Wednesday, January 21, 2009

La Fortuna, Costa Rica I

In my younger days, I wanted my critters wild and the experience unsullied. If I didn’t have it in me to walk a fortnight through the rain forest to track the splendid Quetzal to its home range, then it wasn’t going to get done. I thought about those days on my drive to San Jose’s Zoo Ave this morning. How noble, expensive and unproductive my younger days were.

The private reserve (it sounds so much more eco-friendy than “zoo”) lies under the international airport’s approach path, and I had to wind my way through a knot of tour buses to find parking. Carting an expedition’s worth of camera gear, I paid my $17 entrance fee, set up my tripod and went to work amidst the squawking tourist throng. Macaws in several colorful flavors, check. White Face Capuchins, got ‘em. Peacocks...I don’t even know if they have them in the wild here, but I got shots of them too.

Pride is for people with positive cash flow.

Packing up, I headed out of town for Costa Rica’s famed cloud forests. Monteverde is on everyone’s list, but in the meantime I found a private reserve on the way north into the central highlands. Driving back a winding one-lane farm road, I finally found the entrance gate. Twenty bucks to hike in the reserve, thirty if I wanted a guide. The idea of hiring a wizened forest elder on the cheap didn’t sound unreasonable. I figured he’d help find all of the stuff that I normally blundered past.

If nothing else I could get some help carrying my stuff.

My guide strolled up wearing jeans, sneakers and a very uncamouflage red t-shirt. And braces. On his teeth. Wizened he was not. It turns out his real job is running the zip line concession, which involves strapping tourists onto a steel cable hung through the forest primevel and sending them plummeting through said wilderness at breakneck, scream-inducing speeds. With the economic downturn, he had the afternoon free.

We had a very nice stroll through the woods, and he sometimes even took a break from his cellphone to have a look around. We also stopped to crawl around in the mud after some leafcutter ants (my find), ferns and rainforest greenery (ditto) and a small marsupial looking primate that had him flipping through his guidebook and scratching his head trying to identify. The Olingo (his best guess) is a nocturnal rodent that was busying himself dragging a ground nut rather larger than his head across the forest floor and up a tree. There was a lot of dropping of lenses, toppling of tripods and swearing involved in that one. The Olingo didn’t seem to be having all that much fun either, as he struggled to carry a heavy nut the size of a grapefruit up a tree.

He’d make it halfway then gravity would win out and he’d have to start all over again.

As I picked up the cameras and lenses I’d scattered across the forest floor, I could sympathize.

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