Reflections from the Field – Casa Tucan & Safari Surf: Days 11-15

After uploading the last blog post and writing interpretive material for the guest book on Sunday, I went down to the beach to get a break from the office and see the sunset.

Monday morning Jeffrey and I went to Nosara Sustainable’s weekly meeting at Giardino Tropicale, where various members from the community (businesses, hotels, schools, etc) work together to make Nosara a model for sustainable development and responsible tourism. They discussed ways of preventing locals from dumping their trash on the road to the dump and raising more money for the recycling center this summer (which by the way has now raised $16,295 on Kickstarter-muchas gracias to all those who have made a pledge so far, especially Casa Tucan and Safari Surf with their generous donation of $500!). Representatives from Belca Food Service and Musa Green Group were at the meeting to give a presentation of all their biodegradable products for the local restaurants (cups, to-go containers, bamboo straws, cutlery, plates, etc).

Saw this little in front of Gilded Iguana

After the meeting, Jeffrey and I went to the Gilded Iguana to meet Milton who picks up all of the waste vegetable oil (WVO-grease) from local restaurants and takes it to a biodiesel processing plant in Cartago, Energias Biodegradables, who then sells the biodiesel back to restaurants in Nosara. The only issue is that Cartago is about 250km away from Nosara. Transportation expenses and CO2 produced from driving 500km round trip counteract the environmental benefits associated with using the biodiesel. The business community would like to develop a biodiesel plant either in Nosara or Nicoya, which is the closest city.

I found this article by Ryan King, Biodiesel, biochar & biodiversity in Costa Rica: An example of small-scale, locally-appropriate action, where he talks about how he created his own biodiesel in his house in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Using WVO from local restaurants, he was eventually able to make enough biodiesel to fuel some of the local school buses on various mixes (B5-5% biodiesel/95% diesel, to B100-100% biodiesel). He even had a human powered biodiesel processor by welding a hand pump to an exercise bike! Read the article for more info, but basically he developed a small-scale model for local communities to create their own biodiesel processing plant, which has caught on with a couple hotels in Costa Rica, like Rancho DiAndrew and Flutterby House. I contacted Ryan about possibly establishing a similar model here in Nosara…maybe even at Casa Tucan!

Tuesday was the last full day I could work with Jeffrey before he left Wednesday to go on vacation to Panama. We made phone calls all day to suppliers, researching products and getting quotes in order to do cost-benefit analyses of investing in renewables and energy efficient products among other things. A family of Howler Monkeys invaded Casa Tucan that afternoon, hopping from mango tree to mango tree, taking Tyler’s mangos.

Jeffrey and I met with Jairo from Mis Amores Tours, who does horseback tours near Playa Guiones. We are creating a new historical/environmental/cultural tour that he is really passionate about (don’t be foold by his tough cowboy demeanor in this photo).

Nico, John, Tyler, and I went to the Harmony Hotel Wednesday morning for a presentation from Costas Verdes about their reforestation project here at Playa Guiones. Costas Verdes, with the help of local businesses such as the Harmony, have been trying to reintroduce native species to parts of the Ostional Wildlife Refuge for a couple years now, but crabs, soil and weather have prevented a majority of the trees from reaching maturity. However, Costas Verdes are going to plant the trees once they have grown to a certain height, unlike the younger/shorter trees they have introduced in years past. It’s an awesome project that Casa Tucan and Safari Surf are stoked to be a part of.

After the Costas Verdes meeting, Christophe, the local Forestry Engineer, helped me identify which plant and tree species on Casa Tucan’s property were native or non-native, and if any of them were invasive. I learned that most of the species are native, and the only invasive species is bamboo, but Tyler has it in a controlled corner of the property, where he is going to use it as a renewable construction material for future projects.

Tyler, Christophe and I discussed possible changes to Casa Tucan’s landscaping before my meeting with Gerardo Bolanos, the sustainability coordinator for the Harmony. Gerardo was kind enough to send me some of the Harmony’s contacts for environmentally friendly suppliers, including:

  • Blue Tech, a supplier of any and all biodegradable cleaning products in Costa Rica, who takes the bulk containers back from their customers for reuse.
  • Bioloko, a producer of organic fertilizers and insecticides.
  • Canas y Bambu, a recycled content office paper supplier.
  • Ecoluxury Showers, a source for low flow shower heads and aerators on faucets that significantly reduce water usage.

Gerardo took John and me on a private “Green Living Tour,” which is a tour of the Harmony’s sustainability initiatives that Gerardo gives to guests. He earned his degree in biology a year ago and is fairly involved with their sustainability program. The hotel is owned by Johnson & Johnson so they have some capital to work with. Needless to say, the tour was super impressive and informative:
They have a MASSIVE back-up generator (couldn’t even fit the whole machine into the picture) that turns on three seconds after the power goes out. Given how frequently the power goes out, especially during the rainy season, it’s comforting to know that it’s using biodiesel instead of regular diesel, or even jet fuel (Gerardo said it can take almost any kind of fuel).
All of the hotel’s water comes from a 20 meter deep well. They even treat all the hotel’s wastewater through this biological treatment plant to turn it into recycled grey water for irrigation.

They have an extremely efficient organic composting system. Using garden waste (carbon rich) and kitchen waste (nitrogen rich), the two combine to make amazing soil, which they use for their garden and donate to local schools.

They’re building a large greenhouse for native plants to grow and eventually be reintroduced into the Harmony’s landscaping, until eventually there are no more exotic species. This is Gerardo’s pride and joy. He can’t wait to get this underway.

These are some of the trees Costas Verdes is using for their reforestation project. Some of the trees are grown in used tetrapaks from the kitchen (similar to milk cartons).

Here Gerardo is showing me the chipper machine which takes all of the garden waste and shreds it into mulch, which there is a big pile of behind Gerardo. Mulch is placed on top of the soil to keep moisture in, thus reducing water usage and acting as a natural fertilizer.

This is one section of their organic garden, although it is not certified organic, they still grow organic cherry tomatoes, lemon grass, Italian and Thai basil, mint, and ginger. Cherry tomatoes were muy delicioso.

Although that Blue Palm is not native, its still pretty cool, even Gerardo will admit, but that’s not what this photo is about. Harmony’s pool used to be a salt water pool, but it cost too much to run since the filter is on all the time. They switched to an ionization system, which only requires a little bit of chlorine a few times per year, as mandated by law for sanitation reasons. Regardless, the pool still feels like a “lagoon” Gerardo said.

This is their worm composting bin, which makes the best soil possible. They have the two types of composting because worm compost bins cannot take citric acids (kitchen waste-orange peels, etc) so instead of throwing away the kitchen waste, they use it in the other form of compost. Nothing is wasted here.

They have an extensive and thoroughly organized recycling process that starts at the kitchen and ends up here, where all the waste is sorted, weighed and recorded before taken to the Nosara Dump.

There were some other great initiatives the hotel has in place as well, too many to list here. Casa Tucan is excited to have the Harmony as an exemplary model for sustainability right across the street. Gerardo is keen to help us as well. Muchas gracias Gerardo!

Since Jeffrey left, Nico and John have been helping me with contacting suppliers and getting quotes. Nico is getting started on translating some of the policies and procedures I have written into Spanish. Tyler and I knocked out the medical emergency and tsunami evacuation procedures this week as well.

I’ve almost stepped on these toads every night. They have been everywhere because of the evening rains we have been getting (heaps of lightning too).

Thursday I went to the cemetery to document Safari Surf’s renovation project from a few years ago. The cemetery is right near the beach so it’s beautiful, but it can still be a little eerie.

With only a few days left, I can see the light at the end of tunnel. My task list is down to a few key items and then I’m done. The swell is supposed to drop off over the next few days, but hopefully I can get a few good waves before I go. I’ll probably have the last blog post up once I return to San Diego on Tuesday. Until then, Happy Mother’s Day and pura vida!

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