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Published: March 14th 2016
In the early mornings while at Hotel Tucano, we met with our guide Esteban in the parking lot at about 6:15 am for some excellent birdwatching. Even though it was misty or rainy most of the time, we had some good views of scarlet macaws, collared aricaris (toucans), kiskadees, various tanagers, and Montezuma Oropendolas, because they are nesting in trees bordering the parking area, and we could watch them from covered walkways.
On Saturday we made an excursion north to the border with Nicaragua and had a three-hour boat ride on Rio Frio at Los Chiles. Along the banks we saw howler monkeys, sloths, three kinds of kingfishers, anhingas, several kinds of herons, a sun grebe, passerini tanagers, a basilisk lizard, and caimans (like small alligators). The cutest birds were tiny mangrove swallows that liked to ride the air currents of our boat. Lunch on the way back was something we have already gotten very used to: rice, beans, and pineapple, with a little chicken in the rice.
A roadside shop and ice cream parlor named Las Iguanas was a must-see, not so much for the ice cream as for the iguanas that occupy the trees outside, enticed by
some irresistible iguana treats, no doubt.
When we reached the town closest to our hotel again, Aguas Zarcas, most of the group were able to visit a supermarket, but I, having somehow managed to forget to pack any shorts, ran into the "Ropas Americanas" (American clothing shop) next door. It turned out to be a second-hand clothing shop, so I got some white jeans shorts for $2!
When I raced to catch up with the group again, I saw that they were tide in their usual attitude: looking up into the trees. There was a mother sloth with her baby, only about 15' up. Both were eating leaves, high activity for sloths. Here are some things Esteban told us about sloths. Their territories are only about 4.5 acres. They eat only leaves, which explains their low energy. They come down from the trees only about once a week, to dig a hole and poop. Why bother coming down for that? No one really knows, but it may be because a moth (sloth moth!) that eats the algae that grows on sloth fur (and is therefore beneficial to the sloths), lays eggs in the poop, so it is better
to concentrate it one spot and protect it in a hole. Who knows?
Here is a close-up photo of the mother sloth.
OAT prides itself on doing home visits, and we had a very nice one with a lady named Isabel and her daughter and granddaughter. She let us milk her cow and gave us a lesson in making empanadas.
We also visited an elementary school in Altamira one morning. It contains grades K-6 with about 85 total students. Since 1948 when the military was abolished, there has been free public education for all through high school, and university tuition is only about $300 per semester, so the literacy rate is very high, 96%. The school year runs February to December, and kids wear uniforms and have to provide their own supplies.
At this school, each of us was assigned a child "minder" who took us by the hand and guided us around the school and then to a seat in their open gym/common area. My little guide was reluctant to go with me at first. She was only four years old and the daughter of the head teacher. She slowly warmed up, though, and by
the end of our time there she was talking a mile a minute, lecturing me very seriously and asking me who-knows-what. About the only thing that I got was that she thought it was very important that I take the rice pudding at lunch. The kids did dances for us and sang our national anthems. Then we all played a couple of silly games together, which really broke the ice. All very cute and friendly, and some were almost in tears when we said goodbye.
One final note from the Hotel Tucano: there is a stream that runs down the back of the property, and it has thermal vents that create hot spots. We climbed down into one thermal area, and it was so strange to find spots where one of your arms could be nearly scorched while the other was cool.
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