Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Archive for February, 2008

Costa Rica 2008

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

In January 2008 I went on yet another trip to Costa Rica and I have learned my lesson.  If you want to see Costus in flower, DON’T GO IN THE DRY SEASON!

I started the trip by taking a long bus ride south from San Jose to San Vito and a taxi to an access point in La Amistad National Park.  I did not have a guide on that trip.  After climbing my way up a trail for a few kilometers I eventually found me way into some decent forest, but nothing there was in flower (at least not any Costus).

So I made my way by bus to Golfito and then hired a fast boat to take me to the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary.  Here I met Carol Patrick Crews and her husband Earl Crews.   They started the place out as an ecolodge called CaƱa Blanca, located on the Golfo Dulce at the edge of the Piedras Blancas National Park. The sanctuary serves as an animal rescue shelter for monkeys, birds, ocelots and many other animals, and you can go to the website link above and read all about that. The spider monkeys there are allowed to roam around freely and clearly love their human companions.   There is almost always a monkey sitting on Earl or Carol’s shoulders.

Anyhow, after the usual greetings, it was time for me to take my backpack up the hill to the little cabina where I was going to sleep.  As I walked up the hill, suddenly one of the spider monkeys that had been below with Carol came running up to me, jumped up on my backpack and bit me hard on my breast area!  Carol came running up to save me.  She said the monkey (named Sweetie) had never done that before to any of her guests.  She said Sweetie had just gone through puberty and possibly that explained her strange reaction to me.

The bite left a mark like a bruise barely breaking the skin and did not require any treatment other than a bit of antibiotic.  Still, I certainly did not want to risk another such episode, so I had to stay clear of Sweetie for the rest of my stay there.  The cabinas are open-sided with storage chests to keep the monkeys from getting at a guest’s supplies, but nothing enclosing the sleeping quarters.  We decided that I could sleep on the dining table in the kitchen area that was well screened off from any of the animals at the sanctuary.  So I would be in a cage while Sweetie was outside.  She kept hanging on the wire mesh and shaking it like crazy trying to get to me on the inside.  Carol made a bed for me on the dining room table and as night fell, all went to sleep.

The next morning I awoke in my cage and really had to pee!  I called out to Carol and she said she would keep Sweetie up the hill, and I should walk down toward the beach to relieve myself.  So I get down to the beach and I hear a rustle behind me.  HERE COMES SWEETIE!  She came running up, jumped up on my shoulders from behind and peered down over my shoulders as I was in the middle of urinating.  One look at me and that was all it took.  She jumped back down and wandered back up the hill.  I must have been a terrible disappointment to her.

After that, I had no more problems with Sweetie.  Earl took me by boat around the Esquina and up the river to the park guard stations.  The guards then escorted me through the middle of the PN Piedras Blancas and back to Carol’s animal sanctuary.  No Costus of any special interest were found.

(NOTE: This trip was in 2008, but looking at their website and running queries on Google, it seems that Sweetie is still there and is one of the favorite spider monkeys at the place.  Several guest commentaries have mentioned Sweetie, but nothing about any other attacks or bites.)

The rest of the trip now seems pretty anticlimactic.  I flew back to San Jose and then took a bus to the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) station La Selva where I walked the trails looking at mostly non-flowering Costus.  The most impressive plants there were the Costus malortieanus that grows there in huge clumps.  Then I went to another ecotourist spot called Rara Avis.  I saw some Costus bracteatus in flower but not much else besides the very common Costus scaber and Costus pulverulentus.