For the second day in a row, we woke to the sounds of rain tapping on the pavement outside our rooms; at times the rain fell thick and heavy, forming quick puddles. After a reluctant goodbye to our temporary home in the rainforest, our journey continued to the next phase: between the volcanoes Poas and Barva to the drier Pacific side of Costa Rica. As we traversed the violently winding road (“I’ve never been more carsick in my life,” says Heather), our guide Diego and instructor Jen told us about the relationship between the mountains and the waters of Costa Rica. As the winds from the northeast blow over the Caribbean Sea, they pick up moisture and carry it across the country toward the mountains. This moist air rises up and over the mountains, forming clouds that drop their load of water as precipitation. The air that descends down the slope toward the Pacific Ocean is drier. These conditions create something known as a “rain shadow.” In following the cloud’s journey, we discover what makes the Cloud Forest in the mountains.
As we approached Costa Rica’s most famous waterfall, La Paz, we came across “Poor Man’s Umbrella,” a bio-indicator for Cloud Forests. This will be the region we visit in the next few days, and Heather and I are so excited to explore this unique environment. “I’ve been telling everyone!” Heather says. Between 5,000 and 9,000 feet is a layer of forest where the fog never dissipates; the thickest part of the forest—the understory—traps up to 50% of the evaporated water within this ecosystem. Some of the water condenses on the vegetation and either falls to the forest floor or is absorbed by plants in the understory known as epiphytes—plants that grow on top of other plants, striving for sunlight. Bromeliads are one such plant, holding up to a gallon of water and creating micro-habitats for lizards and amphibians.
The mountains provide the power running through the computer on which we typed this blog post. How, you may ask? Well, first a little history: San Jose, Costa Rica was the third city in the world to have electricity, just behind New York City and Paris. This was achieved through the implementation of hydroelectric turbines in a stream that powered a small theatre in the city. Today, 100% of Costa Rica’s electricity is produced by renewable energy: hydropower, solar power, geothermal, and wind power… even on a small, isolated island approximately 16 miles from the mainland known as Isla Chira. Vermont has several hydroelectric dams; do you know where your nearest one is?
Our Isla Chira adventure began this afternoon, with a visit to Plaja Muertos (Railroad Tie Beach). We are staying the night at a facility known as La Amistad—or “The Friendship”—created by a cooperative of ten inspirational women.
Water is Costa Rica’s lifeblood. From life sustenance to energy creation to the beauty of the majestic forests, water is the driving force. We can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring.
More Photos from the Field: