The only time in my living memory that I know my mother snapped a photo was in 1979. It was with an Instamatic camera on the shore of our summer home in Nova Scotia with my not-yet two-year-old son, Damian. Yet my Mother taught me everything I know about photography.
Grace Berst d’Entremont was an accomplished artist. Graduate of Philadelphia’s prestigious and historic Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts – on scholarship – this daughter of Presbyterian medical missionaries only stopped painting a few days before she passed away in 1997. During her lengthy career her works – paintings, murals and interior design – graced private collections, commercial buildings and award winning architectural interiors worldwide.
So how did she teach me everything I know about photography? She taught me to squint.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1965 – I’m 15 years old – and we’re at my first retrospective of impressionist art. I’m 15 years old…it’s Saturday night…why am I at an art museum? I’m looking at a Cezanne landscape. It’s nice.
I’m not complaining – I had learned… Then my mother pulls me back ten feet from the painting. She tells me to squint.
The image explodes. The painting’s on fire – the colors shimmer. I’m in the twilight.
I’m in love – with my mother and art.
I get it. It’s not the medium that’s the magic; it’s the eye.
I own several quality cameras. None cost more than US$600. I don’t use filters. I don’t use photo shop.
I use my eyes.
You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:
Vanilla sauce and pineapple certainly don’t seem like they ought to pair with fish and seafood. Yet this savory sauce along with caramelized fresh pineapple accent the natural sweet notes of salmon and scallops in surprising ways. Just as in desserts, the vanilla highlights the natural flavors of this dish.
As a chef I enjoy playing with food especially deconstructing dishes I’ve enjoyed in restaurants. The recipe I’ve created for this dish was inspired by several variations of these four ingredients over the years. For this dish please resist substitutions.
Vanilla extract will be too intense whereas the natural bean provides a subtle essence of vanilla. Sweet unsalted butter will coat your mouth with flavors in a way oil will not. Canned pineapple is too wet to properly caramelize; seek out a ripe fresh fruit.
Sautéed salmon and scallops with caramelized pineapple and vanilla sauce
Ingredients for two generous servings
2 six ounce wild salmon fillets with skin
6 sea scallops, approximately ½ pound
3 one inch thick slices of fresh pineapple, skin removed
7 tablespoons sweet butter
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves
kosher salt and white pepper to taste
Ingredients for the sauce
1 whole vanilla bean
1/3rd cup (5 ounces) white wine
2 tablespoons grated sweet onion
2 tablespoons sweet butter
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon corn starch dissolved in 2 tablespoons white wine
kosher salt and white pepper to taste
Place one large cast iron pan and two medium size cast iron or heavy stainless steel sauté pans into a cold oven and preheat the oven to 425° F.
For the salmon, scallops and pineapple
Lightly season the salmon on both sides with kosher salt and white pepper.
Dry the sea scallops with paper towel.
Remove the pineapple skin and cut 3 one inch thick round slices. Slice each round in half. (reserve and refrigerate the remaining fruit for other uses).
Pull off 1 packed tablespoon of fresh tarragon leaves
(Set all these ingredients aside and make the vanilla sauce before proceeding with step 5).
Using a thick potholder remove the large hot cast iron pan and place it on the stove over high heat – leave the other 2 pans in the oven. Melt 3 tablespoons of sweet butter in the pan, add the fresh tarragon leaves and top immediately with the salmon fillets skin side down. Sauté the salmon for 2 minutes.
Using a thick potholder, remove the medium pans from the oven and place on the stove. Using the same potholder place the large cast iron pan with the salmon into the oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes. Leave the salmon skin side down as it will become crisp and flavorful.
Place the medium cast iron or stainless steel pans onto high heat and melt 2 tablespoons sweet butter in each. Sauté the pineapple in one pan until lightly caramelized for 5 to 7 minutes turning half way through.
While the pineapple is cooking sauté the sea scallops in the other medium pan for about 2 minutes per side.
When the pineapple and scallops are finished remove the salmon from the oven and follow the plating instructions.
For the sauce
Slice the vanilla bean in half and gently scrape the seeds into a small saucepan and add the pod. Pour the wine over the vanilla. Over medium heat bring the wine to a simmer and reduce to 4 tablespoons (2 ounces). Discard the pods.
In a small sauté pan melt 2 tablespoons sweet butter over medium heat and add the grated onion. Gently cook for a few minutes until the onion is translucent. Do not brown.
Add the onions to the reduced vanilla wine and pour in the almond milk.
Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook uncovered for 7 to 10 minutes.
Dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tablespoons white wine and stir into the almond milk. Simmer gently for 1 to 2 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened.
Line a strainer with cheesecloth and strain the sauce into a small heat proof bowl and keep warm by placing into a larger bowl containing enough hot water to reach half way up the side of the sauce bowl.
(Continue with steps 5 – 9 of the salmon, scallops and pineapple).
To plate the dish
Cover the bottom of a dinner plate with vanilla sauce. Place one salmon fillet in the center of the plate. Arrange 3 sea scallops on top and/or to the side of the fillet. Arrange 3 half slices of pineapple to the side of the salmon and scallops.
Enjoy this mélange of flavors from the tropics and the sea with a crisp green salad and a dry white wine such as a sauvignon blanc.
You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:
Tiffany conjures images of ultimate luxury. Diamonds and gleaming silver flood our minds at the sound of that name. Yet Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of Tiffany & Company founder Charles, was an artistic polymath who put his stamp on paintings, shimmering glass, mosaics, architecture, pottery, bronze and objet d’art. He was the genius that reinvented interior design for the generation of the Gilded Age.
For lovers of Art Nouveau in America as envisioned by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 – 1933) mecca is the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art owns the largest and most comprehensive collection of Tiffany art in the world. Like the era that fostered both Louis Comfort Tiffany and affluent Winter Park, the museum is the product of a vast Gilded Age fortune.
Jeannette Genius (1909-1989) was the granddaughter of Chicago industrialist Charles Morse. Charles had a keen appreciation for art and warm Florida winters. First wintering and then retiring to this wealthy suburb of Orlando in the late 19th century, Charles Morse became a major benefactor and real estate baron in Winter Park.
Jeannette’s mother, Elizabeth Morse Genius, was an accomplished artist and patron of the era’s modern art – American impressionism, and Tiffany Studios. Jeannette inherited both wealth and an artistic passion, pursuing her own successful career as an interior designer. After spending much time with her grandfather in Winter Park she chose the town as her permanent residence.
Her family’s philanthropy had already made a mark on Winter Park’s Rollins College, and at the age of 27 Jeannette started a decades-long association on the Board of Trustees. More importantly she met and married a dashing Rollins art professor, Hugh McKean (1908-1995) who himself had an intimate connection to Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Tiffany had designed his magnificent Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall, in 1903 as a showcase for everything he loved. He intended that it would eventually become a residential institution to foster young artists. In 1930 a young Hugh McKean spent months at Laurelton Hall as one of Tiffany’s students. Although Hugh’s family was well to do, it was the match of love, art and Jeannette’s vast fortune that allowed the couple to fulfill their dream.
It’s difficult to believe that even before the death of Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1933, his designs had become passé. During the 1940s and 1950s Jeannette and Hugh amassed a personal collection in every medium of Tiffany Studios designs. They established the Morse Museum and the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation, which owns and funds museum operations. More importantly, through their work they revived the keen international interest in Louis Comfort Tiffany that grows stronger as time passes.
Upon hearing in 1957 of the tragic fire that destroyed Laurelton Hall they set out to salvage and restore everything they could from stained glass windows, architectural artifacts and Tiffany’s masterpiece, the Byzantine Chapel he designed for Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition. The chapel was a creation of love and a marketing tour de force that catapulted Tiffany’s career to international fame. From its hand carved door, shimmering mosaics, stunning blue baptistery window to the revolutionary eight by ten foot, three dimensional Byzantine cross, the Electrolier, electrified with the aid of Thomas Edison, the chapel alone is worth a visit to the Morse Museum.
A visit to the Morse Museum is more than just gazing at beautifully displayed art. It’s meant to be an educational experience on Tiffany’s life and genius. Free detailed booklets in each gallery meticulously explain the exhibits. The lighting is stunning, illuminating objects in the manner intended for their original owners and eliciting sounds of awe as glass comes alive in shimmering glory. Archival videos and displays demonstrate the actual methods used by Tiffany Studio artists to create these magnificent objects.
An entire wing of the museum recreates as much as possible the feel of Laurelton Hall as Louis Comfort Tiffany would have wanted his guests to experience from the impressive entrance hall, his very modern dining room and what was salvaged of his beloved Daffodil Terrace. The Daffodil Terrace highlights Tiffany’s love for that flower and his skill in ceramics. In a glass walled enclosure complete with comfortable wicker chairs, the terrace invites museum visitors to relax, read and contemplate beauty. Contemplating beauty is the successful legacy of Tiffany, Jeannette, Hugh and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.
Denis Roy emigrated from France with a dream somewhere in his head that materialized into creating a fantasy in Costa Rica. On over 700 acres of improbable, undeveloped coastal and mountain wilderness, using building methods that hearkened back to the days of the pyramids, the hotel, restaurants and spa complex of Villa Caletas and the Zephyr Palace emerged over time. A fusion of river stone castle and tropical Victorian architecture, the 50 rooms range from stunning to awe inspiring.
Sunsets from the amphitheater are legendary and views encompass forested hills and ocean from many angles. Yet those beautiful hills required total reforestation due to cattle overgrazing. The lush peaks of today were barren, rocky and eroding into the clear Pacific below. Fifteen hundred trees were planted from the beach up the mountain, and Villa Caletas continues to spearhead major reforestation projects in the region.
Ten percent of electricity is solar powered and all hot water is provided through a system of air conditioner heat transfer. Each room’s air conditioning system uses smart technology reducing the temperature automatically when no one is present and increasing it to a guest’s pre-set comfort zone when they enter their room.
Twenty-five years ago this lush location had no roads, no water and no electricity. Denis had an initial concept to construct a 25 room hotel on this spectacular site with its panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean’s Herradura Bay on Costa Rica’s Central Coast. But cost and engineering reality limited his first venture to eight rooms. Yet Denis was not deterred.
Denis Roy is a dreamer who understands that demanding clients will pay for luxury if unique. Waking in the king size bed of my suite, room 88, a panoramic view unfolded through the expansive glass wall overlooking Herradura Bay. After a quick call to the front desk I was picked up in an electric golf cart to meet General Manager Frederick Nepveu and whisked off in a four-wheel drive car down the mountain to the beach for breakfast.
The slow drive down the steep hill passed Villa Caletes’ hydroponic farm growing herbs and produce. No contact with soil controls pest infestation of the produce. The lush forest teemed with animals and birds in the cool of the early morning.
The beach complex offers privacy, the well designed El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach and an array of comfortable beach chaise lounges. The shuttle runs every 30 minutes from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Breakfast included fresh extracted organic kale juice, an artful fruit salad and a typical Costa Rican breakfast plate – gallo pinto (black beans and rice) eggs, sautéed sweet plantains, fresh avocado and a wedge of fried white cheese. The gentle lapping of Pacific Ocean waves was the only music necessary.
Villa Caletas is a complex of buildings set among the lush restored mountain landscape. Small Distinctive Hotels are not for the budget traveler, but if seeking bang for the buck, Villa Caletas delivers in spades. While river stone buildings dominate most of the complex, a graceful Victorian glass and wood filigree building with the Mirador Restaurant tops a jungle of exotic plants and expansive window walls that bring the outside indoors.
A massive traditional open air palapa with hand carved wood pillars set on the edge of a cliff is dedicated to Denis’ passion for yoga, yet has become popular for events up to 300 guests. The Serenity Spa, tucked behind the palapa, is a haven of calm. Providing all the services one expects from a luxury spa, I nearly drifted off to sleep under relaxing hands, scented oils and the soft sounds of water fountains.
The Zephyr Palace is the crown jewel of this luxe property. Seven massive individually designed and decorated suites provide luxury befitting a palace. Private dining rooms, hand painted ceilings, in room exercise equipment, hand crafted furniture, exotic woods, marble tiles, original art, private infinity pools and televisions that slide into the foot of king size beds at the touch of a button are among just a few of the luxuries in the Zephyr Palace. On the day of my visit the suites were fully booked by a wedding party, not an uncommon occurrence.
Providing an atmosphere of effortless comfort requires attention to detail from the eyes and hands of dedicated employees. Many of the managers live on site, including Denis Roy and general manager Frederick Nepveu. Over 150 employees, including 20 gardeners, maintain the 50 room Villa Caletes/Zephyr Palace complex.
For a culinary travel journalist Denis Roy, Frederick Nepveu, Chef Fernando Adaniz and food and beverage manager Pablo Lombardo oversee a cuisine that matches the style of Villa Caletas. Lunch started with a trio of ceviche: mango, sea snails and fish paired with a light and lemony chardonnay. Grilled rare yellow fin tuna was accompanied by a timbal of yucca and napped with pipian sauce – roasted pumpkin seeds. A salad included flor de Itavo (yucca) leaves that taste like artichoke hearts. Dessert was a light and cooling sorbet of nancy mirabelle plum.
Pre dinner drinks at sunset commenced with an orange martini cocktail created especially for me. A long peel of orange rind twisted around the stem of the glass and dipped into the fragrant drink. Its color mimicked the setting sun’s display. The steep Greek inspired Villa Caletas amphitheater adjacent to the open-air Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant is a local destination for observing beautiful sunsets for which Costa Rica has a well deserved reputation. Soft ambient music added to the charm.
Segueing to a cliff side table Chef Fernando Adaniz opened dinner with an amuse bouche of avocado and salmon with crème fraîche on toast. Seafood terrine of lobster, shrimp and mussels with chipotle mayonnaise was followed by an entrée of red snapper rolled around lobster. It was napped with a light egg and mustard seed sauce. A smooth pinot grigio with citrus hints tied together this dinner of fresh seafood.
Befitting a luxe hotel dinner, dessert was preceded by a mouth cleansing sorbet of passion fruit. Dessert was an appropriately dense chocolate cake garnished with strawberry and kiwi sauce and cubes of fresh pineapple, papaya and watermelon. Did you know that Costa Rica is the world’s largest grower of pineapples? Villa Caletas, naturally, makes all its breads, pastries and desserts in house. Food and beverage manager Pablo Lombardo’s Mexican roots shined when he presented an after dinner tasting of smooth premium tequilas.
I had to remind myself that with the gentle evening breeze and lush vegetation surrounding all that it was not long ago that this site was a barren wasteland. That’s why the many infinity pools dotting Villa Caletas become a metaphor for the group of Small Distinctive Hotel owners, managers and chefs this travel journalist interviewed during an eight-day tour – the visions they conjure gazing into infinity. Villa Caletas and Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica provide luxury with a conscience transforming what we destroy into what we desire.
When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose. Hotel Villa Caletas on the Central Pacific Coast region of Puntarenas is an hour and fifteen-minute drive from Juan Santamaría International Airport.
There are many parks in the United States but Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an animal refuge. It’s also enjoyable to visit.
From the Florida brown bear to iconic bald eagles, these animals were rescued after injury. What may at first seem like a zoo is a haven for these beautiful creatures.
What was once a zoo-like Florida attraction starting in the 1940s became the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in the ‘80s. The goal was to give refuge to animals indigenous to the tropics of the western hemisphere with one exception. Lucifer, the locally popular African hippopotamus, first purchased by the original developers, was designated a Florida citizen by the state legislature. The 50+ year old hippo enjoys a charmed life at the park.
The Homosassa springs bubble up from the depths of the Earth at a constant 72° F. This warm water attracts an abundant variety of fish and aquatic animals. The Fish Bowl underwater observatory provides a unique experience to view life under sea level.
In some cases the animals heal enough to be released back into the wild. A park ranger told a story of one owl they thought would not be able to fly after its injury. To their surprise, it was gone one day. Yet the owl seems to miss this refuge. She returns frequently and sometimes stays the night.
Of great importance is Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s manatee program. The endangered manatee, the object of many fatal encounters with Florida pleasure boats, receive expert health care in a state of the art facility. The park is one of the finest locations to view this massive gentle mammal.
Your visit to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park starts with a slow and picturesque barge trip from the visitor’s center on the Homosassa River. Thickly lined with vegetation the fifteen minute trip is visually beautiful with sunlight creating mirror reflections in the slow moving water. The barge docks at the entrance to the mile-long path that meanders through the various wildlife habitats.
The park is well designed for disabled visitors, and given the reality that Florida summers are hot and humid, there are sitting areas and concessions selling items from bottled water to ice cream. The air conditioned reptile house is a quiet place to cool down. Knowledgeable rangers are eager to share their stories.
A day at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an enjoyable education of what our Earth can be like when humans live in harmony with nature.
Much is written in the media today concerning the inability to disconnect while on vacation – professionals glued to email and cell phones around the pool. Yet that’s hardly unique to the 21st century. In 1885 when Thomas Edison purchased 14 acres along the Caloosahatchee River as a winter retreat in the remote southwestern Florida farming hamlet of Fort Myers he had no intention of turning his mind off.
Although Thomas (1847-1931) Mina (1865-1947) and their children spent most winters at their Seminole Lodge estate, his office provides ample evidence he was still connected by correspondence to his invention laboratory at Menlo Park, NJ. Along with good friends Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford the Edison Botanical Research Corporation was established and a laboratory constructed on the estate in the 1920s. The goal was to make America independent of foreign rubber.
Edison dubbed Seminole Lodge his jungle. He and Mina surrounded their home with lush gardens. But first, they had to construct the houses.
The railroad was not extended to Fort Myers until 1904, which meant convenient travel was by ship. A 1,500 foot pier was built as a landing for family, guests and the materials necessary for Seminole Lodge. Prefab houses were also not new to the 21st century. The lumber for the two identical mirror-image houses that are Seminole Lodge was fabricated in Maine, shipped to Fort Myers and assembled on site.
The adjacent second house was originally the winter home of business partner Ezra Gulliland, but was bought back by Edison after a serious split with Gulliland. The spacious, airy wood structures were connected with a pergola and the second house turned into combination guest quarters, dining room and kitchen for Seminole Lodge. Both houses were electrified, of course, with power from both generators and batteries – all the product of Edison’s fertile mind.
Children of America’s great industrial age, Thomas and Mina were friends with other magnates of the day, especially Henry Ford. A frequent guest of the Edisons at Seminole Lodge, Ford purchased the beautiful yet modest Craftsman house in 1916 adjacent to Seminole Lodge. Although the Fords only used the home for two weeks each winter to celebrate Edison’s birthday, their friendship and business partnerships were life-long.
After Thomas Edison’s death at age 84 in 1931 Mina continued to winter at Seminole Lodge. Mina was Edison’s second wife having been widowed in the early 1880s when only in his 30s. The daughter of an inventor, university educated and an employee at the Menlo Park lab, Mina was as much an intellectual equal to her husband as a wife.
Mina was active managing their households, the botanical gardens and the Edison business ventures. Edison was said to greatly appreciate Mina’s intellect and input in discussing his many theories for everything from the phonograph, electric batteries to motion picture cameras. In 1947 Mina deeded the estate to the City of Fort Myers on condition that it be preserved as a public memorial to her husband’s genius.
Henry Ford sold his house in 1947, and it remained a private home until the city purchased it in 1988. The Edison & Ford Winter Estates is operated and maintained as a non-profit offering a plethora of tours and activities including an extensive museum dedicated to the genius of these two men. A visit to Edison’s jungle is to step back to an age where great ideas were conjured in the mind rather than by an electronic device – although Thomas probably would have invented the computer if he’d had time.
Pejibaye (pronounced pay-hee-by-yay) is the fruit of the Peach Palm tree. It’s indigenous to Central and tropical South America and for centuries has been a staple before and after European invasions in the 16th century. About the size of a plum, the bright reddish orange fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates and remains wildly popular, especially in Costa Rica.
The Peach Palm tree (bactris gasipaes) not only produces large clusters of fruit for 50 to 75 years but also is a major source for heart of palm that’s favored worldwide. From street vendors to top chefs Costa Ricans adore pejibaye. The thick-skinned raw fruit must be simmered in salted water from one to three hours before eating – it’s difficult to over cook the dense butternut squash like textured fruit.
Costa Ricans enjoy cooked pejibaye as a snack sliced and dipped in mayonnaise and sometimes coated in corn meal and fried. Chef Diego Seitour at Peace Lodge adds thin slices to his incomparable Ceviche Tucurrique of sea bass. Chef Francis Canal Bardot of San Jose’s premiere hotel and restaurant Grano de Oro, features the fruit in its most popular incarnation as cream of pejibaye soup.
The dense texture of pejibaye ideally lends itself to soup. Yet as is common with a national dish, there is no one authentic recipe. The simplest are purees of cooked fruit with onions, water, a little milk and perhaps some garlic and cilantro. Other recipes include chicken or vegetable stock, cream and any number of additions such as celery, bell peppers, butter, carrots, rosemary, thyme and bay leaves.
What I’ve created is in keeping with my culinary belief that a recipe should enhance and not mask the natural flavor of the prime ingredient. I also like the silky mouth feel of adding heavy cream and the depth of flavor from a good chicken stock.
In North America it’s nearly impossible to find fresh pejibaye, even in Latino markets – the raw fruit is little known and perishable. In Florida, where I live, it is available in Latino markets preserved in jars ready to eat – after peeling the skin, splitting the fruit and removing the seed.
Cream of Pejibaye Soup – 4 servings
4 cups of well flavored chicken stock
1 cup of heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium sweet onion, diced
½ cup diced celery
3 cloves of garlic, diced
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
1 roasted red pepper plus a couple tablespoons cream
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
If you happen to have raw pejibayes, cover with cold water and add ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for at least one hour. Cool enough to handle and peel off the skin with a small sharp knife. Cut the fruit off the seed – the fruit will be dry and easy to separate from its seed. If you’re using ready to eat pejibayes in a jar, drain, rinse in cold water, peel and slice.
Preheat the oven to 400° and place the whole red pepper in a small baking dish. Roast the pepper for 30 to 40 minutes, turning every 10 minutes, until soft and the skin is slightly brown. Remove the pepper to a small bowl, cover and let cool. When cool enough to handle slip off the skin, remove the seeds, slice in strips and set the roasted pepper aside.
Melt the butter in a heavy four quart saucepan.
Add the diced onion and celery and cook over medium low heat until the onion is soft, transparent but not browned. Add the garlic and cook for two additional minutes.
Add the sliced pejibayes and chicken stock. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat just until small bubbles appear in a ring around the pan. Add the cream and white pepper to the soup and turn off the heat.
Puree the soup with an immersion blender or transfer in batches to a blender and liquefy – I prefer using an immersion blender directly in the pot.
Puree the roasted red pepper in a blender or with an immersion blender adding just enough cream to make a smooth sauce.
Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with a flourish of red pepper puree and a sprinkle of cilantro.
There are conflicting Internet statistics on the caloric content of pejibaye. The calorie counts on sites range from an outrageous 1,100 calories per fruit to a low of 56. On the jar of prepared fruit I’m using the nutritional label indicates 190 calories for three pejibaye – 65 per fruit. Considering the fruit is not sweet, I find it difficult to believe any higher figure. Regardless, it’s an easy, nutritious and flavorful national icon of beautiful Costa Rica – ps: and farm animals love pejibaye.
Costa Rica is a landmass equal to 0.03% of the Earth, about 20,000 square miles – the size of Vermont – but accounts for 5%-6% of the globe’s biodiversity. Yet within the Monteverde Biological Reserve, a mere 55 square miles, exists half of that diversity. Among its residents are 700 bee species, 10% of the world’s butterflies – 24,000 species – 300 species of mammals, 12,000 plants including 500 orchids, 360,000 insects, 75,000 mushrooms, 1,100 species of ferns and 915 species of birds, including 91 from North America that live in the reserve only during mating season.
“It’s never happened before,” says Giuliano Salazar Gigli. That was a surprise statement. Giuliano is one of the Monteverde Biological Reserve top naturalist guides. His life has been committed to the preservation of over 35% of Costa Rica’s biosphere. “We’re using the water in a bad way. If we can collect it in the rainy season we can make it through the dry months.”
I’m eating breakfast at La Casona, the lodge in the Monteverde Biological Reserve, gazing out at greenery so lush and thick I can barely see six feet into the Cloud Forest. Yet as Giuliano explains the amount of annual rainfall, 138 inches, remains the same. The change is in its pattern.
There are more dry days in the Cloud Forest than in the past – 96 in 2015. In the town of Monteverde, the eco-tourism center for this region of the Cloud Forest, there are water restrictions from noon to 3:00 p.m. Fortunately, Giuliano assures, that doesn’t affect hotels or restaurants since most have constructed their own water collecting systems.
Yet a cloud forest thrives on mist. In a rain forest the precipitation is heavier in that it tends to occur in steady downpours, but a cloud forest is dependent on heavy mist – like a fog – to be captured by the thousands of ferns and air plants that make up the canopy. The precipitation is nature’s drip irrigation system slowly watering plants. That slow drip captures seeds, eventually making their way to the forest floor for germination.
The structure of the Cloud Forest is a prime example of the symbiotic relationships among nature that preserve our Earth. The density of vegetation growing on top of each other is essential. On one soaring tree alone, the weight of all the plants living on that tree exceeded 200 tons and included 150 species of plants among them 70 species of orchards.
Giuliano stressed it’s a misconception to assume these plants smother the tree – with the exception of the strangler fig which eventually encases its host yet provides an architecture to support the diversity. Air plants are not parasites. They do not rob the host of nutrients; they simply use them as a structure. There’s only one parasitic plant in all the cloud forests – mistletoe.
Costa Rica preserves 35% of its landmass as either national parks or private reserves, more than any other nation on Earth. This natural beauty attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Yet it has become the world’s laboratory for studying the effects of global climate change. Currently Dr. J. Alan Pounds, resident biologist at the Monteverde Biological Reserve, and the University of Georgia are conducting advanced computer studies on climate change within the Cloud Forests that will result in significant data.
“The winds are changing,” Giuliano explains. “It’s becoming windier – they clean the sky and dry it out. Deforestation in the coastal lowlands has altered wind patterns causing (higher velocity) winds that push clouds up and away from the mountain forest treetops.” This has diminished the gentle clouds that mist the Cloud Forest and affected the behavior of its wildlife.
Giuliano says there are possibly four jaguars living in the reserve – an extremely endangered and ultra shy species of cat. Yet in the past year the cats have killed 15 goats at night on farms – proof caught on film. This is unusual and indicates that the natural food supply in their habitat and the habitat’s size are diminishing, forcing the jaguars out of their usual secluded environment and closer to the source of people food.
That may be an extreme example but a more subtle effect can be found on the germination of the Cloud Forest avocado. Figs and avocados are essential food sources for forest mammals and birds. The avocado especially is dependent on the magnificent quetzal.
The feathers of the quetzal were prized by the ruling class of ancient Central American civilizations. Their plumes were harvested only from feathers that had naturally dropped onto the forest floor. Unfortunately European settlers after the 16th century conquest were not so patient, hunting the quetzal nearly into extinction while diminishing their natural environment.
It’s estimated there are only 300 quetzals in Costa Rica out of 900 total in Central America with perhaps 20 living in the Monteverde Biological Reserve. The quetzal enjoys avocados, but more important to the ecosystem, they enjoy their small seeds. For the avocado seed to germinate it must be swallowed by the quetzal and deposited through their digestive system on the ground – nature’s symbiotic relationship.
The over 90,000 annual visitors to the Monteverde Biological Reserve walk pristine trails on the 3% of the reserve open to the public. They experience a prime example of what can go right in the world when concerned citizenry, a committed government and the resources of the international scientific community work in harmony.
For me listening to Giuliano identify dozens of unseen birds by their sounds, getting a glimpse of the rare quetzal, explaining the cooperative layers of vegetation down to beautiful blankets of white mushrooms digesting fallen fauna that revert back into life giving soil was the experience of what the world can be in the absence of human conflict with nature.
When you go: The town of Monteverde attracts over 250,000 annual visitors and is a center for ecological and adventure tourism. Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose and 3 hours to Monteverde.
Getting around: Costa Rica has an extensive inter city bus system and many tourist van options. The easiest transportation is renting a car. Costa Rica’s road system is generally in good condition.
Where to stay: There are of number of accommodations from luxury hotels to hostels in Monteverde. I highly recommend: