Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Yellow-crowned night heron and little blue heron

I am not positive, but I believe that the bird on the lower left is a yellow-crowned night heron. I make that identification based on the pattern of the black and white plumage on its head, plus its gray color, size and habitat. The yellow-crowned night heron is more often seen during the day than the black-crowned and other night herons, although they are nevertheless still primarily nocturnal.

The bird in the top right of the photo is a little blue heron ("Little" is part of its name, not an adjective added by me.) They winter in Costa Rica, although some non-breeding pairs remain all year.

Both types of herons shown in this photo live in aquatic areas of both coasts of Costa Rica, particularly in mangroves. We have mangroves in the Tamarindo and Langosta estuaries that border Tamarindo on the north and south, although I took this photo in Tortuguero. The presence of two types of birds so close together in one photo illustrates how easy it is to spot birds in Tortuguero National Park.

Both of these herons are typically 61 cm. (24 in.) in length. The scientific name for yellow-crowned night heron nyctanassa violacea, and for the little blue heron is egretta caerulea.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Blue jeans poison dart frog

This strawberry poison dart frog, also called a blue jeans poison dart frog, is one of 7 species of poison dart frogs in Costa Rica. They are poisonous to touch if you have a cut on your hand, but I do not touch them just in case.
They are tiny. Most are only about 2 cm (1 inch) in length, and large ones get to about twice that size.

Poison dart frogs display remarkable parenting behavior for animals other than mammals and birds. Their courtship ritual includes the male calling a mate, then she follows him to a suitable site for laying eggs, usually a moist leafy area. After some foreplay rubbing and touching, the eggs are laid and fertilized. This rather typical frog behavior is followed by something very unusual.

Either the male or female stays with the eggs to guard them until they hatch into tadpoles. The parent will then pick up the tadpoles and carry them on his or her back up a tree and deposit the tadpoles in the little pools of rain water that gathers in the the central areas of bromeliad plants. Even more amazing, the female frog will return to the tiny puddles of rain water and deposit unfertilized eggs for the tadpoles to eat.

How many amphibians or reptiles care for their young with such devotion? Even the fathers are involved. One difference between the fathers and mothers is that when they carry the baby tadpoles up the trees to the bromeliad sisterns, make frogs will carry up to 6 tadpoles at a time, but mothers will carry only 1 or 2 at a time. I guess the males must have better upper body strength from all those years carrying the trash out of the kitchen on trash collection day.

I previously mentioned how Tortuguero gets so much rainfall each year. The rain and humidity are obviously necessary to maintain the supply of water in the little pools in the plants to nurture the tadpoles.

Please excuse the quality of the photos. The forest canopy is thick, so I took the photos in low light and zoomed in, which narrowed the depth of field. The top photo is cropped to enlarge the frog. The second photo shows the full frame. I did not want to get closer and disturb the frog.

I will show another poison dart frog in a few days.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Downtown Tortuguero

This is downtown Tortuguero. The main boat landing is just to the left, and this park with giant, colorful bird statues greets visitors. There are a few tourist shops, restaurants and places to stay, although most people come to Tortuguero to see the wildlife, not the town.

This festive atmosphere is a very different greeting than people would have received in the early days of Tortuguero. Tortuguero was originally a hangout for pirates working the Caribbean. It was a good location for two reasons. First, it is very isolated, accessible only by water, with very few people in the area.

Second, Tortuguero was a supply point for pirates because the local population would sell the giant sea turtles to the pirates for food on their sea voyages. Tortuguero even gets its name from that historic role, as Tortuguero means "turtle seller."

Turtles are still the foundation of the economy in Tortuguero, only today it is tourism by people coming to the area for wildlife, particularly the giant sea turtles, that supports the livelihood of the people.

The conservation of the area was spearheaded by Archie Carr, a Costa Rican conservation activist in the 1950's who brought attention to the fact that sea turtles were nearly extinct. His efforts led to the establishment of Tortuguero National Park and the Caribbean Conservation Corps.

The Caribbean Conservation Corps has a visitor center on the north end of Tortuguero town, and it continues to carry out conservation work to protect the sea turtles and other wildlife. And tomorrow, we will return to wildlife, with a post about a poisonous animal with an amazing life cycle.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tortuguero church

This is a church in the very small town of Tortuguero. This captures the Caribbean culture of the area, with tall palms and the distinctive architectural touches on this small church.

The Caribbean coast has a Jamaican-influenced culture, as many of the residents are decendents of people who came from Jamaica to build the railroad to the Caribbean coast in the late 1800's. You can see the influences of that culture in the roofline of this church.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Caribbean beach sand

During the past two days I showed views of the Caribbean beach, which had a grayish hue as the sand merged with the waves and spray of the ocean. Here is a closer view of the sand. I like both the color and pattern of the sand and, of course, the sound of the waves that bring the sand and create the patterns.

In Tamarindo on the Pacific coast our sand is a light tan, as I have shown in the past.
Next, I will show a few photos of the town of Tortuguero, followed by some photos of poisonous animals in the jungle.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Caribbean beach 2

Yesterday I showed a view up the Caribbean beach shoreline. One reader, Brattcatt, who frequently notices and leaves insightful comments about the details in my photos, left a comment yesterday asking about the debris that she could see on the beach. I therefore decided to post this picture. The beach debris consists of logs, branches sticks, palm fronds, and whatever else washes up from the ocean.

Tortuguero is an area of dense vegetation. Therefore there is a lot of vegetation that drops off trees, or trees that fall into the water and are carried out to sea and then wash up on the shore.

There is not much litter on the beach because very few people live in the northeastern corner of Costa Rica. Much of the coastline is protected as a national park. The area can be reached only by boat or small plane. There are no roads leading into or out of Tortuguero because it would be simply too expensive and impractical to build bridges over the honeycomb maze of rivers and canals.

Although there are few people to generate trash, there are also few people to pick up trash. Whatever might be floating in the ocean and washes up on shore will tend to stay there.

This raises the subject of litter, so I will address that now. Although Costa Rica has an amazing environmental ethic and has set aside more of its land for national parks and nature preserves than any other country -- 25% -- it does have a problem with roadside trash. The popular culture of preserving land for wildlife has not extended enough into keeping towns, villages, and roadsides clear of litter. There are efforts to improve that, however, and some communities, including Tamarindo, have had community clean-up and recycling days to remove litter.

In Tamarindo and Playa Langosta where we have our condos on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, our beaches are clean and we do not have aproblem with litter or debris washing up on the beach. In fact, Playa Langosta has maintained the coveted Blue Flag certification for passing the highest international standards for cleanliness of the beach and water.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Caribbean beach

This is a view of the Caribbean coast at Tortuguero. As I mentioned previously, the coastline is protected as part of the national park in order to provide a nesting site for sea turtles.

My guidebook states that visitation to the Tortuguero area did not really begin until the 1970's, when construction of a canal allowed passage to the area in small boats on inland waterways. Prior the inland water route, it was difficult to reach the area by boat because the sea in this area is rather rough and there is a lack of a natural harbor along the beach, as you can see in this photo.

This photo also illustrates the high humidity of the area. You can see that the mist from the ocean spray lingers in the air. This is a contrast to our coast on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, which has less humidity.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Opening a coconut

Tortuguero is on the Caribbean coast, and Costa Rica is tropical, of course, so that means that there are lots of coconut palm trees. This gentleman used a machete to slice open a coconut for us.

This occurred on the grounds of a research and conservation center for sea turtles that is on the narrow strip of land just along the beach. Costa Rica attracts environmentalists and students from around the world who come to study the plant and animal life and the potential effects of global climate change and other environmental subjects.

On our first trip to Costa Rica, when we toured around to various parts of the country, we repeatedly encountered young people from the USA and Europe who were in Costa Rica to study environmental topics or to work at various conservation projects. My wife made the comment that Costa Rica today is a magnet for young environmentalists in a manner similar to Paris of the early 20th century having been a magnet for artists and writers from around the world.

One of the young environmentalists attracted to Costa Rica is my niece. She spent one summer in college in Costa Rica, which was a perfect location because she was a biology major with a Spanish minor. The went to the sea turtle conservation center in Tortuguero for three days. She later obtained a Watson Fellowship, established by the former Chairman of IBM, which funds a very select group of college graduates to spend one year studying an environmental topic in parts of the world they had never been to previously.

She developed a program to study sea turtles and the effects of conservation and ecotourism on the people and communities near sea turtle populations. She wanted to go back to Tortuguero as one of the sites for her research but could not do so because she had been already been there for three days. So, she made the arrangements and set up a program for herself to work and do research for 3 months on Cayman, then 3 months in South Africa, 3 months in Australia, and 3 months in Panama. A nice gig, don't you think?

My niece has followed up her sea turtle studies during her fellowship by pursuing a Ph.D. in Marine Biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. We are obviously very proud of her (and I neglected to mention that she was a star on her Bowdoin College varsity ice hockey team, but I imagine it is hard to keep up her ice hockey skills while studying tropical marine biology).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Room at the Tortuga Lodge

This was our room at the Tortuga Lodge. I took this photo to show the proximity of the room to the outdoors, as you can see the river outside.

The most remarkable feature of the room is that it did not have any windows! The walls on three sides were screens without any glass. There were shades for privacy, and the fourth wall was and interior wall for the bathroom.

There was a large overhanging roof so that the rain did not come in the windows. We had a second floor unit.

With only screens separating the unit from the outdoors, you can imagine that part of the experience is the exposure to the sounds of the jungle at night. Besides the birds, every morning we heard a pack of howler monkeys move through the area. It was amazing. They emit a low guttural sound that is incredibly loud.

A single howler monkey makes a howl that has been measured at 89 decibels. A train whistle at 500 feet (152 m.) is 90 decibels. You can imagine the tremendous sound of a whole pack of howlers.

During the next few days I will take you to the Caribbean beach at Tortuguero, then I will show some photos of poisonous animals that we saw.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tortuga Lodge pool

This is the pool and a lounge at the Tortuga Lodge. The pool provides a nice place for a dip in the water too cool off if visitors have been out in the jungle on a warm, humid day. You would not expect to see resort amenities like this in a location as remote as Tortuguero.

There was little travel to Tortuguero until the 1970s. In the late 1960s a canal was dug to connect Tortuguero and other coastal areas with the town of Moin, just outside the largest town in the area, Puerto Limon. The canal is 113 km. (70 miles) that links various rivers, lagoons and waterways in the coastal areas. Before the canal, travel to the area was difficult because the maze of rivers and lagoons prevented the construction of roads into the area. The Caribbean coast in the region lacks natural harbors and has strong surf, so there was not convenient access by boat.

With the canal, visitors to the area are brought in by boats operated by the various lodges. The Tortuga Lodge is a leading place to stay for visitors who want to enjoy the wildlife in the area or who want to go sports fishing in the Caribbean. The Lodge has a very good restaurant and comfortable amenities that you would not expect to find in the jungle.

Tomorrow, I will show you what the rooms look like, and explain why the howler monkeys who roamed through the area a daybreak would provide nature's alarm clock.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Howler monkeys in trees

The top photo today is a howler monkey frolicking in the trees in Tortuguero. As we floated on the waterways, we were able to observe several groups of howler monkeys eating, or swinging from tree to tree.

The top photo is a typical vantage point for watching howlers. They present a challenge to photograph because usually they are seen when you are pointing the camera upward into a light sky background, and the monkeys, of course, are very dark. That produces a result like the first photo above.
To give you a better appreciation of howlers, I am posting the second photo of a howler up close. My wife took this photo while on a raft, although this was not taken in Tortuguero.
Howlers are appropriately named because they make an amazing noise. They travel in groups of about 6 in number, and the deep hoots or howls of a group can be heard a mile (1.6 km) away.
We had an unforgettable experience with howler monkeys in Tortoguero. Our room at the Tortuga Inn had screens for walls, as I will show in a few days. Each morning we had a group of howlers come by close to the room. It sounded as loud as a freight train coming through.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Tortuguero is best known as the most important nesting site for sea turtles in all of the Caribbean. We did not see any sea turtles, as they are typically viewed either in the ocean or at night while waiting on the beach for turtles to come ashore to lay eggs, or waiting for the eggs to hatch and the hatchlings to make it down the beach to the water.

Although I could not show a photo of a sea turtle, I am showing a photo of one of the freshwater turtles that we saw during our tour of the backwaters of the rivers and canals of Tortuguero Naitonal Park. This is a black river turtle, also called a black wood turtle. They are 32 cm. (12 in.) in length. They are locally called tortuga del rio negra, and their scientific name is rhinoclemmys funerea.

Costa Rica has sea turtles and fresh water tutles, but not any land turtles. The fresh water turtles such as this one change their diet during their lives. When young, they eat insects and fish. As they get older, they prefer plants. They will walk on land when foraging for food, and of course lay their eggs on land. The turtles are protected from predators by their shell, except from crocodiles, who will eat them whole.

Although Tortuguero is located on the far side of Costa Rica from Tamarindo, it shares with Tamarindo the status of being an important nesting site for sea turtles. Playa Grande, located next to Tamarindo, is the most important nesting site in the Pacific for leatherback turtles. Their nesting site is preserved as part of Las Baulas National Marine Park, and the government and conservationists try to prevent nearby landowners from developing their property because lights visible from the beach can interfere with baby turtle hatchlings finding the ocean because they may mistake the lights for the moon and lose their bearings.

The park rangers in both Tamarindo and Tortuguero lead groups of visitors on night walks and stake-outs on the beach to try to see turtles laying their eggs while keeping the visitors at a safe distance where they can see the turtles, but not interfere with them.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


This is a close up of a caiman. Caiman are similar to crocodiles, only smaller. They are only about 2.5 meters (8 ft.) in length. They are not as aggressive as crocodiles and are generally considered not to be a threat to people. You will also notice that they do not have as large a set of teeth as crocodiles, and they do not have the the large tooth that protrudes upward from the lower jaw about 4 teeth back from the tip of its mouth.

Caiman are common in Tortuguero. On our boat ride meandering through the backwaters of Tortuguero, we saw more than 10 caiman in three different locations within the span of about an hour.

We saw some children swimming in the main river at the town of Tortuguero. Although that was not in the narrrow waters within the park where we saw the caiman, that would still be too close for my comfort.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Juvenile snowy egret

This juvenile snowy egret is one of the many water birds that can be viewed at close range while gliding through the rivers and wetlands of Tortuguero National Park. There are 309 different species of birds in the park.

This photo shows the difference between a juvenile snowy egret and an adult. Juveniles have a yellowish green color on the back of their legs, and that coloration is visible in this photo, if the photo is enlarged by clicking on it.

Snowy egrets are medium sized for egrets, with a height of 64 cm. (25 in.) and a wingspan of 1 meter (39 in.). They are known locally at garceta nivosa. Their scientific name is egretta thula.

Snowy egrets are found in the coastal lowlands of both the Caribbean coast, where Tortuguero is located, and the Pacific coast, where Tamarindo is located. The climate of the two coasts is quite different. I talked about the huge amounts of rainfall in Tortuguero yesterday. In Tamarindo on the northwest Pacific coast, we have dry sunny weather much of the year.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tortuguero: "Nature's Venice"

Tortuguero is sometimes called "Nature's Venice." It is a maze of rivers, canals, lagoons, and tidal wetlands. The area gets 5,000 - 6,000 mm. (196 - 236 inches) of rain per year.

You can see from these photos why it is necessary to take a boat to float through the jungle to see wildlife, as it would be impossible to walk far amidst such wetlands.

It is very helpful to be escorted by a guide, as they are expert at seeing wildlife that you might miss, and they are very knowledgeable. Also, they know their way back after cruising around in the maze of waterways, which do not have street signs, of course, and leaving a trail of bread crumbs would not help one navigate your way back.

My wife asked our guide what was the most dangerous thing that has happened to him in the jungle. He said that once he was in an area of the waterways from which there was only one canal in and the same canal out. When it was time to head back at the end of the afternoon, a large tree had fallen across the canal completely blocking any passage.

He thought about whether he would have to spend the night in the jungle with a boat load of tourists. He probably would have been most afraid of the tourists. Fortunately, he was able to radio for help and the park rangers sent out another boat to retrieve everyone.

Happy St. Patrick's Day. What could be greener than the tropical vegetation of Tortuguero?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tortuguero National Park entrance

This is the entrance to Tortuguero National Park. Most visitors arrive and tour the park wetlands by boat, as the hiking trails do not cross the maze of rivers and canals. That is why the park entrance booth faces the water.

Parque Nacional Tortuguero is 190 sq. km., or 73 sq. miles. It also includes a marine protected area that extends 22.5 km (14 miles) out to sea, and 39.5 km (19 miles) of shore line are protected.

As reflected by the painting on the front of the rustic park entrance, there are manatees in the area. There are also howler monkeys, spider monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, caiman, 309 species of birds, and 60 species of frogs!

The manatee population in the park is stable, and perhaps increasing, despite the fact that they are a threatened species. Manatees are sometimes called a sea cow, and they are like a walrus without tusks. They are 3.7 meters (12 ft.) long, and weigh 1 ton (907 kg.).

Manatees are rarely seen because they spend most of their time under water, and they prefer the lagoons in the west end of the park, whereas most visitors spend more time in the waterways closer to the coast. My National Geographic guide book for Costa Rica says that the best way to tell that there are manatees is to watch for bubbles floating up, and the book goes on to explain that the bubbles are a byproduct of the aquatic plants that the manatees eat.

One of the more unusual animals in the park is called the greater, fishing, or bulldog bat (Noctilio leporinus). It is a large bat that swoops over the water and catches fish with its finger and toe nails. We did not see one, but we did see, and I will show you in the days ahead caiman, examples of the abundant birds, a poison dart frog and eyelash pit viper.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tortuga Lodge in Tortuguero

The question may arise, where can one stay in a jungle surrounded by a maze of rivers and tidal wetlands? An excellent answer is the Tortuga Lodge. How does one reach the Tortuga Lodge? The answer is only by boat.

The Tortuga Lodge is surrounded by jungle, but it includes resort amenities, such as a very good restaurant and a swimming pool. I will show a photo in a few days of the swimming pool area and will also show a photo of our room, which was unlike your typical hotel room, but, most importantly, successful in keeping outside everything that should remain outside. But first, I will take you out on a boat excursion into the jungle.

The Tortuga Lodge has a fleet of boats lined up in front like taxis at a cab stand in front of a hotel. Guides will take visitors on boat trips into the maze of rivers, canals and tidal wetlands to look at wildlife close up in the jungle.

The Tortuga Lodge is only a short boat ride from the town of Tortuguero, which is very small, and it is close to the little airstrip. Across the river from Tortuga Lodge is the narrow strip of land that forms the Caribbean shoreline with a beach that is the most important nesting site in the Americas for the green turtle. I will show the beach in a week or so as well.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tortuguero from the air

These two photos show Tortuguero from the air. I thought they would give a good orientation to the area. Tortuguero is in the northeastern part of the country, on the Caribbean coast, near the Nicaraguan border. You can see the Caribbean Sea in both of these photos.

Tortuguero National Park and the adjacent Barra del Coronado National Wildlife Refuge preserve the coastal low land jungle and provides a habitat for many animals, especially birds. The area is dominated by rivers and canals that separate the low land jungle areas. There are so many rivers and canals that the only way to reach Tortuguero is by small plane or by boat. There are no roads into Tortuguero.

The top photo shows the narrow strip of land where the town of Tortuguero is located. Across the river is part of the national park. From the town of Tortuguero or from some of the lodges, visitors can take boat excursions into the jungle.

In upcoming posts during the coming week, I will show you some of the animals, the lodge, and the Caribbean beach, which is an important nesting site for sea turtles. The animals I will show include one of the deadliest snakes in the jungle.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Whitewater rafting

Whitewater rafting is a very popular activity in Costa Rica. The abundant rainfall in the mountains and the high changes in elevation over a relatively small territory produces ideal conditions for whitewater rafting.

Costa Rica has a well developed infrastructure for tourism because tourism is its number one industry. Whitewater rafting tour operators are regulated by the government and conform to international standards, including requirements that people wear helmets, as you see in this photo.

Ecotourism and adventure tourism are part of the attraction of Costa Rica for many visitors. Whitewater rafting and zip lines are two of the many options in Costa Rica for tourists who like adrenaline rushes to spice up their vacations.

There are good rivers for rafting in most regions of Costa Rica, except the tidal lowlands of the Caribbean coast, where we will go next for the photos that I will post in the next week or so.

This photo is of a group of rafters that included four people who stayed in one of our two condos in Tamarindo. I am showing the photo with their permission. They chose a river in the Arenal area for their rafting excursion.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tree fern in a shaft of light

I liked the way this fern in the forest caught the light in a way that makes it appear that it is floating in air. Ferns are common in Costa Rica, and this is one of the more common types of ferns.

Ferns are distinguished from other plants by the fact that they do not produce seeds, flowers or fruit, but they are vascular plants with tissues strong enough to grow upward and erect. They are therefore a bridge between lower life form plants and more developed plants.

Without seeds, flowers or fruit, they reproduce by producing and releasing spores. That is the method of reproduction of plants such as mosses. Yet ferns grow trunk, branch and leaf structures capable of supporting themselves and carrying water and nutrients from the soil to distant leaves. Indeed, in Costa Rica some ferns grow as large as trees.

The fern shown in this photo is, I believe, commonly referred to as a tree fern, which has the scientific name of cyathea multiflora, which is also called helechos aborescente. It grows from sea level to as high as 2,100 meters (6,900 ft.) in damp forests.

Tomorrow I will show you a sample of a popular, adrenaline-rush tourist activity that I have not previously shown on this website, and then we will go on a field trip to the northeastern Caribbean coastal area of Tortuguero.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Raccoons in lobby of Capitan Suizo Hotel

This looks like a house cat lounging around, but it is a wild raccoon who spends its days in the woods around Tamarindo and who comes to the Capitan Suizo Hotel in the evening for the food that the hotel puts out for raccoons on the balcony of the hotel lobby.

After dinner, some of the raccoons like to lounge around the hotel lobby. Similar to hotels in Hawaii, hotels in Costa Rica are usually open-air, rather than having walls. This allows the raccoons to wander in if they feel welcome. Guests enjoy watching the raccoons, and watching the reaction of people who walk through the lobby and initially see a raccoon from their peripheral vision and assume it is a cat, then do a double-take upon realizing that it is a raccoon.

I previously posted the bottom two photos on this website on August 9 and August 10 of last year. They show how friendly the raccoons are, as one of them walked right up to take a look at me and my camera, and the other raccoon was happy to groom himself as a human family sat on the floor with the raccoon family.

We will often see raccoons walking beside us along the street as we walk from our condo in Langosta towards Tamarindo for dinner. The raccoons live in Langosta, which is a quiet residential area, and they walk to the Capitan Suizo Hotel for dinner. At times we will see raccoons and olingos walking around our condo building.

The Capitan Suizo Hotel puts food out for the raccoons in dog dishes. The hotel also has an elevated walkway draped across the street from a telephone pole so that howler monkeys can cross from the forest across the street to the trees on the hotel grounds without having to walk across the road and risking being hit by a car.

The Capital Suizo hotel was built in the 1990's by a couple from Switzerland who had fallen in love with Costa Rica. The couple tries to help the Costa Rican environment by providing a habitat for animals on the hotel grounds and refraining from the use of pesticides in the hotel gardens. They also report on the hotel website that 90% of their employees are Costa Ricans.

The employment of Costa Ricans is an issue that made news recently. The Chinese are building a new stadium for Costa Rica in the capital of San Jose, at a cost of $90 million USD. Costa Rica is grateful for the aid. The Chinese have brought 600 Chinese construction workers to work on the project and are employing only 200 Costa Ricans. Their explanation is that they have scheduled the construction crews to work in shifts around the clock and it is easier to do that with crews who are living in temporary housing on the site.

The Chinese workers will be rotated in for two months at a time. The Costa Rican newspaper interviewed them to ask how they felt about the experience. Their comments were about the same as all visitors to Costa Rica. They said that they were amazed at the natural beauty of Costa Rica and they hoped to have the opportunity to travel around the country.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Capitan Suizo Restaurant

This is a table ready for diners at the restaurant at the Capitan Suizo Hotel in Tamarindo. The Capitan Suizo has beautiful grounds and gardens, and the hotel is open air, with tropical plants next to the restaurant, as you can see in this photo. The beach and sunset are just beyond the plants.

This is a restaurant where it is impossible to request a table with a window view. Like most of the restaurants in Tamarindo, there is no window. Every table has a delightful view of beautiful tropical gardens.

The restaurant at the Capitan Suizo is another of the excellent restaurants we enjoy in Tamarindo. The Capitan Suizo is located on the quieter end of Tamarindo beach, closer to Langosta. When we stay at our condo on the beach at Langosta, the Capitan Suizo is the closest restaurant outside of Langosta, and is a short talk equal to the distance of about 5 city blocks.

The Capitan Suizo uses the theme that it is a "zoo hotel" because of the animals that can be seen in its gardens and even in the hotel lobby. I will show one of those animals tomorrow. No, it is not a cat, dog or anohter animal that you would expect.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Crocodile, Up Close and Personal

This is my favorite crocodile photo. This was a rare chance to look upwards at a crocodile in the wild from an angle to photograph the underside of his chin.

I was so close to this crocodile that an instant after I took this photo the crocodile rushed into the river and I got splattered with mud as he dove into the water. (Yes, I did use a telephoto zoom, so I was not as close as this photo appears.)

I took this photo from a wildlife boat excursion on the Tempisque River in Palo Verde National Park. Usually the crocodiles visible on such trips are in the mud along the river banks. This crocodile was up on the river bank, and the boat operator glided the bow of the boat into the river bank so that we could watch the crocodile up close. The boat is a good size, holding 20 or so people, so there is no danger from the crocodile on the boat.

As you can see from this photo angle, the crocodile was higher in elevation than the boat. Instead of the usual crocodile photo looking down on the top of his head and back, I was able to get a shot looking up to the underside of his chin. To get the best angle, I went to the side of the boat, leaned over with my camera hanging from my neck, and held the camera as low as I could, just above the water, to get a better angle to shoot up at the crocodile.

Just after I took this photo the crocodile charged the river right next to where I was hanging out of the boat and leaning over. No, I did not get a photo of that. I bolted up from the water and retracted safely into the boat, plenty fast enough to not be in reach of the crocodile, but not fast or far enough to avoid getting splattered by the mud from the river bank kicked up by the crocodile.

In retrospect, it was stupid and dangerous to lean over the side of a boat with a camera and hands dangling just above the water. After all, if there is one crocodile in the area, there could have been another. But sometimes the desire for the best camera angle is an irresistible force that controls the movements of the photographer, at least for amateurs like me. I am sure a professional photographer, which I would love to be, would have taken a better photo in a more careful manner, but I got a photo I love, and a story to tell. And, yes, I have washed the shirt that was splattered by crocodile mud.

(I have another dangerous jungle story about the time I was on a hike in the Amazon jungle at night and was charged by a wild animal. I was able to deflect away the animal with the lighting quick reflexes of my forearm. And what aggressive, crazed, wild animal had mounted this attack on me, you might be wondering? It was an animal that is attracted to light, and my hiking companion shined a flashlight on the animal, provoking its charge. Sorry to string you along for this tease, but the wild animal that charged me was a hummingbird.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

La Laguna del Cocodrilo Restaurant

This is the La Laguna del Cocodrilo Restaurant, a beachfront restaurant in Tamarindo. As its name implies, there is a pond next to the restaurant and there are crocodiles in the pond. The crocodiles are content to stay there and they do not wonder about the restaurant, or other parts of the town of Tamarindo.

If you want to see a crocodile in the wild, I plan to post one tomorrow, taken from a very close, unusual and stupidly dangerous angle.

The first photo above, with my wife and two sons, was taken shooting into the sun, so the ocean in the background is washed out and not visible. I went back on another day earlier in the afternoon to take another photo, and the second photo is only slightly better in showing the beachfront location.

What type of food would you expect to have at a beachfront restaurant in Costa Rica that has its own lake and crocodile? As the sign in the third photo shows, this restaurant features "California French cuisine," and has live jazz on Friday nights. The restaurant features dishes such as coconut encrusted mahi mahi, with broccoli, Swiss char, sesame-jasmin rice cake, pineapple in a roasted red pepper sauce. There is similarly creative sea bass, duck breast, beef tenderloin, rosemary lemon chicken, and more.

As I have mentioned in the past, my wife is a "foodie" and the Cocodrilo is one of the restuarants in Tamarindo that we enjoy.
Here is a link to the website for the restaurant. The website is good and gives more information about the menu.

Some people Anglicize its name by refering to it as the Crocodile Restaurant. We did see the crocodile in the lake out back, but it was too dark and he was too far away to get a photo worth posting. Tomorrow's photo will be a crocodile in the wild closer than you could imagine.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Come here before Starbucks does .. .No. 2

Tamarindo does not have a Starbucks, although it has several independent coffee shops and coffee counters. This coffee shop is actually located in a village just outside of town on the main road to and from Tamarindo.

I do not drink coffee, but people who love coffee rave about the coffee in Costa Rica. Coffee is the number two crop, after bananas. My mother-in-law, who goes to Starbucks on most days, said to me that the best coffee she has ever had is the coffee she made at our condo from grounds purchased at the local convenience market.

When we return from Costa Rica to the U.S., we usually will bring back some bags of coffee as gifts for friends. I have heard that people who smuggle drugs into the U.S. will at times use coffee to create an odor that will fool drug sniffing dogs. In fact, I think that there is a scene in the movie Beverly Hills Cop that showed coffee being used by drug smugglers.

I sometimes think that bags of coffee in my suitcase might cause U.S. Customs to think that there are drugs, but I have never had a problem. The Customs agents must be used to people coming back to the U.S. who simply love Costa Rican coffee.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dog in the surf

People, of course, are not the only ones who enjoy the beach. Dogs, such as this one, love to frolic in the surf. This photo was taken on Langosta Beach, and similar scenes can be enjoyed at Tamarindo and the other beaches in the area.

Last week I showed a series of photos from the Arenal volcano area. For the next week I will show photos of Tamarindo, with some animal photos mixed in, then I will take you on another field trip, this time to Tortuguero, in the far northeast corner of the country, to show you some of the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tamarindo beach (2)

This is a photo from the main part of Tamarindo beach. Playa Grande is the beach across the bay and Cabo Velas is the point of land to the north. Yesterday I showed a photo of the beachfront of the Tamarindo Diria resort, and this is the beach in front of the Diria.

This photo was taken during the week between Christmas and New Year's. It shows that even during a peak tourist time, the beach is big enough to enjoy a walk without a crowd of other people. There were people laying out in the soft part of the sand to the right of the scene that I photographed.

In the lower right corner of this photo is the float for a lifeguard standing upright. One of the issues that is the subject of local newspaper stories is maintaining the presence of lifeguards on Tamarindo beach. Donations from hotels and others support the lifeguard program.

The solitary figure wading in the surf in this photo is my wife. I mention this so that you would not think I am some type of a voyeur taking pictures of strangers on the beach without their consent.

Playa Grande across the bay is the prime nesting side for the endangered leatherback turtles. It is part of the Las Baulas National Marine Park, which also includes the ocean waters of the bay. It is possible to sign up for night walks on the beach with park rangers to stake out spots and wait for turtles to swim ashore and lay their eggs. There is no guarantee of a turtle sighting, however.

A major point of controversy in the area is the preservation of the beach at Playa Grande. There is private land near the beach and conservationists fear that lights from the homes and guest houses may confuse the turtles and deter them from coming ashore to lay eggs.

The government lacks enough money to buy the private property, but environmental groups are pressuring the government to expropriate private property, claiming that people have built homes within the boundary of the area set aside for the park. So far the environmentalists seem to be prevailing, and there have been some expropriations of private property that was encroaching on the park boundaries.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Diria Resort and Tamarindo Beach

This is part of the grounds of the Tamarindo Diria Resort in the middle of Tamarindo beach. Two days ago I showed a tropical smoothie. What better place to enjoy a smoothie than relaxing on a lounge chair under the palm trees while listening to the waves and taking a dip in the ocean or the pool every once in a while.

I thought this photo might inspire a few day dreams for people in the U.S. Northeast who are enduring a big snow right now.

My wife and I stayed at the Diria Resort on our first trip to Costa Rica three years ago. We liked it so much we bought a condo in a new building under construction on the Diria resort grounds, with a nice view of the ocean. We later bought a second condo directly on beach in the Playa Langosta area of Tamarindo. Langosta is a quiet residential area, and I showed the ocean front in Langosta yesterday. The Diria is located right in the middle of town, with lots of restaurants and shops nearby and resort amenities.

Some people prefer the Langosta beach condo; and some prefer the Dira Resort condo. It can be a tough choice. I think I'll grab a smoothie, sit under the palm trees, and think about it. And while at the beach, I'll think about my fellow Americans in the U.S. Northeast who are digging out from the snow today.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Whale season in Costa Rica

This is the whale season in Costa Rica. I do not have any photos of whales, so I am illustrating the story with this photo taken from a boat off looking down Langosta Beach while sailing out of Tamarindo Bay.

The guests who rented our Langosta Beach condo for the past two weeks sent me an email that they saw two whales from our patio/balcony. Tourists going out on the boat excursions from Tamarindo have been seeing whales.

The current issue of National Geographic magazine has an article on blue whales off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The article discusses a phenomenon in the ocean called the Costa Rica Dome, where ocean currents mix and contain nutrient rich waters with lots of krill for whales to eat. Some blue whales spend five months of the year in the area, before going north for the summer.

The National Geographic article found whales who had been tagged off the coast of Santa Barbara in the summer wintering off the coast Costa Rica. The article said that no human has ever witnessed the birth of a blue whale, which is the world's largest mammal, averaging 80 feet (24 m.) in length as adults and 25 feet (7.6 m.) at birth.

I am sorry that I do not have a photo of a whale off the coast of Costa Rica. The area of the ocean shown in this photo would be very close to and an equivalent location to where whales have been spotted. The guests renting our condo saw whales from our patio/balcony, and our condo is located just down the beach from the area shown in this photo.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tropical weather

Hey, folks up North! This pineapple and mango smoothie is for you!

Sorry to gloat about the weather, but I see on CNN that a major winter storm is hitting the U.S. Northeast, with snow extending all the way into Georgia. I hope you will not be offended if I point out to you that the weather forecast for today is a low of 69 and a high of 92 F. or 22 to 33 C. That is the official forecast for the International Airport in Liberia, but in Tamarindo it should be a few degrees cooler, as we have breezes off the ocean, whereas Liberia is inland.

November to May is the dry season, which means that it is sunny and warm. Some people even refer to those winter months as the "summer" in our part of Costa Rica, although Cost Rica is in the northern hemisphere. The rest of the year, which is called the "green season," is nice as well. Many days it will be clear in the morning, with some clouds and perhaps some rain in the afternoon, and then clear again. There will be some tropical showers, mostly during September and October.

It is so sunny and dry during the peak season for tourists that the trees in northwest Costa Rica drop their leaves to conserve water. That makes the wildlife viewing easier.

So, how do we cool off during our warm, sunny weather. Well, there is the beach and the ocean, the pool, a walk in the shade, or going out on a boat or up into the mountains, or taking a break inside where it is air conditioned, or sitting on the patio catching the ocean breezes (or under the ceiling fan) with a drink while listening to the waves, or walking in town and having an ice cream, gelato, or smoothie like my choice shown in this photo.

By the way, I should add that on the Pacific side of Costa Rica we are not in the Carribean hurricane zone, as the high mountains running down the spine of Costa Rica keep the Carribean weather on the Carribean side.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Monthly theme: Glass

The Daily Photo first-day-of-the-month theme for March is "glass." In thinking of a photo to capture the theme for Tamarindo, a Pacific coast beach resort, I have selected a glass of wine at sunset.

I have been doing this Daily Photo blog site since last June, and I am grateful to for the opportunity to share photos and information about Costa Rica with the nearly 10,000 people from more than 100 countries who have visited this site. I have appreciated your comments and enjoy the fascinating photography and commentary on the other Daily Photo sites around the world.

Here is a toast at sunset for all who visit this site and to the other Daily Photo bloggers who share their world through their sites.

Click here to view thumbnails for all participants
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