El Manantial Lodge Hotel de Montaña en Costa Rica
El Manantial Lodge Hotel de Montaña en Costa Rica
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Testimonio de Juliana Dutkay - Agos. 09 El Manantial Hotel Lodge

We end our field course trip high in the cloud forest at about 2000m altitude at El Manantial lodge, in the land of quetzals, waterfalls and hummingbirds. The crisp and chilly mountain air makes us pull out our sweaters and jackets. There’s hot soup and a fireplace. I’m happy.

Entering El Manantial - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica

El Manantial means water spring, there is one around, and a waterfall; we will hike to it soon enough. The place is not as polished as the other lodges we stayed at, but Alejandro Dada, the owner, has a full vision of sustainable agrotourism for the place. It is refreshing to see an eco-tourism concept in the making. He is an “applied biologist” with a strong entrepreneurial drive; thinks like a businessman. Dinner table conversation centers on eco-tourism, and the entrepreneurial opportunities between tourism, organic agriculture, coffee and marine conservation. Howard dreams of a Forum in Costa Rica about all that is eco-business driven and excitedly tells us about his ideas. We talk about carbon sequestration, biomimicry and experiential learning - Alejandro’s favorite subject, seeing, touching, smelling your way though sustainability learning. But more on the concepts and plans of El Manantial a bit later.

Avocado tree in full bloom - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica
Avocado tree in full bloom

El Manantial means water spring, there is one around, and a waterfall; we will hike to it soon enough. The place is not as polished as the other lodges we stayed at, but Alejandro Dada, the owner, has a full vision of sustainable agrotourism for the place. It is refreshing to see an eco-tourism concept in the making. He is an “applied biologist” with a strong entrepreneurial drive; thinks like a businessman. Dinner table conversation centers on eco-tourism, and the entrepreneurial opportunities between tourism, organic agriculture, coffee and marine conservation. Howard dreams of a Forum in Costa Rica about all that is eco-business driven and excitedly tells us about his ideas. We talk about carbon sequestration, biomimicry and experiential learning - Alejandro’s favorite subject, seeing, touching, smelling your way though sustainability learning. But more on the concepts and plans of El Manantial a bit later.

Dinner is great; made from goodies grown on the property. We are the only guests and our host is much too accommodating, soon enough our i-pods, socks and notebooks are taking over the place.

The Clay colored Robin - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica
The Clay colored Robin, got the pic from the internet, as my esthetically driven photo taking did not include this poor bird

Bright and early in the morning we meet a local birding guide that is fully driven to show us a Resplendent Quetzal. It is a bit of a Mecca for quetzals here, we pass by several lodges proudly boasting sure sightings and avid birdwatchers with half a meter long camera lenses waiting for the magic moment. We hear an all to familiar story. Area here was devoted to agriculture not long ago and small avocado fruit trees (the preferred food of quetzals) were cut down. With less avocados quetzals started disappearing (Mexico and Guatemala, with similar agro ambitions had almost entirely lost their Quetzal populations). Deforestation was stopped in time in this area, avocados re-planted and quetzals are back. Now eco-tourism is the main source of revenue for the region instead of agriculture; a goal for many regions we have seen so far. Quetzals love avocado. One of the reasons is that the tree has alternate blooming and the birds basically have food year-round with no need to migrate. They choose the ripe fruits by the color of the stem. Interestingly they contribute to seed dispersion: they swallow the fruit, but the seed only stays in the quetzal’s stomach for about half an hour for the bird to extract the needed nutrients from the fruit. In this time the seed warms up and all but starts to germinate. The bird then eliminates the seed that is now at the optimal temperature to get dispersed.

We finally learn the story of the Clay Colored Robin, Costa Rica’s national bird. Despite its not so impressive looks, the bird gained such an honorable status due to its singing that announced ideal time to start planting coffee, and as coffee has had such an important role in the economic development of the country, the clay colored robin became a hot bird.

We walk around quite a bit and no quetzals. But I am not complaining, it is the land of humming birds. They are everywhere, in every colorful flower bush there are at least two or three humming around, on lodge fences, in trees. They seem bigger; I learn that hummingbirds at high elevation have wider wings to be better equipped for fighting less dense air.


Hummingbird - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica
Hummingbird


Hummingbird - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica
My best shot, actually I am pretty sure it was posing

Branch full of bromeliads - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica
Branch full of bromeliads

Primary forest - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica
Primary forest

The quetzal - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica
The quetzal, not my shot, got one of Mario Saborio's

We go into the primary forest. Very excited to discover a forest that is older than the 30-40 years secondary forests we have seen so far. It is magical. Temperature drops by about 5 degrees, it is cool, quiet, darker, more humid. Trees are bigger. Some of the oldest oak trees in the world. Sadly we only spend about 10 minutes in the forest and then go back to our Quetzal hunt. We eventually spot one; I get a chance to see it through the telescope for 2 seconds. It is beautiful, resplendent.


The area where the quetzal was flying around - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica
The area where the quetzal was flying around

Furry tree full of vegetation - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica
Furry tree full of vegetation

Pretty flower - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica
Pretty flower, just loved the raindrops on it and wanted to test my macro settings ;)

On our last day we take a tour of the farm. Alejandro describes his vision about where and how it will all be; building a deck, replacing the apple orchard (which requires more chemical input) with peaches and making organic jam, a lake with trout and calas flowers-based filtering system to avoid fish substances from the pond reaching the streams/ocean; goats for milk/cheese and grass cutting; a biogas facility that will warm up the house of a local family working at El Manantial and living close to the lodge and perhaps even the local school; planting more avocado trees; continuing composting and the naranilla crop (tomato family plant that has a pretty impressive yield of 15 pounds per plant per year). His vision and target market are so clear that we can imagine the surroundings and tourists’ kids petting the goats up the mountain trail. The entire farm is planned to be carbon positive and generate more energy that it consumes. All is to be privately funded; always better/easier not to deal with tight government subventions or politically charged loans.


View of the farm area - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica
View of the farm area

Biggest blackberry bush I have ever seen in my life - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica
Biggest blackberry bush I have ever seen in my life

We then go up the mountain, through the beautiful primary forest on the property on a short and vigorous hike. I love the trees and the effort. We get soaked for one last time by the afternoon rain. One last hot soup by the fireplace and we are off to San Jose.


The beautiful waterfall of Manantial - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica The beautiful waterfall of Manantial
Along the hike to the waterfall, behind a huge stone and a smaller waterfall - El Manantial Lodge - Mountain Hotel Costa Rica Along the hike to the waterfall, behind a huge stone and a smaller waterfall

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