“This must be one of the most beautiful places on earth,” I thought as we neared the port of Limon, Costa Rica. I’m not sure which component triggered that spontaneous thought: the heart-breakingly blue mountains, the piles of dumpling-puffy clouds, the dark blue of the ocean or the soft, warm golden light of early morning. Maybe it wasn’t any one thing, maybe it was all of them put together.
Later in the day rain forests and rivers and an incredible array of brilliant flowers were to be added to the beauty side of the Costa Rican equation. The other side, the negative one, was the extreme poverty of the coastal region of the small Central American country whose name actually means rich coast.
Aunt Mozelle had already been to Costa Rica at least once before our post-Panama Canal visit. We had both been told that the Pacific side of the country, where retirees from the United States and Europe have settled, is much more prosperous.
Agriculture, tourism, and surprise, high tech manufacturing are the main industries of Costa Rica. The agriculture is mainly bananas and up in the higher elevations, coffee. We were amazed to learn that a lot of Intel computer chips are made here.
My overall impression of Limon and the surrounding area was of a poor, crowded, dirty area of shack like dwellings with barred windows and scrap tin roofs. Many of the people, we learned, had come from other Caribbean nations like Jamaica to build the railroads. The plan was to work and send money back home and eventually return to their native countries but in many cases the people were still in Costa Rica generations later.
During our brief visit to Costa Rica we toured a river and canal system and the adjacent nature preserve. The canals had been built to connect the rivers and facilitate the transportation of logs, including mahogany, from the interior. We saw a few logs along the edges as we toured the waters in a flat-bottomed, open-sided boat.
As I had found on our train trip across the Isthmus of Panama, taking pictures from a moving “vehicle,” was not easy so the wildlife pictures I have are, at best, a bit blurry. Making notes while trying to take pictures and still take in everything there was to see also doesn’t work real well. That’s my excuse for being a bit vague in identifying the creatures I photographed.
We saw various iguanas but they tended to blend in with the surrounding leafage. We did not see any crocodiles or caymans, although, they reportedly inhabit the area.
After our trip on the river system, we trekked through a patch of rain forest on a trail of raised metal grids. That is where most of the following flower pictures were taken, although, we saw lush trees and flowers everywhere we went. I have searched for a field guide to Costa Rican flowers but have not been able to locate one. If anyone reading this can identify these flowers, please feel free to let me know.
Choosing which flower pictures to include in this post was impossible. Each one was either stunningly beautiful or so unusual and beautiful that I couldn’t leave any of them out. If you are not into flowers, you can skip ahead. Click any image to view it larger.
The trail took us into the domed butterfly house. I must have taken a dozen shots trying to photographically capture the stunning blue butterflies that darted around us. However, none of them would cooperate so on leaving the dome I took a picture of the door knob which is in the form of the butterfly. Inside we also saw turtles and three toed sloths and kikiyus.
The nature preserve, we were told, had been established by and was run by a mother and daughter team with no government support. The daughter, we also learned, was working on a degree in veterinary science so they could take better care of the injured and/or abandoned creatures that were cared for at the center. There are anti-poaching laws but not enough enforcement.
Before returning to our ship, we stopped briefly at a banana plantation and processing facility. We had seen a lot of banana trees along the roads and when we reached an actual plantation we were surprised to see the unripe bunches shrouded in bright, blue plastic wraps. This, we learned, was to protect them from insects and disease and sprays as well as to hasten the ripening process.
It takes about a year for a bunch of bananas to mature. Banana trees die after producing a bunch of fruit. However, the plants send out runners which will grow into a tree and bear another crop. After about fifteen years, the whole plantation will be exhausted.
Visiting the adjacent processing sheds brought back memories of my brief stints as a fruit inspector for the department of agriculture. I inspected grapes one season and tart cherries the next season when I was working on a college degree.
The bunches of bananas in their blue dresses were first hosed down by a woman in a long skirted dress. This was to dislodge tarantulas and other unwelcome critters. From there the bunches went to large pools for a cleansing bath before being crated for shipment. Another tourist remarked that she had never appreciated how much work went into her breakfast banana.
A British gentleman I met later who had visited a different facility reported that he saw a “baby” banana which looked like an onion. When it was sliced open he could see the beginnings of each individual banana. He compared it to a sonogram.
On the ride back to the ship, I tried to soak in the deep green of the plants and trees and the mist shrouded mountains. These were a sharp contrast to the trash that blew along the road ways and the poorness of the people. Perhaps, some day I can return and visit the mountains and the Pacific side of this unique and beautiful country.