Costa Rica is a nature lovers’ paradise. Twenty-seven percent of the country is set aside in well-developed national parks and biological reserves that protect large tracts of unspoiled tropical wilderness. Combine this with the highest standard of living in Central America and you have a wonderful place to explore.
I'm not a serious bird watcher, but it is impossible not to be impressed with the elusive Quetzal. At 5 AM, we threw together a few items into our small daypacks and set off from San Jose leaving most things behind at the hotel for safe keeping. After three hours, the bus dropped us off roadside at a dirt road that connected with the highway. With six miles yet to go, we hitched a ride with a local who helped us find a cheap bed in the countryside for the night. This left the afternoon free to go explore. We walked through the forest and saw every kind of bird imaginable, except the Quetzal. At the end of our four hour walk we were crossing a stream on a tree that was that had fallen and been converted into a footbridge. As we were crossing, a large hummingbird hovered in front of me, face level for several seconds, close enough that I could have reached out and touched him. With his rapid wings creating a humming sound, he looked at me almost as if saying to be patient, good things are coming. And with a blink, he was gone. It is always special when you can enjoy nature up close and personal.
Walking up the road we came across some serious bird watchers who had set up a spotting scope: at last, the beautiful Quetzal! A male bird with vibrant green tail feathers, 15-18 inches long that danced in the air as it flew from branch to branch. A large red patch on his belly, which according to Maya legend, is the blood spilled when the Spanish conquered them, and a black Mohawk that crowned his majestic head. To view the bird through the powerful spotting scope was like watching it on National Geographic, live, with no commercials. Eventually it flew off, and so did we, smiling.
From there we set off to see the volcano Arenal, an active volcano close to the small town of Fortuna. A large percentage of the time, it is covered by clouds, hiding from view the enormous display of power. This day we were lucky, not a single cloud covered the growing and grumbling mountain. As we watched it, I could see trails of white smoke racing down the side of the volcano, the only visible sign in the daylight hours of the magma balls flying down the mountain. That evening, a small cloud formed at the top, leaving most of the mountain clear for viewing. These eruptions were spectacular as large balls of red magma flew through the nighttime sky like fireworks, generating oohs and ahhs from the onlookers. Our guide told us stories of people who ventured too close only to be covered over; he insured us that at our viewing point we were safe, but I thought, yeah right, until it really blows.
Our last venture into nature was a two-day walk covering 24 miles in the rainforest national park of Corcovado. Situated on the Osa Peninsula, the park is filled with birds, mammals and six species of cat. My favorite animals were the green parrots and the Scarlet Red Macaws. Undoubtedly, you know you are in the wild tropics when you pass under trees filled with these noisy birds. By the time we were finished, I'm sure I sweated out every impure thing I've ever drank in my life. Walking on the deserted beach in the heat and humidity with a heavy pack on my back for six hours has cured any romantic idea of being stranded on a deserted island for now. I did fulfill a personal dream, though.
When I started this trip, I wanted to see the Jesus Christ lizard. My trip through Corcovado provided the opportunity to see this little guy, standing on his two back legs, running across the top of the water. It's a good sign that such small things in life can still excite me.
Our trip to Corcovado required us to do some hitchhiking. The park is off the main track a bit. On our way there, we were picked up by a university engineering student by the name of George, 21, on his way to work on a hospital building project. His message to the U.S.; "those with power need to be responsible with it, or it can cause great harm. It's important to have an outside looking, to understand the world you are a part of."
Those of you who are traveling with me, are in a small way doing just that, attempting to understand the world we are apart of.