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What on Earth is a Chiropterologist

Vampyrum spectrum - False Vampire Bat

Vampyrum spectrum – False Vampire Bat

By Jack Ewing

“Would this be a good place to put the net?” I asked Otto. “You said you wanted an open path through the jungle.” I stepped into the shallow water of the narrow stream. “I can take one end of the net to the other side and hold it while you secure this end. Then you can join me.”

Otto hesitated. “Is there anything in this water that will hurt you,” he asked in heavily accented English.

“There are caimans and crocodiles” I replied, “but with all the noise we’ve been making they’re probably all gone by now.”

“No, no,” he exclaimed, “I mean little animals that live in the water.”

“Not that I know of. We walk through this water all the time and have never had any problems.”

Finally he agreed to string the mist net across the stream, but was extremely careful not to get water inside of his rubber boots. The natural corridor formed by the stream was a good choice. Over the next hour we captured five different species of bats in the net, including one bulldog bat.

Hacienda Baru

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Defending an Old Friend?

Rio Barú

Rio Barú

by Jack Ewing
Back in the 1970s Diane and the kids and I lived in the casona, the old Hacienda Baru home. We didn’t get around to digging a well until the early 1980s, and every year, the free flowing spring that supplied our water would dry up in mid February. To deal with the situation we carried drinking water in 5 gallon plastic containers from another spring two kilometers away and water for washing dishes and flushing toilets in 55 gallon drums. The girl who worked for us went to the Barú River to do laundry, and every afternoon around 4:00 PM everyone went to the river to bathe in the crystal clear water. The village of Dominical was out of water too, so most of the town – about 8 people at that time — met us there, and the afternoon bath became as much a social event as one of personal hygiene.

Hacienda Baru

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El Hinchdor, Fuzzy Fire & a Couple of Other Things That Can Ruin Your Vacation

stinging caterpillarBy Jack Ewing

Every place in the world―from the polar regions to the deep ocean, from the streets of a big city to the tropical rain forest―has its own particular hazards, of which you need to be aware. If you live in the city you learn about the dangers there and how to deal with them. It’s the same when you live in the jungle. When you’re walking around in a rainforest it’s a good idea to watch the path so you don’t step on any snakes; everyone knows that. But there are lots of lesser known dangers, things that you may not have heard about, that can cause you grief. These include everything from chiggers to stingrays. Some are better known than others and some have interesting stories. Here we’re going to have a look a couple of insects and plants that you may not know about but should definitely be careful with.

Hacienda Baru

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We Certainly Didn’t Kill Any Orangutans

Oil Palm workerBy Jack Ewing

Most of our clients at Hacienda Baru Lodge come here by way of the coastal highway which takes them through all of the oil palm plantations beginning in Parrita and extending a total of 40 kilometers all the way to Portalón to the south of Quepos. I often hear comments such as; “Aren’t all of those oil palms horrible. I hear they are really bad for the environment, and somebody told me that palm oil causes all kinds of health problems.” In recent years oil palms and palm oil have gotten a lot of bad press and an extremely bad reputation, some of which is deserved and some of which isn’t.

Hacienda Baru

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GREAT WEATHER FOR BARE-THROATED TIGER HERONS

Bare-throated tiger herons

Bare-throated tiger herons

By Jack Ewing

The Season is Here for Bird Watching Fever

The patter of raindrops lightly pelting the leaves far above our heads was the first warning of a change in weather. It would take a minute or two for the rain to filter down 50 meters, through the layers of canopy to the jungle floor. We covered our binoculars with plastic bags.

“Maybe it’ll pass,” I offered weakly.

“You think so?” queried John, hopefully.

“No, not really, but let’s wait and see. When the rain comes this early in the day, it’s not usually a passing shower. If we go back, we’ll be soaked by the time we get to the house anyway, so we might just as well wait a while and see.”

The first bloated drops burst and spattered on the broad-leafed plants of the understory. The sound above was now a dull drumming. John pulled out a small “Write-in-the-Rain” notebook where he had been noting every bird we sighted. He checked the list.

“We’ve got 27 so far. The Orange-collared Manakin is a new one for me.”

“Not bad. We’ve only been out a couple of hours. With descent weather, we could easily top 50 for the day. With this we’ll be lucky to see any birds at all.” We turned our backs to a light gust of wind and hunched over to keep the water out of our eyes.

“So, what do you think we ought to do?” Asked John.

“Why don’t we go on ahead to the jungle camp,” I suggested. “It’s less than an hour from here and it’ll take longer than that to go back. We can’t get any wetter, and who knows, maybe the rain will stop,”

“Yeah, who knows?” he answered.

Hacienda Baru

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The Return of the Scarlet Macaws

By Jack Ewing

Scarlet macaws“There used to be so many of them that the branches of the trees would sag with their weight,” commented one old timer. “They used to love a big old kapok tree on Hacienda Barú near the road to the beach. It was hollow and some of them nested there.”

“What happened to them?” I asked.

“People shot them. I remember one guy who shot a whole mess of them. He had a 22 rifle and just picked them off one at a time right out of the tree where they roosted.”

“Why did he shoot them?”

“Some people did it for the feathers, but that guy did it just for the fun of seeing them fall. I haven’t seen a guacamayo in these parts since the 1960s. Now that I think back on it, it seems like they disappeared overnight. It wasn’t a gradual thing. One day everybody noticed that there weren’t any more of them. Those that didn’t get shot just left.”
Hacienda Baru

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Quest for the Silky Anteater: The Golden Tennis Ball

Silky AnteaterBy Jack Ewing

Back in the 1980s, the economy in this part of Costa Rica was still driven by rice farming and cattle ranching. Tourism was something we all knew would come later, but nobody had a clear picture of how it would work. In 1986, the government paved the road between San Isidro and Dominical, and the bridge across the Barú River was completed. Work on the Coastal Highway south of Dominical was in progress and proceeding slowly. A few tourists started filtering into the area, and cabins to accommodate them started appearing here and there. It was the very beginning of a new way of life for the rural community. In a few years it would come to replace farming and ranching as the most important economic activity in the area.
Hacienda Baru

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Fat-Handed Cats: The return of the Ocelot

Ocelot

Ocelot

By Jack Ewing

The sleek, spotted cat rested with her chest and thick front paws on the log, her eyes peering over the top, waiting patiently for a spiny rat or some other small rodent to scurry along the other side. She had been there since moon rise, but so far no prey had ventured past. An uneasy feeling enveloped her body like a mist that penetrated to the very core of her being. She waited and watched. A faint sound reached her ears, and she became aware of the source of the unpleasant feeling: dogs, their distant howls drifting on the cool night breeze. The unwelcome wail was not new to her ears; it signified the most fearful thing in her environment. The thought of climbing a tree briefly flickered across her mind, but if the dogs caught her scent and found the tree, she would be trapped, an easy target for the humans that always come with the dogs. The other choice was to put distance between herself and the howling dogs, but the forest wasn’t that big, and she could only run so far. The female ocelot decided to wait and listen.
Hacienda Baru

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Clickity Clack Down the Track: The Atlantic Railroad in the Old Days

El Pachuco today

El Pachuco today

By Jack Ewing

They called it the “carro salón” or luxury car, though it was far from luxurious. I have also heard it called the “chair car” in English. Compared to the regular passenger cars, the carro salón had comfortable seats with plenty of leg room, a relatively nice restroom and a balcony on the back end. It had the distinction of being the last car on the train, right behind the caboose, so from the balcony there was a view on three sides. Beer and soft drinks were sold inside, and a short, fat lady with a checkered apron came through selling tortillas and empanadas. The wealthier people always rode on the carro salón, and everybody else went in the regular cars. All the trains had names. “El Pachuco” was the only train that had a carro salón. It traveled between Limón and San Jose daily, as did another train known as “El Pasajero.” “El Río Frio” traveled between Turrialba and Río Frio, but Guápiles was the most important station on the far end of that line.

Hacienda Baru

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The Hard Life of Women in Rural Costa Rica: Super Woman’s Daughter

Doña Porfiria Gomez, 1st Generation

Doña Porfiria Gomez, 1st Generation

 By Jack Ewing

A few months back the story of Doña Porfiria Gomez, A Real Life Superwoman appeared on this site. This was the story of a campesina who was married as an adolescent of 14 years to a man of 23 and, shortly thereafter, left her family in Guanacaste. With all of their meager possessions on their backs, she and her new husband, Jose Artavia, traveled several hundred kilometers on foot, by boat, by bus, and catching the occasional ride to a remote place called San Miguel, about 30 kilometers south of Quepos. Furthermore they did this entire journey barefoot. Neither owned a pair of shoes. There they worked hard and forged a new life. The article tells how Doña Porfiria gave birth to 14 children, 9 of them at home, and most of those without the assistance of a midwife. It tells of the great hardships they endured, and the conditions under which they lived. Yet somehow they survived as did 11 of their children, which have, up until February 2014, given her 16 grandsons and 11 granddaughters, who in turn, have given her two great-granddaughters.

Hacienda Baru

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POACHING: A New Mafia is Determined to Destroy Our Wildlife and Forests

paca

Paca

By Jack Ewing 

Years ago when I posted the first “NO HUNTING” signs on Hacienda Baru, the prohibition was aimed at neighbors who loved to hunt. Most of game in the parcels of forest left in the area had been killed, and the hacienda still had 180 hectares (445 acres,) of healthy rainforest that harbored lots of wildlife. This is where everybody came to hunt, and prohibiting hunting was definitely not the way to win a popularity contest. Of course, nobody paid the least bit of attention to my signs. We often found them shot full of holes or chopped to pieces with a machete. Eventually I decided to hire a guard, a local man named Alejandro, who knew the forest well. Though having a guard didn’t stop the hunting entirely, it helped a lot. Then one day a friend of Alejandro’s convinced him to look the other way for just one afternoon. “Your boss always goes to San Isidro on Thursdays,” he begged. “ I haven’t eaten paca meat for months. Just let me kill one paca, and I won’t bother you any more.” Alejandro relented and let his friend hunt, “just this one time.”

Hacienda Baru

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Surviving Joan & Cesar

By Jack Ewing

Joan

When she opened the freezer the putrid odor of rotting meat seeped into the room. Doctor Jiménez pinched her nostrils and stepped back. She gave the restaurant owner a sidelong glance, pulled out her citation book and began writing.

“You don’t have to do this,” he pleaded. “Give me a break. With the hurricane and all it’s been tough getting supplies. We have to take what we can get.”

“Sign here!” she ordered. “That meat came from a dead bull that washed up on the beach. Witnesses saw you cutting it up. Others saw you serving it to your customers. I’m taking that rotten packet of frozen meat as evidence.”

Hacienda Baru

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Poor Man’s Viagra: The Plight of Our Marine Turtles

Collecting turtle eggs

The date was August 16, 2013, the time 4:30 PM. Steve and Peggy Sue watched as the bulky form emerged from the shallow waves and began dragging itself up on the moist sand of Barú Beach. It was a strange sight to behold, especially in the afternoon. Olive Ridley Marine Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) don’t normally come out of the sea and lay their eggs during daylight hours. In fact, they normally steer clear of the moonlight, only appearing on the beach when the night is pitch black. But here she was, in all her glory, awkwardly pulling herself up on the beach with flippers that looked better suited for maneuvering around in the sea than dragging one hundred pounds of dead weight across the sand. When she reached a point where thousands of years of accumulated instinct told her that the beach looked right, the female began to dig with paddle-like rear flippers. The digging continued until she could reach no deeper. After positioning her backside over the hole she began to expel the flexible, white, leathery spheres shrouded in thick mucous, each about the size and shape of a golf ball. The eggs plopped into the hole one by one until no more remained inside of the reptile. The female began scooping the sand back into the hole covering the precious eggs that would assure the future of her species. She positioned her hard bony underplate over the mound of sand and using her flippers, raised her heavy body into the air and quickly let it fall with a resounding thud, repeating the process until the nest was firmly packed. Near exhaustion, the female Olive Ridley Turtle began her labored trek back to the water’s edge, stopping frequently to rest, until at last she was swallowed by the vastness of the sea. Noticing the encroaching darkness, Steve glanced at his watch. The time was 5:30 PM. “We’d better get back to the lodge,” he said. “Nightfall comes quickly in the tropics.” 

Hacienda Baru

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How Do You Help a Wild Pig Cross the Road?

By Jack Ewing 

Wild pigs using a tunnel under the road

Wild pigs using a tunnel under the road.

I once saw a menu from a fictitious restaurant called the Road Kill Cafe. “You Kill it; we grill it.” It offered selections such as flat cat, smear of deer, awesome opossum, chunk of skunk, and swirl squirrel. The daily special was called “The Mess. If you can guess what it is, you eat it for free.” The chef’s name was “Squash em Jack.” I always thought that menu was hilarious, but later in my life, I realized that road kill is a serious problem that can have a major impact on wildlife populations. I think the experience that really brought the problem to my attention was the day an employee brought a dead jaguarundi for me to see. It had dashed out in front of his car so quickly that he didn’t have a chance to brake. That incident made me realize that steps needed to be taken to minimize road kill and maintain connectivity between forests on both sides of our roads and highways. We live in biological corridor where biodiversity has been increasing since the mid 1980s, and where, until recently, the roads were so bad that cars couldn’t go fast enough to kill any but the slowest animals. The construction of new highways and the improvement of old ones has changed all of that. 

Hacienda Baru

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Big Spotted Felines

Jaguar

Jaguar

“Baarooom” resounded the hollow buttress-root of the Chilamate tree with each blow of the thick branch. Carmelita wasn’t sure which was louder, the “baarooom” of wood against wood or her pounding heart. Again she struck the hollow root. “Baarooom.” 

“Carmela honey,” her father’s voice penetrated the darkness before his silhouette came into view. “What’s wrong? What’s all the noise.” 

“Oh daddy,” she cried. “Thank god you’ve come. It’s el tigre come to eat our pigs, and probably me too. It was my turn to guard them. I tried to scare him away, but he keeps coming closer.” 

Hacienda Baru

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