Costa Rica is a small country (51,200 sq. km.) in Central America lying between latitudes 8° and 11° north of the equator. To place Costa Rica in perspective, it is approximately 2/3 the size of Tasmania. To its north is the civil-war-torn nation, Nicaragua, while Panama lies to the south. Thus, Costa Rica is one of the southern Central American countries. The Pacific Ocean is its western boundary and the Atlantic (the Caribbean), its eastern border.

The official language is Spanish and the population is approximately 3 million - locals are known as 'Ticos'. In spite of its small size, Costa Rica is noted for its natural scenic beauty, the variety of its vegetation and richness of its flora and fauna. A mountain range, about 3,000 m above sea level, extends from the north west to the south east. San Jose, the capital, is almost in the centre of the country, situated in a high central valley. It enjoys a mild climate averaging 20°C due to its elevation. The coastal lowlands average 26°C. Climatic variations are due to the precipitation and the number of hours of sunlight. The rainy season, or invierno, extends from May to November. The dry season, or verano, occupies the remainder of the year.

Costa Rica is a free and independent democratic republic. The government is popularly elected, representative and alternating. Costa Rica is one of the most stable and peaceful countries in South America. In 1949, the army was abolished, and in 1983 perpetual neutrality was proclaimed.

The cardinal industry, as far as the export dollar is concerned, is banana farming. Tourism, coffee, and sugar cane follow in importance for export. There is amazing biological diversity - birds, animals, plants, orchids, insects.

Tiskita is a private property owned and operated by Peter Aspinall, a fourth generation Costa Rican. Some of his English ancestors were West Indian colonials, and some of his more recent relations were involved in the 1949 revolution. Peter and his siblings were partially educated in Canada and now his family is involved in many aspects of fruit growing, flower growing and tourism in Costa Rica. Tiskita is located in the southern Pacific lowlands of Costa Rica - about latitude 8° north and just 10 km from the Panamanian border. Rio Clara is the nearest settled village.

I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Tiskita in February, 1992. A private airstrip allows direct access from San Jose by small-craft charter flights. We travelled via Golfito, which is about 15 min flying time north of Tiskita. The small aircraft allowed an excellent view of much of the Pacific slopes (dense rainforest) and lowlands (massive areas of mangrove swamps and spectacular surf beaches) between San Jose and Tiskita.

Tiskita's tropical paradise consists of 400 acres of rich, diverse, habitats comprising over 250 acres of virgin rainforest, a pristine Pacific beach and a fascinating experimental fruit farm. The neotropics boast the greatest variety of birds on Earth, and at Tiskita, more than 270 species have been recorded. One of the most spectacular is the Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan. Three species of monkey; the Squirrel, Howler and White-Faced Capuchin, can be seen here, along with the Sloth. Tiskita is operated as a tourist destination.

Costa Rica's staple foods are beans and rice, with the commonest dish being a combination of the two, masquerading under the name of 'Gallo Pinto' (pronounced Gayo Pinto) or translated, Spotted Rooster. This is generally consumed for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner by many Ticos.

In the experimental fruit farm at Tiskita, more than 100 different varieties of tropical fruits, collected from around the world, have been planted. Peter conducts tours of the fruit farm for his guests, and this is accompanied by sampling of fruits along with hours of stories about the origin of the plants, the uses of the fruit, the cultivation at Tiskita and the possible future uses of the fruits.

Peter hopes to develop markets for both fresh fruit (chiefly local) and preserved - perhaps for export. The fresh fruits that he is hoping to market are Mangosteen, Sapote (Caimito or Star Apple) and South American Sapote (Matisia). The candidates for preserving are Guanabana (Soursop), Carambola (both sweet and sour varieties) and Guisaro or Cas Brasileno. The experimental farm has been operating for more than ten years, however, as yet, the commercialisation of the products has not been realised. A few years ago Peter was able to visit Australia and Asian countries courtesy of support from the Canadian Government. During this visit he gleaned much important information and collected specimens for plantings in Costa Rica. One such acquisition was a Jackfruit from the Cairns region; when this Jackfruit specimen was cultivated at Tiskita, the fruits were superior to fruits from other Jackfruit trees. We were able to sample this 'Australian' Jackfruit, and the fruit was excellent. Problems with opening of the Jackfruit prior to ripening was Peter's biggest problem with this crop.

On the 'fruit walk' that we undertook, we sampled Carambola, Abiu, Jackfruit, Guisaro, Sapote (probably Mamey, see below), Orange, Guava (called Guayaba in Costa Rica), Guanabana, Cashew, Papaya (pawpaw) and Pineapple (Bromeliad). The Costa Ricans make a delicious fruit drink from the Guanabana - like a milk shake only fruity, but of course with no milk. The peduncle ('apple') above the Cashew nut is widely sold and also used for preparing an extremely refreshing, not-too-sweet drink. Locals cut the bottom of the 'apple', then squeeze the juice straight into their mouths. Many road-side stalls had small bags of cashew 'apples' for sale. Carambola juice was also very refreshing - whole fruits blended. We were given a sweet dessert made from the Guayaba which was consumed in small aliquots due to its richness.

The Mamey Sapote (often spelled Zapote), was the richest fruit that I have tasted. It was described to us as 'Zapote', and after consulting a copy of Tropical Tree Fruits for Australia (QDPI) that Peter had at the lodge, we concluded that it was Mamey Sapote that we were consuming. It is an oblong fruit, approximately 20-25 cm long, 10 cm wide and the skin is like thin, brown, crinkled paper. Inside, the flesh is dark, bright-orange in colour, creamy in texture, with a small amount fibrous material visibly obvious. In the centre is one to three oblong seeds occupying approximately 30% of the fruit volume. We were served the Mamey Sapote like a pawpaw, and many of the guests thought that it was pawpaw. The flavour was completely different and some people were sadly disappointed. For me, it was too rich to eat. Guests presumed the Mamey Sapote was pawpaw because the pawpaw that we were served was also reddish-orange in colour rather than the more familiar yellow. Familiar, that is, to the tourists present at the lodge.

Lemon juice was available all the time, and was an excellent refreshment in the heat. The pawpaw and pineapple had a superb flavour - much better than that commonly available in Brisbane. Other trees that we saw at Tiskita were Amazon Tree Grape, Roseapple, Imbe, Rollinia, Black Sapote, Water Roseapple, Bananas (commonly available at the lodge), Sapodilla, Mango, Pejibaye (Peach Palm - many uses), Coconut Palm, Casimiroa (White sapote) , and Lychee. Neither the mango nor the lychee produce fruit at Tiskita, however the trees appeared in good condition. For the Mango, the climate is too wet at Tiskita and all growth is vegetative. For the lychee, there is not the cool periods needed to promote fruiting. Gourds were grown and the large round fruits were used by locals for making tourist souvenirs. The gourd tree was also used to grow Vanilla vine over. Spices that are grown here are clove and cinnamon.

Fruits that were commonly seen on the street for sale in San Jose were avocado, caimito and rockmelon. Tamarind juice was also available. This was prepared by soaking tamarinds in water for approximately an hour. The flavoured water was then heavily sweetened and made a delicious drink.

Linda Blackall, Brisbane, Queensland

DATE: May 1992

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