There’s so much to say about Alvaro, so much to treasure, that I haven’t known how to say any of it, at least not adequately. But as I thought about it, I kept seeing in my mind’s eye Alvaro’s smile, and I realized that everything I wanted to say about Alvaro was in that smile. It was perhaps the sweetest smile I have seen. It was an embrace.
There was something quite extraordinary about Alvaro’s ability to love. It shone from him, this love of all living things, and his smile projected it outwards. Somehow, upon the instant of meeting Alvaro and receiving that twinkling smile, I knew that I was meeting a man who combined his profound love of all life with clarity of purpose, drive, decisiveness, straightforwardness, intense sincerity, extraordinary charm and, in the best sense, a sweet simplicity of soul.
Ann Gallie, my beloved partner, met Alvaro in 2000 through the serendipity of Alvaro being a last minute stand-in as a guide on a Nature Conservancy trip to Costa Rica, and she fell in love simultaneously with him and with Costa Rica - the two became indistinguishable. As she later wrote: The forest and Alvaro’s smile – so intertwined that I have come to believe they are the same thing. Alvaro, of course, knew the profound threats facing the precious Costa Rican environment, but would not give in to despair – it was not in his nature. Here was a man who had sat with golden toads, seen them extinguished, and yet not despaired. He believed in hope, and he believed that problems have solutions. As Ann wrote: To be with Alvaro is to be carried on a powerful current that flows only forward. He does not look back.
What a privilege to have known Alvaro, what a joy to have worked with him, and what a treasure that I will see his smile in my memory.Dougal McCreath & Ann Gallie
We have lost, far too soon, two of the world’s remarkable people, Alvaro Ugalde and Ann Gallie. As Directors of the Nectandra Institute, Ann and Alvaro were woven together in life through their love of the forests of Costa Rica, and are woven together now as their ashes rest side by side in the roots of a giant Ajo tree in the Osa peninsula.
It was on Ann’s first trip to Costa Rica that she met Alvaro, and it was in Corcovado Park that Ann was so overwhelmed by the tumult of life in the forest, and by the majestic presence of the giant Ajo, that she burst into tears. It took Ann some time to understand what had happened, and when she did, she wrote these words to Alvaro:
I am still trying to understand the tears, but I know the heart of it. The tears are tied up with the hope that I saw in Costa Rica, in you, that some of the planet may not be lost, and with what I finally understood about the power of action in the hands of an individual, rather than despair and incapacity. I cried with grief at all the world is losing and will yet lose, for how beautiful it is, and Dougal,with grief at myself for having given up. But I also understood that it was hope that allowed grief out, made it bearable. I don’t yet know how much will show on the exterior, but since that moment my interior landscape has shifted and it feels a bit like the sun just rose.
From that moment, Alvaro and Ann were soulmates. They worked together with joy on the Board of the Nectandra Institute, focussed on protection of the rare and precious high montane cloud forests, and shared a deep love of the lowland forest of Corcovado. For both Ann and Alvaro the Ajo trees remained magical. On a visit to Osa in 2010, after being diagnosed with cancer, Ann made clear her wishes to her family to have some of her ashes gently dug in to the forest floor by the roots of the giant Ajo tree. To the tree, Ann gave it a hug to receive its tacit approval.
Then in 2012, much to Alvaro’s delight and amazement, the Park Service dedicated a giant Ajo tree to him at Piro, on the edge of the Corcovado National Park. He, too, made clear his wishes to have some of his ashes placed in the roots of the tree when his time came. When Ann died in January, 2014, Alvaro asked if some of her ashes could be placed in the roots of “his” tree, so that he and Ann may join hands in the fullness of time beneath the Ajo.
None of us knew that Alvaro’s own tragic death was to occur so soon. Now, a part of each rests together, nestled in the giant arms of the Ajo roots. Together they will rejoin life of the forest that they so loved.
We mourn their passing, and we celebrate their lives. And we will build on their legacy of hope.Dougal McCreath