January 8, 2017
We slept in until 7:15, a luxury
after getting up for quetzals the last two mornings. After
breakfast we said goodbye to Manuel and the Suria. We made a quick
stop by the waterfall trail to see if the quetzals were there
again (they were not), and then headed up the mountain before they
started the daily road closures. Jineen was driving, and she did a
great job of negotiating the steep road that wound precariously up
out of the valley.
As we neared the top of the
mountain the clouds rolled in and it became very misty; at last it
really seemed like a cloud forest. We turned on the main road and
drove along the ridge of the continental divide, but we couldn’t
see either ocean this time, or much of anything else except the
inside of a cloud. There were several tapir crossing signs, but
alas, no tapirs materialized out of the mist.
Soon the road started to descend,
and we went down, down, down for over an hour - but when we came
out below the mist and could look out over the valleys, we were
still high up in the mountains. I hadn’t really appreciated just
how tall the Costa Rican mountains are. The Rockies may be higher
in altitude, but they start from a base of nearly 6000 feet
(remember, Denver is the mile-high city); in Costa Rica the
mountains start from sea level, so their true height from base to
peak is impressive.
We continued to descend, soon
seeing more signs of civilization. Eventually we started passing
houses and towns. We stopped by a roadside stand and bought
mangoes, avocados, and a pineapple. Still not sure of the value of
the Costa Rican currency, we let the fruit seller choose a handful
of our colones and then
went merrily on our way. We realized we needn’t have changed any
money at all, since US dollars seemed to be accepted everywhere -
but at least by this time we had figured out that the 10
mil on our bills was Spanish for ten thousand colones, not ten million.
The lower elevations were much
more populated, the vegetation was very tropical, and the weather
was hot. We stopped for fuel in San Isidro; amazingly this was the
first gas station we had seen since we left Cartago on the first
day. A toucan flew by while we were filling the car.
We reached the ocean around noon,
and the town of Dominical. We turned down a steep narrow driveway
to the Coconut Grove Oceanfront Cottages, where we would be
staying for the next three nights. This lovely lodge was right
beside the beach, and was owned by an American couple, Richard and
Diane Abraham. We were welcomed by the dog committee - seven dogs
of assorted sizes, led by a friendly Great Dane. Diane gave us our
keys and the control for opening the security gate at night, and
showed us to our cottage. On the way suddenly the dogs started
barking and chasing something through the bushes; they were after
a huge iguana! Diane called them off and the iguana ran up a tree.
Our green iguana
friend at Coconut Grove, resting after his escape from the
around, exploring the grounds. It was paradise! There were six
cottages, surrounded by a grove of tall coconut palms. Birds and
iguanas were plentiful in the flower gardens. A stone path led
down to the beach, which was just a hundred yards from our
cottage. There was a nice swimming pool, but we preferred the
We went by the office to ask for
some beach towels and met Richard; he seemed a little gruff at
first but then we realized we had interrupted him while he was
watching the football playoffs. He was really fun to talk to, and
challenged us with a trivia question: What four teams have never
been to the Superbowl? We got half of them right (Detroit Lions,
Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Houston Texans). A
smallish brown and white dog, one of Diane’s pack, escorted us
back to the cabin and walked right in with us. She looked like a
miniature version of my dog Nellie at home, but we were afraid to
let her stay in case she had fleas.
We went for a swim in the Pacific.
The wide beach was a long crescent of light brown sand with large
rocky points at each end. There were rocks sticking up out of the
shallow surf at intervals; Richard showed us the safest place to
swim, a rockless area marked by a lone palm tree a short way down
the beach. We had a great time playing in the strong surf; by the
time we came out we were feeling a bit buffeted. Playing in the
waves brought back great childhood memories of beach trips as a
kid. I realized that
in all the travels Jineen and I have done together, we had never
really gone to the beach.
The beach at Coconut
We went for a
long walk down the beach. The sand was firm and pleasant
underfoot, and a few passing clouds kept the sun from being too
intense. We took our time, looking for shells and watching some of
nature’s smaller wonders. Fiddler crabs popped in and out of
their holes, and little sea slugs were making scribbling lines in
the sand as they tried to make it back to the water as each wave
receded. There were tiny hermit crabs everywhere, a multi-colored
army scurrying along carrying their homes on their backs. As the
tide went out the colors of the sky were reflected on the wet
sand. Pelicans glided along above the waves, tucking their wings
in to dive straight down into the water and come up with a fish.
The few clouds
disappeared and the sun started getting quite intense, so we
headed back to Coconut Grove. We had to look for the path and the
barbed-wire gate we had come through; it was well-camouflaged from
passers-by. A horde of hermit crabs were devouring a coconut,
which was interesting but a little creepy.
Jineen sat by the swimming pool
and read (an advertising brochure, since she had finished her
book), and I walked around the grounds looking at birds. I took
some photos of the green iguana in the tree. Then Jineen motioned
me over to the pool; two pretty yellow-breasted birds, later
identified as great kiskadees, were taking a bath. Perched on the
railing, they would fly over the pool, dip down into the water,
and then land on the rail on the far side, comically shaking off
the water and preening. A few seconds later they would reverse the
route, flitting into the water for an instant before returning to
their starting place. Back and forth they went, swooping down to
the surface of the pool each time - it was quite a show.
Our Kiskadee taking a bath.
Jineen and I headed out to explore
Dominical. We had been told it was totally a surfer town, but it
was not at all what we had expected. It was very small - it looked
less a town than a roadside marketplace. There was an interesting
mix of young good-looking surfers and aging hippies who never grew
up. All of the little shops and eating places were open-air, and
the whole town had a party atmosphere.
Being Sunday, all of the
restaurants Diane had recommended were closed, so we stopped at a
little taco shop - which we found was also closed. Fortunately the
proprietor took pity on us and served us some very good fish
tacos. Then we went out to the beach to watch the sunset.
There were dozens of people
sitting in chairs or on the sand, and many had pulled their cars
right up on the beach to watch the show. Others were in the water,
surfing or swimming. We stood and watched the sun lowering in the
evening sky, but the horizon was cloudy and it didn’t appear
there would be a very good sundown. Too bad – we had been
looking forward to watching the Pacific sunsets! A
few mosquitoes were coming out, we had no place to sit, and we
were feeling twitchy, so we decided to go back to Coconut
As we went to leave the road was blocked
by another vehicle, forcing us to wait. Suddenly
we realized that the sun had come out from below the clouds and
was sinking into the ocean in a glorious blaze of fiery color. We
quickly pulled the car up onto the beach and got back out to watch
the rest of the remarkable sunset as the sky turned brilliant
shades of crimson. Wow, I thought, let that be a lesson to us! We
stood there a long time, peace restored, appreciating the
Sunset on the beach
I awoke fairly early but Jineen
was already up and gone. I walked down the beach tracking her
footprints in the sand, and found her walking with Richard. We
drove into Dominical for some excellent breakfast burritos and
papaya. Then we went to Hacienda
Barú, an 800-acre National Wildlife
Refuge. As well as hiking trails, it has zip lines, a butterfly
garden, an orchid garden, and a tree-top birdwatching platform.
We went to the office to pay the
small admission fee and get a trail map; the girl there told us
that a new trail had just opened, and it joined with an existing
trail to form a three-mile loop. Sounded perfect! We set off
through the rainforest, the trail level and easy to follow. We had
expected that it might be crowded, but there were very few people
around. I had worried that it might be really hot, but though the
day was warm it was pleasant under the trees.
We walked slowly, looking for wildlife.
As everywhere we had been in Costa
Rica, there was a great variety of birds. Beside a creek we saw a
couple of basilisk lizards, also known as Jesus Christ lizards
because they can run across the surface of the water.
Then to our delight, Jineen spotted a sloth in a tree. It was of
the three-toed variety, hanging up high in a crotch. It was very
still and blended into the tree trunk - but when it comes to
spotting wildlife Jineen has eagle eyes!
We read about sloths in the
guidebook; we learned that their metabolism is so slow that they
sleep 20 hours a day. They move very slowly – they even blink in
slow motion. Their limbs can’t support their weight on land, so
they have to sort of crawl. They come down out of the tree once a
week to defecate, and may lose up to a third of their bodyweight
when they do so - this may have been more than I really wanted to
know! We watched the sloth for a while; needless to say it
didn’t go far.
We found two
exquisite purple flower blossoms in the trail; someone had laid
them there with care. We didn’t know where they had come from,
but they had the most heavenly scent. A bit further on, two coatis
came running down the trail past us and disappeared into the
underbrush. A few minutes later a third one loped by. This was an
to a large bamboo grove, we encountered a whole troupe of
white-faced capuchin monkeys. They were quite beautiful, black
with creamy white faces. They had lithe long legs and intelligent
expressions. We watched them a long time as they moved through the
forest very noisily, leaping from branch to branch above us with
loud cracking and banging noises, clearly showing off. There were
several mothers with babies, and families taking turns grooming
each other. A few more sedate individuals were sleeping straddled
over a branch. Some of the monkeys seemed to be picking and eating
flowers from a tall tree; we realized they were the same beautiful
purple blossoms we had seen in the trail earlier.
Hiding in the
I was fascinated
watching the monkeys interact. As a kid I never really cared for
monkeys – in fact I always said they were the only animal I
didn’t like – but that was because I had only seen them in
cages and zoos. In captivity they can be aggressive and
unpleasant, and of course they remind us just a little too much of
humans. But watching them living free in their natural
environment, I was captivated by them.
explores a huge poro tree.
We turned on to the new part of the loop trail, passing through a
barbed-wire gate. We walked on and on through the rainforest. We
caught a glimpse of a pair of small chicken-like birds in the
underbrush; consulting the bird book we tentatively identified
them as antthrushes. A huge poro tree stood by the path, and we climbed among its flat wall-like
roots, accidentally disturbing a spiny iguana that was sunning
We walked on for
quite a ways, slowly realizing that we must be on the wrong trail.
Our path had roughly paralleled the road with the ocean off to our
right; according to the map by now we should have curved around
toward the beach and be headed back. The loop was supposed to be
three miles, but we had been hiking for 4 hours and were still
heading away from the parking lot. Whoops! Somehow we had taken a
wrong turn - we should never have gone through that barbed-wire
gate. We retraced our steps and finally got back to the car five
hours after having left it.
We stopped at a gas station for
some chips and a coca cola; the clerk told us the cokes taste
better in Costa Rica because they are made from cane sugar,
instead of corn syrup like in the US. And here I thought it was
just because of the tropical air! Jineen tried to find a book at
the shop, but no luck.
Back at Coconut
Grove, we went for a swim. We walked down the beach to the palm
tree, and headed straight out into ocean. The little Nellie
look-alike dog followed us, but we sent her back when she tried to
enter the water. The waves were fairly big; we went out beyond the
breakers, neck deep, and rode the swells, sometimes getting caught
by a wave and tumbled about. It was glorious. Pelicans flew
overhead, diving into the surf to catch fish. We swam for well
over an hour, watching the sun lower in the sky.
We came out of the water just
before sunset. The wet sand reflected the sky like a mirror. We
could make out the silhouette of someone fishing off the end of a
rocky island. We watched the sun slip down into the ocean.
Sunset on the beach
at Coconut Grove
Diane told us that there would be live music that evening at a
restaurant in Dominical called Tortilla Flats, and invited us to
join them. The main act was Kim Carson, who used to play with
Jimmy Buffet’s band. She was excellent.
Kim played the guitar, played the
harmonica and sang, and all the while kept time on an electric
tambourine with her foot. She had an excellent voice and performed
a super versatile variety of music. She was accompanied by a
friend of Richard’s, a local electric violin artist named Nancy,
who reminded us of Lily Tomlin. They did everything from Johnny
Cash and June Carter to Janice Joplin, Neil Young and Pink Floyd,
as well as some of their own original music. A man named Leo, who
turned out to be the son of singer Andy Williams, joined in for
some of the songs - he was particularly good when doing Johnny
Kim Carson at
We ate nachos and drank frozen pińa
coladas (made with fresh local pineapples and coconuts). Diane and
Richard left, but we stayed and talked with Kim a bit after the
show. She tours in the US most of the year, mainly in Texas, and
does concerts in Costa Rica in the winter. She told us she could
easily do four hours of original songs, but that wouldn’t pay
the bills as people like to hear music they are familiar with.
Jineen and I had a great time; it was one of the most enjoyable
evenings of music I have ever experienced.
When we returned to Coconut Grove
we were unable to open the security gate; we tried everything but
could not get the remote control to work. Feeling a bit stupid, we
had to phone Diane and Richard to open the gate for us.