To its everlasting credit, the small nation of Costa Rica constitutionally abolished a standing military force in 1948 and pursued the goals of better education, healthcare and democracy. Progressive social and environmental programs are a hallmark of the current day, inviting global visitors of every stripe including yours truly. I was pleased to have the summer guidance of my daughter, who engineered many of the details through our countrywide journey, along with my wife who offered consolation as our rental vehicle bounced along some perilous mountain roads and who hiked the jungle and the cloud-forest trails with confidence.
Los Quetzales National Park was located close to our first major stop in Costa Rica, some 80 kilometers south of San Jose, the country’s capital and largest city. Los Quetzales was the first of nine or 10 national parks we visited (the country, slightly larger than the state of West Virginia, has about 30 wilderness parks, many of them established after the 1990s when the process of deforestation in this Central American nation was reversed).
The highlands of Los Quetzales, drained by the Rio Savagre (a fascinating mountain stream where I wound up catching wild rainbow trout on a fly) are a special place for birdwatching, and yes– I had studied that potential for months in advance. The iconic and nearly endangered Resplendent Quetzal draws binoculared tourists from around the world, and I was lucky to view and photograph several of these beautiful creatures. The diversity of the park’s flora and fauna is astounding. Summer starts the rainy season in Costa Rica, and it rained a lot through our 17 afternoons and evenings in the land, but the weather was primarily cool and comfortable, and the tourist crowds were mostly absent.
Watching the magnificent bird life really kicked into gear at our cabin near Los Quetzales and progressed through our following stops as we moved toward Panama and then back north again. I had told myself that identifying 50 life birds in Costa Rica would have made my preparations very worthwhile. I eventually saw and/or heard 145 species in my visit to CR, of which 126 were “life birds,” or first-timers. Pretty darn good, for an amateur.
Up soon, Pacific boat ride to the Osa Peninsula and the Corcovado wilderness.