It’s pretty hard to come to Costa Rica and not talk about the weather. Here, it determines the productivity of a farm, the success of an eco-tourist hotspot, and my mood on the walk to school.
And my walk to school is pretty…intense. It begins with a warm greeting from the sun and the plants around me. I am ready for a beautiful day in the “dry” season. But this is Monteverde, and we are located on the Pacific-North slope of the continental divide where the tropical winds push the clouds onto the sides of the mountain. And with the wind comes intense mist, dust, and whatever else nature can throw in your face. Yes, the contradiction of intense mist and dust exists. I walk about 20 meters to the road, and they hit from both angles. From the top I get soaked, and from below any and all dust particles find a way to my eyes. If I am lucky, I find a friend to share this journey with. If I am unlucky, I forget to bring my poncho creating an uphill battle to dry out on a humid day. Then the next day, I getting sunburn in the garden behind our study center.
Yet for some reason, I enjoy this dry/misty season. It lasts pretty much from December through May, although global climate change has brought about quite unpredictable weather. So this brings torrential downpours for a handful of days followed by droughts. One can only imagine the havoc this reeks on a local farm reliant on consistent rainfall. From late May to November, rainy season takes over and at that point, one better hope they find shelter in the afternoon while skies open up.
These weather patterns are pretty specific to Monteverde and the Cloud Forest region too. When my family and I drove down the Pacific slope, only about twenty kilometers away from my homestay, I saw firsthand the switch that is flipped between climates here. It was fairly immediate as we drove to see that the town Guacimal has much less green, air is drier, and this results in different culture and vegetation that can survive without as much precipitation. Guacimal is considered to be the Pacific dry region as the winds drop the rain up the Caribbean slope of the continental divide, leaving clouds on top of the mountains and dry air on the Pacific-North. The Carribean slope has characteristics more like a tropical rain forest than a cloud forest or a desert. Still on the Pacific-South, there is a mix of all systems. Each of these polarized conditions offer a variety of biodiversity for students like myself to enjoy and study.
Unbeknownst to many, climate has a huge effect on culture also. Having spent some time in the Central Valley, it is easy to see how the temperate-esque climate of the capital spurred an urban sprawl of 3.5 million persons. Living in Cloud Forest offers an interesting juxtaposition where much of the economy is based on farming and eco-tourism. In the coming weeks, I will be heading to indigenous and fishing communities along the Pacific coast and look forward to reporting more about how climate affects culture and economy.