Costa Rica Diary

(This blog continues my Nicaragua Diary, which can be found here.)

Wednesday, 12 November, 2014

Costa Rica! Having left my departure from San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua until a little too late, I discovered I missed the last direct bus from the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border to La Fortuna by 5 minutes. Got on the local bus to La Cruz, where I waited 1.5 hours for the local bus to Upala, hoping to connect to La Fortuna there. Alas, soon after La Cruz, the road turns into gravel and just after the fall of darkness a tire blew with a loud hiss. While the bus had a spare, there was nothing to lift the bus, meaning we had to wait for a mechanic to come from the next village. A good chance to practice my very shaky Spanish as a fellow passenger wanted to discuss Hitler and the Nazis with me. Fortunately, the conversation soon drifted to other topics. (Not that I was able to contribute much more than the occasional “Si, si.”)

Despite the hiccup, first impressions were very positive: since it was a local bus, most passengers knew each other and were very friendly with each other. Mothers and grandfathers were very loving toward their children, the bus driver would wait until people had sat down before getting moving again, and the people generally seemed extremely polite. Nicaragua had much more of an “edge.”

But the blown tire meant that Upala was the end of the road for me that evening. So, after having spent two nights in a beautiful hotelita in San Juan, I ended up spending the first night in Costa Rica in a dingy station hotel, having bread, processed cheese, hot dogs, and tomatoes from a late night supermarket for dinner. Not a very auspicious start to my travels around Costa Rica. But that’s all part of backpacking!

Thursday, 13 November, 2014

Caught the early morning bus to La Fortuna, center of the Arenal volcano region. One of the main tourist destinations in Costa Rica’s north, the region offers all sorts of outdoor activities, including hiking, white-water rafting, zip lining, all terrain vehicle rides, hot springs, etc. etc. I signed up for a tour to the observatory to at least catch a glimpse of the volcano and see a bit of the area. The area and volcano are very beautiful, with lush forests and pretty waterfalls, but all those tourist activities and joining a tour are not really my thing, and I wasn’t sad to leave early next morning.

Friday to Monday, 14 to 18 November, 2014

Now the real wildlife adventure starts! After a few more bus rides – the last stretch 2 hours at 20km/h on a gravel road out of Pital – I arrived at Boca Topada, where the Laguna del Lagarto Lodge is located, a true eco lodge with 500ha of virgin rain forest, two lagoons, and lots of wildlife, including caimans that after dark come up the driveway almost to your room! They also have a beautiful open-air restaurant, where all sorts of birds – including three kinds of toucans – as well as coatis come to visit for breakfast. The forest is home to three species of monkeys – howler, spider, and capuchin (although unfortunately I didn’t see any) – and various types of frogs (more about those later). The lagoons, in addition to the caimans, which are invisible during the day, but whose unseen presence is a bit spooky, are home to “Jesus lizards” (basilisks), so named because they run across water. Heaven!

Every morning at breakfast – which is at 7am – the staff at the Lodge hoist some bananas up a large tree trunk and the spectacle begins, with chestnut-mandibled toucans, keel-billed toucans and fiery-billed aracaris all taking turns feeding. They are joined by Montezuma oropendolas, various smaller birds, and great curassows with their wacky Mohawk. The garden is planted with flowers that attract hummingbirds, and on some mornings green parrots and coatis also come to visit. It’s easy to spend the whole morning watching…(Well, they all disappear by around 9am, but by that time I’ve already been up for 3 hours, so it feels like the whole morning.)

Even the frogs in Costa Rica are very photogenic and come out in numbers when it rains (which it has been doing a lot). During one walk through the forest I got so drenched that when I saw one of those little strawberry poison-dart frogs it didn’t make any difference that I ended up rolling in the mud and following it around to photograph it. Also called the blue-jeans frog (for obvious reasons), it belongs to the family of poison-dart frogs, whose toxic skin secretions have been used for blow darts for hunting. However, comparatively speaking, the strawberry poison-dart frog is relatively harmless, as it is not lethal for humans, and one of the guides in Tortuguero actually handled one (I’m sure he wasn’t supposed to) without any visible effects.

But the undisputed star among Costa Rican frogs clearly is the red-eyed tree frog. Because it is nocturnal (hence the large eyes) and difficult to find, the lodge kept one in a large cage to show to the guests after dinner (and after the caimans), illuminating it with a torch, which makes for very dramatic photos. In fact, it was difficult to whittle my photos down to my favorite four.

Canoeing on the larger of the two lagoon, the only sounds to be heard are the birds in forest and the occasional splash – a basilisk (“Jesus lizard”) jumping off its perch on a branch or tree stump in the water to run across the water to safety on the shore as one approaches. This happens with lightning speed and is almost impossible to photograph. But having seen which tree stump one of these little Jesuses ran from, I positioned my canoe a few meters away on the shore and waited for it to return to its perch – which it did after about 15 minutes and I managed to get this shot.

However, I still wasn’t quite happy with the shot and waited for it to run back to shore. 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes went by, and the light was fading rapidly. So I started snapping my fingers, shouting, stomping – anything that allowed me keep one finger on the shutter…but to no avail. In the end, I had to make a move to get back to the lodge before darkness (and the driveway was full of caimans). Naturally, as soon as I took the finger of the shutter button, the basilisk did run…

While the lodge was set up by a German who has lived in Costa Rica for many years, it is managed by Adolfo, whose story is quite inspiring. A Nicaraguan refugee who came to Costa Rica more than 20 years ago, he started out working as a kitchen helper until his cooking skills were discovered. With expenses paid by a guest, he was then flown to Germany for three months for training as a chef, and in 2009 he became the manager of the place. About six years ago, he noticed that certain birds kept visiting the garden of his little house, and he first started feeding them and then began growing plants to attract them and provide them shelter and protection (from birds of prey, etc.). These days, he offers guests to visit his bird garden, which is like a veritable bird theater, with chairs lined up and all sorts of colorful birds coming to feed just a couple of meters away, providing endless entertainment. These photos show just a small selection of his many different visitors.

Wednesday and Thursday, November 19 and 20, 2014

In the northeast of Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast lies Tortuguero National Park – famous (as the name suggests) for the sea turtles that come to lay their eggs there. While by the time I visited the turtle season – which runs until October – was over, the park is still among the best in Costa Rica for observing wildlife, including various monkey species, crocodiles, caimans, two-fingered and three-fingered sloths, river turtles, birds, birds, and a large variety of smaller critters.

Although relatively difficult to get to, Tortuguero is one of the more popular national parks of Costa Rica and a major eco-tourism destination. Eco-tourism certainly is a major improvement, since locals now see more value in their turtles (and other wildlife) alive than dead (for turtle meat). But most eco-tourists stay in resorts along the coast, are boated in, and then do their wildlife viewing from large, noisy motor boats with jabbering guides. After having taken a tour with Ruben in his little canoe with a silent electric motor, I rented a (hand-powered) canoe from his family and had just discovered a horde of capuchin monkeys when two of these tour boats saw them too and came jostling in – tourists oohing and aahing, chasing most other creatures away, and leaving me with very mixed feelings. They probably bring in more money than I do (though my money goes directly to the “little guy”) and enjoyed their wildlife “adventure.” But to me it seems more like an amusement park experience than a nature experience where you sit quietly, and observe and absorb nature. Just my two cents. – They certainly missed the tiger heron, which had been sitting there all the while, and which the tour guides also noticed but presumably didn’t point out because they figured it wouldn’t be “interesting.” However, with time, patience, and (admittedly) a good camera, it is often the less obvious things that are the most interesting and make the nicest pictures.

Friday and Saturday, November 21 and 22, 2014

A beautiful three-hour boat and short shared taxi ride south of Tortuguero lies Cahuita National Park. Situated on the Caribbean coast, the national park was established to protect the severely degraded coral reefs off the shore, but the main attraction (for me) were the pristine beaches, the lush vegetation, and the wildlife. Hiking the 8km trail along the shore, I watched pelicans diving for fish, shooting like arrows into the sea, and came across capuchin, spider, and howler monkeys, a squirrel, a coati, and a rather cute brown vine snake.

Near Cahuita is the Sloth Sanctuary, which rescues and nurses back to health injured sloths, raises baby sloths abandoned by their mothers, and carries out sloth research. While I was slightly disappointed by the tour (I had hoped to see sloths “roaming around,” i.e., hanging from trees), I just had to post this photo of a sloth settling down for a day of snoozing.

_E9A8068

Sunday and Tuesday, November 23 to 25, 2014

A major reason why Costa Rica packs in such great biodiversity despite its small size is its varied topography and range of climatic zones. In the morning, I was sweating on the hot, humid Caribbean coast; by the afternoon, I was freezing at an altitude of 2650m in the mountains of the Cordillera Talamanca. En route to Corcovado National Park on the Osa peninsula in the south, I stopped at the Mirador de Quetzales to catch a glimpse of the resplendent quetzal, which plays an important role in Mesoamerican mythology and is Guatemala’s national bird.

Setting off in the morning chill the next day at 6:30am (pretty much the normal time at which my days in Costa Rica start) with the local guide, we spotted four of these magnificent birds almost straight away, but getting a nice shot proved very difficult in the dim light. I therefore decided to stay for another day and went for a hike on a beautiful mountain trail, where I did catch a fleeting glimpse (and capture the first of the images here) of a male with its iridescent plumage and long tail feathers. The next morning, I was luckier: two males passed through, allowing enough time to get a few shots.

Next stop: Osa Pensinsula, which, as it turns out, deserves its own diary, which can be found here.

Wednesday to Sunday, November 25 to 30, 2014

The largest stronghold of Pacific coastline primary rainforest in all of Central and South America, the Osa Peninsula – and especially Corcovado National Park – contains one of the largest densities and varieties of wildlife in the world. The best base for organizing longer excursions into the park is Puerto Jiménez, a sleepy village on the Golfo Dulce. Even the village itself is a great place for spotting wildlife: right next to the “airport” (consisting of just a landing strip) is a swamp that is home to crocodiles, while scarlet macaws feed on the many almond trees scattered around the village. The owner of my hostel suggested that to see the crocs, I should go to the butcher and buy US$2 worth of offal to attract them. So the next morning that’s exactly what I set off to do. Slightly nervous, I asked a local whether it would really be a good idea, but he reassured me the crocs were very “tranquilo.”

It only took a minute to spot a large one serenely gliding through the middle of the swamp. Tossing some pieces of bone in its direction, it at first didn’t seem interested, but only a short while later, there were four or five of them just below the bank where I was standing – only 5m away! Snapping with their fierce jaws at the chunks of offal I threw at them, they continued to hang around when the all the offal was gone, and I was beginning to think: OK, you can now – I’m not sure I like the way you’re looking at me…Then the largest of them started gliding in my direction and suddenly propelled itself forward…my heart stopped! But fortunately it only went after a smaller croc. A few split seconds of loud splashing followed, and the smaller of the crocs fled out of the water, right onto the trail, blocking my way. I had a tree to jump on in my sight the whole time, but after a while, the croc disappeared again into the water, and all of them slowly dispersed. I wasn’t quite happy with the photos I took, but had too much respect to go back.

(This blog continues my Nicaragua Diary, which can be found here.)

Wednesday, 12 November, 2014

Costa Rica! Having left my departure from San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua until a little too late, I discovered I missed the last direct bus from the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border to La Fortuna by 5 minutes. Got on the local bus to La Cruz, where I waited 1.5 hours for the local bus to Upala, hoping to connect to La Fortuna there. Alas, soon after La Cruz, the road turns into gravel and just after the fall of darkness a tire blew with a loud hiss. While the bus had a spare, there was nothing to lift the bus, meaning we had to wait for a mechanic to come from the next village. A good chance to practice my very shaky Spanish as a fellow passenger wanted to discuss Hitler and the Nazis with me. Fortunately, the conversation soon drifted to other topics. (Not that I was able to contribute much more than the occasional “Si, si.”)

Despite the hiccup, first impressions were very positive: since it was a local bus, most passengers knew each other and were very friendly with each other. Mothers and grandfathers were very loving toward their children, the bus driver would wait until people had sat down before getting moving again, and the people generally seemed extremely polite. Nicaragua had much more of an “edge.”

But the blown tire meant that Upala was the end of the road for me that evening. So, after having spent two nights in a beautiful hotelita in San Juan, I ended up spending the first night in Costa Rica in a dingy station hotel, having bread, processed cheese, hot dogs, and tomatoes from a late night supermarket for dinner. Not a very auspicious start to my travels around Costa Rica. But that’s all part of backpacking!

Thursday, 13 November, 2014

Caught the early morning bus to La Fortuna, center of the Arenal volcano region. One of the main tourist destinations in Costa Rica’s north, the region offers all sorts of outdoor activities, including hiking, white-water rafting, zip lining, all terrain vehicle rides, hot springs, etc. etc. I signed up for a tour to the observatory to at least catch a glimpse of the volcano and see a bit of the area. The area and volcano are very beautiful, with lush forests and pretty waterfalls, but all those tourist activities and joining a tour are not really my thing, and I wasn’t sad to leave early next morning.

Friday to Monday, 14 to 18 November, 2014

Now the real wildlife adventure starts! After a few more bus rides – the last stretch 2 hours at 20km/h on a gravel road out of Pital – I arrived at Boca Topada, where the Laguna del Lagarto Lodge is located, a true eco lodge with 500ha of virgin rain forest, two lagoons, and lots of wildlife, including caimans that after dark come up the driveway almost to your room! They also have a beautiful open-air restaurant, where all sorts of birds – including three kinds of toucans – as well as coatis come to visit for breakfast. The forest is home to three species of monkeys – howler, spider, and capuchin (although unfortunately I didn’t see any) – and various types of frogs (more about those later). The lagoons, in addition to the caimans, which are invisible during the day, but whose unseen presence is a bit spooky, are home to “Jesus lizards” (basilisks), so named because they run across water. Heaven!

Every morning at breakfast – which is at 7am – the staff at the Lodge hoist some bananas up a large tree trunk and the spectacle begins, with chestnut-mandibled toucans, keel-billed toucans and fiery-billed aracaris all taking turns feeding. They are joined by Montezuma oropendolas, various smaller birds, and great curassows with their wacky Mohawk. The garden is planted with flowers that attract hummingbirds, and on some mornings green parrots and coatis also come to visit. It’s easy to spend the whole morning watching…(Well, they all disappear by around 9am, but by that time I’ve already been up for 3 hours, so it feels like the whole morning.)

Even the frogs in Costa Rica are very photogenic and come out in numbers when it rains (which it has been doing a lot). During one walk through the forest I got so drenched that when I saw one of those little strawberry poison-dart frogs it didn’t make any difference that I ended up rolling in the mud and following it around to photograph it. Also called the blue-jeans frog (for obvious reasons), it belongs to the family of poison-dart frogs, whose toxic skin secretions have been used for blow darts for hunting. However, comparatively speaking, the strawberry poison-dart frog is relatively harmless, as it is not lethal for humans, and one of the guides in Tortuguero actually handled one (I’m sure he wasn’t supposed to) without any visible effects.

But the undisputed star among Costa Rican frogs clearly is the red-eyed tree frog. Because it is nocturnal (hence the large eyes) and difficult to find, the lodge kept one in a large cage to show to the guests after dinner (and after the caimans), illuminating it with a torch, which makes for very dramatic photos. In fact, it was difficult to whittle my photos down to my favorite four.

Canoeing on the larger of the two lagoon, the only sounds to be heard are the birds in forest and the occasional splash – a basilisk (“Jesus lizard”) jumping off its perch on a branch or tree stump in the water to run across the water to safety on the shore as one approaches. This happens with lightning speed and is almost impossible to photograph. But having seen which tree stump one of these little Jesuses ran from, I positioned my canoe a few meters away on the shore and waited for it to return to its perch – which it did after about 15 minutes and I managed to get this shot.

However, I still wasn’t quite happy with the shot and waited for it to run back to shore. 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes went by, and the light was fading rapidly. So I started snapping my fingers, shouting, stomping – anything that allowed me keep one finger on the shutter…but to no avail. In the end, I had to make a move to get back to the lodge before darkness (and the driveway was full of caimans). Naturally, the basilisk then did run…

While the lodge was set up by a German who has lived in Costa Rica for many years, it is managed by Adolfo, whose story is quite inspiring. A Nicaraguan refugee who came to Costa Rica more than 20 years ago, he started out working as a kitchen helper until his cooking skills were discovered. With expenses paid by a guest, he was then flown to Germany for three months for training as a chef, and in 2009 he became the manager of the place. About six years ago, he noticed that certain birds kept visiting the garden of his little house, and he first started feeding them and then began growing plants to attract them and provide them shelter and protection (from birds of prey, etc.). These days, he offers guests to visit his bird garden, which is like a veritable bird theater, with chairs lined up and all sorts of colorful birds coming to feed just a couple of meters away, providing endless entertainment. These photos show just a small selection of his many different visitors.

Wednesday and Thursday, November 19 and 20, 2014

In the northeast of Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast lies Tortuguero National Park – famous (as the name suggests) for the sea turtles that come to lay their eggs there. While by the time I visited the turtle season – which runs until October – was over, the park is still among the best in Costa Rica for observing wildlife, including various monkey species, crocodiles, caimans, two-fingered and three-fingered sloths, river turtles, birds, birds, and a large variety of smaller critters.

Although relatively difficult to get to, Tortuguero is one of the more popular national parks of Costa Rica and a major eco-tourism destination. Eco-tourism certainly is a major improvement, since locals now see more value in their turtles (and other wildlife) alive than dead (for turtle meat). But most eco-tourists stay in resorts along the coast, are boated in, and then do their wildlife viewing from large, noisy motor boats with jabbering guides. After having taken a tour with Ruben in his little canoe with a silent electric motor, I rented a (hand-powered) canoe from his family and had just discovered a horde of capuchin monkeys when two of these tour boats saw them too and came jostling in – tourists oohing and aahing, chasing most other creatures away, and leaving me with very mixed feelings. They probably bring in more money than I do (though my money goes directly to the “little guy”) and enjoyed their wildlife “adventure.” But to me it seems more like an amusement park experience than a nature experience where you sit quietly, and observe and absorb nature. Just my two cents. – They certainly missed the tiger heron, which had been sitting there all the while, and which the tour guides also noticed but presumably didn’t point out because they figured it wouldn’t be “interesting.” However, with time, patience, and (admittedly) a good camera, it is often the less obvious things that are the most interesting and make the nicest pictures.

Friday and Saturday, November 21 and 22, 2014

A beautiful three-hour boat and short shared taxi ride south of Tortuguero lies Cahuita National Park. Situated on the Caribbean coast, the national park was established to protect the severely degraded coral reefs off the shore, but the main attraction (for me) were the pristine beaches, the lush vegetation, and the wildlife. Hiking the 8km trail along the shore, I watched pelicans diving for fish, shooting like arrows into the sea, and came across capuchin, spider, and howler monkeys, a squirrel, a coati, and a rather cute brown vine snake.

Near Cahuita is the Sloth Sanctuary, which rescues and nurses back to health injured sloths, raises baby sloths abandoned by their mothers, and carries out sloth research. While I was slightly disappointed by the tour (I had hoped to see sloths “roaming around,” i.e., hanging from trees), I just had to post this photo of a sloth settling down for a day of snoozing.

_E9A8068

Sunday and Tuesday, November 23 to 25, 2014

A major reason why Costa Rica packs in such great biodiversity despite its small size is its varied topography and range of climatic zones. In the morning, I was sweating on the hot, humid Caribbean coast; by the afternoon, I was freezing at an altitude of 2650m in the mountains of the Cordillera Talamanca. En route to Corcovado National Park on the Osa peninsula in the south, I stopped at the Mirador de Quetzales to catch a glimpse of the resplendent quetzal, which plays an important role in Mesoamerican mythology and is Guatemala’s national bird.

Setting off in the morning chill the next day at 6:30am (pretty much the normal time at which my days in Costa Rica start) with the local guide, we spotted four of these magnificent birds almost straight away, but getting a nice shot proved very difficult in the dim light. I therefore decided to stay for another day and went for a hike on a beautiful mountain trail, where I did catch a fleeting glimpse (and capture the first of the images here) of a male with its iridescent plumage and long tail feathers. The next morning, I was luckier: two males passed through, allowing enough time to get a few shots.

Next stop: Osa Pensinsula, which, as it turns out, deserves its own diary, which can be found here.

Wednesday to Sunday, November 25 to 30, 2014

The largest stronghold of Pacific coastline primary rainforest in all of Central and South America, the Osa Peninsula – and especially Corcovado National Park – contains one of the largest densities and varieties of wildlife in the world. The best base for organizing longer excursions into the park is Puerto Jiménez, a sleepy village on the Golfo Dulce. Even the village itself is a great place for spotting wildlife: right next to the “airport” (consisting of just a landing strip) is a swamp that is home to crocodiles, while scarlet macaws feed on the many almond trees scattered around the village. The owner of my hostel suggested that to see the crocs, I should go to the butcher and buy US$2 worth of offal to attract them. So the next morning that’s exactly what I set off to do. Slightly nervous, I asked a local whether it would really be a good idea, but he reassured me the crocs were very “tranquilo.”

It only took a minute to spot a large one serenely gliding through the middle of the swamp. Tossing some pieces of bone in its direction, it at first didn’t seem interested, but only a short while later, there were four or five of them just below the bank where I was standing – only 5m away! Snapping with their fierce jaws at the chunks of offal I threw at them, they continued to hang around when the all the offal was gone, and I was beginning to think: OK, you can now – I’m not sure I like the way you’re looking at me…Then the largest of them started gliding in my direction and suddenly propelled itself forward…my heart stopped! But fortunately it only went after a smaller croc. A few split seconds of loud splashing followed, and the smaller of the crocs fled out of the water, right onto the trail, blocking my way. I had a tree to jump on in my sight the whole time, but after a while, the croc disappeared again into the water, and all of them slowly dispersed. I wasn’t quite happy with the photos I took, but had too much respect to go back.

(This blog continues my Nicaragua Diary, which can be found here.)

Wednesday, 12 November, 2014

Costa Rica! Having left my departure from San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua until a little too late, I discovered I missed the last direct bus from the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border to La Fortuna by 5 minutes. Got on the local bus to La Cruz, where I waited 1.5 hours for the local bus to Upala, hoping to connect to La Fortuna there. Alas, soon after La Cruz, the road turns into gravel and just after the fall of darkness a tire blew with a loud hiss. While the bus had a spare, there was nothing to lift the bus, meaning we had to wait for a mechanic to come from the next village. A good chance to practice my very shaky Spanish as a fellow passenger wanted to discuss Hitler and the Nazis with me. Fortunately, the conversation soon drifted to other topics. (Not that I was able to contribute much more than the occasional “Si, si.”)

Despite the hiccup, first impressions were very positive: since it was a local bus, most passengers knew each other and were very friendly with each other. Mothers and grandfathers were very loving toward their children, the bus driver would wait until people had sat down before getting moving again, and the people generally seemed extremely polite. Nicaragua had much more of an “edge.”

But the blown tire meant that Upala was the end of the road for me that evening. So, after having spent two nights in a beautiful hotelita in San Juan, I ended up spending the first night in Costa Rica in a dingy station hotel, having bread, processed cheese, hot dogs, and tomatoes from a late night supermarket for dinner. Not a very auspicious start to my travels around Costa Rica. But that’s all part of backpacking!

Thursday, 13 November, 2014

Caught the early morning bus to La Fortuna, center of the Arenal volcano region. One of the main tourist destinations in Costa Rica’s north, the region offers all sorts of outdoor activities, including hiking, white-water rafting, zip lining, all terrain vehicle rides, hot springs, etc. etc. I signed up for a tour to the observatory to at least catch a glimpse of the volcano and see a bit of the area. The area and volcano are very beautiful, with lush forests and pretty waterfalls, but all those tourist activities and joining a tour are not really my thing, and I wasn’t sad to leave early next morning.

Friday to Monday, 14 to 18 November, 2014

Now the real wildlife adventure starts! After a few more bus rides – the last stretch 2 hours at 20km/h on a gravel road out of Pital – I arrived at Boca Topada, where the Laguna del Lagarto Lodge is located, a true eco lodge with 500ha of virgin rain forest, two lagoons, and lots of wildlife, including caimans that after dark come up the driveway almost to your room! They also have a beautiful open-air restaurant, where all sorts of birds – including three kinds of toucans – as well as coatis come to visit for breakfast. The forest is home to three species of monkeys – howler, spider, and capuchin (although unfortunately I didn’t see any) – and various types of frogs (more about those later). The lagoons, in addition to the caimans, which are invisible during the day, but whose unseen presence is a bit spooky, are home to “Jesus lizards” (basilisks), so named because they run across water. Heaven!

Every morning at breakfast – which is at 7am – the staff at the Lodge hoist some bananas up a large tree trunk and the spectacle begins, with chestnut-mandibled toucans, keel-billed toucans and fiery-billed aracaris all taking turns feeding. They are joined by Montezuma oropendolas, various smaller birds, and great curassows with their wacky Mohawk. The garden is planted with flowers that attract hummingbirds, and on some mornings green parrots and coatis also come to visit. It’s easy to spend the whole morning watching…(Well, they all disappear by around 9am, but by that time I’ve already been up for 3 hours, so it feels like the whole morning.)

Even the frogs in Costa Rica are very photogenic and come out in numbers when it rains (which it has been doing a lot). During one walk through the forest I got so drenched that when I saw one of those little strawberry poison-dart frogs it didn’t make any difference that I ended up rolling in the mud and following it around to photograph it. Also called the blue-jeans frog (for obvious reasons), it belongs to the family of poison-dart frogs, whose toxic skin secretions have been used for blow darts for hunting. However, comparatively speaking, the strawberry poison-dart frog is relatively harmless, as it is not lethal for humans, and one of the guides in Tortuguero actually handled one (I’m sure he wasn’t supposed to) without any visible effects.

But the undisputed star among Costa Rican frogs clearly is the red-eyed tree frog. Because it is nocturnal (hence the large eyes) and difficult to find, the lodge kept one in a large cage to show to the guests after dinner (and after the caimans), illuminating it with a torch, which makes for very dramatic photos. In fact, it was difficult to whittle my photos down to my favorite four.

Canoeing on the larger of the two lagoon, the only sounds to be heard are the birds in forest and the occasional splash – a basilisk (“Jesus lizard”) jumping off its perch on a branch or tree stump in the water to run across the water to safety on the shore as one approaches. This happens with lightning speed and is almost impossible to photograph. But having seen which tree stump one of these little Jesuses ran from, I positioned my canoe a few meters away on the shore and waited for it to return to its perch – which it did after about 15 minutes and I managed to get this shot.

However, I still wasn’t quite happy with the shot and waited for it to run back to shore. 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes went by, and the light was fading rapidly. So I started snapping my fingers, shouting, stomping – anything that allowed me keep one finger on the shutter…but to no avail. In the end, I had to make a move to get back to the lodge before darkness (and the driveway was full of caimans). Naturally, the basilisk then did run…

While the lodge was set up by a German who has lived in Costa Rica for many years, it is managed by Adolfo, whose story is quite inspiring. A Nicaraguan refugee who came to Costa Rica more than 20 years ago, he started out working as a kitchen helper until his cooking skills were discovered. With expenses paid by a guest, he was then flown to Germany for three months for training as a chef, and in 2009 he became the manager of the place. About six years ago, he noticed that certain birds kept visiting the garden of his little house, and he first started feeding them and then began growing plants to attract them and provide them shelter and protection (from birds of prey, etc.). These days, he offers guests to visit his bird garden, which is like a veritable bird theater, with chairs lined up and all sorts of colorful birds coming to feed just a couple of meters away, providing endless entertainment. These photos show just a small selection of his many different visitors.

Wednesday and Thursday, November 19 and 20, 2014

In the northeast of Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast lies Tortuguero National Park – famous (as the name suggests) for the sea turtles that come to lay their eggs there. While by the time I visited the turtle season – which runs until October – was over, the park is still among the best in Costa Rica for observing wildlife, including various monkey species, crocodiles, caimans, two-fingered and three-fingered sloths, river turtles, birds, birds, and a large variety of smaller critters.

Although relatively difficult to get to, Tortuguero is one of the more popular national parks of Costa Rica and a major eco-tourism destination. Eco-tourism certainly is a major improvement, since locals now see more value in their turtles (and other wildlife) alive than dead (for turtle meat). But most eco-tourists stay in resorts along the coast, are boated in, and then do their wildlife viewing from large, noisy motor boats with jabbering guides. After having taken a tour with Ruben in his little canoe with a silent electric motor, I rented a (hand-powered) canoe from his family and had just discovered a horde of capuchin monkeys when two of these tour boats saw them too and came jostling in – tourists oohing and aahing, chasing most other creatures away, and leaving me with very mixed feelings. They probably bring in more money than I do (though my money goes directly to the “little guy”) and enjoyed their wildlife “adventure.” But to me it seems more like an amusement park experience than a nature experience where you sit quietly, and observe and absorb nature. Just my two cents. – They certainly missed the tiger heron, which had been sitting there all the while, and which the tour guides also noticed but presumably didn’t point out because they figured it wouldn’t be “interesting.” However, with time, patience, and (admittedly) a good camera, it is often the less obvious things that are the most interesting and make the nicest pictures.

Friday and Saturday, November 21 and 22, 2014

A beautiful three-hour boat and short shared taxi ride south of Tortuguero lies Cahuita National Park. Situated on the Caribbean coast, the national park was established to protect the severely degraded coral reefs off the shore, but the main attraction (for me) were the pristine beaches, the lush vegetation, and the wildlife. Hiking the 8km trail along the shore, I watched pelicans diving for fish, shooting like arrows into the sea, and came across capuchin, spider, and howler monkeys, a squirrel, a coati, and a rather cute brown vine snake.

Near Cahuita is the Sloth Sanctuary, which rescues and nurses back to health injured sloths, raises baby sloths abandoned by their mothers, and carries out sloth research. While I was slightly disappointed by the tour (I had hoped to see sloths “roaming around,” i.e., hanging from trees), I just had to post this photo of a sloth settling down for a day of snoozing.

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Sunday and Tuesday, November 23 to 25, 2014

A major reason why Costa Rica packs in such great biodiversity despite its small size is its varied topography and range of climatic zones. In the morning, I was sweating on the hot, humid Caribbean coast; by the afternoon, I was freezing at an altitude of 2650m in the mountains of the Cordillera Talamanca. En route to Corcovado National Park on the Osa peninsula in the south, I stopped at the Mirador de Quetzales to catch a glimpse of the resplendent quetzal, which plays an important role in Mesoamerican mythology and is Guatemala’s national bird.

Setting off in the morning chill the next day at 6:30am (pretty much the normal time at which my days in Costa Rica start) with the local guide, we spotted four of these magnificent birds almost straight away, but getting a nice shot proved very difficult in the dim light. I therefore decided to stay for another day and went for a hike on a beautiful mountain trail, where I did catch a fleeting glimpse (and capture the first of the images here) of a male with its iridescent plumage and long tail feathers. The next morning, I was luckier: two males passed through, allowing enough time to get a few shots.

Next stop: Osa Pensinsula, which, as it turns out, deserves its own diary, which can be found here.

Wednesday to Sunday, November 25 to 30, 2014

The largest stronghold of Pacific coastline primary rainforest in all of Central and South America, the Osa Peninsula – and especially Corcovado National Park – contains one of the largest densities and varieties of wildlife in the world. The best base for organizing longer excursions into the park is Puerto Jiménez, a sleepy village on the Golfo Dulce. Even the village itself is a great place for spotting wildlife: right next to the “airport” (consisting of just a landing strip) is a swamp that is home to crocodiles, while scarlet macaws feed on the many almond trees scattered around the village. The owner of my hostel suggested that to see the crocs, I should go to the butcher and buy US$2 worth of offal to attract them. So the next morning that’s exactly what I set off to do. Slightly nervous, I asked a local whether it would really be a good idea, but he reassured me the crocs were very “tranquilo.”

It only took a minute to spot a large one serenely gliding through the middle of the swamp. Tossing some pieces of bone in its direction, it at first didn’t seem interested, but only a short while later, there were four or five of them just below the bank where I was standing – only 5m away! Snapping with their fierce jaws at the chunks of offal I threw at them, they continued to hang around when the all the offal was gone, and I was beginning to think: OK, you can now – I’m not sure I like the way you’re looking at me…Then the largest of them started gliding in my direction and suddenly propelled itself forward…my heart stopped! But fortunately it only went after a smaller croc. A few split seconds of loud splashing followed, and the smaller of the crocs fled out of the water, right onto the trail, blocking my way. I had a tree to jump on in my sight the whole time, but after a while, the croc disappeared again into the water, and all of them slowly dispersed. I wasn’t quite happy with the photos I took, but had too much respect to go back.