Saturday we went up to the continental divide to visit Sara Clark and her 700+ acre property. We took a two hour bus ride to Grecia where Sara met us at the steps of the town church to drive us to her farm. On the drive to her property we passed through rural areas and a few small agricultural towns. The drive took us higher and higher in elevation on a steep dirt/gravel road accessible by four wheel drive vehicles only.
Along the way we saw vacation cabins (occupied only for the Easter week) and beautiful vistas overlooking a nature reserve on one side and mix of farm and cattle pasture on the other. A large wooden sign greeted us at the entrance to Finca Dos Lados (Farm Two Sides), the name of Sara's farm.
We passed through a Christian based shrine made where a small waterfall descended into a creek that passed over the road. This is a pilgrimage spot for Tico's on Easter. After more travel on the dirt and gravel road we came in view of the living quarters of the farm nestled in the valley. The one story structures with sod roofs made the buildings blend in with the hillside.
Sara purchased this property in 2002 as cattle pasture. The entire acreage had been clear cut in the 70's during a time of great deforestation in Costa Rica. The cattle are now gone and Sara is in the process of reforesting the land and allowing nature to flourish. The main building on the farm is used as a research center. Researchers are welcome to stay at the center and conduct their own studies in reforestation and nature in general. The main building is designed to house many people at one time. Bunk beds fill one room, there is a classroom, common dining/living area and kitchen. The common area has large windows on all sides providing spectacular views of the valley. Surrounding the house are flower and vegetable gardens, a green house, chickens, ducks, two horses and two cows. No farm would be complete without dogs. She has two puppies and a friendly German Sheppard named Chester.
Next to the research center is a man made trout pond. It was stocked with some of the largest trout I have ever seen. A mini-hydroelectric generator supplies power to the entire farm. Some of the water from a nearby river is diverted into a building that houses the hydro-generator. The water from the generator flows into the trout pond and from the trout pond back into the river. It was a clever design. Drinking water comes directly from the same river.
After we arrived we ate lunch and took a walk through part of the property. We got a better look at the shrine near the entrance and walked along different ridges to have a view of the neighboring nature reserve and cattle pastures. Sara pointed out various trees and plants along the way. The diversity in plant life amazed me, especially for land that is in recovery. I was surprised to see many plant types that were similar to ones in the Pacific Northwest such as ferns and salal type shrubs. We walked to her newest land acquisition which receives morning sun and has a number of fruit trees.
The farm is located between 6200-6800 feet in elevation. Where we currently live, in Ciudad Colon, the elevation is about 2850 feet. The weather this time of year in Ciudad Colon has been warm 70-80 degrees, clear days with varying winds. It is pleasant if not a little too hot during the warm hours of the day. The weather we experienced at Finca Dos Lados was very different. The temperatures ranged from the upper 50's into the 60's. The mornings were clear (which is unusual) with clouds forming in the late morning or afternoon. This elevation is known as the cloud forest because for most of the day (or entire days on end) the area is in the middle of clouds.
The second day I woke up before the sun rise and went outside to watch the day awake. It was a glorious morning. Not a cloud in the sky. I could see the view all the way down to the central valley below. Cows from the neighboring farm were laying down on the terraced hills, colorful swallows were flying about. I could see the sun start to hit parts of the valley below and watched until the welcomed warmth of the sun's rays filled the valley.
We ate a hardy breakfast and left the center for a hike up and over the divide. On the hike up the Pacific side we passed areas being reforested. Some plantings were relatively new and others many years old. The most impressive was a stand of Alders. It amazes me at how quickly plant life regenerates in Costa Rica. In just a few years flowers, shrubs and ferns have grown many feet high. As we climbed the Pacific side the view to the valley below became more expansive and impressive with many mountain ranges in view. We were fortunate the weather cooperated with us and allowed these terrific sights.
We crested the divide and could see into the valleys of both sides at once. The Pacific side remained cloud free but clouds were covering the Caribbean side. When we started the descent into the Caribbean side it became more evident at the differences in the areas. Immediately it was cooler, moister and the plant forms changed. The Caribbean side had also been clear cut but not reforested like the Pacific side. The regeneration on this side was more abundant than the drier Pacific side. I saw my first heliconia in the wild near one of the rivers we walked through.
The hike destination was a vacant cabin. Sara intends for it to be a place for researchers to stay while studying on the Caribbean side. The cabin was built about 30-40 years ago from trees cut down in the area. Workers would stay there while tending the cattle. Just outside the cabin was a tree fern. We saw many of these prehistoric plants on the Caribbean side, none on the Pacific side. We ate a snack, rested a bit and started the hike back. One thing I like the most about remote areas is the silence. We stopped many times, stood still and just observed the quietness of the area. It was fantastic!
When we crested the divide the Pacific side was shrouded in clouds. We were lucky to experience clear skies in the morning. Once back at the center we relaxed and rested in the common area. That evening we had a trout dinner fresh from the pond. It was the best trout I can remember eating. We helped one of Sara's workers practice his English that evening. It reminded me of how difficult and awkward it is for me to learn Spanish. I was impressed by his ambition.
Monday morning we left Finca Dos Lados at 6 in the morning so Sara could pick up another worker and drop us off at the bus station in Grecia. During the trip we were able to see more of the country side and got a clear view of some of the volcanoes in the area. It was a relief for me to be lower in elevation where the temperature was warm. We took the bus into San Jose and stopped at the Association for Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR) to pick up letters stating that we have a case number with immigration. This means we do not have to leave the country every 90 days. I'm glad we reached this milestone, however it can be up to another year before we hear if we are approved or not. Meanwhile we will continue our exploration and networking in this beautiful country.