RICA EPITOMIZES THE TROPICS (PART 1)
July 29, 2002
My sister Anne Gibbons and her husband, Bill Fitts, recently returned
from a two-week trip to Costa Rica. At my request, they wrote an account
of their travels. This is the first of two parts.
We began planning the trip to Costa Rica about three years ago with
our friends Wayne and Anita Smith. We read guidebooks, surfed the
Net, and emailed our hosts in Costa Rica. None of our research prepared
us for the splendor of this small Central American country.
David and Deborah Clark were our hosts. They are forest ecologists
who have worked in the Costa Rican rain forest for the past 23 years.
You couldn't ask for better ecotour guides. The International Ecotourism
Society defines ecotourism as "responsible travel to natural
areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of
local people." We were enthusiastic ecotourists, taking nothing
but photographs, leaving nothing but footprints. (We didn't know it
at the time, but the United Nations has designated 2002 as the International
Year of Ecotourism.)
After two nights in San Jose, Costa Rica's capital, we set off on
the Pan American Highway for the Pacific Coast. The Pan American Highway,
a system of roads that extends almost nonstop from Fairbanks, Alaska,
to the tip of South America, is not reminiscent of our interstate
system. At least the portion we traveled is not. The speed limit on
much of the highway is 80 kmh (about 46 mph).
As we tooled along, Deborah pointed out interesting sights to us:
wooden carts pulled by sturdy oxen; deep green expanses of coffee
plantations ascending the mountainsides; rice fields of bright green
stretching into the horizon; an occasional monkey swinging in a tree.
We crossed river after river via narrow bridges, some only a single
lane with a sign on one side instructing the driver to yield to an
La Playa Grande at Tamarindo is a spectacular stretch of unspoiled
beach. Though we visited during the rainy season, the weather gods
smiled upon us. Cloudless skies greeted us almost every morning. During
an estuary tour through the mangrove forest, we marveled at termite
nests more than four feet wide built in the crooks of trees. Leaving
the boat at one point and trotting along behind Henry, our barefoot
guide, we crossed salt flats and headed to a section of the forest
where monkeys sometimes gather.
The monkeys were absent that day, but we saw common black-hawks soaring
overhead and multicolored crabs, a favorite prey of the hawks, scuttling
into their sandy sanctuaries as we approached. Back in the boat, we
caught a glimpse of a crocodile as it slithered into the water, and
we admired the graceful flight of a little blue heron, a white ibis,
and a ringed kingfisher.
Henry was again our guide when we went snorkeling in the clear waters
of the Pacific. He pointed out iridescent blue fish and schools of
minnows. But we spotted the snake on our own. We have since learned
it was almost certainly a Pacific sea snake, a highly venomous snake
in the cobra family. Fortunately, we had no desire to do more than
admire the snake as we floated above it. And the snake showed no interest
Costa Rica is a bird-watcher's paradise. During our stay at the beach,
we saw flocks of raucous green parakeets, woodpeckers busily extracting
insects from beneath tree bark, scarlet macaws, flycatchers, pelicans,
anhingas, black vultures, great-tailed grackles, hummingbirds, and
magnificent frigatebirds. We also saw lizards ranging in size from
half the length of your little finger to more than three feet from
nose to tail.
Although she wasn't in the wild, one of the most intriguing animals
we encountered was Lucy, the nine-week-old orphaned howler monkey
adopted by the beach resort's staff. Wearing a tiny pair of diapers,
Lucy clambers happily onto your outstretched arm, scoots onto your
shoulder, and settles down with her tail curled around your neck--until
the person next to you begs for a chance to hold her.
week: We travel to Arenal Volcano and to the rain forest in the province
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