Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Costa Rica 23

I awoke the next morning feeling great but a little apprehensive. I guess I shouldn’t have, but I was. We had now made our little mini jungle walk at Punta Uva and done a beach rain forest walk in Cahuita. So I had two jungly trips under my belt. Today was to be our third and most intense. We were going to a place called Estacion Biologica La Selva, or the biological research station of the jungle. It is run by the Organization of Tropical Studies and is teeming with scientists and volunteers. All there to study the jungle of course! I had done some reading about it on the internet and the guided tours offered there. One had to go with a guide, there were no self guided tours allowed. This filled me with a bit of apprehension. Was it that dangerous? They also said that no flip flops or sandals were allowed on the trails. Only a closed shoe or boots. This was due to the abundance of bullet ants (so named because if they bite you it feels like you have been shot) and SNAKES that one might encounter. Oh great. What had I let myself in for?

Since the tour we had scheduled started at 8 AM, we were up early and made our way to the community patio where our included breakfast was to be served. Alex, the owner, along with his wife whom we never saw, had fixed a big platter of scrambled eggs. There was fresh homemade bread and a toaster if we wanted, fresh squeezed orange juice and lots of fruit, but mostly pineapple. The white kind. And coffee! We shared the community table with the other guests that had the other half of our cabin area. This was a husband, wife and 10 year old son. I think they were from Pennsylvania. No matter. They were friendly and kept the conversation to where we had all been in CR and where everybody was yet to go. Breakfast consumed, we returned to our room and gathered our day pack with cameras, umbrellas and my trip log. Alex had offered to drive us to La Selva and we didn’t want to keep him waiting or be late for our tour.

We arrived, purchased our tickets, had our footwear checked and were instructed to wait for our English speaking guide to start the tour. As it turns out, we were the only Americans (and Brit!) on the tour that day and the only native English speaking people. The other people were Costa Ricans, there on holiday. Of course, like most every other person in the world, they were bilingual and spoke perfect English. I guess this 8 AM English tour was the first of the day so they just went along on that since they would have no problem understanding the guide. As it turns out, the guide was also Costa Rican and he had no trouble switching from English to Spanish and conducted a bilingual tour! I was suitably impressed.

We were given a brief introduction as to what we could expect to see, warned to stay on the path and to be careful of anything we touched. Then we were taken to a geological map of the area and given a very boring speech about the development and slow erosion of the jungle. I guess that was the bio/eco part of the tour. We then were led out of the compound and crossed a rather high, but wide, suspension bridge over a river. I thought B might freak out at this point, but he managed to cross with no incident. Of course, he did not hang over the edge and look down into the turbulent brown waters rushing beneath us like the rest of us did, but I was proud of him for crossing without making a fuss about it. Remember, he hates small places, high places and suspension bridges! This combined two of his dislikes!

We then passed through a rather open area with buildings dotted here and there. Administration, research and lodging for the volunteers. One volunteer did nothing but count leaf cutter ants all day to monitor the stability of their nest. I think I would fall asleep or at least loose my vision trying to do that all day! We finally passed through these more civilized areas and entered the jungle proper.

It was fantastic. At first, we were on a cement sidewalk that had been built and was wide enough for two people. The guide was excellent and really knew his stuff. After we had stopped and looked at perhaps our fifth Toucan up in a tree, I wanted to tell him that that was enough with the birds, but I didn’t! He pointed out various trees and vines and explained what they were, how they grew and why they grew like they did. Interesting stuff. I would have missed it on my own, but he stopped the group and pointed out a golden orb spider and its’ web. Evidently, this is the strongest material found in nature and various Armies of the world (including ours!) have tried to reproduce it or use it somehow in bullet proof vests. To no avail though. The spider itself looked like most garden variety spiders and is not poisonous or anything. The truly amazing thing, which we were able to clearly see when the sun shone on its’ web, was that it really was gold. Not white or clear like most webs, but actually looked like it had been spun of gold. Really cool.

Next we entered into the more dense portion of the jungle and the going got a bit tougher, the sidewalk giving way to dirt path in places. But things definitely started to get more interesting too.

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