Sunday, January 10, 2010


Saturday, January 9

This is the day of the much anticipated wildlife tour. In typical fashion I had developed several anxieties about it. Will I be able to find the office of the tour company? Will I be able to hike half a day? Will I twist an ankle or fall off a cliff? Will I see any Resplendent Quetzals?

The old yellow safari truck picked me up and we set off to pick up another couple who would also be on the tour. Our tour guides were John and Alonzo. One of the first things I saw in town was this old friar (or was he a monk?):

Friar as Omen - Good or Bad?

“This is a blessing,” I decided, a little sign from God that everything would be OK. (Of course, another interpretation could be that I’d better make peace with my maker because the end is near. I prefer the former.)

After getting the other couple, also Americans, we headed off to Volcan Barú. There is an interesting rock formation on the way, Los Ladrillos (The Bricks) formed from megacrystals of volcanic basalt. The structure is used for rock climbing:

Los Ladrillos

Not very far past Los Ladrillos we passed a partially constructed villa known locally as “The Castle”.  Rumor has it that a man was building it for his wife, who died during the construction. He also died soon thereafter. Workmen tried to finish the structure, but no sooner did they begin than they heard someone upstairs. When they went to find the source of the noise, there was no one there. They quickly left, not even wanting to be paid, and the building has lain unfinished ever since. It would make a lovely hotel, with its situation halfway up a montecito and next to a rushing stream:

The (Haunted) Castle

The road and surroundings were still showing the effects of the flood from last November as we followed the Rio Caldera . Debris was widespread. We stopped at the Waterfall San Ramon:

Waterfall San Ramon

Soon we were at the trailhead for the hike. One of the first features was a log bridge over some wetland. Mustering up courage (and the hand of our guide John who was walking backward), I crossed it with only a few minor problems:

Can you believe I crossed this?

Soon we were into the rain forest. The visual complexity was overwhelming. Outside of the trail it was impenetrable, unfathomable:

Out of the Silence, Dark and Deep

We walked along the trail for about an hour. This was uphill all the way, and we were getting into fairly high altitude – about 1,900 meters (6,000 feet). John suggested I wait about halfway up with Alonzo, the other guide, while the younger folks went to the top. John said there are often birds at this spot too.

Somewhat disappointed that I couldn't make it to the top where the quetzals are, but also grateful for the rest, I sat on a rock to recuperate.  Alonzo wandered up and down, his eyes glued to the forest, looking for animals. After a while he found a monkey. I could never see it, but took some pictures in the general direction he was pointing. Maybe I can find it in the images later.

I quickly decided that the best way to see the forest is in small sections. Here are images of some, not nearly all, of the vegetation with a close-up lens:

Bromeliads in Abundance

I checked my watch. It was nearly time to go. The others would be joining us soon.

NOW!  Alonzo motioned for me to come. He had found a bird. It was most unusual and was staying near us. It flew from tree to tree, but remained nearby for about half an hour. I got many images of it.  He said it was from the same family as the quetzal:

After checking on-line, I found this useful reference chart for Trogons, the bird family that includes quetzals:

Judging from this, my bird was a male collared trogon, also called an orange-bellied trogon, shown in the very center of this figure. He had a yellow beak, black head, green throat, white collar, deep orange breast, and reticulated tail markings like that in the figure.  Another very suble mark was the white collar didn't exactly meet at the front center in my bird and in the figure of the male collared trogon.  What do you think? Thanks to for making this beautiful chart available.

The others saw the same kind of bird at the top of the trail.  John said it was a female quetzal, but I'm sure he was wrong.  Look at the female quetzal in the chart; it doesn't resemble our bird. Maybe John just wanted to make us feel like we got our money's worth.

So I didn't get to see a quetzal.  But the thrill was just as good.

Back to the quetzals: John explained that the female quetzals are here first, scouting out possible places for nests. The males will arrive in February. The males will build the nests in tree holes and sit on the eggs with their long green tails hanging outside the hole. They work their tales to resemble snakes. In this way they protect the clutch.

Nature, in its infinite wisdom, has a use for everything.


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