At 5 am, our feline friend “Alejandro” (see previous post) decides to start wailing outside our door in the hope we will let him to roam indiscriminately for a few minutes until he is ready to leave and harass his new found friends next door. Yep folks, cats are the same no matter where you go.
It’s hard to go back to sleep but we get a couple more hours of shut-eye before stumbling off to breakfast. A few different species of hummingbirds amass around feeders hung around the lodge’s porch, including a very large variety known as the violet saberwing. We talk to an older couple who have been to the country 7 or 8 times and are currently in a Spanish immersion school.
Monteverde Orchid Garden (Copyright: Robert Schuman 2011)
Before heading southward to Manual Antonio, we make a stop at the Monteverde Orchid Garden in Santa Elena. At best guess the bubbly girl who shows us through the garden is no more than 19. She reveals that before this job, she worked at the local butterfly garden but was skeeved out by the caterpillars. She appears happy to be surrounded by the scent of flowers. Before starting the walk, she quickly describes the structure all orchids have varying around the theme of petals, sepals, and labellum. While it is counter intuitive, it appears many orchids are actually very minuscule and often epiphytic (they take up real estate on the surface of other, larger plants). She points out flowers that emit delicate odors, and other that have a savory aroma – one in particular smells faintly like chicken soup. Some are exotically strange in their appearance, almost alien. A visual highlight is an orchid whose flowers resemble tiny little people.
The beautiful detail of it all, is each orchid has its own unique pollinator – in most cases varieties of insects, but research has discovered at least one species whose successful pollination hinges on its relationship with a species of mouse. And most of these delicate flowers are fast in an evolutionary battle of seduction, honing their colors, their aromas, their shapes and whatever wiles may be at their disposal all in the name of reproduction. In addition, the success of an orchid is intimately intertwined with fungi that nutrify the orchid through it’s root system, forming a symbiotic complex called a mycorrhiza.
If all those details are not fantastic enough, your last stop at the orchid garden has you on hands and knees,magnifying glass in hand, peering at Platystele jungermannioides, the smallest known flowering orchid in the world (though it looks like it’s record might soon be challenged). Rob has me hold a pencil tip close to the flower for purposes of scale, while he snaps a few photos.
Platystele jungermannioides - Smallest Flowering Orchid (Copyright: Robert Schuman 2011)
We leave Santa Elena to its thoughts and start to wind down towards Manuel Antonio, our last scheduled stop for the trip. Roads slowly turned into paved throughways. We stop at a roadside stand and pick out three or four snacks with a great deal of excited expectation and are sorely disappointed when we find out we have inadvertently purchased some bitter sugared grapefruit along with several other things that look a whole helluva lot better than they taste. Rob also adeptly negotiates with a gas station attendant who tries to overcharge us by $30.
We pass over the Tárcoles River, apparently one of the most sewage-polluted rivers in the country, and park near the police check point, a recent step in discouraging the tourist-targeted mugging incidents the bridge is reputed for. We follow lines of people milling about the sides peering down at the considerably sized specimens of American Crocodile below.
American Crocodile - Tárcoles River (Copyright: Robert Schuman 2011)
Once on the road again, rolling hills soon give way to miles and miles of palm trees planted in long parallel lines. These are African palms, harvested for their oil, a major export of the region. Quepos, the little town above Manual Antonio has a long intimate history with the practice. Manual Antonio hosts the most visited national park in the country.
We check into our hotel, the Casitas Eclipse, and minutes after putting our things down in the top level of the Mediterranean-style villa we will stay in for the next three nights, a Toucan alights on the adjacent tree and starts picking at some berries of the top-most branches. An afternoon storm that is responsible for knocking out internet access to the region for the next three days passes through throwing out haphazard bolts of lightning. We take a quick and dark walk behind the hotel grounds and find the mother-lode of red-eyed tree frogs on some tarps covering a water trough of some kind.
Red-Eyed Tree Frog (Copyright: Robert Schuman 2011)
We receive sub-par service at El Avion, a restuarant/bar across the street. The bar is constructed in the gutted interior of a cold war era plane. The back of the wine list recounts the history of the airplane,taking great panes to emphasize the United States’ rather large part in shady dealings within Nicaragua during the 80’s. We are seated in the back, and though dinner left something to be desired, I don’t think there exists enough words in the world to convey the view. The combination of murky hillsides set with the small glowing lights of domestic life, the small thin wavering line of the surf, the rolling soundscape of tropical life, the air hung heavy with the dew of the storm, the errant, brilliant effulgence of the dying lightning – all burned a surreal moment into my mind’s memory that I cannot share with anyone who will not see the exact same dream themselves.
Casitas Eclipse Gecko (Copyright: Robert Schuman 2011)
Our evening will next take us to a little bar called “The Bat Cave”, part of an up-scale hotel called “La Mansion Inn.” Entrance to the bar is granted only via a tiny little door meant to give the place an exotic feel furthered by the simulated cave wall running the length of the bar stools. We watch the hipster Costa Rican bartender mix our drinks (mine a virgin daquiri) with Dexter-like precision, measuring every amount of alcohol being mixed and even donning gloves for some strange reason. It was a spectacle which produced unremarkable drinks. Our whole trip took a more remarkable turn when a man named Charlie walked in to take over bartending for the night. As we soon found out, his style of pouring little swigs of this and that into the blender with a significantly lower dose of precision and some haphazard, all the while producing tasty concoctions, was telling of his personality and take on life as a whole.
After a few minutes of casual conversation, Charlie reveals he is originally from Los Angeles but has lived in Costa Rica for the past twenty years of his life. On a whim, I ask Charlie for some suggestions about things to do in the area, most specifically regarding wildlife. I tell him we are planning on taking Sunday to visit Manuel Antonio National Park as it will be closed on Monday and he promises to get a hold of us and has suggested we meet his friend Claudia, and go horseback riding along the beach in Matapalo, the town where he lives. This will prove to be a fantastic choice but we will not know this for at least another day. For now, we drive back to sleep sated dreams.