Julia Hailes MBE

Sustainability Pioneer


Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea (Apr22)

This Halloween's Coolest Claws: Halloween Crabs - Osa Conservation
A halloween crab – photo not taken by me!

It felt magical. We walked through the thick tangled forest and yet only meters away were the waves crashing onshore and brightly coloured crabs scuttling into their holes. We were watching monkeys swinging through the trees – there are four species indigenous to the Osa Peninsula in the South West corner of Costa Rica. We saw them all.

On a rare family holiday with all three of my sons, I tried to make the most of every moment. This was the second half of our trip and we were staying in La Paloma Lodge, which sits on a clifftop overlooking the Pacific. Eating or drinking in their open-sided restaurant we saw brightly coloured macaws and many other birds and butterflies that I’m not so good at identifying.

Tapir heading towards a crocodile-infested pond in the Osa Peninsula

The amazing thing about Costa Rica is that they have an abundance of almost every species you can think of. Returning from our jungle walk we wondered why there was an excited crowd – even the rangers were looking less than nonchalant. A couple of tapirs had decided to wander through the camp looking oblivious to the fuss they were creating. These hog-like animals are on the critically endangered list with only a few thousand left in the wild.

Another noisy night creature on
our night walk

There were crocodiles too lurking in the shallows pretending to be logs. I’ve heard that they particularly like the areas where rivers meet the sea. However, on our beach walk, we came across a wonderful river estuary where swimming was recommended. I’ve no idea why they didn’t like it there but we trusted the advice we were given, whilst staying on super alert!

If you’ve read my previous blog on Costa Rica you will know how exciting I found the night walk, so of course, I went on another one. One of the highlights was a boa constrictor falling out of a tree very close to where my son was standing – another was seeing the incredibly poisonous spider that is sometimes found in banana shipments.

A beautiful snake fell out of a tree close by – luckily we had our torches

But the most intriguing thing I learned is that trapdoor spiders have personalities! Our guide very carefully lifted up the trap door of a few spiders to show us where they were. When she removed the stick they slammed the door shut again. Except that one of them didn’t – he or she left the door open. I asked why. We were told that that particular spider was a bit timid and so waited a while before sealing her cave again. It turned out that our guide knew how the different spiders would behave – she showed us the bold one at the top of the bank, saying that he was generally quite forceful. Bang. His door was shut immediately.

The Hawksbill turtle is critically endangered. We swam with one but this is not my photo!

It wasn’t the season for humpback whales – I’m going to have to come back because they spend several months nurturing their young in the spot where we went snorkelling. However, we saw lots of brightly coloured fish, reef sharks, and most exciting of all turtles. One of them came up for air in the middle of our family group.

I asked Nicole who ran our lodge what happened during Covid. She said that the Costa Rican government recognised that tourism is vital for their economy and gave government assistance to secure people’s jobs. And, some were involved in community work fixing bridges and trails. Some of the guides were also needed as rangers guarding the animals against hunting which became more prevalent when money from tourists dried up. Nicole explained that tourism has been absolutely key in the move from subsistence farming which meant clearing the forests to an economy that relies on the forests and wildlife thriving.

Our wonderful guide Randall was a great illustration of how things have changed. He said that whilst his parents and grandparents living locally were not protective of the forest whereas for him it is not only his livelihood but something he treasures – and his son is following in his footsteps.

I was so enamoured by where I was that I made up a song. Not only did I sing it quite a few times to my family, but I also embarrassed my sons by singing it to our American fellow travellers on a trip to the mangroves. They thought it was quite catchy and sang along. Here it is:

‘Where the rainforest meets the sea
That’s where I like to be
Costa Rica, Pura Vida
I have been there
Where the rainforest meets the sea…’

I’m sure that most of you can make this more tuneful than I did – I’m not a great singer!

However, it did reflect the pure joy I felt at being in one of the few remaining places on the planet where the wildlife is abundant – and the rainforest meets the sea!

The forecast for most of our holiday was for rain, but we got a lot of sun too.
This is looking out towards Cano Island, where we went snorkelling.

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