Travel

Foreign Correspondence: Nature Shrouds The West Coast Of Costa Rica

What's it like to live in a far-off place most of us see only on a vacation? Foreign Correspondence is an interview with someone who lives in a spot you may want to visit.

Juan Carlos Cruz, 37, is manager of Tambor Tropical Resort and Farms, on the west coast of Costa Rica. He was born in San Jose, that country's capital.

Q. Where is your property, and what does that part of Costa Rica look like?

A, We're on the Pacific side, which has two gulfs and two peninsulas. The resort is on the northern peninsula, Nicoya, on a beachfront that looks at Whale Bay. Our town is called Tambor, which means "drum" in Spanish, because of the bay: It's round-shaped, very enclosed and about 6 miles across. The waves are pretty small but make a lot of sound. You can hear them echo in the towns and against the hills.

A lovely thing about the bay is that you can sit in the middle of it in a kayak or stand on the beach at high tide and not see many buildings. There's infrastructure here — the hotel, a runway and a couple nearby hotels — but what you see is forest. By law, you can't build anything higher than two stories near the coast.

Q. Is it in a big resort area?

A. No. Aside from us and a couple that are smaller, there's one a couple miles down and across the river that has 400 units. There are American expats who own homes here, so it's more than a resort area. People in the area work for them, in hotels like ours, or in agriculture. There's also some fishing — a small community of people who make a living with their small boats.

We're a 20-minute flight from San Jose. Because of a new road, we're a one-hour drive from Puntarenas. You take a ferry along the way.

Q. And you manage a farm, too?

A. The same company has different projects. We have a mango plantation and export produce from more than 12,000 trees. We also have a guava plantation with over 3,000 trees. We have a 12,000-tree teak plantation — we export the teak — and another with about 2,000 trees that exports teak and melina wood. Melina is fast-growing, but the quality is inferior to teak. It is used for pallets and couches.

So I manage the farms, manage the 12-suite boutique resort and was part of a team that founded Tambor Bay School.

Q. Which is the hardest to run?

A. I'd say the plantations. At the hotel, 99 percent of the guests are great, so that's a pleasure. The school has some challenges, but spending 15 minutes with the kids is like medicine. It's a source of pleasure.

When I'm handling the plantation, I do get time out with the wildlife, and I love that. It's just a bigger area to cover.

Q. When is harvest season?

A. Guava is year-round but there are peak times, especially after the rainy season. With mango, we start in late October or early November. We try to induce early flowering of the trees because of weather: The rainy season is in May, so we want to harvest between February and early April.

Another factor is the market's window. We get better prices at those times because Peru and Brazil aren't exporting then.

We export to Europe, not the United States.

Q. Costa Rica is known as an eco destination. What's around your area?

A, You're surrounded by nature. People wake up to macaws, butterflies, lizards and howler monkeys. It's not a rainforest, but you can walk along the shoreline a couple miles to a place called Jesus Tree. It's a tree that's by itself on a point of rocks, with no other trees around it. When the tide is high, water covers the rocks and all you see is the tree — looking like it's walking on water.

Another walk or horseback ride is to Panica waterfall. You'll see spider monkeys as well as howlers, different birds, maybe deer, and a type of fox that lives in groups of five or six.

Q. You said you're in a tropical dry forest. Does that look different than a rain forest?

A. Species are different and grow differently based on precipitation. In a dry forest, trees seem to be shorter but have thicker trunks. They try to maximize foliage to capture water during the night. As I said, we have rainy seasons here and they bring out the green. The hills are green for most of the year, turn brown around Easter, then quickly turn green again with the first rains in May.

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