By Phyllis Dawson
Part 4

January 10, 2017

We went for a walk on the beach in the morning, turning left and going almost down to the far point. As usual the pelicans were out - I never tire of watching them. They would fold their wings and rocket straight down into the water, and then float on the surface, a bit ungainly, while chugging down the fish they had caught. On the way back we met Richard, out walking the beach with three of the dogs. We stopped to chat a bit; he pointed out that the rocky island near the point was shaped like a sleeping lion (see photo above).

Richard and his loyal friend.

     We went back to Hacienda Baru and had breakfast there. We stopped by the little shop at the office and Jineen was delighted to find they had a book exchange; she picked out a mystery, looking forward to having something to read that night. 
We then visited the bird tower, the butterfly garden and the orchid garden, but found all three a little disappointing. However we did have good luck in the parking lot; there was a lovely sloth in a tree (not moving, of course), and a toucan lit on a branch above us, looking like something straight off of a Fruit Loops box.

Three-toed Sloth, napping as usual.

     We drove back down through Dominical and visited the shops. Along the beach there was a long row of vendors who set up little stalls selling gifts and touristy trinkets. Some were nice quality locally-made items, but a lot of the merchandise appeared to be cheap junk from China or India. After all, why would products made in Costa Rica have elephants on them? 

Shopping in Dominical 

    In the afternoon we visited the Altrusa Wildlife Sanctuary, a rescue facility associated with a lodge. They rehabilitate animals and birds that have been injured or orphaned, and if possible reintroduce them to the wild. 
As we turned up their road there was a sign that said four-wheel-drive only, and indeed it was quite steep up to the lodge, which sat high on a ridge looking down over the ocean. We met up with the guide for the one o'clock tour. He led a group of about twenty of us through the rehab facility, telling us about the different rescue animals and explaining how they were cared for. Many of the animals had been found orphaned or injured in the wild, but a lot of them had been confiscated from people who were illegally keeping wild animals as pets. 
There were large cages that housed the different birds and animals, some together in groups and some individually, depending on their needs. The guide led us from cage to cage. There were macaws, parrots, toucans, hawks, and owls. Several baby two-toed sloths slept in a hanging basket, intertwined with each other, not moving. A large walled enclosure in the middle of the compound held a coati, two raccoons, and an anteater – but unfortunately the anteater, being nocturnal, was sleeping inside a den so we couldn’t see him. Disappointingly, this was also the case with the porcupine and the kinkajou.
There were several large cages housing capuchin and spider monkeys. This made me immediately remember why I did not like monkeys in the past; their behavior in captivity was completely different from the lovely creatures we had observed in the bamboo forest. One of the capuchins would cleverly reach out and try to open the door latch, which had been bolted shut due to earlier escape attempts. But another was very aggressive, throwing gravel at us through the chain link cage, and leaping at us screeching in an attempt to scare us into jumping back. Our guide told us that the spider monkeys were so aggressive that the handlers could not go in the cages with them at all. These monkeys had all been confiscated from people who had them as pets in abusive situations, so it would not be possible to reintroduce them to the wild. It was very sad.

Wild animals should not be kept in cages as pets.

     The wildlife sanctuary does good and necessary work, but seeing these wild animals in cages was a little depressing. I felt good about the ones that were being rehabilitated and would be returned to nature, but the others were a clear example of why wild animals should not be captured and kept as pets. They belong in the wild, not in a cage! Probably the highlight of the tour was watching a toucan perched in a tree above one of the cages; he had been recently released to the wild, and his mate, who was still in the cage, would be released quite soon as well.

Mr. Froot Loops

     Back at Coconut Grove we ate mango and avocados for lunch, and saved the pineapple for another day. The fun little Nellie-dog hung out on the porch, mooching for handouts. While Jineen studied the bird guidebook trying to identify some of the types we had seen, I went for a walk around the grounds. The kiskadees were dipping in the pool again, and iguanas roamed the lawn. I spotted a mangrove black hawk perched on a low limb; he stared regally back at me. There was a pond next door that Richard had said contained alligators; I wanted to check it out to see if he was just pulling our leg, but the grass was tall and I was wary of snakes.

Mangrove Black Hawk, juvenile.

     Soon it was time for our afternoon swim. Jineen and I spent over an hour and a half in the water, savoring our last afternoon in the ocean, rolling with the waves and ducking the breakers. The pelicans were diving quite close to us, seeming to come up with a fish every time. The couple in the cabin next door came out to do a bit of surfing, she on a boogie board and he on a small surfboard – they were not very proficient but did seem to be having fun. Five para-gliders sailed overhead, following the shoreline while riding high on the thermals.
We got out of the water a little while before sunset. We sat on a rock on the beach and drank some wine, and watched as the sky filled with color and the sun sank into the Pacific. With this amazing setting, our close friendship and great conversation, it was one of the best happy hour’s ever.

Happy Hour

     A rainstorm blew up, the first we had encountered on the trip; soon it was pelting down hard. Since the remote control for the gate had not worked the previous evening, before heading out for dinner I phoned Diane to be sure we could get back in later. Our call got cut off in the storm, and a few minutes later Richard showed up at our door in the pouring rain to bring us their personal gate controller. We felt terrible!
We drove down to the town of Uvita, which ended up being a little further than we had anticipated; it was very dark and the rain was still coming down hard. We went to a new restaurant called Kaku, which proved to have excellent seafood and exceptional piña coladas. We were tired, and the drive home seemed very long. Finally we turned into the driveway, pressed the remote to open the gate, and – nothing happened. Once again, we could not get the gate to open. We pressed every button on the device, pointed it in every possible direction and tried it from all angles – but nothing. Again we had to phone Diane and Richard, very sheepishly, and explain that we couldn’t make the gate work. They must think we are incompetent idiots!
Getting ready for bed, Jineen made the discovery that the book she had gotten at the shop earlier was in Spanish. Damn! The title on the cover was in English, and she had never thought to look inside. She went to bed reading the tourist advertisement brochure she had picked up at the restaurant.        

January 11, 2017
Jineen and I went for a last walk on the beach. We walked past the sleeping lion island and up a little lane to a restaurant Richard had recommended for breakfast. We sat watching the surf crashing against a rocky island and ate banana-caramelized French toast with coconut syrup, with a side of fried plantains. It was absolutely out of this world. Stuffed, we waddled back to our cottage.      
     We said goodbye to Richard and Diane. We were sad to be leaving Coconut Grove; we had really gotten attached to this place in just a few days. I would go back in a heartbeat!  One meets people who come on vacation to some tropical paradise like this and then just never leave; I could really understand how it could happen.  


     We drove north, following the shoreline. We stopped briefly at Playa Hermosa and watched the pelicans and surfers. We passed huge plantations of coconut trees, stretching as far as the eye could see. The posts of the fences alongside the road were made from living trees, cut back to size. We drove by a restaurant that I recognized, having eaten breakfast there on my previous trip to Costa Rica. I remembered our guide had taken us to see scarlet macaws in a grove of almond trees nearby; now if I could only remember how to find it!
We stopped beside the Tarcoles River, parked the car, and walked out over the long bridge. Looking down, we could see a large group of crocodiles on the riverbank below; there must have been at least fifty of them. They were huge and somewhat evil looking.  

Crocs under the Tarcoles River Bridge.

     We arrived at the Cerra Lodge in the early afternoon. It would be our last night in Costa Rica, and we were really hoping to see macaws, one of the last things on our wish list. When we checked in the resident guide told us these birds would be hard to miss - they are large, brightly colored, and make a lot of noise. As we were carrying our bags to our cabin we heard a loud raucous squawking, and half a dozen scarlet macaws flew past overhead. Well, we didn’t have to wait long for that!

Scarlet Macaw

     After dropping our stuff at the room we went back up to the open-air restaurant to check out the view. We found the six macaws eating at a special feeder, quite close to the balcony. After a while they flew up into a nearby tree for a bit, before flying away. They were absolutely incredible! These huge parrot-like birds are a brilliant scarlet color with bright blue and yellow wings. They look too flamboyant to be real.  

Macaws at the feeder.

     There were several feeders near the balcony, where one could sit in the restaurant and watch the different birds came to eat. The clientele of this lodge consisted mainly of birders, and they gathered to identify the different species. There were a good many birds we had not seen before; a new woodpecker, several types of kiskadees, a lovely blue-grey tanager and many brightly colored vireos. There were quite a few of the clay-colored thrushes, the national bird of Costa Rica. I got a photo of a small milky-green bird that we are still trying to identify. Consulting Jineen’s notes, we counted up that we had seen nine different types of hummingbirds on the trip.

Our little green Mystery Bird. Anyone know what kind this is?  

     We drove down the little gravel lane past the lodge to the bottom of the valley, exploring. It was actually considered a birding trail, but we didn’t want to have to hike back up. We came to a big farm with fields of cattle and horses, and stopped to admire several impressive Brahma bulls in a field beside the road. They were huge.

Brahma Bull

     We went down to the very end of the road and parked the car; it seemed the Tarcoles River must be near. We climbed over a metal gate and made our way across a field, hoping there were no bulls in it. We came to the remains of an old building, with little left but a cement foundation and the remnants of a bathroom. A grove of large trees grew there, providing shade and solace. A pair of Inca doves perched on a limb; with delicate lacelike edging on their feathers and russet brown on their wings visible in flight, they were one of my favorites for the trip. I thought Inca Dove would be a good name for a horse, and sure enough, after returning home I bought a pretty Thoroughbred mare and named her that.

Inca Doves

      We crossed a floodplain, following little paths through the high weeds and brush. We came to a barbed-wire fence and on the other side, about twenty feet below us, the Tarcoles River flowed lazily. Two large crocodiles lurked on the far bank. A great blue heron waded in the water, and several egrets stood nearby. Looking up the river, we could see the road and the crocodile bridge in the distance.

Denizens of the Tarcoles River.

     We made our way back to the old foundation - it seemed a peaceful place. We puttered around under the shady trees for a little while. I wondered about the building that had once stood here, letting my imagination roam. Was it a house? Who had lived in it? Surely some family in days gone by had appreciated the beauty of this spot.

Orange-fronted Parakeet

   Then the parakeets came. Four of them flew in and landed in a tree beside the foundation. They were orange-fronted parakeets, beautiful green birds with red above their beak, a slightly orange upper breast, and a white ring around their eyes. They sat in a small tree eating the flower blossoms, and I was able to slowly creep quite close to them. This was just about my last wish for the trip - to get close enough to parakeets for photos. It was lovely watching them.

The parakeets dining on flower blossoms.

     We drove back up the hill toward the lodge, dodging the birdwatchers that were setting up their scopes in the roadway, and stopped at a spot where we could look down across the river valley. We had happy hour, sipping wine and watching the sun set. The Tarcoles River snaked through the floodplain below like a silver ribbon. A full moon topped the horizon behind us. We had purchased a tiny knife earlier, and Jineen did an excellent job of carving up the pineapple, which proved to be delicious.

Happy Hour looking down over the Tarcoles River valley.

     We watched two large birds of prey fly in and perch on the top of a dead tree, silhouetted against the dusky sky. Consulting the bird book, Jineen identified them as crested caracaras. It was a beautiful evening. After a while the mosquitoes started coming out in droves so it was time to go.  
During dinner at the lodge we could hear howler monkeys raising a ruckus - they had deep barking voices that sounded like big mean dogs. We noticed that the noises seemed to be coming from the direction of our cabin.
We went back to our room to organize our luggage and pack for the trip home. The room was a little unusual, with a décor in an unsettling deep orange color. The bathroom was outside; one went through a door into a semi-circular walled-off area with plants and shrubs, open to the sky. While using the facilities, Jineen was startled by a large frog that jumped off the back of the toilet, climbed up the wall, and disappeared behind the vanity mirror. 
Several times during the night we heard loud scuffling sounds, like something scratching at the bathroom door trying to get in. Each time we opened the door to look there was nothing there, so we figured whatever it was must be on the roof. We briefly wondered if it might be those howler monkeys, but decided it was more likely a squirrel.

January 12, 2017
We were up early; the beds were too uncomfortable to sleep longer anyway. We went to the restaurant balcony to see if the macaws were around; they weren’t, but we tarried a while watching other birds at the feeder. 
We heard the guide telling one of his clients that there was a pacific screech owl in a tree nearby, so when they went to see it we shamelessly followed them.

Pacific Screech Owl, perfectly camouflaged.

     Just below the cabins, we found the owl sitting in a shallow hole in a tree, flat up against the trunk. Surprisingly it was only about four feet off the ground, but it was very well camouflaged. We gazed at it and it stared back at us, seemingly undisturbed by our presence. A second owl, presumably its mate, sat a bit higher in the tree, harder to see.

Wise dignity.

     We heard a screeching overhead - two of the macaws had come back. They visited the feeder for a few minutes before flying up to the top of a big tree near the path. We watched them for a while, and then they took off, swooping past our cabin and disappearing into the forest.

     It was time to leave paradise. We said goodbye to Cerra Lodge and drove to the airport.  

 ~ The End ~

Bonus Material: a little Inca Dove hanky-panky.

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