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January 2012 Archives

January 1, 2012

A grand start to 2012: the Mary Queen of Scots Way

I set off from Landrick early this morning, and parked my car at Dollar at first light, to set off up Dollar Glen and through the Ochils:

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From Castle Campbell, a climb took me up and alongside Glenquey Reservoir before dropping down to Glendevon. A further climb took me up the Cadgers' Way to Cadgers' Yett (gate), the watershed at 435 m (1425 ft), spoiled only by the ugly intrusion of Green Knowes wind turbines: the scattered white dots (sheep) convey the scale.

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After a pathless section, and a bold leap across the Coul Burn which was in spate, I climbed again briefly towards the glorious wilderness of Corb Glen:

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After the descent to the B934 near Corb Bridge, Keir kindly collected me and ran me back to Dollar. What a wonderful way to start this new year: I now feel a modest sense of achievement, and energised from the novelty of the route.

For this itinerary, I am indebted to Paul Prescott, of Callander Ramblers, whose book on the Mary Queen of Scots Way we will be publishing later this year. His route is unwaymarked, and has some adventurous bits, but in the course of the last four years he has managed to connect Arrochar on Loch Long with St Andrews on the North Sea, thus crossing Scotland from west to east in a 107-mile route that is almost entirely offroad.

January 20, 2012

Welcome news: Charlotte Emme Knight Bloomer

I am delighted to announce the arrival of another grand-daughter, born to Anna and Sandy on Sunday 15 January in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Charlotte Emme Knight Bloomer arrived, after giving her mother a hard time for over 24 hours, at 2.38 pm with a birth weight of 8 pounds 4 ounces. We were particularly pleased to hear Sandy's voice about ten minutes later, since we had already left Landrick and were driving to the airport en route for Costa RIca via Madrid. It was deeply reassuring to know that mother and baby were both doing well before we flew, even though we were sad that she didn't arrive in time for us to meet her. However, she did time her birth to coincide with her second cousin Jago's first birthday, which was auspicious. This entry has been delayed by our subsequent travels, but I hope any friends who read the good news here will understand why we weren't able to phone round before we left.

Tuesday's flight from Madrid reached San Jose 12 hours later. Wednesday's flight took us to Palmar Sur then by speedboat along the Rio Sierpe spotting cayman, squirrel monkeys and osprey among the mangrove swamps. Arrrival at Casa Corcovado is at a rocky bay: you jump off the beached boat into shallow water with Pacific breakers, so you don't expect to stay dry. The final stage of our journey was in a tractor-pulled trailer up to the stunningly beautiful Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge. It's taken a couple of days to find free time that coincided with working wifi in the Manager's lodge, so blogging isn't as easy as usual, to put it mildly. But from the heart of Costa Rica's coastal rainforest, we welcome Charlotte to our family.

Postscript of 4 February: on return to Edinburgh last night, we were able to divert to meet our beautiful grandchild at last. So in the photos below she is nearly 3 weeks old, her face already full of character and her tiny hands delicate:

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January 22, 2012

Costa Rica: the rich coast

When Columbus dubbed it the "rich coast" in 1502, he was referring to his hopes of gold, but the real wealth of this tiny country is its amazing biodiversity. Sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, its land area is less than half of Scotland's. Yet its habitats include extensive Pacific and Caribbean coasts, volcanoes (active and dormant), primary rainforest and montane cloudforest. Combined with its rich soils and tropical climate, this makes for an incredible richness of plants, animals, and above all birds. About 900 avian species are resident and Keir is setting about learning to idenitfy some of them – quite a challenge. With only about 0.04% of the world's land area, Costa Rica officially has 5% of its measured biodiversity.

Of only 4 million Ticos (as nationals call themselves), one third live in San Jose. The rest seem to live in national parks and conservation areas. OK, that's an exaggeration, but 25 per cent of its land is inside national parks, and this peaceful country (it disbanded its army under its 1949 constitution) has wisely focused on ecotourism. And it does it very well. Every driver, waiter and boat captain sees wiildlife spotting as part of the job, not just the professional ornithologists.

January 23, 2012

Black night in Corcovado

Corcovado is Costa Rica's least accessible National Park, situated in central America's largest area of coastal rainforest. Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge is a wonderful place, reminiscent of a good African safari lodge in its layout and, most important, the enthusiasm of its staff. I had good diving at Isla de las Caños on the first two days, with pods of spotted dolphin playing in the bow wave of our dive boat. Then, on Saturday night, I made a very stupid mistake.

The rooms are spacious and well-appointed, with safari-style high four-poster beds swathed in mosquito netting. I had been drinking lots of water to stay hydrated in very high temperatures and humidity, so a night-time bathroom visit was inevitable. Not wanting to disturb Keir's sleep, I just felt my way through the tropical blackness without switching on a light. On the return journey, I misjudged my climb back up to the mattress and fell backwards off the bed, hitting my head on a sharp ledge on the way down before landing hard on my ribs.

Abruptly woken by groans of pain, Keir switched on the light, only to be horrified by a pool of blood - mainly on the floor, but also, surprisingly, all over the mozzie netting in which I had become entangled. During the ensuing mopup, his puzzled questions and my feeble attempts at explanation, we both became fully awake - much more so than had I put on the light in the first place! The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions: as usual, the head wound is no trouble (apart from the mess at first) but the pain in my ribs is bad news for hiking, bumpy roads and carrying any kind of weight.

January 24, 2012

The day of the puma

Corcovado has a truly wonderful range of species, but spotting is made difficult by the high density of the lush primary rainforest. You couldn't fail to hear the howler monkeys, but everybody's photographs were distant silhouettes. All my better bird photos were taken elsewhere, against the thinner vegetation of transitional or secondary rainforest.

The dramatic exception to this was last Sunday, when a puma made and devoured a kill only about 10 feet from the trail on which Keir, Tim and Susie were walking. Their guide, Jacob, spotted this young male puma which had just decapitated a large iguana.

The four of them had a magical half hour closely observing the puma while it devoured every scrap, claws and all. They were fascinated by the iguana's gruesome twitching throughout; indeed, some 20 minutes after all its limbs had gone, the tail was still thrashing wildly. Tim was kind enough to share his photographs and even video. Having missed out on this hike because of rib damage, I really valued this vicarious experience of the day of the puma. (All images below belong to Tim Geppert.)

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January 26, 2012

On doing things for the first time

One of the great things about being on holiday is that the natural desire to try things for the first time isn't inhibited by the constraints of home life, disapproving children or simple inertia.

The whole holiday is a first of a kind: usually Keir brings at least 5 large, heavy nonfiction hardbacks. This time, thanks to tight luggage limits and the need for some dive gear for me, he brought only his Christmas Kindle, mercifully light and tiny, irrespective of how many books are loaded. And its amazing battery life means that we didn't even need the charging cable in three weeks' heavy usage with two 11-hour flights.

Being away from home is strangely liberating. On this trip, Keir has already not only been swimming in amazing jungle pools but also came with me sea kayaking (at Casa Corcovado), handled some deadly animals and today even borrowed a camera for the first time. Here is Keir in his sea kayak and handling a rainbow boa constrictor and a tarantula at Arenal Ecozoo yesterday:

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January 28, 2012

The prescience of the Clay-coloured robin

We've been very puzzled as to why Costa Rica chose the dull Clay-coloured robin as its national bird. With a hundred more colourful and distinctive candidates, it seemed a perverse choice. Asking around we've heard several theories, of which our favourite is that this bird helpfully changes its song each year when the ground is full of worms, thus telling the Ticos that the time is ideal to plant their crops. They chose this prescient bird over its gaudier competitors.

With 900 bird species resident, it must have been an extremely difficult choice. Here are some examples of colourful competition: the Keel-billed toucan and Scarlet macaw are followed by a Ruby-throated hummingbird.

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About January 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in January 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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