———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Art Donnelly
Date: Wed, Nov 9, 2011 at 10:55 PM
Subject: My Little Pony and further SeaChar Adventures in Costa Rica

Hi guys,

I wanted to catch you up on this past 5-6 days. On Tuesday the 1st Chris and I head off to SeaTac. With me sicker than I had been since I had contracted Grippe last winter here in CR. Christine’s son and his girlfriend had volunteered to take us and our mountain of bags. We had no more than pulled up to the curb at departures, when as Chris open her door and started to get out her door was struck by a large SUV. Very scary. There was damage to both vehicles, but luckily Chris was unhurt. The ensuing scene, needless to say slowed us down getting to the Alaskan Airlines counter.

When we disengaged and got inside, we wheeled our bags up to the counter to get our boarding passes and check 3 bags ($200 extra, still cheap) upon presenting our passports and itineraries we were asked for our Visas… What? No Visas!!!! The young woman told us that with no Visas and return tickets dated 6-months out she would not let us board the flight. We challenged her and she called her supervisor, who went to a CR immigration website and started quoting us totally irrelevant factoids about why there was no way they could let us on the plane with 6-month round tickets. In order to board we were forced to run to American Airlines, who we were flying the return leg on and change our tickets ($150ea) to 90 day return tickets. We barely made our gate, only to find fellow SeaChar organizer Tom Ternes waiting to board. Tom also had no Visa and a 5-month round trip ticket. He encounter no problems boarding or deplaning in CR. We had all been told that purchasing a bus ticket into Panama or Nicaragua every 90 days and taking a three day trip was all we need to do to stay in compliance. Ahhh , the good old days. Oh well. Onward and upward. To Costa Rica via Miami.

We landed in Costa Rica at 10:30 Wed the 2nd, only to find that none of our checked luggage had made it. At that point we were all to tired to care. We shared a cab to the downtown Costa Rica Backpackers Hostel. It’s cheap and very centrally located. For Chris and I the mission for the next two days was to find SeaChar a reasonably priced and mechanically sound 4WD vehicle. Luckily for us we had the fantastic help of our friend ” Nacho” Escorriola Giovannini. I was introduced to Nacho by Dr. Susan Bolton during last years Estufa Finca- Santos Project. Nacho has a Doctorate in Biology and besides working with Susan’s UW Costa Rica Field Studies Program, he is also a seasoned Guide for the Seattle based Eco-tour company ECOTEACH.

By Friday afternoon, our used car search had resulted in SeaChar purchasing a ’87 Suzuki Sumurai. Licenced, registared and insured before the end of the day! We could not have done it with out Nacho’s help the man has many talents. Due to it’s distinctive side-panel decals we have named our new ride El Pequeño Caballito or My Little Pony (See attached pictures) We get compliments. Used cars in Costa Rica are horribly expensive compared to the US. We were feeling proud of having beat our budget estimate.

Sat morning riding high in the saddle and with me now dosed up heavily with over the counter anti-biotics, Chris and I headed out for the Bribri area of extreme SW Costa Rica. THankfully our bags had finally caught up with us. It was a 51/2 hour ride to a whole different world from the rest of Costa Rica. This corner of the country is a Caribbean culture, with a unique tropical ecosystem. Along the coast you are as likely to meet Rastafarians as Latinos. It is strikingly beautiful in a whole different way than the Highland coffee growing region I had come to love over this past year working on the pilot project. These very different soils will react differently to biochar in ways we can only guess and the very different agricultural base will present it’s unique needs and choices of sustainable input materials. We drove past seas of banana and pineapple and cocoa so plentiful some grew wild.

We were rolled in to the surfer paradise of Puerto Viejo. Located only 15 miles from the Headquarters of APPTA. This town was just waking up to it’s wild ride through the tourist high season. The reality of Costa Rica is that tourism now accounts for more of it’s economic activity that coffee, cocoa, bananas and pineapple combined. Again building connections and maintaining them had payed off. A young ex-pat., who Kate Selting and I had met in late February while we were doing research for our National Geographic grant proposal worked through the weekend to help us find a perfect (but temporary) project headquarters for this activity area. We are up on a dirt road in Cocles, it’s the back way to Bribri, straight through the jungle to the Sixola Road.

Unfortunately this road proved a match for the old u-joints on the Suzuki’s drive train and among the friendly locals we have met we now know a good mechanic. As the German owner of the Hostel we stayed in said: “he is very modern”

By Monday we were moved into the house and car troubles did not prevent us from going up to APPTA to meet with board member Don Walter Rodriguez. After a good lunch we worked on a priority list of tasks beyond the cook-stoves. Producing biochar in sufficient quantity for the planned biochar/cocoa field trails is first priority. Planning a viable carbon negative source of processing heat is of paramount importance. They continue to go through huge amounts of ever more expensive diesel and precious tropical hard wood to fuel their current inefficient drying system. In the attached pictures you see one; of the wood ,that represents only 5-weeks worth of fuel for the furnace.

I will be seeing Don Walter again this coming Friday at the Center for Tropical Agriculture investigation and Education (CATIE) in Turrialba. I feel incredibly honored to be sitting down with a genuinely international team of agriculturalist, researchers and soil scientists to plan the course of our biochar research in Costa Rica over the next 3-5 years.

I will attempt to send out once a week updates on what will be a very exiting process. I hope you will all enjoy following along.

Pura vida,

Art Donnelly
The Farm Stove Project (proyecto Estufa Finca)