Thursday, July 7, 2011

Floating safari

 We got up early for the Safari Flotante - the floating safari trip.  This is basically a river rafting trip, without major rapids.  Kind of like drift diving, when you go in at one point, drift with the current and see as much as you can, and get picked up at the other end.  Sounded like a good thing to do with our second full day in Costa Rica - active but not strenuous.

There were six of us in the raft, plus Luis, the guide and chief paddler.  And wildlife spotter.  And helper of klutzy people in and out of the raft.

So we climbed into the van marked "Tourismo" and set off, driving down the road with beautiful views of Volcan Arenal in the distance - very clear, but no lava in sight.  We drove to a nearby bridge, so we could walk down and launch the raft in the Peñas Blancas river, which meets up with another river and becomes the San Carlos, and then becomes Boca Arenal (mouth of the Arenal), and then something else.  Which of course I don't remember, because by then I was totally confused.

We donned life jackets, received minimal instructions since our job was to sit on the side and look for stuff, and ooh and aah when we saw cool stuff - and that was about it. 

Richard was looking very rugged, the intrepid river traveller.

We saw a bunch of baby crocodiles - the biggest was possibly 3 or 4 feet.  Not that you'd want to mess with a 4 ft croc, but after finding out that they can grow to 20 ft, well, a 3 or 4 ft guy is just a baby.  (Of course, the 2 ft croc definitely WAS a baby.)

We drifted down the river, surrounded by huge trees dripping with various moss and lichen and other epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants) - everything looking like Tarzan meets Jane, and the gorilla should come swinging through.

We encountered several groups of howler monkeys - these groups usually have an alpha male, who gets upset 
with people floating through and who  
then starts with the distinctive gutteral "hooo hooo hooo" that sets the howler monkey apart from other monkeys.  Our guide, Luis, started with his imitation of a howler, which of course set off a chorus of barking grunts and noises from the monkeys.  Some noises, like smacking the paddle on the water, really got the monkeys all yelling at us - it was pretty exciting.  (I'd like to know if making monkey noises is something taught in Tican guide training, or if this is something Tican boys practice and compete in - "hooo hooo hooo!")


We saw a lot of these - strange lizard called a "Jesus Christ lizard" - because he runs so fast, he actually runs across water!  This is the male - the female doesn't have as large a crest on her head.

The lizards are amazing - there's something that actually stands up on his back legs and runs, looking like a mini parasaurolophus (the guy with the weird crest on his head). 

Then there were the poison dart frogs - full grown frogs, teeny tiny, and yes, bright red with blue legs.  Poisonous skin, poisonous bite, and they shoot poison - plus the indigenous peoples used them to make the poison-tipped darts to shoot.  They were very cute, but we were careful not to touch - and the two little frogs kept hopping off the banana leaf as Luis was showing them to us.
Very spoiled little cat who lives with the family on the island in the middle of the river - we stopped for coffee and plantains and cornbread.  The father of the family is 100, and he sat and greeted everyone.  It was a lovely hike up to their place, and their hospitality was amazing.
We eventually made our way to the pick up point, nearly 4 hours later.  Wonderful half day trip!

And when we got back, my friendly neighborhood crocodile was in position on the bank - but then he/she slipped into the water, swam around a bit, and then climbed back up on the bank.
You can see the crocodile in the water about 1/3 from the right hand side of the photo.
Other excitement included locking myself out of our hotel room while Richard was napping, and having to find a hotel fairy to let me back in; another visit to the butterfly farm; trying to open the wrong rental car with our car keys.

We drove to La Fortuna, the town some 40 km away, and then to the base of Volcan Arenal - arrived about 7 PM, but it was dark and rainy and the top of the mountain was in the clouds - so no lava for us on this trip.  We drove back to Fortuna for dinner, then back to our hotel.

Tomorrow, onward to Monteverde!

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