Braulio Carrillo National Park

Tuesday morning, 2/22

We birded the grounds of Selva Verde in the morning, along the river.  This was the first morning I had wished I had put on insect repellant—the biting bugs were out in force.  After another scrumptious breakfast, we headed for the bus and off toward the mountains.

On the way, we stopped at Braulio Carrillo National Park.  Founded in 1978, the park was established to protect the land that was made accessible by the Guápiles Highway.  It was named after the 3rd president of Costa Rica,  who in the mid-1800s proposed the construction of a road connecting San Jose with the Caribbean coast.  With the completion of this road (almost a century and a half later), coffee grown on the Pacific coast could be exported to Europe without having to sail around the tip of South America.  In addition to being beautiful, the land in this national park is also critical for the protection of the water resources of the Sarapiquí hydroelectric project, supplying water to much of the Central Valley.

Currently protecting nearly 118,000 acres, the park’s altitude ranges from less than 200′ above sea level at La Selva to more than 9,500’ in the Volcán Barva—the largest altitudinal range of any national park in the country.  We stopped at Quebrada Gonzalez (meaning “Gonzalez Gorge,” although sometimes referred to as the Carrillo), located in the foothills of the Central  Volcanic Range.  We left the bus at the ranger station just off the road and headed up a path that took us into very dense vegetation.  Spotting birds was the most challenging here of any place we had been so far.  And I thought the rainforest at La Selva was hard!  Completing the walk in about 2 hours, I saw 0 birds.  Zero, zip, nada!  The only creature with wings I spied was a lovely Blue Morpho butterfly wafting gracefully through the trees.  One of the largest butterflies in the world, the wingspan ranges from 5 – 8”.  It was probably the slowest-moving creature in the entire park.

As we were almost back to the parking lot, Roger pointed my attention to a calling Double-toothed Kite.  Too far off to see, we both stopped for a moment and appreciated the piercing call.  Although bird spotting was nil for me, we did get a chance to see 2 new species of monkey—a Central American spider monkey and a white-faced capuchin (also called a white-headed or white-throated capuchin).  One of the largest monkey species in Costa Rica (up there with the howler monkey), the spider monkey is also the only one to use its tail as it travels swiftly and agilely through the trees.   Its long legs and very long prehensile tail may be the origin of its common name.  A bit smaller than the howler and spider monkeys, the white-faced capuchin is the only species that can be found occasionally on the ground.  (Capuchins are thought to be among the most intelligent of the monkey species.  Sadly, white-faced capuchins often spent their lives chained to organ grinders’ instruments in the U.S.’s sordid past.)  Capuchins are named after the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin—a group of friars who wore brown robes with large hoods that covered their heads, with only their faces showing.  Z thought he was taking a photo, but he accidentally took this very brief (2 seconds!) video of this capuchin.  Don’t blink!

We stopped at a diner in Cartago called El Tejano (meaning “the Texan”—probably an interesting story there…).  We  dined on a traditional Costa Rican dish, with HUGE portions of food, called a casada,—“married.”  These meals resemble their name in that the large portions of food appear to be married on the plate.  Typically made up of rice and beans, meat (our choices were fish, chicken or beef), cabbage salad, and fried plaintains, it seemed to me to be almost an unconscionable amount of food.  I had originally been a bit embarrassed, thinking that the diner folks thought we Norteamericanos were so gluttonous that we needed heaping platefuls of food.  But I later learned that casadas are common fare in Costa Rica—so it was no reflection on their impressions of Norteamericanos.  Whew!

Even at Cartago, I could sense the beginning of the clear, dry, refreshing mountain air to come.  Delicious!  Off to our last stop—San Gerardo de Dota!  Click here to come along with us.


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