Little Hiking Buddies, Bo & Booster

This is for my hiking friends on the east coast trails I used to hike, and on the west coast trails where I now hike, who may have wondered about the little faces peering at them from my back pack.


Part 1 – Searching for our Roots

by Bo Bearlet and Afiena Kamminga

My name is Bo, and I’m a backpack bearlet – you know, one of those little guys who make a career out of traveling in people’s backpacks to see the world. My pal, Booster – another backpack bearlet, to my mind – likes to think he isn’t a bearlet at all.

Bo Bearlet, AuthorBo Bearlet, Author

Because, you see, Booster has spots. And that, he says, is how you can tell he’s really a jaguar shrunk to bearlet size after a voodoo-sorcerer took a dislike to him.

Our human companions, He and She, tend to snicker when Booster comes up with this tale. They think (and so do I) that Booster is a common bearlet, who happens to have spots. Still, She (who reads books on wildlife as well as domestic bearlets) suggests there might’ve been a spotted rainforest cat of some sort, a small one, involved with Booster’s genetic blueprint – no jaguar of course, but a margay perhaps, she thinks, or an ocelot.

In any case, the three of us – me, He and She – decided to take Booster to Costa Rica to find out about his exotic roots, or, in case we found no proof of it, to make him face the truth – that he’s just a bearlet, be it a nice looking one – with spots.

And so, late February a few years ago, in the thick of another bi-weekly snowstorm, the four of us drove away from our home in eastern Canada. We waved goodbye to our two horses standing beside the barn stoically waiting to get buried in snow. I thought the horses looked anxious – judging from those little worry wrinkles under the fur around their eyes. Perhaps they wondered if anyone would come by after this snowstorm to dig a passage for them through the drifts into the riding ring, and clear in there the circles and serpentines needed by horses to practice daily free style Dressage routines. Well, never mind them – the four of us were headed for Costa Rican sunshine.

It took some doing to find our town’s tiny rail station obscured by blowing snow. Good thing we hadn’t decided to fly to Montreal from our local airport, closed all day on account of the snow.

After an arduous train journey – crawling till well after dark behind the plow struggling to push four feet of snow off the track ahead of us – we arrived at Montreal’s Gare Central.

“Where’s the plane, where’s our plane?” shouted Booster hopping up and down in our travel home, a netted bearlet den that keeps us safely attached to the daypack She uses to carry us in.

She hollered at him (reaching behind to push him back into the net), “Calm down! Sit! Be patient!”

We used the next few hours to make our way to the airport hotel (He nor She believe in using cabs if they can help it). I suffered a sleepless night because Booster, too excited to sleep, kept scratching and kicking my unmentionable body parts – don’t tell anyone, but I have a pair of fleshy wings growing from my back. Few people know this because She folds them kindly out of sight to save me embarrassment. I mean…a bearlet with wings, ugly wings too, so shapeless that no one is able to tell me what they’re supposed to resemble – not angel wings, for sure; bat wings perhaps?

Next morning we took to the air soaring across land and sea to Costa Rica, all without touching ground on US soil, because, He said, “It takes only one US border official with a thing against bearlets with spots – not to mention one fitted with wings– to get us all arrested.”

They forgot to take us out of our nets before stuffing the pack overhead, and so we sat in the dark sobbing through the entire flight – we had so looked forward to She holding us up in front of the window to watch the clouds drifting way down below our feet!

After dinner She read out the message in her fortune cookie. “You’ll see amazing things soon,” it said. That buoyed up our spirits.

Back on earth, in San Jose, we boarded a taxi. “We’ve no other choice,” He said, “in a place where we don’t know our way around.” Sure enough, we suffered a tour of the entire city, taxi meter ticking, before we got to the pre-booked hotel.  Booster, soaking up the local lingo, (‘Tico Spanish,’) demanded that we refer to him as ‘El Tigre,’ the name he was given at birth, he claims, in what he believes to be his ancestral homeland. I laughed so hard, I almost tumbled out of the net – for once grateful to have those awkward wings helping me to stay put.   We saw no jaguars, nor any ocelots or margays in San Jose.

“Perhaps your spotted relatives are hiding out in the rain forest,” we tried to comfort Booster, and the next day we moved on.

All through that day our spotted pal stared out the bus window looking for rain forest. First we visited a coffee plantation and next a banana packing plant. Clusters of bananas destined for the processing floor kept chugging by, shrouded in people sized blue plastic bags suspended from zip lines. There were plenty of snakes living in these plantations, the workers said, but no jaguars.

The day after, Booster got a chance to pursue his quest in a real cloud forest on the slopes of a volcano named Arenal. We made our way across the forest canopy in a suspended tram car towed by means of steel cables above the tree tops. For once it felt good to have wings tucked against my back, ready to deploy in an emergency. So much to see! Even Booster forgot for a while his obsessive search.

There were scary looking bullet ants on the prowl, monstrous mandibles raised to tackle anything straying into their path, and there were cute little leaf cutter ants in orderly columns carrying green umbrellas home.

We saw many birds, a few orchids, lots of bromeliads and other epiphytes (She helped me to spell this – any spelling mistakes are hers!). Twisted cables of moss-covered vines called ‘monkey ladders’ ran every which way. So much to see! But no spotted cats, big or small!

Sick of Booster’s whining, He/ She decided to head for Costa Rica’s ‘mini Amazone.’

Tortuguero National Park is a maze of waterways and rain forest on the Caribbean coast. “No better place than here,” she said, “to find some sort of spotted cat for Booster’s peace of mind.”

My bearlet pal was beside himself with excitement. We traveled by fast motorboat on waterways lined with lush looking raffia palms. Booster, on his hind legs, ears flattened in the wind, swivelled his head from side to side, sure to spot a jaguar any moment. We didn’t.

Bosster and BoBosster and Bo

Part 2 – The Continuing Adventures of Booster and Bo

We saw lots of other things along the Tortuguero water ways: brown pelicans diving, stilts in the shallows, scores of other fish eating birds – herons and egrets, bitterns, anhingas and cormorants. Nothing with spots – not even a spotted bird.

At day’s end we docked at the riverside jungle resort and sat by the swimming pool after sundown watching monstrous toads quietly squatting under the spotlights waiting for fat flying insects to flutter within reach. Behind us a Calypso band in the restaurant hammered out a lively beat. The toads, perhaps taking it personal, responded with a defiant and deep-voiced ‘ro-ro-ro.’

These epic-sized toads, twice as large as a bearlet, put an end to my desire to sneak out to the pool after dark to test my wings in solitude without being exposed to anyone’s ridicule. That night Booster and I slept curled into little furry balls, nothing a toad could possibly wish to eat.

Next morning we were boom-boomed awake shortly before dawn by a resident troop of howler monkeys tearing across the roofs of the guest cabins. A noisy sight-seeing plane took off from the airstrip behind the village across the river. The noise seemed to rile the burly howler chief. Surrounded by half a dozen attentive females, he gave it his best, booming full force in an effort to drown out the roar of the plane. Back in the boats we drifted all day through a maze of canals spying for spotted cats and other wildlife.

We saw spider monkeys frolicking in leafless tree tops, lots more howler monkeys, and thoughtful looking capuchins. Here and there we were peeked at through curtains of leaves by the smiley face of a two-toed sloth. We watched a family of energetic river otters and too many birds to count. Once I nearly fell out of my net bag, stretching tall for a closer look at a curious neon-green reptile”basilisk,” He said, checking his list of local wildlife. Frightened by our boat, the lizard rose up on its hind legs and bounced like a marathon runner on long green shanks across the canal, barely touching the water. Our guide grinned. “Jesus lizard.”

He pointed up to a tree and clapped his hands. “Tucan.”

Two sets of mega-mandibles took to the air, propelled by two undersized feathered bodies flapping short but sturdy wings – like my own…

And so there were three of us that day having a wonderful boat trip, and one who came home thoroughly discouraged. Still no tigre for Booster…

Concerned for our pal’s mental health, He/She decided to make one last effort before we headed for a town named Alajuela right next by the airport to stay the night before flying home. A local bus dropped us off at a small wildlife rehab zoo out of town – Booster’s last chance to find an ancestor.

We learned that the zoo had no resident jaguar on the premises – to my relief. Imagine Booster insisting we take a picture of him with the big cat and demanding we call him ‘El Tigre’ from then on.

The zoo, it turned out, did have the next best thing, an ocelot of medium size waiting to be returned to the wild. Booster settled for having his picture taken with her, a genuine spotted cat if not the size he had hoped for. The spots on her face though, he pointed out, were patterned exactly like his – a perfect mirror-image. He now remembered, he said, that he was born and raised as a svelte ocelot, until he got into a tiff with an evil witch doctor. “Brujo, I think is the word,” She said looking up from her Spanish textbook. “A vengeful brujo I suppose, who used down-sizing magic to shrink poor Booster to the size of a bearlet.”

“Ocelot-let,” I whispered into Booster’s ear.

“Right,” said He, patting the little spotted head. “Why don’t we call you ‘Ocelito’ from now on? You okay with that?” Booster turned to me with a smug grin, mouthing ‘o-ce-li-to’. He raised a spotted paw and beat his chest in standard bearlet fashion, not like an ocelot in the least…

Still, what more can I say? ‘Ocelito’ is one word, easier on the tongue than ‘El Tigre.’

We’re nearly home, both of us gazing through the steamy train window at the sparkling splendor of Canada’s icy winter land. Not a speck of snow has melted here in our absence. Somebody’s pulling my wings. “Your turn, Bo,” says the new-fangled Ocelito. “Let’s go find your roots next.”

Oh boy. Haven’t we traveled enough for a while? Besides, our local black bears (my own humble ancestors, I have a hunch) are still asleep, tucked away in smelly dens. That leaves me off the hook for a while. Though, come to think of it, aren’t there white bears somewhere in the rainforest by our Canadian west coast? “Spirit Bears, I believe they’re called” She says – “Kermode bears.”

I perk up my ears. “And do they have wings?”

“Oh please,” He says, “don’t YOU get started next!”