I miss the solitude of a winter night in Labrador, not a light, not a sound, except for the moaning of moving sea ice, a place so far away, you were untouched by radio or telephone, a place where communications was an occasional handwritten letter, flown in by helicopter.
And then there is the not Labrador. There is the Osa in the Pacific tropics.
Rainy season used to keep the tourists at half throttle, not as much now, but it is still a charm. There is a place where the sounds are of the surf, of popping rain drops on broad green leafs, of Howler Monkeys replying to distant thunder.
Rainy season in the Osa Penninsula is grand. Please do not tell too many people. Peace.
Tumble in the jungle
Stanley Stewart From: The Australian July 31, 2010 12:00am
... I am in a small boat, coasting along the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. The shore is a litany of empty beaches. Above the sands rise the billowing green arms of Corcovado National Park, the largest rainforest on the Pacific coast of the Americas.
Corcovado is something of a legend. National Geographic has called it the most biologically intense place on earth. It is a tough tag to live up to and tends to create unreasonable expectations. Anyone looking for the Central American equivalent of the African plains - stampeding wildebeest, mating elephants, lions on the razzle - will be disappointed.
Corcovado is an altogether more subtle experience. This is rainforest and in its dense cover many animals take the Greta Garbo approach. They are illusive, secretive and dead glamorous.
Sadly the first animal I see is just plain dead. The dismembered body lies across the forest trail. Until very recently, it has been the size of a small dog.
The guide bends to examine the crime scene. Clumps of reddish fur adhere to the skeleton. The face, still largely intact, is frozen in a ghastly grimace. I seem to have dropped into an episode of CSI: Corcovado.
"Three-toed sloth," the guide says, at last. "Killed a couple of days ago." He walks back and forth over the scene. "The kill was here, then it was dragged this way along the track." He examines the animal's anus (as you do), then turns his gaze to the undergrowth beside the track.
He pokes at some droppings. "Puma. They wait for the sloth to come down out of his tree to defecate. We all have our weaknesses. For the sloth it is taking a shit."
We press on into the jungle. On all sides trunks soar upward towards a distant canopy of spreading foliage, splintered here and there by sunlight. Vines dangle like Tarzan props.
Down in the under-storey, where we mortals tread, great buttress roots push outward into the green shadows where a host of specialist plants thrive, many of which have another life as house plants in our world: palms and ferns, orchids and bromeliads.
We lift our binoculars to scan the canopy for birds. I follow a toucan clattering out of a tree like a refugee from a 50s Guinness ad. A couple of scarlet macaws pace up and down on opposing branches, quarrelling like the old married couple they are. When I lower the binoculars I find a tiny hummingbird, the size of a moth, poking its long beak into an orchid.
The guide is suddenly alert. "Step back," he says. He has spotted a column of army ants not far from my foot. "They swarm their victims. The columns can be 30 feet (9m) wide with up to a quarter of a million ants. They say they can take down livestock. Here, look." He picks up one of the ants and pinches its head between his thumb and forefingers. "Look at these fish hook mandibles. The native people use them as stitches to close human wounds."
If army ants are troubling, bullet ants are downright terrifying. They get their name because their bite is said to be as painful as being shot by a bullet. At the other end of the spectrum are the leaf-cutter ants, the benign farmers of the termite world. Apparently they sing while they work, and bury their dead in underground chambers.
Ahead of us now is a strange grunting chorus, like a cross between a lion's growl and a pig on heat. "Howlers," the guide whispers. We set off downhill into a grove of cecropias trees.
A troop of howler monkeys is lounging in the canopy among the big wide leaves and the ready fruit. They peer down at us with simian disdain, as if they consider us the inferior species, unable to swing through branches and mate recklessly with 20 females in an afternoon. I feel something dribbling on my neck. I look up to see a burly male waving his willy at me. He is peeing on my head.
We walk all morning through these ancient forests. We spot a boa constrictor sloping away in the undergrowth, presumably off to lunch on a deer. An iguana appears like a miniature dinosaur, lumbering through the leaf litter. Slow, deliberate fellows, they are something of a contrast to the promiscuous howler monkeys.
Apparently their courtship takes three months; the howlers get through the sweetheart stuff in three minutes.
An anteater materialises out of the shadows with its long lugubrious face. When he spots us, he climbs a tree. Half an hour later it is our turn to climb trees.
Peccaries are bush pigs that patrol the forest in large packs. You have not really lived until you have about 30 of these snarling creatures glaring up at you from the foot of a tree you have just scaled, clacking their teeth and frothing at the mouth.
As I wait in the tree, a giant blue butterfly flutters down on my arm, its touch like a whisper.
Late in the afternoon we strike up the valley of the San Pedrillo River, an enclosed separate world. Birds shriek on the opposite bank. Below on the clay-coloured mudflats bask crocodiles of the same colour. As if the crocs are not enough of a threat, bull sharks swim up this river. They are the sharks responsible for the Jersey Shore attacks that inspired Peter Benchley's novel Jaws.
Far upstream, too far for the crocodiles and sharks, we reach a pool fed by a low waterfall beneath the green vaults of the forest. It is a pristine, innocent place, decorated with orchids and lulled by birdsong. I shrug off my clothes and lower myself into the water.
When I surface, I notice a tiny female white-necked jacobin sitting on a miniature nest on a palm frond on the bank. It is as still as a statue; I study it for a moment. You could almost slip it into a matchbox and yet the tiny frame contains all the impulses of life: survival, mating and, now on a tiny nest, the instinct of motherhood. In that moment it seems the most beautiful thing in the world.
But beauty takes many forms and comes in many sizes. The next day I go diving off Cano Island. In the straits between the island and the peninsula, dolphins follow the boat, play back and forth across our bow while blue-footed boobies plummet into the waves like missiles in search of fish.
Mid-channel, a humpback whale suddenly appears, surfacing in front of us. It is a female and twice the size of our boat. Its thick primeval hide bears the barnacles and scars of a lifetime. The great curve of the body and enormous splayed tail slide back beneath the waves with a kind of lingering slow motion. The whale is accompanied by a calf, probably a month old, and already the size of a small truck. Mummy whale is leading the giant baby to the rich krill fields of Antarctica, more than 10,000km away, where the calf will prosper and grow.
Meanwhile, in the forests on the shores behind us, the tiny jacobin would be busy ferrying food to its newly hatched young, probably no larger than a bee.
The two species are spectacularly different, but the matchbox-sized bird and the 36-tonne whale share the same instincts, instincts that are also visible just outside your kitchen window.
Stanley Stewart was a guest of the Ultimate Travel Company.