I was booked onto an early morning bird watching hike this morning, departing at 5.45am. There was no need for an alarm though – the howler monkies were up and about making their presence heard well before that. A dawn chorus is always a wonderful thing to hear, but listening to it as you gaze over the tree tops across the impenetrable blue of the Pacific Ocean sipping a cup of nutty flavoured Costa Rican coffee magnifies the pleasure enormously. The hike went across open fields, where it is easier to see the birds. You still need very good binoculars though – which the lodge provided. With the aid of their spotting scope, we saw the nests of humming birds, owls and herons with young chicks inside and a Jesus Christ lizard actually walking on water. I have no photos to prove it unfortunately – the conditions were too challenging this morning – so you will just have to take my word for what you can see here at Lapa Rios.
Dan Kieran’s book “The Idle Traveller” invites you to re-assess what you are searching for when you travel. He urges you to bin the travel brochure, glide rather than fly, embrace disaster, be epic in your travel pursuits and immerse yourself in the life-changing experience of true journeying. It is an entire philosophy of life rather than just a book about travelling. His philosophy is to slow down and enjoy life – to remember to smell the flowers along the way. One of my favourite passages is when he describes how he takes a regular daily walk with his two year old daughter. He lets her lead the way and thrills in the novelty of the route she chooses to take and what sparks her curiosity along the way.
The hikes at Lapa Rios are rather like that. The guides know exactly where they are going, of course, but no-one has any idea what they will actually see on the walk – it’s an adventure waiting to unfold itself wherever your walk takes you. Today, we saw:
- a spectacled owl (the largest in Costa Rica)
- huge buttress root trees you could bang like a drum
- trees used for medicinal purposes growing in close proximity on the beach to trees that badly blister your skin. You need to know where you are walking – the secrets of the forest are passed down from father to son over the generations.
- scores of tiny hermit crabs, busy cleaning up the beach (as they do)
- ferns you can use to make tattoos simply by slapping them onto your skin
- spider monkies, chewing on red hibiscus flower like they were candy bars
- twisted strangler figs as thick as your arm growing alone – their host tree long ago suffocated
Wellness is something the Costa Ricans take very seriously and spa facilities abound in the hotels. I don’t normally bother with them, but the welcome massage had wetted my appetite and if there was going to be a hotel where I would treat myself, then Lapa Rios Eco Lodge was going to be it. A head to toe mid morning massage outside, listening to the ocean and tropical birdsong and feeling a warm breeze on your skin as the treatment progressed was definitely a very memorable highlight of this trip for me.
A troop of howler monkies attacking us with branches as we walked under their trees fringing the beach – a reminder that we are but guests in the jungle that is their space.