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Our first trip to Costa Rica in January 2016 was so relaxing and enjoyable that we were in the planning stages for a return visit before I even started our trip report:




In that report, I described the purpose behind our initial trek to the country: “The first order of business was simplicity, relaxation and rejuvenation,” I wrote.  “With each passing year, I find that the Christmas holiday season takes a bit more of a toll on me…...” 


Whereas our first visit to Costa Rica had been just one week, spent entirely at Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge on the Osa Peninsula, I ended up planning a two-week trip for our return this year, invoking the famous words of Mae West: “Sometimes too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” 


Little did I know then just what a toll the year’s culmination would have on me, or how much need I would have by then to just sit back and look at this…



Sunrise JPG.jpg

Beach I JPG.jpg

Beach IV JPG.jpg

Beach II.JPG

Waterfall I JPG.jpg


…and, for a while at least, not think of anything else.


Edited by Alexander33
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It had been only a matter of weeks following our return from Brazil last summer (yes, trip report still owed), and my nation was in the throes of an emotional and corrosive presidential election that was revealing just how un-united we might be, when I received a telephone call that would change the tenor of the year.  My mother had been hospitalized.  What initially was described as not serious ended up taking an alarming downward turn.  After a series of false starts, it eventually became apparent that she would not go back home.


As the departure date for our trip to Costa Rica approached, I found myself in a quandary.  The emotional side of me said to cancel, because even if I couldn’t do anything to help my mother, it would be uncaring and disrespectful to leave under the circumstances.  The logical side of me said to go ahead with the trip, that my mother was receiving the best care available, that my staying would not improve her condition, and that we could always interrupt the trip and return home if anything changed. 


I was stupefied.  The countless medical and business issues that I had been forced to deal with almost continuously during the previous months had emotionally and physically drained me to the point that making even one more decision suddenly seemed an insurmountable task.


In the end, my mother made the decision for me.  During a bedside vigil, she asked where we would take our next trip.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  After all, it was from my mother’s influence that I acquired my love of travel and discovery in the first place.  I told her that we had planned to return to Costa Rica, but that I thought I should cancel in order to stay and be with her.


“No,” she said emphatically.  “Go.” 


And then she became visibly angry. 





Edited by Alexander33
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So, with an international calling and data plan and comprehensive travel insurance all in hand, we left to chance that which we could not control and proceeded with our journey.  We would start where we had left off last year: at Bosque del Cabo. 


I tend to plan our trips very thoroughly, so (knock on wood) I can’t recall that we’ve ever really had a dissatisfying experience in any of our accommodations.  But there’s a difference between being completely happy with a particular lodging and falling in love with one, and Bosque del Cabo is one of the very few places that manages to fit into the latter category for me.


And if ever I needed the comforting embrace of a favorite place, it was now.  Our itinerary was as follows (beginning January 14, 2017):


Day 1 –   Dallas to San José (P.M.); overnight at Courtyard by Marriott, San José Airport

Day 2 –   Sansa Air to Puerto Jiménez; road transfer to Bosque del Cabo

Day 3 –   Bosque del Cabo

Day 4 –   Bosque del Cabo

Day 5 –   Bosque del Cabo

Day 6 –   Bosque del Cabo

Day 7 –   Road transfer to Puerto Jiménez (P.M.); Sansa Air to San José; overnight at Hotel Bouganvillea

Day 8 –   Road transfer to Rancho Naturalista (A.M.)

Day 9 –   Rancho Naturalista

Day 10 – Rancho Naturalista

Day 11 – Rancho Naturalista

Day 12 – Rancho Naturalista

Day 13 – Rancho Naturalista

Day 14 – Road transfer to San José (P.M.); overnight at Courtyard by Marriott, San José Airport

Day 15 – San José to Dallas (A.M.)


No matter how much we love Bosque del Cabo, as you can see I still couldn’t shake off at least some of my spirit of discovery.  Although Costa Rica is a small country, it has very diverse terrains, habitats and ecosystems, all fanning off a backbone of high mountains that traverse the length of its center.  With Bosque del Cabo situated in the Pacific coast lowland rainforest of the Osa Peninsula, I wanted to balance out our visit by spending some time in the higher elevations of the country, preferably on the Caribbean slope.  Rancho Naturalista, which I will describe later in more detail, fit the bill nicely.  Thanks goes to @xelas for suggesting I take a look at it. 


For some reason, I can't get all the elements of the map I prepared to work, so I'll do the best I can to work with what I have: Bosque del Cabo is located at  the very southern tip of the Osa Peninsula (Cabo Matapalo), which is the peninsula on the far southwestern side of the country (in light blue).  Rancho Naturalista, indicated by the red marker, is located in the foothills of the Caribbean slope, about 50 miles east-southeast of San José.




CR Map.png

Edited by Alexander33
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An Interruption and an Explanation


Why do I describe this trip in my title as a “bittersweet journey?”  There’s no easy way to address it, so I will just state the facts plainly.


It was on our third night at Rancho Naturalista, during the second part of the trip, when I received word that my mother had died earlier that evening. 


My mother and I both understood when I left that there was a chance we might not see one another again.  If I had known for certain that she would pass away within the two-week time frame of our trip, would I have gone anyway?  No.  But, then, we had no way of knowing when her time would come, so what is the point of dwelling on that question? 


In fact, the only question that mattered at that particular moment was what to do next.  And my decision came easily, because I knew what my mother would have wanted me to do.  I am certain that there were whispered judgments and raised eyebrows back home when I announced to everyone that I was proceeding with the trip and would not return until the end of that week, as scheduled, but my mother and I had had a very distinct understanding.  To me, hers was the only opinion that carried weight. 


It was, unquestionably, the right course of action for me, for, to my surprise, I discovered great comfort in the enveloping immenseness of the jungle, solace in the limpid beams of sunlight illuminating the dank masses of moss and orchids, and consolation from the gentle breezes and banks of clouds that rolled through the hills each evening.  In her way, Mother Nature managed to take care of me, providing a healing remedy that was far more effective than anything else I could have conjured on my own.



Edited by Alexander33
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Bosque del Cabo


One of the advantages of revisiting a place is that you can dispense with the orientation period, where you spend valuable time just learning what’s where and who’s who, and instead just get right down to business.  Although Bosque del Cabo had exceeded my expectations during our weeklong stay last year, like any good place, it still held things back and left me thirsting for more. 


I arrived with a list of goals.  Some things were on my list because of previously squandered opportunities.  Others were there because, while I had seen them before, I had not been able to capture good photographs of them the first time around.  There were also things that I just wanted better photographs of.  And then there was my list of things I had never seen before, this, of course, being my longest list.  All in all, I was certain I would be very busy throughout our stay.

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A Slow Start


As it turned out, after our first two and a half days there, I began to worry that I had made a terrible mistake.  Last year, one could have spent the entire morning on just the grounds of the lodge and never gotten bored.  This year, however, there was an eerie silence.  We had seen a few toucans and macaws, but not many.  We had heard howler monkeys, but hadn’t seen any.  Spider monkeys were plentiful, but there were no White-faced Capuchins, let alone squirrel monkeys.  What was going on?


I cornered Bosque’s resident naturalist, Philip Davison.  He had reported in his blog in December that they had experienced an unusually heavy rainfall: 185 inches of rain in the month of November alone.  Surely that was a typographical error; he must have meant 185 centimeters?  No, inches.  Over 15 feet of rain in just one month.  December, traditionally the start of the dry season, had been rainy as well.  It may be the rainforest, but this was unprecedented.  Although things had largely dried out by the time we arrived in mid-January, I wondered if the torrential rains in the previous months had somehow caused things to be out of whack.  Philip confirmed that, indeed, was the case.


Trees that should have been blooming and fruiting were behind schedule, and this was affecting the wildlife that depended on them for food.  If things were merely delayed, the situation would eventually work itself out.  On the other hand, a missed cycle altogether could have dire consequences.  Several years ago, unseasonable hard rains caused many of the flowering trees to drop their blooms, preventing their fruiting entirely, which, in turn, led to a famine in the jungle.  Philip still remembers finding dead toucans and monkeys on the ground.  Already this year, there were reports of higher-than-usual mortality rates among juvenile monkeys because of a tight food supply.  (Happily, I have since received reports that the rains only delayed the natural cycles of the forest this year.) 

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With wildlife sightings slower than expected, I had time to focus on things that I had overlooked on our previous visit.  I remembered from last year a spectacular and very unusual flowering tree that grew at the edge of the forest near the entryway to the lodge.  Thin, wiry bare branches extended off the lower portions of its massive trunk, presenting sprays of large, coral-orange blossoms.  The whole thing looked like something Dr. Seuss or Clarice Cliff would have concocted.


I had absent-mindedly taken a few snapshots of it one afternoon last year and then promptly forgotten about it.  Months later, while perusing the website gallery of Greg Basco, perhaps my favorite photographer of Costa Rican nature, I came across this same tree.  It was a cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis), native to the rainforests of southern Central America and northern South America, “with large showy flowers that really impress anyone lucky enough to encounter this tree.”  Having squandered my opportunities with it last year, I hoped to have another chance this time around.


Fortunately, the heavy rains had not affected this particular tree, and I returned to find it literally covered with dozens of blooms, each the size of a small saucer.


Cannonball Tree Wide I.jpg


Cannonball Tree Wide II.jpg



Each flower lasts only 24-36 hours, after which other buds open up, so I developed a new morning ritual.  I would sit on the deck of the main dining area and sip on that rich, delicious, freshly-brewed Costa Rican coffee as the jungle came to life at dawn.  Whereas last year there had been so much wildlife to see that I frequently never had a chance to finish my second cup, this year I had more time to reflect.  A few minutes before the sun would break the horizon, I would walk over to the tree and begin photographing.  I never knew which flowers would have fallen off during the night or which buds might have opened up, so each day provided new opportunities and challenges.


Cannonball Tree I JPG.jpg

Cannonball Tree III JPG.jpg

Cannonball Tree IV JPG.jpg

Cannonball Tree V JPG.jpg



I would never spend more than 10 minutes or so doing this, and then it was time for our morning hike.  We’d grab our gear and be off, but I came to enjoy this peaceful morning routine.


Edited by Alexander33
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An Abrupt Change


Although I was enjoying the opportunity to take things more slowly than I had last year, the truth is that I was starting to despair that we would not have the kind of wildlife sightings  that initially had sold me on Bosque del Cabo.  Could it have been that our first experience was simply one of beginner’s luck?


It was a question I was pondering at the end of our second full day, after another fairly quiet hike, when the wonderful couple in the cabin next to ours (veterans of Bosque del Cabo who have been coming for 22 years) intercepted us on our way back from the bar.  They were just returning from their own hike on a different trail and excitedly told us that they had come across a troop of 50-60 endangered squirrel monkeys and had spent over an hour with them.


This was the kind of news we had wanted to hear.  With the sun rapidly setting, this troop would be settling in for the night, and we resolved to try to find them the next day.


And just like that, our fortune had changed.  We didn’t know it at the time, but while our first few days at Bosque del Cabo might have been relatively slow, things were about to pick up.  The Bosque del Cabo we knew was back!

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I am so sorry for the loss of your mother.  I was anxious to read the reason for bittersweet and the reason had to be very traumatic for you.

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Very sad for you but you knew you were doing what your mother wanted. I can well imagine the tranquility of your trip gave you plenty of time to reflect and mourn in peace. 


Those flowers are fascinating and I am looking forward to hearing phase 2 as the trip 'pics up'. 

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Very sorry to read about your loss, Peter - but very much looking forward to hear all about BdC and Costa Rica as I will be there next summer.

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Your mother sounds like she really connected with you. You did the right thing by going, and by staying.  It's what she wanted, and what you needed.  I'm so sorry for your loss.

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@Alexander33   I am very sorry about your mother.  She said what she thought was best for you.....it's being a mother.  They usually know and you listened.  How many times I have looked back at the words my mother said.  Now I smile.

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@Atravelynn, @lmSA84, @wilddog, @michael-ibk, @AmyT, @marg, and everyone else:


Thank you for your kind words. 


I really hope this report doesn’t come across as a downer, and I’d be mortified if anyone thought I were fishing for sympathy. 


In fact, one of the (many) reasons I’ve taken so long to post this report is that I wasn’t sure whether, how, or to what extent to address my Mom’s death in it.  At first, I started drafting it with no mention of the fact, but I quickly realized that, to me, the narrative simply didn’t have integrity.  Her illness and death were too much an integral part of the trip to omit those circumstances from the backdrop.  I doubt I’ll be winning any awards for Most Uplifting Trip Report, but I suppose it just is what it is.


Nevertheless, fear not.  Things are about to pick up, I promise.  Like, right now…….


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The next morning, we decided to hike down the road and complete the Titi Trail before breakfast.  Little did we know that our hike would turn out to be a fascinating illustration of the interconnectedness between the various denizens of the forest.


It all started with a large fruiting tree at the entrance to the trail that was a hotbed of activity.  Above, spider monkeys feasted on the fruit and leaves.










They also dropped a lot of fruit, which generated the interests of a band of White-nosed Coatis, who were cleaning up the forest floor.










A strong, unpleasant odor, akin to that of mothballs, suddenly wafted through the forest.  We knew that this was the unique calling card of the Collared Peccary, and sure enough, in a few minutes, a pack of 15-20 of them came crashing through the underbrush, largely in a roughly single-file line, so it was difficult to get a shot of more than one at a time.








How does that Southern saying go about the nature of luck?  "Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then"?





The coatis were not amused, and they scampered out of the way, some onto a decaying tree log where they registered their annoyance with a series of grunts and resentful stares.





Eventually, the scene calmed down, and we entered the trail, walking back into dense shadows, although the sun was shining above the thick canopy.  I heard the soft ruffling of leaves on the ground, and my eyes finally made out the movements of dark feathers: the Chestnut-backed Antbird.




These secretive skulkers quietly hop along the forest floor or low lying vegetation in search of small insects and spiders, and this small group was very dedicated to the business at hand.   I really had to push the limits of what my camera equipment could accomplish in order to photograph them.


Black-hooded Antshrikes, endemic to southwestern Costa Rica and northern Panama, joined them.  







As I was trying to track one of the Antbirds, J. alerted me to something higher off the ground. 



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Coatis, titi monkeys, and odoriferous peccaries.  Lots of activity now.

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It turned out to be a female Black-throated Trogon.





Perhaps my favorite photo from last year was one of the spectacular male Black-throated Trogon, which alighted on a vine and allowed me only two shots before it flew off.  This female was a lot more relaxed, and I soon realized why. 


The coatis may have been bothered by the arrival of the peccaries, but the birds were delighted.  As the peccaries pushed their way through the forest, they dislodged all sorts of insects.  The antbirds and antshrikes were feasting on those near the ground, while the trogon was taking advantage of the bonanza above. 


She would sit still on a perch until a flying insect happened by, and then swoop down, take it in her beak, and alight in another perch nearby to consume her prize. 






Before long, she was joined by her much more colorful mate.





We started tracking the male, staying on the trail as we followed his movements through the forest.  We’d lose him for a while, only to come around a corner and find him again.





Although he gave us a lot of photo ops, I think I still prefer that one shot I got last year on such a wing and a prayer.  Maybe it's just because it was such a lucky shot.  After all, "even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then." :) 


Finally, he flew off for good, and this allowed me to shift gears and pursue the loud knocking sound I was hearing farther down the trail.  I was certain it was one of the big woodpeckers, and I was right.  A small number of dead and dying trees in close proximity to one another had created a relatively open area in the otherwise dense forest, and it was there that I spied a pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers. 


I had managed one good look at this species, the largest woodpecker found in Central America, last year, but this one was much closer.





A few more bends in the trail, and we reached the main road again, reflecting on the one-act jungle play that we had just observed.   


The spider monkeys had dropped fruits on the ground, which had attracted the coatis, which had been disturbed by the peccaries, which had stirred up insects, which had brought in the antbirds and antshrikes below, and the trogons above, all just like a well-oiled machine, each creature having its own distinct part, with nothing left to waste, and all of it ignored by the woodpeckers, who were far too busy with their peck, peck, pecking of wood to pay any attention to it. 


What a hike!  And we hadn’t even had breakfast yet. 


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14 hours ago, AmyT said:

Your mother sounds like she really connected with you. You did the right thing by going, and by staying.  It's what she wanted, and what you needed.  I'm so sorry for your loss.


+1 to that. Condolences for your loss

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so sorry to hear about your loss. it must have been an incredibly tough dilemma for you and such a difficult time for you when you got the news on the third day of your safari. That explains the undertone of melancholy and longing in your words.  


We have cannonball trees in singapore, very likely imported from South America. I remember as a child we would avoid those huge brown balls of fruits that hung on the trees and feared those cannonballs falling and cracking our skulls. Not many are left now as they've been cleared for development. But the flowers that you shot were just beautiful. 


love those spider monkeys and the trogons!



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@Alexander33 - I am so sorry to hear of the passing of your mother.   You have the deepest sympathies from me and the ST community at large.


Your trip report has some outstanding photos of some special wildlife - looking forward to following along.


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@Alexander33 Thank-you for this report and your account of the background to it. My sympathies and thoughts are with you and your family. I cancelled my first safari in similar circumstances (although my mother never knew) - I was able to rearrange and go a month or so after she died and can perfectly understand the bittersweet reference in your title.  Lovely photos as always.

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@Alexander33 Your report is not coming across as a downer at all.  Death is part of the journey and especially this journey.  It would be wrong to leave it out and I am looking forward to reading about how you felt comforted by your travels.  


Plus I must get to Costa Rica!  Coatis are so cute! 

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Dave Williams

Beautifully written report and you have done the right thing sharing your experience as it's a situation many have, or might in the future, find themselves in. Your Mum appears to have been a very special lady, and now she has extended her influence over me too. As a result of your report which might not have been I'm edging ever closer to booking a trip to Costa Rice,so thank you both.

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@Alexander33 I am truly sorry for you loss. I am glad to hear that being in Costa Rica helped.  It is a magical country. 


I have been looking forward to this report (and Brazil too...hint hint).  I was worried after the first few days but eventually the Titi trail ALWAYS comes through.  At least, that is our experience.  Can't wait to read more.  Love all the pictures and narrative.



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