Day 3 |
Oct 08, 2009

Casa Orquideas, Costa Rica

By Claire Allum, Archaeologist, Anthropologist

Co-ordinates: 08°39’09”N, 83°15’54”W

Weather: Humid and warm with a clear blue sky and no wind.

I started the day in the Observation Lounge. I think it has the best coffee in the ship and I often eat a light breakfast of cold cuts, fruit and pastries there, while watching our progress through the ocean swells.

The day was already hot when we disembarked in Golfo Dulce. The Zodiacs cut across mirror flat water to land us on a grey pebble beach in front of Casa Orquideasinsea (The Orchid House). Ron MacAllister, the owner, was there to greet us.

Ron and his wife came to Golfo Dulce from California decades ago as self-proclaimed hippies wanting to “live off the land.” They bought land, inaccessible by road, and during their self-imposed exile began collecting plants. Initially they transplanted exotic fruit and flowering plants brought to Costa Rica by the United Fruit Company in the early 1900s. Later, they collected seeds and seedlings from all over the world. Now, nearby tourist lodges bring their guests over by boat to walk through the lush, Gaugin world he and his wife have created.

Cycads were the highlight for me—only a few species live in the world today. In the Jurassic Age, 200 to 145 million years ago, this seed plant was common; dinosaurs strode through forests of their long, fan-like fronds. According to Ron, one species known as the “cardboard plant” (Zamia furfuracea) is difficult to kill through neglect and is, therefore, the perfect houseplant for people who cruise a lot.

Another favourite of mine was Torch Ginger (either Phaeomeria magnifica or Etlingera elatior, the botanists are still arguing this one). Tall, vertical stalks support long, green, banana-like leaves and magnificent, frothy, pink or salmon-coloured structures—I can’t call these flowers, as they are actually modified leaves, bracts, which attract the plant’s pollinators. The flower is a small, non-descript, reddish cup hidden in one of the Baroque bract layers.

As I strolled along the garden’s many pathways, King Vultures (Sarcoramphus papa) circled overhead and hummingbirds and songbirds scrambled around in the bushes and trees. Ron picked and cut several exotic fruits for us to taste. I photographed as many of the most beautiful flowers I could, hoping to use them as Christmas card images this year.

In the afternoon we raised the anchor and headed for Golfito. I had a quick lunch in the Officers’ Mess and returned to my suite to prepare my lecture on “Pirates of the Pacific.” At 4:30 I donned my three-cornered pirate hat, and went up to the Theatre to turn on the audiovisual equipment and await guests. I enjoyed the talk and was delighted that many guests had questions and comments. To end the afternoon, Mr. Michael Johnson from the Carolinas, USA, told us about the pirate Blackbeard—once notorious along the central Atlantic coast of the North America.