Thursday 6 February 2014

Thoughts from Costa Rica

For someone who purports to hate holidays we are away again! We are ensconced in the foothills of the high central valley. Getting here reminded me why I hate to go away! So much for being an intrepid explorer!
Four years ago Harry and Rowena showed us their pictures of their then recent holiday to Costa Rica. Much to Brenda’s amazement I said I would like to go one day. When Harry rang last year to say they were going again and would we like to come, I said “yes”  and Brenda nearly fell off her chair. When in the next sentence she heard me utter  the immortal phrase “don’t worry about the cost” she needed reviving. 

Palm Oil
Costa Rica is one of the least ecologically damaged South American countries. The eco-tourist industry is a very significant part of national income, as are pharmaceutical products derived from the rainforest. Much of their natural forest is still intact. Never-the-less we did drive through many miles of palm oil plantation as we drove across the flat plain that leads to the mountains. I remember thinking that when we arrived at the gated community of residences on plots cut out of the jungle that we ourselves were part of the problem.

                                         Views from our plot

Our residence is surrounded by fairly unspoiled jungle. It is a little incongruous but quite understandable that the roads around the estate are lined with hedges and gardenesque mediterranean plants such as cordylines, dracaenas, codaeums, bananas, strelitzias, cannas, hibiscus, bougainvillea and palms. Our hectare garden is a strimmed levelled plot on the hillside. It is the dry season now and some of the grass is regularly irrigated. The garden is pervaded with exotic tropical plants of the world. 

Far be it for me to complain about introduced plants corrupting native vegetation. It would be quite hypocritical as I have already prepared a post, soon to be published, that argues the benefits of worldwide plant distribution!

Written three weeks ago, I have added some  further memories about our holiday experience.

The trees 
I imagined the absence  of any Winter would mean that the native shrubby vegetation would be totally evergreen. Most is, but perhaps 10% of the trees are deciduous. As we travelled to our destination I wondered if the leafless trees were dead; part of nature’s natural cycle or worse a result of despoilment. They proved to be native deciduous dry season  trees. 
The Costa Rica dry season is December to April. We noticed many deciduous  trees were  already sprouting. I read that with climate change the dry season was getting wetter. Was this the reason? More likely, I pondered, is was just like trees at home. Our own native deciduous trees do not wait the end of the Winter before gaining competitive advantage by making new growth. Many of these ‘Tican'  deciduous trees were  magnificent. We noticed on our return journey  that the forest was greener.

The palm oil plantations.
Once rain forest, the flat land was now fairly uniform but not without interest. On the lighter margins epiphytic ferns and and bromeliads colonised the palm tree  bases. Opportunist vegetation grew in a few permitted  places. 
First reaction is to regret the result of mindless international legislation that has created this modern tropical  crop. It is a curious hybrid of monotonous farming and forestry with a final dash of industrial processing. But should we despise the jobs provided for seemingly happy workers?

The people
It was clear throughout the visit that Costa Ricans were content albeit  many were poor. They were welcoming, cheerful friendly people. Most we met were very young. 

Our gardener
He came once a week to maintain the garden. I imagined our plot was a typical ‘up market’   mechanised American ‘yard’. Many of our neighbours were American and Canadian  seasonal holiday migrants escaping the North American Winter.
Our gardener discretely spent his first visit strimming a very large area of high banks and lawn. A young man he was armed with a small mini tractor the size of a mower. He worked extremely hard.
The second visit precariously perched on the steep banks of the garden he skilfully used a machete to fight back the invading jungle. He did a superb craftsman’s job and the edges were crisper than that done by any machine.

Lush vegetation on the bank  and the flat surface  was strimmed the previous week. The next week  our gardener negotiated the high bank to use his machete.

On this visit he also irrigated the more prominent parts of the lawn. My previous experiences with high temperature grass has been extremely poor and I have been very disparaging.The grass near the house was neatly clipped and a dark healthy green. After swimming in the pool I walked on the grass rather than the burning concrete. It was like walking on a resilient high quality deep pile carpet.
Not all the lawn was high quality. The sensitive plant, Mimosa pudica was one of the weeds.

I would have liked to talk to the gardener and compare our experiences. Beneath my sometimes extrovert persona I am quite shy and was reluctant to approach him. I knew their would be a severe language barrier as it proved to be. I plucked up courage and congratulated him on his fine work. Wishing to please, he smiled  and nodded in the right places. I shook him by the hand. I would have dearly like to discuss matters horticultural. I wonder whether he loved his plants as I do, or just whether it was the only work he could get.

Harry and Rowena’s pictures

Tree frog eggs spawned on underside of water hyacinth

Luke Skywater on the worldwide web
Our broadband was a little primitive


  1. It must have been quite a nice trip. I remember being surprised to see at an hotel in Mexico that all the gardening was done with a machete. It was used not only to cut vegetation, but to dig holes to plant things.

  2. I was amazed how sharp the machete was and the huge branches it would cut.
    We met some French Canadians at our hotel on the evening of our departure. (This area is a popular place with them). I did not get round to asking if they knew you Alain!

  3. What an amazing time you had. I grew some mimosa pedicab from seed last year but the tiny plants have died - I think

    1. We saw some bigger ones elsewhere and it is probably perennial over there. I doubt whether light levels are good enough here in Winter. When I grew it as a kid as a novelty item it never overwintered.
      Sue, I have amended my original response which although meant to be jocular did not read too well in the cold light of day! Sorry

  4. Wonderful! I have dreamed of going to Costa Rica for many years, although my preference would be to visit the cloud forest areas at higher elevation.

    1. My next post is about our visit up into the clouds. It was not altogether successful!

  5. I did love the animals there. They have such a variety. I even saw a puma at night or what ever they call these cougars. The hummingbirds were amazing as were the frogs. I was there during there rainy season and talk about rain. It was a monsoon almost every day. You were lucky to be there during tourist season when it is dry.

    1. Fortunately their dry season coincides with the worst part of our own winter and makes it an ideal getaway


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...