Snapshots of a Costa Rican Adventure to Parismina and the Pacuare River: Part 1

PART ONE: PURA VIDA COSTA RICA

There are so many extraordinary places in the world. Thanks to the endless supply of travel magazines, articles and guidebooks; television shows and documentaries; and personal accounts from friends and family, I keep adding more and more destinations to my never-ending travel bucket list. The list only grows, it never seems to shrink. I feel I have barely scratched the surface.

So, some might think it strange that I find myself back in Costa Rica once again. A country that I have visited six times already and a country that we called home for eight months in 2008/2009. But it is not strange at all. During my very first trip I fell in love with the landscape: the mountains, the volcanoes, the coasts and the forests. I loved the bright vivid colours and the sounds of the howler monkeys and the birds. I loved the warm tropical breeze, the luscious fruits, the friendly, smiling Costa Ricans, the waterfalls and hot springs…and I loved the incredible diversity of plants and animals. It was the immense trees, covered with moss, vines, bromeliads and epiphytes that took my breath away. So massive and so green. And when I witnessed my very first nesting leatherback turtle in all her glory—I felt I could die happy.

Costa Rica’s landscape is diverse and breathtakingly beautiful. The forests are so lush, they drip with green. They are alive!


Costa Rica is a biological hotspot that never disappoints. It is difficult to pass up any opportunity to see such unique species such as the fruit from a cannonball tree, a hawksbill hatchling, a red-eyed tree frog, and the infamous fer de lance.

It was the end of 1998 and I was working at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada. The director of our International Program had offered to take any interested staff members on a trip to Costa Rica to see our conservation and development efforts first hand. Five of us signed up without hesitation. We spent a week in the cloud forests of the Monteverde/Arenal region staying at three ecotourism lodges that WWF helped establish with the Costa Rican government and community-based partners. We also visited other conservation projects including shade coffee, arts and crafts, rubber tapping and tree planting. And then three of us spent another week exploring the dry forests of Santa Rosa National Park in the north-west region and then down the Pacific coast to Tamarindo.

Eco-lodges like this one in Monte Los Olivos, have been a popular choice for tourists, providing vital income for local residents, and helping to protect the region’s forests.

Horseback riding in Tamarindo with colleagues who were great friends.

Since that very first trip, there has been a special place in my heart for Costa Rica. I knew I had to return. And return I did…less than a year later, only this time to a different region—the Atlantic lowland rainforest near Torteguero—and this time, with Josh. And he too, fell in love with the country, and has been back almost every year since, usually with students in tow.

Josh and I at Cano Palma in 1999. A view of San Jose from the top of the Cacts Hotel.

And so, 10 years and two children later, it was no real surprise that when we needed to make some big modifications to our lives, it was to Costa Rica that we moved.

When the boys were young, I often felt like a “married single parent.” Josh worked so much, he was rarely around. He worked 6 or 7 days of the week, often gone for 15 hours of the day. His commute was long, and to avoid some of the crazy Greater Toronto Area traffic, he would leave early in the morning and come home late at night. The boys would already be in bed. Sometimes several days would pass before they would see him. And with Josh’s demanding schedule, I couldn’t work outside the home, so I never got much of a break from constant child care.

It seemed like a waste of precious time to continue this way. So, after careful deliberation and discussion, we decided to make a dramatic change. We sold our home, our car, and many of our belongings and moved to a remote biological research station near Torteguero, Costa Rica.

The boat dock at Cano Palma, a Canadian-owned research station accessible only by boat.

Some people thought we were crazy and some people thought we were brave. We thought it would be an amazing way to reconnect with each other and nature; to live simply, away from the pressures and distractions of life in a big North American city; and to make a difference by doing something worthwhile, something for conservation.

And it was…until life changed again. My mother’s health declined and required us to move back to Ontario.  We have been living in Lindsay ever since, but we’ve never stopped visiting Costa Rica. We have been to other places as well, of course, but Costa Rica remains a favourite.

Priceless memories of a time when the boys were little and we embarked on an epic adventure—living at Cano Palma, a remote research station near Torteguero, Costa Rica.

Perhaps the best part about returning over and over again to Costa Rica is sharing the experience with others who have never been before. That is one of the main reasons we find ourselves back here once again. Josh has organized an 8-day trip to Costa Rica’s lowland rainforest for a group of 11 people (Amelia, Brett, Jeff, Joe, John, Heather, Randy, Sarah, Scott, Teresa and Tracy). And what a great group of biologists, birders and wildlife enthusiasts they have turned out to be.  When they don’t have binoculars glued to their faces, they can be found pouring over field guides and scrolling through their photographs in order to identify the things they have seen.

They compare notes and add species after species to their growing lists. They are all curious and eager to see, photograph and learn as much as possible. They are appreciative, easy to please, and take advantage of every opportunity to get out there and see more! “I’ll sleep when I am dead!” is the mentality of this group.

Josh leads the group on multiple hikes each day and night, never failing to find new things of interest to marvel at and photograph, like this awesome little coral snake that Brett is shooting.

It is a relief to travel with like-minded people who have not come for the grand five-star resorts, but who have come for an authentic experience—a little taste of Costa Rican life in a small coastal community.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

Pacuare Perfection

The Pacuare River Eco Lodge is the perfect place to relax and experience the beauty of Costa Rica’s Atlantic slope. The lodge is situated in the foothills of the Talamanca Mountains at the lower edge of the biodiversity “sweet spot” which begins at an elevation of about 500 m above sea level. The diversity of fauna and flora that can be observed from the comfort of the deck at the lodge is astounding. The atmosphere at the lodge is relaxing and serene from the moment you wake up to the moment you close your eyes and fall into the deep slumber that only comes after a day of fresh air and exploration. This video captures our first morning and the essence of a typical morning at the eco-lodge.

Morning at Pacuare River Eco-lodge from Joshua Feltham on Vimeo.

After enjoying our breakfast, we were treated to a hike and a swim in the river. It seemed like we took the longest possible route to get to the river because it is only about about 100 meters from the lodge; however, our goal was to access the river upstream of the lodge which took us on an uphill and then downhill hike that took about an hour and a half. This gave us access to a prime location where we could hop into the river with our life jackets and helmets and drift downstream with the current. As a bonus, when we were almost at the peak of our uphill climb, we were treated with a special encounter courtesy of our guide Daniel and Mother Nature. Watch this video to see what we found.

What have we here? from Joshua Feltham on Vimeo.

Taking Time at Tirimbina

Trimbina Biological Reserve is managed by a Costa Rican based foundation that strives to provide opportunities for ecotourism, education, and research in northern Costa Rica. The reserve is a 345 hectare private reserve with over 9 km of trails that provide access to secondary and primary rain forest. I first visited in 2010 with Ecosystem Management Technician students from Fleming College. We conducted amphibian and reptile surveys on three different trails in the reserve. Watch this short video to learn more about the experience our students had. This video is now being used at the reserve to promote opportunities for students to gain field experience at Tirimbina.

Amphibian & Reptile Biodiversity Research from Joshua Feltham on Vimeo.

Kate, Tess and I spent five days at the reserve and we had plenty of time to hike the trails during the day and at night. We had some great encounters. The video below will give you a good taste of what we encountered after dark.

Into The Darkness from Joshua Feltham on Vimeo.

I was surprised but somewhat happy to learn that the organization was still looking for people to engage in herpetological research in the reserve. To date, most of the work has been completed on mammals (with an emphasis on bats), butterflies, and birds. This opportunity is one that I am going to follow up on with the creation of a Tropical Field Herpetology course at Tirimbina. It will be offered during the fall and our objective will be to provide training and knowledge in field herpetology while conducting research at the reserve. Stay tuned for updates.