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Costa Rica
January 23 - February 3, 2008
Our trip to Costa Rica began in a hot, humid environment filled with restless primates—and that was just the three hours that we spent trapped on the tarmac, in the plane, with no air conditioning, at the Miami airport—oh joy, yet another flight delay. As the time ticked away and the fuselage upped its gaminess factor, Pick and I coolly watched the drama unfold—at least for the first 2 hours and 50 minutes—apparently, my coolness threshold peaks at 3 hours. I think it was when Damien, I mean the lovely toddler onboard, began to scream like a banshee that the sh*t hit the fan—either get me off this plane, get the plane moving, or sedate me with complimentary alcoholic beverages. Luckily, just seconds before I was about to go Rambo on the American Airlines rep that was belittling me via cell phone, the pilot announced that maintenance had fixed the air conditioning and that we would be departing forthwith.
We lift off and the horror that is the Miami Airport disappears from sight—next stop, San Jose. Relief and anxiety are now are two main emotions—relief that our trip was finally underway and our itinerary was still pretty much intact, and anxiety that we would now be arriving, and driving, in San Jose at night. San Jose, the capitol of Costa Rica and flat tire scam central, was not where we wanted to be after the sun went down, but the unpredictability of travel landed us in exactly that predicament.
Next up, the queue from hell at customs—our devilish nature allowed us to glide through that glitch with no problems—off to the taxi desk. We had reserved a car with National, but we bypassed the check-in at the airport and opted to take a $2.00 taxi to the office, saving ourselves nearly $80.00 in airport taxes in the process. A few awkward moments of broken Spanish later and our taxi driver dropped us off at the car rental office, we picked up our little Daihatsu Bego and we were off to wreak havoc on the streets of San Jose—our destination for the night, Xandari Resort and Spa in Alajuela.
Navigating the highways, streets, and back roads of Costa Rica—all of which are pretty much unsigned—was a piece of cake, thanks to our trusty GPS. Prior to leaving the states, we loaded our Garmin GPS with a 10-day limited time version of EzFind’s Costa Rica map—available for $59.00 through eBay. This proved invaluable and we highly recommend it if you have your own GPS—buying the download is cheaper then renting a GPS from the car rental agency.
We arrived at Xandari long after darkness had fallen, but it was still easy to see that the plantation was a tropical paradise—the scent of blooming flowers filled the air, along with the aroma and promise of a delicious meal. After settling into our villa, we made our way back to the inviting open-air restaurant where we enjoyed a hearty dinner of fajitas as we admired the sparkling city lights of the Central Valley—the panorama and atmosphere were fantastic. We even made friends with a resident kitty cat who begged for handouts—felt like home.
After dinner, we started to feel human again, and a hot shower brought us full circle—we drifted off to sleep, drained and beat from the rigors of a travel day.
Our first morning in Costa Rica is amazing—the sights and sounds surrounding Xandari are exotic and inviting. We set out early to explore the grounds, particularly enjoying the beautiful gardens before sitting down for breakfast. Once again, we admire the view and take pleasure in the kindness of the staff—so far, so good. We checkout and hit the road, destined for Poas Volcano.
Leaving Alajuela, the scenic drive to Poas takes us through varied plantations—strawberry fields and crops of coffee fill the air with fragrant aromas. Making our way up the slopes of the volcano, we stop to buy a bag of fresh strawberries (the best we have ever tasted) at a roadside stand and we notice that the climate is changing—sunshine is slowly giving way to a dense and chilly cloud cover—not a good omen for crater viewing.
Poas Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcan Poas) is home to one of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes—indeed, it is one of the oldest and best-known national parks in Costa Rica. The main attraction of the park is, of course, Volcan Poas—a collection of three craters, with the Main Crater being a visual feast, thanks to its bubbling, steaming cauldron of milky turquoise water that is nearly 1500 meters, or almost a mile, in diameter—that is, when you can see it. Unfortunately, for us, the entire volcano was hiding behind thick cloud cover when we visited the park, but we opted to pay the entry fee ($10 each) anyway, in order to enjoy the trails that wind through the dwarf cloudforest—sure to be a delight despite the lack of visibility. Since it seemed unlikely that clouds could ruin a trek through a cloudforest, we set out to explore the network of trails that wind around the park. We set out just a little after 8:00am on the Main Path, known as the Sombrilla de Pobre (Poor Man’s Umbrella) Trail, which leads the hiker 600 meters (0.3 miles) along a paved walkway—a path lined with the amazing plant that is the trail’s namesake—ending at the wooden viewing platform overlooking the main crater. As we walked along the path, we kept hoping the clouds would lift before we reached the viewpoint, but we had no such luck—all we could see from the overlook was thick fog. Dejected, we left the viewpoint and set out on the 1400-meter (0.9 mile) long Botos Lagoon Trail (Sendero a la Laguna Botos). Lake Botos, a quiet lake formed within the third crater, now extinct, and surrounded by thick vegetation, can be reached by hiking through a rare version of cloudforest called dwarf or stunted cloudforest. Dwarf cloudforests are a combination of delicate ferns, miniature trees, and bromeliad-encrusted limbs, all stunted through an onslaught of cloud cover, cold temperatures, and acid rain from the heart of the volcano—be prepared for cold, windy and wet conditions while hiking in a cloudforest. We hear there is a lovely view of the lake itself from this trail, but once again thick cloud cover socked in the view, so we focused our attention on the flora and fauna of the area instead. Despite our early morning arrival and the fact that it was the dry season, the clouds continued to envelop the area in thick fog, often sweeping across our path and filling the atmosphere with damp moisture—making for an interesting environment. Continuing our exploration of the park, we hiked the 1020-meter (0.6 mile) Escalonia Trail, where we encountered exotic plants and a black guan (pava negra), which flew overhead—a nice parting gift as we found ourselves back at the parking lot and ready to head to our next adventure.
The impressive wildlife and nature park known as La Paz Waterfall Gardens, our next stop, allows the visitor to follow any number of self-guided trails—wandering through the well-manicured grounds, chock full of native plants and flowers, leads to several highlights. Among our favorites were the butterfly observatory, the hummingbird garden, the aviary, the ranarium (frogs), and theTrail of Falls—not to our liking was the primate enclosure, as it just seemed cruel to cage these intelligent animals. In fact, I felt bad that any of the creatures on the property were enclosed, but for some reason the monkeys really seemed sad—on that note, I digress.
We spent about 3 hours at La Paz before continuing on to Arenal, enjoying the wildlife—despite the enclosures—and the hike to the series of five beautiful waterfalls. Back on the road, we began the journey to La Fortuna and then onwards to the Lost Iguana Resort, along the way, encountering our first sloth, howler monkeys, and pack of coatis.
Arriving at the Lost Iguana under rainy skies, we checked in to our room—a very spacious and beautifully decorated room with a balcony and view of Arenal Volcano, that is, when it is not hidden behind the clouds. Unfortunately, Arenal was living up to its enigmatic reputation, hiding behind the clouds for three of the four days that we were in the area.
It was late in the afternoon, nearly 5:30pm, when we settled in at the Lost Iguana and darkness was descending on the rainforest—exploring the grounds would have to be left to another day. After investigating all of the wonderful amenities (cable TV, walk-in shower, refrigerator, and comfy beds) of our room, we made or way back down the steep road to the front desk, in order to confirm our Caño Negro Rio Frio Tour with Sunset Tours. The staff at the front desk, a bit begrudgingly, called and confirmed our 7:00am pick-up for the next day—our early departure meant we would miss breakfast at the resort, which was a disappointment. We later discovered that the resort often gives guests a “breakfast to go” in such situations, but we were not offered this service by the staff—had we only known, we would have asked. Nonetheless, we were happy with our confirmation and set off to enjoy dinner at the onsite restaurant.
The following morning, Friday January 25, Sunset Tours arrived promptly and transported us from the Lost Iguana to the office in La Fortuna—from there we met our guide, Jamie, and were on our way to Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. A perk of the two-hour drive is a stop at the Restaurante Los Iguanas, where we walk out on the bridge that spans the Rio San Rafael to see dozens of iguanas basking in the trees.
Pristine and remote, Caño Negro is one of the top locations in the Americas to see amazing concentrations of wildlife—migratory and indigenous birds, monkeys, sloths, iguanas, turtles, basilisks, and caimans abound.
Thanks to our impeccable timing—written with tongue firmly in cheek—we were visiting Caño Negro in January during the dry season, one of the best times for bird viewing—you see, it is brilliant decisions such as this that allow us to call ourselves travelers and not tourists, uh-hummm. Anyway, we feel fortunate to be at the right place at the right time and we eagerly board the boat that is to get us unbelievably close to the local wildlife. First up, a fantastic full-frame view of a spectacled caiman—mouth agape and pearly whites on full display. Could it get any better than this? You betcha—we follow-up with a white-faced capuchin monkey sighting—not just any old run of the mill, cute little monkey on a tree branch, oh no, this simian is savagely eating an emerald basilisk—too cool!
Onward we float down the Rio Frio, with our boat driver Freddy expertly maneuvering in close to the animals—I felt like a professional photographer on assignment for National Geographic. Our guide, Jamie, was never at a loss to identify any animal—Sunset Tours runs a top-notch operation. Thanks to their expertise, we leave the area with a list of wildlife sightings that is nearly unbelievable—imagine seeing spectacled caimans, black river turtles, emerald basilisks, green iguanas, capuchin and howler monkeys, sloths, wood storks, cattle egrets, great egrets, little blue herons, great blue herons, roseate spoonbills, ringed, green, and amazon kingfishers, sun grebes, mangrove swallows, scarlet rumped tanagers, tiger herons, great potoos, yellow crowned night herons, and anhingas—all in one place.
At the end of the river tour, which lasted about three hours, we enjoyed a typical Costa Rican lunch of casadas at the El Caiman Restaurant—located on the banks of the Rio Frio.
The drive back to La Fortuna was relaxing and the scenery was beautiful—passing by pastoral farmland and forests. Back at the Lost Iguana, the sun was once again beginning to set and the volcano was still hiding behind the clouds—we hoped that our luck with the volcano gods would soon improve. After a brief rest and a shower back at our room, we hopped in the car and made our way to La Fortuna—time to try out the restaurant La Choza de Laurel.
Dinner at La Choza was everything we expected—excellent food, a fun atmosphere, and a dessert that was out of this world. When I ordered the banana split, I had no idea it would be served in half of a pineapple, with the best tasting bananas and vanilla ice cream ever—it was delectable!
The next morning, we hooked up with a guide from the Lost Iguana and made our way to Arenal Hanging Bridges—a journey into the forest along the 3Km (1.9 mile) long trail within the private reserve grants the hiker an up-close and personal experience with the flora and fauna of a primary rainforest—including the forest canopy. The adventure crosses fifteen bridges, six of which are hanging bridges, interspersed with trails constructed with paving stones that help prevent erosion—each bridge has a colorful and often times unnerving name—for example the Tarantula Bridge or the Jumping Pit Viper Tunnel. Our guide from the Lost Iguana Lodge was an excellent naturalist well versed in the animals and plants of the rainforest. As we made our way along the trail, she pointed out several flowers, ferns, and trees to which we were unfamiliar—not to mention the educational and interesting facts that she shared about alkaloids, medicinal uses of plants, the structure and function of leaf-cutting ant colonies, and the natural history of the area. Throughout the hike, we enjoyed many highlights, but our encounter with a troop of spider monkeys thrilled us the most—Pick spotted them traversing the canopy above the Fer de Lance Bridge. Other highlights included sightings of Central American whiptail lizards, an Isabella butterfly, several species of tanagers, and an excursion to a secluded waterfall.
Towards the end of our Hanging Bridges visit, the weather started to make a turn for the better—fittingly enough, as we crossed the Arenal View Bridge, we were treated to our best view of the volcano thus far. Apparently that sacrifice the night before really worked, as it seemed as though we were actually going to get to see Arenal in all its glory.
Post Iguana check-out, we drove back towards La Fortuna for lunch at Vagabondos—seriously, we loved this place! The pizza, pasta and salad were delicious and it kept us coming back for more—one lunch at this establishment was just not enough!
All through lunch, we kept watching the sky—the gray clouds were giving way to clear blue skies, and the prospect of a full view of Arenal was so exciting—so exciting, in fact, that we hurried through our meal and then practically ran to the car after we paid the bill. Back in the car, we could see that our hopes had been fulfilled and the volcano was out in full force—next stop, Arenal Volcano National Park.
Volcan Arenal, one of the most active volcanoes in the Americas, is the centerpiece of Parque National Volcan Arenal and the park has some good trails that afford excellent views of Arenal and the park’s flora and fauna. Upon entering the park, we drove to the View Point, where you can gaze up at the conical masterpiece—so close to the vantage point that you feel like you could reach out and touch it. Satisfied with our proximity to the volcano, we drove back to Parking Lot 1 eager to begin our hiking exploration of the park—the trailhead for the 1 Km (0.6 mile) Heliconia Trail begins at the lot near the restrooms. We set out for the trail and instantly sighted some wildlife—flitting about in the trees near the trailhead were several White-throated magpie jays and a colorful Montezuma oropendola. The remainder of the walk along the Heliconia Trail was uneventful, allowing us to enjoy the vegetation that colonized the area after the 1968 eruptions—the Heliconia Trail ends at the road and then on the other side the 2 Km (1.25 mile) Colodas Trail begins. The topography of the trail is mostly flat, traversing sand and ash expelled by old eruptions, until reaching a staircase that leads to the jagged lava rocks near the end of the trail. All along the trail, there are incredible views of the massive volcanic cone of Arenal, in fact, you can hear the rumbling and witness huge bus-sized boulders expelling from the crater! We took our time enjoying the views of the volcano, the terrestrial orchids that miraculously grow amid the lava rocks, and the unnerving activity of the crater before retracing our steps back to the car. On our return journey, we caught a glimpse of several great crested currasows foraging in the underbrush, and a bright green spiny lizard basking in a trailside tree—a diverse amount of wildlife and amazing views for a roundtrip hike of only 3 miles.
After our hike, we headed down the bumpy dirt road to the Arenal Observatory Lodge—our home for the next two nights. The lodge, sits on a ridge just over 2km from the volcano, allowing guests an incredible opportunity to witness the sights and sounds of an active volcano. Our room, one of the Smithsonian rooms, had a balcony and picture window with a postcard perfect view of Arenal—we watched as clouds once again began to swirl around the crater, settling atop the conical landform and obscuring the top one-third of the volcano. During the afternoon, the clouds added a dramatic air to the scene, but once night fell, the clouds blocked what would have been a spectacular view of lava spewing from the crater—our time-exposed photos of the pyrotechnics only catching the boulders as they rolled below the cloud line. Nevertheless, witnessing the geological wonder of a volcanic eruption was truly fantastic.
When Sunday morning rolled around, we made our way to the Observatory’s restaurant for a delicious breakfast—fresh fruit, bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, cereals, and juices were available every morning. After breakfast, we walked out onto the deck to watch the birds gathering at the feeder—the lodge puts out fruit for the birds, attracting an astounding number of different species. For a photographer, the opportunity for amazing images is overwhelming—there were literally birds, in a rainbow of colors, everywhere. Among the species noted while we were visiting were blue-gray tanagers, golden-hooded tanagers, emerald tanagers, crimson-collared tanagers, Passerini’s tanager, summer tanagers, oropendolas, red-legged honeycreepers, green honeycreepers, clay-colored robins, brown jays, black-cheeked woodpeckers, and common bush tanagers.
That morning, a light rain was falling, making it a challenge to photograph the birds, but we managed to brave the elements along with a friendly pizote who gazed from the deck out towards the feeder just like any other avid birder—it was quite comical.
The night before, a torrential downpour soaked the grounds, creating a wet and sometimes slippery walking experience, but we decided that would not keep us from hiking—being Natural Born Hikers and all—we set off on the Waterfall Trail. Highlights of the hike included a steep descent down a muddy cliffside towards the base of the falls and a rufous motmot who crossed our path. We also hiked the Escondido Trail that winds through a beautiful eucalyptus grove—the rain clouded skies adding dramatic saturation to the colors of the trees.
Rain continued to dampen the day, only letting up later in the evening—we occupied our time walking around the grounds, soaking in the hot tub, and chatting with Phil Slosberg. Phil is a professional photographer who frequents the Arenal area, and he graciously shared his expertise and tips—check out his website, Critter Images, for some incredible Costa Rica photography. At around 4pm, we drove into town for a change of scenery and we ended up exploring a few back roads—a good move it turned out, as we spotted a keel-billed toucan and a picturesque gathering of cattle.
Monday morning, January 28, we packed up our gear and took one last walk around the grounds of the Arenal Observatory Lodge—parting gifts included a roosting group of crested guans, a variety of hummingbirds, and a pair of oropendola nests. We enjoyed another great breakfast—crossing the suspension bridge one last time—and then we pointed our car in the direction of Manuel Antonio, next stop the coast.
Climbing up and over the mountains, we left the cool, misty Caribbean side of the country and crossed into the dry and sunny Pacific side—it was good to feel the heat of the sun again. The drive towards the coast was often twisty and narrow and it made for a long day in the car, but we enjoyed the drive despite witnessing a few harrowing accidents—one being a semi carrying sugar cane that ventured a little too close to the shoulder of the road.
A few creepy bridges and scenic plantations later and we were crossing the famous Tarcoles Bridge—famed for the huge crocodiles that bask on the banks of the river just below. We crossed the river and parked along the side of the road in order to walk back and view the crocodiles. Since we had all of our luggage and no trunk and we had heard reports of theft in the area, we took turns walking out onto the bridge—one person staying with the car, while the other trekked to the middle of the bridge. We did notice however, that a police officer was guarding the parking area, which we were happy to see. The view of the crocodiles from the bridge is excellent, and the number and sheer size of these animals literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up—it was a thrilling and impressive sight.
Just across the Tarcoles Bridge, we pulled into the entrance to Carara National Park—it was nearly 3pm and the sun was beating down on the pavement. We talked with a park ranger about the available hiking trails, and he informed us that we were unlikely to see much at this time of day—heeding his advice, we trekked onward to Quepos, snapping a photo of a resident black ctenosaur before leaving the park.
Our first view of the Pacific coast of Costa Rica did not disappoint—brilliant blue water and crashing white waves framed the dark sands of a long stretch of beach. In contrast, a look in the other direction yielded a rocky coastline, where huge boulders dominated both offshore and along the beach. The sun was out in full force and as we exited the car to enjoy the view—unhindered by windshield—I noticed that my right arm, which had been perched on the car door, was rather sun burned. Brilliant, well that looks lovely. I wonder, should I purposefully expose my other arm to deadly UV rays to compensate? Probably not.
One very creepy bridge later and we arrive at the Mango Moon Bed and Breakfast. Let me get back to that creepy bridge for a minute—constructed from discarded steel rails from the railroad, with a pedestrian boardwalk that looked like something off Fear Factor, with several three-foot gaps here and there, we cringed at the thought of driving across the rickety structure. Adding to the nerve-racking prospect of the crossing, was the fact that traffic was backed up because of road construction and we would be on the bridge at the same time as several large trucks. Thankfully, we somehow avoided the plunge of death and lived to see another day—and another pleasant hotel, the Mango Moon.
The trusty GPS lead us right to the hidden driveway that leads to Mango Moon, a secluded hotel positioned high on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, where we were met by John the bartender—a great guy. He showed us around the property and carried our bags to our room, where we promptly changed into swimsuits and made a beeline for the swimming pool. The inviting pool, complete with a waterfall and view of the ocean, was the absolute best place to spend an hour basking in the sun—we even spotted a two-toed sloth in the tree above us.
Just before 6pm, we settled in at the Mango Moon bar in order to watch the sunset—the first of two breath-taking sunsets while at the hotel. Looking out over the jungle and ocean, we watch as the sun sinks below the horizon—the show is impressive, but the next night’s display will prove to be even better.
The glow of sunset soon fades and we turn our attention toward more mundane activities, like finding a good restaurant—our last meal was eaten at a roadside grill, where we forced down a mediocre burger and fries, finishing with a vanilla milkshake. A word to the wise, we always forget that milkshakes outside the United States are just that, shaken milk sans ice cream, and this one was even rather lukewarm—I took one drink and resigned myself to a meal without refreshment, Pick, on the other hand, managed to drink the whole thing. Does that sound like foreshadowing?
We decided to walk to town in search of dinner, browsing through the stack of local menus at Mango Moon’s bar first—Barba Roja sounded like a good bet. We walked up the dirt road to the main drag and found an official looking guy posted near a telephone booth. Donde este Barba Roja? Impressed with my command of the Spanish language, I nearly forget to listen to his response, but I do understand his gestures, directing us down the road and to the left—I thank him and we are on our way.
Dinner at Barba Roja was a hit, and just like the Mango Moon, it has a commanding view of the ocean—the open-air dining and warm ambience adding to its appeal. We sit for a short while after dinner, taking in the starry sky before walking back to the hotel—discussing along the way our excitement for the next days visit to Manuel Antonio National Park.
It must have been almost 4am when I was awoken by the most loathsome of sounds—puking noises appeared to be coming from the bathroom—was I dreaming? My sense of smell is the next to awaken, confirming the tragedy that is unfolding—Pick is sick. I offer a measly, are you okay?—which is met by horrendous groans—I hope I’m not next.
Morning finally arrives and Pick is still under the weather—dehydrated and exhausted, she valiantly decides to drive to Manuel Antonio. We arrive at the park, and drop a few colones in the boats that allow passage across the shallow Quebrada Camonera—a stream that must be forded at high tide. We cross the stream and make our way to the entrance station—Pick is holding up rather well at this point, so we go ahead and pay our entrance to the park.
In an attempt to rehydrate, Pick drinks down some PowerAde and we start hiking along the park’s main trail—we have one day to explore the park and the plan is to stay until closing. We manage to make it an hour without incident and then the PowerAde decides to reverse course—I plead with Pick to return to the hotel, but she selflessly puts on a happy face and tells me to go on without her, stating that she just needs to rest a little. Reluctantly, I trust her judgment and set off alone.
During our separation, I came across several of the amazing animals that call Manuel Antonio home—Jesus Christ lizards, fiery-billed aracaris, three-toed sloths, bats, raccoons, black ctenosaurs, howler monkeys, and white-faced capuchin monkeys. Even though these animals were a joy to watch, I couldn’t enjoy them without my friend, so I headed back to see if she was feeling better—I caught up with her just a few minutes back down the trail, where she was watching the capuchins patrolling the beaches. Together, we filmed and photographed the troop as they performed amazing acrobatics and struck perfect poses—hours can easily melt away while watching the monkeys.
The day was heating up and the nausea that plagued my friend was beginning to return, so we left the park in search of some medicine—in one of the most ironic turn of events, the pharmacist—yours truly—actually forgot to bring any anti-diarrheal or anti-nausea medication. Yeah, I am pretty handy to have around—at least I knew what to ask for at the local drugstore!
Post Dramamine, Pick began to feel like herself again, and imparted a funny story—while recuperating at a picnic table in Manuel Antonio, she was visited by several capuchins who gazed down upon her with friendly disdain. Amiga, you chouldn’t have had that milkshake—you got some splaining to do. There is nothing like hindsight that is imparted though the eyes of a monkey.
Back at the hotel, Pick slipped into a Dramamine induced coma and I hiked down to Biesanz Beach—maybe some sleep would do her some good. The hike to the beach was fun, and the scenery along the way was pretty—puffy clouds were forming on the horizon and I guessed that tonight’s sunset would be unbelievable. I was right.
Earlier in the evening, we returned our car at the National office in Manuel Antonio—conveniently located just across the driveway to Mango Moon— for the next day we would be flying to Puerto Jiminez via NatureAir. Just behind the office, we saw our first squirrel monkeys—unfortunately, I didn’t have my zoom lens, so the pics are not award winning, but nonetheless, we were extremely happy to have seen these rare monkeys.
Wednesday morning, January 30, we jumped in a taxi and headed for the Quepos airport—twenty minutes and twenty bucks later, we were sitting at the airport waiting for our 9am departure. Our flight would take us to Puerto Jiminez, the jumping off point for our adventure in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.
The Osa Peninsula, home to Central America’s best remaining stand of Pacific coastal rainforest, is paradise found. An area of immense biological diversity, the Osa is a naturalist’s dream come true, and our home within this complex area of land was the highly recommended Bosque del Cabo—perched 500 feet above the cliffs of Cabo Matapalo, this lodge brings the rainforest to your doorstep.
Upon touching down at Puerto Jiminez’ cinder landing strip, we were met by Kevin—the driver who would take us to Bosque del Cabo. We loaded into the Land Cruiser and set off on the 45-minute drive to the lodge, getting to know Kevin along the way—a great guy who loves to share the beauty of his country. While expertly maneuvering the 4WD road, Kevin takes the time to point out wildlife and to teach those of us who don’t speak Spanish a few words and phrases. Where was this guy at the beginning of our trip?
Arriving at BdC, we could hardly contain our excitement at seeing the property—spacious thatch-roofed bungalows dot the private forest reserve, complete with nine on site hiking trails.
It was just before noon when we arrived, and we were soon taking in the view from the La Palma bungalow—our home for the next three nights. This was our first time staying in a bungalow and everything was so new and exotic—we are very lucky indeed.
Eager to explore the reserve, we could barely force ourselves to eat lunch, but boy were we glad we did—lunch, the first of several excellent meals, was scrumptious.
Energized and ready to go, we hiked down the driveway to the Pacific Trail entrance—the 0.3-mile long Pacific Trail goes from the Bosque property down to the wild Pacific coast. Views along the trail and the scenery at the beach are well worth the steep descent, and subsequent climb back up, involved in the trek—we even encountered several spider monkeys on the return journey.
Back on Bosque’s driveway, we found even more wildlife—an agouti, a black hawk, a Jesus Christ lizard, a three-toed sloth, and a pizote were all seen.
Dinner at BdC is served buffet style, and guests dine family style, allowing you to meet and converse with other nature enthusiasts. Each night dinner is based on a theme, and our first night was Italian night—once again, the food was incredible. While dining, we met so many amazing people including a British couple, a couple from New Jersey, a mother and adult son from Canada, a father and young son, and a family from New England—each of which brought a unique perspective to our shared experience.
We all lingered at the dinner table for awhile after finishing our meals, but soon it was time to return to our bungalows for a good night’s sleep. As if. Did I mention that the bed in our bungalow only had netting around three sides? You see, the bed was built into the wall, making it impossible for any netting to go behind the bed—leaving a gap that proved irresistible to several rainforest residents.
The first uninvited guest flung itself from the wall onto Pick’s bare knee, just as she was drifting off to sleep—petrified of what she might see, she opened her eyes to see a tiny tree frog. A fearless amphibian that proceeded to jump about the bungalow, flinging itself from lofty heights and landing yards away with a resounding plop—he even managed to land on Pick’s head at one point! For the love—there would be no sleeping while at Bosque del Cabo. Subsequent visitors included a buzzing cicada, a huge black cockroach, a katydid, and a scorpion—mind you, these were inside the netting, not on the outside. Darkness turned us into blithering idiots, just waiting for a Fer de Lance or jaguar to pounce into our room and end our suffering—it was a sad sight to behold. For several hours each night, we would sit back to back in the middle of the bed—flashlights shining on the edges of the mattress so that we might see the creature that was surely coming to frighten us to death—a routine we soon dubbed, scanning the perimeter.
Earlier in the evening, we returned our car at the National office in Manuel Antonio—conveniently located just across the driveway to Mango Moon— for the next day we would be flying to Puerto Jiminez via NatureAir. Just behind the office, we saw our first squirrel monkeys—unfortunately, I didn’t have my zoom lens, so the pics are not award winning, but nonetheless, we were extremely happy to have seen these rare monkeys.
Apparently, paranoid behavior can be overtaken by sleep, because we did drift off at some point—a fact we discovered when we opened our eyes to see the first light of morning. Thank God, we can escape the bed prison.
In the light of day, we were back to our love affair with BdC—the glow of sunrise bathing our porch in a soft pink light that made us forget the darkness. Today promised to be a good day, as we would soon be setting off in a boat across the Golfo Dulce to the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary—a rehabilitation center where injured or abandoned animals and birds are cared for and then, hopefully, released back into the wild.
Prior to leaving BdC, we walked down to the “sloth tree” for an early morning look at our three-toed friend—she was still there. We watched as she slowly climbed around the branches, and then she did the coolest thing—hanging from her back legs, she dangled from a limb and began scratching—it made for an amazing photograph.
After breakfast—boy, those banana pancakes are tasty—we hopped in the truck with Kevin and four other guests and bounced down the road to the Puerto Jiminez dock. It was nice to share, not only the cost, but also the sanctuary experience with other people—the cost of the boat, $130.00, is split between the number of passengers.
Skimming across the water, the seven of us—awesome boat driver included—slice through the waves towards the sanctuary. En route, the afore mentioned awesome boat driver—who stands on the captain’s chair and steers with his feet—spots a pod of dolphins and we cruise over to take a closer look. Wow, there are dolphins everywhere! Thank God, for digital cameras and 4GB memory cards—spray and pray seems to be the photo technique best suited for these situations!
Soon, our driver announces that it is time to leave the dolphins behind—monkeys, here we come.
Anchoring the boat offshore, the driver instructs us to leave our belongings—backpacks, water bottles, etc.—behind. Crap. I have to pick just one camera lens —17-55mm it is. Then we jump off the boat into the water—why didn’t someone tell me this was a wet landing? —and make our way to the beach. Wet socks and all. Of course, Pick had the foresight to wear Keen sandals—I always lag behind. Anyway, once on the beach we were instantly met by the cutest young spider monkey—she was definitely putting on a show. Next up, we are all instructed in monkey handling 101, and those of us with earrings are told to remove them immediately. Okay, did I miss the all-important debriefing? Had I known, I would have come better prepared for these issues—now, I am scrambling to remove jewelry that hasn’t been separated from my body for over a decade. One earring comes out, but the other refuses—even Pick was caught off guard by this instruction—what with her five ear piercings and all. Finally, we pass inspection and are able to interact with the residents. First up, crazy spider monkey girl—this monkey is too entertaining! She bounces from person to person, shows us how she has learned the “dizzy” game, and even laughs a little monkey laugh when Earl, the curator tickles her—she is especially enamored with Max, a young boy, and his father.
When we arrived, one of the sanctuary’s most famous residents—Lulu, the baby howler monkey, was already cradled in the arms of a woman visitor. Earl, and his wife Carol, assured us that others would also get some arm time—just as promised, Lulu made her way through the crowd and eventually came to rest in my arms. I will never forget the amazing experience of such an intimate encounter—the touch of her hand, her arms around my neck, and even her little fingers grabbing my nose.
The rest of the tour was spent learning about the monkeys, sloths, birds, and other animals at the sanctuary—it was an educational and one of a kind experience. Earl and Carol are to be commended for their love and dedication to these animals—we gave a generation donation upon departure to help with their cause.
Back at Bosque del Cabo, we had just enough time to grab some lunch before beginning another day of amazing hiking and exploration.
Following the Creek Trail towards the overlook and suspension bridge, we spent an hour or so hiking around the tropical gardens and rainforest before camping out at the “monkey tree”—one of the few trees on the grounds that was in fruit—located between the Pizote and Sol cabins. Thanks to its abundance of fruit, this tree was a Mecca for wildlife and visitors alike—at any one time you could see capuchin, howler, and spider monkeys, chestnut mandibled toucans, scarlet macaws, and pizotes—all in one tree.
Our second night for dinner, the theme was Mexican and the food was, as usual, delicious.
Returning to our room, we discovered a scorpion lolling about on the floor—this guy was big, approximately four inches long, but thankfully, he was at least not in the bed. Pick grabbed her ultraviolet flashlight—scorpions fluoresce under black light—so that I could snap a wicked picture of our visitor.
We survived another night, and we took full advantage of the welcome daylight hours—spending our day hiking the Creek Trail, the Titi Trail, the Manakin, Trogon, and Golfo Dulce Trails, where we saw squirrel monkeys, and just relaxing on our porch and enjoying the wildlife. Pick was once again feeling a little under the weather, and she had used her supply of Imodium—I asked at the front desk if there was a sundry shop where I could purchase some medicine, and the intern, Rachel, graciously gave us some from her personal supply. Thanks Rachel, you saved the day!
Our last dinner, traditional Costa Rican food this time, was spent enjoying the company of all our new friends—exchanging emails and addresses and sharing our travel experiences. As we have said before, one of our favorite aspects of travel is meeting amazing people from around the world. One couple, Joe and Susan, were staying in the Pizote cabin and generously allowed us to photograph the “monkey tree” from the comfort of their porch—yet another random act of kindness. Thanks guys!
Every day that we spent at Bosque del Cabo, and in all of Costa Rica, was a day to be remembered—our last day was no exception. We watched as monkeys deftly skittered across the treetops, some mothers carrying babies—below, agoutis, lizards, and pizotes foraged among the tropical flowers. It can easily be said that Costa Rica, particularly the Osa Peninsula, is a country of immeasurable gifts—active volcanoes, beaches, and rainforests with a variety of life that is visibly overwhelming await the ecotraveler. Of the many destinations that we have had the privilege of visiting, Costa Rica—thanks not only to its biodiversity, but also to the kind and open disposition of its people—is a place we would return to in a heartbeat.
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