Monday, August 9, 2010


July 27th to 30th

At last we get moving again after repairs to my bike and four days off. An early morning start allows us to sneak past Turrialba Volcano as he snorts and bellows in his sleep....

Hitting the main road at 'Guapiles' it's easy riding through flat banana and pineapple groves. Small holders cultivate patches of land along this vast plain, rich in nutrients that drop as ash from the 3000+ metre volcanoes dotted all along the central highlands. Nature has provided every advantage, but nothing is left to the voracious appetite of the insect hordes.

Small holdings slowly give way to large scale industrial agriculture and this whole area is a vast business supplying fruit bowls the world over. Strange then that it all began by accident!

Originally the cash crop of interest was coffee; grown higher up in the mountains. In order to reach export markets, a railway was needed through this area – then a dense jungle and insect infested swampland. The rails would connect suppliers with the Caribbean port at Limon and thousands of locals were drafted in to undertake this vast piece of engineering. The project was a disaster with thousands dying of tropical diseases and it's owner facing bankruptcy. US convicts replaced local workers, then the Chinese came and finally freed slaves from Jamaica and the route was eventually completed in 1890. In order to feed this army of navvies, bananas were planted along the lines as they were built. Some were exported to New Orleans in the states and the railway operatives spotted a lucrative opportunity once their popularity was recognised.

Nowadays twisted ruins of the railway run parallel to the road and bananas go by lorry, but this area was transformed and Costa Rica had a new cash crop. Rusting bridges over wide rivers serve as a reminder of man's determination....

We ride though 'Liverpool', no doubt named in honour of it's illustrious namesake – the British port city and see hundreds of container crates being stored and loaded ready for transportation....

It's good to be back on the bikes and we post 125kms (80 miles) for the day before riding into Limon. It's a typical dodgy port town full of drunks and prostitution so we hole up in a reasonable looking hotel. It doesn't stop us being disturbed in the night by the comings and goings of the hourly clientele though.

We ride out on a beautiful misty morning along an altogether different looking Caribbean Coast. This is not the one you see in all the holiday brochures....

Once we leave the industry of the port behind, we ride along a tunnel sandwiched between dense green rain forest. Heavy traffic evaporates and the only sounds we hear now are the bird calls, the insects and the roar of howler monkeys from the tree canopy. We see parakeets, hawks and spider monkeys at play swinging from tree to tree. At Cahuita, normal service is resumed and the Caribbean idyll is back to normal....

A narrow strip of land along the white sandy beaches has been turned into a nature reserve due to the unique habitats and diversity of wildlife. It's a beautiful stroll along the 8km trail flanked on one side by the crashing waves on the other by a cacophony of animal cries. Habitats change every few hundred metres and there are hundreds of different species.

Tiny spiders, venomous and deadly or just garish colours screaming out warning – who is going to test that one out?

This one is DEFINITELY deadly! Don't be fooled by the small size, it's actually the bigger the better with this 'Eyelash Palm Pitviper' as larger ones are more likely to bite in warning, rather than inject you with a lethal dose of poison. This guy is really hard to spot despite the less than shy colouration as it's perhaps only a foot long and no thicker than your finger. My heart was pounding as I took this photo as this snake is hard enough to take out you, me and all your mates....

A bit more cuddly was this young howler monkey stuffing it's face with leaves...

If Disneyland was a wildlife reserve, it would be a bit like this. Everywhere you turn is another rarity and it almost feels like you are in a zoo, the animal spottings are so frequent. A three toed sloth sits imperiously and unmoving in it's high tree....

Spider's webs are everywhere like silver curtains draped between the trees....

The land close to the water scuttles with hundreds of startled crabs that seem to appear from nowhere and disappear just as fast into fist sized holes in the path. Their shells are bright orange or blue or a vivid purple and their mandibles are bright red.

There are golden headed geckos....

In amongst the trees there are huge numbers of frog species and you can hear them calling to one another in their alien language of croaks and throaty burps. Unfortunately many are tiny and impossible to see in the dense forest so we visit the 'Ranaria' - 'Frogery' in English I suppose. Here a small natural environment has been created and the owners only have a license to catch and release 'local' frogs from a similar habitat. Hundreds of frogs have been added to Ranaria over the years and these have bred and multiplied. Even so their natural instinct is to hide and despite their bright colouration, they are still incredibly difficult to find.

This poison dart frog is maybe the size of an adult's thumb....

A major icon of Costa Rican wildlife is the nocturnal 'Red Eyed Tree Frog' which is the only frog that has eye lids and can actually close it's eyes to sleep which it does continuously during daylight. Fortunately this one was awake when I was there and really lived up to his name....

Cahuita is a great way to remember Costa Rica as this is our last night in the country. Tomorrow we head out to the Panamanian border and hit double figures. Panama will be country number 10 for the trip....


Whitney said...

LOVE the photos! Glad to see the lens is coming in handy. xxoo to you and Sue.

Whitney said...

LOVE the photos! Glad to see the lens is coming in handy. xxoo to you and Sue.

Sween in SAmerica said...

Thanks Whitney
Lens is way tooo heavy to carry, so it's always good to get some nice shots with it. Still waiting to see your sunset shots from Italy.... hope you had a ball.
Love to Jack & Ava. Not so much to Matt...

Anonymous said...

Martin - at forst I wondered if these were stock shots - they are so good! You should put them into a library. Could generate a few bob to keep you going! Great stuff and an interesting read. Keep up the good work.

Angus Mark Thomson

Sween in SAmerica said...

Cheers Angus Mark

Thanks for the words - and for taking a look at the blog... Have thought maybe about a book when (if) I finally get home, but the photo option is another fine idea and anything that generates cash without the 9to5 has to be a good option....
Hmmmmm, got me thinking now....

Daniel said...

Hi Martin,
really, really nice photos!! Only possible with a really good camera. No chance with all this small pocket cameras.
So, now you past the point where I left the continent at that time.
I think it will be hard for me to read all your next reports!! Memories, memories....

Allways good pedaling, amigo.

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