The dirt path was wide and had the feeling of a tunnel, with rainforest canopy curling overhead and dimming the sunlight. With every step there was a rustling, as lizards and crabs and other creatures scurried to the safety of the undergrowth. On our left, we could catch occasional glimpses of the Caribbean ocean but could barely hear it – the waves were small and made almost no noise. On our right, more dense jungle.
My neck hurt. Our heads weren’t meant to be always tipped back, eyes up high. But this is how I walked, scanning the treetops. Or should I be looking closer to ground? Where would the sloths be found?
We were walking through Cahuita National Park, a long jungle trail known to be home to many fascinating creatures. Every movement in the canopy caught our eyes – we spotted a very large iguana high up in a tree. A toucan alit on another branch. There were blue morpho butterflies – my favorite. They’re beautiful even with wings folded, a brown color with perfect yellow circles on the underside of their wings. But when they open, their wings are painted in the shining, brilliant blue of the sea and sky.
Finally we grew thirsty, it was buggy, and the kink in my neck was getting worse so we turned around. As we neared the park exit, we left the tunneled path to walk along the shoreline, and that’s when I saw it. I don’t know quite how I managed to see it, so well camouflaged it was. The sloth’s tan hair blended with the tree bark, and it was so still. So very still, until we approached and it swiveled its head – very slowly – to peer at us. Deciding we were not a threat, it tucked its head and went back to sleep.
And we took so many pictures.
I love taking pictures of animals. Back before digital photography, I could use an entire roll of film trying to get JUST THE RIGHT SHOT of a street pigeon. I have several albums of printed photographs from trips to the zoo (remember when we used to send our negatives to be printed, sliding the rolls into envelopes and dropping them into metal mailboxes outside the pharmacy?).
This Christmas, I was surprised and thrilled to open my gift from Lee – a new camera. AND a new telephoto lens. Perfect for capturing the wildlife of Costa Rica.
We didn’t have to venture far in Cahuita for great photo opportunities. In the canopy right outside our hotel room, a family of white-faced capuchin monkeys chattered in the trees. With my new lens, I was able to see them so well. The sleepy monkey closing his eyes, sprawled on a branch. The baby snuggling in close to mama.
We ate breakfast next to a creek that was home to many interesting birds, and also several caimans. The birds hopped about cautiously as the caimans swam silently through the water, snouts visible, or sunned on the mud.
Another walk on the park trail, another sloth up in the trees.
I’m not the only one who loves taking pictures. Lee and Camille do too, and we each took turns framing the shot, zooming in close, opening and closing the shutter with a satisfying click.
On our last day in Cahuita, we took a tour of the nearby Sloth Sanctuary. We’d come to this place three years ago – in fact, it inspired our initial trip back in 2013. We knew we wanted to return.
And Camille now:
Some of the sloths we saw on the tour were the same one’s we’d seen before. Toyota, with a missing arm. Queen Buttercup in her hanging basket.
Some were new to us, like Darla with the goofy grin.
The tour includes a canoe trip down the river and more opportunities to spot wildlife. We found several sloths up in the trees. Bright green lizards blended well with the jungle background. We saw bats, crabs and birds.
With each click of the shutter, each zoom of the lens, we tried our best to capture the wildlife while keeping it wild. It was our way of saying, “We see you. And we think you’re amazing. And we don’t ever want to forget.”