Cotinga and a Coffee — Part 2: Interview with Cholo

Interview with Cholo, owner of Mercado Viriteca, Sabalito

Written by Dr. Lilly Briggs

Cholo at work! Photo by Lilly Briggs.

1. When and why did you open Mercado Viriteca?
Four years ago, the existing business in this location was about to close because it wasn’t working with just the sale of fruits and vegetables. As the tenant, the owner of the building, Abinal Rojas, gave me the opportunity to take on the Mercado Viriteca project to reinvent it. My goal has been to create a place that benefits the community and the environment. I buy vegetables, fruits, cheeses, eggs and more from local producers, which also gives local consumers access to fresh produce without having to go to the supermarket. The creek out back was filled with garbage, so I committed to cleaning it. I’m still committed to maintaining it that way, which helps the environment and allows me to offer a relaxing space for clients who come to eat and drink coffee.

2. Where do you think your conservation ethic come from?
The previous generations, like that of my grandfather, were taught that land was more
valuable if it was cleared for raising more cattle or planting more coffee. But I saw the
beauty and the fun in Nature, and our collective responsibility to protect it. I also saw the
tangible benefits to protecting Nature; for example, there is a direct connection between
protecting an orange tree, and then having oranges to eat.

3. What have been some of the challenges since you opened?
We have faced a new and different challenge every year! Since we opened our doors in
2016, there has been Hurricane Nate, the nationwide teachers’ strike, and the introduction of the IVA and the factura digital. We were finally getting things going, and finding our rhythm. But then in 2020, as we all know, something very different happened: the Covid-19 global pandemic. It’s hard with a small business because the expenses are always going to be the same. We depend on our regular customers to earn a living. So when the rules are changing every day, like they have been during the pandemic, and we can’t open consistently, clients start to get frustrated.

4. And then along came the Cotinga! Tell us about this experience in the context of some of the previous comments you expressed about your conservation ethic and the challenges of running a small business during a pandemic.

Birders at the Mercado Viriteca in Sabilito. Photo by Lilly Briggs.

I hoped that by protecting the forest and creek out back we would attract birds for the clients to enjoy, and I was expecting birds like Trogons, which are much more common. When the Cotinga first showed up I didn’t even know what it was! So I sent a photo to Bley (one of the Pajareros del Sur), who asked if he could share the photo in birder WhatsApp groups. And suddenly so many people started coming to see this bird, not just from the local area but from as far away as San José! It has really helped save the business during such a difficult time economically.

5. Tell us about the kinds of comments and conversations the Turquoise Cotinga has inspired.  Some of my regular clients started asking me: “who are all of these people? They look like they are from National Geographic!” because of all the equipment—binoculars, telescopes, and cameras. It’s been exciting to see how people who might not have had any interest in birds before are asking lots of questions now. For example, one if the cheese vendors asked if I could show him the Cotinga. Some community members have commented that they used to see more Cotingas when there were more Aguacatillo trees because the Cotingas love their fruit. I’ve had an opportunity to talk to people of all different backgrounds about the connection between protecting the environment and supporting the local economy. There are some people I used to just say hi to casually, and now I’ve been able to connect to them on a deeper level through this experience. And I believe many people have changed their mind about the accessibility of birding as an activity that everyone can enjoy—you don’t necessarily have to go very far or have all the equipment that makes you look like a National Geographic explorer!

6. Do you have any final points you would like to make?
Money is important because we all need it to live, but for me it’s equally important that I
help leave the environment even better than I found it. I want the next generation to have the same opportunities to learn more about the wonders of Nature, including a bird as special as the Turquoise Cotinga. This is especially important among a younger
generation like today, which is very attached to the phone and social media. Meaningful
experiences with nature and its species can inspire them to take care of our planet.

Lilly Briggs, PhD, Director of Finca Cántaros Environmental Association

San Vito de Coto Brus, Costa Rica

Facebook and Instagram: Finca Cántaros

Welcome White-winged Doves!

We have been waiting for quite some time for these angelic-looking birds to show up in our beloved southern zone and it appears our vigil might be over.

White-winged Doves. Photo by Jim Zook

First, a pair was spotted in September near La Union de Sabalito by Jim Zook who was on the job doing bird counts for Stanford University. Shortly thereafter, one was found by Randall Jiménez Borbón, a Pajarero Del Sur member and Detectives de Aves teacher, in his garden in Linda Vista just south of San Vito on the road to Ciudad Neily.

In the Stiles and Skutch Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica (published in 1989), they were considered a ‘. . . locally abundant permanent resident in dry Pacific NW, south to Jaco.’ In more recent times, they are described as ‘. . . common resident in northern Pacific and across the Central Valley . . . ‘ by Garrigues and Dean in the second edition of The Birds of Costa Rica. You can see the trajectory; it was just a matter of time.

They are pretty easy to see if you are expecting them: Garrigues describes them as “. . . commensal with humans. . . ” and goes on to say they favor open areas and are often seen feeding along roadsides. They look a lot like Mourning Doves except for the white band down the length of the wing – this is easily seen at rest and a lovely display in flight. Further, Mourning Doves have long, tapered tails and black spots on their wings, both of which are lacking in the Whities.

From November to May, our resident populations are joined by migrants from the southwestern US. The entire range goes from Arizona, New Mexico and Texas in the US; throughout Mexico and down through Central America to western Panama, as well as throughout the Caribbean islands.

Breeding season is January to March, so we will try to keep an eye on the Sabalito pair. And, meanwhile, keep a sharp eye out as they may turn up at your house any day now!

Please Join Us for 2019/Afiliarse con nosotros 2019!

Birding with the Pajareros Del Sur at the Wilson Botanical Garden. Photo by Jo Davidson

It is time to join the San Vito Bird Club for the first time OR to renew your membership for 2019!

Benefits of membership include bi-monthly Bird Walks at the Wilson Garden/OTS Las Cruces Biological Station, invites to the members-only Annual Meeting at Cascatas Del Bosque, day trips in and around the Coto Brus Valley and occasional overnight jaunts throughout Costa Rica in search of rarities like the Lanceolated Monklet. Plus your membership support helps us bring BirdSleuth-International, an environmental education program from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, to local schools as “Detectives de Aves”. Please read President Wendell’s post about the Detectives de Aves year 2018 here.

Detectives de Aves teachers Carla Azofeifa and Paula Mesen with SVBC President Peter Wendell. Photo by Alison Olivieri

Part of your membership dues will be donated to the Organization for Tropical Studies Las Cruces Biological Station that provides us with an exciting place to bird and free coffee and camaraderie after the walks.

We are keeping dues at 2018 rates: C11,000 or $20 per person for International Members and C14,000 or $25 per person for residents of Costa Rica. Family membership are priced for two people but always include children.

Without you, we are nothing so please join today! You can give your dues to Peter at the Bird Walk on December 9 or to Randall Bourbon Jimenez or to any other executive committee member: Greg Homer, Alison Olivieri or Harry Hull.