On the morning of January 7th, after our typical breakfast of amazing fresh fruit, eggs, and gallo pinto, the national breakfast dish made of yesterday’s leftover rice and beans, we headed out to the Organization for Tropical Studies field site, La Selva. In 1991 I took the 2 month field course in tropical ecology and much of the time was at La Selva. It looked much the same, with the same bridge high over the Rio Puerto Viejo, the same dining hall, and the same space where feverish students struggled to make sense of the data they had collected earlier in the day. We had a local guide with us, but our guide, Jimmy, used to work there and also knew the place well. Right away we saw some peccaries, a sort of wild pig, that can be smelled before seen (a sort of skunky smell). They seemed to know we were no threat, since they lived on a very large natural preserve, and just did their thing. We first hiked in second growth forest, which is obvious not just by species composition, but also by density of understory. Primary rainforests have little understory and that is mostly palms. On this hike we observed a very poisonous eyelash viper from a very safe distance. We also enjoyed watching a pale-billed woodpecker industriously remodeling his hole in a tree snag.
After lunch, we went to a place where we learned about the indigenous people of the region. A local woman, Irma, is from a tribe native to Costa Rica, though not necessarily the group from the Rio Sarapiqui area. I had always heard that the indigenous people were not as productive and interesting as the Mayan, for instance. But Irma told us that the three tribes in the region came from Colombia, based on linguistics, but that they all developed their own syntax and customs. The group from Rio Sarapiqui were notable because they were matriarchal and polyandrous (women, especially high-ranking women, could have more than one husband). They also had interesting burial customs, burying the dead in a part of their conical-shaped hut.
From there it was a short walk away to La Tirimbina Reserve. There we hiked a bit and came to a hut where where we were told about the discovery of chocolate and our guide took us through the history of how it developed. We got to taste the goo around the fresh bean (very tropical fruit tasting), and then every step of the drying and roasting. They demonstrated making traditional hot chocolate (no milk, but spices like pepper, nutmeg, chili, etc). We got to make our own custom blend. They then beat cocoa butters into it to make smooth and very delicious dark chocolate syrup. Then we got to taste solid milk and dark chocolate made there. It was a great afternoon!
This morning we headed to Volcan Arenal. This Volcano was active for many years, but has been silent for about 5 years. When I was here in 1991 it was VERY active, spewing huge boulders out at us very stupid students who decided hiking up it was a good idea. After lunch and looking around La Fortuna, we headed up slope. We passed countless HUGE hotel complexes that were built during the active years and now are struggling. We kept going up and up, and then came to the entrance to our hotel, the Arenal Lodge. We then kept driving up their private drive anticipating our arrival. We were probably 15 minutes on this narrow winding road and were giving up ever arriving and then suddenly it was there. We were welcomed with a special cocktail (the gatekeepers had called to say were were on the way up, so they had plenty of time to prepare them…). We then went to our rooms, which are gorgeous and have what is probably an amazing view of Arenal, but we are socked in with mist right now. Hopefully it will clear up in the morning, when we have an early morning bird walk.
Tomorrow there are canopy walks (rumors of a zip line) then on to one of the many hot springs in the area. Knowing Holbrook’s knack for finding the best of the best, we are anticipating a very special afternoon and then dinner at the hotel where the spa is located. Just another day of what the Ticos (Costa Ricans) called the Pura Vida.