Costa Rica 2003

The following is my journal from this trip, edited recently.

1/3/03 – Checked in for Flight TACA 561, 12:15 a.m. at SFO
There was a long line, and I had to give up my insect repellent and small container of alcohol. I set off the metal detector and had to step to the side, remove my hiking boots, and get scanned.
Passengers were mostly Latino; an older woman in front of me said prayers in Spanish as we took off. “Snack” was a ham and cheese sandwich, plantain chips and a cookie.

Stop at San Salvador 7:55 a.m.—it was sunny
Coffee is expensive at the airport. Police with German Shepherds walked around. On the second leg, “snack” was another (warm this time) ham and cheese sandwich.

Arrived at La Casa que Canta at 10:30 a.m.
Brian, the host, and his laid-back pit bull, greeted me. There were lots of butterflies, and a parakeet in a cage. I wanted to walk around, but I soon crashed. At 2:00 p.m. Murrelet, Bob and Alberto stopped by. It felt like 5:00 but was really 12:00.
At dusk it rained.

We had the first in a series of great meals after Terry arrived.

La Casa dining room

1/4/03 – We picked up the rest of the group at the airport, then on to La Ensenada Lodge.
On the way, we stopped to pick up some drinks at a roadside shop (and learned that “servicio” is the word for bathroom there, and also learned what we were supposed to do with the toilet paper instead of flushing it).

A large iguana walked around the grounds at La Ensenada. Great Kiskadees called their names frequently. Geckos chirped in the cabana and waited by the light for bugs to come by. Staff found a small venomous snake (Fer-de-lance).
A gecko in the room (or just outside) chirped during the night; coyotes, three owl species, and Howler Monkeys called.

Iguana strolling the grounds

1/5/03 – 5:30 a.m. walk before breakfast
We saw a Turquoise-browed Motmot. White-throated Magpie-jays joined us at breakfast. After lunch we went to the salinas. It was hot and humid, strange to be by the ocean and warm. At the salinas, cracker butterflies made noise with their wings. A pensive howler monkey relaxed in a tree.
A late walk resulted in finding the Three-wattled Bell Bird, whose call resonates for a long distance.

Howler Monkey through the scope

1/6/03 – a.m. walk
A Ferruginous Pygmy-owl reminded me of [The Trouble With] Tribbles, a tiny puffball with big eyes. Later, we took a boat ride on Gulfo de Nicoya–a pleasant escape from the heat. Many fish jumped out of the water. The tide was so low that we couldn’t return to the dock. The guys pulled the boat onto the beach farther down. Mangroves lined the beach, and tide pools with hermit crabs and little fish were fascinating. Walking back, we had to watch our step for the many little hermit crabs moving around the beach. There were also lots of little interesting stones.

After lunch, at which an iguana strolled by, we went to the laguna, where a very secretive Boat-billed Heron was found. A crocodile displayed his open mouth near the birds on the far shore. The sunset reflection was beautiful on the water.
Later, listing the birds, Kiki, the all-purpose naturalist, appeared surprised that I wanted to try guaro, the local firewater [actually, I think this has been the reaction on at least my second trip, too!].

1/7/03 – To Hotel Punta Leona
In the restaurant while waiting for our rooms, we noticed bats hanging at the top of the inside walls. The rooms were air conditioned, and had regular hot water (water heater somewhere else). A Brown Jay was the first bird I discovered there. Another iguana strolled through our back yard, and quickly escaped my attempts to take a picture by running up a tree. Chestnut-mandibled Toucans were a striking sight.

1/8/03 – After watching for macaws and crocodiles at the bridge, to Carara Biological Reserve
There was yet more ham and cheese, cookies, fruit drink and an apple for breakfast. Along the trail we heard something munching—it turned out to be an agouti. Blue Morphos bounded along in the air, flashing blue when their wings opened.

Alberto refreshed us with much-needed cool pineapple and watermelon when we returned to the van. We stopped at a place where leaf-cutter ants crossed the trail, and peeped at the show that male Orange-collared Manakins put on at this lek, making popping sounds with their wings as they popped into the air like live popcorn.

After lunch, we went to the estuary, the mouth of Rio Tarcoles. On the way, we observed a caiman catching and eating a fish.

1/9/03 –A flock of chacalacas entertained us on the morning walk before the trip to San Gerardo de Dota, Cabinas el Quetzal.
Fiery-billed Aracari looked like they had bright yellow sweaters on. On the way we stopped at a park in the middle of a town, a surprise stop to view a pair of Black and White Owls. A highlight was a Two-toed Sloth, also in the park (and more than one sleeping dog).

It rained on the way over the mountain. Rodolfo and Marivel were our hosts. Five of us stayed in a two-bedroom cabina, with a scary-looking shower. We had our first experience with on-demand “hot” water…and falling bed slats in the middle of the night!

1/10/03After birding the area around the lodge, and breakfast, we birded along the road to San Gerardo, top down.
Smoke wafted from Junco Soda. The sky was clear, and the temperatures were pleasant during the day.

After a siesta, we walked to the Savegre Mountain lodge down the road (and browsed the gift shop). On the way down, Terri slipped. I managed to grab her walking stick, fearing she would go flying over the edge. Instead, she slid, seemingly in slow motion, against the barbed-wire fence. Along the road was a walking bit of lichen/moss with many legs, and it virtually blended into the background when placed on top of a moss-covered rock.

The fried cheese at dinner was yummy.

1/11/03 – The day of the Resplendent Quetzals
Led by Walter, we walked briskly to the area where they had been seen. Even partly hidden in the trees, the quetzals were breathtaking (but odd-looking). As we watched, spellbound, the male flew over to the avocado tree by Murrelet and plucked a fruit on the fly, before we realized what had happened!

Quetzal through the scope

On the way to breakfast, Walter explained that the long grass that I inquired about was in fact Equisetum (Horsetail). After breakfast, Walter led us through some land that his friend had bought to retire on. We birded our way through the meadow, and made our way toward the forest. We stopped to say hello to Walter’s “Little White”, the horse whose leg had been injured and that he was letting live its remaining life in peace in the meadow. We hiked through the forest on a narrow trail, ending by a stream.

1/12/03 – To Cartago and Orosi
We stopped for helado (ice cream–coconut, of course, for me) at a mall . There were fast food places here, as in the US malls. A Chinese fast food place advertised its menu in Spanish. There was a “Shuz” store, as well as a “Buuts” store, selling what their names sound like.

After helado, we stopped at a pond. There was a large spider in a web, which Bruce unknowingly walked into. [Looking back, it was probably a Golden Orb Spider (Nephila)]

The shopping mall

On to Orosi
We passed by coffee plantations and Murrelet explained how “shade grown” worked. There were a few abandoned lodges along the way. It was misty when we arrived at Kiri Lodge. This was the place in Costa Rica with the most rainfall, and it did indeed rain.

1/13/03 – To Parque Nacional Tapanti
We breakfasted outside the gate. After the park opened, we stopped at the visitors’ center then walked up the road. High in the air and among the wet plants sang a Black-Faced Solitaire, sounding hesitant and melancholy. Its song drifted through the air, and its beauty brought tears to my eyes.

I was struck by the diversity—tiny creatures and plants, to gigantic plants (we didn’t see any gigantic creatures).
The lodge was out of plantain, so I settled for a homemade coconut confection, which I enjoyed on the way to La Quinta Sarapiqui Country Inn. We drove through Parque Nacional Braulio Carillo to get to our next destination, and stopped at a pharmacia in rainy Puerto Viejo.

We sat in a meeting room to list the birds for the day. Noel’s chair suddenly broke, and we found that he was unhurt and laughing, on his back on the floor! It turned out to be rather humorous.

1/14/03 – It poured during the night, but let up later in the morning.
The nights were alive with sound—cicadas wailed like banshees, their chorus punctuated with the metallic calls of tink frogs.
We birded along the road into Organization for Tropical Studies at La Selva.
Walking around La Quinta later, I wondered what that weird, crazy sound was (it turned out to be Montezuma Oropendola).

1/15/03 – To La Selva Biological Station again, with Yehudi as our inside leader
Along the outside road, an agouti foraged. At the beginning of the suspension bridge, two large iguanas were close by in the trees. The higher one climbed down slowly, chasing the other away. He seemed to pose, magnificently, as Terri and I photographed him.

The secondary rainforest came first, then a siesta on the cool floor in front of the cafeteria, before hiking the primary rainforest.
We learned about Bullet Ants, so named because of their sting. I watched the Costa Rican equivalent of a pill bug scurry out of the path of some army ants. We crossed the path of a peccary, and those of us not in the front of the group missed the view but not the characteristic odor, pointed out by Yehudi. Other creatures along the trails were a Spider Monkey, Two-toed Sloth, Howler Monkeys, and Leaf Cutter Ants (which drop their leaves in their tracks, if it rains, making a green mosaic in the soil). Some of us also observed a transparent butterfly perched in a patch of sunlight on a leaf. Yehudi also enlightened us about Kapok trees, and Turkeytail trees (very rare, only two plus one young one in La Selva).
Only about a 2.5 Km hike, but exhausting nevertheless.

Leaf Cutter Ants

1/16/03 – I decided to sleep in, and later discovered Murrelet hurrying to tell us that the Sunbittern had been spotted (apparently by “Eagle Eyes” Terry).

Later, we found ourselves awaiting a boat trip on Rio Sarapiqui. Once aboard, we were treated to fresh passion fruit—an unusual fruit, with a brittle exterior and a thick, cottony lining that revealed a heart of what looked like frogs’ eggs, which one was supposed to slurp up. It was refreshing, slimy and crunchy, surprisingly good considering the way it looked. We passed Brahma cattle by the side of the river, bats resting on trees, more monkeys including a White-faced Capuchin, another caiman, along with various birds before we had to turn back because of the water level.

Terri and I decide to ask if the gate to the forest beyond our cabina could be left unlocked for a longer time. As night fell, we explored the area and ended up on the little island where we sat in the dark, listening to all the little voices, and watching the eyeshine along the shore. We discovered most of them were frogs, when a pair of eyes hopped. The moon was full, and reflected on the still water.

After joining back up with the group, some of us went to try to find the paraque, which turned out to be ridiculously easy.

1/17/03 – Back to La Casa que Canta, via La Virgen de Socorro, El Mirador in Cinchona (which has tragically been destroyed as a result of the earthquake in 01/09), and Cascada de Paz
Before leaving, I tried to take a picture of “Pops”, the white dog that stayed with us as we birded the grounds. I tried to get him to “sit”, and wasn’t getting anywhere, when I realized he didn’t understand English! “Mom” and “poopy” also wandered the grounds while we were there.

El Mirador was a rustic (as most were) shop, on the side of a mountain overlooking some falls. A Rhinoceros Beetle and some tarantulas were upon a table. The hummingbird feeders hung outside, with open bars instead of glass windows. Occasionally a hummingbird would fly through the bars, and back out. The feeders were so close that it was possible to feel the breeze from the birds’ wings when I put my hand outside. A parrot also had an outside perch, and said “Hola”. We ate our packed lunches (guess what, ham and cheese), and a chubby dog that smiled for food kept us company (until the owners decided that he didn’t need any more food). The Violet Sabrewings were large, and intensely colored, with curved bills. They were very fast in flight. An Emerald Toucanet commandeered the fruit on the table below the feeders. A Green Thorntail male, tiny compared to the sabrewings, did an enchanting air dance around and close to the perched female.

Arriving at Casa que Canta, I asked Brian if the pit bull could have my sandwich (I just couldn’t take another ham and cheese on Bimbo bread). He said I could try, and it disappeared in two gulps! Fortunately for me, I didn’t have my fingers in the way. Even though I know that pit bulls are strong dogs, with strong jaws, it still was surprising to feel.

Some of us took a walk around the property, and met Bill, the capuchin monkey who lived in the big treehouse. We continued down the trail to the river’s edge, and admired the stands of huge bamboo.

Giant bamboo stand

Instead of dinner at Luna de Valencia (the owner was in Spain), we were treated to dinner on the covered deck. Dinner was prepared by Alberto’s relatives, accompanied by live marimba music and wine, beer, and since I wanted to try it, “contrabando” (moonshine, prepared by a secret recipe, arrived in a small Welch’s grape juice bottle–and as I recall now, was almost like cough syrup).
This resulted in Terry telling us a joke about horses, which brought him almost to tears from laughing so hard!

Jupiter was large and bright, rising over the mountains, as the party went on.

1/18/03 – Shopping at Moravia, shopping for lunch at the supermarket, shopping, shopping, shopping…
I wish I’d bought more guanabana and cas pulp (and coffee, and coconut cocaditas, and cookies, and…)
On the way to the airport, there was some sort of street party with people dressed in costumes, causing the driver to worry. We somehow managed to communicate that my departure time wasn’t for three hours (Flight Taca 560, 5:00 p.m.). In the check-in line, many people had multiples of huge luggage. Security hand-checked both my bags. I took off my hiking boots this time, but I set off the metal detector anyway, forgetting that I had local coins in my hidden wallet.
Fortunately, the “snack” was a hot chicken and cheese sandwich.

I managed to keep “tranquilo” for a month or so after the trip, but I seem to have lost my cold tolerance!

3/28/2003
Other photos are here.

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