CHECK OUT THIS PANORAMA GALLERY OF TORTUGA LODGE ... STUNNING!
were up at 5 a.m. Sunday, March 25, to prepare for departure. The
night before we had reorganized our bags in order to leave some things at
the CRE office in San Jose. The first leg of our journey would take
us to Tortuguero Island on the Atlantic Coast. Since we would be
using the small planes to get there, we were limited to 25 pounds of
baggage each and that included cameras, binoculars - everything! At
5:30 a.m. we headed down to the lobby in order to be waiting when Charlie
arrived BUT he was already there. This was another thing we were to
learn about CRE employees: they were always on time; in fact, unless there
were extenuating circumstances, they were ahead of time! The bus was
loaded with the stay-behind luggage first and then everything that was
flying with us went on the back seats. We were commended for the
good job we had done on our packing, but maybe Charlie says that to all
his clients. Those two bottles of wine from Marco found their way
into Charlie’s backpack to become part of the cargo that was going to
drives in the bus became the time for lessons about Costa Rica and this
first one was no exception. We learned that the country is about the
size of the state of West Virginia and that elevation goes from sea level
to 12,529 feet. In general, the temperatures are moderate, varying
more with altitude than time of year. San Jose’s average high is
77 degrees F.; its average low 61 degrees F. Lowland zones range
from the 70s to the 90s, but frost and ice can occur on some of the
loftier peaks. Costa Rica is known around the world for its national
park system which protects about 14 percent of the land. With the
aid of other reserves, about 30 percent of its territory is protected - an
enviable record for any country, remarkable for a developing one.
flight in the small plane was very exciting for me. Jim sat next to
the pilot in order to shoot video. We went through a mountain pass
as well as through clouds. Looking down we could see forests, banana
and coffee plantations as well as small villages along the way. In
30 minutes we were landing at Tortuguero in a gentle, warm rain. Don
Estrada, who was to become our boatman, ferried us across the river from
the landing strip to Tortuga Lodge, just in time for breakfast. And
what a breakfast it was! (A table was reserved just for us and it
became the place where we had evening “class” with Charlie as well as
where we ate.) As we sat down, the table held platters of fresh
fruit (papaya, pineapple, banana, watermelon), a large bowl of granola
(homemade), a pitcher of juice, and a pitcher of milk.
Instantaneously a young man appeared with a pot of wonderful coffee and
another of warm milk - café con leche was the order of the day.
What a nice welcoming breakfast, I thought. Little did I know that
this was only the beginning! All of a sudden there appeared a
platter of warm toast, butter, jam, a platter of pancakes, a pitcher of
syrup, and a bowl of black beans and rice mixed together (the national
dish known as gallo pinto). Well, I thought, this is really
great! But the staff wasn’t finished yet! Next appeared a
platter of bacon and a young lady who wanted to know how we’d like our
eggs cooked!!! My next thought was that Sunday breakfast was the
special one of the week, but on the following morning the same type
breakfast appeared - the only thing that changed was the meat....
sometimes sausages, sometimes ham, sometimes bacon. That first
morning I was ravenous and had a little of everything but on subsequent
mornings, I learned quickly to pace myself. All meals were served
family style at Tortuga Lodge and we really liked the way it was done.
breakfast our rooms were ready and by 9:30 a.m. we were in the boat with
Don and Charlie for our first trip into the canals of Tortuguero National
Park for birding. What a fantastic place! These canals that
run parallel to the sea were built in the 1970s, connecting existing
rivers and lagoons to provide an inland waterway. Roads have yet to
link some of this area with the rest of the country, so this lifeline of
canals and rivers is the highway for canoes loaded with bananas and
coconuts, logs that are floated south, and barges carrying supplies north.
Lyons found much to videotape in Tortuguero.
provided us with a checklist of birds so we did not have to remember
everything we saw which was a blessing because we saw so much! (More about
those lists later) After almost 3 hours of exploring in the boat we were
back at the Lodge for lunch. After lunch Charlie was ready for a
nature walk. Jim, Irene and Arnold took him up on it and the
remainder of us decided we needed a bit of a rest. At 2:30 p.m. we
were back on the water for another round in the park. In addition to
the birds, we got a look at howler and spider monkeys. There was a
cooler in the boat filled with ice, soft drinks and bottled water -
chalk up another one for CRE. Since I drink copious amounts of
water, this was welcomed indeed! The afternoon slipped away and in
no time it was 5:15 and we were returning to the Lodge for quick showers
before our first “class” with Charlie. At 6:30 p.m. we all were
at our table in the dining room with our spiral-bound bird lists in hand.
This gathering became our nightly routine. It was one of my favorite
times of the day. Charlie donned his “teacher’s hat” as we
noted each bird we had seen or heard that day. He remembered each
and every one - thank goodness for that! We used a blank page at the
back of our book to write down the other creatures we had seen as well.
a wonderful day this has been! At dinner, the manager opened the
wine we'd been given and even though he was in San Jose, we drank a toast
to Marco and all the work he'd done to plan our trip for us. A
fantastic start to a trip we have long awaited! By 9:30 we were
exhausted and fell into bed.
March 26: Rain woke us at midnight - very heavy on the roof and I said
a prayer that it would all fall during the night. I got up at 5 a.m.
to meet Charlie and others for birding in the gardens. Arnold, Ann
and I were the early birds - everyone else slept in, if you can call
getting up at 6 sleeping in. Jim Lewis, another CRE guide, was out
with his flock and Charlie introduced us. Ann and I had a great few
minutes watching a kiskadee batter a little lizard senseless before
devouring it.... all God’s creatures must have breakfast. Several
toucans were making short work of fruit in a tree near the kitchen -
oblivious to all the sounds as workers prepared breakfast.. The
sleepy heads in our group met us at breakfast at 6:30 and by 7:45 we were
back in the boat for a morning of great birding. Before returning to
the Lodge we stopped in the village of Tortuguero to look around.
This is where Don lives with his family.
for a larger photo of a basilisk lizard, sometimes called the "Jesus
lizard" for its ability to walk on water.
for larger photo of a Tortuguero canal.
another delicious lunch, we spent some time discussing the pros and cons
of different binoculars with Charlie as well as listening to a tale of his
about a gift of 2 pounds of wild rice and his battle with customs
officials. It was a priceless story about government bureaucracy....
one that many of us could relate to easily.
of the afternoon was spent visiting the Caribbean Conservation
Corporation’s (CCC) Natural History Visitor Center. Colorful,
informative exhibits focus on ecological relationships, highlighting
turtles and the area’s other diverse wildlife as well as the work of the
CCC. A short, well done video presentation rounds out the exhibits.
Founded in 1959 to support the work of the late Dr. Archie Carr, CCC is
the oldest sea turtle conservation organization in the world. It
strives to preserve sea turtles and other marine and coastal life through
research, training, education and protection of natural areas.
went back to the village for Charlie to identify a bird that a villager
had found. It turned out to be a pet budgie that must have escaped
its cage somewhere and been blown here by the previous night's storm.
By the time we arrived, the poor little thing had expired. When we
left the village, Charlie suggested that we take a walk on the beach near
the air strip. As we got out of the boat the rain began again but we
had big umbrellas from the Lodge and they kept us dry. The storm
blew over quickly as we walked down the beach amongst the debris which
included sargasso from the Sargasso Sea! There were some turtle
tracks as well as places where eggs had not hatched from previous seasons.
It was a different afternoon and those of us who went along had a chance
to stretch our legs a bit on the beach. The sand is a gray-black
color due to the content of volcanic matter. We walked back to the
boat along the airstrip with Charlie cautioning us to look behind
ourselves every now and then. It had never occurred to me that one
would not hear a plane coming - the noise is evident only after a plane
has flown over you!
list time again at 6:30. The bar was hopping so several of us
indulged in drinks. The kitchen brought out fried breadfruit strips
as an appetizer. Much better than the breadfruit I steamed when we
lived in Hawaii! Another great meal tonight - shrimp, chicken, rice
and beans and lots of delicious vegetables topped off by mango mousse for
instructions for tomorrow were as follows: Meet at 6:30 a.m. for an hour
of spotting birds with Charlie, then breakfast, shower and fly out at
11:30 to La Fortuna.... little did we know how this would all change.....
Charlie had mentioned a day or so ago that there had been some pyroclastic
flow at Arenal Volcano which was our destination.
March 27: Rain came down hard off and on all night. We did our
early morning walk with umbrellas. At breakfast we were told that
our flight might be delayed a bit because the rain was still falling.
At 9 a.m. it began to really pour hard again. We were to meet at 10
to turn in our bags and pay our bar bills. The humidity felt like
110% - really good for the skin after the dryness of Colorado.
Charlie cautioned that this weather might not bode well for seeing the
volcano, but this is soft adventure travel and we will take what we can
get..... and we have NO control over the weather....
9:30 Charlie came to me and said, “Tell everyone to be ready to move
immediately.” Just as immediately the weather worsened with the
wind picking up and the rain falling in torrents. But we did as we
had been told, brought our bags to the reception, paid our bar bills,
checked out and then went to sit on the covered veranda and stay out of
trouble. Charlie was on the phone with HQ frequently. At about
11:30 the decision was made that we would abort the flight to La Fortuna
(since the planes could not get to Tortuguero) and stay one more night.
We would miss Arenal but with the weather there the volcano would not be
visible anyway. There had been another pyroclastic flow last night
and the reports said the volcano was socked in from top to bottom.
Charlie was apologetic when he came to me with that news, but I told him
to do whatever he needed to because safety was utmost for all of us.
We could roll with the punches and do what needed to be done. There
was no need to jeopardize anyone, be it pilot, guide or visitor.
goes without saying that because we couldn't leave Tortuguero, others
couldn't get in. And it also goes without saying that we had another
2:30 p.m. the weather cleared enough that Charlie called Don to come from
the village so we could go out in the boat. We headed for the park
again, getting up speed while passing the sandbar. Suddenly Don
wheeled the boat around and stopped so that we could see the birds feeding
on the sandbar very well. In an instant, Charlie was on his feet,
binoculars to his eyes. He got so excited I was afraid he would jump
out of the boat! On that sandbar was a new bird - a NEW bird for
Charlie to add to his life list! A jaeger that had certainly been
blown off course by the storm. Upbeat and smiling is usual for
Charlie, but now he was positively euphoric! And his euphoria was
catching! There was speculation on how the storm had kept us at Tortuguero
and if it hadn’t we wouldn’t have seen the jaeger. The rest of
the boat trip was a gift for sure. We slowly wended our way through
some of the canals in the park watching the animals come out to dry.
There were at least four sloths,(including a mother with baby) hanging out
to dry as well as lots and lots of monkeys.
to see the monkeys of Tortuguero.
the kingfishers on our list were present and accounted for as well as many
other birds. The afternoon passed quickly and we returned with just
enough time for a rushed shower before “class.” When we got to
our table, Charlie was animatedly regaling the staff with the tale of
finding his new bird. Even though we were missing the socked-in
volcano, this was far better.
delicious dinner.... mahi mahi in shrimp sauce, vegetables of all sorts
and caramel flan for dessert. Conversation at dinner centered on
schools in Costa Rica - private and public. We learned that Vicki,
Charlie’s wife, teaches biology in a high school.
decision was made to attempt an early start tomorrow because we had to fly
back to San Jose to begin the trip to Monteverde. As we parted,
Charlie remarked to me that we had a great group and he appreciated our
willingness to be flexible and accept what comes. Laughingly, I told
him I had handpicked this group and they’d better be flexible.
Actually, as I had said before, we are all safety conscious and want only
what is best from that viewpoint.
stop: Monteverde ...