Yesterday, I went back to Cúru Wildlife Refuge.  It’s the third time I’ve been since I got here, but it’s gorgeous and (unlike Cabo Blanco) it has many trails to hike and explore.  This time, though, I dragged my new friend Carlos with me.  He has called, every other day or so, all week.  So I thought, since he lives in Paquera, just a skip away from Cúru, and I want to go again, why not see if he wants to go with me the next time he asks when he’ll see me again.  He’s nice, and I get a heck of a lot more out of “Spanish class” with him than I would out of practicing the language on my own.  Plus, going hiking with me is a challenge- if you can handle it, we’ll probably make good friends, if not…well, now we know.  I love to hike.  I’m miserable at mountains, being a native flatlander, but I still love it.  So I invited him to go, and he said his day off was still Tuesday.  Because I’m a Girl Scout at heart and I knew the trail I wanted to take would be a long one, I packed lunch and water in my backpack and off we went.

As we drove in, he told me he’d never been there before, even though he’s lived most of his life 3 miles from the gate.  I wasn’t as surprised by this as you’d think.  I long since ascertained that Cúru, Cabo Blanco, and most of the other parks like them are more a tourist attraction than for the locals.  None of them are free, and when $10 can probably feed your family rice and beans for a week…well, priorities are priorities.

In spite of his having never been there before, he proved to be an excellent trail companion.  As soon as we got there, I zipped to the bathroom.  I know better than to start a long hike without doing that first; it’s not exactly easy for a girl to just pop behind a tree and empty her bladder like a guy can!  When I stepped out of the bathroom, he grabbed my arm with a grin and pointed up, “Mira! Monos…y un mamá con bebe.”  I looked up, and sure enough, there was a family of white faced monkeys in the trees above us, and staring right down was a mama with a baby clinging to her back.  I’ve seen this family before, but I was still absolutely delighted.  I continue to be completely fascinated by monkeys.  They’re such a strange sight for me to see in the trees, wild and free as they should be.  This moment would prove to be a precursor to the entire day- his eyes are much quicker than mine, evidently, and he pointed out coati, raccoons, eagles, more monkeys, a snake, deer, caracaras, and much more to me, naming them all in Spanish as I named them in English.

What’s more, periodically he’d point to a plant, a leaf, a vine, and tell me, “In the old days, this made good medicine.”  I learned that the wavy, snake-looking liana vine that I love so much to look at is good for stomach ailments, that the root of another plant clears congestion when you boil it and inhale the vapors, and what a breadfruit tree looks like.  I also now know exactly how to tell which limes will be sweet and which so acidic they’re only good for making ceviche with, and which plants to watch out for as I’m hiking because they have vicious thorns even though they look pretty.  It was fascinating.  At one point while we were slip-sliding up a steep, muddy hill, he stopped, picked up something and said, “Este es muy antigua.”  I looked and in his hand…a red rock.  At least, I thought that’s what it was until he held it up by its narrow end and explained what he meant.  The red, cone-shaped piece of pottery he held in his hand was a foot off of an ancient clay pot, left behind by the Indians who once lived there.  As I looked around, amazed, the scraps of red “rock” I’d been seeing in the mud and in the hillside suddenly made themselves clear to me and I could see pottery, some with streaks of black from being used in a fire, some with almost imperceptible patterns.  We were standing in the middle of an archeological site, and without Carlos there I never even would have noticed.  I itched to take one of those little clay feet with me as a memento, but the avid history enthusiast in me says it’s a huge no-no to take artifacts, no matter how uncared for the site is.

It took two hours of steady hiking to get to the beach, but it was well worth it.  Secluded, quiet, beautiful, hemmed in with cave-riddled rock cliffs, and the first really soft white sand I’ve seen since I got to Costa Rica.  We beach-combed, climbed the rocks, ate our lunch while wiggling our toes in the sand, counted dolphins swimming out in the bay, swam, and eventually hiked back.  I think, for me, the most amazing discovery of all came as we left the beach.  Carlos stopped in the middle of the trail, pointed at an old cistern in the hillside, and said, “Listen.  I think there’s an animal in there.”  Sure enough, I heard a tiny, distant splashing sound and off we went to investigate.  The sound wasn’t an animal, it was just water dripping down, down into the well, but there was an animal in there.  Or rather, there were many- clinging to the sides of the shaft were bats!  Several dozen of them, all napping the afternoon away alone or in little clusters.  If you know me at all, you know I absolutely love bats.  I think it’s the lover-of-the-underdog in me.  If any little mammal has an undeservedly bad reputation amongst people, it’s bats, and I feel for the little guys.  It helps that most of them are positively adorable when they’re not swooping around your head catching mosquitoes.  I did my best to hope that my broken-screened camera would capture at least one decent shot of them, and then did a happy little dance.  I really, really like bats.  They just simply make me happy.

By the time we slip-slided our way back, having gotten lost on the relatively unmarked trails and been forced to back-track a bit, we were absolutely worn out.  My feet were bruised, aching, and heavy from having had to pull off my shoes and wade in knee deep mud half the day.  I was filthy, smelly, sweaty, and completely happy.  The clock in my truck said it was 6:25, just a few minutes before sunset.  We had spent the entire muddy day nature watching and hiking- mostly barefoot.  For me, that’s my kind of day.  When I got home though, just shy of 8, I was so bone tired I didn’t even recognize my own name being said to me over the phone when the wife of my parents’ friend Ivey called.  It wasn’t until Ivey himself took the phone from her that the familiar accent of Steinhatchee got through my foggy brain and I realized the woman on the other end hadn’t actually called a wrong number- which is usually what’s going on when my phone here rings.

Today, I’m still foot sore, but the country around me is beginning to feel a little more like home, where I know what the plants are and how to spot things in the forest.