Nature, General

It’s the Little Things

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It’s the little things that get me excited.  Being greeted with a smile by a passing stranger, seeing someone who picks up trash that isn’t their own on the beach, finding a shell that is perfectly in tact.  Those things make me happy.  Samara suits me because it is full of the beautiful little things I treasure.  As much as I love it here I do wander outside of Samara from time to time.  In January, Craig and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary by traveling up to Tilaran.  It was nice to leave the heat behind and have a change of scenery, but even better, I discovered another place in Guanacaste that was brimming with incredible little things that are a big deal.

Lake Arenal Hotel and Microbrewery sits on 15 acres overlooking Lake Arenal.  The restaurant, microbrewery and hotel are comfortable and a lot of fun, but what really got me excited was what the owner, JP, is doing to protect the environment and educate future scientific leaders. 

On a tour of the property he showed us how he had recycled small vodka bottles, fitting them with low energy car dash light bulbs to make lamps that light the hotel’s pathways at night.  These lights, and the rest of the property, are powered by solar panels on the roof.  From the hotel we walked up to one of the springs on the property to see how simple and clever the water system is. 

Next we crossed over to the fields where a few dairy cattle and pigs are kept.  These are not factory farmed critters in small cages.  The cows graze in a field with a view and when the grass is low they get sugar cane raised in a chemical free field fertilized with the composted water lilies that I will get to in a minute.  The raw milk from these cows was on our breakfast table every morning.

Neighboring the cows are the pigs.  They live in a clean little house.  They have personality plus a high standard of dining.  They eat scraps from the restaurant and by products from the microbrewery.  The waste they produce each day is washed into giant bags where methane is collected to provide cooking fuel.  Water run off from the methane bags is then channeled into a water lily pond.  The lilies help clean up the water before it returns to the land.  The lilies reproduce rapidly on such nutritious water and the excess plants are composted to provide fertilizer for the vegetable garden and sugar cane.  A wonderful by product of all this has been a population explosion in red eyed tree frogs that have found a perfect habitat in the lily pond.  The flow from the springs at the top of the property sloping down to the hotel, then the animals, the pond, and finally the sugar cane fields feels very natural. 

JP (Jean Paul) is a high school drop out with a keen mind, a passion for beer, life and the environment.  The reason I point out that JP is a high school drop out is this.  JP’s other business, the one that really sustains him, is environmental education.  As he likes to say, he owns a little intellectual property, meaning he has figured out some simple, smart and cost effective ways to conserve water, not only on his property, but in Costa Rica’s small communities and public schools.  He hosts an educational program for college students, teachers and other interested parties that teaches them about the issues of water and energy management and allows them to participate in hands on community service projects that make a difference.  Since 2009 participants from 15 major universities, including MIT and Johns Hopkins, have shared in the Earth2O mission.  In the most recent years they have installed water collection systems in nearby villages to collect rainwater and, through a very clever yet very simple device, automatically switch to using rain water when it is available and back to other sources when it is not.  The system has also been installed in schools in other areas.

It’s great to get away, have good meal and a great beer, but this trip also provided education and inspiration, and oh yeah, there is ART!  If you go, check out the murals all over the hotel.  They were created by several artists over the years and are not to be missed.  All of my favorite things in one place.