From African Plains to the Jungle of Costa Rica

Martin is a former staff member of the Travel Section. Her column on travel videos appears monthly

This month we'll study a couple of new--and excellent--videos, one dealing with Africa, the other with Costa Rica. And while both deal with wildlife conservation, the Costa Rica video involves other subjects as well.

"Africa" (two videos), Eco Ventures, 45 minutes each (1988). These two remarkable videos, produced by Megan Epler Wood and narrated by George Plimpton, will be of special interest to African safari planners and ecology-minded armchair travelers. Each video combines spectacular scenery with a detailed study of the animals found in parks along the Tanzania-Kenya border.

The first tape opens with stunning views of the vast, 10,000-square-mile Serengeti Plain and a map showing the path of migration that the hundreds of thousands of zebra, wildebeest and gazelles make on their annual search for grasslands and water. According to the narration, it's an ecological cycle that has continued for 10 million years.

The camera follows the trek and shows how the animals surmount the incredible hardships of their long journey, including the constant threat of predators--hyenas, wild dogs and lions.

You get contrasting, touching scenes of the family-oriented zebra grooming each other and the birth of a soon-doomed wildebeest.

The sound and sight of the thundering herd as it struggles across the swiftly flowing Mara River are a video highlight that Plimpton calls "one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth."

Later, Wood captures some poignant and amusing scenes of the six-ton elephants splashing and playing as they cool off in the mud holes of Amboseli National Park at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Elephant teen-agers are shown trunk-wrestling, and at an elephant family gathering, viewers watch seniors embracing each other as if greeting old friends. Other animals shown in the park include flamingoes, cape buffalo, wart hogs and ostriches.

The video concludes with a discussion between Plimpton and Russell Train, chairman of the World Wildlife Fund/The Conservation Foundation, on the threat from poachers to this one-great concentration of elephants.

The second tape opens with film clips of an Osa and Martin Johnson safari of the 1920s, then concentrates on following the social structure and daily life of a pride of lions.

Viewers follow the female as she stalks her prey, while the male spends his day lying around surveying his realm, and the cubs wrestle and explore. The pride survives in spite of the fact that, according to Plimpton, the female is a poor huntress, missing five out of six tries. There also are brief scenes of some of the other cats in the Masai Mara Game Reserve, including leopards and cheetahs.

Later, producer Wood opens with early film from the movie "King Kong," comparing it with the gentle mountain gorillas found in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, where the late anthropologist Dian Fossey lived and died studying them.

The gorillas, which usually live at an altitude of 8,000 to 10,000 feet, don't survive in captivity. Viewers will see the females flirting with the males, and the majestic silverback males protecting their territory.

Mountain gorillas are vegetarians, and scenes show them munching on the greenery and lolling in the sun, a favorite activity, while young ones stumble and frolic as they leave their mother to explore.

Plimpton and Train conclude this segment with a discussion on preserving the mountain gorilla and the part that tourism plays in making the world aware of the nened for conservation.

The tapes are available from Eco Ventures, 2021 L. Street N.W., Suite 250, Washington, D.C. 20036. Call toll-free (800) 862-8900. Price: $29.95, or two for $49.95.

"Costa Rica" (Megaview Productions International), 1988, 34 minutes. This is one of the few videos on Costa Rica, and it's remarkably good. For those who have been there, for those planning a trip or for those just curious, it's a worthwhile addition to a travel video collection.

Against a montage of quick scenes showing some of the beauty and appeal of this Central American country--lush green forests, rivers, volcanoes, gambling casinos and fishing--the narrator gives viewers a bit of history as well as vital statistics on the high literacy rate, climate, number of bird species (850), national parks (26), which airlines fly there and an overview of the type of its hotels, facilities and restaurants.

The major part of the video, however, takes viewers on a series of tours that cover the most popular tourist attractions.

These include a tour of the capital, San Jose, showing scenes of the shopping district, central market place, national museum, national theater and restaurants. Side trips from San Jose include a visit to Sarchi and its ox-cart factory, where the colorful native souvenirs, as well as other crafts, are made and sold, and a visit to the enchanting Orosi Valley on the tumultuous Reventazon River for scenes of an exciting river rafting trip. This is followed by a tour to Tiquicia, "Tico" country, to a typical adobe farm-ranch restaurant to enjoy scenes of native food and entertainment.

Irazu volcano, topping 11,000 feet and from which you can see both the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean, is another tour destination, as is a visit to the rim of the awesome, still-active Poas volcano. At Cartago, at the foot of Irazu, viewers also see the Basilica de Los Angeles, where the La Negrita (the Black Virgin) statue is enshrined and to whom miracles have been attributed.

A video highlight is the ride on the jungle train that connects Limon to San Jose, passing through coffee and banana plantations and small villages of the interior.

Other tours include a jungle adventure launch ride along the Colorado River and canals, with a stop at a lodge in the town of Colorado, and trips to the Monteverde Cloud Forest and the Carara Biological Reserve to view some of the many examples of the colorful and unusual plants, birds and animals being protected in Costa Rica.

Nature lovers also will be rewarded with film and narration on the leatherback turtles seen laying their eggs on the beach. A final stop is at Lake Arenal, where fishermen are seen big-game fishing.

Although the production was filmed in cooperation with the Swiss Travel Service, a tour company of Costa Rica, there are no blatant commercial plugs and no tie-ins with hotels or other tourist facilities.

Tapes are available from Megaview Productions, 255 N. El Cielo Road, Suite 155, Palm Springs, Calif. 92262, (619) 366-8464. Price: $25.

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