Published: September 16th 2012September 16th 2012
Okay, this is going to be a long one – four days without internet and a lot happens!
If someone took me straight to Cuerici and dropped me on the mountain, I would not guess that I was in Costa Rica. The cabins where we stayed are on a mountain directly across from Cerro Chirripo, the highest point in Costa Rica. Don Carlos owns this property, as well as many surrounding hectares. He has lived in the mountains here his entire life, and has very valuable knowledge of the area as well as his personal ideas of how to conserve and preserve it.
On his land he grows mora (blackberries), raises cattle, has a tree plantation, and also a trucha (trout) farm. When he was younger, he hunted a lot in this area, like everyone used to. When he was able to see the direct effects of hunting the wildlife and cutting down the trees, his perspective changed. Cuerici now has been a biological station for 20 years. I have a lot of respect fir Do Carlos, especially because he us one of the few people who makes conscious efforts to conserve the land here. He and his family live such a simple life and are not much concerned with money or things we are used to in the states. I wish that more people knew about the work Don Carlos does, as well as Don Roberto, the coffee farmer.
Although, realistically looking at Don Carlos’ lifestyle, there are ways in which it is unsustainable. A major problem for Don Carlos, as well as many other farmers of his generation, is the concern of who will continue his work when he is gone. Don Carlos has three children and many grandchildren, but none of them have the time or passion to commit the necessary time to Cuerici. Don Carlos wants his grandchildren to stay in school, but really the only way for anyone to follow in Don Carlos’ footsteps is to learn the ways of the farm at an early age. You wouldn’t think it, but Don Carlos only has the equivalent of a 2nd
grade education – plus a lifetime of experience and knowledge from working in the forest.
We drove to and hike dup the paramo (lower alpine). The elevation is a little higher than 3000m – that’s higher than Half Dome! The vegetation and air is so different from anything I would associate with Costa Rica. The views were awesome. The trees and vegetation are so dense and everything is so green. Our guide on the hike, Jenny, was born in Costa Rica, but her parents are from Minnesota. She speaks fluent Spanish and her accent is a funny combo between Midwest and Tico. All or most of the land we could see from the paramo was undeveloped. In Costa Rica, it is illegal to build or develop any land above 3000m – pretty awesome.
The next day we went on a hike through the oak forest with Don Carlos. He knows so much about the plants, animals, and environment here. The professors always translated what he aid but I was able to pick up some of it. The two types of oak trees are HUGE. We saw one that was 1,000 years old. One type of oak kind of looks like the ones in California. There are also a lot of magnolia trees that grow in the forest. Don Carlos says that one can sell for as much as $8,000. That’s about three times his salary each year. But he doesn’t cut any of the forest because he knows the importance of conservation.
The last full day, we caught trout in the morning. At first I wasn’t very keen to participate, but then I realized it would be interesting to see how a sustainable fishing operation works. Don Carlos is so skilled that he can extract eggs from the trout without killing it. He provides the eggs to other farmers who then raise the trout. It was an interesting experience to say the least. The OTS students caught all of the fish, 12 in total. To catch them we dragged a large net through the “pond” (it looks like a lap pool). Then some people (not including me) killed the fish by breaking their jaws. I guess if you’re going to eat fish, this is as environmentally friendly as it gets, so I didn’t complain.
I really liked Cuerici (it kind of reminds me of Fallen Leaf Lake – without the lake), but I am looking forward to La Selva. The high elevation definitely messes with you, and just about everyone, including me, has a cold. The temperature wasn’t as bad as I expected. There was always a fire and you could grab a kitty to put on your lap and keep you warm.