By Mariah Brannan
MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — Have you ever asked yourself what experience would allow you to die happy? For some, all it takes is to spot the resplendent quetzal, a rare bird of beauty.
When tour guides and tourists visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, they can spot the quetzal: a blue and green iridescent bird whose bright red chest is said to be a product of the blood of the Aztec emperor Montezuma.
The quetzal symbolizes a sense of pride in what natives of Monteverde do and what they have accomplished.
After all, few places inside or outside Costa Rica can say they share a home with a bird that the Aztecs referred to as one of the gods.
Victorino Molina Rojas, a Tico who shares a love for conservation of the land and culture of Monteverde, serves as a guide for the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, where he has worked since 1991.
“The reserve was initially established for money,” Molina said.
Conservation changed the mindset of locals and tourists after they realized the beauty and necessity of the cloud forest, he said.
“Tourism brought this consciousness on people,” Molina said. “It’s not just a forest, it’s a beautiful forest, a pretty forest, one with sloths, birds, maybe a monkey…”
Today, the cloud forest is a prominent symbol of Monteverde.
“When outside people realize you are from Monteverde they think three things,” he said “[They think] lots of money, the reserve, the canopies and zip lines.”
As a guide, Molina expressed satisfaction with how Monteverde is perceived by people from other cities and countries. He sees this as a good example that other countries can emulate.
The views of non-natives and natives are similar, but one major difference is that people who call Monteverde home are proud of their homeland.
“There’s a different feeling,” said Molina. “We are proud of the beauty, we are proud of the difference that Monteverde has made in education and conservation. We don’t just say ‘I am from Monteverde, we say I AM from Monteverde.’”
This pride in education and conservation is coupled with a deep appreciation for the plant and animal life in Monteverde. The region is famous for the golden toad, the bellbird and various other animals of great value to the land.
Although a bird of the gods like the quetzal is a phenomenon of the land, it is not the only phenomenon as Molina said. Monteverde is acclaimed not simply for wildlife, but for conserving it. And the conservation ethic is embedded in the history and culture of this community.