Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Cloud People

I have spent the last couple days quietly smiling, completely in awe of the beauty surrounding me. There is beauty in nature, and beautiful people who have a simple and beautiful lifestyle. A lot of what I am enjoying about life here is the Pura Vida attitude, which effects nearly every interaction in day to day life.

Yesterday we visited the coffee grower’s coop. The farmers live simply, growing modestly sized shade-grown crops of coffee. The whole process is really interesting and eco-friendly. The idea is to leave a lot of local flora in tact and plant the coffee amongst it. The result is natural pest control—pests eat the bananas, guava, oranges, figs that grow naturally. It also serves to conserve bio corridors and diversity in general. While this is not perfect, it is an amazing effort. What’s more, it’s done largely just because it’s the right thing to do—to conserve natural resources and beauty, even though it doesn’t really financially benefit them more than growing monocultures would, for example. Theoretically, farmers should be getting debt swapping for conserving, but I asked one farmer if he saw any of this money, and the short answer was that no, it gets lost amongst the bureaucratic BS. But pura vida, right? What else would he do? Cut down this beautiful forest in which he lived? That’s what the co-op is for—it gives the farmers security for the 3-4 years it takes from the initial investment of planting a crop to first harvest. What’s more, rather than modernize, farmers have stuck to the traditions of planting and processing that have come from a heritage of knowledge of living in harmony with the land and maximizing each resource—respecting it all as a valuable gift from nature—from eating or selling the extra crops grown in the polyculture, to using the husks from the coffee berries to make paper products (including the bags in which the coffee is packaged and sold—there is a woman’s co-op paper factory that recycles the whole town’s paper).

(Subtitle: "Greasy Hair and Crunchy People"
The other part of the community here in Monteverde is more like a hippie colony. There are a lot of ex-pats and biologists, many of whom came here not planning to stay, and who have ended up making a life here. We have been taking yoga classes and dance classes at a beautiful studio tucked back into the forest across from the Instituto Biologica. On the walk over we pass by countless art studios and cooperatives. There are also bio exhibits everywhere you look—run by major published scientists. In fact, just walking around looking at plants today I found myself admiring the greens with the authors of two of the major textbooks we refer to regularly in the field here. And they invited us over anytime if we ever needed help or had questions or just wanted to look at there catalogue of sample—no big deal.

This open door hospitality is another thing that draws me to the people here. Rich or poor—biologist or coffee farmer, the doors are always open to us. Everyone is happy to offer us a cup of coffee with a bit of knowledge—and there is knowledge to be gained from every soul on this mountain. It seems as though everyone here, with or without formal education, knows a significant amount about the plants and animals in their environment. Can you name the genus of all the plants on your street? As it turns out, Eladio, the man who cooked for us for the whole field trip—who has never had “formal training” has had an orchid and something else named after him, and was the last human being to see a live golden toad in the wild…plus he’s an amazing cook…

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