Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Toucan play that game

This time we don't wear the entire contents of our suitcases, opting for shorts with our hiking boots, although with still enough repellent on to knock out an army. Perhaps DEET was the toxic spray those local dudes were using to render their victims unconscious in San Jose. It doesn't seem to be working on repelling Andy though, who we've nicknamed The Spider Monkey as he can't keep his long Mr Tickle arms off me for a second and I have to prise his hands from around my waist every five minutes. I never was one for such PDAs, especially in front of my mother.

We meet up with our guide and a hippy-dippy Swedish family and head off in our canoe, which tilts alarmingly as we take our seats, Roberto using us big-boned Brits to counterbalance the super-skinny Swedes. We all come prepared with our waterproofs and within minutes it's raining steadily. We see so many reptiles, animals and birds that it's as if someone's left the cages in a zoo open and all the inhabitants have spilled out into the forest at once...

It's like speed-dating for birds as Roberto points out tiger herons with their heads thrown back mid-mating call, pairs of brightly-coloured toucans whose huge bills pull them down as they fly and many more - from small dainty ones tip-toeing delicately through the floating waterlilles, to huge circling groups of birds of prey.

It's hard to believe that on the other side of the thin stretch of land is the ferocious Caribbean Sea, huge frothy waves crashing violently into the shore, as these rainforest canals are completely tranquil and the canoe is now rocking gently, sending us into a hypnotic trance, so much so that Mum begins to doze and I have to grab her to stop her toppling in. It's just as well she doesn't, as just then we spot a toothy caiman smiling out from the reeds at us. Just above him is the biggest iguana I've ever seen, it's beady eye rotating in it's socket as we float on by. 

The silence is broken by a group of howler monkeys swinging through the trees, screaming as loudly as their name suggests. Their shrieks echo through the jungle and we gaze up at their antics overhead, taking a particular liking to the playful baby of the family. 

The toucans are also stunning, with huge curved yellow bills, making frog-like clicking sounds and rotating their heads to get a good look at their busy surroundings. They are shy birds, we are told, which makes it all the more wonderful when several land just above our heads and slowly turn their magnificent beaks this way and that.

After the tour, we have some burritos at a local restaurant and order our first cup of black tea of the trip. We think we get our point across, but disappointly the waitress returns with mugs of tepid condensed milk with a lemony teabag floating forlornly on the surface. It tastes as rank as it sounds, so we pay "la cuenta por favor" with a sigh and head off back to Roberto's next trek, this time on foot through the rainforest in the afternoon sun.

Again, our guide astounds us with his Doctor Dolittle ability to call the animals from their hiding places and spot the most camouflaged of creatures, as we strain to follow his laser pointer to see what the hell he's looking at. He highlights huge green parrots, more toucans, spider monkeys with their long limbs and tails curling around the branches, white-faced capuchins, lizards, spiders....

Not content with this haul, we demand to see a sloth, joking that otherwise we want a refund. Unperturbed, Roberto leads us out Pied Piper-style towards the beach....and lo and behold, a huge two-toed sloth is wedged between the top branches of a tall tree, just casually hanging out, as sloths tend to do. It's a good job the sloth has only 2 toes and not 5, as my legs are so hairy since my grooming regime got disrupted by this trip that I could easily be mistaken for one. I'm waiting for the Italian girl who's struggling to focus her binoculars to accidentally hone in on me instead..

I can't explain the thrill of seeing so many wild animals in their natural habitats, and we all marvel at how close we've been to them without them batting an eyelid. To see the energy of these creatures compared to the forlorn faces you see when they are in captivity makes me never want to visit a zoo again.

We doze in the hammocks for a bit, chatting to a couple of flashy, vodka-guzzling gnarly Californians, before heading to the The Buddha Cafe for a tasty meal and to enjoy the stunning views one last time from this side of the river with a chilled bottle of Sauvignon. Tomorrow morning we cross to the other side to stay in ecolodge cabins deeper still in the dense jungle....

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