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Published: August 21st 2017
COSTA RICA Pura Vida
from Costa Rica - It has been five years since we spent a wonderful three months in this amazing country and it was great to be back again. This time we are away for two and half months and we are also going to venture into Nicaragua
but first we are going to explore some of the areas we missed the first time we were here and also hopefully get to see another ‘Arribada’,
when hundreds of thousands of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles
all arrive together to lay their eggs on a beach at Ostional National Park.
Two mammals we would love to see this time which we missed before are the Giant Anteater
and the Bairds Tapir,
so we are keeping our fingers crossed that we will be able to get at least a sighting. …. and of course we would love to see the rare Resplendent Quetzal
which we had been so lucky to see in 2012, an exotic crimson and iridescent green bird with flowing tail feathers, see my photo taken in 2012.
If you read my blogs earlier
this year you will know that I ‘lost’ my Canon zoom lens in Argentina so have purchased a Tamron 16-300 mm which I hope will enable me to get in much closer to the wildlife. Also whilst in Youghal, Ireland recently I met Pat, a great photographer, check him out on http://www.patswayimagery.ie/
, he gave me some useful information and my camera and taking photographs which I hope to put to good use whist touring around Costa Rica. … …. … Pat if you read my blogs I would appreciate any advise and tips on my photographs.
Costa Rica, which means ‘Rich Coast’ is a rugged, rain forested Central American country with coastlines on both the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans and is bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the Southeast. The main exports include: bananas, pineapples, coffee, sugar, rice, vegetables, tropical fruits, ornamental plants, corn, potatoes and palm oil. The Costa Rican pineapples are delicious and we were looking forward to eating these every day for breakfast.
Costa Rica has the largest percentage of protected areas in the world and quite astonishing for such a small country it
contains almost five percent of the world’s biodiversity. From the forest covered mountains to the coral reefs off both coasts, it has an incomparable diversity of flora and fauna. With over 200 species of mammals, 850 species of birds, 220 species of reptiles, 200 species of amphibians and over 300,000 species of insects - we could not wait to start our new adventure. SAN GERARDO DE DOTA
We flew direct this time with BA from Gatwick to San Jose and it was an ‘OK’ ten hour flight although there was quite a bit of turbulence on the way … … Our luggage was last off the carousel, which I suppose was not surprising as we had checked it in the day before our flight to enable a speedier early morning transit (in other words a bit more time in bed). At least it arrived and did not get delayed a day as it did for us last time when we flew in via Madrid … …
Very soon after leaving the grid locked streets of San Jose
we climbed and climbed into the cloud forest on Highway 2. In
the shadow of Cerro De la Muerte, which is Costa Rica's second highest summit getting here can be difficult due to unpredictable weather patterns and road conditions. The road is curvy and steep and visibility can be very limited when it rains or the cloud cover increases - and of course it did! Indeed we were so glad that we were not driving ourselves as the cloud caused a heavy mist over the road. We had been to this area before and we remembered that we had to take a sharp turning off Highway 2 on to the only road which led down into the San Gerardo river valley - over 5 miles long this road was quite a challenge last time.
No better this time either and even a little bit more precarious as mud and rock slides had washed away parts of the track. Tightly manoeuvring down several steep switchbacks we were thankful for our careful driver, Arnold who was brilliant. Several crash barriers had been installed but in other places just a piece of tape came between us and the valley bottom miles below. At least some of the road had a covering of
Red Hot Beetle
Not sure what this is perhaps someone can name it?
tarmac now which eased the journey a little … …
After a 10 hour direct flight from Gatwick and a 3 hour car journey to reach San Gerardo de Dota
we were extremely tired and relieved when we finally arrived at our first hotel - the Savegre Natural Reserve. Seven hours behind UK time we tried to stay up as late as possible but in the end succumbed only to be awoken in the early hours by the alarm clock which the previous occupiers must have set for an early morning bird trip! Just nodding off again and only 5 minutes later we had another alarm clock - this time it was from the birds which started to sing and chirp - the dawn of a new day in the valley. SAVEGRE NATURE RESERVE HOTEL
Our hotel was one of several small eco-resorts in the small township of San Gerardo de Dota
nestled in the Savegre River Valley and huddled up against the towering Talamanca Mountain Range - a beautiful spot where mass tourism hasn't quite arrived in this quaint settlement - lets hope it never does,
it was so peaceful and the air was so clean!
On our previous visit in 2012 we had stayed at Trogan Lodge a little further up the valley but had walked the 3 km further into the valley to the Savegre Reserve. We had picked up a brochure that time as we thought if we ever came back this would be a good place to stay. The flowering gardens were a haven for birds and also there were some great hikes in the cloud and rain forests surrounding the property - so here we are again 5 years on ... ...
We had booked a detached en-suite cabana with a log fire which was really cosy and had everything we needed for our stay. It had a small seating area inside as well as a bench and little garden outside and the cabana was surrounded by a bright red flowering Impatiens (busy lizzie) hedge. Adjoining the garden was a small stream bubbling just outside the front door which lulled us to sleep most nights after we wandered back from the main building where we had many delicious meals. The Belgian chef, Jaques
was just amazing and produced some wonderful food whilst we were there - so much for losing a little weight … … … The local trout
was the best we had ever eaten and talking of trout read on to find out how it arrived in this valley and the reason why many people now visit this scenic place. HISTORY OF THE HOTEL AND TOWNSHIP
The hotel was built and is still owned by the Chacón family and in our room we found a ‘story’ of how it all began just a half a century ago in a place never before visited by anyone until they arrived. Efraín Chacón and his brother came to the area in 1954 on foot in search of mountain pigs with a small hunting party and had not expected to come stumbling across such a ‘paradise’. Not that the valley seem like paradise at first as they had to hack through the thick forest with a just a machete to get here, eventually they lost their way as it got dark so they settled down for a very cold night. The temperature really dropped
We did not get lost as ... ...
there was an established trail for us!
at night as we were to find out and our log fire was extremely useful.
Anyway back to the story …. The valley, yet to be named, was dense with massive oak and aguacatillo (wild avocado) trees as well as other high-elevation plants. Along the base of the valley runs the Savegre River, fed from the fresh waters that stream down the sides of Costa Rica’s tallest mountain, Chirripó, and its surrounding foothills. The brothers tied up their dogs and went to look around - it was good land, arable and bountiful and fed by a constant supply of pure mountain water. The newlywed Chacón, who was living with his wife in his uncle’s home, was in search of a place to call their own, and he decided there and then that he had found it. In those days, if you worked a piece of land successfully for 10 years, you could apply for the property title and this was what he hoped to do. Once safely home the idea continued to grow and one day they decided to embark on their adventure. Chacón and his brother
returned and began clearing space for crops and livestock. They found a large boulder in the side of a hill with an overhang that afforded just enough shelter to start a small fire and lie down. For two years, that was their ‘home’ when they were in the valley. Chacón would regularly make the long trip between the valley and his wife and growing family, who lived in Santa María de Dota, a small town in the Los Santos region a 12 - 14 hour walk away. It was to be another 8 years until he brought his wife and by then six children to live with him in the valley. Later it was his wife, Caridad Zúñiga who actually gave the valley its name in honour of San Gerardo, or Saint Gerard, the patron saint of motherhood and San Gerardo de Dota township was ‘born’ ….. When the family arrived, the only way in and out of the valley was the path Chacón had carved by walking his pigs and harvests up the side of the mountain. It would be another 12 years before that was replaced in 1969 with a small
dirt road passable only by 4WD trucks (this same road is still the only access and the one we had arrived on). Electricity eventually came in 1989, but by then Chacón had already built himself a small hydroelectric plant on the river, these early pioneers would so talented and could put their hand to anything. The family survived on their crops, pigs and dairy cows and covered their own needs, selling any surplus at the market. The growing ranks of their many offspring helped tend the farm as soon as they were able to do so. Chacón introduced a few trout fry into the river which adapted perfectly in these idea conditions with fast flowering waters and they began to breed rapidly. This in turn brought in trade from Anglers keen to fish the abundant river and the family started to put up visitors who arrived by foot for a night or two, as you could not possibly visit the valley on a 'day trip'. Eventually they decided to build and rent out a few cabanas for visitors. They added fruit orchards to the property after former President José Figueres,
brought Chacón a strain of apples he had picked up in Israel. Several fruit orchards now grow up the surrounding hills and give a good supply of apples to the hotel. Chacón had fought alongside don Pepe in the civil war of 1948 - this was the former president, who abolished Costa Rica’s military in 1949 when the war ended.
Costa Rica is still a country without any armed forces. Later a group of nature lovers arrived in the valley and were awe-struck with the abundance of bird species, particularly the number of rare Resplendent Quetzals that populated the valley and so eco-tourism had arrived and grew and the family prospered and grew and grew.
Now many of Chacón's 11 children have homes nearby and work in some part of the family business together with his grandchildren and great grandchildren - the family continues to thrive in this stunning valley location.
There are now 50 cabanas rented to tourist dotted up the mountainside and we spent such an enjoyable week in one. It was really interesting to read about how it all happened here in such a short space of time
as far as history goes that is. In fact when Chacón's arrived in the valley I was only 5 and Paul was 6 but what a different upbringing we have had ... ...
Sadly Chacón’s wife died a few years ago but he still lives at Savegre, now in his early 90s we saw him sitting at the window of his bungalow home in the middle of the grounds surrounded by the fruits of a lifetime of love and hard labour. What memories he must have and what a very brave and talented man he is. LOS QUETZALS NATIONAL PARK
We spent most of our time in the valley hiking and bird watching covering the many trails that surround the property within the Los Quetzals National Park - situated in such a deep valley all of our hikes necessitated an uphill climb of some description and of course a long hard decent as well !
The Los Quetzals National Park,
previously the Los Santos Forest Reserve has the distinction of being the most recent addition to Costa Rica’s national parks only being given status in 2005. Moss-covered hardwoods,
alpine plants, highland birds, and other flora and fauna that live only at such extreme elevations frequent the park which consists of various rainforest and cloud forest habitats between 2,000 and 3,000 metres altitude. A crucial habitat for a number of plant and animal species, the most notable of which is the elusive Resplendent Quetzal - after which it was of course named and the reason we had returned to this area.
We were lucky and on our first day we got our first sighting of a female and were lucky to see many more during our stay in the valley including the stunning male with its flowing green tail feathers. Knowing where to look helped as they feed entirely on the aguacatillo
(wild avocado) fruit and we knew where to find a couple of trees from when we were here before and even found some new ones and stood in wait for the bird to arrive and it did .. … …
We saw many other birds as well and just loved the little colourful Hummingbirds. One which we could identify was the Green Violet-ear Hummingbird - these would
‘zip’ like crossfire around you and are great fun to watch as they chase each other away from their territory. These birds are so hard to identify and they have many vivid colours which change in the sunlight and the shade. SOME OF THE BIRDS WE SAW IN THE AREA
We saw the Collared Trogan, Flame-coloured Tanager, Blue Grey Tanagers, Yellow-thighed Finch, Yellowish Flycatcher, Collared Redstart, Turkey Vulture, Spot-crowned Wood-creeper, Rufous Collared Sparrow, Slatey Flower Piercer, Tropical Kingbird, Yellow-faced Grassquit, and the Red-tailed Hawk, Gray-Breasted Wood-Wren, Green-crowned Brilliant Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Silver-throated Tanager, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Mountain Robin, Sulphur-Winged Parakeet, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Black-faced Solataire, Common Bush-Tanager, Spangled-cheeked Tanager and the Black-cheeked Warbler to name but a few ... ... FABULOUS HIKING
One day we hiked to the San Gerardo Waterfalls
- we followed the river and a small trail through the forest and met some local fishermen heading to the river for the day. Most of the fishing is done on a small scale, but there is also a larger trout farm, which we passed shortly after hitting the trail. A local we
met on the hike told us that this was causing some concern with the environment and had recently been big on the news channels here. He said that the Savergre River used to be the cleanest in the whole of Central America but now there were grave concerns due to larger scale trout farms.
We continued on the trail and the path meandered along the riverbank, leading through intensely green forest. While the trail was mostly flat which was a nice change around here, it wasn't easy with some very wet, slippery spots and big clumps of roots to watch out for. We finally came across a wobbly hanging bridge and a couple of other small bridges that could use quite a bit of repair. The bridges themselves seemed structurally safe (Paul said so), but some of the stairs leading to them had large gaping holes so you had to watch your footing very carefully. I promised Maisie the granddaughter that I would take care so tread very carefully!!!
We finally arrived at the first waterfall which gushed out of a cave but was difficult to see without scrambling down a rock face so
we continued on to the next one. The path got much worse and we had to keep manoeuvring over small bridges, precarious cliff edges near to the fast flowering river with only old wet ropes to hang on to and very slippery surfaces. We scrambled over several large boulders and finally reached a huge rock which had a knotted rope strung up the side. Paul climbed up first and I followed and we continued on for a while but the track eventually got so wet and mucky we decided to head back - all we were achieving was looking at our feet and not enjoying the hike at at all now. We did enjoy being under the forest canopy though and the exotic wild flowers which create a bursts of colour in this otherwise green forest as well as the few birds we saw, much more that seeing any waterfalls … … Anyway after you have visited the wonderful Iguazu Falls any other waterfall would never be quite as spectacular !!
We returned on this hike another day and met a young couple who said they had made it to the second waterfall but advised us not
A more challenging hike ... ...
Its amazing what you will do to try and find a bird!
to go any further as they said it was really difficult and was not worth it in the end ... ... We enjoyed our second hike though and saw some amazing bromeliads
high in the tree canopy. These epiphytes are mainly (air plants) but sometimes terrestrial and Costa Rica has more than 2,000 different species most of them found are found in the rain forests and higher-altitude cloud forests.
Each day we hiked several of the steep trails directly from the hotel — all of these started with a steep uphill climb and on one we were lucky to just get back down before the heavens opened - when it rains here it rains here and we had forgot our umbrellas - much too hot for raincoats. That day we found several leeches in the bath after our shower - we think they had come up the plug hole rather than off our bodies!
We twice walked up to Trogan Lodge a very taxing hike but were rewarded when we got there as we met our bird guide from 2012 and he even remembered us and bought us coffee and said we
were welcome to hike any of the trails at his hotel or sit and enjoy their facilities. Whilst waiting for him to come and have a chat in the outside coffee area a female Quetzal arrived and sat in the tree right by us. The avocado fruits had ripened and they now had quetzals right in the grounds, when we were here before we had to hike quite a way to see them, it was good to see that they are still surviving in the area and hopefully multiplying as well. We returned several times to Trogan Lodge and were rewarded each time with more Quetzals how lucky were we. QUETZAL EDUCATION RESEARCH CENTRE
Located in the grounds of the hotel is the Quetzal Education Research Centre Complex
(QERC), a cooperative venture between the Chacón Family and Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma. To this end, QERC works with students and researchers from around the world, to educate and conduct research, focused on the tropical cloud forest and its floral and faunal community. QERC connects students with local farmers, research scientists, and educators from around the world bringing scientific
knowledge and conservation practice to the local community, rewarding everyone equally.
We met the current Field Station Managers, husband and wife, Carson and McCall. McCall showed us around the facility, she was from Arizona but they have now made their home in San Gerardo de Dota. They lived in the Research Centre building and she took us around their apartment which they were newly painting and a small museum with various displays in a side room. Pride of place in the room, next to a colourful wall mural was a mounted male Resplendent Quetzal - sadly it had died when it hit a window at the hotel in 2011. The owners kept it in the freezer until they could find a taxidermist to preserve it - there were not many people in the world that were qualified but they actually found someone on holiday in the area and he returned after his holiday to mount the quetzal.
McCall told us about various projects at the centre including a Camera Trap Project
which has had great success with locating various allusive animals particularly at night, including Puma, Coyote, Greater Grison and Tayra. McCall and Carson
have to hike up the valley to the various locations to change the batteries on the cameras quite an exhausting trek but one which they obviously enjoy … …
Other research being carried out took us by surprise as a group of people are actually analysing how Singing Mice
perform incredible songs. They are examining how different individuals use frequency in their songs and the physiological factors that could be contributing to these differences as well as how individuals react to hearing the songs of other individuals. McCall told us that the males sing much more than the females but they do not know why but hope to find out with more research. Research has shown though that their vocalisations are used to communicate with one another - these mice 'sing their little hearts out' high up in the Central American cloud forest who would believe that! TIME TO LEAVE
On our last day in San Gerado de Dota the grey clouds that had been building above the mountains made good their threat and opened up, the rain poured down the hillside and hammered down on the tin roof
of our cabana, much heavier than we had been experiencing but it was great to be able to sit inside with our open log fire and listen to the sounds of the forest all around us with the roar of thunder and the crash of lighting, although we did jump when any large tree debris banged on the roof.
We really enjoyed our second time in San Gerado although we did have some technical problems with the power cable failing on my Computer and an even more major problem with my Camera
. Lucky for us we met Nela, a young girl on reception who was extremely kind and managed to locate an Apple supplier in the closest town. Not only that but she offered to pick up a new cable for us on her day off a few days later. She was making the long journey out of the valley into town to do her food shopping as there are no stores at all in San Gerado. This solved the problem and luckily the computer is now working so I am able to type up this first blog so a massive than you to her.
Sadly though my Canon EOS 650D is another story its registered an Error Code 20
and even though we have tried all the suggestions on the internet it is still not working. The grandson of the founder of the hotel tried everything he knew as well to no avail - so unless I can get it fixed I will be unable to take any more zoom photos which is really sad as we head off to Corcovado National Park
I was hoping to photograph lots of wildlife there including the Scarlet Macaw
and of course the Baird’s Tapir and Giant Anteater - I do not think they will let me near enough with my iPhone!
It was sad to leave the valley but we had to move on over the mountains on a 6 hour long bumpy car journey. Another grandson of the pioneering founder was going to drive us to our next destination in Puerto Jimenez
. We were going to take the bus but the company could not guarantee that we would get a seat and we did not fancy standing for such a long journey as this stretch of
deep in the rainforest
the Interamericana Highway around Cerro de la Muerte is where the mountain peaks are sometimes closed due to landslides and washouts as well as dense cloud cover so we hope it keeps clear for us in the car, and if it does - we will hopefully see you there.
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