Our trip from Pacific Coast back up into the highlands entailed a 40-km. stretch of dirt road pockmarked with potholes (it took 3 1/2 hours), then another hour of paved road, driven @ breakneck speed in the rain - it was harrowing (though if I were that bus driver, after 3 1/2 hours on such a terrible road, I'd speed too, when I hit the pavement). Our next trip, out of the highlands and back into the cloud forest, across the "Cerro de Muerte" (Mountain of Death), was equally harrowing, though my sister-in-law, an inveterate optimist, noted that there was more leg room on the bus than there is on airplanes these days: "this is like traveling first class."
I've been thinking a lot about the contrast between her optimism and my skepticism, which I think is linked to my incessant questioning of what is, my imagining that things might be otherwise. In Spanish, "esperar" means both "to wait" and "to hope"; I suppose waiting always entails an expectation of change. But I've also been thinking about possible differences between hopefulness and speculation. Since leaving the Quaker settlement in Monteverde, we've stayed @ three different lodgings, the first two owned by ex-patriots -- Finca Amanecer and Talari Mountain Lodge -- and the last run by a Tico family who has long lived in the area: Paraiso del Quetzal.
The first was a spice farm, the second two birders' havens. There's certainly a sharp division between those who, in farming, change the landscape; and those who are trying to preserve the habitat, and offering guided tours to what is already there. At our last stay, the patriarch of the family had made the transition from logger, to farmer, to naturalist. When he had cut down a quarter of the trees on his property, he began to wonder what he'd do when they were all gone. So he started dairy farming. When the prices for milk and cheese crashed, and a Canadian friend suggested he could make money showing tourists the quetzals that frequented the farm, he turned his attention to preserving, and showcasing, the birds and their habitat. His sons and grandsons have followed him in this calling.
As I consider these varieties of ways of making sense--and making use--of the world, I've also been trying to get my head around the varieties of ex-patriot experiences and experiments here in Costa Rica. We've seen lots of ill-kept lots-along with lots of signs advertising "Paradise." We've seen lots of development--and lots more speculation. And I've actually begun speculating myself, about sponsoring a semester @ the Monteverde Institute, one whose overarching theme could be "Biodiversity all the Way Down," or "What is a Sustainable Life?" It would include a range of related courses:
- diversity of sexual and gender identity/expression
- linguistic diversity (=conversational Spanish!)
- the human dimensions of sustainability (including both the history of the Quakers' "ethnic enclave" there, and field work w/ the three women's cooperatives in the area, including "Ecobamboo," which focuses on sustainable building materials)
- sustainable education (w/ work in the five schools there-- three private, two public, two bilingual, two English-immersion; all sorts of class and accessibility issues...)