COSTA RICA 2017

By Phyllis Dawson
Part 3


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 dogs..

     We walked 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 ocean.  
    
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 Grove.

     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.


Fishing

     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 Grove.     
     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 grandeur.  


Sunset on the beach in Dominical. 

January 9, 2017
    
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.

  
Basilisk Lizard

     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.

  
Three-toed Sloth

     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 awesome place!

  
Capuchin Monkey

     Coming 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 bamboo!

     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.

  
Jineen 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 himself.

  
Spiny Iguana

      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

     Richard and 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 Cash.

  
Kim Carson at Tortilla Flats

     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.

 ~ Continued on next page ~


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