Poisonous Wandering Spiders, Stingerless Scorpions, Jesus, and Bill Gates too!

4-3-3—–1.  11 Macaws departing the crown of an old mature tree fly 200 feet to another.  The two trees have not changed an iota from the exchange.  The tree exited appears unchanged and the receiving tree is unchanged.  Not a color has changed.   Not a leaf is different.  The Macaws simply evaporated from one tree and slid into another dimension in the receiving tree.  All sleight of hand.  Now-you-see-‘em, now you don’t.

On an unassuming, scarcely visible, trail we went on a nighttime hike in the jungle with a biologist last night.  Four of us.  It is as the movies show: strange creatures lurking everywhere.  Among the thick vegetation from the ground up were motionless creatures that remained motionless while we examined them with lights from our iphones and weak flashlights.  I doubt that any of them remained motionless when a cricket, cockroach, or red-eyed frog ventured by.  At our moments though they seemed to peer at us while we peered at them.  Reciprocity?  Fairness?

The Wandering Spiders seemed way too common for comfort.  No web.  They aggressively attack and bite their victim while injecting a paralyzing venom.  On humans it is reportedly painful and leads to ugly skin necrosis at the bite.  The good news: not fatal to humans.  On leaves, under leaves, overhead, and ankle high, fortunately their view seems to be: why waste our good juices on those ugly giants?

Literally billions of leafcutter ants seemed to be busily engaged 24-7 in cutting and hauling their cargo on little ant highways (Hibiscus leaves seemed to be choice) to the colony that could be dozens of feet away only to pile them up inside to rot.  Enjoy eating the rot later.  For us, towering overhead in the dark, the scene appeared to be millions of bits of green silently shuttling across the jungle floor.  The green carpet was all moving in tiny streams.

On other curling waves or ribbons of Ficus tree roots lurked stingerless scorpions.  What God dreamt all this up?  The scorpions are popular to have ringing your house because their favorite food is cockroaches.  I suppose it is a value choice—a sensibility– to have this 8” across cross between a spider and a scorpion rather than a few cockroaches.  The biologist said his wife prefers that he brings these home rather than the strange creatures he brings home.  They were motionless but we were no cockroaches.  Think about how fast the scorpion would have to move to catch a scurrying cockroach……

One could shout “Jesus Christ!”.  We didn’t but the Jesus Christ lizard was, like its neighbors, similarly subdued.  We have all probably seen the videos of these critters skittering across water on their flying feet, appearing in our dimension of time to walk on water.  Never seen one lying on a palm frond just eyeing us.

Speaking of Jesus Christ, at the other end of this continuum are two huge yachts parked in Drake Bay (no “’s”—he may have parked here but as far as Costa Ricans are concerned, that doesn’t make him the owner of the parking lot).  Lit up in red, white, blue, and a multitude of lesser lights, on this otherwise vacant bay they look as out of place as a disco.  The locals are proud that Bill Gates has chosen their bay to grace.  And yes, we snorkeled with Bill Gates.  Well, we never saw him but that is what he was doing at the same spot where we went with our little 25’ outboard.

In the 1970’s I wrote a paper about the environmental and economic implications of  
“intensive” and “extensive” recreation as the world was switching from observing, hiking, and biking to snowmobiles, jet skis, 4-wheeling, powered this’s and that’s.  “Intensive” to mean intense utilization of the local or global environment (the focused example at the time in Wisconsin was the introduction of snowmobiles rapidly replacing cross country skiing).  “Extensive” to mean environmental (and economic) impacts including and beyond the immediate area.  What was to be lost as zipping through the environment, crashing through marshes rather than canoeing through them became the norm?  What was to be gained by the emerging array of display toys for our masculinity?  What were the implications for the world’s insatiable appetite for more, just more?  Among them, I wondered, was the growing discontent with our government that couldn’t provide the means for ever more powerful toys.  Feeding this appetite was the government’s new role.  As it has evolved, government “stimulus” packages are consciously targeted to help people buy more toys.

The man with all the choices chooses intensive.  A man presenting himself as aware chooses not one, but two, yachts of roughly 100 feet and 150 feet respectively to carry his submarine, helicopters, jet skis, water skiing, etc., and the crews to man them into places like the Cano Marine Preserve and make hi-speed noisy play while the lesser of us paddle about with our snorkeling stuff.  As he got ready to move on, they literally helicoptered in the medical staff to conduct the government-required COVID tests prior to leaving.

Today we went for a hike with another biologist (same 4 people) in the Corcovado National Park, one of the first ones Costa Rica created.  40 years or so ago, people began to realize the implications of logging and expanding agriculture meant for the disappearing rainforest.  Wisely they realized that their future was with the rainforest rather than without.  40 years ago the area where we started, accessible only by boat, was subsistence farming that had followed clear-cut logging.  The government bought out the farmers and today you wouldn’t know that it had never been anything else… except for the few surviving mango and other plants that the farmers left behind.  Wisdom is possible.  Recovery is possible. 

The transition from the second growth rainforest was imperceptible to us amateurs.  Except for the more frequent, massive, centuries old trees the rough tangle of rainforest green intensity at the floor seemed the same.  Hurray!

Scarlet Macaws can live as long as humans, but unlike humans their marriages remain for life.  As delicately beautiful as they are, nature’s incongruity gave them a rough, coughing “CWHATK” voice.  Can’t miss that in the forest even if you can’t see their magnificence in the canopy.  A pair can produce 20 chicks in a productive lifetime and today, Corcovado’s Scarlets are found throughout Costa Rica.

Monkeys, well they’re monkeys, what would you expect them to do?  Frolicking, munching upside down gaping at us, leaping astounding distances from one flimsy branch to another, they are endlessly entertaining without trying—just monkeying around.  “Don’t stand underneath them” the biologist advised, “they’ll shit on you”.  Well, fair is fair.

A family of Howlers was uncharacteristically quiet.  No need to warn the entire neighborhood, I guess.  2 adults and 2 generations of children peered down without alarm.  Nice.

More of Jesus Christ.  Gorgeous colors when not just a streak across the water.  Like catching a spider’s nest in the face while exploring?  These are remarkably tough.  The 4” spider remained but was not happy when the biologist demonstrated by pulling a strand about 2 feet out of shape.  He told us that these webs have now been discovered to have anti-bacterial qualities for humans.  More treasures forthcoming from the rainforests formerly known as wastelands.

Termites are about as busy as the leaf cutters.  Black tunnel highways of shelters made from tiny bits of … something like dirt… and termite spittle run around the trees up hundreds of feet.  Always something to eat and always something to eat it.

The Galapagos is a world wonder not only for the mind-blowing array of beautiful creatures but also for their lack of fear of us trespassers.  I felt the same here.   The dozens of Coati and Agouti sauntered past us going about their grubbing and eating with no concern.  Territorial as they are, they tolerated our presence far more than those from a different family group.  Then again, we weren’t interested in grubbing about for whatever they find in there.

Today with some regret we left Aguila de Osa Lodge on Drake Bay (check it out on the web and you’ll see why) and made our way through the vast mangroves by outboard motorboat to the car and on to Uvita.  It is only the beginning of the rainy season here but the downpour, thunder, and lightning are sobering…  what lies ahead when the real rain starts?  We got a swim in (water warmer than the air) only minutes before the drama began.  Drumming on the roof of our “suite” is all but deafening.

Somehow the only hole in the wall of water reaches out to the setting sun.  Fierce.

The place, the people, the food, the commitments are inspirational.  Not a single unfriendly face; sincerity and welcoming without masks or resentment of the wave of expats with their flash (not really, just in relative terms), curious behaviors, surfer dudes, wealthy show-offs, and just people…. The Costa Ricans are proud, proud people who are rightly proud of their country, customs, and “pura vida”.  They want, it seems, to share it with anyone who wants to join them.  More than refreshing.


Here is a ribbon or a parade of green banners that we tracked from up a small hill, across the jungle floor, up and over the high rise ribs of a Ficus tree root, to this fallen young tree, along the tree for about 75 feet, down again at another tree root, across the floor again, to a nondescript mud mass with two apertures, one for the parade to enter.  When the mud mass was thumped, out the second one poured much larger red ants with pincers determined to ward off or, that failed, fight off to the death any intruders making such a nuisance.  Marvellous!

Nature and natural

“God is subtle.  But not malicious.  Nature conceals her mystery by means of her essential grandeur, not by her cunning.”

Albert Einstein

Sublety.  Nature is full of it.  We’re just in the middle of more of it.  The splendor of the Scarlett Macaws, Toucans, capuchins, deafening cicadas, all are just there.  Invisible until they move ever so subletly.  The slight change in shadows, colors, just a nudge of movement among all of the movements.  Visible because of subtle movements not extravagant displays.

Now-you-see-em, now you don’t.  Emergences, submergences, in-and-out.  Against a grand background of endless sea and tropical forests.  Permanence and impermanence constantly changing, borning and dying, in a state of perpetual sameness.  Nothing stays the same while it never changes.  Only the individual pieces.

We are individual pieces.  We move about the board while the game remains the same.   Pyrrhic victories, temporary setbacks, the appearances of straight lines.

Amid this show, we have had a chance to collect ourselves.  5 most incredible years of any in a lifetime of incredible years.  Not that exceptional over the decades except, perhaps, how condensed it has been.  Absent TV, radio, news, the “latest” in politics, fashions, music,  and all the other things to be concerned with and concerned about, we have a chance to reflect on ourselves and all those things we are concerned about.  What is our responsibility?  What is our role?  Imponderable ponderables.  What is enough?  When is enough?  How much do we have of each?

So as we grapple with these small matters, we are appreciating more fully what the toll has been—our own post-traumatic stress.  Our own incredible highs.

Against a backdrop of song birds unfamiliar and the strains of an invisible neighbor in the jungle playing beautiful classical music on a piano, where do we fit as her invisible neighbors (assumption here from the manner she touches the keys–subtly)?

Costa Rica is doing that and we are doing that with her.  Evening sunsets impermanently transcending the seemingly, now, pure blue to white to orange to redish orange-blue-white, only to finally catch fire and set the whole horizon ablaze.  Even the locals have to stop whatever they’re concerned about at the moment to attempt to absorb it.

Heat lightning, we called it in Wisconsin.  Slowly extinguishing the horizon’s fire, deep dark blue-black clouds bring the “silent lightning” that ignites a new fire between the clouds, never touching the ocean below.  The fire doesn’t diminish until dawn’s light moves the clouds further out on the horizon.  Silent, the noise from the thunder is so impermanent that it is gone before it reaches shore.

The “squeeky-wheel” bird call, as Bunny calls it, starts with us at 5:30AM.  For the first time in my life, I like waking at 5:30.  Outlandish in this otherwise subtle jungle, it goes about this call almost continuously all day…. Eventually bringing some temporary annoyance.

The third loudest call on earth penetrates the air mostly in the early morning and early evening, but it does not ignore the rest of the day.  It doesn’t just bark, it genuinely howls.  The aptly named Howler Monkey doesn’t emit a loud deeply bass toot.  It reaches the horizon.  If you can hear me, you’re too close.

The tiny capuchin monkey is almost exactly the opposite of its cousin.  They are here, right above us in the trees around our deck.  You can periodically hear their rustle in the leaves.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t know who or what is making that subtle rustling until one comes out of the tiniest twig across to the tiny twig in the tree next door.  I remember when they used to sell these monkeys jammed into a teacup in photo ads at the back page of comic books….. just clip this coupon and for $4.95, it’s yours.  My, there has been some progress.

I am somewhat surprised at how few photos I have been interested in taking.  Too static perhaps.  I am reminded of my favorite author’s notes about “Seeing”.  Once one becomes too tied to photos, one sees the world through that lens.  I am trying to maintain a wider field of view.

We have been exploring—jungle communities, human communities, and our own community simply exploring together.

We have been to Costa Rica before separately and together.  Always with good experiences.  Beauty, wonderful people, unbelievably good food.  And in this impermanent world, no COVID here in our base:  the Southwestern town of Uvita.  Nevertheless, the considerate people wear masks indoors and out without regard to whether they are making a statement beyond: “let’s all take care of each other”.  Refreshing.  Somewhat strange to be in this environment consciously aware of the need to wear a mask.  It’s that renewed feeling of strangeness when we first started wearing masks in Marin—“only” about a year ago.

Any nation that refuses to have a standing army is going to approach all aspects of life differently.  And Costa Rica is.  I don’t want to oversell it, but the cleanliness, relative lack of desperate poverty, relative respect for each other and all other cultures, apparent respect for the indigenous people’s cultures, the environment, and more.

Instead on spending money on bullets, the functioning democratic process chose to spend it on education, healthcare, and the environment.  And they are ahead of most places on all fronts.  Costa Rica: the “rich coast”.

Of course, Costa Rica has many and major challenges.  There is poverty.  There is high unemployment.  There is over dependence on tourism.  Like any developing country, infrastructure is weak.  More than a mile off any “major” road and it all becomes ugly.  Our 4-wheel drive completely broke down trying to get up a hill a few days ago.  Stranded in the pouring (warm) rain, trial after trial, no movement.  Notably, the expats all drove on.  Notably, the Costa Ricans did not.  Even a tiny woman on her 4-wheeler quad stopped and tried/wanted to help.

4 drivers tried and none could move the car.  One eagerly called the rental company and negotiated on our behalf toward a solution.  Finally, the manager of the house on top of the mountain came down and lifted us to the house…. Leaving the car sitting in the middle of the single lane road (we did get it as close to the edge as possible).

Four days later we got a new car which is working perfectly.  We were left to stay where we wanted to stay: our house, pool, and wildlife.

Anyway, in the global race to address the challenges faced in one form or another, I believe Costa Rica has a head start.  The kind of leadership that they have had for the last 70 years will make mistakes, will falter, will succumb to fake promises and illusions, but the direction that they have charted, the commitments made, the cultural adoption are all working favorably.

Tomorrow we’re off to the Osa Peninsula, rated by National Geographic as the most diverse biological region on the planet.  5 days there for day and night hikes in the rainforest, kayaking in the coastal flooded areas, and snorkeling after a boat ride to Cano Island.

To get to the Aguila Lodge we have to abandon our car, happily, and take a boat for hours through coastal rainforest, out into the ocean, and jaunt to Drake Bay.  The Aguila Lodge, among other things, has gourmet chefs for every meal.  We’ll enjoy that.

Stay tuned.  Guy & Bunny