Costa Rica Visited

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(Host) Commentator Ted Levin recently visited Costa Rica with a group of students. He says that it was indeed, very educational.

(Levin) We arrived in the airport at San Jose, Costa Rica at 2:00 pm, twenty-six high school students, two eighth graders, a six-year old, and four adults. Once we left the city we encountered a landscape so profoundly diverse and so profoundly different than Vermont that I spent most of the next nine days drooling.

Lush, green jungles sat hard against the sea. There was a smoldering volcano; a towering waterfall and bubbling hot springs; reptiles and birds and monkeys and candy-colored frogs. We saw stick insects the size of tree limbs, butterflies the size of pigeons, and sea turtles the size of compact cars. Tree trunks like flying buttresses rose a hundred feet above the forest floor; each one looked as if it had been poured or dripped from the sky like a giant candle melting toward an increasingly flared base. By the time I left Costa Rica, I had a better sense of the immense biologic potential of the tropics. Our trip also kindled enormous respect for this country, the size of West Virginia, whose economy and national identity are geared toward sensible ecotourism.

Over 25% of Costa Rica is set aside for national parks and reserves. Even casual conversations with residents often touched on the virtues of buying organic bananas and shade-grown coffee to protect the rainforest and coral reefs from pesticide and fertilizer runoff. In the Caribbean outpost of Manzanillo, prospects of offshore oil drilling casts a pall over a community so far removed from the riggers of the industrial world that pelicans and land crabs ought to have a say in town politics. Here, villagers wore (and sold) tee-shirts that read “No a la exploracion petrolera.” And gently reminded us that it is our country that is willing to foul their beaches.

Monteverde is a linguistic reverse of Vermont. There, residents of the cloud forests, also known as high elevation rainforests, built and distributed nest boxes for the resplendent quetzal. The gorgeous crow-sized bird, replete with red breast, green helmet and wings, and streaming tail feathers that curl twenty or more inches beyond the end of its body. It was such a bird watching prize that everyone at our lodge wanted us to find one. Even the waitress smiled every time I showed her the picture in my bird book. When Gil, our guide, actually found a quetzal minutes before we were to board the bus to leave Monteverde, we elevated him to celebrity status. From then on, he devoted himself to showing us whatever it was that we most wanted to see. He pointed out a sun bittern, an eyelash viper, a strawberry poison arrow frog, and a keel-billed toucan. That’s a bird that looks as if a couple of bananas are welded to its face.

We’ve been home for almost a month now and I’ve become a regular at the organic banana counter in the Hanover Coop. This fruit is small, thick-skinned and seems to last forever. Every time I eat one I imagine a raucous chorus of parrots and monkeys, and a country that has made conservation a national priority.

This is Ted Levin of Gillette Swamp in Thetford Center, Vermont.

Ted Levin is a writer and photographer specializing in natural history.

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