The story of Sebastian Bolanos

Story and Photos by John Segesta -
John is a photograph with over 20 years of experience, he often shoots pictures for Garneau. 

Sebastian Bolanos with his family
Sebastian Bolanos with his family

Sebastian Bolanos lives high above Costa Rica’s Orosi Valley in a log cabin that his grandfather imported from Montana many years ago. He was born in San Jose; his grandfather, Arthur Durman, pioneered this land early on, creating a place for his family to find respite from busy city life, and from the spotlight. Arthur’s father-in-law, Sebastian’s Great Grandfather, Fernando Esquivel Bonilla, was Vice President of Costa Rica.

Before Sebastian settled here and called it home, traditions were made. Arthur loved his wife. Her name was Sylvia. In the next valley, where the young couple owned an additional 1,800 acres, they would picnic below a towering waterfall and enjoy Dewar’s, their favorite Scotch. They did this in the early afternoon and talked about their dreams for the land, for the family, for the future. Much later, Arthur would build a stone chapel on this land in Sylvia’s honor. It stands today, a bucolic shrine the doors of which are never locked.

Arthur went on to become a magnate of PVC piping, one of Central and South America’s most prominent suppliers of the new technology so critical to the developing infrastructure. And so Sebastian lived with certain privileges. And, notably, values.

As a youngster in his San Jose neighborhood of Santana, Sebastian rode BMX. Then in 1995 his grandmother bought him a mountain bike, a Cannondale Super V. It was step two in a progression that would later put him on skinnier tires and provide him with structure, discipline, goals. Three virtues he would later value as he developed a burgeoning business growing and selling mushrooms to such retailers as Walmart.

Sebastian Bolanos on his bike
Sebastian Bolanos on his bike

Arthur is 92 now, a recent survivor of colon cancer. He enjoys the prolonged company of a lovely woman many years his junior. She loves him. He loves her. They’re in it for the long haul. He’s just one of those guys you get the feeling will live well beyond 100.

Sebastian, meanwhile, enjoys the adulation of many women. Women chase him, to be sure, but his reception of their flattery is in most cases simply social. He’s not what you’d call a ladies man. Really he just loves people. And people love him. And some of them just happen to be women.

The satisfaction of his social appetite is facilitated by his charm, his land, and, perhaps most conspicuously, his agile command of the local roads while driving his Defender 90. A prowl made particularly sexy by the purr of the Puma engine. Two thousand and seven was the first year one could option this power plant in this model of Landrover.

Today at Hacienda Montecristo, hydrangeas grow in abundance, covering the hillsides. Such proliferation of the flower doesn’t seem possible. Arthur planted these flowers. He also planted Araucaria, a genus of coniferous evergreens. In all it’s a surreal scene set against a jungle of indigenous life, famously rich and diverse. If you look at the Hacienda’s place on a map, you’ll see that it rests on the edge the expansive rainforests that comprise Tapantí and Los Quetzales National Parks.

Landscape of Sebastian Bolanos' land
Landscape of Sebastian Bolanos' land

The road up from Orosi is rough; hence the Defender. Getting here isn’t easy. Staying here is. The water pressure sometimes wanes. The internet is intermittent. Your cell shows bars. Indeed, you can receive calls; but a recorded message is the reply to any effort to call out: “Lo siento mucho…”

Wildlife overflows from the adjacent parks. The birdsong begins at sunrise, replacing the nocturnal drone of insects, frogs and other creatures of mysterious identity. A water lily grows in the stone hot tub. Seasoned fire wood is stacked outside the door; fuzzy moss facilitates an easy start.

A lovely woman named Xena shows up early to start coffee. She’ll split her time between the cabin where Sebastian lives and the main house where the extended family vacations. The family is not here now, but still there’s work to do.

All things considered, it’s a mystery why Bolanos would ever leave this place. But he’s good about delivering mushrooms to local restaurants. He likes to visit the local Panaderia Arce owned by his friend Paulo. And he likes to race his bike. Especially with Paulo.

This spring the friends raced as a two-man team in La Batalla del Norte, a 250K road race that starts and finishes in the resort town of La Fortuna, after running out-and-back to Costa Rica’s northern border with Nicaragua. As a team, they finished third in their class.

Sebastian Bolanos with his friend
Sebastian Bolanos and Friend

La Batalla is a prestigious event in Costa Rica; Bolanos was proud to race it, even prouder to podium. Indeed, Bolanos is a proud man. He lives his life with purpose and he monitors such purpose regularly, keeping grounded, checking himself always against the example set by his grandfather. He studied in the States at Purdue University. And then he attended graduate school in Mexico. Industrial engineering at Purdue and an MBA in global business strategy. Which I guess came in handy when selling mushrooms to Walmart. But working on the farm with his grandfather was, according to Bolanos, a better education than any of this.

What moral pillars have grown to support him in life? Family. Health. Empathy. Consistency. Those are the core values he lives by. Values that translate well on two wheels. Indeed, Bolanos’ time on the bike is an overt expression of life. Of freedom. The bike is a conduit. A connection.

“With your hands,” says Bolanos, “you feel every single crack in the road.” It’s a feedback mechanism. A loop, really.

“When I ride my bike,” he continues, “I enjoy the landscape, but I feel like I’m also giving back to it.”

To date, Bolanos has planted over 50,000 trees. So yeah, he’s giving back.