Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 7 of 7 – Impact of an Eco-resort, “Au Revoir” and “Mucho Gusto.”

Editor’s Note: This is the FINAL excerpt from Eric Schickler’s full-length travelogue,Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.”

 

Part of the Community

Iguana Lodge sponsors “Save the Osa Turtle Project,” which offers financial, technical and educational support for sea turtle conservation operations on the beaches. Four species of turtles are affected.
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They also have ongoing tree and flower planting programs along the beach to attract more wildlife. The Lodge also serves as a dedicated employer of Costa Ricans only. Nearly all 30 employees at the Iguana Lodge are from Puerto Jimenez, and most either walk or ride to work on bicycles.
Employees are practically considered family at Iguana Lodge, and this leads to long-term employment and close relationships.As if that weren’t enough, one of the owners regularly drives a heavy-duty grader on the area roads to help with their maintenance.
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Mucho Gusto and Au Revoir
Leaving the resort was difficult. Life was simple here. I liked the slow pace. The friendliness. The natural harmony. The wildlife. The Honor Bar. We made special friends here, by sharing special experiences in a special place. It was indeed a total psychological escape to a seemingly lost tropical paradise.
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We wanted to stay forever, or at least longer than just one week. I knew we’d likely return for a few more visits, to further explore this country’s vast natural resources and diverse people. We knew this was a teasing first glimpse of a very small slice of Costa Rica’s full fruit pie.
The intense humidity was the only difficult factor we experienced. I’m sure the rainy season would also be challenging, if you lived here year-round. We were, after all, cool, dry-air mountain people from Colorado, which is a great home if you enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle and four distinct seasons. Everything experienced here was splendid, enriching, intoxicating. It would forever be on the mental and emotional radar screen.
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On the way through the lounge area, we came across a capsulizing sight. Pura Vida meant “peace, harmony, family, letting go.”  And the Tico tradition of avoiding conflict. So it only made sense we’d see this……
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As Ana and I stuffed our minimal belongings into our backpacks, I reached for my hiking shoes and yelped! Out crawled a Halloween Crab. It seemed he was trying to catch a ride to Denver. Perhaps he was needing an exotic vacation in another land, like we had just experienced here. Or maybe he needed a break from the humidity.
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I knew he’d be better off here (the sand is much more porous), and he was not meant to become a souvenir. I figured the next guests in our casita would love this little guy as a shower mate, so that’s where I left him.
It won’t be long. For who could stay away from such a Pure Life?

*****

Eric R. Schickler is a Colorado-based writer and photographer.

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© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photography, text and artwork seen here is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

Photo Credits:  Eric Schickler, Ana Bowie, www.costarica.com and www.turubari.com, www.wildernesstravel.com

Factual Reference Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costa_Rica

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_colonization_of_the_Americas

http://www.costarica.com/

http://www.entercostarica.com/Costa_Rica/Culture/History.html

http://www.anywherecostarica.com/maps

http://www.turubari.com/htmleng/?page_id=284

The International Human Development Index

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Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 6 – Boating the Gulf, Wildlife Sanctuary, Zip Line Thrills, Tropical Weather

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Eric Schickler’s full-length travelogue,Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.”

 

The next day we arranged for a day-long boat tour around the entire gulf. This was a welcomed, relaxing, non-life-threatening follow-up to Tarzan Day.

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We cruised along the shoreline of the Piedras Blancas National Park, a recent addition to the country’s park system. Much of this reserve’s acreage has been recovered from private ownership and saved from years of logging activity. It features tropical cloud forests, rugged mountains and two large rivers.

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It is an important addition because it protects the remaining lowland tropical rainforest near the Golfo Dulce, habitat that harbors many undiscovered plant and animal species. Therefore, research activity is ongoing in the park.

Piedras Blancas National Park features pristine beaches, several types of rare trees, and all five species of cats — the jaguar, ocelot, puma, margay and jaguarundi. Don’t plan on spying one, though; they are very evasive and nocturnal.

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One notable tree species is called the Tiger Tree. It has many vertical crevices and creases, resembling tiger stripes. This very hard wood is popular for use in homes, buildings and furniture, especially as ornamental columns and posts. We noticed this amazing wood in several buildings while in Costa Rica.

Mangroves and estuaries along the gulf are full of wildlife. You can explore these ecosystems by small boats, canoes or kayaks and see river otters, crocodiles, monkeys, sloths, birds and waterfowl. Coral reefs also offer sensational snorkeling.

The park is considered one of the best bird watching areas in Costa Rica. But be sure to keep an eye on where you step — snakes and frogs are abundant as well.

IMG_8203.JPGOur boat made just one stop on shore, at Rio Esquinas, home of the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary. It is here that orphaned and injured animals from the region are cared for until subsequent re-introduction to their habitats.

Because the animals are injured and temporarily in contact with their caregiving humans, some can be handled and petted by visitors.

 

 

Ana was allowed to play with a squirrel monkey, cuddle with a rare three-toed sloth and interact with an anteater.

Back on the boat, we headed north to the far end of the gulf, where the waters are so calm, waveless, and clear you could see fish deep down below the surface. We snorkeled in the reefs briefly, then re-boarded to cruise slowly along the shore, looking for birds and marine life.

We spotted frigate birds high above, patrolling the waters for fish. Then a sea turtle just off the side of the boat. On the other side, a large manta ray floated just beneath the surface. Blue-footed boobies perched on floating tree limbs.

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Flying fish rode shotgun alongside us as we gained speed to head back to the Iguana Lodge, some 20 miles down the gulf toward the Pacific.

Then the spinner dolphins joined in our high-speed race atop the sparkling waters—bouncing, weaving, jumping and, rightly so—spinning.

We stopped briefly so Ana could jump in the water and ride the boogie-board on a tow-rope behind the boat. Our guide billed this as “swimming with the dolphins.”

Sure enough, after just a few seconds the dolphins found her, swam alongside, dipped below her and tickled her toes. It was quite the aquatic dance. Ana wore a scuba facemask, allowing her to watch them weaving below the surface.

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By late afternoon we were eager to escape the hot, bright sun. The cool, shady hideaway known as the Iguana Lodge awaited our return. We retreated from the beach, disappearing into our tropical refuge, tucked like a sinful secret in the jungle foliage.

As the sun set over the Pacific, the aroma of fresh grilled fish and burning candles infiltrated our senses. We reflected on our rather comprehensive tour around this scenic gulf, and now had a much better understanding of the space we were in. So remote, so pristine, so secluded, so peaceful and unspoiled. So ruled by its natural inhabitants. We felt very fortunate to have caught a passing glance at one moment in time.

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Once again, it was “Pura Vida”

We fell asleep so peacefully that night to the sounds of gentle breezes and receding ocean waves, breathing an intoxicating mix of fragrances from the plants and flowers growing all around us outside our open-air casita.

Storms rumbled overnight. Rain and thunder and some lightning awakened us. Cool breezes belied our tropical locale. It was to be the last touch of temperate weather, before the late April heat and humidity crept in. We would soon learn what tropical weather was really like.

Morning brought a hazy humidity. The sun emerged to begin its work on the airborne moisture from last night’s storm. I smelled Costa Rican coffee and mango. Morning in Costa Rica. Morning on the Osa Peninsula. Morning on Golfo Dulce. Butterflies everywhere. Birds everywhere. Sounds everywhere. Fragrances everywhere. This place was magical.

Zip It

We enjoyed breakfast under stable skies, but learned that the rain was to resume for most of the day—not surprising as the rainy season was just two weeks away.

But the forecast was not great news, as were heading into the mountains today for some thrilling zip-line action along the tree canopy, near Miramar. Our guide and zip-line expert, Jacobo, told us that traveling to higher elevations was an advantage on a day like this.

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It was fascinating how elevation affected precipitation behaviors in tropical climates. There were parallels to what we experience at varying elevations in Colorado. In April, and sometimes even in May, if it’s raining at 5,280 feet in Denver, it’s usually snowing in the foothills or mountains, elevations that are anywhere from 2,000 to 9,000 feet higher. It’s colder and often dryer the higher you go.

In southern Costa Rica, the lower elevations have tropical rain forests. But in the high mountains of this tropical zone, the biome you find is called the cloud forest. Because it is much cooler at these elevations, rain does not fall. Instead, the vegetation absorbs moisture directly from the clouds, which engulf the mountaintops.

As we maneuvered up the mountain on extremely muddy roads in our four-wheel-drive vehicle, the rain slowly dissipated, the air became cooler, and we soon found ourselves in the clouds! Alrighty then, let the zip-line fun begin!

This was a new adventure for us both. It paralleled my tree-jump & rappel adventure in that, once again, I wanted to yodel like Tarzan.

Stopping in time to land properly on the tree platform was tricky. I nearly hit the tree on my first landing. Reminded me of the crash-test dummy thing in car tests. I learned really fast how to better use the brake by the second ride. We definitely felt like circus trapeze artists. One platform was 105 feet off the ground.

We zipped along on several different lines, totaling 2000 feet in length. It most certainly gave you the feeling of being a jungle animal or bird—dipping, rising and soaring at high speeds above and through the dense forest canopy.

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If that wasn’t enough, we spotted several howler monkeys, a friendly sloth and a colorful toucan in the trees nearby.

Thinking our day of adventure was done, we all loaded back onto the two trucks for the long ride back to Iguana Lodge. That was when the fun really began. Both trucks slipped and struggled on the muddy road, one obviously carrying a few too many passengers to make it up the one hill we encountered before beginning our ascent to the valley below.

We watched in shock as the top-heavy vehicle slid sideways, then listed to one side as it slipped into the drainage ditch along the road. It was close to rolling over!

The driver spun the tires, but to no avail. Now the vehicle started sliding slowly backwards–down the hill towards our vehicle! Our shock turned to alarm. With everyone in our vehicle preparing to jump from the truck before we got rammed, their driver brought the truck to a halt.

He exited the truck, stepping down into the slippery mud, and with a matter-of-fact nod to our driver, uttered one word: “Chains?”

“Yes. Time for chains,” was the reply.

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Strapping tire chains on two vehicles in sloppy mud didn’t look like fun, and I’m thankful they didn’t enlist our help. We were doing just fine enjoying cold beer on the back of the truck. In short order the chains were on and they did the trick. Our drivers got us out and safely down the mountain.

Will the Osa adventure ever cease?

 

“Did You Forget How Close You Are to the Equator?”

After a few very comfortable April days, with cooling storms at night, and some daytime cloud cover, we met Central American reality on the fourth day.

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Now came clear skies, increasing heat and much higher humidity. Our active pace was about to slow down.

After 20 years in Colorado’s cool, dry climate, I had lost all memory of what muggy weather was. My only experience with humidity was in areas of the United States, and during a single trip to Cancun, Mexico, 18 years earlier.

This was a new experience. Afternoon humidity became almost unbearable on a few days on the Osa Peninsula. Even lying in a hammock in the shade was uncomfortable.

I started to think we should alter our daily schedules–get up earlier, stay up later, and save the middle part for siesta. A wise adjustment. Now I understood one of the reasons for “Tico time.”

Another way to beat the sultry afternoons was with a long cool shower. Our casita had a wonderful open-air bathroom & garden shower, featuring a five-foot privacy wall, over which was a clear view of the jungle. It had large built-in gardens with exotic plants and colorful growing flowers–succulents, bromeliads, orchids.

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You could hear and see the birds, feel the breeze and smell the fragrant forest. I felt as if I were starring in a TV commercial for Herbal Essence shampoo. It was also not unusual to have a vibrant Halloween Crab, or bright green gecko hanging out in the shower looking for a free fresh-water rinse. I frankly didn’t want to leave the cool shower on those hot afternoons.

 

 

 

Nights were pleasant for sleeping, and our active days of adventure tired us so that we were dreaming about papayas by 10 p.m. Which was good, because around 4:30 a.m. the howler monkeys and macaws would start.

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Even when the hot humid days hit, by midnight it was comfortable and the large ceiling fans were the perfect touch. When the tide came in during the night, the roar of the waves, just 200 yards away, would often wake us. But who could ever complain about the rhythmic crash of ocean waves, even at 2 a.m.? It was another example of nature’s music on the Osa Peninsula.

Gosh…. “Pura Vida” happens even at night.

( Zip-line rider photo courtesy of www.turubari.com )
To continue the travelogue, click here to go to Part 7:   http://ericschickler.com/2011/11/21/costa-ricas-osa-peninsula-part-7/

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© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photography, text and artwork seen here is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

 

Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 5 – Tarzan and the Giant Strangler Fig Tree

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Eric Schickler’s full-length travelogue, Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.”

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THE MATAPALO HIGHLANDS – Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

 

Cabo Matapalo is situated at a very strategic point on the southernmost tip of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Golfo Dulce. Its location isolates it from everywhere in Costa Rica, although it does have several upscale hotels.

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Named after the amazing strangler figs found in its forests, Matapalo is a most scenic ocean cape, with three outstanding beaches.

Long-board surfers find high pleasures near Matapalo, with its well-formed beginner and intermediate-level right-point breaks. Advanced surfers from around the world flock across the gulf to Playa Pavones, which boasts the longest left-hand break in Central America.

We were treated to some fantastic surfing exhibitions that afternoon at Matapalo, as some of the talented locals sliced up the 15- to 20-foot waves.

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Our day-long adventure into the Matapalo Highlands was billed as an audition for the next Tarzan movie. Sounds cool. Sign us up!

Getting to the highlands required a fairly arduous hike in dense forest. It was very warm and very humid, a new kind of hiking adventure for we Coloradans, who are used to cool, dry hiking conditions.

Our experience hiking in Colorado’s high altitudes did give us an advantage when it came to pulmonary stamina and endurance.

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Along the trail, our guides showed us how to find poisonous frogs’ hiding in the cool, moist areas under rocks. They’d simply chirp a few times and were quickly answered with a similar chirp from one of the frogs, revealing its general location. They expertly chose the correct rock to uncover and, VOILA!, there was our frog.

These frogs are known for their aposematic patterns and vibrant colors, meant to advertise their toxicity and deter predators. They are also diurnal, or active during the day, rather than nocturnal like most frogs.IMG_8037.JPG - Version 2-edited

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we moved further up the ridge, and the late-morning heat began to build, we found a very cool spring, that fed a large pool. It was the opposite experience of hitting the hot-tub, as we do in the snowy mountain ski towns of Colorado, after a cold, tiring day on skis. But the experience was equally rewarding.

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The cool swim was just what we needed to make it comfortably through the final leg of the hike, up to the location of the fabled tree. The ocean breeze greeted us as we reached the top of the ridge, which loomed some 450 feet above the gulf.

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This was where our guides introduced our small group to THE local legend: a 120-foot, 500-year-old Strangler Fig Tree. Locals like the climbing and rope-swinging fun offered by this monolith, which is not exactly your average tree.

It’s a fig tree that took over the tree that formerly held this beacon position on the sunny ridge. It’s a parasite tree wrapped around the hollowed out remains of a very large tree.

Some explanation is needed to understand a competitive displacement process in the Costa Rican rain forest. Multi-layer tree canopies keep most sunlight from reaching the forest floor, and they are often quite devoid of growth. All things growing tall enough to get light compete for it fiercely. This causes an abundance of epiphytes and vines.

Rather than grow huge trunks to hold their leaves up to the light, epiphytes and vines “reverse the rules” by growing from the top down.

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Epiphytes are plants that grow upon or are somehow attached to another plant or object for physical support. Epiphytes are primarily tropical and are sometimes called “air plants” because they have no attachment to the ground or other obvious source of food or moisture. They obtain water and minerals from rain and debris that collects on the supporting plants. Orchids, ferns, and some pineapples are epiphytes.

Birds and monkeys eat the fruit of an epiphyte, then climb or fly to another tree, where they defecate. The seeds, mixed in the rich feces, get caught up on the bark or in the crotch of a tree high up in the canopy where there is more light. Vines quickly send roots down to the ground to get minerals and water.

Epiphytes may grow against the tree or form a basin with their leaves. The basin will fill with a combination of water and feces from canopy animals and the epiphyte pulls minerals from the contained water.

Perhaps no vine exhibits this clever behavior better than the Strangler Fig. The seeds germinate in the crown of the canopy and a root makes its way downward to the forest floor. Once it reaches the ground, it sends nutrients upward, and the fig up top reciprocates by dropping more roots down the trunk.

Over time, the roots completely surround the trunk and begin to fuse; above in the canopy the fig is shading out the host tree’s leaves. The host tree falls victim, dies, and eventually decomposes. The strangle fig remains, however, towering above the forest floor, its fused roots creating a hollow trunk the same height as the long-gone host tree.

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The vines of the parasite become thick and strong, almost like giant steel cables. They are so strong that you can climb inside the tree, using the vines as a “ladder” to reach the tree top.

Our guides showed us how to climb barefooted up the tree–90 feet up the tree! I go barefooted often in Colorado and have strong calloused feet, but next time I’m wearing some kind of protective grippy shoes, I’ll tell ya that.

The climber’s hip harness gets tethered to a rope, which is hitched to a carabiner up top and anchored around the guide’s hip harness on the ground.

The harrowing climb brought me intermittent bouts with height paranoia.

I stopped halfway as the insanity of what I was doing hit me. Then I reassured myself—I was tethered to a rope! I wasn’t going to die if I slipped. But I didn’t want to go there. Who could predict the inherent dangers of falling, even with a rope on your hip-harness? Not to mention the embarrassment. And, God help me, what if Bob, the guy on the ground, in charge of MY rope—MY life!—didn’t like me?

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I felt as if I were 200 feet up, but I had only climbed 45 feet. “Keep going!,” screamed the blonde-haired, muscle-toned 25-year-old Australian guide. This was the same woman who had scampered up to the 90-foot perch with the greatest of ease moments earlier, making it look oh so easy.

With eight people watching my progress, I gathered my monkey-man fortitude, stopped looking down, and moved for the summit! “Just pretend you’re hiking a 14,000-foot mountain, like you do all the time in Colorado,” I told myself. “You can do this. You have to. You signed up for this lunacy.”

Then the catcalls and orders and suggestions started from those on the ground. I couldn’t bear it. I told everyone below to shut up; their shouts and instructions and cheerleading was making me dizzy and distracting me and freaking me out more. I needed to concentrate and not over-think my mission. “Just climb. There’s no turning back.”

Concentration is an amazing thing. It got me to the end of the rainbow. I spotted the ornamental bell they nailed to the tree that signified the designated “monkey perch.”  I gave it the ceremonial jingle, at which came a round of applause from the peanut gallery below.

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I secured myself in a stable sitting position in the crotch of a tree limb, took a deep breath of relief and gathered my fragile composure. I wanted to savor my accomplishment and enjoy the view for a moment. “Wow. So this is what it’s like being a monkey in the canopy.”

I liked climbing trees as a kid, but it’s not something I’ve done very often as an adult. I can’t say I like heights all that much either.

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I wondered what I was doing up here, and thought about my future (and possible lack thereof). I thought about the money my parents spent on my college education, about our car parked back at Denver International Airport, and about my nonexistent life insurance policy.

My contemplative moment was quickly interrupted by our Australian honey on the ground. “Okay, get ready, then at the count of three, JUMP! Like Tarzan,” she screamed in her cute accent.

Then the man holding my life-rope added: “Just don’t do the Tarzan yodel, P-L-E-A-S-E!  If I hear that one more time, I’m going to become an anthropologist and quit this nutty guide business.”

The half-naked, barefoot dude who matter-of-factly rambled through all the climb logistics and safety procedures minutes earlier was telling me to jump, and trust that he would prevent my glorious, Jungle Jim death.

I had met him but two hours earlier, and was never shown any “Rope-Holding-Expert” certification papers, background-check reports, etc. And yet, there he was 90 feet below, with Ana and our new friends, the nice family from England, telling me to jump from Heaven to Earth…. and in just THREE seconds!

“You can trust me,” he yelled with a laugh.

IMG_8056.JPGI caught the encouraging, yet impatient stare of little Katrina, the fearless eight-year-old who had just climbed the darned tree like a monkey and jumped from it faster than you could say amusement park. Then, in chimed the howler monkeys in the trees near me, barking like sports-fan hecklers in the cheap seats.

So with my time dwindling (down to one second now), I held fast and tight on the rope and threw myself overboard–off my safe and comfortable perch, to certain peril.

There I was….. swinging, gasping, dangling, semi-panicking, just missing trees, getting belayed down gradually, but quick enough before the onset of cardiac arrest.

After both feet felt the joy of reaching the forest floor, I caught my breath, said a very sincere prayer of thanks, then the thrill of it all sunk in. I suddenly felt a fantastic adrenaline rush and felt profoundly alive.

Now I understood. Now I realized why adrenaline junkies jump out of airplanes, parachute of skyscrapers, ski off cliffs, bungee-jump bridges, paraglide off mountaintops, race dragsters, and attempt other assorted flirtations with death.

Now I knew why Tarzan yodeled.

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Ana was equally stirred up as she was lowered down from her 90-foot jump, and I could see her visibly shaking from her adrenaline rush as she neared the ground. Her smile came back quickly, once she caught her breathe.

With everyone safely returned to the forest floor, high fives were rampant.

As we left the tree, little Katrina smiled at me and snickered, “I knew you could do it. If I could do it, you could do it.”

“Gee thanks, Katrina.”

I trudged up the trail, looking back and up at the monster fig, knowing I had reached a new pinnacle of personal courage. I had matched the bravery of an eight-year-old.

The mood was spirited as we took our hike back down the ridge, legs fluttering along the trail with jubilation and a sense of accomplishment.

We stopped at a favorite adventure spot, the 90-foot King Louis Waterfalls, where guided visitors and locals rappel from the top of the falls, down through the cascading waters and mist.

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Our guides had not only brought us back alive, but had taught us a bevy of cool things about the local geography, landmarks, vegetation and wildlife. Guides are good for that. They deserve their tips. I floated good ol’ Bob an extra 20 bucks for his dedicated hold on my rope.

Ana and I, and our five British friends, all shared a new common bond. We had all survived a 90-foot leap from the notorious 500-year-old Strangler Fig tree.

Back at the lodge, happy hour, highlighted by some very robust mango daiquiris, was never more rewarding. We settled into our easy chairs, sipped our drinks and watched the iguanas slither in the trees off the second-story lodge deck, as the sun set in the distance out over Golfo Dulce.

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Not a bad weekday in Costa Rica. “Pura Vida” was in the air, and was indeed having its wondrous effect on us.

Our active day resulted in a very good night’s sleep. Until we were awakened at 3 a.m. by a crashing ka-boom! on the tin roof of our casita. We thought we were being shelled and, come to think of it—we were. A coconut had dropped from 25 feet above. Locals call them “grenades.”  I can’t recall why I never heard one hit during the day. It was always at night. Hmmm. I sensed a monkey was involved, and he knew darned well what he was doing.
To continue the travelogue, click here to go to Part 6:   http://ericschickler.com/2011/11/04/costa-ricas-osa-peninsula-part-6/

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© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photography, text and artwork seen here is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.