Friday, March 18, 2016

Costa Rica Day 7 - March 22, 2016

It started to pour around 4 AM but we actually slept pretty good until 5:30AM.  Right after we got up, the baby next door decided to throw a 1/2 hour tantrum of screaming.  I would certainly rather have Howler Monkeys next door at that early hour.

Before breakfast, I decided to look for some more Blue Jeans Frogs. The rain overnight had brought them out and I could hear them calling.  So, I grabbed my macro lens and headed out.  I didn't have to venture very far since there were dozens calling from around the trail to the bridge.  The trick was finding one close to the trail that wouldn't jump away when I got close.  A few cooperated:

Strawberry Dart Frog

Strawberry Dart Frog

After breakfast, we decided to head over to the Costa Rica Nature Pavilion again.  In their driveway we saw the only Brown Basilisk of the trip:
Brown Basilisk

The morning light was much nicer and despite there being a couple other photographers (who booked a full day there), we managed to have some great looks at birds in the 1.5 hours that we were there:

Blue-gray Tanager:
Blue-gray Tanager

Female Green Honeycreeper:
Green Honeycreeper (Female)

Golden-hooded Tanager:
Golden-hooded Tanager

Red-legged Honeycreeper:
Red-legged Honeycreeper

Green Honeycreeper:
Green Honeycreeper

Crimson-collared Tanager:
Crimson-collared Tanager

White-necked Jacobin:
White-necked Jacobin

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird:
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Indopacific Gecko:
Indopacific Gecko

The setup at the Nature Pavilion is great.  They put out fruit every now and then to attract the birds to natural looking perches.  They also have an area for multi-flash hummingbird photography but I don't have the equipment for that.  I found it was pretty hard to get photos without the fruit in them but otherwise we got closer to some fantastic birds than we would have anywhere else.  They only charge $20 for 1.5 hours which is why a lot of people stay all day (I think it was $100 for all day).  It was certainly worth the 15 minute death defying walk along the highway from Tirimbina.

A word about Tirimbina in March.  Don't go.  I say that only because both Tirimbina and the Sarapiqui Lodge next door hosted dozens and dozens of high-school students during spring break.  So, the main loop trail was way too crowded to see wildlife a lot of the time.  We learned that after our first full day.

So, right before lunch today we took a quick hike on a side trail.  We didn't have many decent photo ops but had a great experience standing under some trees filled with Howler Monkeys as they called back and forth.  That was awesome!  Here is a look at the typical rain forest trail at Tirimbina...very lush:
Jungle Trail

After lunch, we had another guided activity.  This was a chocolate tour given by the lodge.  Jasmine our guide was excellent and we only had two other people on the tour which made it really nice.  The tour starts with a walk across the bridge and into a section of trail usually off limits that leads to a small Cocao Tree plantation.  Neither of us knew anything about where chocolate came from so we learned a ton of cool facts during the tour.  One was that chocolate comes from the seeds of a fruit that grows on a tree with blossoms that are pollinated by flies.  How about that?  And here is what that fruit looks like (note the tiny blossoms too):
Cocoa Fruit

When the fruit is cut open, the seeds look like this...not very appetizing:
The Seeds from a Cocao Fruit

But, once they are fermented (one slot per day for 7 days), the seeds basically become cocoa beans:
Fermented Seeds Finally Resemble Cocoa Beans

We ended up tasting chocolate at various stages of the process from the raw seed (tastes like watermelon believe it or not), to the fermented bean, to traditional drinks, to cocoa powder and finally the finished product.  Our sweet-tooth was certainly satisfied during this tour.  It was great and we highly recommend it.

If you haven't noticed, I stopped commenting on the food.  I feel like this whole report has been filled with food complaints so I will just sum up the food at Tirimbina as... Bad.  The last two meals consisted of salty chicken and pork as dry as a Griswold Family turkey.  With the kitchen staff not speaking any English, trying to get different food was impossible.  So, we decided to head next door to Sarapiqui Lodge to see if they were any better.

They were GREAT!.  Not only did they have a menu of items which was a great relief after eating the same thing at all the Tirimbina meals, but they also had a bar!  So, all our remaining meals other than breakfast were at Sarapiqui and worth the dollar or two extra.  Just like at Tirimbina,  you need to reserve lunches and dinners since they had 90 high school kids staying there.  But, our meals were on the balcony of the bar overlooking the pool and garden.  It was away from the main dining area and a very nice change.

After dinner, we had yet another tour planned. This was a bat talk given by Tirimbina.  We didn't have high expectations but this talk was actually very good.  We learned a ton about bats that we didn't know and they had actually caught a couple before the talk to show us.  I had the opportunity to touch one and couldn't believe how soft its fur was.  While we liked bats before this talk, we have a greater appreciation for what they do now.  How about ending the day with some bat fun facts:

- Of the roughly 5000 mammal species on Earth, over 1000 are bats
- There are 116 bat species in Costa Rica (The US has about 48)
- They have identified 63 bat species at Tirimbina
- Most insect eating bats catch their prey in their tail membranes and not their mouths
- There are 3 species of Vampire bats on Earth; 2 consume bird blood and 1 consumes mammal blood
- Lastly, without bats we wouldn't have Tequila.  They pollinate and disperse the seeds of the Agave plant.

Armed with that knowledge, you will be the center of attention at your next party.  You're welcome!

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