San Jose^2

Kieran and Denise's Blog of their adventure in Costa Rica. Start reading from the bottom if you want it to make sense.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Caimans, Spiders, low-land rain forests, Oh My!

We had an amazing time in Tortuguero. We flew in early Thursday morning and moved into our sparse hotel room. We had breakfast at the new place in town. The population of Tortuguero is around 850 and it's basically an illegal squatters settlement that has been partially legitimized because of the 50, 000 tourists who bring in several million dollars a year. People were friendly and the scenery was beautiful.

We arranged to rent a kayak in the morning and hiked the local hill that afternoon. The kayaking was perfect. We headed off in a double kayak to the local ranger station to buy some 3 day passes and then we headed up into the canals. We stopped by a tour boat and watched some monkeys moving in the trees on shore for a while. They are still a thrill and really cute to watch.

We paddled up several tributaries trying to get as deep into the jungle as possible. Denise wanted to stop and take it easy as we moved along but I knew we were paddling against a strong current that was travelling almost 40 miles from the interior foothills down to the ocean. The plan was to move as fast and far interior as possible and float back.

Denise started getting nervous as the jungle closed in on our kayak. She asked if there were any crocodiles in the water and of course I lied and told her there weren't. Five minutes later she looked over on the shore and she saw a caiman, a small crocodile like animal. She was scared and she wanted to turn around immediately. But I kept paddeling deeper into the tributaries.

Soon we spotted more monkeys, tiger throat blue herons, and abundant plant life. We saw another caiman and a fresh water turtle and kept moving forward. Finally after a solid paddle we turned around and floated back. It was really beautiful in the jungle and the combination of solid exercise and remoteness made us feel like we were back on our adventure.

That afternoon we arranged a hike and tour up the local hill with a local guide named Roberto. I had been warned to ensure we got a full 3 hour tour but despite my insistance he took us on the 1.5 hour route. But it was great and we were happy to get as much exposure as we did. The trek involved moving around of the base through very deep and muddy trails to a bat cave. Denise was completely surrounded by spiders. If you turned around the wrong way on this narrow jungle trails you were likely to get a face full of a 3 foot spider web. She was remarkably brave and her definition of what a big spider is probably changed forever.

The guide was knowledgable and told lots of interesting stories and folklore about the mountains and the flora and fauna. We saw a walking palm which is a tree with the root system starting 4 feet off the ground. The trees has 30 roots and each year some roots die in one direction and new roots in the opposite direction start up. This allows the palm to move up the hill in search of better sunlight every year. Unfortunately, the trail erosion was horrible and the guides just kept creating new paths through out the forest creating a lasting damage to the ecosystem. We arrived at the top of the hill and saw another tour group in pants, shoes, and ponchos. We were glad to be in our high rubber boots and moisture wicking clothes. They were covered in mud upto their knees and their rain ponchos were dangerously catching on branches on the steep descents.

We headed back to the bottom of the hill through deep mud for a cool beer and fresh coconut. We made it back to our hotel and got ready for the highly recommended dinner at Miss Junie's. We stopped by the local bar to have a drink with Ross, our canoe tour guide for the next morning. Ross is a botanist by trade. He has spent 6 and half years living in various low land rain forests in Central and South America managing ranger and botany stations. He was very interesting to talk to and he could hardly complete a sentence with out providing the scientific name of a plant or animal.

Dinner at Miss Junies was quite good. Everything tasted really rich, and had distinctly carribean flavours. I ordered a whole fish but found it too boney to enjoy. Denise, the vegetarian, felt tortured through dinner as my entree stared her in the eyes. She was constantly repositioning objects on the table to avoid eye contact with my coconut milk fried dinner.

After dinner I tried to track down Ross and a Duke Marine Environment PhD student from Montreal. Denise headed back to the hotel for a nap before our night tour of the Giant Sea Turtle. We are so used to gettting up at 5AM that going to bet at 8PM seems like a late night. I had to drag Denise out to the beach to see the turtles.