In the small town of Puerto Jiménez, my companion Lars Skipper and I book a room in a simple hotel, whereupon we seek out the national park office to get permits to enter the park. As it turns out, this is a rather difficult task. The entry fee must be paid in a particular bank, or at a local travel agency, before the permit can be issued. As it is a Saturday, the bank is closed, so we go to a travel agency. The owner informs us that he has to send an email to the bank, as well as to the park office, to confirm that he has received our payment. An answer to his emails may take some time, so he instructs us to return around 6 p.m. to collect our permits.
In a small patch of mangrove trees, we notice several common basilisks (Basiliscus basiliscus), which distinguish themselves by being able to run along the surface of the water at a terrific speed, their legs moving so fast that they almost look like a whisk. In the forest above the mangrove, we observe a black spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura similis), which somewhat resembles the Old-World monitor lizards, besides many leaf-cutting ants (Atta cephalotes) which transport leaf segments to their nest, holding them high as banners. Among numerous plant species we notice the gorgeous red ginger (Alpinia purpurata) and a reddish species of Tillandsia, growing as an epiphyte on a horizontal branch.
Bird life is rich and varied. The large scarlet macaw (Ara macao) seems to be fairly common – small flocks fly about, making a tremendous racket. We observe two species of caracara which, as opposed to true falcons, often walk about on the ground. A yellow-headed caracara (Milvago chimachima) strolls down the road in front of our car, and later we observe a southern crested caracara (Caracara plancus), collecting nest material at the roadside. A beautiful Amazon kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona) is perched on a dead tree, and in a dense patch of grass we observe a male blue seedeater (Amaurospiza concolor), jumping vertically into the air and landing on the same spot – presumably part of its courtship display. Among the aerial roots of a large fig tree we notice a golden-crowned spadebill (Platyrinchus coronatus) – a peculiar bird with a flat bill, belonging to the tyrant-flycatcher family (Tyrannidae).
As it turns out, our morning drive is a marvellous experience. The Full Moon sets behind a mountain, while a blanket of fog covers fields with grazing cattle. It is daylight, when we arrive at Karate. We have learned that we can park our car at a pulperia – a small grocery store, selling daily supplies and soft drinks. The owner gets grumpy, when we park our car in front of his ’fine’ store – we have to park behind it! How on Earth were we supposed to know?
However, he soon calms down, and we can start our hike along the beach, where coconut trees (Cocos nucifera), beach almond (Terminalia catappa), and a few other tree species grow. On numerous spots, lots of debris has been washed ashore, and among this debris, many coconuts have sprouted. The beach is alive with hermit crabs of all sizes, transporting their protective snail shells, which come in all sorts of shapes – round, oblong, spiraled. The tracks of the hermit crabs create fine patterns around pebbles on the beach.
A common black-hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus), which mainly feeds on crabs, is sitting in a palm tree, and in an area of low coastal rocks, a bare-throated tiger-heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum) is feeding in a rock-pool, while long lines of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) glide effortlessly along the coast. Occasionally, one of the birds will plunge headlong into the water from a great height, indicating a school of fish. For a long time, a white-nosed coati (Nasua narica) walks on the beach in front of us. Like their near relatives, the raccoons, these long-nosed creatures are omnivorous, often feeding along the coast.
We are lucky to be able to join company with a tourist group, who have hired a local guide. He has eyes like a hawk, pointing out various animals, which we might otherwise have missed. A small anteater, named northern tamandua (Tamandua mexicana), is sprawled along a branch, sleeping comfortably, while elegant Central American spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) swing from one branch to another in a superior style. On several occasions, we observe coatis and small, brown squirrels. Birdlife is surprisingly scarce in the forest, but we do observe e.g. chestnut-backed antbird (Myrmeciza exsul), red-crowned woodpecker (Melanerpes rubricapillus), and a woodcreeper, belonging to the family Dendrocolaptidae.
As we intend to get up around 5 a.m. to experience morning life in the rainforest, we go to bed early. At dawn, the howler monkeys are making a racket, and we observe several forest birds, among others a great curassow (Crax rubra) and two great tinamous (Tinamus major). Tinamous resemble game birds, but constitute an ancient order of their own, Tinamiformes. On our way back towards the lodge, we have great luck, spotting an ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), crossing the runway about 200 metres away.
Unfortunately, we have only been able to book a single night in the park – all other days were fully booked. This means that we shall have to start early, walking back the way we came. On our return trip, we again observe a tamandua and spider monkeys, but also a troupe of feeding white-headed capuchin monkeys (Cebus capucinus), searching for edibles by biting off bark of lianas and branches.
We are indeed tired, when we arrive at Karate, but we have yet to face a car ride of at least two hours back to Puerto Jiménez. At our hotel, we have a much-needed shower, before we go out to eat – and then to bed.