Costa Rica, Part 2: Animals & Adventures

Sharing more from my September 2016 trip to Costa Rica—see Part 1 here. In this section I'm remembering the animals that we saw around the country and the adventures that we had away from our home-base of Finca Luna Nueva.

On our journey from the airport to the farm we stopped at a wayside restaurant for lunch, Mi Rancho.


I was rather surprised that a mariachi band was a prominent (LOUD) part of lunch here.


I ordered the "Tico Plate" with fish: the best fish I've ever had--loaded with flavor (did they marinate it before breading and frying?).



Average roadside view from our bus--one-story storefront.



99% of houses we saw are small and one story




Day 3: Ziplining! I was nervous at first but then I loved it! We did the SkyTrek ziplines and I highly recommend them. The staff made me feel 100% safe and cared for, but they were also hilarious and fun. Ziplining was THRILLING.




This is a typical view in one direction while ziplining. We were working our way down a mountain/hill near Lake Arenal.



Arenal volcano on the way back to the town of La Fortuna. We were ziplining on the other side, where nobody has lived since a huge eruption in 1968. Now it's a national park with lots of adventure outfitter places.



After ziplining we lunched in the nearby town of La Fortuna




Open-air restaurants are very typical




Our server wore traditional garb.




We shared these appetizers, plantain fritters




I HAD to order the Volcano Rice... how could I resist? It wasn't great (kind of salty, clearly a way of using up scraps that don't go into other things), but it looked awesome.




We wandered around La Fortuna for a bit after lunch. I took this photo because the restaurant on the right is called "Rechicken" which I thought was hilarious.



Back at the Farm: Finca Luna Nueva is part of a beekeeping initiative called Sacred Bees of the Tropics. The goal is to create habitats for Mariola bees, a tiny stingless bee that's native to Costa Rica.





The farm has several bee-houses. They appear uninhabited, but if you look closely you can see teeny bees coming and going.


 

This is a close-up of the tubelike entrance to the hive. The bees are golden with gemlike blue & green heads. Apparently Mariola honey is even more beneficial than Manuka honey, the prized New Zealand export.


 

There is a bird in the middle of this photo I've identified as a Gray-necked Wood-rail. This rock wall is right across from the farm restaurant, and the Wood-rail had a relationship with the kitchen staff. It would wander up to the kitchen door, get a treat, and then fly up this wall and disappear under the hedge with its bounty.


 
One evening on the farm we put on our muck boots and went for a night-walk with flashlights and cameras. We saw frogs (like this one hanging out on a tree), a snake, skinks, spiders, a large mouse-like thing in a tree, bats, sleeping birds, a glowing caterpillar, and a bullet ant.


 

Costa Rican national treasure, the Red-eyed Leaf Frog



We wandered around the farm one evening and surprised a coati--it was BIG and in full profile it was also quite long (here it's looking at me, but it has a long head and pointy nose). I'd say it's the size of an extremely large raccoon.

Day 4: On the Wednesday of our trip we drove north to take a wetlands river tour. On the way we stopped at Restaurante Las Iguanas, where a nearby bridge lets you look down on the treetops (and pipes) and the many iguanas that lounge there.

 


The white spiky iguana in the middle left is apparently the Big Daddy of them all.






 

The bus driver and our guide were very good about screeching to a halt and pulling over for animal photo ops. This is a sloth moving slowly along a tree limb—it was easy to spot because a busload of tourists had already pulled over to take photos.


 
The river tour, like the entire trip, was amazing. Being rainy "green" season, the river was high. There were also very few other tourists. (We heard that in high season, around March, the Rio Frio river is a zoo of boats and guides with microphones. We were basically alone on the river.) This is a Snowy Egret. Nearby we also saw Jacanas, the birds that walk around on lily pads (I didn't get a photo).


Our guide identified this as a type of fig tree. Doesn't it look like Celtic knotwork?


 
Two birds, I believe the grey-ish one is a Night Heron.



Under those two birds and lounging on a branch (slightly right of center) was a bright green Basilisk Lizard, aka Jesus Christ Lizard. Other expedition members actually saw one of these running on the water's surface but I missed it.



This is the Anhinga, also called Snake Bird (because when it's swimming in the water with its head out of the water it looks like a snake). Most of the Anhingas we saw were resting with their wings spread; I did see a few swimming like snakes.



Cormorant


Kingfisher



Spectacled Cayman. Can you believe all of these amazing animals??



 Turtles (two in the front, and one further back facing the camera)


 
Two little blue & white swallows posed for us mid-river 






This is the sacred tree of life, the Ceiba tree. Our guide explained the Ceiba was long believed to connect heaven and earth, and the seeds that came down from her tall wide canopy became people and other creatures.



A tree-ful of egrets against grey skies




The boat stopped by the shore for a photo op at the Nicaraguan border (no place to debark—this is all part of the Caño Negro wildlife preserve so no roads or trails).




This obelisk was right next to the newer wooden sign—an older border post.



 

Our boat driver and river guide, Bernal, had an impressive gift for picking out animals amongst the thick green vegetation. As we motored back from Nicaragua at speed he suddenly stopped, threw the boat into reverse, and pulled over for a close encounter with several white-faced Capuchin monkeys. The monkeys seemed to be having lunch and did not mind us at all. We got so close!



Capuchins are omnivorous and can live 50-60 years. We also saw a troop of howler monkeys hanging out further away—I got some video that I will try to share at some point!

Thanks for reading about my Costa Rica trip! I would love to go back someday, I would love to take my family, I would love to go back to Finca Luna Nueva. I would highly recommend visiting this kind, peaceful, gorgeous, and environmentally friendly country—and the Arenal area where we stayed—for any kind of vacation or getaway or change of scene. The national motto is Pura Vida: PURE LIFE!

Costa Rica, Part 1: Finca Luna Nueva Eco-lodge

Hello friends! Here is my latest update—part 1 of a two-part photo essay about my recent trip to Costa Rica. I'll start with some of the questions that great conversationalists have asked me about the trip.

Why did you go to Costa Rica? My work sent me. That is the short answer; the longer version is that my employer is pretty amazing and far-sighted, and they have long believed that a significant opportunity to learn about biodiversity, tropical agriculture, and just plain relaxing and rejuvenating is a worthy investment for their employees. People who have worked there for a certain amount of time get a chance to partake in this incredible gift of a trip.

What was the weather like? We had sunny or at least clear mornings, and mostly rainy afternoons that included one thundery evening. September is the beginning of the "green season" (rain), but this meant lush vegetation and high waters, perfect for our rainforest walks and river tour. It was not super humid either—when it started to get muggy, it would rain and then feel all fresh again.

Were there bugs? Not really, not like I'd pictured. I wore bug spray with 15% DEET every day—morning and night. But there are more mosquitoes buzzing around on a Vermont evening than I ever saw/heard in Costa Rica. My companions got some bites, but I did not even see one mosquito. Other bugs included tiny creatures (ants?) that start forming a line to the sugar spoon if you leave it on a surface for too long. We also saw a large bullet ant in the rainforest (under the safe supervision of our guide). Oh, and we HEARD bugs all the time, very loudly. Cicadas I guess? (It was hard to tell sometimes who was making the racket—geckos are also pretty noisy I learned.)

Is Costa Rica near the equator? The capital of Costa Rica, San José, is about 700 miles north of the equator. We were a bit north of that near Arenal volcano. It's near enough that dawn and dusk were about equivalently 12 hours apart—it got light around 6am and dark around 6pm. That was a little different from home at this time of year, but not much (being equinoctial September).

How long was the trip? I calculated it took about 17 hours to get to our destination, and about 20 hours to get back. This may have involved headwinds and/or layovers and/or meals taken en route, I don't know. We flew on Delta and connected from Bradley/Hartford through Atlanta and on to San Jose. The first flight was over 2 hours and the next over 4 hours, and then we had a 2.5 hour ride to our final destination, the AMAZING eco-lodge Finca Luna Nueva.

Where did you stay? Let me tell you... or show you... the paradise that is Finca Luna Nueva.



Finca Luna Nueva is a model farm that is certified Biodynamic. They aim to educate leaders and students from around the globe in organic, biodynamic, regenerative agriculture.




 This is the reception area of the lodge where we first arrived, with viewing tower behind.





Looking back down at the main buildings from the top of the tower.




The main building of the lodge has several rooms and a central area. The men of our group stayed here, and the women stayed in two bungalows elsewhere. (The M:F ratio was 2:9)



The gorgeous ozonated pool with Brugmansia shrub on the right (highly hallucinogenic flowers).



One of the trumpet-like flowers in its full nighttime glory. They smell incredible.



My favorite scent memory of the trip, this is ornamental ginger that perfumes the air in every direction.



Pool-side scene



Tropical botanicals



Just your average flowers in paradise





Sunset scene from the tower



Dawn from the tower on our last morning



Farm logo painted on the parking area wall



If you want to hike through the rainforest, you have to wear boots!



The farm's Cabalonga trail is about an hour's leisurely walk (1.5 miles-ish)



This is cacao, the flowers & pods grow right off the trunk of the tree


I was fascinated by the bromeliads and epiphytes in the middle canopy, that capture nutrients and water for their tree hosts and other creatures. No space is wasted in the rainforest.


 

Rattlesnake flower


 

Heliconia, a flower evolved to attract hummingbirds.



Too far into the rainforest? Just take the emergency exit.




This tree is the Walking Palm that has roots above-ground. If the palm is not getting the light it needs it will sidle off until it finds a good spot. Fascinating! On the right is our beloved guide.




Rainforest scene with palms and heliconia



The Cabalonga trail ends back on the farm amongst banana trees...


 

 And coconut trees...





And rambutan trees. We all learned to peel and adore rambutan fruit on the trip.


On another day we had a fantastic farm tour, including a Turmeric digging experience. Turmeric is incredibly important at my work, so it was super-cool to get to meet her in person.



Turmeric plant & rhizome


Freshly harvested Turmeric. We wiped off pieces and chewed them right in the field, taking pictures of our saffron-colored tongues.




The farm's co-owner invited us to his home later in the day for a special Turmeric drink. The recipe is a secret. All I can say is pineapple may also have been involved.





A seed saving garden is also on the property and part of our tour. Our guide showed us all kinds of medicinal plants and we smelled and tasted many things. Wave of the future: Meringa. (I don't know what that is, but you heard it here.)




The giant bamboo was my favorite part of the garden. It's hard to see the scale here, but it was truly majestic. We just turned a corner and there were these enormous bamboo stands, about 60 feet high.





Trying to show the scale with people alongside--not working.



On the biodynamic farm tour, given by the two long-time owners and totally fascinating, we got to see ripe cacao and even taste some of the slimy, bitter seeds inside. (I liked them!)



Evidence of biodynamics, the cow horns where the preparations are placed and then transferred to the soil. Learn more about the movement, its standards, and healing the world through agriculture at Demeter USA




And then there was the food! This is still ALL at Finca Luna Nueva lodge! The restaurant was open-air, open for 3 meals a day, and the food was delectable.




See those lentils on the right? Those are the best lentils I've ever had in my life. Everything was imbued with layers of flavor. Spices, herbs, dressings—it all looked simple, but so much went into every dish. This plate also includes a toothsome pulled chicken dish, salad and beans.



A farm intern made a wood-fired pizza oven as a project, and the restaurant fired it up on our last night there.



I ordered the vegetarian pizza, THICK with veggies.




One blissful afternoon the restaurant had a milk crate of fresh coconuts prepared for us—we'd ask for one and they would hammer in a small hole, pop in a straw, and hand it over. Heaven.



These dressing bottles were always on the table. Look at all of that Turmeric powder!! There was also a warm, lighted drawer where they kept the salt and pepper—I think otherwise it would clump up and be unpourable in the damp.




There were rice & beans and also fruit with most meals—like this typical breakfast.



One of our dinners—in the back is Brazilian spinach, a small-leaved and slightly piquant green grown on the farm. At the top are yucca chips, which we had often here and at other restaurants. There's also rice, a salad that's not lettuce but something more substantial and almost kale-like, a delightful green goddess type dressing, and crispy chicken with a ginger sauce. So good. SO GOOD!

Have you been to Costa Rica or Central America? I want to go back!! Stay tuned for Part 2: "Animals & Adventures."