Last week I thrilled, finally, to the opportunity to take a personal canoe trip in the backwater channels of Tortuguero National Park , in Costa Rica , with naturalist guide Karla Taylor (see my blog post ).
I first met Karla more than 15 years ago when she was employed as a naturalist guide for Costa Rica Expeditions . I have since witnessed her at work guiding in her own trademark fashion on several occasions for various companies, including natural-history cruise-tours for Cruise West  (the company went out of business in 2010). Having spent time exploring the rainforests, cloud-forests, and other environments with dozens of guides, I can say without prejudice that Karla is the equal of any.
But, as I discovered last week, when it comes to guiding visitors to Tortuguero, no-one else even comes close.
It was more than worth the long wait.
You see, Karla was born in Tortuguero  village, close to the Nicaraguan  border in the far northeast of Costa Rica. Her mother is the renowned ‘Miss Junie’ , and as Karla explains on her current webpage , she’s descended from the very first settler of the village, when it was known as Turtle Bogue. She knows the lagoons and channels of this water-bound world as well as the back of her hand.
After her teenage years, she trained as a parataxonomist  and worked for seven years as part of the National Institute of Biodiversity ’s (INBio) effort to inventory every living species in Costa Rica.
So one week ago today, I met her at 5:30am and we slipped her broad canoe into the lagoon as the sun began to rise over the forest horizon.
We paddled across Tortuguero Lagoon—abuzz with workers being ferried to the nearby lodges—and soon were edging up to the gallery rainforest, palmillo palm forest, and mangroves. I had expected Karla to use her eagle-eye to spy wildlife, which she did. Monkeys (three species) cavorting from limb to limb… Green macaws  that flew squawking from perches… Spectacled caimans  basking on logs. And although I’m extremely well-versed in Costa Rica’s varied ecosystems and extraordinarily diverse flora and fauna, I thrilled to Karla adding immeasurably to my knowledge with her vast repertoire of fascinating local lore.
What I hadn’t expected, and what sets the “Karla Taylor Experience” apart, was the personal tale she told of why Tortuguero holds such importance to her.
Shaded by the blistering sun, we paddled into a waterway that narrowed down to a lurky closeness. Here, Karla began this intensely personal story as we arrived at a giant kapok  (ceiba) tree tucked within the sliver channel.
Its twisted roots clawed up from the inky waters like writhing snakes in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings . The tide had turned and a whole army of crabs and other creatures was busy gathering food from the buffet the retreating waters had left behind. White ibis and herons goose-stepped atop the glistening mud, stalking tiny shrimp-link amphipods and a cache of other creatures.
A look into the tannic waters revealed luxuriant life: small stingrays flapped slowly over the bottom, and silvery tarpon and other juvenile fish swam among the root maze that keeps out large predators. There were American crocodiles , too, I knew, and perhaps manatee too, lurking hidden from view, motionless as logs.
Karla explained how this channel had once been hidden from view by a wall of vines and other gallery flora. She had hacked it away to reveal this remarkable tree.
In recent years, life had dealt Karla some heavy blows. She had sunk into severe depression. One day, she explained, she had discovered this secret place. It became a sanctuary where she communed with Mother Nature, even slipping into the water for healing.
There’s no way I can do Karla’s story justice, nor in the few words available here tell even in brief her compelling tale. But Karla held me spellbound.
Her story is what made this emotionally charged visit unique.
As I said goodbye and wished her well, I realized that she had granted me an entire new appreciation for Tortuguero and for nature’s healing potential.
Now that you’re ready to travel to Costa Rica, buy Moon Handbook Costa Rica .
If you're traveling only to San José and the Caribbean, buy Moon Spotlight Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast  pocket guide.
If you're traveling only to the beaches of Nicoya, buy Moon Spotlight Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula  pocket guide.
If you're traveling only to Arenal and/or Monteverde, buy Moon Spotlight Costa Rica's Arenal&Monteverde  pocket guide.
Learn more about Christopher P. Baker .
Disclosure: I occasionally accept free or discounted travel when it coincides with my editorial goals. However, my opinion is never for sale. The opinions you see in Cuba & Costa Rica Journal are my unbiased reflection of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Copyright © Christopher P. Baker