Monday, July 18, 2011

Pura vida: Cabo Matapalo (part 4)

After almost two weeks in Costa Rica, exploring the Caribbean coast, searching for the elusive resplendent quetzal, and finding wildlife and thunderstorms in Drake Bay, Dan and I headed to Cabo Matapalo, where the Golfo Dulce meets the Pacific Ocean.

Golfo Dulce

We arrived in Puerto Jimenez, where there is a cemetery next to the airstrip...really! We were greeted by Graby, a driver from Bosque del Cabo, and it was time for another bumpy ride. Along the way, he stopped to show us a sloth...it was so lazy, barely lifting its head when Graby tried to get its attention.

Sloth!

Then we arrived at Bosque del Cabo, where we were greeted by tropical fruit drinks and lunch on the patio...I could get used to this! The grounds are lovely, and we saw a scarlet macaw fly out of a tree in front of our cabina when we moved in after lunch. We checked out the suspension bridge to the tropical garden, where we heard lots of birds in the trees overhead, but the canopy is so high that it is hard to spot them. But we did see a white-faced capuchin monkey sitting on the bridge one morning.

Suspension bridge

At the pond in the tropical garden, we met a couple who had just spotted a chestnut-mandibled toucan, but it flew away just before we arrived. This became the theme of our stay at Bosque del Cabo...it seemed that everyone was seeing toucans everywhere, except me! I soon learned to recognize the chestnut mandibled toucan's call, thanks to Philip, one of the resident naturalists. But usually the call was high above us or in the distance...too far to spot the bird. But, I did finally spot a calling toucan in a tree near our cabina early on our next-to-last morning...success!

Also spotted orb spiders on the path to our cabina. The female is soo much bigger than the wee male, can you see him?

Orb spiders

After breakfast the next morning, we headed toward the Pacific trail...passing a troop of spider monkeys eating mangos on the way...they are very wasteful eaters. A few bites, then drop...watch out! There were partially-eaten mangos scattered all over the ground.

Spider monkey in the mango trees

Luckily, other animals come by to clean up later. We saw a coati on the way back. Still, the smell of fermenting mangos lingered near the mango trees...yuck.

Coati

We saw poison dart frogs and a female currasow on the Pacific trail, and then...the beach!

Pacific beach

The surf is strong on the Pacific side, so swimming is not recommended, but there are tide pools to explore. We saw sea slugs and chitins, looked for shells, and I saw a white hawk in a tree on the beach. We hiked up a creek to a small waterfall...refreshing! On the way back we soaked in the big tide pools, like a natural jacuzzi...ahh!

The hike back up was exhausting, hundreds of steps! But we were invigorated by lunch on the patio, then we moved into Mariposa, the last cabina on the forest edge. Gecko, where we spent the first night, was very nice...but Mariposa is breathtaking. I spent a lot of time on the deck, relaxing and admiring the view. Also took a few soaks in the outdoor mosaic tub, listening to the sounds of the forest. Lovely.

Mariposa deck

Mariposa tub

In the afternoon, we hiked the Titi trail, which is known for wildlife sightings, and the Saino trail, which has many ups and downs, going through several valleys and crossing a few streams. The Titi trail is where most big cats (pumas, usually) are spotted. We went in search of peccaries, and to my surprise we actually saw them! I saw three crossing the trail a few meters ahead of us, then we saw another peccary in the trees to the left of the trail. Then this one crossing the trail ahead of us. So five peccaries in all. They are cute.

Peccary on the Titi trail

We didn't see as much wildlife on the Saino trail, but we saw many, many leaf-cutter ants...they make their own highways, but often use the trails too, and after awhile I got tired of seeing them and trying to avoid stepping on them...but they really are pretty amazing creatures.

Leafcutter ants

Can you hear the toucan call in this video of the ants?



We saw a couple of agouti on the way back, then did some relaxing and watching the monkeys on the deck. Since Mariposa is on the forest edge, it seemed the monkey highway was right next to us. Each afternoon we watched them swing through the trees and climb up and down a vine...even saw a mama monkey with baby on her back and small juvenile monkeys!

Swinging spider monkey





I saw a coati outside Mariposa the next morning, and this little guy on the patio.

Poison dart frog

After breakfast, we hiked the Golfo Dulce trail. I wanted to find the King Louis waterfall, but we were deterred by a huge fallen log and a snake by the creek. After crossing the creek, we ran into a group of people, including the family who runs Everyday Adventures...they lead rappelling tours down the waterfall...what luck! So we followed them up the creek, scrambling up the rocks, to this spectacular waterfall. We swam in the pool and went under the falls for what Dan calls a "hydromassage."

King Louis waterfall

Waterfall awe

After the falls, the trail meets the beach access road. The first beach is Matapalo beach, and we watched the surfers catching the long breaks. It actually made me consider a surf lesson! (I quickly came to my senses.)

Panoramic Matapalo beach

Matapalo beach

We passed beautifully landscaped private homes, rental houses, and lots of surf paraphernalia before arriving at the second beach, Backwash beach. We had lunch under the shade of a tent of bamboo poles and palm leaves, and then went swimming.

Backwash beach

Forest & Backwash beach

I got tossed about by a wave when I first went into the water! I guess I didn't see it coming...quite scary! But I was more careful afterwards, and got in and out closer to the edge of the waves. After the swim, we had planned to hike back up the Golfo Dulce trail, but as we were walking back up the road, I did not feel well. At first, I thought maybe I had a concussion from being tossed about by the surf earlier...which doesn't make much sense since I would have felt the effects right away. Luckily, there were many houses along the road, and a kind surfer told Dan that I had heat stroke and was very dehydrated. It made sense, since I hadn't had much water on the morning hike, as it was mostly downhill and very shaded, but I still sweated a ton since it's so hot and humid in the rainforest. I slowly drank some water, and Dan found someone with a cell phone and called Bosque del Cabo for a ride back. What an adventure! By the time we returned, I was feeling much better. We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the view from the deck and napping in the hammock. We also saw scarlet macaws fly by, their colors are so spectacular in flight.

Mariposa view


Hammock time

In the evening we saw a presentation from Yaguara, about efforts to protect wild cats in the area and preserve rainforest habitat...it was very informative, and simultaneously encouraging and depressing. It was interesting to learn that scientists now believe that jaguars and other bigs cats have a much bigger range than previously thought...and it is nice to know that the area lodges are taking part in the effort, by acquiring more land to build a corridor between the national parks, and put camera traps on the trails to monitor big cat activity.

The next day we hiked the Zapatero trail, which also has many ups and downs. According to the trail description, it is 0.9 miles long, but it feels much further when hiking in the rainforest! I think it's the heat, humidity, mud, and ants. Still, it is quite beautiful.

Zapatero trail

Vines up a tree

Many trees in the rainforest have defenses...so it's important to look before grabbing hold onto something for support...best to have a walking stick.

Spiky trunk

Thorny trunks

Looking at monkeys, most likely.

Walking palm

Near the end of the trail, we saw a bird-eating snake. It must have been six feet long! I am glad the snake's head was facing away from the trail, since at the time, I didn't know it ate birds.

Bird-eating snake

We also saw a pair of great currasows, and several great tinamous. After the hike, Philip the naturalist showed us a hummingbird nest on the underside of a palm leaf...so amazing! Since we had gone up to King Louis waterfall the previous day via the Golfo Dulce trail, we decided to try to find it on the Creek trail after lunch. We walked along (and in) the creek for almost an hour, and we were able to find it from this different approach! Our reward was swimming in the pool and going under the falls again.

Creek trail

Dan & King Louis

After dinner, we checked out the pond near the mango tree grove, where we saw lots of frogs and a cat eye snake! Smokey jungle frog, banana frogs, and a few other kinds too. But I also got a large cluster of mosquito bites, grr. Early the next morning I finally saw the toucan, and after early breakfast, it was a bumpy ride to Puerto Jimenez for a boat tour of the Rio Esquinas. The boat left from the dock at Puerto Jimenez, and thankfully the waters of the Golfo Dulce were very calm.

Golfo Dulce

The highlight for me was seeing a large pod of spotted dolphins, there must have been at least 100 dolphins swimming around the boat, some were even under the boat, and others surfing in the wake. Carlos said dolphins love to play with the boat...they like the vibrations...I wonder if it is like a massage? Later we also saw a small pod of bottlenose dolphins.



In the river we saw many birds, including a ringed kingfisher, little blue heron, and the boat-billed heron, which is one of my new favorite birds. Also saw a boa constrictor, crocodile, blue morpho butterflies, iguanas...thanks to our guide Carlos' eagle eyes. On the way back people took turns sitting in Carlos' spotting chair. We also went for a swim in the Golfo Dulce.

Panoramic Rio Esquinas

Captain Dan

And we saw squirrel monkeys in the trees on the drive back! After lunch, we walked over to Casa Miramar. We had met a group of guests staying there, and they encouraged us to check out the house. It is a very interesting structure, sort of like a series of connected open-air buildings. We saw monkeys in the trees on the way up, and a gladiator tree frog outside the house. The view from the deck is beautiful.

Gladiator tree frog

Panoramic Casa Miramar view

After an afternoon nap, we went on a birdwatching tour with Carlos. He drove us to a spot and pointed out so many birds, I couldn't even keep track of what we were seeing. Then it started to rain, so we headed back. There was a beautiful sunset on our last night.

Sunset color

Sunset at Mariposa

Shades of violet

There was a huge downpour later in the night, and I was afraid the weather would affect our flight. Luckily it stopped raining in the morning, and we hopped on another tiny plane for San Jose. There was not too much turbulence during the 45 minute flight. Phew!

Small plane #2

Golfo Dulce

We had an amazing time in Costa Rica, there is so much wildlife to see!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pura vida: Drake Bay (part 3)

After a week on the Caribbean coast, and a stop along la Ruta de los Santos, it was time to head south to the Osa Peninsula! Gary, the owner of El Toucanet, took us to a bus stop on the highway, driving past fruit orchards and coffee farms. We saw incredible mountain vistas on the bus ride to San Isidro, the biggest town and transportation hub in the area. When we arrived, I was told the bus for Palmar Sur left from another bus station, and a "taxi" driver offered to take us to there. His car turned out to be a dilapidated vehicle with doors that did not close all the way. Lesson learned: Ask to see the taxi before accepting a ride. The next bus stop was just a few blocks away, and we found out we had just missed the bus. The taxi driver then offered to catch the bus for us, and since the next bus wasn't for at least two hours and we wanted to catch the last boat to Drake Bay that afternoon, we hesitantly agreed. He sped up on the highway, his door rattling in the wind...but he did catch up to the bus...traveling within Costa Rica is always an adventure!

From Palmar Sur, we took a relatively uneventful taxi ride to Sierpe, passing many palm oil plantations...then waited for the afternoon boat at Las Vegas Restaurant, where there was live music, a hopping bar, plus a convenience store, souvenir shop, travel agency, and boat dock. The restaurant was filled with local residents enjoying the Sunday afternoon. We had drinks on the patio, watching boats, driftwood, and a crocodile go down the river...until finally the boat for Drake Bay arrived. We spotted several crocodiles as we went went down the (calm) river...and then we reached the Pacific Ocean. What a ride! The boat captain maneuvered around the waves and rocks, and I was afraid of capsizing, even though I knew they traveled the route daily. Eventually we arrived at Drake Bay, where we had to get off the boat at the beach! No boat dock!

Boats at Drake Bay

Several scarlet macaws flew overhead when we arrived at Finca Maresia, where we were staying. It was a great welcome. During our stay we saw several of them feeding in the trees at Finca Maresia. Unfortunately I couldn't get a good photo with my little camera. They are beautiful birds, especially in flight, but very noisy. Squawk squawk!

Finca Maresia

Scarlet macaw

Finca Maresia is a lovely place to stay, even though it is up the hill from the beach. Our bungalow had a modern open-air shower, and two hammocks on the deck (no arguing over who gets the hammock!), where we spent the afternoons relaxing and listening to the sounds of the forest...we saw blue-gray tanagers, Cherrie's tanagers, and other birds...the grounds are planted with beautiful flowers and trees where macaws, toucans, and other birds feed, and the owner Juan takes great care of his guests. We enjoyed communal four-course dinners with other travelers each night...yum...Juan also pointed out a red-eyed tree frog in a tree before dinner on our first night.


Bungalow #1

Hammock time


Heliconia flowers

The next morning we took another wild boat ride to Sirena station in Corcovado National Park. Our guide Roy spotted many birds and animals, and set up the spotting scope for us to get a closer look. This striped owl was in the trees near the landing strip at Sirena station. I saw it turn its head all the way around, so neat!

Striped owl

At that start of our hike, Roy pointed out tapir tracks on the beach (huge!)...I really wanted to see a tapir...then we met a couple on the beach, who had seen a tapir feeding on the trail! We didn't see the tapir on the trail, I thought we had missed our opportunity...but later we saw it resting in a pond just a few meters away from the beach. Apparently they like to rest in muddy ponds to cool off during the day.

Tapir!

We also saw all four species of monkeys found in Costa Rica. The squirrel monkey is the smallest of the four. It makes a squirrely sound and does not have a prehensile tail. Also they move really fast, we saw huge green grasshoppers fly out of the trees...Roy said squirrel monkeys love to eat them...it took us quite awhile before we were able to see the squirrel monkeys. (On the last day of our trip, we got a closer look at some squirrel monkeys on the road to Cabo Matapalo, but they were too quick to photograph.)

Squirrel monkey eating

The white-faced capuchin is the most aggressive of the four monkey species in Costa Rica.

White-faced capuchin

We ate lunch by the river, and we were looking at a crocodile on the other side, when Carlos, one of the guides, pointed out an anteater in the tree above us! Guess it was looking for termites in the tree...we had lunch with an anteater!

Anteater


We wore rubber boots from Finca Maresia, which I am glad we did since we had to cross several rivers during the hike.

Hikers in rubber boots

After another wild boat ride back to Drake Bay, it was hammock time. After dinner, we went on the night tour with Tracie "the bug lady" and her husband Gianfranco. He pointed out and described the amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and even a couple of bird nests. We saw a smokey jungle frog, gladiator tree frog, marine toad, common rain frogs, sleeping anole lizards, a four eyed oppossum, and a sloth moving high up in the trees. Oh, and a long purple snake transitioning from juvenile (red) to adult (black). I don't remember the name. Gianfranco said, "This snake will probably freak out when I pick it up," and it did. It is a venomous snake, but not aggressive, and doesn't bite in defense, only when eating other snakes, including the fer-de-lance. (I am terrified of them and thankfully did not see any fer-de-lances during the entire trip.) Instead the snake-eating snake gives off a musky smell in defense, which was barely detectable. I actually touched it! The skin felt surprisingly soft and dry.

Tracie described the insects and arachnids. We saw beetles mating, orb spiders spinning webs, a tarantula, and trap door spiders, which are amazing. Tracie opened three different trap doors on a moss-covered hillside...they are very well-hidden! After a few seconds, the spider closed the trap door and held it shut so it could not be opened again. Incredible.

We also saw a tailless whip scorpion, which Tracie thought I should put on my face. I was not so sure. Dan thought so too, even though he did not put it on his face. The scorpion felt pokey. I was a very good sport.

What's that on your face?

Despite this scorpion-on-the-face incident, I highly recommend the night tour...very interesting and informative.

The next day we hiked down to the beach in Drake Bay, then through the forest along the coast to Playa las Caletas where I went for a swim, and Dan looked for seashells. Kira, the dog at Finca Maresia, lead us down the muddy trail to the beach. The dog from Banzaii, the restaurant next door, came along too. Then a cute cattle dog mix from another hotel, Aguila de Osa, also joined us (not pictured, as he was barking at the waves). It was nice having three dogs with us on the walk though the forest along the beach.

Playa las Caletas

We considered continuing on the coastal trail, but it started to rain so we turned back. That night was the storm of the century in Drake Bay! Not only did rain pour all night long, there was nonstop thunder and lightning. It was so loud, we barely slept at all. The thunder sounded so close to us that Dan was convinced the main building at Finca Maresia was hit by lightning. Luckily it was still there the next morning. We went down to the beach after breakfast, and the bay was brown with silt. The river, which was clear the previous day on our hike, was silty too. Even so, we decided to kayak up the river a bit and out on the bay briefly. We saw a crocodile on the shore, a bare-throated tiger heron, several kingfishers fly by, and many Jesus Christ lizards running on the water. It was very peaceful. Other than the croc. Dan wanted to paddle closer to the crocodile, but I said NO. The crocodile opened its mouth for a long time. (A guide later told us they do it to warm up in the sun.) When we paddled back, it jumped into the water verrry close to us...eeks!

Drake Bay after the storm

Suspension bridge

Croc zoom

Open-mouthed crocodile

The high school in the village was destroyed by the storm, and there was a mudslide on the road to the airport. We were flying out the next day, so I was feeling concerned about how we would get there. Not to worry. Juan worked it out with Franklin, taxi driver extraordinaire. He drove the car on the beach at low tide just beyond the spot of the mudslide. We walked along the beach to the car, while he and his son carried our luggage. Then they drove us to the airport. Talk about service! I was impressed by how the village residents live with and work around what nature may bring.

Beach route to airport

The Drake Bay airport was empty, just us and another family waiting for the plane. A sign was posted at the airport, but sadly, it was all untrue. I would have gladly had a cold drink, typical snack, and souvenir from the area during our wait for the flight. Perhaps these services are only provided in high season. (We were there during the "green season," aka rainy season.)

Drake Bay airport

New airport terminal of Drake

Aerodromo Drake

Eventually, a young man appeared out of nowhere to check our passports, weigh our luggage, and wheel it to the plane. (NatureAir has weight restrictions for luggage.) It was my first flight on a small plane. I was nervous, but luckily the flight from Drake Bay to Puerto Jimenez was only 14 minutes. And it was a smooth flight.

Small plane #1

Flight

We had a lovely time in Drake Bay, and our last stop was on the other side of the Osa Peninsula...Cabo Matapalo!