I have always been an animal lover. My day job at an animal welfare charity means I get my fix of dog cuddles on a daily basis. I am fascinated by wildlife, and love David Attenborough documentaries as much as the next person, however my experience seeing animals in the wild has been pretty limited during my 31 years on planet earth. This all changed, however, during my recent trip to Costa Rica, when I fell head-over-heels for this beautiful country and its wild inhabitants.
When planning our trip, every blog, book and Instagram post I read waxed lyrical about the wildlife of Costa Rica and I have to admit, I was won over by the colourful pictures of poison dart frogs, sloths and monkeys that were splashed across the brochures. However, there was one creature I was not looking forward to encountering.
I’ll give you a hint, it’s slimy, scaly and doesn’t have any legs. Yep, you’ve guessed it – snakes. I have had a fear of snakes since I can remember. I avoided the reptile enclosure at London Zoo like the plague, and even looking at a picture of a slithering serpent would be enough to send my blood running cold. I once had to lie down after accidentally clicking on an ‘anaconda eats water buffalo’ video on Youtube. Cute cat compilation it was not.
I know that you’re thinking – why on earth would you choose Costa Rica, a hotbed for over 100 species of snakes, including some of the most venomous in the world as your holiday destination? Good question, and one that I was asking myself on day 3 of the trip when, during our first nature hike at Tirimbina, I realised my eyes were fixed firmly on the floor and I was in a permanent state of distress at the thought that I might see a dreaded snake. Close to tears and near hyper-ventilating, it was at this point I quickly realised that, if I didn’t learn to live with my fear, I was going to spoil the trip for me and my husband (panic-induced screeching in his ear is not is favourite trait of mine).
So, for the remainder of our holiday, I stopped looking at the floor and panicking at every leaf that moved, and my eyes were finally open to what we had come to see – the incredible wildlife we had been so excited about when we booked our holiday. For the remainder of our two-week road trip, we learnt so much about the flora and fauna that call Costa Rica home.
From the four species of monkeys – howler, spider, white-faced capuchin and squirrel, to Jesus Christ basilisk lizards who walk on water and ‘blue jeans’ poison dart frogs (given the nickname due to their distinctive blue back legs), we had the time of our lives getting up close and personal (from a safe distance of course) with these wild and wonderful creatures.
Everywhere from the grounds of our hotels to the national parks were teeming with cute but not-so-cuddly coatis, furry raccoons and quirky agoutis, with different species of lizards and bats commonplace on every stop of our self-drive tour. During our three-day stay in the magical Monteverde cloudforest, a nature guide convinced us to embrace birdwatching.
I’ll never forget catching a glimpse of the resplendent quetzal in all its colourful glory, staring open-mouthed through the telescope, talking in excited hushed voices so as not to interrupt its morning cleaning routine. Or watching a hummingbird zipping about overhead, nibbling on its breakfast and fluttering its wings at record speed.
Without even trying, we managed to see so much incredible wildlife everywhere we went, without once encountering a snake. That is, until we embarked on a night hike on our final night in Monteverde. Creeping through the forest with just a torch for light, our guide was buzzing about all the weird and wonderful creatures that come out to play at dusk, from scorpions to tarantulas, frogs to beetles and of course, snakes.
I braced myself as the guide rattled through dozens of nocturnal animals we might catch a glimpse of, including the elusive pit viper that had been spotted nearby just days earlier. Lo and behold, when examining a tree for signs of a nearby bats nest, we came face-to-face with none other than a baby pit viper. My first reaction was ‘oh, hell no!’ and I edged behind the group for protection. But the more the guide spoke knowledgeably about how baby vipers store more poison than their bigger counterparts, and how their bright green colour helps them to blend into their surroundings, I found myself actually craning to get a better look. Do you know what? It turns out I wasn’t afraid anymore. After spending nearly two weeks in Costa Rica, my fear had turned to fascination, and I had come to realise that every animal has a part to play in its unique eco-system. Even the ones that might seem a little scary at first.
I left Costa Rica with my fear of snakes pretty much cured, and a bigger appreciation for all wildlife to boot. It’s safe to say I’m an even bigger animal lover than when I set off. This magical place and its wildlife truly stole my heart, and I can’t wait to return!
I hope you enjoyed my entry into the Trips100/Audley Travel blogger challenge. What’s your favourite wildlife experience?
Win an African safari with Audley Travel by sharing your best wildlife photograph or video on your social media channels. To enter write #AudleySafari and @AudleyTravel on your Instagram or Twitter post or share directly on the Audley Travel Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/audleytravel/. To find out more or enter via the website, visit www.audleytravel.com/social. Entries must be posted between 20th August – 23rd September.