"" Writer's Wanderings: June 2018

Friday, June 29, 2018

Costa Rica -- Monkeying Around

One of my favorite places we visited on our Pickleball Costa Rica tour was Playa Dona Ana but it wasn't because of the beach even though it was a pretty place. It was the monkeys!!

The trees are alive with capuchin monkeys. Yes, just like the monkey in the Night At The Museum movies and others.  We had all gotten some extra bananas from breakfast and our host, Celeste, had the kitchen at the resort cut up a bit of other fruits to take along to feed to the monkeys. I'm sure everyone else was as excited as I was.

The beach was a nicely kept area and had a small open air restaurant. We arrived early in the day and there weren't a lot of people around. It didn't take long for the monkeys to see that we had food. They began to climb down the trunks of trees and get just close enough to reach a hand out for a piece of banana.

We learned to just give a very small piece in order to keep them from climbing back up in the tree to eat a larger chunk. Before long there were plenty to feed and we enjoyed the interaction. But, we were warned, do not put anything on the tables or the monkeys will snatch it up in a second.

The capuchins live in trees and are active during the day, seeking a safe hideaway at night from predators. They are considered the most intelligent of the monkeys although I think the chimps may disagree and are often used in lab experiments--and star in movies.

Their bodies can be as long as 22 inches with a tail almost as long and they only weigh about 2 pounds fully grown. The capuchins socialize in small groups with the males being dominant and often fighting for leadership positions.

The monkeys consume a variety of foods and often use rocks to break open fruit to get to the nut or core. Those that live close to water may even eat crabs, again breaking open the crab shell with a rock showing that they have the ability to problem solve. Just a side note: Wonder how many smart phones they've stolen and if they've cracked the pass code?
I'm not coming down. You come up here.

There is no set mating season and the young stay with the mother for a few years. The average life span is 25 years in the wild or 45 in captivity.

It amazed me how gentle they were with us. Very carefully they would remove the banana from our fingers or hand. While they enjoyed some of the other fruits (mango, papaya, even watermelon) they didn't touch the lettuce Celeste brought. Just like kids. Didn't want to eat their vegetables.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Costa RIca -- A Beautiful Beach Afternoon

One afternoon, after a good morning of Pickleball, our hosts for our Pickleball Costa Rica tour, Celeste and Tony, took those who were interested in an adventure to the Playa Esterillos Este. We accessed the beach through the kindness of the Pelicano Hotel, a small boutique hotel and restaurant on the beach.

The restaurant was prepared for our visit with a large cloth covered table with flowers in vases and menus that included all sorts of snacks and drinks and even meals if we were hungry.

The beach is one of the longest in Costa Rica and is a favorite for surfers. A couple showed up later in the afternoon probably when they got off work. June is a slow season for tourism so the beach was definitely not crowded at all.

Several of our group wanted to go horseback riding and our hosts arranged for them to be picked up shortly after our arrival. They went off for quite an adventure and eventually ended their ride in front of the hotel on the beach.

Bob and I relaxed and went for a long walk on the beach and enjoyed the marine life as well as the scenery.

We ran across a blue crab who immediately dug himself back into a hole when we released him.

And Bob found a sand dollar which was a dark color, I guess because the sand was a darker color. It was the first one we'd ever found that was still alive. We watched its little hairs bristle on its back for a little bit and then saw it opening the slits in the top to breath. We quickly put it back in the water.

The sunset which was not quite as spectacular as the pictures Tony had shown us (you can't always control the conditions) was still quite beautiful and serene. It was a lovely afternoon and we were delighted to have had the opportunity to see it all.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Costa Rica -- The Industrious Leaf Cutter Ants

On our way to the Pickleball courts each day we would be on a sidewalk that was very busy. No matter what time of day, a long stream of leaf cutter ants would be busily making there way to wherever their nest was carrying their pieces of leaves cut from a tree that we soon discovered as we walked. I am always fascinated by these critters. They made a big impression on me the first time I saw them years ago in Costa Rica.

Leaf cutter ants have large jaws (but still too tiny to see) that cut the leaves and while some of the information I read said that it was like pruning, when we visited a small butterfly farm behind the family's homes, the complaint was, "They get into my mother's garden and ruin the plants." Guess the ants are better gardeners in the forest.

The ants can carry pieces of leaves up to 50 times their own weight which reminded me of that song High Hopes. These pieces of leaf are then put in the nest where they cultivate a fungus to feed the colony and the larvae. The fungus is unique to the leaf cutter nest. It is not found anywhere else.

The nest houses thousands to millions of ants and has multiple tunnels and channels. In the colony are various jobs including workers, guards, soldiers and reproducers. Workers vary in size. Larger ones carry the leaves and smaller ones tend to the fungal garden. Like a hive of bees, there is one large queen who can lay up to 50 million eggs in her lifetime.

One unusual fact about the ants is that they have been dealing with diseases that attack their fungal garden for millions of years. They actually somehow create an antibiotic to deal with the disease and develop new ones as time goes on. Researching the ants could lead us to some new antibiotic discoveries.
Leaf Cutter Queen Ant

Other research could lead to some discoveries about our energy resources. It's all mentioned in an interesting article at the National Science Foundation site.

Another article talked about the ants kind of being a predictor of rain. They move faster when they sense rain approaching. The leaves are a lot heavier when wet. That could explain the piles of leaves we saw where the usual column of ants were after we experienced a downpour one day. I could just hear them yelling "Drop it and run!"

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Costa RIca -- Oh The Macaws!

Probably the first thing you notice when you arrive at Puenta Leona are the macaws. If you don't see them right away, you will definitely hear them. Their raspy squawk lets everyone around know they are present and when other macaws get too close to another's food source, you can definitely hear the squabble.

The scarlet macaws were plentiful in our area. They are found in many places in Central and South America and Costa Rica is one of them. The macaw is a member of the parrot family. It has mostly scarlet colored plumage with light blue accents on its tail and yellow and blue on their wings. They really stick out against the green foliage and are a brilliant sight when they spread their wings to fly.

The macaw can grow to 36 inches and weigh around 2 pounds. They feed on nuts, fruits, seeds, flowers and nectar. They fly in pairs or families and can reach up to 35 mph --which explains why they were so hard to catch in flight.

Monogamous for life, the pair will lay 1-2 eggs during the dry season in the cavity of a tree. The adults will care for the young for up to two years and will not lay more eggs until the young leave the nest.

Macaws can live for up to 40 years. When one of the pair dies, the other dies shortly after.

They are amazing birds and it was a joy to see them in a natural habitat.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Costa Rica - Iguanas and Lizards, Oh My!

Our first morning at Puenta Leona was still a little wet. While our hosts from Pickleball Costa Rica worked on trying to dry the courts and get them taped for Pickleball, Bob and I took a walk around the resort. As we passed a large rock some motion caught our eye. Sure enough a large iguana was running up to the top of the rock with his breakfast in his mouth. It would be the first of many iguanas and lizards of all sorts of sizes, shapes and colors.

One of the most exciting we met was the basilisk. We were headed to the small pool near our rooms. (There were larger pools further down the road and near the beach but we were going to try out the smaller one close by.) There were steps and a handicap ramp. Since my knees were not doing well, I opted to take the ramp. Just as I started down the ramp, a basilisk ran across it in front of me.

The first thought that came to mind was "a baby raptor!" It was running on its hind legs. When it made it to the other side it stopped and looked back at me. Was it thinking "you're lunch when I grow up?" I laughed. Further down the ramp I saw a few smaller ones but none of them ran on their hind legs. And of course, just like with the elusive toucan, I didn't have a camera ready. I doubt I could have snapped a pic that quickly anyway.

Here are some of our other encounters.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Costa RIca - The Flowers

Rather than give you a blow by blow description of our Pickleball Tour, I thought I would give you some of the highlights of seeing Costa Rica from something other than a quick shore excursion which is the only glimpse of the country we'd had until now.

The flowers are wonderful but often overpowered by the immense green trees and bushes and vines that make up the rain forest. When you find them they explode with color against the green backdrop. Here are just a few.

Of course you can't have the warm climate and beautiful flowers without some butterflies so some of my flower pictures are photo-bombed by the lovely fragile creature.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Costa Rica And Pickleball!

Our arrangement for gathering together to begin our tour was to meet everyone at the airport. Another lady who came in from Arizona met us on the airport shuttle from our hotels and we had the driver drop us at the arrivals area. There was one restaurant in the area where we could sit and wait for the others to join us. Some were flying in that morning or joining us from other hotels.

Since we weren't exactly sure what the lunch arrangements were, we bought sandwiches and a drink and enjoyed them as we waited. Before long, our driver from King Tours found us and took our luggage to the van. Eventually our hosts, Celeste and Tony Horpel from Pickleball Costa Rica, and the others in our group joined us and we were on our way.

Our first destination was the Puenta Leona resort on the Pacific coast. The countryside was green, very green. Remember we were in a rainforest area. That point would be made several times over our stay in CR with rain showers (and at times downpours) almost daily. The heat and humidity hit us all the moment we stepped out of our nice air conditioned van. Were we actually going to play Pickleball in this weather? Yes.

The problem was the rain. By the time we arrived at Puenta Leona it was drizzling--our Pickleball would be delayed. We met for dinner at the restaurant across from our clustered rooms (there were four rooms to each cluster with an open court in the middle). The restaurant was open aired so no A/C. After a bit we got used to it. All of the meals were included in our package and were buffet and nicely done. Our first night was an Argentinian theme with beef on the grill. (There would always be some items freshly cooked on the open grill.)

After a dinner where we got to know others in our group a bit, Celeste and Tony gave us wonderful gifts of local coffee, mugs and t-shirts with their frog Pickleball logo. Everyone was tired from their travel so it was an early evening. Pickleball would happen in the morning provided the tennis courts would dry off enough for taping the Pickleball courts.

It would happen that we would tape and often chalk because it would rain off and on each day wiping away the previous lines. Some days were extremely hot and humid for playing in the sun but we managed to pull it off and also had several clinics with our Pickleball ambassador and coach, Claudia Fontana.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Costa Rica Pickleball Play And Tour

It has started to spread around the world and now so is the opportunity to gather with others addicted to play and tour other places in the world where it's being played. I'm talking of course about Pickleball. If you haven't a clue about what Picklebsall is, check out my blog post about it. Combine travel with our favorite sport activity and we were eager to join the group that was heading to Costa Rica to play and tour.

We went a day early and flew into San Jose. The Hampton Inn near the airport was very nice and certainly up to the company standards. We had not been able to get the local money, colones, at the airport. Either we didn't recognize an ATM machine or there just wasn't one in the arrival area. The receptionist at the Hampton (who by the way was very sweet and helpful and spoke excellent English) suggested we go to the casino across the street next to a Denny's where there was an ATM inside.

On our way, we saw a restaurant sign, "authentic Costa Rica food" and decided we were hungry. The place was called Rostipollo. I knew pollo meant chicken. I don't know what the rosti might have stood for. It is a fast food type chain but table service. I had what looked like a taco salad but was called something else. It was delicious! The refried black beans in the bottom were a little sweet. Different than anything else I've had.

After our authentic lunch, we went over to the casino and found the ATM just inside the door. It took us a while to figure out how much to take out. Bob wanted the equivalent of $50 USD. We figured that the colon was about 550 to one US dollar. An attendant came over to try to help us since we'd been standing there so long. Somehow in the translation between us we ended up withdrawing 5,000 colones which got us a 5 MIL bill. Seems like a lot doesn't it? Turned out it was only about $8.

We were about to go back to the hotel and try to figure the whole thing out (I forgot I had a converter app on my phone) and it began to pour rain. We looked at the 5 MIL bill in our hand and decided to play some slots while we waited for the rain to stop. Bob went to the cashier to get the 5 MIL changed into something smaller. She looked strangely at us but gave us 5 1,000 colones bills (worth just under $2 each). By the time we had played several machines, we finally figured out how much to withdraw from the ATM to get around $50. The afternoon passed pleasantly in the casino as we waited for the rain to stop. Cost of entertainment was only $8 and we got free coffee.

Welcome to Costa RIca.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Revisiting Costa Rica

[We are visiting Costa Rica once again only this time we will be seeing more of the country with a land tour. Meanwhile here is one of the visits we made from a cruise ship. I know we made one other stop on the Pacific side on another cruise and visited a national park but I can't find that post. Perhaps it was before I started blogging.]

On our recent port call in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, we were privileged to take a tour with a group called Vacations.com. Vignettes. Our travel agent is a member and so we were invited along on a complimentary tour to the Canals of Tortuguero.

We weren’t sure what to expect but it turned out to be a wonderful trip. A bus took us from the port to a place along the canal where we were treated to fresh watermelon, pineapple, and other treats as well as coffee, juice and soft drinks. A local group of musicians played and we strolled around the lovely grounds of the facility looking at red, red ginger and other exotic plants.

A little while later, we boarded narrow canal boats and headed down the canal with eyes peeled to the boarding bushes and trees to glimpse the local wild life. We passed many species of birds and saw two and three toed sloths. You can tell the difference because one moves faster than the other which isn’t saying much for either one. Iguanas hung in some trees and howler monkeys swung from branches in another group of trees.

Our guide on the bus and for the ride on the canal had a wonderful way of putting things. She mentioned that her country likes to “dance” on occasion meaning there are earthquakes once in a while. She promised to show us the good, bad, and the ugly. She came through. There were some areas we drove through that were a bit depressed and some that were very nice. Most all areas have bars on the windows much like we noticed in Puerto Rico. Our guide explained that the bars were there because of tradition and prevention. Traditionally, the bars were originally made of wood and there to keep chickens from flying through the open windows. Now it is more prevention. Enough said.

All in all, it was a wonderful tour and we returned to the ship refreshed, relaxed, and feeling very privileged to have seen a very beautiful part of Costa Rica, the “rich coast.”
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