by Ellen Zoe Golden
photo by Sean Davis
Quepos and Manuel Antonio have a lot more to offer than gorgeous beaches. In this fertile eco-tourism destination, it is worthwhile to learn about the conservation efforts by local residents, dedicated to rehabilitation of rainforest animals and the recuperation of the once-endangered edible vanilla orchids flourish in this bountiful region.
Janine Licare, age 16, co-founder of Kids Saving The Rainforest (KSTR) shares her thoughts, “I feel the earth belongs to the animals and we are crowding in on them.”
Seven years ago, Licare created KSTR with her mother, Jennifer Rice, a co-owner of Manuel Antonio’s Blue Monkey Hotel. The mother/daughter team founded the organization to raise money to buy and preserve local rainforest habitat.
Recently, they also built and opened the KSTR Center, an animal rehab and education facility in Valle Pura Vida. We were introduced us to the latest recovering guest, an orphaned baby two-toed sloth named Moguly.
“ We rehab them until they are ready to be released, and care for them in a way that won’t change the way they want to live in their natural environment.” Licare explained.
In Manuel Antonio National Park, it is common to see sloths, spider monkeys, squirrels, raccoons, white-faced monkeys, and howler monkeys.
We met some of these monkeys over lunch while dining at Hotel Makanda by the Sea’s Sunspot Bar and Grill. They came down from the trees to see what our hamburgers and grilled vegetable salads looked like. It’s likely that our visitors used one of 95 rope bridges KSTR built around Manuel Antonio to dissuade monkeys from scampering across live power lines, resulting in primate electrocution.
The region’s vanilla industry also experienced a jolt a few years ago when a series of tropical hurricanes deposited an astounding eight meters of rain for two successive years, bringing production to a halt. In the wake of the tragedy, Henry Karczynski, manager of the biodynamic farm Villa Vanilla in Villa Nueva, investigated sustainable agricultural practices; and after much research, his attention was drawn to an approach called Biodynamics. Through this practice, Karczynski reconstructed the vanilla industry in the area.
He planted the damaged crop in a soil devastated by pathogenic fungi to create an environment that encouraged repopulation of the vanilla orchid with beneficial microorganisms. This edible orchid is of Central American origin and was first documented when Spanish conquistador Cortez met Aztec Emperor Montezuma in Mexico and was offered a chocolate, honey and vanilla drink called Tlilyochitl.
The vanilla plant is the most labor-intensive crop in the world because the delicate flower needs to be hand-pollinated in order to produce enough for the market, but today the farm is thriving. In fact, Villa Vanilla has expanded and grows spices, essential oils, and medicinal plants, as well as fruits and flowers.
Wet and covered in dirt from our rainforest hike, draped in vanilla vines and loaded with cinnamon bark and other goodies purchased from the Rainforest Spices shop on-site, we departed Villa Vanilla, Quepos and Manuel Antonio ingrained with a sense that we had experienced all that the good earth had to offer.