Cerro de la Muerte

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Where I stayed
Suria Lodge

Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of San Jose,
Friday, May 14, 2010

Yesterday, we hired a guide, Walter, to take us on a day hike. He was absolutely brilliant. He spoke perfect English and knew everything there is to know about the local flora and fauna. We started by driving up to the top of the Cerro del Muerte (Mountain of Death!), which is one of the highest points on Costa Rica (3491m) and marks the northernmost extent of the paramo, a highland shrub habitat found further south in the Andes. From here, we could see right down into the Valle de Dota but only briefly before the clouds started to roll in. On a clear day, it is actually possible to see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from here.

We were following a trail that leads all the way down to San Gerardo de Dota, which lies at around 2200 metres, a distance of around 15km. As we descended, we moved through different plant habitats. In the paramo, grew ericaceous shrubs and flowers. Then the upper cloud forest began, the trees at first stunted and gnarled. As we moved lower, the trees gradually increased in size and were covered in epiphytes, such as bromeliads, lichens and orchids. Then we passed through a zone where the trees were decorated with long, wispy golden-red moss. It was a fairytale setting; wisps of cloud passed through the trees and the moisture in the air collected on the moss which glistened. Lower down still, palms and tree-ferns began to make an appearance. We saw many birds which all have wonderful names. Unfortunately, I can only remember a few: nightingale thrush, sooty robin, black cheeked solitaire, yellow-thighed flycatcher and volcano hummingbird.

We stopped half way and ate a packed lunch and discussed lots of interesting things with Walter – organic food, fruits of Costa Rica, religion, shamanism, and psychedelic plants! He was a wonderful guide, a fountain of knowledge and connected with the natural world around him.

Just before reaching San Gerardo de Dota, we entered a farm planted with apples, figs, plums, peaches and avocados. From there we passed through the grounds of an expensive lodge popular with birders. Around a feeder, a dozen or so jewelled hummingbirds, darted and hovered about, taking turns to sip tasty nectar. One of them was tiny, about the size of a 50 pence coin. There are 7 different hummingbird species in San Gerardo and about 57 in Costa Rica in total!

We were so tired at the end of the day that we were in bed with lights out at 7.45pm! Just as well as we were up at 5am this morning to go quetzal spotting. We walked a few kilometres down the road to where we knew there was a nest site. When we first got there, there was no sign of activity and we thought we were out of luck. We sat down on a log feeling despondent, when Tom turned around only to spot the male bird sitting a few metres away on a branch. The Resplendent Quetzal is a magnificent bird and considered sacred to the Mayan people.  The male has a crimson breast and bright green back with long blue-green tail feathers, 60cm long. He disappeared head first into the nest hole, a hollow cavity in a dead tree, leaving the tips of his tail feathers poking out. We waited patiently for about 40 minutes before he made a re-appearance, first poking his head out to survey the area before confidently flying to the same branch. He sat here a while to regurgitate the seeds of the small avocado fruits on which they feed, and which we had tasted on yesterday’s walk (similar to the avocados we buy but much smaller and more bitter).  Feeling very satisfied, we headed back to Suria Lodge for breakfast, and on the way discovered another nest hole where a pair of woodpeckers were feeding their demanding chick.

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