Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Simian Sightings

Tortuguero is the land of turtles and turtles - the giant green turtles - were the reason we had this leg of our tour here. We got to see the giant turtle ONCE, but the monkeys living in the trees around the lodge gave us company day and night. They even became our alarm clocks when they jump onto the roof making a whole lot of clatter at 5 am. Watching them swing from branches to branches is fascinating and memory card beware!

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He was the first one we saw sleeping atop a bough on our arrival. We were just depositing our luggage in our room when all of a sudden there he was.
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In our entire time there we spotted a family of monkeys, here you see the baby being carried on the mom's back.
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He's probably used to humans shooting at him.
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I spent a lot of time looking up craning my neck and using up a lot of memory space. Hubby took this pic.
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He's letting it all hang out.
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In the lodge we saw 2 kinds of monkeys, one more plentiful than the other.
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He is very cooperative.
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The little baby trying it on his own.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Close Encounter With the Three-Toed Sloth and A Jungle Walk

Following our arrival and the free cocktail, we were given our assigned room. Our group was assigned one lodge (four rooms), the closest to the reception area. A buffet lunch followed. The lodges/hotels/inns in Tortuguero offer all-inclusive packages, since there are very few restaurants in the village. Our case too is that we have to cross the canal to reach the village.

The 3-day 2-night package included the transfer/pick up from our hotel in San Jose to Tortuguero, the breakfast in El Ceibo restaurant and the luncheon on our departure day, all the meals in Pachira Lodge, and three guided activities/tours. The first one was about to commence after a brief respite from lunch.

Pachira Lodge boasts of its propinquity to the jungle, part of the national park. Just a few yards from the pool is the entry to the jungle. While the jungle/rainforest is massive and majority of it can only be accessed by boat, there is a small portion that can be explored by foot. Luckily this portion is a stone's throw away from our lodge, basically inside the lodge's backyward.

The trail was short, unfortunately, but it gave us an overview of the diverse flora and fauna found in Costa Rica. Did you know that Costa Rica has a greater biodiversity (considering its size) than Europe or North America? That it's geographical location between North and South enables both plants and animals from both continents to establish themselves there? That the diverse habitats (lakes and rivers, cloudforests and low land tropical rainforests) encourage biodiversity? That the government's ecological policy ensures the propagation of the species?

Pachira Lodge has 88 rooms and all of us went to what they term as jungle walk. It basically is a stroll under the trees with well worn paths, albeit unpaved. We were divided into 2 groups, Spanish-speaking and non-Spanish speaking. The Spanish speaking people went with Mariano - the other guide. Us poor non Spanish speakers went with Julio, the same guide who picked us up in San Jose and who conducted the narrated tour from San Jose to Tortuguero earlier in the day.
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Let's begin the walk.
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Julio spotted a sloth up in the trees where they live. Costa Rica is home to two types of sloths: 3-toed sloth which is a diurnal animal, which means it's active chiefly during the day time and the 2-toed sloth who is nocturnal and rarely seen. With the distance Julio couldn't tell. Plus, he's guessing it's a 3-toed sloth because it looks active and it's still daytime.
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We proceded along the path and was careful of our surroundings. Out here one must really be conscious of what one's stepping into or what what we're about to destroy as we go along our way. We saw a few spiders in their webs. Julio said something about this particular spider. I wasn't listening.
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Julio explains something about the heliconia. Growing up, we call this plant BIRDS OF PARADISE. In fact my mom has a plant in our yard that blooms profusely.
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Does it feel like jungle to you? It was dark inside, tough to photograph anything.
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Julio called this palm the "walking tree" Read about them here.
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So many interesting things to see, up and down.

And then there are the epiphytes - "Epiphytes, plants which live on trees in order to reach the sunlight, also abound in these forests, adding to the water-gathering ability of the trees. The epiphytes aren't parasites; they feed off water and dust and nutrients which accumulate around their roots."
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My husband and I and another couple were lagging behind because hubby was taking photos when all of a sudden he saw a sloth on the ground. Sloths come down on the ground once every 9 days or so to defecate. Excitedly we alerted the group who were a few yards away from us to come back and see what we found. Julio in all his years of guiding tours has never seen a sloth on the ground before. The slow movement of the sloth should have given me ample time to take great shot, except that under the canopy where light is scarce there was only so much I can do. It was an amazing experience. Everyone was thanking the hubby for his keen eye.
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When the tour ended, we all rushed to our rooms, changed into swim wear and spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool downing cold ones. From this vantage point, we were watching the sloth just sit on top of the tree.

It was one heck of a first day in Tortuguero, a sightseeing bus ride from San Jose, a delicious breakfast stop in Guapiles, a narrated boat ride in the canals and a jungle walk punctuated with a close encounter with a sloth. Mighty fine day for a first day.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tortuguero Canals and The Boat Ride

We finally arrived at the edge of the canal. The Tortuguero canals have been called the Costa Rican version of the Amazon. The canals are extensive system of natural and man-made waterways used for transportation and for exploration of the jungle. Thru these canals or by plane are the only ways one can reach Tortuguero.

As much fun as the picturesque bus ride from San Jose with changing landscape was, the narrated boat ride to the canals was truly fascinating with scenic views of the Tortuguero National Park, which is a jungle, and varied wildlife and plant life. Incredible indeed. I have seen a flower that I haven't laid eyes on in years. I have smelled the familiar tropical air and the refreshing splash of canal water in my arm. I have enjoyed skywatching from the boat and knew I was lucky to be there seeing all these. While the wildlife was interesting, I also found so much pleasure in watching the locals go about their daily business.

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Our transportation.
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Other travelers in another boat.
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Man's bestfriends taking a nice ride.
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I spotted a CAMIA along the banks. It's a reunion of sorts, haven't seen it with my own eyes for more than a decade. I wished I was close enough to smell it. Camia is a member of the ginger family if I remember correctly.
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The jungle which is also part of the Tortuguero National Park, most of the park is only accessible by boat.

BIRD WATCHING:
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Anhinga.
From wiki: The Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), sometimes called Snakebird, Darter, American Darter, or Water Turkey, is a water bird of the warmer parts of the Americas. The word "anhinga" comes from the Brazilian Tupi language and means devil bird or snake bird.

Unlike ducks, the Anhinga is not able to waterproof its feathers using oil produced by the uropygial gland. Consequently, feathers can become waterlogged, making the bird barely buoyant. However, this allows it to dive easily and search for underwater prey, such as fish and amphibians. It can stay down for significant periods.

When necessary, the Anhinga will dry out its wings and feathers, with the resemblance of the semicircular full-spread shape of its group of tail feathers while drying them out, to that of true meleagrine males lending the name "water turkey" to it. It will perch for long periods with its wings spread to allow the drying process, as do cormorants. If it attempts to fly while its wings are wet, it has great difficulty getting off the water and takes off by flapping vigorously while 'running' on the water. Anhinga will often search for food in small groups.
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Black-necked stilt.
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Roseate spoonbill
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Cranes?
I knew we were nearing our destination when on both sides of the canals we were passing houses and lodges and hostels.
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Looks like the roof is buckling under the weight of the satellite dish.
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This is the main canal and flanked on both sides by lodges.
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This is Tortuguero village, immediately across the canal from our accommodation.
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Our lodge's dock.
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We have arrived! (this is the seating area for the lodge's bar.)
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And the welcome cocktail is all poured out!!!!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Enroute

According to the itinerary we were leaving at 6:15 am. But Julio our guide was ringing our room at a little before 6 am to say it's time to go. Apparently, there's a change of plans. This would set the tone for the rest of the trip. Costa Rican cannot be faulted for tardiness. The fact is they are strict with time and even commence the tours earlier, not ever late.

Thankfully our hotel serves breakfast from 5:30 am, which meant that we were able to partake of some sustenance before our trip to Tortuguero.
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There was a good spread at the buffet breakfast, but I found out that day that my stomach isn't awake before 7 am, so this is all I could manage to ingest.

At the lobby we met our group – 7 of us. A couple from Baltimore, a couple from Sacramento and his mother from OC, and us. Just 7. Our friends from Philly attempted to sign up for this same trip, same group and was told that the trip was fully booked. 7 people and this trip is fully booked. Interesting.
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A big tourist bus was waiting outside the hotel, which means we were’nt the only ones going to Tortuguero. Our suspicion was right because after they loaded us and a few others in front of our hotel, we drove around San Jose picking up more passengers from different hotels and hostels, which wasn’t a bad thing. It was sightseeing for free as I saw it. Nice to see the city streets not crowded in the early morning hours and the city waking up.
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I like watching people go about their daily business.
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The trip took us up and over the Continental Divide between the Pacific and Caribbean watersheds and thru the spectacular Braulio Carillo National Park. We saw changes in landscapes and vegetation. We were going down to the Caribbean coastal area and Tortuguero.

Our guide was Julio, he was pretty good with his spiel. I was not listening the whole time. I was letting my eyes drink in the passing scenery. Verdant lush green treetops, dense wooded areas, part of a forest/jungle also a national park, houses along the highway. Difficult to get some shots, some parts of the road were curvy and I was getting a little dizzy. I don’t get car sick, but the airconditioning was weak and the bus was full. I wanted to sip water but I was afraid I’d pee. From the looks of it, there wasn’t any place for pit stop.
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A soda is a local restaurant where locals eat and where we had most of our meals as well.
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Around 10 am we were pulling up into a gated compound. Beautiful garden filled with tropical plants and flowers and trees and ferns, all so green and colorful. We stopped at El Ceibo restaurant in Guapiles, midway from San Jose to Tortuguero. This breakfast – our second breakfast, we’re hobbits – was again buffet style and was part of the package. Filled in on eggs and ham and rice and beans.

We gobbled down our food rapidly so we can have time to explore the surroundings and make a stop at the restrooms. It’s so beautiful out there, clean air, butterflies fluttering about and birds singing and other unidentifiable bugs chiming in to the symphony of tropical sounds. Then another sound was distinct. There was running water somewhere. A little creek runs behind the restaurant, we got to take a peek. The orchids are simply adorable and are everywhere.
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Apparently everyone in the bus with us would all be going to Pachira Lodge and we were loaded again after breakfast. I was so glad to be back to the comforts of the AC bus after that brief exploration of the garden because the sun was bearing down at full force and it’s not noon yet.

The rest of drive to Tortuguero was more enjoyable for me, the sights of real Costa Rica. Houses along the way have their front doors wide open – which reminded me how we have them back in our province. I told my husband how the minute my mom wakes up in the morning, she would open our front door and then go to the kitchen and cook. That front door will not be closed again until we go to bed that night. Same holds true for everyone’s house in the neighborhood. Oh how I miss those times, how safe we all felt.
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We passed by banana plantation where we stop briefly to watch a guy pull bananas for packaging. We also passed by a pineapple plantation. We saw grazing lands and beautiful landscape. The road was unpaved and we were crawling at about 15 km an hour.
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A drive by can you believe it!
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Oh just a few short hours and we'll be in our destination for the day: Tortuguero or the land of turtles.