Lurking Devils in Dessert Crops

This post will be set to automatically be posted in a couple of days, but I am actually writing it on Halloween.  Tomorrow we get to go snorkeling and also leave for an indigenous community.  We will be traveling in a hollowed out canoe to the community and can only take one change of clothes.  I am really excited for the trip.

We went to Nicaragua for the first three days of the field trip, which was to avoid having to get anything other than a tourist VISA (a.k.a. We left a couple of days before our first 90 days in Costa Rica was up to get it

The Castle in El Castillo

renewed).  We traveled to El Castillo where we stayed in a hotel overlooking the river with a balcony complete with hammocks.  You can only get to the town by boat, which is really cool because then there are no cars.  The name of the town comes from the castle (castillo en espanol) in the town that is an old fort.  The castle was very cool to visit and offered a great view both up and down stream.  We walked around town and got to talk to a bunch of the local kids playing with what I  guess would be considered tops.  You wrap a piece of string around a  wooden top like thing and throw it at the ground.  It spins and you can then use the string to pick it up.  It reminded me of when my
entire family went to Europe and my brother brought his hackie sack,  which tended to completely captivate nearby spectators (wasn’t a
thing in Europe at that point).

One of the activities we did during out time in Nicaragua was talk to several people with the Foundacion del Rio, which is an environmental service payment type of organization. With funding provided from the government of Denmark they pay landowners to conserve the forest in the buffer zone near the national park (Indio-Maiz).  They also offer additional benefits for commitment to conserving an active nesting tree for the green macaw (listed as threatened by extinction on the IUCN Red List).  Karen, our professor, suggested they could be a good organization to look at interning for and it is something I am considering for after the FCC (my options are currently very fluid).  The nonprofit actually uses the laws (though not the government) to make the commitments for forestry binding for ten years even though payments were only set up for the first three.

We also talked to two former migrant workers who would illegally work in Costa Rica, because of all the strife in Nicaragua.  It was interesting, though depressing, to learn about the history of Nicaragua and how the United States contributed to shaping it.  Basically the United States really screwed over Nicaragua, because it was going through the whole communism scare contributing to a lot of governmental instability, corruption, and eventually civil war.  The two workers specifically told us about working on the pineapple plantations and the nature of exploitation of both the environment and the workers.  pineapple is one of the worst crops for pesticides and when the migrant workers become ill enough to visit a hospital it means they also have to deal with being deported.  If caught they were taken to a basement where they were held until sufficient people were caught to ship them back to Nicaragua.  This process could take weeks and during that time they were not fed, so they had to rely on nearby family and friends for food and water.  Frequently the government would also take the illegal workers to areas in Nicaragua far from where they lived to try and discourage them from crossing the border again.

Later, we actually got to go visit a pineapple plantation, which was considered best practices as far as best practices can get for production of that size.  They grow a large portion of their crop as organic, but have to put down black plastic around the pineapple as an  alternative method of controlling weeds.  Since pineapple is the only terrestrial bromiliad (usually they grow on trees as an epiphyte) a primary limiting factor for growth is nutrients, which are heavily applied for both conventional and organic in the form of fertilizers- though only conventional is synthetic.  For the organic fertilizer they actually use animal blood froma sister company that produces meat or dairy.  The farm we visited actually sells all their pineapples to Dole who then distributes them throughout the world.  Similar to all dessert crops pineapple contributes to the economy of  Costa Rica, but also makes it very vulnerable to the international  market.  When the 2008 recession caused an international crash many developing countries took a hard hit as developed country markets for dessert crops went down diminishing their capacity to pay for the
imported staple crops like rice and beans.

The other two dessert crops that we learned about were sugar cane and bananas.  Sugar cane is actually a primary

Spider Monkey at check in to Indio-Maiz.

reason for the introduction of slavery throughout the region after Christopher Columbus landed.  When Chiquita bananas was originally founded they gained so much power so fast throughout Latin America they started setting up what are called banana republics.  Banana Republics were companies like Guatemala whose government was highly concerned with being on good terms with the banana companies, or if they weren’t they usually did not stay in office long.  When the workers tried to organize against the banana companies for different conditions Chiquita with the support of the US military would quell the resistance using lethal force if deemed necessary.  This eventually resulted in civil war destabilizing the banana republic countries again….seems like the United States seems to be very good at going somewhere and leaving it in a civil war.  So much for exporting democracy.

The migrant workers that we talked to have actually been able to set up their own farm and are making their living primarily now from acting as tour guides in the National Park Indio-Maiz.  We were lucky enough to take a tour

Poison dart frogs in Indio-Maiz!

from him and we had to check in at the entrance, where they kept a spider monkey that used to be a pet. We also got to see the advantage of having a local guide, because he knew where to find the poison dart frogs!  We saw black-green and red and blue.  They were absolutely beautiful!  They looked very similar to the poison dart frog set that I remember having growing up, only much cooler on account of being real- though i didn’t play with them.

We spent four days at Giovani’s, which was our own secluded area in the forest.  Yesterday we had our Halloween party early.  I dressed up as a female cop and one of the other girls was a migrant worker, so we took some great pictures of me chasing or arresting her.  Another girl was dressed up as Waldo and she would hide in the background of every picture she could.  It was absolutely hysterical.  Every morning we would be woken up by the local troupe of Howler Monkeys and sometimes also the bats that stayed in the roof of the open building we slept in (we slept in Mosquito Nets).  I got to see the Green Macaw fly over and it is  absolutely beautiful!  I also saw several other parrots both at  Giovani’s and in Nicaragua and they were absolutely beautiful!  It is  so exciting to observe all these animals that I spent so much of my  childhood dreaming and obsessing about alive and in the wild.  In that way this trip has definitely been a dream come true and a  childhood fantasy realized.