Hola. The sky was still dark when we left the house. We took off very early in the morning from BWI on December 31, 2004 and after a plane change in Atlanta, we arrived in San José in the late afternoon. We were very excited to be in Costa Rica and so we settled in the hotel room and went out to explore and found out that there was a New Year’s Eve celebration at a sister hotel about twenty minutes away. After a bit of language interpretation we made reservations for the Costa Rican New Year’s Gala. Fortunately, we discovered that a minibus would take us to this gala event. We arrived that evening and sat with two other couples and totally enjoyed their company. One couple was from Costa Rica and translated for us all evening and the other was on their honeymoon from California. The band played Spanish music and the bandleader spoke entirely in Spanish and my high school French was of no help. We danced, laughed, ate and toasted the New Year with the small intimate crowd of about 400 and went back to the hotel exhausted and fell into bed after a very long day.
We were in a group tour of about thirty people. For the entire trip we traveled on a brand new bus with the best driver I have ever seen. Carlos, our group leader was a trained naturalist and he was young, personable, fit and attractive. The plan was to visit four major areas of Costa Rica and learn of the environment and people. The first side trip was to a volcano called Poas. It was located in one of Costa Rica’s many National Parks. Poas is in a string of volcanoes, which cuts the country in half from north to south. I was impressed and happy to hear that a third of the country is protected land.
Needless to say, it was sunny when we left however, when we arrived at the volcano, the wind was blowing and it was chilly, rainy and foggy. Many decided not to hike to the top but Don and I buttoned up and started up the hill leaning into the wind and rain and I was glad we did because we saw two lifers along the way. With the fog and the wind and the rain whipping, it was a wonder we could see each other. One lifer was the Rufous-collared Sparrow and the other was the Grey-breasted Wood Wren. The thick fog obstructed the view of the monster volcano or anything else that happened to be in the sky flying. Oh well, I already saw a volcano erupt in Hawaii. We headed back because we were both wet and cold and the fog was so bad, I thought I would lose Don.
The first day in Costa Rica brought the Common Ground Dove, Green Hermit, Red-crowned Woodpecker, which I tracked down at the golf course after hearing the ratty tat tat. Right at the hotel garden, I saw Indigo Buntings, Clay colored Robins and a Yellow-breasted Chat.
We were only in San José suburbs for several days. I hiked to the golf course to do some more birding because we were to leave at the crack of dawn for the wilderness lodge. There were great flocks of Crimson-fronted Parakeets chattering loudly as they flew in groups of twenty or thirty. In addition all through the country we saw many, many Black Vultures and very few Turkey Vultures. I also saw Blue-gray Tanagers, Lesser Goldfinch, Blue and white Swallows and White-winged Doves. I must say that the breakfast buffets were all wonderful. There were all kinds of delicious, recognizable and unrecognizable fruit, omelets, Spanish food, breakfast meats, baked goods and so on…I kept saying moderation, moderation. Don was in heaven. Well, one does need sustenance for the busy day ahead. After breakfast, we were in the bus with our fearless driver, Mario. Mind you, Costa Rica’s road system was built for one-horse wagons. Some of the roads were actually paved. The roads wind around mountains and curves and have no guardrails. Along the side, there is evidence of rockslides and every once in a while you see a rusty car in the ravine. It is quite a feat to drive these roads in a car, let alone a bus. I was amazed at the skills of Mario and also thankful of his expertise.
As we drove along the countryside we saw many fields of coffee. The terrain in Costa Rica is truly beautiful. Coffee plants were lined in many green rows on the rolling hills and mountainsides creating a bright green corduroy fabric winding up and down the hills. We stopped for a bit in the town of Grecia to see the all steel church and browse the produce market. Driving through the countryside and seeing the little villages with small huts, I noticed everyone had a dog. Cute little wagging tails greeted us everywhere. This reminded me of Spain…everyone had a dog
The trip to Tilajari (Tilahari) Wilderness Lodge was quite a few hours and we continued on the way and stopped midday at an oxcart factory to see the artisans at work painting the traditional bright designs on the famous Carretas. I was very interested in the gardens, which were gorgeous. Hummingbirds and butterflies flitted in and out on the huge hibiscus and other colorful flowers. I had great difficulty IDing the Hummingbirds. Every time I saw one for a nano second, Carlos was elsewhere. I had no trouble IDing the woodies! Soon after, at a coffee stop, I spotted a gorgeous Hoffman’s Woodpecker. We were at a roadside coffee stop, which overlooked acres of coffee bushes down into a valley.
Tilajari was OMIGOD gorgeous. The place was right on the San Carlos River. The foliage was lush and green and beautiful. bougainvillea was dripping from everything and huge bright hibiscus and ginger were plentiful. Birds flitted everywhere. Geckos scampered and the prehistoric Iguana creatures were huge and everywhere in the trees and on the ground. Interesting noises came from across the river and echoed the grounds throughout the night. In the morning much to my delight, the hotel hung huge rings of melons on sticks from the trees. This attracted a bevy of gorgeous birds. Since we had to leave for an outing, I was up at the crack of dawn to see the grounds and birds. This was a big bird day for me. The Nicaraguan Grackles were fantastic…what entertainers. Their yakking never failed to amuse me. Flying over head, I thought was a Glossy Ibis but, I was told it was probably a Green Ibis…better yet! I saw a Golden Bellied Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole (of course), Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, the breath-taking Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Tropical Kingbird, yikes…a House Wren, Northern Chicana, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Peewee, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet and the exquisite Red-legged Honeycreeper.
We went on a river cruise, which was great fun. Every time we went on one of these jaunts, Carlos gave us “the talk.” This was a talk regarding the fact that he could not conjure up wildlife for us. It would either be there or not. I guess he didn’t want us to jump all over him if we saw nothing. No one blamed him for the fog surrounding the volcano, but we all did blame him for the rain. He said he would try to do something about that and it actually barely rained much after the foggy volcano day. He kept threatening us with choosing one of us for a sacrifice to the weather gods.
We were out on the river and it was a great day with just a bit of cool drizzle occasionally to ward off the heat. Mangroves grew in snarled masses along the edge. We saw Little Egret, Little Blue Heron, Green-backed Heron, Olivacious Cormorant, Amazon Kingfishers, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Grove-billed Ani, Sun Grebe, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Red-winged Blackbirds and Anhinga.
We also saw one of the most exciting sightings…an albino Howler Monkey. We saw quite a few howlers along the river, but, at this one site, Carlos became very excited when he spotted the albino princess. She was the color of a tangerine crossed with a lemon and she was beautiful and in the dark green jungle growth she just glowed. Carlos told us that this was the only documented full albino in existence and many came to study her. I knew then this was a special sighting. One of the large males seemed to be her appointed protector and followed her everywhere. Carlos called to the howlers and they responded which started a great howling contest from our boat to the howlers and back again. I am sure the monkeys all were saying that this was yet another boat of crazy touristos. We stayed and watched the monkey show for quite a while and then sadly we had to leave. Everyone was silent, and wistfully looked back as we pulled away because we all knew we had seen something very special.
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Copyright © 2005 by Abbie Banks and Richard L. Becker