Tag Archives: Dolphins

Day 4 – Luna Azul I

Wednesday 22 February 2023 – Today is the first of two full days we have here.  It’s billed by Pura Aventura as “relaxed”, which means, possibly, slightly old-fashioned.  We have a large half-share of a sort of bungalow, with a lovely veranda


and several nice little details, like the pineapple decoration of this fan


(although the room is called “Banano”). The hotel itself is up in the hills, away from the beaches of Ostional and San Juanillo

and it’s generally noticeably hotter and more humid than Alajuela, where we stayed upon arrival.  The hotel has a nice lounge with a picture-postcard entrance.


We started the day with a decent breakfast, which was served in a slightly idiosyncratic way.  There is no buffet, so you basically get food put down in front of you without asking: fruit, yoghurt, granola, bread, butter, their own delicious jam.  You do get to vote on whether you get plain or strawberry yoghurt and whether you get tea or coffee (parenthetical note – I have been in Costa Rica, famous for its coffee, for three days and for some reason not a drop of coffee has yet passed my lips).  Eventually you’re offered a choice of egg style with a variety of accompaniments, so it was eggs and bacon for me; and Jane tried a taster of the local breakfast speciality, gallo pinto. Gallo pinto means “painted rooster”, so quite how they get from that to the reality, which is rice and beans is beyond me.  Also, by the way, “rice and beans” doesn’t sound very appetising, but it’s actually a very tasty dish. The beans are black, the rice is fried and the whole thing is nicely seasoned. Anyway, we enjoyed breakfast and it sustained us right through to dinner time,

Breakfast was enlivened by the arrival to the hotel’s pool of a vulture, in search of a drink. Well, I expect a corpse wouldn’t have gone amiss, but in the absence of that, a glug of slightly chlorinated water was obviously appreciated.


This being early in the day meant, of course, that it was a breakfast vulture, rather than a luncheon vulture.

That joke will only mean something to people of my age or similar.  To all of you good folk out there, thank you. Thank you for listening to my joke.

So: what to do with the day?  There were many possibilities, but we’d identified three that seemed of interest:  some kind of turtle activity, since Ostional is where three-quarters of the world’s supply of Olive Ridley turtles make their home and crucially their maternity ward; a visit to a centre which specialises in the rescue of Scarlet Macaws; and a local walk to see the view and hopefully some wildlife, ideally undertaken at 6am as a pre-breakfast activity.

At first, the auguries for the first two didn’t seem promising.  The turtles regularly come ashore en masse to lay eggs in a phenomenon called an “arribada“; but one had occurred just some five days before, so the likelihood of seeing turtles on the beach (a night trip) was very small. Another option would be a boat trip to find turtles at sea and possibly snorkel among them, but we didn’t know how to fix this, and our breakfast waiter didn’t seem too sure about it, either.  The Macaw centre was in the southern part of the Nicoya peninsula, and that meant an arduous drive of somewhere between one and a half and two hours on the frankly crappy roads that are such a feature of the southern part – and, more to the point, the same drive back, but in the dark. Very daunting. Well, actually, terminal, since we decided that simply wasn’t a good way to pass the time.

We had a quick chat with one of the hotel managers, a friendly and well-organised Belgian chap called Olivier, who told us that a boat trip might be possible and we decided that tomorrow morning would be a good time. We were about to head out to visit Ostional in an attempt to avoid total inactivity when Olivier caught us to say that, effectively, the only option was to do the boat trip that afternoon. So we went to the office where his wife contacted Gacci, the skipper of the boat, to make arrangements – time (3.30pm), location (Rancho Cocobolo in San Juanillo) and cost (US $120 – cash only). Fortunately, I had enough dollars to hand, so we were all set.

The few minutes before we set off for the 10-minute drive to San Juanillo saw us sorting out all those things that we needed to take with us for a boating and possibly snorkelling expedition – swimming costumes, goggles, snorkel tubes, sunblock, waterproof cameras, courage (I am really not good at snorkelling).  We found the rendezvous point and also an English expatriate called Simon, who was to accompany us as a guide.  A few minutes later, Gacci arrived with his small fishing boat. After a flurry of activity we clambered aboard and set off, in lovely calm conditions – so calm, I wish I’d brought my Nikon. Ah, well. The phone does a good job almost all of the time,

San Juanillo beach, Costa Rica

We passed a local landmark, the “Indian Rock”, which delineates the start of Ostional.


Gacci and Simon were surprised at the height of the water – normally there is dry land leading to the rock. Simon reckoned the tides were maybe as much as three metres higher than normal.

This affected two things.  One was the likelihood of seeing turtles. The other was the desirability or indeed the sense in going snorkelling, which is best done in shallow water, i.e. at low tide. I was glad about the latter as I really am not comfortable going snorkelling and only do so in order to try to get the photos, normally unsuccessfully. But the former seemed to be the case, as we went for over an hour without seeing any marine wildlife activity at all. Gacci and Simon bore up manfully under this burden.

Gacci and Simon

Simon thought it so unlikely that we’d see anything that he got the fishing line out (he had instructions from his wife to bring back something from the trip, otherwise it just looked like he was having fun, apparently).


Almost immediately he’d done this, things began to happen.  We saw a couple of Olive Ridley turtles in the distance, and one glided right by the boat.


After that we were treated to a rare sight – Black Turtles (the ones we know as Green Sea Turtles), rather than the Olive Ridley sort that Ostional is famous for.


In fact, it turned out that we were seeing the sort of grim battle which Mother Nature has determined is the best way to banish the weaklings – two bloke turtles fighting to have their way with a girl turtle, who has quite a struggle on her hands to avoid being drowned. If you want to see some of the more grisly bits, and have some three minutes to spare, take a look at the video I made that summarises the afternoon. (There are some other delights in the video, I should point out. It’s not all turtle porn.)

Whilst we were rather voyeuristically and pruriently focussed on these interesting but surely testudinatical matters, there had been other action on the other side of the boat as well. The general shagfest extended to two pairs of Olive Ridley turtles, too


and a distant view of another pair – no gatecrasher this time – of Black Turtles mating. I’m not sure we should be comfortable with the degree of satisfaction we felt with the amount of turtle mating we’d witnessed, but we certainly were happy that the boat trip had been more than just a couple of companiable hours bobbing around on the Pacific Ocean. So when the dolphins came to play with us (no photos I’m afraid, I did get some video though which is part of the video above) it was the icing on the cake, as we headed home past a beautiful sunset.


Simon caught a skipjack tuna, which he was happy about but which rather disconcertingly flapped around in the back of the boat for what I thought was an unconscionable time. Then we arrived back in San Juanillo, where we bade goodbye to Simon and Gacci and his boat


and headed back to the car in a lovely twilight,


before making our way carefully back to the hotel. This provided further education about what it was like to drive on these dodgy roads with their unexpected potholes, craters and narrow bridges in the dark, so that Macaw place is definitely off the list of possibilities.

We had a good but (for us) late dinner back at the hotel


before an earlyish night, as the morrow holds the possibility of an early morning walk; not something I would normally countenance, but, hey, we’re on holiday travelling, which makes it OK. No, really.  So, do come back tomorrow, and find out how that went, won’t you?

We Bear It Well

Thursday 26 August 2022 – The plan for the day was to get to Thompson Sound, up the Kakweekan River, a salmon river (aren’t they all, round here?) where it might be possible to see more bear action. As the day before, the start was a boat journey for some 90 minutes with the lovely Sylvie at the wheel and James generally leading and giving us the benefit of (a) his knowledge and passion for the local ecology and (b) his dry-as-dust sense of humour.  The two of them kept an eye out for shore-based wildlife as we went

and I tried not to worry about the driver taking her eye off the road. Actually, the chance of a traffic accident was, of course, pretty remote.

We passed a couple of salmon farms on the way,

and James explained the negative impact these have had over the years they’ve been established here.  It’s impossible to farm salmon without diseases affecting them.  If you put 100 people in a room for an extended period, for example, eventually sickness will spread; imagine that with salmon, but of course with vastly greater numbers of fish.  The problem comes not with the farmed salmon infecting wild ones coming upriver to spawn, but with the smolts coming down-river after hatching; these catch the diseases and inevitably spread it among the wild salmon population.  The wild salmon population is thus drastically reduced, which affects all the animals for which the salmon are prey; eagles, dolphins, orcas and, of course, bears.  Fortunately, the number of salmon farms is decreasing as environmental activists, including the First Nations, exert pressure and even big business is beginning to understand that the environmental downside is worse than the commercial upside.  The result has been (as seen everywhere where this has happened) an inverse correlation between salmon farms and the health of the local ecology.

We also passed a school of dolphins, who came over to investigate us and entertained us with their exuberance and skill.

The next stage of the journey was a short ride in a (heavily modified) four-wheel drive truck

Where I took the chance of getting a team photo – Sylvie on the truck, James on the right.  After the ride, and some safety briefing from James about how to minimise the risks in case we came across a bear unexpectedly (stay together, no buggering off on your own to take photos, no screaming if you saw a bear, that kind of thing), we set off on a short hike

which led to a river that had to be crossed by a small boat on a rope system.

A few more metres along the track, Sylvie led us off to a place where we had a decent view of a decent view.

It’s interesting to note that, as free-flowing as this river seems, it’s very low, because there hasn’t been enough rain to supply it.  We could see salmon – pink salmon, the small ones – making their way upstream, and while the river is alarmingly low, this is extremely good news.  In previous years there were no salmon, so the bears couldn’t feed.  The unique nature of grizzle bear biology concerns foetal development.  A pregnant grizzly bear will maintain a foetus for a while before implanting it so it can develop, to feed up in order to support the coming cub.  If there’s not enough to eat, the foetus will not implant, but instead will be terminated.  The result has been a couple of years with no bear cubs at all, which is why seeing salmon in this river is such good news.  James mentioned later that we were not, erm, out of the woods yet and that it needed to rain immediately, long and heavily in order to sustain the environmental cycles.

Anyhoo, our time in the spot by the river gave us the tiniest insight into the nightmare world of wildlife photographers.  We sat there for a good two hours and nothing happened, beyond the odd salmon or two leaping up the falls. We took a short break for lunch at a nearby spot – once the abode of “Trapper Rick” but now shared by Farewell Harbour and a couple of other interested parties.

and then returned to where we were, where nothing continued to happen for another hour or so.  Sylvie came round our group trying to establish a “should we stay or should we go” consensus.  Had she suggested that we all leave, I would have happily taken up on it; but the feeing among the group was to stay, so I kept quiet.

Two minutes – two minutes – later….

Which just goes to show that I have lessons to learn about patience. A bear appeared and calmly walked by, just below us, and crossed the falls in search of salmon.

We hastily – and quietly – moved to a lower viewing spot so we could watch the bear fishing. This spot had been occupied by another group, led by a couple of First Nations guides; but they had followed us to the cabin and were eating their lunch, so we had their spot to ourselves!

We were phenomenally lucky.  Not only did the bear walk closely enough for some great photos, but then we were able to witness this.

It was spellbinding.  The other group, alerted by James (there is constant communication between groups, sharing wildlife sightings and other information by radio) came hurrying back, so we moved out of the way to let them carry on the viewing.  At that precise instant, and before the other group had a chance to get the same view we had, the peace and quiet were cataclysmically shattered as a helicopter came over.  It didn’t just fly over, it swept sideways up the river at very low altitude, making a hell of a racket.

The bear, of course, was utterly spooked

and shot off into the woods on the far side, never to return.  So the second group never got the chance to see what we’d seen and, more importantly, the bear lost the chance to eat salmon.  It seemed that it was a government-sponsored flight for the purposes of counting fish.  One understands that These Things Must Be Done, but this individual episode cast a bit of a pall over the proceedings.

There was clearly no point in staying there, as the chance of seeing the bear again was minuscule, so we headed back, now in sunshine. Sylvie showed us a bear rubbing tree on the way back.  Bears will use a tree for a variety of purposes; scratching that elusive itch, of course, but also as a way of communicating with the local ursine community.  Scratching leaves scent and the higher the scent, the bigger the bear – a warning to others about who’s the boss around here.  Bears tend to choose sappy trees, and if you look closely, you can see individual hairs stuck in the sap.

On the way back, we passed the school of dolphins again and they obliged by entertaining us once more

and Sylvie spotted a black bear on a distant shore.  Quite how she was able to do this is beyond me, as I could hardly see it even when I knew where it was.  But there it was

looking for berries to eat.

A day which at one stage looked like it would be a dead loss (I had envisaged a post called “Doesn’t Bear Repeating”) had turned out to be richly rewarding.  I felt really privileged to have witnessed today’s episodes, particularly the fishing, and hugely lucky to have scored the photos and videos now safely ensconced on my laptop.

The dinner back at the lodge was, as ever, absolutely delicious, and was followed by an interesting talk by Sylvie about “Heroes of the Forest”, by which she meant fungi and mycelia, essential components of an arboreal ecosystem.

And that, beyond a certain amount of drinking and conversation, was that for the day – richly rewarding, deeply interesting and hugely enjoyable (my earlier boredom has been largely forgotten).

This was our last evening here, and so we have to prepare to leave tomorrow.  We travel to Port Hardy, thence to Vancouver and onwards to Whitehorse for another three-day adventure.  The ever-excellent Tim has ensured that we have some entertainment laid on to divert us from the tedium of simply sitting around in an airport awaiting a flight.  So come back tomorrow (or thereabouts – the internet connection here is not something one can rely on) to find out how our day and our journey went.

Galapagos 4 (Wednesday): Rays your game before a Dolphin Shower

4th April 2018

So, here we are at the half way point of an intensely enjoyable week. What could Wednesday bring, we wondered? “A mixed bag” was the answer.

The morning was spent on Floreana Island, at Punta Cormorant, which seemed a bit of a misnomer, as not a single cormorant was on offer. There were flamingoes;

even including a juvenile (marked out by the lack of pink colouration);

Noddy terns;

a flycatcher;

some beautifully colourful crabs;

inevitably, some Frigate birds;

and, excitingly, Eagle Rays swimming near the beach.

But not a single cormorant was on show – although there were some blue-footed boobies doing their fishing thang, which is not dissimilar to the cormorant’s diving style.

We were lucky to see the flamingoes – Jane and I visited the same place later on in the morning for a beach visit (which included an abortive attempt at snorkelling on my part which basically has put me off the idea for the rest of my life), and by that stage almost all of the flamingoes we’d seen earlier had vanished.

Later on that day we took a ride in one of the pangas (Zodiacs, RIBs, whatever you like to call them), which enabled us to see that the marine iguanas on this island were bigger than those of Española (though much less colourful).

The bird you can see walking among them is an American Oyster Catcher.

On the panga ride we saw rays and sharks in the water, and also some turtles, which occasionally came up for air (although apparently they can stay submerged for up to four hours, slowing their heart beat to around one beat per minute, down from the usual frenetic pulse of seven or eight).

The most dramatic photo opportunity came as we headed back to the ship, as it became clear that there was a pod of dolphins in the area, and they wanted to play.

and, indeed, were in very exuberant mood!

In the final part of the day, we visited another part of the island, called Post Office Bay, for the good reason that there is a post office there – of sorts. To be precise, it’s exactly the same sort of post office that can be found in Patagonia, at Wulaia Bay; a barrel where you put your postcard after you’ve taken a look at the cards already there to see if any are addressed to someone living near you, or in an area you plan to visit. So, a reliable delivery mechanism it ain’t; an opportunity for serendipity it certainly is.

Here is Natasha, one of our guides, explaining the idea in front of the barrel

after which everyone had a go at finding a card to deliver (ours will be to Chalfont St. Giles).

This was a busy, eventful day with many memorable moments. But the time with the pod of playful dolphins is one which everybody on the Origin saw, some got great underwater footage of and which was a highlight for everyone who was there that day.

To see the highlights of the next day (Day 5), click here.