Paper Maps

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With extreme motivation to see a caiman during our stay in Costa Rica, Bree and I decided to head north toward the Nicaraguan border in order to visit Cano Negro, a river which runs through one of the world’s most important wetlands as far as migratory birds are concerned.

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Attempting to route from our location in La Fortuna proved fruitless via our GPS and even Google Maps. Yes, ladies and gentleman, Google does not know how to get to Cano Negro. Upon closer inspection, many of the roads are not listed. Thankfully we had picked up a paper map of Costa Rica somewhere along our journey which, as luck would have it, showed the roads necessary to get to the tiny river village.

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The going was not completely straightforward after we took an apparent wrong turn, leading us on an alternate route into the town. We spent a good portion of it on bumpy dirt roads, and many of the forks were missing from our country-wide map, making for an epic game of labyrinth, just with higher stakes.

We eventually found the town, though, and it was quiet. Nobody was parked near the river, though a few horses had taken up residence in the park. We located a boatman at the dock just as the town’s police officer came over to chase the horses off the grass and back into the street.

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The boatman was incredibly friendly, offered us a few limon dulces, and took us onto the river straightaway. Since there were no other tourists around, it was just us and him.I’m not sure what I expected, but the extreme concentration of bird and reptile life along the river was astounding. Even more astounding was the fact that we could actually see it. Our first caiman was spotted almost instantly after setting foot in the boat.

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The boat weaved to the left and right banks of the river as the guide pointed out and educated us to the different species of birds that we were seeing along the river. We saw dozens of different kinds of birds, many of which included kingfishers, spoonbills, ninga-ningas, cormorants, etc.

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The caiman came in all sorts of sizes. They were a little terrifying at first, but when the guide let us take a picture with one only a few feet away our concern abated. Apparently they never bother humans; we even saw a bunch of locals swimming in the river. The biggest concern was actually scaring them away from our cameras.

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Aside from birds and caiman were plenty of reptilian life as well. Several iguanas basked in the leafless branches or on sunny rocks, bark-colored and perfectly camouflaged bats clung to a tree, and we even spotted a Jesus Christ lizard (affectionately named for their tendency to literally run on top of the water) and basilisks. All in all, a pretty good ensemble.

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At one point, we drifted down a narrow swamp  with curled reeds dried up on either side. It was then that our tour guide announced that he’d spotted a snake, and hopped onto the banks to look for him. I don’t know how one would ever spot a snake against the thousands of slithery looking reeds. We pulled over a while, looking for him, before carrying on.

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The day was sunny and bright and the temperatures high on the river, so post-tour it was time to head up into the hills toward Volcan Tonorio. Once again, our GPS couldn’t get us there so back to the paper map we went. And lost yet again we became.

By some stroke of luck, and nearly an hour before we expected, we managed to arrive at a trailhead into the park at Rio Celeste, though the grounds belonged to a hotel with a small kiosk with unofficial looking signage. After establishing that this indeed was an entrance to the park, the boy in the kiosk went next door to the hotel where he helped arrange for us to pitch a tent in a wet grassy area above the parking lot, even though camping technically wasn’t part of the hotel’s deal.

Bree: Since it was actually 3:00 in the afternoon, it was sort of too late to hike or do anything really, so we napped in the car and I sludged together some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. Since we’ve been here, I’ve been positively starving every minute, meanwhile Ben has eaten hardly anything. Hunger transforms me into something of a monster and in the absence of more substantial food, I have no doubt that Ben was wishing he’d left me in Cano Negro with the caiman. I longed for real food cooked over our camp stove, but on such a short trip, we’d opted to leave it behind. Once I’d eaten as much peanut butter as I could stand and sworn that I’d find more substantial food in the morning (as a note from the future, this plan did absolutely not work out for me), we crawled into the tent as darkness fell around us.

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It didn’t take long for the jungle noises start rattling from all sides and in the now empty grass parking lot, I was feeling a bit terrified of what might be lucking nearby. Ben on the other hand, was hopeful that nightfall would lead him toward some wildlife spotting opportunities, so he grabbed a headlamp and optimistically headed off into the night.

He was disappointed to note that he didn’t see any tree frogs but no creatures materialized save for the fireflies periodically twinkling in the trees. It was however dark and pretty loud. Upon his return, we actually got back into the car to watch the fireflies dart in the darkness from the safety of our vehicle until bedtime.



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