MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — Somewhere in a Costa Rican jungle, on the banks of a freshwater creek, kitchen strainer in hand — you will find Patricia Ortiz.
Chances are Ortiz will be huddled over, studying creatures of the creek, swishing them around a white plastic plate after she has fished them out with the strainer.
After several minutes of inspecting, tweezing and pinching Ortiz will dump the animals and insects she has collected back into the creek to return to their natural habitat, sometimes filming them with a camera placed in a specialized waterproof case.
A resident of Monteverde, Ortiz is currently working on a documentary film that she hopes will help educate people on the importance of keeping their fresh water clean — from point of origin until the water empties into the Pacific Ocean.
Ortiz works relentlessly to gather video and prepare clips for her documentary while attempting to maintain balance in the rest of her life.
A biologist who specializes in entomology, Ortiz teaches at the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica, paints, is the single mother of a three-year-old son and plays in what she describes as a misfit band.
“I have a disjointed band. They are all moody,” says Ortiz.
Her band may be moody, but Ortiz lives and works with a youthfulness that disguises her age. When telling two other journalists in my group that she was 39, the two turned and looked at each other with shocked expressions.
Like the jungle she works in, her personality is bubbling over with life.
While power-walking through the thick jungle Ortiz received a call on her cell phone and proceeded to have a conversation. After several minutes she hung up, looked around and realized she was lost. She turned around and quickly retraced her steps to find the correct trail. A moment later she was back to power walking through the dense forest, this time in the right direction.
The Monteverde cloud forest is home to several dangers, including snakes and jaguars. Ortiz dismisses these, however, as she explains that she has never seen a jaguar and that the snakes in the area aren’t poisonous. Her biggest fear while working is slipping on one of the moss-covered rocks that she hops across while in the field.
Despite her comfort within the jungle and rivers, Ortiz has run into trouble completing her documentary.
The people and educational system in Costa Rica have shown full support for her project. The problem is that neither group is able to offer funding for the project. She received a grant of $1,000 to produce her documentary. But that money has since run dry. She estimates that to finish she will have to spend at least another $1,000.
To capture underwater video Ortiz uses a simple point-and-shoot camera that she encloses in a plastic case. She needs additional money to cover the cost of transportation, better equipment and field supplies.
Ortiz plans to petition other government agencies for funds. She is pressed for time and plans to finish at the end of January as opposed to her original goal of September.
Budget issue aside, Ortiz is encouraged by the fact that people with some industrial and agricultural sources of watershed pollution in the area have become more conscious of the damage they are causing, and are working to reduce their waste.
The cheese factory in Monteverde produces large amounts of whey as a wasteful byproduct, Ortiz says. The factory used to dump that whey directly into the water, which harmed the river system.
Now, however, whey is pumped to a nearby hog farm where the hogs eat it. By killing two birds with one stone, the hog farm is able to feed its animals and dispose of the wasteful whey in a more eco-friendly manner. The hogs still produce waste, but it is easier to deal with and better for the environment than raw whey.
Ortiz also wants people to know that despite the waste produced by both the hog farm and the cheese factory, it doesn’t change her opinion on the food production from both places. “I love cheese!” she says.
This positive attitude is the driving force behind Ortiz’ magnetic personality. Negative issues don’t seem quite as bad when dealt with by Patricia Ortiz.
While hiking through the woods to one of the freshwater tributaries in Monteverde Ortiz kept coming across different types of orchids that had fallen from the trees. Knowing that they wouldn’t survive on the ground had no bearing on the joy she took in seeing each them.
“Oh look, more orchids!” she said. She studied them for a moment, and then, deciding to move on, said, “They are all going to die,” and dropped them back on the ground.
Dying orchids and hog waste are not the focus for Ortiz. She lives for the good side of life and works hard to enjoy that.
I encourage you to do your best to walk in her shoes even if you will never skip from a log to a boulder while crossing a river in a Costa Rican jungle. As Ortiz might say, pursue your passions and don’t let anything else stand in your way.
Story by David Dishman
Video by Cidney King and Bobby Watson