Category Archives: Cam

Technology & Travel in 2014

Preface: I finally got an app to resize our photos before uploading to the blog.  As of Kaia’s entry yesterday, they will load much faster now if you click on them (they look much better large).  The earlier photos were full resolution .. so no doubt were a bit cumbersome to load.

Speaking of technology …

I recall my 1st big international travel experience – to Sierra Leone, West Africa, in 1994.  I lived in the capital city Freetown.  I would write “aerograms” home – the writing page folds and becomes its own envelope.  Then I’d trapse all the way downtown to buy a stamp and mail it.  Once a week I’d go the head office of the NGO I worked/volunteered for to see if any incoming mail awaited.  Pretty exciting to get mail.  If I wanted to make a phone call back to Canada, I’d take a taxi across town to downtown, then another taxi, then walk about a km to the international communication center.  I’d give the receptionist the number and name of the country I want d to call, then when it was my turn she’d motion me into a booth then about 5 minutes later I’d pick up the receiver to talk with home.  And sometimes, nobody was home, or call couldn’t go through, so that 90 minute outing for nothing.  I’d call home once every two weeks or so.
Fast forward to 2014.   In the time it took me to type the paragraph above, 4 emails arrived.  Before I started typing, Jake was skyping with his class back in Peterborough (Kaia has done that twice with her class already).

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Jake skyping with his class this morning

We now have a google voice phone number where we can make free calls anywhere in the world, and receive calls from anyone who dials our US google voice number (805 850-3711), as long as we have WiFi (which he have had every night without exception since arriving in Costa Rica).
We have Costa Rica SIM cards in the tablet and Kaia’s Nexus 4 phone, so can make local calls and access mobile data for VERY cheap.  Mobile/cell coverage is phenomenal in Costa Rica – there have been only a handful of times we’ve been out of range.
No need to lug travel or reading books anymore.  Yesterday I purchased/downloaded lonely planet’s “South America on a shoestring” for all travel details from Amazon (OK … that’s ironic) – and it works on both the tablet and Kaia’s phone.  And as I type this entry, Kaia is reading “Divergent” which was purchased/downloaded last night.
When in remote Drake Bay last week, I purchased our tickets from Panama City to Quito Ecuador online (we didn’t buy this leg with the others back in August because we originally were going to try to go overland, and around the Darian Gap at the Panama/Columbia border by water).
We use the google map and GPS feature of the tablet all the time – to plan our journey, to calculate distances, to direct taxis in the capital city, and to check our progress on long bus rides.

Have a peek at the photo below to see what we’re carrying with us tech-wise.

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our tech “kit” for the the trip

As you may know, I’m making a series of videos around different themes of sustainability.  Much of the tech relates to this.  We’re carrying:

– A Nexus 7 tablet as our “computer”
– a foldout bluetooth keyboard
– a fairly high-end video camera that does stills too, with extra battery
– a high-end mic for the camera borrowed from friend George (you can hear every sound in the forest!)
– a fantastic (but largish) LED light fixture that fixes on the video cam for doing night shooting (that’s how I got most of the night hike photos)
-a GoPro video camera for action and photos on bikes, ziplines, surfboard and underwater
– a bag of GoPro accessories so camera can be fixed to bike, helmet, head, chest and end of tripod
– standard Panasonic point and shoot when we need to be less obtrusive
– our older Canon point and shoot for backup.
– a SD and microSD card reader that connects to the tablet
– small and medium sized tripods
– two USB battery packs that can be used to charge any of our devices
– a hand-held GPS (wasn’t sure how well the tablet GPS would work down here)
– 3 “pellican” waterproof/shatterproof cases of different sizes for the most vulnerable of our equipment
– a very nifty external hard disk backup system that grabs stuff from all our digital devices
– a secondary hard disk that the main ones backs up to … so we have everything in two places …and in two places in our packs
– about a dozen cables of different sorts to charge and transfer data for all of the above

In past trips, I’ve never carried more than one, or sometimes two little cameras.  No phones, tablets, video cams.  So this is a big step up for me.  I literally spent about a week in early August trying to figure this all out and make the various purchases.  Is it all worth it, you might ask?  The video work represents a big commitment in terms of time, packing size/weight and money.  And I’m always thinking about security – not wanting to flash things around, and thinking strategically where things get packed.  But we are committed to the video project.  We ultimately want to share our discoveries of sustainable living as widely as possible, so in that sense it is an integral part of this journey.  And I planned with size & weight in mind for all equipment.  As for the ability to communicate almost effortlessly by email, phone, skype, kik (that’s what Kaia & Jake use) – we really do like to stay in touch with family & friends on such a long journey.  Important for the kids, too, to have their own conduits to friends.  But no doubt all of this tech stuff does put a filter on how we interact in the moment.  And you “see” less when you’re thinking of home.  I do envy Yvonne a bit, insofar as she leaves 95% of the tech/photo/video stuff with me and sees without lens in front.  But I signed up for it 🙂

Having said that, I can’t imagine planning day to day in terms of transportation, accommodation and even destinations without an internet connection! (though we all made out just fine years ago, without, I know)

Just in case any of you are thinking that “wow .. Cam is quite the tech wiz ..”, then think again.  We didn’t own a cell phone as a family until Kaia got one in April for her Legislative Page stint in Toronto.  I’d never been on a tablet until we got this one in June.  The mastermind behind all this is my university friend Jeremy who lives in Seattle (you might recall that we stayed with them for a week at the start of this journey).  Jeremy as been a tech nerd/wiz since high school, had a career at Microsoft, and now runs his own software company.  I don’t think there are too many tech gadgets in the world that Jeremy has not read about or does not understand.  Heck, he owns half of them!  He coached me in my purchases, then spent literally about 3 full days in Seattle helping me to get everything working.  We must have ironed out at least a dozen glitches in getting things to “talk” to each other – to transfer photos, videos and files.  And how to talk world-wide for free. He was always one step ahead of me in anticipating our challenges of video and communications work with just a tablet, so was finding apps, devices and cables all over the place that work like a charm, and ultimately figured out how to back all our data up.  Even last night I skyped with Jeremy  – I couldn’t get the purchase of the travel guide to go through at Google Play store.  So within a few seconds, Jeremy figured out I could install a Kindle app and buy the book through Amazon.  bingo!

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troubleshooting with Jeremy at his place in Seattle

Moving the photos from various cameras to tablet for upload to blog is a bit time consuming, but now possible.  If you enjoy them, say thanks to Jeremy.  That’s what I’ve done many many times these past weeks!
Cam

P.S.   If any of you (or your kids!) want to communicate directly with Kaia or Jake, then get the “Kik” app – it works on android or apple (likely on any PC or Mac too, for that matter), and needs only wifi (You don’t need a mobile account).  Jake is jakedasnake002  and Kaia is meeper22

Tortuguero turtles take two

In his post below published yesterday, Jake did a great job explaining the nesting process and how tourists are controlled to minimize impacts on nesting.  I wanted to make a few additional comments about how impressive conservation efforts are in Tortuguero.  Ecotourism at its best, in so many ways.  Everywhere you looked in Tortuguero you see signs and murals about turtle conservation.  The night turtle tour was jam packed with turtle ecology and conservation information … as an eco-tour should be.  Four species nest at Tortuguero.  Leatherbacks are classified as “vulnerable”.  Green (the ones we saw) and Loggerhead are endangered.  Hawksbill are critically endangered.  So this conservation work is pretty important.  Like salmon, turtles return … somehow! … to the very beach they were born on after about 20 years.  They nest on the beach 3 to 4 times over a one month period, but may go 2 to 3 years between nesting.  As Jake mentioned in his description of our encounter with little “Squirt”, light plays a critical role.  I think this is one area the town could be more vigilant.  We heard of some stories of villagers collecting up and reclocating hundreds of baby turtles that had walked right into town following bright lights.
There were research stations affiliated with the park, and many volunteers from abroad helping with the work.  I think this caught the interest of Kaia and Jake.
Tourist infrastructure in the town was very obvious but very scaled down.  Only 1 story buildings, no pools or sprawling hotel grounds with pools.  People come here for the turtles.
I guess the most important question is whether the money and awareness (leading to political pressure for stepped up conservation efforts) coming from tourists ultimately does more good for the turtles than the impacts we had.  I felt a little badly for the mom who nested late and then slid back to sea with an audience of about 20 people.  We were behind her more or less … but I can imagine she was pretty stressed.  But if we didn’t come … would the community still be eating the turtles?  I didn’t get a chance to try to find an answer for this question yet.  Any thoughts from readers?
I’ve also added a few more photos of the journey to and from and around Tortuguero.
Cam

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this is the loading area for the "launcha" (motorboats) heading down the canal to Tortuguero from Pavona

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the canal to Tortuguero. It starts in cleared ranch land but then transitions to old growth forest once inside the National Park
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this coconut had been in ice water ... it was SOOO refreshing!
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I'm lovin' the camouflage in Costa Rica!
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It's all about the turtles in Tortuguero. and the tours. There were probably a dozen other shop fronts like this.
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Everywhere you look there are murals about the importance of protecting the turtles, including a whole school wall full of them
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because in the future we won't have only silloutettes
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every tour had a $5 surcharge that went directly towards turtle conservation efforts. You might recall from my Rara Avis blog that this is one of the TIES ecotourism principles.
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The 6PM part was enforced. But it seemed that beach access was fair game any time after 1st light of the morning.
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A US college volunteer explains all things turtle to us at their interpretation center.
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here's where Tortuguero's leatherbacks migrate to
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This diarama at the interp. center shows a cross section of a turtle nest. The little guys are actually pretty far down and have a significant task just getting to the surface before their daunting crawl to the ocean.
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these turtle tracks are EVERYWHERE along the beach. But they only come ashore at night ... and only if there are no lights on shore.
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you can see how this track leads to the bushes and the nesting hole
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sunrise ... in the midst of turtle watching
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These happy "tortugueros" are among thousands who have redefined the meaning of the word (it means turtle hunter). Original settlement here was for hunting turtles and their eggs. But in the 1950s a US biologist set out to convince these tortugueros that alive turtles were worth much more to the community as tourist attractors than as meat. Boy, did he get that right! Our family spent $80 for our guided night turtle tour and $60 for our morning canal wildlife tour. Then add hotel, food, boat ride ... Anyone reminded of Amos Bien's vision for Rara Avis?
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these eggs likely dug up by coatamundi (racoon/dog/monkey)
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sad, but these eggs play a critical role in nutrition for so many coastal animals
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here is mom in her "camouflage" stage - she is digging the sand from in front of her to cover over where the egg cavity is. The eggs are NOT at the bottom of the final depression as would otherwise seem likely.
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there are many many swanky lodges around the town, but they are all water acess like this, and these folks cannot roam the great little village or see the beach/turtles without taking a water taxi. I'll take our little beachfront cabina for $32 thank you very much!
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look very closely .... click to enlarge ... what's here?
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Isn't that awesome camouflage?! I was so fascinated by this guy

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these old growth giants ... so magnificent
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the canal on the return trip
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EVERYTHING (except for a few wealthier tourists on planes) comes in by launcha. Including horses!

Rara Avis – an experience of extremes.

We “landed” at Playa Zancudo yesterday afternoon, after 3 weeks of full on, and at times exhausting, adventure here in Costa Rica.  We are spending the week at Peterborough friends Kris & Jim’s house … right on the beach.  It is wonderful. Virtually deserted on the beach, and not a “resort” in sight.  Never away from the sound of the surf.  House is soooo comfortable after moving along almost every night and camping some nights.  Jake calculated that before arriving, we’d been up before 5AM for 5 mornings in a row, for various reasons.  Now … we relax.  We’ve lots to share via blog updates.  And we’ll use the time to do some planning for our next phase in South America.  We have a land line at the house that will accept incoming international calls – 011-506-2776-0133.  And we’re always happy to connect via skype too … we have a good wifi connection here.  My skype ID is cam.douglas3
I went for a 5km run on Zancudo beach this morning.  I saw 1 person, 2 whales, and hundreds of birds.  Kaia and Jake have a new friend Yively (pronounce “Yabelly”) who is 11 – they’ve been playing on the beach and riding bikes, and this aft. saw 3 dolphins jumping just off of where they were boogie boarding an hour ago.  We’re good.

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Zancudo beach, in front of Kris & Jim's house

In 1988 I was in Costa Rica with my mom for 2 weeks.  Among other adventures, we travelled to the one-of-a-kind lodge destination of Rara Avis (“Rare Bird”).  In the early1980s, a group of tropical ecology grad students were studying in an area adjacent to Brauilo Carrillo national park in Costa Rica.  Many of them were adamant that the CR government needed to lock much more of the land base away in National Parks in order to protect CR’s amazing biodiversity, water and carbon sinks.  But one grad student, Amos Bien from the US, saw this as unrealistic politically because locals strongly resented losing access to traditional activities or worse, being forcefully relocated following the creation of a new park.  Amos instead wanted to protect rain and cloud forest by demonstrating that a standing forest was worth more than one cut down.  Money would come from very selective and carefully planned tourism and from the small scale but high value harvesting of medicinal and ornamental plants and animals.  He spent the next 6 months searching all over CR to find the right site for his project, and in 1983 settled finally on a location close to where the original grad studies had taken place.  A very rough road 11km long to a formal penal building (“el plastico“) would take visitors to the edge of the rainforest.  This old building was spruced up and used as a research facility and a staging area to build the eco lodge a further 4km into the jungle. 

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El Plastico. hard to picture this as a prison! (till mid 1960s)

A very rough cuorderoy road (logs layed across the mud) took guests a further 4km into the rainforest to the lodge site – adjacent to a magnificent two-tiered waterfall.  Mom and I were some of the very first clients to the waterfall lodge that had been hewn with a chainsaw mill out of trees cut in the lodge clearing.  Our 1988 ride in with Amos was epic … in his old jeep with wife, baby and little poodle.  We did the last 4km in pitch black, and I recall having to get out of the jeep to help Amos put a chain back on the rear wheel – in 1 ft of very loose mud.  Mom and I were woken up by parrots, macaws and other birds at 5AM, and had fantastic hikes with local guides.  The lodge experience clearly left an impression on me because I recommended the experience to our Peterborough friends the Storeys 5 years ago (more on that later!) and took my family back there 10 days ago.
We arrived in the Rara Avis base of Horquetas after leaving the Arenal area 5 hrs earlier on public bus.  We put some clothes into 1 and a half packs and were ready to go.  Most guests travel to the lodge via a tractor-pulled cart, but it was not being used that day so we went via horseback.  A jeep can no longer make the journey.  And honestly, I have no idea how the tractor and cart get past the ruts and rocks and mud.  Our friends the Storeys took the tractor ride.  It was bad enough that mom and daughter Daisy (Kaia’s friend) opted for the horseback out.  Dad and two sons braved the cart ride out … only to have the tractor blow a tire, and they ended up walking with their gear.  I can imagine some of the words that were put beside my name for recommending that journey!

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I believe it is the same cart that was in use 26 yrs back when mom and I were there!
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The handrails are a critical part of the cart.

Our travel by horse was actually really enjoyable.  None of us have any real experience on horses.  I’ve never been on a horse that did anything other than exactly what it wanted.  But these ladies were really well behaved.  We all marvelled at their agility – walking at times with two feet on different boulders and two feet in deep mud.  I often expected to tumble, but never did.  We left from town and arrived in El Plastico 3.5hrs later … just as dusk was falling.

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Horse wrangler Diego has all our gear and the food loaded onto pack horse
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journey starts with two river crossing on suspension bridges with "1 ton limit" because bridge in bad shape. Jake did some quick math and figured our 7 horses were over the limit!
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Most of our horse journey was through ranch land. It is this land use conversion that threatens the primary (old growth) forest of Costa Rica.
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Jake on "Pina" (that's Pinya) Our Rara Avis guide Juan follows with the pack horse
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Yvonne on "Maria"
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Kaia's "Rosita" was quite happy walking 50m behind us the entire way.
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I got my "Prima" galloping a few times
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after a few hours we started hitting patches of regrown ("secondary") forest
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this photo gives some idea of the rough road but does not do it justice. truth is, the worst sections were so rough that I could not even snap a photo from horseback 🙂

So we headed off into the jungle on a little muddy hiking trail in the last gasps of light.  As you can see in the photo below, we were still reasonably fresh and in good spirits.  3 to 4km … no problem!  After about 45 minutes when we expected to be about there, our guide informed us that we had only about another 45 minutes left.  We were slogging through mud, hopping from muddy bank to another, with only 3 headlamps and hadn’t eaten a thing for 5 hours.  My very very game family started seriously considering that dad had gone too far on this one.  Our guide Juan was intent to find us some cool wildlife along the way, but Yvonne politely suggested that we would be quite happy to just keep moving.  The Rara Avis welcome sign was indeed a welcome sight … you can see that Kaia was still in pretty good spirits.  The cook had met us at El Plastico to receive the incoming food then scampered ahead of us to start dinner.  He put very generous portions of spaghetti, rice and salad in front of us … not a crumb left 20 minutes later.

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yep ... all looking forward to our little jungle walk ... HA!
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Juan spotting frogs, toads and snakes enroute.
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a beautiful little tree frog that Juan had somehow spotted on a leaf

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can you see the fatigue in her smile? we made it!

It was pretty special for me to be back here 26 yrs later.  Mostly it was exactly like I remember it.  But the lodge was a bit more tired looking.  And the kitchen/eating area was much much larger.  We were the only guests there, as September/October are the slow (“green”) season.  Michael cooked.  His partner Carla cleaned the rooms and did the laundry.  And very cute daughter Sophia charmed the guests.  We slept brilliantly after the day’s workout …with the only sounds of crickets and faint roar of the waterfalls.

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Rara Avis waterfall lodge. 8 rooms, all with balconies, double beds, bunks and tiled washrooms. Toilets, tiles and everything else not wood had to be hauled in on the tractor cart ... somehow!
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Kaia birdwatching with Sophia
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Carla with Sophia. After some encouragement from Yvonne and partner Michael, Carla agreed to talk in front of our camera for the ecotourism video I'm making. I'd been acutely aware that all guides/managers to this point had been men, so wanted to hear from some women in this line of work.

Following breakfast the next day Carla pointed out the resident tarantula next to the eating area (wow!) and Juan caught a cricket to feed to another enormous spider.

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Juan then led us on the “cataract” trail.  I was pretty excited because I knew what was coming next, and loved watching and listening to my family’s reaction as they came out onto the waterfall lookout platform.

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15km from the nearest road. Now you know why Amos chose this site.

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On the way back along the trail, Juan explained to us that one of Rara Avis’s first guests (he was really a partner in Rara Avis) was a very adventurous Canadian biologist Donald Perry.  Perry realized how limited he was in studying the rainforest from ground level, when so much of the biodiversity is in the canopy.  So while studying at Rara Avis he built himself a platform about 25m into the canopy and would study/work there for a week or more at a time without coming to the ground.  Perry also built horizontal cables from tree to tree so he could explore in that manner too.  Other guests asked Perry if they could check out his setup, and he then started taking people up for $50.  From what we understand, this was the very beginnings of “canopy tours” that are now pervasive throughout Costa Rica and all over the world.

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look up. waaaay up. and you can see the remnants of Donald Perry's canopy platform
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a wall remains from Perry's platform
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Juan had a great sense of humour and an uncanny ability to spot or sense things to tell us about

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This tree evolved to prevent its climbing and ultimate demise from a 6m tall giant sloth that lived 5 million years ago
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the call this the "marimba" palm because it sounds like a marimba when you run a stick past the very rigid spikes on the bottom of the leaves
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master of camouflage

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this stained glass palm is very popular in Costa Rica and was one of the high value items harvested in Rara Avis. But they were afraid that when the source became known, locals would sneek into the reserve to find the ferne and overcut it so they stopped harvesting
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this "walking palm" will slowly migrate itself towards a better sun location!

We didn’t miss a minute upon arriving back at the lodge to grab a towel and head for the falls.  You had to carefully make your way down the side, then across slippery rocks.  But what a feeling to jump into the very cool water and let the falls pound on your head and shoulders.

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the upper falls

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Jake at brink of lower falls
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Our own "infinity" pool
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having fun with the GoPro camera at the base of the lower falls

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a fine family moment!
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Juan warned us before we headed to the falls to be careful around flash floods - the rains are intense upstream and catch you by surprise in the pools of the falls. While swimming at bottom of the lower falls we heard an alarm go off... but a bit faintly. Faint enough that we chose to ignore ... we would watch the falls carefully and after all ... who wanted to leave this! Next day walking with Juan far from lodge, we heard the "alarm" again. Special cricket that blasts every 2 seconds he tells us. We told Juan about the swimming "alarm" and he howled with laughter.
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post-swim lunch

After the previous days hard work and our great swim, we were ready to relax.  The lodge is high enough in the mountains to pick up “one bar” of mobile service.  I typed the monteverde climate rally blog from my porch lookout.  And you can see that my family took it upon themselves to relax,.

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We spent the hour before dinner doing some work on our video, with Kaia and Jake taking turns explaining how Rara Avis was the really the pioneer and has in many ways become the benchmark for the “eco” in ecotourism.  The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as:
“responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” (TIES, 1990)
“Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles:
Minimise impact.
Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate.”

Access to the lodge is intentionally difficult.  This extends people’s stays, involving less transport.  Horses … no carbon.  Hot water for showers is “on demand”.  The lodge was built for natural ventilation and illumination – there are no lights or heating/AC. They run a small generator for 4 hrs/day for lights in the kitchen – and use less than 1kWhr/day (average Canadian home uses 25/day) and they plan to install a micro-hydro generator at the falls (I’d love to help with that!).  This tiny lodge deep in the jungle even has waste diversion that would put most Canadian institutions to shame.  Where possible, packaging is returned to the supplier.  I could go on …
The guides to/from and at the lodge and all the documentation at the lodge certainly provide awareness … of all sorts of wildlife, but perhaps more importantly of the plight of tropical rain/cloud forests and the different strategies being employed to protect them and reduce tourism impacts.
The very modest number of guests that Rara Avis can accomodate and the fact that they walk the last 4km in helps make sure that the guests are the sorts that the hosts will enjoy.  Or maybe they arrive hopping mad!?
Past guests responded to a fund raising campaign by Rara Avis (logging was encroaching) to purchase a larger block of land around the lodge, so the reserve is now quite substantial – it directly protects 1200 acres and has indirectly conserved a further 2500 acres.  95% is primary forest with many endemic species – this is very high value biodiversity.  The reserve has resulted in 337000 less tons of CO2 being emitted, because the protected areas were slated for cutting.
All employees (including management) are from the local community of Horquetas, are well paid and receive medical insurance.  Further, they receive extensive training in the context of often very little formal schooling.  Long term employees receive stock in the company.  The majority of management positions are held by women. Food is sourced from Horquetas.  Rara Avis has contributed to the local school, the roads, bridge maintenance and the local community development fund.
Amos is still regularly involved with Rara Avis but teaches at the U. of San Jose and is on staff at the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.  He has been a leader in sustainable tourism first in Costa Rica and now globally.  We tried to track him down in San Jose for an interview, but learned that he was actually in Toronto at a tourism conference!

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darkness falls so fast in the tropics

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With dinner finished, Juan offered to take us on a night hike.  Jake stayed back with a sore tummy, but the three of us really enjoyed more of Juan’s discoveries.

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OK .. really! How the heck did he spot this 6" chameleon 15ft up a tree in the pitch black?
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This guy was very poisonous (I'm zoomed in!). We did not argue with Juan when he suggested he'd lead the way.

We were up in good time the next morning to start our hike out.  We loved the horse riding on the way in, but this was rather expensive so opted for the full hike out.  The 1st 4km through the jungle were much more enjoyable with some light!  We gave Juan much more time to explain things than on the way in … and appreciated his spotting these two tracks.

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very elusive Jaguar had passed along this trail just hours before
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ocelot track - a smaller relative of the jaguar
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I just love this sign. Just 4km ahead!

Juan then offered us the “scenic” route where we would get to some lookouts, have more time in shaded forest and avoid walking along the “road” we came in on.  Sounded good – let’s go.  He led with his machete swinging at all the growth across the trail, then commented that he hadn’t actually been this way in quite a while.  Neither had anyone else, apparently.  So the adventure continued! After about 4 hours of very steady hiking/bushwakcing through the mud/forest we arrived to the open pasture land.  Sorry Amos … but for the first time, open pasture looked pretty good to all of us.  Another 90 minutes later we arrived at a rather unique resort perched high above the valley (“Mirador Prendas”) where we guzzled cold drinks and waited for a guy to drive us the remaining 5km back to Horquetas.

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this is the "road" through the final 4km to the lodge. It has sunk about 8ft since I was there 26 yrs ago.

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enjoying the view and lack of bushwacking ... but really tired
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cold drinks at Mirador Prendas. Ahhhhh....
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a good ending to a great adventure

Rara Avis leaves me inspired but with some questions.  At so many levels, it appears a model for ecotourism.  But it is so difficult to get there, and such a challenge to maintain … it caters to relatively few, so where do all the “other” tourists go?.  On the other hand, the project has protected a very large swath of primary rainforest otherwise vulnerable to cutting – just as Amos set out to do.  Many university and local school children have studied there and fell in love with tropical forests.  26 years of guests have walked the trails and swam in the pools.  The dedication of all those involved is quite breath-taking.  The horse wrangler started back down the mountain for the return 10km to Horquetas with 7 horses, over crazy potholed road.. in the pitch black.  Cook Michael had to hike the 4km out to El Plastico to get the food that came in by horse, then carry in his pack back to the lodge .. in the dark.  I learned that numbers are down in the past few years.  Rara Avis is struggling financially.  We couldn’t actually afford to stay at Rara Avis – it is very expensive.  But after an email exchange a week before, their manager granted us a complimentary stay (we paid only for horses and food) because I’m a return customer and we will feature them in the film doc. we’re creating.  They need publicity.  They are also competing in an increasingly crowded field of ecotourism in Costa Rica.  So ironic … as Amos and many others involved at Rara Avis have worked so hard to make sure this market develops, and develops properly.  Having said that though, their offer was so generousand appreciated.  It was very meaningful to be back with my family while in the midst of exploring our Costa Rica theme of ecotourism.
So if you find yourself near Horquetas in north-central Costa Rica with some time, money and a bunch of energy and curiosity … rara-avis.com  !
Cam

Monteverde mitin contra cambio climatico (Monteverde rally against climate change)

September 21st marked a global day of action against climate change around the world.  I was on the email list of the organisers of the Peterborough rally as early as last June, but knew I would not be around to help or participate.   But I knew there would be rallies around the world, and back in June, wondered if by chance we would be in a city with a rally.  350.org is the world leading NGO on climate change, and they provide an interactive map of rallies around the world so someone can easily find one close to home.  I checked before departing for Costa Rica, and noted that there would be 3 in the capital city San Jose.  But we didn’t plan to spend time in the capital, so I figured we were out of luck.  On the bus enroute to Monteverde I got another email from 350.org, so thought I’d check once more for a rally … and to my great surprise, there was now one planned in our little Monteverde … while we were there!
Our day on the 21st started at 6AM in time for a shuttle to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve for a 3 hour guided hike.  Fabulous! (more on that in another entry).  Heading back to Monteverde we stopped at the phenomenal “ficus tree” – we climbed up the hollow inside about 45′ high!  Then got back town in time for a quick bite and off to the rally.  I expected there to be 15 to 20 folks with a few signs – Monteverde is a tiny town.  We came around the corner to the rally staging area, and there before us were well over a hundred folks, marching band, traditional dancers, juggler, costumes, and so many fantastic signs.  Most signs were in Spanish, but a few were in English too.  The event organizers had a big 350.org banner, and there were a few extras for Kaia & Jake.
These Costa Ricans sure know how do do rallies.  It was raucous!  Drums, trumpets, shouting, dancing.  Lots of support from the sidelines as we marched right across town.  A highlight for our family was a temporary halt in the parade as participants were gawking at a tree.  Turns out, a 2-toed sloth was hanging out only 15 ft above the road!  I commented to the organizer that this rather quiet creature likely did not appreciate our noisy march, but then she reminded me that sloths are themselves threatened as this cloud forest slowly disappears from warming, and as such would likely accept our intrusion 🙂
I interviewed this organizer and learned that the rally represented a very broad cross-section of civil society organizations.  This town “oozes” green.  It is arguably the epi-center for environmental awareness in Costa Rica (stay tuned for upcoming blog entry), and Costa Rica is well known globally for its environmental leadership.  I believe that these folks are in tune with this issue especially because they understand their cloud forest, and the real threats imposed by climate change.
Needless to say, this was a pretty special moment for our family, and especially for me.  It was so reassuring and motivating to be halfway around the world and see such an outpouring of call to action.  I wondered how the climate rally at Peterborough’s Purple Onion (local food) festival had gone, then later read online that this global day of action represented the largest mobilisation around climate change in history.  Hundreds of thousands of participants in thousands of locations in over a hundred countries – all just days before world leaders meet yet one more time to work towards a treaty.  So lucky for us on this “sustainability tour” that we could be a part of it!
I am typing this entry from a fantastically inspired place.  I am sitting in the balcony of the waterfall lodge at Rara Avis (rara-avis.com), which is described by many as the beginning location for the modern concept of eco-tourism.  We are 15km from the nearest road (came by horseback and foot) in the midst of tropical rainforest, beside a two-tiered waterfall.  The only sound I can hear is crickets, birds, waterfall and the tapping of the keyboard.  Ahhhhhh…
Cam

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My blogging perch at Rara Avis lodge
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staging area for Monteverde's climate rally

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Kaia & Jake with event organizer Katie

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I also want a future
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human consciousness (Spanish speakers help me out!)
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look carefully at Kaia's shirt ... "I speak for the trees" (the Lorax)

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"Plant a tree, Plant a life!"

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the rally pauses to admiring a (sleeping) sloth
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Here's the furry attraction.

Pedaling in Portland

Portland, Oregon is well known as a pioneer in the field of bicycling infrastructure and for this reason made it onto our travel itinerary.

Our home city of Peterborough has been engaged in a very  heated debate for the past few decades about whether to build a new arterial road (the “Parkway”) through the middle of town.  A right of way was set aside years ago for this possibility, but in the mean time it has become a fantastic linear greenspace corridor with a fabulous walking/cycling trail that our family and many others make great use of.  The debate came to a head this past year through the completion of an Environmental Assessment that ultimately recommended the building of the road and a huge new brid1ge for the tune of $80 million.  The paving over of the greenspace corridor and construction of the bridge over the city’s most beloved park was opposed by a huge number of citizens and I have been very active in organizing against the project.  Yvonne, Kaia, Jake and I all spoke out against the project in the public meeting.  So if not a new road to deal with potential future congestion, then what?  Many of us have argued that Peterborough needs to more aggressively promote cycling, walking and transit before encouraging more auto use.  But it became clear through letters to the editor that many other citizens were sceptical about the prospects of increasing cycling numbers.  I don’t believe these folks have been to world class cycling cities like  Copenhagen, Amsterdam, or … Portland!  We spent our time in Portland learning how they managed to get so many people onto their bikes.  We will do the same in Copenhagen and Amsterdam and will bring our stories, photos and video back to Peterborough next year.
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Portland used to be like any other city … stumbling along with sprawl, and then building new roads as sprawl demanded.  In the 1980s a new freeway project ignited a debate not unlike ours in Peterborough that ultimately led to a decision NOT to build the freeway but to invest in cycling infrastructure instead.  They hired Mia Birk to lead this work and she has not let up since.  .  Following a very successful (and challenging) stint as bicycling coordinator, Mia has gone on to found her own consulting firm (Alta Planning) that helps cities around North America get folks out of cars and onto bikes. We borrowed a copy of her book “Joyride” from the Peterborough library before we left, and through a fortuitous connection were able to arrange a meeting with Mia while in Portland.  Our interview with Mia represented the start of our video work.  Kaia and Jake posed a series of questions, with Yvonne filming the questions and I catching Mia’s responses.  Mia is lovely, and very articulate, and was open to being interviewed  … perhaps because of the novelty of the 12 and 13 yr old journalists?!   Our hope is to produce a series of video vignettes centered on different elements of sustainability.  They will be aimed at the grade 7-9 classroom, hence K&J as the hosts.  I am learning film work by seat of my pants and some very helpful coaching from friends Chester, Barbara, Michael & George.

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We rented bikes the 1st day in Portland and set out on a self guided tour of the cycling infrastructure that the city has set up for folks like us.  GoPro camera on the bike, hand-held video camera on the ready.  Through this tour, and from our meeting with Mia and reading her book, we saw how Portland has, among other things,
– created over 300km of cycling/walking paths

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– designated key arterials and many other roads as cycling boulevards with very well marked lanes

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– marked “trouble spots” (where cyclists and motorists typically tangle up) with green paint to get attention of both users)

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– installed bike parking racks in previously car parking spots in commercial zones (these were very well used and appreciated by adjacent business owners – 10 bikes can park in 1 car space)

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– removed some street parking to put in bike lanes
– installed special street crossing controls for cyclists to help them cross busy arterials

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– developed and delivered cycling training programs in city schools to improve skills/confidence
– facilitated the accommodation of bikes on the city’s LRT (this really opens up possibilities for commuters)
– created a floating bike path (the “Esplanade”) on the Willameette river to link two bike paths that were otherwise unconnectable
– installed directional signs along all paths and routes, indicating cycling directions and distances to city landmarks

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– held parties on bridges to celebrate installation of safe lanes to cross the bridge (bridges shut down for the day!)

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– encouraged employers to install showers and secure, out of the rain storage of bikes at work
– encouraged employers to invite bike mechanics to the workplace for bike tune-ups

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– fixed potholes and other dangerous cracks in the roads anywhere frequented by bikes

How successful has Portland been?  There are cyclists EVERYWHERE!  They go by in waves.  Not much lycra – just folks getting from A to B … in the roads, along the paths.  We actually created some commotion while trying to film in the bike lanes.  A full 8% of Portlanders commute daily on their bikes, and 35% use their bikes for some trips around the city.  Cycling is clearly a big part of the city’s culture, and this eco-status and ease of getting around has resulted in a significant upturn in tourism.  And then there are the physical and mental health benefits of active transportation, cleaner air, less CO2, less congestion, more greenspace, and much money saved through avoidance of new road contruction (all this infrastructure comes at a cost of 1% of Portland’s transportation budget).
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A large message board at the end of Hawthorne bridge provides realtime updates of bike traffic over the bridge – for the day and the year to date.  The yearly increases in bridge traffic are nothing short of phenomenal since Mia got to work in the early 90s.

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I told the barista at iconic “Stumptown Coffee” why we were in town, and he immediately replied “who needs a car …. you can cycle anywhere in Portland!”.  I then of course asked him if he’d mind saying that in front of my rolling camera (note to self … ask video coaches how you’re supposed to handle this sort of thing).  So, Peterborough, it IS possible.  And Mia reassured inquiring Kaia and Jake that these strategies work in harsher climates (of course, rates dropping through worst of the winter), and work especially well in smaller cities.  Anyone needing further convincing should know that the cycle shop that we rented our bikes from offers a cycling tour from local brewery to brewery.  Hopefully along especially wide paths and lanes!

To close out this entry, here are some more pics of Portland bicycle culture. And our hats off to Mia for her leadership and making time for us.

I typed this entry entoute between Seattle and Houston. After 4 hr layover we are about to take off for San Jose Costa Rica. Whihoo!

Cam

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This is what Miss Oregon wore for the Miss America pageant. Beautiful! Thanks Pam for the link to this.

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1 day to go!

Expand this map to see where we're off to.  Clearly my photoshop skill needs some work!
Expand this map to see where we’re off to. Clearly my photoshop skill needs some work!

1 year. 1 family. 1 world. Kaia named our blog.

We fly out of Toronto in 2 days time. Big journey ahead … here we go!
If you haven’t already done so, please follow the “About” link above right to understand who we are and what our trip is about.
It was five years ago to the day that I wrote the first entry for our year in Namibia blog. I was at our cottage then, too, just a day or two away from the flight overseas. I was filled with excitement and apprehension. Excited about what I expected and hoped would play out in our year away, and a little apprehensive about the 95% of the year that I really had no idea about. That’s pretty much where I’m at now. I have a broad sense of some places and activities, but honestly, I really have no idea what’s going to unfold.
We were checking out our masks and snorkels in the lake today. We plan to certify for SCUBA in Costa Rica in 2 weeks time (we’ve never SCUBA’d before. Excited about that? For sure … but so many unknowns .. and some anxiety for all four of us.
I do want to go on record here and say how lucky I feel to be able to do this. Yes, we’ve been saving for years to be able to travel this year. But to be able to contemplate such a trip places us squarely in the “1%”. I hope we can give something back along the way, and after we return home.
Our itinerary is listed below. In case you’re curious, I booked the flights through Air Treks. Our agent Sarah was wonderful. And for our plan, they were much cheaper than using one of the “round the world” fares you can get from OneWorld or Star Alliance. The only drawback is these are fixed dates. So this really is our plan! I’ll leave it there for the others to pick up from. See you after Portland & Seattle! Cam

Segment                                                             Arrive             Depart          # days
West Coast – Seattle/Portland         02-Sep-14     11-Sep-14       9
Costa Rica                                                      11-Sep-14        7-Oct-14     26
Equador-Peru-Bolivia                               8-Oct-14     19-Nov-14    42
Fiji (via L.A.)                                                   21-Nov-14      9-Dec-14     18
Vanuatu                                                             9-Dec-14    27-Dec-14     16
New Zealand (in. Auk out C.C.)        27-Dec-14    23-Jan-15       27
Australia – Cairns (Great B.R.)         23-Jan-15        2-Feb-15      11
Indonesia – Bali to Flores (cycling)   2-Feb-15       2-Mar-15     28
Phillipines                                                         2-Mar-15   16-Mar-15     14
Hong Kong                                                    16-Mar-15   22-Mar-15      5
Nepal                                                                23-Mar-15   19-Apr-15      27
UAE (Abu Dabi & Dubai)                     19-Apr-15    22-Apr-15       2
Germany-Neth.-Den.-Sweden        22-Apr-15     14-Jun-15      53
(in Frankfurt., out of Copenhagen. (cycling)
Iceland                                                            14-Jun-15      21-Jun-15      7
Toronto (in time for Kaia’s grad)    21-Jun-15

Two days left in Canada!
We left Peterborough yesterday – I’m writing from my grandma’s cottage near Haliburton. Tomorrow, we will go to Toronto and we fly out to Seattle on Tuesday at 10:00 am. We’ve spent the last two days packing up our house, so it felt great to just relax today. I’m so excited! I’m really looking forward cycling in Portland and meeting with Mia Birk who was really important in the city’s bicycle transformation. I’m also super excited about Costa Rica where we’ll be renting a beach house for a week. One thing I’m a bit anxious about is getting our SCUBA certification in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. I like to snorkel, but SCUBA looks a little bit scary! I guess I’m just going to have to trust the equipment. And after Costa Rica? That’s a bit too far away to think about right now.
I got a free app on my phone called “Duolingo” to learn Spanish. It’s like a game, with a bunch of lessons that teach you different words and sentences. So I can say stuff like “El gato no duermo los viernes por la noche” (The cat doesn’t sleep on Friday nights). It’s an awesome app and it’s really fun too!
Anyway, I’m really excited, it’s kind of overwhelming! Next stop: Seattle!    Kaia

Man, the last few days sure have been exhausting! We basically put everything we could either in a box to store in our basement for 10 months, or in the garbage. And every time I see someone I know, I have to hug them and say goodbye because I won’t be seeing them for almost a year. Today is August 31st, and it’s my 12th birthday. Last Wednesday, I had a birthday party with my friends from school. It was pretty hard saying goodbye to them!
Anyway, what I’m looking forward to the most this year is probably visiting the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. I find that place pretty cool because since there are no big predators on the island, the animals there (other than the fish: what everything eats) have never learned to be scared of other animals, or humans! So I’m really excited to go there. However, I’m a little scared to go into the big South American cities like Quito and La Paz. There are a lot of robbers and pickpockets, and I really hope we don’t lose something important!
But now that the hard part is out of the way, we’re finally (and I mean finally!!!) ready to go. Jake

As the rest of the family has explained, the last few days have been pretty intense: a marathon of packing, cleaning, organizing, and saying good-byes. We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time but it has always seemed a long way away. The summer had a distinctly different flavour this year because of the fact that I knew I wasn’t going back to the classroom on September 2nd. The crazy ‘teacher dreams’ that one gets before the new school year were replaced with certain anxious thoughts but mostly anticipation of a great adventure. When our tenant arrived last night with her boxes and some furniture, it really sunk in that our house was no longer our own and that we would be “on the road” for the next 10 months. A bit scary, but really, I was so tired of packing that it felt only good to be on our way. I hope Nadine settles in nicely and enjoys #317 Elias Ave!
When we arrived at the cottage just before midnight, I went for a dip in the lake to wash off the day’s layer of sweat and soothe the frantic feeling that comes with heading out on such a journey. In the pitch black, I slowly waded in (the lake didn’t feel so familiar in the dark), feeling the rocks with my toes and finally “taking the plunge”. Best feeling ever! I’m feeling ready to step into the unknown!  Yvonne