Eladio Cruz came down to Peñas Blancas in 1962, carrying banana and grass seeds and looking to meet up with his father, who was aiming to buy a farm in all this land on the atlantic slope below the continental divide. Back then, it was all primary forest down here, had never been cut and rarely intruded on by humankind. But the ‘60s saw all of that change, as farmers started moving down from Monteverde to get their hands on the the new cheap land, and to clear large plots to make way for cattle or to re-sell it to the government and turn a profit. In ’69, a Canadian mining company came looking for a sulfur mine so that they could make Napalm and make some money off the war in Vietnam; they took possession of all the land downstream from Eladio’s place, connecting Monteverde to the lowlands. The mine brought in local workers and the workers brought their families, and they started claiming land up and down the atlantic slope. Eventually the Costa Rican government reclaimed the Canadian mining land; five or six congressmen ended up with huge tracts which they ordered clear-cut from the Central Valley, and the locals who had come in with the mining company waited in vain for ten years for the government to pay them for their land. But the government never paid, and the locals cut their forest down to try to raise some cattle.
In the 1980s, biologists started visiting Eladio’s property because it was the only forest left on the slope. Here, they found rarities chased out of other habitats, hidden gems of biodiversity and virgin, primary forest amid patches of regenerating land. In 1986, Eladio sold his land to a group of biologists as a sign of good faith and a gesture that he supported the conservation of his land and other patches of forest on the rainy atlantic slope. Eladio’s property became the first piece of what would one day become the Children’s Eternal Rainforest; the biologists that Eladio sold his land to would form the Monteverde Conservation League, and word of the effort to conserve primary forest and encourage regeneration of degraded land would spread all the way to Sweden, where a group of schoolchildren would raise enough money to double the protected area.
After Eladio sold his land, he agreed via a handshake to work with biologists who were interested in conducting research on his old property, and eventually he began working with visiting professors to lead student groups down into the rainforests that he knew so well. Slowly, he learned everything.
Now Eladio— the farmer who walked down into the atlantic forest with a pocketful of seeds— is considered one of the leading authorities on ecology and species interactions in Monteverde and beyond. Older now, he spends his days leading groups of young biologists to his hidden homestead deep inside the jungle; if you ask him, he will take you out into the woods at night and climb the trees to find the red-eyed leaf frogs that hide among the folds of thick, wet forest.