Saturday, April 23, 2011

Howler Monkeys from Costa Rica

howler sleep

This Howler monkey decided to take a snooze in a large tree near our rental in Costa Rica.

Howler monkeys received their name because of the loud vocal calls they release. Usually they are loudest from dawn to dusk and as a group can be heard up to 3 miles away. They are also the biggest of the New World monkeys. When it comes time to “monkey around”, they use their prehensile tails for gripping and climbing.

howler monkey

Once the Howler awoke, I was able to capture its expression with my new telephoto lens. 

My YouTube Howler Monkey Video


This is a Golden Trumpet flower.


This Canna Lily is grown as a roadside, garden ornamental, and cultivated species in Costa Rica.

flowers pink

Weeping Bottlebrush


Common Tody Flycatcher

 IMG_2464 IMG_2465

This species of creature is my brother!

Elizabeth’s Traveling Tip: When traveling with a camera you need to protect it from moisture. You can do so by purchasing silica gel pack for your camera bag at Amazon

Friday, April 15, 2011

Businesses and Self-Employment in Nuevo Arenal, CR

While in Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica February 14 – April 3, I have begun to truly appreciate and love the small town. Though it is not extravagant or large, the local people and community make it a truly special place that draws you in and makes you grow to love it for the sense of acceptance and friendliness that is present. Living among local residents of Costa Rica, shopping where they shop, and practicing some Spanish along the way has been a unique and learning experience. Now, I would like to allow you to experience the town of Nuevo Arenal by sharing pictures of some local businesses and individuals who are self-employed.

center town

This is the center of town where many of the businesses are located. There are bakeries, supermarkets, a vegetable market, restaurants, and even a hair salon.

super mas IMG_1976

Above are the two supermarkets we have in town. We waited a month for the new Super Mas to open up across the street from our other supermarket option called Super Compro. For us, the opening of a new supermarket was one of the most exciting events of the month! When we got back from our church service and discovered it was finally open, we ran home to change and promptly returned. Me and my family were like kids in a candy store! We were so excited to learn they sold peanut butter and products from Bioland (Health food brand in Costa Rica).


For a more pleasurable and tranquil shopping experience, we walk down the street and browse through these smaller shops. There’s a store that sells clothing, another shop with a variety of plastics for the kitchen, and a food market on this strip of town.


The Computer and More shop was a life saver for us when we first arrived to Nuevo Arenal! Stan and Michael were a source of knowledge and a tremendous help when it came to figuring out how to get our internet chip set up and other technical computer problems we were clueless on how to fix.


The latest arrival is a sewing shop! I think it makes a nice addition to the town.

post office IMG_2951

Other services available include our local post office (we sent 3 postcards at their office), the National Bank, and  a gasoline station. The ICE building is where you set up all utilities, internet and phone. First you visit the Ice Building, then you go to the grocery store to prepay if not resident and then back to ICE if you need help activating your service.                   .

pineapples in truckveg from truck

The man pictured right posed for a photo in front of his “mobile vegetable stand”.

Local self-employed individuals also play an important part in the community. Fresh vegetables and fruits arrive either by truck or foot. Often the individuals go to each door step to offer forth their produce. My favorite is the egg selling man who comes through weekly yelling  “Huevos!” (Spanish for eggs). We also have a lady who walks by daily with her basket selling pastries she bakes fresh.

man with potsweed wacking

Two other jobs I find interesting is a local man who carries pots for sale on his head and the lawn cutting service who uses a weed whacker instead of a mower to cut the grass! In Costa Rica, daily life is full of surprises and some of them are quite comical like the man with pots on his head who posed for me while I stood at the window of our rental!

Elizabeth’s Traveling Tips: When shopping in Costa Rica, it is handy to brush up on some simple Spanish phrases. The Ticos (citizens of Costa Rica) are eager and understanding when it comes to communicating. Even if your Spanish is not very good, don’t be afraid to try. They will help and correct you if you mess up which is part of the joy in learning! Remember that hand motions and facial language are useful when it comes to getting your point across. My mom knows only about 5 Spanish words, yet she has managed to pay all our bills and purchase our food through pointing, body language and assistance from local Americans in the community.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rio Frio Macadamia Nut Farm Processing Plant, CR Part 2

 tree facility building

Above is Michelle Cloutier next to a macadamia nut tree. Michelle and her husband are owners of the Rio Frio Macadamia Nut Farm.

In the previous entry, I shared pictures and information on how macadamia nut trees are grown at the Rio Frio Macadamia Nut Farm. Getting the nuts to reach maturity and the quality desired requires careful pruning along with the arrival of cooler weather in the months of January and February. Then its harvest time for those nuts that have developed properly and escaped the jaws of hungry squirrels, worms, and diseases.

When harvest season arrives, the farm hires one family (3 women, 3 men, and Michelle’s sister in law, Virginia) to pick up nuts around the whole farm every 7-10 days or so. Collection of nuts during harvest season is required on a weekly basis since it occurs during rainy seasons. During the months of September and October, the whole family works about 3 days each week.


The processing plant is where the nuts are husked, washed, and dried before going to an additional room for final weighing and packaging.

After harvesting, it is time for the journey to be continued at the processing plant. The husking process (removal of outer shell) is fascinating to watch because of the unique machinery required. Also interesting to discover are the different stages that have to take place between the development on a tree to finally getting packaged. The shortest time from beginning of harvest to completion would be about 10 days. The nuts are picked one day, husked the next and then 8 days of drying in a large Brock bin.  The nuts are then processed and packaged the following day.    


With a flip of a switch, the husker machine begins rotation. The rapid action helps to crack the hard outer layer of the macadamia nut. Above is a nut whose husk has been completely removed. The nut still must go through the washing and drying steps before it is ready for shipping.

IMG_2796husk pile 

The inedible outer husks are dispelled out the side of the processing plant from a metal shoot. The husks are recycled by being used in mulching for landscaping and gardens!

big binIMG_2799 

After the outer husk is removed, the nuts go into a large Brock bin (silo used for storing corn). Inside, the nuts are blown with dry air to lower their moisture content so they can be safely held. Above, are the dryers which are powered by propane gas.


Next, the nuts are transported to the processing room. For processing there are about 20 women and 2 regular men workers that participate.  Last year, they worked with just a few women 2 days each in February and March.  Starting in June, they had the entire crew work about 3 days, in August about 6, September 8 days, and November about 12 days.  Last year, they processed the equivalent of about 12 tons of nuts (weight in husk) in September and another 12 tons in November.


These women are sorting through nuts.


Above, is the sorter where nuts are able to be sorted by size. They fall through the various wholes.

 nuts in box

The Rio Frio Macadamia Nut Farm started exporting nuts in 1992 and has exported to the US and even to Europe up until 2000.  But, ever since then, they have been able to sell their nuts in the country.  They sell small boxes that have been packaged at the farm for distribution to souvenir shops in the Arenal/Tilaran area.  The bulk of their nuts are sold in 25 lb. bags to commercial users in San Jose who either repackage, chocolate coat, roast and put in granola or candy.

nuts for sale

Now they are ready to eat and enjoy!

Elizabeth’s Traveling Tips: When touring a farm in Costa Rica, always protect your hands, legs, and feet. Produce on the farm attracts scorpions, large spiders, bats, mice, squirrels, birds, which then attracts snakes including Boa Constrictors! 


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Rio Frio Macadamia Nut Farm, Costa Rica Part 1

farm sign tree

I recently toured the Rio Frio Macadamia Farm in Nuevo Arenal, CR. One of the owners, Michelle Cloutier, was kind enough to give me a private tour. Michelle studied forestry at the University of Tennessee. With her experience in growing trees, she came to Costa Rica as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1980.

Rio Frio Macadamia Farm is a small part of a bigger farm that a USA company owned in the 60’s and early 70’s to raise beef cattle.  The government of Costa Rica expropriated most of the farm to create the Arenal Lake and reservoir; this left about 270 acres of land which was no longer big enough to interest them with the cattle project so they sold the farm to another American, Robert Case who started the macadamia nut project. Michelle and her husband now own and operate the farm. Michelle has been part of the project for 28 years.


Left photo shows nursery bags that are being prepared for starting seedlings.

The farm has 2,000 trees of different ages expanding across 40 acres of land. New trees are started from seed and once they reach a reasonable height, they are grafted with a branch (budwood) from a mature tree to insure more productivity and quality.

grafted wood

Here is a closer view of a grafted macadamia nut tree. The scion wood is the term used for the branch that is cut off an adult tree and grafted to a young tree when about pencil thick. You can see that the union is starting to take place where the green shoots are emerging.

flowers  nut forming

Pictured to the left are some macadamia nut flowers in blossom. The next photo shows a mature nut held up beside a flower stalk that has just started to develop tiny green nuts after loosing its blossoms.

For the macadamia nut trees to flower in Costa Rica, it requires the arrival of cooler weather in the months of January and February. (Most of the macadamia nuts are grown in C.R. at elevations over 1200 ft. since the temperatures are cooler there).On average each little bunch of flowers has over  200 blossoms, but only about 2-10 nuts mature on each bunch. After pollination, tiny green nuts begin developing which will eventually (7 mo. later) mature into the larger green husked, brown shelled nuts. Once they reach full size, they will fall on their own. The nuts are then harvested from the ground. The farm averages about 10 kilos of nuts per mature tree which converted to weight in pounds would be 22 pounds in green husks.

nuts Macadamia nuts in green husked stage.

My blog entry for next week will be on the processing plant at the Rio Frio Macadamia Nut Farm. I look forward to sharing the different phases that occur between harvesting and packaging the nuts! If you would like to contact Michelle directly her e-mail address is .

Elizabeth’s Traveling Tips: To roast raw macadamia nuts, cook at 350 degrees for ten minutes.

 nuts in bag label


If you want to get really fancy, you could try making macadamia nut brittle like they have in Costa Rica!