hard time he gives me every time we go into the forest with a group. He took us into the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, an incredible piece of land at the very southernmost point along the Caribbean coast, which he helped to create about 20 years ago. In a relatively short hike, he showed us 5 sloths, several howler monkeys, four snakes, dozens of interesting trees and plants, and more. Its no wonder he was mentioned by name in a recent New York Times article about the region.

Earlier, while visiting the community of Soki in the Bribri Indigenous Reserve, I spoke with one of our hosts who works with a local cooperative called APPTA (Association of Small Producers of Talamanca) that he worked with to sell his organic cacao beans and bananas. I had heard of APPTA’s work in the region and put in a call to a contact I had made years before about touring their cacao processing plant, which we did after the nature hike.

There, our host Walter Rodriguez, told us how the cacao produced in this region was developing a reputation as one of the best in the world; a recent shipment was sent to the high end chocolate company Theo in Seattle. We toured their facility, where they ferment and dry the beans for exportation. He also showed us a nursery where they are cultivating more productive trees for members of the cooperative.

Walter told us of meeting an indigenous man years before while working with Asociacion ANAI, a regional conservation organization who also originally started the turtle project in Gandoca. This man walked 7 hours round trip to deliver a few pounds of cacao seeds to a store and received enough money for 2 bags of salt in exchange. Walter realized that cacao could be a way to help these forgotten communities out of poverty and helped to create APPTA. Now, according to Walter, APPTA has more than 1,200 members in 40 indigenous communities around the region, who make their living producing organic foods such as cacao, bananas, and other fruits. Their entire production of cacao is spoken for; in fact they could increase their production ten-fold and still not have any left over.  The new trees they are producing are about 30 times more productive, which is good news for chocolate lovers everywhere!

Anyone needing to see some good news in the world after the oil spill should take a visit to this region to see (and smell and taste) what progress can be made when dedicated people work towards protecting wildlife and communities. Even though I’ve spent a lot of time in this area over the past decade, every visit brings new experiences and new inspiration to continue working to support our friends in Costa Rica. We hope to show you these incredible places on our next trip!

-Brad Nahill

PS- More and better pictures to be posted soon!

24 June 2010

Hawksbill turtle release in Costa Rica

On our first full day in Costa Rica a couple of weeks ago, we ran into an old friend of ours named Susana Schick, who was our neighbor when my wife and I lived in this area working with a local leatherback turtle project.  We let her know that SEE Turtles was funding the release a couple of rehabilitated hawksbill turtles through our partners at WIDECAST Latin America.  Susana, who has a long history of doing environmental education in this region, immediately started working on bringing her daughter's class from the local elementary school in Puerto Viejo.

The plan came to fruition this morning.  As we bumped along the dirt road leading north from town, we saw a group of 12 students in the two-toned blue uniforms happily walking along a beach.  I'm not sure if they were more excited about seeing the turtles or the fact that they had escaped the classroom for a rare field trip, but either way, we had a fun group ready to learn.

We introduced our group, made up of my and my two sister's families and my mom to the kids and gathered around our rental van to give them an impromtu slide show on sea turtles that I had on my computer.  Randall, from the Seahorse Aquarium in Limon, soon arrived with the two hawksbills that we were going to release.  These gorgeous turtles were confiscated by the police and given to Randall to nurse back to health in his aquarium.

Randall then spoke to the kids about the local situation of these critically endangered turtles and why its important to protect them.  Susana did a quick poll before the presentation of how many of the kids had tried turtle meat; all but two raised their hands.  Eating turtles in this region has been common for generations; hopefully we are beginning the process of changing minds with activities like this.  Each kid, both local and foreign, had a chance to touch the shells of the turtles before being released.  Two brave young boys volunteered for the honor of releasing them and all of the kids helped keep them hydrated with water as they walked to the ocean.

18 June 2010

Bribri, Amubri, Soki

Yesterday was the longest and most intense day of the trip so far. We took our van about an hour up into the Talamanca mountains to the Bribri Indigenous Reserve.  There we met a local young man named Geiner (not sure of that spelling) who guided us across a large river on a small boat (right) to the public bus which took us to the town of Amubri. I first visited Amubri eleven years ago with friends from EcoTeach when they first visited the community to talk to elders about bringing student groups there. Back then, all of the houses were traditional wood thatched roof houses and no electricity. Now, they are all concrete with tv's and tin roofs.

From Amubri we set off down the road to visit the village of Soki. It was a hot, sunny day and several of the kids took advantage of the horses that our guides brought along. In Soki, the Bribri are hanging onto their culture, still living from the land and practicing their long-held customs and ceremonies. EcoTeach has great background information on the communities here.

After more than an hour, we came to the small village and went to one of the homes and sat on makeshift benches. There, local leaders showed us how they made chocolate for important occasions and gave us a delicious lunch of rice, beans, heart of palm, banana, and helecho (a fern-like plant), served wrapped up in a banana leaf. We then moved to a newly built traditional ranch where their kids sang us a song and then we participated in a sacred dance called the Sorbon (again probably spelled wrong). The kids from our group then sang a song from their school and taught the Bribri kids the timeless game of tag.

Most people here work in agriculture, harvesting bananas, plantains, cacao, and other fruit. They are part of a successful cooperative called APPTA which supports many local and indigenous communities. We hope to visit their chocolate processing plant later in the trip. A small amount of tourism also helps these communities survive. EcoTeach has built a new school and clinic and helped to bring clean water to two villages here. For many of us, the most enduring memory will be the hospitality of our new Bribri friends. Their gratefulness of our visit and openness to share their culture will be one of our most precious souvenirs.

(PS - Feel free to point out the irony of a complete lack of mention of turtles for our 100th post...)

(PPS - We didn't post any pictures of the Bribri people except for the guide as they request us not to take any.)

17 June 2010

Costa Rica Continued...

Day 3 started with a trip to Gandoca, to visit the WIDECAST Latin America leatherback sea turtle project. Gandoca is the southernmost town on the Caribbean coast, just a stones throw from the border with Panama.  The turtles here have been protected since the 80's and poaching of the eggs has dropped to almost none.  In the same time period, the project has brought in hundreds of volunteers per year while generating tens of thousands in income for the local community.  (Learn about volunteering here).

On our visit, we took a relaxing boat ride around the Gandoca lagoon, seeing three species of monkeys (howlers, capuchins, and spiders), as well as lots of birds.  After that, we visited the egg hatchery, where the nests are protected until the hatchlings hatch and are released to the ocean.  We had just missed several nests hatching the night before but did see one little straggler hatchling.  The kids in our group helped to smooth the sand to make the way for the hatchling a little bit easier.  For dinner, we held a big dinner for both our friends from the US and Gandoca, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of me and my wife meeting while working in Gandoca in 2000.  In the evening, we took a short walk onto the beach looking for nesting leatherbacks.  While we didn't see any, we did see a couple of green turtle hatchlings, the first of the season in Gandoca!

The next day, I peeled off from our group with photographer Neil Osborne and videographer Paul Miller to visit a unique wetland in northern Panama called San San Pond Sak, an indigenous name combined with a bit of English.  This important wetland is home to approximately 100 manatees (viewing platform pictured) and an impressive local organization called AAMVECONA (in Spanish) works to study and protect both them and leatherback turtles nesting on their beach.  In our short time there, we only caught a couple of glimpses of a manatee but came away educated on their threats and natural history and plan to bring groups there in the future.

Next update coming soon-

-Brad Nahill

14 June 2010

Why Do So Many People Choose a Turtle Tattoo Design?

By Terry Daniels

Tattoos are becoming more and more mainstream these days, and it's not just the young people who get them, either. Many people of all ages are now choosing body art. This is due to the fact that they are a great means of expressing personality and individuality. Also, the fact that tattoos are widely accepted by almost every culture in the world has spurred their popularity.

With that said, you may not know what type of tattoo you want to get. Turtle tattoo designs are a very popular choice amongst people with tattoos, so if you think you may be interested in getting a turtle or sea turtle design, read on.

Turtles really do have a lot of deep meanings from nearly every culture in the world. They are fascinating animals. Thanks to their shells, they are protected from danger and predators. Also, sea turtles can live for hundreds of years! It's no wonder that so many people have attached so many deep meanings to these creatures.

For example, turtles are very sacred animals to many Native Americans. Indeed, some tribes attribute the creation of the world to turtles. The Huron, for instance, believe that a girl fell out of the sky to our world when there was nothing but water and sea creatures. The animals took the girl to a very wise turtle, and he told them how to create land from the bottom of the ocean. They did this and the land began to grow and grow into continents. The sky girl could then live comfortably, which became the world that we know today.

Obviously, it's not surprising that there are so many turtle tribal tattoos to choose from. And this is just one example out of many creation myths. Often, the turtle is thought to carry the world on it shell or is somehow used to support the heavens. The turtle is most often associated with tranquility and steadfastness. The tattoo designs usually represent bravery, guts, endurance, perseverance, security, protection, and longevity.

Another advantage of a turtle tattoo is that it can give an artist the opportunity to put together elements of more than one tattoo. Many artists like to utilize a turtle's shell with another design or symbol. For example, if you wanted to, you could get a Japanese Kanji character inside the shell to represent strength or protection. 

Obviously, you needn't have to use Japanese or Chinese characters on the shell if you don't want to. You can still choose something else that has meaning to you to be incorporated in with turtle designs. The main purpose of getting a tattoo is, after all, to get something that has meaning to you.

These tattoos can be very versatile, as a turtle is a creature with which one can get creative where tattoos are concerned. You can have a very small and simplistic tattoo featuring a turtle, or you could have something large or elaborate also.

Now, you must understand why so many people choose turtle tattoo designs. If this is something you think you'd be interested in, you need to find a design you like. You can do this by searching online. Don't forget that you can also personalize it even further by including something else onto the turtle's shell!

Terry Daniels of TattooDesign-Reviews.com, specializes in helping individuals get the styles and designs they need to make the right tattoo choices. Terry leads his team of tattoo experts in constantly reviewing new products and packages in the market to make sure you get the best value tattoo designs that look good on you. Check out actual user reviews of tattoo design sites and galleries at TattooDesign-Reviews.com.

13 June 2010

Live from Costa Rica

We'll be sending regular updates from Costa Rica over the next couple of weeks.  I'm here with 3 families with kids ranging from 2 to 10, visiting all of the fun things to offer around the country's South Caribbean region.

I arrived with my family and another on a red-eye Friday morning.  While the flight was as rough as you'd imagine with kids, everybody was thrilled to arrive and get started.  We took a quick dip in the pool at La Rosa de America, where we met up with the members of the group smart enough to fly in the night before.  We then passed through Braulio Carillo National Park on the way to the Caribbean, braving driving rain and crazy bus drivers along the way.

The rain let up just as we arrived to Jardin Pierella, one of my favorite places in Costa Rica.  This butterfly farm run by William Camacho, has done an incredible job at restoring diversity to an area of the country dominated by pasture.  William raises butterflies to export to museums around the US, as well as taking care of wildlife confiscated by the Costa Rican's Environment ministry.  He told us about a recent survey that showed a majority of homes here had wild animals.  I knew the problem was bad but had no idea at the scale.  Among the creatures (in addition to butterflies) we saw here were poison dart frogs, a red eye tree frog, walking sticks, peccaries, parrots, and a very friendly porcupine.  After that, we drove the last 3 hours to our cabins near Puerto Viejo and went to bed early.

Bright sunshine greeted us the next morning and the warm Caribbean water was first on the agenda.  After a couple of hour of bodysurfing, we had a great lunch at a local place called Bread & Chocolate.  Our afternoon began with a visit to the Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve and their wonderful iguana farm.  Our indigenous Bribri guide, Lucas, explained the cultural importance of the iguanas to his people, how they use the fat, skin, and meet for different purposes such as medicine, drums, and food.  The iguanas are a favorite local meal, so they're are almost completely gone from this region.  They have released more than 35,000 iguanas from here over the past 20 years, helping to keep the forests alive with these beautiful animals.

As the sun set, we got another shower as we headed to the beach to meet a couple of sea turtles.  Also confiscated by the Environment Ministry from people who had them illegally, this green and hawksbill were being given a second chance at life.  We helped release them back into the ocean just north of Puerto Viejo.  Just north of where we let them go is Cahuita National Park, home to the country's largest coral reef, the preferred habitat for hawksbills.

I'll have a short video to share and more stories soon-

-Brad Nahill