Category: Modern Travel

Visiting Kazakhstan: Soaring Mountains to Endless Steppes

By andreealotak on November 28th 2018

Part three of a series by Andreea Lotak of Conservation Atlas. See parts one and two.

Kazakhstan has not yet entered the radar of many travelers, but it’s a country that packs a lot of surprises for those who venture there. Its huge surface makes it the 9th largest country in the world, but with only 17 million residents there are vast expanses with minimal human presence, and every trip on land becomes a journey. The Kazakhs of the past used to crisscross these giant open spaces with their herds of horses, creating temporary yurt settlements and celebrating a nomadic culture rooted in storytelling and songs inspired by the unbounded steppe.

Throughout the Soviet Union era almost 60% of the kazakh steppe was converted to agriculture, which led to the deterioration of the soil that has now turned into a semi-desert. Even like this, Kazakhstan is still home to one of the world’s largest and relatively intact temperate steppe regions, an area roughly the size of France. Through an international coalition and the efforts of a local organization, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), some 12 million acres were protected. We got to visit maybe 0.001% of that during our week-long trip on bumpy roads and unmarked tracks – a trip which remains one of our most exciting to date. And to get a better understanding of just how extraordinary this country is, we were also headed south to the border with Kyrgyzstan, where the 21 hours spent in a bus across a flat landscape ended at the foothills of some of the tallest mountains in the world: the Ile Alatau of the Tian Shan mountain system.

Before venturing into the open steppe, we took a trip to the southern border of the country outside the old capital, Almaty. Less than an hour from the busy city lies the Big Almaty Lake in the Ile-Alatau National Park. At over 8,000 ft altitude, its stunning color and the surrounding mountains have captured the attention of adventure travelers.

Summer at 10,000 ft can bring morning snowfalls and freezing temperatures. We continued our trip above the Big Almaty Lake after negotiating our way through a military barrier. The soldier spoke no English and we spoke no Russian, so amid smiles and drawings we think we understood that it was alright to camp and return the next morning. The national park is a militarized zone because of the nearby border, but we didn’t get the sense that it would be a problem.

Between the mountains and the steppes we stopped to visit Kazakhstan’s “Grand Canyon”: the Charyn Canyon National Nature Park. At a much smaller scale than its US counterpart, Charyn is still a sight to behold. The park’s biodiversity includes a very rare species of ash tree: the Sogdian Ash (Fraxinus sogdiana).

From Astana, the country’s capital since 1997, we spent almost the entire day on the road to get to the more intact steppe. The ACBK have started to organize trips to the sites where they work, including the huge Altyn Dala and Irghiz-Torgay reserves where the saiga antelope gather. This was one of the campsite areas where we pulled over for the night, together with our driver Sayat and the organization’s tourism coordinator and guide, Saltanat.

Mountains easily capture us, but it’s said that you need a special soul to love the prairie. These vast spaces of grasslands and steppe regions around the world have been built upon and turned into agriculture or grazing lands. It’s where highways, roads and railroads have been constructed. They seem empty, but when you tune in they’re actually buzzing with life. Surprisingly, they also teem with color and wildflowers. We would move from dry areas to wetlands to meadows within minutes of driving, in a mosaic that made us fall in love with this misunderstood landscape.

So what’s a saiga, after all? These amazing animals have been around since before the Ice Age. They look more like a character from Star Wars, but they have been surviving for thousands of years unchanged right here, on Earth. In the past they used to cover areas all the way from Alaska to Europe’s Carpathian Mountains to the steppes of Eurasia. Today, Kazakhstan still has the largest population of this critically endangered species, while smaller groups are still surviving in Russia, Mongolia, and Uzbekistan.

The saiga gather in large numbers in May, when the calving season begins. That’s also the best time to visit the steppe with ACBK because you have the best chances of seeing these animals up close. Since we were there in the summer, the herds were already on the move and most of the times we’d only spot them from afar. In 2015 these saiga populations were in big trouble due to an epidemic that killed 90% of them. The disease is connected to a warming climate, but in these past years they have made a comeback. The ACBK is also working hard to protect the saiga from the threat of poaching.

Due to the nature of the area’s soil, the strong sun and the hot summers, evaporation is common in the steppe and many bodies of water turn to surreal landscapes of salt lakes which, when covered by a shallow layer of water, reflect the sky.

Even in what seemed an empty landscape we would always find life in the most surprising of ways: ground squirrels popping their heads up, an eagle gliding just above the grass, colorful dragonflies landing on flowers, a saiga running in the distance at 50 mph, or the movement of the grasses in the wind. Everywhere we turned there was reason to snap a picture.

Conservation Atlas is a 501(c)(3), US-based nonprofit started in 2017 by Andreea & Justin Lotak. Conservation Atlas aims to raise awareness of global conservation causes by appealing to intrepid travelers. Through leading online resources and annual international festivals, CA inspires people to visit unique places and support the mission of grassroots organizations. Through 2018, The Lotaks are touring 14 countries to document successful conservation projects, meet the people who are making these positive changes, and photograph beautiful landscapes and biodiversity.

Andreea is wearing the Print Lean Capri Leggings and the Ember Tank, and Justin is wearing the Cuba Libre Long Sleeve Shirt and the Rover Shorts.

 

 

10 Reasons to Love Pioneertown (and Joshua Tree)

By cwiesendanger on October 24th 2018

“Once you get past Palm Springs and into the desert, people start to vibrate at a different pitch than they do elsewhere.” – Anthony Bourdain

When you find yourself in California’s Pioneertown, you might think “Man, this feels like a movie set…” and you’d be spot on. At the crossroads of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, this old west town was established by a group of Hollywood investors, the likes of Roy Rogers and his Tinsel Town chums. But unlike traditional movie sets with static stables, saloons and jail facades, the Pioneertown facades opened up to motels and bowling alleys on the inside. Throughout the 40s and 50s, Pioneertown was featured in more than 50 films and TV shows. Today, this desert hot spot is an oasis of creativity and home to the most epic live music venue you’ve never heard of. Here are 10 reasons we love Pioneertown and nearby Joshua Tree National Park (because a trip to one really isn’t complete without the other).

10. The Pioneertown Motel

The anchor of Pioneertown’s “Mane Street” (get it…), the Pioneertown Motel is a nod to the Old West. This desert inn is surrounded by protected lands and flat-top mesas, but it also boasts air conditioning and waterfall showers. But you’re not too plugged in – you won’t find TVs or phones in this rustic abode. Set your “Out of Office” message and kick up your cowboy boots.

9. Hiking and rock climbing

Pack some water and hit the dusty trail – because there’s A LOT of them. Hike to abandoned mine shafts, deep into canyons for refreshing oases, or just scramble on the giant rocks. Whatever your pace, there’s no shortage of hiking opportunities in Joshua Tree National Park and surrounding areas. For the super adventurous, Joshua Tree is a world-class rock climbing destination. There are great slot canyons and trad climbs within the park itself, while you can find some epic bouldering in the rocks around Pioneertown. Just keep hydrated!

8. The Integratron

Here’s something you don’t see every day: The Integratron, a 38 foot tall structure designed by ufologist (a UFO expert) George Van Tassel after his encounter with creatures from Venus (yep, Venus). Originally designed to be an “elastrostatic generator for the purpose of rejuvenation and time travel,” this acoustically perfect dome attracts musicians, scientists, sound therapists, meditation groups, and curious passersby. It’s great to look at, but don’t miss taking a sound bath – quartz crystal bowls are played live to encourage deep relaxation and meditation. Out of this world, right?

7. Joshua Tree National Park

15 minutes from Pioneertown is Joshua Tree National Park. Two distinct deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado (also known as the Sonoran Desert, depending on who you ask), intersect to create J-Tree. The “low” Colorado Desert on the park’s eastern side is still 3000 feet above sea level and boasts some of the park’s heartiest cacti like Ocotillo (“oak-a-tee-yo”), Yucca (“yuk-uh”), and Cholla (“choy-ya”). The western half is home to the high Mojave Desert where the Joshua trees thrive on sandy plains amidst colossal granite monoliths and rock piles. These giant rocks are just like icebergs: most of the rock is still buried deep underground and will continues to force its way up through the surface for thousands of years. For us modern-day surface dwellers, the jagged formations that peek out draw climbers, photographers, road trippers (and other trippers) to stare in appreciation and awe.

6. Joshua Trees

Speaking of otherworldly, the Park’s namesake trees are so twisted and wild they’re said to have inspired Dr. Seuss. Botanists call them “Yucca brevifolia”, a member of the asparagus family, but the 19th century Mormon settlers called them “the Joshua,” because their human-like form resembled the biblical Joshua reaching up to the sky. But are Joshua Trees really trees? Arguments could be made either way – see for yourself. Either way, they’re part of what makes this desert landscape so mystical.

5. Fan Palm Oases

In desert heat, palm oases offer the much-needed gift of shade. Because they require a constant supply of water, they often occur along fault lines where underground water can come to the surface. We’re big fans of the aptly named Desert Fan Palm. It can tower up to 75 feet and they tend to cluster together; five Desert Fan Palm oases can be found in Joshua Tree National Park! These oases are great for spotting wildlife like quail, bighorn sheep, and coyotes.

4. Dark Skies and Endless Stars

It’s not always easy to find dark skies in Southern California, but Pioneertown is free from the city’s light pollution and boasts some of the darkest night skies. Many visitors to Joshua Tree National Park travel there to see the Milky Way for the very first time. In fact, the Park was recently designated as an International Dark Sky Park and hosts an annual Night Sky Festival, with lessons on astronomy and astrophotography. Add a campfire and you may never want to leave.

3. Spiritual Vortexes

OK, time to get really deep: Vortexes are real and they’re right here on Earth. A vortex is a place of increased energy, and Joshua Tree is said to be chock-full of them. People have been flocking to the site for centuries to channel the desert’s energy. Today, it’s a spiritual Mecca for artists and musicians, a haven for yogis, and call that beckons hikers and climbers from all corners of the world. Though we can’t definitively prove it, after taking in desert sunset, it’s hard to deny that there’s something different happening here. Maybe it really is in the water.

2. Cholla Cactus Garden

Also called the Teddy Bear Cholla (“choy-ya”), these unusual cacti are not as cuddly as they sound. But they do make for a stunning backdrop. Walk through the Cholla Garden in JTNP at sunrise or sunset to witness one of nature’s greatest party tricks: When the low light shines through the spikes, a halo of ethereal light hovers around the cacti, like a divine child of Mother Earth. Like Midas, it’s best if you look but don’t touch.

1. Pappy + Harriet’s

The wildest honky tonk you’ve never heard of attracts artists from all over the world. From Paul McCartney and Robert Plant to Arctic Monkeys and Lorde, there’s no shortage of talent passing through these doors on a regular basis. Combine this epic music with delicious BBQ and you’ll see why Billboard Magazine has named Pappy + Harriet’s one of the Top Ten Hidden Gems in the Country.

 

 

An Ancient Bond

By andreealotak on October 11th 2018

Bending through the center of the country like a backbone, Romania’s Carpathian Mountains are home to a plethora of gentle beasts. Misty, dense forests of conifers, beech and oak trees. Limestone and granite rocks that soar above the clouds. Dozens of glacial lakes that dot the open spaces. Biodiverse meadows that host hundreds of species of insects. Some of Europe’s largest populations of apex predators (wolves, brown bears, lynx). And an ancient human culture that’s lived alongside for centuries. These are the wild lands of Romania’s Carpathian Mountains.

Piatra Craiului National Park was officially formed in 1990 and covers approximately 37,000 acres. The 15 mile limestone mountain ridge can be hiked from one end to the other.

 

In Romania’s folk culture, the shepherd is as much of a mythical figure as the wolf or the bear – he or she is a part of the brotherhood of wild “beasts.” For centuries the shepherds have traveled the same paths taken by the wolves, bears and lynx, coexisting and respecting the unwritten laws of a shared space. While basking in the quiet glory of a Carpathian sunset, the sound of the shepherd’s flute is a reminder of a time when nature was home, not wilderness

Mircea Eliade, one of Romania’s most famous historians, called the shepherd way “cosmic christianity”: a vision of the world in which humans are not the guardians or the masters of all other beings, but equal and part of the whole. Bears and wolves are kindred spirits, to be revered, celebrated and feared. The strongest kinship to the shepherd is with the dog – the keeper of the balance, a companion, a gift, and the protector of God’s sacred animal, the sheep. And if a wolf took a sheep, the shepherd is forbidden from retaliation, as the sheep was predestined to be taken by God. For centuries the shepherds and peasants of the Carpathian mountains have been guided by the sacred balance between the natural world and human activity. The paramount tenet: Do no harm.

The beautiful Iezer Lake looking toward Piatra Craiului National Park, some of the conservation lands protected by the FCC.

 

But the balance is hard to hold. The old village culture has changed, shepherding has submitted to federal laws, agriculture is big business, and Romania has been racing to catch up to economic development by exploiting its resources. That land itself has changed. Thousands of acres of old forests have disappeared, many from illegal logging and foreign developers. When business is good, it’s hard to go back to a simpler way of life.

But many Romanian, especially the younger generations, are calling for the protection of these wild lands and animals. Living peacefully with predators (animal or economic) has not been erased by modernization, and shepherds and villagers continue to embrace the ancient wisdom of tolerance and good practices. It’s what makes Romania unique amongst its European neighbors.

The shepherds surrounded by some of their dogs after sunset, unloading the sheep that had been attacked by the wolves so that we could take them down to the village.

 

Conservation Atlas is a 501(c)(3), US-based nonprofit started in 2017 by Andreea & Justin Lotak. Conservation Atlas aims to raise awareness of global conservation causes by appealing to intrepid travelers. Through leading online resources and annual international festivals, CA inspires people to visit unique places and support the mission of grassroots organizations. Through 2018, The Lotaks are touring 14 countries to document successful conservation projects, meet the people who are making these positive changes, and photograph beautiful landscapes and biodiversity.

Living on Kodiak Island: Sustainability, Pristine Wilderness, and the Best Cookie in Alaska

By cwiesendanger on October 5th 2018

Words and photos by Johnie Gall of Dirtbag Darling and Gretchen Powers of Powers Provisions

Being a military wife isn’t easy. Neither is living on an Alaskan island where your connection to the outside world — and your Amazon Prime delivery — often depends on whether or not planes can land in whatever weather you’re having that day.

Combine both and maybe you can empathize a bit more with Gretchen Powers, a freelance photographer and filmmaker who lives on a Coast Guard base in the remote fishing village of Kodiak, Alaska. The Vermont native lives with her wife Kaleigh, an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard on a USCG Cutter SPAR (a 225-foot buoy tending vessel) and the couple’s dog, Ella. It’s not easy to manage a photography career while dealing with unpredictable schedules and inclement weather, but the rewards come tenfold: gorgeous landscapes, unique friendships, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences in what’s arguably one of the most rugged and beautiful places in the world.

Gretchen’s been asking me to come visit her in Kodiak for the better part of a year — easier suggested than done when you live nearly 4,500 miles away in eastern Pennsylvania. But with the promise of massive bear sightings, pristine wilderness and King Crab in sight, I booked a few plane tickets and found myself scanning the lobby of the Kodiak airport for a woman I’d really only known through social media until now.

Over the next two weeks, Gretchen, Kaleigh, my husband Brandon, and I would get to know each other pretty well between rounds of cards, calf-achingly steep hikes, and more than a few whiskey drinks. Her life is vastly different than my own in obvious ways, and incredibly like it, too. When curiosity got the best of me, I sat down with Gretchen to talk living on base, what sustainability looks like in a remote region, and where to find best cookie in Alaska (spoiler alert, we both agree it’s in Kodiak).

Johnie: Does living on base in Kodiak feel isolating or liberating right now?

Gretchen: I like to joke I live in a gated community with really intense security. We love to host dinners and game nights, so needing to escort our non-military friends onto the base can be a bit of a nuisance, but when I’m home alone while Kaleigh is out at sea, I do appreciate the safety that living on base provides. There’s also the resources, like the exchange and the commissary, and rent comes out of Kaleigh’s housing allowance so there’s no check writing every month! We’ve also made some friends with other “Coasties” who live on base and being able to walk down the road to borrow a lawn mower or share some tacos is pretty sweet.

What challenges do both Kodiak and life as a military wife pose that allow for professional growth as a photographer and filmmaker?

I am constantly faced with a choice: Make my travel and work schedule around Kaleigh’s schedule (which changes all the time), or make my own schedule and chase stories and places that inspire me creatively? I’ve worked harder in the past year than ever before because, in my mind, there is no choice other than to accept the chaos of my “new normal” and try to create great art. I’m navigating a space where I both miss my wife and the routine of our pre-Coast-Guard lives and love the adventures I’ve found on my own.

Living in Kodiak has taught me how to get out even on the worst weather days. I love how the dramatic landscape reflects my wild roller coaster of emotions. I’ve experienced some of my highest highs and lowest lows since moving to Alaska — I’m creating art that is a true reflection of my soul.

What are some things that are just done differently in Kodiak?

Mail only comes in when airplanes do (which isn’t every day in the winter). The barge comes in once a week with groceries and other provisions, and Amazon Prime is still free but packages can take between four days and four weeks to arrive! The pace of life on an island with one road that extends two hours from point to point (with only one stoplight) is much slower than on the mainland. I very rarely feel in a rush and plans aren’t ever really set in stone since the weather changes dramatically all the time. I don’t remember the last time I actually checked the weather for that reason.

How has living in Kodiak changing your ideas about sustainability, conservation, and the stewardship?

Kodiak is 99-percent powered by renewable energy, which was super surprising to me since it’s so remote, but at the same time, it doesn’t have the infrastructure in place for much recycling. Moving from a city like Portland, Maine — we took out trash, recycling, compost and bottle deposits — to a place that only has the means to recycle paper products has made it a bit hard for me to swallow my environmentally-aware pride. However, I feel like I’ve started paying more attention to the amount of the trash I produce. Rather than being upset about a system that’s lacking the ability to recycle, I look for more ways to eliminate my own trash by using reusable bags and mugs, Bees Wrap, and metal or plastic straws. I bike or walk to places on base and I’m being conscious of where I source my food from. This summer, we had a small garden where we could grow a little bit of produce, and we eat lots of meat and fish that friends have harvested to reduce the amount of meat we have to buy at the store.

First stop we should make when we visit Kodiak again?

Java Flats for a breakfast sandwich, a lavender latte, and a cookie the size of your face, then a hike up Middle Sister Mountain or Shelley Lake.

First stop you’re making when you get back to the mainland next time?

Middle Way Cafe and Moose’s Tooth Pizza in Anchorage and Trader Joe’s in the lower 48.

What Toad&Co items do you rely on most in Kodiak? I saw you wear quite a few outfits from them while we were together.

Between the two of us we have six pair of Earthworks pants. They are the most comfortable, durable, dress-up-or-down-able pair of pants for high Kodiak fashion, especially when paired with Xtratuf boots and a rain coat. I love the new skinny style, but Kaleigh prefers the regular cut — either way you can’t go wrong. Other favorite pieces include the Marlevelous Crew Sweater, the Tangerine Falls Jacket and the Indigo Skye Flannel.

Random facts about Kodiak you love to tell people….go.

It is the second largest Island in the US.

Kodiak Bears are the world’s largest bears.

During World War II, a bunch of forts were built because we are so close to Japan.

Alaska is only 40 miles from Russia and, no, we cannot see it from our house.

No federal endorsement of Toad&Co implied or intended.

10 Reasons to Love Costa Rica

By dweb247 on September 7th 2018

Gorgeous beaches, wild rainforests, friendly people, insane national parks, and animals you’ll want to steal away in your carryon…. Costa Rica is a diverse landscape of ecosystems bound together by gratitude for Mother Nature. With a robust investment in eco-tourism and adventure travel, Costa Rica is a great place to spend a few days experiencing the simple, beautiful life – just remember to bring a helmet.

10. Eco-Tourism
Costa Rica is the poster-child for eco-tourism due to it’s extensive National Parks and commitment to conservation. Global tourism contributes about 8 trillion dollars annually to the global economy, but Costa Rica’s tourism board ensures that a portion of the pie goes back into local conservation efforts. Everywhere you travel, you’ll meet artisans and community-based collectives working to preserve land and culture.

9. Isla Chiquita
A secluded island harboring lovely beaches and serene views of the Pacific, Isla Chiquita is a commitment to the slow life. But this “slow life” gets the glamping treatment. Enjoy views of the Gulf of Nicoya from your “tent,” let the wildlife be your alarm clock, and step off your deck and into your snorkel gear. You don’t need much, just some sunscreen.

8. Fresh Ingredients
Roadside fruit vendors, fresh roasted coffee, handmade corn tortillas, ceviche, gallo pinto, patacones… all 10 reasons we love Costa Rica could have been food. With its bi-coastal catches and rain-fed bounty, there’s an abundance of flavor bursting from Costa Rica’s cucinas. Along the coasts, fresh grilled seafood is served up with coconut rice, while citrusy ceviche and Costa Rican quesadillas abound at hole in wall eateries (our favorites).

7. Guanacaste, aka CowboyCountry
Heaven is a place on Earth and the cowboys found it long ago. Weaving through the backroads of the remote San Bernardo Lowlands, keep an eye out for sabaneros riding horses roadside and keep an ear out for the epic Rio Perdido (an excellent excuse for white-water tubing). Sure the idyllic beauty of cowboy country is reason enough, but the Rio Perdido Hotel is the cherry on top. Dinner with a view and a private trail leading to thermal mineral springs? Sign us up.

6. Epic Stargazing
Once you get out of earshot of the capitol city of San Jose, Costa Rica is swallowed up in beautiful, bountiful darkness. Just you, the wild, and what looks like every star in the galaxy. Hit the lights, kick back in a hammock, and watch the Milky Way streak across the night sky.

5. Bi-Coastal Beaches
With coasts on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, every beach brings a little something different to the table. The Caribbean beaches are sleepy and easy, dotted with little towns (Puerto Viejo) and reggae bars. The Pacific beaches are more adventurous, with great surfing spots (Jaco Beach, Tamarindo Beach and Playa Hermosa) and a good chance at whale watching. Bonus? Over 99% of the coastal land is protected by maritime zones which prohibit construction within 200m of the high tide mark. This keeps the wildlife connected to the coasts and your long beach walks uninterrupted (unless, of course, it’s by a howler monkey).

4. Bajos Del Toros
Lost in the depths of a tropical cloud forest, Bajos del Toro is a taste of Costa Rica’s lush wildlife. Set up shop at one of the “treehouse lodges” and share the neighborhood with sloths, monkeys and quetzals. Peruse nearby volcanoes by horseback, or hike up to Cataratas del Toro, a sunning 300-foot waterfall. Bring some shoes with good grip – it’s slippery in them there rain forests!

3. Sloths
They’re gangly, they’re smiley, and they’re surprisingly fast swimmers. Costa Rica is home to two of the six global sloth species: The Hoffman Two-Toed Sloth is nocturnal while the Brown-Throated Sloth (which has 3 toes) is slightly smaller and more active during the day. Sloths love the trees (so look up) and they are slow for a reason: they have reallllly slow metabolism. It takes them about 2 weeks to fully digest a meal, so in an effort to conserve energy they’ve evolved to do less rather than eat more. In Costa Rica, even the sloths are living the simple life.

2. “Pura Vida” Lifestyle
In Costa Rica, pura vida doesn’t stick with its literal definition. It’s not just “pure life,” but a good-natured way to say hello, see ya later, no worries, no stress. It means being thankful for what you have and not dwelling on the negative. What’s not to love about that?

2. Volcanoes
The Pacific Ring of Fire is made up of more that 200 ancient volcanoes that date back to 65 million years ago. Costa Rica has 5 active volcanoes, and yes, they’re some of CR’s hottest attractions (we couldn’t help ourselves). Arenal Volcano has amazing hot springs and luscious trails at the base (you can’t hike to the top of Arenal), while Turrialba (and the surrounding valley) is great by horseback. For a challenge, hike to the top of Irazú for some insane views of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Poas is a bit harder to get to, but two crater lakes seems like a fair trade off.

1. Mother Nature’s Playground
Mother Nature may have pulled out all the stops with Costa Rica’s wild rain forests, killer surf breaks, towering volcanoes, careening rivers, and breathtaking waterfalls, but the locals perfected the art of adventure. You can zipline through the Guanacaste cloud forest, raft down the Arenal River, hike up the Bijagual Waterfall, horseback along the Caribbean coast, and learn to surf at Playa Samara. And to experience one of Mama Earth’s crowning achievements, explore Corcovado National Park. Located on the remote Osa Peninsula, National Geographic called it “the most biologically intense place on Earth.” It’s 164 miles of pristine diversity that flow from montane forest to cloud forest, prairie to mangrove swamp in perfect harmony. Costa Rica, you had us at “hola.”