No monkey business in the Caribbean

Striking palm trees, displaying an array of long, bright green leaves jutting out the top of their trunks, line the Carribean black sand beach. They are an important asset to the citizens in Tortegero – where I am currently laying comfortably in a blue hammock. The sturdy palm trees produce numerous coconuts which are sold and used in all walks of life – from being made into intricate, stunning lamp shades to ending up in my curry dish for dinner. As I am swinging in the hammock I am looking over the beach, admiring the sea while sipping some coconut juice. I picked up a fresh, green, fallen coconut earlier, jabbed a hole in the top and placed a straw in it. It tastes sweet, cool and watery. The ocean in Tortegero is rather ferocious with strong currents and loud waves. Listening to the water sweep in and out and hearing birds sing in the trees is extremely calming. This lovely Caribbean village in Costa Rica is very tranquil, the pace of life slow and the scenery magical.

Not only does Tortegero have a lovely beach but it is known for its national park which is out of this world. This morning we rose at 5.15am in order to hire some kayaks and explore. This was a prime time for wildlife. We set off down the main river which was surrounded by the dynamic forest. The sun was beginning to rise in the sky lighting up the picturesque scene. We were not on an organised tour so we could paddle where ever we desired. There was a little estuary leading into the jungle so we made our way into the depths of the rainforest. Fully emersed in nature, I could see many different trees species all unique and sublime. Palm and deciduous trees towered over me in my bright orange kayak. Sitting for a moment, very still, I could hear numerous jungle noises. A range of bird species called to each other with varying pitches, rhythms and intonations. Howler monkeys cried to each other, while grasshoppers crocked. A breeze traveled across the forest, causing a rippling effect to occur in the leaves. I closed my eyes and tried to capture, identify and take in all that reached my ears.

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Not only are the jungle sounds phenomenal but the sights are outstanding too. I focused my eyes above me where butterflies fluttered around – all colours and sizes were apparent. Huge, bright blue butterflies ventured across the wide river, while smaller bright orange butterflies lingered amongst the safe, sheltered, grand trees. I paddled out if the small crevasse manouvering the kayak carefully as not to disturb anything. We came to a patch of green lilies floating on the water surface and on these an elegant bird sat pensively looking over their vast habitat. I approached and watched as this bird lifted it’s thin, long twig like leg over a piece of green shrubbery. The creature looked as if it could be snapped in two by any mammal or reptile. I got even closer, tempting my luck before it flew off, using its huge, impressive, navy wings to glide across the river into the gnarled trees.
A tourist boat had stopped someway in front of me, so I decided to go and see what they were looking at. High up in the trees far from the ground a black sloth hung, curled up around a branch. It seemed to have the perfect life, living in such a divine place, not doing anything but sleeping and taking in his surroundings. I wondered how the friendly animal managed to get so high up in the trees and what it made of us tiny specs at ground level.

Shortly, after the sighting of the lethargic sloth, I saw many magnificent birds. One displayed it’s black wings patterned with white specks. It’s neck extremely long and beak pointy. It posed on a log situated on the river edge, with a keen eye for prey. Other birds I saw were smaller. They rummaged around foliage before flying just above the river water surface at such a fast rate, constantly looking for dinner. Large predator birds perched on branches, looking as if they owned the jungle. When they were ready to move, they did so in such a graceful manner – spreading their attractive wings allowing the wind to carry them.

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Iguanas of all colours live in tortegero. Enormous bright orange and black ones crawl up trees. Camouflaged Iguanas blend into bark, sitting on branches soaking up the sun. While, red Iguanas explore the forest. Smaller reptiles such as lizards are commonly seen too. And larger more ominous Caiman reptiles (aligators) can be mistaken for woody branches in the river. It took me a while to spot the scaley tail of the alligator pocking out of the river between a pile of branches, at arms length from my kayak. Just next to this terrifyingly strong but still and supposedly not so dangerous cretin was a friendly, old tortuous, sat still on a wet woody branch minding his own business. Although these two annals are very different they had one thing in common. Neither of them stirred when I approached. Nature has its way of running it’s own course – whether humans are there or not.

An explore through the jungle would not be complete without seeing agile monkeys swing from the trees. Cheeky brown spider monkeys hung upside down from a palm tree munching on leaves and berries throwing down any left overs into the river. Luckily, they were preoccupied, preparing their grub, so did not try any monkey business with us. They have been reported to mess with tourists.

Paddling our kayaks down the tranquil jungle river was incredible. It was better than riding a motored tourist boat which has the tenancy to scare wildlife and block out the jungle sounds. I absolutely loved my adventure in Tortegero national park.

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On arriving back in the village I had a read of some facts about the area. I was delighted to discover that the boom in tourism (90,000 tourists a year) was helping the park to remain protected. It was great to hear that the value of animals was greater alive than dead. Locals can earn more from showing tourists the dynamic wildlife rather than selling poached creatures. This contrasted to what I saw in the deserted, remote Peruvian Amazonian rainforests, were individuals walked through the jungle with suspicious looking poaching bags. Here money was desperately needed, education poor and access to the forest difficult. Consequently, the forest was not protected from such travesties. While, the mass mount of gringos (tourists) in a small village has its negatives, all in all the positives far outweigh these. I know more rubbish, electricity and boat fuel may be used but it means that citizens here have a strong economy, are proud of their forest and maintain it accordingly.

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Fellow traveler tips:

-Tortegero does not have an ATM – you can get cash back in the supermarket but you get a 10% commission charge. So bring a bit of cash. Most places do accept card (restaurants and hotels / hostels) but you need cash for tours, souvenirs and some food comidas.

-On arriving we didn’t have a hostel or anything booked but a National Park tour guide worker named Oscar took us to Balcon de Mar. We got a private room for 10 us dollars a night – bargain. While at first I was sceptical, the tour guide was kind and asked only for a reference on trip advisor. He asked what we were looking for and took us to the perfect match.

-It is not recommended to swim in the sea. The current is extremely strong, so it’s fairly dangerous.

-While it is fairly remote here, you need to take either a flight or a boat to get to Tortegero village, there are many restaurant choices, a supermarket and all facilities needed.

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