Tag Archives: horticulture

Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, Belize, Central America

REVIEW FROM A TRAVELER IN CONSERVATION March 2015

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Brandon Wiggins, center, with owners Dave and Dana Krauskopf

Hamanasi Resort in Belize is one of my new favorite spots on the planet. The property is clean, modern, well-staffed and an overall delight. It is a small resort, only about 75 guests but it seems as there are just as many sweet and courteous attendees to fulfill your every wish.

Hamanasi (translated as ‘almond tree’ in the local Garifuna dialect) is an all-inclusive resort – including a different adventure every day. I swam under a waterfall, saw howler monkeys (including a mom with a baby in tow), manatees, agouti, sting rays, dolphins, hundreds of varieties of fish and birds, and a plethora of exotic flora and fauna.

The food is plentiful and mostly delicious. The fruit salsa cannot be beat. Freshly made bread of all varieties and fresh fruit juices and plates abound. The pineapple is so sweet that you will abandon ever eating it again anywhere else.

The most appealing thing about Hamanasi is that it is a place where like-minded people have the opportunity to converse about various subjects in conservation. In my meetings with the owners Dave and Dana Krauskopf, their commitment to environmental sustainability is evident in their enthusiasm. I was surprised to see that they served beverages with plastic straws. When I mentioned it to Dana (when I went down to the bar to get a drink in my jammies – that’s how comfortable it is here) I could see the wheels turning in her head. My guess is that the next day, she was sourcing paper straws for the resort.

On property is an organic garden, which feeds the guests (speaking of which, Hamanasi just received their organic growers certificate 3 days before my arrival), a compost area, a beach, a pool, an adventure center, bountiful hammocks, and a pond complete with crocodiles.

I had to try to imagine what it would be like to conceptualize, design, and implement a project like this in a country like Belize. Dana and Dave had lived all over the world, including Moscow, and were experienced in sustainable precepts. Dave’s mother was very involved in the Sierra Club so he cut his teeth on the cause.

Dana described their greatest accomplishments in sustainability with passion in her eyes. Unlike the atrocious resort next door and many other local resorts, the Krauskopfs did not clear cut and burn the property to make way for the buildings. They positioned each and every room and building in and amongst the indigenous flora and fauna. I was fortunate enough to spend my first night in the deluxe treehouse (something I would not recommend as a solo traveler as it is a whole lot of romantic space wasted…) where I took a hot tub on the deck by candlelight in the company of a lady iguana and an agouti.

Every detail was attended to perfectly, even the housekeeping staff drew my bath while I was at dinner.

I transferred to a beach bungalow with amazing breezes and views. An epic lighting storm ensued as I danced on the patio in the rain. The beach accommodations were equally enticing as the tree houses, just in a different way. I would highly recommend both.

Dana and Dave have more plans to make the resort even more eco-friendly. They have procured an additional 4-5 acres behind the resort where they endeavor to have a black water processing and treatment facility, a solar energy station and staff housing, while reforesting the lot.

I inquired about the recycling infrastructure in the country of Belize. Dana tilted her very beautiful head. Since the number one industry in Belize is tourism, the fact that when you are taxied to the resort you pass mounds of plastic trash, one would think that the government would make a concerted effort to remedy that situation.

Dana gave me a brief history of the recycling infrastructure that began in 1995 (Dana and Dave began conceptualization of Hamanasi in 1991-1992). It is in need of modernization, but Dana mentioned that in parts of Belize they are using ‘crush and reuse’ bottles for construction. Many of Hamanasi’s paths use crush glass as an concrete aggregate. Dana and Dave are working with the local governments on changing the culture of the indigenous peoples as well as remediating the recycling and trash conundrum. (FYI – I JUST HAD A CONVERSATION WITH THE MINISTER OF TOURISM AND THE PRIME MINISTER’S BUSINESS PARTNER ABOUT THIS!)

When I inquired about the functionality of local governmental entities, Dana was very complimentary in her dealings with the Belizean government. Since Belize was previously a British colony, everyone speaks English and American dollars are welcome (the currency is tied $2 BZD to $1 USD). Bribing is not necessary to run a successful business. They function under a legal system based on British Common Law. From my experience, Belize offered the best of Latin America without the drawbacks. Back to the resort itself.

When you enter the newly constructed guest dining room, you will get a treat when you look up. The trusses exhibit the traditional Caribbean architecture coddled in a 600 piece ‘puzzle’ of a Phillip Flurry design. Santa Maria and Mahogany woods embellish this dormered ceiling with cast ironed tie rods and 10-foot ceiling fans that will astound you.

I also encountered many more families and children than I had anticipated. Dana reminded me that it was spring break (Oh yea, I forgot about that) but also mentioned that when the kids come, they are unwittingly enticed into the concept of being unplugged. The children – and yes even the teenagers (of which there were a substantial number) – were engaging. Even with their parents…

Amazing.

Dana’s foresight on eco-friendly travel was highly positive. She feels that the educated traveler is seeking out adventures like this. As a mother herself of three fine young boys (who were zip lining with their dad that very afternoon), she sees the future of travel – and environmentally conscious guests – as where the trend is going, and staying.

When I asked this forward thinking entrepreneur and mom what would be the number one thing that she and Dave would wish to pass on to their fine boys with respect to the environment, she paused for a moment. “I would like for them to promote long term thinking and planning in government and infrastructure.” She paused again. “I would also like them to champion the cause of holding big polluters accountable and pay for the social costs of their activities.”

Amen, sister.

She just wants for her children to have a better environment than we have today. She does not feel overly optimistic that we have not already tipped the balance.

Then I looked at her three little boys. I felt optimistic.

Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort is a place that I may have to visit on an annual basis. It really did feel like home – but way more fun.

Brandon Wiggins, Author, Conservationist

Upright

UPRIGHT

Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

She had been walking through the Monterey pine and cypress forest, head bent, stooping to inspecting the soil. She remembered what her father had told her, Always remember to look up. She didn’t fully comprehend what he had meant; her nose was always to the grindstone.MontereyCypress- www.sbcatree.com

To her, the coastal pine forest in central California was an incredible place, almost holy—the soil a deep chocolate mélange of organic materials, a fusty rich womb of fundamental creation. She embraced every morning, dawning with perfectly descending sunlit fingers, toying with wisps of fog and ferns as they casually touched down upon a pristine landscape. It was as if the forest were immaculately tended by tiny invisible terrestrial gardeners.

The smell of the land, the soft indirect lighting and the slight chill in the air, even in the summer, had enticed her into her life’s path. She felt most at home in the arms of Mother Nature.

Living for the moment in that forest and remembering her father’s words, she did look up. She saw a grove of the structurally impressive Cupressus macrocarpa, the legendary Monterey Cypress, and marveled at its architecture.

She spied a spectacular 100-foot Pinus radiata—a Monterey Pine. This stately pine should have been extinct years ago and, as such, the species was riddled by countless insidious pests. Wood boring beetles, viruses, and a host of other denigrators had caused this large 150-year-old specimen to topple onto a lower sapling. The young tree lay at a 45-degree angle suppressed by the ancient, waning pine. The tip of the sapling was stubbornly raising its head up to the sky.

This scenario immediately brought Skyler’s memory back to that precious summer with her father long ago.

Every human strives to be upright whether they are aware of it or not. Even if he or she has had the worst possible situations descend upon them, forced to the ground, they will struggle to stay upright. Look around you in the forest child; you will see it happen over and over. You can see the young saplings leaning, stretching, and clamoring to find their place in the sun. When they get established in their own particular spot, they will reach for the sky in perfect harmony with the light, the earth, and in alignment with sheer gravity.

This is what you must do, my little sapling. Take the blows that have been dealt to you and use them to support your stature. The upright life that you lead will be a beacon for the rest of the forest.

She smiled softly. She would have given anything to have had more time with her father. She refused to allow herself to wallow.

 

California Oak Moths—Not All Bad…

 

Carmel Valley Oaks
Carmel Valley Oaks

Brandon Wiggins, Science Writer at Large

Perhaps the California Oak moth is not such a pest after all. Carmel Valley, as well as many other central and northern California areas, has been inundated with squishy worms, defoliated trees, and a brownish-gold detritus covering every surface from the driveway to the kids’ bikes. Albeit messy, the oak worm has its positive aspects.

With two breeding cycles in most years, the Oak Moth (Phryganidia californica) can heavily infest our local Quercus agrifolia, the coast live oak, every five to ten years. Locals have noted that the last infestation this severe was in 1984, yet another year of apocalyptic trepidation. During May and June, the juvenile half to one-inch multi-colored caterpillar will skeletonize the perennial oak’s leaves, cover decks and patio furniture in wormy goo, and chrysalize into many vein-winged oak moths within a few weeks.

Here in Carmel Valley where we have a unique mix of Quercus species, we are prone to these infestations. The deciduous oaks, the Holly Oaks (Quercus ilex), for example, are not eaten by the insatiable larva, but do host the female Phryganidia’s nesting requirements. Although the moths do not ‘eat,’ a job completely undertaken by the larval caterpillar stage, they do lay eggs on the underside of the deciduous oak’s leaves, ready to restart the cycle. Therefore those who have coastal live oaks near perennial oaks will suffer defoliation the most.

A completely fascinating process on its own, chrysalization encompasses the complete morph of liquefied stem cells that re-invent themselves into entirely new beings. Whose idea was that?

Distressingly, the Oak Moth may temporarily feed on other species that are not oak related. These insects will be unable to mature on this material and most will perish before crysalizing into moths. Along that line, if the oak has been completely defoliated, the caterpillars will become malnourished and eventually die without maturing into an egg laying entity. That would explain the putrefying material under the BBQ cover that was left in the corner…

The good news is that the caterpillar droppings, also known as frass, have a tremendous benefit to our overall ecosystem. That thick grainy substance is full of nitrogen and mobilizes overall carbon distribution. It also increases soil respiration and has a direct and indirect effect on nutrient and nitrogen cycling. The best treatment of this material is composting, along with other spring and kitchen waste, for your high nitrogen (green as opposed to flowering) crops.

As for our precious oaks, the University of California – IPM website states, “Healthy oaks generally tolerate extensive loss of leaves without serious harm, so treatment to control oak worm is usually not recommended.” Spraying for Phryganidia could harm birds and beneficial insects and only add more chemicals to an already inundated ecosystem. The oaks will completely recover unless they were weak and ready for their timely demise in any event. As of mid-June 2011, we are seeing new growth on the beleaguered oaks sprout with wild abandon.

As in life in general, the messy bits, also known as “squishy goo,” can nourish the most barren but fundamentally strong beings, given the opportunity and enough time to cycle through the natural processes. The oaks will come back more beautiful than ever. Maybe a few weeks of unsightly mess are worth it!

 

 

The Pursuit of Fluff—A journey into the everyday life of reality

MatherVernalPond
Young naturalist enjoying Mather Vernal Pond, Sacramento, California

Brandon Wiggins, Author and Conservationist

The pursuit of anything is nebulous.

It takes a great deal of clarity, conviction, and perseverance.

The dilemma of the 21st century human is to decide how much effort to dedicate to the pursuit of (fill in the blank). There are many distractions, delusions, and detritus. It is hard to actually tell what is important for the individual—and what is fluff.

It is not for anyone to say for another what is “fluff” and what is not. It means different things to different beings. Can my kid get into the “right” private school? Will my boss recognize the great work I’m doing? Can I ever possibly be the member of society that the media, my friends, and my parents think I should be?

Let’s take a look at the other 99-point-something percent of the bio-mass on this planet.

There are two rules for the survival and perpetuation of species in the natural world, according to Dr. Richard Merrill, a brilliant man and my mentor.

  1. Reproduction
  2. Conservation of Energy

That’s it. Everything else is superfluous.

“Reproduction” may be translated by Homo sapiens as making a contribution to the betterment of our species. The “conservation of energy” reflects the individual’s utilization of available resources. There are only so many minutes in a day, but ever so few moments in a lifetime.

The “energy” that we conserve is finite. It serves all of us to use it wisely.