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Pura Vida! Costa Rica, where life is so sweet

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No-one leaves Costa Rica without the above phrase echoing in their head like tropical birdsong. It perfectly encapsulates the spirit of a country which sees its natural resources as an integral part of its economy and simultaneously manages them with sustainability as a core principle.

My destination for this holiday? Drake Bay, in the Osa Peninsula, nestled in the lush forests of the south-west. It’s not easy to get to, but I’ve been promised virgin-growth rainforests and more wildlife and eye-watering beaches and sun than I can shake a bottle of rum at.

The taxi driver taking me from Palma Norte to Sierpe, from where I catch my river taxi to Drake Bay, points out of the window at passing fields, while rock cristiano blasts from the tinny speakers. Despite the focus on sustainability in the eco-resorts, fisheries and banana and coffee plantations of Costa Rica, palm oil plantations (almost all US-owned) are springing up as the new crop of choice, particularly in the south west of the country.

All this, used to be bananas. Now its palm oil.”

Boats for Drake Bay leave from La Perla del Sur, sitting at the mouth of the lush mangroves in Sierpe. Run by the improbably named Don Jorge, the service and food at this restaurant is excellent and provides spellbinding views of a tapestry of forest, river and sky. I sit, enjoy my Imperial cerveza, and listen to birdsong. With the enthusiasm of an amateur orthinologist, I ask the waiter which species is responsible for the more alluring squealing sounds. It’s the fridge in the kitchen, he replies. I nod sagely, stroking my beard.

On the boat ride over to Drake Bay, I chat to Peter, a Canadian man who has lived in Drake Bay for over 20 years. He tells me about the days when ‘the Colombians’ regularly dumped packages of narcotics off the coast, where local drug runners would scoop them up and deliver the goods onwards and upwards, to the US. He is also the first of many who describes regularly catching the largest fish in the world, which he doesn’t register with the Guinness World Book of Records, in fear of attracting trawlers and sport fisherman to the bay. I can only pray that the two are not connected.

The first thing that struck me about Drake Bay is that the locals don’t really need anything here. Sure, there are amenities we in the west would scarcely be able to do without. A bank, for instance. Easy access via a functioning road is also a challenge. But this only adds to the other-worldly enchantment of the bay once you arrive, disembark, nestle your feet into the sand and are greeted with forests fading away in each direction and a couple of sleepy restaurants at the beach.

Residents, particularly ex-pats who’ve set up shop here, need little else in life apart from the tight-knit community and gorgeous wildlife at their doorstep. Life is so sweet here, that even pig feed is comprised of mangoes, papaya, melons and avocados.

I stayed at Casita Corcovado, an eco-friendly bed and breakfast, run by Jamie and Craig, an adorable couple from the States. Need to book a tour? Have a question about the history of Agujitas, the main town in the bay? Or just a question about where to eat and find other amenities? Jamie and Craig were eager to help.

The bay is the perfect base to explore Corcovado national park. The park is a 424 sq km protected reserve, often touted as the most biodiverse place on the planet. Toucans, sloths, macaws, Baird’s tapir and other-worldly species all call this place home. You can also easily spot howler, spider and pesky white capuchin monkeys. Fact is, no two walks in the park are the same. You’ll spot different species of animals and birds every trip.

Ever dreamt of swimming side-by-side with sea turtles, rays and sharks? Snorkelling and scuba diving off Cano Island can be easily arranged from Drake Bay. After a 45-minute boat ride, dive in with your tour guide and be prepared for some of the most incredibly diverse marine ecosystems on the planet, easy to explore even without scuba diving training. The rocky reefs near the island are home to a variety of marine creatures including puffer fish, parrotfish, seahorses, swordfish and rainbow wrasses.

Of all the things I’ve seen in my life, swimming through a school of fish and watching it disperse, rotate, then collapse again on itself like a slow cosmic event is perhaps the most wondrous. It’s like watching Finding Nemo in 3D, but distinctly wetter.

Cano island itself is closed off to visitors, not only to protect the indigenous wildlife, but also to conserve the mysterious stone spheres (or Las Bolas), which litter the Southern Pacific region. Costa Rica’s Stonehenge, these perfectly spherical stones, carved over 1,000 years ago, are a complete mystery to archaeologists. Locals in Costa Rica, however, wager their origin being down to one of the following three theories:

1. The stones are pre-Colombian, and natives cut them meticulously from stone tools

2. They were rolled and smoothed underneath waterfalls

3. Aliens did it

There’s so much more to see and do in Drake Bay that I couldn’t cram into three days. I never did head out at midnight to the mouth of Rio Claro and bathe in the bioluminescent algae. I didn’t have a drink at the Tureka (the ‘bird cage’).  I didn’t take a boat out to the Pacific and catch a world record-breaking mammoth of a fish. I hadn’t the time for a forest night tour with Martin “Hawk Eyes”, where you’re almost guaranteed to find nocturnal species such as poison-arrow dart frogs, snakes, exotic spiders and insects, and, if you’re lucky, jaguars.

I’ve only scratched the surface of this little slice of heaven. Now I just can’t wait to head back.

Raj Singh is a freelance writer on sustainable investment and CSR, blogging at www.esginsider.com. He was previously programme director at the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF), and a senior ESG Analyst at ECPI. For more information on Drake Bay and the Osa Peninsula, visit Gringo Curt’s website here.

Further reading:

Ecotourism helps reduce poverty, new study shows

ECOsta Rica?

Why tourism can be a force for good in the developing world, and why it isn’t

‘No tourism if you kill the environment’, Philippines ecotourism conference hears

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2014

Raj Singh is a freelance writer on sustainable investment and CSR, blogging at www.esginsider.com. He was previously programme director at the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF), and a senior ESG Analyst at ECPI. He has also worked for a boutique PR and IR consultancy for cleantech companies and investors, and had a stint as a journalist at a local newspaper in West London.

Environment

5 Eco-friendly Appliance Maintenance Tips

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Eco-friendly Appliance
Shutterstock Photos - By Punyhong | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/punyhong

Modern day society is becoming ever more conscious about the effects of human consumption on the environment & the planet.

As a collective, more people are considering taking action to positively counteract their environmental footprint. This is accomplished by cutting down on water consumption, recycling and switching from plastic to more sustainable materials. Although most people forget about the additional things that can be done at home to improve your individual eco footprint.

Appliances, for example, can be overlooked when it comes to helping the environment, despite the fact they are items which are found in every household, and if they are not maintained effectively they can be detrimental to the environment. The longer an appliance is used, the less of an impact it has on the environment, so it is essential for you to keep them well maintained.

If you’re considering becoming more eco-conscious, here are 5 handy appliance maintenance tips to help you.

Don’t Forget to Disconnect From Power First

General maintenance of all your appliances start with disconnecting them from power; microwaves, washing machines and ovens all use residual energy when plugged in, so it’s essential to unplug them.

Disconnecting the plugs can help keep them in their best condition, as it ensures no electrical current is running through them whilst they are supposed to be out of use. Additionally, this can help you save on energy bills. By doing this you are minimising your energy footprint.

Here we break down 4 tips to keep the most popular household appliances maintained.

Eco-Friendly Oven Maintenance

Ovens generally require very little maintenance, although it is essential to stay on top of cleaning.

A simple task to make sure you don’t have any issues in the future is to check the oven door has a tight seal. To do this ensure the oven is cold, open the oven door and use your hands to locate the rubber seal. You can now feel for any tears or breaks. If any have occurred simply replace the seal. More oven tips can be read here.

Eco-Friendly Refrigerator Maintenance

When keeping a fridge in good condition, don’t forget about exterior maintenance. Refrigerator coils, although an external fixture, can cause damage when overlooked.

Refrigerator coils can be found either at the front or rear of a fridge (check you user manual if you are unsure of its location). These tend to accumulate various sources of dust and dirt over a substantial time-period, which clog refrigerator coils, causing the refrigerator to have to work twice as hard to stay cool. An easy tip to solve this is to periodically use a vacuum to get rid of any loose dirt.

Eco-Friendly Washing Machine Maintenance

Most people tend to remember the basics tasks for maintaining a washing machine, such as not to overload the machine, not to slam the door and to ensure the washing machine is on a solid and level platform.

In addition, it is necessary to routinely do a maintenance wash for your washing machine. This means running an empty wash on the highest temperature setting and letting it complete a full wash to erase any build up and residue. You should repeat this task at least once a month.

Try to schedule this task around your bulk wash load times to save on water consumption.

This will help keep your washing machine in peak working condition.

Eco-Friendly Dishwasher Maintenance Tips

Dishwasher maintenance can be simple if implemented after every wash cycle.

To keep your best dishwasher hygiene standards, scrape away excess food whilst making sure to keep the filter at the bottom of the cavity empty between cycles. This simple task can be highly effective at preventing food build up from occurring in your dishwasher.

If you need additional tips or tasks you, can reference your manufacturer’s guidebook to check for a full breakdown. You can also head to Service Force’s extensive database of repair and maintenance manuals – including extensive troubleshooting guides for all of the critical appliance maintenance procedures.

In conclusion, you can save both money and energy by keeping your appliances in peak condition. The steps outlined in this guide will help us all preserve the environment and reduce industrial waste from discarded appliances.

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Environment

Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living

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Eco-Living
Shutterstock Photos - By Syda Productions | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/dolgachov

Our obsession with all things new has blighted the planet. We have a waste crisis, particularly when it comes to plastic. US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made – 8.3 billion tons! Unfortunately, only 9% of this is estimated to have been recycled. And current global trends point to there being 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050.

However, two ancient Japanese philosophies are providing an antidote to the excesses of modern life. By emphasizing the elimination of waste and the acceptance of the old and imperfect, the concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi have positively influenced Japanese life for centuries.

They are now making their way into the consciousness of the Western mainstream, with an increasing influence in the UK and US. By encouraging us to be frugal with our possessions, (i.e. using natural materials for interior design) these concepts can be the future of eco-living.

What is Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai??

Wabi-Sabi emphasizes an acceptance of transience and imperfection. Although Wabi had the original meaning of sad and lonely, it has come to describe those that are simple, unmaterialistic and at one with nature. The term Sabi is defined as the “the bloom of time”, and has evolved into a new meaning: taking pleasure and seeing beauty in things that are old and faded. 

Any flaws in objects, like cracks or marks, are cherished because they illustrate the passage of time. Wear and tear is seen as a representation of their loving use. This makes it intrinsically linked to Wabi, due to its emphasis on simplicity and rejection of materialism.

In the West, Wabi-Sabi has infiltrated many elements of daily life, from cuisine to interior design. Specialist Japanese homeware companies, like Sansho, source handmade products that embody the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Their products, largely made from natural materials, are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans – meaning no two pieces are the same and no two pieces are “perfect” in size or shape.

Mottainai

Mottainai is a term expressing a feeling of regret concerning waste, translating roughly in English to either “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste!”. The philosophy emphasizes the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and is linked to hinto animism, the notion that all objects have a spirit, or ‘kami’. The idea that we are part of nature is a key part of Japanese psychology.

Mottainai also has origins in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist monastic tradition emphasizes a life of frugality, to allow us to concentrate on attaining enlightenment. It is from this move towards frugality that a link to Mottainai as a concept of waste can be made.

How have Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai promoted eco living?

Wabi-Sabi is still a prominent feature of Japanese life today, and has remained instrumental in the way people design their homes. The ideas of imperfection and frugality are hugely influential.

For example, instead of buying a brand-new kitchen table, many Japanese people instead retain a table that has been passed through the generations. Although its long use can be seen by various marks and scratches, Wabi-Sabi has taught people that they should value it because of its imperfect nature. Those scratches and marks are a story and signify the passage of time. This is a far cry from what we typically associate with the Western World.

Like Wabi Sabi, Mottainai is manifested throughout Japanese life, creating a great respect for Japanese resources. This has had a major impact on home design. For example, the Japanese prefer natural materials in their homes, such as using soil and dried grass as thermal insulation.

Their influence in the UK

The UK appears to be increasingly influenced by thes two concepts. Some new reports indicate that Wabi Sabi has been labelled as ‘the trend of 2018’. For example, Japanese ofuro baths inspired the project that won the New London Architecture’s 2017 Don’t Move, Improve award. Ofuro baths are smaller than typical baths, use less water, and are usually made out of natural materials, like hinoki wood.

Many other UK properties have also been influenced by these philosophies, such as natural Kebony wood being applied to the external cladding of a Victorian property in Hampstead; or a house in Lancaster Gate using rice paper partitions as sub-dividers. These examples embody the spirit of both philosophies. They are representative of Mottainai because of their use of natural resources to discourage waste. And they’re reflective of Wabi-Sabi because they accept imperfect materials that have not been engineered or modified.

In a world that is plagued by mass over-consumption and an incessant need for novelty, the ancient concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi provide a blueprint for living a more sustainable life. They help us to reduce consumption and put less of a strain on the planet. This refreshing mindset can help us transform the way we go about our day to day lives.

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