I. GETTING THERE
I began to plan a trip to Costa Rica, friends asked, “Why go there?”
The following four items, adapted from the travel book Costa Rica:
Adventures in Nature by Ree
Sheck, partially answer that question:
Rica touches the heart and mind, not through towering cathedrals, wide
boulevards or great history but through its incredible natural beauty
and a gracious people disposed to peace, kindness and generosity of
Rica is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world; a
virtual treasure trove of flora and fauna. It is easy to become
enchanted by this natural wonderland of tropical forests, rushing
rivers, exotic animals, high mountains, awesome volcanoes and most of
all, multitudes of birds. It holds great attraction for lovers
of nature and natural history.
Rica has had no army since 1948 and with more than 100 years of
democracy in a region with a history of political strife, the country
often boasts of “teachers, not soldiers.” With a high
literacy rate and a national health care system, the country attracts
immigrants from neighboring Central American countries as well as
those interested in seeing this emerging nation in action.
people of Costa Rica are inclined toward modesty, simplicity and
friendliness and the country is committed to peace. This creates
a climate of trust for travelers.
much research, both on the internet and in the library, I decided to
contact Costa Rica
Expeditions. Started by an American, Michael
Kaye, in 1978 and staffed predominantly by Costa Ricans, this is an
amazing tour company (with an extensive web site which profiles staff
members along with itineraries, hotels and packaged tours. They
definitely live up to their promises and will do everything they can to
make your trip to Costa Rica very special. Since none of their
pre-planned itineraries was exactly what we wanted, one of their travel
consultants, Marco Madrigal, worked with me to set up a personal itinerary
based on natural history with an emphasis on bird watching.
Patiently Marco answered every question I asked, no matter how insane it
might have sounded to him, and he did it all in perfect English!
Recently when we had the opportunity to meet at the end of our trip, he
told me that 100 e-mail messages had passed between us during the setting
up of this itinerary. A friendship developed as Marco and I worked
together. And would you believe he is already working on another
itinerary for us? Costa Rica pulls you back - once is not enough.
birding was our number one objective, we needed a guide.... well, we
actually needed a good guide. What we got was excellence extraordinaire
in the person of Carlos “Charlie” Gomez.
Never has there been
anyone with hearing so acute and eyes so sharp! The ability to call
birds into a clearing was demonstrated over and over by Charlie. He
could reproduce many, many bird calls, but if he could not make the sound
himself, he had a waist pouch containing a small tape recorder and
numerous tapes. Out came the recorder and the proper tape and soon
the birds in the forest were answering back! Once he used that
equipment to demonstrate how birds “mob.” As he played the call
of the predatory Andean pygmy owl, many small birds of different species
gathered in the tree above us flitting back and forth with speed and
producing their fiercest cries. They were gathering together to
drive off the non-existent owl. Calling birds was not the only
talent Charlie possessed. As birds flew over, he would name them
just from their flight pattern. Not only did we get the common name,
we also were told the genus and species of each and every bird we saw.
Tireless in his aim to give us every opportunity to see every bird
possible, Charlie was willing to keep going even when all of us, his
flock, were exhausted. Possessing boundless energy and a great love
for his work, he spurred us onward as day after day our lists grew.
evening before dinner we would gather to mark the birds and creatures we
had seen that day. Every day as we ventured forth, he carried a
massive spotting scope, high powered binoculars, the waist pack with
recorder and tapes, and a large back pack filled with anything we might
need -- umbrella, flashlight, laser light, mirror, first aid kit,
water, sun block and insect repellent. For 13 days he was our guide,
our teacher, even our “mother hen” as on the day he found a pharmacy
to purchase sulfur soap. We were headed to the Savegre region where
chiggers are legendary. According to Charlie, bathing with sulfur
soap before and after hiking in chigger country often saves a person much
grief. Everyone was grateful and the soap actually didn’t smell
bad at all... at the time we were all afraid we’d end up smelling
like rotten eggs.
just one more comment concerning our guide - on top of all his scientific
knowledge, his command of English was outstanding.
of our travel was accomplished by taking single engine, five passenger
planes to remote areas. The other part was done by using a very nice
air conditioned bus. I would be remiss if I
did not mention the excellent pilots whose names I did not learn and the
super driver who held our lives in his hands each time we boarded the bus.
Luis Morales has been driving visitors to his country for over 20 years.
His sense of humor and his patience are second only to his outstanding
driving skills. Luis never took chances and got us to our
destinations safely and always with a smile on his face.
were fortunate to briefly meet Michael and Yolanda Kaye our first day at
Tortuga Lodge. During the time we were on our trip we also met several
other guides who work for Costa Rica Expeditions - Manuel, Jim,
Margherita and Rafael. They were leading groups just as Charlie was
leading ours. Inevitably our paths crossed.
were eight participants in our group:
and Charles Bradford, Boulder, Colorado. Ann and I work together and have
known each other for 12 years. My husband, Jim, and I get together
with her and Charles about four times a year to enjoy a meal and good
conversation, usually centering on travel.
and Jack Dodge, Port St. Lucie, Florida. I met Mary on the Internet before
traveling to Peru in ‘98. She has a wonderful web site which
I found while searching for travel info. We became friends and when
I told Mary we were planning to go to Costa Rica (a place they had already
visited once with International Expeditions), she recommended Charlie who
had been their guide. Subsequently, she and Jack decided to join us.
They are extremely well-traveled and both have the knack to be easy going
Pask, Scunthorpe, South Humberside, England. Irene has been our friend
since 1984 when we met her and her late husband, Bernard, on safari in
Kenya. We traveled with her and Bern again in ‘84 to Egypt, and
they came to Colorado in ‘86 and ‘89. The last time we were
together, she, Jim and I did a five week trip on our own in South Africa
in late ‘99.
Wilson, Scunthorpe, South Humberside, England. Arnold is a friend of
Irene’s and we met him for the first time on this trip. New to
birdwatching he quickly became a reliable spotter and all around good
and Ruth Marie Lyons - that’s my husband and me..... also from Boulder,
March 24, 2001 - Alta
actually began our trip on March 23 leaving home at 8 p.m. to get to the
airport for our midnight plus 40 flight departure. Winging our way
toward Atlanta, we tried to get some sleep because our arrival time of
5:30 a.m. Eastern Time was really 3:30 a.m. Mountain Time. A 5-hour
layover in the airport was helped by finding some overstuffed easy chairs
near a Starbuck’s coffee kiosk. At 10:30 a.m. we were finally on
the way to Costa Rica and moving back one time zone. Stepping off
the plane in the early afternoon we were hit by the warmth and humidity,
two things missing in Colorado at this time of year! A young man
with a Costa Rica Expeditions (CRE) board bearing our name stuck a VIP tag
on us while telling us that we’d be collected on the other side of
Immigration/Customs by another person. We stood in line for the
stamping of passports, picked up the one bag we had checked and were
escorted past the customs people by airport personnel (guess there’s
something to those VIP name tags) out the door into a huge crowd of
drivers and porters all wanting to help us. We were found by Miguel
Alfado who was our transfer guide for CRE. He loaded us up and we
were off to the Hotel Alta for an overnight stay before we began our tour
in earnest. Since the Bradfords were coming from Colorado as well,
we traveled together on the flights. The four of us were the first
of our group to arrive. Along with an information packet, we were
given gift bags containing Costa Rican coffee and Lizano sauce which is
fondly known as “lizard” sauce and found on every dining table in the
country. Marco also sent me two bottles of Chilean red wine which we
put to good use the second night of our trip.
than 30 minutes after getting into our room, the phone rang. It was
Charlie Gomez, our guide, calling to welcome us to Costa Rica, to
apologize for not being at the airport to greet us since he was just
coming off another trip, and to reiterate that we should be ready to roll
the next morning at 5:45 a.m. Miguel had already warned us but
Charlie just wanted to make sure we would be ready. I was really
impressed that he called, but it was just one of many times that I was
impressed by the actions of the employees of CRE.