My internship in Costa Rica has officially come to an end. I was incredibly fortunate to spend eight weeks at Xandari, an environmentally-focused resort in Costa Rica’s Valle Central. As I sit back at home in the US, a world away (or a short 3 1/2 hours on an airplane, take your pick…), and try to assimilate the different experiences at Xandari, I am struck by some thoughts. Without being too verbose, I’d like to offer a few reflections on my time there this summer.
When I arrived June 10th, I’m not sure what I was expecting. As is probably the case for many tourists visiting Costa Rica, spectacular images of wildlife populated my imagination: monkeys, sloths, toucans, and macaws, meandering trails of army and leaf-cutter ants, poison dart frogs, and the infamous Fer-de-lance pit viper, to name a few. Never having visited a subtropical country or walked through a rainforest, the teeming jungles of Costa Rica stood for me as a kind of fabled land-before-time, a place where a piece of the earth’s verdant soul, shredded by industrial revolution and humanity’s rapacious appetite for resources, had managed to survive intact. I knew that Costa Rica wasn’t all cloud forest and hummingbirds, and that I was likely to be greeted by a healthy dose of reality upon settling in, but I still couldn’t get the kaleidoscoping snippets of colored feathers, fur, and scales out of my mind.
Although my experience was ultimately much more than what these apparitions promised, I can’t say that the rainforest fever-dreams didn’t come true, at least in some sense. With the exception of army ants and the Fer-de-lance (I can substitute bullet ants and coral snakes for them), I did in fact have a chance to see a great many representatives of Costa Rica’s astounding biodiversity. Some colorful neo-tropical birds, like the Blue-crowned Motmot (pájaro bobo), I grew used to seeing every day around Xandari’s property; others, including the Chesnut-Mandibled Toucan, Fiery-billed Araçari, Golden-hooded Tanager, and Scarlet Macaw, were one-offs in the rainforest habitats of Parque Nacional Carara (see posts #1 and #2 by Seth) and Tirimbina. White-faced capuchins, howler monkeys, sloths, armadillos, and green poison dart frogs all made their cameos when we stopped in at these places. (Mammals were a bit rarer around Xandari, at least in the flesh. Tracks told us that we had some small friends, but we rarely clapped eyes on them.)
All in all, fiction eventually gave way to reality when it came to my expectations of the wildlife–but birding did, happily, become one of the major parts of my internship, as Seth and I went out daily counting the species around Xandari’s property. We uploaded the results to eBird, with the intention of contributing to the burgeoning “field” of citizen science. We also led bird tours, updated the resident birds list, and worked on a reference for the Xandari property that would help guests find the birds they wanted to see (or hear, as is likely the case for the sweet-sounding wrens in Xandari’s forests). The kind of awe I had felt before coming to Costa Rica faded, replaced, however, by a more enduring and substantive, dare I say scientific, interest in the feathered flock. Although I had some birding experience in the US, the regularity and intensity of our bird walks in Costa Rica gave me a perfect opportunity to develop my skills and passion for this hobby.
Of equal moment were the other projects I worked on along with Seth. Soon after we arrived, we were plugged into Xandari’s plans to bring coffee back to the Xandari property–“back,” because Xandari had already been a producer of quality coffee as recently as two decades ago. Seth and I had the good fortune to be involved with these plans right from the get-go. From helping to plant the coffee and preparing more borbón seeds for future planting, to exploring the fate of old coffee and getting an in-depth lesson from the nearby Doka Estate, I am glad to have been apart of the process of returning sustainable coffee production to Xandari, land which had for many years been cultivated for just this purpose. It will really be exciting to see the fruits of this labor in coming years: soon enough, bags of coffee with “Xandari” labels will be floating around and helping brew amazing cups of coffee all over the world.
Seth and I also spent time off of Xandari’s property. In July, we began to give art classes at the local Tacacorí elementary and middle school. With painting and papier-mâché, we celebrated the local birds and had a lot of fun doing it! It was rewarding to bring these classes to the kids at Tacacorí school, as their regular curriculum does not include art class. Many of them were extremely creative, and they showcased their imaginative talent as the week went on and they began to experiment with different types of birds.
When I look back and try to tie everything together, I am struck by one thing above all: just how “open” a place Xandari is. It is a fairly intuitive idea that hotels and resorts are “open.” They play host to travelers from across the world who bring their own worldviews and experiences with them and leave with new ones. But even in the broad category of hotels and resorts, Xandari is particularly open, from the many migratory birds who will begin streaming through the property in August, to the coffee that it will soon send all over the world, and the Doka coffee it already does; from the community of Tacacorí, whom it educates and integrates into its sustainable mission, to the traveling museum exhibitions that visit the art studio; and of course, to me (and Seth, who’s still there), who will go on and share the stories and experiences for a long time to come.
This post does a sad job of capturing what it was really like being there–the only way to get a glimpse is to visit yourself! Still, you can learn more about all of the cool things Seth and I saw and did, many of which are not in this post, by checking out our posts from June, July, and August.