Carlos and I took a drive to the other side of the Golfo Dulce this past weekend. (Driving around with Carlos is like walking around with Carlos, except more dizzying, as he must adjust his running arboreal monologue to the speed with which we pass the trees.) The urgent purpose of this trip was to visit the Golfito´s duty-free mecca El Depósito, in order to replace the tires on Hedi, my RAV4, which in the last month have gone particularly deformed and dangerous-feeling. The more interesting purpose (although the Depósito is a fascinating cultural experience in its own right, as I wrote way back in 2012) was to stop in at the Paradise Botanic Garden just outside the town of Rio Claro, where I’d been recommended to look for diverse and hard-to-find fruit trees.
The place lived up to and exceeded expectations. Its owner, Robert Beatham, is an octogenarian gringo who’s lived here since the 1960s when he was the chief mechanic for United Standard Fruit back in southern Costa Rica’s banana glory days. Nowadays, he makes a living from his nursery and gardens. He sells rambutan (mamon chino here, Nephelium lappaceum) and langsat (Lansium parasiticum) from the back of his truck in Golfito; as he tells it, local taste for the exotic langsat developed only after word began to spread that it’s a fruity aphrodisiac. He sells fruit tree seedlings and cuttings from a remarkable variety of gingers and heliconias, as well as giving occasional tours.
I went home a happy girl with a trunk full of Asian fruit trees: mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana), langsat, longan (Dimocarpus longan), pulasan (Nephelium mutabile), rambutan and even a durian tree! (NO, I feel no eco-guilt – many of Central America’s most popular fruits are Asian or pan-tropical cosmopolitan anyways: citrus, mangos, bananas, coconut palms…) A sweet, efficient and very slender Polish volunteer printed species labels onto aluminum from old beer cans and told me that she is “transitioning to Breathatarian”. Robert and I must have spent an hour talking about his theories on and natural remedies for autism, cancer and Alzheimer’s. He then very kindly gifted me a salve for lower back pain and sent me on my way. A very fruitful visit, as it were.