I bet Hitchcock didn’t have this many pajaros!
11.03.2016 - 11.03.2016 20 °C
Friday (Now technically Saturday)
11 March 2016
Monteverde Cloud Lodge
Puntarenas, Costa Rica
See what I did there? That was a little hint for those of you who no habla espanol to figure out the theme of today’s post. Are you picking up what I’m throwing down? But before we get to the pajaros, as promised, a picture of me on the zip-line from yesterday (today’s resort has computers with internet access AND CD-ROM drives, so I emailed it to myself…I’m quick for my size.)
Now, back to those pajaros…
Today we left the Hotel Bosque del Mar in Guanacaste and headed for the second stop on our trip, the Monteverde Cloud Lodge near the Monteverde Forest Preserve in the province of Puntarenas. Monteverde stands in sharp contrast to Guanacaste; whereas Guanancaste is a dry, ocean-side province, the Monteverde section of Puntarenas that we’re in is at about 1200 m (unit conversion for the non-metricized: about 3600 feet) and receives ample rain, so everything is very lush and green. It’s also remote and can only be reached by a truly crappy, treacherous road. The directions to the hotel literally include “turn off the paved road,” so I guess we might be redneck tourists! Also, it is very reminiscent of West Virginia: virtually every house we passed had a satellite dish on the roof and many had cars up on blocks somewhere in the yard. Frankly, ya’ll, I got a touch homesick. But I digress…
We pulled out of the Hotel Bosque del Mar parking lot at oh eight hundred sharp (Siggy runs a tight ship…or should I say bus?) to a waving line of hotel staff (I felt like we were in an episode of “The Waltons,” frankly) with our first pit stop of the day scheduled for 9:45. We pulled in at 9:41 am. Just like a Swiss watch. Anyway, the place where we stopped may have a name, but I don’t know if Siggy ever even told us, but it was a combination coffee shop, souvenir stand (mostly postcards, magnets, and tacky T-shirts), book store, and animal attraction, with that animal being green and scarlet macaws that flock to the area to eat the mangoes that grow wild in the trees around the coffee shop. The macaws were absolutely spectacular flying free, and occasionally buzzing your head! They also seemed to know they had paparazzi, because from time to time, they would strike a pose, like this guy:
After the macaws and buying an excellent book on the plant life of Costa Rica (have you all ever known me to resist a book?), it was back on the bus and the crappy road for the rest of the journey to Monteverde. Since we had about two more hours of travel, Siggy and Alejandro gave us another mini-seminar about Costa Rican life and customs. The focus of today’s seminar was sustainability and education. Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948 and redirected that money toward education. In fact, they spend 7% of their GDP on eduction. In Costa Rica, every child has the right to a free public education through the 12th grade. After that, the students can go to a trade school completely for free, or to enter one of three national universities at greatly reduced prices relative to what we are used to in the United States. The choice of university and career field are determined by an exam on which one must score 800 points; however, if one does not, one can take a year of general studies, then retest. Here are a couple of really interesting statistics: 44% of students go on to college, and 45% of the population speaks a second language. (And speaks it well—lots of beautiful English speakers here.) I’m going to skip sustainability—it’s a little bit harder to explain, and breakfast is in half an hour. And like I’ve said before: my blog, my rules.
We arrived at the lodge, which Siggy had tried to prepare us for as being “rustic.” He calls it rustic because there are no TVs in the rooms. Frankly, it’s just like the national park cabins we used to stay in when we were kids: no TVs, no phones, and no A/C, but up this high, you don’t really need it. What it does have: really good WiFi (or WeeFee as they say here in Costa Rica), a lovely garden view, much better lighting (I thought the other place was dark…you know I like things lit up like a runway), and an absolutely beautiful bathroom. (Still no tub, though…what is WRONG with these people?) One note about bathrooms and sustainability: as part of the sustainability effort, all the hotels here have refillable soap, shampoo, conditioner, bath gel, and lotion dispensers rather than giving out those little tiny bottles. I like the concept very much, but I do miss stealing all the little stuff for my guest bathroom stash at home!
We had a really delicious lunch, then had time to explore their garden and butterfly garden (those darned butterflies are not nearly as cooperative as the macaws…you try getting one of those little suckers to pose for a picture and let me know how you fair!). There is an absolutely gorgeous pool here that looks like a little grotto at one end, and all kinds of varieties of flowers. Two garden sightings worth noting: orchids growing in the wild up the trunk of a tree (as often as I’ve seen them positioned like this at the Longwood orchid exhibit, it was WAY cool to see them like this growing wild!); and several varieties of hummingbirds. I have to tell you, those garden hummingbirds were just perverse. I sat very quietly on a bench near one of the feeders, hoping to snap a good picture. One of them would land, I would take a crappy picture, then he would dart away. I would sit some more, and the hummer wouldn’t come in for a landing. I would turn the camera off and cap the lens, then he would come back, almost like the little fart was taunting me! This happened five or six times. (Don’t call out the men with the butterfly nets yet—I know he really wasn’t doing that, but it sure felt like he was sticking his tongue out at me!)
At 2:00 pm, it was time to get them dogies rollin’ for the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, which is a private cloud forest preserve that initially began with the Quaker preservation of their watershed in the 1950s (more on that in a bit) and has expanded to over 4,000 hectares (~10,000 acres for the metrically challenged). There we met up with the local guides that would supplement Alejandro, our group naturalist, for our bird walk: Andres, Jay (he would be the smokin’ hot one: blond hair, blue eyes, (not all Costa Ricans have the brown hair and eyes that we typically associate with Hispanics) and perfectly bilingual), and Sergio. They gave us a wonderful introduction to the cloud forest preserve, but I can’t remember very much because I didn’t have my iPad or my notebook, so go to the website for more information and lots of beautiful pictures! http://www.cloudforestmonteverde.com/index.html
Anyway, they divided us up into small groups, with one guide and one spotter each. Even though we were looking for birds, it’s just like hunting or being on a game drive: you’ve got to know where they are. The guides all share information about where particular species have been spotted, and they use a combination of 60x spotting scopes and (my favorite) laser pointers to help you see the birds, too. Trust me, finding these birds at up to 100 yards away in a forest of green is NOT easy! Anyway, the big “get” for the day was to be the quetzal bird, a rare and beautiful bird that was revered and considered magical by the ancient Mayans, Aztecs, Incans, etc. and that is a bucket list bird for serious bird watchers. The quetzal has two long tail “protector” feathers that come out easily, and Montezuma was said to have a headdress composed of over 400 such feathers. In fact, it was death to anyone who killed a quetzal! Much like the peacock, the male of the species is much more resplendent than the female (poor girl), with feathers of iridescent red, green and blue. The iridescence comes from the oils of the wild avocadoes the birds eat! (I geeked out and asked if it was a photonic structure that gives the birds their iridescence, but apparently it’s more like reptile scales.) (For more information on quetzals, visit http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/quetzal/)
Ya’ll, we must be vacationing under a lucky star, because we walked about 500 meters (when in Rome…) up the trail, and, just like in the national parks where a crowd of people by the side of the road means somebody spotted something besides a buffalo (because you can’t miss a buffalo), we knew the quetzal by the crowd! That’s right—we found one straight away! I, of course, couldn’t see it at all until they set up the spotting scope, but I did get a look at it through the scope. After I saw it through the scope, I wanted a picture, but couldn’t spy it again with just my little eye, so that’s when Andres deployed the laser pointer and I could see it! And it was just like one of those 3D stereograph pictures: once you see it, you can’t not see it, so I was able to snap this picture:
We went up the trail a little farther and found his lady friend, which is even trickier, since the females are not nearly as iridescent as the males. Andres said that there are only about 100 total quetzal birds in all of Costa Rica and Guatemala, so to see 2% of the total population in pretty darned cool!
As we walked (I should probably say hiked—there was some heavy breathing and steepness involved!) a little further, Andy and Sergio (no, sadly, I did not end up in smokin’ hot Jay’s group) said they kept hearing a bell bird, which is also apparently another good “get.” It took them a bit to find the beastie, since the call reverberates quite a bit and getting a fix on it can be tricky. However, they finally got it in the spotting scope, and I was able to see it: imagine the same coloring as a bald eagle, but about the size of a toucan. Sadly, even with the assistance from both Sergio and Andres’ laser pointers, I never did see that guy with my naked eye. It was just too hard to spot the brown among the greens of the canopy.
After seeing these magnificent birds, it was time to head to the hummingbird garden. With a name like that, I thought it was going to be a super-fancy garden designed to attract them, but what it was was a collection of feeders that have apparently been there for many, many years and the hummingbird intelligence network has put the word out, so there are lots of visitors. There are over 10 species of hummingbirds in Costa Rica, and we saw a BUNCH of them. Unlike the little tease from earlier, these hummingbirds clearly knew what to do when the paparazzi appeared, because they just sat and ate while we snapped hundreds of pictures (ya gotta love digital photography!). Here’s one of my favorite shots:
There was one particularly beautiful purple one that simply wouldn’t hold still for me to get a picture of, and I had chased him over to a corner by ourselves. I was THIS close to getting a picture, when I saw something crawling out of the tree toward the feeder! At first, I thought it was a raccoon or a possum (hey, I’m from West Virginia…my first impulse naturally goes there!), so I grabbed Alejandro to show him. As the thing came out of the tree toward the feeder, he said “That’s an olingo!” They are a mammal species that is indigenous to Central America (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bassaricyon) but they are nocturnal and it’s incredibly rare to see one in the wild! Anyway, this little guy simply wanted a drink from the hummingbird feeder. How cool is that?! (And I spotted him first—screw that fickle purple hummingbird!!!)
We headed back to the lodge for our evening lecture with Marvin Rockwell. I wish you all could have met this little old man—he was truly fascinating. He’s 93 years old and is one of 6 original Quaker settlers who founded the Monteverde community in the 1950s. He’s still sharp as a tack, and tells wonderful stories! He is originally from Fairhope, Alabama, and being a Quaker, he served in a noncombat position as a medic in World War II. However, when the United States instituted the Universal Military Training Act (the draft) in 1948, he and three others in Fairhope refused to register, were arrested, and were jailed for one year. After they were released, they decided to move somewhere less militaristic. They briefly considered Canada, but, as Marvin said, they were from Alabama! So they settled on Central America. By that time, Costa Rica had abolished their army, so they thought it would be perfect. Seven families sold all their possessions and moved to Costa Rica (the story of getting here was truly an epic saga involving planes, trains, and automobiles!), where they purchased land in the region that became known as Monteverde, a name that the Quaker community gave to the land they purchased! They selected the area because at this elevation, they were above the zone where mosquitoes carried yellow fever and malaria, at that time diseases with no known treatments. They established their community, then because the aforementioned road was so bad, decided to go into the cheese-making business to earn money to support the community. They chose cheese because it has a high value-to-weight-ratio and is not particularly perishable. Marvin eventually married a Costa Rican woman, and they adopted two children and had two more. They moved back to the United States for six years in the 1970s so the children would learn English, but now he and his wife live here in Monteverde, where they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary recently. (Marvin also celebrated his 80th birthday by going to Africa on safari and his 90th birthday by going zip-lining!) It was a truly remarkable evening with a wonderful man!
Today’s adventure is the Selvatura cloud forest sky bridges (not too sure how I feel about this one), but apparently we’ll be getting yesterday’s naturalists back. Come on, Wheel of Fortune—bring Jay back to us! Then we’re going to a butterfly garden (yay!) and a serpentarium (yuck!). And I fear that today’s update may actually occur tomorrow, because I’ve signed up for a night animal tour—night vision goggles are involved, and you KNOW I’m not going to miss that!