Bruce in kayak.

"We specialize in small group travel, which minimizes environmental impact, increases safety standards and allows for personalized, enriching and authentic experiences."

— Bruce Smith, founder and owner, Seascape Kayak Tours Inc.

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COSTA RICA’S BEST KEPT SECRETSJanuary 20th, 2011

Feliz Año Nuevo.

We thought it was time to post a new blog entry, finally! I think we have definitely transitioned to Tico (Costa Rican) time.

I am very happy to introduce you to a new member of the Seascape team. Nick Hawkins, who hails from New Brunswick, will be working on an internship / assistant guide basis in Costa Rica for the next several months. Nick is a marine biologist, keen naturalist and wildlife photographer. His enthusiasm for facilitating connections between guests and the natural world is clearly evident. Look for Nick’s photos to appear with blogs and Facebook posts in the future. Bienvenidos, Nick.

We hope that you will join us for a warm water escape in Costa Rica this winter.

Bruce

Hello friends! My name is Nick Hawkins; I am a biologist and naturalist guide from Fredericton, New Brunswick. I first heard of Seascape last summer, when I lived in St. Andrews, NB, and worked as an interpreter aboard the whale watching boat the Quoddy Link. I contacted Bruce via e-mail and expressed my interest in guiding. We then met at his place on Deer Island, where we discovered that we shared a similar outlook on ecotourism, sustainability and what it means to be a nature guide. Before I knew it I was packing my bags for Costa Rica, booking a flight for the 7th of January.

After arriving in San José, I traveled west to the Nicoya Peninsula, to Tambor, Seascape’s Southern base. I was happy to leave the busy urban areas, thick with tourists, cars and construction. I watched it all disappear as I took the Paquera Ferry across the bay of Nicoya. Bruce met me on the other side and we drove along winding roads to Tambor Tropical. The resort is made up of small luxury suites built of exotic hardwood such as teak and bloodwood. They are nestled under a tranquil grove of large palm trees, directly adjacent to the ocean. The suites are spread out over the property, which is teeming with life. I unload my gear and talk with Bruce, trying to ignore the urge to seek out the sounds of the strange animals all around me. Bruce senses my anxiety and sends me for a walk up the estuary, the Rio Panica, which empties into the ocean next to the resort. I grab my binoculars and guidebooks and set-off up the river.

By this point I am well aware of the level of biodiversity in Costa Rica, but am yet to experience it. What I find on that thirty-minute walk will forever serve as a defining moment in my life, when I am introduced to the biologic potential of a tropical forest. I am greeting by a plethora of bird life…I count and record 26 new species in this short amount of time and miss dozens more. Flocks of Snowy Egrets glide over Tri-colored and Little Blue Herons, which run and lunge after small fish. Brown Pelicans and Royal Terns plunge into the surf in pursuit of small fish. A Ringed Kingfisher gazes down from his fishing perch; this species is the largest kingfisher in the Americas, twice the size of the familiar Belted Kingfisher. Small forest birds flutter through the tropical growth, their yellows, blues, and oranges mixing with the red blossoms of flamboyant trees. Hummingbirds zip in all directions, freezing in place momentarily to grab a sip of nectar. Scissortail Flycatchers and Tropical Kingbirds perch high up on the treetops, bursting from their resting place to snag flying insects, before returning to their perch in wait for the next suspended morsel. I am absolutely floored by the abundance of life, and I haven’t even left the resort yet. What awaits me in the depths of the protected habitat soon to be explored fills me with an excitement I haven’t felt since I was a young boy.

The next morning Bruce takes me to Curú Wildlife Refuge, from which most of the kayak trips depart. A 20-minute drive from Tambor, Curú contains Costa Rica’s first private National Wildlife Refuge. When we arrive at the center of Curú ,I hop out of the truck and gaze around at the tropical paradise that surrounds me. The only way to describe Curú is that it looks and feels just like you’re in Jurassic park, a real lost world. The forest floor is littered with coconuts, which cover the ground like the leaves we rake off our lawns in the fall. Hermit Crabs are nearly as abundant as they scurry throughout the undergrowth. Something catches my eye… I look down and watch as a Spider Monkey climbs onto the back of the truck and sits on the cab. She reaches out and holds my hand in a compassionate, human-like gesture. I am completely dumbstruck. Her name is “Trina,” a rescued spider monkey who now calls Curú home. White-faced Capuchin Monkeys leap from tree to tree in the canopy overhead, which shades the forest floor from the strong sun.

We carry the kayaks through a narrow corridor of palms, which opens up to a long beach surrounded on both sides by steep hills. There is no one on the beach, except the crabs throwing sand out of their burrows and a few sunbathing iguanas. The bay is full of Brown Pelicans and magnificent Frigate birds, all diving and swooping to catch the masses of sardines that have come into the shallows. We launch our kayaks directly into this swirling mass. The Frigate birds soar within feet of my head; they remind me of pterodactyls with their huge angular wingspans and relatively small bodies. They dive down and snag fish from the surface with impressive agility, never wetting a feather. The Pelicans have a different tactic, they plunge head-first into the shallow water, dozens at a time, bobbing to the surface to snap down their catch before taking off.

We paddle our way through crystal clear water, watching as flocks of birds fly against the steep backdrop of tropical forest, which bounces the many sounds across the bay. It is like being in a giant amphitheater set in the Cretaceous period, a place forgotten by time. Bruce leads me to a small secluded beach at a point of land called Quesera; palm trees lean over powder white sand and turquoise water. This is the beach where we will be setting up our base camp for the multi-day expeditions. From here we will do day trips to the surrounding Tortuga Islands, named after the sea turtles that lay eggs upon their beaches. Stingrays, Dolphins, Moray Eels, Flying Fish and giant Manta Rays also guard these islands.

We paddle back towards the undisturbed panorama of hills, valleys and beaches. Not a man-made structure is in sight. I begin to realize that Tambor and Curú may be Costa Rica’s best-kept secrets, amazing destinations away from the masses of tourists and busy urban centers where a private adventure in pristine habitat is still possible.


Tambor Tropical WildlifeMarch 19th, 2009

Word from Bruce is that El Espiritu del Mar is going along swimmingly. The group set off Tuesday morning, and by now have experienced two of their four camping nights. I’ll paddle in and join them for their final night in their base camp on Playa Quesera. Meanwhile, I promised to share some exciting developments in the natural world from our base at the Hotel Tambor Tropical.

The mangos are ripe right now on the Nicoya Peninsula. This is a harbinger of much activity. Like, right now, in front of our apartment at the hotel, a local climber dude with a huge machete, no shoes on and no fear of heights is 40 feet up in the top of a tree and large fruits are falling all around on the ground. It also means that animals of all sorts are more active.

Every day in Costa Rica brings new and unexpected sightings of amphibians, reptiles, birds or mammals. Yesterday, for example, I led a couple from New York on a hike in Curú Wildlife Refuge, which is about 25 minutes from Tambor. In addition to seeing Howler, White-faced Capuchin and Spider monkeys all vying for the mangos in the reserve, we came upon two of my favorite mammals, the agouti (like a wild guinea pig or hamster) and the white-nosed coati (cousin to the raccoon, with longer snout); both of these are shown on our photo gallery in the Pacific Costa Rica Nature section. We also identified a total of 17 bird species just on one walk.  

What Bruce and I find just as exciting as going to Reserva Curú are the many opportunities to see wildlife right here on our doorstep at the Hotel Tambor Tropical, or on the nearby Rio Panica, which Bruce describes in detail in his blog entry of March 15. For example, when the members of El Espiritu del Mar, the yoga and kayaking trip, arrived at Tambor Tropical, it was an auspicious beginning. A large green iguana, a beautiful species rarely seen on the hotel property, chose the moment of the group’s arrival to show itself on the grounds, to the delight of photographers and newly converted lizard lovers alike. 

Green Iguana

Green iguanas can be as large as 6.5 feet long and make their homes in trees along rivers and streams. They are slow moving, are not poisonous and will not bite unless given no other choice. Although not considered endangered, they are hunted for their meat, and thus are becoming more and more scarce in populated areas. We learned from Juan Carlos, the manager here at Tambor Tropical, that this particular individual probably grew up in the hotel’s gardens, as he was seen quite a bit here when small. But becoming more self conscious as a teenager, he left the area, probably to spend more time right beside the river, and is only spotted on special occasions now that he is an adult.

One of the bird species most coveted by avian enthusiasts visiting Costa Rica is the trogon. While we don’t have the most famous member of the Trogonidae family, the Resplendent Quetzal, here on the Nicoya Peninsula, we do see the black-headed trogon, with its bright yellow belly, and beautiful long squared-off tail. It’s easiest to find this trogon by first tuning in to its distinctive call, described by Stiles and Skutch in A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica as "a rapid, rattling series of clear, barking notes that accelerates into a chuckling trill that falls in pitch." (That’s true, but I guess you sort of have to hear it for yourself before that description really makes sense.) A few days ago, while packing for the yoga/paddling trip, Bruce and I heard that unmistakable call just in front of our apartment, and ran out to see not one but two pairs of black-headed trogons flitting and perching in the mangos and palms for several spectacular minutes. We never figured out if they were protecting a juvenile or competing with resident flycatchers for food or territory. Whatever their objective, we were thrilled to see and hear them so close to home.

Black-headed trogon

I’ll close with a slightly more humorous animal story: Tambor Tropical’s hotel manager, Juan Carlos, and Bruce have discovered they have a lot in common. Two of the things that unite them are a love of wildlife and a passion for paddling. So it didn’t take long for the two to establish a tradition of having their weekly meetings on the water, planning around high tide in order to kayak up the Rio Panica. Last week’s meeting was going along rather smoothly when they came around a bend in the river and discovered a member of the wild kingdom that they would never have expected to find on a river in Costa Rica. 

Water Buffalo

A huge water buffalo, who’d possibly never seen a kayak, displayed all sorts of quizzical expressions for several minutes before making it clear he would not allow their passage up the river. When they came back to tell me they encountered this beast, not at all endemic, much less indigenous to this area, I thought they were pulling my leg. However, they explained that a nearby resort "imported" the big bovine some years ago to be part of a zoo that never materialized. The moral: when in Costa Rica, always expect the unexpected.

Pura vida,

frances