While others sleep, you are treated to the early morning medley of exotic birdsong carried on the cool mountain breeze. Mist covered volcanos stand watch over the lake and your intrepid little party of five quietly picking their way though the jungle in search of the brilliant coloured plumage responsible for that sweet song. That is how my day started when I went on a nature tour with Giovani in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.
Scanning the surrounding treetops something stops you in your tracks. There's movement. The whole group stops in breathless anticipation as slowly emerging into the dappled canopy light is a monkey. His rusty coloured fur gleaming in the sun, he wipes his eyes then head first, tail gripping an above branch he dangles down to take his first mouth full of leaves.
What an amazing start to the day. Experiencing this I could whole heartedly relate to my childhood heroes Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall and how they dedicated a lifetime to primate conservation.
Another flicker of movement, a flash of yellow standing out against the green foliage and before you know it the guide had quickly set up a scope for another first. My first Toucan sighting.
I must admit, they are a lot larger than I thought they were and that beak... wowsers, you could joust with that thing. Look at it, it's seriously over half of its body length in a beak. Amazing.
Then, a flash of red drawing my eyes directly above had me so transfixed gazing at the radiant sunset coloured orange red bird shining like a beacon in the early morning light, that when a rooster crowed nearby I nearly jumped out of my skin. This was shaping up to be the best wildlife experience of my life, all in the first ten minutes of arriving at our first destination on the way to Giovani's private wildlife sanctuary.
Costa Rica is famous for it's abundance of wildlife and eco friendly ways. Being a world leader in green practices carries through into it's pristine environments which house such a vast array of different species it makes my heart smile. Yes, I truly believe that somethings are so beautiful they can actually make your heart smile and for me, that's the natural places of this world. One of which I was standing in.
Cool, clean air filled my lungs standing there under the jungle covered misty volcano, my eyes drank in every shade of green, every flash of colourful plumage in the treetops and my heart smiled in the quiet of early morning.
That smile widened as making our way back to the car a splash of dusty pink glimpsed through the broad leaves of a sprawling tree drew my attention to these cacao pods. A lot of trees in Central America are unique in that they grow fruits directly on their trunks, in which cacao is one. Staring up at these just above my head, another wave of happiness hit. Mother nature provides us with such marvels and such a vast array of flora and fauna that sometimes I find it staggering.
Arriving at the main destination, Giovani's eco-park, red-legged honey creepers vibrant turquoise and blue feathers swarmed around us while we enjoyed our breakfast and they enjoyed theirs, banana. And I must say, they are delightful breakfast companions.
These little birds join Giovani each and every morning as he visits his sanctuary. A sanctuary he built with his own two hands out of farmland by purchasing several farms to stop deforestation, erosion and in turn create a wildlife sanctuary for all native wildlife. Carefully choosing and planting over 400 trees, the hot climes and ample rainfall did the rest, growing rapidly to provide cover and food for the wildlife he adores.
Red-eyed tree frogs, sloths, green iguana's, poison arrow frogs, toucans and monkeys are just a few of his inhabitants and knowing it like the back of his hand he knows where every single one is.
As we entered, he turned over a leaf and there underneath were a couple of red-eyed tree frogs, Costa Rica's national symbol. Nothing quite prepares you for those eyes.
They mesmerise and seem to hold such innocence and wonder that I fell in love immediately.
This eco-park is his life long dream and with the money he makes from his tours, he funnels it straight back into the place always improving to make it optimal for attracting the wildlife he so dearly loves like these frogs.
As, making your way further in, the jungle closes around you, that earthy smell of nature welcoming you. Not overwhelming at all, it is the smell of last nights rain and a plant enriched environment which I think is one of the best smells on earth.
The ground underfoot is a little spongey in places as you realise the delicate ecosystem is functioning perfectly breaking leaf litter down into rich soil in the never ending cycle of plant life self sustaining and enriching itself.
Soon sweat dribbles down your back as the airflow is less pronounced the deeper in you go and the thicker the foliage gets.
Overhead a green iguana slouches across several branches catching as many of the suns rays as she can while keeping an eye on us down below oo-ing and ahh-ing over the different wildlife that Giovani points out as we round each bend. Her banded belly makes her barely noticeable as she sun bakes charging up for the day.
Huge turkey vultures sit quietly, their entire wing span open to air and dry after the previous nights rain looking like medieval gargoyles protecting their home. Well, they aren't the prettiest bird you've ever seen so I can be forgiven for thinking that.
Then everything stops. Giovani waits a moment smiling broadly, then points.
A baby sloth!
Happily sleeping, hanging by one hand with a smile on his face. Well he looks like he's smiling to me and my entire body smiled in return.
Just look at that, isn't that one of the weirdest, cutest things you've ever seen. I had no idea that they tucked themselves up like that and just hung around. I thought they'd sit in the bough of a tree like a koala and have a snooze, but no, these weird little guys just get pooped out and snuggle up right where they are.
It doesn't take much, moving from one tree to the next usually means they need a nap and he's only a baby so he only made it half way before needing a kip. Both Mum and Dad were nearby and I must say this was a bucket list moment for me. One I will never forget.
Nor would I ever forget the pièce de résistance, the final magical sighting... a strawberry poison-dart frog. These little beauties have held a certain fascination for me ever since reading about them in National Geographic and then later on in Herpetology magazines. The native peoples of Central and South America have used them for centuries to make highly toxic poisons to tip their hunting arrows with, a fact which I find amazing. I mean, these frogs are about 3cm long so are absolutely tiny yet can kill a full grown man so easily making it another of natures marvels. A part of me always wonders how they found that out. Frog soup gone horribly wrong for someone perhaps.
After an excursion like this, I wish I were immortal so I could roam the earth for centuries discovering all the hidden gems in all the wild places of this world and my heart would smile for years.