The owner of the hotel raved about him. Guests at breakfast told us that he’d “made their trip”. He was, allegedly, the best guide in all of the cloud forests of Costa Rica. He was a legend and, like many legends, was known by only one name; Koky.

So we booked both morning and night tours through the dense, high altitude rain forests and were to meet him the night before to discuss. From all the talk, I was expecting a cross between Indiana Jones and Rambo. That evening, during sunset happy hour,  a small middle-aged man walked in, just over five feet; just over hundred pounds. And instead of machetes and bull whips, he had field guides and binoculars lashed to his body. Soft spoken and humble, when he realized I was into birding, he responded quietly, “My specialty is birds.” I had a good feeling about Koky.


Koky – The bird whisperer.

The following morning as we walked down the trail in the early morning mist, we realized immediately the rumors were true; Koky was something special. He was constantly pointing things out that we would have otherwise walked past, oblivious: Plants, animals, insects, birds.

He would cock his head; “Did you hear that?” Most of the time I had not heard a thing. Koky would whistle a reply call and wait. In response, in the distance, we could hear a faint bird call.” There it is, the (insert bird name here).” As he took off double-step in the direction of the call. “Follow me.”

Having grown up wandering through these woods, he had a vast knowledge of the natural surroundings and so it wasn’t long before he spotted the holy grail of Costa Rican birds, The Resplendent Quetzel. Fanatical birders travel from all over the world to see this bird, often with no luck.


Resplendent Quetzel- taken on an iPhone through Koky’s spotting scope

But there it was! It looked more tropical fish than bird; bright red and magenta plumage, a long flowing tail, an over-sized helmet of feathers. And with a diet that consists solely of small avocados, this was truly a strange creature.

So after a successful day tour, we met Koky again after dinner for the night tour. It was pitch black, but he had a bag of flashlights.

About 30 seconds in, he bent down, grabbed his light and peered down a hole in the embankment. “Look down here, tarantula!” I carefully looked in, and six inches down, there was a black and orange striped tarantula looking back at me with eight eyes. Koky explained that even with eight eyes they don’t see well but hunt through sensing the vibrations from insects walking in front of his lair. To demonstrate, Koky picked up a twig and and gently tapped it around the entrance, imitating prey. The massive spider came charging out, ready to strike. I hurriedly took a few steps back. I’m not good with spiders.



We continued down the dark trail, with Koky leading with a flashlight. Again he abruptly stopped, reached above his head and grabbed a large leaf, nothing special. He flipped the leaf over to reveal a huge stick bug. How on earth did he see that in the dark? Did he smell it?

stick bug

stick bug

He also, somehow, spotted an elusive tree cat, the Margay, in the middle of the night high up in a tree. He must have a sixth sense. When Koky walked down the path and passed other guides, they would part before him and bow at his feet. I’m only exaggerating slightly.

Koky lived up to the hype. His knowledge of the surrounding nature was immense; his ability to spot wildlife, uncanny. His ability to talk to birds, freakish. In his spare time, he is also a soccer referee for the local school.

I want to be Koky when I grow up.

Categories: Costa Rica - February 2015 | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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