image of Alvaro Ugalde climbing hill

In Others’ Words

David A. Lennette

May 29, 2015

Breakfast with Alvaro

Alvaro’s home is a quintessential Costa Rican family home. It was built by his father in the Zapote area of San José to raise four children when San José was still mostly coffee plantations. Eventually, it became Alvaro’s own as his parents and siblings moved elsewhere. Modest in size, both inside and outside, every spare inch of the comfortable space was occupied by lush flowering plants. Alvaro loved bright colors—turquoise bathroom, bright yellow kitchen, sky blue bedroom, and green hallway. The walls were covered with exuberant artwork, historical photos and framed awards. In the tradition of most Costa Rican homes, Alvaro’s house served dual purposes—as his office during off hours (or when he was in between jobs) and as his home. As Alvaro’s career took off, this memorable home became the stopping point for all walks of conservationists, ranging from heads of states, to foreign dignitaries, to park employees, rangers, or even just strangers interested in his work. He received and hosted them all. I can only imagine the many historical events that took place behind those walls.

Back in the old days, when Nectandra Cloud Forest facilities were under construction, and before we had a home of our own in Costa Rica, Evelyne and I would occasionally stay with Alvaro in his home. One of the events to look forward to there was breakfast: Alvaro would take charge in his kitchen, parceling out a few chores (I often made fresh coffee, using the classic Tico “sock”). He would then prepare a pan of eggs scrambled with fresh tomatoes, served together with fresh fruit and buttered bread. We all sat and discussed current affairs in Costa Rica, punctuated by personal stories, with emphasis on conservation issues.

Often, he would move on to put the current state of affairs into the larger picture of building the national park system, and increasing the total protected areas of Costa Rica. On one fortunate occasion, Dan Janzen was invited, and turned up to engage in a lively back and forth discussion of reforestation as a part of conservation in Costa Rica. At the time, these breakfast occasions seemed only to be pleasant interludes in our schedule of other work and responsibilities. Over a longer period though, they planted the seed in Evelyne’s head for the Eco-loan concept, from which grew the community watershed reforestation program that Nectandra Institute initiated in 2006 when Alvaro became our CEO after his retirement from his federal position as director of the Osa Conservation Area. It seems that sometimes the smaller aspects of our lives can play a role in the bigger scheme of things!

D. L.