Our ILISA tour guide, Paul (or as we lovingly dubbed him, “Paulcito”), led us through some of the most beautiful geographical scenery that Costa Rica has to offer, over the course of the past three days. Paul is both a native Costa Rican and a career naturalist, which made him incredibly knowledgeable on the locations, flora and fauna that we came into contact with during our sight-seeing adventures.
Paul kicked off our long day by taking us to the Poas Volcano. It was a breathtaking sight, and he told us that we were incredibly lucky that our view of the volcano was so clear and not cloudy. Additionally, he warned us of the dangers of a possible eruption and the safety measures we’d take in case of volcanic activity. Paul pointed out a nearby “sniffer,” which is a scientific device that detects changes in the chemical composition of the atmosphere. Aside from the “sniffer,” Paul said that other changes indicative of volcanic activity include the darkening of the surrounding fauna, as well as absence of wildlife in the area. We wore helmets to protect us from potential flying debris in case of an explosion, but as far as being internally affected by potential explosions, Paul said that the only safety measure we could take would be to run as fast as we could to avoid breathing in harmful air and damaging our lungs.
After visiting Poas, Paul took us to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Here, we traipsed through a rain shower to interact with a variety of Costa Rican wildlife. Pictured above are Paul and I holding a millipede that Paul discovered while we were venturing through the gardens. He had us touch its tough ridges (if we dared) and explained that these creatures use their armor to cut through wood. They digest the wood and then defecate what the don’t extract as nutrients, which fertilizes the Costa Rican soil. Also, pictured is a Green Violetear hummingbird enjoying some nectar. Costa Rica is abundant with a variety of hummingbird species, and I was thrilled to get up close and personal with several of them!
Saturday, Paul took us to the Tirimbina Reserve, where we trekked through a tropical rainforest during a torrential downpour. Having a great sense of humor, he rocked the narrow bridge we had to travel over above the rapids that are pictured. During this trip, Paul found an abundance of furry and slimy Costa Rican natives. He washed his hands with one of my peers’ water bottles before catching the Orange-Eyed Tree Frog pictured above, and explained that the oils from his hands would harm her skin if he did not do so. Also pictured is a female Poison Dart Frog carrying her tadpole on her back. Paul explained that in a couple of weeks she will deposit her offspring somewhere in the forest and leave it to fend for itself. Additionally, he shared some cultural information about the species, saying that their poison is only dangerous to other organisms if it enters their bloodstream, which is why Costa Rican natives used to take their hunting darts and rub it across the skin of these frogs. Paul also caught a lizard in the midst of it catching its prey, so you can see in the picture that a pair of antenna are sticking out of the lizard’s mouth. Finally, we were lucky to see my favorite animal in the wild; yes guys, I saw not one, but FIVE wild sloths!! Paul was notified early on that I was on the hunt for el oso perezoso, so he very enthusiastically led me by the arm to every one he found at Tirimbina! We saw both the three-toed and the two-toed sloth, two which had babies with them! Pictured is the two-toed sloth, my personal favorite of all the existing species of sloths!!!
On Day 3, Paul took us to more urban locations in Costa Rica. One of the places we visited was the most cherished church in Costa Rica: the Basilica, located in the Orosí Valley. Inside the Basilica, there is a cherished statue called “The Virgin,” which is highly-regarded by Costa Ricans. There was a large collection of silver “offerings” to The Virgin from many of those who have prayed to her. Many of them included breasts, stomachs, lungs, etc. signifying that they were praying she rid them of the cancer that ailed their organs. Paul shared with us a story of an American couple who was lost at sea, trapped on a lifeboat after their ship had wrecked. All they had with them was a small radio, which was broadcasting the annual Costa Rican celebration of The Virgin through static. After roughly two weeks lost at sea, the couple was rescued: by the Costa Rican authorities!! They were certain that The Virgin had rescued them, so they visited the Basilica and brought her an offering from their wrecked ship. While I’m not a particularly religious individual, I was touched by the hope that The Virgin has brought to so many people around the world.
Paul enhanced my experience in Costa Rica with his kindness, enthusiasm, humor, and extensive knowledge of his country’s culture and natural surroundings! I can’t wait to meet more locals and see how they respectively impact the second half of my trip!