Costa Rica

Tortuguero – The Mud and the Blood and the Beer

Hello world, greetings from the land of turtles. We have seen the turtles; it’s legit.

Like yesterday, today started real early. I can’t remember stringing two back-to-back 5 am days together in the last 20 years. I told Bex today that I think I have stayed up until 5 more often than I have gotten up at 5. But we did it today, because we had a 0545 date with our tour guide Kevin. Kevin and the Captain took us ’round the rivers and streams near Tortuguero, so we could check on the doings of various flora and fauna at that unseemly hour. It turns out that a whole bunch of things are actually up and about at that time.

Before we left, I staggered over to the lodge to see if any coffee could be had. While I tried to boot myself up, I got to see some white-faced capuchin monkeys in action. These little fellows were literally hanging around the kitchen; Kevin told me later that sometimes they go there and steal food. IMG_1692.JPGThis one little fellow came very close, and he and I watched each other for a quiet two minutes at a distance of about 5 meters. Then he scurried away to his posse; there were at least a dozen of these monkeys traveling together through the trees near and above the lodge. They really do swing on branches and leap from tree-to-tree. It was cool. I even saw 30 seconds of naughty monkey-on-monkey action.

Bex missed the whole thing, and coffee too. She met me at the launch, and Kevin hauled our little group away. It was overcast and drizzly, but hey, we are in a rainforest. We went off to explore.

As we arrived alongside some of the other tours, I noticed that we were in the most comfortable boat. Our craft had open sides, comfortable seats, and a roof to keep the rain off, mostly. All of the other tour groups were in boats with no cover, as if they had been caught unaware of the whole rainforest angle. And it rained for about two hours. It came down hard at times. Some of the other boat people were even rowing (we were moving under motor power). Its all part of the adventure I suppose, but I was glad that we were traveling in relatively dry conditions. 0600 is just too early to be out in the pouring rain.IMG_1695.JPG
Kevin warned us that we needed to keep our eyes peeled for the animals. He joked that our breakfast depended on it, and that the more we spotted the more we got to eat. He was kidding, but somehow that comment got the competitive juices flowing and I was spotting stuff hardcore for the next couple of hours. I located a one or two female aninghas and two troops of howler monkeys way up in the trees. Sadly, I think I have realized that I am at my smartest in the pre-civilized part of the early morning.

Howler monkeys are well-named. They howl like nobody’s business, and those howls carry. Kevin laid some howler facts on us while we watched and listened. Howlers travel in troops of 18 to 25 in quantity. There is one dominant alpha male in each troop, and he is the only male that is allowed to do the horizontal bop. He is thus always under threat of attack by all of the other sexually-frustrated males. That, in turn, makes the alpha monkey wanna slaughter all of the male offspring in the troop, in order to minimize competition. You probably know all of that already.

One interesting fact that I learned new today is that the primary male always travels first when the troop is on the move. The alpha male shows the rest of the group the proper travel path. If one of the monkeys in the troop falls during travel, this is considered to be an unacceptable sign of weakness, and he or she is permanently abandoned by the troop. Harsh.

Also, howler monkeys howl when they think it’s going to rain. This is almost certainly because rainfall causes plants living in the upper reaches of the forest canopy to fill with rain, allowing the howler monkeys to access this water rather than traveling to the ground, which is a much more dangerous place for them. The local folk know to plan for rain if they hear this racket. Keep on howlin’ you guys!

There were bunches of other birds seen; no more crocs tho’. We returned back to HQ for breakfast. It was 0745.

After breakfast, we grabbed a couple of minutes of quick shuteye before our next schedule event, a rainforest walk. Bex and I have become old hands at walking through cloud and rain forests, so we were sort of assuming that this one would be boring.

We had been instructed ahead of time to borrow some heavy rubber boots from the lodge. Kevin was so right about that; the trail that we hiked was absurdly muddy, everywhere. In some places we would sink into the mud halfway up our calves. And it required serious leg force to get free of this mud. Eventually, this route became so difficult to traverse that it became a game to get through it. I spent the entire time trying to figure out the correct footpath for optimal results and the least number of boot-sucking foot traps. Bex said I looked like I was playing Tomb Raider.IMG_1679.JPGMe, Roberto (best dressed), Maria, Kevin; playing in the mud! This was before I got good at it.

IMG_1685.JPGI don’t know what they are, but they like to eat bugs in the rainforest. [Bex says: these are grey necked wood rails]

IMG_1678.JPGOur new friend Maria traverses the mud. She was the most fearless one in our group, although even she was not sure about all this.

IMG_1681.JPGThis is a ficus. The roots of this tree spread on top of the ground, rather than into it, to absorb more nutrients; in the rainforest, the nutrients tend to be on the surface rather than underneath. This makes these trees more succeptible to being blown down during storms.

Bonus fact: These trees are nicknamed “blood trees” because if they are cut, their sap runs and looks like human blood.

IMG_1680.JPGI got nasty boots.

There are about 130 varieties of snakes in Costa Rica, 18 of which are poisonous (including a couple that are deadly poisonous). All 18 of those venomous varieties occur naturally in Tortuguero. Happily, we encountered none of these during our traverse.

IMG_1683-0.JPGWe did see bats. These guys eat fruit, lots ‘n’ lots of fruit.

IMG_1682.JPGThis is a crew of friends we made. Anna (Madrid), Maria (Madrid), Bex, some guy from Duck Dynasty, and Roberto (Venice).

And all of this happened before lunch. The afternoon was spent leisurely. We huddled for a while in the 30 square meter area in this town where WiFi is available. I did some fantasy football stuff to keep the boys in the NFFL happy. I had a few beers. I swam in the pool and watched kids play Marco Polo; I guess that game is played everywhere. We took a nap.

IMG_1686-1.JPGThis guy unexpectedly ran up Becci’s leg while she was sitting outside. She made a hell of a racket; I came running out of our cabin.

[time goes by…we dine…we sleep…we awake]

Next day, 0545, another cruise in paradise, followed by another mud hike. I think I’m gonna let the pictures do the talking…

IMG_1675.JPGHere’s an iguana in a tree. I’ve seen iguanas before, but the ones down here tend to be muy grande. This guy was about a meter long, stem to stern.

IMG_1694.JPGThis is a cayman, which is a small crocodile. Also about a meter long.

IMG_1693.JPGA green-backed heron.

IMG_1697.JPGThis a walking palm. This tree can actually move itself in order to optimize sunlight. It does so by adjusting its root system, which is all above ground. The roots on the side it wants to move away from die, and it grows new roots from the side it is moving toward. It can move up to 10 cm per year.

IMG_1676-0.JPGMore jungle. There is a lot of jungle in Costa Rica.

Tomorrow: Back to San Jose, and then off to the Mosquito Coast.

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