It was a long tedious drive north from Corcovado and the Osa Peninsula to Guanacaste Province and volcano country. We broke from the Pacific palm plantations and an endless line of fruit and vegetable vendors at the “Crocodile Bridge,” walking out over the Rio Tarcoles and observing some 20 crocodiles resting on a little island. Sunlight gleamed from an opened mouth with prominent teeth, inspiring the question: If a human approached that island on foot, would those reptiles flee or fight each other for a first bite of human flesh? I wasn’t certain, but was glad I didn’t have to answer the question empirically.
Montezuma Oropendolas, a large tropical bird that builds a pendant nest in colonies, seemed to welcome our approach to Rinconzita, a wonderful mountainside lodge with restaurant. Melodious Blackbirds whistled nearby, and striking White-throated Magpie Jays called raucously. We would soon hike the Rincon de la Viega National Park, a land of rainforest and volcanic fumeroles (reminiscent of Yellowstone but with various monkeys cavorting nearby).
Although the trail to the summit of Rincon Volcano had been closed since the eruptions of 2012, we enjoyed a three-kilometer circuit trail that by-passed yucca plants and massive strangler figs. I think our favorite forest sound was issued by a Nightingale Wren, a typically hidden songbird that my field guide referenced with “… one should learn to enjoy (and settle for) the extraordinary vocalization that unhurriedly wanders up and down the scale, not quite staying in key.” It truly was exquisite, and quite a contrast with the booming of neighborhood Howler Monkeys.
Our next two-day stop was near Volcan Tenario National Park. We had a cabin reserved in the deep San Miguel Valley close by, and to reach it we descended from a high ridge on the roughest, most cratered, gravel road imaginable. Alyssa dropped us admirably down the five-kilometer “goat path” (as described by our Lonely Planet guidebook to Costa Rica) but, let me say, I’m glad we survived that nightmarish, white-knuckled drive both into the canyon and back.
Once situated at our cabin, life was good. There was an interesting mix of rainforest and pastoral land around us. Alan, a young farmer who owned the cabin we’d be staying in, described the differences in toucan species and confirmed my earlier sighting of a Laughing Falcon nearby. His sister was employed at a neighborhood coffee and cocoa farm and would give us a tour of the organic site. Alan’s wife brought us breakfast each morning from the main house and ensured that our rural stay would be pleasant, even in the rain.
And rain fell steadily as we started our 4.4-mile hike at Tenario. I glimpsed my first Collared Aricari (a small toucan) in the sodden canopy of the cloud forest as we climbed toward a renowned blue waterfall. Beyond the falls, a “blue lagoon” collected two converging streams, one of them muddy from the rains, the other almost azure-colored from volcanic elements in the soil. The two streams mixed as one, thus forming the beautiful Rio Celeste.
Later, at our cabin site again, I walked the evening farm lanes and identified birds– from Southern Lapwings to Common Paraques– many of them life birds for me, feathered spirits nice to contemplate as the sun went down (yes it did appear eventually) like a cold beer in the heat.
Several days later we traveled toward the classic cone of Arenal Volcano and surrounding national park. We took lodging in the small village of El Castillo, created as a relocation zone following a big eruption in 1968. We had excellent views of the imposing mountain and its smoke still rising from eruptions in 2010. The view was especially satisfying from a nearby patio that offered food and drinks. Our last meal at that hillside biker-bar-cum restaurant (owned by friendly U.S. expats) featured a terrific thunder-and-lightning storm that lit the slopes of Arenal.
We would walk through Arenal Observatory and Resort (a former Smithsonian research station) and find yet another excellent opportunity for rainforest observations, as was the follow-up hike in Arenal National Park. It seemed as though new plants and animals paraded in from all directions. From coatis to curossows, from Speckled Tanagers to beautiful Rainbow Eucalyptus stands, the diversity of life was almost overwhelming. While replaying these images in my head, I could still be on a jungle path somewhere, listening to the sawing sounds of hidden insects, still wrapped in the buttresses of giant Kapok trees.
[Stay tuned for “Cloud Forest/Coffee House,” my final post from Costa Rica… Thank you, all.]