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Explore Costa Rica
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Containing the planet's most complex ecosystem, rainforests have a richer animal and plant life than any other type of forest. Unlike other areas in which living organisms face conflicts in the face of a hostile climate, in the rainforest organisms struggle for survival primarily against each other. Each being--whether plant, animal, insect, or microbe--has been able to develop its niche. and because there are so many species, numerous examples of specialized niches can be found. Rainforests occur in regions without major seasonal variation (although rainfall does vary during the year) and where more than 70 in. (1,800 mm) of rain fall annually. When seen from the air, the canopy appears uneven because there are trees of varied species and stages of development.
Long-limbed and clawed creatures, sloths are camouflaged by the bluegreen and green single-cell algae which grow on microscopic grooves and notches on its fur. Some species of moths feed on this algae. Cecropia (guarumo) trees are a particular favorite of sloths and often provide the best view. They descend once a week or so to defecate, carefully digging a hole with their stubby tails and burying their feces; one explanation for their descent, which exposes them to predators, is that the decomposition of their feces at the tree's base might provide them with a higher quality food supply. Apparently practicing a form of recycling, sloth pellets may return to the tree half the nutrients that the beast has taken.
There are over 700 bus routes covering virtually every hamlet, village, and town. Local buses link towns to each other, and long distance bus services link them to San Jose. They generally leave on the button, and the fare is collected on board. (It is advisable to buy your ticket a few days in advance on major routes if you will be traveling on weekends or holidays or are on a tight schedule). The quality of the bus employed ranges from the huge white buses used on the San Jose-Puntarenas route to the geriatric Bluebirds found frequently in the countryside. On board, decorations near the driver may include painted murals of seascapes and pictures of Jesus.
Entered through thick vault doors set at the base of a beautiful winding marble staircase, the Museo de Oro has one of the world's finest collections of gold-crafted art--over 1, 600 pieces in all weighing in at 24,000 troy ounces--making it the hemisphere's second largest collection. It's almost surrealistically spooky and quiet with beautiful displays and immaculately polished parquet floors. Gold pieces featuring animals, people, iguanas, quetzals, frogs, and jewelry and bells are displayed inside plexiglass cases. As you leave through the vault door at the end, you come upon what might well be a hydroponic garden used in an interstellar craft. Given the spiraling marble staircase, the roof high overhead composed of triangular concrete blocks, the mechanical whir of the a/c, and the occasional "bing" of the elevator, you could be on the set of a science fiction movie. Laser-gun-toting androids might come trotting down the stairs at any moment. If you need a quick escape from San Josˇ for whatever reason, this otherworldly environment is the place! It's open weekdays from 10-5. Admission is charged.
Museo de Jade: Misleadingly named, this small jewel of a museum is really a full-fledged introduction to the cultures of Costa Rica's indigenous peoples. There are musical instruments, bows and arrows, an aerial photo of the Guayabo archaeological site, ceramic ocarinas, flints, anthropomorphic metates (grinding stones) and others with elaborately carved undersides, a disk with Maya inscriptions, fantastic female ceramic figurines (from AD 700-1100), and a large two-piece incense burner with a marvelous lagarto (lizard) carved on the lid. The quality of both the imagery and the technique puts most contemporary art to shame.
The general concept is that profits from the lodge will be invested in the community. Short term gain is provided to the people by employment. That, in and of itself, is nothing unusual. All lodges employ locals. The difference is that all of the other lodges are in private hands (mostly owned by foreigners) and much of their profits stay or go abroad, while Esquinas belongs to a foundation, and all of its profits are to be channeled towards community projects such as building a new school, bringing in a doctor and dentist, agricultural projects, and others. It is estimated that it will take three to five years for the community to see real benefits. Currently, the foundation is supporting small endeavors such as buying pencils and schoolbooks. Logging has ceased in the areas surrounding the lodge, and a little over half of the Esquinas forest has been saved from destruction and has become part of the park. A research station. located at the entrance to the property, is run by the foundation in conjunction with the University of Vienna and this lodge is open to students and biologists from all over the world who are pursuing rainforest research.
The 160-ft.-high ajo ("garlic") tree holding the platform is both very sturdy and allows for a superb panoramic view. It took 12 days and eight people to build the platform. Just finding the right tree took a month because it needed to have limbs large enough to support the platform as well as a good view. All of the material is from the States directly in order to secure quality control. The fiberglass floor is reinforced with graphite; railings are aluminum. You are attached to a harness and rapelled with a winch up to the 120-ft.-high platform (and then down again). At the top, you are fastened into a harness and have the opportunity to have a look around. You may see monkeys which arrive when the tree is fruiting.
The only one of its kind in Costa Rica, this highly controversial government-owned project on the Bahia Culebra to the N end of Playas de Coco had its origins under the Oduber administration (1974-78) but has come of age only recently. The government has completed purchase of some 5,000 acres surrounding the bay, which has 17 beaches; the infrastructure (wells for potable water, electricity, telephones, and roads) has been put in place. No environmental impact study has been done because--according to former Tourism Minister Chacon (who has served during the Calderon administration)--none was required by law. He criticized environmental groups for " not wanting any tourism " and, in 1994, he called officials with the Ombudsman's Office " liars " Theoretically, the resorts are to be attractive and not environmentally destructive but much of the land to be used for hotels is currently covered with tropical dry secondary forest.
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