Can’t Argue With That

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Graffiti, Tucson, Arizona December 2019

I spotted this graffiti Monday afternoon while driving through the barrio on my way to Anita Street Market (a must stop every time I visit Tucson). They make the best tortillas ever –  I know it sounds weird but they’re made with cottage cheese. Delish!

Of course, I had to stop to snap a photograph. Think about it: not only did a lot of effort go into creating this statement (schnazzy, two color design) but the artist risked a misdemeanor for property damage in order to declare his pot pie passion. And really, who’s going to disagree? Pot pie is fantastic!

 

Precisely!

 

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Advisory Sign, Tucson, Arizona December 2019

There are many things to love about my old hometown; the mild winter weather, abundant sunshine, accessible natural areas, prolific wildlife, laid back atmosphere, nice people, and delicious food. And every once in awhile, there’s a little something, like this sign, that makes me smile.

I had to flip two u-turns to take this photo but I couldn’t pass it up. So many questions come to mind: How many man hours did it take to nail down that exact measurement? Does anyone really think any driver has the spatial capability to discern those extra three feet? If the sign was off by the three feet would people just randomly drive into the desert instead of deducing that they should use the upcoming turn lane? And lastly, why not just move the sign the three feet?!

I am convinced that no other signs are that precisely situated, which leads me to think that they should all just say 300-ish feet. That would certainly simplify the sign making and placement process!

 

Cumbia, Costa Rica

I spent my last Costa Rican day in Alajuela, a small town now engulfed by the capital city of San Jose. After settling into my hotel, I set out to enjoy the warm afternoon by wandering the neighborhood. The sound of live music enticed me over to the nearby park and I was pleasantly surprised by the scene.

A large band, replete with a beautiful marimba, had gathered a large Tico crowd. I was mesmerized by the rhythmic swaying of the many dancers. Though I stuck out like a sore thumb (I was the only guera* in attendance and by far the tallest woman – well, to be honest, I was one of the tallest, period) everyone was very welcoming. I was even encouraged onto the dance floor a couple times.

With my uniquely imperfect blend of Spanish/English I learned that the band plays every Sunday afternoon in the park during the dry season. What a lovely way to wrap up my stay. Thanks, Costa Rica, for all your amazing hospitality!

*Guera: White girl or blonde girl.

 

 

Day 5: Curi-Cancha Reserve

For my last day in the cloud forest I was joined in my ramblings by Marcel and Mariza, retired school teachers from the Netherlands. Though the woods were fairly silent we had a lovely time chatting while wandering the winding trails of the Curi-Cancha Reserve.

A special treat was stumbling across a group of seven agoutis hunting, and squabbling over, large (and presumably tasty) acorns. We finished our warm afternoon with our own sweet treat, ice cream made fresh at the local dairy. It was a delightful way to wrap up my visit!

Wait for the surprise ending – things got a little heated under the old oak tree!

Day 4: Eco Paz Park

Searching around on the map the night before I found a small, free park in the hills above Santa Elena. Since that was a rarity in the area, I decided to check it out. The next morning I packed a lunch and headed uphill. The park wasn’t that far but the 4500′ elevation and hilly terrain of the area were a bit of a challenge for a girl who has spent the last two years living at sea level.

The park had several winding trails and even a lovely stream running through it. The velvety brown seed pod of the Macuna tree was one of the first things to catch my eye. This is the tree responsible for the hamburger sea beans, like the ones I found this past summer on the beaches of the Texas Gulf Coast.

I was delighted to see my fourth species of toucan, the Keel-billed (or more colorfully, Rainbow-billed) Toucan. After following an industrious line of Leafcutter Ants through the park for awhile I settled on a mossy stone near the brook for lunch.

A tiny movement to the side caught my eye so I slowly raised my camera and turned toward it. There, peering at me from behind a leaf, was a handsome Blue-crowned Motmot. To say I was delighted is an understatement! I later learned that they nest in the banks of waterways, earning them the common epithet of “banco bravo” (riverbank guard).

It was a really great way to spend another day in the cloud forest!

Day 3: Ecological Sanctuary

My next excursion, the Ecological Sanctuary, was a hilly 1.3 km walk from Santa Elena. This property is family-owned and primarily consists of secondary growth forest. They allow visitors to wander the grounds for a fee but they also grow coffee and bananas to supplement their income.

Surprisingly, the open areas of this reserve proved to be very fruitful. I discovered several new-to-me species of birds, marveled over the clear wings of the Glasswinged Butterfly, spent quality time watching an adorable agouti, and sadly, lamented the recent demise of a precious porcupette. Clear views of the Nicoya Gulf and Peninsula were a special treat.

Though I was alone on the trails my visit was nowhere near silent as a myriad of insects were abuzz.

Day 2: Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

I was up early the following morning for a wildlife tour of the world famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. True to its name, we were hiking in a cloud most of the time. Thankfully, it was only a drizzle, or as they say up here, pelo de gato (a fine, cat hair-like mist).

The reserve protects 26,000 acres of virgin forest, covering six life zones in the Cordillaren de Tilarán (mountains that form the continental divide between the Caribbean and Pacific coasts). There were many moments during our three hour stroll that the verdant landscape reminded me of the Hot Rainforest in Olympic National Park. 

According to our guide, the woods were unusually quiet that day but I enjoyed chatting with my companions, lovely folks from both Denver and Houston. Thankfully, we did manage to spot a few stunning birds, especially at the hummingbird garden near the entrance. Overall, a wonderful way to spend a day!

 

Day 1: Wandering and Night Tour

For my first full day in the cloud forest I followed a meandering road up to a massive Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea)These towering, Gaudí-esque trees are crucial components of a healthy cloud forest. They not only provide food and habitat for a wealth of animals but they can support thousands of epiphyte plants and mosses on their broad branches. While much of the area here had been heavily logged and is now a secondary forest, Strangler Figs were often spared since their unique growth pattern meant their wood held little commercial value.

After a quick bite for dinner I was whisked off for a nighttime tour of the nearby Kinkajou Preserve. As we munched delicious guavas off the tree, our guide enthusiastically pointed out various creatures along the way. Though sadly, the park’s namesake was not one of them. The Costa Rican Orange-kneed Tarantula (Megaphobema mesomelas) and the Side-striped Palm Pitviper (Bothriechis lateralis) were favorites among the young people in our group while I was partial to the sleeping Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni).

It was a great introduction to the cloud forest and its denizens, I just wish my photography skills had been up to the challenge!

 

Santa Elena Impressions

What a difference from my recent beach stay! Santa Elena is located at about 4500′ elevation, up in the cloud forest. It is a good 20 degrees cooler up here so I finally get a chance to wear pants!

I have a private room in a cute hostel near the center of this little town. The mountainsides around here are dotted with parcels of privately owned, protected land. Many of these reserves offer guided tours (which, thankfully, include transportation to and from my hostel).

In addition to having a rustic road system through most of the countryside, Costa Rica has yet to utilize any method of addressing. This lack of organization makes locations difficult to find, especially for visitors. Some Ticos tackle this problem by posting hand-painted directional signs showing their houses. I’m not sure how functional they are but they’re fun to look at!