The California Blog: Lose Yourself In Sequoia

DSC_0354 copyAfter finishing our tour of Crystal Cave (Read about that blog here!), and eating lunch (should I mention that I stumbled upon a bee hive, and got stung three times? Ah, that will be a good story to tell one day. haha. My fault for wandering off trail.)  We set out to enjoy the Sequoias. We decided to take Congress Trail, which is located near the General Sherman Tree Which we had seen the previous day (Want to read about that, too? Click here). The trail was an easy walk, we took our time and spent the rest of the day amongst these trees.
I really enjoyed how the shadows and burns of the sequoias played a large part in the beauty of the trees, as if the dark shadows and burns just made you appreciate the depth of color of the bright red bark.

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On this trail we truly got to see what the forest fires do to these trees. Oddly enough though, the fires are necessary for their survival. By burning the accumulating down branches, litter, and duff, the fires allow the seeds to reach mineral soil. And in heating the soil, the fire changes the texture of the soil in a way which allows the seeds to be covered by a few millimeters of it.

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Timing of the burn is important, though! One experimental burn took place in August, 1969. Allowing two months of seed fall before winter. On plot #3, which was burnt the hottest, more than 40,000 sequoia seedlings per acre were found, while on plots 1 and 2 which were lighter burned, about only 13,000 per acre germinated. The three burnt plots averaged in nearly 22,000 sequoia seedlings per acre.

Not a single sequoia seedling was found on the unburned control plot.

I had expected the sequoias to have a smooth texture, like most trees do. Perhaps an even harder bark to resist catching fire. To my astonishment, they have a surprisingly fibrous, dry, hair-like bark. Something akin to a coconut’s fibrous  layer.
DSC_0296 copy    And somehow this bark prevents the trees from burning down. The scars they do receive from the fires are impressive. Some trees are hollow, but still live and grow.DSC_0324 copy         You could walk right through this tree, which I did, and got this shot:
DSC_0326 copy                                           The inside had been hollowed out, perfect for making a tunnel.  Sequoia With Scar

And from the other side the scar slid up the tree. As if this tree’s tunnel and scars weren’t enough, it was also growing upon some stones!
DSC_0320 copyWhat an interesting tree. DSC_0331 copyThis next one had a peep hole. See that log in the bottom right corner? That’s a regular tree. These trees were all massive.

DSC_0277 copyAlong the way, we spotted this man taking a nap a little ways off the path. He looked so comfortable, and peaceful. I can only imagine what delightful rest the forest would offer. I do find it hard to believe that he looks so tranquil when he’s using a stone as a pillow. I thought I was a deep sleeper!

And with that we wrapped up Congress Trail.
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My friend who is very fond of rivers spotted part of this one from the road. It was really breath taking.
DSC_0366 copyThe water was beautifully clear. I decided to dunk my feet in, and watched small fish congregate around my toes.

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The small town of Exeter lays outside of Sequoia. It’s a really cute quaint town. I absolutely enjoyed walking through it, we decided to stop by Sunday before leaving. If you want to enjoy the shops, you’d be better off going on saturday. Everything closes on sunday. I shaped a few photos I wanted to share.
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That concludes our Sequoia trip!

Tell me in the comments below what’s your favorite town to have visited. Have you ever seen the sequoias with their great scars?

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The California Blog: 2 Million Years Of Crystal Cave

DSC_0055_FotorWe arose early on day two in hopes of getting tickets for a tour of Crystal Cave. If any of you ever get the chance to visit Sequoia, I highly recommend seeing Crystal Cave. We stopped by the Foothills Visitor Center (inside the park) and bought our tickets which cost $15 ea. We were soon back on the Generals Highway ( it’s the road that I mentioned in my last post) and on our way to the Crystal Cave. The dive took us about 45-50 mins.
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We stored our food in a bear safe storage box, and waited a few minutes for our tour to commence.  Before we made our way down a half mile trail to Crystal Cave, we were asked to sanitize our shoes by stepping in a solution of Lysol. This was to prevent White-nose syndrome, a fungus that grows on the face of bats. It has become more popular over the years, wiping out entire colonies of bats. It is a very sad fate that the bats suffer. The half mile trail is a beautiful scenic trail, with a few waterfalls along the way.

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The outside walls of the cave.

Crystal Cave is a marble karst cave. It is one of at least 240 known caves in the park. The cave is a constant 48 °F, which after a 45 min tour, you’ll be grateful that you brought a jacket or sweater.
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During the tour we were told many interesting stories or facts. Amongst the impressive facts we were told, the one that impressed me the most was that the cave is estimated at being 2 million years old. I was completely awestruck. This was my first time inside a cave, but besides that, it was a 2 million year old cave. Think about this, what is the oldest thing you’ve ever seen? Touched? I was inside something that had been around for so long, I only wished I could know all the stories which it hid. What had been inside it before me? I’ll never see anything so old again, and it was magnificent. There aren’t many words I can use to describe how entranced I was by Crystal Cave.
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At one point during the tour we entered a chamber, and were told that all sources of lighting would be turned off so we could appreciate how dark the cave is, and if we could all turn off/ put away anything that would have a light.
I think for the first time in my life I experienced true darkness.

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I raised my hand before my face, and could not see a thing. I blinked a couple times, just to make sure I had my eyes open. How do you describe nothing? I don’t know, but I never experienced such omnipresent darkness. As a result, I became hyper aware of the sounds around me. I could hear water dripping in the distance, then echoing, and realized that we must be in a big chamber. Bigger than the other ones we had previously been inDSC_0157 copy.

When the lights came on, we were greeted with this magnificent chamber. It was, in fact, the largest we had been in.DSC_0193 copy

DSC_0145 copyWhen the tour was over, we made our way up the trail, and back to the car. We were heading to the Congress Trail next. Come back next week to read about it! I’m splitting this day in two parts. I have a lot of pictures and didn’t want to have to cut some out for fear of this post being too long.

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Have you been to a cave before? Let me know in the comments where! I’d love to know. I enjoyed the Crystal Cave so much I’m interested in seeing more caves. 

The California Blog: Beautiful Sequoia, The Magnificent Forest.

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Recently I was visiting California. I’ve never been to the west coast before, so it was such an adventure for me. One of the places that I saw that left me in awe, that I will never forget, was Sequoia. This will be a little series of mine, about my Sequoia trip. As some of you know, we usually write about Costa Rica, but while my mother is away I will be sharing my experiences from my trip with you all.
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As we set off on out trip to Sequoia, I was really excited. First of all, we would be heading through  a semi desert. I was so excited because I have never seen anything that resembles a desert.Sequoia Ride.DSC_3164


After a three and a half hour drive, and a stop to drop suitcases off at the hotel,  we made it to Sequoia! Sequoia National park is located in the southern portion of the sierra Nevada, and it houses the largest trees in the world, along with THE largest tree, which all can be found between the elevations of 4,000 – 8,000 feet.  Though the largest trees; they are not the tallest (which is hard to believe after one has seen the massive size of these trees!) The tallest are their distant cousins called the coast redwoods. The largest sequoia (Sequoiadendron  giganteum), is named General Sherman. It is the largest tree by volume in the world.  It is 274 feet high and 36.5 feet in diameter at the base. It weighs aprox.  1,400 tons. and is estimated at being 2,300- 2,700 years old! Many of the sequoias I pictured are at least 1,500 years old, but sequoias can live for 3,000 years.  Only the bristlecone trees live longer than the sequoias, making the sequoias one of the longest living trees on earth. I thought that was really neat. It made me think: How many things have I seen in my life that are living after 1,500 years? None. It was beautiful and breathtaking.DSC_3257

Notice the people at the bottom right corner? They were so small in comparison to the General Sherman.

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Compared to the Costa Rican national parks which I am used to, Sequoia felt oddly full. Granted, it was the last week summer break. The paths were paved with asphalt, and it was a very easy walk down to the General Sherman. Many people visit with young children. The walk back up to the parking might be slightly harder, but at least you’ll be taking deep breaths of the pristine cool cedar air! It’s wonderful.

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I snapped a picture of this guy on the way up.
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I was so glad that I had decided on taking my wide angled lens when I was packing for California! I hadn’t be expecting the Sequoia trip, and I can only imagine how upset I would have been if I had missed out on the opportunity to photograph these beauties!
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Because we had made the long drive there that day, we arrived in the afternoon. We decided not to waste any time and at least see the General Sherman the on the first day, and leave the rest for the next day.
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From the entrance of the park, the drive to the General Sherman was about 30- 45min  along a winding road. I thought that from living in Costa Rica I’d be more than prepared for the road, but it even made me feel a little car sick. DSC_0027 DSC_3182
We were about half way down, back towards the entrance, when we pulled over so my friend could take a little break. She had been trying to read as we made our descent, and needed a little break to get rid of her car sickness. While she laid down a moment, I was able to snap a picture of this view.MPM Productions-Escondido Entre Montañas
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We piled back into the car, and started out again only to find this little guy a little farther down the road

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It had been walking across the road when it was spotted, and we pulled over to check him out. A Tarantula!

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I snapped this one from the car window once we existed the park, and made our way towards the hotel. That concluded day one of the trip, come back for the next part!

Have any of you been to Sequoia? If not, leave a comment about your favorite National park! It can be anywhere in the world. If you’ve written about it, link it below! I’d love to  read about it. My favorites definitely have to be Tapantí (We wrote a blog about it click here to read about it!) and Sequoia.

An Astounding Rainforest Brimming with Wildlife

DSC_1231DSC_1312      Life has been hectic for the past week, but I’ve finally found some time to dedicate to the blog. It has been incessantly pouring here in the Central Valley and there has been much flooding which is common. What is not common is to see a river suddenly surge. Downriver from the river we visited in one of our posts “A Waterfall Paradise”, a sudden river surge swept a bridge away that connects the Central Valley to the San Carlos plains. This area suffered a major earthquake several years ago and I feel the river’s surge had something to do with it. The people of this area depend on tourism and with all these catastrophes, they have been seriously affected economically.

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This is a type of rodent known as the Agouti (Dasyprocta punctata) it is found in Central and South American rain forests.They mainly feed on fruits and seeds, and are important seed dispersers.

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This is also an Agouti(ah GOO tee), but unlike the one pictured above, this is a baby. Usually one to four babies are born in a nest of leaves, roots, and hair.

We visited Carara National Forest about a month and a half ago, before the serious rains set in. Many people pass the forest on their way to Jaco Beach or Manuel Antonio. It’s about a kilometer after the Tarcoles River bridge, whose crocodiles have been featured in several documentaries and everyone stops to gaze on them from the bridge. Not many people visit this forest, but it’s been one of our favorites due to the animals we saw. One word of caution; be prepared to sweat, it’s hot!

I have often wondered what people think when we visit these places, due to the comments they make like “Oh, you did it.” I guess I don´t look like your typical nature lover. I guess we sometimes surprise people with our willingness to adventure and explore. The truth is I love being in touch with nature, but at the end of the day I need a decent room and bed to sleep in. But life wouldn’t be interesting if we weren’t willing to break out of our little bubble, would it?
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Here are some tips when visiting Carara or most any rain forest in Costa Rica.

  • DSC_1283Take sunblock and a hat
  • Insect repellent is a must
  • Take a raincoat, one of those cheap dollar ones that come in a small packet is most practical. In Carara it was so hot we didn’t use them, it would of been like being in a Turkish bath
  • Most national forests give you a map upon entering, but some don’t. There are posted maps at the entrance of those parks who don’t give maps, so a iPod or phone with a camara is handy to take a picture of the map for reference.
  • Wear closed shoes. You want to protect your feet from insects like ants etc.,poisonous plants, and snakes which are abundant and common here. Rubber boots are a good choice.
  • Stay on trails. It is not uncommon for people to get lost in forests here. The day before yesterday two people were rescued from the Braulio Carillo National Park after spending several days there, because the rescue teams couldn’t enter the park due to bad weather.
  • It gets dark very quickly here, so plan accordingly. You don´t want to be stuck somewhere in the dark. Nightfall comes between 5:15 and 6:15 depending on the time of year.
  • Binoculars are good to have to spot animals, birds, and orchids in trees.DSC_1271
    this is the jungle
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Can you spot anything?

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There he is! He’s a baby Cane Toad. You can find many types of frogs at Carara, though! Some of the more well known are the Poison Dart Frogs, or the Milk frog.

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Though it looks like a butterfly, it is actually an Urania Swallowtail Moth (Urania fulgens).

Carara National Forest is handicapped accessible part of the trails have been cemented and do not have any grades to them. I could easily see a person in a wheelchair getting around. It’s a beautiful forest, Agoutis and Scarlett Macaws abound, so if your on your way to the Southern Pacific beaches I would recommend making a stop.

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I’ll be away visiting my family for awhile and my daughter will be doing the writing   and managing part of our blog for me, until then!
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When In Costa Rica Do As the Costa Ricans

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“When in Rome do as the Romans”, is one of my most used sayings. Why? Because to successfully live somewhere other than the country, region, etc. you were born in, you must learn to do things as the natives. If you are not flexible enough to adapt to this, you´re going to have problems.

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Social etiquette is different all over the world, what might be polite in one country is impolite in another. I have often observed my fellow Americans blunder through situations, in which, if they had observed what Costa Rican etiquette called for, they would had been better off. I´m not free of guilt in this sense myself, introductions being one of them. I have often tried to back track to correct my blunder.

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In Costa Rica it is important to acknowledge a person before you get into a conversation with them. As I stated in an earlier post, it is customary to say “Buenas” (Good Day) to anybody you are going to address, be it a storekeeper or someone your going to ask for directions. When I walk my dogs in my neighborhood, I will often pass guards, people walking for exercise. etc. who will say “Buenas, even though I have never had a conversation with them. I in return say “Buenas” back.

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If you see a person fairly regularly but are not socially connected a “Que tal?” ( how is it going?) is said, to which the other person answers “bien y usted” (good and you). An example of one of the people I say this to, is the guy that stamps my parking ticket every Saturday when I go to the farmer´s market.

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Running into a person that you know is more complicated. If you both are in a hurry a “Hola, como esta?” (Hi, how are you?) is called for, to which a “Muy bien, gracias. Y usted?” (Very good and you?) is answered. If you have time you can answer “Bien, gracias” (Good, thanks). If you stop to talk, be prepared to ask about any family member you know of that person, especially older parents or someone that is sick.

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I could probably write a book on this, because there are many subtle changes in many of these introductions, depending on the degree to which you know someone. This is just a rough outline. My point is, acknowledging a person is important in Costa Rican society and will open people if done.

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I´ve included some pictures we took at a farm we went to see with my husband. When we entered, there were some workers cutting a sick tree and tall grass. Upon leaving we noticed the dead Fer-de-Lances, killed with the workers machetes. The Fer-de-Lance is an aggressive snake. It will bite cattle (which they had in that pasture) and is often killed because of this. I had my doubts as to if these were False Fer-de Lances, which aren´t venomous, or the real Fer-de-Lance. Unfortunately, the False is often killed because it is confused with the Fer-de-Lance.

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Food is always offered when visiting someone, especially in the country, Costa Rican etiquette again. The tortillas were made by the farm´s caretaker´s wife. The corn was grown by them and the sour cream that we poured on top of the tortillas was from a neighbor´s cow. Something very simple but very good, due to the quality of its ingredients.

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On Being a Mother

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August 15 was Mother´s Day here in Costa Rica. I had planned to write about an painful experience I had as a mother with one of my sons on that day, but was unable. I have decided to write about it here anyway.

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As a mothers, things that happen to our children can be deeply felt . We would often prefer to suffer ourselves than see our children suffer. But inevitably, this is part of our children´s life learning process. I had dealt with such an experience with one of my sons for many years, until one day I said, ” No more.”

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One of my sons has a gentle temperament, because of this he was picked on throughout his school years. My husband and I had tried several tactics to overcome this, but to no avail. In his sophomore year of high school while attending parent-teacher conferences, his homeroom and biology teacher informed us, that there was a boy in my son´s class that knocked over his books on his desk almost everyday. My son, in turn, would calmly pick up his books as if nothing happened. She told us, “Tell him to give the kid a punch, and not to worry about getting in trouble.” My first thought was “She´s the teacher, she should keep order in her classroom.” But the more I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that she was right. If my son did not stand up for himself, the bullying would continue. He had to make a stand.

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Upon arriving at home, I told him to go get his year book, that I wanted to see a kid in it. Even though my sons are tall and have inherited their father´s broad shoulders, I wanted to see how big this kid was before I pitted my son against him, I´m no fool. We discussed what the teacher had said and he showed me the kid. I asked him how big the kid was and told me he only came up to his mouth. I asked him if he had a lot of friends, and he said no. I was suddenly filled with anger and frustration, and decided then and there that the bullying would go on for no more. I told him, “You know, I have never raised a hand to you, but if you do not stand up to this kid and give him a punch, I´ll give you a beating you´ll never forget for the rest of your life.” This of course was a lie, I could never beat him. But I knew that he had to be more afraid of myself than the kid for him to do something about it. “One of two things is going to happen, when you punch him,” I continued,” One is, he´ll leave you alone from now on. The other is, that he´ll continue to bother you and you´ll be in no worst situation than you are in now. But I bet that he´ll leave you alone, because you´re much bigger than him. Give him a punch, your teacher says you won´t get in trouble.” I then proceeded to stress how much bigger he was than the other kid.

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The truth is, I was very nervous when he went to school on Monday morning and wasn’t sure if I was right in instilling fear of myself in him. But when he got home I asked him, “Did the kid knock over your books?”

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“Yeah”

“Did you punch him?”

“Yeah”

“And what happened?”

“Nothing”

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I suddenly felt a great relief, and went on to congratulate him for standing up for himself. I continued to ask him for the next several days if the kid knocked over his books, to which he replied “No”. But just to make sure he was not lying to me for fear of a beating, the next time I saw his teacher I asked her about the bullying. “Oh no,” she said, ” your son´s the one throwing the punches now.”

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My son, thankfully, never was bullied from then on. After the incident, he began to participate more in school activities. When he graduated, from the same school, I was happy to see that he was one of the most applauded for when he received his diploma in his graduation ceremony. He is a man now. We have often looked back upon this and laughed at how empty my threat was, but at the same time so effective.

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I once heard someone say that being a mother is the hardest job they had ever done. I think this is so true, but these little triumphs in our children´s life are what make being a mother so rewarding.

My daughter had taken these pictures to post on Mother´s Day. We had gone to a nursery called  “El Zamorano”. They have nice roses at good prices. They´re about 300 meters off the exit to San Isidro de Heredia on the highway San Jose-Guapiles.

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Dancing in the Rain at Tapantí National Park.

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“Life´s not about running away from the rainstorm, but learning to dance in the rain” is what I suddenly thought when we were caught in a heavy rainstorm in the Tapanti National Park. Our outing had started with a beautiful sunny day, but this being the rainy season, I knew our day would involve rain at some point.

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The Tapanti National Park sits alongside a series of parks that form the largest continental protected wilderness area, extending from southern Costa Rica into Panama. I love going there, the vibe of the forest is totally different from the forests in the Central Valley. The road to the entrance of the park is about 2 miles south of Orosi on 224, look for a sign. Once on the dirt road, (which is pretty good shape) if you come to a town, in less than a mile, named Rio Macho, your on the right road.

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If you have never visited Costa Rica, you may be wondering why I´m giving these odd directions. Not many things are marked here, roads, streets, towns, etc., so the only way to give directions is to say “So much from this place” or “When you see this turn left”. A tip on Costa Rican etiquette, when you stop to ask for directions; first say “Buenas” (good day), then proceed to ask for directions. When the person is done giving you directions, smile and say “Gracias”. I’d say it’s worth your while being polite on this point, you don’t want to be wrongly sent to kingdom come because of your lack of manners.

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As we entered the park, we were greeted with Morpho butterflies, but were unsuccessful in photographing them. They are more elusive than other butterflies. Oncidium orchids over hung the road. People here call them “rain of gold” because of their abundant golden flowers.

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Something I find fascinating and were also hanging over the road, are the nests made by Oropendula birds. Oropendulas belong to the blackbird family and nest in colonies. They´re about the size of a crow, so their nests are somewhat big and hang from trees.

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The park has several paths for hiking, we decided to go down the “Sendero La Catarata” path. The day was so sunny I left our raincoats in the car thinking it wouldn’t rain for awhile. The path has views of a very large water fall, I´d say it´s at least 100 meters long.

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As we wound down to the river, we crossed over several creeks.

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The river was a beautiful blue color with clear water.

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We climbed through the rocks up the river and as we were taking pictures I could hear thunder in the distance.

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But since the weather has been funny, I thought maybe it won’t rain too hard. When it did start to rain, we slowly began to make our way through the rocks to the head of the trail. I am somewhat weary of rivers here, especially if I’m in a place where I can’t easily get to the shore. During certain times of year the rains are torrential here. They usually start up the mountains, so even though it´s not raining where you are at, the river can suddenly rise. I’ve been witness to this, so look for signs as to how far the river has risen with the rains from the day before.

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As we walked along the path to our car, the heavy forest shielded us from the rain. But suddenly we could hear the heavy downpour approaching and began to run to avoid my daughters photographic equipment getting wet. At some point I was left behind and was met with the torrential rain. I don´t think a raincoat would of even shielded me. Why I began to run, I don´t know, maybe because we are taught to run out of the rain. But at some point I thought “What is the point? What am I running from?”. I stopped, looked up into the trees and enjoyed the rain falling on my face. This is when I thought, “Life is not running away from the rainstorm, but learning to dance in the rain”. This is something I have tried to apply in my life. Instead of fighting, finding something positive out of the moment.

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I continued to trudge back up the path in my water logged jeans. As I neared the end of the path, I could see my second son coming toward me with an umbrella he had gotten out of the car. We both began to laugh at the absurdity of it
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