Meet a Montezuma Oropendola, they are, quite simply, one of the most impressive and incredible birds that I have had the pleasure of spending time with. Not only are they a joy to look at, they are also incredible to watch.
The thing is, you hear them before you tend to spot them. Despite them being quite big birds, it’s not their bulk which attracts your attention in the treetop canopy, it’s their many display sounds which range from the crackling of sheet lightning to the most bizarre gurgling, all of which is designed to attract females. We were fortunate enough to be in Costa Rica during their breeding season and we spent many a happy hour in our treetop cabin watching their elaborate courtship rituals which involve the male swinging forward on the branch to display his beautiful yellow tail feathers whilst gurgling as loud as he can. Heck – even I was attracted – this is seriously attractive stuff! However, I was not the intended audience, and if the display is not up to scratch, females will choose to mate with a superior performer. The stakes are high!
As the sun sets, an empty river boat returns to dock on the narrow spit of land that is Tortuguero, Costa Rica, closely followed by a barely visible silhouetted bird in flight.
Tortuguero National Park is located on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, and covers an area of 77,032 acres (31,174 ha). Tortuguero is bordered on the north by the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge (with habitats and climate similar to Tortuguero), to the south by the mouth of the Parismina River and the Cariari National Wetlands, the town of Tortuguero at the mouth of the Tortuguero River, and the Dr. Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge, which is a biological station to carry out turtle tagging program run by the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (Now known was the Sea Turtle Conservancy). The park has worked with the neighboring village of Tortugueroto help its inhabitants understand that preserving their natural resources is the key to encourage eco-tourism. It’s a stunning place to visit – as a tourist you can watch the sea turtles lay eggs in the evening, take a dawn boat ride to spot Boa Constrictors lazing on tree branches, sloths hanging from branches and monkeys bounding through treetops, then in the afternoon you can take a kayak out by yourself to explore the narrow waterways of this incredible place.
We loved Costa Rica – it was a largely unplanned and last minute holiday, but one which was so enriching and we cannot wait to return. Until then, I have shared all kinds of trip reports, reviews and hints and tips on the Taraji Blue Costa Rica blog – so if you fancy visiting, why not check it out?
A spider monkey splays its body across a fern-like tree, making it difficult to work out which limb is which.
Geoffroy’s spider monkey is considered endangered by the IUCN, as it’s primarily distributed amongst the narrow tracts of rainforest in Central America and is susceptible to habitat loss through deforestation. This is seen from the riverways around Tortuguero, Costa Rica.
Hypno-Toad, a Crazy Storm, Johnny Walker and The Milky Way… not the usual way to celebrate ten years of marriage, but it was certainly memorable and I would not change it for the world.
Our ten year wedding anniversary plans changed at the last minute – we were supposed to be watching Atlantis take to the skies in Florida, but the shuttle flight was rescheduled and we were therefore lumbered with a return flight to Florida which we had to take. We therefore took the flight and then connected at last minute to San Jose in Costa Rica – a move which was largely last minute, but became one of the best travel decisions we’ve made.
Counting the pennies, we booked ourselves into largely cheap and spartan accommodation – but refused to compromise on views and experience. That’s how we found ourselves in a tiny one bed hut on the hills surrounding Arenal Volcano on the evening of our tenth wedding anniversary. After zip-lining through the rainforest that afternoon we’d settled on a nice steak in the restaurant that evening, followed by a whisky on the plastic, rickety chairs outside our accommodation. As the sky blackened, we were treated to a welcome cool breeze and the distant sound of thunder. As the temperature dropped, huge cane toads emerged from the undergrowth and gathered around our feet, their frantic burps never failing to shock me out of my seat. Shining the torch on them illuminated their yellow eyes in a hypnotizing and enchanting way – I felt myself crawling closer and closer to them to try and take a picture, only to run screaming as they hopped fearlessly towards my face. As the toads were largely winning the battle, I decided to head off in search of armadillos and bats – finding both, literally, on the doorstep to our hut. Feeling very happy with myself, and after a few trips back to the bar to restock my ‘lemonade’ (ah hem), we started to set up the camera to take some timelapse and video, as well as capture some astrophotography.
The views were out of this world. The clouds parted and about 1am we were treated to a totally clear sky above the volcano. The Milky Way was visible with the naked eye and all around us stars twinkled like fairy lights. This was one of the first times I had ever seen the night sky so clear. I was transfixed and in love.
After many hours studying the typography of the region on the internet, and scouring over local maps, we had chosen this specific accommodation because we knew there was no towns, hills or accommodation directly between us and Arenal Volcano, therefore we knew that light pollution would be at a minimum and the landscape ideal for some nightime shots.
I love this image, but cannot take any credit for this. This is all Alistair’s hard work. It captures the view we had perfectly that night – the only omissions are the streaks of fork lightening as they bounced off the sides of the volcano, and the thunder bolts which vibrated through the ground like after shocks.
Ali would say that, technically, this is not a great starscape – that he left the exposure running for too long (101 seconds) and because he was so captivated by the open skies he didn’t re-take this view, but I love it – brings back very fond memories.
Additional images from our time in Costa Rica are available in our Taraji Blue photo gallery. We welcome your feedback and comments.
If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica you might find our Costa Rica blog of interest – it contains detailed reviews of trips and routes to take and the accommodation available.
I could not celebrate Costa Rica week here on Taraji Blue withour re-sharing this blog post. First written and shared back in May 2011 it’s a tale of pure stupidity, naivety and sheer determination… and it is one of my favourites…
Well I never knew there was any such place where one could have their tyres repaired and their teeth whitened in Costa Rica – less so did I ever imagine we’d end up there! This is a tale of jeopardy, bad luck and pure stupidity.
Lets start with the stupidity….in one of the most remote places in Costa Rica, 30k from the nearest village, we parked our car for three nights whilst we took a boat to Tortuguero and promptly but accidentally left the lights on. On our return the battery was inevitably dead. Thus followed 2 hours of phone calls and negotiation with local farm workers and coach drivers to procure the necessary battery, spanner and jump leads. We tried the jump leads first, but the battery was too dead to respond, we so watched as the last tourists departed the car park and drove off into the distance. In very broken Spanish, and using a free Daily Mail Spanish guide, we half explained our predicament to locals with lots of pointing, arm waving, noise mimickery and gesticulation. This, and the charms of a local woman, persuaded one begrudged boyfriend to return to his boat and lend us his battery to trick the car into starting. With lots of pouting and huffing, we got the battery started, showering praise, money and thanks on the locals who helped.
Now for the bad luck…Almost three hours later we were well on our way, daring not to stop, switch the engine off or use air con for fear of draining the charging battery. We bounced along the dust track, eager to make up up lost time with a long journey ahead. Not having the required tools to tighten the battery bolts to the car, every bounce, bump and necessary serve lurched my heart back into my mouth in fear of the battery bouncing loose of its connections, rendering us back to square one.
After a brief pause to lift the bonnet and check the battery was ok, we continued on our way and made it 2.5 hours later to the town of Guapiles. We were feeling much better in ourselves, and had started to enjoy the attention from the locals who, for the last half hour, had been running alongside the vehicle, shouting and waving. We’d assumed this was curiosity and waved back, smiling. It was not until we pulled up at the lights in Guapiles that a local shouted to us in English that we had a puncture. I cannot repeat what language I bestowed on our car, but suffice to say it was far from complimentary. We were quite literally now at the end of the road and as far as we could go without switching the engine off. We turned around and made our way back to the many garages lining the road between Guapiles and Cariari, opting, in our haze, to choose one that specialised in tyres and dentistry! Having little option, and enjoying the quirkiness of the situation, we pulled in, dragged out our Daily Mail Spanish Language guide from the glove box and tried to explain our predicament. Within two minutes the car was ramped, and in another 5, the tyre fixed and replaced – all for the bargain price of £1.00. It did make me wonder whether their dentistry was of an equivalent price range and quality and I was almost tempted to try the whitening. Alas, time was of the essence and we’d lost about 4 hours by this point and faced the danger of travelling on mountainous roads in the pitch black – a big no, no. So onwards we pressed…
Into jeopardy i.e right into rush hour in San Jose. 1 hour spent in traffic, going no-where with nothing to do but helplessly watch the sun descend behind the mountainous horizon. We were now approximately 5 hours behind schedule and facing the prospect of driving toward Arenal Volcano in the dead of night.
Escaping the traffic, we eventually headed onto the Pan American highway and put our foot down, eager to make up the miles. This is easier said than done because we faced two new obstacles…..a rapidly emptying petrol tank and locals wandering the roads with no illumination what so ever. I felt like a blind man trying to dodge bullets. I quickly turned the sat nav’s attention to local petrol stations, all of which seemed to be on the opposite side of an impassable road, or taking us way off track. We therefore settled for one in a local town off Highway 1, which the sat nav said was 1.7k away. This is where and how my respect for sat nav’s ended. It either recognised the day we’d had and wanted to inject some false hope into a futile situation or it downright lied to add fuel to the fire. 40 minutes later, with the engine coughing on sand, we were high in the hills surrounding Highway 1, on roads with perilous turns, severe drops and no signage, facing local drivers who were using the roads as a rally track with no regard for lost, angry and defeated tourists. It was the type of road we’d avoid in the daytime, never mind at 7pm at night. We had little option than to keep going, pulses racing, tears forming and hope sinking to new levels.
We eventually made it into a town and were directed round and round one way systems looking for a petrol station that did not seem to exist. At this point the sat nav proudly announced we’d arrived at our destination – it’d sent us to a bus station! Dejected and patience at an all time low, we asked the locals for help, and were sent bouncing and stuttering into the next village where, to our immense relief we found a petrol station which was open. We were now at least 6 hours behind schedule and had taken a significant de-tour off track to get to the petrol station.
We did eventually reach our destination late that night, but were many hours later than expected and shattered and weakened from the journey. Thankfully, the owner of the accommodation had waited up for us and would honour our late arrival with a cold beer and soft bed.
It’s a day and a journey we can now look back on and laugh at. We can also learn from it, but will hopefully never have to repeat it!