Tuesday 31 January 2023

Keen to be Green: Costa Rica with Lindblad

#expeditioncruising .

Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic have a half-century reputation for extraordinary destinations delivered expertly and responsibly. The tiny eco-capital of the Americas, Costa Rica, punches above its weight in the heavily contested 'greenweight' division and forms a perfect showcase for this benchmark expedition cruise line's best moves.


Juan-Luis reaches up into the low-hanging branches, grabs it firmly and pulls it down without protest. It is a plump, healthy one, rotund like a rugby ball with skin the texture of a sun-ripened iguana. Without a second thought, Juan-Luis bounces it around once or twice and when he's found a vulnerable spot, a deft blow from his rusty machete splits it open down the middle. Instinctively, we reel back in disgust as its banana-yellow innards disgorge themselves into his hands. 

“Ah, this is a good one,” he announces with a hint of triumph, “who's first?'

In a scene reminiscent of a Ridley Scott sci-fi movie, I accept a strip of the lurid flesh and plunge facefirst into the anemone-like mass, gnawing at the glutinous tendrils like a savage. Delicious!

Our bizarre jackfruit was an easy kill, I must confess, yielding its tasty, golden meat willingly. 


Here in the organic gardens of the Finca Kobo cocoa farm our machete-wielding guide, Juan-Luis, delights in walking us through a tiny section of his 50ha farm that grows some 85 different varieties of fruits, spices, herbs and vegetables. And not your average greengrocer selection either. We ogled such exotic crops as custard apple, noni, cinnamon, turmeric, star apple and several varieties of citrus and guava. Not to mention the humble cocoa beans, the magic crop.

“The noni is full of anti-oxidants and vitamin C,” says Juan-Luis as he slices the pungent fruit with his Vitorinox, “the taste is not nearly as bad as the smell.”

And he's not kidding. The innocent-looking fruit has an aroma something like a mix of ripe blue cheese and eau de laundry basket. We think of the many health benefits that outweigh the unfortunate perfume as we consume the slices through clenched lips.

Just that morning, National Geographic Quest, Lindblad Expeditions' brand new 100-passenger expedition ship dropped anchor amid glorious tropical 'pinch me' scenery at Playa Blanca on Costa Rica's remote Osa Peninsula. We came ashore via Zodiacs on a picnic-ready beach and split into groups, each heading to their chosen excursion to visit families who owned and operated subsistence-level farms, each with their own specialities. 

In a country well-known for its incredible biodiversity and rugged primary rainforest jungles, the Osa Peninsula is remote even for Costa Ricans. It's a prominent, if distant appendage tucked away on the far southern extremity of the country adjoining its neighbour, Panama. 

While the crew diligently prepare our sumptuous barbecue lunch under the shade of a massive fig tree, a troupe of local school students enthrall us as they swirl and twirl in traditional costumes to the tune of folk music. All the while, a trio of brightly plumed Scarlet Macaws look down on the clumsy mammals with an air of comic disdain.


Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic have been exploring this region of Central America for more than 20 years and it shows. When the dynasty's patriarch, Lars-Eric Lindblad, began expedition cruises to Antarctica and the Galapagos 50 years ago, he set in motion an unstoppable trend by taking intrepid travellers to previously impossible destinations. 

Today, Lars-Eric's son, Sven-Olaf (or just Sven) continues the family tradition with a fleet of 13 vessels taking wide-eyed guests as far afield as the high Arctic as well as the remote Pacific and many inland waterways. This year Lindblad returns to Egypt, inaugurates a citizen science project in the sub-Antarctic, launches a second 100-passenger newbuild and cuts first steel on a revolutionary X-BOW vessel for delivery in 2020. The NYC-based company is on an upward trajectory for the next 50 years, but all the while keeping themselves firmly grounded in their core values.

“We are seeing more and more ships being developed that use the term ‘expedition’ in their offerings,” notes Lindblad, “They are designed to carry more and more people for obvious reasons - revenue. It’s just not a good idea. The most valuable commodity our guests have is time. And, frankly, large numbers of people on an expedition squanders time, limits opportunity, puts safety in jeopardy, and in some cases, is just not good for the places visited. So, you will not see us falling to that economic temptation.”

Indeed, time is precious, especially in the second half of our lives when we all have less patience for long queues, contrived experiences and boorish behaviour. And it's no wonder that these aspiring expedition cruise companies to which he refers all look to Lindblad for inspiration in their practices and destinations. Imitation is flattery.

Costa Rica fits seamlessly into the Lindblad portfolio and forms a cornerstone of their operations in Central America which also includes Panama, Belize, Mexico, Cuba and Guatamala. 

The family-owned, community experiences here on the Osa Peninsula are an enlightening example of how tourism can resist the temptation to become a mass-market commodity and maintain sustainable, eco-friendly operations that are a joy to experience. And me, I'll never snub a jackfruit again.



Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic sail December through April in Costa Rica and Panama, including a transit of the Panama Canal. Itineraries are 8 days/7 nights aboard the 2017-launched, 100-passenger NG Quest and can be extended to 9 or 11 days with optional land expeditions. Rates begin at AU$7490 per person, twin share. Solo cabins are also available. Fare includes group transfers, all excursions, naturalist-led hikes, kayaking, wildlife spotting and expert enrichment lectures. Book through travel agents or 1300 361 012(AUSTRALIA) | 0800 444 462(NEW ZEALAND) au.expeditions.com


Live La Pura Vida

Costa Ricans take sustainability and environmentalism very seriously. A little over 20 years ago, the tiny Central American republic of fewer than 5 million people was suffering a horrendous deforestation rate. But Costa Rica has reversed that and is now in a 'reforestation' bonanza, eschewing destructive industries like ranching and tree-felling in favour of 'green' tourism. The military was disbanded decades ago, with the savings channelled into social programs. The motto 'Pura Vida' (pure life) now serves as an everyday greeting and expression of goodwill among friends and strangers alike. 

This story was originally published in MiNDFOOD Magazine 

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