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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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Eye to Eye with an Alien

Katy Couldn’t, Katy Could, Katy Didn’t, Katydid!

I’m not a big fan of creepy crawlers. Insects can become frightening monsters when viewed up close, when magnified by camera lenses or filters. You’ve seen the alien-like photos. Parents know not to show these images to their children before bedtime, or they’ll pay for it.

Sometimes, in the spirit of photographic documentation, I force myself to look beyond my fears, and capture images of nature’s small aliens.

The leggy green creature you see here caught my attention early one morning after I moved a large potted plant inside the house for the autumn and winter months.

This leaf-like bug had enough appendages to outperform any one-thumb hitchhiker you might find along the highway. But instead, he found himself unknowingly transported in piggyback fashion to a warmer climate inside a house. No need to use his many legs or wings to flag down a vehicle; he just needed to hang on tight for the ride.

As I moved the plant into a corner I came face-to-face, and bug-eyes to blue-eyes with him. After jumping back a few feet in total surprise, I eventually gathered the courage to introduced myself.

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It was then that I recognized his eerie beauty, and asked if he’d be willing to pose for a few photos. Getting no auditory reply, I took his gentle antenna movements as an ambivalent “yes,” so off I went for my close-up filters, camera and tripod. I then arranged a red cloth as a backdrop for complementary color accent.

Two hours later, I had these images.

Yes, I know. I am easily distracted. Who could have predicted I’d be finishing my last cup of coffee with this type of unexpected visitor? While he was no conversationalist, he sure beat the unwelcome door-to-door solicitors who canvassed the city neighborhoods each day.

And how can you not love a face like his? I’m not sure who was more intrigued, me or him. He stared at me, and I at him. He’d move slowly down the long green reed and I’d follow, repositioning the tripod from another angle. Of course I chatted quietly with him all the while, trying to make him feel comfortable, and loose, and acting like himself, as I do with any subject in my studio.

I didn’t realize until recently what kind of insect this was. At first I thought he was a cicada, or a locust. He didn’t appear pious enough to be a praying mantis, and because he didn’t just hop away to freedom, I knew he was no simple grasshopper.

I wanted to understand who I was looking at for so long that late October morning in Denver. I had to know! If I could, I would. I knew I should. So I did. And I’ll be darned, he was a katy, a katydid.

A relative of the cricket, and less-so the grasshopper, these primarily nocturnal crawlers resemble their leafy surroundings so closely that during daylight hours they are rarely detected. They get their name from the phonetics of the male mating call, which folks who study insect noises say is: “katy did, katy didn’t.”

I find it ironic and funny that such ambiguous uncertainty, this case of “he said, she said,” or “she did, or said she did, but maybe she didn’t,” is related to mating activity. Do insects fake things to appease or mislead their mates? Or accuse them of such things? Or question their mates’ stories about what and what didn’t happen during you-know-what? Maybe insects aren’t that different than humans.

Regardless of all that, I cannot recall any subject remaining so still during a shoot. For that I paid him extra:  a piece of spinach and a small brussels sprout from the fridge. Much tastier than the plant he rode in on, and perhaps his version of “turning over a new leaf.”

I have to say, my new little alien friend was so well behaved, I moved a step closer to being more comfortable photographing insects. But before you liken me to Prince Valiant, remember: I know there’s always that camera between me and alien. That is my security.

If you are wondering, I refrained from letting him stay in the house all winter. He was escorted out soon after the photo shoot, after signing the model release form.

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

© Eric Schickler Adventure Photographer

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Flowers – Pionese

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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Flowers and Plants 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 Adventure Photographer

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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 7 of 7 – Impact of an Eco-resort, “Au Revoir” and “Mucho Gusto.”

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

 

Part of the Community

Iguana Lodge sponsors “Save the Osa Turtle Project,” which offers financial, technical and educational support for sea turtle conservation operations on the beaches. Four species of turtles are affected.
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They also have ongoing tree and flower planting programs along the beach to attract more wildlife. The Lodge also serves as a dedicated employer of Costa Ricans only. Nearly all 30 employees at the Iguana Lodge are from Puerto Jimenez, and most either walk or ride to work on bicycles.
Employees are practically considered family at Iguana Lodge, and this leads to long-term employment and close relationships.As if that weren’t enough, one of the owners regularly drives a heavy-duty grader on the area roads to help with their maintenance.
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Mucho Gusto and Au Revoir
Leaving the resort was difficult. Life was simple here. I liked the slow pace. The friendliness. The natural harmony. The wildlife. The Honor Bar. We made special friends here, by sharing special experiences in a special place. It was indeed a total psychological escape to a seemingly lost tropical paradise.
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We wanted to stay forever, or at least longer than just one week. I knew we’d likely return for a few more visits, to further explore this country’s vast natural resources and diverse people. We knew this was a teasing first glimpse of a very small slice of Costa Rica’s full fruit pie.
The intense humidity was the only difficult factor we experienced. I’m sure the rainy season would also be challenging, if you lived here year-round. We were, after all, cool, dry-air mountain people from Colorado, which is a great home if you enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle and four distinct seasons. Everything experienced here was splendid, enriching, intoxicating. It would forever be on the mental and emotional radar screen.
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On the way through the lounge area, we came across a capsulizing sight. Pura Vida meant “peace, harmony, family, letting go.”  And the Tico tradition of avoiding conflict. So it only made sense we’d see this……
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As Ana and I stuffed our minimal belongings into our backpacks, I reached for my hiking shoes and yelped! Out crawled a Halloween Crab. It seemed he was trying to catch a ride to Denver. Perhaps he was needing an exotic vacation in another land, like we had just experienced here. Or maybe he needed a break from the humidity.
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I knew he’d be better off here (the sand is much more porous), and he was not meant to become a souvenir. I figured the next guests in our casita would love this little guy as a shower mate, so that’s where I left him.
It won’t be long. For who could stay away from such a Pure Life?

*****

Eric R. Schickler is a Colorado-based writer and photographer.

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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.

Photo Credits:  Eric Schickler, Ana Bowie, www.costarica.com and www.turubari.com, www.wildernesstravel.com

Factual Reference Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costa_Rica

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_colonization_of_the_Americas

http://www.costarica.com/

http://www.entercostarica.com/Costa_Rica/Culture/History.html

http://www.anywherecostarica.com/maps

http://www.turubari.com/htmleng/?page_id=284

The International Human Development Index

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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.