An Unforgettable Journey to a Rich Land --Part IV

Trip Report by Ruth Marie Lyons ( March 30-April 1, 2001)

Photographs by Jack Dodge




Friday, March 30: Albergue de Montana Savegre  (aka Cabinas Chacon)

Early breakfast and on the road by 6:45 a.m which made Charlie happy.  He carefully counted noses as he told us the story of once losing a participant.  That group was larger than ours, he confided.  We bumped our way along the dirt road making frequent stops for bird sightings, including the turquoise browed mot-mot which was spectacular. 

Our route took us across the Pan American Highway to the Coast Highway.  We could see the Pacific Ocean at times and when we came to the Taracoles River we stopped to see the American crocodiles that sun themselves along the banks.  

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Click for better look at several American crocodiles

We got a lecture about crossing the highway as a group.  Drivers in Costa Rica do not yield the right of way to pedestrians, they use them for target practice!  Shortly afterward we took another dirt road, although not quite as rough as the one from Monteverde.  We passed through plantations of bananas and palms that are grown for their oil.  The palm nuts that are crushed for the oil were interesting to see.  This dirt road took us to Rancho Casa Grande where Charlie had arranged for us to have lunch.  Another delicious meal of salad, seabass, vegetables, rice and beans.  The tastiest thing was the drink we were served - a refresco made of soursop fruit blended with crushed ice. 

The grounds of the Casa Grande were lovely.  The trees and shrubs were in flower, the pool was pristine and the pet green parrot kept us entertained.  During the meal a troop of squirrel monkeys stopped by for a bite to eat at the feeder where the restaurant owner puts tidbits for them.  All too soon we had to depart.  There was still a goodly distance to travel and Charlie wanted us at our destination before nightfall. 

Our next stop was in San Isidro de El General for fuel.  This was the time that Charlie raced to a drugstore to buy the sulfur soap for us.  Those bars of soap were really useful.  Also it was here that we rejoined the Pan American Highway.  Traffic was heavy and the road was full of twists and turns but Luis guided the bus safely to the turn off dirt road that led down into the valley along the Savegre River.  Night had fallen as we reached our destination - 220 miles and 11.5 hours after we had begun.  It was not a difficult day because we had a bus with air conditioning, a super driver, a guide who kept us busy with sightings, and many interesting stops along the way. 

We  had a  great dinner of trout from the Savegre River that passes through the Chacon property, lots of wonderful vegetables and black beans and rice with flan for dessert.  The food is delicious and healthy. 

At 7,200 feet altitude, the air is quite chilly at night and in the early morning.  Our rooms were equipped with small space heaters which were very welcomed.  Each morning I laid my shirt over the heater before putting it on. 

Saturday, March 31: Albergue de Montana Savegre

What a beautiful place!  We are staying on a family farm surrounded by highland cloud forest.  It is owned by Don Efrain Chacon who in 1955 bushwhacked his way through 50 kilometers of forest to the site where the farm now stands.  The hillsides are dotted with apple and pear orchards as well as old growth forests.  If we are to see another quetzal, this is where it will be. 

We joined for a cup of coffee at 6  a.m. before getting into the bus and heading to an area where one of the family members had told Charlie we might find resplendent quetzals.  They have recently been coming to this particular spot.  And come they did! Both a male and female, to eat the wild avocados in the forest.  The spotting scope was set up and we all had a very good look at these beautiful birds.  Now the self-imposed pressure was off of Charlie’s shoulders. 

Some will wonder what is so special about this particular bird.  A member of the trogon family, the resplendent quetzal was a symbol of freedom and independence to some indigenous Central American people.  It thrives in high mountainous regions of Costa Rica.  Beautiful beyond belief, this fantastic iridescent bird with its blue-green head, neck and body and its crimson belly will take your breath away on first sight.  The male sports very long tail streamers which flutter sensuously as he sits in a wild avocado tree.  The birds are endangered because of destruction of their habitat.  And they will not live in captivity so you will never see one in a zoo or aviary. 

Happily we headed back to the Lodge for breakfast and our next adventure.

  At 9 a.m., two four-wheel drive vehicles arrived to take us to the top of the mountain for our morning hike.  One of the vehicles was driven by Don Efrain himself!  It made me proud to shake the hand of this gentleman who had struggled with much adversity to develop his farm on this mountainside.  Even though he is reported to be in his mid-70s, one would never suspect it.  

Spiny Malachite lizard


* Back to Getting There 
Back to Tortuguero 
* Back to Monteverde
* On to Corcovado
* Jump to Sarchi and San Jose

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Click for a better view of the Savegre Mountain Valley

The hike down the mountain brought us more birds, new plants and delicious blackberries and raspberries.  It also brought me a blister on the top of one of my toes.... it’s always harder for me to go downhill when I’m hiking.  Discretion being the better part of valor, I decided to opt out of the afternoon hike.  A decision I would later regret.  But the afternoon was not wasted or lost because Mary Dodge and I sat on a bench in the garden area and managed to identify a few birds ourselves.  When the rain began we took cover under a picnic shelter and chatted.  It was nice to have time just to talk with Mary.  She is such an interesting person. 

After the rain, heading back to the cabins we ran into Charlie, Jim, Arnold, Irene and Ann.  The afternoon hike had netted another pair of quetzals.  These were low enough in the trees that Jim was able to catch them on the video which made him very happy!  Had we not seen the first ones early this morning I would have been greatly disappointed.  This way, I was only slightly sorry that I had given in to my blistered toe. 

We spent some time on the veranda of the lodge watching all the hummingbirds at the feeders.  They are amazing creatures.  By the time night had fallen, Charlie had those little fellows lighting on his fingers!  I'll never forget his remark, “God was inspired when He made the hummingbirds!”  How right he is!   

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Click for better view of hummingbirds.

After another wonderful meal, we marked our bird lists and revisited the quetzal sightings.  Before leaving the table, Charlie exhibited another talent and gave us a list of ingredients and the method to use to make gallo pinto.  Since it was apparent he knew his way around the kitchen as well as the forest, I asked about the dessert called Tres Leches and we ended up with two recipes!  A little later that evening, Charlie graciously agreed to sign our copy of Birds of Costa Rica, which is the ultimate birding guide to the country and a book for which he helped do research.

Sunday, April 1: Albergue de Montana Savegre 

Went out at 6 again this morning to try to find the quetzals but it was not to be.... besides, all of us had seen them.  After breakfast we boarded the bus and Luis drove us up to Cerro de la Muerte (Peak of Death) so named because of the very cold nights that occur there at 11,000 feet.  Charlie said it was also called Cerro de la Buena Vista for the wonderful views and that its newest name is The Towers because the top of the mountain is studded with radio and microwave towers.  From that aspect, it looks very much like Lookout Mountain back home in Colorado!  We saw a number of birds as well as alpine plants and flowers.  It was near this area where Charlie used his bird tapes to cause the small birds to “mob” after hearing the Andean pygmy owl call.

There were many people enjoying lunch at the Lodge when we returned.  It is a day trip for people who live in San Jose.  A popular weekend jaunt, they come and bring their families.  During the meal the skies opened up and rain came down in torrents.  We lingered over coffee waiting for the rain to slack watching the adorable children who were there with their parents.   

A last hike in the afternoon was offered but only Arnold, Irene, Jim and I joined Charlie.  Everyone else opted for some rest since the clouds had moved down into the valley and it was misty.  Actually it was a wonderful mist.  I have enjoyed all of this humidity since Colorado is so very dry.  We started out by visiting a possible quetzal site but they were somewhere else. 

At one point we had to seek shelter from the rain so during that time I took the opportunity to discuss a return itinerary with Charlie.  He quickly enumerated places where he liked to take clients and where birds were prevalent and offered to pass the information on to Marco for pricing. 

During the wait for the rain to cease, Charlie also told us how he had been coming to this area since he was a young boy.  It seems he had an uncle who encouraged his love of nature at an early age and brought him to this high valley.

 Tomorrow morning we must leave this wonderful high valley.  I have felt such peace here that I asked Charlie to include the Chacon farm on our next itinerary but to make all the other places new.  Packing was the order of the evening after dinner and bird lists were completed.  We are headed to Corcovado Lodge which means part of the luggage will stay in San Jose and we must choose carefully what we take as the weight limit for flying will be imposed again.  According to our fearless leader, I will definitely need my hiking staff.  Truer words were never spoken!

Next stop: Corcovado Tent Lodge