“NATURE is trying to say something to us in theseplaces, and the idea is to find out what,” said Otto VonSchroeter as he cinched on his helmet and headed for thehorse stables.Two horses, Grillo and Cañon, were saddled up andready to go on a tour of the mountain jungle and old limestonequarry full of fossils known as Fossil Land, inDesamparados, a southern suburb of San José.The horseback fossil excursion, new in the last fewmonths, takes riders on winding, muddy paths up to the topof a small mountain, where they can see nearly the entireCentral Valley spread out below.On the way down, they can stop and excavate fossils or– for a little extra – descend into a tectonic cave (a cave witha high narrow wall and flat ceiling) and discover the bats andmineral formations hidden within.“It’s just a totally different experience from hiking,” saidCait Bell, who owns and operates Fossil Land along with herhusband, Von Schroeter. “It’s fun; it’s different.”FOR the last three years, Fossil Land has gained a reputationfor coming up with fun and different ways of bringingpeople in contact with nature. Founded in 2001, the sprawling,hilly jungle used to be home to a booming limestone quarry.Booming, literally.Only recently has the dynamite blasting been reduced toalmost nothing and though some of the excavation is stillgoing on, most of it is on a very small scale – the open rockscars on the hills are now attractions where hikers can dotheir own fossil finding.Bell and Von Schroeter use the area’s history as part ofthe lessons about nature that they give along the way.Dismounting at one point and venturing off the path into thejungle, Von Schroeter points out a huge old tree perched atthe cliff-edge of a former mining spot.Even with half its roots cut out by miners, the tree survivesand is safe now that the miners are gone. VonSchroeter said this old tree teaches us a valuable lesson:never give up. He touches the rock, and moves on.“It all starts with preserving the area and trying to be abetter person,” Bell said, explaining Fossil Land’s philosophyand origin. “Everyone was always telling us how special(the land) is. Based on that, we decided to go for it.”EVEN though it’s only a 30-minute car ride from downtownSan José, Fossil Land seems a pleasantly remote placeto take a horseback ride. The excursions start in the morningand last several hours, depending on how long riders want tostay in the quarry and dig for fossils.Upon returning to the main building, riders are treated toa hefty lunch of hamburgers and Coca Cola. The wholemorning, lunch included, costs $45 for non-residents and$32 for residents.Also, for an extra fee, riders can stop along the way anddo some rappelling or cave exploration.“We’re very flexible. That’s part of our theme,” Bellsaid. “We’ll make packages depending on what (customers)want to do.”ALTHOUGH the horseback tours are new, they are onlyone of a wide variety of attractions at Fossil Land.Team-building obstacle courses are available for groups.Hikers can take advantage of the fossil tours on excursionswhich include the rappelling and the cave exploration.Also, Fossil Land has several paintball courses in whichteams can battle each other for the jungle high ground. Gunrental and some paint is included in the price, which variesaccording to group size.On Oct. 17, Fossil Land will host a theme adventurecompetition, in which teams of three to five people competein various contests involving mud, water, hiking and more.Teams are divided into family competition and “aficionado,”or more athletic.BELL said 40 teams have already signed up for the competition.The cost is ¢3,500 per team member.For more information on Fossil Land, call 276-6060 or384-3326. Fossil Land is located 3.2 km southeast of the SanAntonio de Desamparados park (passing Patarrá town) and2.3 km east of the Balneario de Patarrá. Follow the signs toget there.