Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Things I Saw (and Heard) on My Run Today
A Run to Remember
It's a familiar story; at least this first part happens every time we are traveling... I wake up a few minutes prior to my 4:00 AM watch alarm. I stumble around the hotel room, trying to make coffee, get dressed, etc. in the dark, without waking Debbie. Eventually, I make it out the door as quietly as I can.
By about 4:40 AM, I've emerged from my hotel, the J.W. Marriott Guanacaste in Costa Rica. Whoa. It's really dark out. I've run in the dark before, but usually with at least some ambient lighting from streets or buildings. After I get away from the hotel itself (where lighting is toned down so as not to attract sea turtles away from their usual routes), there are hardly any other lights around anywhere. I can hardly see a thing.
There is no moon, so the stars are very bright. I look for the Southern Cross. I often see it whilst running in Hawaii, but many of those runs are in late winter and early spring. When I don't find it, I figure that it just hasn't risen yet. I do enjoy the other stars however. Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, is at it's highest point, with its pointer stars pointing out Polaris, the North Star, almost at the horizon. Orion is as spectacular as always, except it appears to be at some odd angle, with Sirius almost at the wrong side. My world is turned upside down (or, more properly, on its side). I can also make out the Milky Way. All of a sudden, I spot a shooting star. That's always a good omen.
I notice that it's surprisingly warm and humid. After only a few minutes of running, I reach what I call the loop road. Its a semi-private road at the Hacienda Pinilla, a resort area that consists of our hotel, a smattering of houses and condos, a golf course, and not much else. I figure the development isn't going as well as planned with the economy and all. It's a good place to run, because the road forms a five-mile loop around the area, and there's almost no traffic.
I ran the loop twice yesterday, so I'm familiar with it. There are a few easy rolling hills; some fields and open land; a golf course and pond; some woods and wilder areas. Perfect.
The goal is three loops today. If I can do each one progressively faster, all the better. I've started a little unevenly, unsure of my footing in the dark. That's okay - better to start slow than end that way.
After only about 15 minutes I'm already beginning to see the first hints of lighter sky to the east. That's also the point when I begin to hear the growling. It starts so low and seems so far away, that it's hardly noticeable. Although it's a scary deep/low growling, howling and roaring, my first thought is that it's only dogs barking somewhere very far away.
But it's not all that far away; as I approach the heavier wooded area, the sound gets louder and louder. It is almost impossible to describe. I've never heard anything quite so primeval; so prehistoric sounding. Am I scared? YOU BET I AM.
Could it be howler monkeys? I didn't think they'd be around here because it isn't exactly part of the rain forest; Guanacaste is a somewhat drier province of Costa Rica. I begin making a mental list of the various animals here that can kill me: jaguars, crocodiles, various snakes, etc. None of them sound like this. I conclude that I must have discovered some previously unknown nest of T-Rex's. And yet I don't turn back.
The noise level continues to increase until I'm past the most heavily wooded area, and then it gradually fades away. I guess I survived, but I never figure out what the heck the noise was.
A car, the first one, comes from behind and passes by. A couple hundred yards ahead, I see the tail-lights swerve around to the side of the road before it continues on. I don't find out why until I reach that same spot. There's a horse standing in the middle of the road, and because of the darkness, it wasn't visible until I was a few feet away. I think he's about as spooked as I am.
It's getting much lighter as I complete the first loop in one piece. That was slow, and I pick the pace up as I begin loop two.
The forest noises are still there, but I don't fear them as much this time. I reflect that this is a strange phenomenon: I still don't know what it is, but since I survived running by once, I figure that I can do so again. If it was something that would kill me, it would be just as deadly this second time around. But I do indeed survive once again.
This time I spot the horse ahead of time. I also see large birds on the road ahead of me. They look like eagles, but I'd learned that they were local hawks. They're on the road, pecking at things like crows do in our parts. When I come by, they grudgingly get out of my way.
The time for my second loop is indeed faster than the first, and after a drink from my stashed water, I begin the third one. The sun is up now, and it's getting even warmer than when I started. I immediately see two large, bright kelley-green birds making a ruckus in a roadside tree. It's tough to get a good look at their heads, but I decide they must be green macaws.
With about a mile to go I spot a dead snake in the middle of the road. It's brown, and not much larger than a garter snake. Just a bit further on, I spot a second dead snake. This one is also fairly small, but it is colorful.
Having dedicated a great deal of brain cells to learning the poem that could save my life, I recall the operative phrase now: 'Red followed by yellow will kill a fellow.' It looks like this:
red |yellow| black |yellow| red |yellow| black |yellow| red
The serpent's colors are red, yellow and black, in that order. Yup, it's a coral snake. The head is gone, but it's otherwise intact. I suppose that without a head it won't hurt me. But it occurs to me that I ran by this way twice before - what was it doing then?
I finish up with the third loop being my fastest. It was a good run.
A Little Follow-Up
Later that day I brought Debbie over to see the snake. She helped confirm that it was a coral snake.
I learned that it's rare to see a green macaw. But I'm certain that's what they were.
And the noise? The next day I see, and hear, howler monkeys from a boat, and I determine that that's what made the noise. A couple days later, I actually see them in the trees making their howls. Mystery solved.
Other Costa Rica Running
I ran that loop several more times during my stay. Once I actually did four loops, and even those got progressively faster.
Mid-way through our vacation, we moved to a different hotel (Marriott Los Suenos), several hours to the south. The running was not nearly as nice there. I did manage to do some beach running, and I also made a few trips up, and back down, a huge hill.
I actually found myself missing those howls.
Also check out our travel blog entry. You really should, you know.
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