Tag Archives: wildlife

On Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Ometepe 2 - first

L: Poor things! They’re entirely covered in bandages!

D: Not entirely – only the right hand half of them.

L: They must be SO sore.

L and D are drinking beer, their feet in the hotel pool, watching the sun sink into Lake Nicaragua and paint the horizon gold. Nearby, a couple have arrived, limping slowly to a pair of loungers and easing very gingerly into them. Once settled, they explain to their friends that they don’t think they’ll be quite up to the horse-riding booked for the following morning. They can hardly move.

L: Perhaps Ometepe’s not the place to learn to ride a scooter after all.

D: Perhaps not.

L: Maybe the ditches and speed bumps and potholes and pedestrians and hens and dogs and cows and horses and pigs and bicycles make things tricky.

D: Maybe.

L: Shall we get taxis instead?

D: Let’s.

The following morning….

A 4WD utility vehicle arrives. The driver greets them cheerfully, introduces himself, and ushers them into the car.

L: (whispering) How romantic – he’s called Byron!

D: I heard.

L: (whispering) And he called me chica!

D: I heard that too.

They set off along the island’s one road, paralleling the lake. The surface is stony and ridged, making for a bumpy ride, and progress is slow. A woman at the roadside waves, and they stop. Two small children clamber up into the open back of the vehicle. They remain standing, holding on tight, the little boy protected from the bumps and lurches by the encircling body of his big sister. They stop again, to let the children off at their auntie’s house.

Byron points out monkeys in the trees and answers their questions.

Byron: The brick to build the houses is made here on the island. With mud from the lake.

Ometepe 2 - boat by lakeL: Does everyone get their drinking water from the lake?

Byron: No, the lake’s not used for drinking, though it could be.   On this side, water comes from a crater lake high up on Volcan Maderas, and over by Concepción there are wells.

L: And is there always enough water?

Byron: Yes, though 2014 was very dry. The rainy season didn’t really happen. The government told us to stop keeping chickens for food, as they use a lot of water. They told us to eat iguanas instead.

L: And did you?

Byron: Si, iguana meat is good. But there’s always plenty to eat on the island. The soil is so fertile – it’s the volcanic ash.

D: Is it a problem when Concepción erupts?

Byron: No. Every five years or so, up it goes, and the government tells us all to evacuate the island.

L: Blimey. And do you?

Byron:   No. Nobody takes any notice.

Byron drops them off at the foot of the hill. It is still early, just after 8am. They want to be the first. They follow a farm track, then a footpath for about 3km, through pastures and forest, ascending a flank of Volcan Maderas. They pass a rock painted with an arrow and the words “1 km”. There are caupuchin and howler monkeys in the trees. Magpie jays chatter overhead and a brilliant blue morpho butterfly flits by. They see no-one, but there’s no time to waste. The path ends at a dry river bed, strewn with boulders and enclosed by tall cliffs.Ometepe 2 - to San Ramon

L: Oh. We’ve done about 1km since the rock. Where is it?

D: Just along here. Follow me.

They pick their way up the stream bed, over gravel and rocks and around boulders and small trees. Until it becomes impassable.

L: Are we lost?

D: No. It’s just along here.

They climb out of the stream bed and follow a steep, rocky footpath winding through the woods. And on.

L: This is the world’s longest kilometre. Or we’re lost.

D: We’re not lost. It’s just along here.

L:   You keep saying that. I’ll just stay here. Can I have a biscuit?

D: But I can hear it.

L: Oh.

Ometepe 2 - San RamonJust around the next corner they arrive. The San Ramon Waterfall cascades down the mountain from 40 metres above, ending in a shallow pool. It is so tall and so sheer that they have to tilt their heads backwards, further and further, necks cricking, just to see the top. Moss and tiny ferns line the cliff wall and wet rock glistens in the sunlight. They have the place entirely to themselves, like one big awesome secret. They stand under the waterfall happily, wade in the pool and admire. They sit on a rock, drying off and eating biscuits. Soon a woman arrives with her son, aged about ten. The secret’s out. It’s time to leave.

On the steep scramble down, they meet four people.

People: Are we nearly there?

L: Not far – about 10 minutes.

In the river bed they meet two more.

People: Are we nearly there?

L: Not far – about 20 minutes.

On the path through the forest they meet more, and more, and more.

People: Are we nearly there?

L: Not far – about 25 minutes, half an hour, 40 minutes.

They come across a clump of tethered horses. They meet a school group of girls taking selfies. Back on the track, people are parking, getting out of cars. Motorbikes arrive. In all they count 57 people heading to the waterfall. A long way down, a red faced man is wrestling his way up the uneven surface on a scooter. He stops, sweating.

Man: Is it much further? Will I make it on this?

D: Ummm….maybe. There are other cars and motorbikes up there. Not sure about scooters. You can drive to within a kilometre of the falls.

L: (under her breath) The world’s longest kilometre.

L worries for the rest of the day that the man will skid and fall and end up covered in bandages.

D: He’ll be fine. He’d only hurt himself on one side anyway.

Later….

Ometepe 2 - laundry in lakeThey are kayaking along the lakeshore. Women stand in the shallows doing their laundry on rock platforms built for the purpose. Toddlers play on the shore. A fisherman sits on the gunwale of his boat, mending nets. From time to time a rustic wooden dwelling is visible amongst a clump of palm trees at the water’s edge. But mostly the shore is given over to forest and pastures. They spot herons, kingfishers, egrets and ospreys.

The River Istiam is at its lowest. They find the narrow mouth, almost hidden in reeds at the edge of the lake, and glide silently along the shallow muddy stream.   Their guide is a young islander, and he knows his stuff. He reels off the names of the birds as they pass, spotting the invisible, time and again.

Ometepe 2 - great egretGuide: Look, a great egret, and next to him a great blue heron.

D fumbles for the camera.

Guide: There, a green heron.

L: Take a photo!

D: Missed it.

Guide: Look, turtles.

L: Where?

He points. A cluster of sharp little noses poke above the surface and disappear. He scoops up a turtle on the end of his paddle to show them.

Ometepe 2 - kayakingL: Take a photo!

D: Damn, missed it.

Guide: Look, caiman.

D: Where?

But it is gone. They look in vain for the caimans that they know are there, lurking out of sight.

Guide: Look, iguana.

D: Where?

L: There, stupid. It’s enormous! Even I can see that one. Right above your head on that branch.

Guide: In the reeds there. A little blue heron.

Ometepe 2 - kayakGuide: On the bank. Black necked stilt birds.

They watch them pick their long-legged way through the mud.

L: Take a photo!

D: Crap, missed them.

Guide: Green kingfisher.

Guide: Kingfisher.

Guide: Kingfisher.

The area is bursting with water birds. They can’t look in all directions at once. They drift past water lilies, duck under overhanging trees and around the spreading roots of mangroves. They pass just one other kayak – other than that the river is empty. And apart from the occasional lap of water against paddle, and the noise of the birds around them, it is completely silent.Ometepe 2 - cows

On their return, they pull their kayak up the beach. A herd of cows ambles past them and down to the shore, all amongst the boats, and into the lake for a drink.

They walk back to the hotel.

L: There’s the man! Oh, I’m so happy!

D: What man?

L: The man on the scooter. He’s still in one piece.

The next morning….

Byron is back, and he’s on a mission. He collects them at 4.45am. They need to make their way across the island to catch the first ferry at 6am. The journey takes a good hour in the daylight.   But at this hour it is still pitch dark. They hurtle along the unpaved, stony, rutted road, accelerating at every opportunity and breaking hard at the drainage ditches, the speedbumps, and the potholes. Every so often, objects loom suddenly into view, without warning, lit up by the car’s headlights. At considerable speed they swerve to avoid a cow, two pigs, a horse, several dogs, a cat, two cows, more dogs, another horse, a bicycle without lights, more dogs, pedestrians without lights, another dog, another bicycle without lights, a horse, a man sleeping by the roadside, a dog, a bicycle without lights, a motorbike without rear lights, pedestrians, a dog, two more motorbikes without rear lights.

They arrive at 5.55am. Byron is triumphant. L is a wreck. D is carsick. They are really sorry to leave.

Ometepe 2 - last

 

Volcan Arenal National Park

Arenal - volcano 1

D: I refuse.

L: (patiently) You refuse to go to Arenal National Park. Why?

D: Because everybody else goes there.

L: There might be a reason for that. Maybe it’s really worthwhile.

D: So, what is there to do?

L: There’s the volcano.

D: But the volcano’s broken.

L: Umm….yes. Yes it is.

D: It sounded excellent in our old guidebook. You could see it exploding and glowing red every night, and my brother Tom said it spewed so much ash and cinders all over them while they were on a walk, that their guide got really worried. I want all of that.

L: Well, I’m afraid it’s stopped. Hardly a puff or a grumble since 2010. It could start again at any moment though. Today even. It was perfectly calm for nearly 500 years until suddenly in 1968, it woke up, and produced several huge explosions and a gigantic lava flow which wiped out two villages, killing 80 people and 45,000 cows.

D: Blimey. How awful. I don’t want all of that.

L: No. You certainly don’t.

D: But if it’s now dormant again, why hasn’t that stopped the tourism? Why do people still go there?

L: Well….firstly, the volcano itself is an enormous perfect cone rising out of a gorgeous landscape, so it looks really iconic. Secondly, there’s lots to do. We could go for a walk at the foot of the volcano, or on some hanging bridges through the forest canopy, or wallow in some hot springs, or go to a waterfall, or ride a horse or an ATV. And thirdly, the Laguna de Arenal is the biggest lake in Costa Rica, and is one of the best places in the world for windsurfing.

D: I hate horses – they bite. I’m rubbish at windsurfing. And there are hanging bridges at Monteverde.

L: (tactfully) Gosh, is it that time already? I had no idea it was so late. Let’s have a big drink. And some peanuts.

D drinks a glass of beer, and urgently eats peanuts, in intense silence, for a few minutes, and then grins.

D: Thank you. Better now. It seems I was a bit thirsty. And hungry. What were we talking about?

L: Your enthusiasm for Arenal.

D: That’s right. It all sounds splendid. When shall we go?

Three days later….

They drive to Arenal. The journey takes four hours. Although at only a couple of hundred metres above sea-level, and therefore hot, the surrounding landscape is green and lush, with crops and rich pasture land sprinkled with cattle ranches. They are now on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica’s central mountain ridge, which gets plenty of rain. Ahead of them, a rugged range of lowish mountains rises from the plain, with Arenal standing impressively at one end.

L: Lovely. I didn’t realise that the volcano was part of a range of hills. It always looks as though it’s on its own in the photos. Pity that the top is in the cloud.

D: Not to worry – it’ll clear in a bit.

L: Rather than stay in town, I’ve booked the most basic room in a posh hotel near the lake. It won’t have a volcano view. We’ll probably have a view of a wall. Or the bins. But there’s a pool, and nice gardens. And it’s close to the things we might want to do.

They drive through the little town of La Fortuna and out the other side, towards the volcano. And on past other hotels. And on past the National Park entrance. And on, until they begin to worry that they are leaving the area altogether.

L: There! On the right. There’s a sign. And a barrier. And a man with a clipboard.

They are scrutinised with some suspicion. L wishes that the back seats weren’t draped with drying underwear. The security guard shakes his head, but then reluctantly lifts the barrier and they are through.

D: Crikey – this is one of the worst roads I’ve ever come across!

He changes into 4WD and carefully picks his way up the impossibly steep drive, paved and yet riven with potholes and erosion channels and loose rocks. Two kilometres further on, they are greeted by a cheerful hand painted sign: “You’ve Made It!”

They park, brush biscuit crumbs off their fronts, and walk into reception, where they are greeted effusively.

Reception guy: Welcome! Long journey? First time here? You are from where? England! I just love the English accent! It’s so fancy.

D: (seriously) Ah yes. The way I speak certainly is rather fancy.

L snorts.

Reception guy: One night? Let me just check. Oh. Oh dear. I’m so sorry. Your room isn’t ready yet.

L: Never mind. Maybe we could just leave our luggage and come back later?

Reception guy: Hold on. Just a moment. Let me speak to my manager. Yes? OK. Follow me please. We do have a different room, which just might be suitable. It’s an upgrade. Come and see if you would find it acceptable.

He leads them past a sign saying “Matrimonial Suite” onto a private terrace, and through a door into a wood-panelled sitting room. Beyond is a king-size bed next to a huge picture window looking directly across the gardens to the volcano, which is still wearing a little hat of cloud. To the other side, a door leads to a cavernous bathroom and dressing room.Arenal - room with a view

Reception guy: What do you think? Will it do?

L: Really? Can we really have this one? Are you sure? There’s no mistake? Oh, yes please!

D: (holding L back) No, you don’t need to kiss him. He’s just doing his job. Really well.

Having emptied the car, they head out again reluctantly, as though if they take their eyes off the room it will disappear. They negotiate the drive once more, which is even more adventurous downhill.

L: Stop, stop!

D: What? Rock? Pothole?Arenal - coati

L: There’s a fluffy bottom on the bank with a really long tail.

The bottom turns and a pointy nose and pair of beady eyes assess the car curiously.   The coati decides that they are no threat, and potters on along the bank, paralleling the drive, in full view. Car and coati continue on companionably side by side for a while, until he spots something interesting in the undergrowth and scampers off.

They cross the dam at the foot of Lake Arenal, which sparkles enticingly in the sun. Small boats are tied up to a quay.

D: (knowledgeably) Rainbow trout.

L: What?

D: (spotting a fishing trips sign saying exactly that) The boats take people out fishing for rainbow trout.

L: (surprised, thinking D knows nothing whatsoever about fish) If you catch one, d’you get to keep it?

D: No idea. I know nothing whatsoever about fish.

They follow a dusty, pot-holed dirt road until they arrive at the Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal.

The walk they have chosen takes them along a sandy path through tall groves of sugar cane and then low growing dry forest.

L: What’s that rustling?

D: Quite a big animal, I think. Hang on, I can see it. It’s a sort of giant pheasant.

L: Where? Gosh, it looks like two different birds stuck together. Its body is a lovely chestnut brown, but its long tail feathers and fabulous head crest have black and white stripes. How curious!

(They later identify her as a female Great Curassow.)

On they go.

D: Stand still – you’re about to do it again.

L: What?

D: Stand on a snake.Arenal - snake

L: Yikes! Oh, he’s pretty.

They take a step back to admire a small brown and cream snake, beautifully striped.

(Note – we have failed to identify it. Does anyone know what it is?)

On they go, passing an elderly tour group watching a family of capuchin monkeys feeding in the canopy.

L: Here we are. At the foot of the volcano. Standing on volcanic rock.

They look up. The summit is still in the cloud.Arenal - volcano danger zone

D waits for a few minutes, hopefully, on the wrong side of a wooden sign promising “Danger – Area of High Volcanic Activity”, but nothing happens.

D: Now what?

L: To the end. I think there’s a viewpoint just along here.

They climb a flight of wooden steps to re-meet the tour group, who are resting, perched on rocks thrown down by the volcano. From here, there are spectacular views across the Laguna de Arenal, ringed by blue hills.

L: Imagine, there are a couple of little towns under there. They were flooded when the dam was built, in the 70s. I can’t see anyone windsurfing.

D: I think it all happens at the other end, where it’s windier.

American lady: Would you like us to take your picture?

D: No, that’s OK. Oh, well, yes, alright.

He climbs onto a volcanic boulder, and pulls L up to stand beside him.

American lady: Oh my – will you look at you nimble young things!

D overbalances, staggers backwards off the rock, and falls into a bush.

L: Congratulations. Neatly done.

D: Thank you.

The Americans are all watching politely. Nobody laughs. Except L.

D climbs back onto the rock.

American lady: Ready? There you go. Say “rice and beans!”

They thank her, and reclaim the camera. They check the photo. They both look like chumps.

On the return walk, L suggests they seek out some thermal springs.

D: Why would I want to pay to sit in a thermal spring with a bunch of strangers when our hotel has an outdoor hot tub? And piña coladas.

They head on back. The hot tub is on and has views straight across to the volcano. Which is still in cloud.

L: Do you think we’ve come all this way, to not quite see the iconic Volcan Arenal after all?

D: It’ll be clear in the morning.

The following morning….

L opens one eye.

L: How was your run? Yuck, you’re impressively sweaty – you are actually dripping onto the floor.

D: It’s raining.

L: (shooting up in bed and turning to look out of the window) It’s what?

Beyond the garden there is nothing. Just grey sky. Not a hint of a volcano.

L: That’s that then.

D: We’ve still got a beautiful drive along the lake shore this morning.Arenal - Lake

Two hours later…

L: D’you think it’s going to pour all day?

D: It’ll clear up in a minute.

L: Funny how much it looks exactly like England. We could be in the Lake District.

Arenal - Laguna

 

 

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

P1020275 (2) - small

Unpaved roads to Monteverde

 

10am

L: I think I’ve dislocated my shoulder.

D: Sorry about that.

L: Do you think you can get massages to realign all your internal organs?

D: Sigh.

L: Could you go a bit slower? Everything’s rattling. My teeth are coming loose.

D: Four wheel drives are designed for these sorts of roads.

L: How much further?

D: Err, 40 kilometres.

L: Sigh.

D: I’m still not sure why we’re going to Monteverde anyway.

L: Pothole! Everyone says it’s amazing. 50 years ago a few Quaker families from Alabama built a settlement up here, and set up the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to protect their land. Now there are several reserves, and lots of tourists. And hanging bridges through the forest. And ziplines and stuff.

D: (swerving) What happened to the Quakers?

L: They’re still there. Making cheese mostly. Owww! Slower, please……

D: (pulling the car patiently to a halt). You drive.

They set off again at a pitifully slow crawl, and are overtaken at regular intervals by hired jeeps and minibuses bouncing happily past them and leaving clouds of dust in their wake.

D: If the area is now so popular, I wonder why they haven’t paved the roads?

L: Inexplicably, I think they like it like this. It’s one of the Quakers’ last defences against the hoardes.

 

1pm

L: (musing aloud as they walk out through B&B reception) How come it’s raining out of a clear blue sky?

Reception guy: (overhearing and laughing) – Oh yes, it rains 500 days a year here – and do you know why? Monteverde is on the Continental Divide – where damp air from the Caribbean meets dry air from the Pacific. The result? All the rain in the world falls right there on that ridge top. And wind too – it’s always windy here. The wind blows the rain off the mountain straight down onto the village. Don’t forget to take your coats!

 

1.30pm

L: It’s raining. And we’re in the cloud.

D: It’s a cloud forest. It’s supposed to be like this.  So, what’s the plan?

L: There’s a walk through the forest that we can do on our own, with hanging bridges high up in the canopy. It should be interesting to be looking at the trees from half way up or above, rather than just looking up from the ground.

D: Any wildlife?

L: Lots of birds, I think, including the resplendent quetzal which everyone gets excited about.

D: OK then. Good.

L: Yes.

D: Right.

L: Yes.

D: So shall we get out of the car?

Off they go, bundled into waterproof clothing.

L: My bet is that we see nothing.

D: What do you mean nothing?

L: Not a single living creature. Here’s the first bridge.P1020238 (2) - small

D: Lots of bromeliads. Fabulous trees – very atmospheric in the cloud. The bridge is quite bouncy isn’t it?

L: (Hanging over the bridge railing) Look at the amazing shape of those tree ferns, seen from above. And the mosses hanging from the branches up here. Shall we whisper so as not to frighten the wildlife?

10 minutes later….

D: (whispering) Does a fly count?

L: (whispering) No. And anyway I didn’t see it. We both have to see it.

15 minutes and 4 bridges later…

L: (whispering) It’s lovely, isn’t it? Hearing the rain patter down onto the leaves. Very peaceful.

D: (whispering) Does a beetle count? Oh, actually, it’s a leaf. False alarm.

Another 20 minutes and 2 impressive bridges later…

L: (whispering) What’s that whistling sound?

D: (whispering) A bird of some sort.

L: (whispering excitedly) Where is it? Can you see it? Is it a resplendent quetzal?

D: Hold on, it’s coming from….Oh.

L: What?

D: It’s not a bird. It’s an American.

The bridge they are on wobbles as an elderly couple sway across it, talking loudly and whistling intermittently. Their voices carry into the forest as they disappear from sight ahead on the path ahead. They are followed by a cheerful and noisy group of Canadian teenagers, who step onto the bridge and then stop to carry on their conversation and photograph each other.

L: Well that’s blown it.   We’ll never see a quetzal now. Let’s go and eat crisps.

 

5pm

L: Still raining out of a clear blue sky.P1020261 - small

D: How’s this night tour going to work?

L: We’ll be taken to the Hidden Valley and led on a 2 hour guided walk in the dark.

D: Aren’t we quite unlikely to spot a quetzal in the dark?

L: Yes, but apparently all sort of other things come out at night.

D: I want to see a frog. A little red poisonous frog. One frog.

6pm

L: It’s so strange to be in the forest in the pitch dark. If the guide walked off we’d be lost in an instant.

Guide waves his torch around, high and low, looking for things to show his group.

Guide: Guys, guys, over here. See that?

L: I can’t see. What is it?

D: It’s a moth. Looking like a bit of newspaper.

L: Oh.

They walk on carefully, in silence.

Guide: Guys – over here guys. See?

L: Where? Can you see it?

D: There, on that leaf. It’s a cricket.

L: Oh.

They follow the light of the torch through the trees.

Guide: Over here guys. To me. See there?

L: Eek – big spiders in big webs. Run away!

Guide: And here guys, on the ground. These are leaf cutter ants.

L: (whispers to D) We see those all over the place.

D: Shh…he’s trying his best.

On they go.

Guide: Guys – up there. Do you see?

D: Not there, THERE, just above your head. It’s a little yellow and green bird, just sitting there, despite the torch lights in his eyes.

L: I see him. How odd that he doesn’t fly away. He can’t be asleep – his eyes are open.

They walk on. Suddenly there is a loud rustle nearby and someone says “Pssst”.

Guide (sounding excited): Guys, see over there, that’s a coatimundi!

D: (Whispers to L) I startled it and drove it towards the guide. Did you hear me hiss to warn him it was coming his way?

The group watch the pointy nosed, terrier-sized long tailed mammal snuff his way along the river bank and disappear. Everyone is pleased to see such a large animal.

D: (muttering) I found him first.

Guide: So, does anyone want to see a toucan?

L: Wow, yes please, that would be amazing.

Guide: Above your heads, guys. Who will spot it first? Errr, no-one? It’s just there! Where? There!

The group look doubtfully at a distant green smudge among some distant green leaves high in the canopy.

L: Where’s its head?

Guide: It’s sleeping, and so its head is tucked down, maybe under its wing.

D: (muttering) Not sure it counts if it hasn’t got a head.

On they go, into open ground, where they come to a pond.

L: We’re not in the forest any more.

D: I can see that.

L: No, I mean, I think we’re in somebody’s garden. There’s a hammock over there.

Guide: So you want to see a frog? There, amigos, is a frog.

D: (looking keenly for his scarlet poisoned frog) Oh. It’s brown.

He dutifully photographs the tiny dull looking creature.

Meanwhile the guide steps away from the group and talks into his radio in desperation, seeking tip-offs from other collleagues also stumbling around the area with tourists in tow. Suddenly his tone changes and he begins to sound triumphant.

Guide: Guys, guys, over here!

The torch waves excitedly and the group wander politely over. There in a tree just two metres off the ground is a very long green snake, knotted many times around itself and a branch, tail dangling. The mood lifts and cameras start clicking enthusiastically.

L: D’you think that our tiny underwater camera is perhaps not quite the best sort for wildlife photography? Everyone else seems to have simply enormous paparazzi cameras.P1020266 - small

D defends the palm-sized orange device vigorously whilst proudly reviewing his blurred images.

D: What do you mean? We’re clearly ahead of the game. And it’s perfect in the rain.

Meanwhile, the guide is announcing his find to his colleagues who soon arrive with their groups. Job done. Time to go.

 

4 days later

Now on the coast, on being introduced to a retired Canadian couple:

Wife: So nice to meet you. We just got here too. We’ve had such a great time. We went to Monteverde. So amazing. No, no rain. The weather was wonderful and we just saw so much wildlife – even the quetzal. Yes. And the ziplining was simply awesome. Oh you must go there, you’d love it.

L: (opens mouth to speak)

D steps gently and deliberately on L’s toe.

L: (through gritted teeth) Wow, that does sound amazing. Unbelievable, in fact.

D: (turns to L with broad smile) We should definitely go there, shouldn’t we?

P1020257 (2) - small

View from Monteverde to the Gulf of Nicoya

Manuel Antonio National Park

The stunningly beaP1010221-smallutiful Manuel Antonio National Park, on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, is not a rambling wilderness. It is tiny – almost municipal in size, with some 9km of well-maintained concrete paths, thoughtfully placed benches, litter bins and WCs, a ticket office and guides touting for business. And volumes of people to match. From the park gates, a chain of accommodation, ranging from scruffy hostels to B&BP1010217-smalls to boutique hotels with sea views, stretches unbroken for 7km along a winding hilly coast road which follows a wooded ridge northwards to the harbour village of Quepos.

Surprisingly, within the park, none of this spoils the tranquillity to be found in the deep shade of the dense jungle, the beauty and variety of the ancient forest, the icing-sugar softness of the clean white sands, the shimmering blueness of the gentle Pacific Ocean, calm within the arms of several horseshoe coves, and the astonishing number of animals to be seen.P1010204-small

Ticos (as Costa Ricans call themselves) flock to the park’s beaches on holidays and weekends, paying just a tiny fraction of the tourist fee to enter, and are joined by groups of elderly Americans, walking or being shuttled along the broad 1km drive between the entrance gate and the ocean, but venturing no further. Here picnics are laid out, games are played and the sea beckons. From this spot, with a bit ofP1010246-small luck, revellers and tourists alike are entertained by raccoons or tiny white faced capuchin monkeys hoping to snatch a banana skin or an unguarded empanada.

Only a few of the park’s many visitors explore further, where trails loop into the forest and around the headland. Those doing so are quiet and respectful – they are there to discover, and to appreciate.

 

 

L: Right – find me a jungle creature.

D: We’ve only just walked through the gate. Be patient. And quiet. Look, there’s an enormous butterfly of the bluest blue you ever saw. I think he’s a morpho.

They tiptoe on, silently, only to be overtaken by several noisy Tico families clearly looking forward to a day at the seaside. Today is New Year’s Eve.

L: Oh no! They’ve ruined everything. All the animals will run a mile.

D: Hold on – over there, just by the path, there’s a little white-tailed deer.

L: Is it real?

D: Of course it’s real.

L: Why isn’t it moving?

D: It’s having a drink.

And…

L: What’s that rustling noise?

D: I don’t know, I’m looking.

L: It sounds enormous. Shall we run away?

D: Probably not. Look – there it is.

L: Oh, it’s a sweet little…..well it looks as though a deer and a rat had a baby.

D: (checking guide book) I think it’s an agouti. And there’s another.

And….

L: Can we sidle over to the group over there and see what their guide is pointing at? It must be exciting – they’re taking photos. What’s going on? I think they’re speaking French. Oh my word, whatever is that?

D: (eavesdropping in French) It’s a sloth. A big one. Apparently the Spanish translation is “lazy bear”.

The animal is firmly wedged in the V between two branches, high up in the canopy. It turns its head slowly to observe its audience.

D: Yes, it’s definitely a 3-toed sloth.

L: (very impressed) Wow, can you count its toes all the way up there?

D: Err, no. I’ve just overheard the guide explain that 3-toed sloths have the white mask face that this fellow has, whereas the 2-toed ones don’t.

L: What’s he saying now?

D: (listens some more) That sloths aren’t very good at moving around on the ground and so they only come down out of the trees once a week, to defecate.

L: That seems unnecessarily considerate of them, then. If I wasn’t too nimble on the ground, I’d just crap out of the tree.

D: Charming. Nice image. Thanks for that.

And….

D: (floating on his back) Ahh, that’s better. Nice to be able to cool off in the sea.

L: Stop thief! On the beach! Quick, D, after him – that raccoon’s trying to get into our rucksack!

During that day, those walking the trails also spot spider monkeys leaping from tree top to tree top high above their heads, flocks of brown pelicans flying by in perfect V formation and an enormous iguana posing proudly on a sun warmed rock for his eager paparazzi.

And later…..

That evening, on the tarmac seafront promenade in Quepos, Ticos gather to watch the sunset. Old and young stroll by or sit on benches and low walls, facing the sea, toddlers rumble past on bicycles, kids on rollerskates and one dude practicing his skateboard jumps.

L: Isn’t this lovely?

D: What? Blimey that’s loud. Whatever’s going on?

L: Oops! We’re sitting with our backs to a mobile disco van. They must be setting up for a street party this evening. Look how many locals have come out to watch the sunset. I said, isn’t this nice?

D: I suppose so, though you have to squint a bit to ignore all the litter.

L: You are so unromantic. I think it’s perfect to watch the sun sink into the sea at the end of the last day of the year. Amazing colours. Take a picture so that we remember it.

D: You do it. I can’t. I’m injured.

L: What’s wrong with you?

D: Tortilla chip stabbing. In the roof of my mouth. I think it’s serious.

L: Sigh. We saw a lot today. For such a small park.

D: Maybe we saw a lot because the park is small.

L: Maybe. Anyway, a good day.

D: Yes, a good day. And now we’d better get started on our big night!

The following morning over a leisurely breakfast in a B&B 5km from the park….

L: Did you see that black squirrel? He’s just dashed up that tree in the garden.

D: Which tree?

L: The one with all the pretty Christmas decorations.

B&B owner: More coffee? We have lots of animals here. You don’t even need to go to the Park. See now – the two iguanas over there on top of the garage? They fight all the time – only one can be king of the roof.

D: (leaping up and spilling coffee) Damn. Sorry. But there’s something really big up there.

The three of them study the upper branches of a tree overhanging the pool.

B&B owner: Oh yes, that’s a lazy bear. Like you, he’s having his breakfast.

L: (squeaking with excitement) A sloth! In the garden!

B&B owner: (pointing behind them) And have you seen your neighbours?

A pair of squirrel monkeys walk casually along a power line crossing an open expanse of lawn.

D makes a grab for the camera and spills more coffee.

L: So, are you a bit clumsy this morning? Did you enjoy your New Year’s Eve?

D: Hell yes – two for one on piña coladas!

L: What time did we get to bed in the end?

D: About 8pm I think.