April 16, 2008

Costa Rica Day Six

We left Monteverde the next morning, and headed toward the coast. Once again the road was a narrow gravel track, winding along the ridge of the mountains, with a steep drop only inches from the bus tires. The terrain got drier as we progressed toward the ocean, because climate change is causing desertification of this once-lush tropical area.

There were coffee plantations all along the road, planted on the steep sides of the dry hills. Our first stop that day was at the Tarcoles river. The bus stopped and let everyone off on one side of the bridge, to let everyone walk to the other side and to stop in the middle to look a the wild crocodiles in the river below.

These suckers were HUGE, basking in the sun and waiting for some tasty morsel to wander from safety. Carlos said that when he first started researching bird numbers, he was collecting data in Carara National Park, which is right beside the river. He had a few close encounters with these crocs by accidentally blundering into their nesting area.
Once across the river, we climbed back into the bus for the very short trip to the park entrance. Carara National Park was originally owned by a man who bought the area so he could capture wild macaws and export them to the US for sale. That is now illegal, and the park is a protected area where the macaws nest and are trying to replenish their numbers. The soil is very shallow, so trees have huge buttressed trunks that help them stay upright.

There are lots of creepy crawlies in the undergrowth...
and some spectacular flowers:

Carlos showed us a camera he had set up with a motion detector to take pictures of the baby macaws in the nest in the hollow in this tree (remember I mentioned he was an Ornithologist and studied local birds when he wasn't leading tours):

After our tour through the park, we headed off to our hotel. We passed through huge palm oil plantations. This was not a native tree, but the climate is perfect to grow these palms, and the government is exploring ways of developing this industry. It seems quite destructive to the natural environment, but at least it is green.

The hotel for the next couple of nights was right on the ocean, by this beautiful beach. There were no other people on the beach, except for the hotel lifeguards, so we had it all to ourselves. The water was rather dangerous, because of the powerful rip tides, and the hotel had a few patrons who went swimming in the dark and died a couple of years ago, so they were pretty cautious about letting us swim in the water. The lifeguards made sure that nobody went in any deeper than mid-thighs. We arrived early enough to get in an hour of wading (and getting washed into the shore by the huge and powerful waves) before dark.

We also had a chance to watch the pelicans flying in formation along the top of the waves, again and again as the tide was coming in.

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