My son and I recently took a trip to Costa Rica. This trip to Costa Rica took a lot of planning by my son. We visited three cities in one week, traveling by bus! Getting off the plane in San Jose was like being slapped in the face by all our senses. The traffic, sounds, and smells were all overpowering. We were able to meet up with two of our Tico friends very quickly. That was a miracle due to the crowd. They were able to secure us a place in a hostel in San Jose. The Pangea Hostel was a very pleasant experience. It had an internet café with a beautiful view of the mountains from the outside terrace. It was a perfect place for a delightful breakfast.

After a short visit with locals, Eduardo and Jose, we headed south to Rio Claro De Golfito which is close to Panama. This is a beautiful banana area, but not necessarily a tourist destination. The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy pass through there due to the deep gulf. While there we visited a pastor friend, Don Santiago. He showed us a wonderful time and he was able to find us a small cabin to stay in for a reasonable price.


Tamarindo was our next and main destination, so we hopped on a bus from Rio Claro De Golfito for a long crazy ride up north.  Tamarindo is known for the beach and surf. We met with friends from the church Capilla del Calvario en Villarreal, near Tamarindo. Tamarindo is a tourist town. When you shop in the stores, you will meet folks from around the world. It is truly a haven for world travelers.


The beach (playa) was our favorite place. Eddie and his friends added to the experience, when they put together a sunset bond-fire on the beach, where we sang worship songs and prayed. In Tamarindo we also took in the local bull riding festival. Later on, my son and a backpacker from Canada were able to play a soccer match with the local Ticos. This was a nice touch for the end of our journey.

A few things to know: You should have a knowledge of the language; Ticos use Colonials in place of the dollar. You can safely eat and drink in Costa Rica. The taxies and buses will run on time and will get you anywhere you wish to go. Close your eyes during the bus ride! Take your time and enjoy your stay because Costa Rica is a true paradise. Pura vida!

I discovered the main dangers and annoyances of budget travel abroad are our crazy fellow backpackers and dolebludgers in the resort town of Motezuma, “costa Rica” (Costa Rica). But I became entranced with the art of Saul Bolanos shown throughout my humorous story.

In the back of a flatbed truck several other travelers and I bumped along, discussing the upcoming fiesta at an outdoor disco in a secret (no: discreet ) location. I heard a British-sounding accent coming from a guy with obvious red hair. Usually I was naturally suspicious of people with red hair, but since I had a nice buzz on, I decided to engage him in a light conversation.
“Hey, are you English?” The redhead said, “Yah, I’m from London, mate. I’m hiding out in Costa Rica because I just escaped from a mental asylum.”

Was he pulling my leg? Silence ensued, everyone deciding to keep their mouths zipped shut until we all arrived safely at the party and could move around freely. Finally there, the ginger-haired madman followed me around like Spam sticking to a Pam-sprayed pan.
“May I buy you a drink?”
“No thanks, I know what it is like to be a poor traveler.”
“Uh, I guess so, but I’m really not that thirsty.”
“You know when a man offers to buy you a drink you are supposed to accept it. It’s just not on, it’s just not on!”
We went to the bar, and I watched carefully as he ordered me a “cuba libre” (ron y coke), making sure he didn’t Rufi it.
“Thanks!” I exhaled.

Then as “Shakira” came on–(“I’m on tonight, my hips don’t lie. . .”)–I began to shake and shimmy, pretending I could dance, making an extreme break for it, losing myself in the crowd.
When I tried to catch a gypsy cab (unlicensed drive), there the ginger-haired madman was again, looking really quite aggravated with me really. “Let’s go outside behind the disco, there is something I want to talk to you about.” “Uh later, gotta go,” I said, stuffing myself quickly into the unlicensed drive. We sped off down the dirt road, the Latin American driver grimacing like Chuck Heston in The Omega Man.

Now let me fast-forward a little:
The general consensus was: everyone seemed to have some gripe about the ginger-haired madman, a sizable crowd even accusing him of lifting their wallets or nicking their souvies. My only problem with this British devil was that I had an extreme fear of clowns sporting red hair, such as Caesar Romero as “The Joker,” Bozo, Rip Torn, Brian Adams, William Macy, and Carrot Top. In a way, I almost felt sorry for the poor blighter when he was kicked out of the hostel I was staying in, a Grimm nightmare of sweltering shack rooms and cots with stained mattresses, plus a padlock to help protect our gear from poachers.

Feeling relieved that the ginger-haired madman was at last gone for good, I hiked along the beach, carefully avoiding soiling my Rockports on huge piles of horse poo. Then I took the trial of the trail which led to an even better beach, absolutely empty. I plopped down in the sand and squinted at the hyperreal horizon through my trademark Olivers Peoples sunnies, then looked down the beach. Approaching quickly like a swelling pimple, the ginger-haired madman, muttering like a member of a lunatic fringe whose hair was on fire, seemingly, began barreling toward me at an impressive mph. Licketysplit, I got up and jogged over to the nearby waterfall, and hid among the rocks close to some topless babes, who both stuck out their tongues at me.

On their portable Grundig shortwave radio, “Ottmar Leibert,” the Austrian Flamenco guitarist came on. I would be safe here—for a while at least. I didn’t have red hair or anything crazy like that, man! and neither did I have ugly freckles nor acne scars. But I felt like a leprous Lazarus from “Star Trek” (original series) being chased down by his doppelganger, both negating each other into the astrophysical oblivion of an alternate universe. Which of course was all that Costa Rica was: a Paid Advertisement, a postcard-perfect paradox, a PC playground sandbox, and an eco tourismo trap in which to lay low. Also, here was the ideal idyll to set up an “Import-Export” business, an international euphemism for “chronic unemployment.” I felt like an icky “spider” (spy) spinning out Marquezian and Allendean Magic Realism dreams of American-style Montezuma’s Revenge!
In reverse.
“Aha, Edwards!” The ginger-haired madman had spotted me. His matted Medusa-like red hair coiled in the sun like official fire hoses. I suddenly realized he might indeed be the Devil Himself. Or, at least, one of his minions. Maybe a Dane? Energetically, I took up jogging as an extreme spectator sport, aiming myself like “The Pathfinder” toward a sanctuary farther on in the rainforest, filled with familiar-seeming howler monkeys peeing on me, once again continuing my eternal scour for the world’s most perfect beach. . . .

The last 18 miles of the road leading to the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica, full of ruts and potholes by design, takes over an hour and a half to navigate. The locals like it that way. And they choose not to fix it because it would be too easy then for tourists to visit. That may not sound all that hospitable, but it illustrates the emphasis Costa Ricans place on conservation. And the Cloud Forest, which I visited recently as part of an Overseas Adventure Travel tour of Costa Rica, is indeed an ecological marvel worth saving — and seeing. But you have to really want to go there!
So what exactly is a cloud forest? Well, contrary to popular thinking, it is not where all your technological apps are stored. It is, instead, a rare kind of rain forest where plants actually grow ON TOP of trees. The technical explanation is that “the combination of altitude, humidity and irregular topography creates a unique environmental situation where the clouds remain low for most of the year, preventing the advent of sun, locking in moisture, and creating an atmosphere where plant activity is so high that they actually cover the trees.” The non-technical explanation? Lots of clouds and rain result in every inch of the trees from bark to branch to be covered by things green and growing. These epiphytes, as the plants which grow on trees are called, cover every branch and limb, creating a dense wonderland of greenery. Fifty percent of all the vegetation in the cloud forest lives on the tops of trees.

Now I’ve been in many a rain forest before but never one so overwhelmingly green and lush, a blanket of emerald and jade and olive and lime, unrelenting and opaque. There are no empty branches, tree trunks or ground area so that the immersion in this sea of green is utterly complete. Each branch, bush, leaf is so unique in its color, design, texture, size, shape and sheen as to resemble more an art form than a mere fragment of foliage, in which Ellen Kaiden of Sarasota, Florida, the artist in the group, claimed to detect different emotions. “I was overwhelmed by the life force of the Costa Rican Cloud Forest. We were privileged guests in an alternative universe of the canopy. It was pure magic,” she noted.
Although our guide, Andres Herrera González, spent three hours discussing the ecological and biological implications of every plant, I was perfectly content to just let myself be absorbed into the visual immensity of my green-laden surroundings. Equally important to the expansive plant life is the multiplicity of animal life living among it. This enormously rich ecosystem supports 7% of the world’s plant and animal diversity in only 0.1% of the earth’s surface. It’s an amazing place but was only one of several rain and tropical forests, as well as beaches, villages and farms, we visited as part of OAT’s 12-day Costa Rican adventure.

And as important as the actual itinerary may be, what sets OAT apart from many other tour companies is its emphasis on Learning and Discovery, a part of the OAT philosophy that the company takes very seriously. And with a guide like Andres, a mere botanist with two Master’s degrees in ecotourism and sustainability, it was hard not to be learning all the time. Woven into the formal activities are opportunities to learn about the people, explore local markets and towns and participate in cultural exchanges.
But what happens outside that itinerary is equally interesting. The rides from place to place can be long but not boring. Perhaps you stop for lunch and get as dessert an unexpected exhibition of resident show horses belonging to the owner of the restaurant. A bathroom break brings a surprise demonstration of sugar cane extraction in an old mill. The fact that they mixed the resulting samples with local Costa Rican rum made the experience all the more special. Add to that a photo op of a volcano in which our eagle-eyed leader spotted a sloth in a nearby tree or a random opportunity to milk a cow at a local farm and the stops not included on the itinerary compete with those which are for excitement. And the time actually in the bus is consumed with lectures on history, geology, culture, political corruption and other controversial topics all surrounding the Costa Rican experience.
Meanwhile, back at the Cloud Forest, there was quite a bit of local color to break up the monotony of greenness. Time was spent seeking out – and reveling in — the unusual Resplendant Quetzel, a large rare and beautiful brightly colored bird that is as elusive in Costa Rica as the kiwi is in New Zealand. Traversing a series of hanging bridges provided a birds-eye view of the forest very different than that from the ground. Zip-lining across the tops of multiple trees ensured an experience in which the adrenaline rush clearly topped environmental appreciation — at least for the moment, and a visit to a hummingbird sanctuary where hundreds of the colorful little guys flapped their little wings with impossible-to-measure speed entranced tourists who desperately tried to capture them on camera and cell phone.
A meeting with Martha Campbell, the daughter of one of the original Quaker settlers of Monteverde in 1951, provided some historical context to the Cloud Forest community, which at that time had no plumbing, no electricity, no phone service and very few people. Though the community survived by cattle ranching initially, eventually the Quaker community discovered that a far greater good — as well as more money — could be accomplished thru conservation and the expanded tourism trade that followed.

Still she somewhat bemoans the large influx of tourists of the past two decades: “I wish there would be less development. Sure there are more job opportunities, but also more cars, maybe more crime and I just miss the simple life we used to have.” I would hazard a guess that the road leading to the Monteverde Cloud Forest isn’t going to be fixed anytime soon…

I tried my hand at milking a cow!

A great deal of time is spent on the tour with necks craned treeward seeking out the rare Replendant Quetzel, a couple of toucans, a 2- or 3-toed sloth perhaps, or a group of howler monkeys swinging among the branches.

As I sat gazing out of the window on the plane, I thought: what kind of amazing adventures could I get myself into on this trip? Costa Rica : the land of rainforests, toucans, and succulent pineapple. Leaving the U.S. for the first time in my life on a high school trip for our outdoors club, I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know, I was embarking on one of the most memorable trips of my life.
On the first evening of the trip, we went into the rainforest. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I knew that I never wanted to be anywhere else for the rest of my life. Glistening drops of crystal water covered the entire forest; beautiful creatures roamed about; howling monkeys screeched in the distance ;and shining webbed limbs draped with graceful tarantulas surrounded me. White beams of sunlight shot through open gaps in the leaves above me. The beauty of this country was breathtaking. I had never seen such magnificent sights in real life before. Sure, in magazines and on television I had seen pictures of beautiful tropical lands, colorful birds, and intricately designed fungal sprouts, but I had never really seen them.
As amazing as this vacation was, I was continuously disappointed. I found it rather frustrating when my classmates would not enjoy nature with me. Distracted by cell phones, DVD players, and iPods, I felt like I had not really left my home of materialistic stuff and technology. All my peers were carrying on like they would back in suburbia. Emailing seemed to be vital to these kids, as well as using their cell phones to call home and the family quite often. I wanted nothing to do with my life at home. I had completely ditched my phone and did not want to see or use a single piece of technology on the entire trip. Many of my classmates preferred to stay in and watch a movie instead of getting outside. It seemed as if some of them would rather watch the beauties of life on a screen than view them in person. I was amazed at the people in Costa Rica and how beautifully simple and happy their lives seemed to be.
Because this was my first time ever out of the country, the whole experience was mesmerizing and eye-opening in itself, but Costa Rica had something extra special. The people here were happy. Although most had limited housing and luxury goods, it didn’t seem to matter. Considered poor or “less fortunate” to some, the people were more fortunate in ways I hadn’t considered before my trip. No distractions from petty technologies and materialistic objects.. No teenagers constantly texting friends or young girls obsessively thinking about designer brands and caking on foundation goop to create “flawless” skin. It made me sad to look at the way we live in our society compared to the simplistic nature and lifestyle of the people I met there. A very common greeting used by local Costa Ricans is the phrase “Pura vida,” meaning “pure life,” an exact definition for their lifestyle.

One day we took a thrilling white water rafting trip down the Río Sarapiquí. After cascading through monstrous white rapids, our rafting group came to a more tranquil area of the river. High above it was a long rickety bridge where a couple of young Costa Rican children were playing. A group of family members stood below at the shore of the river and watched the young rascals on the bridge. After shouting a welcoming “PURA VIDA” to us, the family applauded the children as they plunged into the cool water from a 40 foot drop. I guessed this to be maybe a weekly activity for this adventurous group of people. What a great life they must have, simple, yet so exciting.

A small group of students and I ventured into the forest one night to examine the nighttime habits and noises of the jungle animals. One interesting aspect of this nocturnal hike was that the tarantulas like to come out and explore their surroundings in the dark. To get a better visual of these magnificent arachnids, we would shine flashlights deep into the wild to look for reflections of their eyes. Our teacher found one and reached his hand out towards it. It eased its way onto his hand. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This couldn’t be safe! He offered me the creature, so I got gutsy and let it linger on my hand. I just sat there and let it slowly step across my palms and over the tips of my fingers. Its beady red eyes looked up into mine and in this moment, I felt more in touch with nature than ever before.
Going to Costa Rica was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I’ll always remember the salsa dancing, zip lining, and volcano trekking. I will never forget our fun-loving, crazy tour guide, Nacho, and the musicians, instructors and many locals we met along the way. But what I really took home with me was that beauty of this place and the importance of “pura vida,” no matter where you are.

Of all the places on earth one of the most luxurious and affordable vacation destinations available today can be found in a little country in Central America called Costa Rica. With its various climate changes, mountainous regions, beaches and valley floors Costa Rica offers the modern traveler lots of exciting day trips and activities. The amazing natural setting coupled with low prices make Costa Rica a great place for both vacationers and for longer stays, or permanent living situations.
When you are looking for a place to wind down, the first place to check out is the Arenal Volcano region. Arenal Volcano is an extremely popular area to visit due in part to the massive active volcano, complete with lava flows you can watch at night and the nearby lake offering fantastic fishing and windsurfing. One of the major attractions to Arenal is the natural hot spring resorts including Baldi Hot Springs and the world class Tabacon. At these fantastic hot springs you can enjoy soaking in the naturally hot flowing water, heated by the volcano, while downing an ice cold beverage at one of the many swim up bars.
Afterwards wrap up your day by following the hot springs soak with a host of spa services, including a full body massage, and then enjoy a fantastic dinner there to complete the evening. If you don’t plan on staying at one of the resorts like Tabacon Hot Springs the nearby town of La Fortuna has everything you need including ample lodging, markets, dining and in particular a great al fresco restaurant serving delicious meals.
Not far from the capital city of San Jose in the heart of Costa Rica is an awesome adventure awaiting you high in the mountains. La Paz Waterfall Gardens is an incredible location that captures the natural beauty of Costa Rica’s excellent tropical climate and densely packed rain forest teeming with a large variety of wildlife and flora.
At La Paz Waterfall Gardens you can walk down the amazing nature trail and into an aviary filled with birds, parrots and toucans. Further down the nature trail is another large area with lots of intricate butterflies and cocoons waiting to hatch. There are colorful humming birds sipping a drink of sweet nectar from one of several feeders. There is no shortage of beautiful plants at Waterfall Gardens, including many types of orchids.

When we first moved here, twenty years ago, our neighbors in Punta Uva warned us repeatedly about snakes. “Don’t walk in the jungle without a machete, ” is what they told my husband. What they told me was that women didn’t belong in the jungle in the first place. They believed that just seeing a man bitten by a snake could bring bad luck to my family. They were adamant. I wasn’t keen on seeing one either, but sometimes a snake is just where it is at the very same
time you are.

Costa Rica has some of the deadliest snakes on the planet. There are thirteen species of pit vipers in this tropical paradise. The Bushmaster (Lachesis muta), also called Matabuey in Spanish, leads the group for size. The largest of the venomous snakes in the Americas, they grow up the 3.5 meters in length, are a soft tan color with a darker brown stripe running down their backs, and a V-pattern down their sides.

By far the most feared by the locals, though, is the Fer-de-Lance (Bothrops asperi), also called Terciopelo. Terciopelo are more common than the Bushmaster, as they can have 70-80 young at a time- and the neonates are just as venomous as their parents. Their telltale dark brown diamond markings overlay a charcoal grey body making them very hard to spot in the bush.

This was the snake I encountered yesterday, but it sure as hell wasn’t in the bush!

Numerous Eye Lash vipers and the Coral, both false and real live in our world. I have yet to meet a man who stopped to repeat the famous rhyme: “red to black, venom lack, red to yellow, dead a fellow,” before perfunctorily killing a Coral of any kind.

I’ve heard lots of stories about men being bitten by snakes, the most vulnerable being those who chop bush for a living. Choppers use a forked stick about a meter in length to assist them in their work.Assuming they are right-handed, they carry the stick in their left hand, pulling the bush up and away from them while chopping with a
machete, held in their right. If there should be a snake they haven’t scared away with their footsteps, or the chopping itself, they are likely to disturb it with this action. The men can be bitten anywhere, but the left side of the body, or underarm, is typical, as the snake strikes out from under the disturbed camouflage.

The other frequent victims of snakebite are people walking along the road at night. Snakes will often come to the road because it radiates heat stored up from the day. They like to bask on the warm asphalt and hunt small animals doing the same. Walking here at night without a flashlight is ill advised. I know of two people who were bitten this way. One died and the other was in the hospital for about a month on antivenin and dialysis, due to complications.

We are also blessed with snakes that, while not venomous, are no less lethal. The Boa is a common resident of our world, and we treat it with respect. I have learned a bit about Boas; they can suffocate an adult person in a matter of minutes, squeezing tighter every time the victim tries to take a breath. The exertion of the squeeze can actually stop the heart. And, if they manage to get a wrap on the victim’s neck they can snap it with one constriction. They fracture bones during the constriction process so the victim becomes more pliable for eventual ingestion.
My husband learned more about Boas than I, and his lesson came the hard way. It was all a really big mistake and he felt bad after doing it, as Boas are quite useful in rodent control. But, as anyone knows who has been threatened by a snake, a person is capable of doing all manner of things not normally in their character.

The first year we bought our property, my husband had an unintentional run-in with a Boa. He was cutting high bush using our Stihl 280 string trimmer, but instead of string he was using a metal blade attachment. Being a novice chopper, he cut in a circle and cut inward. By the end of the day he’d narrowed the circle down to an old log in the center of the pasture, or potrero as it’s called in Spanish.

He must have trapped a Boa inside his chopping pattern, because, as he got closer and closer, the Boa, with nowhere left to hide, came out from under the log to protect itself. It was huge, about 3.5 meters long and about as big around as my thigh. My husband said later, “She just raised up on her haunches and opened that gaping mouth of hers and hissed… I could hear it over the
roar of the motor.”

He said he stuck the spinning blade directly into its mouth. The blade just bounced off. He then sped the motor up and stuck the blade into the snake’s side, just below the head. It was striking repeatedly at him while he shoved the blade into it. The whole episode took quite awhile to finally subdue the snake. Later, My husband said he felt bad, but when the adrenalin is pumping, it is fright or flight, baby. After that experience he’s always chopped outward, allowing an escape route for any wildlife that might share our space.

Over the years we have learned never to touch a tree trunk before looking at it first. When we are out in the jungle we use a walking stick or machete for balance rather than to rely on a low-lying limb to stabilize ourselves. We walk looking at our feet rather than gazing upwards at the many toucans, parrots, and other spectacular birds that might be flying by. We keep our property chopped short because snakes don’t like short grass, and have very few shrubs or
ornamental plants close to the house. A snake has bitten neither of us.

Yesterday, my husband and I went up to Bribri– the county seat–to pay the garbage bill for the year. It was the usual trip over extremely bad road. It’s been raining here so there was a lot of water standing on the road. We picked our way through the mud, potholes, and general muck in our aging, but dependable, Jeep pickup. The trip took about an hour. We got to Bribri, parked in front of the building, and I asked my husband if he wanted to go into the office
with me. I got the answer I expected, so I left him in the truck and went in to pay the bill. I was probably gone about ten minutes.

I was feeling quite proud of myself for getting the chore done in such short order. Normally, bureaucratic jobs of this nature are more involved, but today was an in-and-out operation. I opened the passenger door of the truck, jumped into the seat, and, before I closed the door, started to tell my husband about how I’d gotten the
job done. Something caught my eye.

I looked down and to my right. There, just in front of my knees, was a snake emerging from a hole where the hinges of the door met the body of the truck. It took a split second to react, but I remember thinking: This can’t be right. How could there be a damned snake in my car? A high, quavering voice I hardly recognized as my own said, “Oh M’Gosh. Snake. Snake!” For the next five or six seconds time froze. The snake and I locked eyes and then began the ancient and primitive dance of predator and prey.
The snake’s head was about five centimeters around, something on the order of a banana. At first it headed straight toward me, suspended in mid air, sliding its thick body along over the bottom hinge of the door. That was bad enough, but then it folded back against itself as if to strike, or perhaps to slither further out into the cab of the
truck. It easily had enough tension stored to strike my knees, which were now well within striking range. Thirty centimeters away, no more. I saw the brown hash marks on its dark gray sides. Two pits in its face just above its nostrils and that triangular shaped head identified it for sure. No doubt about it. Terciopelo.

It looked annoyed. It was probably hot and shaken up by the trip. When I opened the door it must have sensed cooler air and came there to escape the engine heat. It waved about in mid air looking for an escape route. I sucked my stomach in and drew my chest and face as far away from it as possible. My breath was ragged. My knees were so
close to it now, I was afraid it would use them as its next landing zone, and slither across them. I had to get out.

I began to swing my legs around to get out of the truck when it struck at me. It seemed to happen in slow motion. At that point, I was half the way out of the vehicle and turning back was not an option. My husband said as I piled out of the truck, the snake struck twice more, snapping at the air to its right and then again, to the left. It didn’t use all of its incredible force, or extend itself fully. It if had, I would have been bitten for sure.

Once out, I slammed the door hoping to catch it in the hinge. No such luck. My husband said while I was getting out he watched helplessly from the driver’s seat on the other side of the center console as the snake first struck. It then turned and went back inside the fender wall, rolling over the hinge in the process. He estimated the snake
was about a meter in length. How big! How fast!

The average venom injected by the Terciopelo is about 105mg, although they can deliver as much as 310mg. A fatal dose for humans is 50mg. However, not all bites are envenomed. Venomous snakes are able to regulate the amount, depending on the age and size of their intended victim. I suppose that would mean it would have used all it could for
me, being as I am quite a bit larger than a rabbit, for instance.

Once bitten, Terciopelo venom is hemotoxic and causes havoc with the circulatory system. Unless given antivenin, the victim is very likely to die. Complications with clotting factors are the number one cause of death. As the blood becomes more and more coagulated, the body begins to throw clots to the coronary arteries causing cardiac
arrest. Pulmonary artery blockage can also occur, evidence suggests.

In the old days, and that was not so long ago, there were bush snake specialists in this area of Costa Rica; people who knew jungle plants that could save a man’s life. One of our neighbors, Rogelio Smith, is a one of the last surviving people here who practiced the trade. He is eighty years old now, but still remembers. He’s told me about it but will not reveal the native plants he used. I imagine they would use some kind of plant with an anticoagulant property. There are several likely plants that grow here. Guaco (Mikania guaco) is one. He says the government made it illegal to pass down the information after the antivenin was made more readily available. He is very frail these days and the lore will likely pass off with him when he goes.

Thankfully I did not need antivenin or a bush doctor, but we did need something. Here we were in Bribri with a Terciopelo in our car. Granted it was not in the cab, or we didn’t think so, anyway. After we both caught our breath, my husband gingerly opened the driver’s side door and, after a secure look around, released the hood latch, and closed the door.

“Watch your fingers,” I said as he carefully unlatched and raised the hood. We both peered down into the bowels of our truck motor. Not a snake to be seen. It hadn’t slithered across the road either– I was keeping one eye on my sandaled feet. We concluded that it was still in there somewhere.

“I’ll go get some repellent,” I said, and ran across the street and bought a can of “Off” at the grocery store. Snakes have a strong sense of smell and, I reasoned, wouldn’t much care for mosquito repellent. I returned. My husband cautiously opened up my side of the truck where the snake was last seen. No snake. He sprayed repellent
into the space the snake was currently calling home and slammed the door again. We waited. No snake emerged from under the vehicle. We were at a stand off.

During this time we discussed the anatomy of our truck. The only reasonable explanation was that, at some point, the snake crawled up the wheel well– last night? Two weeks ago?– and found an entry into the space between the exterior paneling of the truck and the inner wheel well. The only exit was either how it got in, or the way it tried to get out when I encountered it.

“Well, if we keep the door shut it can’t get at us,” I said.

“Unless, of course, there are snake sized holes in the firewall of the dash,” my husband countered.

“Great.” I suddenly became very aware of just how much rust the old Jeep has endured after almost twenty years in the tropics.
“We can’t stay here all night. I guess we’ll take a chance.” That was my husband speaking. I was ready to leave the keys in it and walk away forever. Maybe put a sign in the window that read, “Please steal this car, Terciopelo inside.”

“Let’s go get something to eat, ” he said. “Maybe it’ll leave while we have lunch.” I wasn’t very hungry, but I wasn’t very eager for the hour ride back home with a snake in our vehicle either. In an act of faith, I opened my side of the truck, peered into the dark hole- now a snake home-, jumped in, and slammed the door.

We ate lunch at a little café in Bribri and, after telling the proprietor about our adventures, he kept a close watch on the car while we ate. I am certain the snake would have been seen if it had left the truck. During lunch we got advice about how to deal with the situation. One customer suggested we spray in there with insecticide. I explained I’d already used mosquito repellent. Another said, “It is very dangerous to have a snake in the car.” The understatement for all time. We thanked them for their concerns, though.

The drive back was uneventful. My husband said I rode in my seat like a nine-year-old school girl, sitting ramrod straight, my knees bent, and feet tucked as far away from the dash as I could get them. At one point the bead seat cover brushed up against the back of my calf, and I just about went out through the open window. I kept a good eye on the floorboards the entire trip home.

We have not encountered the snake again. It may well still be in there today. My husband says, “When he gets hungry, he’ll leave.”So, how often does a Terciopelo eat, anyway?

After nine days of non-stop fun on a multi-sport adventure with Active South America in Costa Rica, floating belly-up in a secluded cove at Playa Coyote gave me a chance to savor the journey. A morning swim in placid waters beneath pastel pink heavens soothed muscles put to tests that included mountain biking, white water rafting, pony trekking, hiking in rain forests, kayaking across blue-green depths to a picnic on a palm-studded island, and a night patrol with turtle conservationists along a strand of deserted beach. These were just a few of the high points of this holiday designed for those who want to breathe deeply of the landscape.
Our group of ten seasoned travelers included two high-flying “birds” from London, four laid-back Californians, a couple in love from Texas, and two solo female professionals. We left San Jose in a comfy van with panoramic viewing windows ready for action. Carlos, our driver and local guide, weaved through traffic as we made our way past foreboding walls capped with rolls of barbed wire guarding the well-kept residences inside a city that seems not to care about outward appearances. Yannick, our lead guide, of Belgian descent, fluent in five languages with seven years of adventure travel and a degree of biology under his belt, kept his band of thrill-seekers on track throughout our 11 day loop in Costa Rica.


We switch-backed our way through well-tended fields of pineapple, tomatoes, papayas, and coffee plantations interspersed with bright green cattle pastures to our first hike. Turrialba Volcano at 11,000 feet is the fourth highest of the nine active volcanoes in a country that is about the size of West Virginia. Carlos veered to miss a wooden cart drawn by the ubiquitous Brahma bulls. Children with sweet faces and inquisitive brown eyes waved to us as we navigated through their world. Even the most humble cottage was decked with a Merry Christmas on the door or a reindeer on the roof. December, the dry season, is the most favored time to explore this region.


The hearty in our group sprang up the stiff climb to the lip of the volcano then vanished in lush foliage on their descent into the depths of the crater. Feeling the affects of altitude, I opted to trot sprightly up the mountain aboard a trekking pony to view the smoking cauldron of the live volcano. Crisp, scintillating air brought me to life after the long flight and noxious fumes of the city. I marveled at the splendid aerial view of the green valley far below, resting beneath the purest blue sky. Back at our remote, mountain lodge sitting atop a green knoll, a “typical” Costa Rican meal of shredded pork, sausages, fresh fruits, black beans, rice and vegetables awaited us.


Costa Ricans, or Ticos, have embraced eco-tourism as a major source of income. So many opportunities for adventure and cozy quarters are offered throughout the country it is impossible to explore them all in less than two weeks. Active South America gives you a sampler of the best the country has to offer at a price that could not be duplicated by the independent traveler. More than 25% of national land is protected in 27 national parks and 8 biological reserves, as well as 63 wildlife refuges. There are 27 private refuges that serve as biological corridors for wildlife. The country itself is a land bridge linking North and South America. Although Costa Rica covers only .03% of the earth’s surface, it provides habitat for 4% of the world’s estimated 13-14 million species of flora and fauna. Multiple changes in altitude and temperature create micro-climates that are responsible for the country’s renowned bio-diversity. Each day brought fresh discoveries and new challenges.


Nominated one of the top ten rivers in the world to run by National Geographic, the Pecuare River winds through dense, primal rain forests, allowing the visitor to see the world as it was when man was just a sparkle in the creator’s eye. This adrenaline-spiked ride took us through towering buttresses shaggy with ancient trees draped in heart-shaped vines, monster tree-ferns, mosses, orchids and purple bromeliads -all hangers-on in the eternal quest for light in the jungle of foliage forming layer upon layer of luxuriant green.


Over eons, symbiotic, parasitic, and epiphytic relationships have evolved in the forests. Hollow trees harbor colonies of ants that protect the tree against insects in exchange for safe harbor. There are trees growing upon trees, like the strangler fig or killing tree, which envelopes its victim in sinewy ropes then sucks the nutrients from the host tree until it is left standing alone. The sloth sleeps in higher elevations of the trees and has a metabolism so slow that he only comes down from his sleepy perch once a week to make his organic deposit at the base of his tree, ensuring its long life. Other fascinating partnerships formed in the forests are those of pollinating bats, hummingbirds, hawk moths and butterflies.

The Class III to IV rapids on the Pacuare River- Rapids on the Pacuare-Ticos River Adventures


The Class III to IV rapids on the Pacuare River keeps paddlers’ alert.
“Okay, pay attention. This set of rapids starts with a double drop to a stepped series that can get ugly,” came from our expert guide, Roberto, who has been running this river for the last 30 years. “I’m not kidding. We are rafting 25 miles today, and this kind of water makes me a happy man.” He beamed from his perch at the rear of our rubber raft.
High overhead the tropical sun poured down warming rays between billowing snow-white clouds as we floated past the idyllic Pecuare Lodge, detailed by Real Travel Adventure Editor, Bonnie Neely, in a May 2006 article. With Roberto at the helm, we expertly navigated foaming rapids and entered a gorge where waterfalls tumble over lava rocks worn smooth by pounding cascades. Robert maneuvered us behind a white curtain of water spilling over the lip of a gorge. In the heart of the chasm still waters allowed us to swim in the refreshingly clear water. This was the moment I came to know the meaning of the Costa Rican greeting: Pura Vida, or Pure Life.


On shore a shy Indian girl waved to us. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived here in search of gold in the 1500s, the indigenous people burned their crops and hid in the impenetrable forests to avoid death or enslavement at their hands. Still, by 1563 their numbers were decimated by European diseases. Today, there are about 40,000 Indians living on preserves, mostly in the wilder, more remote regions in the south. The elite wore gold disks around their necks, bracelets, ear cups and nose rings that led the Spanish to believe there were rich gold deposits here, but in fact their gold was painstakingly panned in the rivers in minute quantities. They were a handsome race of voluptuous women and athletic men. Both sexes were industrious, spending their days perfecting their crafts. An extensive collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts may be viewed at the Jade and Gold Museums in San Jose.

Blue Butterfly-Photo by Ticos River Adventures

Birds were big in the native culture. Bones and feathers were used by shamans to combat negative forces. Costa Ricans are the only culture to imbue the vulture with mythological nobility. These birds circle high overhead in vast numbers. They were considered intermediaries from the physical to spiritual plane, taking messages from earthly shamans to the gods. The feminine counterpart is the immense, neon-blue butterfly often seen wafting on a sweet breeze. While on the river, I spotted Amazon kingfishers, tiger herons, numerous egrets and big blue herons, as well as green parrots and the hanging nests of orioles. With over 850 species, which includes migrants, colorful, exotic birds are found in all parts of Costa Rica.


At La Fortuna- Waterfal in Arenal Volcano Region-photo by Mike Grayford

At La Fortuna, the adventure capital of Costa Rica, nestled at the base of Arenal Volcano, we split up. The stalwart embarked on a six hour hike through the cloud forest along the Rio Celeste River topped by a swim in a frosty crater lake. Others went for a chest-thumping eight-run zip line glide through the lime-green tree canopy. I did a bit of birding on an intermediate hike to a lava flow that took place in 1992. One of the beauties of this trip is that people with disparate interests and different energy levels can find the perfect option for any given day. We reunited in the afternoon for a plunge at the base of a staggeringly beautiful waterfall, capped off with a soak in an elaborate labyrinth of pools ranging from polar plunge to 102 degree melting pot at Baldi Hot Springs. By all accounts by those who made the big hike, it was daunting, but worth it to spend the day immersed in green.


I finally found the bicyclists high on a run with easy ups and heart-thumping downs on sweeping curves of the less-traveled road that traces Lake Arenal. A brisk, cooling wind blew off the man-made reservoir that provides clean drinking water for all. I flew through the forest of ferns, elephant ear and frilly trees with yellow blooms, past rivulets cascading to the shimmering lake below. I hit a traffic jam when a family of Coati, raccoon-faced critters with monkey-like tails, came out of the forest to beg shamelessly. The next stop was to check out a group of Howler monkeys making a huge racket in the tree canopy. When threatened these monkeys are known to hurl feces with great accuracy at intruders, so I made sure not to overstay my welcome. After fifteen kilometers, I turned my bike in and joined the others in an open air café where I enjoyed talapia, a tasty white fish caught in Arenal Lake, grilled to perfection, with fresh veggies and rice.


No trip to Costa Rica is complete without a stop at the famed Monteverde Cloud Forest. Carlos expertly navigated the narrow, rutted road to the top of the world making stops to point out wildlife along the way. Seemingly with eyes on four sides of his head, he spotted an ornate hawk-eagle, a Paca, a pig-like rodent with spots on his rust-colored coat like that of fawn, and a pair of mating iguana. To our right the Pacific glistened, and to the left the cone of the mighty volcano Arenal poked through azure skies. In 1968 Arenal volcano came to life, killing 87 people. Since then it has been continuously active. While in La Fortuna, I awoke to a puffing sound and jiggling tremors. From my room, I witnessed the eerie sight of molten lava oozing down the sides of the foreboding mountain.


We arrived at the Sunset House, overlooking the tiny hamlet of Monteverde, just in time to watch the sun drop into the sea shining in the distance. Those who had taken the Rio Celeste hike and missed the thrill of zip-lining through the canopy were given a second chance to experience Costa Rica’s answer to bungee-jumping. Being suspended in a harness from a 2,000 foot cable over gaping chasms was not for me, so I opted for the walk on a series of hanging bridges spanning the forest canyons that allow a close up and personal look at the fantastic array of plant life in the tree canopy. In this most famous of birding hotspots not a Resplendent Quetzal or even a common brown thing was in sight. Our naturalist guide told us it was because we were here at high noon, but I think it was the yelps of humans flying overhead at 50 mph that kept the birds in less frequented parts of the forest. I took consolation in viewing the hundreds of hummingbirds flashing through the green, stopping to refuel on crimson blooms called Hot Lips.
We were greeted at Playa Coyote on the Nicoya Peninsula with warm rolling surf and a burnt orange sun floating above a pink sea. While Yannick and Carlos pitched our tent camp beside a beach café where the owner was preparing us a meal of fresh, giant, shrimps, ten adventure-sated travelers plunged into the embryonic brew. This was our rest stop, where we were given a free day to wander.

Our Last two Days- Second Growth Forest-photo by Mike Grayford

Our last two days spent at Curu, a 200- acre private refuge behind guarded gates resting on a sheltered bay, were filled with water sports; kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving in aquamarine depths. An easy amble through second growth forest on well-groomed trails garnered many bird sightings and a glimpse of the Agouti, the largest rodent in the world.


Sunset Playa Coyote-Linda Ballou

Though all of our days in Costa Rica, literally the rich coast, brought new discoveries, for me time stood still at the long sweeping strand of deserted shore at Playa Coyote. Here I was lulled by the sound of crashing surf, cooled by a sea-scented breeze, and mesmerized by a golden sunset as I rocked in a hammock strung between palms beneath a sign that said, “A Seafood Restaurant and Much, Much, More.”

Manuel Antonio is known as the most beautiful National Park on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica. En route there by car service we had the thrill of crossing a large concrete bridge where we got out to see the many crocodiles in the river below us. The next little bridge was over another, smaller river, but one which also had crocodiles, and this bridge was downright scary! It was of ancient rusted iron with both side rails and many of the roadbed cross pieces missing. Traffic slowed, since this has become not a one lane bridge, but a brave one car bridge, and we held our breath. The driver told us the taxes for bridges have been misappropriated by the last three administrations!
Our resort, Casa Verde, is high on the hillside overlooking the thick canopy of jungle trees and flowers, the tranquil bay, and the arrow-shaped peninsula pointing into the Pacific. In our rustic design cabin, we had an air-conditioned efficiency apartment with stove, refrigerator, sink, and all necessary cooking utensils. The resort has all the amenities you could want for a perfect vacation, including daily maid service. One swimming pool is for families, and the adult-only pool has a tropical sunset view of the ocean and of Manuel Antonio Park.
The Anaconda Resturant and bar on the premises has excellent meals and bar service, and your reservations specify whether or not breakfast is included. The hotel is not for handicapped, as there are many steps to the various apartments, which are situated up the hillside amidst lush tropical flowers. The food at Anaconda is delicious, quite reasonable, and freshly made after you order. If you go for an early breakfast or a late afternoon snack, you can watch many monkeys in the trees below the porch restaurant. Almost any time of day or evening in the restaurant you’ll be entertained by the iguana pets that seem to enjoy free runs through the open air reastaurant. On the street in front of the hotel is the bus stop down the steep hill to Manuel Antonio National Park, reputed to be the most prisine coast of Costa Rica. It is also possible to take a very long hike down to the public beach, but the best way is to book a tour at the hotel desk.

Most tours depart very early and return before the extreme heat of mid-day. A driver in a new, air-conditioned van picked us up. George, our friendly naturalist guide spoke good English and was so knowledgeable of this lovely coastala rainforest. Our $7 entrance fee was included, and the nearly four-hour walk was fascinating. We had expected unbearable heat and mosquitoes and found neither. Although Deet repellent is suggested, and we even took malaria pills, we never saw a mosquito during our mid-March week in Costa Rica. The locals told us the mosquitoes are out from 6 – 8 AM and 4-7 PM. Costa Rica is the most ecologically conscious country in the world, and the careful balance of nature allows the thousands of birds to keep pesky insects in check. Of course, we were not there in the rainy season (May and June, Sept. and Oct.), and conditions could be different.

The hike was, for the most part, on a flat pathway through the jungle. We opted to walk partway up the hilly trail in the rainforest called the Catedral, where people usually see Capuchin monkeys. Although we didn’t see them there, we did get to enjoy many near the bathrooms a little farther on. We found all public restrooms in Costa Rica very clean, with soap and paper, although toilet paper cannot be flushed.
As we walked along in the jungle our untrained eyes searched for the birds we could hear and for other wildlife. On our own we could find none because each species is so well camouflaged, and many are nocturnal. But with our excellent naturalist guide we were able to see so many animals that we teasingly accused him of having some Disneyland animatronics placed at prearranged points.

Park guides carry large Leica lens telescopes and locate the various animals for you. We could even take photographs through these high quality implements. We saw sloths with babies asleep in the trees, an anteater raiding a termite nest in a tree, a strange rodent with long legs, many different kinds of bats sleeping in branches, a rare type of toucan, a small parrot-like bird building a nest, and many other birds, and the quizzical white-faced monkeys. It was quite warm when we arrived at the waiting van, and the cold bottles of water and fresh fruit salad the driver gave us were very refreshing. If you wish, you can stay to play at the Manuel Antonio beach, one of the cleanest beaches on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, for the rest of the day, using your tour ticket. The best swimming beach and the place to rent kayaks is through the jungle path to the south side of the green, arrow-shaped peninsula, where the protected beach has gentle water. Outside the National Park is the free general beach. Numerous souvenir sellers line the sidewalks along the beautiful sandy beach in front of restaurants, which provide restrooms for a small fee. The beach has lifeguards, chairs, umbrellas, but our guide warned that this beach is not good for swimming because of the strong undertow.

Our bus ride to the town of Quepos was only a few minutes in the other direction from Casa Verde. All buses come and go from the bus terminal there, where you can get direct service to the capital, San Jose, and to many other places for a small price. The buses are clean but not air-conditioned,and the people are very clean and friendly. Except for the top hotels, few places in Costa Rica are air conditioned, but there are always cool breezes since this is a humid climate, and most places have fans. Although the air is humid, we found the temperatures averaging 50 – 80 year-round to be much less harsh than our Texas summers. Of course, we were only 9 degrees north of the equator, so we faithfully wore sunblock because a burn can happen in just a few minutes.
The bus station at Quepos is at the center of the local shopping area, which is typical of Central America, with small shops selling life’s necessities with no attention to window display. Quepos is hot and dusty because it is below sea level, with a seawall blocking the breezes. Although we found some nice tourist shops along the water front, as well as small hotels and restaurants, we were very glad we were not staying there for long. This seems to be the center for fishing excursions and boat rentals, as it has a protected small harbor.

Back at our hotel at night we could choose one of many restaurants in the vicinity, all of which specialize in seafood. Besides our hotel’s Anaconda restaurant we really enjoyed the BBQ restaurant just across the street, where the food was delicious and the live music nightly was a terrific mixture of Caribbean dance music and 70’s Latin Romantic songs. The only thing they lacked was a dance floor! By contrast to other Latin countries, Costa Rica observes early meal times, with breakfast from about 6:30 until 9:30 AM, lunch from noon to 2 P.M., and dinner from about 5 P.M. with most places closed by 10 P.M. Siestas and closing business for lunch are not observed here. And we found every service to be very punctual…no “Latin” time, so you must be ready for pick ups and appointments a little ahead of schedules. We loved everything about Costa Rica and hope to return soon and often.

The modern tourism bus picked us up early from our Arenal Country Inn for our boat ride across Lake Arenal, the prettiest and most efficient way to get to Monteverde Cloud Forest from Arenal, unless you want to ride horses there. The road system in Costa Rica is not well developed yet, and five hours on a gravel, rutted road is not comfortable. There are few services along the way. One of the interesting phenomena we saw all over the countryside were the living fences. The ground is so lush that fence posts are “planted” in rows and they sprout and grow into trees! Gorgeous fruit and exquisite flowers are year round.

We were glad we did not opt to rent a car, as we frequently do. The thirty minute boat ride across the lake is pleasantly scenic. We saw a Cabecar Indian native cane house on a green hillside near the water. These indigenous people live on the land in remote places, preserving the way of life in which their ancestors have always survived. They do not live in villages, but scatter their huts throughout an area, appreciating privacy and space. Tour vans met us and piled ten people into each one to take us about an hour and a half to our various hotels. The ride is warm, dusty, bumpy, and cramped.
You can choose one of many hotels of various classes to stay in the town of Monteverde, where there are many shops and restaurants just outside the famous Cloud Forest of Monteverde National Park. However, all top accommodations were full when we reserved our trip for peak tourist season (December, March, and school vacation times). We went several winding, isolated kilometers farther into a private reserve to stay at Mirador Lodge. It is an exquisite location at the top of a windy mountain overlooking Lake Arenal and a perfect view of the volcano. Orange stucco cabinos with red tin roofs had rustic rooms similar inside to a log cabin. The bathrooms are tiled and have hot running water. We had electricity but no heat, although a few of the cabins have fireplace stoves. In this windy mountaintop it is always chilly and misty but a beautiful contrast to the vivid sunny lowerlands. When night fell, at just after 5 p.m. the winds howled and, even though it was the dry season, rain beat intermittently on our tin roof, lending coziness to the atmosphere. The dining room and all services at this country resort are excellent, with a beautiful candlelit dinner and soft, romantic music.

There are several trails here for good self-guided hikes through the cloud forest. You can also book horseback rides to waterfalls or to La Fortuna, several hours away. Horses are gentle and the vacallero, who speaks no English, is experienced, and the ride is a fun and challenging one we were told. We had hoped to ride horses, but there were too many things to do and see in this beautiful place, and we ran out of time.

In the morning the sun shone brightly making the rolling, green grassy hillside sparkle.
We decided to spend the one day we had learning all about the flora and fauna of Costa Rica at Selvatura Nature Center that is well worth the time and money, but plan to spend all day there.
We spent our first hour at the Hummingbird Garden, where the flitting beauties of many different varieties and colors challenged our cameras to the limit. Costa Rica has identified forty species of hummingbirds. Truly amazing little birds, their swiftly fanning wings burn so much energy that they must eat their own weight every day to survive. They have delightfully found easy feeding here at the many sugar-water stations.

Next, we went to the Herpaterrium where our expert guide taught us all about the many species of snakes and frogs of Costa Rica. They had lots of glass boxes with live specimen displayed in natural settings. Even though we knew we were looking directly at these reptiles and amphibians, often we could not see them among the leaves and sticks. It made us keenly aware of how careful we need to be in nature. However creepy it is to learn about these little creatures, it was comforting to know that of about five million residents and many million more tourists each year, there are only about eight deaths a year from snakebites. Most snakes are nocturnal. The fer-de-lance is the most aggressive and wil chase a person. The boa constrictor only squeezes to death what it can eat, determined by its size. If you are snake-bitten you must get to a hospital within four hours. There is anti-venom for all species except the elusive sea serpents, whose bite kills one person a year average. OOOOH! In a lot of ways I wished not to have gone to the Herpaterrium, but it was fascinating and valuable knowedge. And the little brightly-colored frogs are so cute, even if some are deadly!



We had already taken a Zip Tour so we did not do so here, although they offered a really thrilling one over the canopy. Instead, we chose the Sky Bridges walk, which was one of the most wondrous things we did in Costa Rica.
Selvatura has eight steel suspension bridges for walking over great expanses of the jungle at the tops of the trees. It is an awesome thrill to look down from a monkey’s eye view at a stream through the jungle thicket some 300 feet below, or to spot vibrant red orchids at the top of a huge guava tree in the canopy. We looked for monkeys and birds, but our untrained eyes could not spot any, although the birdsongs serenaded us melodiously throughout the two hour walk. Often we were on a trail on the ground through lower stretches of the tropical forest before we got to the next bridge. It was an awe-inspiring experience we’ll always remember.
We were disappointed to find the living Butterfly House was undergoing repairs after a devastating storm, so we missed the live flying beauties normally there amids exquisite flowers. The irredescent blue morpho has been our favorite to see in the tropical forests. However, butterflies at Selvatura, Monte Verde, Costa RicaSelvatura is one of the foremost centers in the world for entomologic research, and we were able to spend over an hour on a fascinating guided tour by one of the expert naturalists who work there. Chris Chavez works with Richard Whitten, formerly of Portland, Oregon, who has donated his extensive collection of over a million insects, arthrapods, and arachnids to display here. For over fifty years he as collected these specimen all over the world, and he has created beautiful, artistic displays identifying over a million of these truly beautiful and fascinating creatures. Included is the tiniest butterfly in the world next to the largest, which has been mistaken sometimes for a bird. People can apply to come here and study for days or weeks with some of the world’s most knowledgeable and experienced endomologists.
None of these specimen are living, so even if you are scared of bugs you can look closely and learn so much about them. I was delighted to learn that no single insect can kill a person (although swarms can), unless you are allergic. Insects are identified by having three body parts, wings, and six legs. By contrast,of the arachnids, or spiders (eight legs) and scorpions, many are deadly by even a single bite. The other phylum we saw here were mirapods, of which a single sting can also be deadly. These are centipedes, worms with only one pair of legs per body segment. However millipedes, worms which have more than one pair of legs per body segment, are harmless. There are other displays including a real shrunken head and instructions of how to shrink someone’s head!
The displays of crustacions, which have external skeletons, included vast collections of beetles and other “bugs.” Some are so huge and ugly they may scare you to death, but are otherwise harmless.

Of course, the thousands of butterflies and moths we saw were our favorites. They serve as pollinators,as do bees, moths, and hummingbirds. However, the beautiful silvery-blue morphos are not pollenatoras and never touch a flower but eat rotting fruit. Moths pollenate the flowers which only open at night. Being nocturnal, moths don’t need to be seen to attract mates, so their colors are not bright. Instead, their feelers are extremely sensitive and males can detect female feramones eight miles away. Ninety-five percent of the 230,000 species of lapidoptera in the world are moths. Depending on the environment and the type, most butterflies and moths live only about two weeks to five months. The familiar black and orange monarch is the exception. These live over a year and have the longest migration pattern. They can go up to 260 meters without stopping and travel as far as Alaska to Central America, where they lay eggs on milkweed.

With only 19,725 square miles, the country is about half the size of the state of Virginia. Costa Rica has three times more butterflies than any other country on earth, with 21 percent of all species. In some places Costa Rica is ony 65 miles from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific coast, but the small area contains huge biodiversity and many different micro-climates by altitude.

Costa Rica appreciates its diverse and beautiful resources. The government has passed strict laws to protect these natural wonders and the people are taught to protect their own environment. School children create paintings and advertisements about saving our precious earth. Costa Rica is a place to appreciate this beautiful earth and to reflect on how we can incorporate wise practices of preservation into our own habits and laws when we return home.