Hummingbirds at Monteverde, Costa Rica, April 2019

A selection of hummingbird photos – all the photos were taken at the bakery-cafe opposite Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve where there were abundant feeders.

Hummingbird identification is extremely tricky as males and females can look totally different. Adding to the confusion is the variety of species, and the below list is just in Costa Rica:

Jacobins, Sicklebills, Hermits, Barbthroats, Lancebills, Violetears, Fairies, Mangos, Thorntails, Coquettes, Brilliants, Hummingbirds, Starthroats, Mountaingems, Woodstars, Emeralds, Sabrewings, Plumeleters, Woodlymphs, Snowcaps, and Goldentails.

Mexico and Central America have 109 birds in the Hummingbird family.

Identification made much easier by using the Merlin app. The app can take a photo of your photo and identify it! Simply brilliant!

Above: Green-crowned Brilliant – male

Above: Coppery-headed Emerald – female

Above: Purple-throated Mountaingem – male

Above: Lesser Violetear – sexes similiar

Above: Violet Sabrewing – male.

Above: right: Purple-throated Mountaingem – female.

Santa Elena, Monteverde, Costa Rica, 1-7 April, 2019

Getting there: it was another three bus day.

After a wonderful breakfast at Posada Andrea Christina – scrambled eggs, home-made bread, fresh fruit juice, great brewed coffee, fresh fruit, and more – we caught the 8am bus from Puerto Viejo Sarapiqu to San Jose. A little while out of Puerto Viejo Sarapiqu the bus suddenly came to a stop. No traffic in front of us. Not a bus stop. John always sits on the window side – I prefer the aisle side. I asked if he could see what was going on. Yes, the driver has stopped to ensure a turtle did not get run over. It made it safely onto the verge.

There is a term used widely in Costa Rica – ‘Pura Vida’. We have been hearing it for weeks now and I had loosely translated it to a life lived well caring for others and the environment. That said, I thought I should do a google search to validate my thoughts. The following statements are from costrarica.org:

‘Costa Rican people tend to be much more relaxed and worry free’. Pura Vida means ‘simple life or pure life’…’and it’s a simple appreciation of life and the realisation that life is what you make of it’…I could spend hours googling life, health, happiness and poverty indices to validate my thoughts but I will leave that to another time.

John and I certainly have found the ‘Ticos’ as they are locally known, to be extremely friendly – I have commented on this in previous blogs. Even truck drivers wave at us – definitely a friendly wave, even when walking along the footpath.

So, the turtle made it safely across the road. We arrived in San Jose at 10.25am – the journey was supposedly two hours, but once again road works and San Jose traffic madness added an extra twenty-five minutes. We grabbed our bags from the stowage area and two minutes later we were in a taxi heading across town to another bus station.

Ticket buying is a very orderly affair with everyone taking their turn and forming a queue – just as you would expect. No pushing in, no unacceptable behaviour. I am now proficient in asking for ‘two tickets to Santa Elena’ for example. A far cry from our first trip to South America when we wrote down our destination and stumbled along.

At 11.15am, on the dot, our bus departed from San Jose for Punta Arenas. An extremely comfortable bus, but no air conditioning. This time we were heading north-west and the scenery was the complete opposite of the dense, moisture laden green jungle we had been in on the east side of the country. Dry, dry, dry with a mixture of bare trees and trees with leaves, and layers of brown dried leaves on the ground. The heat was dry and at times the breeze coming into the bus felt like opening the oven door.

We knew this was going to potentially be a very tight schedule as the bus from Punta Arenas departed at 1.15pm. Any roads works and delays would have meant staying there the night. It was a very unappealing spread out town from what we saw of it. Situated on a long narrow isthmus, the narrowest part was approximately 60 metres.

We arrived at 1.05pm, grabbed our bags, and walked over the road to a bus stop next to the beach. The bus was standing there, and already people were onboard. The driver could only fit John’s bag in the stowage area. The driver opened the wheelchair access door, and shoved my bag under the feet of a tourist with a surfboard and large backpack. In front of him was a washing machine in a box. I don’t think our fellow tourist was impressed as it meant he could not sit comfortably due my bag taking up his ‘feet room’.

We arrived in Santa Elena around 4.15pm – along the way the bus had to climb some steep ascents. At one stage the bus stopped and slide backwards a few meters – I thought the driver was going to ask us all to walk up the incline. But no, he managed to inch the bus up the hill. Very, very slowly in the lowest gear. It was a relief to finally arrive.

That all said, the three bus day was necessary as the alternative was returning to San Jose and staying overnight. There are two buses daily from San Jose – one departs at 5.30am – a tad inconvenient; the other at 2.30pm – also inconvenient due to accommodation check out times and given it is an approximate three hour journey. All travelling arrangements are due to John’s diligent internet research and use of the local timetables.

Above: map of Costa Rica showing the Monteverde region. Santa Elena is right next to Monteverde but not shown.

The township of Santa Elena is located in the famous area of Monteverde – the home of remarkable cloud forests. Situated at the peak of the continental divide, warm humid trade winds sweep up from the Caribbean and over the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The air then cools and condenses into clouds – a continuous mist that settle over the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. This is “billy-goat’ country – you would become extremely fit living here walking around the steep hills. Every so often we would see an extremely fine mist in the air, almost like fine clear dust particles if any such thing existed. One moment they were there, and then they were gone.

Quakers have an association with Monteverde.

The following information is from quakersintheworld.org:

The small Quaker community in Costa Rica was founded in 1951 by a group of eleven Quaker families from Alabama. Four young Friends had recently been jailed for refusing to serve in the Korean War and the families were seeking somewhere they could live in peace.

Hubert Mendenhall travelled overland by truck from the US, looking for suitable land for the group to settle, eventually arriving in Costa Rica.  The country had just abolished its army and the government was encouraging foreigners to come and develop the land. Once Mendenhall found Monteverde in the centre of the country, which was then accessible only by ox cart, he knew he had found what they were looking for.

The families purchased 1500 hectares of land, which was divided between the families. Each family then built their own house, with the community holding “house raising bees” to set the foundations and raise the heavy frames’…’However, the community also made the far-sighted decision to set aside an area on the mountain slopes as virgin cloud forest – high altitude forest cooled by moist air from the Pacific.  In the early 1970s, when scientist George Powell began buying up land to prevent forest clearance, this land became the kernel of the newly established the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, now an international model for conservation. Wolf Guindon, one of the original Quaker settlers, was among the leaders of these pioneering conservation efforts’.

We visited three reserves during our one week stay: the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and the Curi Cancha Reserve. All three reserves are different environmentally due to their locations and elevations, and influence of the trade winds. Prior to our visit I imagined they would all look the same – how wrong!

Weather. John says I only comment about the weather when it is stinking hot and I’m not ‘coping’ – fair enough. So, that said, here is my official comment: the weather here has been a wonderful period of respite. Cool enough to use a blanket at night – heaven!

We took the 6.30 am bus up to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Admission price: A$20 each. The reserve covers 765 acres and the elevation is generally 1600 metres. It is a communal project managed by the administrative board of the Santa Elena Technical High School since 1992. Strong winds swept overhead and the tallest trees swayed back and forth – the wind sounded like waves rolling onto a shore in the far distance. It is like an enchanted forest. Here all the trees are heavily draped with lichens and mosses. Epiphytes and bryophytes line the branches. Tree ferns, vines and mosses add to the overwhelming shades of green upon green. A visual and sensory experience.

Above: a ‘window’ into the forest at Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve.

The excellent walking trails were constructed of concrete, brick or gravel.

Above: trail at Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve.

It was extremely quiet bird wise – we did not hear birds calling until later in the morning. A sudden swoosh through the trees and two Black Guans landed almost above us. These large black birds have turquoise-purple bills.

Above: Black Guan.

Later in the afternoon I watched some videos in the cinema room. It was heartening to learn they have set up motion sensor cameras and amongst numerous mammals, have recorded five felines – amongst them jaguars, pumas and jaguarundis. Alas, I have no photos to show you, but it is wonderful to know these animals are protected here and hopefully safe from poachers.

Above: fungi – Coprinellus disseminatus – thank you for the information Kush!

We caught the 6.15 am bus to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, arriving around 6.45am. The admission price is A$31 each, and the entrance opened at 7am, which we thought was a bit late….the reserve is located south-east of the Santa Elena township and is not as heavily ‘draped’ in lichens as was Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. It promised sightings of the Resplendent Quetzal, however we were not holding our breath, having not seen them at Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. We walked for hours, and when eating our brunch around 11am began chatting with a fellow tourist. Had she seen a Quetzal? ‘Oh yes, it’s easy!’ she replied, and gave us instructions on where to see it.

We followed the trail she mentioned, then all of a sudden we came across two security guards! Two! Crowd control as a pair of Resplendent Quetzals had chosen a tree right next to the trail to nest in. The hole was only two to three metres from the ground. We took numerous photos, none of which are extremely good. John reckons we will see heaps more in Nicaragua and Guatemala – therefore more photo opportunities. I won’t hold my breath. Above: male Resplendent Quetzal, female behind.

Above: male Resplendent Quetzal inspecting the nest.

Above: security guard on the left. The other guards was around the corner – thus tourists were controlled from both directions. People were asked to speak quietly.

A white-nosed coutimundi crossed our path:

Above: white-nosed coutimundi, also known as a couti. Sorry, a little blurry.

We visited the bakery opposite the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve – a coffee and cake was essential by 1pm. The feeders were well attended by all the local hummingbirds, and even the odd species that I would not usually associate with such a feeder, such as a Banaquit. These feeders contain a sugar-water solution to attract hummingbirds -admittedly this is how you can have a really close look at hummingbirds. When visiting flowers they flit so quickly from flower to flower it is difficult to focus on them. Sugar solution is contentious and opinions differ as to whether this harms the birds or not. I plan to do a seperate hummingbird blog post.

Curi Cancha Reserve. Admission price: A$20.50 each. Once again, the 6.15am bus going to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, however Curi Cancha is located a few kilometres before Monteverde and at a lower elevation. What an amazing difference! The trails were dry and dusty, a thick carpet of fallen leaves lay under the trees and vegetation that was no where as dense as the two reserves mentioned above. Numerous huge strangler figs – perhaps we were noticing them because of the more open environment. And the ‘openness’ led to some nice viewings of difficult little birds normally elusive – for instance, Grey-breasted Woodwren and Rufous-capped Brush Finch.

Above: John standing in front of a tall strangler fig.

Above: looking up.

Above: John and tree.

We were excited to see a nine-banded Armadillo scratching around in leaves – John has posted a video on FaceBook.

Above: unknown impressive orchid species.

Above: this interesting insect visited at lunchtime.

Costa Rica is a progressive country, and the population is proud of its environmental credentials. And tourism figures back that up. Apart from this, cigarettes are hidden from view in shops, and no smoking signs abound in public places. Anti sexual harassment and foul language signs are in shops and even buses.

Above: sign in bus.

Above: sign in shop stating sexual harassment will not be tolerated.

There is an interesting article in The Saturday Paper article titled ‘All Torque, Not Enough Action’ by Mike Seccombe, (6 April 2019). The paragraph of interest commences: ‘Also, on the fast growing list of nations….’

Above: screen shot from The Saturday Paper 6 April 2019.

Our next destination is Cano Negro in northern Costa Rica near The Nicaraguan border – yes, another birding and wildlife hotspot.

Puerto Viejo Sarapiquí, Costa Rica, 27-31 March 2019

On the 26th March we travelled from Cahuita back to San Jose, arriving in the early afternoon at the wonderful Hotel Casa Ridgeway. Imagine our surprise when we were told there was no water available between the hours of 10am to 10pm. The entire city was on restrictions. The reason? El Nino and altered weather patterns resulting in reduced rainfall.

The following morning we caught a bus to Puerto Viejo Sarapiqui (PVS) – a journey of two hours. So very civilised. As Costa Rica is a small country, we are not experiencing any of the long haul bus journeys in our previous trips to South America.

Above: the blue dots indicates Puerto Viejo Sarapiquí.

Our delightful host Alex, and his family, own Posada Andrea Christina Bed and Breakfast in PVS. It is located approximately half a kilometre from the town centre. A sloth was high in the trees near the front gate. Alex bought two acres of deforested land, a block sloping down to a creek, back in 1975. He lived overseas for ten years, then returned in 1985, and commenced planting numerous species in 1987. E-bird indicates 248 species have been identified on these two acres. Alex, however, has a list of 260 species. Aged 69, he has not lost any of his passion about nature and the environment – he delights in sharing his knowledge. We experienced a couple of sunny warm days when we first arrived – it was a delightful relief to walk into his gardens and experience the immediate cooling effect of all the tall trees and vegetation. I must add the other days were overcast with rain in the afternoons or evenings. This was wonderful as it brought out all the frogs. Alex showed us Red-eyed Green Frogs one evening – four pairs were in full ‘courtship’ mode. The next afternoon, he showed me some of the jelly-like eggs sacks laid under hanging palms leaves. He was like a proud new dad….. On our first evening, Alex was very excited to show us ‘Click bugs’ that appear shortly after dark. Yes, they made a clicking sound, but they are Pyrophorus – they glow constantly when in flight. In contrast, fireflies flash.

We frequently heard Mantled Howler Monkeys, and breakfast near the bird feeder was a delight with Scarlet-rumped Tanagers, Blue-grey Tanagers, and Green Honeycreepers being regulars.

Above: at the bird feeder; left: female Scarlet-rumped Tanager; right: Blue-grey Tanager.

We visited the La Selva Biological Reserve located nearby and participated in a three hour guided tour. The reserve covers 1600 hectares of well preserved old growth forest and sixty-one universities are involved in research. E-bird indicates 493 species. Our guide George asked us what we were interested in. We said we were interested in anything he wanted to show us. John and I found the tour fascinating. For me, it was one of those experiences where you understand the tour guide was highly knowledgeable in his given field, and he explained so many fascinating interconnections between plants and animals and insects. Apart from other general information. It made me realise what a small bubble of a world I live in. So, that said, here is some information and photos from that morning, in random order:

Above: Strawberry Poison Dart Frog

There are two types of sloth. The two toe sloths are brown, can’t hear and can’t swim. The three toe sloths are grey – they can hear and swim. Sloths defecate (poo) once a week. And only on the ground. When on the ground they are very vulnerable to an attack by either pumas, jaguars, leopards and ocelots. All these fore mentioned animals inhabit the reserve. When sloths poo, they loose about a third of their body weight.

Woodpeckers have a cavity behind their brain – when they drum, or peck on a branch, their tongue rolls up into this cavity. Thus they don’t bite their tongues when drumming on branches.

There are 114 bat species in Costa Rica and 72 in La Selva.

Above: Honduran White Bats

George told us about a philodendron type of plant that opens its flower/s around 6pm every evening. Beetles are attracted to the pollen, then after a certain time the flower closes so the beetles are then trapped until 6pm the next evening. Bingo! The beetles are covered in pollen, and are able to pollinate other philodendrons.

Above: Peccary – a pig species.

Above: Keel-billed Toucan. The bill is lime, turquoise and red – it’s a shame the morning was overcast when I took this photo.

Above: Collared Aracari.

We strolled home from La Selva and along the way were extremely excited to see a solitary Great Green Macaw – these birds are endangered. (A few mornings later we saw two pairs fly overhead). We met an older man with a bag of tuber like vegetables. He appeared to be perhaps a little drunk, or maybe had a hang-over as I thought I could smell alcohol. He was very keen to engage us in conversation, and I did my best to explain our limited Spanish. John commenced wandering along the road, leaving me to ‘deal’ with him. Suddenly he was kissing my hands, and had he had the opportunity he would have been hugging me. I pulled away, saying ‘Adios, mi amigo’ and walked to John and told him what had happened. And I said: ‘Well, he hasn’t heard about the #Me-too movement’.

We took back roads for a large portion of the walk home, but eventually we had to walk along the main highway. There was no footpath along the section we walked, and the side of the road sloped down towards fields. Billy-goat slopes. As an aside, the township of PVS has decent footpaths. I became extremely tense at one stage as two huge trucks had to pass on this narrow road – I swear the truck missed me by only inches.

Above: narrow bridge

Other mornings we would walk along a grassed road between paddocks – this road was great for open canopy birdwatching. At one particular location some trees were ripe with small berries – each morning we saw Collared Aracaris, Yellow-throated Toucans and Keel-billed Toucans. Then we followed dense jungle trails looking down onto the Sarapiquí River – some great birds seen were: Snowy Cotinga, Laughing Falcon, Amazon Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Rufous Motmot, Keel-billed Motmot and Black-cowled Oriole. We had hoped to see a Sunbittern, but no luck. We have been using the Merlin bird app from Cornell University (USA) for this trip – it is a wonderful free resource with pictures, maps and calls. We have downloaded maps for countries we plan to visit – it is well worth having a look at this app. Their aim is to eventually list every country and bird….The Merlin app describes the Sunbittern as: ‘One of the most dazzling of all the world’s birds; the intricate yellow, red and black pattern on the spread wings is otherworldly’. Oh well, we still have a chance when we visit Nicaragua. You simply can’t see everything!

Above: squirrel

Puerto Viejo Sarapiquí has a population of 9,600 as stated in the October 2018 Lonely Planet Guide. This seems hard to image as there is one main street with shops, restaurants, and various stores. We were constantly surprised by a high police presence – whenever we were in town late afternoon for a meal we always saw police cars driving slowly around with flashing lights. No sirens. We wondered why there was such a high police presence – we certainly never felt threatened, here, or anywhere else in Costa Rica.

There was a carnival over the weekend at the end of March – these ‘toffee apples’ caught my attention and I thought they would make a good entry in the Royal Melbourne Show.

Above: ‘toffee apples’.

Our next destination is Santa Elena.

Cahuita, Costa Rica, 22-25 March 2019

Three buses to reach Cahuita from Orosi:

The 6.45am from Orosi to Cartago – standing room only.

Cartago – we immediately caught the 7.40am bus to San Jose – it was a one hour journey.

Once in San Jose we walked to the next bus station. We waited one hour for the 10am bus to Cahuita. It was supposedly a four hour journey, but with road works along the way causing delays the journey was five hours. To our surprise this was the first bus journey where there were no stops.

After we reached the Port of Limon the road wound its way beside the black sand beaches littered with driftwood and tree stumps. Arrived around 3pm in Cahuita and walked to our accommodation.

Above: map of Costa Rica detailing Cahuita

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After our experience of heat at Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula we had almost decided to give Cahuita a miss – one of the Drake Bay locals had advised it was even hotter on the Caribbean coast. Well, what a surprise. And a delight. During our four day stay the weather was generally overcast with occasional sunny patches. There was a constant sea breeze. I was immensely relieved. And rain overnight. The frogs commenced a loud evening chorus.

Our accommodation was Pepe’s Tropical Bungalow, rustic accommodation directly opposite the black beach. (And the most expensive restaurant in Cahuita – apart from ‘out-there’ prices, they charge 15% tax, AND a 15% service charge. We did not dine there). Yes, the beach had black sand. The advantage of Pepe’s was being located a ten minute walk from the main restaurant and bar area – the quiet location suited us down to the ground. It was also priced very reasonably – accomodation tends to be on the high side in Cahuita.

Above: sunbathers – perhaps they had travelled a long way for sun and sand.

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The small town of Cahuita has a few paved streets, the remaining streets are dirt and gravel, albeit with a fair share of potholes. There are discussions regarding sealing the roads, but one resident westerner we spoke with said she likes the ambience of the dirt roads. One benefit, as I see it, is it slows down the traffic. The overnight rain was a bonus as it subdued the dust.

Above: Kawe Soda: traditional kitchen where we dined nearly every day.

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Cahuita National Park is one of the smallest national parks in Costa Rica. It commences at sea level, and the highest elevation is five metres. We visited the National Park on two occasions. One of the entrances opens at 6am, so we were there not long after opening. The facilities are excellent – numerous seats and rain shelters, and toilets located at the entrance. A ‘donation’ of US$5 per person was suggested – a very different policy from many of the other national parks that charge US$20 per person.

It’s odd, but the sand alters from black to white at the entrance to Cahuita National Park. And it is one of those classic wide beaches, suitable for swimming, except where red flags indicated rips. I’m sorry, but I could not find an explanation as to why the sand suddenly changed colour.

The park was a feast for the eyes and senses. White-faced Capuchins swung through the branches. Mantled Howler Monkeys screamed from high above us.

Above: young Mantled Howler Monkey

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On our first visit we walked along the trail as far as the creek – the white sandy beach on one side, the dense jungle on the other side. Like an enchanted forest. Low lying areas were swampy – the dark still waters with numerous reflections of various greens in sharp contrast to the constant movement and crashing of the waves. Vines climbed trees, reached the top, and with nowhere to go, hung down in wide leafy curtains. Dense undergrowth. The slightest movement of leaves caused us to stare silently. And concentrate, looking for hidden clues. This is where most of the action occurred. Chestnut-backed Antbirds and other skulking allies darted about. Red Squirrels raced along branches. Sloths dozed high in the trees. We actually witnessed one moving – it was slow motion to the max!

Above: Three Toed Sloth

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Above: Fellow tourists pointed out this Poisonous Green Dart Frog.

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We saw four species of Heron: Boat-billed Heron, Little-blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron and Great-blue Heron.

Above: Boat-billed Heron.

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Here is another wonderful looking reptile:

Above: Common Basilisk

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On our second visit we decided to cross the creek and walk to the point. A journey of 4.1 kilometres one way from the entrance gate. We removed our shoes and socks and waded through the warm water. Not far along this section of the trail we came across some abandoned iron cables – that’s odd, we thought. Then a little further along an abandoned exploratory oil well dating to 1910 – right on the trail – only five or six metres from the waters edge. Warm water bubbled out from the concrete oblong structure. The beach from the creek to the point was extremely narrow, generally only one or two metres wide. Additionally, the beach was strewn with driftwood and trees that had been uprooted from the jungle edge – the dirt still visible in some of the large root systems. Strong winds, strong tides, both, or climate change? It was either raining or drizzling – we were appreciative of the shelters. A long boardwalk made entirely of reconstituted plastic surprised us – obviously wooden structures do not last long in such steamy tropical environments and management had opted for a more durable material.

We saw a few Agoutis on the trail – a rodent type animal. They quickly disappeared back into the dense vegetation when we approached them.

Above: Agouti

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A raccoon even wandered along the trail towards us and stopped only two metres in front of me, then foraged amongst vegetation. My camera jammed! (It’s ok now). John was fortunate to be able to video the raccoon.

Above: the sudden sound of crashing vegetation revealed another Common Basilisk.

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The rainy morning caused some ants to be on the move. A corridor of ants, at least eight or ten abreast, was marching across the trail. All the visitors were watching this marvellous procession. A French couple were walking along the trail, probably more focused on their two children, and he suddenly saw the ants. ‘Oh la la! Oui!’ he exclaimed. I had a great chuckle to myself. Cahuita National Park has a very high rate of tourists – each time we walked back to the entrance gate we would pass group of between two to ten people, or more, with an accredited tourist guide.

Some other Cahuita sights:

A Black Vulture hopping along after an egret in the hope it may steal a meal….

Four Gartered Trogons were seen sitting on power lines – four! For those of you not familiar with the trogon family, these birds can be notoriously difficult to see as they generally speaking, sit very still on branches in deep vegetation.

Above: Gartered Trogon.

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Our next destination is San Jose, then Puerto Viejo Sarapiqui.

Orosi, Costa Rica, 19-21 March 2019

On Sunday 17 March we caught the 7.15am boat from Drake Bay back to Sierpe – the entire operation is such a well coordinated service! We have nothing but praise! All the accommodation operators book their passengers onto the ferry the day before so they know whether one or two ferries are required. Young men greet you at the beach and carry luggage onto the boat, and store the bags in the luggage hold. Once in Siepre we caught a taxi ‘collectivo’ to Palma Norte arriving at 8.55am. The bus to San Jose was waiting for the collectivo and any other taxis to arrive, then it departed at 9am. All so smooth! It makes travelling in Costa Rica easy. Well, this has certainly been our experience so far.

The bus travelled up the west coast by the Pacific Ocean for quite a while – as it was Sunday many people were enjoying a day at the beach. Then it headed inland to San Jose.

We had booked a couple of nights at Hotel Casa Ridgeway – a delightful unimposing Quaker establishment in Central San Jose. No smoking, no drinking, quiet basic rooms generally without an ensuite, suiting budget travellers, but certainly adequate. A couple of lounge rooms, lots of peace and activist posters and artworks, an extremely large library devoted to peace movements and important people who have contributed throughout the ages, and a kitchen to boot! And importantly, helpful caring staff. Our room was the Aung San Suu Kyi room – as her reputation is now tarnished due to the Rohinga crisis over the past few years, we thought perhaps that room could be renamed. We tried to book our room via their webpage contact form, and then email. Unfortunately no response. We then used booking.com and secured our room. Staff said it’s best to phone when booking a room. (I never did really understand why this was the case).

Above: Poster at Hotel Casa Ridgeway

Our next destination was Orosi, south-west of San Jose. In San Jose we walked from Hotel Casa Ridgeway to the bus station a few blocks away and caught a bus to Cartago at 8.40am. The journey was only forty minutes approximately. Cartago was struck by earthquakes in 1723, 1822, 1841 and most recently 1910. Accordingly it has been rebuilt, in a rather utilitarian fashion without much consideration for aesthetics. Substance over style.

Please forgive me if I indulge myself briefly and discuss earthquakes. I became curious as to how frequently Costa Rica experiences tremors and earthquakes. A quick Google search reveals a wealth of information from various sites regarding current tremors and quakes. We have not felt any tremors – probably sleeping far to soundly due to all the walking every day! Here is a screenshot from volconadiscovery.com

Above: Earth tremor data courtesy of volcanodiscovery.com

We misunderstood where the bus departed for Orosi, so we walked around town for about half an hour trying to locate the bus stop. Well, the benefit was seeing other parts of the town and walking through a square called Las Ruinas. A few extremely old trees graced one corner of this square, and one could just imagine how magnificent the town must have been before the various earthquakes. Finally I asked a local in my broken Spanish where the bus stop was – we were only a block away!

Above: These coin trays are in every bus.

Our bus wound its way down into The Orosi Valley – home to numerous small market gardens and coffee farms. Orosi, situated at 1,068 metres, is surrounded by high mountains, and heavy mists came and went frequently. This little township was a haven from the heat. Our ‘home’ for three nights was Montana Linda Guesthouse – three upstairs rooms each with an ensuite, a kitchen, dining area and lounge room downstairs. Plus the guesthouse black cat that I immediately bonded with.

The Orosi church was built in 1743 by the Spaniards, and is one of the oldest religious sites still in use today. Many have been ruined by earthquakes. The roof is a combination of thatch and ceramic tiles. I recognised the distinctive gentle curved shape as similar to old tiles we had seen in Paraguay a few years prior. It was explained to us that tiles were thus shaped by laying pieces of clay over workers’ thighs to create the distinctive shape.

Above: Orosi church

Above: Orosi church – interior, looking outside.

Tapanti National Park, approximately fifteen kilometres from Orosi at a guess, receives the highest annual rainfall of all locations in Costa Rica. We would have liked to visit the national park, but without a car it was impossible.

Therefore we decided to birdwatch along the road to Tapanti – good ‘open corridors’. Two mornings we caught the bus from Orosi to Rio Macho, then a bus from Rio Macho to the small village of Purisil. The bus ended there. On the first morning we walked the road towards Tapanti. Initially we were walking in a fine mist – one of those mists that does not make your clothes damp. However, as we climbed slowly higher, the mist turned to a light shower causing us to use our umbrella.

Above: Bridge on the way to Tapantí National Park. As we walked towards Tapantí, the weather became more inclement.

It was a great birding morning with plenty of ‘lifers’ seen: Violet Sabrewing (hummingbird species); White-eared Ground-Sparrow; Crimson-collared Tanager; Chestnut-headed Oropendola; Black-headed Saltator, and Cinnamon Becard.

Above: Oropendola nests.

We walked back to Purisil and sat under a shelter waiting for the 12.05pm bus to Orosi. A couple of young men approached us, and for the first time during this trip, one of them wanted to have his photo taken with us. I thought this a bit odd, but we obliged. (Being photographed with, or by locals when in Indonesia in 2018 was a common occurrence).

Well, the following morning, when we alighted the bus at Rio Macho and waited for the bus to Purisil, the same young man was also waiting for the bus. We got to talking, and he told us he was learning English using Duolingo. We could certainly relate to Duolingo as we had been using this app in our attempts to learn Spanish – we shared some laughs about this. However he said he could not afford English lessons. Together we alighted the bus in Purisli, and this time we had decided to walk the road to the trout farms. He headed off on the same road, us dawdling along bird watching.

A little later we came across this cemetery. None of the gravestones had names or dates.

Above: Purisil: gravestones.

And further along the road we once again met the young man. Turns out his name is Guayner, and together with his girlfriend Zayra they were farming this land. He was delighted to show us around. He had a large crop of lettuce – the variety we call ‘butter lettuce’ in Australia. I explained this name and he seemed very puzzled that a lettuce could be called such – perhaps the meaning was lost in my poor translation.

Above: From left to right: Guayner, John and Zayra

We continued up along the road and looked down onto a rather picturesque trout farm surrounded by manicured gardens with cultivated hydrangeas. A truck rumbled by slowly. On we went until the road ended at another trout farm. We stood in the clearing before the entrance, bird watching. A man came out and invited us in, advising there were waterfalls to see and trout for sale. We politely declined both. We could see a group of men catching trout and putting them into large containers of water on the back of the truck. A little later on, the truck rumbled by slowly, a young man standing on the back of the truck supervising the trout in the containers. Every time the truck lurched on this very rough road water splashed out. The young man had a hose and appeared to be blowing air into the main container to aerate it. He was definitely going to be quite wet by the journey’s end.

Once again we waited for the 12.05 bus to Orosi – the next one was three hours later and there were no cafes or restaurants in this small village. Swallow-tailed Kites were gliding the thermals.

On our last evening we heard the beating of drums coming from somewhere near the Orosi church. Then trumpets playing, albeit often not in tune together. I stood on our balcony with my binoculars and could see the procession slowing walking up our street. Numerous people with drums and trumpets – and they were carrying a tall statue of Christ. Our neighbour in the next room – who was taking Spanish lessons in the Orosi village – said she thought it was a name day celebration.

Our next destination is Cahuita, Costa Rica, on the Caribbean coast.

Bahia Drake, (Drake Bay), Osa Peninsular 11-17 March 2019

Our Airbnb host Wendy didn’t think it was possible to travel from Guadalupe to Drake Bay in one day. Well, with John’s wonderful research we proved that to be incorrect. The alarm was set for 4.30am, and we caught the first bus bound to San Isidro at 5.45am. Arrived in San Isidro with half an hour to spare for the 7am bus to Palma Norte. Early on in the journey an elderly lady boarded the bus wearing a T-shirt with English words: ‘I hate mornings’. I had a chuckle to myself and wondered if she spoke English or knew what her T-shirt meant. Along the way we saw numerous acreages of pineapples – interesting to note that intact areas of vegetation surrounded these pineapple fields. It certainly appeared to not be a policy of vast land clearing and cropping. At lower altitudes the pineapples gave way to bananas and then coconuts. The coconut plantations reminded us of palm oil plantations in Indonesia, however on a smaller scale – let’s face it, you can only capture a very small overview when on a bus. Arrived in Palma Norte at 9.30am and immediately caught a taxi to Sierpe, about a fifteen minute drive away. We waited at Sierpe for the public ferry in a large restaurant cum waiting area until 11.30am. The food and shade were welcome.

The ferry journey, really a very large speed boat, was approximately an hour. We initially travelled down the river and through the mangrove estuary. Lush vegetation graced the hills behind the mangroves. Then into Drake Bay. The Lonely Planet describes Drake Bay as one of Costa Rica’s most isolated destinations; the journey as ‘exhilarating’ when the boat captains pilot their boats through the tidal currents. I found this section of the trip extremely bumpy when we crashed up and over the waves…We expected there to be a jetty at Drake Bay – not the case. We took off our boots, hopped over the side of the boat into the water as warm as a tepid bath, and carried our luggage ashore. Palm trees and other lush vegetation lined the coffee coloured sandy beach. Magnificent Frigate Birds and Black Vultures circled overhead, and a flock of six or more screeching Scarlet Macaws flew by. Welcome to Agujitas, the small once sleepy town of Drake Bay.

Above: Scarlet Macaw. We saw, and heard them every day.

We had not booked any accommodation. As it turns out, we arrived at the hottest time of the day in the hottest month. It was really, really stinking hot (and I underscore the words stinking hot) and we dragged our bags up a dusty dirt road stopping at a few places without finding a room. By the time we reached the town centre of Agujitas at the top of the hill I was ready to settle for any room that had a fan. Jade Mar Bungalows had no bungalows available, but we settled for a room with shared facilities for US$25 a night. Paid for two nights. As we were tired, hot and bothered we felt it was a bit grungy, but the heat and exhaustion had coloured our attitude. Worried about noise from fellow travellers we decided to look elsewhere and trudged half a kilometre out of town to see Drake Bay Paradise Lodge (DBPL) bungalows.

Above: Drake Bay main street – the centre of town.

Above: commonly used local transport – quad bikes.

Staff at DBPL are certainly not used to ‘walk-ins’, and there was a lot of argy-bargy about the price and numerous phone calls as John could have booked a special deal on booking.com and the staff member seemed not to believe us until we showed him the actual booking we were going to make rather than dealing directly and giving them cash. They finally relented and gave us a minor discount to better the booking.com price. The final price was A$44.75 per night. We booked four nights, but were not able to see inside the bungalow as they were all occupied. As in typical manner here, it turned out to not have a lined ceiling – that is, the ceiling is the iron cladding. Same as at Cold River Cabins mentioned in an earlier blog.

But Jade Mar turned out not to be the grungy first impression. Staff were extremely helpful. I will digress and discuss their helpfulness. One staff member, Luis, was exceptionally helpful and made phone calls on our behalf and even sent an email in Spanish to our preferred next destination, El Copal. Turned out to not be possible as only tour groups go there during very limited times of the year. The daughter of Jade Mar’s owners was born in Agujita and she is now thirty-three years old. She recounted that Agujitas did not have electricity connected until she was eighteen years old. Before then, the family was able to watch one hour of television per day courtesy of a battery and a solar panel. We also discussed ownership of the larger more expensive resorts. She advised all but one resort were foreign owned – yet another example of profits going offshore. Locals employed in such resorts can expect to earn approximately US$600 per month, and perhaps collect some tips along the way. Jade Mar was immaculately clean, the balcony had superb views into tall trees and the sea in the distance, we could have used the shared kitchen, and our co-residents were certainly not noisy – always our greatest fear. Mind you, the room had two fans and this assisted in drowning out any noise. It was just unfortunate all their bungalows were full when we arrived. Scarlet Macaws and numerous other species frequented the trees in front of the balcony. As well as this impressive Green Iguana:

Most people visit this remote isolated Osa Peninsular to visit Corcovado National Park, or to go scuba diving. We did neither. I was feeling guilty about the fact that we had travelled so far and had not made arrangements after a few days to visit the National Park. Accordingly I read the Lonely Planet section about the National Park. You need to take a boat to the park, and by the time you arrive most animals have disappeared for the day. Neither of us could image even attempting a trek at high speed with a young cohort intent on seeing animals. Bird watching pace would not have been catered for. The cost for a seven hour visit was either US$85-90 per person depending upon the exact destination. An overnight stay was US$375 per person. I felt very much reassured we had made the correct decision, and accordingly we decided to do other tours – a night tour, and a birdwatching tour. I will discuss the tours later.

We arrived at Drake Bay Paradise Lodge and within minutes a troop of Capuchin Monkeys, also known as White-Faced Monkeys came leaping onto our bungalow roof and crashing into the trees – it was the only time we saw them. Most mornings a few Yellow-throated Toucans sat high in the tallest trees and made a hell of a racket during sunrise.

Above: Capuchin monkey.

Above: our bungalow at Drake Bay Paradise Lodge.

Above: the Lesson’s Motmot that frequented a tree in front of our balcony – unfortunately this photo only partially captured the beautiful long tail feathers.

During our six night stay we did a lot of walking around the small town of Agujitas starting early in the morning in an impossible attempt to beat the heat.

Above: hibiscus avenue.

Mind you, 25 degrees at 6am is beginning to feel cool! The town and surrounding areas are hilly with dusty dirt roads. Locals get very tired of the powder fine dust – we have seen them hosing the road, hosing plants, sweeping the front of their shops and so on.

Above: local sign.

Costa Rica is ever so rich in animal and plant diversity. The iridescent Blue Morpho butterflies are a sight to be seen – their wingspan is between 12.7-15.5cm – and they just suddenly dance in front of you and then disappear. Striped ‘Jesus’ lizards run across water…One morning when out walking we heard a loud howling and I went into ‘flight or fight mode’ thinking a wild boar was about to come racing out the jungle. A troop of Howler monkeys swung through the trees above us. A little further on a tiny ‘helicopter’ hovered in front of us – it turned out to be a black/grey damsel fly with lacy black/grey wings with yellow spots on the end of each wing. All we could see were yellow spots going round and round – simply remarkable. I later googled this, and yes, there is such a thing as a ‘helicopter damselfly’.

The night tour at Rio Agujitas Farm was fascinating. A whole new world opened up…We were given gumboots and spent most of the time wading up and down a shallow stream. We saw two types of non-venomous snakes; sleeping birds; cane toads; different frog species – one extremely tiny and you could see through its body; tadpoles; fish; small blue crayfish; tarantulas; orb spiders and even ‘fishing spiders’. We had seen leaf-cutter ants in long generally singular rows during the daytime carrying their freshly cut leaves back to the nest. Well, at night time the ants formed ‘rivers of ants’ – that is, there were rows and rows of ants, four or five abreast, or even more, carrying freshly cut leaves back to the nest. We were very careful to not stand on them. The nest entrance was surrounded by old discarded leaves that no longer served the purpose of creating mould. Luis explained these leaves were wonderful compost in the jungle.

Above: leaf cutter ants during the daytime – those little green ‘blobs’ are pieces of a leaf the ants have cut.

Above: discarded leaves at the entrance of a leaf cutter’s nest.

Our bird watching tour was with a female guide – the first female bird guide we have encountered – yet again a remarkable experience. I won’t detail all the birds seen, but the highlights were Baird’s Trogon, Red-capped Manikins – unfortunately only a split second glimpse, and Orange-collared Manikins. We were fortunate to be beside their lek. These remarkable little birds are able to push their wings backwards and make a clicking noise using their spine. It sounded like fire crackers, or the crackling of fire burning dry leaves.

Above: a Gartered Torgon seen on one of our morning walks – we were very excited to see this bird.

Above: boarding the ferry to Sierpe – note the coffee coloured sand.

Our next destination is San Jose for a couple of nights, then Orosi – it will be cooler there!

Guadalaupe, near San Gerardo de Rivas, 5-10 March 2019

In San Jose we walked to the MUSOC bus station – a good half hour walk dragging luggage – and caught the 9.30am bus to San Isidro, a three hour journey with a fifteen minute break half way – very civilised. The journey was an ever uphill climb on winding roads until we reached a height of 3,318 metres – here the vegetation altered to stunted trees and marsh like grasses, and then we began the descent to San Isidro.

In San Isidro we walked to the local bus station – ten minutes – and waited for the 2.30pm bus to San Gerardo de Rivas. A supermarket was directly opposite the bus station so I did some basic shopping, buying more than I planned – which turned out to be a good strategy – and we enjoyed a delicious meal at a ‘soda’ in the bus terminal. ‘Sodas’ are little cafes or restaurants that generally have a set menu for lunch, with generous portions, and are very cost effective. Generally speaking, between A$6-8.

Our accomodation was an Airbnb property called Cold River Cabin, in Guadalupe. Guadalupe is a small village on the road to San Gerardo de Rivas. This is the last town – the bus ends here. It is a destination for hikers keen to climb Chirripó – it is the highest peak in Costa Rica, the summit reaching 3,820 metres. There are numerous accommodation options in this tiny town, but it caters mainly for overnight stays. Young folk overnighting before and after climbing Chirripó Mountain. The other accommodation options on offer are a few expensive private nature reserves. Some of these reserves charge US$220 per night. We didn’t want to be in amongst numerous people hiking up to Chirripó or a very busy hostel, thus our decision to stay approximately five kilometres down the road at Cold River Cabin.

Our host Wendy had provided detailed instructions on how to travel from San Jose to Guadalupe – extremely helpful. She even inquired as to whether we spoke Spanish – basically no, but we can understand a few words if spoken slowly. Locals certainly do not speak slowly…She sent us a message to say to the bus driver: ‘Queremos bajar en la ultima parada en Guadalupe cerca del mecanicio’. That is: ‘We want to get off at the last stop in Guadalupe near the mechanic’. Everything went according to plan – always a relief!

Tranquility! The sounds of insect and bird calls, as well as the thundering Chirripo River nearby was a delightful change from San Jose. Our rustic cabin, or a cabina as they are called here, was a home away from home. It is set on some land owned by one family. Two other houses were close by, but not close enough to be intrusive in any way. The land was used for general farming – vegetables, chickens, and a few cows in sheds and paddocks.

Above: Cold River Cabin

A balcony with stools – the best place to catch the afternoon breeze and birdwatch, a couch and two chairs to lounge around on, a kitchen with basic equipment, but manageable when travelling, and an upstairs and downstairs bathroom. The only negative was the unlined roof inside the cabin – sunny days are the order of the day here, and the heat pulsed through the iron roof draining us of energy. The afternoon inside temperature varied between 34-35 degrees Celsius each day. Windows on all sides of the cabin created good air flow. However, the balcony, for whatever strange reason had a lined roof, and accordingly, the temperate was cooler there. Cool evenings were the saving grace. The morning temperatures around 6am varied between 15 to 18 degrees. We bird watched from the balcony and along the river. Some of the species seen from the balcony were: Blue-diademed Motmot, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Palm Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, and in the distance, Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures. On a couple of evenings we were fortunate to hear a Tropical Screech Owl calling. Unfortunately not seen.

Above: typical vegetation by Chirripo River

Above: Chirripo River near Cold River Cabin

One morning we walked up the road to check out the local supermarket. There was a sign next to the supermarket with an arrow pointing to Barrio San Francisco. I thought to myself, this is a bit odd….Well, a few minutes later an American couple were introducing themselves to us. We quickly learned they had retired here and gained Costa Rican residency. To achieve residency you need to be able to prove you have an income of US$1,000 per month. They had lived abroad for approximately thirty years and totally rejected the idea of living in the United States as an option. She advised Costa Rica felt environmentally and ethically correct. They said there were at least twenty five couples in that particular area, more up the road in the next village Canaan. ‘American refugees’ – we have witnessed Americans retiring and living in other South American countries on other trips. On that subject, Wendy was also an American who had rejected her country.

One of the main reasons for visiting this region was to access Cloudbridge Nature Reserve (CNR). The eBird site indicates 329 species have been recorded there. It covers 283 hectares on the side of Chirripó Mountain and is a private property devoted to creating bio links’s with ongoing reforestation and preservation. Volunteer opportunities abound, and we met a delightful young English woman who came for two months and has so far stayed for six months. CNR has also been purchasing unproductive farming land and revegetating those areas. CNR offers onsite self contained accommodation and I would have loved to stay there. Unfortunately the logistics were extremely difficult with limited supplies available at the San Gerardo de Rivas supermarket – you need to self cater – and the difficulty of organising a taxi to drive the three kilometres to CNR. Probably not impossible if you spoke decent Spanish…

John read a birder’s report saying he saw eighty species on a walk up to Cloudbridge, so we thought we’d try the walk there first. The bus stop was almost out the front of Cold River Cabin. We caught the 6.15am bus – it passes through some little villages on the way to San Gerardo de Rivas, arriving around 6.30am.. We then walked the three kilometres up to Cloudbridge arriving at 10.45. That’s four and three quarter hours. That may sound like a long time, but there were contributing factors to the amount of time taken. Firstly, bird watchers do not walk fast, generally speaking. Some sections of the road were a very steep incline, we stopped for a second packed breakfast, and when a bird wave happened we were in a frenzy attempting to focus on one bird and identify it, sometimes not successfully. Plus the hot weather…and the novelty of seeing six pack horses with their owners exiting Chirripó National Park. One of the CNR volunteers told us the pack horses are the only way to get rubbish out from the base lodge, and to take goods in. It is 14.5 kilometres from the entrance gate to the base lodge – this trek is done daily. Those men are certainly managing their quota of 10,000 steps per day!

John had hoped to see an American Dipper, but I wasn’t holding my breath. These amazing little birds walk under water…Anyway, at the second bridge we saw two of them flitting in and out of the water and perching on rocks. A big tick! I can assure you we did not see eighty species, but we saw lots of beauties that morning including Acorn Woodpeckers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Grey-headed Chachalacas, Black and White Warblers (a very cute little bird), Brown Jays, White -throated Mountaingems (a variety of hummingbird), Silver-throated Tanagers, and lots, lots more.

Above: Acorn Woodpecker

On the return trip we stopped at a delightful little cafe for a late morning tea break around 11.30 – I badly required a ‘sit-down’. Stunning views across the valley and into the distant mountains; Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures soaring in front of our eyes. Sometimes we would see only the bird’s shadow move across the ground. Acorn Woodpeckers and various Hummingbirds were gracing the bird feeder and numerous spectacular butterflies were out and about. We missed the 1pm bus so had lunch at the hotel, and caught the 4pm bus back to Guadalupe.

Above: interesting unknown insect on steps at the San Gerardo de Rivas hotel

Above: this unusual building stored raw coffee beans. We saw the shutes open (half way down the photo), and all the beans fell into the back of a truck.

We required a day of rest following our walk up to Cloudbridge. The next day Wendy was able to organise for a local to pick us up at 6am and drive us all the way to Cloudbridge. This delightful young man spoke fluent English and certainly had a storey to tell. He had left Costa Rica ten years ago and went to Canada with his brother in search of work. After a few years his brother said he could no longer cope with the cold, and they had heard on the grapevine that money was better in the USA. They were smuggled into the USA by train. He said they expected to be travelling in the train, as one does, but to his amazement, when they arrived at the station, the smugglers somehow managed to get them under the train for the one hour journey. The smugglers travelled in the train and organised their successful exit. Well, he lived to tell the story and now has a wife and a four and a half year old daughter.

We arrived at Cloudbridge at 6.15am – it was cold and the birds were not active until at least 7.00 to 7.30am. The only noise was the thunderous roar of the river through the narrow gorge below. And the crashing roar of the waterfalls…We sat and waited for a bit of ‘bird action’ and were rewarded with a sighting of a Northern Emerald Toucanet. Then, I heard some rustling in the leaves – a group of five Spotted Wood Quails. They took no notice of us, and scratched around in the leaf litter for ages. The majority of the Cloudbridge trails are extremely steep, so we meandered along one of the easier trails and up into cloud forest vegetation. It is often far more difficult to see birds in dense intact forest, and this unfortunately was our Cloudbridge experience. When we returned to the main gate we noticed some lucky people had seen a Quetzal – maybe we will be in luck somewhere else. Here is a photo of the ‘Bano Rustico’ (rustic toilet) along one of CNR trails:

Above: the ‘open air’ toilet on the trail at Cloudbridge – aptly called ‘bano rustico’

The winding road to San Gerardo de Rivas is generally narrow, and there is no footpath. We always felt safe walking along the roads as drivers here don’t seem to have that wild ‘machismo’ streak sometimes seen especially in Asian countries. Everywhere we have been, locals are extremely friendly. Drivers generally wave to us, and walkers always greet us with ‘Hola’, or ‘Buenos Dias’, or whatever the appropriate greeting is for the time of the day.

Above: locals having a chat

Our next destination is Bahia Drake on the Osa Peninsula – an isolated mecca for nature watchers on the west coast of Costa Rica.

San Jose, Costa Rica: 1-4 March 2019

On March 1st we were up before 6am to catch a 10am flight from Mexico to San Jose, Costa Rica. John had calculated we would be at our most vulnerable by then – considering jet lag – and organised for a driver to meet us. What a relief to walk out from the San Jose airport and see our names on a sign….

As we drove to our hostel, our driver had the radio on in the background. Amongst the jumble of Spanish words we discerned ‘Australia’, ‘Canberra’, and ‘George Pell’. And with our limited Spanish, pregunta, meaning question… An understatement to say George Pell is global news.

We stayed at Hostel Casa del Parque in Central San Jose, directly opposite a park called the ‘National Park’. A ten minute walk into the city centre.

The hostel is an old two storey art deco mansion dating back to the 1950s. Staff and management are extremely helpful and speak English fluently, which we found to be quite common in San Jose. All rooms are huge – generally speaking, the size of two standard bedrooms, or more, at home. Only two rooms have an ensuite – think classic pink or green tiles and fittings of that era. A delightful paved courtyard contains numerous pot plants, and vines fight each other to climb the tall brick walls. The red flowering passionfruit is particularly attractive. We watched a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird flitting between various flowers.

Interior – Hostel Casa del Parque

Friday nights are P.A.R.T.Y nights – big time here in Central America! Our delightful room had an atrium with louvered windows, a glass door and a wire security roof open to the sky. On the other side of that wall is a public car park – an empty block of land. Noise tumbled in over the wall and constantly disturbed us – the noise of car alarms being set off, people talking loudly, women laughing and screaming in high pitched voices, cars driving in and out at all hours, and loud motor bikes entering and departing. Consequently we did not sleep. The following morning we moved to the other room with an ensuite. Originally we rejected this room as it was directly behind the staff reception area, which is a circular table with a few chairs – all very laid back. However, this room was slightly better noise wise. But during our four night stay we did not manage a decent sleep. Someone ringing the front doorbell or phoning the hostel in the wee small hours of the morning – the buzzer and phone being right outside our door. Then, on Sunday morning around 6am I thought I heard drums beating – I told myself not to be ridiculous! Go back to sleep! When we headed out to visit a local park on the other side of town a fun-run was taking place – yes, drum beating and even dancing girls in bright coloured skimpy outfits. We have been told is is almost impossible to find a quiet room in central San Jose, unless you are paying serious money of course.

San Jose lies in a valley at an altitude of 1,172 metres surrounded by mountains. The weather during our visit was pleasant – sunny mornings, and generally cloudy afternoons with a refreshing breeze. The population of Costa Rica is 4.87 million, and the adult literacy rate is 97% ( Lonely Planet, 13th Edition, Oct 2018). Approximately sixty percent of Costa Rica’s population reside in and around San Jose. Initially we were unimpressed with the city, and I feel our total exhaustion and jet-lag coloured our attitude. I felt the city had a ramshackle run down back water feel. People sleeping rough on the streets…as in any capital city unfortunately.

San Jose is not a ‘grand’ city like Buenos Aries or Santiago with numerous large ornate buildings. However, our attitude altered with the time spent there, and I have to say I love the fact there is no siesta! San Jose, or Costa Rica, is just so sensible when compared to other South American countries. Restaurants here open at sensible hours such as 5-6pm, and close around 9-10pm. Whereas in other countries they are only opening at 9-10pm… Restaurants are open for lunch at times we are accustomed to in Australia, such as noon, and generally speaking the lunch crowd eases off around 1.30pm.

I also appreciate the numerous malls without cars, discovering unusual sculptures, the simplicity of streets being called first street, second street, third street and so on – not original, but very practical – the lack of high rise buildings, and the numerous parks and plazas with trees and park benches. While on the subject of parks, the park opposite our hostel was particularly productive bird wise. Some highlights were: Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Great-tailed Grackle (as common as Silver Gulls), Baltimore Oriel, Hoffman’s Woodpecker and Red-billed Pigeon amongst others. We enjoyed watching the Hoffman’s Woodpeckers coming and going from their nest with insects and grubs for their young.

Sculpture by Edgar Zuniga in Park National opposite Hostel Casa del Parque

Sculpture by Manuel Vargas M.

San Jose, as part of the city’s cultural activities, is showcasing sculptures by Jimenez Deredia. Twenty-seven large sculptures in either bronze or marble were situated throughout a car free mall stretching over a number of city blocks, as well as two plazas. The exhibition continues until 14 July 2019. Crowds appeared to be impressed with the sculptures; numerous people were taking photos of the sculptures, or themselves standing beside the sculptures. The following words are from a brochure explaining Deredia’s concepts:

‘A series of genesis that narrate time and space through the transformation of matter.

An idea of environmental sculpture to describe cosmic participation.

A spherical-circular vision of human beings.

An organic, symbolic-transmutational sculpture that describes cosmic participation.

A sculpture that makes us aware that we are stardust in transmutation’.

Here are some photos of Deredia’s sculptures:

On a Sunday morning walk to Parque Metropolitano La Sabana we walked along a major street that was being closed off for a fair. At 8am they were only setting up, but the skate boarders were already having a great time orienting the numerous jumps. The park turned out to not be as productive bird wise as we had hoped – I should mention we saw numerous Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Muscovy Ducks on the lake shore.

Muscovy Duck

However it was very busy with a dirt bike competition and numerous groups of people just out enjoying the day. We met a German man with his son who told us he married a French woman and they had lived in San Jose for thirteen years. We commented about the fair along the main street, and he said the local government puts on free events for citizens every two to three months. On our return walk we discovered it was a fair for children – jumping castles of various shapes and sizes; a zip line – with a very long line stretching high above the crowd; a boxing ring; numerous games such as hop scotch; and of course the skate boarders were very busy. We noted no young female skate boarders, but saw young female boxers.

Our next destination is Guadalupe.

Getting There…28 February 2019

We departed Melbourne on Thursday 28 February 10.55am and arrived in Los Angeles around 6am Thursday 28 February.

We arrived seriously, seriously jet lagged – I did not sleep on this flight, and John may have snatched a two hour doze. I calculated we had been awake for over twenty one or twenty two hours by that time. While on the subject of Los Angeles, many people had told us immigration officials are rude and offensive. So, I need to get this off my chest and there will be no further correspondence! Or comments on the blog! Thank you.

We certainly did not experience rude and offensive officials, but the entire immigration system is sheer total madness. The good part is they have colour coded the lines – we were the green line for ESTA Waivers. I think US citizens followed the red line. We first stopped at a machine of which I guess there were at least eighty of them, where we entered all the information we had completed on a paper version on the plane. The only difference being the machine scanned four digits on the right hand, and four on the left hand.

Then we joined the long snaking queue to clear immigration. I am not joking when I estimate there were at least two to three hundred people, maybe more, in this snake like queue. The absolutely ridiculous issue was non US citizens were joining the queue with orange ‘priority’ tickets. These tickets indicated they had an onward flight in a short time span. Now, in a normal world, you would create a special line for people with orange priority stickers. Not in the USA!

Numerous people were understandably extremely stressed, calling out to the ‘marshals’ – the people herders – ‘I have a plane to catch!’ The same response was given over and over: ‘Just stay in the queue – you have to complete immigration’. John wondered if they had a few defibrillator machines handy….

Anyway, back to handing over our passports to the immigration officer. Both our hands were scanned once again, this time including the thumbs. Everything was in order, our passports were stamped, and we walked away amid bustling crowds to find our flight to Mexico.

So remember. If you fly into Los Angeles and have an onward flight, ensure you have at least two to three hours between those flights.

In Los Angeles we waited approximately three and a half hours for our connecting flight to Mexico, then overnighted in a hotel within waking distance from the airport.