DUNEDIN — A dozen years ago, Don Eichar heeded the call to adventure.
With his wife, Lynn, and the couple's 6-year-old son, the Palm Harbor resident headed to Costa Rica for a year of surfing, biking and exploring the small country from coast to coast.
From a rented guest house overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Eichar discovered bamboo and began a journey that would change his life.
"We came across several bamboo factories and I got interested watching the craftsmen make things from bamboo," said Eichar, who owned a small business that installed telephone systems.
On returning home, Eichar, 56, began using local bamboo to try his hand at furnituremaking and got hooked.
"I would go to bed at night thinking of new projects," he said.
In 2000, the budding craftsman imported his first container of bamboo from Costa Rica and made furniture and bamboo ceilings in his garage. The telephone business occupied weekdays and bamboo ruled the weekends.
"My first job was for a Dunedin designer who ordered a bamboo ceiling for a client in Apollo Beach," he said. "That job started my credibility."
The momentum grew.
Eichar spread the word about his new passion on a Web site. Early efforts included trim work for bars and restaurants and ceilings. Within a few years, bamboo became his full-time career and the phone business ended.
Eichar now owns Bambú Tropical in Dunedin, a small yellow and green shop nestled against the Pinellas Trail. He opted for the Spanish version of bamboo in his business' name since his love for the substance was cultivated in a Spanish-speaking country.
In his outdoor workshop, he creates tiki huts, bar stools, window trim, headboards and other custom-made furnishings.
The business is paying off for Eichar, who learned the craft from the bottom up at workshops in Tennessee, Costa Rica and Colombia. He plans to grow the business even more, teaching others his craft as well.
Right now the focus is casual.
"I'm doing lots of bars and tiki huts for restaurants and bamboo arches for beach weddings," he said.
He also sells raw bamboo to those crafting their own bars at home. Of the hundreds of types of bamboo available, Eichar said his favorite is guadua, which he imports from Colombia.
"It's the best construction-grade bamboo," he said. "It grows throughout South America."
Using bamboo has an added advantage — it's green-friendly.
"It doesn't require any fertilizer or pesticides to grow it," he said. "It also makes oxygen-producing leaves faster than any plant on earth."
The bamboo plants grow to 100 feet or more and give off shoots from the mother root, which mature into future bamboo plants.
Plans for expansion include a larger place with a bamboo jungle around it and workshops for those wanting to do their own projects.
In the meantime, Eichar said he is happy in his small space.
"This," he said, "is the most enjoyable job I've ever done."