Costa Rica




The first time I arrived in Costa Rica I flew to San Jose from Miami. As the plane banked over the Caribbean and began its descent I remember hearing the pilot's voice crackling out of the speakers: "Those of you sitting on the right side of the plane will now be able look down to the Caribbean atolls of Costa Rica...those of you on the left have a view of a female humpback whale and a calf."

It was the best possible introduction to Costa Rica. Since that time I have been continually amazed by the abundance of wildlife in this country. You can see more wildlife simply walking down the high street of an average Costa Rican village than you can in the national parks of many other countries. Osa Peninsula in particular is one of the greatest wildlife destinations in the world. I am staying in a bungalow at Tierra de Milagros, where the invariably day starts with the rousing roar of the howler monkeys. From that point on the patch of forest around my temporary home becomes a constant carnival of wildlife.


There are no walls on the bungalow so as I lazily open one eye in the first light I can look out through the mosquito net to see what animals are on the move at this early hour. I have formed a strange habit here: the first animal I see each morning is the 'spirit animal' of the day. A sort of totem animal that signifies what the day will be like. I am happy to say that I have so far avoided 'vulture days' and 'snake days.'

One morning the first thing I saw was a giant blue morpho butterfly - as big as a saucer and glinting like neon. It flitted down the path straight towards my bed and then veered at the last minute. I saw it five more times before I had my first coffee (which is never far into the day). Another day my single open eye focused on a movement in the treetop canopy and, without moving from my pillow, I watched a whole troop of squirrel monkeys (Osa has the world's biggest population) parade past, with babies on their backs. Each one stopped to stare at me and squeak an unnecessary warning. Spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys and, of course, the howlers have already had their totem days - along with squirrels, scarlet macaws, hummingbirds, iguana and basilisk lizard (the weird Jesus Christ lizard, which runs on water).

There is no electricity here in the jungle until the sun comes up and warms the solar panels sufficiently on the main building so I sit on my terrace and write until my laptop battery also gives up. This morning Charlie Papas the surf dog came padding by for an unusually early visit and became the totem animal for the day. I had been sitting there writing for just a few minutes when I saw something in my peripheral vision and looked up to see a raccoon happily trotting down the track towards me. He walked right past within six feet of my seat without giving me a glance.

Then he passed again about twenty minutes later going the other way. It was a blatant attempt but he was too late. It was already officially Charlie Papas day.