Almost immediately, the moment you’re in the midst of its beauty, you’ll fall in love with Tabacon Hot Springs; caveat emptor: without the luxury of a thermal camera, however, you may not be able to fathom how immensely captivating this world wonder is. Unable to come full circle. That is the story of Ian Godfrey, a young American researcher bent on putting Costa Rica at a higher pedestal than where it already is. For like a moth to a flame, this USF (University of Southern Florida) alumnus is all caught up in its beauty - technically lovestruck. But what mere mortal wouldn’t be? Long a peripheral nation of the 16th century Spanish Empire, this diminutive Central American country has made all the right moves, turning its unrivaled biodiversity in a land pockmarked by volcanoes and hot springs into an eco-tourism magnet at a scale that’s making a string of less fortunate countries drool in envy.
Truly, Costa Rica has come of age - tempered by an unwavering discipline to put its unique ecology at the forefront of its national agenda. And one of its most (if not the most) prized possession is the Tabacon Hot Springs, a beautiful manifestation of the recently-active Arenal Volcano which like Mt. St. Helens belong to the ever-feared Pacific Ring of Fire. But Ian is no mere mortal. Like a modern-day Leonardo da Vinci, his interests are varied - ranging from the art of photography to the science of horticulture. Where others appreciate light as ordinary, he’s interested in horticultural lighting and how to feed a nation. And his Tabacon experience is no exception. Where others seek a respite in the geothermal swirl, he sees an opportunity to look deeper into what makes Costa Rica and its ecosystem tick, amidst the inherent dangers. Through the eyes of a most dependable thermal camera.
Costa Rica, Making the Right Moves
By most standards, a country of no more than 5 million people occupying a territory no bigger than the state of West Virginia is small. And at the onset, that’s what the Spanish colonizers thought of Costa Rica, a small addition to the large empire they had that warranted little attention.
Dubbed ‘Costa Rica’, meaning rich coast in Spanish, by no less than Christopher Columbus who reportedly found natives wearing gold upon setting foot on the land in his final voyage in 1502, the Central American nation linking the South and North America with Panama should have become a worthy target for any adventure-seeking gold-hungry conquistador worth his name in salt. But no, history will tell us ever since the Spanish in the 16th century took it as part of its ever-widening American empire, Costa Rica became a sparsely-inhabited country over the years. Not to mention poor and isolated.
Today, however, Costa Rica is enjoying its place in the sun as a much-coveted tourist destination. Realizing the country’s ever-so-rich flora and fauna, thanks to its unique position as a land bridge between North and South America, and unique topography as part and parcel of the volcanic Ring of Fire, the government of Costa Rica on the latter half of the century adopted a rather aggressive stance in preserving its natural resources. Putting up a host of protected areas via eco-parks and implementing out-of-the-box environmental policies such as banning hunting altogether.
And all that sacrifice is paying off. Today, with 28% of its land protected (i.e., national parks, wildlife refuges, reserves), Costa Rica has been:
With dollars coming in eco-tourism is generating substantial revenue for the country - topping all its exports combined from bananas to coffee.
It’s a testament of how this small country truly made the right moves. First, by disbanding its army after a bitter civil war that saw a change in the nation’s capital from Mexican-empire leaning Cartago to the more republican San Jose, it was able to focus its budget on healthcare and education.
And by protecting its natural resources, the small Central American nation salvaged its economy that once was hanging by the thread as it saw its rainforests slowly eroded by farmers hell-bent to gain more land for cattle ranching.
Cream of the crop of this ecotourism destination is Tabacon, a place that’s bound to make the most stressed globetrotter forget his sorrows just by being there. Breathing all the geothermal energy.
Jamie Milowski: A Visionary Rises
Spurred by the unique juxtaposition of the country’s natural beauty and its burgeoning role in the global business community , Ian Godfrey on his first trip to Costa Rica in 2014 decided to get another major, a B.A. in Global Business from USF (University of South Florida - St. Petersburg), that not only added to his B.S. in Management but also most importantly allowed him to avail of a study abroad program. And be back to the welcoming arms of Costa Rica.
In more ways than one, Ian, being in the small nation recently, confirmed from his own experience what Tabacon really is. And we are left with utter amazement, in awe of this global wonder.
Tabacon Hot Springs is a place like no other. It’s easy to think you’re in a completely different planet, surrounded by all the lush thick rainforest vegetation with strange wildlife making stranger sounds through the day and all throughout the night. All in all, it’s 900 acres of tropical forest reserve, home to the most intricate and biggest network of volcanic hot springs in the whole of Costa Rica boasting:
And how do you like your hot tubs giving you thermal hot spring water? That’s what’s it’s like with all the private bungalows. Even better, how would you like water heated in magma and mineralized underground to heal you? It’s hydrotherapy to the highest level. With thousands of gallons of this prized mineralized water flowing for everyone to make the most of, small wonder why Tabacon is a most sought-after international destination.
The cream of the crop? Enjoy the thermal waterfall, where 75-105° F of water, all mineralized with low sulfur and with no foul odor whatsoever, runs all over your body giving you the ‘massage of your life’. Easily, this wins more tourist hearts than any other attraction.
Put it all together and you have one of the finest luxury hotel the Central American nation has to offer.
And yet, all this exhilarating out-of-this-world stress-relieving experience would have come to naught had one man gave up on Tabacon. The name is Jamie Milowski, an up-and-coming Costa Rican architect in the 80’s..
Jamie existed at the right place at the right time. Born in Costa Rica, he was everything the country would hope for in its citizens. He was a dynamo of a man, passionate in working for ‘natural types of outdoor projects’.
At first, he put his hand into coffee cultivation expanding it to grow new exotic tropical fruits. Always constantly pushing the envelope, Jamie developed plantations of highly-sought-after crops from other parts of the world. A novelty.
Like Ian, our spirited young American scientist, pooled all his talents - in business, in horticulture and architecture - in creating sophisticated hotel designs.
In the 80’s, the Arenal Volcano with all its immense power fascinated him. Putting his business acumen in action, he bought a piece of land where fresh hot water hot springs were flowing through it. Moreover, he pulled several investors together and with the passion of a Spanish conquistador rolled into motion his most ambitious project yet.
And that was how Tabacon Hot Springs, Thermal Resort and Spa came to be. As people from all over started pouring in, Jamie expanded the operations. In 1991, he not only built an even bigger spa, but he made sure the area live up to its expectations - planting all sorts of exotic tropical botanicals to improve the surroundings.
But it wasn’t just for aesthetics; it was a brilliant business move too. As Ian Godfrey observed, by planting an ample amount of endangered trees and exotic flora, Jamie’s resort would fall into the category of a protected wildlife conservation area. Simply genius!
That way he would have the protection of the government. That ensured his ambitious project would go down in history as a ‘most highly prized and sought-after resort type properties in all of Central America’.
Like a most riveting movie where you prep a big box of popcorn at the onset only to find yourself so stuck to the screen and all the action going on, you’re holding your breath, unable to put that popcorn in your mouth. That’s the story of Tabacon. A real beauty about to be made even more stunning with a thermal cam
Even with all the allure, Tabacon Hot Springs is above all a geo-thermal entity. Made possible by the once-angry Earth giant that is Arenal Volcano. And though the mighty volcano may have given life to the tourist hotspot in more ways than one, it erupted in 1968 reminding us that volcanoes are agents of destruction for the most part.
When it erupted unexpectedly in 1968, Arenal Volcano, long dormant for centuries, utterly destroyed Tabacon - then a small town nearby.
Though the Arenal Volcano National Park is considered safe, inherent dangers remain - albeit small. As Ian stipulates, “As Today the volcanic risk in the Arenal Volcano and Tabacón Hot Springs area is very low. It’s still important to keep in mind not to step directly into and hot spring access point or fumaroles though as they can burn you.”
Thus, it is from a scientific pursuit that Ian looked into Tabacon and its geo-thermal prowess. It is here that he stressed how bringing along a thermal camera moved him closer to his goal. Here are the excerpts of our interview with him (with pictures) taken from the IR camera:
Q: How did a small country like Costa Rica become such a success in ecotourism?
Ian: “Two reasons that really wrap it all up. One, it’s geographical location. It’s basically a land bridge connecting North and South America which makes it a migratory destination for all kinds of birds and marine animals. It’s 10 degrees north of the equator and has two different coasts, both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.”
“And number two is its preservation and conservation programs. So they’re not cutting down the trees for lumber, not really fishing, not hunting, so they’re protecting the wildlife. They have certain conservation zones to keep everything basically the same as it was. So those are the two reasons why it’s consistently #1 for eco-tourism.”
Q: You were looking for thermal anomalies in your study with volcanoes and hot springs? And I see you were into photonics?
Ian: “Sure, for almost 5 years now I used photonics to study the different aspects of light, using tools such as a spectrometer, for example. And that’s where I got my background as a scientific equipment consultant. From studying horticulture I moved into studying light and how sunlight affects plants. Plants don’t really grow well in northern climates in countries such as Canada, Russia, Finland for example. And there are countries that plants really grow because of the sunlight. Places like Indonesia, the Philippines, Mexico where all these tropical agricultural products comes from.”
Q: What made PerfectPrime’s IR 0006 indispensable in both your journeys? Were you glad you had one at your beck and call?
Ian: “It’s nice to have a light weight portable thermal imaging camera to help with investigative research like writing a book. The storage is very helpful as I can click a few pictures and go back and check them out later without worrying about space.”
Q: What particular feature in the IR0005 made it stand out?
Ian: “Day time use when it’s very clear out made some very nice pictures that have really helped grab viewers’ attention. Especially volcanic hot spring areas and active volcano craters. It’s nice to see detail in the images you take especially when it takes such resources to get to your observation point. Usually after a long hike and sometimes rainy terrain, it’s great to come home and see you captured an incredible thermal image of an active crater. Fog, gas, smoke, clouds and rain are all variables at these high altitude cloud forests so complications can always exist. Having the right equipment to work around these natural challenges is key to gathering the information you need. The IR0005 worked very well on clear days especially at Tabacon where there are thermal waters can sometimes exceed 100 degrees F. “
Q: As a successful global eco-tourism hub today, what are the challenges facing Costa Rica?
Ian: “Yeah, Costa Rica is big on eco-tourism, they have a lot of programs, rainforest conservation programs, things like oxygen farming as well, all these contribute because people from all over the world want to see these rainforests, waterfalls, the animals, and obviously this is a rough terrain where there are volcanoes and it’s also something else. Volcanoes are basically sealed off in national parks which are considered conservation zones. There’s a lot of tech firms too and basically the World Economic Forum ranks Costa Rica #1 in Clean Energy, Sustainability and Innovation in Latin America. These are key areas where they’ve been ranked #1.”
Q: The founder of Tabacon, the one who developed it right from the start is an amazing person, a visionary architect who was decades ahead of his time? In a sense, his endeavors reminds us of you? Did you meet Jamie Milowski?
Ian: “No, no, no. He’s passed away several years ago. There is certainly a connection. Anybody who follows his passion is worth looking into. His family though still runs Tabacon. His wife and two sons are on the board of directors.”
Q: Have you experience something like Tabacon Hot Springs in the US?
Ian: “No, I haven’t. I recently saw online that there was some hot springs somewhere in the southwest but I’ve never really seen anything like that in the United States.”
Q: Florida is home to a lot of beaches…
Ian: “And that may have made Costa Rica all interesting for me. You see, I see no mountains here. I see no volcanoes. Down there, everything is different. I really enjoyed it.”
“But we didn’t really go there for the enjoyment aspect, to get a massage in the spa. We went there to study as we’re gonna be featuring this in a book,”Investigating the Volcanoes of Costa Rica” and when we look at volcanoes we really can’t leave out is the hotspring that come from it. So in this case it’s the Tabacon River. So we want to study that and most importantly take some thermal imaging. I really go there to study the scientific aspect.”
Q: You’re writing a book “Uncovering the Biodiversity of Costa Rica.“ in this connection what makes Costa Rica truly amazing in terms of wildlife?
Ian: “I never saw a jaguar before. I never saw a puma. But it’s there in Costa Rica. There is a wide spectrum of thing that people can look into. There’s an area focused on bird-watching. So there’s a lot of different kinds of birds. And there’ a lot of mammals as well, so if you’re into felines like jaguar. And there’s a group of ecotourists who are a little more interested in reptiles, snakes or iguanas. And there’s such a rich variety of reptiles as well. Making it a good attraction for ALL KINDS OF ecotourist. And there’s horticulture as well. Coffee industry. Sugar industry. Fruit industry. Mangoes pineapples papayas all these. Bananas. So if you’re looking into biodiversity, you can be attracted to Costa Rica as well.”
“In terms of biodiversity, one of the things I hope to study is the migration of certain animals, especially the sea turtles. There’s one kind of sea turtle that migrate to Costa Rica every year. Along with hammerhead sharks. Vultures and several other tropical birds as well. And they migrate from Brazil and Argentinian and Chile all throughout the region. It’s a really interesting destination concerning biodiversity.
So they’re not destroying rainforests to put up apartments or skyscrapers; they’re not paving roads to keep things as they were originally. And that’s one of the things that keep everything the same and keeps people coming back.”
Q: In your experience, do you believe thermal imaging would benefit every American household? Why? Why not?
Ian: “Thermal Imaging is a technology that can be used for many different applications, not only studying volcanoes. They can be used for searching thermal anomalies inside a household that wants to conserve electricity; they can be used by firefighters, search and rescue, and many other fields. The technology has great potential. Still there are many people (American Households and other countries too) that don’t even know what Thermal IR imaging is. Therefore I feel education is a key aspect in the technological development of thermal cameras.”
Volcanoes and hot springs are not the only thermal phenomenon on this planet. Fact remains that we are all thermal in nature. Our surroundings from our cars to the place we work emit thermal signatures unique to them. By looking at things this way, we realize there are a thousand and one uses for thermal camera. Here are the more obvious ones:
For decades now, thermal camera (a.k.a. IR camera, a.k.a. Thermal imaging, a.k.a. Infrared camera) is at the frontline of firefighting in the US, Europe and Australia. As it gives firemen a better analysis of the scene by showing heat signatures despite all the smoke, barriers and chaos, it can point out lives in the middle of the inferno.
Also, IR cameras enable firemen to put out the fire faster as it shows them the seat of the fire. All in all, more firemen would still be alive today because of the technology.
The good news is these devices are getting more affordable so home use is gaining a lot of traction . At home, you can scan walls and look for possible thermal anomalies which are indicative of electrical short-circuits.
As it can get heat signatures from behind walls or bushes, thermal cam is extremely useful in detecting the presence of intruders in a premises making this a valuable tool for police work. Running after criminals, police can easily detect them when they hide under the cover of darkness or of vegetation.
Further, your infrared cam can detect pests who enter the house uninvited - from stray cats to rats to bears. Even when they’re hiding in pipes or in the ceiling.
As it is non-invasive, thermal imaging can be used to detect temperature of people without having to touch them. This has been extremely useful during the outbreak of the swine flu. Airports were reported to use thermal cams to scan whether travelers are in fever. No need to stick a thermometer to get the information needed.
In Animal Care
If you’re a certified animal lover, then the IR can be your best ally. For years now, equine imaging via thermal has been used to detect if a horse is ready to race or not.
As they can look through the body down to the bones, IR cameras can check for animal conditions which cannot be easily diagnosed via MRI, CT Scan or X-ray. The heat footprint of an animal via thermal imaging allows veterinarians to pinpoint the actual source of pain. This way they can provide an objective assessment of a problem - whether it’s muscle injury, arthritis or plain inflammation. It cuts the process into half, saving the doctor and owners a lot of precious time.
It can certainly take ages to tinker which part of your AC circuitry isn’t working. From fuses to breakers to connections and hoses. Not with a thermal cam. It’s a basic case of point and shoot.
This allows technicians to accurately locate a problem area in no time. For a homeowner, having a thermal camera can be the #1 method to keep the house in tiptop shape.
On Ian Godfrey: Ian has a B.A. in Global Business and a B.S. in Management along with minor degrees in Communications and Economics from USF (University of South Florida - St. Petersburg). Currently, he’s back in Florida - busy finishing 3 books on the Latin American nation: “Investigating the Volcanoes of Costa Rica”, “Uncovering the Biodiversity of Costa Rica” and “Revealing the Capital City of Costa Rica”
On the thermal camera: A powerful 35,200-pixel thermal camera carrying an internal storage, PerfectPrime’s IR0005 is a certified global hotseller - with its super-affordable price.