We had read of Costa Rica being a land rife with exotic wild life — but nothing can compare with experiencing it first hand! We were only hours into the country, on a bus which stopped at a small eatery and souvenir kiosk. Our Spanish was limited but our curiosity was piqued so we followed a stream of Costa Rican passengers rushing towards a high bridge, exclaiming excitedly and pointing over the rail. We were astonished to witness wild crocodiles swimming about in the river below! Only later did we learn that we were at the Crocodile Bridge over the Tarcoles River, a popular wild crocodile viewing area. And the bus driver told us this (late February) was low season, there were normally many more crocs here!
On our Central America travels in 2017/18, for some forgotten reason, we had not planned to visit Costa Rica. While exploring Guatamala, a country enriched by the warmth of its people and their continuation of cultural ways from Mayan times, we became interested in the concept of house sitting. After doing the required online research, we became members of an online home and pet sitting platform and arranged to care for a jungle home near the tiny village of Dominicalito which homed 13 rescue pets. Five dogs and eight cats! As is not uncommon on a nomadic journey, our intended travel trajectory became altered. Serendipitously, we had friends from home who were caring for a small inn with pets at Matapalo Beach, just hours away from the village of Dominicalito. They just happened to need caretakers to run the business while they volunteered at a nearby music festival. We became those caretakers! From our weeks exploring Granada, Nicaragua, we found ourselves bouncing along on that bus that stopped at Crocodile Bridge, en route to Matapalo Beach.
Upon arrival to the beach we spied a kerfuffle of excitement — a troop of white faced monkeys had made an appearance in the neighbours’ back yard grove of trees. I can see why we to refer to monkeys when seeing mischievous behaviour! Taunting and throwing bits at the dogs, seeking out food to steal — this band was clearly up to no good, though they provided a highly entertaining spectacle to welcome our arrival to Matapalo Beach.
When the furor settled down, it was delightful to greet friends from home, Powell River, Canada.
Having settled in to our digs, we strolled the beach, anticipating a glorious sunset — only to encounter a sloth in a tree! A sloth! The furry beast slumped groggily on its branch, swivelling its head periodically to peer from tiny eyes at our astonished stares. Finally tearing ourselves away from this incredible encounter, we ambled along enjoying our first Costa Rican sunset, when I happened to glance down. There, at my feet in the sand, lay the tiniest, most perfectly formed seahorse skeleton. Perhaps I didn’t even know, until this point, that seahorses were real, having only seen photographs. Not creatures of lore, falling into a category with unicorns, dragons and faeries, but real beings! Now anything was possible. This beach artifact instantly became one of my most treasured.
After a restful sleep we spent a couple of hours learning the ropes of managing our Matapalo Beach abode before seeing our friends off on their new musical adventure. The week unfolded before us with dog care, guests to welcome, interesting new foods to sample, sunsets, photography and a whole lot of beach walking on the agenda.
Although there is a major movement for conservation of sea turtles in Matapalo, we had missed the season for volunteering and viewing the laying of eggs, birth process and release of babies in action. So we were all astounded when, having taken a wander onto the beach in the dark after dinner one evening, Aaron came upon suspicious looking tracks in the sand. Had someone driven a motorized ATV on the sand? He followed the tracks and was astonished to discover a large sea turtle, digging a nest in the sand.
We dove into action, calling the conservation centre for directions. The volunteers had all gone to their separate world homes but a skeleton crew still ran the centre. We were to mark the location and someone would be there in the morning to collect the eggs. Mama turtle would be long gone to her sea home and the eggs would lay, buried but unprotected until they hatched and the hatchlings found their way to the sea. Theft and sales of turtle eggs were big business in Costa Rica. The role of the conservation society was to make sure eggs became turtles, and were not taken to be sold on the black market to restaurants to be eaten or for other uses. Our inn guest slept on a lounge chair beside the nest to protect the eggs from being interfered with in this way. In the morning they were carefully dug out and collected in a bag to return to the sanctuary, incubated, hatched and released. We found ourselves speechless with awe to be in the midst of this exciting turtle adventure — and to think, we could have paid a high price to have such an experience with sea turtles, with no guarantee of even encountering one.
The week continued with another visit from the troop of naughty monkeys, oodles of bird photography and — another pinnacle of our week at Magical Matapalo — the sighting of a mama sloth with attached baby on board! We headed off to our jungle adventure with 13 rescue pets fortified with anticipation of all that is possible in the wilds of Costa Rica.