Birds

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Florida – Singer Island and Riviera Beach 2

All photos and artwork included in this Web site are copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

© Eric Schickler Photography

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Africa: Botswana & South Africa (Part II)

All photos, text and artwork included in this Web site are copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

© Eric Schickler Photography

Related Posts:

http://ericschickler.com/2013/11/11/bull-elephant-rampages-our-african-tent-camp/

http://ericschickler.com/2013/04/23/africa-bostwana-south-africa-part-i/

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Africa: Bostwana & South Africa (Part I)

All photos, text and artwork included in this Web site are copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

© Eric Schickler Photography

Related posts:

http://ericschickler.com/2013/11/11/bull-elephant-rampages-our-african-tent-camp/

 http://ericschickler.com/2013/04/23/africa-botswana-south-africa/

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Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 6 – Boating the Gulf, Wildlife Sanctuary, Zip Line Thrills, Tropical Weather

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Eric Schickler’s full-length travelogue,Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.”

 

The next day we arranged for a day-long boat tour around the entire gulf. This was a welcomed, relaxing, non-life-threatening follow-up to Tarzan Day.

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We cruised along the shoreline of the Piedras Blancas National Park, a recent addition to the country’s park system. Much of this reserve’s acreage has been recovered from private ownership and saved from years of logging activity. It features tropical cloud forests, rugged mountains and two large rivers.

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It is an important addition because it protects the remaining lowland tropical rainforest near the Golfo Dulce, habitat that harbors many undiscovered plant and animal species. Therefore, research activity is ongoing in the park.

Piedras Blancas National Park features pristine beaches, several types of rare trees, and all five species of cats — the jaguar, ocelot, puma, margay and jaguarundi. Don’t plan on spying one, though; they are very evasive and nocturnal.

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One notable tree species is called the Tiger Tree. It has many vertical crevices and creases, resembling tiger stripes. This very hard wood is popular for use in homes, buildings and furniture, especially as ornamental columns and posts. We noticed this amazing wood in several buildings while in Costa Rica.

Mangroves and estuaries along the gulf are full of wildlife. You can explore these ecosystems by small boats, canoes or kayaks and see river otters, crocodiles, monkeys, sloths, birds and waterfowl. Coral reefs also offer sensational snorkeling.

The park is considered one of the best bird watching areas in Costa Rica. But be sure to keep an eye on where you step — snakes and frogs are abundant as well.

IMG_8203.JPGOur boat made just one stop on shore, at Rio Esquinas, home of the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary. It is here that orphaned and injured animals from the region are cared for until subsequent re-introduction to their habitats.

Because the animals are injured and temporarily in contact with their caregiving humans, some can be handled and petted by visitors.

 

 

Ana was allowed to play with a squirrel monkey, cuddle with a rare three-toed sloth and interact with an anteater.

Back on the boat, we headed north to the far end of the gulf, where the waters are so calm, waveless, and clear you could see fish deep down below the surface. We snorkeled in the reefs briefly, then re-boarded to cruise slowly along the shore, looking for birds and marine life.

We spotted frigate birds high above, patrolling the waters for fish. Then a sea turtle just off the side of the boat. On the other side, a large manta ray floated just beneath the surface. Blue-footed boobies perched on floating tree limbs.

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Flying fish rode shotgun alongside us as we gained speed to head back to the Iguana Lodge, some 20 miles down the gulf toward the Pacific.

Then the spinner dolphins joined in our high-speed race atop the sparkling waters—bouncing, weaving, jumping and, rightly so—spinning.

We stopped briefly so Ana could jump in the water and ride the boogie-board on a tow-rope behind the boat. Our guide billed this as “swimming with the dolphins.”

Sure enough, after just a few seconds the dolphins found her, swam alongside, dipped below her and tickled her toes. It was quite the aquatic dance. Ana wore a scuba facemask, allowing her to watch them weaving below the surface.

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By late afternoon we were eager to escape the hot, bright sun. The cool, shady hideaway known as the Iguana Lodge awaited our return. We retreated from the beach, disappearing into our tropical refuge, tucked like a sinful secret in the jungle foliage.

As the sun set over the Pacific, the aroma of fresh grilled fish and burning candles infiltrated our senses. We reflected on our rather comprehensive tour around this scenic gulf, and now had a much better understanding of the space we were in. So remote, so pristine, so secluded, so peaceful and unspoiled. So ruled by its natural inhabitants. We felt very fortunate to have caught a passing glance at one moment in time.

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Once again, it was “Pura Vida”

We fell asleep so peacefully that night to the sounds of gentle breezes and receding ocean waves, breathing an intoxicating mix of fragrances from the plants and flowers growing all around us outside our open-air casita.

Storms rumbled overnight. Rain and thunder and some lightning awakened us. Cool breezes belied our tropical locale. It was to be the last touch of temperate weather, before the late April heat and humidity crept in. We would soon learn what tropical weather was really like.

Morning brought a hazy humidity. The sun emerged to begin its work on the airborne moisture from last night’s storm. I smelled Costa Rican coffee and mango. Morning in Costa Rica. Morning on the Osa Peninsula. Morning on Golfo Dulce. Butterflies everywhere. Birds everywhere. Sounds everywhere. Fragrances everywhere. This place was magical.

Zip It

We enjoyed breakfast under stable skies, but learned that the rain was to resume for most of the day—not surprising as the rainy season was just two weeks away.

But the forecast was not great news, as were heading into the mountains today for some thrilling zip-line action along the tree canopy, near Miramar. Our guide and zip-line expert, Jacobo, told us that traveling to higher elevations was an advantage on a day like this.

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It was fascinating how elevation affected precipitation behaviors in tropical climates. There were parallels to what we experience at varying elevations in Colorado. In April, and sometimes even in May, if it’s raining at 5,280 feet in Denver, it’s usually snowing in the foothills or mountains, elevations that are anywhere from 2,000 to 9,000 feet higher. It’s colder and often dryer the higher you go.

In southern Costa Rica, the lower elevations have tropical rain forests. But in the high mountains of this tropical zone, the biome you find is called the cloud forest. Because it is much cooler at these elevations, rain does not fall. Instead, the vegetation absorbs moisture directly from the clouds, which engulf the mountaintops.

As we maneuvered up the mountain on extremely muddy roads in our four-wheel-drive vehicle, the rain slowly dissipated, the air became cooler, and we soon found ourselves in the clouds! Alrighty then, let the zip-line fun begin!

This was a new adventure for us both. It paralleled my tree-jump & rappel adventure in that, once again, I wanted to yodel like Tarzan.

Stopping in time to land properly on the tree platform was tricky. I nearly hit the tree on my first landing. Reminded me of the crash-test dummy thing in car tests. I learned really fast how to better use the brake by the second ride. We definitely felt like circus trapeze artists. One platform was 105 feet off the ground.

We zipped along on several different lines, totaling 2000 feet in length. It most certainly gave you the feeling of being a jungle animal or bird—dipping, rising and soaring at high speeds above and through the dense forest canopy.

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If that wasn’t enough, we spotted several howler monkeys, a friendly sloth and a colorful toucan in the trees nearby.

Thinking our day of adventure was done, we all loaded back onto the two trucks for the long ride back to Iguana Lodge. That was when the fun really began. Both trucks slipped and struggled on the muddy road, one obviously carrying a few too many passengers to make it up the one hill we encountered before beginning our ascent to the valley below.

We watched in shock as the top-heavy vehicle slid sideways, then listed to one side as it slipped into the drainage ditch along the road. It was close to rolling over!

The driver spun the tires, but to no avail. Now the vehicle started sliding slowly backwards–down the hill towards our vehicle! Our shock turned to alarm. With everyone in our vehicle preparing to jump from the truck before we got rammed, their driver brought the truck to a halt.

He exited the truck, stepping down into the slippery mud, and with a matter-of-fact nod to our driver, uttered one word: “Chains?”

“Yes. Time for chains,” was the reply.

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Strapping tire chains on two vehicles in sloppy mud didn’t look like fun, and I’m thankful they didn’t enlist our help. We were doing just fine enjoying cold beer on the back of the truck. In short order the chains were on and they did the trick. Our drivers got us out and safely down the mountain.

Will the Osa adventure ever cease?

 

“Did You Forget How Close You Are to the Equator?”

After a few very comfortable April days, with cooling storms at night, and some daytime cloud cover, we met Central American reality on the fourth day.

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Now came clear skies, increasing heat and much higher humidity. Our active pace was about to slow down.

After 20 years in Colorado’s cool, dry climate, I had lost all memory of what muggy weather was. My only experience with humidity was in areas of the United States, and during a single trip to Cancun, Mexico, 18 years earlier.

This was a new experience. Afternoon humidity became almost unbearable on a few days on the Osa Peninsula. Even lying in a hammock in the shade was uncomfortable.

I started to think we should alter our daily schedules–get up earlier, stay up later, and save the middle part for siesta. A wise adjustment. Now I understood one of the reasons for “Tico time.”

Another way to beat the sultry afternoons was with a long cool shower. Our casita had a wonderful open-air bathroom & garden shower, featuring a five-foot privacy wall, over which was a clear view of the jungle. It had large built-in gardens with exotic plants and colorful growing flowers–succulents, bromeliads, orchids.

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You could hear and see the birds, feel the breeze and smell the fragrant forest. I felt as if I were starring in a TV commercial for Herbal Essence shampoo. It was also not unusual to have a vibrant Halloween Crab, or bright green gecko hanging out in the shower looking for a free fresh-water rinse. I frankly didn’t want to leave the cool shower on those hot afternoons.

 

 

 

Nights were pleasant for sleeping, and our active days of adventure tired us so that we were dreaming about papayas by 10 p.m. Which was good, because around 4:30 a.m. the howler monkeys and macaws would start.

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Even when the hot humid days hit, by midnight it was comfortable and the large ceiling fans were the perfect touch. When the tide came in during the night, the roar of the waves, just 200 yards away, would often wake us. But who could ever complain about the rhythmic crash of ocean waves, even at 2 a.m.? It was another example of nature’s music on the Osa Peninsula.

Gosh…. “Pura Vida” happens even at night.

( Zip-line rider photo courtesy of www.turubari.com )
To continue the travelogue, click here to go to Part 7:   http://ericschickler.com/2011/11/21/costa-ricas-osa-peninsula-part-7/

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© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photography, text and artwork seen here is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

 

Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 3 – Iguana Lodge

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Eric Schickler’s full-length travelogue, Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula”

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Iguana Lodge

Pura Vida was on our minds when our driver found the hidden gem named Iguana Lodge, an eco-resort operated ironically by two former trial attorneys from Colorado, where we live.

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Nestled contently in the tropical rainforest, just a few hundred yards from the beaches of Golfo Dulce, the small lodge fosters a tranquil, sedate, relaxed feeling. It is an isolated and private oasis where no oasis is even needed—in the middle of a massive tropical paradise.

Our home for the next week was situated just a few hundred feet off the finest beach on the Osa, Playa Platanares (locals call it “Playa Preciosa”).

My friend and traveling companion, Ana, and I were greeted with mango daiquiris and another “Pura Vida,” this time from someone in a colorful sarong with a warm smile and fresh flowers, and much better looking than the burly judge-and-jury, baggage-weighing pilot.

“I am Maureen. Welcome to Iguana Lodge.”

“We are so happy to be here,” said Ana.

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“Mucho gusto,” was the reply from our greeter. (“With much pleasure!” –My pleasure” “Thank you.”)

We got a quick tour of the quaint resort, checked into our casita, unpacked our 27-lb. backpacks (a five-minute task), and giggled about where we were. I looked at Ana and squealed, “Let’s go!”

Like two five-year-olds bolting from the classroom on the final day of school, we scooted 200 yards down a shaded, meticulously manicured path.

It was a living corridor of plants, flowers and all kinds of broad-leaf trees. Before we could say Robinson Crusoe, we emerged from our tunnel and onto the beach. A very deserted beach.

The hectic pace of the travel day had just melted away. With our minds and bodies at ease, our seaside jungle experience was underway. It was just one hour after our plane landed on the Osa, and “Pura Vida” had already sunk in. IMG_8023.JPG

We explored the beach for hours, unwinding more with every step.

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Golfo Dulce and the Osa Peninsula
(Photo courtesy of NASA: Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce.)

We came upon a river outlet, and walked inland slightly to explore. Beyond the tree line was an enticing lagoon, but its sole proprietor greeted us as we approached. A  large caiman, looking for lunch! We moved back toward the gulf rather quickly, hoping to extend our vacation beyond the first two hours. Now we knew why they highly recommend using guides whenever you venture off into the jungle. The beach would be just fine for now.

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Back near the lodge, we found the secret trail, dipped back into the dense wall of trees, and it was Garden of Eden time.

The warm humid breeze gently tossed the palm fronds and supple plants to and fro, creating a kaleidoscope scattering of soft light.

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Butterflies and birds of all colors and sizes danced on the dense air. Reptiles slithered in the ground cover. Monkeys rattled the branches above us. A large iguana crawled slowly along a tree branch, munching away at the foliage.

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A brightly colored waterbird sipped from the lodge’s stone fountain, which was surrounded by a garden of vibrant flowers, including the unmistakable bird of paradise.

All this tropical adventure and sensory overload was making us hungry. We geared up for one of the resort’s most talked-about features–its food. Iguana Lodge offers outstanding international cuisine and local fare. The creative meals feature fresh, healthy ingredients, and the cuisine has attracted rave reviews, ranking among the best in all of Costa Rica.

The breakfasts featured incomparable Costa Rican coffees, considered some of the richest, most aromatic and most flavorful on Earth. IMG_7938.JPG

Then came our Adam & Eve experience. A giant tray was brought out from the kitchen, loaded with a cavalcade of local fruit treasures: fresh cut mangoes, papayas, melons, pineapples and bananas.

Next came entrees like eggs benedict, huevos rancheros with rice & beans, and banana crepes. And finally, the sinful homemade pastries. Then more delicious coffee.

Later in the week, before leaving the country, we would take a tour of the Cafe Britt Factory that produced this fine coffee in Heredia, just north of San Jose.

We were treated to educational, humorous and theatrical presentations that took our knowledge of coffee to a new slow-roasted level. This tour has become one of the country’s most popular.

IMG_8296.JPGWe learned the history of coffee, the growing and harvesting processes, how it is manufactured and the best way to brew and drink it. We also enjoyed complimentary coffee the entire time we were there. Despite the tour’s three-hour duration, I can’t recall one person getting sleepy.

This was not your average dining experience at the lodge.

Breakfast was enjoyed on the outside verandas, where just feet away tropical birds rustled about in the rain forest canopy, emitting so many varieties of songs and chirps and whistles you felt a symphony was warming up in the distance.

A male mantled howler monkey broke the morning calm with its baritone roars, causing more than a few startled guests to spill their treasured coffee. If these animals don’t remind you that you’re in the jungle, nothing will. They are found in great numbers in Costa Rica, and are best known for their resounding howls, audible for a half-mile or more. They are very vocal at dusk and dawn and, like dogs, will also howl at thunder, planes and humans.

After the howler settled down and the fresh fruit and pancakes arrived at our table, the serenity was again shattered, this time by the Osa Peninsula “Air Patrol,” approaching from up the beach.

IMG_8007.JPG The raucous, inescapable signature squawks, coming from two large scarlet macaws, startled us as much as the howler monkey.

We always knew when they were cruising the tree line near the beach, and we knew when they had passed by. Reminded me of an ambulance with its siren blazing—impossible to ignore. They are often seen in pairs “patrolling” the beaches, landing in the very tall almond trees and enjoying their fine bounties.

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They are quiet when feeding in the treetops, are very difficult to get near and rarely, if ever, come down low in the canopy.

The Iguana Lodge Resort was situated around a main lodge called “Rancho Grande.”  It is a two-level, open-air building that looks as if it grew from the forest floor, with native hardwoods, ornamental woods, bamboo trim, and a towering thatched roof.

Its large open kitchen was always bustling with activity; cooks meticulously cutting up the fresh fruits and vegetables that were brought in daily. The upper-level great room was used for quiet relaxation, happy hours and gourmet dinners. A large cooler was stocked with juices, champagne, wine and beer, and was a popular place to visit.

Guests simply recorded what they consumed on the “Honor Bar” Drink Register. At week’s end you pay a lump sum for your total. The running joke all week among the guests was betting on which couple would have the most painful bar tab.

We stayed in one of just a handful of cozy two-story casitas (or cabinas), set on pillars and nestled in the dense forest.

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The casitas’ decks had inviting cushioned bamboo furniture and a relaxing hammock, shaded under flowering tropical plants and trees.

Inside was a large and luxurious mosquito-netted bed, screened walls, and artistically designed “garden bathrooms” with semi-open outdoor showers. We discovered rather quickly and happily that insects and mosquitoes were quite scarce.

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But somehow an occasional tree frog, crab or gecko would sneak in to visit. We found out why the next morning. The resident cats stay busy all day chasing the geckos along the resort’s trails, an entertaining side show for us while we’d swing lazily in the hammock during afternoon siesta.

The resort does have electricity, but a portion of the power reserves are from sun-powered generators. Most of the lighting at night is with candles. This creates quite the ambiance.

New amenities added recently have brought a touch of luxury and culture to the resort. Guests can now exercise in a 65-foot lap pool, frolic in a jacuzzi, hit either of two salsa dance & yoga studios, kick back for some peaceful reading in the library and browse in the art gallery.

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After experiencing guided outdoor adventures and activities during the day throughout the peninsula, guests gathered at dark (about 6 p.m. year-round due to our proximity to the Equator).

The very friendly staff are known for their frozen rum daiquiris made with fresh fruits: passion fruit, papaya, mango, kiwi, banana, pineapple, pomegranate. Who could choose? But with seven days ahead of us, we knew we didn’t have to.

Guests who caught fish on deep-sea fishing excursions often added their catches to the culinary mix, so every night was a different seafood surprise.

The atmosphere at dinner was totally “Gilligan’s Island,” inherent in both the people present and the interior atmosphere of the lodge. In places like this, you can always spot  “Marianne,”  “The Professor,” a “Ginger” or two, “The Skipper,” a “Mr. & Mrs. Howell,” and of course, “Gilligan.”

Nightfall coincided with dinner. All of the resort’s 24 guests gathered around four long tables, which were arranged in a large square formation. A high number of candles ringed the tables, and represented the primary source of light. It created a rich, warm, comfortable atmosphere, spawning robust conversation.

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Stories that started at happy hour continued through dinner. So many colorful anecdotes of the day’s adventures at sea, in the trees, on the beach, in boats, on kayaks, on ropes and or on horses–many becoming more embellished as the wine flowed.

Each night we sat next to different guests, so by week’s end we had become acquainted with nearly every cast member from Gilligan’s Island.

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To continue the travelogue, click here to go to Part 4:

http://ericschickler.com/2011/08/11/costa-ricas-osa-peninsula-part-4-superlative-activities-adventures-people-beaches-and-forested-parks/

 

© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photography, text and artwork seen here is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 2 – Our Exotic Adventure

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Eric Schickler’s full-length travelogue,Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula”

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Exotic Adventure on the Osa Peninsula

Our Costa Rican fun started with a rather turbulent, attention-getting flight on a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin-Engine Otter (capacity: 19 people). We flew out of the capital city of San Jose at mid-morning, up and over the Talamanca Range (Cordillera de Talamanca).

Even with turbulence, the 45-minute, 236-mile flight was visually rewarding, thanks to the special over-sized viewing windows Nature Air installs on its planes. The final leg took us over Corcovado National Park, one of Costa Rica’s largest, and the crown jewel of the Osa Peninsula.

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The second half of the flight was along the Pacific coast, southward to the small port town of Puerto Jimenez, home to just 1,780 people, but the largest town on the peninsula.

It is best known for its gold mining and logging that started in the 1960s and, as late as the 1980s, was considered a frontier cowboy town bustling with commercial activity and gun-toting miners. Even today, with some gold mining still occurring (much of it illegal), rough-and-tumble gold diggers add a wild west feel to the bars at night.

The mining and logging decades caused considerable damage to the natural beauty of the area. When the government designated the peninsula’s lands as protected nature reserves, the influx of conservationists and adventurers caused a revitalization of the town as a staging grounds for area eco-tourism.

The airstrip in Puerto Jimenez was more like some farm’s back cornfield than an aviation center. I thought the pilot was confused about our landing, as we came in so fast and dropped so quickly into a narrow gap in the treed costal area, onto a hidden strip of pavement on “the farm.” I learned that our plane was a STOL aircraft (Short Take Off & Landing). It was aptly named.

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The terminal was nothing more than an open-air lean-to with a corrugated tin roof, tucked snugly under some trees—built for shade and that’s it.

Children on bikes and clueless animals intermittently cruised along or crossed the very small runway.

The airstrip was adjacent to the town’s cemetery, leading me to wonder if its close proximity is related to occasional mishaps between aircraft and runway inhabitants.

Even more interesting, the Century 21 Real Estate office is next to the cemetery. Yet another coincidence?

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The puritan architecture of the lean-to terminal left me confused about where to get our luggage.  No problem, there’s the pilot himself getting them out of the storage compartment for us. What service.  What multi-talent.

Wait, isn’t he the same guy who had the judge-and-jury attitude back at San Jose International Airport? The man who eyed the luggage scale so scrupulously as my bag’s reading hovered near the 27-lb. limit? What a champ. What a transformation of character.

“Your bags, sir. Enjoy your stay on the Osa Peninsula. Pura Vida.”

The Osa Peninsula is one of just a handful of ocean-piercing peninsulas found in all of Central America. There are also just four or five gulfs. The rest of the continent’s shoreline is fairly smooth and consistent. The peninsula is far away from civilization and very close to the border of Panama to the south.

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Remote, sparsely populated and almost entirely protected as forest preserves, the Osa has but a few small towns, which are accessed only by air, sea or primitive, dangerous roads. Some mountain roads get little or no maintenance, and can be impassable during the rainy season (May-November), when they turn to mud and nearby rivers over-run their banks.

The Osa is described as pristine, peaceful, beautiful, rustic and adventurous.

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Don’t expect huge five-star hotels with modern-day accoutrements. Located in the south portion of the Puntarenas Province, it is bordered on the Pacific side by Drake Bay and by an inlet known as Golfo Dulce.

Drake Bay, discovered by Sir Francis Drake of England when he circled the globe in the late 1500s, is at the northwestern end of the peninsula and the expansive Corcovado Park, which covers one-third of the peninsula.

The tiny town of Drake offers a few places to eat, a scattering of small stores and tour-business shops. But most importantly, it has an airport and several luxury resorts and lodges nearby.

IMG_8265.JPGBeach lovers will feel as if they have escaped civilization on Playas San Josecito and Cocalito. Walks in the rain forest nearby will take you up close to kinkajous, sloths and monkeys, to name a few.

Cano Island, just 12 miles off shore, boasts outstanding snorkeling and diving, and is a biological reserve. Its waters are almost always crystal clear. Look for white-tip reef sharks, needle fish, sea turtles, dolphins and whales.

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Golfo Dulce (“Sweet Gulf”) runs along the southeastern coast of the Osa Peninsula, and is the tenth deepest gulf in the world (600 feet in the middle).

It captured the attention and passion of marine conservationist and explorer Jacque Cousteau decades ago for its pristine beauty, biodiversity and abundant animal and marine life. He believed it was a close runner-up to the Norwegian Fjords, and called it a “tropical fjord,” one of only three such “fjords” in the world. Although technically, fjords are carved by glaciers.

It is one of the most humid and wettest parts of Costa Rica, receiving 200+ inches of rain annually. The entire gulf shoreline (27 miles long and five miles across) is virtually uninhabited by people and development, but rich in flora and fauna.

The Osa Peninsula is home to the largest concentration of Scarlet Macaws in the world. Locals call them lapas.

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They are the largest member of the parrot family, are monogamous and pair for life, 35-45 years. If one mate dies, often times the other dies shortly thereafter. Their appeal as pets and the impact of deforestation have kept them on the endangered species list.

The gulf is a calving area for the north and south Pacific humpback whale groups and attracts schools of whale sharks from April to May. Bottlenose and spinner dolphins are also abundant.

Swimming is very popular, as the gulf is very calm and smooth and contains a great amount of fresh water from nearby rivers. Thus the name Dolce, meaning “Sweet” or “Fresh.”

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It didn’t take long to get a feel for the area, and a feel for tropical relaxation.

Our Toyota touring truck moved slowly through the small town, and we instantly noticed the slow pace and friendliness of the people. Children smiled and waved. Automobiles were few and far between. Horses, motorcycles, bicycles and feet were the main modes of transport.

We were beyond the town in mere minutes and suddenly out in wide-open plantation country. All we saw were a dozen dwellings over the entire three-mile ride.

The truck had an open rear bed with two long, cushioned sightseeing benches.  We loved the great views, but there was a risk of getting clipped by overhanging roadside tree branches. Better pay attention, stay close to the middle of the truck, and look ahead!

Weather on the Osa is fairly predictable.  The nicest months (the “dry season”) are December through April. The May through November “green season” has higher rainfall totals, especially August through September.

The May through November “green season” has higher rainfall totals, especially August through September.

 

To continue the travelogue, click here to go to Part 3:  http://ericschickler.com/2011/06/20/costa-ricas-osa-peninsula-part-3-iguana-lodge/

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© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photography, text and artwork seen here is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

 

 

Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 1 – Overview, Demographics & History

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Eric Schickler’s seven-part travelogue,Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.”

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Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula

Text  &  Photographs by Eric R. Schickler

 

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Pura Vida!

It’s the most common expression heard in Costa Rica.

Translated literally—Pure Life.

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But like many expressions, it goes well beyond the literal, and can also mean:

“Purified life.”

“Full of life”

“Enjoying life”

“Letting go.”

“Cool.”

“Happy days”

“This is the life!”

After my trip there, I might add these to the equation:

“All’s peachy, mate, going great”

“Right on!”

“Rock on!”

“Get after it!”

“Can I stay forever?”

and, “Where can I buy a place around here?”

Well, you get the idea.

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Pronounced  “poor-ah vee-dah,”  Pura Vida is used to say hello, good-bye, and to express happiness or satisfaction.

Many visitors view the phrase as an expression of an easy-go-lucky lifestyle, great friendliness, and a laid-back attitude toward time.

Residents translate it as “strong community, perseverance, enjoying life at a leisurely pace and celebrating all good fortune.”

In James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon, the imaginary city of Shangri-La was an earthly utopia, a paradise, an endlessly happy land, removed from the outside world.

Its inhabitants were said to be almost immortal, barely showing any signs of aging and enjoying very lengthy lives.

Hey, that sounds just like Costa Rica!

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I had the good fortune to visit this Shangri-La once. Since that memorable vacation, tropical daydreams are common, usually triggered while viewing my Costa Rica photo library. But I’m nearing the maximum-views-allowed limit for these images. I can’t stand it much longer. We all know photos are great souvenirs, but they don’t do the land of enchantment much justice. I desperately need a follow-up Pura Vida fix, and a new library of photos.

To temporarily satisfy my appetite, to buy some time until I go again, I added adventure stories, background information and commentary to the photos, creating this detailed travelogue. I view this document as a long-needed bookend for that first voyage, and a first step in planning my next trip to this trend-setting Central American nation.

It’s a place with a unique history, a flourishing present and a very promising future. And I definitely see a few more visits there in my future.

If you are lucky enough to make a visit, heed this warning: You may forever be haunted by its magic, magnetism and psychic influence. You will never look at where you currently live the same way. I live in a spectacularly beautiful place in the Unites States—Colorado. You’d think I’d count my blessings.

Yet the breezes of Costa Rica still swirl around me, tempting me to leave the mountains and return to the Rich Coast. I’m just not sure what the length of my next visit will be. Let’s just say, that decision is still up in the air.

 

Costa Rica Through Time and the Tico People

Costa Rica was populated for thousands of years by North American Aztecs and South American Incas.

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Christopher Columbus’s fourth and final expedition to the New World in 1502 brought him to Central America and what is today the Republic of Costa Rica. He called the area “The Rich Coast,” after the precious metals he believed were plentiful there. That abundance, however, did not materialize.

But starting in 1522, a long period of Spanish conquest and settlement began. Costa Rica became valuable for its agricultural bounties.

Over the next 300 years, there was a tragic reduction of the indigenous population, cutting it from a half million to just 2,000.

Both the Nahuatl and Chibcha cultures were basically eliminated by diseases (primarily smallpox) and mistreatment by the Spaniards.

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Sadly, people who descended from those indigenous tribes represent just 1% of the population today, a mere 30,000 people.

Because the epicenters of Spain’s trade operations during colonial times were in Mexico, Guatemala City and in the Andes Mountain regions of S. America, Costa Rica’s great distance made trade routes difficult to establish. The area was therefore largely ignored by the Monarchy of Spain and was left to develop on its own.

While this allowed Costa Rica a level of autonomy, it also contributed to its poverty. It was also instrumental in helping it develop its own egalitarian society, free of a ruling class vs. oppressed class system that resulted in other nearby Spanish colonies. Wealth generated from coffee and banana cultivation was a driving force in creating these wide class variations.

1821 – Costa Rica and the other Central American provinces declare independence from Spain, forming The Central American Federation.

During the next 15 years, provincial border disputes and conflicts are numerous, and the Federation collapses.

1838 – Costa Rica asserts its sovereignty.

1899 – Peaceful democratic rule blossoms with the first honest and free elections.

1948 – A presidential election won by challenger Otilio Ulate was disputed by the incumbent, Rafael Ángel Calderon, who refused to cede power. This led to a public revolt, a bloody 44-day civil war and 2,000 deaths. The uprising was led by Jose Figueres, (known as Don Pepe to Ticos) and resulted in a victory for democracy, a new constitution, voting rights for all adults (incl. women and blacks), and elimination of the military.

Figueres became a national hero and became the provisional president for 18 months, after which he handed over rule to Ulate, the rightful winner of the election.

Figueres then won the presidency in 1953 and again in 1970. He is considered the most important political figure in Costa Rica’s history.

Jose Figueres Ferrer (Don Pepe) 1948 –

Commander in Chief, National Liberation Army

(photo by www.elespiritude148.org)

Don Pepe 1948 - Jose Figueres Ferrer- photo by www.elespiritude148.org

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Imagine a nation that has overcome the ravages of Spanish conquest, decimating disease, slavery, border conflicts and civil wars, and today sees no need to keep a standing army?

How could this country of four million people also become an envied model of simplistic, nature-loving, health-oriented and content living?

The local people, known for their festive and gregarious nature, call themselves Ticos, and still take great pride in their cultural heritage. They have a passion for dance, celebration and music.

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The population is a varied and robust mix of peoples:  Mestizos (Spanish/American Indian), Afro-Caribbeans, Spanish descendants, indigenous Indians, and the modern-day influx of North Americans, Asians and Europeans. Nearly 12% of the population is Nicaraguan.

Today, most Costa Ricans describe themselves as white, the result of Spanish/European influence. However, natives maintain a strong connection to their Tico heritage.

The expression “Tico at heart,” “Muy Tico,” doing things “a la Tico” or “the Tico way,” are all common expressions of Tico pride.

The Pura Vida concept is also an extension of the Tico attitude toward time, conflict with others and the word “no.” Costa Ricans like to talk and act with a bit of conciliatory ambivalence. They don’t like conflict. They prefer to speak softly.

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“Yes” is much more preferred over “no.”  Answers to difficult, contentious or negative questions will elicit replies like “more or less,” “maybe,” “possibly.” Sometimes, Ticos will say “yes” even when they mean “no” or “I’m not sure.” This confounds many tourists, but sure sounds like a perfect place to meet women.

Following in this wake is the concept of “Tico time.”  Pura Vida is casual, and so is Tico time. There’s no rush. No urgency. Time moves slowly here. However, the pressures of participating in a modern global economy, and running tourism businesses, have slowly eroded adherence to Tico time mentality. But it is still common in personal interaction and affairs.

 

A Society Worth Emulating

Since 1949, when Costa Rica abolished its military, it has impressed peace-loving and environmentally conscious nations with its governmental support for public education, healthcare and land preservation.

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It has often been called the “Switzerland of the Americas.”

More than 25% of their lands are protected from development (one of the highest worldwide). Their literacy rate is an astounding 95%! The infant mortality rate is the best in all of Latin America. Life expectancy: 79 years. Its energy production is well on its way to becoming carbon-neutral.

It is a nation that has attained much higher human development than other countries at the same per capita income levels, according to the United Nations Development Program.

Its land, roughly the size of West Virginia, represents a mere 0.03% of the world’s landmass, yet it harbors nearly 4% of all plant and animal species—more than 500,000!

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The International Environmental Performance Index ranks Costa Rica #1 in the Western Hemisphere and #3 in the entire world.

Costa Rica ranks #1 in the entire world in the Happy Planet Index.

http://www.happyplanetindex.org/news/archive/news-2.html

The Happy Planet Index measures how much of the Earth’s resources a nation uses and how long and happy a life the country’s citizens enjoy.

The three criteria for measurement are: Life Expectancy, Life Satisfaction and Ecological Footprint.

Costa Rica is also the greenest (most environmentally conscious) country in the world according to this study.

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USA’s ranking was 30.7. Norway was at 40.4. China: 57.1. Costa Rica’s index was 76.1.

www.happyplanetindex.org/explore/global/

The 2010 International Human Development Index (hdrstatshttp://hdr.undp.org/en/humandev/ ) ranks Costa Rica at #62 out of 169 nations. This places it in the “HIGH” category at a 0.73 index level. (The four categories are: Very High, High, Medium, Low).

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Compare with…..

Norway (1st) 0.94

USA: 0.90

Japan: 0.88

Switzerland 0.87

Costa Rica 0.73

Russian Fed. 0.72

Brazil 0.70

China 0.66

Egypt 0.62

S. Africa 0.60

India 0.52

Madagascar 0.44

Afghanistan  0.35

Ethiopia 0.22

Zimbabwe (#169, last) 0.14

A sample of IHD Index CRITERIA:  robbery rate, percentage of protected lands, literacy rate, GDP per capita, homicide rate, education, spending on health care, Internet users, poverty rate, unemployment rate, adjusted net savings.

While most Costa Ricans (70%) are Catholic, the official religion, people are accepting of all faiths. Protestants constitute about 13%.

Costa Ricans make great efforts to preserve their country’s cornerstones of life: education, democracy, peace, tolerance, equality for all, stability, prosperity and a strong sense of family.

No wonder the nation’s residents have been categorized as “the happiest people on earth,” based on their view of their overall quality of life. As a result, some areas of Costa Rica boast the world’s longest-living people. Healthy lifestyles, spirituality and lack of stress obviously have great benefits.

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They invest heavily in theater, cinematography, and are crazy for futbol (soccer). In most towns, the futbol pitch (field) is at its epicenter.

Almost all villages are equipped with all the basic public utilities and services for residents: schools, electric power, water and phones.

Spanish is the official language, but schools require students to be bilingual. English is the most common second language because it is most often used by visiting tourists, followed by French. Creole, a kind of Jamaican English, is the unofficial second language on the Caribbean coast.

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Tourism is big business in Costa Rica. Nearly a million foreign tourists come here annually, spending about $1.3 billion. Unlike most Central American destinations, prices are higher for almost everything due to the higher standard of living. But, hey, it’s worth it—you can drink the water and eat the foods without fear of stomach ailments!

The geography is characterized by rugged forested mountains and the continental divide in the center, coastal plains, volcanic regions, dry forests in the north, and lush wet forests in the south.

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It doesn’t take long to catch on to the Pura Vida spirit in the natural areas of Costa Rica.

Its popularity as a vacation destination is growing annually, attracting people from all over the world.

If the complete aura of peace and tranquility doesn’t wrap your mind, body and emotions in a comforter, the Pura Vida friendliness and contentment of the people will.

To continue travelogue, click here to view Part 2:  http://ericschickler.com/2011/06/08/costa-ricas-osa-peninsula-part-ii/

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© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photos, text and artwork seen here (unless otherwise noted) is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are insane small packages of intense energy. They inhabit Colorado in the summer on their way north from Central America en route to points as far north as Alaska.

They are extremely fierce defending their territories. Bird feeder warfare is common. I’ve watch hummers chase each other at preposterous speeds—straight up, around, back-and-forth, and straight down again. They can cover great distances–horizontally and vertically in mere seconds.  I’m amazed that I have not yet been broadsided in the head by one of them.

Hummers are also very inquisitive. While shooting these images, sitting quietly in an Adirondack chair on my deck, with the shutter cord in my hand,  the birds would often buzz up to within one or two feet of my face. They’d look directly at me for about 5 seconds, as if assessing my worthiness as a colorful enough character, then zoom away. Not colorful or sweet enough, I guess. In those brief interludes, for some reason I often had discomforting mental flashbacks to the Hitchcock movie, “The Birds.”

They are rather difficult to photograph. But if you study their movements, patterns and behaviors long enough, and have some enticing treats, the results are fascinating and rewarding.

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All photos and artwork included in this Web site are copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

© Eric Schickler Photography

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Florida – Singer Island and Riviera Beach 1

All photos and artwork included in this Web site are copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

© Eric Schickler Photography

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