Baby Turtles and Exotic Birds are Magical

DSCN1667Costa Rica is an unbelievable, underestimated, affordable gem of the Americas. When Joe and I visited Costa Rica we had high expectations to see amazing things and have some amazing experiences. We were not disappointed. The people of Costa Rica are friendly and welcoming. The food was fresh and we could drink water right from the tap. We swam in natural hot springs in the shadow of a volcano and we zip lined and took hanging bridge tours in the cloud forests and the rain forests. It is a beautiful, relaxing place to experience all kinds of fun.DSCN1566

I always travel with a camera so I can capture some of the coolest things, but I also try not to let my need for some photos interfere with my experience in the moment. I want to enjoy it firsthand, not see everything through the lens of a camera. In Costa Rica this was a challenge because I could have had my camera in hand the entire time with the constant, beautiful subject matter presenting itself.

As we hiked  in the rain forest and the hanging bridges in the cloud forests, we saw birds that I did not even know existed. The beauty was shocking, and I loved spotting and trying to photograph the exotic birds, even though I am not by any means a bird expert. I was not always successful in taking good photos, but I did get a few beauties. We had read on the internet that one of the most mysterious and beautiful birds in Costa Rica was the Quetzal. I did not get a good photo of this bird, but we were there during its mating season and we did get to see a male and a female as they flew around through the thick forest canopy.

The Quetzal got its name from the Aztecs and they used the beautiful green tail feathers of the males in their ceremonies. These tales, told by our local guides, as we walked through the hazy, moist, dark, cloud forests, about the Quetzal and its connections to the Aztecs, a mysterious group of people that are shrouded in stories of elaborate ceremonies, human sacrifices and enormous reserves of gold, made the experience even more intriguing. Many books and movies have been done over the years and our interest and fantasies about the Aztecs helped set the mood as we quietly walked through the forest, clutching cameras and IMG_4148binoculars and stepping back into time. It helped that we also saw ruins and remnants of former civilizations all through Costa Rica. It added to the believability of the elaborate rituals and drama from the great civilizations of the past.

We also saw hummingbirds and their nests. Even though we have hummingbirds in Minnesota and see them occasionally, the number and variety in Costa Rica was like nothing we had seen before. We saw flocks of hummingbirds in the forest of Costa Rica and we saw many different species including one that was quite large. The parks and nature preserves had feeding areas that attracted hundreds of them in many different colors.

20140415_094238Costa Rica has been very proactive in preserving forests and habitat for their exotic birds and wildlife. We saw toucans and odd looking blue jays, as well as birds with beards and long fluffy feathers sometimes on their heads and other times on their necks. I have always loved hiking and I love looking around as I hike and in Costa Rica, I did not even realize how far we were walking, because we were so enamored with the surroundings.

Towards the end of our vacation in Costa Rica we signed up for a night time turtle hatching tour on the Guanacaste coast. We boarded a large van as it was getting dark at our resort. We had a driver and a guide. We signed up for the Turtle hatching tour, because we knew that it was green sea turtle nesting time. We
had seen the large green sea turtles while sailing the Guanacaste coast to go snorkeling in the days before our night tour. Turtle watching and hatching is a popular activity in Costa Rica. They protect their turtles and believe that education and connection between travelers and the turtles builds our appreciation of the turtles and helps to gain supp
ort for their protection. As weDSCN1777 (1) rode in the van, the guide informed us to be careful and not use flash on the turtles and to be careful not to step on the baby hatchling turtles. They wanted us to observe, but not interrupt the large females from laying their eggs and not disturb the baby turtles from their quest out of the sand and their race to the water.

We rode in anticipation along narrow dirt roads in the darkness, trying to double check our cameras to make sure we did not disturb the baby turtles. After we parked we still had a long
walk in the darkness, on a narrow path through the heavy brush that suddenly opened onto a dark beach, lit up only by a large orange moon glimmering over the water. You did not even need a flashlight to see the sand and what was ahead. The scene took my breath away. I had to look and pause, to soak in the moment. I could not believe DSCN1773that I was here in this moment of time, surrounded by such beauty and nature. How lucky could a person be to be able to travel to such a place?

Time and other concerns became irrelevant; as we studied the edge of the ocean to see the large female green sea turtle lumber onto shore, heavy with eggs, to find the perfect spot to lay her eggs. As the guides whispered the 20140414_225215details of the females’ trek to the beach upon which she herself had been born to lay her own eggs, we watched as she made her way to the tree line. As we saw her pick out the perfect spot, the other guide called to us in hush tones to come quickly, but watch our step as we made our way to another area where he had found a prior nest that was now hatching. We stepped carefully and stood still once we found our spot. As we watched, baby turtles no bigger than a fifty cent piece started popping their heads out of the sand, as if pushed from below and, as if being chased, they wasted no time in crawling as fast as their little flippers could take them towards the water and into the ocean. How they knew to run towards the ocean and not toward the trees, I do not DSCN1708know. If our guides told us I missed it, but I stood fascinated as one after the other emerged from the sand and each headed in the right direction. Not one went the wrong way, even for a few steps. They took off towards the ocean the minute their little heads emerged. There was no hesitation about which way to go.

Over the next few hours we moved from watching females the size of push lawn mowers, digging nests and laying golf ball size, pure white eggs, to watching in awe as the tiny bay turtles ran in the bright moonlight, for the safety of the ocean. I had to pinch myself that I was really there. I took few pictures so that I could fully drink in the complete experience. It felt magical to be on that quiet beach at night with waves gently lapping the sand and the moon lighting our way.

DSCN1435For someone like me, who does most of their work in an office and in Minnesota, this was a lifetime experience that left me wanting more. It was so healing. It was the kind of experience that makes you wonder why you have spent so much time indoors and you think hard about how you can travel more, spend more time outdoors and appreciate the nature and beauty of our world. It is not just that you want to see nature, you want to experience it. Experiencing nature changes a person. It touches you temporarily in the magical experience unfolding as you watch, but it also changes your perspective and it affects your permanent outlook. Those workday problems of the office seem small, conquerable and insignificant in the big picture.

I can put myself back onto that beach and into that rain forest, and I can feel my blood pressure falling and my stress level melting away. We know when we are with nature that we are small in
a big world and that we are meant to be outdoors and not struggling and stressing over things that many times do not warrant the amount of energy and worry that we choose to give to it. Spend more time in nature and in the appreciation of this big beautiful world, observing its magical wonders.



A View From The Sky

When I first started dating my husband Joe, some 32 years ago, he had always said that he was afraid of heights. Afraid maybe is too strong a word. He would say things like I don’t like heights and I am not comfortable with heights. Heights make him woozy or dizzy. After almost 30 years of marriage I can say he was mistaken and I adv04have the pictures to prove it.

In 1986 we went to Hawaii on our honeymoon, and even though he was defining himself as uncomfortable with heights, he agreed to go on a helicopter ride over the mountains of Kauai. The helicopter swooped and dived through the mountains, over edges, and waterfalls. He hung on and so did I, but we saw some of the most beautiful scenery on the garden island that was only visible from the air. The lush adv08green mountains grew as cliffs out of the Pacific Ocean. We could see the waves crashing onto the shores below as we flew low and fast, the pilot deliberately turning the helicopter onto its side to give us the perfect view and a brag worthy ride. He gave us just the right amount of comfort in the craft, and his skills, offering high speed
turns and dips gave an exciting feeling of danger. He was adv07
a good tour guide.

We wore our little headsets to listen as he gave us the name of each waterfall and bay. He pointed out all of the tour highlights and we were able to ask him questions about the landscape. I had never been on a helicopter before and had the same uncomfortable feeling about it before we started, but it quickly became a favorite experience for both of us.

adv09On that same trip I told him I was a little afraid to go snorkeling way out in the ocean. He had been to Hawaii before and he reassured me on the boat to the snorkel site that I would love it and it was perfectly safe, even though the boat tour guide indicated that the snorkelers sometimes see sharks. The guide even gave us directions on what to do if we saw any large sharks, so I was a little nervous as we hit the water. We descended the stairs of the large tour Catamaran right into the water with our masks on and ready, but as I got in I accidentally got some sea water in my mouth, and as if surprised, I started breathing shallow and quick. He turned to me and said adv05in a really calm, but questioning voice, “What are you doing? Put your snorkel in.” It snapped me right out of it and I laughed and put the snorkel in and he grabbed my hand and we were snorkeling. We saw fish of all colors, but no sharks. I was in love with a new sport. I went on over the years to snorkel all over with Joe, including Cozumel, Mexico, the Florida Keys and Costa Rica, and about 10 years ago I even became a certified Scuba Diver.

A few years after Hawaii, Joe and I went on a helicopter ride down into the Grand Canyon. The helicopter took us over Hoover Dam and over the edge of the canyon. It had the same great mix of beauty, danger and a comfort in the pilot’s skills, as our adv02Hawaii experience did years earlier. We took off from Las Vegas where Joe was attending a conference. Flying over the Vegas strip was a part of the tour that was surprisingly interesting. I am usually only interested in the nature and natural beauty, but looking at the Vegas strip from above, with the many people walking the streets from casino to casino was surprisingly cool. It looked like a colorful river moving in unison along the sidewalks. Of course the canyon was the best.

After we had swooped in and out of the Grand Canyon, seeing some of the best highlights, we landed on a plateau about halfway down where we had a champagne brunch. It was amazing. Those red rocky deep cliffs and the sparse vegetation were adv01beautiful. I have hiked the Grand Canyon but, there was no better way to see a lot of the most famous parts of the Canyon in a small amount of time than to fly over it and get that bird’s eye view.

We have done a lot of things involving uncomfortable heights and things that took us out of our comfort zone. On our European vacation for our twenty fifth anniversary, we took the steep railroad up to the top of the mountain in Innsbruck, Austria. It was the railroad used during the Olympics. We also took the railroad to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado when we were on our intergenerational trip with my parents and our kids. Both took us to great heights and gave us that bird’s eye view_MG_2085 that almost makes a person light headed. It was fabulous.

In 2014 we went to Costa Rica and we zip lined in the rain forest canopy. Our platforms were so tall, they had to build onto the large trees because they were too tall to be braced to the ground below. That was exciting and a little scary, but we were bound and determined to give that a try and we both agreed we would do that again.

We have made it a point not to let small adv03fears define us. If Joe and I would have always taken the safe route and not done things that made us uncomfortable we would have missed out on a lot of very exhilarating experiences. We decided long
ago not to let our fears define or limit us, and we have been good in encouraging each other even when our gut feeling may not agree.

They say you should go with your gut, but that old adage is wrong when it comes to travel and adventure. Your gut many times tells you to be afraid and cautious, but if you never did anything that was a little scary and out of your comfort zone, you would never have that exhilarating feeling of flying sideways over a waterfall on Kauai, getting a bird’s eye view of the Grand Canyon or tasting the salty ocean water and watching for sharks.adv06