While many dream of traveling the world, James Kaiser ’99 turned his fantasy into reality. Unlike most conventional paths, Kaiser’s profession brought him to Costa Rica, where he encountered thousands of dolphins, visited mass turtle nesting sites and experienced indigenous reenactments of the Spanish invasion of Latin America.
Kaiser will compile these adventures and into his fifth guidebook, to be published in February.
Kaiser’s writing career began as an accident. Following his graduation, Kaiser returned home to Bar Harbor, Maine to write a guidebook on Acadia National Park.
He then went back to the College for a fifth year to complete his bachelor’s in engineering, but realized that his passion lay in travel writing.
“Basically, that one year that I took off, when I was just going to have some fun and write a guidebook, turned into a career,” Kaiser said.
Kaiser took several studio art classes at Dartmouth, but had no formal photography training. He taught himself to shoot professional photos and said that the high-quality pictures in his books set him apart from his competitors.
With the exception of his most recent book, Kaiser’s guidebooks have focused exclusively on national parks, including the Acadia, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree and Yosemite National Parks.
Ready for a change, Kaiser went to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy and shot photos for Yahoo Sports. After spending over a month in the cold weather, Kaiser welcomed an invitation to Costa Rica from his friend Scott Braman ’99.
“I absolutely fell in love with the country,” Kaiser said. “It was beautiful, tropical, exotic. Everything about it I just loved.”
Costa Rica is an eco-traveler’s paradise not unlike an American national park, where visitors can look at wildlife and venture to natural destinations, Kaiser said.
Kaiser’s devotion to immersing himself in Costa Rica contributed to the high quality of his book, according to David Boddiger, an editor at the Tico Times who befriended Kaiser while he was writing.
“James struck me because he seemed like somebody who came down here and really threw himself into the country,” Boddiger said. “He wanted to learn the language and he went the extra mile to understand the culture.”
Kaiser did not speak Spanish when he arrived in Costa Rica, and he dedicated his first months in the country to learning the language.
Kaiser said his trip was filled with memorable adventures. At Ostional beach, he saw a mass turtle nesting.
“I was on a beach, literally surrounded by thousands of turtles laying their eggs,” he said.
Kaiser also climbed Cerro Chirripo, the tallest mountain in Costa Rica. From the peak, Kaiser saw the Pacific Coast and Caribbean Coast on either side.
In addition to viewing the natural wonders of the country, Kaiser enjoyed attending native festivals, such as the Festival de los Diablitos and an Independence Day parade. His friend Alberto Font accompanied him to the parade.
“It was kind of shocking for James to see a lot of people dancing on the streets,” Font said. “I guess he had never seen something like that before. He was amazed.”
Kaiser will donate 5 percent of his book’s proceeds to protecting Costa Rica’s biodiversity. The guidebook will also be printed on FSC certified paper, which comes from “sustainable, responsible sources,” he said.
Kaiser publishes his own guidebooks through his company Destination Press. While he was forced to publish his first guidebook on his own, he has found the practice to be lucrative, he said.
Kaiser remains connected to his first guidebook, even after writing four others.
“It is the first one I ever did and that’s where I am from,” he said. “I have a lot of emotional attachment to Acadia.”
Over the next few years, Kaiser will convert his guides into ebooks, and will add audio, video and multimedia. He has yet to decide where his next guidebook will take him.
By Brian Chalif, Darthmouth.com