Costa Rica, Part 2

Ellyn Bush and Tom Davis

Last Updated: August 4, 2002

You can click on almost any image (anything but the Basilisk lizard and the Amazon kingfisher) on this page to see a larger version.

This page documents the second half of our trip to Costa Rica in 2002. You can read about the first half (which Tom Did by himself) by clicking here. During this second half, we spent time at the Arenal volcano, in Monteverde, and in Palo Verde. Arenal

Arenal in the clouds

The second half of Costa Rica 2002 began with Tom, Ellyn, Freddy and Barbara on the hunt for a live volcano. We made reservations at the Arenal Lodge in order to have the perfect view of the Arenal volcano. This photo is from our balcony. Upon our arrival, we were disappointed to find the top of Arenal completely cloud-covered. We ended up staying 4 days, and having other non-volcano-related adventures (see below).

By the end of the 4 days (well, three nights), we had joked about going into any restaurant in town and taking a photo of the photo of Arenal which is on the wall of each. Then we could use Photoshop to paste images of ourselves in the photo.

Further Lands

Further Lands

Given our lousy weather, we checked out the hotel brochure for other activities around Arenal. We were amused to find a warning indicating one should be careful when hiking because "you could find snakes such as further lands and boa constrictor." Clearly, the spell-checker was not familiar with the fer-de-lance. Well, what probably happened is that the author was not a native English speaker, and although the snake's name was spelled correctly by him, when the spell-checker suggested "further lands", he meekly went along with it.



We took a boat ride along the Rio Frio toward Caño Negro. We asked why the river had this name, and the boat driver said it was because Costa Ricans like to name things the opposite of what they are. Although this was billed as a trip to the lake, Caño Negro, we spent 4 hours in the boat and never actually made it to the lake. It was hot, muggy and whenever we stopped, we were attacked by hundreds of mosquitos. However, the animal viewing along the shore was quite good, including caimans (Caiman crocodilus), bats, lizards and kingfishers.


Kingfisher on a stick

Especially kingfishers. There were hundreds of them, and of all sorts. Tom is a sort of kingfisher nut, and this river ride was pure heaven for him. It would have been great to see the real Caño Negro, however.

Here is an Amazon Kingfisher.

We were pretty pissed by the tour. It was not a problem with the guide and route, but the fact that we were told that we were going into the park and we didn't. In fact, when we questioned the price originally (it was about $50 per person), we were told that it included, among other things, a park entrance fee which accounted for $6 of the price. It's the same thing that happens on the vast majority of tours to Tortuguero (which is another national park in Costa Rica) as well; the boats race through the park to take you to lodges on the other side where you spend your time. At least they do go through the park on the way to the lodges, however.


Bats on a stick

Here are a bunch of bats lined up under a dead rotting trunk that's overhanging the Rio Frio. For some reason, bats love to do this. We've seen them lined up like this on many occasions. It's no doubt quite safe for the bats; what predator is going to risk falling into a fast-moving caiman-infested river by climbing a branch that overhangs the river?

On your first trip to any neotropical country where you take nature tours like this, you're always amazed when the guide finds a row of bats like this. One guide told us that the bats are in the same place every day for years; they find a good spot and stay there.

On this same trip, the guide was able to point out to us in a manner that would have been completely magical, a Great Potoo—a large owl-like or nighthawk-like bird that is almost completely nocturnal, and while it is resting, it is almost invisible on a tree trunk. Well, our guide admitted that this one had been on exactly the same spot on the trunk for the 13 years since he found it.

The potoos are wonderful birds however. It was impossible on this trip to get a photo; he was way up in the tree, but I do have a photo taken the year before not of the Great Potoo, but of the Common Potoo. It is near the bottom of this web page.

Jesus Christ Lizard

Jesus Christ Lizard

This Basilisk lizard, otherwise known as Jesus Christ Lizard, as it is famous for "walking on water", by forcing a tiny air bubble under its feet with each step. It also takes its steps amazingly rapidly. Sometimes you will see one on the bank of a river, and suddenly there's a blinding flash of motion, after which the lizard is calmly standing on the opposite shore, and there is a line of splash marks on the surface of the water.



At the lodge in Monteverde there was a butterfly farm which was a large screen-enclosed building. It was mesmerizing sitting inside, with hundreds of butterflies flapping around your head.

Morpho on camera

Morpho on camera

The morpho butterflies are beautiful and thus they are a favorite in butterfly gardens. This was true at the lodge in Monteverde as well, and inside there were morphos all over the place, and here's one that perched on Ellyn's camera.

Heliconius Butterfly

Heliconius butterfly

Here's a nice heliconius butterfly sitting on a lantana plant. These butterflies are all poisonous (or at least pretty foul-tasting) to birds, so they are protected from predation since each bird eats one and usually decides never to try another one like it again. The butterflies therefore engage in a kind of mimicry where they evolve to look like one-another. In this case they are all poisonous, but still, the bigger the group of similar-looking animals that are poisonous, the easier it is for the birds to learn not to eat them.

Tom did an Earthwatch project in Ecuador in 1998 where we studied exactly this mimicry in the heliconius butterflies. It was a real adventure. You can read about it here, where you'll find a lot more details on this sort of mimicry. But mostly you should read it for the adventure.

Super Cristian

Super Cristian

Freddy and Barbara's car suffered a flat tire on the journey to the lodge, and we went into the little town of Fortuna to get the tire repaired. Tom was very pleased to find the grocery store named "Super Cristian", especially because he felt they were more honest than most: they displayed the vast supply of hard liquor right up front near the checkout stand.

Freddy was fascinated by various insects and other small creatures. He enjoyed observing the large streams of leaf-cutter ants we would come upon occasionally, all marching in one direction, carrying a large section of freshly cut leaf. However, he couldn't leave well enough alone, and had to interact with them somehow. Frequently, he would turn one of the ants around 180 degrees and set it back down on the trail, and then wait for it to figure out it was going against traffic. He was pleased to find it was merely a matter of seconds before the little guy figured it out, and turned himself around. Walking stick

Walking stick

The insects were mutually attracted to Freddy, as evidenced by this walking stick on his shirt.


Arenal in the clouds

By our last day at Arenal, our view of the volcano was the same, completely cloud-covered. We had heard no eruptions, saw no lava, and began to think that the pictures of the erupting volcano in every restaurant and tourist spot in town were a giant hoax.

We then went to the Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve. We traveled across Lake Arenal in a small, uncovered boat in the rain, and took a small bus up into the cloudforest to the Hotel Villa Verde where we stayed the next two nights. The hotel is conveniently located just 1.5 kilometers from the park entrance. Barbara and Freddy stayed at a nearby hotel, but arrived later, as they were coming by car. Tom and I did a 4 hour hike upon our arrival, and didn't see half the amount of wildlife we then saw the following day, when the four of us took a tour of the cloudforest reserve with a guide. Cloudforest


This view is from the top of one of the trails, and looks out over the forest. Though it is extremely dense, one can still appreciate breaks in the canopy, where light (and rain!) can penetrate.

Strangler Fig

Strangler Fig

This is a photo of the same strangler fig which Tom took on our first trip to Costa Rica. In fact, it's probably the most photographed strangler fig in Costa Rica. It looks bizarre, is right on a main trail in one of the most popular tourist attractions in Costa Rica, Monteverde. For proof, take a look at a photo near the top of this page, for example.

Fern Fern head


Given the cloudforest weather conditions, the trails there were spectacular with plant life, especially ferns.


Guaba ron ron ron, da doo ron ron

Some of the plants in the reserve are labeled along the trail, and upon seeing this one, we were instantly reminded of the famous song from the 60s by The Crystals, entitled Da Doo Ron Ron.... "I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still, da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron, Somebody told me that his name was Bill..."

Caterpillar on fern

Caterpillar on Fern

Caterpillars are abundant in this reserve, many elaborately decorated and brightly colored.


Caterpillar eats leaf

One can appreciate the rate at which the forest is consumed by these animals, which are basically leaf-eating machines, leaf in and frass out (see Tom's description of the Earthwatch expedition that made up the first half of this trip).

At the park entrance at Monteverde were a table and benches where one could sit and eat, or wait to meet up with the guides, etc. Just waiting at this spot, we had some of our best sightings: including a fox and an Orange-bellied Trogon. Hummingbird


Also at the park entrance there was the obligatory hummingbird feeder, which was constantly visited by at least 5 species of hummingbirds.

We were probably able to make reservations so easily at the last minute everywhere as it was the "off" or rainy season. The reason it was called the rainy season was apparent to us from Day #1, however, in truth, the rain didn't really hamper any of our plans significantly. It was often nice in the mornings, and rained late in the day or in the evening, and by then, we were so tired from hiking that sitting and drinking a cold beer watching the downpour was a welcome activity.

Our last night there was one of the most impressive thunderstorms we've ever experienced. There was an incredible amount of rainfall in a short period of time, but even more frightening was the volume of the thunder (remember, we're near the top of this cloudforest, in a wood-sy lodge). At one point, the building was struck by lightening, and this was louder than any noise I'd ever heard (including zurna, tupan, etc.).

The hotel staff was looking very worried at that point. Of course, their phone line was out, and their computer was apparently "fried" through the modem. I figured that would be enough to frustrate anybody in the hotel industry. No, in fact, they didn't really care about the lack of those communication devices. What concerned them was the satellite dish and TV being out, and the finals for the world cup soccer were to be played the following day.

This lack of phone line nearly hindered our leaving Monteverde the following day. We were to catch a bus leaving from the nearby town of Santa Elena at 7:00am, and the staff had told us that if we showed up at the office at 6:20, they'd call a taxi for us. We showed up on time, and found the office locked and staff asleep, and unarousable. Eventually, after pounding on some doors until nearly 7:00, we managed to awaken somebody, who then discovered the phones were indeed still out. He simply ran out to the street and flagged down a random driver going by, who agreed to take us to the bus station in the nearby town. By that time, it was already 7:00, and we figured it was hopeless, and anticipated having a 3 hour breakfast in town while waiting for the next bus out.

We drove up the dirt road into town, and suddenly encountered a bus driving out in the other direction. The driver pulled our car in front of the bus, forcing it to stop, and he jumped out and told the driver we had to get in. The driver happily got out, stowed our luggage underneath the bus, and we were one our way with a 3 hour bus ride toward Palo Verde. Palo Verde Marsh

Palo Verde Marsh

We had been to Palo Verde, near the Tempisque River, together several years ago. We wished to return there to see our friends, Nicole and Mauricio, and experience it in the rainy season, which, it turns out, is quite different compared with the dry season. We realized why the verde in Palo Verde!

The final portion of our trip to Palo Verde consisted of a taxi ride from the highway into the research station), and took a bit longer than expected. We got off the bus at Caño, and got a taxi driver to agree to take up on the one hour plus ride out to the station. The taxi was more like a modified little truck, and we were riding along when suddenly, the car came to a stop, and the driver got out, opened the hood, and scratched his head for a long time. We were on a dirt road and there was flat pasture as far as one could see in any direction. The clutch cable had broken, and though he was able to depress the pedal to the floor, nothing happened. The driver was thus unable to change gears.

He was, however, able to restart the engine in gear (as long as it was first gear) and crawl along in first gear for awhile, but soon the driver was worried he would burn out the engine, so he cleverly stopped at the top of a little hill, pointing downhill. Then he shut off the engine, and put it into second gear. As the car rolled down with the help of the starter motor, he managed to get it started, and we successfully completed the trip in second gear. Of course we couldn't stop for anything or we'd kill the engine. We don't know how he got back; presumably the same way.

While at Palo Verde, we took a boat ride along the Tempisque River, but this trip was more successful than when we last visited it. (Several years ago, we found a guy to take us out in a little boat along the river to the Isla de Pajaros to view the nesting storks. On our way back, I suddenly noticed water flowing into the boat, nearly to Tom's ankles, and Tom recalls me asking him why this was so! We discovered a rather substantial leak in the bottom of the boat, and had to bail like crazy. However, the water kept flowing in, and we ended up having to sit toward the rear and gun the engine to point the nose of the boat up, and keep the hole above water. We made it back safely, though were concerned, as the river was loaded with crocodiles. The following day we went back, and the boat was gone.) Below are the crocodiles which we feared...

crocodile1 crocodile2


There were lots of crocs in the Tempisque river!

During our other days at Palo Verde, we explored the hiking trails on our own. It was quite hot and humid, and much more lush and green than on our previous trip there in the dry season. Tom had been helping with an Earthwatch project involving ants and their relationship to the acacia plant. At Palo Verde, we saw several species of the bullhorn acacia, with which these ants have a symbiotic relationship. I had more of a personal experience with these ants, as I brushed a bit close to one of these acacia guarded by the ants, and one ant dropped down on my collar. I received to hefty stings on the neck from these little buggers. Though they are tiny, and we are so used to ants being harmless in California, I was impressed with the pain associated with this sting (about 10 minutes' worth of swearing...)

open acacia Closed Acacia

Open and Closed Acacia

There is another species of acacia, not protected by ants, but rather with another self-protecting mechanism. The leaves are normally spread out, in fan-like fashion, until touched. When something (e.g. an animal) brushes up against it, or as in this case, when I touch it with my hand, the leaves promptly close up in about 2 seconds, and remain shut for a period of time, thus making them less amenable to being eaten. On the left is the open acacia and on the right is the same on in a closed state.

Around the research station, there were large iguanas, about 1 meter long. They would hang out on the grass, and bob their heads up and down as some type of iguana signal, the sight of which could have been enhanced had we put a set of headphones on them. They were very adept at climbing the trees, and occasionally, while sitting outside, we would hear a sudden "whomp", when one of these large fellows would simply fall out of the tree nearby and race off. Iguana Palo Verde Iguana


The iguana on the right is shedding its skin. If you click on the thumbnail image, you may be able to see the shedding skin.

Grasshoppers More Grasshoppers

Load of Black Grasshoppers

On one of our hikes, we discovered one bush which was absolutely covered with the same species of grasshoppers, and figured they must have just hatched.

The research station had a soccer team which consisted of guys largely in their 20s probably, and they would play other local town teams on Thursday nights. They had official uniforms, and one could tell that this was a sport taken very seriously. Also at the research station, we met three (female) students from Wellesley, who were working on a summer project in Costa Rica, apparently having to do with farmer environmental education. One day, these students and Mauricio asked Tom if he'd like to join them in a game of ultimate frisbee. Tom hadn't really played much frisbee, but figured he knew how to throw one, probably much better than the Costa Ricans, and at least his skill with the frisbee would make up a little for his advanced age (53). He was secretly relieved that they hadn't ask him to join in on a soccer game.

At 5:00pm, he showed up as instructed, wearing running shorts, a T-shirt, and his hiking/running shoes. At that point, they all somehow decided they were going to play soccer instead, and Tom was drafted to play. The "field" was the former airplane landing strip, which probably hadn't been used for its intended purpose for years. It was next to the marsh pictured above, and also adjacent to a large cow pasture.

After about 90 minutes, Tom returned, completely exhausted, dehydrated and bedraggled. I don't recall him looking that bad after any of the marathons he had done. It was nothing that rest, dinner and lots of fruit juice couldn't cure. However, as we were going to bed, we were impressed by the sight of his feet: chiggers

Tom's foot with chiggers

We had always been warned of chiggers, and knew they were especially abundant in areas near cow pastures. Well, that is certainly correct! Though Tom had insect repellent on his legs, he had neglected his feet, or to spray his socks or shoes (which the other players knew to do). There is also a theory sulfur powder, applied to areas where clothing is tight, such as ankles, waistline, etc.) also helps to prevent the chigger bites, but Tom has usually gotten around that by simply wearing knee-high rubber boots. The boots perhaps would have prevented the gashes he received in the shin during the soccer game (not pictured), but they would have made playing a bit awkward.


Beetle on Hand


Black Caterpillar



Fuzzy Black Caterpillar

Fuzzy black caterpillar



Labios de Puta

Labios de puta

The translation of the name is "whore's lips", for obvious reasons. The bright red is not petals, but a bract. The plant is in the genus Psychotria, family Rubiaceae.

Lone Grasshopper

Lone grasshopper

Orange Caterpillar

Orange Caterpillar


Plant Art

Spider Web

Spider Web

Spiny Solinacea

Spiny Solinacea

Want to send me mail? Click here:

Return to my home page.