By Suzanne Cordrey
What is it about the jungle that is so mesmerizing, so breathtaking that it overpowers the senses and reduces me into a giddy, childlike state of joy? Every time.
After a long travel day and an Indiana Jones ride in the dark looking for a house we’ve never been to, fording streams and potholes big enough to snorkel in, we fell asleep in hammocks, air mattresses and beds with the warm tropical rain pattering on the roof, competing noisily with the din of night creatures whistling, croaking and outdoing each other. At some point in the night, we all awoke to a violent shaking and realized it was an earthquake. All the noise stopped for a few minutes and the rhythmic lapping of the waves down at the beach assured us it was over. Not sure of the cosmic significance of that.
The open air house replete with fruit trees in the yard was the perfect venue for some scrumptious bird watching. The Indian almond trees brought in the scarlet macaws, so brilliant in their red, yellow and blue feathers, their long tails tipping up into the sky as they pulled off the almonds and nibbled at the nut inside. It brought about a curiosity that led us to try to cut open one of the nuts. No one had the strength to undo it with any of the kitchen instruments we had. The macaws flew in pairs (they mate for life) and often they were seen in threes, a juvenile in tow as they taught him the laws of the jungle.
Every night we listened to the howler monkeys croaking their conversations to each other; sometimes near the house, other times they were down the beach a ways. An early morning walk led us to find them washing fruits in a stream that drained into the gulf (Golfo Dulce). We were anxious to get a closer look, mamas and their babes, the big males coming over to meet us and issue forth a warning about the boundaries of their territory. Point taken. We retreated to watch the royal terns dive into the shallow ocean water to fish, pelicans cruising by, an occasional frigate bird high in the sky, looking like a child’s kite twittering in the lofty breeze.
Every day brought a new adventure as we kayaked through the mangrove swamps, which proved to be full of no-see-ums and drove us out into the ocean, where dolphins bobbed along at a distance. We had a local guide take us into the Corcovado National Park, which proved to be quite remote and required a great deal of effort to get to – a two-hour drive on a narrow pitted road, and a 45 minute walk down a black sand beach, fording streams that flowed from the mountains. One very special moment came when a member of our group spotted a tiny, newly hatched Olive Ridley turtle padding its way over the footprints on the beach as it ran towards the ocean water, where it would spend the rest of his life. We were witness to his first experience of salt and wondered just what it must have felt like to him. If he were a she, it would be years before she would return to that very spot to lay her eggs. What an intimate moment in which to participate. We all felt it.
Howler monkeys were one of four species we were lucky to see. Spider monkeys, red-backed squirrel monkeys and white-faced capuchins lived there too. While in the Corcovado jungle, we came upon a family of capuchins, and the baby became interested in us. He climbed down to where the guide, Philipe, was standing with his spotting scope. The baby reached out and touched the scope, consequently looking into the end of it with his innocent curiosity, We all watched in amusement, and backed away when an older sibling came to assert his dominance in protection of the young one. The Corcovado jungle path led us to another exciting discovery as we came upon a collared anteater loping down a tree trunk, his tongue slurping up bunches of ants as he tore open slivers of bark on the tree trunks. He did not break stride as he came near us so we got a good look at his lovely blond fur coat with its black collar and black back. A beautiful animal who stepped into our limelight on that day. We had been following the tracks of a tapir, who had rather big feet. But he disappeared into the deep jungle to sleep, so we did not pursue him further.
The area on the Oso Peninsula, which is on the southern Pacific coast only 40 miles from Panama, holds a large number of bird species and we all got used to going everywhere with our binoculars as an added appendage of our bodies. Parrots, trogons, raptors, seabirds, songbirds, egrets and ibis, ducks, kingfishers, and some very flashy butterflies including the awesome blue morpho, danced in and out of our lives. There was a wildlife rescue and several parrot rescues doing the good work there. We were like a sponge, absorbing everything, taking it all in. The local people we met were kind and gentle. They helped us out with changing a flat tire, giving directions, arranging a birthday cake, recommending the appropriate guides.
On our last day, horse back riding took two women in one direction, and the rest of us boarded a small boat for a ride into the Golfo Dulce where we located a pod of over 100 dolphins, spotted dolphins. They come into the gulf, as do the Humpback whales in August, to breed and raise their young in a safe place as there are no natural predators there. They bear live young like we do, feed their babies milk like we do, and teach their young to survive, living in family groups, staying together for several years. Mamas and their babies, larger males who swam around and alongside the boat, playing in the boat’s wake, spinning out of the water, tail slapping and just having fun. At one point the guide turned off the motor and we listened to them breathe. Dolphins are mammals who are obligate air breathers. They have to consciously exhale, then inhale as they reach the surface. And they sleep with only half their brain, while the other half conducts their breathing functions. They are smart, brains as big as ours, and think about it, they don’t pollute their environment, or overpopulate, or overfish the ocean. And they have lived on the planet for millions of years. I have such admiration for them. I was elated, absolutely over the moon to be able to be amongst them that day. It was the highlight for me.
Did I not mention the weasel, frogs, boa constrictor, lizards, iguana, the poisonous sea snake and other magical creatures that walk the earth at this magical moment in time that we do? What a wonderful confirmation it is to witness all these sights at a time when so much emphasis is put on the destruction of the planet. Please understand, I do know that such devastation exists. Of that I am keenly aware, unfortunately aware of its immensity. And Costa Rica suffers as well. But that is a different story. This trip was a gift from Spirit to acknowledge that there is Light as well.
Top photo: Travis Isaacs from Grapevine, TX, USA / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / A scarlet macaw.
Second photo: Paulo B. Chaves / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / A howler monkey.
Third photo: Petruss / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / A spider monkey.
Fourth photo: Laura Gooch/ Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.” / This trogon is native to Cuba.
Fifth photo: “This image is in the public domain because it contains materials that originally came from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, taken or made as part of an employee’s official duties.” / Wikimedia Commons / An Atlantic spotted dolphin.
© 2014, Coalition for American Wildbirds