24th April: Costa Rica

Trip Start Apr 16, 2005
Trip End May 01, 2005

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Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Puntarenas,
Monday, April 25, 2005

I've been looking forward to this day for ages. It's one of the three highlights of the cruise for me.
I have had myself booked on a particular shore excursion well in advance: "Skywalk in the Forest". And no, not because of Star Wars connotations. The owners of this particular chunk of cloud-forest have created paths and strung up steel span bridges in a course leading down through it.
The trip wasn't scheduled until the afternoon, so I was on board ship in the morning, clearing down the camera's memory, loading new batteries etc. Which was handy as I was in a good spot to watch the crew lifeboat drill...

It was reassuring to see that these guys know exactly what they're doing.

So, to the skywalk. Where to start...?
The group I went with was, unfortunately, somewhat less than ideal. To say that I was the youngest amongst them is only the tip of the iceberg; I reckon there was 20 years between me and the next youngest. And they were predominantly American. There were times that I wished I'd packed some extra socks to cram into their drawling loud mouths.
That notwithstanding, it was an excellent walk. Not much to see in the way of wildlife (what a surprise that was with a continuous conversation in front of me about what tours Buddy and Marge had booked). Still, plants and insects don't mind the babble, and there was lots of the former and some excellent examples of the latter.
Here's a view of what we're about to wander through:
You can't tell it from the picture, but It Ain't Half Hot, Mum. Not to mention humid. Honestly, getting off an air conditioned coach into the rain forest was literally like walking into a sauna. One of the hot, wet ones at that. Our guide, Omar, gave us some figures about the amount of rainfall versus the amount of water collected from the atmosphere. I can't remember the numbers, but the long and short of it is that the forest doesn't need rain directly - it just absorbs all it needs from its atmosphere, all year round. That's why this is called cloud forest.
And here's the first bridge. It's not all that high - maybe 70ft - but it don't arf wobble!
During the 1.5 hour walk I learned an unimaginable amount of stuff - and missed as much again, usually because I was out of earshot as I'd stopped to take photos.
There is some stuff that I can remember though...

Now, here's a termite nest.
They always build in trees as a means of avoiding anteaters and other things that like termite-tasting. However, that's not enough as birds like 'em too. So they build under or around the nests of the Jub-Jub Bird [1] or even actually create a hole within the structure of the nest of the correct dimensions to attract one.
The bird makes such a racket in defending its territory that nothing goes near the termites.
Clever buggers.
This particular one is abandoned - the easy way to tell is that the tree above it has been stripped of leaves. Termites will never strip their own tree as it provides important shade.
Incidentally, whilst having this explained to me, I found myself standing in an ant-trail (with just my sandals on, I might add) and consequently ended up with a number of ants - and one or two other things who's identity and propensity for eating sweaty feet I'm not sure of - crawling over my bare feet. My immediate reaction was to kick them off, although I wish now I'd taken a photo first!

To the right is one of the few creatures bigger than an ant that could put up with the loud human company. This one is known as the "Jesus Gecko" for its trick of walking (well, skittering) over water. Alas, no water about for it to show us its party trick, although I'm sure if there was, one of our number would have offered it a couple of dollars to do so.

This 'ere with the ancient vine up it is an old fig tree.
No-one knows exactly how old as there's simply no way to tell. You can't count rings as there aren't any - the rain forest has no seasons and thus no annual growth spurt to form the rings. And carbon dating doesn't work because yada yada blah Arlene bought a fantastic necklace from those Indians yada yada. *sigh*
There are some 70-odd species of fig in the forest, apparently. Each of them relies on a specific species of wasp to fertilise it, and those wasps only visit that one species of fig. 'Mazin'.

Now, ants. There were 3 nests of leaf-cutter ants, and the third was by far the biggest and busiest.

Absolutely incredible to watch.

And as we were doing so, Omar picked up a particular specimen and told us about a little trick the locals used to employ. Here it is - a soldier ant:.
These fellas - sorry, girls - have extremely strong pincers. And if you put it on yourself it'll pinch you, hard, and won't come off until it wants to.
Now, because the inside of an ants nest is (so he says) extremely sterile, if you pick one out of the nest you have a fairly sterile kind of living staple. And that's exactly what they used them for. If someone had an open wound that needed closing, they'd grab a handful of soldier ants, pinch the wound shut, apply the ants and knock their 'eads off. Instant medical staples.
That was pretty much it for the trail (aside from an awful lot of stuff about plants - I could say more but a) you'll get bored and b) I've forgotten half of it).  And by the end, I wasn't sure if all the huge damp patches on me were sweat or just moisture absorbed from the Biggest Sauna In The World.

On the way back we made a couple of stops. The first was to see a roost for the local population of Egrets (I can hear Frank Sinatra singing it now: "Egrets, I've had a few..."). Noisy buggers, they are.

Next up, something far quieter but a tad more dangerous.
Crocs. In the wild. And thankfully a good 30' below us. These beauties were conveniently dozing under a bridge.

Finally, something rather rare, and rather likely to make certain readers swear (sorry Bill).
The Scarlet Macaw is apparently so rare now as to be classed as endangered.

Here's what one looks like:

Bit of a rough photo, but it was understandably rather a long way off. The blue thing is a nest box. I don't believe the bird built it itself.

So that was Costa Rica. And not a coffee bean in sight.
Our guide was absolutely brilliant. So incredibly knowledgeable about the flora and fauna, the ecology, even the politics of the country as it affects the environment. The latter in itself is a heart-warming tale. It seems that CR has seen the effect that it was having on the environment in good time, and has taken positive, nation-wide steps with subsidies and other incentives to correct where it was going wrong. It's not perfect, but it's definitely getting there. This is one big, eco-friendly country.
I could have listened to Omar for a week - and actually might consider doing so some time in the future. I have his name (Omar Torres) and email address (GreenEssence@walla.com). I'd like to come back and do it properly.
I have had a tantalising taster of Costa Rica, and I most definitely want more!

[1] He did tell us what bird it really was, but I can't remember.
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