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In Costa Rica it's "pura vida"

After 2 months in Nepal, much of it spent in the Himalayan foothills, we were feeling physically fit, calm, grateful, and rejuvenated. We were however also excited and ready to be heading back home to London to fulfill the aching withdrawal dreams of home cooked food which had started to cripple our days. The potential shock to the system of returning to London life was tempered by seeing most of our extended family and friends at a wonderful wedding. But really it felt like our feet didn’t touch the ground in the short week back in the UK. We were soon on our way to Costa Rica (having replenished ourselves with most of what Waitrose and Sainsburys were stocking in June 2016).

Costa Rica’s reputation as a wildlife haven is fairly well known and to say I was excited to get to know the country falls way way short of my feelings about visiting. I had read much about their approach to wildlife conservation and it was pretty much number one on my list of places to go. Lucia was excited about the Yoga culture and particularly about the place she had found for us to spend the first week. So it had been a surprise to meet a handful of people over the previous months of travelling who were disparaging about Costa Rica. “Sure, it’s warm, the fruit is delicious and the locals are lovely but it’s just too ‘Americanized’ now” was the general gist of the opinions we had gathered. We were determined to come to it without preconceptions.

Here, in the vague form of a collection of some sort of diary extracts is what we made of Costa Rica!

Disclaimer: If you hate animals, this is not for you.

Central American Squirrel Monkey Saimiri oerstedii Once widespread, this monkey now only survives in the Manuel Antonio National Park, on the wild Osa Peninsula, close to the Panama border on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and the very northern pacific tip of Panama. Since 2008 the species has classified on the IUCN red list as 'Vulnerable'

Day 1

One of the perks of working as a travelling musician ( there aren’t many!) is that you have the chance to collect air-miles without paying for tickets. I’ve been doing this for ten years or so, which for someone as abismally disorganised as I am is quite an acheivement. I can’t remember who it was but thanks to whoever suggested getting a Ba card when I was fresh faced on the scene at 21! So, almost ‘free’, we flew on BA’s newest direct route to San Jose, Costa Rica. Muchos Buenos!!

We arrive early afternoon, bristling with excitement and anticipation of what we might discover. Lucia had visited Cuba with her family some years back but for me it was my first time in Central America.

Once settled at our nearby hotel, the afternoon has turned to early evening, as so often seems to happen when travelling. Time passes strangely. We are tired and must be up early tomorrow to catch a flight to the south of the country. So we go for a short wander around the neighborhood as always seems right when arriving somewhere new. I’m one of those people who needs to know where North is, where the sea is, where the nearest bar is etc! Also, first impressions are crucial, so it was disturbing to me that the highlights of our first steps in the country were inexplicably loud car exhausts and an angry poodle wearing a miniskirt. Still, the streets had a colourful and humid vibe, and I remark to Lucia that it certainly has the feel to me of something very new, a culture that I had not experienced before.

We return to the hotel, eat, and then collapse into bed early.

Day 2

We are up at 3.50am and struggle ourselves into the minibus, surrounded by our bags and the dark. By 4.30am we are sitting alone in a small airport terminal, still surrounded by our bags and the dark. We had thought 4.30am a reasonable time to arrive for a 5.30am flight. With no-one around to ask we try to stay awake and are relieved when at 5.15am two uniformed people walk through the small door at the end of the hangar to turn on the lights. A frisk and a stumble later we are sat aboard the smallest plane we have come across on our travels. Thinking we had left this sort of nonsense continents away in the Himalayas, we once again muster courage out of nervousness and hold tight. We are two of five passengers, there are no cabin crew. There isn’t really a cabin. We are sat in the two front seats and I could have patted the pilot on the head. If I’d felt like it! We listen as the two pilots run through their pilotty checks. Soon we are dangerously hurtling down the runway like some kind of insane bumblebee on wheels. And then we’re in the sky, which can feel like a moment of respite in some aircraft, but if I’d shut my eyes and someone had asked me where I was I could just have reasonably suggested that we were aboard a very loud boat. It reminded me of when I took control of a tiny airoplane for about 30 seconds, aged 15, whilst in the RAF cadets. The thought was not encouraging.

Moments later the landscape draws our attention and calms our nerves. The sun had just risen and the early morning mist clung to the deep green slopes of the beast-like volcanoes to the East. Out of the ‘stage right’ window, fields of cultivated palm trees gave way to dense forest as we flew south; the vast blue weight of the pacific ocean forming a constant margin to the prose of our journey through the air.

After not more than 30 minutes we touch down at Puerto Jimenez, on the Ossa Peninsula. The propellers are turned off, the pilot gets out and signals to two people behind an iron fence that they can approach the plane. Our two new passengers climb aboard, the engine is started, we taxi around a stray dog, and then the bumblebee is off once more. This time we can see our destination across the straight of water which divides the peninsula from the mainland and we are finally (and mercifully) stationary on the runway at Golfito 10 minutes later. Once the door is open the pilot raises his hand to Lucia from the bottom of the rickety steps and personally escorts her off the aircraft. He didn’t help me.

So it’s about 6.50am and the sun is up and we are in Golfito, a small town in the south of the Puntarenas region of Costa Rica. We were headed further south though, so we arrange a car at a local car hire, and set of on the 1hr 30 minute drive to Punta Banco. Except it wasn’t 1hr 30 minutes. We are advised by the car hire dude that 2 things would not be necessary for our trip in this area. 1) four wheel drive 2) Satnav. We didn’t need four wheel drive, he said, because the road to Punta Banco is mostly flat and although there are some potholes, the extra expense is really not necessary as long as the car has high clearance. Fine. Sat nav was not necessary because there was no signal in the entire region. Ok, slightly less fine, but makes sense. Apart from one terrifying moment on a steep slippery hill, the dude was right. And he’d saved us some Costa Rican Colones!

In fact, navigation was very straightforward, despite the distances involved. We had unwittingly found ourselves in one of the most remote parts of the country and there are not many roads. Well not entirely unwittingly to be honest! Anyhow, with just an old-school map showing the few options, we felt comfortable about getting around. Once we left the tarmac behind, we entered what felt like a whole new place. We scrunched and bumped our way slowly over the hard packed earth of the road, passing occasional villages and farmsteads. Colourful one stop shops advertising groceries and beer seemed to serve whole communities. It was humid outside and passing through patches of sleepy wet forest in our air-conditioned jeep was a slightly odd experience.

Two hours after leaving Golfito we came to a small town called Pavones. Pavones was the last settlement before Punta Banco, and our destination, Punta Banco was the last settlement on the road; You cannot drive any further without a quad bike or a serious 4x4, and even then the road stops a mile on where the indigenous peoples of the far south still live, their land supposedly protected by the government. The international border with Panama is not so far beyond.

Lucia had booked us into the “Yoga Farm” in Punta Banco. I was slightly dubious about this after our horrendous Yoga retreat failure in Nepal, where we lasted only a few hours of our planned week-long stay before leaving. We had both agreed that Yoga Farm website made it seem far less “faddy” than many other places of it’s type and so with fingers firmly crossed we continued past the point of no return that was Pavones.

Having nearly killed the car, and potentially us, by trying to drive the very last steep muddy incline up to the Yoga Farm, we decided it best to leave our trusty jeep at the bottom of the hill. Leaving the aircon behind we start to feel the heat. Well, I do. Unfortunately for me, despite being a big fan of sun, heat and humidity, my poor ‘Made in Britain” body acts as though it is under some sort of fire attack and responds by sweating like *please insert your favourite ‘sweating like a...’ * (I can’t think of one that isn’t tremendously offensive.)

We are greeted at the top of the hill by a smiling blonde girl wearing a baseball cap. Christie together with her partner, Pat, run the place. We are shown to our room. The Yoga Farm’s website describes itself as “a rustic yoga center and sustainable living project located on Costa Rica’s southernmost Pacific coast. Set amidst beautiful tropical rainforest, and overlooking open ocean, we are ideally located for those looking to reconnect with mind, body, and nature.”

Our rustic room was located in the main building of the site; a beautifully crafted open-sided wooden construction. The ground floor had a variety of sleeping accommodation, ranging from double rooms to small dormitories, two showers, a toilet and a sort of half covered terrace with work benches. Above was a ‘yoga platform’. There were books left here and there. Drawings. Artwork on the walls. Shells and beach treasure. A rack of wellie boots. The humid jungle breeze would waft through the rooms. From everywhere ‘inside’ the crude structure you had a wonderfully cacoon-like sensation that the jungle was just meters away in all directions. Having met the lovely Christie and once settled in this place we felt almost immediately relaxed. There was a sense of hush about the place. Something subtlely indescribable about the surroundings commanded respect and quiet. We knew this was going to be a special time!

So...... Leaving Lucia to do some Yoga (well I suppose it is a yoga retreat of sorts), I ventured back down the track to the trusty air-conned jeep and then back down the muddy road to Pavones. I felt sure that there was no way I was going to get through the week without a pair of sandals. Once in Pavones, it dawned on me gradually that we seemed to be in some sort of surfing mecca. By which I don’t mean the town was sprawling with beach bums and loud music. Far from it. Pavones is no more than a village on the beach. Rather, it felt like I’d stumbled upon one of surfing’s best kept secrets, accessible only to the most committed and adventurous of wave seekers. Looking back, it seems kind of bizarre that we should have ended up at what turned out to be “one of the best surfing spots in the world” (according to the surfers) without having any prior knowledge, but this only served to heighten the magic and the beauty of this extraordinary place, as the week went on.

New sandals on feet, I stop in Punta Banco on my return. Here I wander down the beach for a while, taking in the salty air of the ocean and weaving around coconut husks and fresh mangoes resting on the sand.

one such hairy coconut what I weaved around!

There is a sort of rickety “playpen” and on approaching a discover it is a sea turtle hatchery! I peer in but nothing seems unusual. Further along two women were sat chatting at a table at the strip between the road and the sand where the coconut palms provide shelter for the dwellings set further back from the beach. Young children circled the two women on their bikes. I approached and asked if they knew about the turtles. One woman, an American, said that we were just too early and that the turtles are expected to arrive in the next few weeks. The eggs are then collected by volunteers from the local community and placed in the hatching pen so that they have more of a chance to escape predation when they hatch. I talked further about this with the American, Katie, and it turns out she is a primatologist who has been studying the resident spider monkey population in the area. She moved here some years ago to study the resident spider monkey population in the area but stayed and now lives here with her daughter, Pheonix. We agree to arrange a guided walk in the rainforest to the south of Punta Banco some time later in the week. I am ludicrously excited to have met someone who works with wildlife within a few hours of arriving.

Spider monkey

Lucia meets me at “the school bus”. The old-style school bus is parked outside Rancho Burrico, a suitably sleepy kind of beach-side retreat (almost everything is beach-side really) for intrepid travellers which backs on to the beach. It’s beach-side yeah! Hammocks rock in the breeze between palm trees while a couple of snoozy horses look on, tethered to the makeshift fence in wait of their next ride. Because the passable road stops at Rancho Burrico, there is a real sense that the sand which stretches out beyond into the distance, and the forest which lives beside it is truly wild, not really a human domain. Certainly NOT Americanized! To the left of the bus, the muddy hill climbs steeply up to the Yoga Farm, a 15 minute sweat-fest away.

The track climbs steeply behind the camera away from the ocean to the Yoga Farm.
The beach at Punta Banco

Lucia and I stand in the shallows of the sea. It is warm. The waves are not tall but they pack a punch. She is knocked over repeatedly and drift wood batters our knees. What a hilarious paradise this is!

Having heavysweated it back up the Humid Hill of Hell, we shower and stroll down to the dining hut which is nestled in the jungle just beneath the yoga house. We eat completely delicious food, much of which is sourced from the surrounding jungle and the farmed crops here.

The 'fruit and veg cupboard ' at the Yoga Farm

We get to know the other 4 guests and I am bitten by a miniscule but ferocious cat called Spanky. Spanky is tiny, white/grey, cute, but with a voracious appetite for human flesh. Christie explains how 3 months previously they had come across a very young and dying frail cat and they had nurtured it back to health at the farm. I put up with the painful biting because aside from this, he was utterly adorable.

Spanky the kitten beast commands respect from all

We return to 5 cockroaches in our room, spitting tooth paste over the ones in our sink, before escaping behind our mosquito net to bed. Good grief, why is it still so phenomenally hot and humid at 10pm. Oh dear. Sleep.

Day 3

We are woken at 4.45am by the unmistakable and glorious sound of howler monkeys. These creatures live in large families and every morning lay claim to their spot and local fruit trees by making a sound with their throat which is entirely unsuited to their size and nature. Basically it sounds like some sort of amplified hellish fiend/dog. It serves as a terrifying alarm clock for anyone within about 10 miles. By 5.30 am the light is starting to appear across the rainforest. The huge, openeable wooden windows in our bedroom serve as a perfect place to set up my tripod and camera for dawn bird photographs. The design of the roof is such that it protrudes out into the jungle for 2 meters or so above the windows, so as to help water run off away from the building. This means the room is set back from the visible structure, so that the ‘window seat’ acts as a near perfect wildlife hide. I sit for a while, snapping away at whatever comes into view. Two toucans and a tiny irridesent hummingbird.

At 6 am we wander upstairs for yoga. The teacher is a British girl, Emily, and it is the best Yoga class I have ever been to. Sadly she leaves tomorrow.

After Yoga I help pick fresh limes and peppercorns from the surrounding trees. I am reminded of the ludicrous “karma yoga” session we had in Nepal. Essentially people were paying to be told that potting and watering plants is probably a good thing to do. Hilariously, one woman broke a plant pot and asked if it was bad karma. There is none of that kind of quiet insanity here though. The vibe is one of community, giving, sharing, relaxing, talking, eating, sweating! The place seems to attract interesting and interested people. The work involved to maintaining a self sufficient ‘farm’ in the jungle is considerable and that Pat and Christie achieve this simply with the help of whoever happens to turn up is extraordinary and humbling. It is also inspiring to see that despite the hard work, they seem to be two of the most relaxed people one could ever hope to meet. They are ‘switched on’ though. Both keen surfers, they run the farm for six months of the year and then spend the rest seeing family or travelling. Pat makes movies and runs a succesful website selling yoga related materials.

Breakfast is pancakes and honey, eaten whilst constantly moving to so as to avoid the tiny jungle bees which were after the honey. We head down to the beach. There is another English girl staying at the Yoga Farm and she has gone down early to the shop, where for a price, you can get some poor wifi signal. We meet at the beach and she tells us the result of the UK referendum on staying in Europe. Politics aside, let’s just say it was nice to learn the news whilst on a tropical beach surrounded by mangoes. We feel relieved to be far away. We spend the morning on the beach.

Lucia and I agree that we have separate purposes for our time here in Costa Rica. That might sound like a nice way of saying we had a big argument but it isn’t! We agree that during the day we will follow our interests and meet back at the Yoga farm for meals or whenever the mood takes us. Lucia will practice Yoga and collect shells (this became a big part of her day!) and I would follow my nose in search of wildlife to observe and photograph (sometimes exploring with the car and sometimes on foot). Some afternoons we would walk together. It’s difficult to describe here the feeling of freedom that being somewhere so remote offers. It seems a paradox, but I find that once options are not there, there is a wonderful sense of focus and potential that arises with the passing time. With just the jungle, the ocean, and the few people that are around for company, we are forced to find the beauty in the detail. I am always conscious of the ability of the natural world to provide these feelings (even walking on Wimbledon Common) but here, the sense is heightened. This is a wild place and it commands our attention and respect. If we give it that we are rewarded with glimpses of tranquility and purpose.

Here I am, respecting the jungle through the medium of doritos and beer

After lunch, I leave our room for a walk, I’ve gone not more than 50 meters before the rain started. Within seconds the wind had picked up and the sky was throwing thick globules of warm water at the jungle. Although I had not ventured far down the track from the farm, I had just showered and was feeling dry and comfortable. We didn’t have many clothes with us and when you’re in a rainforest, anything that is vaguely approaching dry is a luxury. Clothes do not dry here. Once washed they may hang on the line for a day and still be sodden. The only way to ensure dry clothes is to put them in direct sunlight. Fine, but if you do that, and then you go somewhere for ten minutes, there might suddenly be an almighty storm! It’s basically impossible to guarantee. We spoke to people who had thrown away t-shirts because they were too moldy from the humidity. WTF!

So I dashed for cover under the largest leaf I could see. Fortunately, leaves can be fairly large in a rainforest and I was soon standing under a delightful and enormous leaf, which I was later to name Lenny. Sure enough not one globule was hitting my person and I grinned in defiance at the tempest. It can’t rain this heavily for more than a few minutes, I thought. When it lightens off, I’ll make a dash for it back to the farm. 20 minutes went by. I’d sung a few songs in my head, done some breathing exercises etc. But now I was in too deep. How could I justify spending twenty minutes motionless under a leaf, only to step from under it into the soaking wet. Oh no, Signor Stormio, I will remain here until you stop your silly rainings. After 52 minutes the rain moved on and I emerged from beneath Lenny (you see why I gave him a name now!) dry as a bone and with a genuine sense of gleeful victory. We later learn that during the storm, a large tree had fallen on of the accommodation buildings at the farm, crushing the roof.

With the sun out again, I help pick fresh pepper corns from the tree and hack down some coconuts with the help of a makeshift saw on long stick contraption. We convene for dinner and eat beans cooked with fresh lemongrass wrapped in cheap leaves from the jungle. Someone boils up freshly dug turmeric in the milk from the coconuts. The taste of all these fresh ingredients is phenomenal. Lucia remarks "this is my tribe". I wash it down with Costa Rican beer. Although the Farm asks guests to respect the peace by not drinking or smoking around the accommodation, the place is not militantly sober, fortunately. Still, I felt a bit like a teenager with beer in hand. As the week went on there were enough brutal hangovers going being dealt with by various people that my guilt wore off considerably!

Day 4

This morning the alarm call came in the form of screeching scarlet macaws. The birds have a singing voice which is indirectly proportionate to their visual beauty. The execrable sound is loud, raucas and startling. I had seen a few pairs flying in the distance but as yet had not been blessed with a decent photo opportunity. So I leap out of my bed, throw on the nearest dank items of clothing and grab my camera gear. A few meters down the track I spot the resplendent creature. They feed on fresh almonds from the trees and they can often be seen crawling slowly amongst the branches, negotiating the foliage carefully, in search of the bright green fruits. Macaws mate for life and this explains why they are often seen whizzing by in pairs high above the canopy.

So with Scarlet Macaw ticked off the sighting list before 7am, I happily trundled back up the path towards the farm only to have my attention grabbed by some sort of foliage related commotion! I scan the trees about 30 meters of or so and although there is clearly some arboreal animal at large, it takes a few seconds to spot what is going on. Finally I start to make out the dark figures of a troupe of monkeys launching themselves boldly through the trees. I spot the occasional flash of white as I move to get a closer view. They don't seem too bothered by my approach and soon I have a clear view of 15 or so individuals as they pass not more than 10 meters above my head. Even in just cursory glances it is possible to notice the different characters within this troupe of white faced cappuccin monkeys. Some bound on from tree to tree without passing go. Others are more inquisitive about me, stopping on branches and once sure they are safe, peering down with their human-like gaze.

Encounters with wild monkeys cannot help but evoke strange emotions within us. Emotions of fellowship, of long lost connections. I think it is their intelligent curiosity that does it. The way they tilt their heads in a calculative manner to perhaps gain a different perspective on the situation, just as humans might. A mother carrying an infant pass above me and stop briefly before charging down a long branch and launching themselves as one into the distant green.

Bristling with adrenalin and with a big smile on my face a hurry back to our room like a child to excitedly spoil Lucia's post yoga zen with my news of the monkeys. We head down to breakfast and whilst chomping on bananas we become aware of noise above the dining hut. We peer up and spot more monkeys! This time, a family of our noisy neighbours, the howlers. Having finished their shouting match just after dawn, the creatures now appear docile and content. They move slowly, stopping to feed on fruit, the sound of monkey leftovers hitting the damp forest floor providing the accompaniment to the remainder of our own breakfast.

Two species of monkey and some scarlet macaws all before morning toothbrush time makes for one happy boy! Lucia is a happy girl too, revelling in the healthy food and yoga chat with the other lovely guests.

We spend the morning with Kailey, one of the guests at the farm. She is a fun and chatty american who, so far, we have not seen wearing more than a bikini at all times of day. She is surfing crazy and we spend a few hours driving her plus surfboard to various surf spots and then trying to get some good shots of her on the waves. When she's not out at sea, she talks passionately about surfing, the sea and how it has changed her perspective on life. It really is as if she belongs to the ocean. A sort of modern tanned hipster surfing mermaid! She explains that there is a swell at the moment and that this means pro surfers from around the globe have flown in to take advantage of one of the 'longest' waves on the planet. New to surfing jargon, we learn that this essentially means you can drop in when it breaks and then ride it for about one kilometer before you get to the beach. Sounds exhausting! This doesn't simply mean that it breaks far out at sea. It's complicated but as far as I can tell it's something do with the direction of the waves (think GSCE Longshore drift) vs. the topography of the sand/seabed beneath the water. Anyhow, it's good enough that sponsored surfers drop everything to get here when the waves are high. Back on 'the wall' at the main spot in Pavones, we watch on mesmerised as super fit, beautiful girls and boys pull 360's off massive waves. Their sponsors and photographers mill around on the beach, beers in hand, waiting for their surfers to catch the waves. The extraordinary bodies of these people cannot be overstated. Something about the muscle groups that surfing uses coupled with the perhaps surprisingly clean and healthy lifestyle mean that these dudes and dudes are some of the most beautiful people we've ever seen in the flesh. The Costa Rican sun helps too. So as we 'harvest' freshly fallen mangoes from the sand, Lucia and spend some time pointing out to each other our well considered opinions of the finest chests and bums that pass our way.

We spend the rest of our day on our 'individual pursuits', Lucia practising yoga back at the farm while I trawl the roads and beaches for unsuspecting animals. My prize this particular afternoon was this wonderful Iguana!

Jungle Hike Day!

After breakfast we meet Katie and her friend, Beth, just outside the farm. For the first time this week, we head up the hill, away from the beach. It feels strange to do so as the ocean is like a magnet in this heavy sweaty climate. We are headed inland up the ever diminishing mud track, towards the land of the indigenous people. We've been going 10 minutes when a jeep comes up behind us. We take this rare opportunity and hitch a ride with the two dreadlocked ticos inside. Katie knows them of course and is soon babbling away in 'Costa-Espanol' as we crash ourselves from side to side up the slippy track. We hop out when the track ends at the ridge and walk on down a path. The land has been cleared of forest here and crude fences mark out some of the plots which belong to the indigenous farming families. We head off the path towards one dwelling and are greeted first by an angry snorting Peccary!

This family is well known to Katie as she had stayed with them for months whilst undertaking her research on the spider monkeys in the surrounding forest. A young woman had given birth just six days before and she sat in a hammock, swinging gently with her child, looking content and exhausted in equal measure. We felt uneasy to be intruding on this family's home life at such a personal time but we were soon made to feel welcome. It is clear that they are fond of Katie. We are offered instant coffee and the family come and go, smiling and chatting amongst themselves. There seems to be no real fuss over the beautiful newborn child, just smiles and life continuing as normal. An older man returns, wielding his trusty machete. The Peccary snuffles around in the dust, nibbling at our shoes. Chickens dash across the scene from time to time. I am immediately put in mind of the family we stayed with in Nepal. Although culturally worlds apart, there seems to be a common approach to daily life; Lives are led as much outside the house as within. Wood is collected, vegetables are washed. There is the comfort of the woodsmoke. There is no thing lying around which is not of use. (except an HD TV. See below!) Routine is basic. There is something about this way of living which is like turning down the volume of life to a bearable level. As someone who has grown up in western society it is as if the distortian disappears and one is left with something more tranquil and profound. The 'searching' element of life is less pronounced somehow. It is of course all to easy to come to these conclusions as a 'cultural tourist' and I don't for one second mean to suggest that life is not hard for people living in this way. Far from it, I'm sure, but one thing cannot be denied: As with the impoverished Sherpa people we met in Nepal, the people here smile more. The contrast with an average tube journey in London is stark in this respect. If smiling is symptomatic of a healthy way of life (and I suggest that it is), then western city living is not a healthy way of life.

After some half an hour with this gorgeous family, a young local man arrives. His name is Sami and he is to be our guide for the trek. We thank our hosts and head off in search of wild beasts! We ask Katie about the family we have just seen. She tells us that the newborn baby is the love child of the teenage girl and an American missionary. He had come to this remote place to spread the "good news" and in the process had accidentally spread this indigenous girl's legs, it seems. What lovely animals we are!

We've not gone far into the forest before we spot prints on the trail. Cat prints! There are a few species of jungle cat that are known to live in this area, including the Ocelot and Jaguarundi. These are both smaller than the elusive Jaguar and pose no threat to humans. Katie says that there have been rare sightings of Jaguar here too but officially there is not a population in this area. It is likely they do live here and the official line that they don't is more out of lack of research in such a wild area than anything else. I hope the prints are from a jaguar and we move on. As we go further into the jungle, Sami disturbs and covers prints from other wild animals to protect them being followed by hunters and poachers. About 30 minutes down the trail, we make a detour. Thinking we might be following a sign that Sami has spotted we stay quiet and follow in single file. However, it soon becomes apparent that we have left the trail in order to visit an indigenous alcoholic man who lives on his own in a remote hut set just back from the trees. We crouch through some barbed wire fencing wondering why we are visiting this fellow. It turns out we need some salt to eat with our mangoes for lunch (obviously!). Sami takes out an empty packet of pantyliners from his pocket. Feeling slightly confused by the odd chain of events along our wildlife spotting walk, we watch on as the man appears with a bag of crystals which he pours into the pantyliner container. He stumbles back to his hut and we bid him farewell, safe in the knowledge that our mangoes will be all the more delicious now we have the salt. Umm... what?! Anyhow, menstruation, barbed wire and alcoholism behind us we are soon back in the forest and gazing up at a troupe of squirrel monkeys! The beautifully coloured little creatures are mesmerising to watch as they leap from tree to tree.

When they have finished picking the fruits from the trees and disappeared into the forest we stop for a snack ourselves. Sami spots an orange tree. Katie more or less orders him to fetch us some of the fruit and Lucia and I look on in confusion as we wonder how he will collect oranges from 15 feet above our heads with no obvious route through the trees. Perhaps he will risk his life climbing up just to feed Lucia's insatiable fruit addiction. No sooner have we taken our packs off than Sami has cut a stick from a bush with his machete and simply launched it with great force at one particular orange. The stick slices clean through the stalk and the orange falls pleasingly at our feet. Proving this extraordinarily skilful display wasn't a one off, he repeats the process thrice more and then effortlessly peels the fruits with his machete in order that we might suck out the juice. These are not "chewing' oranges we are told. Essentially you just hold the massive orange ball up to your mouth and squeeze it into your face. Needless to say it was utterly delicious and Lucia could now continue the hike happily until the next fruit tree came into sight.

We walk on, descending from the ridge towards the sea. This is where the spider monkeys live, we are told. We keep quiet and all turn our various senses up to max. But luck was not on our side. During the day, spider monkeys often spread out to forage before returning to their troupe in the early evening. It is clearly harder to spot a solitary monkey than the commotion one might expect from a few individuals together so we aren't too disheartened. In any case it was time for another snack. Boiled eggs. This involved less effort than the oranges on Sami's part although he did look confused when I suggested we might have some pantyliner powder to season the eggs.

Our next sighting was pretty exciting to be honest. Our first encounter with that iconic Costa Rican animal; the three toed sloth! Perched high up in a fairly thin tree, the sloth turned his head steadily to suss us out. Each movement was as if the animal had a gyroscope in it's neck. steady, considered and very Slow. Sloths only come down from the trees to go to the toilet about once every two weeks so it is rare to get a close sighting as they often are high up and precariously positioned so as to avoid attack. They can't really run away should anything fancy them for dinner so they just try to stay inconspicuous and not move much.

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