I'm the king of the swingers, a jungle VIP


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Having spent a sleep, wake, sleep, wake kind of night - some of it down to my body clock getting confused by the seven hour time difference and the rest due to an American woman deeming it necessary that the entire hotel heard her travel arrangements for the next day accompanied by raucous laughter at 3am - I wasn't exactly pleased to find out from reception that my travel company had switched hotels last minute and not bothered to tell me! I deposited my bags in reception and vowed not to let it ruin my day and worry about it later.

I set off, map in hand, to look for the National Theatre where I met the lovely Eric for my day tour which was to include hiking through the jungle followed by a chocolate tour.

Once we got out of San Jose we headed up the Braulio Carrillo National Park highway which rises high up into a cloud forest where permanent mists cling to the steeply inclined jungle on each side of the road. The roadway was started in 1920 in order to provide a route through the jungle from one side of the country to the Caribbean coast on the other. Through difficulties in penetrating the hilly jungle terrain and resistance to trashing the forest it wasn't actually completed until the 1980s. It was agreed, through pressure put on by environmentalists, that road building could go ahead if the virgin forest was preserved through National Park designation. The road includes Costa Rica's only tunnel, Zurqui, and crosses the continental divide. Rivers flow either into the Caribbean or the Pacific Ocean depending on which side of this divide they lie.

I see some massive round leaved plants in amongst the jungle foliage and Eric tells me they are Poor Man's Umbrellas. We also see Elephant's Ear plants whose massive leaves have the shape you would expect from their name. There are Tree Ferns too, massive towering beasts that are just like the ferns I know from home but on a much bigger scale.

A little further on a massive bird of prey with finger feathered wing tips circles the skies above us and I find out he is a Black Vulture. We see many more later on, some testing the thermals high in the sky and one group pottering around in front of a shop front! We also spot motionless Tiger Herons at the side of the road.

Eric suddenly stops the car and does a U-turn. He sets up his scope and I wonder what I'm going to see as I bend down to look through the eye-piece. It's a fabulous Howler Monkey! I don't know how he managed to spot it way up in the tree tops as we were driving by. Further on we also see a Black Shouldered Kite fly by - Eric used to lead bird watching tours and definitely has his birding eye in today!

We pass the cloud forest area and it becomes really hot and humid. No need for my fleece then! We pass through farmed landscape and see big fields of pineapple plants. They are pretty small plants, only about a foot and a half high. I ask how much bigger they get and it turns out they are actually fully grown! I'm so surprised as pineapples are such massive fruits in comparison.

We arrive at La Tirimbina Biological Reserve and I get out my GPS Just in case there is a geocache hidden here. Unfortunately my GPS is having trouble getting a satellite fix so I give it up and we set off into the reserve. We are surrounded on all sides by a cacophany of sound from the self important cicadas making themselves known. What a racket from such relatively small creatures. We are only a few metres down the path into the reserve when Eric trains his scope upwards to something sitting high in the trees. 'Can you see what it is?' he asks and there on a thin branch at the top of the tree canopy is a massive Green Iguana. It has a stunning crest and is therefore a show off male. We also see a Blue Grey Tanager flying around in the lower branches, a delicately coloured bird the size of a large thrush. Only a little further into the reserve and Eric's expert eyes spot another creature up in the trees. When my eyes adjust I see a gorgeous sloth having a good old scratching session with his claws. I can hardly believe I'm seeing such amazing sights so quickly into my Costa Rica trip. I can't stop grinning. What completely different surroundings for this Norfolk girl to find herself in!

We get to a thin, suspended metal walkway that crosses above the jungle plants and trees and then over a river. As we walk along the mesh floored bridge it bounces to our steps. We get to a tight spiral staircase that spins us down into the jungle below. We have to be pretty careful here as it's been very wet and this encourages snakes to come out of hiding. I'm advised not to touch anything! I don't need to be told twice when we spot a tiny red and black frog crawling up some moss on the side of a tree. It is a Poison Dart Frog! I find out they climb the trees to deposit their spawn in the pools of water that form in the plants that grow on the trees. We start to see them everywhere after spotting this first frog. Eric leaves me on the path while he carefully steps into the jungle on the search for bat nursery tents. I spot some leaf cutter ants busily carrying their disproportionately large loads back to their colony. Unfortunately the bats prove to be illusive. We do see a couple of massive bullet ants, so named because one bite will knock you back like you've been shot

I spot a plant growing on some of the trees that looks a bit like the pineapple plants we'd seen earlier. It turns out these bromiliad plants are indeed from the pineapple family. They are a parasitic plant that uses its host to grow on a bit like mistletoe and this are the plant the frogs are looking for. We see a few trees with massive folds at the base of the trunks. I think they may have been Sonda trees but wasn't sure what Eric said for this one so apologies if I got this wrong.

Eric gets scent of wild hogs, a kind of musty leaf-mold kind of smell. We also see trampled vegetation, but despite lots of quiet watching, waiting and moving on a little further, we don't get to see these illusive animals. As we climb back up the spiral staircase we do however get to see a pretty leaved Hog Tree with long, brown seed pods.

Suddenly we spot a couple of big birds high up in the trees and I see my first toucans of the trip - Chestnut Mandibled Toucans. I am glad of the better zoom capacity on my lovely new camera and get some pretty good shots considering how far up in the trees they are.

And so to the chocolate tour...


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