Out & about: A rainforest adventure, Part I

A Blue-crowned Motmot watches us closely from a nearby tree.

“Aqui, aqui,” our guide shouted excitedly, as he ran ahead of us pointing to the side of the trail. “Do you see it,” he asked in broken English? “No, I don’t see anything,” I uttered back in shear confusion. Again he pointed, but this time, calmly stating, “Right there, two meters (about six feet), lying on the branch of that low growing palm.” Still, I saw nothing. There were bunches of palms growing in front of us, along with dozens of other lush, green, tropical plants. Was I going blind? What was I looking for? He would not come out and tell us. He wanted my wife and I to try and find the critter ourselves. He claimed he was “training” our eyes for the rainforest!

After setting-up his scope and focusing, he invited us to take a closer look. There, perched on a branch, was a foot-long, baby Green Iguana. It’s brilliant, green color blending in perfectly with the palm branch it was sitting on. I stepped back away from the scope and looked again with my naked eye, and finally, after straining to look at every branch in front of me, I saw it. It was entirely camouflaged in its rainforest habitat. My eyes would need a lot more training!

The tropical rainforest is an incredible, diverse, eerie habitat. There are so many beautiful living things, with so many interesting stories behind each one, that I could write 50 articles describing our short trip, and never cover them all; and there was no place to experience this mysterious landscape better than Costa Rica!

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After nearly a year of planning, we decided we wanted to celebrate our 25th anniversary together in a tropical setting, but not just a “warm beach getaway” in mid-December. We were seeking something a bit more adventurous that offered us the opportunity to explore areas we’ve never seen before. We zeroed in on Costa Rica. A country that seemed to offer everything we were looking for, and more!

Costa Rica is located in Central America. It’s bordered by Nicaragua, Panama, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Its total land size, 19, 653 square miles, is less than half of our own state of Pennsylvania (46,055 square miles). However, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in diversity. The terrain ranges from sea level to the country’s highest point, Cerro Chirripó, at 12, 530 feet (3,819 meters). In this rich, welcoming country you can find volcanoes covered in cloud forests and tropical rainforests with incredible biodiversity. There are towering waterfalls, white-water rivers and white sand beaches. The capital, San Jose, along with many small towns and villages, are full of warm, friendly people whose national motto is Pura Vida, meaning Pure Life!

After arriving, we started our journey by heading north into the Central Highlands, an area covered by high mountains, coffee plantations, strawberry farms and scattered pastures with grazing dairy cows. Our first stop was Poás Volcano, an active volcano around 9,000 feet, with a 1-mile wide crater. Although we only had to hike on foot the last 3,000 feet, we could still feel the thin air on our lungs every step of the way. As we walked we saw brilliant hummingbirds, butterflies and lush vegetation growing in the surrounding cloud forest. The highlight was stopping to see a beautiful Blue-crowned Motmot-a large, blue-green bird about the size of a crow.

Our final trek was to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. At this privately-owned eco-park, we had the opportunity to sit and watch dozens (approx.. 10 species) of wild hummingbirds feeding all around us. We wandered through an amazing butterfly garden, where these brightly-colored insects fluttered all around us and even landed on our clothes. In addition, we also observed hundreds of hanging chrysalis at different stages, including new butterflies actually hatching out. Our guide allowed us to handle a Chesnut-mandibled Toucan, a gorgeous bird with a large, colorful bill. They presented my wife the “pleasant one,” which then proceeded to chomp down on a section of her upper arm with its oversized beak

! Park staff gave us a behind-the-scene tour of their free range Ranarium-an exhibit where native frogs roam free (not behind glass). In this area, we were amazed by the different species of colorful, but deadly, poison dart frogs and the spectacular Red-eyed Tree Frog. One in particular took a real liking to my wife and jumped from the curator’s hand to the back of her neck, where it then decided to crawl up on top of her head! It made for some excellent photographic memories! On our final descent down the trail, we paused to view a stunning 50-foot waterfall on a small bridge. Just then, we had to move aside to allow 14 White-faced Coatis, a relative of the raccoon with a long tail, to pass by! All this and it was only our first, full day in Costa Rica!

Stay tuned for part two as we travel south to the Central Pacific Coast and Manuel Antonio National Park, where we encounter, monkeys, sloths, boas, lizards and more bird species than I’ve ever seen in one area!