Sunday, August 31, 2008

St. Mary's Church interior

This is the interior of St. Mary's Church, with sparks flying as a worker operates a grinder on some of the metal he is fabricating.

I will show photos of the sculpture and features of the church in upcoming posts. In this photo you can see one of the marble panels on the wall under each window. The floor is made of hexagon granite tiles. The walls are also granite.

The most spectacular feature of the church is hidden behind the purple protective cloth in the top left corner of this photo. I will show that area on the day after tomorrow and will unveil what is under the cloth. I predict that you will be amazed.

The American benefactor who donated much of the funds to build this church, Frank Barnyak, said that he wanted to build something as a tribute to his late wife, Mary (1923-2005), that would last 1,000 years. With granite walls and floors, this church should be exactly that.

In most small communities that have grown to a size where they warrant a church for the first time, the first church constructed is a modest one. That is not what is happening in Tamarindo. The first church has been built with the materials, design and decor that is creating a small cathedral, not a modest small town church. In the future I will also show the closest church to Tamarindo so you can contrast it to this new new church.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A church for Tamarindo

Tamarindo is finally getting its first church! And what a church it is! Inglesia de Santa Maria, or St. Mary's Church, is used for Sunday services, although construction is not yet complete, as reflected by this Mack truck.

The money to build the church was donated by three American benefactors, Frank Barnyak and Frank and Donna Galluzzo. Mr. Barnyak gave the gave the funds and initiated the effort to build the church as a memorial to his wife Mary Barnyak, who passed away on January 5, 2005. The church was dedicated in her honor on January 5, 2008.

This is not just a first church, but a spectacularly ambitious, beautiful work of art. The front facade, visible in this photo, is granite, as are the interior floors, walls and mosaics. You can see some of the statuary on the front facade from a distance in the above photo.

In future posts, including tomorrow and early next week, I will show you some statuary and mosaics inside. I predict that you will be amazed, as this Church includes construction materials and art that you would never expect in a small town that up until a few years ago was a fishing village and hangout for surfers and until now has not even had a single church. (By the way, note that the sign in front of the church is an advertisement for a surfing school.)

Half of the land for the church was donated by a local resident, Enriqueta Lopez, but a mortgage of $39,500 USD was needed to pay for the other 50% of the land and a fundraising effort is being launched to try to pay for the mortgage. The person who is coordinating the fundraising effort is Vinicio Hildalgo. He is also the manager of the Capitan Suizo Hotel and can be reached at

Friday, August 29, 2008

Cattle egrets

This photo of a flock of cattle egrets demonstrates one aspect of their behavior. They roost communally. They are called cattle egrets because they go out to pastures and feed on the insects stirred up by the hoofs of cattle grazing.

This flock of cattle egrets was on the banks of the Tempisque River in Palo Verde National Park. The boat excursions for wildlife viewing offer opportunities to see lots of birds. Cattle egrets are among the easiest birds to spot, as they are plentiful and their white color stands out regardless if they are roosting along a river bank or in smaller numbers with cows in a pasture.

Cattle egrets were originally native to Spain and Portugal, and from there spread to Africa, Asia and made it across the Atlantic to South America in the late 1800's. The first recorded breeding of cattle egrets in Costa Rica did not occur until the 1950's.

Cattle egrets have spread in part because they are well adapted to the deforestation and spread of farms and ranches, with greater numbers of cattle or other livestock.

Cattle egrets are among the smaller herons. They are up to 51 cm (20 in.) in length.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sunset No. 6, with palm trees

This photo may help explain why the people in yesterday's photo were not looking at the sunset when they were returning from a snorkeling and sunset cruise. Although they had their backs turned towards the sunset I showed yesterday, here is the view that awaited them as they returned to the beach.

The above photo shows the palm trees that line the beach and sky catching the rays of the setting sun. The colors of Tamarindo sunsets are more remarkable when you consider that the sun sets in the opposite direction, over the Pacific Ocean, and I took this picture on the beach looking east, with my back to the setting sun.

If you click and enlarge the photo, you can see the outdoor seating areas of a few of the beachfront restaurants under the palm trees.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sunset No. 5

This is a photo of people getting off a raft as they were returning from a catamaran sailing cruise. I guess they all had seen so much of the sunset already that they were content to walk ashore with their backs to the glorious sight behind them. Tomorrow, I will show you the sight that the people saw in front of them as they walked inland on the beach. The people had obviously had a good time. They had taken a catamaran sailboat operated by Blue Dolphin Sailing.

Tamarindo Bay does not have a pier, so the tourist excursion and snorkeling boats and fishing boats anchor in a protected area of the bay and they escort tourists from the beach to the boats on little rafts or boats. The bay is partially protected from the ocean's waves by a small rocky island and a reef.

I previously posted a photo of the sunset taken from another
sunset sailing cruise in Tamarindo. There are boat trips for snorkeling and scuba diving, and deep sea sports fishing is very popular. Some of the people who rent our condo come to Tamarindo primarily for the sports fishing (rather than the many other activities.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


This is an olingo who has climbed across a wire and is hanging upside down in order to steal a drink from a hummingbird feeder at the hummingbird gardens at Monteverde.

Olingos are mammals whose nearest relatives are the coati. Their territory ranges from Nicaragua to Peru. This photo shows that they are very clever and nimble

Their bodies are only 36-42 cm (14-16 in.) in length, although they have ringed, bushy tails that are about the same length as their bodies. They weigh only 1.1-1.4 kg (2-3 lbs.) as adults, and weigh only 55 grams (.12 lbs., or 1.9 ounces) at birth. It takes a baby olingo 27 days just to open its eyes.

We see olingos at our condo on the beach in the Langosta area of Tamarindo. The most common times we see one is when we are on our second story balcony/patio at night listenind to the waves and watching the ocean. We can sometimes see an olingo walking around the grassy area below. Occasionally we see one walking around the parking lot or even in the corridor of our condo, which is outdoors. They will walk away and keep their distance when they see a person coming.

They travel alone and live a solitary life. They are nocturnal, as you might guess from looking at the size of the eyes in the olingo in this photo. This picture was taken late in the afternoon, as the olingo was beginning its day. They eat fruit, nectar, insects, small birds and mammals.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Blue motmot

This is a blue motmot in Monteverde. Blue motmots are native to Costa Rica. They are about 45 cm (18 in.) long. They have what is called a bare shafted racket tip at the end of their tail, as there is a short portion without feathers, then a round feathered part at the very end, making a shape similar to a tennis racket.

They make a hoot sound and eat insects and small lizards. As you might guess from the shape of their head and their posture, they are a relative of the kingfisher. I will post photos of kingfishers in the future.

As I trust you will agree from this photo, blue motmots are beautiful. I would like to tell you that we ventured deep into the cloud forest to get this picture or that we took this photo from the canopy walkways that I showed in my posts a week or so ago. But I must confess that this picture was taken from the convenience of our hotel room at the Monteverde Lodge.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Roadside rest stop

This garden was at a roadside rest stop on the road to Monteverde. Monteverde is a popular destination for tourists. The rest stop has a cafe, gift shop and this garden out back with a small zoo so tourists can enjoy a little walk while stretching their legs.

I posted a variety of photos from Monteverde ove rthe past week or so. It is a magnet for tourists and environmentalists because of its pristine cloud forest. Biologists are working there to study and preserve many species of plants and animals. They are also measuring the impact of global warming and have noted that certain species of butterflies are now living only at higher elevations than the area that had traditionally been their habitat.

Costa Rica attracts young people from all over the world to study and work on environmental issues. My wife has made the observation that Costa Rica today attracts young environmentalists much like Paris attracted artists and writers from all over the world early in the 20th century. Let's hope that they will achieve a similar impact on the world.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bamboo Groove Housing

Here is the sign and logo of the Bamboo Groove shop, the subject of yesterday's post. If you click and enlarge the photo, you will note that it announces its business as the rather unusual combination of "HOUSING, SURF, FASHION." The housing business of the shopkeeper's boyfriend, Dutch architect Erwin Schuster, was the subject of a recent article in the local newspaper. In a brilliant combination of recycling and the use of renewable resources, he builds houses out of used ocean shipping containers and bamboo.

The houses are modernist and attractive in design, yet affordable. They use bamboo wood roofs, steel and aluminum from shipping containers for the structural walls, and bamboo wood to cover the metal sides. The metal roofs on the containers are removed, and bamboo is used to build a vaulted ceiling, with windows all around the house at the top of the ceiling and below the eaves. The front and back of the house are glass to give it an open feel. The house featured in the newspaper article was double the width of a sea container.

Think of how environmentally responsible the houses are. Shipping containers are being recycled into houses. The Chinese build a new sea container every five minutes because it is cheaper to build a new one than to ship an empty one back to be reused. Bamboo is strong, straight, can be cut into attractive planks, and grows like a weed, saving other tropical woods.

Below is a "Living Green" notice posted on the door of the shop providing information about the Bamboo Groove Housing concept. You may click and enlarge the photo to read the notice, which also gives the architect's email address,, for further information.
Costa Rica has set a national goal for 2020 to be the world's first carbon-neutral nation. Initiatives such as Bamboo Groove Housing should help.

This is an innovative approach to housing construction. I have posted two previous photos of housing construction in Costa Rica. On June 16 I posted a photo of a typical "Tico" house in which local residents would live. On July 25 I posted a photo to show the housing and construction methods used for condominiums built for foreigners.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bamboo Groove Shop

Yesterday I posted a story about the dog that belongs to a shopkeeper. Here is her shop. The bamboo out front is not just the theme for this shop, but also for a related business that uses bamboo and used shipping containers to make environmentally-friendly, affordable housing. That will be the subject of tomorrow's post. Here is the interior of the shop.
The shop is called Bamboo Groove, and all of the cabinets, clothing racks, and furnishings are made of bamboo. The clothes are all natural, and the Dutch shopkeeper, Tanja, designs some of the products herself. My wife has bought some jewelry at the shop, and when I bought a tee-shirt last week it came not in a plastic bag, but in a basket made from bamboo.

The use of bamboo is a theme that Tanja shares with her boyfriend, a Dutch architect who designs and builds houses from empty shipping containers and bamboo. I will explain that extraordinary and brilliant business idea in tomorrow's post.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A dog story

I have sad, but hopeful, news to report about the above yellow Labrador shopkeeper's dog. I posted a story and photo of this dog on this site on July 20. The dog is now paralyzed, but is hopefully on the road to recovery. Here is the story.

A few days ago I was walking in front of the shop and I noticed the dog below, but not the yellow Labrador.
The shopkeeper, a Dutch woman named Tanja, explained the absence of her yellow lab, whose name is Bagus. He contracted a disease recently that has caused him to be paralyzed! He is now at a special clinic in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, where his disease has been cured, but he will continue to undergo several weeks of acupuncture treatments to try to cure his paralysis.

Bagus is an Indonesian word meaning good and beautiful. Tanja lived in Bali before moving to Tamarindo. Let's all hope that the acupuncture treatments work and that Bagus will soon be returning to his regular post in front of Tanja's shop. You can imagine the devotion of Bagus to Tanja to each other.

But what about the black dog in the photo above? He belongs to a street vendor who sells jewelry. She leaves the dog at the shop for the day, where the dog is quite comfortable and content. I will post more information about Tanja's shop and her boyfriend's bamboo house business in the future.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Monteverde Cheese

Here are two photos of Monteverde Cheese labels to follow up last week's posts about Monteverde.
Last week, I posted several photos from the Monteverde cloud forest and told the story of the Quakers who moved from the USA to Monteverde in 1951 and produced cheese to support their community. Several readers left comments inquiring about Monteverde Cheese. I therefore went to the supermarket and am posting some photos of Monteverde Cheese labels.

I like the logo. Notice that it shows a cows head emerging from the what could be either the top of a mountain or the body of the cow. The artwork on the label shows the pastures for dairy cows with the Monteverde cloud forest in the background. It looks sort of like a Central American, tropical version of Switzerland.

Costa Rica is known as the "Switzerland of Latin America." That analogy is not intended to refer to mountain cow pastures and cheese, however. The comparison to Switzerland refers to Costa Rica's decision in the late 1940's to abolish its military, which is what caused the Quakers to move to Costa Rica, and to invest the money from its military on education and health care.

Costa Rica has maintained a stable democracy and has avoided the internal or external conflicts that other countries in the region have experienced. With no military, Costa Rica has done just fine relying on police, and the values of the country are reflected by the fact that the country has more teachers than police.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Zip lines

This is my wife enjoying her first zip line adventure. She is about to land on her first platform. Her smile replaces the expression on her face in yesterday's photo taken a few seconds earlier, which showed her apprehension upon taking off on her first zip line ride.

Note that she is wearing a harness around her waist and legs, attached to a very sturdy hook, that is hanging from the pulley that runs along the zip line. There is a second line for safety.

This photo also shows the braking system. Managing one's speed is important on the zip lines, but it is easy to do. If you go too fast, it will be a challenge when landing on the next platform. If you go too slowly, you will stop gliding before you reach the next platform and you will have to pull yourself along the line.

The braking system is the thick leather glove that Julie is wearing on her right hand and holding against the cable. The gloves have an extra thick leather pad in the palm so you can pull down on the cable. The friction of the leather rubbing against the cable will cause you to slow down or stop.

It is not as difficult as I have perhaps made it sound. Your weight hanging down on the long cable causes the cable to bow down a little, as you can see from the angle of the cable in the above photo. That makes it actually a little uphill and will slow you down naturally as you glide into each platform.

When you are walking in a forest near where there are zip lines, you can hear a high-pitched singing sound made by the pulleys zipping down the cables.

Julie has gone on the zip lines twice. She got so comfortable that near the end of her last ride, the guide asked her if she wanted to ride like "super-chica." He changed the harness to hang from her back so that she could ride horizontally, flying through the forest like Superman. I wish I had a photo of that, but she was with a friend who was visiting from the U.S. and they kept their cameras stowed while flying through the forest.

So if you are in Costa Rica walking in the forest near a zip line and you hear a high pitched singing sound, you may say, "Look, up in the air. It's a bird. It's a monkey. No. It's super-chica!"

Monday, August 18, 2008

Zip lines

This is a photo of my wife leaving the platform on her first zip line adventure. Tomorrow, I will show you what she looked like at the end of this zip line trip.

There are zip lines in many places in Costa Rica. The first was in Monteverde. There are several near Tamarindo. This one was at the Buena Vista Adventure Park next to Rincon de la Vieja National Park, a little over an hour away from Tamarindo. Several zip lines are closer, and they will pick up tourists at their condo or hotel in Tamarindo/Langosta, drive them to the zip lines, and have a guide accompany the tourists from platform to platform, assisting with hooking and unhooking the lines at each stop.

Most zip lines have a dozen or more platforms or stations. You zip from one to the next. The distances between the platforms can be well over 100 meters or yards (the distance of a football field). Platforms are attached to very tall trees, usually with no ladders to the ground. The only way down is to complete the entire course. Once you start the course, there is no quitting. But unless you have a panic attack because of a fear of heights, quitting is unthinkable.

There are attendants on each platform. They help steady you when you land. They also help lift you up to affix the hook that holds your harness onto the cable so you are ready for the next section of the zip lines.

Zip lines are very popular, and it is no wonder why. You are up in high trees where normally only birds and monkeys frolic. You experience the thrill of a high speed ride. It is sort of like a roller coaster, but without the track, car and noise. Every family member and friend who has visited us or stayed in our condo in Tamarindo/Langosta has gone on a zip line excursion, with the sole exception of my mother-in-law. Many of the visitors who have rented our condo when we are not there also report that they went on the zip lines and have loved the experience. It is usually the favorite of teenagers, especially.

Why did my mother-in-law not do the zip lines when she visited? Well, my theory is that because she joined my wife and me for about 10 days of our honeymoon in France (yes, you read that correctly, but that is another story), she probably figured that she would show us that she could be left behind without making us feel guilty.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


These are some epiphytes that were falling off a tree and that our naturalist guide at Monteverde showed to us. Epiphyte means "upon plant."

Epiphytes are plants that grow on trees. Most are not parasites. They live on a tree, but they do not exploit the resources of the tree to help them live. They collect the nutrients that they need from the air, rain and particles in the air. They do not draw sustenance from the host tree. Some host trees are completely covered with the leaves and vines of epiphytes.

Our guide, Eduardo, was extremely knowledgeable about the plants and animals in the area. Costa Rican guides seem to have an uncanny ability to spot wildlife that an untrained person would overlook. Eduardo carried a scope mounted on a tripod that he used to point out a rare quetzel,, the national bird of Costa Rica, barely visible in the thick foilage high in a tree.

I might take this opportunity to point out that Eduardo illustrates something about the demography of Costa Rica. 95% of Costa Ricans are classified as white, primarily of Spanish descent. 3% are of African origin, and only 1-2% are indigenous. Many of those of African descent live along the Carribean coast where they or their ancestors moved southward from Nicaragua or Belize. Their ancestors had moved to Nicaragua largely from Jamaica. Belize, formerly British Hondouras, was a slave port centuries ago.

Jamaica and Belize are both English-speaking countries. As a result, the African minority in Costa Rica generally speaks English as their native language. That is an asset in filling jobs in tourism, the number one industry in the country, because most visitors are from the USA and the English -speaking area of Canada.

One of the other naturalist guides who escorted other membersof our group was the son of one of the original group of 50 Quakers who settled Monteverde in 1951. It was our pleasure to meet with one of the original settlers. He drove a truck from Alabama to Monteverde in 1951. He lived for many of the intervening years in San Jose as the director of marketing for Monteverde cheese, returned to the U.S. for a few years when his children were young (and where they now live), then he ultimately returned to Monteverde to live.

Tomorrow . . . . a photo from the zip lines.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Epiphytes growing on tree branch

This photo of epiphytes growing on a tree branch is typical of the cloud forest. Many trees serve as a host to other plants that grow on their trunks and branches. In some cases, the epiphytes completely cover the host tree.

Epiphytes grow in the cloud forest because there is enough moisture for the epiphytes to live off the rain and humidity, without requiring a root structure below ground. Monteverde is in the central part of the country. It receives enough rain to support the cloud forest vegetation because it receives trade wins from the Caribbean side of the country. The moist air from the Caribbean travels up to the higher elevations, and the air is cooled, releasing moisture in the form of rain. Monteverde is at 5,900 feet (1,800 m.).

In Tamarindo, we are not influenced by the weather patterns from the Caribbean side of the country. The spine of tall mountains in the center of the country provides a barrier, and even hurricanes from the Caribbean side do not cross over to affect us here on the Pacific Coast.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Canopy walk view, with a splash of color

This is another view of the trees looking down from the canopy walk. Again, these may look like they are small plants, but these are the tops of tall trees.

The Monteverde canopy walk offers a superb opportunity to see the canopy of the cloud forest, but some people think that there is too much tourism in the area. In addition to the cloud forest reserve, there is a butterfly garden, a hummingbird center, a frog zoo, an orchid farm, a snake center, and other attractions for tourists.

The number of visitors who are allowed to hike on the main trail in the cloud forest preserve is limited each day. The number of tourists in the area is also limited by the challenge of driving in the area, as the roads are winding, mountain roads that are not in good condition. (Costa Rica has made great improvements to its roads in the last few years, as I will explain and show in some posts in the near future.)

The Monteverde cloud forest also contains the world's first zip line canopy tour, as Costa Rica pioneered the concept of eco-tourism. Today, there are zip line canopy tours in many places in Costa Rica, including some close to Tamarindo. I will show a photo from the zip lines this coming Monday.

I should note that today is a national holiday in Costa RIca -- Mother's Day. What about Father's Day, you might ask. That is held on a Sunday without granting a day off of work, but Mother's Day is always August 15 and is a holiday.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The dense cloud forest

This is a sample of the views of the cloud forest that can be seen from the trail through the forest and from the canopy walk.

The density of this forest should give you an appreciation of the challenges that faced the Quakers in 1951 as they cleared land for their houses and farms and faced the challenge of living in such an area that was remote 50 years ago.

I ended yesterday's post with a question of what could they do to earn money? Crops would spoil before they got to market. Manufacturing is not practical in such a remote location. They obviously can't produce any wealth by selling insurance to each other.

Their solution was to produce and sell cheese. Monteverde cheese is still produced by them today and is available in markets throughout Costa Rica. Cheese was the solution because their mountainous land was suitable for dairy cows, and it was easier to transport and would not spoil during the slow trip down the mountain to the roads of the outside world.

The Quakers needed something to use as molds to form the shape of their cheese. Their solution was to use the round cardboard containers that previously held - - - - Quaker Oats, of course.

(For readers of this website outside the USA, I perhaps should explain that there is a well known cereal company in the USA that sells oatmeal in round cardboard containers with a logo that is a picture of a colonial-era Quaker on the box and is called Quaker Oats, but I don't think that the company has anything to do with the Quaker religious group.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

View from the cloud forest floor

This is a view of the Monteverde cloud forest looking up from the ground. It is the opposite of the view yesterday from the canopy walk looking down on the trees.

I provided some information in my posts yesterday and the day before about the settlement of Monteverde by Quakers from the USA in 1951. They planted small farms to grow crops for themselves, but they did not have a source of cash to buy the other things they needed. They did not have an outside market for the crops that they grew because Monteverde is in a mountainous area, and 50 years ago there was not even a paved road to the area. Also, it is a cloud forest, and trees don't get this green without a fair amount of rain. The same rain turned the dirt roads in Monteverde to mud and prevented the Quakers from being able to transport out crops before they would spoil.
Tomorrow, I will answer the question of what the Quakers did to have a product to export to earn cash for their needs. In the meantime, perhaps you can try to think of a solution. What would you have recommended as a source of earning money for a community of 50 people living in mountainous cloud forest that was rather inaccessible 50-60 years ago?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Canopy walk view

This fern is not a potted plant. This is a view down on the tops of large trees. The canopy walk shown in yesterday's photo allows visitors to walk in the midst of the tops of trees and to look down on tree tops.

The cloud forest has multiple levels of vegetation, with tall trees providing a canopy of shade to shelter the smaller trees and bushes that grow near the ground. Tomorrow I will show a photo of the forest from the ground looking up.

I mentioned yesterday that Monteverde was founded by Quakers in 1949 due to their opposition to war and Costa Rica's abolition of its military. We met with one of the original group of about 50 Quakers who came to settle Monteverde at that time. Most traveled by ship, but he was one of a few who drove from the USA to Costa Rica. It took months, as the Pan American Highway was not built. I will relay more of his story during the next few days.

(By the way, the Pan American Highway travels through Liberia and San Jose and is shown as Route 1 on the map I have posted in the lower left sidebar of this website.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Monteverde canopy walk

Monteverde is a special place. Its cloud forest has a 2.5 km (1.5 mile) nature trail with 6 suspension bridge walkways like this one across ravines from one ridge to the next.

These walkways allow visitors to walk through, and look down upon, the canopy of trees at the roof of the cloud forest. The walkways are as high as 42 m. (138 ft.) above the ground and as long as 243 m. (797 ft.).

I will post a picture tomorrow of the view looking down on the canopy of trees, and additional photos of the cloud forest on the several days after that.

I will also provide some information on the history of Monteverde during the next few days. It is fascinating. It was founded by American Quakers who were faced with being drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War, and of course their religion did not permit them to take up arms. They read about Costa Rica abolishing its military and a group of 50 of them from Alabama decided to move to Costa Rica. They settled in Monteverde, which was an uninhabited mountainous area.

The Monteverde cloud forest was later identified as a threatened ecological treasure. School children in Sweden collected coins in the 1980's to purchase land to save the cloud forest, and their efforts were joined by school children from 44 nations. The Quakers also donated some of their land. More than 54,000 acres is preserved in what is called the Children's Eternal Rainforest, or Reserve Bosque Eterno de los Ninos.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


This is a photo of a gecko who was hanging upside down on the ceiling of the balcony/patio of our condo in the Playa Langosta neighborhood of Tamarindo. This picture is not the best quality because it was taken at night. As I mentioned in yesterday's post of a baby iguana, most geckos are nocturnal.

Another difference between geckos and baby iguanas is also clearly seen in this photo. This gecko has pads at the end of its toes, whereas all iguanas have claws. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you will be able to see a single claw at the end of each pad on this gecko.

The gecko's pads have many microscopic hooks that enable them to climb any surface, even a surface as smooth as glass. The can also hang upside down on a ceiling, as this photo shows.

The geckos make distinctive chirping sounds. The photo above was taken with a flash, which accounts for the reflective eyes.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Baby iguana

This is a profile view of a baby iguana. There are several clues to tell that this is a baby iguana and not a gecko. First, if you click on the photo and enlarge the view of his its eyeball, you can see that its pupil is round, not a vertical pupil. Because most geckos are nocturnal, vertical pupils let more light in to their eyes.

Another clue is that this photo was taken in the daytime (in Rincon de la Vieja National Park) and iguanas are diurnal. Also, juvenile iguanas have alternating dark and light bands on their tails, which can be seen in this photo. Most, but not all, geckos have pads on their feet, not claws like this iguana. Tomorrow I will post a photo of a gecko that clearly shows the pads on its feet.

On June 14, I posted a photo of an adult iguana. I think you will agree that iguanas look a lot better as babies than adults.

On June 27, I posted a photo of a baby iguana from the front, which you may want to take a look at to complement the above profile photo.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Monkey comb tree fruit

I think that this is the fruit of a monkey comb tree, or peine de mico in Spanish. This fruit is hard and crusty, and about 8 cm. (4 in.) wide. It looks like a flower, but it is not. The flower of a monkey comb tree is what gives the tree its name, as the flowers have no petals, but lots of stamen that stick out like the bristles of a brush or teeth of a comb. The fruit is apparently a favorite food of parrots.

There are 23 different varieties of these trees in Costa Rica. They reach a height of 30 m. (295 ft). The scientific name is sloanea ampla. This photo was taken in the forested part of Rincon de la Vieja National Park. I have posted other photos from that park in the past. (I figured that since I showed a monkey ladder vine yesterday, I would post a monkey comb tree today. Tomorrow I will post a close-up profile of a baby iguana from Rincon de la Vieja.)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Monkey ladder

This is a close up of a vine that is called a "monkey ladder." I took this picture while walking on the trail back from the cave entrance in Barra Honda National Park, which has been the subject of my photos during the past week.

My photos of the caves began with the metal, human ladder used to access the cave. I think nature's "monkey ladder" is a more artful design.

Below is a second photo that shows a more distant view of this same vine to give the perspective of how it leads from the ground up to the higher tree branches.

It is easy to see why it is called a monkey ladder. As is common in Costa Rica, during our hike we could hear the low, gutteral calls of howler monkeys.

I am sorry that I do not know the scientific name for the monkey ladder. I could not find it in my reference books.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Stone or coral?

This looks like coral to me, in color, shape and texture. But it is another example of the stone in the Barra Honda cave we explored.

I have written in the past about how Costa Rica, with only 0.03% of the world's land area has 6% of the world's biodiversity. The scenery is also diverse, with beaches, mountains, jungles, cloud forests, plains and valleys, volcanoes, waterfalls, and more. The photos I have posted from Barra Honda during the past week illustrate that Costa Rica is diverse underground as well as above ground.

Tomorrow, we leave our underground explorations and I will show a photo of an unusual plant along the trail in Barra Honda National Park.

August is National Parks Month in Costa Rica, and I hope the photos I have posted from several of the national parks near Tamarindo have helped to show why eco-tourism is a major contributor to the economy of Costa Rica. Costa Rica is now receiving the dividends of decisions to create many of its national parks as recently as the 1970s to preserve a larger percentage of its land than any other country on the planet.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Cave formations in Barra Honda

These are a sample of more of the formations in the cave we explored in Barra Honda National Park.

Here's a little geology lesson. The caves were formed by water seeping into fissures in the limestone. The water mixes with carbon dioxide in the air and soil and forms carbonic acid, which adds a chemical process that interacts with a mineral in the limestone, which dissolves in the water. The dissolving mineral (calcium bicarbonate) drips away with the water and leaves a cavity -- the cave -- where the limestone rock used to be before part of it dissolved away.
I should repeat a disclaimer I made during one of my earlier posts about plants. My scientific training is limited to one college class: Introduction to Biology for Non-Science Majors. The above explanation is from a Costa Rica National Parks Guide book that I have, not based on any personal expertise.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Stone family

This is one of the formations in the cave we explored in Barra Honda National Park. It is referred to as the "family," for obvious reasons.

My guess is that the children of this stone family are feasting their eyes on the walls of this room, which looks like everything is made of ice cream.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Of the 30 caves in Barra Honda National Park, only one has a large bat population, and we did not go into that one. We went into a cave noted for its striking formations, such as the stalagtites shown above and some much larger formations tht I will show during the next several days.

Yes, stalagtites are the formations that hang down and stalagmites are the formations that rise from the floor.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Entering Barra Honda cave

This photo shows my younger son, Stuart, at the beginning of the climb 52 meters (175 ft.) straight down into the La Trampa cave. Yesterday's photos showed the same ladder from the bottom looking up to the cave entrance. The safety rope clamped to a harness around his waist and held by a park service employee is clearly visible.

Visitors need to arrive at the park by noon to permit enough time to walk up to the cave entrance and to climb down, explore the cave, come back up, and then walk back to the car and drive back down to the park entrance before it gets late in the afternoon.

It is necessary to have a guide to walk visitors up to the cave entrance and escort through the cave. The guides can be hired at the park entrance building at a cost of about $30 USD. That also covers the cost of the employee who sits at the entrance and holds the safety rope to catch you if you slip on the ladder. The guide also supplies you with a hard hat with a light attached to it. Our guide also gave us a bottle of water to drink on the hike back when we finished the water we brought.

Several readers left comments yesterday saying that they would not have climbed down into the cave. I can understand their reluctance. My willingness to go down was due in part to (1) my son wanted to go, so it was something we could do together, (2) I did a fair amount of cave exploring as a youth, when I lived in Missouri, which is sometimes regarded as "the cave state" because its limestone bluffs are laced with caves, (3) I wanted and needed the exercise, and (4) we had a local guide to lead us, every step of the way.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Barra Honda Cave Ladder

This cave entrance is made accessible by a metal ladder that leads from a hole in the roof straight down 52 m. (175 ft.). (To see it, you may need to click on the photo to enlarge it. Another view is below.)
In observance of the worldwide Daily Photo August 1 Theme Day of "metal," I am showing the metal ladder that the Costa Rican park service has constructed to enable visitors to climb in and out of this cave in Barra Honda National Park. Visitors may climb down and explore the cave while escorted by a guide. Another park employee stays above ground with a rope (visible in the above photo) and pulleys that are attached to a harness that visitors must wear while climbing up or down the ladder to prevent a fall if someone slips.

Half of the 40 caves in Barra Honda National Park are still unexplored. What is it like to climb down the ladder and what is there to see inside the cave? You will need to check the photos that I will post during the next several days.

Click here to view thumbnails for all participants in the Daily Photo theme day
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