Posted by: ktzefr | February 10, 2010

Magical Moments: Costa Rica

…boxes full of thoughts/and loads of magic hours, and/a wagon of clear dreams…” ~David Escobar Galindo

Good NewsTo Come and Go Like Magic was released TODAY!

A special copy went all the way to San Miguel de Allende in the central mountains of Mexico…


Noemi, at Casa Hogar Santa Julia, gets the first copy in town!

Bad News:  We’re expecting another foot of snow!

Stuck in place at the study window, looking out at the white world, I open my box full of thoughts and search for the magic…

I was never a big fan of Star Trek, but I think of that show almost every time I travel.  I imagine being able to say, “Beam me up, Scotty!”  Wouldn’t it be great to get where you’re going — or get back home — in a few seconds?  Maybe.  But I can’t help remembering that some of my favorite places require multiple airplane, taxi, and boat rides to reach.   And the “journey” is always worth the effort.  Take, for example, the village of Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.  To get there  from DC requires a taxi, at least two flights, another taxi, and a two-hour bus ride… followed by another hour in a boat.  In this notebook entry pulled from an old file I’ve skipped the taxis and flights and headed straight for the bus.


San Jose, Costa Rica

We leave the city of San Jose on a bus and head into the mountains and over the Continental Divide.  Wild impatiens grow along the roadside and up and down the cliffs, and there are little plants that look like umbrellas, like the May apples that grow every spring in the hills of Kentucky.  The road twists up into the clouds, turning the valley below into a checkerboard of color — shades of green, brown, yellow, black.  Long greenhouses, scattered across the valley, grow roses and chrysanthemums for export.  There are millions of flowers!  Wild orchids in the trees, bougainvillea in rainbow colors…

High in the clouds the coffee bushes are in bloom.   Shiny green leaves and white blossoms.  Coffee plantations stretch for miles and at every curve the road drops away into a blue infinity, falling from the cliff’s edge to the sky.  In a distant canyon the rumble of a waterfalls…

At the highest point we start down the other side on a roller coaster ride in slow motion, round and round the mountain, in and out of clouds, down to the tropical lowlands where the temperature goes up, the air thickens, and the landscape turns into trailing vines, tree ferns, acacia, papaya, palms.  The world is a multitude of colors — flowers, butterflies, and birds (toucans, tanagers, parrots…).

When the paved road ends we bump over miles of potholes and through muddy trenches alongside banana plantations.  Banana trees grow thick along both sides of the narrow road, making the world green in every direction, broken only in spots where little villages sprout up like odd-looking plants.  Tiny houses painted blue and pink and yellow sit on stilts to avoid the flooding from the rains.  Here in the lowlands the rains come frequently; but deeper in the rainforest, where we’re headed, it rains every day and often in torrents.

There are no roads to Tortuguero.  For the last leg of our journey we board a boat and head upriver.  From this inland dock we’ll go all the way to the end of the Tortuguero River where it empties into the Caribbean Sea.  We float through pretty lavender hyacinths, the smell of white ginger hanging in the air.  It feels like we’re in a movie — The African Queen, The Emerald Forest, The Mosquito Coast.  In a little cove shrouded with hanging vines and mangrove trees a group of women and children stand knee-deep in the water catching grass shrimp for bait.  Little boys run along the shore waving and shouting, their voices lost finally in the engine sounds, the boat’s wake.  Spotted cows roam the beach; houses are perched along the river bank, clotheslines drooping with shirts and dresses…white linen blowing in the breeze.

Thirty minutes into the boat trip a crocodile crosses the river close behind us, opening and closing its mouth slowly as if warning us not to get too close.

We snap pictures, search for monkeys in the trees.  Howler monkeys holler and swing between branches.  This fellow has almost stripped the tree of leaves.

Sloths curve their bodies into the high branches.  A sloth enjoys the life of leisure, coming down from his perch only once or twice a week. Since they rarely move, it’s hard to spot a sloth in the jungle — unless the guide knows where to look.  We’re lucky our guide passed this way recently and points out a couple of sloths still snoozing in the same spots.

…Caiman glide through the water, hardly making a ripple.  Sometimes all you can see are two big eyes sticking above the surface.  Iguanas drape their slinky bodies over the branches of mangrove trees, and there are birds everywhere — anhingas, ibis, roseate spoonbills, heron, kingfishers…

Finally, we reach Mawamba, a lodge that sits on a strip of sand and forest between the Tortuguero River and the Caribbean Sea.  A two-minute walk in either direction leads to water’s edge.

flight over Tortuguero...the skinny spit of land closest to the sea.

Our hut has a tin roof, a bathroom, and a ceiling fan that clicks and spurts.  The front porch overlooks the wild gardens and jungle.  Screened windows (no glass) have thick wooden shutters to close at night.

A boa constrictor is curled beneath a tree in our front yard!  The snake is such a part of the landscape that at first we walk right by without noticing.

I make a list of things to remember: don’t walk barefoot to the bathroom in the dark; shake out shoes and clothes in case of scorpions; always carry the snake bite kit; wear mosquito repellent, long sleeves, long pants, a hat, hiking boots.  We could only bring one backpack each stuffed with everything we’d need for three days! A pair of shoes for hiking, flip flops for the pool and dinner.  A couple of tee shirts, pants, a skirt that doesn’t wrinkle.  Ha! (We will use the snake bite kit one time to suck the venom from a mega mosquito bite.  It works!  The “bump” goes flat in seconds.)

Time moves in slow motion…swinging in a hammock beside the river, looking for dart frogs in the foliage, hiking in the rainforest, floating in the pool, walking the black sand beach…

Black sand beach, Tortuguero National Park

Sometime during the early morning hours I wake up to rain pounding on the tin roof.  The ceiling fan is still spinning but the flapping sound is silenced by the torrential downpour.  I sit on the edge of the bed and open the heavy wooden shutters, peer out into the jungle, mesmerized by this otherworldly beauty.   At first light the rain stops and the green world starts to gradually take shape again through the mist, like a setting from a fairytale.  The curtain rises.  It’s magical…

See Horizontes Nature Tours (Excellent tours, knowledgeable guides, great experiences)



  1. Katie, I was waitng to read about those photos you would mention that you did not have of home in Kentucky. If you ever run into those please post them. I did enjoy the others though. The Pickard name is a Knox County staple . From sheriff to a country store to an auto dealership to many other Pickard venues the name is a part of the history of Knox County.

    • There is a group of Kentucky photos under the post “Remembered Landscapes” and a few scattered other places — one at the end of my “BIO,” I think. These are older blog posts, but you can find in the “Archives” list on the sidebar or by clicking on “Appalachia” or “Kentucky” in the tags (bottom of sidebar)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: