Birdwatchers' Delight

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Friday, May 21, 2004

Although we were quite prepared to head out of Monteverde after just one night, we ended up staying eight days! Our campsite in the gardens of La Colina Lodge proved to be an ideal location, as we discovered that at 6 am each morning it was the starting point for special birdwatching tours. Rather than walking through the dense forests where the birds are difficult to spot, the favourite route for the guides was the very road running past our campsite. Thus, our routine gradually changed to earlier and earlier risings, in order to get out before the tourists and find yet another exotic species of tropical bird.

We don't consider ourselves serious ornithologists, but we certainly have become somewhat avid birdwatchers. To focus the field glasses on the brilliant hues of a Blue-crowned Motmot, or an Emerald Toucanet, or better yet, a Keel-billed Toucan......well, words can't really describe the deep feelings of excitement. We particularly enjoyed quietly watching a pair of Motmots foraging for fruit, insects and worms, and then making frequent visits to their nesting burrow on the side of the road (which can apparently extend from 5 to 10 feet into the bank). These birds live up to their exotic reputations, and compare favourably with the tropical birds that we were familiar with during our four years working in Sri Lanka.

There is also quite a variety of wildlife in the rainforest, but sightings are difficult due to the dense cover. Nonetheless, we were lucky enough to get a good view of a beautiful Ocelot running across the track in front of us, and we could imagine that the rustle in the undergrowth ahead was the rarely-seen Jaguar. Spotting a Two-toed Sloth cuddling a tree branch way above us (shades of "Life of Pi"), was another neat experience. Unfortunately, our camera does not have a sufficiently strong zoom lens to capture good close-ups of the animals, birds and butterflies, so we're afraid there are no photos to back up our sightings!

As you probably know by now, we generally try to avoid the regular tourist activities, but nonetheless decided to experience the cloud forest from above by signing up for the "Sky Walk". Surrounded by the dense, dripping foliage of the forest, the hiking trail took us over a series of eight very long suspension bridges passing over deep gullies, from which we could actually look down into the luxuriant growth. During our four hours on this ariel walkway high in the trees, we were rewarded with several sightings of Three-wattled Bellbirds, and even more spectacular - a couple of mystical Resplendent Quetzals in flight. The diversity and density of plant life in the cloud forest continues to amaze and delight us.

As it rained for most of our time in Monteverde, we dined out quite frequently. There were plenty of restaurants to choose from, ranging from gourmet establishments to the local Soda counters, or the ubiquitous pollo frito y papas (fried chicken & chips). We often enjoyed 'casado' or 'plato típico' which generally included beef, chicken or pork, rice, beans, fried banana and a touch of salad- very tasty, although somewhat bland compared to the spicy dishes of Mexico.

Again with some reluctance, we finally left the Monteverde area to head for the Nicoya Peninsula, home to some of Costa Rica's best beaches. The drive down to the coast through hot, dry, deforested hillsides was quite a contrast to the lush growth of the preserved rainforest areas. Reaching the coast brought yet another contrast, as we drove through highly productive agricultural valleys with large- scale melon production, irrigated rice, and intensive cattle production. Picture-perfect beaches on the Pacific Coast were relatively quiet, as the start of the rainy season had driven away the majority of visitors. We were very fortunate that it only rained in the evenings or during the night, thus allowing us to replenish our fast-fading tans during the sunny days (no, we didn't forget the sun screen!). We were also able to catch up on some reading, and spend time swimming and watching the expert surfers catch the 'perfect' wave.

Exploring the back roads of the Nicoya Peninsula proved to be somewhat of a challenge, as we were occasionally forced to backtrack where the road had washed out, or rivers were too deep to ford. The bucolic country roads eventually led us to Playa Naranjo where we caught the car ferry (quite a large, modern one this time) across to Puntarenas. Dark storm clouds were looming on the eastern horizon as we embarked on the crossing, and the heavy tropical rains started to lash down just after departure. Puntarenas is a port city on the end of a sandy peninsula almost eight km long and only a few hundred metres wide, and the sea is never far away. However, we saw almost nothing as we slowly made our way in the darkness through the badly flooded streets with the torrential rains continuing to beat down. With the almost total lack of road signs, we just had to keep our fingers crossed that we were on the right road. Yes, the rainy season has truly begun in Costa Rica!
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