Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Archive for the ‘#03-Costa Rica: Aug. 2006’ Category

Returning to Costa Rica with Karen

Sunday, August 20th, 2006


My next trip to Costa Rica I wanted to return to Rancho Mastatal a little later in the rainy season to see if the Costus there might be more in flower.  My wife, Karen, does not usually go with me on these trips as she would be bored to death, sitting around while I am out on the trails pursuing my silly hobby looking for one kind of plant.  But since I had already been to Rancho Mastatal and I knew there would be many interesting things for her to see and do there, I encouraged her to come along.  After the trip, Karen wrote up a nice journal with lots of photos of non-Costus stuff, so most of this will be from her story, but I will inject my Costus-related comments here and there.




(NOTE:  The following thumbnail images and text were prepared by Karen in 2006 shortly after we returned from that trip.  The page has been widened into the right menu sidebar to take advantage of that white space.

If you want to see a larger image on her pages, just click on the thumbnail then use your back button to get back to the page.)


Welcome to Costa Rica, land of Caribbean beaches, Pacific rim geotectonism, rainforests,  and Costus, the plant group Dave was there to study (Costus are subset of the Ginger family).  Costa Rica is two hours different from Eastern Daylight time, although the capitol city of San Jose is due south of Tallahassee.  The people are very friendly, but most are very very poor.  The ritzy places usually are owned by Gringos (North Americans).

000-AirportSanJose.JPG (56927 bytes)

 Tally to Atlanta to San Jose International Airport.

Taxi to Puriscal, then buses to Mastatal.  The brakes went out on the first bus, so they finally brought us a school bus for the rest of the trip.

Karen only lightly mentioned this but we were stuck by the side of the road that evening for several hours waiting for a replacement bus and it was well after dark by the time we arrived.

003-PuriscalToLaCangreja.JPG (97195 bytes)

Mastatal abuts LaCangreja National Park, although is not large enough a town to show up on this map.

a01-WelcomeToMastatal.JPG (92566 bytes)

Here There Everywhere. So is Mastatal down?

a02-FrontGateRancho.JPG (152350 bytes)

Welcome to Rancho Mastatal. (Picture taken 180o from previous picture)

Rancho Mastatal is the home of Timo and Robin, two former Peace Corps workers with a grand vision, that unlike many, they are achieving.  They wished to expand the zone of land preserved from deforestation and species eradication, along with providing an anchor for education of Americans, and the community.  Long hours, with much hard work, and five years later, the Rancho provides housing, food and fun for a steady flow of paying visitors, of volunteers who earn their keep by working, and of students on scholarships. People come from all over the United States to study the local ecology, to take “immersion training” in Spanish by staying with local families. They also assist in community development projects, teaching English at the local school, and employ ten people, contributing to the income level of the small town.  They have a very nice website, with lots of info, but this is my little snapshot of the place.

a06-Timo.JPG (90129 bytes)


a05-Robin.JPG (116244 bytes)


a03-InsideTheGate.JPG (162031 bytes)

Inside the gate,
Pica and vegetables await.
(Pica is the dog — a healthy, well-fed one, which is rare in CR).


Rancho Mastatal – Part 1

Monday, August 21st, 2006

Here Karen describes the facilities at Rancho Mastatal.

By Karen:

a09-KitchenFor25.JPG (96995 bytes)

Robin and Volunteers make all meals in this tiny kitchen — for 25 people the last two days of our stay.  Robin says the maximum she can handle is about 40.

a10-Kitchen2.JPG (100922 bytes)

Kitchen – continuation

a07-CoorooGuardingKitchen.JPG (76491 bytes)

Costa Rica has very few cats.  Cooroo, helping guard the kitchen here, was brought via six intermediate steps, from the U.S.

a08-DiningAreaBambooCeiling.JPG (103720 bytes)

Turn 180 degrees to the dining hall, music hall, library, and entrance to the three bedrooms in the main house….Plus! a bathroom with a flush toilet and hot water shower! Note the bamboo strips used for ceiling material.

a11-Eggies.JPG (84551 bytes).

Fresh chicken eggs bought from a Tico hen-keeper.  Eggs for 25, anyone? Costa Ricans refer to themselves as Ticans.

a12-KitchenWashing.JPG (97227 bytes)

The Rancho does have some extra refrigeration – only two years old and rusting already in the humidity.


a13-LaundromatFacilities.JPG (97019 bytes)

Tyler is using the local laundromat. By the way, the water source is from pipes coming down from Cerro Cangreja (the adjacent mountain).  And it tastes wonderful, no chemicals!


a14-Oven&ClothesDryer.JPG (92726 bytes)

This earthen oven bakes wonderful bread, and also helps dry clothes — it is very very difficult to get clothes to dry in the high humidity of the rain forest.

a15-ComputerRoom.JPG (72205 bytes)The back veranda.  The Rancho does have a computer, but not internet access.  No phone.  No television. But music playing all day and night on the small boom-box in the dining area.
Our room faced out on the back veranda, no screens but few mosquitoes, and it was nice to sleep under a blanket at night.  The temperatures are typically cooler than Tallahassee because of the elevation. I tended to wear some sort of footwear on the veranda — the floor is earthen sealed with cow manure. This technique is well over a millennia old, maybe more.

Rancho Mastatal – Part 2

Monday, August 21st, 2006

 While I was out on the trails with Chepo looking for Costus, Karen was taking lots of photos of the new construction going on at the complex.

By Karen:

But back to Nature!

a16-CleanBanyo.JPG (83201 bytes)

El Banyo (the toilet).  This was the cleanest, best smelling latrine I’ve ever used.  And one of the few places in Costa Rica where you were supposed to put the toilet paper in the toilet.  Almost all other places, the waste paper goes in the “basuro” (basket), to be burned or composted, so it doesn’t back up the septic systems.

OK, OK, an interlude of real nature!!

k1-Waterfall_SpotsOnLense.JPG (59124 bytes)

Sorry bout the spots on the camera lenses.  Dave is standing downflow from a waterfall on the Rancho.

 The Rancho is over 300 acres, and includes land across the roadway.  Additional housing is being constructed bit by bit for the incoming visitors/volunteers/students.  A point of pride is the use of local materials as much as possible — bamboo and teak for the structural supports and other wooden needs, and cob (a mix of sand, straw, and dirt) for the walls.  A woodshop has been built on the premises, and much of the millwork for the bamboo and teak is done there, along with some beautiful craftsmanship is created there.  Other components are brought down from the town of Puriscal — hardware, roofing materials like clear waffle-weave fiberglass panels to provide skylights, screening, etc.

a01-Jeannies_Dorm.JPG (126532 bytes)

This is the largest dormitory, known as “Jeannie’s House”.

a02-ShowerAtJeannies.JPG (113480 bytes)The shower.  Water is solar heated via black barrels on the roof. a03-SinkAtJeannies.JPG (80755 bytes)The sink… and the friend in the background is just a fantastic painting on the wall.
 a04-BambooArtistry.JPG (135094 bytes)Artistry in bamboo — a walkway’s 90o turn.  d01-RanchoLumberMill.JPG (151306 bytes)Part of the Timo’s Lumber Mill.  d02-FutureCouchCraftmanship.JPG (92702 bytes)A couch under construction.

Rancho Mastatal – Part 3

Monday, August 21st, 2006

By Karen:

b01-PowerTransformer.JPG (122681 bytes)
Obviously, the Rancho uses electricity.  The main power source in Costa Rica is hydroelectric.  This is the equivalent to a transformer drop.
b02-TownOfMastatal_TransLines.JPG (89279 bytes)And up on the hills overlooking the town of Mastatal, you can see the transmission grid. b03-TerrainMastatal.JPG (143689 bytes)The terrain is pretty rugged here, but quite pretty.  This is an area where the rainforest has been cleared away.
e01-HankeyTreehouse.JPG (138267 bytes)
The terrain accounts for some of the ingenious design-work that visitors have crafted for the Rancho. The “Hankey House” (a.k.a. Tree House) was designed by an architect from England who stayed for six months and wanted to make a contribution to the community.
e02-HankeyDownstairs.JPG (135943 bytes)Downstairs sleeping area — open to the howler monkeys wailing away at night. Earplugs, anyone? e03-HankeyCraftmanship.JPG (98472 bytes)More craftsmanship examples.  Entrance to the second level.

Rancho Mastatal – Part 4

Monday, August 21st, 2006

By Karen:

f02-CobWallUnderConstruction.JPG (110127 bytes)This is a new house under construction — and the top of Timo’s head. f01-CobWallArtistry.JPG (100787 bytes)A cob wall roughed out.  More coats of cob to go. f03-NewDormUnderConstruction.JPG (114632 bytes)Typical Roof Mode
f05-SeedpodChandalier.JPG (125824 bytes)And a chandelier made from seed-pods.  They always have artistic little touches. g01-Escuala1MastalConstructing.JPG (131640 bytes)A classroom, also under construction. Some of the people working for the Rancho do construction. g03-Escuala3.JPG (144289 bytes)A variety of classes will be taught here, botany, Spanish, as needed, for the visitors/students who come.
The following day, Robin gives us a lesson in feeding all we guests – how to make seven loaves of bread and four batches of bagels.  The electric mixer is a prized possession, driven down from the United States.  It is expensive to obtain appliances out in the hinterlands, in part due to very high import taxes and customs regulations.  Unfortunately, the mixer is beginning to wear out.
f00-Breadmaking1_RobinReneeKaty.JPG (71383 bytes)Robin at the mixer, instructing Renee and Katey. We used a large quantity of whole wheat flour, which has to be bought up in Puriscal.  f01-BreadMakingEarthenOven.JPG (77008 bytes)The Rancho folks built this earthenware oven, and also one down in the village.  Burn wood inside to get the bricks hot, scrape out the embers and ashes, and then the radiant heat from the bricks bakes the bread. f02-Bagelmaking_RobinKatey.JPG (107341 bytes)Patting out the bagel dough, and letting it all rise.
f04-BagelBoiling.JPG (76466 bytes)Bagels must be boiled before baking. f06-BagelMaking_ReneeKristen.JPG (110890 bytes)Renee and Kristen applying an egg wash and sesame seeds. f08-BagelsInOven.JPG (80141 bytes)Bagels in the Oven.

Rancho Mastatal – Part 5

Monday, August 21st, 2006

By Karen:

f10-BagelsInBasket2.JPG (81142 bytes)Bagels in basket. f11-BreadFromOven.JPG (75421 bytes)Makes your mouth water, doesn’t it?  Sigh.  But I love fresh bread with butter, and butter is a luxury there.  Robin uses very little oils/fats in her cooking because it is not easy to come by — unless you want pig fat. Actually, they do use a lot of pig fat at the Rancho — Tim makes their soap from it.  Pretty nice stuff, too.
Timo and Robin used to live in the main house, having almost no privacy.  Their bedroom was their office, a storeroom, and a hallway into other storage add-on rooms.  They dreamed of a house of their own, and after more hard work, finally got one.  It is about 85% complete now, but they can at least sleep there — as little sleep as they ever have time for.
g01-Timorobins.JPG (123478 bytes) g02-Timorobins.JPG (89750 bytes) g03-Timorobins.JPG (55765 bytes)Note the “Phases of the Moon” motif in the circles on the upper wall.
h01LaCongreja.JPG (116377 bytes)This is LaCangreja Peak, and the view out T&R’s front porch. Their property ends at the first ridge line. h03LaCongrejaReturn.JPG (142893 bytes)And this is Dave, returning from his hike up Cerro LaCangreja to search for Costus in bloom — the only way to differentiate some species from the other. i01-PrettyHeleconia.JPG (89863 bytes)Heliconias, another member of the Ginger family, although not Costus, are very common here. To help one lady remember the name (Hi, Lynn!), we suggested the term “Hell of a Cognac”.

The plants at La Cangreja

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

When I returned to Rancho Mastatal and the Parque Nacional La Cangreja, I did see many more Costus plants in flower, as expected.  There was lots of Costus laevis as well as others including Costus villosissimus, Costus glaucus, Costus pulverulentus, Costus guanaiensis, and Costus scaber.  Below is the C. guanaiensis form seen along the road a short distance from Rancho Mastatal.

Costus_guanaiensis-Mastatal-06r Costus_guanaiensis-Mastatal-09r

One day Chepo and I took the long, strenuous hike to the summit of Cerro Cangrejo.  Along the trail to the top the only Costus I saw was C. pulverulentus but the view was fabulous, with the rainforest of the National Park in the foreground and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Cerr Cangreja-04r
Across the road and down a little way from Rancho Mastatal is a property owned by a man named Leo who agreed to show me around.  Leo was convinced that I was there like most tourists to see the animals such as pecaries……

and monkeys.

There was an unusual looking form of Costus laevis at Leo’s place, with predominantly orange flowers instead of red.

Costus_laevis_Orange-Leos-03r Costus_laevis_Orange-Leos-02r

The form of C. pulverulentus found at Leo’s place was very hairy whereas others in the area were nearly totally glabrous.  This exemplifies the fact that the indument (hairiness) on Costus spp. tends to be variable within a species.


To the place of little sun – Pocosol

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

By Karen:

To Pocosol, we go, we go. Pocosol is basically a ranger station for the “Children’s Eternal Rain Forest”. It was founded by school kids from around the world and the Monteverde Conservation League.
00-AirportToPocosolAndReturn.JPG (111987 bytes)Bus to Puriscal.  Bus to San Jose. To use the bathroom at the San Jose Bus Station, you have to pay someone.We eat breakfast at a lovely “Soda” (Cafe).  Beans, rice, eggs, and a “Pina” (tasty tasty pineapple drink). Finally get the rent-a-car, a four-wheel drive GEO Tracker.  Not a new vehicle, but the price was reasonable.  That should have been a warning.  Drive north (leftish route on map to the left), raining, car roof leaking and I use an umbrella to try and catch the water. And wonder what the squeaking noise means that is coming from the front right wheel area.

Adding my comments here:  The drive up the mountain to Pocosol was scary!  It was pouring down rain and getting dark, and once we left El Tigre and made it across a raging river on a narrow suspension bridge barely wide enough for even that little car, it got much worse.  Four wheel drive was absolutely essential.  That poor little Geo Tracker was climbing over huge rocks in the road and at one point the car veered into the embankment and got stuck.  I started rocking it back and forth and said a little prayer and gunned it.  Somehow we made it.  Little did we know our problems with that car were not over yet.

Up past LaTigre, and we find the “road” to Pocosol.  Rock and mud track is a better description.  We nearly get stuck beyond the capabilities of the four-wheel drive. And hoped that the grinding noise from the front right was just grit on the brake pad.b04-TrackRoadToPocosol.JPG (91481 bytes)(This picture is actually from the trip back down the mountain, but fits better here). 03-SadGEOTracker.JPG (114261 bytes)What  a relief to make it to the top, Pocosol Station..01-Pocosol_MontVerde.JPG (125554 bytes)
02-DormHouse.JPG (117292 bytes)This is the Dormitory we stayed in. 05-Bunkhouse1.JPG (70123 bytes)Our fabulous accommodations, complete with a cold-water shower and flush toilet. 04-Anteater.JPG (81969 bytes)And wildlife!!!  An anteater.


Friday, August 25th, 2006


07-JuanDave.JPG (81388 bytes)This is Juan, the Park “Ranger”, our cook, and host during the stay.  He is a most patient man, working to help Dave with his Spanish, is very bright, and very caring about the environment of his country. 08-DiningAtPocosol.JPG (86714 bytes)Tried to get a bit of an example of the view out the dining hall door. Re his cooking, it was excellent, but a bit of a change of pace — going from vegetarian-low fat diet to one where everything was fried in margerine. 09-HugeCostus.JPG (178961 bytes)We hiked down a steep slope and around in a circular path back up to the “Estacion”.  Dave found an enormous Costus, nearly twice as tall as the ones of the same species he had seen before. And yes, this is what a Costus looks like.
16-Heliconia-DeeperOrange2.JPG (66532 bytes)I found this Heleconia rather nifty in that its colors were such a deeper shade of orange-red than the previous ones I’d seen. 17-BridgeOverFlowingWaters.JPG (82274 bytes)The bridges on the trail were a bit shaky. 19-TreeRoots.JPG (128395 bytes)Some of the bigger Primary Forest trees used the buttress-method to maintain stability.
20-MaybeOsprey-Highlighted.JPG (145031 bytes)I’ve circled a large bird we watched for a while — I think it was an Osprey. 20-Snake_NonVenemous.JPG (140202 bytes)Costa Rica has numerous venomous stakes, but luckily this one wasn’t — some of the venomous ones can kill you within minutes. 21-LakePocosol.JPG (111887 bytes)Laguna Pocosol is a bit of a mystery as to the basis behind its formation.  Volcanic crater, or just a depression?

The plants at Pocosol

Friday, August 25th, 2006

Pocosol is on the eastern (Atlantic) side of the Tilarán Mountains – opposite from the well known tourist area of Montverde.  At about 800 meters, it is just north of the Rio Peñas Blancas.  There are several trails around the research station there, but not particularly well maintained and the place is seldom visited except by a few researchers.

Four different Costus were seen there, including one that has me a bit mystified.  It was very tall with non-appendaged bracts and open flowers looking somewhat like Costus glaucus except that the young shoots and the bracts did not have the characteristic powdery white covering.  It is similar to a plant I saw in 2013 in the gardens at the University of Georgia research station at San Luis near Monteverde, and along the upper Rio Peñas Blancas.  This plant will probably be distributed under the name Costus ‘Red Baron’.


I also saw lots of Costus malortieanus which I had not seen in habitat before then.


The most interesting plant seen was similar to Costus curvibracteatus except much shorter and compact with nearly pure red bracts and much larger yellow flowers.  I have registered a cultivar name for it, not very original, Costus aff. curvibracteatus ‘Pocosol’.

Costus_aff_curvibracteatus-R3032-PocoSol-31r Costus_aff_curvibracteatus-R3032-PocoSol-29r


We have a late-night visitor

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

By Karen:

b03-Oropendulas-BirdNests.JPG (180482 bytes)These odd things are “Oropendulas” — birds nests. b01-SonOfJuan-Juandra.JPG (94841 bytes)Juan brought his son up to visit on Friday.  Juandra (little Juan) is a bright, dear 11-year old, who helped me with my Spanish. b02-Juan&Juandra.JPG (105694 bytes)Juan & Juandra
Friday night, we had a guest in our room.  He wasn’t really welcome, and Dave tried to bribe him to leave with a banana, but it didn’t work.  He nibbled though my plastic sacks that had candy, and ate part of a tootsie roll pop.  And then, in the middle of the night, he got inside the mosquito netting, and walked across my stomach (or, rather, the blankets on my stomach).  I tried to get him to leave, but apparently just cornered him even further back in the netting. Who was he?A RAT!

All I knew, we had just settled back down to sleep when I heard a plaintive “Daaavvvve” as Karen felt the rat running over her tummy.  The flashlight revealed one frightened little mountain rat clinging to an upper corner of our mosquito netting.  After that, Karen wanted to leave a day early and I did not really blame her.

We excused ourselves, and left the next morning. You’ve seen the road, and here is the neato bridge over the Penas Blancas River.b05-BridgeOverPenasBlanca.JPG (167163 bytes) b06-TrackerWidthBridge.JPG (147209 bytes)Wide bridge, isn’t it? Freaked me out to walk over it, let alone drive it. b08-NiceWideRoadDown.JPG (157993 bytes)But the road finally got MUCH better.
b09-RoadBlocked.JPG (87045 bytes)Ooops.  Dump-truck dumped a load of dirt in the road right in front of us. Luckily, there was a Bulldozer nearby. b10-PavedRoadOhJoy.JPG (108409 bytes)Oh joy, a paved road in sight!!!  So we headed north to Fortuna, the closest fairly large town — the grinding noise we’d heard was a totally down-to-the-metal brake — to find a phone and see what we could work out with the car rental company.. b11-RoofBlewOffCar.JPG (96916 bytes)On the way to Fortuna, the roof blew off the car.  It uses a sort of a latching mechanism, and basically unlatched itself. That was just jolly.  I started to laugh because crying would do no good.  No one was behind us to get hurt, at least.

That was the last straw!  The brakes had gotten worse and worse coming down the mountain and we were limping in to the next town of any size, La Fortuna.  Then the roof blows off!  Needless to say I was a bit pissed at that rental car company.

La Fortuna

Sunday, August 27th, 2006


b12-PocosolArenalVicinity.JPG (99601 bytes)Notice how close Fortuna is to Arenal Volcano. c14-DowntownLaFortuna.JPG (73246 bytes)Downtown Fortuna.  According to local history, the early non-native residents in the area had no idea what kind of mountain this was.  And it did start erupting in the late ’70s, and continues to do so. c13-HotelArenalCarmela.JPG (77785 bytes)Dave found a very nice hotel for us to stay in — had air conditioning and a TV.  Mostly, I cared about the AC, because it dehumidified the air enough to gradually dry our clothes.
c16-DowtownLaFortuna2.JPG (83719 bytes)Another view of main street Fortuna.  Got to see a lot of it as we walked back and forth, making phone calls to the car rental people, waiting for them to call us, arguing that no, we were not going to drive that car farther, let alone over 100 miles back to San Jose, and that they needed to make arrangements to get it fixed. 01-ChurchLaFortuna.JPG (143384 bytes)Church grounds and the local park were pretty.  I would have liked to go tour the volcano exhibits at the national park, but … no wheels.

The brakes were grinding so bad by then that I did not want to drive that car another mile.

02-FlowerInTheWeeds.JPG (105645 bytes)For a weed in the landscaping, I thought this was rather pretty.
03-LeavingTrackerAtHotel.JPG (122436 bytes)Finally got it worked out that we would leave the car at the Hotel, and that we would take the bus back south.

The rental car company wanted me to find a local garage to get the brakes fixed and they would reimburse me but I refused – they should have maintained it better.  So we left it in La Fortuna for them to come and pick it up.  In their favor, I will say they later refunded me the entire amount I paid to rent the car, but it pretty much ruined our plans for the trip.

00-AirportToPocosolAndReturn.JPG (111987 bytes)Bus route is the easterly (rightish) demarcation on map. We took the “Directo” – the bus allegedly going direct to San Jose with only five stops.  Some twenty-five to thirty stops later, we did arrive.  The buses are heavily utilized, often stand-room-only, 04-countrysideFromBus.JPG (52933 bytes)View from bus window, back toward Pocosol and Monte Verde.

Back to San Jose

Monday, August 28th, 2006


a01-HotelAmericanaDecorationInHeredia.JPG (76358 bytes)

The last night in Costa Rica, we stayed in a town near to San Jose, called "Heredia".  It is a very old town.  The "Hotel Americana", where we stayed, was a musty old place, but different.  It used to be a cinema some 50 years ago, and they use of the old projectors as decorations.

a04-ChuchAtHeredia.JPG (89502 bytes)

Church on the main plaza of town.  Bells rang every half hour, starting at 5:30 am.

a05-BuddhistgardenAcrossStreetFromChurchHeredia.JPG (155051 bytes)

Across the street from the church plaza is this garden with a statue of Buddha, and an odd octagonal tower.  Down the road were several school for embassies.

Church and that tower.
b03-HerediaSanJoseSoutherly.JPG (103440 bytes)

We were allowed up on the top floor of the hotel — normally closed in the day time because it was an open-air restaurant — so that I could take pictures.   

b01-HerediaSanJoseWestish.JPG (99973 bytes)

The viewscape is out westward toward San Jose.

b04-HerediaSanJoseWNW.JPG (85684 bytes)



b02-HerediaSanJoseNorthwestish.JPG (84864 bytes)

Northwestish, out toward Alajeula and the airport.

c-FarewellSanJoseAirport.JPG (64055 bytes)

And then it was farewell time.

Nice flight back to Atlanta.  Go through immigration and then customs.  Wait for the flight to Tallahassee.  Arrive home after midnight.
Afterthoughts:  In some ways, I only felt like I’d gone to south Florida — much of the vegetation was the same or very similar, or looked just like our yard since Dave has so many tropical plants.  Gingers, bromeliads, heleconias, bananas, ixoras, impatiens, hibiscus…….  And all the Spanish-speaking people.  But we are more fortunate, for the most part, here in the States.  It makes you grateful for the wealth we have.  A clothes dryer.  A nearby grocery store stocked with foods from all over the world.  A decent roof.  And my pets Teddye and Buster.

Welcome home.