An Interview with Marc Hoffman

Dear Rainforest Friends,
A photograph of Marc at the end of one of the trails in Bajo del Tigre.

The Children’s Eternal Rainforest is a very special place, and means a lot to many people all over the world. It has had countless visitors, and everyone who has explored this lush and vibrant forest appreciates it in their own way. An employee of the MCL might see the CER as a source of vital natural resources for the communities surrounding it, a biologist could see it as an island that holds the last population of an undiscovered species, and Marc Hoffman, a dedicated professional wildlife photographer and avid birder, sees it as his place to connect with himself and the world on a more personal level. I was able to speak with Marc about his experiences in the CER, and am very pleased to share with you what he thinks about the beloved reserve.

I want to start with an introduction, Marc. What do you do for a living and what’s your connection to the CER? 

The American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), or cocodrilo, in Spanish.

Well, I grew up in New York state, and my dad had the wonderful foresight to make sure that when we lived in the suburbs there were lots of woods around that I could play in. As a kid I was a fairly quiet boy, not real gregarious, and I spent a lot of time in the woods. So the woods have a strong attraction for me, and they’re a place that I go to get centered.

As an adult I’ve done a number of different careers. I studied fine arts in college, was a professional musician for a number of years. Kind of doing folk music, and then went back to school long after to get a master’s in social work and did some community organizing and ran some community programs. In 1998 I decided to go into digital multimedia because it offered a lot of creative outlet for me. After that I started doing a lot of nature photography, especially bird photography, in a pretty serious way since the late 1990’s. My wife is also an avid birder- she carries the binoculars and I carry the camera.

The Violet Sabrewing is the largest hummingbird found in Costa Rica.

Good teamwork then, right?
The teamwork is really perfect.

When was your first visit to Costa Rica?
Well, in 2002 my brother in law offered us a trip to a tropical place, and we thought about Beliz and Costa Rica, and it sounded like Costa Rica had fewer bugs (smiles) and was maybe a little more bird-oriented. So we went to four different places, and spent two nights in Monteverde.

Where did you end up visiting the CER for the first time?
I first visited the CER in Bajo del Tigre, I guess in 2009, and I went down a couple of times and walked the trails there. In 2009 I also went down to San Gerardo. And I’ve visited the same places a number of times last year in 2010.

So, what’s your favorite place in the CER?
Well, you know I don’t feel like I’ve explored it enough to really say what is the best part for me. I love San Gerardo. This year Jim (owner of the Monteverde Butterfly Garden) also took me to Pocosol, and we spent three nights there with him and his wife’s family. That was incredible, too. Pocosol seems to be more remote, but I didn’t spend enough time there to make a full comparison.

What is it you love so much about San Gerardo?
I like that it’s a little bit of a stretch to get in there. Many people hike down in an hour or an hour and a half, but for me because I’m carrying a lot of equipment and because I’m stopping to take photos, it’s not unusual for me to take three hours to get down in there. The only people who are down there are the host family and whatever guests they have, which can be anywhere from just me to as many as 20 people or so. This year, most of the nights, I was the only guest so that was really a treat.

Wow, so how does it feel to be so alone?
You know it’s just amazing. That’s like up here in New York State if you get snowed in by a big snow storm. You’re so isolated and blanketed from the usual hubbub of civilization.

I spent a night actually sleeping out on a neighboring farm, with the best view of the Arenal Volcano that you can get around there. (Laughing) Actually a very uncomfortable experience. I had to get up and pee a lot during the night, and it was cold, and then it started raining. I had a tarp, but I was still a little cold and kinda wet. But I need to have these experiences, being out in as wild a place as I can get.

The Howler Monkey's marbled coloration can be caused by inbreeding within a population.

Right, just have that connection with a place.
Yeah. And you know, if the jaguar comes and eats me it’s just icing on the cake, I guess (laughing).

Is there a specific animal or plant that you haven’t photographed that you would like to capture on film?
Huh. You know, I’m not real list oriented. So usually the times that I want to get a special photo of an animal is when I’ve already gotten one but it wasn’t very clear. For instance, I have a number of black-masked solitaire photos, but I don’t think any of them in my mind are a perfect photo, like with the right expression and really clear. Getting a really sharp photo is a challenge. I mean, you always hear them but you never see them. I’d also love to see more puma, jaguar and snakes. I like snakes and amphibians.

What was your most memorable experience while exploring in the CER?
The Ornate Hawk Eagle. I was walking from San Gerardo Station down to Maximo’s farm and a large bird swept across the path behind me, so I only saw it from the corner of my eye, and at first I thought it was a Guan, but it didn’t make all the noise that Guans make when they fly. So, I thought I better look and see where this bird landed, and it was the Ornate Hawk-eagle!  Since the path was on a slope, the eagle was pretty much at eye level to me up in a tree.

Ornate Hawk-eagle, Pocosol
The Ornate Hawk-eagle. Photo taken by Marc Hoffman in the CER near the San Gerardo Field Station.

Has visiting the CER taught you anything about yourself or the world? What kind of insights have you had?
I think this last time, because I went for seven whole weeks, I had time for my appreciation of the forest to really deepen which surprised me because I thought it was about as deep as it could be. But, one thing that deepened for me was the strong connection to the forest as a source of life. The CER and other large rainforests are really feeding us all. Everybody on the planet is affected by the CER because it’s actually sending oxygen to all of us, it moderates climate change for all of us. It’s part of a chain of life. It really is the mother to us.

There are a lot of people who are reading this who might be considering a visit to the CER. Do you have any recommendations to them for their trip?
Well, my philosophy about visiting places like that is it’s more important to spend a lot of time in one place. That you will get a deeper experience and a better connection and you’ll actually see more things by being in one place for a long time rather than jumping around to all the different attractions that Costa Rica has to offer. I highly recommend visitors to have at least one walk with a guide because they are not only very well trained but very highly experienced with where to look to find creatures in the forests, especially birds. My third piece of advice is to get out there as early as you can. Most reserves don’t open officially until 7am, but you can make special arrangements to get in at 6am. If you get in at 6am, you are more likely to see and hear things that are already quieting down by 8am. So, go for a long time, go early, and hire a guide. Really make an effort to be still and quite. Focus on relaxing and opening your senses, letting things come to you.  Don’t come with too heavy an agenda. 

Thanks to Marc Hoffman for sharing his thoughts and beautiful photographs with us. If you would like to see some of his work please visit http://www.dartfrogmedia.com/photography.

For the Forest,

Mia Roberts

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