The Unexpected Otter — Costa Rican honeymoon blog part 2

Just to keep things super confusing; part two of our Costa Rica blog covers the first third of our amazing honeymoon in Costa Rica. Part one covered the final third and part three will cover the middle portion. Got it?

Dropping out of the clouds to land in Central America is quite an experience. Forested hilltops popping out of flashing cloudbanks illuminated by lightning. Clammy hands clutching a paperback book attempting to rid the mind of every image of air-crashes and disaster movies.

Working on a new song on the bus, it is a song about sloths called ‘Hanging Around’. Hopefully we’ll start gigging with it in 2018.

With a bang we touched down in San Jose and marvelled at the allotments and gardens that backed onto the international airport as we taxied to the wheeled staircases. The expectant wait for the luggage and the fantastic people watching opportunities of any busy airport kept our tired minds alert. As we set off on our bus ride to the hotel our eyes were glued to every bush, hedge and thicket. In our minds the whole country was crawling with tarantulas, scorpions and every large invertebrate that made macho men scream and stand on chairs. We arrived at the hotel and prepared to pass out on the bed. ‘Group briefing is in 15 minutes if you want to go and drop you bags?’ the receptionist told us breezily. ‘Are you fucking joking?’ I said in my head as I heard my mouth reply ‘thank you ever so much’. With a heavy rucksack on my front to counterbalance the one on my back I struggled up the stairs. After a seemingly instantaneous power nap of 15 minutes we were back in the meeting room awkwardly getting to know our fellow travellers and trying to muster some enthusiasm for anything other than a long sleep.

To explain our seeming ingratitude at the amazing experience on which we were embarking we must backtrack a little bit.

Neither of us had wanted to hang around with a long period of engagement so had only given ourselves from January to August to plan our wedding. This shouldn’t be a problem as neither of us wanted to make a big fuss; horse drawn carriages and flamboyant banquets weren’t our style. A big pot of humus and a few bread rolls from the Co-op and Robert’s your mother’s brother. However, our initial plan of getting married in Germany quickly ran into trouble when we discovered that due to my lack of language and the need for a qualified translator we would have to surmount a huge mountain of bureaucracy to be wed in Deutschland. We hatched a new plan that involved a simple garden party in Germany, a quick and simple dash to Huddersfield registry office to make it all legit and then a simple party for friends in the village hall. Three simple events combine to make awfully complicated…

Besides, wedding planning went out the window almost straight away as we both became side-tracked with planning the first single launch of Birds and Beasts. While a lot of couples spend time hunting down the perfect venue for their special day we spent weeks trying to find a gig venue in Huddersfield available on the particular date we needed that would fit our full band in and accommodate a large enough audience. After battling council imposed noise limiters installed in great venues that cut all power at a lightly struck snare drum, diary clashes and logistical problems we took a chance and booked a large and costly space in the local theatre.

Having previously released music and having made every mistake in the book we researched heavily and allowed ourselves a lot of time for promotion and planning. Almost inevitably it wasn’t enough and as the months ticked away we ended up with equipment failing at the last minute and needing replacing; CDs arriving within a few days of the launch and lots of late nights as we attended every open mic we could to help spread the word. In the end the launch was a great success; we sold out of tickets and had to turn people away. However, the weeks of late nights in the run up took their toll and after the rush of the launch gig we were both ill for a good week.

Once our heads had cleared and we had come down from the excitement, the number of weeks until our wedding day was in single figures and we had barely done anything. The amount of little details and logistics that goes into even the simplest wedding is quite staggering and as we rushed around on errands we felt our stress levels rising again. Nice family dinners with parents became the kind of conversations where you felt you should take notes and our interactions with each other became like appraisal meetings at work monitoring our progress towards our targets.

A German tradition (possibly made up to make us look silly) of sawing through a log on your wedding day. Day one of our supposedly low key wedding.

In short, weddings gets out of hand fast and can be very tough on a relationship. We felt we hadn’t talked about much else for a couple of months. It was like being stuck in a washing machine with lace, flowers and buffet food. All of that being said, we had the most amazing time and are lucky to be surrounded by so many beautiful people. One of the moments I will always remember is when it was just the two of us sat out the back of the hall where the party had been; we had just finished tidying away from the night before and had to wait for a friend to arrive and collect the keg he had kindly supplied. This was the first time in two months we had nothing to do but wait, so we found a half full bottle of gin, a bag of ice and two pint glasses and made some strong G & T’s to enjoy in the sunshine. I remember saying ‘This time in 24 hours we’ll be getting on a plane to Costa Rica’.

So, you can see how we had been on a bit of treadmill for months and were now jet-lagged as well. After the introductory meeting the group decided to go out for dinner. Local time was early evening but for us it was five in the morning and we’d not slept. The streets of San Jose were not especially charming and we decided we were staying on the Central American equivalent of our local industrial estate back in Huddersfield. The place chosen for dinner was a local restaurant in the American diner style and you could picture the large Chryslers and Buicks that would have been parked outside in its heyday as we ate outside on the veranda. We lasted as long as we could but bleary eyed soon had to retreat to our room. ‘It’ll be an early start tomorrow I am afraid as we have a long journey to our first stop’ the guide said, ‘no worries’ we replied thinking that our idea of early was in fact quite a bit earlier than a lot of peoples. ‘How is five O’ clock?’ our guide said ‘Are you fucking joking?’ I said in my head as my mouth politely replied ‘That will be fine’.

The next day after an edge of your seat bus ride in which we both remained glued to every shrub, palm and fern that passed nearby, expectantly waiting to spot our tarantula, we arrived at a large river and unloaded ready for some white water rafting. The camera stayed on the bus this time as we intended it to remain dry and working for the rest of the trip.

On the way to the river and the rapids we had stopped at a cooperative coffee farm. Although we learnt a lot about the coffee growing process and we admired the communal organisational structure, we still obsessively scanned each square metre of ground for those supposedly omnipresent spiders and snakes. With one ear on the tour guide we spent most of our time snapping some of the wildlife that lived in and around the coffee headquarters.

I could have inadvertently walked off a cliff with my eye glued to the lens as I tried to get a tiny hummingbird mid flight as they darted around among the butterflies - some of which dwarfed the acrobatic little birds. Every time I thought I had one they rapidly changed direction and darted out of shot.

The countryside was verdant and alive — we even spotted a fascinating lizard who kindly stayed still long enough for me to get a photo. We recognised it as the basilisk or ‘Jesus lizard’ who is famed for seemingly walking on water.

It was only the rapid movement as she darted towards one of the waste water pools behind the coffee roasting machines that helped us spot this well camouflaged little lizard.
Patience paid off and out of hundred of shots I finally got a hummingbird mid flight.

‘Welcome to my office’, beamed the river rapids guide standing on top of an overturned raft as we put on our kit and mentally prepared ourselves for a couple of miles of class 4 rapids. My best ever job working as the Saturday boy in a guitar shop twenty years previously paled in comparison to this job and how amazing we imagined this guy’s life to be. We had read that Costa-Ricans were ranked near the top of the world’s happiness index and stood by the side of this fantastic river as the guide talked us through the safety briefing it was easy to understand why.

Our six man raft was crewed by a beautiful chap with long dreadlocks and baggy rainbow pants. We tested his calm exterior with our ineptitude and talent for badly coordinated paddling and accidently steering our boat into every violent patch of water or submerged rock. Our one chance to redeem ourselves came when I pulled back in a crew member who had bounced out of the boat mid rapid whilst checking her Go-Pro, but this was forgotten shortly afterwards when we got seriously lodged on a rock and he had to partially deflate the boat to help us get free. We arrived last out of the flotilla which had set off, paddling along in a warm bath as our boat was nearly full of water. The other guides gathered round and offered their sympathies to our chap as we tried vainly to help get the boat out of water and upended for repairs.

As we enjoyed a well earned lunch of rice and beans one of guides summoned everyone over; he had spotted a sloth high in a tree and everyone crowded round to try and get a look. The guides have a well developed knack for spotting creatures that visitors to the country would not see even if told where to look.

Our first sloth of the trip, we didn’t get a view like this with the naked eye, not even through a lens. But after randomly taking lots of photos in the direction we were told to we ended up with this one. Sloths often stay in the same place for days. Several times during the trip bus drivers stopped in a lay-by where they had seen a sloth the previous week. Most times it was still there.

The next day we had our first visit into deeper jungle as we had signed up for an extreme version of canyoneering that they had dubbed Gravity Falls due the many opportunities to fling yourself off waterfalls into deep pools. As we tracked the river down a steep sided jungle valley without the benefit of a boat the forest closed in around us. It was dense and mysterious and there was a strange silence detectable behind the loud chorus of insect noise that filled us with dread and foreboding. Although we were sure we were about to be killed or maimed in some dreadful accident we were shortly back in the Land Rover driving up the steep tracks that rolled away to the valley floor inches to the side of the vehicle’s wheels. Also, we had still not spotted any of the gargantuan arachnids and were starting to think the country was not as infested with them as we had initially thought.

The town we were staying in for a few nights was called La Fortuna. In 1968 the local volcano that everyone had believed extinct erupted violently. Although many people had been killed and several villages buried, wider catastrophe had been avoided as the lava flow headed away from the densest population centre. After this memorable event the town had been renamed La Fortuna to commemorate the town’s good fortune and the previous native name discarded. Although the eruption was a tragedy and brought hard times to the local area it was now a source of tourism and the Arenal area was a popular destination.

This blurry photo is possibly an Anole lizard. To give a sense of scale it is sat on a handrail! This little lizard was no bigger than the end of your little finger.

Our hotel backed onto a river and we were told to be careful not to tread on the tiny frogs which lived there if we went for a look around. A staircase led down to the damp bank, I carefully turned over each leaf that blocked my path to check I wasn’t going to accidentally collect any eight legged companions on my way down. Camera in hand I tip-toed around; I only spotted one frog and a strange looking larvae that looked like an extra from one of the Alien movies.

However, after a while I was delighted to find lots more basilisks and enjoyed stalking them and trying to make them look like deleted scenes from Jurassic Park. Their twitchy movements almost made them seem like someone had animated them using stop motion and I was reminded of one of my favourite childhood films The Land That Time Forgot.

My celluloid revelries were interrupted by a slight splashing sound behind me and I turned around. I instantly saw a large dark shape moving through the shallow and fast moving water. I stood very still and was gobsmacked when a head with whiskers popped out in a calm patch at the side. Anna was just approaching behind me and I hissed ‘shhhh, come slowly it’s a bloody otter’.

We both stood for a long time in amazement before this beautiful creature eventually slid downstream. It allowed us to get really close and didn’t seem fazed by our presence as it hunted for fish.

We were never expecting to see an otter in Costa Rica which made the experience all the more magical. For the rest of the day we moved around in a dreamy haze which only thickened into a drunken murk that evening with a sunset visit to the local hot springs hostel. Fed with thermally heated water from the volcano which loomed menacingly over us, the hostel had a series of pools, one of which had a swim-in bar. Many cheap cocktails were drunk and ill advised sorties to water slides were made between tequila sunrises. The whole thing felt like the opening scene from a disaster movie and I half expected the earth to suddenly split open and the mountain to start hurling huge chunks of rock into the sun-loungers and umbrellas. However, the only thing that came were more shots and colourful cocktails.

Checking out the next morning we finally spotted our first spider of the trip; a tiny spider hiding behind the water cooler in the hotel reception, probably very similar to a European house spider but a spider nevertheless.

We set off to journey across a large lake where we would meet a new bus that would take us to Monte-Verde high in the mountains. On the far bank we were finally rewarded with a truly exotic spider; the magnificent orb weaver spiders were probably 2–3 inches across and made incredible webs that spanned over several feet; they were clearly too smart to make their webs anywhere where a clumsy human might accidentally walk into them but we got some fantastic photos.

What amazing creatures might await us at our next stop in the mountains. What secrets would the cloud forest contain? Would we finally see a tarantula? The final part is coming soon!

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