Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Costa Rica - Day 1 - March 16, 2013

In the spring of 2012 I landed a job counting raptors during their migration through New Jersey. During my time in New Jersey I met quite a few people. One day during a painfully slow raptor flight the topic of birding in Costa Rica came up between myself and 3 other birders. I thought that the idea of getting on a plane for the first time in my life and traveling to a Central American country on an already strained budget was absolutely out of the question. As the weeks and months progressed I found myself slowly warming up to the idea, but still didn't know how I was going to afford such an adventure. By October of 2012 my job prospects heated up, I was slowly changing my mind about the trip, and the initial planning stages commenced.
In January 2013 all 4 of us bought plane tickets to San Jose and the originally preposterous idea became a reality. After much research, planning, and making connections with friends who had been there previously for birding, March 16, 2013 rolled around and I was getting on a plane for the first time in my 28 years of life. We got up at 3:30am and flew from Newark to Miami, and then Miami to San Jose, Costa Rica. The actual flight time is about 6 hours, and I was very glad to have a break between flights to grab some breakfast in Miami. The first plane lost all auxiliary power after everyone was on-board, but the problem was fixed quickly and we were off!

Sunrise from 39,000 ft
My new favorite way to photograph the sun...from 39,000ft
After we boarded the plane in Miami I noticed that there were a bunch of people on the ground looking up at the left wing (I was sitting at the window just behind the wing), and pointing at it

. That scene did not help my flying nerves at all. First the captain said that it was just a few screws loose and they would be tightened and we would be off. Then he said that there was a cover plate that was missing and although it was not necessary for flying, they would replace it. A 20min fix turned into an hour when they couldn't find the proper part and had to find another plane to take the part off of it and put it on our plane. Jeez. We finally took off an hour late, and landed in San Jose at about 1:30pm their time (Costa Rica is 2 hours behind New Jersey).

After getting through customs, immigration, baggage pick-up, and exchanging a small amount of american dollars for Colones (do this at a bank, not at the airport if you can help it), we were shuttled to the car rental place and were on our way to our first lodging in Tarcoles, Costa Rica. The drive took about 1.5 hours and was not too difficult other than navigating the crazy traffic patterns and driving in general. Costa Ricans are fond of passing on the right and left, standing in the street, zipping motorcycles between cars and honking at everything. Potholes are everywhere and can be very deep and large.  Sometimes there will be a large rock in the road to warn you about the pothole. Guardrails are non-existent and pull-offs can be difficult to find and treacherous due to sharp drop-offs that trucks can clear, but not necessarily cars. Luckily one of us is a truck driver and was very good at avoiding all the obstacles while the rest of us just hoped for the best.
We stayed at Cerro Lodge in Tarcoles. This lodge caters to both birders and people who just want to get away and experience nature. The temperature when we left Newark was in the 20s F, in Tarcoles it was around 97F with high humidity. Our room was small, but functional with a bathroom that was essentially outdoors. We quickly learned to take binoculars with us when we needed to use the bathroom in case we spotted a new bird in the trees while we were doing our business! Taking a shower with geckos was a first for me, but I loved it. I was a little surprised when I turned on the spigot in the shower and a tiny treefrog launched itself out of it and attached to the shower curtain!
Shower at Cerro Lodge
Outdoor portion of bathroom at Cerro Lodge
Another view of bathroom at Cerro Lodge
View from porch at our Cerro Lodge cabin

View off the side of the cabin's porch at Cerro Lodge
Costa Rican money - Colones
The only downside to this setup was that there were tiny ants all over everything including the beds. The ants were so tiny that they were nearly impossible to see, so I just spread out the blanket I had brought with me and put my own pillowcase over the provided pillow and hoped for the best. The ants didn't really bother us, but my head was itchy each morning which may or may not have been due to the ants. We spent the remainder of the day unpacking, birding, and dipping our tired, hot feet and legs in the warm pool (birding poolside was a terrific end to the day).
Meals at the lodge were homemade and delicious, plus they were served buffet style so you could have your fill of all the fresh food they served. Breakfast became my favorite meal because of the fresh free-range eggs, the perfectly ripe fruit, and delicious juice blends made that morning. The staff also made a great effort to make sure that my dietary restrictions were met and that I was fed a full meal.
I discovered something very intriguing while eating in Costa Rica. Normally I feel very sick after eating egg yolks, and some cheeses make me sick as well. However, I ate a lot of cheese and egg yolks during our nine days in CR and never felt sick. Maybe I should just move there.
Before going to bed we were alerted to two special visitors to the lodge. A Black and White Owl and a Pacific Screech Owl. Both birds were very cooperative and allowed for great long looks at them.
On to day two......

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