Nonetheless, Arabica

SIERRA Coffee Biodiversity WB

PHOTO COURTESY OF PRAKASH MATADA

I have spent most of the last year expanding my coffee knowledge. One thing I was already confident about, and remain so, is that arabica is better than robusta on two scales that matter most to me: taste, and environmental impact. From 2010-2017 during our residency in the Western Ghats, we developed and opened a series of properties where both taste and environmental impact were brand signatures formed in Costa Rica.

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 Instituto del Café de Costa Rica

With regard to coffee, I knew there was more than one good reason why Costa Rica only permits arabica coffee to be grown in the country. And we sourced the highest grade arabica coffee produced in the Western Ghats as much as we could.

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A Malabar pied hornbill, one of 204 species of bird found on coffee plantations in a new study, which found that the tree cover from shade-grown coffee farms provides a welcome habitat for all kinds of animal species. Credit Shashank Dalvi

I took to India a conviction that robusta coffee was to be avoided, but a few months ago started learning otherwise. Today I have read an article that reminds me to keep rethinking.

Thanks to Jason Daley in Sierra magazine for this look at the same scientific findings as those I first read in February in the New York Times,  (as I drink an organic arabica that I am sampling from a roaster in Atlanta, and even with this news about robusta I expect to remain committed to arabica for my own consumption, as well as our commercial purposes):

Which Coffee Is Better for Biodiversity?

A new study shows sun-loving robusta coffee doesn’t have to hurt biodiversity

SIERRA Coffee Biodiversity 2 WB

Alexandrine parakeet | Photo courtesy of Manish Kumarhoto

When coffee consumers think about the most sustainable way to manage their caffeine habit, they normally think about the cup it’s in—is it recyclable? But what about the coffee itself? Some coffee plantations require clear-cutting—will drinking one type of coffee have a bigger impact on the environment than another? Continue reading

Celebrating the Oldest National Park in Costa Rica

Poas Volcano crater on a clear day. Photo credit: Juan K Gamboa

Poas Volcano crater on a clear day. Photo credit: Juan K Gamboa

Today in Costa Rica we celebrate Poás Volcano National Park, which is the oldest national park in the country. It was founded on January 25th, 1971 and is the most visited national park by locals and foreigners alike. The volcano remains active to this day, with clouds of smoke frequently emitting from the main crater. Since 1989 the size of the lake crater has been shrinking and the amount of acid rain increasing, damaging some of the flora in the surrounding areas of the park and farming lands nearby.

Poas Volcano National Park, Lake Botos fills an extinct crater at the end of one trail, and is home to many cloud forest birds including hummingbirds, tanagers, flycatchers, toucanets, Costa Rica’s national bird the clay-colored robin. Photo credit: Juan K. Gamboa

The story behind the name Poás is a curious one. Continue reading

El Mayoreo

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The Mayoreo is the largest farmer’s market in Alajuela and my weekly or bimonthly visits have become one of my favorite routine outings. I can’t claim that it has been so since the beginning, but I have progressively deciphered the persuasive “charm” of the sellers and come to appreciate the fidelity of buyer-seller kinships.

My first visit to the Mayoreo was overwhelming. There are rows upon rows of vibrantly colored produce and fruit, people swaying with the rhythm of the crowds, and farmers howling prices in the noisy air. I felt lost. I had no idea where to start, so I committed to the first row I came upon and looked for the items that were written on my grocery list. My tactic consisted of timidly shuffling towards a stand until the vendor took notice of the potential “business” opportunity and in a boisterous yet coaxing manner lured me closer to his stand. I tried my hardest to blend in with the crowd and give the impression of being an experienced buyer, but the buyer/seller dynamic was a whole different dimension that I would not be able to comprehend and employ until several more visits.

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We All Like a Good Lek

There’s a couple places where we’ve mentioned leks on this blog before–primarily where grouse have been involved–but the first happens to be from 2012, when I was sharing about another bird from the same family as the species shown in the video below. That was the Club-winged Manakin, which I caught on video with a small point-and-shoot camera looking through a guide’s spotting scope. As I explained back then, lek is a Swedish word that has come to mean competitive displays between males of a species to become the breeding choice of one or more females of the same species, most often in the avian world. This time, I got some video from my hand-held (and a tad shaky) Canon Powershot SX50:

In the video above, you can watch one, and then two, male Long-tailed Manakins call and flutter together in the woods just off-trail at Xandari Resort, perhaps as a display Continue reading

Wildlife at Carara and Manuel Antonio National Parks

napping Two-toed Sloth

napping Two-toed Sloth at Manuel Antonio National Park

In 2014, I went to Carara National Park with James, and we saw lots of birds and also a bunch of reptiles and mammals. Some of these I got photos of, and others I was able to catch on video. This last weekend I went to Carara again for a morning of birding, and the next day went out to Manuel Antonio National Park for the first time in over a decade. Carara was as fruitful as ever, although there were many birds that I only heard and couldn’t identify since I don’t know my Pacific coastal bird calls very well. Manuel Antonio proved extremely crowded with tourists, and with a couple mammals so accustomed to human interactions that they brazenly robbed unsuspecting visitors, like the raccoons with a pack of chips (which aren’t allowed in the park due to their crackling package that attracts raccoons, coatis, and monkeys) in the video below. I saw a White-faced Capuchin Monkey bare its teeth and snarl at a tourist for trying to take back an empty plastic grocery bag that the monkey had snatched from his backpack webbing, and, in a more peaceful scene, a Two-toed Sloth napping calmly while a horde of tourists snapped photos a meter or two below (pictured left).

In the following video, you can watch Continue reading

Bird Behavior at Xandari III

For the first two installments of this video series, please click here and here.

With footage filmed between late October and early December of this year, the compilation video below features twelve different families of birds, not including the domesticated chickens we have as egg-suppliers on property.

First, a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird scans its territory for trespassers; next, a female Yellow-throated Euphonia eats some tiny fruit from a local tree, and a male of the same species sings his bubbly song, which includes a mimicked phrase from the Rufous-breasted Wren toward the Continue reading

Insect Behavior at Xandari

Over the last month or so, I’ve been recording videos of animal behavior at Xandari, and I finally have enough to share a small compilation of insects doing their thing on property. Sometime during the next week, I’ll also upload a video of new bird behavior observed here.

In the video above, you’ll see a small colony of leaf-cutter ants Continue reading

The Journey of the Xandari Commuters

I wrote about my daily “commute” in the first post I wrote upon arriving to Xandari as an intern. However, circumstances have changed since then (I am proud to say that I am officially a company employee now), so I think it’s only fair for me to share an updated version that not only illustrates my own personal account but also reflects that of many other employees of the hotel as well.

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Because Coffee is ‘Human’

For those who believe life begins after coffee, the story of its origin will definitely sound familiar. Coffee grown worldwide can trace its heritage to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau, where legend says the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans. It is said that Kaldi discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so energetic that they did not want to sleep at night. Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer. The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and slowly knowledge of the energizing berries began to spread.

Now photographer Sebastiao Salgado takes readers deep into that grind with his latest collection, The Scent of a Dream: Travels in the World of Coffee that looks at the landscapes and labors behind the $100-billion-a-year business in ten countries around the globe.

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The Beat of the Drum

Group of volunteers for the community clean-up on September 20th.

In spite of the daily downpours that mark the true beginning of the rainy season (and might discourage certain outdoor activities), September has been an eventful month to say the least. Costa Rica celebrated its 194th anniversary of national independence on the the 15th and the preparations at Xandari and around the country leading up to the date were very visible and audible. At the beginning of the month a few of us decorated the lobby and restaurant areas with red, white and blue streamers and ribbons, national flags, and historic photographs. Given the variety of colorful paintings and ornaments that already adorn the lobby and restaurant areas, we were cautious not to be unnecessarily generous with the patriotic decorations – so as not to over-excite the sensibility of the guests of course! Continue reading

Strawberries and Earthy Smells

A group of thirteen 4th and 6th grade students from the school Centro Educativo Villa Azul came to visit Xandari on Wednesday morning. Unlike sustainability tours I’ve led before, I was dealing with a large, energetic bunch of jubilant preteens that get distracted easily. I had prepared for this occasion and made sure to add a recycling activity and a few tasty snacks (to “recharge the batteries” of course) at the end of the tour.

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Sparkle and Twinkle

The full moon as seen from Xandari on July 31st (photo by S. Inman).

I was quite nervous before my 8am tour as I read through the Sustainability Tour document and general script of facts last Friday. This was going to be my first measurable test to prove everything I have learned so far from working at Xandari for two and a half weeks. The tour consists of making the rounds through the property to each department and having a member of each one describe to the guest their daily practices that are environmentally friendly. My primary role in the tour is to explain in detail the CST (Certificate of Sustainable Tourism) program and its significance not only to the whole mission and vision of Xandari, but also as a greater movement for businesses in the hospitality industry in Costa Rica. In addition, while we are at each department, I become a translator for my coworkers if the guests don’t understand Spanish. Continue reading

Witnessing (and Separating) Color

One must always be camera-ready at Xandari; otherwise one might miss the unexpected beauties that present themselves. On Friday I postponed my dinner (despite my grumbling stomach) in order to take a picture of the breathtaking sunset that was slowly sinking behind the mountains. I had to get to the sunset pool to capture this marvel, and believe it or not, I actually ran. Every second spent getting to the pool meant one less streak of vivid color highlighting the darkening sky. Not to mention, it also meant one second less of battery life on my camera phone with 4% battery left. The stakes were high.

I had not yet witnessed nightfall from the sunset pool, and as soon as I reached my destination I drew in a quick, shallow breath and let out long whispered ‘wooow.’ I was paralyzed with wonder. Birds were swooping down to drink some water from the pool, dodging and weaving one another with such swiftness that I’d lose track of which one I was looking at, all the while the sunlight retreated in the background. It was the ‘bleep’ of my “dying” phone that woke me to my senses and reminded me why I had run here in the first place. I took my pictures quickly and then observed the fleeting moment in stillness. Continue reading

The Xandari Welcome

Upon my arrival to Xandari two days ago, my senses were immediately awakened by the singing of birds, the fluttering of butterflies, the aroma of flowers, and the vibrancy of the mosaics; I was welcomed not only by my fellow coworkers but also by the plenitude of flora and fauna that give life to the reserve.

I arrived at Xandari around lunchtime, so I was fortunate that my first experience at the property involved eating a delicious meal prepared by our chef, Miguel. I enjoyed my Portobello mushroom burger while getting to know Marcela, the general manager, and gazing out at the almost 180 degree view of the Central Valley.  Continue reading

Back at Xandari

My first Xandari sunset of 2015.

This week, after about six months away from Costa Rica, I’m working at Xandari again, and it’s good to be back! On Saturday morning I walked around the trails for a couple hours and logged thirty-one bird species seen or heard, which counts as a pretty good list for Xandari, in my experience. Among the usual suspects were a few birds that are relatively uncommon sights, though not rare by any means: Chestnut-collared Swifts, Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, and a male Long-tailed Manakin, which is always a pleasure to see or even hear. I also got an uncharacteristically good look at a Rufous-and-white Wren, a species that long eluded our efforts to spot when James and I first got here a year ago, despite its eerily human-sounding whistle that frequently pierces the forest trails. And although it’s a very common bird around here, I did get an okay photo of the male Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, which can be tough given their predilection for skulking around among dense vines.

One of the plots of coffee planted last June, now shaded by banana and tiquisque.

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Embarking on a Path of Sustainability

I never expected to return to Costa Rica after finishing college, and much less, to fulfill a role that I only dreamed about.  When I was offered the opportunity to help advance the sustainability projects at Xandari Resort in Costa Rica, I knew this was an opportunity that I could not let pass. From the first day that I selected Hospitality Administration as my major at Boston University (BU) and through my four years learning about and working in hospitality, I have grown to cherish the industry. Through my multiple work experiences in hotels and food and beverage companies, primarily in operations and guest relations, I experienced daily the joy of hospitality services. Continue reading

Green turtle links Costa Rica’s Cocos Island with Ecuador’s Galapagos

Sanjay

Sanjay the green sea turtle is equipped with satellite tags before being released into the ocean. (Courtesy of PRETOMA)

To this day, scientists have tracked three different turtles that have traveled between two of the most fragile and important island ecosystems: The Galapagos Islands in Ecuador and The Cocos Island in Costa Rica. We are just starting to understand the importance of these breeding grounds and their interconnectivity with turtle migration and reproduction.

One normal migration for turtles, one giant discovery for humankind.

With his 14-day journey from the waters of Costa Rica’s Cocos Island National Park to the Galapagos Marine Reserve in Ecuador, “Sanjay,” an endangered green sea turtle, established the first direct migration link between the two protected areas.

Sanjay was one of three green sea turtles tagged by scientists from the marine conservation groups Turtle Island Restoration Network and PRETOMA during a 10-day research expedition. Using a $4,000 satellite tag, biologists from the organizations were able to map Sanjay’s exact migration.

“It’s truly remarkable. Sanjay knew where he was headed, Continue reading

Introduction & Upcoming posts

I would like to take a quick moment to introduce myself, my goals for the next few months and what I will be posting in this blog. I am a recent graduate from the University of Central Florida, Rosen School of Hospitality Management and I was born in Costa Rica.

I am excited to be interning at Marari Pearl (Kerala, India) starting this January. I don’t believe there will be a lack of material for me to write about in Kerala with its unique culture, customs, spicy foods and amazing animals! This will be my first time to Asia and I am quite sure it will be a great and rewarding culture shock and I want to convey my observations and thoughts about something totally new to me. Continue reading

The Beauty of Bosque del Cabo

A rainbow (and hazy twin off to the right) seen from the beach reached by one of Bosque del Cabo’s trails.

A week or so ago, my family and I visited a nature lodge at the tip of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula called Bosque del Cabo. It was the first time I’d been to the lodge, and in the initial twelve hours of being there, I was struck by three important things that in the coming days I saw as characterizing the Bosque experience.

We arrived at around 6PM, so we started by getting settled in one of the several casas that complement the cabinas as more spacious and family-friendly accommodations. It was pretty much completely dark out at this point, but I could tell that from the porch at the back of the casa that we overlooked either the Pacific Ocean or the Golfo Dulce (the gulf created by the Osa Peninsula). The next day, I was proved right — and the view from most of the oceanside casas and cabinas is stunning. Continue reading