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Red-Eyed Tree Frogs And Other Night Creatures

Destination: Arenal

Curtains open, I awoke to an overcast sky, Still heavy with the evening's rain. Never too early for a Jacuzzi, I crawled into the bubbling water, drank my coffee and watched the morning news. I now understood why Kioro is so popular with honeymooners. Returning from the fabulous breakfast smorgasbord, I passed the hotel's gym, but quickly dismissed any idea of real exercise.

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It was time to move on and I had lunch plans in La Fortuna. Always on the lookout for haute cuisine, I joined some Swiss travelers for some meat-on-a-stick at an outdoor kiosk. In truth, It was just chicken, grilled and perfectly spiced. And at $1 per stick it was a cheap and tasty meal.

Tonight I was staying at Montana de Fuego Hotel and Spa, one of La Fortuna's first resorts, Built 15 years ago, when eco-tourism equaled little more than a few adventurous backpackers. Begun with simple camping sites, the hotel's 60 acres now encompass contemporary individual rooms and suites, A spa, canopy tour, horse stable and restaurant.

Montana de Fuego faces the northeast side of the volcano and hotel owner Sinia Villegas explained that September through November are the best months for volcano viewing. Although still the rainy season, The evenings tend to clear on a more regular basis.

The hotel grounds were lushly landscaped, offering each cottage a sense of privacy. My stand-alone room had an enclosed terrace with, You guessed it, great volcano views. No one ever seems to tire of gazing at Arenal, as it plays a game of hide-and-seek with the clouds.

Hiking boots and insect repellent on, I was ready for my Night Walk with Jacamar Naturalist Tours. Gustavo, my guide for the evening, accompanied me to Ecocentro Danaus, named for the monarch butterflies that it houses. Danaus is a privately-run ecological reserve that includes forested trails, a butterfly garden and medicinal plants.

We arrived at dusk and had the grounds to ourselves. Flashlights in hand, We quietly began our two-hour walk along winding trails. We were hoping to spot some nocturnal creatures, And recent sightings included kinkajous, armadillos, agouti, frogs, and the eyelash pit viper.

Before I knew it, the sky was pitch black. Whispering back and forth, I felt like I was 12 years old, on some quest for an undiscovered beast. Bats zoomed over our heads and large boat-billed herons cackled in the distance. The air was thick and sweet with night-blooming jasmine.

Gustavo started chirping, on the hunt for the red-eyed tree frog. After only a few minutes, we found two, both stuck on the underside of leaves with their specially-adapted feet. He rooted around in a pile of dead leaves and found a small poison dart frog, dubbed blue jeans for its indigo legs.

I heard a rustling in the branches and found what I thought was a new species of opossum. I shrieked in excitement but Gustavo patiently explained that it was nothing more than a vesper rat, but complimented me on my sharp listening skills.

We searched for reflective eyes and saw the red glints of caiman in the lagoon and far more spiders than I care to remember. Plants and flowers took on a sinister appearance, with spikes and thorns and alien fur. Just at the end, Gustavo called me over to a pair of yellow dink frogs mating, Something you'd expect to see on the Discovery Channel.

We returned to my hotel where I thanked my informative Jacamar guide for an excellent night walk. I visited Montana de Fuego's restaurant, Acuarelas, for a late dinner of grilled tilapia with hearts of palm and sauteed veggies -- all delicious and reasonably priced for such an upscale hotel.

Red-Eyed Tree Frogs And Other Night Creatures in Pictures

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