23 September 2013

Santa Barbara is a little beehive of agriculture nestled on the CA coast - within the top 1% of counties in the US for its high level of agricultural production, it has 8 farmers markets a week - and they are beautiful. Filled with streaked tomatoes of every shade (and combination thereof) from deep purple to bright green, yellow carrots and purple carrots, golden-white bell peppers and maroon ones (??), mountains of green-golden-purple figs, deep red-yellow-orange stalks of chard, and heaps of every leafy green under the sun… this, filled with hundreds of young people on bicycles, families, people running into one another (I have been to two farmers markets since arriving here 6 days ago, and have run into people I know - keeping in mind that as of yet I know only about 5 people in Santa Barbara - both times)…. this town knows how to put on a good produce fair.

The return to the urban jungle

18 September 2013

Back in the land of wealthy produce, vegetable rainbows, miles of farmers’ markets, un-exportable good flavor. California, you rule.

15 September 2013

"Sabía leer. Fue el descubrimiento más importante de toda su vida. Sabía leer. Era poseedor del antídoto contra el ponzoñoso veneno de la vejez. Sabía leer."
Un viejo que leía novelas de amor - Luis Sepúlveda

13 September 2013

Called Barbas de Viejo, or Old Man’s Beard, this brilliant red Spanish moss is a vivid characteristic in the cloudforest from about 2500 m (8200 ft) upwards. By about 3100 m (10200 ft), however, the brilliant red is completely replaced by a pale green moss, which (along with the plummeting temperatures) makes the higher elevations feel just a little bit secretive and austere. Like, you’ve made it through Fangorn forest, which was already kind of creepy, and now you’re standing at the edge of the Dead Marshes looking over to Mordor..

The ascent up Chirripó, in pictures.

From the reforestation plots on Sendero Montaña at sunrise; a stake marking a baby tree in the foreground.

Dig that glorious old-growth canopy.

Tree down in the trail! And check out how big it is.

Even the simplest plants along the trailside are vibrant with colors.

The view to Uran peak as the fog rolled in.

At the top, in the burned areas; called "páramo," it is a high-altitude shrubby ecosystem, minimally forested. Oddly resembles a mix of Southern California chaparral and Sierra Nevada wildflowers.

Tufted flycatcher, I believe, or similar.

The mountains to the north-east of Chirripó as the sun rose.

Chirripó itself, the legend, the mountain, the top of central america!

A variety of emotions accompany leaving a place. This time I didn’t feel a growing sense of doom or apprehension, or indeed any sense of acknowledgement that my departure was actually so near. In my early days of travel, moves were preceded by days or weeks of a growing knot in my stomach, a sense of nerves and nostalgia and excitement and sadness all rolled up into a live wire of emotion. This time, though, not much of anything. Just the matter-of-fact knowledge that I need to be on this bus at this time, and this plane and that train, and then I’ll have used up all the tickets that I paid for, and made it to all the right places at all the right times.

Not a particularly emotional approach to travel.

That said, I did feel a great deal of sadness when I said goodbye to the workers. I haven’t talked extensively here about my relationship with them, but I think it deserves mention now as it played such a crucial role in my time at Cloudbridge; it was a working relationship that started with pure terror on my part and a grudging and very much mandatory tolerance for new management on theirs, which is probably not the best place for any working relationship to start. My terror derived from my lack of know-how as to the workings of Cloudbridge, and a strong concern that I would not know what to ask them to do, or be able to command the necessary respect while at the same time allowing them space in which to do their work. The reluctance on their part came from a very negative experience with the last new manager, who asserted his authority so aggressively that several were thinking of leaving - which would have been heartbreaking given their long-standing relationship with Cloudbridge.

At the beginning our interactions were limited to me meeting them in the mornings when they arrived, outlining the few things I was aware of that needed doing, and probably just being a bit redundant. But something happened somewhere along the way, and the gateway of communication was thrown wide open; I found myself rather abruptly engaged in animated discussions with them about not just the work, but about Cloudbridge’s role in San Gerardo and the surrounding communities, its role in the lives of the workers and their complicated attitudes towards it (as with any employer, it has its good and its bad and its frustrating and its insurmountable, but also its rewards), how locals feel about it (a range of feelings, not all of them positive, to my surprise). It was insightful and it was educating, and it was a privilege to realize that they were opening up to me with an honesty that bespoke trust and vulnerability. After all, they are in a position where they can be ignored, undermined, controlled, taken advantage of as workers; their honesty might have made a different employer uncomfortable, but because of my unique position as a temporary stand-in I think they felt it was safe to open up to me as they did.

Alonso, who speaks his mind readily and has a strong opinion on most things, but is nonetheless not a particularly sentimental person, came up to my house in the morning to tell me that it had been a great pleasure working with me; being able to communicate so openly, feeling that I respected him and had not acted as a slave-driver or a control freak like the previous (very temporary!) new manager, knowing that he had been heard when he spoke up. The privilege of working together, of course, was mine entirely.

When I went down to the car with backpacks in hand, they were all standing there: Alonso, Victor, Edgar; waiting to shake my hand and say goodbye. Alonso told me again that it had been a pleasure to work together, and that he hoped to see me again very soon; Victor hardly said anything, and that’s when my throat got tight and I realized that I was saying goodbye to them all. Victor is the vey definition of talkative on a normal day. The weather (how certain days are pura invierno or pura verano depending respectively on rain or shine), the soil (its richness on this slope and its poorness on that slope), the plants (which need constant love and constant tending), the weeds (with a root system that he calls estrella, the grass grows into an un-solvable labyrinth)…. Victor is a man who loooooves to talk, and when he doesn’t have words, the day feels a little bit empty; we find ourselves all holding our breaths for Victor to fill up all that missing space.

So that’s that; I had a wonderful send-off from two of the researchers, Sama & Matt (they have a blog here), who came down to San Isidro with me, and although my goodbye with them was sad as well it felt less permanent: they, like me, are people who travel and visit new places, and with such people it always feels like there is a good chance we might get to run into each other again….. here’s hoping!

With that, Costa Rica: ¡chao! Hasta la próxima vez, espero volver pronto - como siempre me vas a hacer gran falta… seguiré pensando en ti hasta que la falta me haga volver.

09 September 2013

Using bottles to make gardens at the elementary school in San Gerardo:

This is an event that helps the school to gain points towards earning the Bandera Azul (Blue flag) for Environmental Awareness. Each student brought in a bottle from home to help teach them that the things they are accustomed to throwing away or recycling can in fact be used in creative and useful and beautiful ways.

It was surprisingly exhausting work, cutting the bottles and threading them and mounting them on the wire fencing. All that after devising a way of getting the giant panel of wire fencing (I say wire, but it was really like solid iron rebar) rolled up and inserted through one of the 10-foot-off-the-ground windows of the greenhouse…. And by the end of the day we had still hardly scratched the surface of the bottles they’ve been accumulating. This school has bottles aplenty lined up to keep their garden going for an eon.

Once all work involving scissors and pointy edges has been done by us, the students will have the chance to fill their bottles with dirt and plant their lettuce and peppers inside.

The cool part about this is that I did the very same project in my own yard about 3 months ago (albeit still unfinished):

06 September 2013

Insane creatures find their way into my house.