Mid-November in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, was lovely. I was bracing for brutal heat and humidity, being an equatorial climate, but the beach at Tamarindo provides a nice breeze most of the time that brings the comfort level for this high-altitude Colorado mountain girl into the tolerable range. Evenings were perfect, watching the sunsets each night on the beach.
I'm not typically one for a beach vacation since I don't sunbathe or surf. But I ended up spending hours and hours boogie-boarding in the splendidly perfect boogie-able waves. Really, it's the most fun I've ever had boogie-boarding, which I hadn't done since I was a kid. This is the first time I ever took a cell phone with me traveling. I gave in. I couldn't help it. A selfie at the beach.
And one of the neatest discoveries was the erosional artwork the tide made in the sand each morning ... see the pics at Shara Sees Artful Sand and Seashells at the Seashore. These utterly adorable variegated squirrels darted around the beach-side patios and bars looking for yummy tourist tidbits.
When I learned my family had chosen Costa Rica for family vacation, the first thing I thought of and determined to do was find sloths! It turned out we needed to travel quite far inland into the rainforest region to see them. So Erik and I took a shuttle van to La Fortuna and spent the night. You can see some of the other beautiful animals we saw there in my post, A Glimpse of Costa Rica, but here I present to you sloths! I can't write "sloths" without an accompanying exclamation point because when I say the word in my head, it sounds exclamatory, as I was so excited to see them. We saw this two-toed sloth in the trees along the Bogarin Trail. He was very close. I had made jokes with friends beforehand about hoping to get some pictures of sloths! but being worried I might not have a fast enough shutter speed to capture them racing through the forest. That seemed like a ludicrous scenario, but funny enough, this guy was moving astonishingly quickly through the trees, and as the light was dim and I was trying to find a good ISO and aperture to capture him with, I almost missed him! Erik said, "He's racing away!"
You may have learned from previous African safari adventures that I lose my little mind for a minute when I'm super excited over a particular animal sighting. Takes me a minute to get my camera wits about me. This three-toed male sloth was more obliging and sat nice and still (in the even dimmer light). Doesn't he look happy? I think he's smiling at me.
As we left the park, we spotted this rodent critter poking around the bushes. We had to ask the staff what it was: an agouti: rodent found in Central and South American rainforests.
One other curious thing was saw along the trail was these pink bananas. Who knew? I figured one of their defining traits was being yellow! (or green before being ripe)
I was also captivated by these multi-colored tree trunks. I don't know what kind of trees they are. (if you know, feel free to send me a note!)
On our way back from the park, we stopped off at La Fortuna pub when we saw it was a microbrewery. I was delighted to find they had a chili beer on tap. I love a well-integrated chili beer. Being beer enthusiasts, we struck up a conversation with the proprietor ... kind of accidentally because I jokingly asked him when he was tapping the next keg in his garage. He said, "next weekend," and looked at me like, "how do we know each other?" I laughed and said I was just kidding, but that sparked off extensive conversation, numerous beers, and before we left, he had brought out some special home-brew in bottles he kept in the back and only served to friends. So presumably, we are now friends.
La Fortuna is a pleasant town, with a small downtown area, a few blocks square with plenty of restaurants and cafes and a park. At night while we ate dinner at an open-air restaurant, we watched a little dog run around the deserted streets in a Santa Claus sweater. Random. It feels like a real Costa Rican town, unlike Tamarindo that feels just like a tourist town.
Everywhere is green fecundity and flowers. This is a yard near our digs, Hotel Secreto. I thought it was a nice hotel for budget accommodations.
Although I was completely satisfied with our sloth sightings on the Bogarin Trail, we had signed up for another tour in the morning through Callidryas Tours. We hit what I would consider a jackpot on this early morning tour. In total, I think we spotted 15 sloths! Driving in the van on the way to the place our guide, Gerald, and his spotter had selected to look for them, he asked us -- there were three other people on the tour with us -- what we knew about sloths!. After a brief period of silence, I volunteered that they move so slowly that algae grows on their fur. "Yes!" Gerald said, sounding slightly surprised and surely pleased with my impressive knowledge (ha), which I gleaned from guess where ... a True Facts episode about them. I don't think it's *because* they move slowly that the algae grows, but I imagine a slow-moving creature enhances its growth capabilities.
So yes, sloth fur often looks green because of the algae growing on it. I'm kind of figuring sloths! don't smell all that great. But I haven't been close enough to one to know. Another interesting thing about them is their weight. I made a comment while looking at one with Gerald that I was surprised such a small limb on a tree could support the sloth we were looking at. He said, "How much do you think they weigh? Whatever you think, I bet it's not anywhere close." Given this clue, I guessed what I thought was a ridiculously low number (and lower than anyone else in the group guessed). I guessed 12 pounds because that's how much most of my cats weigh (excluding the legendary Mister). Nope! Can you guess?? The three-toed sloths! we were looking at, he said weighed about 9 pounds. That's because they have hollow bones like birds do. So this male weighs less than my cats. How do I know it's a male? Because of that brown stripe on his back.
Fortunately the highlight of our sloth viewing experience involved a non-racing sloth. It was early in the morning and after the spotter pointed up to this particular one, he set up a tripod with a monocular on it. Is that a word? I don't know. But instead of binoculars, it just had one eye-piece like a telescope does. And what did he notice after looking through it?? I was not the only one who squealed with excitement when he announced it was a female with a baby. Practically jumping up and down, I waited my turn to see the baby and could just make out its little face nestled against mom as they hung upside down in the tree. Then with a choir of angels sounding in the background, a ray of sunshine found its way through the thick cover of leaves directly onto the baby and mom.
That pic was taken with my cell phone camera help up to the monocular thingy. Gerald said that, kind of like reptiles, the warmth of the sun encourages the sloths! to move from their otherwise predominantly stationary positions. The baby emerged and began scratching its chin and then its mom's chin. I really can't think of another situation in which people are beside themselves with joy over an animal simply scratching themselves. But these are sloths! Any movement is terribly exciting. There was a couple on their honeymoon on the tour and they were just as giddy as I was.
By the way, it happened to be Thanksgiving Day when this precious little bundle with wicked claws peeked out at us, and what are the odds it would be right in the middle of a sunbeam in the rainforest. Pretty cool. We saw some pretty remarkable non-mammalian critters on this tour, as well. See my post, "A Glimpse of Costa Rica: Everything But Mammals," to meet them. The other mammal we encountered this day was another delightful variegated squirrel, trying to blend in to the bird buffet and snag some goodies from his feathered friends. (friends?? I don't know)
So. With mission accomplished in La Fortuna, we decided to spend the afternoon until our shuttle van departure back to Tamarindo at the La Fortuna Waterfall. I had read reviews of it on Trip Advisor, and most of them mentioned thick throngs of tourists, almost unbearable to some reviewers. It was so close to town that I decided to go anyway because of the convenience and I love waterfalls. I just steeled myself for the crowds, at least I knew to expect them. But I don't know if we were there on an anomalous day or if the reviewers were hyper-sensitive to other people being around, but we found it sparsely populated, had all the viewpoints to ourselves, and enjoyed a nice lunch in the cafe before heading "home."
I mentioned the butterfly garden, palace to a lone butterfly, in the previous post. There was also an orchid trail. I was very excited about this. I love orchids and am always trying to grow them at home, with mixed success. Shortly before leaving for this trip I learned from a David Attenborough show that the type of flower that has the most species on earth is the orchid! Who knew? I always thought they were relatively rare and exotic plants. Turns out they're profuse, and after walking through this garden, we got a feel for how widely they differ in size and shape. But, like the butterfly garden, only a few of the orchids were actually currently blooming. We saw the others from the pictures on the tags next to where each one grows. Here are a few of the ones we saw in bloom. The first ones look to me just like little people ... like a man and woman dancing together, man in pants behind the woman in a dress, in some kind of traditional costume.
Erik and I cracked up over this sign in the garden because the human figure looks totally evil with her slanted eyes and frowny mouth. Why do they presume it's girls who will pick the orchids??
This path through the garden was blocked off and was already being digested by the jungle. It reminded us of when we were in Tikal in Guatemala, a guide told us that they have to "shave" the ruins regularly to keep them from being digested like this. It's why it's so difficult to locate cultural remains of Central American civilizations!
A pretty non-orchid flower. I don't know the name of it.
The textures in the rainforest are so captivating. I learned the word "fecundity" from Annie Dillard in her book, "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek." It's a good word. I thought of it a lot, almost continually, walking through these dense rainforests around La Fortuna. That, and "diversity." The rest of the time I was either squealing over critters or admiring with an almost empty mind the colors and textures that Mother Nature wields every single moment of every single day in every corner of the planet.
Besides sloth-seeking and boogie-boarding, we did a few other activities in Tamarindo. One was kayaking through a mangrove swamp with interesting flora and a troupe of howler monkeys. Another was going out with a guide to try to find nesting turtles on the beach. We saw one, it wasn't a leatherback, but it was very, very large! We watched her digging a nest, and in the end she didn't lay any eggs but retreated to the ocean, dissatisfied with that nest. The guide said that from the time the female forms the eggs inside her, they can stay there for three to four days, so she has several days to perfect her nest.
The other activity was ziplining. From what I gather, this is perhaps the number one activity advertised throughout Costa Rica. It was fun. Erik and I had done it before many years earlier in Guatemala when the activity first came onto the scene, and it was much more low-budget. This place had very good equipment (as evaluated by my brother, a world-class rock climber) and was very professional, helping my 82-year old mom handle the course with ease. Hi mom! She might not like me sharing her age, but the guides exclaimed that by far she was the oldest client they'd ever had. Mainly I bring that up to say that it is a fun activity that, while perhaps not exactly adrenaline-pumping for the more adventurous, can be enjoyed by anybody. There were also small children, I'm guessing maybe 7 or 8 years old in our group.
This little dog was offering a list of other activities available, but we didn't book any. Though it would have been fun to book with him, watch him write our reservation ticket with his little paws and give us change with a wagging tail.
If you want to check out Tamarindo yourself, I recommend the small boutique hotel we stayed at a short walk from the beach, Ten North Tamarindo Beach Hotel. I thought this tri-colored tree trunk was interesting in the hotel's small courtyard.