Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Costa Rica - A River Cruise and Illegal Entry

We were off to a wildlife viewing cruise. Along the way we stopped to see a large number of outsized iguanas sunning themselves in the brush by a roadside restaurant and gift shop. As the story goes the man who owned the business discovered an iguana one day rustling through the garbage. The next day there were two, later and entire iguana clan. A car of tourists, seeing the lizards stopped to take photos. A light bulb went off over the proprietors head and the cultivation of the reptiles turned into a thematic profit producing concern.

We continued on our way to a tiny, sleepy town and walked the few short blocks to the dock where the wildlife cruises depart from. We were told the river was high which would cut into the number of birds, mammals and reptiles that we might have seen on one of the better days. My husband and I opted to sit out in the open air on the bow of the boat instead of under the canvas awning covered area housing the rest of our group. Even though viewing was less than optimal we were treated to egrets, cormorants and brightly colored songbirds. Colonies of bats created black lines as they slept in neat rows up the trunks of trees. Vivid green water walking lizards with crests on their heads and backs sat on branches hanging over the river's edge.

Our hot young boat captain with the powerful looking, deeply tanned arms and pierced eyebrow piloted us further downriver towards Nicaragua. We were told to bring the photo copies of our passports with us on the cruise that day as a safety precaution as we would be coming quite close to the border of Costa Rica's sometime disagreeable neighbor.

All during the cruise we had heard the distinctive call of howling monkeys. Our guide had learned to imitate the monkey's bark and used it to try to lure them into the open. Suddenly, in a tree along the shore we got our "money shot". A mother howling monkey carrying her tiny baby appeared. One by one the other members of the troop appeared among the branches. We pulled directly under the tree. Our guide once again made the sound of the animal's call. The alpha male answered him. Our troop of humans gaped, pointed fingers and shot picture after picture as the small primates moved through the foliage searching for food.

Eventually we left the monkey show and continued towards Nicaragua. Our guide, using sign language, signaled the pilot of a boat ferrying day trippers from the neighboring country to Costa Rica asking if he had seen any monkey troops further downstream. He shook his head no and shrugged his shoulders. A fence of barbed wire and branches running through a field came into view. A sign on the river's bank announced the border of the Nicaraguan Nature Preserve. The boat crept by the sign until we were two feet inside the country. Our guide asked "Ever been in a country illegally before"? He explained that a checkpoint was another mile downriver. This stretch was a sort of "no man's land" where citizens of both countries could move freely.

We cruised back upstream returning to the dock. Lunch included fried cassava which resembled french fries in look, taste and texture. At the restaurant an artisan that works in wood reclaimed from fallen trees had set up shop. We purchased a letter opener, one of several collections we own, carved from red wood from trees that are found only in Costa Rica. I love indigenous momentos!

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