Archive for March, 2006
The plant depicted here is known in the Americas as Gout Stalk or Buddha’s Belly Jatropha podagrica. A member of the Euphorbiaceae family, the plant was discovered in Guatemala and Central America in 1848 and has since been introduced throughout the tropics including Thailand where it is known as Hanuman-nang-ten. The translation literally means Royal Monkey sitting down on a backless chair. The nectar from the flowers of this very exotic plant is highly sought after by many species of butterflies, bees and wasps. In the picture, a Giant Asian Wasp Vespa mandarinia is enjoying a quick sip of nectar. Some background information on how I was able to capture this outstanding picture might be of interest to you.
During my travels in Northern Thailand, I stopped overnight in Chiang Dao, a small market town located in the mountains about 90 minutes north of Chiang Mai. I stayed in a small but lovely 3-bedroom teak house owned by a friend of mine by the name of Khun Lek. In the early morning, I decided to take some pictures of some of the beautiful flowers and plants in Lek’s Garden; I would estimate that there were at least 60 or more different species of ornamental tropical plants. During my 2-hour photo shoot, I saw numerous species of very exotic and colorful butterflies flying around her garden stopping here and there on their favorite nectar plant for a quick boost of energy. Towards the end of my photo shoot, I focused on a peculiar plant that I had seen any a number of places during my travels in Thailand; the plant had lovely red and yellow flowers, somewhat like the Asclepias Incarnata (a Milkweed species from Central America) together with green carbuncle like structures (looked like the gout on somebody’s swollen finger) and broad heart-shaped green leaves. The plant I was observing was Hanuman-nang-tan. Alas, just as I was in the process of tripping the camera shutter to take a picture, a giant wasp alights on the flower for a microsecond to sip some nectar. Click…Viola, and that is how I was able to obtain this once in a lifetime picture!
Costa Rica Butterfly Gallery
Thailand Butterfly Gallery
If you loved the butterflies from Costa Rica , you will definitely enjoy seeing some of the amazing butterflies that I photographed in Thailand. Most of these butterflies were “shot” in the wild. By all means, don’t miss out on this gallery!
While I was relaxing on my hotel room patio in Mae Salong in the mountains of Northern Thailand, I serendipitously discovered these two beautiful butterflies mating in a nearby tree. The male and female are carbon copies of each other and are perfectly symmetrical. In most butterflies, there is marked sexual dimorphism between the male and the female; in the case of this species, the red-base jezebel, there is “little or none” to the naked eye. The red-base jezebel is relatively common in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia.
I was so very fortunate to capture this pair in the act of copulation!
Traveling to the tropics, one encounters a considerably greater diversity of species, both plant and animal, than we find in the temperate regions. What that means, you’ll see a lot more different kinds of birds, butterflies, flowers than at home.
Butterflies in particular are fun to watch as they flit from flower to flower sipping nectar, and chasing each other as part of a courtship dance. Tropical butterflies will dazzle you their flamboyant and exotic colorations, from iridescent blues to a kaleidoscope of colors.
Butterfly gardens have become a very popular attraction for the tourist crowd; in a controlled environment, one will encounter a great variety of these beautiful insects and learn about their life history including their choice of larval (host) and nectar plants. What I mean by controlled environment is that a fine cloth mesh encloses most of these gardens, to keep the colorful tenants from escaping and also to protect the butterflies from larger predators such as birds. Most of these facilities have dedicated butterfly-feeding stations as well as enclosed growing quarters for the butterfly’s larvae replete with the larvae’s favorite host plant. Butterfly gardens have proliferated especially well as an eco-attraction in many tropical destinations
In Costa Rica, in particular, there are many butterfly gardens throughout the country.
The most popular and largest butterfly gardens are the La Paz Butterfly Observatory at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Nature Park, the Monteverde Butterfly Garden and Butterfly Botanical Gardens at Manuel Antonio. In Thailand, butterfly gardens are also becoming quite popular. In Phuket, Pattaya and Ko Samui , three major resort destinations, these type of gardens have sprung up. In Mae Sa Valley, just outside of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, many of the orchid farms and nurseries also feature small butterfly gardens.
For me personally, while I love to visit butterfly gardens, what really turns me on is either observing butterflies in the wild or in someone’s private garden. In a private garden setting, in order to attract butterflies, there will have to be a representative sample of the butterflies favorite nectar plants and as well as species-specific host plants planted in the garden. Usually butterfly nectar plants will also attract pollinators such as different species of wasps and bees as well. And what will make the garden really interesting, is if it has been set up to attract hummingbirds in addition to seed-eating and carnivorous birds. In gardening parlance, this what we call ‘a wildlife garden”.
In the mountains of Northern Thailand, in the small market town of Chiang Dao, I have a lady friend who has the most beautiful private wildlife garden that I have ever encountered in my travels. What makes this scenario even more fascinating is that my friend, Khun Lek, did not consciously design her garden as such. Khun Lek has a lovely Thai teak house set amidst a large tropical garden replete with a frog pond, fountains, gazebos and an assortment of tropical plants, flower and trees. And to sit on her outdoor terrace on a sunny morning, having a cup of green tea and Thai breakfast while watching’the show” in her garden unfold is a quite an experience.
Calypso Island Tours offers a special Butterfly Garden Adventure to Costa Rica.
Walking through the gardens of the Bougainvillea Hotel , at a distance I sited an old man sitting on a park bench who seemed to be enjoying the peaceful ambiance of the gardens. Being a sociable sort, I walked up to say hello and introduce myself. As I got closer to the old man, who had the look of a coffee farmer, I sensed that something was wrong. The old man seemed awfully stiff, somewhat frozen. It took me a second or two to realize I had been fooled. What appeared to be an old man sitting on a park bench with his legs crossed and barefoot, was actually a very artistic and realistically rendered piece of wrought iron sculpture. There are many fine pieces of artwork including sculptures sprinkled throughout the gardens. By all means, if you’re in San Jose, Costa Rica, you’ll definitely want to visit the Bougainvillea Hotel , if only to check out the gardens and the wonderful artwork.
San Jose, Costa Rica’s busy capital city, can be somewhat unpleasant place for many people to stay. Although there are some redeeming qualities about San Jose, for the most part it is a blue collar city- very noisy, dirty and kind rough around the edges. That being said, San Jose is an ideal place, location-wise, to stay for a couple of days due to its proximity a wide variety of attractions and points of interest. Poas and Irazu Volcanoes, Braulio Carrillo National Park and La Paz Waterfall Nature Park are just a few of the natural history attractions that are 90 minutes or less away from Costa Rica’s humble capital city.
I made my 2nd trip to Costa Rica in summer of 1991; it was at that time that I discovered the Bougainvillea Hotel, a relatively new hotel located a quiet residential area about 15 minute by car from the hustle and bustle of downtown San Jose. Note: the hotel has a shuttle bus which leaves every 30 minutes to ‘it’s sister property”, the Villa Tournon, located on the edge of the downtown area. Set amidst the coffee farms of Santo Domingo de Heredia, the hotels has panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and of the capital city. On my subsequent trips to Costa Rica over the years, when I was stationed in San Jose, I always stayed there and it has become my hotel of choice.
The Bougainvillea Hotel and Gardens is truly an oasis and represents one of the best values of any hotel in the San Jose Area. While there is nothing flashy, gaudy or glamorous about the Bougainvillea Hotel, it is a very contemporary and classy establishment. Paintings and artwork by some of Costa Rica’s finest artists liberally decorate the hotel’s public areas and the hallways and magnificent sculptures are featured throughout the exceptionally designed 8 acres tropical garden. Featured in the garden are a frog pond, bromeliads, native trees, orchids, a herb garden and the centerpiece of the gardens,” the rancho tipico.” In my opinion, The Bougainvillea has the most beautiful gardens of any hotel that I have seen in Costa Rica. In addition, the hotel has been recognized for its efforts towards social and environmental sustainability and has earned a Sustainable Tourism Certificate from the National Tourist Office.
Marine turtles are fascinating creatures. Scientific evidence supports the theory that marine turtles return to the beach where they were hatched; some species are known to travel thousand of miles at sea to reach their nesting site.. The precise mechanism of how these creatures navigate to their nesting grounds is still unknown although many biologists have speculated that the turtles use the stars and the ocean currents to guide them.
When I was in Costa Rica a number of years ago, I traveled to Playa Grande Beach, near the popular Pacific Coast resort of Tamarindo, to witness the nesting behavior of the Giant leatherback turtle. The nesting season for the Giant Leatherback turtle is from October-April at selected sites along Costa Rica's Pacific Coast and from February-July along the Caribbean Coast. Female turtles mate every 3-4 years, returning to the same beach where they were hatched to lay their eggs.
About 40 tourists showed up at about 12 midnight at the designated meeting point for the turtle watching tour, splitting up into smaller groups of 6-8 people. We hung around for about 2 hours until about 2:00AM before commencing our walk along the nesting beach. Apparently we had to wait for the right conditions to fall into place. A trained naturalist guide led each small group, carrying only a flashlight that emitted a low beam red light.
What a memorable night it was! As all artificial lights are turned off at night during the nesting season so as not to deter the egg-laying females, the moon and the stars provided the only illumination available. The sky was like one big amphitheatre as one could see many different constellations of stars and galaxies. It was absolutely amazing. The tour guide who was carrying a walkie-talkie, got a tip from an associate of a giant leatherback sighting. As we carefully approached, we could hear the grunting and hissing of the female leatherback. Finally, we got close to observe the giant turtle; she had a dug itself a big hole in the sand and was writhing in labor as she laid her clutch of eggs. After the eggs were laid, she used her flippers to carefully cover them with sand to protect them from the elements and potential predators. Watching this ancient creature, which predates the dinosaurs, squirm and writhe in pain as she was in labor, in a way, reminded me of a human mother giving birth.
It was definitely a night to remember, not only for watching this giant turtle perpetuate her species but also for the magnificent celestial show.
Calypso Island Tours offers a variety of special packages, which will take you to the turtle nesting sites in Costa Rica.
While I was touring Costa Rica in February 2005, I visited Bosque de Paz, a small family owned nature lodge and privately owned Biological Preserve. I had heard a lot of good things about this relatively new lodge, so I definitely wanted to check it our personally
The lodge, located in the mountains northwest of the capital, San Jose, is a relatively easy 2-hour drive by car. (Mostly likely youll need a 4WD).Passing thru the quaint colonial town of Zarcero, the road to the lodge and the biological reserve is just off the main highway. Passing by dairy farms and small villages, the paved road climbs steeply into the mountains before reaching the turnoff to the lodge, a dirt, but relatively- easy to-navigate road. Located in a clearing in the middle forest and the wilderness, Bosque de Paz definitely has the feeling of being very remote and cutoff from civilization. Fine by me..
The owners of this fine facility, Mr. and Mrs. Federico Gonzales were very cordial and friendly hosts as they showed me around the property and invited me for lunch; Federico is a lawyer by profession while Mrs. Gonzales is a housewife and an administrator. Fed up with urban life and clutter of San Jose, they purchased a large tract of land in the mountains and built this small nature lodge. The remainder of the land (about 95% of their holdings) is maintained as a private biological reserve in an effort to preserve the rainforest and the wilderness. The reserve functions as a natural biological corridor that connects the Poás Volcano National Park with the Juan Castro Blanco National Park.
Other than the lodge, the land is undeveloped and remains as undisturbed primary rain and cloud forest. They operate Bosque de Paz not really as a business but more or less as a hobby and as dedicated environmentalists. All the profits, after taking care of overhead and administrative expenses, are used to buy up more wilderness/ rainforest acreage in order to protect the forest from human habitation and commercial development.
Bosque de Paz has about 15 rooms; all rooms are large, simply but attractively furnished using local artisan handicrafts with private outdoor terrace. The small restaurant has outstanding views of the mountains and the forest; the delicious meals are prepared very healthfully using whenever possible, organic produce. As I am a vegetarian, they prepared a special vegetarian lunch for me, complete with enchiladas, fresh tortillas, bean soup and a very tasty dessert. Hmm muy delicioso! The compound has a small library stocked with reference books on the natural history
of Costa Rica, a small outdoor orchid nursery; for the avid birding crowd, there is a hummingbird gallery and dedicated bird feeding stations located just outside the restaurant. I observed a family of wild Coati, relatives of our raccoons, raiding the bird feeding stations much like the squirrels do in California. In addition, there are a number of nature trails for visitors to choose from. I chose the botanical nature trail, which featured the native plants and vegetation of the forest; an easy 1 mile leisurely walk. One of the nature hikes will take you to some spectacular waterfalls located deep in the rainforest as well as natural mineral hot springs
Bosque de Paz is an absolutely wonderful place to get away from it all and commune with nature. Peacefully idyllic, quiet and restful.
Calypso Island Tours features Bosque de Paz on a number of our special packages to Costa Rica. By all means, check it out!
As an avid runner for over 30 years, whenever I travel, I always look for places or venues to run. When I am in the countryside or rural area, typically I will just run along the highway on the shoulder of the road facing the traffic. When I am situated “smackdab” in the middle of a sprawling congested metropolis like Bangkok, Thailand, I typically look for urban parks to do my thing. With a population of over 9 million inhabitants, Bangkok’s streets and thoroughfares are choked with automobile traffic and the air pollution index is very high. Hint, Bangkok is very smoggy….
In Bangkok, I usually stay in the area known as the Upper Sukhumvit, which is the primary tourist zone. The most accessable running/exercise venues in central Bangkok are as follows:
#`1 Ben Jasiri Park Located near the upscale Emporium Shopping Center on Sukhumvit between Soi 24/26, this park is my primary running venue. An attractive inner city park popular with runners, recreational walkers, volleyball players and group Tai Chi exercise classes, the park is decorated with sculptures and plantings of lantom flowers. A lap around the park is approximately 1000 yards (914 meters). My only complaint about this park is its smallness; I wish a whole lap around the park would be a least a mile.
#2 Ben Jakiti Park
Located near the Asoke BTS Station off the Sukhumvit. Newly built by the Tobacco Factory where the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center is currently situated, this park has a water garden with nice jogging and riding tracks. A friend in Bangkok tipped me off about this new venue.
#3 Lumpini Park
Located near the Saladeng BTS Station about 3 miles from the Emporium, this venerable park is by far the most popular among Bangkokians. About 1-½ miles around, Lumpini is a fairly big facility, crisscrossed with many running and walking paths. A great place to hang out and exercise, especially in the morning hours as there so many things going on including Tai Chi and yoga exercise classes, Thai and ballroom dancing, sword fighting, kiting and paddling boat rides on the lake. A real microcosm of Thai culture and life.
The best outdoor exercise and running venue in my opinion is The Rama IX Gardens the Royal Gardens, a huge facility located in the outskirts of Bangkok, far removed from the City center. With its beautiful botanical gardens and stunning architecture, these gardens were built by the Royal family and named after the current King. Inside the park, there is a large manmade lake, a popular paddleboat venue. During the late afternoon hours, the immense car park is filled with cars of Bangkokians seeking to recreate and exercise after a long day at the office. Some of the most seasoned runners in Bangkok congregate here.