Under the Umbrella Tree


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Published: July 5th 2009
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 Video Playlist:

1: Find the monkey! 35 secs
2: Banana Processing 24 secs
The Caribbean SeaThe Caribbean SeaThe Caribbean Sea

Not that different from southern west coast Vancouver Island, if you ask me!
While yesterday's entry had slight undertones of loneliness and boredom, today's entry should strongly convey just the opposite--if I can finish it all, that is. I am exhausted! Today was amazing. I took 156 pictures... and that says something because I'm normally terrible at taking my camera out.

I've decided just to throw the whole batch up on flickr so you can take a look if you are interested. There has been no editing or anything and some are doubles. I have to say I'm fairly impressed with their quality, though. My new camera is pretty decent. Thanks for the good advice, Grayson! You can see the pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/28505980@N08


Oh man am I tired. I don't even know where to begin. So much happened today, and actually quite a number of neat things happened last night after I posted my afternoon entry. I guess I'll just start from where I left off last time.

So, as I signed off yesterday I was heading out to the nearby park of Sabada (I think that's what it's called) with a guy
Breakfast RestaurantBreakfast RestaurantBreakfast Restaurant

Obviously tourist-centered, but I still liked it!
who works at the front desk of the hostel. The park was pretty decent and fairly standard for a major city park, I guess. Notable sights included a huge pond with some interesting birds, some mountain bikers doing jumps (con helmets! Yea!), giant soccer stadium being constructed as a gift from China by imported Chinese workers (???), and many nice tropical looking trees.

I honestly can't remember what I did once I got back to the hostel, but eventually I realized I was pretty hungry and didn't have a clue where to go to get some food. Daniel and I had actually tried a bit on the way home from the park, but everything was closed for some reason. Luckily, a super nice Israeli dude (cannot remember, or pronounce, his name) invited me to come along to the supermarket to grab some grub with a couple other people from the hostel. It was then that I met Tom, and it would be the beginning of a great, 24 hour friendship. Off we went to the supermarket where, against my better judgement, we partook in some beans, rice, and random meat that looked like it had been sitting at questionable temperatures for a fairly long period of time. I was not a huge fan of my choices of slop, but it got the job done. Tom and Israeli dude really liked their food and none of us got sick, so I can't complain. The three of us talked for quite a long time about everything from health care to standard living wages to different choices of automatic weapons (Israeli dude had just completed his compulsory military service). It was a great evening. At that point Tom and I did a bit of shopping around the grocery store to pick up some snacks for today, since we were both going on the same tour (more on that later). I should mention that this was a *real* grocery store, with a deli counter, cheese section, etc. I was pleased. I'm told they're more common in these parts than they were in SE Asia.

We had fun sauntering around the aisle and looking at different food options and picking out various sweets. Tom is a programmer from Kansas. His teenage son is here in Costa Rica doing a neat soccer camp/spanish learning/volunteer service thing, and so he flew down with him and
Banana PlantationBanana PlantationBanana Plantation

Our guide told us that the blue bags are so that the bunches ripen evenly, otherwise the side shaded by the trunk does not ripen at the same time as the side open to the sun.
is traveling on his own while his son is in the country. I had some fun with him because when we first met he was determined to figure out where I was from based on my accent (he, by the way, has a total Kansas accent). At first he said Europe, but admitidly he had only heard me say a few words at that point. They he was bouncing all over the US, saying I had a "gee gosh" sound to me, so he was thinking mid-west, etc. I kept saying things like "there are other countries in North America than the US" and "go north!" or "if I wasn't from the US but I sounded like I was, where would I be from?" but all to no avail. Finally I just blurted out "CANADA! I'm from Canada!" "Ooooooh." That was actually the second time that day that my 'accent' had been analyzed. When I very first arrived at the hostel I was chatting with Ryan from Los Angeles, and he just started laughing at one point and said "your accent is so funny!" What? What accent? I really don't think that I speak any differently than Californians, but apparently I do. I know I speak different than Ontarians (is that a word?) in some ways, but... I guess I just have my own Canadian sound. I feel like it's even been getting stronger after moving from Victoria, too.

But this is all just rambling--sorry. So once Tom and I got back from the grocery store he introduced me to a couple other Canadians he had been talking to earlier, Nicola and Andrew, who I just had to meet because they were a "hoot." Turns out that not only were they Canadian, they were from Toronto and live at Spadina and Front! That's, like, maybe 1km due south of my apartment. They really were a hoot and we hung out with some Swiss travelers for the rest of the evening. I wouldn't mind at all hanging out with them in Toronto, if they ever finish traveling (they're heading off to Asia soon). Again, a major health care discussion was had (not for the last time either, I might add. Seems to be a hot global topic these days). Andrew's mom is a nurse in the CCU at St. Mike's hospital, which is my teaching hospital, so I just might
Jesus Christ LizardJesus Christ LizardJesus Christ Lizard

He can walk on water
cross paths with her one day in the future.

I collapsed in bed at 10 or 11, exhausted from not sleeping the night before and needing to get a good sleep before being picked up at 6am this morning for my tour. Yes, the tour! Finally the good stuff!

I found out yesterday that I am actually getting picked up by my Scout conference organizers on Sunday, not Monday like I had thought/planned, so today was really my only day for any sight-seeing in Costa Rica. I'm very happy with the one day I had, though! I think I saw everything I came to this country to see! Through my hostel, I booked a tour with Tom's Jungle Safari to Tortuguera National Park. At the time, I had no idea what or where that park was. I just went up to the front desk and said "I want to go into the jungle. What do you recommend?" and they pointed me in this direction. Turns out, Tortuguera is supposed to be the most remote part of Costa Rica. It is only accessible by boat and contains the one of the most important sea turtle nesting sites in the
Howler MonkeysHowler MonkeysHowler Monkeys

There was a two-toed sloth up there, too.
Western Hemisphere. Also, it's on the Caribbean Coast! I never planned on getting to either coast during my time here, just because it seemed like quite a journey. In reality, though, it was only about 4 hours each way by bus, plus we got to drive through the cloud forest, which was quite neat.

At 6am Tom and I sat in the common room of the hostel, awaiting our pickup and sipping DELICIOUS coffee. I can't tell you how wonderful the coffee is here--even the stuff that is made in a big urn in a hostel! It's so smooth, with not a hint of bitter aftertaste. Just lovely. I'm going to bring home a ton of beans. I hope that it will turn out was well at home. Shortly after 6pm a mini-bus arrived and we loaded in, then did the rounds to a number of other locations in San Jose until we had a full load. I'm really lucky I got squeezed in at all because I just booked the tour the day before. The majority of people on the tour were staying in the park for one or two nights so that they could go out after
CaiminCaiminCaimin

Like a little crocodile. No more than 4 meters from our boat!
dark and watch the turtles actually laying eggs, since it is nesting season. I was so jealous, but an overnight stay just wouldn't fit in to my schedule. To be so close to nesting sea turtles and not actually get to see them is maddening. Ohhhh well, I saw lots of other amazing things, instead.

About 1.5 hours outside of San Jose, we stopped at restaurant for a tasty, tasty breakfast. The place was obviously fully decked out tikki-style for tourists, but I liked it just the same. And the food really was good. Then it was back in the bus for a few more hours until we reached the river.

Along the way Tomás, our guide, showered us with lots of interesting facts about Costa Rica, nature, and life in general. He was quite a character and spoke impeccable English, complete with idiomatic expressions and everything. Frankly, I think his vocabulary was superior to my own. His dad is Irish and his mom is from Lebanon ("I'm a terrorist!" he said with a laugh), but he was born and raised in Costa Rica. He gave a lot of detailed scientific and biological explanations for things we were seeing. I believed/agreed with probably 80% of what he told us, but around 20% of it was a bit questionable in my opinion... particularly anything to do with genetics ("when the monkey family gets to be a certain size, the group splits in to two to preserve genetic diversity" Uh, really? How does making the group smaller improve diversity? Or "Inbreeding causes animals to become albinos" Mmm... well... not *exactly*....). But, overall most of what he said was really cool and interesting, and I certainly know how difficult it can be to convey scientific information to a lay audience, so maybe he was just making generalizations to get his point across at times. One thing is for sure: he is great at spotting wildlife! We stopped the bus multiple times to jump out and look at neat things on the side of the road, including "Jesus Christ" lizards (you know, those ones that can run across the surface of the water), howler monkeys, and the famous Costa Rican sloth! He did tell us a lot of interesting thing about the Costa Rica government and social system, and told us all about their health care system (that's health care discussion #3, for those of you keeping track).

We also spent some time in front of a Del Monte banana processing plant and drove throw many banana plantations. Apparently the banana plantation workers get paid $600/month, which is roughly equivalent to a school teacher, plus they do not have to pay for their room and board. So, the next time you are eating a Del Monte or Chiquita banana from Costa Rica you can rest easy knowing that the workers who harvested the banana were not exploited. Now you know!

We arrived at the river's edge just in time for one of the most torrential downpours I have ever experienced, giving even the worst west coast mid-island showers a run for their money. It's the rainy season in Costa Rica, so it typically rains, HARD, about once a day. Picture turning on your shower full blast and spraying as far as the eye can see. That was this afternoon. Luckily, being the ever prepared Scout, I brought rain gear and good hiking boats, so I was relatively dry. I must say it's certainly not hot here. Super humid, yes, but not hot, so I didn't have any desire to get soaked to the bone. We just had to run from bus to bathroom to covered boat, so it wasn't too bad. Once we were in the boat the rain stopped (of course) and we enjoyed a pleasant temperature for the rest of the afternoon.

We traveled by boat down the river to the start of the national park. On the way, we were treated to such joys as spoon-billed birds, a caimin (like a mini-crocodile) no more than 4 meters from the edge of our boat), and some other really neat birds. When we stopped at a lodge for lunch the overnight crew parted ways with the day-trip crew, and I had to say goodbye to my fast friend, Tom. Tear! I gave him my card, though, so hopefully we can stay in touch. After hearing about my blog he started one on travelblog, as well, so I'm anxious to hear how the turtle hunting goes tonight! Lunch was great, and consisted of rice and beans (FYI Costa Ricans eat rice and beans for every single meal, every single day, including breakfast), a tasty cabbage and tomato salad, fried chicken, and fried and salted plantains. Tasty! Dessert was coconut
Sacrifices for photosSacrifices for photosSacrifices for photos

Note location of venomous snake, then location of face.
cookies and awesome coffee. Then it was back into a boat and off to the park to venture into the jungle.

The jungle was, well, wonderful and jungle-y. It was just like you would imagine a rainforest to be. Lush, green, exotic, with rainforest sounds buzzing all around you. Really cool. Tomás had a great eye and was able to pick out minute neat things for us to look at, perhaps the best find being a pit viper which was curled up around a stick just off the trail. See my amazing picture!!! I have to admit, Tomás took it because he was willing to get RIGHT up close and personal with it on macro mode, while the rest of us were a bit more wary of what venom might come our way if we tried such a thing. Like, literally the lens of my camera was centimeters from this thing, with Tomás' face not much farther back. Great shot, though. Tomás seriously cared about us getting great pictures and would frequently use our cameras to make sure we got that perfect picture. One of my favourite spottings was the tiny poison dart frog. SO cute! And so fun
Poison Dart FrogsPoison Dart FrogsPoison Dart Frogs

Now that's just cute
to get up close and personal with to take many macro shots.

I was kind of surprised when we emerged from the jungle with how similar the Caribbean coast looked to the west coast of Vancouver Island, just north of Sooke. Sure, the trees were a bit more leafy than our trees, but when you were looking down at the coast in the difference, it really was similar. The waves, too. Much neater crabs, though! They had these amazing eye-stalks which allowed their eyes to move completely independently of their body, which looked quite funny.

(Random note: there is this crazy, like, 80 year old man who is staying in this hostel. Everyone sort of whispers about him and wonders what his story is. Currently he is slowly croaking out a random story about the Honest Ed's bargain store in Toronto. Weird)

When we separated from the overnighters from our group, we joined up with the overnighters from the previous night. There was an older couple from Texas in that group, who I chatted with after they asked me what the U-V-I-C on my hat meant. They had been to Victoria ("beautiful! Just beautiful! But most expensive tea I've ever had.") so we talked about that and I said I had moved to Toronto for medical school. His response kind of shocked me. He said "oh, I've heard so much about the Canadian health care system. None of it good." Uh... I didn't really know how to respond to that one. So, not terribly interested in having health care discussion #4 I said a few supportive remarks about care for all, and quietly changed the subject.

Well, I could certainly go into much detail about all I saw and learned today, but I really am quite sleepy and I still need to upload the videos and some pictures to the blog, so I think I will leave it at that for now. It certainly was a long entry!

Tomorrow I meet up with my conference peeps. No idea what that will hold, but time will tell!



Additional photos below
Photos: 15, Displayed: 15


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Random cool birdRandom cool bird
Random cool bird

I think that's just moss in his mouth, but who knows--could be just part of his beak, filling some ecological niche.


5th July 2009

Great Photos
I looked at the photos on Flickr first and I zoomed in to confirm that was a pit viper. I was not pleased, until I read that your guide took the photo -- I should never have doubted you. That's a female Slaty-tailed Trogon in your last picture and she's holding a feather (possibly from a Great Green Macaw). I was pretty keen on the trogons at the Toronto Zoo in 1975 and used to watch them a lot. There's no way that can compare to seeing them in the wild. I'm envious. Keep those pictures coming.
14th May 2011
Hercules Beetle

Permission to use photo
Greetings, My name is Judy Dourson and I work for a non-profit organization called Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education in southern Belize. Part of our mission is to educate the local schoolchildren in the buffer communities of the Bladen Nature Reserve (adjacent to us) about the flora and fauna of the reserve in hopes that this knowledge will help to conserve the area. My husband is writing a book that will be disseminated to the local schools for this purpose. He would like to use your image of the hercules beetle for that purpose. Would you consider allowing us to use it? Thanks....Judy Dourson www.bfreebz.org (our website)
26th May 2011

Go for it!
Judy, please feel free! I've sent you an email and included larger versions of the image. Best, Jessica

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