I had been booked into a gorgeous little hotel Tortuga Del Mar which is right on the beach at Playa Hermosa. It is run by a German lady who came here 10years ago to construct the hotel and ended up staying to run it. It is super cute with a lovely garden, an iguana that comes to visit and a host of bird life passing through as well as a newly resident cat who is both noisy and nosey, coming in to sit in the wardrobe and sniff under the bed.
The numbers of Scarlet Macaws flying overhead is pretty impressive, and I saw 7 all together one morning heading out for the day. Meanwhile it is a birdwatchers paradise wherever you are. Monkeys have been a bit absent down here although there are troops up in the farm, where I’d be riding, apparently.
As well as surfers, turtles also come to the beach to lay eggs, 4 species visit throughout the year, with Olive Ridleys visiting at the moment, but also Leatherbacks (hugely in decline because they ingest plastic thinking it is their natural food, the jellyfish), Hawksbills and Pacific Greens.
The new owners of the Discovery Horseback Tours arrived at 7:15am to take me to breakfast at a restaurant just up the road. I ordered what’s turned out to be a disappointing random veggie omelette of cauliflower and carrot and cheese, the coffee just about got me through. I was super polite and very British about the food, didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot. Thankfully, the next two morning’s feasts have more than made up for day 1 disaster, and Shawna and Rod have been beyond hostess and host with the mostess and most.
The first two mornings we headed out to the farm where the horses are kept. They have all been rescued from one form of work or another. There is a lot of unauthorised tourist riding that goes on and the horses are not well kept, are overworked and treated poorly. Discovery rescues them, doesn’t use any bad practices and keeps the horses even beyond retirement so they can live out their lives without fear of becoming dog food. The mornings consisted of a couple of hours of riding (pootling, really, poifick for a noddy no nothing like me) out into the farm, into the forest and around. The farm is a mixture of virgin forest, forest planted about 20years ago, grassland, and pasture. Cows are kept there, for milking and a small cheese production takes place there too. It’s been a farm since 1830, initially for the quinine trees that helped to treat malaria. As with a lot of Costa Rica, the owners Jose and Maria are climate conscious, and the couple trained at the Earth University, running the whole place in such a way as to ensure it is carbon neutral.
Missy, my day 1 horse was a bit of a lazy moo, wanting to stop and munch rather than actually do much walking. I was certainly learning patience, and who was actually the boss of me – yep, it was those big-eyed equine folk with hooves.
Shawna and me took the horses (or rather the horses took us) out into the forest and along the trail, past an old banana plantation, and bamboo and other trees, vines etc till we stopped for a snack and a full body covering of local volcanic clay, so we looked like slightly soggy avatars, before washing it off in a nearby little waterfall. It was really sweet, and the water was refreshing, then we mounted up and headed back for lunch at a little local restaurant for the Tico meal of rice, beans, mixed green veggies, and chicken. That was tasty.
To be honest I’d forgotten the whole set up of what I’d booked, so hadn’t realised there was also after riding events organised too. A handy itinerinarary was presented, so I could keep track (actually, so we could all keep track, Rod and Shawna have just taken on the business and have heaps of stuff to do, learn, keep a track of, as well as entertain this lump, it’s amazing what they are doing, full hats off to them).
So day 1 afternoon was Rod and me out for Jose’s Crocodile Tour on the Torcales river. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was about spotting the birdlife, the crocodiles, of which there were many, and any other wildlife hanging out and about, such as crabs in the mangrove. Before we even boarded we got to see a little raccoon family that hung out by the reception and a hummingbird doing less humming and more resting up on a bush.
The birdlife was astounding, as was the damage you could see had been done by Storm Nate, mainly ragtag bits of plastic bags caught up in trees, but also some full on wreckage of houses and a restaurant.
The crocodiles are, like pretty much all the wildlife, protected. It was uncomfortable being so close to them, and more so when the captain of the boat got out to feed them (which wasn’t really necessary, we got close enough to see them without that spectacle of him being approached by a large snagged toothed reptile). A little Chinese lady on the boat was eyeing up one particularly large fella (crocodile, not a local) and asking if they were eaten in Costa Rica. She seemed disappointed at being told no, as I’m sure she was also figuring out the handbag to reptile ratio too.
Day 2 we went out, me on Merlin, another muncher but happy to keep going as he chewed, and Shawna on Pulvera. Pulvera had been practically falling asleep after being saddled up and had rested on my shoulder following a particularly enjoyable ear scratch (for her, not me). She perked up once out on the trail (perked up even more on the next ride…but that can wait).
Merlin loved to trot, he was hanging back, and hanging back from Pulvera, his ears would go back to me and off he’d go, trotting to catch up, then slowing down again to hang back and off again. We went out across the farm, past the cheese factory, and into a huge field of grass, we were surrounded by forest, and it was so peaceful to be there amongst the scenery, and fauna, as birds flew by or hid in a tree as Shawna pointed ‘Toucan, there, in the tree, see it?’….’er nope, still no, and yes, I need my eyes tested’.
The horses don’t have bits in their mouths and there is no forcing them to do anything in an aggressive way. To get them to walk you kiss kiss and run your hand up their mane (that’s why their manes are cut short). To get them to stop you pull the reins a bit and breathe out. So simple, and Merlin was certainly more responsive, putting up with the numpty novice giving it all a go. I could see him getting confused when I wasn’t doing it right (e.g. most of the time), ‘what….you want me to go backwards, turn and walk on forward all at the same time?!??’. Matching the horses to personality and (lack of) ability really helped!
For my day 2 excursion I could choose what to do and settled on an evening turtle tour, with the Ronseal (does what it says on the tin) of Turtle Tours non-profits, Turtle Tours. It turned out to be less turtle and not really a tour, more a 3km hike down a pitch black grey-black sandy beach on an overcast night, then back again. Still, it was nice to be walking and learning about these amizzin’ creatures even if I was blind as a bat and to be using other leg muscles other than inner thighs. Also, when the cloud lifted you could see the stars so clearly, it was stunning.
Raul, my guide and an extremely converted and long term volunteer who patrols the beach every evening, looking out for poachers was a turtle expert, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He showed me where turtles had previously laid eggs, and how he had disguised one site to make it look as if it had been poached already. We also visited the government house where some eggs were relocated to and which are due to hatch. Each clutch only come out when all the eggs are ready, and temperature in the nest dictates sex of the turtles, the warmer it is then more females.
As I’d been unlucky to not see any turtles (it is coming to the season’s end for the Olive so no surprise really), I was invited back for a second attempt tonight but the communication was Costa Rican awry and last minute so it never happened, maybe tomorrow will be a better opportunity. Gratuitous Sunset…every blog should have one!