By Susan Mahr

January 6, 2018

The skies were brighter this morning, but still plenty of clouds around and a bit breezy when we met for breakfast at 7:15. The blue crowned motmots were not cooperating and didn’t visit the feeders at all while we were there. We were back in the lobby with our luggage at 8:15, and while that was being loaded in the van, we went out to explore the garden for about an hour. It was very pleasant in the sunshine (and occasional bursts of very fine mist from distant clouds) as we wandered around, inspecting the various trees (now most with labels) and beautiful flowers. Some of the distinctive trees included the very spiny Ceiba speciose, the less-spiny Ceiba pentandra, and the similar-looking but smooth-trunked Pseudobombax ceiba, as well as orchid tree (Bauhinia purpurea) and Pachira aquatica with its flamboyant flowers. We saw a few blue-grey tanagers, many clay-colored robins, and a couple rufus-tailed hummingbirds, but no motmots. For those looking closely, there were some interesting insects, including a small mantid, a huge robberfly, and a net-winged beetle.

We were in the van and ready to depart at 9:40. It only took about 20 minutes to get to Sibu Chocolates, but the skies were clouded over here and a light rain was falling. We went inside where co-owner Julio greeted us. We sat at one table where small wooden dishes with a careful arrangement of chocolates were placed at each seat. Then Julio gave an excellent presentation on the history of chocolate, from a bitter beverage of the indigenous aristocracy, through the present – stopping periodically to sample their chocolates that demonstrated the different styles and tastes of chocolates through its evolution. Co-owner George came in midway through the talk to briefly greet us. Light rain blew through the air outside the entire time. Afterwards there was time to shop for bars or boxes of chocolates to take home, before boarding the van at 12:20.

We were driving on wet pavement, going back and forth from sunshine to sprinkles as we drove through Heredia on very narrow roads. There was some coffee production, lots of houses on the slopes, a few Nicaraguan coffee pickers relaxing on the roadside for their lunch break, and a hazy view of the city below. Up and down we went on the winding roads, then into the more regular streets of the suburb of Los Angeles de Heredia, past a park, schools and lots of houses and other buildings. Then we drove toward the Colonial-style town of Barva de Heredia, under mostly blue skies now. Not much later we were back under patchy clouds, as we continued on along winding roads past more coffee, a few pastures, and houses and shops along the roadside. Soon large swaths of the slopes were covered with ornamental plants under black shade cloth grown for export, more colorful houses stacked up on the hillsides, a few mango trees in bloom, and the bright red bracts of poinsettia on tall, rangy plants in some of the yards. Past more coffee, long living fences of spiky-leaves yuccas, across one-lane bridges, through the town of Roble de Santa Barbara, past more extensive areas of coffee edged with sheared hedges of turk’s cap (Malvaviscus penduliflorus) or dracaena. We had to slow down on the narrow curves to give oncoming traffic plenty of room as we continued winding along the sinuous road. Coffee pickers walked along the roadside, finished with their work day as we went through one small town after another as we headed into the Central Range toward the Continental Divide, still under partly cloudy skies. The landscape became more agricultural, with some citrus trees and pastures with native purple-blue Ageratum, but soon the slopes were covered with forest or cleared pastures. There was a little of the native Chusqueta bamboo in places, but more of the introduced blue hydrangeas in others. Small farmsteads were interspersed with green pastures and patches of native trees. The sun poked through high clouds in places, but mist obscured the view in other places. Soon we were seeing some of the plants of the higher elevations, including Bocconia and skinny native alder treesAs we got nearer the top to follow along the ridge, we were enveloped in fog and started to see the huge round leaves of poor man’s umbrella (Gunnera sp.), a plant characteristic of cloud forests. Driving through the heavy mist we could see more pastures, some tree ferns, patches of native forest and trees encrusted with epiphytes, and some plastic tunnels where there would be ornamental plants grown for export. We began to descend the Caribbean slope, passing plantings of strawberries barely visible in the fog and light rain, a small community, small waterfalls on the roadcuts, roadside fruit stands with local strawberries and farmer cheese, and barely visible native forest on one side of the road. Finally we pulled off at La Paz Waterfall Gardens about 1:45.

After getting our entrance bracelets and using the restrooms (which are worth visiting just for the interesting sinks), we went to the restaurant in the main building to enjoy the lunch buffet. They offered a selection of salad ingredients, refried beans with chips and pico de gallo, and hot items including BBQ pork spareribs, roasted chicken, plantains, rice, vegetables, beef taquitos, pizza and more, along with juices and coffee. Desert was cinnamon-scented rice pudding with raisins and sliced watermelon and pineapple. We sat outside on the patio under the overhang, watching the rain fall and a few birds (palm tanagers, female and one male Passerini tanagers, rufus collared sparrow, and northern oriole) lurking about hoping for handouts.

At 2:45 it was time to brave the rain to see the park. Everyone geared up with rain jackets, ponchos and/or umbrellas, and we slowly made our way down the steps in the constant, steady rain toward the aviary. We went through the double-chambered entrance with a chain curtain hoping to see some of the rescued native birds, but there wasn’t much activity in the cool, wet conditions. There were a few black guans roosting in the trees above us, but not much else to see as we slowly made our way through the enclosure, umbrellas expanded as the aviary is just wire mesh. The raptors – including a gray hawk and crested caracara – and the parrots – including scarlet macaws – are in their own individual large cages, and were easier to spot. Everyone enjoyed the toucan enclosure, but due to a new national law, we weren’t allowed to let the birds hop onto each person’s arm or shoulder as they used to do. There were several black-mandibled toucans and keel-billed toucans hopping around or sitting where we could get good looks at them. We continued on through the aviary, stopping to look at the caged parrots, an owl and other birds in their smaller cages, and a pair of sloths in what used to be a walk-in cage for tanagers. The last part of the aviary has a few scarlet macaws in cages, before we went through another double-chambered exit into a tunnel taking us to the butterfly house.

Here lighted cases on the wall display pinned insect specimens in artistic groups, with a case of cecropia and other large moths, batches of beetles, beautiful butterflies, and some dramatic mantids and huge lanternflies, among others. Even though the butterfly house has a roof over it, the butterflies weren’t very active either. Only a few of them were flying around, and the few we did see were just hanging on the underside of leaves. There were a few plants with eggs on them, but hardly any caterpillars. There were still racks filled with chrysalises, many just empty shells with the butterflies already eclosed, but others in various stages of maturity and a few with the recently-emerged butterflies still hanging down expanding their wings. Interpretive signage provides a lot of information on their life cycle, the rearing process, and conservation of butterflies.

We moved back out into the rain to go by the monkey enclosure, where the animals were moving around under their shelters up too high for good photos.  From there we moved through the hummingbird garden, where many species were zooming in to use the red feeders strung up all over the area. Large, purple violet sabrewings chased off the smaller purple-throated mountain gems and copper-headed hummingbirds, while the green crowned brilliants held their ground, along with the occasional green hermit, green thorntail, and blackbellied hummingbirds, among others. The rain continued to fall as the few tourists watched the birds zipping around. One woman held out an orange flower to try to get the little birds to sit on her – which one did. But one also came and sat on Susan’s hand for about 30 seconds as she stood motionless trying to take pictures, the bird poking at the screen that was focused on the bright red feeder.

Next we headed over to look at the snakes in their individual display cages in a darkened room; the jungle cats – including ocelots, margay (tree ocelot), pumas, and jaguars – several moving around in the relatively cool conditions in their large, landscaped enclosures; and both leaf and poison dart frogs in the ranarium. The pair of oxen that are often hitched to their brightly painted oxcart were looking rather bored in their small covered shelter, rather than out walking around like they would be if the weather was better.

We then headed down the steep slope on the nicely paved, stepped trail to the waterfalls. It was wet and dripping under the high tree canopy as the rain continued to fall steadily as we made our way to the Rio La Paz (Peace River), where the falls were full of water and roaring loudly. It was starting to get late, so we made our way as fast as possible along the 3 kilometer long trails – including lots of steps – to see four different falls cascading over precipices up to 125 high, although we didn’t stop to take time to photograph all of them.

We finally made it to the end of the trail about 5:00 (the gift shop was already closed), the last ones out of the park (an employee was following us down the trail to make sure everyone was leaving). Edgar had been waiting with the van for a while (we thought it would only take about an hour and a half to get there, which would have been 4:15) and as soon as everyone had used the restrooms we were on our way.

It was hard to see much through the misty rain clouds surrounding us and the windows steaming up on the inside as we began to descend along the mountains to the Saripiqui area on the winding road with just a single lane in each direction (this is the main road from Sarapiqui to Heredia). Silhouettes of trees stood out against the cloudy sky and we could make out pastures and little houses here and there as we dropped in elevation and drove below the clouds. We got to the little town of San Miguel, with the lights on in the little shops and restaurants, at 5:35. Soon darkness began to fall, restricting the view even more with not much more to pick out other than the distinctive shape of cecropia and palm trees against the darkening sky, until all we could see were the headlights of oncoming cars, the occasional streetlight or reflectors on the roadside. There were more lights as we went through the next little town, then back out into the mainly dark agricultural areas and on to Puerto Viejo. Here the relentless rain has slowed to a sprinkle. Colorful Christmas lights or the lighted interior of a house, restaurant, or shop punctuated the darkness here and there, but there were almost no illuminated signs.

When we arrived at Selva Verde Lodge about 6:10 it was wet, but no longer raining. This lodge and private reserve was created in 1985, with about 500 acres of old growth forest and 70 acres of new growth forest. It is home to 330 species of trees, 300 species of birds, 120 species of mammals (including 60 species of bats) and countless other plant and insect species. We sat in the van while Margherita got the keys, then we drove through another entrance that was closer to our rooms, unloaded the bags, and made the short trek to our nice, but rustic rooms along the covered pathways. The night chorus chirped and buzzed and pinged outside as we relaxed for a little while (unfortunately noise of the traffic on the nearby road was noticeable at times).

Dinner at 7:30 was another buffet – with a sweet potato soup, rice, lentils, stewed beef, fried fish, chayote and carrots, and a variety of salad components – but most people weren’t very hungry after our late lunch, so most just sampled the food. Individual pieces of dessert were distributed at the table – a nice, light fruit cocktail in milk gelatin. As we ate in the open air, screened dining room upstairs, the drumming of rain on the roof started up, but only lasted for about 20 minutes. We sat around for a while after eating, chatting until about 8:30, when most people dispersed to their rooms in the damp, mild night air.

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