Wild Things Walk on the wild side

These 5am starts are fun. No, seriously. OK so maybe back in Alajuela it felt a bit weird, but here it's sensible... when you've got an 0545 dawn boat tour to go on.

On the B&B decking a man named Victor introduces himself to us, and says he's ready to go whenever we are. The folk on the tour today are us two and a French family across the way, 2 adults and 3 kids. On the boat we get, lifebelts on, me and Helen in prime seats at the front of the boat with an unobstructed view thanks to the engine being at the rear.

We set off down river. It's totally rush hour, with tens of different boats lining up to park by the entrance to the national park. After a long wait for tickets, we're back and ready to go. Out in open water we're told the current location is The Four Corners: next to an island where 4 distinct bodies of water converge. The Tortuguero lagoon, the Tortuguero river, and two canals.

We're given some history and local info. A man at the park was related to one of the founders of the village, the grandson of the man who built the very first property here back in 1910. There was a strong logging industry from the 40s to the 70s. But let's go look at some animals.

Dawn is the best time of day to see rain forest animal action, hence the rush hour nature. There are boats of all kinds of sizes, ours is one of the smaller ones. The first thing we see is a heron and then, look! Some toucans flying across the river! Brings back memories of that time we each held a toucan.

The water is flat. I expect to very much dislike being on a tiny boat for 3 hours, but I really don't.

We pull up alongside a heron. This happens a lot. There's lots of herons.

This is a snake bird. He's very useful, because he won't hang about if the water gets contaminated, so his presence is a barometer.

It's ludicrously peaceful, apart from the huge racket the howler monkeys make.

Snowy heron is snowy.

Victor has a great eye. He spots this lizard from so far away, and it takes us all a while to figure out where he is. This needed lots of optical zoom.

The national park was founded in the late 70s, after logging disappeared. 46% of all birds found in Costa Rica have a presence here, along with monkeys, jaguars, tapirs, deer, caiman, otters, ... just loads of stuff. It's a proper bona fide rain forest jungle, after all.

Victor demonstrates a whole load of calls all the way round, trying to attract animals coming out to play. My ignorance is revealed as an animal I previously understood to be a ground dweller is spotted up a tree. Binoculars from the family's dad give us a great view, and optical zoom comes in handy again. It's only a bloody anteater.

We slowly hug the 'coast' of the various bits of land, exploring the river looking for more action. The howler monkeys are briefly visible but permanently audible, making a huge racket as they do. We also spot spider monkeys and capuchins.

Down one of the canals, where only small boats are allowed to go, we get briefly stuck on a log, which feels perilous. Just beyond there, we spot a caiman. The kids, who have been annoying me all along - in fact, the whole family have, because they rarely shut up and the dad keeps asking very dumb questions - all lurch over to one side to get a look and for me it's the most precarious moment of the day, especially because I'm sat RIGHT NEXT TO THE DAMN CAIMAN.

He's there, somewhere. Thankfully they have barely any energy. That's my knee.

Elsewhere, we go past trees with 18ft tall leaves. Whoa. More birds hanging around, and a tree covered with ants.

This guy's just having a nice bathe in the morning sun.

Sloths want to eat the leaves on this tree, but ants are protecting it. When the sloth turns up, the ants attack - but sloths scratch themselves and that makes them secrete a pheromone which the ants hate, so they bugger off. This leaves the sloth free to get high on the alkaloid heavy leaves.

This is a "blood tree", on account of its red sap.

Lots of time is spent just slowly going through scenery like this. Nice innit.

The whole thing lasts just over 3 hours, which is about enough - the seats are becoming uncomfortable, we've probably seen all we're going to see, and anyway we're starving. Victor takes us all back to the B&B and breakfast is served: fruit, juice, and a plate of scrambled eggs. Very much appreciated. Between courses we're interrupted by one of the staff, just to tell us that if we pop over the "road" to the church there are two toucans in the trees. Huh. So there are!

While we eat eggs, one of the local kids catches a fish right in front of us. Ace. We also discover the French family aren't France French, but Québécois. Then, we get ready and head back out to the national park. It's a $15 entry fee per person per day, and since we already got tickets due to the boat ride we might as well do the walking trail today too, eh?

It's called the Jaguar trail, because there's jaguars among other things in that there jungle. The info point at the start is fairly informative, as you'd expect. Turtles are more lucrative alive rather than dead thanks to tourism, which is a nice feeling.

The jungle walk isn't long. Well, maybe the full one is, but we don't go a vast distance. It's almost entirely shaded, and parallel with the Caribbean beach with regular get out points.

We don't see much. Well, apart from the huge blue butterfly the size of a face; the out of season turtle; the toucans; the monkeys; the spider; the various other kinds of birds; and the plenty of different lizards around our feet. It's pretty cool. The monkeys aren't doing much, but do let out a large roar while we're there. The toucans are ace and reminds us of that time we each held one.

Things on the ground are tough to spot but easier to photograph. This lizard is one of many.

Totally didn't expect to see any turtles.

Spiders' webs are used for fishing lines and bulletproof vests.

Back out to the village, by now it's only just gone midday and most places are closed. Thankfully the bakery next to our B&B (we refer to it as Greggs) is open, and we get chips and a ham and cheese roll plus two fresh fruit drinks and a beer. And then it's siesta time, for Helen, while I write up Friday and then fail to post it for the entire rest of the day and, in fact, have still yet to post it as I type this at 1000 on Sunday. Grr.

I have a beer on the deck and listen to a podcast, before deciding perhaps a small siesta is in order for me too. Post snooze, it's a few more beers while the sun sets and then somewhere to eat. Buddha Cafe is full if you don't have a reservation apparently, so we head off in the other direction to Miss Junie's restaurant.

The eponymous owner is still working there, being a grandchild of the founding family. The menu includes a 4 page history of the venue and family and it's a good read, especially the "strap a shopping list to a turtle" story.

The food is more expensive than other venues, but also a much better meal. I get pickled fish with coconut rice and beans and other stuff, while Helen gets a very nice steak. We're sat outside, next to two sleeping dogs we let lie. The whole village is full of what we surmise to be community-owned (rather than stray) dogs, of all kinds of sizes and breeds but largely one of two temperaments: cute and friendly, or cute and sleeping.

Back at Casa Marbella, it's time for us to be cute and sleep too. Or maybe just the sleeping bit.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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