La Selva Biological Station and Chocolate tasting

Trip Start Jul 18, 2009
Trip End Aug 03, 2009

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Where I stayed
La Quinta

Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Heredia,
Thursday, July 23, 2009

Today we visited La Selva Biological station just south of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui and at the confluence of the Puerto Viejo and Sarapiqui Rivers. The station has recorded over 400 birds, 460 tree species and 500 butterfly types in just 6 square miles!

I had made sure everyone had the right footwear but couldn't believe it when my heavy duty sandals and socks that were enclosed all except for a couple of holes at the top were deemed unacceptable and I had to change into a pair of ill-fitting rubber boots.  So ill fitting that I had to fold them down to get them over my fat calves! Of course this was to the delight of the rest of the family. So not looking my best in shorts and wellies we made our way over the swing bridge onto the main trail.

We were with a group of six French tourists and our guide was a young woman who turned out to be very knowledgeable. She explained how La Selva was a mix of primary and secondary forest and is very prone to flooding due to the fact that it is only just above sea-level.  Jaguars and Pumas have been spotted but you have to be very lucky. Our guide had been working here for over a year and had never seen either.

Our first stop was a tree covered in the pendulous nests of the Montezuma Oropendola a bird that we would see often in Costa Rica with its striking yellow tail. Our young female guide had a nest to show us, it was amazing, measuring about 100cm long and built of woven fibres and vines. Apparently the male will build a new nest each season.

Next a Chestnut Mandible Toucan flew into view with its brightly coloured bill unmistakable against the dark tree canopy. Its call is a very distinctive too, a piercing  'a-yip’.  We travelled further down the trail which is very accessible, in fact most people tended to travel by bicycles and we often had to move to one side to let a cyclist pass through.  La  Selva is maintained by the Organization for Tropical Studies so there are always lots of researchers staying  here involved in a variety of research projects.

We saw lots of interesting insects as we wondered through including the incredibly beautiful Blue Morpho and Monarch butterflies and the highly patterned Harlequin Beetle. The Monarchs are known for their long mating periods, sometimes remaining connected for days and for the fact that the males have sometimes been known to rape the pupa!   Leaf cutter ants were everywhere in long, sinuous lines each carrying pieces of foliage many times their own size back to their nests. We also saw many of the infamous Bullet Ants and for once I was quite happy with my tight rubber boots. Our guide told us that she had once been stung by one that had got into her shoe and she was in agony for quite a few days. Strange hairy caterpillars and large millipedes also abounded in the undergrowth.  This was also the habitat for the bright red Blue Jeans Dart Frog and we spotted quite a few of these distinctive amphibians looking like large strawberries on the forest floor. Its bright colour displayed as a warning to would-be predators indicating the presence of toxins in the frog’s skin. The blue jean’s part of the name relates to the fact that its legs are blue so that it appears that it is wearing a pair of levis.

All of a sudden one of the French guys came over and said he had spotted a snake on a branch a bit further back. It turned out to be a bright yellow and highly venomous Eyelash Palm Pit Viper. It was only a juvenile but our guide explained that sometimes these could be more dangerous as when young these snakes had not yet worked out how to control the amount of poison they need to catch their prey. It is called an Eyelash Pit Viper because of the modified bristly scales over its eyes that make it look as though it has eyelashes. It didn’t seem too interested in us and we were able to get quite close to photograph it.

A little later a Peccary crossed the trail in front of us, a type of pig found in Costa Rica although they are thought to be nearer related to hippos.  Their smell was unmistakable and it is often known as 'skunk pig' for obvious reasons.  When we got back to the reception area there were three Peccaries just wandering around. Apparently they can be quite aggressive and supposedly people have been killed by large groups but I have to say they didn’t look too dangerous to me.

The tour came to an end just before a heavy downfall started so we dived into the restaurant and helped ourselves to a coffee keeping ourselves dry only going back to the car when the rain finally subsided. We were beginning to understand why it is called 'rain forest'.

That afternoon we stopped off at a Snake Garden -   a serpentaria with over 50 snakes on display. It was a little disappointing and pricey. In fact the best part was the amazing painting on the building of a boa constrictor coiled around a jaguar. We then decided to do the Chocolate Tour at the Tirimbina Rainforest Centre. The $20 cost seemed expensive and we almost changed our mind but we were glad we didn’t as it was really interesting.  A short walk led us through to the small cocoa plantation and an outbuilding with seating. We watched as the guide talked us through the various aspects of chocolate making and the history of its first harvesting by the Aztecs and Mayans. The original white bean looked nothing like chocolate and it is not until it has been fermented and roasted that it begins to taste something like chocolate as a taste of a roasted bean was to prove. The beans were grinded and added to hot water to make a chocolate drink that we could add vanilla, chilli powder, nutmeg or pepper to taste. Incredibly chilli pepper was my favourite. Then the guide made a cacao paste pouring the blend into moulds, these were frozen to finally resemble a chocolate bar.

Back at the hotel Andy and the boys decided to float down the river on inflatable rings that were provided. Great fun as long as you were able to catch the rope thrown from the side. If you miss this point to get out of the river,  it is very difficult to come ashore further down. Luckily everyone managed to get out in time. I wasn’t sure where the river went from the hotel and visions of a Niagara experience further downstream came to mind.
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threepaths on

La Selva Chocolate
Great story!It's sounds like you had a great time. You're welcome to come stay at La Selva any time.Cheers!

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