Category Archives: Costa Rica

Santuario Filaverde “Green Line Sanctuary”

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Pablo Ureña’s family has been preserving primary forest on their farm for three generations.  As vast deserts of pineapple plantations encroach upon his property, and offers from Del Monte to sell his land are resisted, it becomes ever more apparent that his work is essential in maintaining the natural environment of the area, but he needs help.

After spending 12 years in the U.S., Pablo returned to the farm in Costa Rica to take care of his aging dad and to get back to a simpler life.  He named his farm Santuario Filaverde, or “Green Line Sanctuary”  because he knows the area is one of the last remaining pieces of primary forest in this land of corporate pineapple plantations. The forest is significant also because it continues the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor, providing essential habitat for resident capuchin monkeys, birds, and there is even a family of pumas, one of which they recently photographed.

Pablo, his son Juan Pablo, his dad and sister, had Jim, Usha and I over for lunch after our morning hike in the Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary nearby. They made us some delicious vegetables including squash (ayote & chayote), rice and beans and chicken, with freshly blended “fresco” of pineapple juice. 


 Santuario Filaverde -  Ureña family  Jim and Usha in Pablos truck


Then we set out for a walk on the farm, riding first in the back of the truck through the pasture towards their forest sanctuary. The most beautiful aspect of their forest is the towering matapalo or strangler fig trees and winding vines, evidence of it being never touched for hundreds of years.


Santuario Filaverde -  Matapalo tree  Santuario Filaverde - Pablo up in Matapalo tree


Emerging out of the forest the contrast of the surrounding pineapple plantations is striking. Knowing that the area was all natural primary rainforest and is now a vast field of pineapples that are sprayed with pesticides and injected with hormones to grow faster makes you think twice about that next pineapple, and you hope that it has come from someone’s farm, grown naturally among other plants.



 Pineapple plantations Pineapples



Pablo loves to give tours of his property, and makes a great snack of pupusas – fried tortillas filled with cheese, and coffee of course after the nice walk. His sense of humour and passion for his forest are contagious. All he needs is more visitors so that he can benefit from preserving this precious piece of nature.


-  Kelly Galaski

La Finca Escondida "The Hidden Farm"

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Costa Rica Cooking Lessons

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After a nice drive over the Talamanca mountains and through “Cerro la Muerte” a cloudy mountaintop where so many people died during the creation of the highway they call it the peak of death, we arrived at the small restaurant (called a “soda” by Costa Ricans), El Tabacon, that is owned by the family I used to live with. Dona Sidey and her daughter Daniela were waiting for us with fresh pineapple juice and the food prepared for us to start our “Costa Rican Typical Food” cooking lesson. We cut local vegetables from their farm called Ayote and Chayote, which are two different squashes that are really tasty when chopped up into small cubes and cooked with some onions, red peppers, cilantro and other simple ingredients that create a healthy dish.

Usha making tortillas with Daniela and Sidey Usha making tortillas

Then Usha tried her hand at tortillas, flattening the corn flour and water mixture into it round shape and throwing them into the frying pan for just a few minutes, and then grilling them on an open flame. Mmmm, yummy homemade tortillas! We also had homemade guacamole, rice and beans, and a salad made with shredded cabbage, tomato and cucumber with lime juice and cilantro for a dressing.

James and Usha having lunch at the El Tabacon soda Sidey with James and Usha in the soda

It was great to see Sidey, who was my host-mom when I lived here last year, but was more like a really good friend and confidante. We welled up with tears at the sight of each other, and were so happy to see each other even though it was just last year when I was here but without a phone or internet it is hard for us to keep in touch. Her daughters came over to the soda, along with her husband and two little most adorable grandchildren (on tractor) and our driver said he could see by how my face lit up how happy I was to see them. They are really wonderful people I’m lucky to be back. It’s amazing how some people can touch your heart and make you feel like family.

Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor

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– Kelly Galaski

Today we arrived in another rural area of Costa Rica, the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor. It is named after the ornithologist (bird biologist) that lived here on 100 acres of pristine rainforest for 60 years, with his wife, studying the birds and writing books about the nature he was surrounded by and the birds that fascinated him. Dr. Skutch is author of Birds of Costa Rica, the book carried by avid birdwatchers that visit the country. Today his home is preserved inside the Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary which is open to the public for birdwatching tours and to see the ancient petroglyphs that lie deep within the forest.

Alexander Skutchs preserved home in Los Cusingos info about Los Cusingos Bird Refuge and Alexander Skutch

The “Corridor” is so called because it is a designation given by the Ministry of Environment for areas that are between two protected nature reserves – in this case the Las Nubes cloud forest and Los Cusingos – which has the goal of increasing the total forested area to create one larger forested area for species to have a broader range of habitat.

Las Nubes Cloud Forest We protect the environment

The communities within this corridor mostly have sugar cane, coffee farms or pasture and therefore the forested areas are fragmented or separated by open spaces which means that species cannot move easily throughout the area. This necessitates initiatives such as the community-run tree nursery which grows and sells trees to farmers to dispurse throughout their coffee farms to create more sustainable shade-grown coffee. This also creates a need for incentives for the people to plant more trees, therefore there is a need for more demand for shade-grown coffee, more awareness on the benefits the tree cover can provide, and for more tourism to the area so that they can benefit monetarily from preserving the private forested farms.

Jim by a big Matapalo -strangler fig tree  pasture and mountain view in Quizarra

Costa Rica's Coffee Culture

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Today we took a winding drive up out of the valley through the mountains and over into the valley of Santa Maria de Dota, part of the region of “Los Santos.”  90% of the population here makes their living from growing coffee. Even people’s backyards and sideyards are coffee plants. From the distance you can see the slopes covered in coffee plants, steep slopes as far as the eye can see. The coffee producers all belong to a cooperative, Coopedota (Dota is the name of the region) that was started in the 1950s by 9 farmers and has grown to over 700 members.  The cooperative helps the farmers earn a better price for their coffee by centralizing production and marketing to large buyers such as Starbucks, which purchases only high elevation, high quality coffee and pays a premium for it.

Coffee tour through the processing plant Storage of coffee at 11% humidity
While the coffee in this region is not all shade-grown (which has a host of benefits for the environment and the quality of the coffee), the representative from Coopedota, Adriana, said that they have begun to promote shade-grown coffee and have the goal of becoming organic in five years. Already they utilize all wastes from the process by using the pulp and skins of the coffee cherries as fuel for the big drying ovens, they create ethanol for fuels, and have biodigestors that create methane to be used for fuel as well. They have a new organic fertilizer program which will help the farmers to use agricultural wastes to create fertilizer, which is not only natural but much less expensive than the synthetic fertilizers, allowing for a chance at better profits. Water used in the process of cleaning the coffee cherries is reused several times before being returned to farms for watering, rather than being used once and wasted.

drying machines The peel and outer skins used for fuel

We learned about the interesting process at the “Beneficio,” or processing plant, and while it is not coffee harvesting season so we could not see the process in action it was still really interesting.

In the afternoon we took a little hike on the private reserve at Savegre Lodge along the river through the forest to some beautiful waterfalls, which ended off the day nicely.

Jack and Charlies souvenirshiking to the waterfall

Tomorrow we’re off to the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor, where I used to live so I’m really excited about seeing everyone again. James and Usha are really looking forward to spending a couple of days with Luis Angel and his family in their cabin at “La Finca Escondida” (The Hidden Farm) where we will be treated to lots of tasty home-cooked meals and a great wealth of knowledge about the birds and nature of this lowland rainforest and farming area. There’s no internet in the rural community so I’ll see you in a few days when we’re on the coast at La Cusinga Ecolodge!




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