By Susan Mahr

January 11, 2018

The sound of the surf crashing on the sand just a few hundred feet from our rooms was a constant white noise to lull everyone to sleep. With no activities scheduled for the day, everyone got to do their own thing – sleep in, take an optional excursion, hike around on the property, swim in the ocean or take a dip in the pool (both of which were popular activities as the temperature got into the high 80s later in the day), get a massage, or read a book in the shade. Nancy and Susan got up before sunrise to join Margherita on the optional 6:00 am walk. It was already warm and humid when we met in the restaurant shortly after the sun had risen over the water of the Gulf of Nicoya. Margherita had asked local guide Jesse to join us, and he led us on the path up behind the restaurant to go to the lookout point. We slowly made our way up the hill and along the road, stopping frequently to look at plants and birds. There was a pochote tree or spiny cedar (Bombacopsis quinatum) with its bat-pollinated white shaving brush flowers and pale greyish-brown trunk and main branches covered with hefty, hard conical spines. They can grow quite tall, often with a buttressed base and a rather wide spreading crown. The degree of spininess is extremely variable; some trees are completely spineless. The spines can be especially dense on the saplings. Then Margherita pointed out a Panama tree (Sterculia apetala, a fast-growing native tree used for timber); some blooming madroño (Calycophyllum candidissimum), the national tree of Nicaragua with its white flowers (really white bracts around tiny real flowers) and distinctive reddish, striated bark; and a caimito or star apple tree (Chrysophyllum cainito) with the undersides of the leaves a beautiful mahogany red and green fruits (when ripe, the edible fruits are a purple color).

We saw a pair of banded antshrikes, a couple streak-backed orioles, lots of black and turkey vultures roosting in trees or soaring overhead, and first heard, then saw, a large flock of scarlet macaws flying around. Howler monkeys occasionally yelled in the distance. Jesse unlocked the gate to the lookout and we went out to the edge of the cliffs to look down at the picturesque tropical beach below lined with coconut palms. Tracks of a nesting female Pacific ridley or olive ridley sea turtle remained in the moist sand from her nocturnal journey up above the high tide line to lay her eggs, while black vultures sunned on the rocks of the cliffs and a few people walked along the edge of the gentle surf below.

Back on the road we heard the beautiful song of the melodious blackbird perched on a tree top way in the distance. A plain chachalaca wandered about in the underbrush, then appeared on the road off in the distance and we saw a lot of birds around the shallow ponds there – Muscovy ducks, a great egret and a white blue heron, a kingfisher, and a pair of lapwings on the opposite bank. Next we stopped to admire some of the escaped ornamental wild hops from Malaysia, Flemingia strobilifera, with their shiny green leaves and interesting overlapping flower bracts that change from green to brown as they age on a medium-sized shrub.

We continued walking in the direction where we could hear the scarlet macaws, passing the tennis courts where black vultures lined the top of the fence around the courts, warming up in the sun. There was a black-headed trogon in a tree we walked under to get to the golf course from where we could see a pair of howler monkeys and some of the scarlet macaws in the bright yellow blooms covering the tops of the leafless guachipelín trees (Diphysa americana) off in the distance. Nearby a pair of doublestriped thick-knee (a type of stone-curlew that nests in pastures and open areas) warned us to stay away from their nest (which we could never see) under a huge melina tree (Gmelina arborea) native to Southeast Asia which was dropping its attractive orangey-brown and gold flowers and some of the small, round green fruits onto the grass below.

We headed back toward the resort, with Jesse motioning us to duck into a yard to look at a pair of Pacific screech owls roosting in a palm. As we observed the little motionless birds, chachalacas, clay-colored robins and other birds hopped about noisily in a nearby fig tree. As we walked down the road, Hilde came by in a golf cart and offered us a ride. Nancy hopped in, but Susan and Margherita walked the rest of the way (Jesse had left us to go into his house that was right there) hoping to see more birds. We briefly saw an aricari and a squirrel cuckoo, but not out in the open for a good look at either bird.

Kathy and Joanne had just finished eating breakfast when the early morning hikers returned about 8:00. Bev came in a little while later after enjoying sleeping in. We enjoyed the extensive buffet offering fruits, juices (melon and orange today), toast and a variety of jams and jellies, gallo pinto, bacon, baked apples, cassava croquettes (enyucados), and made-to-order eggs/omelets and waffles, and everyone went off on their own for a while. Kathy went horseback riding at 9:00, several people had massages scheduled throughout the day, and there was the ocean or pool to cool off and relax in whenever we wanted.

Most of the group ended up in the open-air restaurant by the pool to have a light lunch at different times, with the shrimp, avocado and heart of palm salad a favorite, but also nachos and guacamole. Some people chose to take a siesta for a bit, but others went for a walk on the beach or took a dip in the pool, relaxing in the warm air as pelicans, black vultures and magnificent frigate birds lazily soared by overhead.

We met again at reception at 2:30 for the afternoon excursion to the waterfall, with Susan, Bev and Nancy joining Margherita. We set off to explore, walking up the road to get to the trail leading through stands of huge bamboo. A couple of howler monkeys perched in one of the trees, and similar sized and colored termite nests sat in other trees. It was mostly teak trees here as we slowly made our way up the hill, but Margherita found some interesting plants to point out, including leafless pink poui (Tabebuia rosea) in bloom and pochote or spiny cedar.  When we passed by one of the houses, there was epiphytic cactus that produces the fruits called pitaya growing on a telephone pole, and a tall hedge of an evergreen plant that looked like large boxwood, with shiny green leaves in a similar arrangement, and small, shiny red fruits. We learned that Trichilia havanensis can be distinguished from the similar, but deciduous Cedrela odorata by the odd number of leaflets on each compound leaf, so that it ends in a single leaflet, whereas the other plant ends in a matched pair of leaflets.  Then we stopped to examine the beautiful lustrous golden mahogany undersides of the leaves of a caimito tree and across the road discovered a bullhorn acacia which has a symbiotic relationship with Pseudomyrmex ants (although this plant didn’t have any on it). The plant provides specialized structures on the leaves called Beltian bodies for the ants to eat and the large hollow thorns which look like bull’s horns, provide shelter for the ants. In return, they protect the tree from herbivores and competition from other plants by removing seeds and seedlings around the tree.

As we walked the narrow dirt road surrounded by vegetation we could hear the loud calls of several blue-throated goldentails, a tiny type of hummingbird with a red beak. We searched in vain for the little birds both coming and going, but never got a clear look at any (just a flash as they zipped away). Easier to spot was the prickly ash (Zanthoxylum sp.) with hefty conical spines on the trunk and major branches.

Soon we got to the little stream surrounded by lush vegetation that forms a waterfall over the rocks into the ocean below, with water rushing over the precipice, but no way to view the falls from up at the top. We went back up a little way to take a short, steep side path to a wooden railing along the cliff overlooking the wide beach below. There was a dramatic view of the blue ocean and small surf surging onto the black rocks and golden brown sand beach. Hanging over the cliffs were several old plumeria or frangipani trees (Plumeria rubra) with a few pelicans sitting on the branches. They only had a few leaves and a couple of clusters of white flowers, but a lot of seed pods hanging down. We then turned around and retraced our path, stopping less frequently on the return trip, for some blue-flowered sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora) and the introduced ornamental wild hops, Flemingia strobilifera,which Bev had not seen before.

We made it back to the resort a little before 4:00, so Bev had just enough time to get to her massage appointment, while the others went back to their rooms before meeting at the pool a little while later. Meanwhile, Joanne and Kathy were out on the beach, sitting or walking in the surf. Nancy, Susan and Margherita went in the pool, enjoying the warm water for about half an hour. They each had a Monky Ponky, a rum drink with coconut cream and chocolate, served in plastic stemmed glasses, from the swim-up bar. While floating around in the water, there was a small commotion at one end of the pool. A squirrel nest had been blown out of the trees and the little babies were lying on the ground. The mother picked up one in her mouth and ran off to scamper up a tall palm tree with it. Everyone was concerned that she had abandoned the other one, but after a while she returned by a circuitous route around the pool to grab the other little one and take it up the palm tree, too. A large group of turkey vultures soared and dipped above our heads, then floated off, while a lone black vulture circled in the sky way up high, and the occasional formation of pelicans or single frigate birds drifted overhead. The increasingly strong breeze made it pretty chilly when wet and not submerged in the water (even though it was about 80 degrees), and around 5:00we all decided to get out and head back to the rooms to shower and relax for a bit.

By that time a flock of orange-fronted parakeets were squawking and squabbling away in the leafless tree tops, moving on for the night before darkness fell abruptly around 6:00. People gathered in the bar around 7:00 for dinner. Dinner was ordered off the menu, with Joanne choosing spaghetti Napolitano, Kathy having the fish filet “Tiquicia”(with a palm and mushroom sauce, with rice, beans and guacamole), Nancy enjoying chicken “Tango Mar” (in a creamy sauce with asparagus, shrimp and mushrooms), and the rest of us having the grilled tuna with passion fruit sauce and shrimp. For dessert people chose crème brulee, grilled pineapple, vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce, and Margherita got the banana flambé, which involved tableside preparation with flaming liquor after the lights were dimmed for a more dramatic show. By 8:30 everyone was done eating and tired after a long day, so we retired to our rooms soon after to pack and relax for the rest of the evening.

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