Gardening

Gardens and Nature of Costa Rica Day 5

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Raindrops falling on my head… in front of my hotel room in Tortuguero, Costa Rica.

Tortuguero is in a rainforest and receives about 6 m of rain per year. We had no difficulty in believing that! During the night, it rained fairly softly and intermittently, but at around 4:30 am, a big downpour thundered down so hard on the roof that it woke most of the people in the group. The first photo shows the walkway outside my room in the rain.

We were scheduled to leave at 6 am for a boat expedition to discover the animals of the region. There was coffee and cookies to get us started, because we were only to have breakfast when we got back. As it was raining , a few travellers did not show up, convinced that the tour was cancelled, but the bravest were there, umbrella or poncho ready.

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The Jesus Christ lizard can actually take off running on water when it is startled.
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Yellow-crowned night heron

This time we were in a boat without a roof so we could better see the wildlife. As we left, the water was perfectly still and we were hopeful the rain had stopped, but that didn’t last. For the rest of the visit, it either rained hard or lightly. We still saw animals (spider monkeys, bats, Jesus Christ lizards, an iguana, and several birds (green ibises, yellow-crowned night herons, two species of kingfisher and others), but with rain and grey weather, it was not easy to take good pictures

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Pachira aquatica

Among the plants seen along the canals were orchids, allamandas, bignonias, and others, but I especially liked Pachira aquatica, a jungle tree with a huge white flower and numerous stamens. I grow this one at home, but it has never bloomed for me.

We got back damp but happy, ready to gulp down the hot breakfast that was waiting for us. And as soon as we arrived, the clouds disappeared and the sun came out!

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Cochliostemma ordoratissima

In mid-morning, we did a tour of the hotel garden that I commented. Many of the plants were tropical fruits, like carambolas and cacaos, but also some stunning trees and really attractive natives Cochliostema odoratissimum, an epiphytic member of the Tradescanta family, was especially spectacular). Then we went on a tour of the hotel’s nature trail with our guide Andrea. This meant putting on rubber boots (supplied) and a good coating of mosquito repellent.

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Tiny red frog

The trail was very muddy and therefore the boots were very much needed: in fact, I nearly lost one in the mud! We saw lots of little red frogs, several birds and some very original plants, but do watch the spines: some are quite nasty! One curious thing: there are small white bats (yes, white!) that create a nest for the day by partly cutting leaves so they bend down and provide protection and we managed to get a peak at one such colony.

After lunch, we had a second boat expedition. This not included in the usual Tortuguero package, but well worth it, because many other kinds of wildlife can be seen in the late afternoon than in early morning. And of course, in our case, with the morning tour having been a bit of a washout (not that anyone complained, mind up), we were certainly all up for a second try in much better weather. We left at 3 pm, just as the heat was dropping… and also the time the animals start to come out again.

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Spider monkey

We stopped several times in the hotel’s canal to see Jesus Christ lizards and especially spider monkeys, the latter much more visible in sunny weather. We saw many of them, including a small group of 3 young ones chase each other around a tree like children playing!

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My capture of the day: a small turtle.

As we floated along, I saw a small turtle right by the boat, just under the water. Well, those old hunting instincts came to the fore and in a second I had it in my hand so the others could see. We released him, of course. I promised if I saw a caiman, I’d bring it into the boat as well, but that was voted down.

 

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Jacana

Then we went out on the Palmas canal and went out onto Penetencia Lagoon. We saw lots of animals and birds, including iguanas of all sizes, jacanas, tiger herons, green herons, toucans, anhingas and many more. By the end of the afternoon, with the temperature absolutely perfect and the black water of the lagoon reflecting the giant trees all around us, we were about as close to heaven as anyone could possibly be on earth!

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Swainson’s toucan

On the way back, as darkness was falling, we saw a most impressive bird, the largest toucan of Costa Rica: Swainson’s Toucan. Spectacular.

By the time we pulled into the hotel’s canal, it was after 6 pm and dark. Still we managed to spot a few small bats, apparently enjoying the insects we were disturbing. What magical day! You can take me to Tortuguero anytime: it really is heaven on earth!

All that’s left to say is we had a delicious group meal in the restaurant that evening… and I for one went to bed very early (about 9 pm): see what no TV does to you? 

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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