|Subject: Costa Rica, Part II|
Now, Part II for those of you who made it through the first part.
Ruth Marie Colorado
Friday, March 30, 2001 - Albergue de Montana Savegre (aka Cabinas Chacon) ( http://www.costaricasavegrehoteldemontana.com ) or ( http://www.expeditions.co.cr/lodging/savegre/ ) Early breakfast and on the road by 6:45 a.m which made Charlie happy. He carefully counted noses as he told us the story of once losing a participant. That group was larger than ours, he confided. We bumped our way along the dirt road making frequent stops for bird sightings including the turquoise browed mot mot which was spectacular.
Our route took us across the Pan American Highway to the Coast Highway. We could see the Pacific Ocean at times and when we came to the Taracoles River we stopped to see the American crocodiles that sun themselves along the banks. We got a lecture about crossing the highway as a group. Drivers in Costa Rica do not yield the right of way to pedestrians, they use them for target practice! Shortly afterward we took another dirt road, although not quite as rough as the one from Monteverde. We passed through plantations of bananas and palms that are grown for their oil. The palm nuts that are crushed for the oil were interesting to see. This dirt road took us to Rancho Casa Grande where Charlie had arranged for us to have lunch. Another delicious meal of salad, seabass, vegetables, rice and beans. The tastiest thing was the drink we were served - a refresco made of soursop fruit blended with crushed ice.
The grounds of the Casa Grande were lovely. The trees and shrubs were in flower, the pool was pristine and the pet green parrot kept us entertained. During the meal a troop of squirrel monkeys stopped by for a bite to eat at the feeder where the restaurant owner puts tidbits for them. All too soon we had to depart. There was still a goodly distance to travel and Charlie wanted us at our destination before nightfall.
Our next stop was in San Isidro de El General for fuel. This was the time that Charlie raced to a drugstore to buy the sulfur soap for us. Those bars of soap were really useful. Also it was here that we rejoined the Pan American Highway. Traffic was heavy and the road was full of twists and turns but Luis guided the bus safely to the turn off dirt road that led down into the valley along the Savegre River. Night had fallen as we reached our destination 220 miles and 11.5 hours after we had begun. It was not a difficult day because we had a bus with air conditioning, a super driver, a guide who kept us busy with sightings, and many interesting stops along the way.
We had a great dinner of trout from the Savegre River that passes through the Chacon property, lots of wonderful vegetables and black beans and rice with flan for dessert. The food is delicious and healthy.
At 7,200 feet altitude, the air is quite chilly at night and in the early morning. Our rooms were equipped with small space heaters which were very welcomed. Each morning I laid my shirt over the heater before putting it on.
Saturday, March 31, 2001 - Albergue de Montana Savegre (aka Cabinas Chacon) What a beautiful place! We are staying on a family farm surrounded by highland cloud forest. It is owned by Don Efrain Chacon who in 1955 bushwhacked his way through 50 kilometers of forest to the site where the farm now stands. The hillsides are dotted with apple and pear orchards as well as old growth forests. If we are to see another quetzel, this is where it will be.
We joined for a cup of coffee at 6:00 a.m. before getting into the bus and heading to an area where one of the family members has told Charlie we might find resplendent quetzels. They have recently been coming to this particular spot. And come they did! Both a male and female, to eat the wild avocados in the forest. The spotting scope was set up and we all had a very good look at these beautiful birds. Now the self-imposed pressure was off of Charlie's shoulders.
Some will wonder what is so special about this particular bird. A member of the trogon family, the resplendent quetzel was a symbol of freedom and independence to some indigenous Central American people. It thrives in high mountainous regions of Costa Rica. Beautiful beyond belief, this fantastic iridescent bird with its blue-green head, neck and body and its crimson belly will take your breath away on first sight. The male sports very long tail streamers which flutter sensuously as he sits in a wild avocado tree. The birds are endangered because of destruction of their habitat.
Happily, we headed back to the Lodge for breakfast and our next adventure.
At 9:00, 2 four-wheel drive vehicles arrived to take us to the top of the mountain for our morning hike. One of the vehicles was driven by Don Efrain himself! It made me proud to shake the hand of this gentleman who had struggled with much adversity to develop his farm on this mountainside. Even though he is reported to be in his mid-70s, one would never suspect it.
The hike down the mountain brought us more birds, new plants and delicious blackberries and raspberries. It also brought me a blister on the top of one of my toes.... it's always harder for me to go downhill when I'm hiking. Discretion being the better part of valor, I decided to opt out of the afternoon hike. A decision I would later regret. But the afternoon was not wasted or lost because Mary Dodge and I sat on a bench in the garden area and managed to identify a few birds ourselves. When the rain began we took cover under a picnic shelter and chatted. It was nice to have time just to talk with Mary. She is such an interesting person.
After the rain, heading back to the cabins we ran into Charlie, Jim, Arnold, Irene and Ann. The afternoon hike had netted another pair of quetzels. These were low enough in the trees that Jim was able to catch them on the video which made him very happy! Had we not seen the first ones early this morning I would have been greatly disappointed. This way, I was only slightly sorry that I had given in to my blistered toe.
We spent some time on the veranda of the lodge watching all the hummingbirds at the feeders. They are amazing creatures. By the time night had fallen, Charlie had those little fellows lighting on his fingers! I'll never forget his remark, God was inspired when He made the hummingbirds! He was on a special high! How right he was!
After another wonderful meal, we marked our bird lists and revisited the quetzel sightings. Before leaving the table, Charlie exhibited another talent and gave us a list of ingredients and the method to use to make gallo pinto. Since it was apparent he knew his way around the kitchen as well as the forest, I asked about the dessert called Tres Leches and we ended up with 2 recipes! A little later that evening, Charlie graciously agreed to sign our copy of Birds of Costa Rica which is the ultimate birding guide to the country and a book for which he helped do research.
Sunday, April 1, 2001 - Albergue de Montana Savegre (aka Cabinas Chacon) Didn't sleep much last night - 2 or 3 hours at most.... could be the altitude.... doesn't matter. I spent the time awake thinking back over this trip and all we've seen and done, the wonderful people we've met, the marvelous meals we've eaten. Just 2 more places to visit including the most difficult one in terms of endurance, but I am confident that I will gather the strength to make it through.
Went out at 6 again this morning to try to find the quetzels but it was not to be.... besides, all of us had seen them. After breakfast we boarded the bus and Luis drove us up to Cerro de la Muerte (Peak of Death) so named because of the very cold nights that occur there at 11,000 feet. Charlie said it was also called Cerro de la Buena Vista for the wonderful views and that its newest name is The Towers because the top of the mountain is studded with radio and microwave towers. From that aspect, it looks very much like Lookout Mountain back home in Colorado! We saw a number of birds as well as alpine plants and flowers. It was near this area where Charlie used his bird tapes to cause the small birds to mob after hearing the Andean pygmy owl call.
There were many people enjoying lunch at the Lodge when we returned. It is a day trip for people who live in San Jose. A popular weekend jaunt, they come and bring their families. During the meal the skies opened up and rain came down in torrents. We lingered over coffee waiting for the rain to slack watching the adorable children who were there with their parents.
A last hike in the afternoon was offered but only Arnold, Irene, Jim and I joined Charlie. Everyone else opted for some rest since the clouds had moved down into the valley and it was misty. Actually it was a wonderful mist. I have enjoyed all of this humidity since Colorado is so very dry. We started out by visiting a possible quetzel site but they were somewhere else. It did not matter as we did see some other new birds and plants, but the most important thing that happened for me was that I was able to cross the Savegre River walking a log. Now this is nothing for most folks but I have a terrific problem with balance as well as heights so this was a major achievement!
At one point we had to seek shelter from the rain so during that time I took the opportunity to discuss a return itinerary with Charlie. He quickly enumerated places where he liked to take clients and where birds were prevalent and offered to pass the information on to Marco for pricing.
During the wait for the rain to cease, Charlie also told us how he had been coming to this area since he was a young boy. Apparently he had an uncle who encouraged his love of nature at an early age and brought him to this valley.
Tomorrow morning we must leave this wonderful high valley. I have felt such peace here that I asked Charlie to include the Chacon farm on our next itinerary but to make all the other places new. Packing was the order of the evening after dinner and bird lists were completed. We are headed to Corcovado Lodge which means part of the luggage will stay in San Jose and we must choose carefully what we take as the weight limit for flying will be imposed again. According to our fearless leader, I will definitely need my hiking staff. Truer words were never spoken!
Monday, April 2, 2001 - Corcovado Tent Lodge ( http://www.expeditions.co.cr/lodging/corcovado/ ) Departed the Chacon farm at 7:30 headed for San Jose and a 10:30 flight to Carate. On our way to the airport, we passed through Cartago which was the colonial capital and not far from San Jose. Charlie took this time to tell us about the most famous church in the country. It is the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, built in honor of La Negrita, Costa Rica's patron saint. The church is built over the rock where the tiny stone image of a black Virgin first appeared to Juana Pereira in 1635. The faithful and hopeful come to the holy water that flows from a spring behind the basilica. On August 2, all roads lead to Cartago as thousands of pilgrims gather at the shrine for the Day of Our Lady of the Angels, many having come on foot over long distances. Charlie also told us about making that pilgrimage with his wife last year.
It was quite windy at the airport and that made for a somewhat bumpy climb to altitude. Jim, who has an inner ear disorder, was a little green around the gills but his normal color returned when we evened out over the coastline. The strip at Carate was dirt and the pilot put us down so gently that we hardly knew it. The door of the plane opened and there was Philippe welcoming us to Corcovado! It was HOT! as well as being mid-day. All the luggage and supplies were loaded onto the horse cart as we began our trek along the beach to the Tent Camp. In less than 5 minutes almost everyone was soaking wet with perspiration. It must have been 98 degrees and 98% humidity - quite a change from the cool misty Savegre River Valley! But this was to be the way it was for the next three days. Marco had warned me that it would be hot at Corcovado. What I had not considered was that it would be extremely humid as well! I was considering it now, big time! And for the first time I was not welcoming the humidity as I had at all the other places!
We arrived at camp about an hour later, dripping wet and red-faced, just in time for a hot meal which was the last thing I wanted. But I knew that I would need to eat something so I did and drank lots of water. Charlie had mentioned to me earlier that day that he was concerned about the difficulty of the hike necessary to reach the canopy platform. After lunch he announced that at 3:00 we would all go to check out the trail and hike for a short section. I knew then that he was going to assess each of us. The trail was very difficult for me that afternoon for many reasons, one of them being that I was still reacting to the heat and humidity, but I made it as far as our fearless leader pushed us. Later that evening, Jim privately expressed his concern to me about whether or not I could make it to the top of the trail where the canopy tree was located. I was determined to do this and began to work on myself to gather my strength psychologically. One person opted out but the remainder of our little group persevered.
We had cold showers (the only kind there and the only kind we wanted!) to refresh ourselves after being on the trail and rested a bit before the evening meal.
At dinner, it was decided that Irene, Arnold, Jim and I would leave the next morning at 6:00 with Aron, our canopy guide, to begin hiking and that the others would follow at 7:30 with Philippe. That way, they would arrive about the time we were finished on the platform.
Corcovado Lodge consists of 20 permanent tents, 2 bath houses and 2 large open air, thatched roof structures. One of them is the kitchen/dining area and the other houses a bar and lots of hammocks. The entire site sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean about 10 degrees north of the equator. There is a generator to produce power for the kitchen and a new satellite dish that is used only for communication with the home office. In the evenings there was electricity in the bath houses as long as the kitchen needed power. By 9:00 p.m. everything was dark. We slept in our 10' by 10' tent on camp cots. We were given candles but we never lit them, just used our flashlights when it was necessary.
Midnight treks to the bathroom often uncovered night creatures on the path. I encountered three huge brown toads one night but managed not to step on any of them. In addition, Jim surprised a Halloween land crab on its way to the beach to lay eggs. During the day resident iguanas munched the grass and plants growing around the tents and on the last morning there we discovered a family of little bats living in the palm tree above our tent porch. I really enjoyed being this close to nature!
Tuesday, April 3, 2001 - Corcovado Tent Lodge We were up at 5:00 for breakfast at 5:30 and I was too excited (and perhaps a little apprehensive) to eat very much. Besides it was already about 85 degrees. At 6:00 we hit the trail with Aron and Charlie who planed to go back and forth on the trail with both groups. He declined going up into the canopy with a comment that he once helped build one of the structures. By 7:30 we were at the platform area, having stopped for a look at an ant nest made of leaves hanging near the trail, and to watch and listen to a whistling wren - a tiny, tiny bird with a very big voice.
Waiting for us at the platform area were the Bad Boys. These workers are the ones who buckled us into the harnesses and winched us up to the platform. Extreme strength is the number one requirement for doing this job. (We were told that all winch operators are called Bad Boys, but no one could tell us exactly why.) The first piece of equipment was the body harness. There were all sorts of buckles and links, then we were fitted with helmets and walked in turn to the hoisting area. While we were getting suited up, Aron had already lifted himself up to the platform which is 120 feet in the air. He was there to catch us as we arrived. I would be remiss if I did not mention that when my turn came my heart was pounding. Along with no sense of balance, I have a fear of heights - two steps up a ladder is as far as I go! So this trip up to the top of the canopy was a huge challenge for me and one I intended to meet head on. The system that CRE uses to lift participants is fail-safe. In addition to a safety line that was hooked to the back of my harness, there was a canvas bosun's seat that each person was hooked into. That line was the one actually used to winch us up. The line hooked to the harness was there just in case the bosun seat line failed. Safety is of the utmost when one participates in an activity such as this and CRE is certainly a safety conscious company.
The Bad Boys and Aron communicated with whistles and soon I was slowly being lifted into thin air. It took about 3 minutes to make it to the top. I had decided to keep my eyes open and look straight out in front of me for the duration of the trip. It does not do for me to look down in situations such as this.
As I approached the platform, Aron caught my knees and swung me over, whistling at the same time so that the Bad Boys knew to stop winching. Before removing me from the bosun's seat and unhooking the safety line, he clipped me to a tether that was attached to the tree. I couldn't stop smiling - I had made it to the top! I pretty much stayed right by the tree on which the platform rested, only venturing to the railing once - no need to push my luck! It was exhilarating to look out into the distance at the different kinds of trees where birds were feeding and displaying, but I did not look down. There were even butterflies visiting the blossoms of the May tree high in the canopy. The hour passed quickly. Heading down we heard the voices of the next group as well as Charlie exclaiming that we must come quickly and see what had happened to the ant nest we had looked at on the way up.
As the second group went to suit up, Charlie led us to the ant nest. What a commotion! The poor leaf ants had been attacked by army ants. The nest and area all around it was boiling with activity. In addition, birds were gathering and swooping in to feed on the hapless ants. This is the sort of thing one sees on PBS nature programs, not in real life! Charlie's enthusiasm in telling us about what was happening almost matched his euphoria when we saw the jaeger at Tortugero last week! He related it to the history of the middle ages when the Huns swooped down to attack small villages, and ended by saying, Well, there goes another village! The rest of the hike down the steep trail would have been anticlimactic except we saw another new bird and watched a coati-mondi climb a liana vine. Neither Jim nor I had realized that coatis could climb like that!
By the time we completed the hike down the trail, we were depleted so we stopped at the Hammock House for something cold to drink. Coke over ice never tasted so good! Nadine who kept the bar was especially generous with the ice which I appreciated greatly. Aron moved on to his next responsibility, Charlie headed back up the trail to take another look at the ants' demise and Irene, Arnold, Jim and I sat in the shade drinking cokes and savoring our morning's experience.
The other group returned about lunch time and Charlie graciously gave us the afternoon off till 3:30 when we gathered at the Hammock House for cold drinks and to go over our bird list. While we were calmly marking our lists, the mango tree next to the deck filled with spider monkeys who began to pull the green mangos off the tree, take a bite and throw them. There was a great commotion, a rain of mangos and flying monkeys everywhere! Our fearless leader said they were a troop of young males out to make mischief and make mischief they did!
Never one to let us rest very long, Charlie suggested that we hike to the Rio Madrigal early the next morning. He promised that this trail was not as difficult as the one to get to the platform and we are holding him to that promise.