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Open Your Senses

A guide's guide for nature lovers…



By: Patrick Odermatt


Photos by: Jacques Villiere

When I decided to move to Costa Rica with my family a few years ago I had no idea what would be waiting for us in this nature-loving country. Naturally, we had a business plan that proved to work well enough to make a living from.  However, I always kept an open mind and all of my senses alert for any opportunity to make a child’s dream come true: to be an explorer of nature and to discover the wild side of this planet! What place could be better for this than a country highly praised for its nature, like Costa Rica!

It all started when a tour operator, mainly because of my language skills, asked me if I could help them out by going as a guide with a group that was touring the country.  Previously having done something similar and only on rare occasions I enthusiastically accepted immediately. Maybe too quickly!


I was actually not supposed to go explore the country, but rather to show it to the travelers!


“I have all the necessary requirements, I told myself, it must be ok. After all, they trust me...?” A scientific approach of reading about the local flora and fauna was inevitable, however I quickly became completely overwhelmed by the incredible mass of information it takes to describe this country’s nature.

Without going into too much detail, there are more species of birds than you might find in North America or the whole of Europe. The guaria morada - the national flower - is just one of approximately 1,400 species of orchids in the country. There are thousands of bugs and critters, loads of mammals, reptiles, amphibians- and all in such a small geographic area...


Did you know that sloths, armadillos and anteaters are in the same family because of some weird backbone they have in common; that if we had the capabilities of a tiny humming bird we would all have super powers; that the beautiful Strangler Fichus is actually a brute killer tree; that the male Golden-orb spider lives like a parasite in the female’s “golden net” or that… the Cordillera of Talamanca was the first piece of land piercing the surface of the ocean when the Panamanian land bridge between South and North America was formed?  …And the list is never ending!


With little time to get prepared I had to find another solution very quickly.  A field library would offer back up for the proper identification since learning about even the most common and obvious animals and plants all at once was daunting, if not impossible. However, the previously well working strategy of using my senses and being curious would actually be the most successful tool for nature observation.


It’s amazing how much more pleasurable it is to hike through the forest, up the volcanoes, along the beaches and through the night when you can hear, see, smell and sometimes even feel and taste your surroundings. One does not need much practice to learn to associate a sound, an odor, a texture or a shape with an animal or plant, even if the odor is not pleasant! I have been bit by army ants, enchanted by the odor of a cannon ball tree, delighted by fresh cacao seeds, overcome by the sight of my first quetzal and finally fallen asleep at night to the sounds of the forest and the ocean. If you do not constrain yourself to specific expectations, you actually will discover and experience much more than you had anticipated and will realize the beauty and magnificence of nature.


Ever since my first tour 3 years ago, I have enjoyed traveling through this country, encouraging visitors to do the same and to magnify their experience by opening their senses, knowing that there will be great new things for them to discover.

Flying Lessons...

It is very rewarding to see tourists happy and excited at what they were able to discover for themselves, leaving Costa Rica full of fantastic memories like the story of the great blue heron who would not want to share his fish with the crocodile at first, but then... suddenly...


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