Cerro Lodge, Tárcoles - 28 November to 4 December 2012


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Published: December 9th 2012
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It was lovely to ‘dry out’ and get our clothes clean after so much rain in Tortuguero and Selva Verde. That being said we would not have missed the experiences we had there for the world. We never thought we would get the washing dry or the mould out of our clothes but after a hot wash in the luxury of a washing machine (nearly forgot what this was) and a hot dryer our clothes were at last dry and clean. We spent a couple of days in San Jose not doing much really so nothing to report for a change.............but soon we were heading off towards the Pacific Coast again.



We were picked up by Frederico our host and his seven year old son in his car. They had stayed overnight in San Jose with his parents so were bright and early. Frederico owned the lodge where we were going to spent the next week, which was only 10 minutes from Carara National Park where we were hoping to see the spectacular red, blue and yellow Scarlet Macaw. About 150 scarlet macaws nest and feed throughout the reserve and can usually be seen around dusk flying west down the Río Tárcole. Nesting season for these large parrots was just beginning so we were hoping to get some good close up views. Carara NP is the most northern region of Pacific rainforest remaining in Costa Rica, and is the beginning of the transition zone into the tropical dry forests of the northwest.



The lodge is an ongoing project of love for Frederico who opened the doors in 2008. Previous to this it was a working farm owned by his father and it started out as a small B&B. The road out of the city was good and before long Frederico was turning off on to a rocky track - he said that the lodge was only 3km along this dirt track so it was not too long before we pulled up at the entrance to Cerro Lodge. The lodge sits on a ridge overlooking the forest and the Pacific Ocean far in the distance. The reception area and dining room were just nestled into a beautifully landscaped area with a breathtaking view.

Frederico introduced us to his new Manager, Hopsey who brought us some hot costa rican coffee and we rested up looking out over the lovely vista - I did not think we would want to move too far from this spot...........



We had booked one of the eight separate cabanas at the lodge, which were located along a winding path full of flowers and mature trees. Outside we had a verandah which looked out over the hillside and the ocean beyond - bliss. Our room was very spacious with two double beds and an "open air" bathroom, a brilliant touch, set in its own little outdoor garden, so you could take a shower whilst watching the sky. Frederico had put a lot of love and attention into his ‘project’ and obviously thoroughly enjoyed it. He was struggling though with the recession which was hitting the tourist trade all over Costa Rica. He was trying everything possible to get more people to visit the lodge and was aiming for self sufficiency in any area possible. He had already put together ‘Green Land’ and they produced all their own eggs (70 a week), milk, cheese, fruits and many vegetables. They milk their cows and goats every morning, and produce their own organic fertilizer (cow’s manure) to take care of the gardens. We were drinking milk straight from the cow so unpasterised - we hoped we would remain healthy.........Frederico had just started a hydroponic garden to grow more vegetables, salads and herbs for his guests. He was also building a large tower platform where guests could laze around and look out over the beautiful valley and ocean. He had already built a swimming pool and we often sampled the delights of lovely cool water after a long hike or a wander around the grounds.



The first night we were there we spotted two Scarlet Macaws flying over our cabana - a magical sight and one that we saw once or twice a day as the parrots fly down from the mountains towards the coastal mangroves where they roost for the night. One day two pairs of parrots actually perched in a large tree just behind our room and we got the most amazing view of them feeding in the trees right in front of us - how cool is that. We also saved some money as we did not have to go into the National Park as we had so many sightings right where we were..........



In the grounds we saw many different birds as well as some that we had become used to seeing throughout Costa Rica. We saw the White-throated Magpie-Jay, lots of Hummingbirds including Cinnamon, Rufous-tailed and the Green-breasted. We also saw the Fiery-billed Aracari similar to the Collared Aracari we had seen at Selva Verde and pictured in our last blog. We also spotted the Turquoise-browed Motmot, we thought it was the same as we had seen in Monteverdi but that was the Blue-crowned Motmot - not experts yet........... We are learning a lot though about the animals and birds of Costa Rica but there are so many it is sometimes difficult to know what they are. Internet research does help and the local guides are brilliant and always willing to pass on their knowledge.



There was a lovely walk down the track from the lodge which was about 4 km long. Frederico had said that if we walked to the end of the track we would come out to the main road and a little further on would be a bridge where crocodiles could be spotted below. He said it passed through private land but said just ‘wander through’ and if we were stopped just tell anyone that we were from Cerro Lodge. The track followed the hillside with wonderful views and was very quiet and peaceful. There were just a couple of farms along the way and we met an American who had settled here. He was clearing some of his land before the weather got too hot to work, he said he had 20 acres to clear and it was hot work but he loved the area and would never move. We got to the end of the track and there was ‘no road’ and ‘no bridge’, the track just ended in a field where workers were planting a new crop. A young lad was working on what looked like a really good irrigation system and we stopped and asked directions but he just looked at us and shrugged - our Spanish did not seem to get through. We walked across a field towards the river edge where we could just see the top of a barge but the undergrowth was too thick and we were a little bit concerned about the crocodiles......... The field had just been burnt so it was difficult to walk on and swooping all around us were hundreds of swallows and flycatchers - an amazing sight. We decided to head back to the lodge and on the way spotted a Bare-throated Tiger Heron as well as a Osprey high up in the tree canopy. We also spotted a Roadside Hawk - the hills around were an ideal location for Raptors. We would have to try and find the river bridge another day as it was getting late and time for dinner but we had enjoyed the trek.



Each day at breakfast we would sit and watch the magnificent view with the birds coming into the garden for their breakfast as well. A White-nosed Coati also visited most days eating any Papaya or Mango that the birds had left for him. He often climbed right up on to the bird tables as well tomake sure he did not miss anything.



We met some interesting people at the lodge although it was not that busy about a quarter full. Most had come hoping to see the Scarlet Macaws and were all rewarded. One Costa Rican chap and his wife who now lived in the States were very friendly and helped name some of the birds that we did not know. We met a Canadian lady and her son who again knew lots about the birds in the area. A friendly German couple arrived (really hot) they were on their own cycles they had brought with them and were cycling around CR. They had not managed to get to Monteverde though and we said it was difficult enough getting there by car let alone cycling........ They were going to come back another year and maybe hire something in which they could travel with their bikes to enable them to see a little bit more of the country.



One night Frederico and Hopsey said that there was a large owl in a tree just outside the restaurant. We had heard the owl often but had not seen it. They had a flash light and led the way and sure enough it was sitting on a branch and we had a really good view. It was a Black and White Owl - the only CR owl that had black and white barring on underparts, it was a very majestic bird but we were unable to get a good photograph in the dark.



The lodge did not accept credit cards and so we asked Frederico if he could take us into ‘town’ when he was going so that we could get some cash. The nearest town was about 15 minutes away by car and we had no way of getting there. We did mention to him that if he didn’t we would not be able to pay him for our stay! A few days later he said he was heading into Orotina to get some supplies for the lodge and would take us with him. He dropped us at the central park and said he would meet us back at the church in a couple of hours. We brought some snacks which would be useful back at the lodge and then sat in the park to wait for Frederico to finish his shopping. The lodge did not have a snack bar and only supplied 3 course meals for lunch an dinner. This was too much food so we always missed lunch and just ate a snack that we had with us but we were getting low. We were approached by a local man who chatted to us for a while - wanting to practice his English. He was very friendly and said that the park had a couple of Sloths in the trees. We thought this a bit strange as the square park was not very big and the road and shops ran all around it - quite noisy. Sure enough though he called us over and there was this large female Two-toed Sloth asleep on one of the branches. We wandered around the park for a while and watched the locals spending their Sunday meeting family and many attending the church where they were enjoying music and food outside. Everyone was very friendly and it was nice to see a typical costa rican town - it looked like we were the only tourist in the area - it is a bit off the tourist routes...... Frederico arrived back, he had done all the shopping for the lodge and the car was loaded with new supplies. He told us that he spent many days shopping and that they were looking into getting the supplies for the lodge delivered direct from San Jose (a new initiative in the area). We said we had found it difficult when we shopped for ourselves, you have to visit so many different stores to find everything you were looking for. It’s not like the supermarkets in the UK where you can get everything you need from one store, even our corner shops are better than most of the stores here. Frederico said he wasted so much time and was looking forward to spending more time with his son.



Most evenings at dinner we were joined by the German couple who were cycling around the country and we were sad when they left to cycle back to San Jose. It was going to take them two days and the first day they would be cycling for about 6/7 hours - they must be mad as we had seen quite a few hills on our way here from the city.........They also had large bags on each side which was going to make it difficult and also had to carry three litres of water each for a day’s journey to keep hydrated - they were a really fit couple. Once back in San Jose they had to crate up their cycles for their flight home which they said would take them ages.



On our last day we decided we would try and find the track to the Tárcoles River Bridge yet again. We had already tried a couple of times and in the end realised that we were not getting the right information from Frederico - we were losing something in translation. We did find it this time, previously we had just walked too far and missed the turning into the private drive. There was a locked gate but you could squeeze by the side of it and on to another track. We continued along this track for about 30 minutes and we finally arrived at the road and river - at last. So much closer that all the others times we had looked for it but we had enjoyed the others walks!! The Tárcoles River is one of four rivers flowing out into the Nicoya Peninsula and was home to one of the largest crocodile populations in the wild with many over fifteen feet long. We walked along the narrow edge of the bridge and below us we could make out about 20 crocodiles basking on the banks and several drifting in the slow flowing river. Thinking back to the first time we had tried to locate the river and ending up in a field that bordered this same river we were so glad that we could not get through the undergrowth that time. These crocodiles were extremely large and were only a few kilometers down the river from where we had stopped a few days ago - although most of them did look rather sleepy so obviously well fed ones and would not have been interested in us...........



On the way back to the lodge we spotted a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher high up on a cable - its tail as long as its body. Resting up in the dining room later Frederico’s two dogs wandered in, they were not allowed inside the restaurant but thought no one was around. We tried to ‘shoo’ them out but they just looked at us and then Martha the cook spotted them and came running out of the kitchen. She sent them packing ‘in Spanish’ - they obviously did not understand commands in English ...... Martha who could not speak English just looked at us and laughed, understanding what was going on and enjoying the moment. Apart from the dogs the lodge also had a friendly cat which used to visit our room most days and was always waiting on our doorstep for our return. We did not feed it and could not understand why it was so attracted to us - we always seem to be picking up strange dogs and cats - at least they were well fed ones..........



So it was time to leave Cerro Lodge and the staff all came out to say goodbye. Frederico said that this was now ‘our home’ and that we were always welcome and Hopsey got quite upset that we were leaving. It was such a friendly lodge - a ‘home from home’ and we had the most wonderful stay here. Our transport arrived on time to take us up into the mountains to the deep valley of San Gerardo de Dota - see you there.


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