Resplendent Quetzal at Monteverde
|In summer of 1991 we took our
first birding trip in the tropics, to Costa Rica. The trip was
led by Olga Clarke of LA Audubon along with her husband Herb, and Costa
Rica Expeditions guide Carlos Gomez. The trip covered Braulio
Carrillo National Park, Selva Verde, Rara Avis, Tortuguero National
Park, Guanacaste, and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
As an introduction to tropical birding, going to Costa Rica during their rainy (or I should just say, rainiest) season was quite the experience. We learned to enjoy being damp all the time, slogging through mud (the "corduroy road" - logs on mud - up to Rara Avis was difficult, frustrating, and fun, all at the same time). It was on this trip that we realized we had lousy binoculars and soon thereafter invested in Zeiss binos.
Our photos from this trip were largely unspectacular; the photos below are mostly from other sources. Liza's trip journal follows below the photographs.
The tractor ride up to Rara Avis
We walked this road - no horses...way
muddier than this photo indicates...
The Waterfall Lodge at Rara Avis
Tortuga Lodge, Tortuguero National Park
Sea turtle at Tortuguero - we saw them at night...
Cloud forest, Monteverde
Although our LACSA flight wasn't
scheduled to leave until 1:30 am, we were at LAX at 8:00 pm, having
told that the check-in for LACSA was so incredibly slow that one would
be wise to allow four hours for the process. Excitement and anxiety
to have me push Robert into being at the airport even earlier than
A bit ridiculous, perhaps, but this was our first trip to the tropics,
and our first trip with a group, and I certainly didn't want to
get bumped from the flight! And as it turned out, the check-in process
was every bit as bad as expected. It would seem that LACSA had yet to
the benefits of computerized reservation systems.
With check-in out of
the way, we still had a few hours to kill before we could board. So we
sat in the international terminal. I was very tired; there is not much
of a time difference between Los Angeles and Costa Rica, but I'd
spent the last few days trying to wear myself out so I would sleep on
plane. I was also getting more excited by the minute; we met a lovely costaricensa
in the check-in line who extolled the virtues of her country, noted
we were travelling in the rainy season and summed it up by saying, very
simply, "You will love my country!". She also offered us her
mother's telephone number (outside San José) if we needed
anything. Since we'll be with a group, we doubted we would need
any help, but I was certainly impressed with the offer. Was this
I wondered, of how we would be treated? On our travels, I'm never
quite certain whether we'll be despised for being American or treated
well because we're tourists spending money. We would just have to
Having killed as much time as we could in the open portion of the
international terminal watching television in the bar, we finally made
our way through security and to the gate, and there met up with part of
our group. Olga Clarke was the group leader, a vigorous native
who leads several trips yearly to Costa Rica. When she's not
she runs the Los Angeles Audubon Bookstore in Plummer Park, Hollywood.
Her husband Herb, another active L.A. Auduboner, author of a book or
about Southern California birds, avid bird photographer, and a regular
contributor to the LAAS Western Tanager newsletter, joined us
this trip. That's lucky for us - two tour guides for the
price of one!
Also on this flight is Peggy Forster, a widow (although
how long it had been since her husband passed away, it was hard to say;
maybe a year or two?) who keeps herself busy travelling. There were
others in our group who flew down to San José a day or so ahead
of us: Dr. Robert Marcus, an MD from Stanford Medical School, and his
Ann; and Paul Fox, also an MD, from Pacific Palisades. We'd catch
up with them when we arrived.
I'd already decided that LACSA wasn't
too organized, but they decided to prove the point a bit further by
our flight. We didn't get off the ground until close to 3:00 am.
At that point all I wanted to do is sleep, and I willed the
to turn the cabin lights off and let us all get some rest. But instead,
they decided to serve dinner. It was the first time I ever turned down
airline food. Robert cheerfully ate his (his theory is, you don't
know when you'll eat again, so you may as well eat when they give
As it turns out, he was right. Our flight had three
(Mexico City, Guatemala City, and San Pedro Sula (Honduras), before
in San José Monday at noon, and we were given little else to eat
after the dinner I had ignored. Oh well. Mercifully the scheduled stops
were relatively short and we didn't have to de-plane. Our Mexico
City stop was notable for the views of the volcanoes and air pollution
as we descended, and also for the bleachers filled with families at the
end of the runway; it would seem that airplane watching is a popular
By the time we got to Guatemala City, things were starting to look a
more tropical. San Pedro Sula, Honduras featured a one-runway
airport, a ramshackle airport terminal whose sign proclaiming it to be
the "Generallissimo <somebody-or-other> Aeropuerto Internacional"
was bigger than the building itself, and men in jungle fatigues
the runways with their AK-47's (or whatever the automatic weapon
of choice is in Honduras). Hmm.
And finally, San José! Hungry,
(who can sleep on a plane, anyway?) and anxiously excited, we poured
the plane with our carry-on bags and hoped that the one bag we checked
would show up at baggage claim (it did). A woman connected with our
tour operator, Costa Rica Expeditions, ushered us through customs, and
in the mad press of bodies outside in the tropical humidity, we met up
with fellow birders Robert, Ann, and Paul, our local guide Carlos
and our driver Ricardo. Robert exchanged some dollars for colones,
we all loaded up our mini-bus, and we were off!
To my semi-surprise, we
bolted out of San José immediately (we'll have a chance to
see the city on our last day, Olga says, although in her opinion
not much to see), sped down the well-paved Pan American highway towards
La Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo, and had our first initiation into
rainforest birding. Oooh, this was different than anything we had ever
done! It was hot, the humidity was oppressive, a little breeze would
by and it would be almost cool for a second, then was back to
I would have liked to shed some clothes, but a look at the mosquitoes
the vicinity convinced me to stay covered up.
We crept along the spongy
pathways following Carlos, trying to figure out how to look for little
birds in the trees and shadows, when he excitedly (but quietly) told us
all to STOP! What's this, I wondered, trying to unsteam my glasses.
Turned out to be a Spectacled Antpitta, an extremely quiet, elusive,
rare bird hunched on a nest at the base of a tree. Carlos' excitement
became understandable once he mentioned that this was a life bird for
Considering he's seen just about every bird in this country, his
getting a lifer was definitely a noteworthy event! For us, well, all
birds are new, but the Antpitta is a bird we're not likely to see
again, and if Carlos hadn't pointed it out, we'd have walked
right by him/her without a clue.
The more-easily seen birds came and
most of them colorfully spectacular - Great Green Macaw,
Toucan, and Montezuma's Oropendula, to name a few. We could have
probably kept going on sheer excitement, but the truth was we were all
pretty worn out, so we piled back onto the mini-bus and made our way to
our first "hotel" at Selva Verde.
The accomodations were rustic, but the setting was wonderful; deep in the rain forest, surrounded by the sounds of the birds, monkeys, frogs, and insects. The windows were just cutouts in the wooden wall covered by a screen, placed so that any breeze that might come along would waft through the room. We had dinner, reviewed the birds of the day with the group, and then returned to our rooms early to get some rest, as Olga says we'll be getting up at 4:15(!) in the morning. I hung out my humidity-, rain-, and sweat-soaked blouse to dry, and we turned in, grateful for the chance to lie down and relax on the relatively cool cotton sheets.
Tuesday, July 16 - Selva
We'd forgotten to bring a travel alarm with us, but it hardly mattered; a brisk knock on our door promptly at 4:15 told us that it was time to get up. I really could have used another couple of hours of sleep, too. We packed up our things (hanging that blouse out was a joke; it was more damp in the morning than it was last night when I hung it up!), choked down some breakfast and by 5:00 were on the bus heading for La Virgin del Socorro park. Such a beautiful park, with birds everywhere, and the flowers! Impatiens growing wild, covering the banks next to the road and down to the river. An old rusted bridge crossed the river at one point; the bridge didn't exactly look safe but turned out to be sturdy enough to hold a group of crazy birders. It rained on us most of the six hours that we birded in the park. At noon we wound our way back to Selva Verde and explored that immediate area, where we found a Rufous Motmot. Went owling after dinner, and saw a Barn Owl (my first! making me the only person in the group not to have seen one in North America) and a Common Pauraque. The day's listed amounted to 92 birds, nearly all of them new.
Wednesday, July 17 - Selva
Verde to Rara Avis
We left Selva Verde and headed up, literally,
Rara Avis, a private reserve that caters to eco-tourists. After
at the village store in Las Horquetas to buy knee-high rubber boots
colones/pair), we climbed aboard what amounted to a canopy-topped
flatbed trailer being hauled by a tractor with absolutely enormous
The necessity of the tractor and its mega tires soon became obvious;
road deteriorated into pure mud (with a few logs and boulders thrown in
for fun), and we crossed two rivers, with the water level getting kind
of high on the second crossing.
We jiggled, crashed, and slid along the
mud track for about two and a half hours, bringing us to El
a dilapidated, ramshackle, rotting wooden building. The good news and
bad news was this was not our destination - good news because we
wouldn't have to stay there, and bad because it meant we had another
four miles to go to our final destination. Very bad because we had to
those last four miles, the "road" being sufficiently bad that
the tractor would go up with just our luggage. Hmm. I had never been in
such thick mud in my life. Herb Clarke joked that this is the mud
of the world, and that they export it everywhere else. He could be
The mud was knee-deep in most places, ranging from thick
sticky to liquid goo. Both types were pretty good at grabbing your feet
and not wanting to let them go. I definitely appreciated my rubber
especially after seeing Peggy (who didn't want to buy or wear rubber
boots) trash her sneakers after about two steps. When the tractor
went by, she got on and rode up. Olga urged me to go on too, since I
clearly not enjoying myself, but I knew if I rode up I'd feel like
a wimp, or would miss the good birds, so I stuck it out. But oh, it was
miserable. My glasses fogged up, I couldn't see, and negotiating
the mud and logs was very tiring. I grabbed onto a vine at one point to
keep from falling, and it turned out to be a stinging thorny vine that
did a number on my forearm.
As unpleasant as that was, I did a little
than Robert; he stepped on what he thought was secure footing on a log,
and it turned out to be a floater. One leg sank into the water up to
knee and he filled his boot with mud and water. Ugh! The Hike from Hell
lasted four hours. We got off the so-called road at one point,
to see some birds, but the trail through the forest wasn't much
better; I traded knee-deep mud for slick rocks designed to trip up
city-dwelling tourists. And my glasses fogged up more than ever. Geez,
why did I ever get rid of my contact lenses? Grumpily I caught up to
group. "Are we having fun yet?" Herb asked me cheerfully,
as I approached. He's got to be kidding, I thought to myself. I
glared at him. I managed to withhold the smart-ass comment forming in
mind. "Ask me later," I replied. Robert looked quite relieved.
I guess he thought I'd start ranting at anyone in sight, and truth
be told, it was tempting. I'd already given him an earful on the
When we were within a half mile of our destination, it started
rain on us in earnest. And so, after four hours of mud, heat, bugs,
glasses, and finally rain, we arrived soaked, filthy, and stinking at
Rara Avis lodge. And amazingly, it was worth it. The lodge was
a rustic structure lacking electricity, but blessed with beautiful
tiled bathrooms (always important), hot water, and hammocks. I just
to lie here and not move. My arm still stung from where I whapped it
that vine. We cleaned up as best we could, but Robert's socks were
irretrievably dark gray instead of white.
Dinner was at the dining area outside the kitchen, meaning outside a separate building down the hill a couple hundred meters from us. Afterwards the Coleman lanterns were lit outside our rooms, and we reviewed the few birds of the day in the second-floor open area while listening to bugs suicidally zap themselves against the lights. By 8:20 pm I was absolutely beat, but at least I could say that I survived the Hideous Mud Day!
Thursday, July 18 - Rara
Getting up at 5:00 wasn't so bad this morning; maybe we
were getting used to this early-to-bed, early-to-rise routine. We had
really good hours of birding before breakfast, getting great looks at
Dacnis in the rainforest around the lodge. On the way down to breakfast
I found a White-throated Crake! I was so excited because I'd found
something nobody else had seen and had actually identified it; finally
I had something that the rest of these birders didn't have!
breakfast we set out on the San Nicolas trail, supposedly a loop trail
of under two miles. The trailhead was almost a joke - a little wooden
sign pointing into the jungle, with the path disappearing in the
It was beautifully sunny when we started out, but just about the time
got to a clearing that had some promising bird activity, it started
First just a little bit, then it became a steady rain, then finally let
loose and absolutely poured for about three hours. We tried to wait it
out, but it just kept raining harder and harder, as if the weather gods
were trying to punish us for venturing into the rainforest in the first
place. Water seeped through the seams in our jackets and soaked through
the umbrella as we tried to find a good position to stand to minimize
discomfort. Finally, completely soaked, we gave up, closed the
umbrella, and started sloshing back to the lodge.
The trail was sort of
passable. I snagged myself a good walking stick, which helped me
not only could I prop myself up in spots or pull myself along, but I
test how deep the mud was before I stepped in it. Too bad I didn't
have one of those on the Hideous Mud Day! We finally made it back to
lodge, utterly soaked. Even my underwear needed to be wrung out. And as
the final insult, my precious White-throated Crake decided to parade
for everyone else to see. So much for the bird only Liza saw. On that
I bailed out of the afternoon walk. All I wanted to do was collapse
the hammock, drink a cold beer, and listen to the rain. Robert stayed
me; I'm not sure if he was doing it to keep me company, or if he
just used me as the excuse to get some rest himself. :-)
We stayed on the balcony all afternoon, with our laundry arrayed all over the railing (why we bothered, I couldn't say, nothing ever seems to dry out here), and had a great time birding without ever leaving the building. It was terrific! From the balcony we could see right into the tree tops, and three separate feeding flocks whizzed through, giving us good looks at Red-headed Barbet, Speckled Tanager, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Orange-billed Sparrow, both Dacnis species, and White-ringed Flycatcher. And amazingly enough, our clothes mostly dried out, too.
Friday, July 19 - Rara
Rain, rain, rain...why was I surprised? We were in a rain
after all. Four inches of rain between 6:00 am and 1:30 pm. We sat
forlornly watching sheets of water pour down; the volume of water was
and the group as a whole seemed happy to have the enforced rest.
I got tired of sitting around, bundled myself up and went poking around
some behind the lodge and down by the kitchen. Saw a coatimundi and a
Snowcap. Splashing around in the mud and rain seems fun now - it
was a chance to do things you weren't supposed to do as a kid! And
we had been damp for so long now anyway that getting wet didn't
seem to matter. In fact, about the only way your clothes would dry off
was to wear them. It was kind of disgusting to put on cool, clammy,
damp clothes in the morning, but our body heat dried them out pretty
within an hour or so, in time to get them wet again in the rain and
It sounds terrible, but everyone was in the same boat, and nobody
After lunch conditions improved a little. Robert went with the group back on the San Nicolas trail, while I went back across the bridge and down the "road" to the other side of the waterfall. From there I had a good view of the aerial "tram" put up by some lunatic (the name escapes me), going through the canopy and across the river and waterfall. It was a rickety, claptrap affair, basically a flat metal grate with four corner poles to hold up the roof. And guard rails? Forget it, they're not there. You'd have to be nuts to risk our life swinging over the waterfall in that thing. I also visited the mirador catarata, the waterfall overlook. The steps lead you down quite a ways to a spot with benches, and an awesome view of the thunderous waterfall, up close and personal. I brought Robert back here later in the afternoon; I don't think the steep steps thrilled him too much, but the view of the waterfall was not to be missed. And we saw a Green-fronted Lancebill at dusk - the bird of the day!
Saturday, July 20 - Rara
Avis to El Plástico
We were supposed to leave Rara Avis on
but Carlos was concerned that we wouldn't make it all the way to
Tortuguero if it rained much more; it has rained nearly six inches
altogether, and the tractor was likely to have trouble making it across
the swollen rivers. So we departed the beautiful waterfall lodge at
Avis and made our way back down the road, in the thick, gooey mud, to
the night at El Plástico, our brief stopping point on the way up
to Rara Avis several days ago.
El Plástico was a former penal
that was now part of Rara Avis. It was populated by some researchers,
the looks of them mostly graduate students. The most charitable thing
could say about the building was that it was rustic. It was pretty open
for a former penal colony. One of the locals remarked that bars and
weren't necessary; miles from nowhere in the rain forest, where
was a prisoner thinking Escape going to go? Despite the fact that the
floor is packed clay-like dirt, we were requested not to wear our boots
in the building. Oh well, walking around on a dirt floor in our dirty
couldn't possibly get us any more filthy than we already were! But
going virtually barefoot could have its drawbacks - we had already
seen one teensy tiny coral snake outside, and as someone thoughtfully
out, the little ones have the deadliest venom. Great.
On that note, we
sorted our stuff out and went to our rooms. The women bunked separately
from the men, but it was only one night, and the shower was warm. I had
a great view from the shower, too. Earlier the weather cleared enough
us to see two of the three volcanoes in the distance and the lowlands
well. Nice as that was, I had to say that I'm getting a little tired
of the mud. (What a cycle: first it was annoying, then it was fun, and
then it was tiresome. What next?) I smelled terrible, too, but then
so did everyone else. Olga said she typically donates clothes to local
folks along the way. "Those clothes may disgust you," she
pointed out, "but someone without very much would be more than happy
to clean them up and wear them". I was going to donate a few things,
but I decided to try to get them cleaned when we reach Tortuguero. My
were definitely toast, though, and I abandoned them cheerfully.
The bird of the day, by the way, was a Lattice-tailed Trogon. Oh, and I changed my mind, and kept the socks.
Sunday, July 21 - El Plástico
We rose relatively early, at 5:00 am. Any noises my
female bunkmates might have made during the night were masked by the
of the rain beating on the tin roof of the building, plus I had the
over my head trying to keep from getting soaked by the rain blowing in
through the screen-covered window-cutout. The sound of the rain on the
roof was actually pretty relaxing, and the volcano view from my bunk at
sunrise was beautiful.
And we were rewarded with another simple but
hot breakfast. One of the staples at nearly every meal was gallo
or black beans and rice; I resolved to make it when we got home.
breakfast we packed ourselves up and took a bumpy, lurching tractor
back down the mud highway to Las Horquetas, then taxied to Río
a "banana town" (i.e., pretty much owned by a banana company,
and populated by banana workers) that happened to have a little landing
strip for small airplanes. We were met there by two Cessnas that flew
up to the northeast coast to Tortuguero. What a plane ride! Both planes
flew very low, ours at about 500 feet, the other looked to be at about
250 feet. Robert saw a King Vulture from the plane window (I missed it,
We skimmed right over the treetops to the coast, where for
life of us we couldn't figure out where the planes were going to
land - until at the last minute we spied a little sandy runway strip
lined with palm trees along the beach, and the pilot plopped her right
down with little fanfare. We unloaded our bags, walked a few meters
the trees, and loaded onto a boat that took us across a quiet river
to the Tortuga Lodge.
The Lodge was gorgeous. Approaching from the
(and I know this may sound silly), it was almost like you were
Gilligan's Island, except you knew it was real and there weren't
any goofy people standing around. Orchids were everywhere and the paths
between the buildings were topped with palm-thatch to keep you from
too wet as you walked along. We saw what's commonly known here as
a "Jesu Christo" [Basilisk] lizard, so named because he could
virtually walk on water. And there were wonderful teak and leather
chairs outside the rooms, where you could sit and watch the sun set
the water. Seemed like paradise!
After settling in, we took two boat trips, one in the afternoon, and one after dinner (by the way, the food here is excellent). Birding by boat was certainly a more restful way than hiking through the mud; we were able to float along fairly quietly along tree-lined black water "canals" that crisscross the region. "Black water" was a bit of misnomer; the water itself was crystal clear, only looking black because (supposedly) light doesn't reflect off the bottom due to the accumulation of dead leaves and other detritus. And the birds here were wonderful, different than anything we had seen so far. Birds of the day included Bare-throated and Chestnut-bellied Heron, Great Potoo, and an American Pygmy Kingfisher, a tiny little green kingfisher that we spied on our night cruise sleeping on a little branch overhanging the canal. He probably didn't appreciate being woken up by Herb's training a spotlight on him so that the group's photographers could take some shots of him. (I didn't bother trying to take a photo, since I brought camera equipment more for scenery than birds, but Herb said I could have a copy of one of his shots when we get home.)
Monday, July 22 - Tortuguero
This evening we went out to the beach to see the tortuga verde
(green sea turtle) laying eggs on the beach. She was huge, almost four
feet long, and according to the researchers who weighed her, about 350
pounds. We sat around for nearly an hour waiting for her to dig a hole
in the sand and start laying eggs; only then were we allowed to
We were asked to approach quietly, and flash photography was limited.
we hadn't brought a flash with us, we "gave" our photograph
allotment to one of the others. I felt like an intruder, watching this
huge creature plop softball-sized, soft-shelled eggs in the sand. She
oblivious to our presence. I certainly hope that was the case,
the behavior of most of the people around us.
the poor turtle after she had laid, in their judgment, most of her
they tied ropes around her legs and flipped her back and forth to
and weigh her. Herb Clarke got somewhat incensed at how the turtle was
being treated, but instead of doing something constructive about it, he
decided that he didn't have to pay attention to the photography
limitations, and started flashing photos left and right. All in all, it
was a pretty discouraging display. But the turtle seemed to take it
patiently (one of the researchers claimed that the turtles go into a
when laying eggs, and wouldn't be aware of all the attention heaped
upon her). She slowly scooped sand with her powerful front legs over
eggs, and thoroughly packed the sand down. When she was satisfied that
the egg cache was safe, she slowly turned and started making her way,
back to the water.
It was an eerie sight, watching the turtle struggle toward the water's edge in the moonlight. She'd take about six "steps", then rest, then heave herself forward again, leaving tracks that looked like the imprint of a very large tire. Finally she reached the water, and as the water swirled around her she floated off and disappeared, into the darkness.
Tuesday, July 23 - Tortuguero
to La Pacífica
A long travel day today! We left Tortuguero,
by air of course, at 6:40 am, arriving in San José around 7:15
It was somewhat of a hair-raising flight; it was overcast and raining
we crossed the mountains, and it wasn't clear whether the pilot
was flying by instruments or by the seat of his pants. Despite our
we arrived safely, and boarded our minibus to drive to the Guanacaste
in the northwest part of the country. Riding in a warm bus in the heat
for many hours was surprisingly tiring, but we did have a nice muggy
on a deserted beach, where Robert Marcus and I both played "sloth"
and had our pictures taken hanging in a tree.
Following lunch we explored a nearby mangrove swamp that eventually afforded us a great view of the elusive Mangrove Vireo. Later in the afternoon we stopped at a "science station" of sorts, where we saw Double-striped Thick-knee standing out in a field. As ludicrous as the name sounds, it was very descriptive, as the bird really did have thick knees! Finally we reached our destination, La Pacífica. This was a resort comprised of a number of cabins on extensive grounds. Our cabin was comfortable and would have been utterly wonderful if not for the hoards of large red army ants scurrying around; it wouldn't seem to be a good idea to walk barefoot indoors here. It's always something...
Wednesday, July 24 - La
After a restless evening filled with fighting off turista
(why is it always me?) and red ants, we were up at 4:00 am to head out
to Santa Rosa, a national park comprised of dry forest, mostly oaks,
and guanacaste trees. The birds were again different than what we had
so far; we saw several species of gnatcatcher, a gnatwren, and a Barred
Antshrike. We birded here in the morning. I spent most of the time
to distance myself from the group so I could attend to my personal
One such jaunt brought me an up close and personal look at a
acacia tree; when the tree branches are jostled, big red army ants
out from the thorns through tiny holes and attack who or what dared to
move their tree branch. In my case, unfortunately, it was a part of the
anatomy that does not often see daylight.
After realizing what had
and fighting off the little devils, I rejoined the group. We walked
the patch of acacias; Herb turned to us and said, "Watch out for
those trees; there are ants in the thorns and they'll attack you
if you disturb them." "Thanks for the tip, Herb," I
After the morning's bird-and-ant viewing, we
onward to Lomas Barbudal, another dry forest region. Unfortunately I
didn't feel too spiffy, so following lunch I sat in the picnic area,
conveniently near bathroom facilities, while the others went on a hike.
With a stubby-tailed iguana for company, I watched the birds around the
picnic grounds, and was rewarded with good looks at a Long-tailed
another Black-headed Trogon, more gnatcatchers, and a wonderful
look at a Pale-billed Woodpecker.
I also had a chance to read a little
about the history of the area. Santa Rosa was a battle site that
prominently in Costa Rican history. In 1856 or thereabouts, it was the
site of a battle against William Walker, a typically arrogant and
American with a Napoleon complex who apparently thought he was going to
rule Costa Rica. Nearly 100 years later, in 1955, Santa Rosa was where
the Costa Ricans repelled a Nicaraguan invasion. It seems that the
region was coveted by both Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and Nicaragua was
somewhat miffed when Guanacaste decided to become a Costa Rican state.
We returned to La Pacífica around 4:30 pm, and feeling slightly better, enjoyed a refreshing swim in an absolutely gorgeous swimming pool. I hoped I'd feel even better in the morning, as we would be heading to Monteverde and the cloud forest!
Thursday, July 25 - La
Pacífica to Monteverde
Up before dawn again - 4:00 am
- but at least this time our early rising had a real bonus: a Pacific
Screech Owl! It's so amazing what will turn up when somebody
plays the right audio tape and knows where to look. Fortified with some
breakfast and some drugs from Dr. Marcus to combat the lingering turista,
we loaded up the minibus and hit the road for Monteverde. Although the
road to Monteverde was in good shape, it was slow going nevertheless,
because of the altitude. But we made it there by mid-morning and
to the lodge.
And it was unbelieveable! After El Plástico, this place seemed like a Marriott. The architecture was beautiful, lots of hardwoods and high ceilings, a gorgeous jacuzzi, and an awesome view from our room. It certainly was a good thing they don't start the trip there, as everything else would seem really scummy following this. Ok, there were still a few big beetles here and there, but not even they could ruin the impact of this place. Afternoon birding in a nearby meadow populated with avocado trees yielded many Resplendent Quetzals and several Three-wattled Bellbirds. The quetzals were breathtaking; their metallic green plumage made them pretty difficult to see unless they move. But if you were patient enough, eventually you'd see them swoop between the avocado trees with their long tails flashing in the misty sunlight. We also saw many Purple-throated Mountain Gems at feeders, and a poor Black-faced Solitaire that broke its neck hitting the window (poor thing). I still did not feel absolutely terrific myself, but it was getting better.
Friday, July 26 - Monteverde
Another 4:30 am wakeup so that we could get to the reserve nice and
early. Not too much going in the morning, though; more hummers,
a 3/4 look at an Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush, and a look at a
Motmot. Got some terrific looks at Brown Jays and finally an
Jay, just beautiful. But by and large it was a little slow, so we
down the road to sample the wares at a local cheese factory. The
cheese was particularly good.
Feeling a little on the lazy side, I
Robert to stay in this afternoon to enjoy the lodge and the immediate
We arranged with Carlos to order for us, through Costa Rica
one of the teak and leather rocking chairs that we so enjoyed at
we paid for it here at Monteverde and it would (supposedly) be at the
in San José when we fly home. Costa Rica Expeditions had been so
organized to date, we didn't foresee any problems with the chair.
We also stocked up on a few gifts and things to bring home, including
and coffee liquor, beach towels, and earrings.
Returning to our room
our loot, we had a beautiful close-up look at a Masked Tityra right
our window, as well as more looks at Blue-gray Tanagers and a
Motmot again. This place is simply not to be believed! Oh, we also got
an up-close-and-personal look at a tiny Fork-tailed Emerald, caught by
Carlos near the lobby where it had trapped itself against a window.
said we couldn't count it because it was caught, but phooey on him;
it was flying when we first saw it, and it later flew away ok, and we
much care about his rules anyway. Jacuzzi'd for a bit later in the
afternoon, where we saw a White-eared Ground Sparrow outside the
The rest of the troops were going to wish that they just stayed in all
afternoon like we did!
We were going to all get up at a more or less decent hour tomorrow morning and make our way back to San José, but lured by the prospect of seeing Scarlet Macaws, we've all convinced Olga and Carlos to take us to Carara, southwest of San José on the Pacific coast. Hopefully we'll get good looks at the macaws and some other species that otherwise would stay in the southwest and southeast regions of the country (where southeast is really north of the southwest...is it any wonder that I'm geographically challenged?). The price we had to pay to get to Carara was our earliest wake-up call of the entire trip - we had to be on the bus ready to go at 3:00 am! Before sacking out for the evening, I managed to write a postcard to Tom and Diane Mosher. It has been difficult finding postcards and even worse trying to find stamps. Carlos says we would be lucky if any of them got delivered.
Saturday, July 27 - Monteverde
to San José via Carara
Seemed we'd hardly fallen asleep
when we were being roused at 2:00 am to get our things together and
this beautiful place. Well, unlike the driver, at least we could sleep
on the bus a little. Certainly didn't feel like eating breakfast
at that hour! We arrived at Carara at about 6:00 am and headed off down
the trail. The trail was fairly open, and we spent a total of five
walking out and back. The abundance of wildlife was staggering -
we saw crocodiles, antbirds, Baird's Trogon, Roseate Spoonbill,
and the promised Scarlet Macaws. And what a sight the macaws made; if
could manage to get some green behind them as they flew by, their
were incredibly vivid. And the noise they made! You could hear them
minutes before they came into view. They flew in pairs, being
creatures that mate for life. It would be hard to see macaws in the zoo
after seeing them free-flying in their natural habitat.
of the day was a good close-up look at a swarm of army ants. The swarm,
which must have contained thousands of ants, moved along the
like an amoeba, slowly but surely overrunning everything in its path. A
cockroach or beetle of some sort found himself surrounded by the ants,
and a group of us watched him, transfixed, rooting for him to escape
acidic clutches of the ants. After running the ant gauntlet, and
several times in the process, he broke free and hid under a leaf in the
middle of the trail. "He's safe!" we cried, relieved
that he'd made it; it reminded me of when we watch nature programs
on television and root for, say, an antelope to escape from the
Except sometimes the antelope doesn't escape. Paul,
the tall doctor with the lazy eye, came clomping up and stomped
on the leaf where the bug had taken refuge. "What are you looking
at?" he asked, looking around, assuming we'd been observing
a bird. It flashed through my mind that I could explain how we had been
spectators at the life-and-death struggle of a rainforest cockroach,
to see him squashed by a big stupid boot of an eco-tourist. Maybe even
draw some comparisons between the cockroach and other rainforest
who try to live their lives and escape their natural predators, only to
be killed or driven to extinction by short-sighted hose-headed men
on destroying the environment for their own personal gain. We think
we're better somehow because we're tourists visiting the
area to appreciate the environment, but I wonder how many creatures'
lives are ruined because our bus runs over them, or the bus exhaust
them, or we stomp on them as we walk down the trails.
looking at us expectantly. "Uh, nothing," we replied. But
the futile struggle of the cockroach stuck with me all the rest of the
We cruised into San José around 3:00 pm. The hotel, the Torremolinos, wasn't too bad, it even had a television, allowing me to watch a little CNN and find out the results of the Tour de France. I'd asked Luci and Steve to tape the tour coverage for me, even though I just found out that Miguel Indurain won, and apparently pretty handily, I still looked forward to seeing the different stages. We did a little more shopping at a store within walking distance of the hotel, then later had a marvelous dinner at a restaurant called Chicote, near the ICE (GE-equivalent) building downtown, 10 minutes or so from the hotel. Dinner was accompanied by a couple bottles of a wonderful Chilean wine, Casillero del Diablo, 1982. Our last night in Costa Rica - what an adventure it has been!
Sunday, July 28 - San
José to Los Angeles
Travel day! We actually had the luxury
sleeping in today, but by now I'm so used to the early hours that
I was wide-awake at 5:30. The others don't seem to have that problem,
as there was nobody in sight when we went down to breakfast in the
restaurant, El Quijote. We enjoyed ourselves nevertheless, having one
desayuno típico with the ever-present gallo pinto.
Following breakfast we walked to a nearby park with Ann and Robert
Marcus, where we added one last bird to the trip list - a
Kite. Ann let me borrow her binoculars for a moment to compare them
my own; what a difference! I could see so much more with her binoculars
than with mine, makes me realize just what I've been missing these
past two weeks. Now I understand why the others have been seeing
on the birds that I could never see. Robert and I will have to do
about this when we get home.
Our plane was due to leave at 1:30 pm, but
considering LACSA's less than stellar performance outbound, we weren't
going to hold our breaths. We had no problems with timing thus far
Costa Rica, but we were very lucky to have Carlos, Costa Rica
and Olga Clarke to smooth the way. People generally didn't have
much of a concept of time (that would drive me crazy, but they're
probably happier in the long run than us clock-bound Americans), and we
met up with other travellers who related horror stories of how
it was for them to get around on their own.
Yes, the more I think of it, we were very lucky. I never much cared for the idea of going with a tour group anywhere, but for special-purpose trips such as this, in a country where you don't speak the language, a good, small group is the only way to go. Not only were we able to travel without care, but this was the most incredible birding experience of our lives, even better than our big driving trip down to Brownsville, Texas a few years ago. The total bird count was around 300 for each of us, 250 of them "lifers", and nearly all of them quite spectacular. Definitely an adventure to remember!