Conservation Aided By Lowliest Of Creatures

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A leech, Haemadipsa zeylanica, in Thailand. Scientists have found they can survey the biodiversity of a forest with DNA analysis of leeches’ last blood meals. Credit Thailand Wildlife/Alamy

Coffee, Journeys & Yemen

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CreditPatricia Wall/The New York Times

This review, thanks to Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, has my attention on The Coffee-Flavored American Dream of a young man with about as improbable a mission as I can imagine.  Returning to the coffee fields of Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region in a few days, I also plan to cross the Central Valley to see the latest mission accomplished of another coffee dreamer, the choice of Dave Eggers for his latest book topic is much appreciated.

A few years ago I traveled with a group of friends from the southern Yemeni port city of Aden to the capital of Sanaa in the north, taking the long coastal road that twists and curves around the bulge of Yemen’s southernmost tip. After passing the Bab el Mandeb strait, the road stretches along the seashore. Under a clear bright sky, the waters of the Red Sea shimmered and the sand glowed a warm ocher, the monotony interrupted only by an occasional fisherman’s shack, a small nomadic settlement or a bleached one-room mosque. Flat-topped trees looming in the distance suggested an African landscape.

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CreditLorenzo Gritti

Ahead of us lay the port of Mokha, or Al-Mukha in Arabic, where from the 15th century onward ships set sail with precious Yemeni coffee bound for Istanbul, London, Amsterdam and eventually New York — so much coffee that the word “mocha” became synonymous with it. Continue reading

Coffee, Starbucks & Costa Rica

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Yesterday we were compelled to link to an illustration that captured the importance of vigilance. Putting that link in context was the reminder that our primary purpose on this platform is to seek out evidence of progress related to environmental and social innovation.

kgGVpXmJ-6720-4480Today a case in point. Credit is due to Starbucks. Just a couple days ago our vigilance antennae were roused by their opening in Yosemite, one more step in a national park system compromised by commercialism. There is no doubt that Starbucks is commercial, but they can also be model corporate citizens when seen from another angle.

tMOCnNCo-5246-2623Costa Rica provides evidence in favor of Starbucks. Their recently opened facility–a combined working coffee farm, milling operation, visitor center, cafe, gift shop–called Hacienda Alsacia looks like a win-win for a country that deserves attention and investment, and a company that can provide them both of those.

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I plan to visit the property next week, so will save my commentary, focusing here on what makes me want to visit:

Starbucks Opens World Renowned Costa Rican Coffee Farm to Visitors

A 46,000-square foot visitor center immerses guests in the entire life cycle of sustainably grown, high-quality arabica coffee from seedling to picking, milling, roasting and the craft of brewing in a café

Starbucks approach to ethical sourcing and innovative coffee tree hybrid research also showcased at the visitor center, part of the company’s $100 million investment in an open-sourced farmer support program to help make coffee the world’s first sustainably sourced agriculture product Continue reading

Progress In Mongolia Looks Like This

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Odgerel Gamsukh has a started a company to create a green community in the unplanned and polluted sprawl outside of Ulaanbaatar. Katya Cengel for NPR

My one visit to Ulaanbaatar was in 1984, so I have outdated perspective, but I do recall the haze. I did not know it was from coal, associating it more with the Soviet gloom that I grew up believing was a permanent shadow on those lands. The military guards patrolling the train station were ominous at first sight. And one of them walked up to my buddy, grabbed his camera and ripped the film out of it. Yikes. No photo ops for us. But when our train, the Trans-Siberian, left the station I saw that Mongolia is one of the most blessedly beautiful landscapes I had seen, or have seen since. Multiple rainbows alway on the horizon. Thanks to Katya Cengel and NPR for this reminder that the sun is always shining somewhere in Mongolia:

To Fight Pollution, He’s Reinventing The Mongolian Tent

It takes the taxi driver three tries to find the neighborhood and at least another three wrong turns on narrow unpaved roads before he locates the company’s front gate. Each time he gets turned around the driver reaches for a cell phone. On the other end of the line Odgerel Gamsukh directs the driver to Gamsukh’s garage door business. Neither man seems bothered by the multiple interruptions and resulting delay. Mongolians are used to it taking a little extra time to get around, especially in the ger areas of Ulaanbaatar.

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Gamsukh’s designs are displayed on his desk.
Katya Cengel for NPR

If street addresses mean little in the city center, where residents commonly give directions based on landmarks instead of street names, they mean even less in the surrounding ger areas, named for the circular felt tents in which many residents live. In these neighborhoods, the route that takes you from one place to another is sometimes a grass-covered hill. That is because the government has yet to catch up with the city’s rapid growth. Sixty years ago only 14 percent of Mongolia’s population lived in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, the country’s largest city. Today it is approximately 45 percent, more than one million people. The majority of them, 60 percent, live in ger areas that often lack basic services such as sewer systems, running water and trash collection. The coal that area residents burn to warm their homes is the main cause of winter air pollution that now rivals Beijing’s. Continue reading

Getting To No On Plastic

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The cleanup … Glastonbury 2017. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

This headline in the Guardian, accompanying the photo above, is well timed for me:

Glastonbury festival set to ban plastic bottles in 2019

Emily Eavis says festival is working on ‘enormous project’ to ban plastic bottles on site when it returns after year off in 2018

MarriottNoStraw.jpgThat story continues after the jump, but I want to add to this post an image I just photographed when visiting the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel San Jose that was built more than two decades ago. Amie and I were friends with the managers of that property from the mid- to late-1990s, but had lost track of what this property has been up to lately. And I was very happy to learn today that they have recently earned five leaves in the CST program, whose board of directors I served on in the mid- to late-1990s. Bravo, Marriott! And as I snapped this photo, I was told that starting next month this property will have no straws, even if someone says they “really need one” (as the text on the sign says near the bottom). Double bravo!

We have reported on efforts in India, during our years there, to reduce noise pollution using similar signage. Whoever designed this sign for the Marriott property in Costa Rica was thinking along the same lines, graphically speaking. While I am in Costa Rica this week, I hope to have more to report, but for now, back to Glastonbury: Continue reading

Taste & Experience

organikos 100% (png)17 years ago, the word organikos crept into our vocabulary. Our company had recently been transformed from an advisory service to a management company. We were one year into the process of establishing protocols for “hospitality with sense and sensibility” and some generalizable principles for entrepreneurial conservation.

We were, in the year 2000, focused on rainforest conservation in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, leveraging the economics of lodging and guided nature immersions. We used organikos as our codeword for an initiative that we would get to when we had time. This initiative would provide the tastes–from beverages, spices, foods–associated with the places we had been working in recent years; it would provide those tastes as pre-experience of those places. Our first thought was coffee from Costa Rica.

HLMQualCertLOGO_ColoredCherriesWe did small experiments over the years since then, starting with a single estate coffee from Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region; then wine from the Croatian island of Hvar; then monsooned coffee from the Malabar coast of India.

Now we are back from India, at home again in Costa Rica. And we would welcome you to visit, but first how about some Tarrazu single estate coffee? Let me know. Hacienda La Minita was a pioneer in single estate coffee, an early inspiration for us in terms of tasting the place, and it continues to be one of our favorites. We can get it to you. And if you want to visit the estate, or get to know any other place in Costa Rica, we can help with that as well.

That Thing About Uber

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For what it is worth, a confession. I deleted this app with the intent to never use it again, and then I switched to this one. That felt good. Then last week I was up in the mountains of Escazu, in Costa Rica, and I had to change my mind. At 3:30 a.m. a local taxi driver who was supposed to pick me up to take me to the airport did not show up. After a few minutes I finally relented and downloaded the app I had deleted. And something unexpected, something very good happened. Continue reading

A Fitting Celebration Of Henry David Thoreau’s Bicentennial

Today marks the birthday noted here, and I have just read another excellent essay marking the occasion. It happens to coincide with receiving a couple of excellent photographs from Richard Kostecke, a recent guest of Chan Chich Lodge who will soon be a contributor to this site. I’m confident the birthday celebrant would appreciate both the photos and the person. I am mixing things up a bit by sharing these photos with the essay, but I hope the point will be well taken:

Six years before he moved to Walden Pond in 1845 to ponder life and live deliberately, Henry David Thoreau spent two weeks canoeing rivers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The voyage was an epiphany for him. Continue reading

Come Back To Belize, Meg Lowman!

We have mentioned Meg more than once since we met her a few years ago, because our interests are aligned. Thanks to this public radio station for reminding me that Meg is due for a visit to Belize (I say wishfully) for a 20-years later discovery trip, and we will be happy to see her at Chan Chich Lodge when the time comes:

megmalaysiaFor over 30 years, Dr. Meg Lowman –Canopy Meg, has designed hot-air balloons and walkways for treetop exploration to solve mysteries in the world’s forests, especially insect pests and ecosystem health. Meg is affectionately called the mother Continue reading

Keeping Species Populations Healthy

 

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Lion cubs in Kenya. Radu Sigheti / Reuters

At Chan Chich Lodge we are aware that the half million acres of forest surrounding us are essential habitat not just for the specific jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays and jaguarundis we have the good fortune to see with some frequency. Rather, that scale of acreage is essential for species survival. We are in a large forest corridor that is increasingly rare and unfortunately fragile in other locations throughout the Americas where they still exist. We do what we do with that in mind. Thanks to Ed Yong, at the Atlantic, for this context on extinction:

Imagine if every animal and plant on the planet collapsed into a single population each, says ecologist Gerardo Ceballos. If lions disappeared except from one small corner of Kenya, the prey they keep in check would run amok everywhere else. If sparrows were no more except in one Dutch forest, the seeds that sparrows disperse would stay in place everywhere else. If honeybees became isolated to one American meadow, the flowers that they pollinate would fail to reproduce everywhere else. None of those species would be extinct per se, “but we’d still be in very bad shape,” says Ceballos. Continue reading

Walking In Wildness, For The Sake Of The World

PreservationThis book to the left, first published the year I was born, was always on the coffee table in the home I grew up in. I have mentioned a high school exposure to Walden–the writing, the place, the idea–and I have been thinking about that recently as I ponder Chan Chich Lodge’s own little aquatic wonder. Thinking, of course, while walking, frequently encountering living relics of prehistoric wildness on those walks. Douglas Brinkley’s tribute to the legacy of Thoreau–the walker, thinker, writer, conservationist–as we approach the bicentennial of his birth a few days from now, is perfectly timed: Continue reading

Snake Kings And Other Discoveries

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CALAKMUL In the seventh century A.D. the Snake rulers presided over this capital city—in what today is southern Mexico—and its largest structure, a pyramid 180 feet tall. From Calakmul they managed an intricate web of alliances. CONSEJO NACIONAL PARA LA CULTURA Y LAS ARTES (CONACULTA), INSTITUTO NACIONAL DE ANTROPOLOGÍA E HISTORIA (INAH), MEXICO

Discoveries in the lands once populated by the Maya continue apace. As Chan Chich Lodge completes three decades of archeological exploration, the wonders of three millennia are uncovered. The stories that capture my interest the most, related to the Maya, are about the man-nature relationship.

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JEROME COOKSON, NG STAFF
SOURCE: DAVID FREIDEL, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS

Erik Vance published this story last year, and when I read it then I remember thinking that it was the best article I had ever read in National Geographic. Partly, the graphics are better, if that is possible, than the typically excellent quality the magazine is known for. Also, the topic is more topical for me now. Chan Chich Lodge is situated exactly where the o in Holmul is on the map to the left. The lodge’s Maya foundations are situated at the periphery of where the snake kings once ruled.

And we now have an ethnobotanical initiative linking Maya foodways to our surrounding nature conservation. That initiative is linked to the lodge’s food program, with some high expectations related to our abundant forests. But mainly, with regard to this article, the writing illuminating the topic is excellent:

…Two warring city-states were locked in perennial conflict, grappling for supremacy. For a brief period one of those city-states prevailed and became the closest thing to an empire in Maya history. It was ruled by the Snake kings of the Kaanul dynasty, which until just a few decades ago no one even knew existed. Thanks to sites around this city-state, including Holmul, archaeologists are now piecing together the story of the Snake kings…

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Masks from the tombs at Calakmul were meant to ease the passage of the Snake elite into the next world. Royal visages made of green jade, more valuable than gold to the ancient Maya, evoked the annual agricultural cycle and regeneration. CONACULTA, INAH, MEXICO (BOTH) PHOTOGRAPHED AT (LEFT TO RIGHT): NATIONAL PALACE, MEXICO CITY; MUSEO DE SITIO DE COMALCALCO, MEXICO

Understanding Tapir

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Fossils of Macrauchenia patachonica, as depicted in this artist’s reconstruction, baffled Darwin. The odd mammals disappeared about 12,000 years ago. Credit Jorge Blanco

I am sure I remember seeing these in my childhood collection of books with pictures of prehistoric creatures. Like many boys, the saber-tooth tiger was a favorite, which may explain my preoccupation with the big cats at Chan Chich Lodge. When you favor cats, you get to know their diet, so creatures like these in the image above were also among those I was fascinated by, which would explain why the tapir I have seen in the forests surrounding Chan Chich are among my lifetime favorite wild animal sightings. Thanks to Steph Yin for this story:

Strange Mammals That Stumped Darwin Finally Find a Home

It looked like many different animals and, at the same time, like no other animal at all.

From afar, you might think it was a large, humpless camel. Tall, stout legs ending in rhino feet carried a body weight potentially equal to that of a small car. Its neck stretched like a giraffe’s before giving way to a face resembling a saiga antelope’s. From this face extended a fleshy protuberance, similar to a mini elephant trunk or a tapir’s proboscis. Continue reading

Rich Versus Ostentatious

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Ocellated turkey / Pfauentruthuhn (Meleagris ocellata) | Detail of the side of a male individual.

I am not even a novice birder, which is strange considering that my work is primarily dedicated to birders. But birds are well placed in the pantheon of natural wonders that I worship, and a photo that I just received from a recent guest of Chan Chich Lodge (a photo similar to the one above, which I have commented on before) helps explain why. During seven years in India, where the peacock is the national bird and so is in its natural habitat, I got accustomed to their ostentatious display.

Peacocks are often awkward animals, noisy and bumbly in places and at times (as when in the habitat of tigers) I have wished for silence. Those otherwise annoying behaviors are compensated for by their plumes. The colors in the image above, belonging to the ocellated turkey, are rich but only during mating would these birds ever be described as ostentatious. The more time I spend in Belize, and specifically at Chan Chich Lodge, the more I see the beauty in humble display of rich color.

Suddenly, Lyft

Lyft1.jpgWhen I decided to delete that app it was without hesitation. I wanted to avoid sanctimony, but the point of making a show of my resolve was a simple message, i.e. that manners matter. Even though that app had been extremely useful to me over the past year, it was not so useful that I could ignore its founder’s behavior once I finally paid attention.

So now I am paying attention, and need a new app. And where better to start looking? I liked the message of that story, for reasons akin to my boyhood preference for Bjorn Borg over John McEnroe. I believe in disruption and I believe in winning, but if one is going to develop new rules of the game, then they should definitely be better rules that lead to better behavior. Continue reading

Maps, Walking & Health

Emily has been reworking the maps for nine miles of walking trails surrounding Chan Chich Lodge. On a typical day I walk 45 minutes at dawn, and 45 minutes at dusk and I have tended to stay on the same trail for the last year. Now I am looking forward to the various loops I had not yet wandered onto, and checking the maps. I tend to believe in the link between nature and health, and especially when walking is involved the benefits are a broader form of wellbeing. Gretchen Reynolds, writing the Phys Ed column for the New York Times has this to say:

For Exercise, Nothing Like the Great Outdoors

Long walks can improve moods and reduce anxiety, but the benefits may be greatest if the walks take place outdoors rather than in a gym, according to a new study by researchers in Austria. And while the Alps may be a particularly fine place to hike, a vigorous walk in the woods or paths near home may provide the mental boost we need to keep us moving.

We all know, by now, that for optimal health, we need to move. Continue reading

Deleting Uber

Uber.jpgShame on me for waiting until today to finally do it. I started hearing one year ago from friends and family about why they had decided to stop using Uber. But Uber was just then ramping up in Kerala, India and I found it compelling enough to abandon car ownership. When I saw the details recently on what a creep Uber’s founder and largest shareholder is, that should have been enough. But, it was this article that finally compelled me. Thanks to the New York Times reporter Kevin Roose for the perspective:

As Uber Stumbles, Lyft Sees an Opening, and Bites Its Tongue

It has been a rough, scandal-filled year for Uber. But don’t expect John Zimmer, Lyft’s president, to gloat about his competitor’s misfortunes. Continue reading

Recipe For Reconciliation

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Anthony Blair Dreaver Johnston, a Mistawasis Nehiyawak elder, works closely with the university to advise on indigenous matters. Credit Cole Burston for The New York Times

The New World, as the Americas are often called, was new to the Europeans–aka explorers, pilgrims, pioneers, settlers, colonialists, conquistadors–but of course was the long time homeland to a diverse mix of indigenous people from the very north of the hemisphere all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. Continue reading

Protect Pleasant Planets

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On the solstice, every point north of the Arctic Circle sees at least twenty-four hours of continuous sunlight. In Deadhorse, Alaska, the sun rose on May 15th and won’t set again until July 28th. Photograph by Alamy

A dozen years ago I had a work assignment that took me into the Arctic Circle for an extended period this time of year. I recall going a bit crazy, but a good crazy, with lovely bright sunshine at 2am each day, which impacted my ability to sleep. I was on a boat headed north from Yakutsk, traveling in waters that looked like those in the photo above. The captain and his crew spoke no English, and I spoke no Yakut or Russian, so I was on my own for making sense of what I saw. My takeaway was simple: it is mostly a nice place to live, this planet we call home. And as Alan Burdick points out in this short essay, it sure beats the alternatives:

On This Summer Solstice, Be Glad You Live on Earth

Today is the longest day of the year—in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway. Fifteen hours and forty minutes of daylight in New York. Seventeen and a half in Copenhagen and Moscow. Twenty-one and change in Reykjavík. Twelve hours, eight minutes, and twenty-four seconds in Kampala, just north of the equator. (The day will be one second shorter there starting next week.) The solstice is the one day when every point north of the Arctic Circle sees at least twenty-four hours of continuous sunlight, Continue reading

Investing In Cultural Heritage

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The Cultural Heritage Center is an $8 million investment in the community. Elissa Nadworny/NPR

It is not a question I have had to ponder (the opening line of the story below) for myself, but I get it. Losing the land, through battle, through treaties that are not honored, or otherwise, is an obvious existential threat for any community, and has been since the dawn of civilization. Invisible assets such as language, like any cultural heritage, also called intangible patrimony, are less obviously existentially important. But anyone who ponders it realizes that the loss of a language or another intangible component of cultural heritage matters to all of us, not only those who are at immediate and direct risk of its extinction. In the same way biodiversity matters, so does this.

And it is an underlying logic and motivator of our initiative with Ramon tree and its role in Mayan foodways. In earlier posts on the subject that I emphasized the environmental wonder of Ramon, but it is really a cultural heritage story, still to be told at Chan Chich Lodge. Meanwhile thanks to Melissa Block at National Public Radio (USA) for this story about one communities efforts along a related path:

A Native Village In Alaska Where The Past Is Key To The Future

What does it mean to lose your land, your language, and your heritage?

For Alaska Natives, these are existential threats.

On a trip to Southeast Alaska, I traveled to one village that is finding new ways to survive: Klukwan, ancestral home of the Tlingit tribe. Continue reading