Archive for September, 2009

Opening blog post

Friday, September 11th, 2009

quetzal 1sm

It has been a couple of months since we launched the website of Mount Totumas and the addition of this blog will allow us to regularly post progress and updates on activities and projects we are undertaking as well as post photos and comments from our friends and visitors. This summer of 2009 we were pleased to see that the condition of the road up to Los Pozos hot springs has been significantly improved since MOP (Ministerio de Obros Publicos) dug ditches and deposited many truck loads of rock and gravel along the entire 8 kilometer stretch. The road however still requires a 4WD vehicle. Road improvements on our two kilometer section of road from the entrance of Mount Totumas Cloud Forest up to the home are also ongoing. Access to Mount Totumas remains a challenge for visitors at the same time that it creates one of the sites greatest assets; it’s unplugged and isolated at the top of a valley at the doorstep of 1.5 million acres of wilderness. The road up to the home is challenging, there is no communication on site, no phone service, no internet, no tv.. For the intrepid traveler and adventurous the rewards of being in this isolated unplugged environment have to be experienced to be appreciated. And yet when you arrive you find a comfortable three bedroom home, off the grid with its own micro hydro generating plant providing abundant electricity.

We have established a number of trails on the property that Roberto has been preparing these past months. These trails are low impact minimal openings in the forest using a machete to clear obstructions. When walking these trails you have the feeling of following a game trail. With the exception of controlling for erosion and clearing away fallen branches we will keep these trails as intimate openings in the forest. In addition to secondary forest and virgin old growth forest, many of the trails include sections that follow water features and meander through pastured landscape with stunning views of La Amistad National Park. We will eventually mark these trails with simple signs. One trail leads down to the 40 foot water fall we discovered on our last trip, another is a lovely forested trail that follows the creek behind the home to the base of Mount Totumas. On almost every walk this trail yields excellent views of Black Guan, Three Wattled Bellbirds, Resplendent Quetzals and Mantled Howler Monkeys. We spotted mountain lion tracks and came upon the remains of a recent kill (armadillo) on a recent walk. Another trail to the peak of Mount Totumas inside La Amistad National Park is a steep 2000 feet challenging climb where your efforts are rewarded with a pristine high elevation oak bamboo forest at its peak (2630 meters). oak bamboo 1sm There is a truly magical quality to this forest with its cathedral oaks towering a hundred feet above absolutely draped with epiphytes. This trail was pioneered by Roberto together with one of our first visitors to Mount Totumas, Charlie Jennings. Thank you Charlie for helping Roberto blaze this trail.

Being off the grid with our own power offers some unique conditions. There are no electric lights in the whole valley with the exception of our site and on rainy nights when we aim the outdoor spot lights in any direction we attract huge numbers of moths. The diversity of insects is truly staggering from enormous silk moths to sleek sphinx moths in countless colors and patterns. Giant Rothschildia sp. silk moths are a regular occurrence and this August we attracted a silk moth Rhescyntis hippodamia with an incredible bird head pattern on its wing tips.

Rhescyntis hippodamia

Rhescyntis hippodamia

August we added a number of new mammal sightings. In addition to the ubiquitous Mantled Howlers that are seen and heard every day we spotted two additional monkey species; the White Faced Capuchin and the Black Handed Spider Monkey. The capuchins were in an oak tree at around 1750 meters and remained shy but curious. The spider monkeys were in the vicinity of some Mantled Howlers and quickly disappeared when they spotted us approaching. At an elevation around 1800 meters we discovered a Hoffman’s Two-toed Sloth Choloepus hoffmanni about 30 feet up a tree.  Our  field guide indicated that they range up to around 1500 meters so he was definitely at the upper limit of his range here.

sloth sm

The bird count on the property is up to 86 species. This total has been reached in a relatively short time with no more than 30 hours of field observation. This list includes birds spotted on the property and nearby La Amistad but does not include species seen on the road up to Los Pozos. The species list is here. Species highlights that are commonly seen throughout the year are Three Wattled Bellbird, Resplendent Quetzal, Black Guan, Emerald Tocuanet, Prong-billed Barbet, White-throated Spadebill, Golden Browed Chlorophonia, Scintillant Hummingbird. Less common but present are Crested Guan and Highland Tinamou. We would be very interested in offering the home at a nominal fee ornithologists or specialist amateurs with knowledge of highland birds in exchange for helping  us complete a census of species present on the site.

After visiting cattle auctions and meeting local veterinarians and cattle brokers we have made the first purchase of 10 calves. A small number of calves will serve as our lawn mowers to keep a select area of pastured land cleared in addition to eventually providing cheese, milk and yogurt for visitors and staff. We have pastures that could support up to 100 cattle but our goal is to reduce pasturage to a minimum and we will start out with a herd of about 30 cows and slowly reduce the herd size as we implement a plan to regenerate forests and possibly add a few hectares of coffee or organic vegetable gardening.

first calves smcows 1sm

Mr. Clemente Vega, an independent coffee consultant who works with nearby coffee plantations visited us during August to assess areas of the land which could be suitable for high altitude premium coffee. Clemente studied sustainable agriculture at Earth University in Costa Rica and supports fully our vision of practicing organic agriculture. After surveying the property Clemente was very enthusiastic about an area at 1800m that was on a sloping hillside close to the Rio Colorado. The hillside is dominated by Inga sp., a nitrogen fixating legume tree that Mr. Vega said was an excellent shade tree under which to cultivate coffee. The site is also protected from the wind and catches the early morning light. Essentially this area would need minimum preparation and could be planted with Geisha variety seedlings next summer at the onset of the rainy season. Clemente will do a follow up trip to assess the acreage and make some additional measurements. He commented that Geisha coffee would be ideal for this area.

We found a woodshop in Vulcan and met the owner Mr. Gabriel Rodriguez. He makes excellent hardwood furniture at affordable prices. We have placed a large order to complete the furnishings for the home and this month we also completed some needed home repairs. The home will be furnished and ready to rent starting in December 2009. Roberto and his family will stay on site when we are not there to receive guests. When the completed furniture is installed in October we will add photos on our website. Pricing for renting the home will be posted in the near future with options for walk in visitors at affordable rates. We plan for 2010 to add an extension to the front of the house with an enclosed front porch and extending the kitchen and dining area with an outside covered deck. A renovation of the kitchen is also in the works with new cabinets and countertops.

Access to the property for those who do not have their own vehicles is possible by contacting Mr. Chilo Mojica in Volcan Tel: 68 35 3048. He has a 4WD pickup and regularly takes tourists up to Los Pozos hotsprings which is 100 meters from the entrance of our property. If you catch a ride with a group going up to the hotsprings you can walk the two kilometers to the house. For $ 50.00 Chilo will provide transport from Volcan up to the home at Mount Totumas.. By the way Charlie Jennings walked the entire 9.8 kilometers from the mainroad up to the house when visiting Mount Totumas this summer. This would also be ideal for the intrepid birdwatcher as you pass several habitats from 1000m up to 1900m on the course of this walk.

My next planned trip to Panama will be three weeks in January followed by a longer stay between April and August next year. As I get back reports from Roberto and friends on news and updates I will post these regularly on this blog.