Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Coiba's Critters

Before we left our home at 34-degrees N latitude for the scorching sun of the equator, Chuck did his best to both amaze and terrify us with stories about the wide range of fauna found on Isla Coiba. While most of the national park's biodiversity is found beneath the ocean waters, we landlubbers did get to see some creatures that we wouldn't have laid eyes on if we'd stayed in the north Georgia mountains.

About a mile into our first day's hike, we ran upon a crab that looked like it came straight from the circus. Its body and pincers were a deep plum purple, and its legs were traffic-cone orange. I'm not sure if the species is endemic to Coiba, but go too far away from the equator and specimens like this become much less common.

Sadly, we didn't get to see any monkeys, although we did hear them howling as soon as darkness started to set in. Their cries sounded like hound dogs baying, not the typical audio effect you expect from a monkey. I'm guessing the hound-type noises were produced by howler monkeys. If I knew what a spider monkey sounded like (or if they made noise at all) I'd tell you whether or not I heard one.

The worst of the unseen noisemakers was what Kevin called a cicada, a nasty locust that also plagues other areas of the globe as well as Isla Coiba. Their loud screeching songs made my nights last way too long.

The only animal that we wanted to see and didn't was the saltwater crocodile. But we were able to see his tracks, which probably left us better off than if we'd tromped through the grassland next to the river where he made his home. A $2.95 machete can only do so much against an 8-10 foot beast like that.

While we missed out on the croc, we did see a few big lizards. They were like iguanas but looked more primitive, like something out of the "dinosaurs" chapter of a geology textbook.

I'd have to say that the most rewarding experience was seeing the two groups of guacamayas that flew over our heads as we lounged on the beach. We had seen them from a helicopter's view on a video about Coiba, but to see their vibrant colors in real life was amazing. At first, we couldn't get a great view of them because of the position of the sun. But they alighted on a high tree branch just long enough to show off and then they flew squawking over the beach. This instance was especially significant to me, because I had prayed that God would allow us to see some of these red birds that can only be found on Coiba.

In the water, we saw porpoises, flying fish, and a school of red snapper, each one as long as from my forearm to my fingertips. No whales or great whites, but again, I can't say I'm disappointed about staying away from those guys.

I've been about 2 miles into Coiba's jungle, and that definitely does not make me an expert. But I do know this: If you're a sucker for beauty and diversity, come to Coiba. Make sure to bring some fins and and all your scuba or snorkeling gear.

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