Selva Verde 20 to 26 November 2012

Published: December 2nd 2012
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Our transport vehicle did finally arrive at the Rio Dante restaurant and we travelled inland to Selva Verde with a nice elderly chap who could speak no English but we managed to get by with our limited Spanish - he just laughed all the time and was rather jolly............. We had come to the area as it is renowned as a haven for nature enthusiasts with lots of birds and other wildlife. We were hoping to get to get some good photographs, particularly of the two toucans found here - the Chestnut-mandibled and the Keel-billed Toucan.

Selva Verde is located in the midst of the Sarapiqui Rainforest preservation area in the lowlands of northeastern Costa Rica and it would be our last stay north of San Jose this trip. We were staying at Selva Verde Lodge near the small town of Puerto Viejo. The lodge itself was founded in 1982 by Giovanna Holbrook a pioneer in ecotourism when she arranged an ornithological field study in Costa Rica. During her stay, she discovered a large tract of old growth forest was up for sale in Sarapiqui. It was about to fall to the chainsaw, so she bought the property on the spot hoping to save it. Shortly after purchasing the property she discovered squatters staking claim to her land. With the help of a local conservationist, she confronted the squatters and struck a deal with them that if they agreed to vacate her property, they would be offered jobs once her restoration project was completed. Over the next several years her dream took shape and soon the original house was hosting visiting researchers from around the world and plans were underway to expand and build additional guest rooms and a dining hall. A quarter of a century later, Selva Verde is a world renowned eco-lodge committed to advancing the practice of sustainable tourism and has several classrooms for field studies located around the grounds.

The buildings of Selva Verde Lodge are incorporated into the Costa Rican rainforest on platforms and elevated covered walkways that blend in with the natural environment. The walkways led to the rooms, classrooms, and conference rooms - ideal in the rain which is plentiful in the area and what one must expect in the rainforest. Our room was located in a block of four and the extensive network of covered walkways allowed us to walk throughout the rainforest observing wildlife, plants and birds while staying ‘relatively’ dry. With the added benefit of being able to get to the restaurant and bar undercover as well! On the downside the walls of the rooms were very thin, and the walkways surrounding each block were made of wood, so alarm clocks were heard when fellow guests took the early morning bird watching tour!!!! The ceiling in our room also had an old termites nest on it which was a bit ughhhhh. It rained nearly all the time we stayed at the lodge and our room was always damp, even the bedding felt damp......... The bath and hand towels would not dry so these had to be changed each day, which really went against ours and the lodge’s eco principles! Drying our clothes was also a problem after getting wet whenever we went out for a walk. We suggested to the lodge that they should provide some form of drying facilities for guests. Although you can use their laundry service you do not want to do this for the odd pair of socks etc. We could not dry anything at all whilst we were there and we even resorted to putting clothes around the MAC charger and the bedside lamps!!! One day we managed to dry our hats whilst out walking but when we went to put them on the next day (after being in the room all night) they were damp again....... By the time we left all our damp clothes were getting really smelly and we thought we would have to ‘dump’ the lot......We should not complain though as we had heard that the weather in the UK was dreadful with bad floods and that many counties around the world were experiencing dreadful weather conditions.

However, all was not doom and gloom (and we would go back to the lodge), the staff were magnificent, especially Alex Ramirez (guide) and Gerado and Jose (helpful bar staff). The lodge had two choices of restaurant, buffet style, and an Italian which served the most delicious wood fired pizzas. Across the road from the lodge was their own Botanical Garden with more walking trails and this area housed the hotel’s alternative accommodation, several small bungalows. They are isolated, and are quite a walk from the dining area/bar as you have to cross the main road and were a bit run down with the walkways between them wet and slippery. However one day when we wandered in the gardens we saw Howler Monkeys right above us, with the male making his loud call and we also spotted a pair of rare Tayra crossing the track right behind us. We saw many flowers around the garden including the very alien-looking plant called Shampoo Ginger (also known as the pinecone ginger). The flowers of this plant produce a sticky, fragrant liquid reminiscent of shampoo....... The bugs really liked this plant, as you might expect - so we kept our distance. The garden also had borders full of Emperor’s Torch or Ginger Torch that had giant stems with a lovely flower ‘perched’ on the top. Morning Glory flowers in white and blue draped around anything that was hanging - such a beautiful flower.

We had never seen a Tayra before and did not know what they were but the guides back at the lodge who were always helpful looked up the English word for us as they only knew them as Tolomuco which is what they are called throughout Central America. Apparently it is part of the weasel family which includes minks, otters, ferrets and badgers but unlike the otter it does not spend time in the water, even though it can swim well. It lives in dry tropical evergreen forests and can climb quite well gripping with its strong claws. We were lucky to see these two as the guide had only seen them twice in all his time at Selva Verde. They were quite large, about two foot long and with a tail about one and half foot - quite elongated..... They had jet black fur with a lighter small brown patch on their chest, which we only noticed as one turned around and saw us. As soon as they spotted us they vanished quickly into the forest but I did manage to get a couple of blurred photographs which enabled the guide back at the lodge to identify them.

We booked an early morning bird tour with Alex (the resident guide) who had lived in the area since he was five and was very knowledgable on wildlife. He had conducted important research for Costa Rica's institute for biodiversity and conservation research and specialized in birds, frogs and natural history. We walked around the grounds with him and he spotted many birds with his spotting scope, some we would probably have missed without him. He was always around the lodge during the day and ready to answer any of our questions which was useful.

Apart from the constant damp we really enjoyed our five days at Selva Verde Lodge. We had came with the hope of seeing lots of different wildlife, and we weren't disappointed. We did several of the hikes around the area including a long three hour hike, mainly clambering through a very wet and muddy rainforest. We did not see much wildlife on this walk as we had to be careful where we were walking and luckily narrowly escaped some very muddy slips on the steep banks.........

We did get to see and hear lots of frogs though - probably because we were watching the ground so much!!! Even though it was so very small, under an inch, you could easily spot the lovely Strawberry Poison Dart Frog as they are quite unique. It had a bright red back and head and its hind legs were blue, hence its nickname (Blue Jeans Frog) - it looked like it was wearing a ‘pair of jeans’........ We often heard the noisy males calling throughout the day, sounding more like an an insect’s buzz than a croak..... - which didn’t even stop when it was raining heavily...........The grounds were also the habitat of the Green and Black Poison Frog. Whilst not the most toxic poison dart frog it was still a highly toxic animal - and best left alone. The very small amount of poison the frog possesses is still enough to make a human ill........ Like most poison dart frogs though they will only release their poison if they feel threatened. Apparently all poison dart frogs lose their toxicity in captivity due to a change in their diet. This has led scientists to believe that the frog actually takes its poison from the ants it feeds on.

We walked most days and enjoyed a short hike in the bordering forest which meandered close to the river which was so peaceful and ended at a Sky Bridge with the raging river far below. From the bridge there were good views up and down the river. I did manage to get across even though it was rather wobbly, luckily there was no-one else on it at the same time and I did manage to stop Paul from jumping up and down.......... just....

After a morning walk we spent our days lounging in the dining area on rocking chairs watching the fast flowing Rio Sarapiqui and the multitude of birds that came to take their fill from the feeding station outside the restaurants. Originating from clear mountain streams, the Sarapiqui River runs from the Central Mountain Range just north of San Jose to the San Marcos River which runs along the shared border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The river is considered a national monument because of the vital service it provided in transporting arms, goods and soldiers in the 1856 war. In its tropical wet forest environment, the river travels along side green pastures and farmland, lush vegetation of towering trees, vines and flowers, cascading mountains and the La Selva Biological Reserve and Selva Verde Lodge itself. We often saw rafts and canoes speeding past as we lazed in our chairs. The fast flowing river made it a good location for white water rafting, but the rapids I had seen put me off doing this - but maybe next time as apparently there are calm stretches between the rapids. On the other hand, a family that had taken a trip the day before all fell into the river, apart from the guide. Luckily the two teenagers and the father hung on to the sides of the raft but the poor mother was washed about a mile downstream. She was OK as she was wearing a life vest - thankfully they adhere to strict safety precautions.

One day Paul spotted a large male Howler Monkey on the other side of the river and watched as he wandered up and down the rocks, looking as though he was trying to get to the other side. He had probably been thrown out from his ‘group’ as once they are too old a younger ‘model’ takes over and they are not allowed to return. He was probably searching for new territory - poor thing......its not nice being old.........

We met some interesting people during our stay, including a German couple who were keen photographers. I thought our photographs were OK until I saw his - but he did have a really good lens and a large tripod helped too......They were very friendly and had been to Costa Rica five times as they loved the wildlife and natural environment of the country. They had just come from another lodge that we would be going to later and apparently he displayed some of his photographs in the restaurant there. They kindly emailed the owner who they knew and who was picking us up in San Jose to tell him to give us the room they had as it was one of his better ones.......We also met an older couple from the US and a pleasant Dutch couple - all had been to Costa Rica before and would return again. There were not many families with children, although a family from the US stayed for two nights and their little daughter who was 5 did not want to leave and started crying as she wanted to stay and watch the ‘blue birds’ (Blue-Grey Tanagers). At night we would walk down to the restaurant, we always chose the Italian rather than the buffet menu as there was far to much to eat at the buffet meal. Walking along the covered walkways on our way to dinner each evening with the jungle each side we saw many night animals and insects including a large Bat that flew around the restaurant just above our heads each evening and roosted in a small crevice above the bar - quite strange really to be eating one’s dinner with a bat flying overhead - luckily no accidents though.......... The frogs were always around as well and you could always here them. As we walked back to our room one night we spotted a green Praying Mantis on a leaf just outside the restaurant - he never seemed to move so obviously was waiting patiently for his dinner to arrive..........

In conclusion we throughly enjoyed our stay at Selva Verde Lodge, and were amazed at the variety of wildlife constantly around us, including the colourful Aracaris who often ‘ganged up on’ the delightful Toucans, although the toucans were ‘top of the food chain’ most of the time. We saw many other birds including; Olive-backed Euphonia, Squirrel Cuckoo, Blue-Grey, Summer, Palm & Red-throated Ant Eater Tanagers and large Grey-headed Chachalaca, although we did not spot a Trogan, although several others did. The highlight though was watching the ‘comical’ Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans eating their breakfast of bananas and papaya whilst we ate ours, listening to the sound of the Rio Sarapiqui flowing by. Because of their long beaks the toucans slowly move their heads from side to side to enable them to get a good view of what’s going on...........The Keel-billed, the more nervous of the two spent ages in the trees longingly looking at the bananas only to arrive at the feeding station and be seen off straight away by one of the Chestnut Mandibled Toucans............

On our last night Gerado made me a special Pinky Pina Colada Cocktail which was delicious perhaps we should stay longer...........

The next morning whilst waiting for our transport one of the guides asked if we would mind sharing our transport to San Jose with his parents who had to attend hospital - we said of course not. This led to a very entertaining journey, with the elderly driver (who had brought us from Rio Dante) and the parents and son all talking and laughing non stop, all the way to the city. It was a little bit hair-raising when we climbed up and over the mountain as the rain was pouring and the visibility was virtually nil - and the driver kept laughing and laughing - but we did finally arrived back in San Jose. We had two days here which was great as the Cristina Apartments had laundry facilities and we managed to wash and dry all our clothes and even managed to get the mildew off which had started to accumulate on Paul’s best hat...... We lazed around the pool and the sun came out, the first we had really seen for nine days, so all was good and tomorrow we head south to Cerro Lodge - see you there.

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2nd December 2012

less of the old!!!
your tales and anecdotes sound anything but decrepit and must both be in fine fettle to be undertaking such testing antics..It all sounds so amazing and wonderful(most of the time)..thank you for sharing such stunning pictures,and funny ones too..I am privileged to have shared with you...intrepid spirits you are..maybe we may meet up on your return home for Xmas..Fondest love and wishes for your safe reurnxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
2nd December 2012

A new specimen?
Hi you two. Have enjoyed your blogs as usual and such lovely pictures. Sheila, I notice you have found a new companion - did he grow the beard etc for Movember? I tried to get Pete to grow one but he didn't think he could stand it. Maybe its a jungle thing! Keep enjoying and make the most of it, I can't remember where you are going to be for Xmas but feel it maybe Dubai - not long now! We are off to Prague on the 12th for 3 nights which I am looking forward too. Chris XX

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