Our host Rafael from Rios Tropicales warned us that he was taking us pretty far off the grid to show us how his team is implementing a massive reforestation program in Costa Rica. What he should have told us was that we would be enduring an off road, three hour ride by tractor followed by a harrowing white water rafting excursion.

As we passed through the countryside, we witnessed the devastating effects of deforestation. The top soil around a home was stripped away starkly contrasting with the lush green surroundings. Nearby, a mudslide had wiped away a farmer’s field. And this was just the visible evidence.

The rain forest in Costa Rica and surrounding areas is not just a source of wood, fruit and sustenance. Many people have come to realize that taking measures to conserve the forest is simply good business. Rafael Gallo is one of the visionaries who sees how to run a business while leaving little to no footprint.

“Our business is to give people a real rain forest experience” says Rafa. “But if we don’t find ways to compensate, we won’t have a business at all. Our goal is zero carbon footprint.” Rafa’s business, Rios Tropicales, is located in the massive Parque Nacional Barbilla Reserve in Costa Rica. The Rios team has been implementing a large scale reforestation program since 1989, planting tens of thousands of trees along the Pacuare river. Currently the program covers over 2,000 acres.

Our team joined Rafa to plant trees and see the new Tilapia farm being tested at Rios Tropicales. Tilapia farming is a growing industry in developing nations for many reasons including high demand for the mild tasting fish and the relative simplicity of raising them. Of course, Rafa’s team is pushing the limits of sustainable fish farming - tightly controlling the variables involved with the goals of zero ecological impact.

As Team XN films a lesson program on reforestation and collects soil data, we start to feel like we are a part of a living, breathing organism. Beyond just trees, it becomes clear that the rainforest here works as one being. We are simply rather insignificant inhabitants of this large and ancient system. And while we can do damage, I get the sense that the forest will ultimately prevail.

After a long, hot day of filming and traveling we gather for dinner and bed down at Rios Tropicales. The rain forest doesn’t sleep and we listen to the birds, insects and monkeys as they go about their nocturnal business. They have their business, we have ours. At first it seems that sleeping with all the racket outside simply wouldn’t happen. However, the forest has a way of smoothing things over and we quickly fall asleep. We are halfway through our journey. Tomorrow we leave the relative civilization of the lodge and cross over into the heart of southern Nicaragua.

Previously in this series:

Kids Lead Crowd-Funded Scientific Mission to Nicaragua: Science Education Is the Tide That Lifts All Boats

Exploration Nation: Expedition Central America

Exploration Nation: Expedition Central America – Day One – April 4th

Exploration Nation: Day Two – April 5