Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Crazy Critters in Costa Rica

Current Location:  Quepos, Costa Rica
It’s been a while since writing about the wildlife we encounter aboard Knee Deep (this excludes the human species on our board…which can technically be classified as “wild”).  Costa Rica has served up an amazing mix of land and sea animal encounters we have yet to experience elsewhere.

While anchoring off Playa Panama, Ben and I sat up on deck after putting the boys to bed and were awed at how much phosphorescence there was that night.  However, I had the boys do some research on the subject and they discovered it’s actually called bioluminescence….but I’ll let them explain that on their own blog.

 If you’re of my generation, imagine one of those black lights we all had in the 1980’s, that when you turned off the regular lights, it made white items glow in the dark (or check out the Friends episode when Ross gets his teeth whitened and dates a girl with a black light). We assumed the large, moving spotlight against the dark water were schools of fish swimming under our boat and were amazed at how bright it was. Our educated guess was confirmed with the arrival of a dolphin pod. First, we heard the sound of blowholes approaching, which we have smugly grown accustomed to (i.e. Mickey and JP saying “dolphins are kind of like squirrels to me now.”).

Then we spotted torpedo-like flashes flying through the water, chasing the large spotlight under our boat. The dolphins had come to feed (if it had been the 60’s, I’m sure we would have chalked it up to another ‘crazy trip, man’……or if the 70’s or 80’s, Pink Floyd would have been playing in the background).  As the dolphins raced into the large school of fish, there would be an explosion of white light as the two masses came together and then quickly parted ways.

We were entertained for the next half hour as they raced around our boat eating their evening meal.  Ben had briefly taken the dinghy out to rescue a wayward ponga which had broken free of its mooring (honestly, the guy has a cache of good karma points stored up!). He rowed through the pod of dolphins and I watched in amazement as they flew under and jumped alongside him.  From both our vantage points (me on the bow of our boat, he in the dinghy), we could have reached out and touched them.

Perhaps Ben put it best when he softly said, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life”.  This, from a man who has sailed 20,000 miles in various international waters. It was that spectacular. It moved me and although it may sound corny….it was quite the spiritual experience.  Afterwards as we sat in the cockpit grinning like the little kids, I thought back to the long conversations where my college roommate, Bridget and I would commiserate over questions like:

Is there a God?
What is the meaning of life?
What is the need for humans to have religion?
Are people intrinsically good or bad?
Was Buddha really fat?
Does watching 10 Christmas movies in a row during finals week constitute a religious experience or does it just cause temporary insanity?

Much to the annoyance of our fellow roommates, these questions were pondered often and were usually inspired by the most recent Star Wars the Next Generation episode. In our defense, they really should have known.  Bridget, Humanities major and I with a minor in Philosophy was a recipe for nerdy late night commiserating.

The nighttime experience definitely is my front runner for all time top wildlife encounters so far, but there are others that rate pretty high on the list since entering Costa Rica. Recently, while sailing offshore we saw two huge sea turtles mating.  Picture these decades old creatures, 4 to 5 feet in diameter, bobbing along in the middle of the ocean. It’s still exciting to see one these solitary creatures floating by, but to witness one on top of the other engaging in “relations” was hard to believe. One of them was wildly flapping its flipper, making me realize those guys can really move if motivated correctly.  As you would guess the other Frat House brothers cracked jokes and giggled while witnessing the scene. The boys (not Ben) eventually asked, “What are they doing?”

I replied, “Making babies”.

Glib with my scientific explanation, J.P. quickly added, “But wait….I thought the mom laid eggs on the beach alone and left them there. That’s why we helped release the baby turtles on the beach in El Salvador.”

Damn, this kid is already too worldly for his own good. I quickly added, “Well, she still needs a male to fertilize her eggs” (secretly willing the conversation to end here). Both Mickey and JP seemed satisfied with my explanation....Marlon Perkins style…if you don’t know who that is, you didn’t grow up watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on Sunday nights…if you did, let it be known my favorite part was Marlon proclaiming every stinkin’ week, “now Jim, my assistant will approach the dangerous and deadly _______ (enter wild animal name here) as he narrated safely from the Jeep or boat.

But I digress….

There have also been beautiful brightly colored parrots which we saw in Bahia Santa Elena, an isolated National Park we anchored off of for a week. I was surprised to find even more during our stay at Marina Papagayo, where every evening they would take over the trees outside the clubhouse. My favorite part was watching them fly two by two every where they went. Even living aboard the Floating Frat House, I’m still a sucker for romance.

The most anticipated animal for me were the wild monkeys I have heard so much about. To my surprise, our first encounter was in Playa de Cocos while eating in a restaurant. I was stunned to look up and find a group of 6 or 7 howler monkeys climbing amongst the treetops directly overhead, complete with baby in tow. Now we have grown accustomed to their deep, guttural howls we hear every night in most anchorages we visit in Costa Rica.


Video to follow when we have better Internet.

Even the cows are more exotic and different.  Mickey will be posting a recording of the belching cow we stumbled upon in Bahia Ballena. Hilarious!
But perhaps the most exciting encounter took place within the walls of Knee Deep. One morning while anchored off Playa Samara, Ben took the boys off to explore a nearby island with our friend Michael…an all boy’s excursion. I was left behind, happily snuggled in my bed fighting off a cold. Half asleep I felt something stir above my head on the pillow and when I turned to check it out….there staring at me were two little, beady, black bulging eyes.

What happened next was similar to a campy horror film. I leapt out of bed, violently smacking the top of my head and shrieking at the top of my lungs. If a local fisherman had been passing by, he would have surely concluded someone was being murdered aboard Knee Deep. I have no shame….I was freaked!!! From my perch in the cockpit, as far as I could physically get from my bed, my brain attempted to deduce what the heck was sharing my pillow?

“A mouse…but I’ve never seen a black mouse!!” I thought.

After radioing Ben and the boys without a reply, I realized I was on my own for the next hour. Just me and my new bed fellow.

“Might as well figure out what the hell that thing is”, I thought.  And further comforted myself with, “besides its probably dead!”.

So back in the boat I went, like a scared child condemned to her dark bedroom after a scary nightmare. I grabbed the long flag pole from the quarter berth and flipped up my pillow from the safe distance of four feet.

There he was – lying on Ben’s pillow, still for a moment and then scurried off to the darkest corner of our bunk.

“Soooo, not dead!” a little voice inside my head shouted. More shrieks occurred.

Short, little tail….black, furry body…webbed-like wings. You guessed it….it was a BAT!! Not a bat of the George Clooney, Christian Bale or Val Kilmer type (who I would not kick out of bed, by the way)…but the real deal, a stinkin’ BAT!!!
NOT....George Clooney....

While the nighttime dolphin encounter was euphoric and inspiring, this one was teetering on hellish. Honestly this is a perfect example of how life goes living aboard a sailboat, one minute you are watching golden sunsets, sipping a rum and coke with tropical breezes flowing through your hair and the next you are up on deck in the middle of the night on anchor watch with 40 mph winds blowing.

The pink line in this picture is where our boat swung (all over) during a high wind night at anchor.  J.P, who slept through the whole thing, awoke the next morning, looked at this and proclaimed with a smile on his face, “Hey, look at all these pink lines, what’s that all about?”. Aw, ignorance is bliss!!!

Image 2496 (chartplotter)

After giving myself a pep-talk worthy of Norman Dale from the movie Hoosiers (one of those college roommates I annoyed, Darla, will know what I'm talking about), I managed to sit in the companionway and contemplate my options. Extract the beast on my own? But what if he bit me? Rabies? Risk of becoming a vampire?

I concluded that the safest option was to sit and watch where he goes so I could inform the onboard exterminator the bat’s exact location, whereupon I would rapidly run from the premises.

So that’s what I did. Ben and the boys arrived about an hour later and my husband reluctantly, yet valiantly went down below to evict our newest resident. He didn’t have the heart to just throw him overboard since he appeared unable to fly. So he did what every experienced bat extractor would do….dumped him in a Tupperware bowl and rowed him over to our friend, Michael’s boat (in the spirit of full disclosure, I informed Ben that the bat could no longer be on our boat and he really didn’t feel like making a special trip to shore to release him). Michael looked after him for a while (see his side of the story) and a couple hours later they were on shore releasing him back into the wild. We are not quite sure how long the little guy would last if he didn’t recoup his ability to fly, but it was the best we could do.

So there you have it….glowing dolphins, humping turtles, howling monkeys, burping cows and bed sharing bats. Life is never dull on the high seas.







  1. Great Blog. Amazing stories and adventures that transport me to the tropics! I still can't watch "White Christmas" without thinking of our christmas movie marathon. I also can't think about big ideas, big bellied buddahs and the purpose of religion in society without craving ultra-thin menthol cigarettes and keystone beer. "sisters...sisters..never ever ever better sisters...." xo B

    1. I have no idea what you are talking about...ultra thin menthol cigarettes....never happened, I would never have been so reckless in college!!! ;)