An early start is followed by a short bus ride to Cahuita national park where our first stop is to pick up two boats to take us out to the reef. The sky is dark and rain clouds once again threaten the horizon. As we head off the sea is still and silky; flattened by the low pressure. The colourful wooden boat just skims the surface. We are all excited and looking forward to seeing the reef, hoping that the recent rain has not made it too cloudy and murky. We don our flippers, snorkel and mask and head out over the side of the boat into the warm Caribbean waters. The guides help those who are not confident swimmers and snorkelers whilst the rest of us slip away to follow our senses. With our eyes down we do not notice the impending black skies on the horizon; there is far too much to see beneath us.
Only a minute underwater and right below me is a stingray, excited I call over to the group next to me and we follow it until it buries itself in the sandy bottom. If I see nothing else then this is enough to mark the day with a smile. There are small spots of coral but nothing as beautiful as other tropical locations. Despite this the fish are colourful and there are reef sharks and octopus. Gradually I feel the cool rain becoming harder on my back as the black skies come overhead. We climb aboard the boat and shiver a little as she makes her way further along the reef where there is another dive; this time following a reef of semi-colourful coral. I love the feel of the rain, the now boisterous sea and the vista that is unfolding as I swim over the reef with the current to join the waiting crew. The boat takes us to a small island where we photograph crabs and an habituated monkey. We eat biscuits and bananas as the rain tumbles down The tropical colours casting a beautiful dark blue and green hue around us.
As we climb aboard for the last time, the rain has abated and we head back to shore to get out of our chilly wet clothes and dress for lunch at a nearby restaurant. The food tastes good but I am already fired up for the next adventure of walking in Cahuita National Park. Sadly many of the students have tired of walking and/or wildlife watching, so it is only a small intimate group that make their way to the national park entrance.
The park is 2,711 acres, which protects the coastal fringe and lowland rainforest. Ecotones such as this are situated between two habitats and, in this case, tend to be richer in species as they benefit from being on the edges of both forest and coast. Only a few minutes into the walk and I am in heaven. There is a cayman in the water, a common basilisk, white-faced monkeys and trees decorated with green iguanas. It is difficult to know where to look first. As we walk down this well trodden track with the beach on our left and the forest to our right, birds, squirrels and trails of leaf cutting ants provide an endless array of wildlife. The highlight for me is the tiny hognose pit viper which is curled up neatly on the side of the trail and later, a yellow eyelash viper; both highly venomous. The rain has stopped and luckily for us the late afternoon sun has attracted them to bask in its warmth. Both snakes could kill us in a matter of minutes and I ponder the countless people coming off of the beach in their flip-flops oblivious of the dangers that may lay at their feet.
It is such a remarkable and beautiful place between the palm lined ocean and the rainforest, I could walk along here for days and not get bored. There is barely a moment where there is no wildlife to hold my attention. Sadly my camera has run out of energy but the benefit of this is that I can take long unmediated views and just enjoy the moment uncluttered by the need to capture images; how often is it in one’s life that there are experiences like this?
Back at the hotel. We clean up, have dinner and head out to town in good spirits to experience the Caribbean nightlife. We begin by dancing in a salsa bar; here a live band and beautiful rhythms make it impossible not to smile and dance. I take in the laughter, the colour and the characters, and love the inhibition and celebration of music and movement. From here we find ourselves in a small, quiet Caribbean bar drinking pint size mojitos and chatting about the day’s adventures, life, our ambitions, joys and disasters; great company and a fabulous end to this exquisite day. I love Costa Rica and go to bed feeling incredibly blessed.