Some of the new friends that have come into my life in Costa Rica are “seasonal” or some say “Snow Birds” who come to our tropical climate as an escape from the snow & ice up north during the coldest months. One, who has in the past stayed in Roca Verde just up the street from me, is Margaret from British Columbia, Canada and like me, a birder in her 80’s.
This year she decided to go beyond Atenas and see the birds and other sights of many areas of Costa Rica and brought her friend Pat with her. Here’s the diary or journal of their very economical adventure by public bus and staying in local B&Bs, like I did in my early years here . She included 45 photos that I could not copy with the story and adding all individually to this blog post would greatly slow it down, so I chose 4 to scatter throughout the story. And her good “storyteller” way of reporting their adventures makes her words the “illustrations.” Her third person references (you and yours) are to Jill, one of their first hostesses she was writing much of this to. The sub-headings are my addition to indicate the general area of Costa Rica they were in at that time of their trip. Enjoy! And plan your own adventure! 🙂 ¡Pura vida!
Margaret & Pat’s Costa Rica Adventure
Our first week in Atenas was delightful as always. I always feel comfortable and have developed a nostalgia for the place. I especially enjoy staying at Colinas del Sol. It never is too busy and this time was no exception, probably not more than 8 people staying in 3 different cabins. Breakfast is included and the rooms have a small refrigerator, electric coffee/kettle and some dishes. We basically picnicked for our lunches and most of our dinners, buying fresh salad veggies, fruits, ham and a cooked chicken. We spent early mornings (up at 5am) walking and birding, the afternoons visiting or relaxing at the pool and birding on the premises.
Pat and I went to Roca Verde for an afternoon visit with Lindsay where I stayed in 2020, and another day, an early morning visit with Roberta and Harry (where John and I stayed in 2019) on their deck to enjoy a coffee with them and to bird watch. The Motmots came in for breakfast along with other feeder birds.
One morning, we walked up Calle Nueva, the small road behind Roca Verde and birded along there seeing Toucans and more Motmots and another morning took a taxi out of Atenas and walked down into town from Motmot Lane birding along the way. Another morning, Charlie who also lives at Roca Verde, and his friend Dan, drove us out of town to a huge private property with some good birding and walking. We took them out to breakfast as a thank you for spending the time to take us out.
San Gerardo Rivas & Cerro Chirripo Area
A week later, we took a taxi to the bus station in Atenas and caught the bus to San Jose arriving an hour later at Coco Cola Bus Station where we took a taxi to the Tracopa bus station. Our tickets purchased, we climbed on the pink Tracopa bus and 4 hours later after traversing the spine of the Talamanca mountain range, we got off in San Isidro. We then took another taxi a few blocks to a local bus station and caught a bus to San Gerardo Rivas. Unfortunately I didn’t pay enough attention and the bus driver wasn’t helpful either so we got off 4 km too soon. Finding a hardware store nearby I asked for help and heard them say in Spanish, “ they are really lost!”. They then enlisted the help of a man they knew who was making a purchase. He offered to drive us the 8 km to the Mariposa Lodge and so we climbed into his truck and off he drove us up a terrible windy steep road…….and there we were – arrived! Let’s see, 3 taxi’s, 2 busses, one hitchhiked 4×4 truck ride! Oh, and our driver, Blaine, turned out to be a hiking and birding guide and said he would pick us up next morning to take us on a guided birding trip. What a day!
And, what a wonderful place Mariposa Lodge is! Photos are needed to describe- there are many hidden spaces tucked away here and there and separated with winding stone stairways. It’s built on the side of a mountain, did I forget to tell you we are in the mountains? At over 5000 feet elevation and at the beginning of the trail to Cerro Chirripo, the highest mountain in Costa Rica (12,500 feet)! Chirripo National Park is at our doorstop, no kidding, it’s right outside our door and pack horses go by nightly and daily taking supplies to and from the huts along the way to the peak.
Our room is huge and luxuriant for our standards, the bathroom is a phenomenon of rock and rock alcoves. We have a balcony over looking the gully and premises below. John and Jill bought the property about 20 years ago and have added their own detail to an already interesting house and buildings, all tucked away in various rocky niches with pathways ascending up into the jungle. And, the jungle is all around us. Beautiful flowers and trees line the pathways and pool area. As dusk falls, a ‘scream” of White-collared Swifts can be heard circulating overhead, and then suddenly they dive and streak like arrows whirling down into a narrow deep gully covered in jungle with a small trickle of a creek far below the balcony outside the house were we stood watching. They disappear as one into a rock cave behind the creek and leave again in the dawn of morning.
We love Jill’s view of nature, allowing it to thrive within reason. Nothing is killed for being alive here, it might even be accommodated if possible, such as Mrs. Rat Snake that has a door space to slip under just in case her and the youngsters are caught out in inappropriate places! One night, Jill took us and our flashlights out in the darkness to show us Pricella, a motherly tarantula peeking out at us from between the cracks of a rock wall. We also saw a “slug” of baby caterpillars encased in slime oozing slowly along the cobblestoned roadway. This clever technique makes the entire group appear as one entity, and too large to be tangled with. Jill and John also have Mr and Mrs Motmot who come and visit them no matter which room they decide to spend the night in, there they are, peeking out at them at dinnertimes! Pocket Mouse is only ever live caught and then emptied back outdoors for a time anyway. Weasel is always welcome and helps keep Pocket Mouse’s friends in line. Each night we went to bed with fireflies dancing through the darkness around our beds. We were able to catch photos of these beetles to show that they are actually flying beetles, not flies!
A second day outing we walked up past Rolando’s to the Cloudbridge Reserve and Chirripo National Park where we walked the trails of a special botanical garden created by the original owners of the park. Beautifully coloured Impatiens in the midst of exotic tropical ferns and wild red banana plants along with other tropical fruiting shrubs and trees, line the pathways through a trail network along the mountainside. Below the trails, one can access the river where we watched the Torrent Tyrannulet working the waterfall areas for bugs. Later, Jill dropped us off on her way to town at the Secret Garden, another interesting story here of one person’s dream to create a botanical garden within a natural area. Here too was a restaurant where we had one of our most delicious meals ever in Costa Rica. A great afternoon with of course, birds and bird song everywhere as well. Really, everywhere we went in Gerardo de Rivas, I felt I was in a special heavenly land, a very magical place. Jill took us shopping and we bought some fresh frozen trout and veggies for our dinner. There is a communal kitchen at Jill and John’s for our use. Since the Pandemic they have kept their guest list to a few people only and are taking a much deserved rest from years of being extremely busy with trail hikers and other guests staying and filling their rooms. This fewer people around made for wonderfully long conversations with them and an enjoyable friendship has been established. I definitely will be returning to visit if I go back to Costa Rica in the future!
Quizarrá & Los Cusingos Bird Refuge
Our next destination was not far away but required a couple of bus rides so first, Jill drove us to the bus down the road and with some last minute laughs and gabbing and nearly missing the bus parked in front of us, we rattled down the mountainside and into San Isidro where we just missed the bus by 10 minutes to Quizarrá! Darn! Your directions were excellent Jill, and it only took us 5 minutes to walk there. With four hours to wait for the next bus (in the heat), we quickly decided on a taxi! It took us to the bus station in Quizarrá for 10,000 colones ( $25.00), a very fair price. The taxi driver was able to take three people at the bus Stop with him on the way back so that was helpful for him. The bus station was actually a tree but a grand tree spreading out over the entire area. Here, we waited and soon Rosa, who lives across the road from our little rustic cabina, and is the mother of the owner of this Airbnb, drove up in her little Suzuki, threw our belongings in the back and brought us to our present abode. She cooked our dinner last night and we were invited into her Tico home. She worked for Americans for 30 years, raised three children, one a teacher and the other two also academics. Her husband had a knee replacement like Pat four months ago. We met her teacher son, a very handsome young man with excellent English.
So we are doing fine, now back from our birding trip to Los Cusingos Bird Refuge with Fabian, and sitting in our cabina with all the windows open. It’s very very birdie around us. Two Trogons outside our door yesterday afternoon. Pat says Fabian was one of the best guides she’s had and she has gone on some top birding trips in the past. I agree with her, he is a strong proponent of Los Cusingos and knows it well. We saw many species with him and then he took us on a road trip to the villages and stores to find gin for Pat. He sure tried! However, no luck for a small bottle so I bought a box of wine and she will have to settle for that! Then we showed him our place here at Rocco’s which is old style Tica I would say. I think Pat has another name, ha ha, but I think it’s positivity cute. Pat was quite excited about returning to Los Cusingos and remembering her time with Dr. Alexander Skutch. We toured his house with all the preserved writings and belongings. He certainly is revered in Costa Rica as a Bird Researcher. He was the hero of both Fabian and Walter Sanchez our birding guide from Drake Bay.
Sierpe River, Drake Bay & Corcovado National Park
While I sit waiting at the Sierpe boat departure area, and drinking a delicious fresh fruit juice, I will continue our adventures. Pat is drinking a cerveza (beer) and floating a bit like the river we sit beside. This is because there is NO GIN yet. If there were, she would probably drink the whole bottle. All went perfect this morning. Our hostess, Rosa, drove us 2 km to the bus stop and an hour later our bus driver took our bags from us at the Gafeso bus station and carried them across the street to where the Tracopa bus was leaving inmediatamente!! How great was that? Sometimes it’s good to look like Grandmas. We arrived at Palma Norte in time to walk a few meters for the bus to Sierpe, 800 colones. However, we are here in plenty of time but Pat had discovered her binoculars are NOT with her!!!!???we are hoping she left them in Rosa’s car.
Now we’ve made it to Drake Bay!! MY GOODNESS. I feel I’ve backtracked in time the early days of travels in Mexico. We have been picked up in a jeep, no windows, and transported straight up on a road? Trail? Steeper than yours. Amazing climb. We then walked up 500 cement steps (we may never go down) to our fantastic tiny cabiña overlooking the bay. On the way we again tried for GIN at the small tiendas but none. The common kitchen is nearby and we can eat or cook here. There is a huge group of young people from Slovakia studying. So we lost our original room but ours is pretty neat, really small and front porch hangs out over infinity. It does have screens and a fan.
Tomorrow we may go down the 1000 steps to the beach or maybe not.
Tomorrow happened today and we did go to the beach! Great down there and saw and photographed the Scarlet Macaws cavorting around. Also, I had a swim in the ocean, being careful of the wave action.
Lovely lazy afternoon at out “aerie” cabina napping and listening to the ocean waves below us. I checked under the cabin but darn, no boa constrictor.
We have our big guided birding day tomorrow.
Our guide Walter Sanchez has seen a post that Pat’s binos were on the Tracopa bus and he had tried to get in touch with the person who has them offering a reward. So, the suspense continues.
They have given us breakfast and dinner here so we don’t have to walk down the mountain worse than yours!!
Walter Sanchez picked us up early at 6 am and we enjoyed spending the day with him very much. Wonderful enthusiasm and a marvellous teacher of the natural history in Corcovado Park. We had some great bird sightings including the Turquoise Cotinga both male and female, Orange -crowned and Red-capped Manakins. When he saw something exciting Walter would shout out, “Jee-sus Christ”. Look at that!! “. A nice lunch finished our day and we flaked out exhausted after walking what seemed hours in the jungle.
Michelle, the owner of the “Mirador” where we stayed, knows everyone and he somehow did get in touch with the person who took Pats binoculars but they said they wanted $800. We said to offer less but have heard nothing. I think that’s the end of the binocular story. The Mirador is basic but clean, reasonable, and like you, they went out of their way to accommodate us.
On to Cerro Lodge, Tarcoles & Carara National Park
The boat trip back to a Sierpe wasn’t uneventful as the boat ran out of gas! We drifted down river until a passing boat handed us a huge barrel of gasoline which the boat immediately swallowed and resumed the trip.
However, now behind schedule for catching the next two buses, a man at the dock called out to everyone – $5.00 to Palma Norte and filled up his van quickly. However, in Palma Norte we learned we needed reservations or we would have made the 10 am bus! So, we had to wait with a few other unlucky travelers, for the 1 pm bus. Aboard the bus, unfortunately (what else is new), we had a little girl about 4 who screamed and shrieked, no kidding, for the 4 1/2 hour ride to Tarcoles. I forgot to mention that I picked up a cold and had a nose that ran all day plus with the kid crying and shrieking, a headache. When the driver did let us off in the wrong place at a restaurant, we couldn’t get a taxi, can you believe there are none here (we are 15 or so km from Tarcoles on the northwest side of Tarcoles River). Finally I just picked a young handsome man coming out of the small restaurant and asked if he could drive us. He was going home to San Jose and said he didn’t mind although he had to drive 4 km on a rough gravel road to get to our lodge. I went to bed and Pat- giving up on ever finding a gin, ordered a huge Margarita!! She is now into Margaritas.
Cerro Lodge doesn’t seem to have an owner or manager present and young people seem to be operating it. The restaurant is run by a separate management. So not the same as yours or the others we’ve been as it lacks that personal care and friendliness. However, Capachun monkey’s come to the feeders and steal bananas and Scarlet Macaws like to come up on the large deck cavorting about and showing off to we humans. The venue is great, and the swimming pool very welcome in the heat.
Getting around here is difficult. This morning a young couple going down to Carara National park took us in their car and since they have become avid birders only since coming to Costa Rica, were happy to walk with us there. First we parked at the bridge by the Tarcoles River to walk out with everyone else and see the Crocodiles. At least a dozen were there, mostly sleeping on the river bank along with several Southern Lapwings. In Carara we did see a Slaty-tailed Trogon and Howler monkeys before the young couple had to leave early for San Jose and so we asked a guide how we could return to Cerro Lodge and he phoned for his friend to drive us back to our place about 8 km away. An afternoon in the pool, and in our air conditioned room finished our day.
Next day we went on the early morning birding boat trip on the Tarcoles River and they picked us up here and brought us back. On the gravel road to the highway I said to our driver Carlos, let us know if you see any birds. Almost right away we saw a pair of Double -striped Thick-knees, a bird on my “ to see “ list! The 2 hour boat trip is well worth the trip and only $35. per person. Only 4 of us on the boat too. We were there a half our early and our guide Will gave us a private walking tour showing us a few birds including a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl and a Black-throated Trogon.
A day later: We meet Kathy and John at dinner. John came up behind us and asked if we wanted to see a rare bird. They are from California and have come here for years, bringing groups for birding. A nice couple. (We did see the rare bird too, a Short-tailed Nighthawk!). They offered to drop us at the bus stop next day which they did and at 7 am, sure enough, a bus stops for us. It takes us to Orotina…….however, unlike what the bus company says on their website……..we must wait 2 hours before catching a bus to Atenas! I tell the bus driver we have to get to Atenas rapido and he is wonderful, walks up the street with us and phones a friend who is a taxi driver. ( does everyone here have a friend that is a taxi driver? ) the fellow comes in minutes and after a 30 minute exhilarating roller coaster ride up and over a mountain, we arrive early in Atenas. Walter from Walter’s taxis and Tours picked us up in his van and we leave for Caño Negro after he takes us home, introduces us to his new wife and baby, and brings us glorious red Proteus flowers to take with us.
It’s a long windy road for the first 3 hours through lovely mountain countryside full of small farms with dairy cows, coffee, India cane fence plants, and later through the low countryside we came to yucca, sugar cane , pineapple and orange plantations. We arrived at 2 pm. at Caño Negro. Walter will take 5 hours at least to drive home and arrive at night. However, when we stop for a break at a small restaurant, Pat sees a large bottle of gin and we tell Walter the gin saga. He says that is no problem and calls over the server to bring a small jar. They then fill the jar with 3 measures of gin and there is also tonic so Pat gets both. Here are the photos concluding the gin story. You can see the happy look on her face! (Oh, no luck with the binos, so that saga is sadly finished.)
Here in Caño Negro at Hotel de Campo, we have been immersed in an eco-tropical garden beside a lagoon. Not only filled with tropical wild fruit trees of every sort….it is filled with many bird species and also Spider monkeys cavorting through the trees collecting any bananas left in the natural bird feeding stations found throughout the property. I can circulate the property including a visit to the lagoon and arrive back at my pleasant room having seen 30 bird species. Everything is cared for nicely here, but not manicured in any way. It has a swimming pool that is enjoyable in the sticky weather. It’s not hot like Drake Bay in the Osa peninsula and it rains off and on but it is warm and humid…..very tolerable. We have air conditioning but only need to use it sparingly.
Our host and owner is very different. Andrea and his father came from Switzerland 30 years ago and his father was the botanist gardener who has planted and labeled the shrubs and trees here. Andrea, who seems to manage everything and is our guide on the river has strong opinions about things, hmmmm, not sure about him but he is efficient and very much in charge. He isn’t a dedicated birder but knows the local birds and their behaviours and where to go to find certain birds. We tried in 2 spots he knew to find the Agami Heron and the Pygmy Kingfisher but were unsuccessful. Still, I have quite a few new species to add to my list. When I think of Walter Sanchez, Fabian and Jose’s enthusiasm towards the natural world and the wonderful birds etc that we witness, Andrea was just a tad short. Our first morning though, we did have Alounso, an excellent local birding guide that Andrea uses if he needs an extra hand.
Cano Negro is a very old tiny village within what is now the Caño Negro Wildlife Reserve, an immense wetland area bordering Nicaragua. I liked it and everyone friendly when I walked down to the store. When we started up river at dawn the first day, hundreds and hundreds of flocks – first Great Egrets, then various heron species, then White and Green Ibis, etc. flew up from the shrubbery and trees along the river edge where they had spent the night, and wave after wave flew over our heads heading to other lagoon areas to feed. Pink coloured American Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Anhingas, and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks lined the edges of the river and lagoons. Howler Monkeys and huge Iguanas lazed on the branches of tall trees where the eerie roar of the howlers made for a surreal background. We spent hours of wonderful birding on the river both morning and afternoon the first day and one long morning the second day. The numbers of birds in these wetlands was significant. An afternoon in the eco-garden and pool was a treat to relax and enjoy our surroundings.
We witnessed a handsome, quite majestic really, Bare-headed Tiger Heron male displaying on a branch of a tree overhanging the river and directly beneath a female on a branch above him. In an upright courting position on a tree branch, he stretched his neck up to the sky, and while undulating his long neck in a snake like dance, uttered deep guttural noises from an inflated bright yellow sac under his chin. Wow! Quite a sight! She seemed impressed too and flew to a nearby tree with him behind her. We left them cuddling up and drifted on down stream. It was one of those special moments. Meals were very tasty and we enjoyed a fresh caught fish from the lagoon. Our last night I joined Pat with a glass of wine and her gin and tonic and we toasted ourselves for surviving thus far!
La Fortuna/Arenal Eco Garden
Our last morning we spent enjoying our surroundings and after lunch we had a transfer to La Fortuna. Christian was our driver, and he knew José at Eco Garden Arenal Family Project where we stayed last night, just outside of La Fortuna. Jose was his teacher on a field trip he took in college. On the same field trip José met his wife Patricia and now the two of them built up the family property which has a treed gully, creek and ponds. It is an oasis in an otherwise mainly farming area. The pond has nesting Boat-billed Herons in the over hanging branches, complete with a tiny Pygmy Kingfisher sitting patiently waiting for a moment to dart down to the pond and claim a fish. A mama two- toed Sloth with her baby moved about the branches of a tree by our cabin feeding on leaves. The baby would leave mama occasionally and explore the branches nearby but then come back and crawl all over mom. Peeking out from behind some green leaves we were just able to pick out a Spectacled Owl.
Jose took us early morning birdwatching next day. He stopped at a large shrub loaded with long racemes of small fruits that was filled with at least 15 species of colourful birds! All feeding on these small fruits. Male and female Red-legged Honeycreepers, Shining Honeycreepers, two species of Dacnis, 5 species of tanager, a White-necked Jacobin, etc. Pat wanted to see Poison-dart Frogs and on a walk in Jose’s property, he reached down and pointed out one to her. Just like that!
And Back Home to Canada
Early afternoon Jose drove us to the bus station and we caught the bus to San Jose and flew off his morning for home. Thank goodness the bus trip was without incident. I’m finishing up the saga of our travels to Costa Rica while sitting in the airport in Houston, Texas awaiting our flight to Vancouver.
Don’t you like how much fun we old people can have in Costa Rica? 🙂