Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park

Quepos is home to one of the loveliest National Parks I have been. We took a local bus before 7 this morning and had a 20 minute trip through strip mall and resort central to a few blocks from the park entrance . We were in the park by 7:15 am. The morning animals were out and about as we followed the trails down to the ocean. There are half a dozen ecosystems in the park, ranging from dry land to marine.

After hiking for about 3 hours the intense heat drove us to the ocean for a swim. Highlights of the day included being 10 feet from a sleeping sloth at the top of a forest canopy platform, and watching capuchin monkeys playing. The local iguana populations were putting on their territorial displays which made for some interesting viewing.

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After some fresh coconut water straight from the nut we caught a cab back to the hotel to wait out the intense heat of the afternoon .

 

We leave for San Jose tomorrow and fly home at zero dark thirty on Friday am. Thanks for following me on this journey. Costa Rica has been different from what I expected. It is one country that I wished I could have visited 30Β years ago before it became the expensive, very crowded (in places) tourist destination it is today. Many thanks to Carol for this stunning sunset photo taken on our final evening in Quepos.

 

Monteverde to Quepos

We went from fleece tops to sleeveless linen and shorts in about 1 1/2 hrs today as we dropped from Monteverde towards the Pacific coast and the town of Quepos. The drive was outstanding, every hairpin turn opening up incredible views out across towards the Pacific Ocean. Guard rails and safety fences are non-existent in this part of the country – some of the several thousand foot drops on the wrong side of the hairpin – I.e. our side – were reminiscent of Bolivian roads, complete with potholes .

 

The appearance of pavement 1/3 of the way on our journey was met with cheers πŸ˜€ half way on the trip we stopped at a bridge over a river famous for the crocodile population that lives under it. Crocs were almost hunted to extinction here until they began to be protected. the ones wee saw were obviously getting enough to eat. Possibly an occasional tourist that falls off the bridge…..

 

 

Our hotel in Quepos is lovely. We have spent the afternoon by the pool.

Planning on a dawn hike in Manuel Antonio National Park and then a night walk. Hope to see some frogs πŸ™‚

 

La Fortuna to Monteverde/St Elena

The trip from La Fortuna to Monteverde was spectacular. Once we crossed Lake Arenal by boat we started to climb up towards one of the highest geographic points of our trip at the continental divide. The trade winds are relentless in this area and huge wind turbines greeted us at the summit where we first saw the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Wind power contributes about 10% to the country’s electric production.

The ecosystems have changed to dryer and cooler up here. Our hotel is perched on a mountainside above the town of St Elena with a gorgeous view out to the Pacific. St Elena and its close neighbour Monteverde used to be sleepy little towns until the area was “discovered” by birders in the 1980’s. The Quaker community (which came here during the Korean war) of Monteverde and the native Costa Rican community of St Elena have lobbied hard to prevent development and road improvement. The roads are bone jarring and the area is still no where near what La Fortuna has become, but it is becoming developed. The Lonely Planet describes Monteverde “on a bad day like Disneyland in Birkenstocks” – I can add, wearing plastic name tags saying my name is “-“.

Monteverde’s main claim to fame is the cloud forest which we visited today. It is a magical place. The climate is changing though and already changes have been noted in moss and lichen populations in the forests. The St Elena cloud forest reserve we visited was reclaimed from cattle ranchers in 1977 and the growth and various waves of succession in the forest in the past 40 years is amazing. There is an amazing butterfly garden and breeding program in the rain forest which we visited, and some incredible local art in the area.

Tomorrow we leave for the Pacific Coast and our last leg of the trip.

 

 

La Fortuna

La Fortuna itself is a strip mall of a town. It is full of tour operators, trashy souvenir stores, good to bad restaurants and garbage. Our hotel is nice because it is about a 30 min walk from town so we are in a rural area. Farms around La Fortuna are being steadily bought up and replaced by hotel/spas which take advantage of the geothermal hot springs in the area. It’s main claim to fame is the Arenal volcano which dominates the landscape and the various “eco-tourism” activities here. Everything from zip-lining to whitewater rafting is available.

We opted to do the white water rafting and canopy suspension bridges during our time here. The Balsa river is generally a class 2-3 river but all the rain lately has elevated it into class 4 status – the highest level of difficulty being a 6. After donning helmets and life jackets and following a short safety demo we climbed into our raft and off we went. The rafts are different from the ones on the Canadian rivers in that you paddle – hard – throughout the trip. We hit some rough spots along the way as the photos will show but we all survived, no one fell out and other than a few bruises and sore core muscles everyone is OK. The photos were taken by the rafting trip photographer.

Today we visited the rain forest canopy suspension bridges, really interesting but somewhat frustrating due to the high volume of people there – most groups almost running through the area, which is a pain when you are trying to take photos – did get some good animal/bird shots though. My favourite suspension bridges remain the ones we visited in the Ecuadorian amazon where we stayed in a private lodge that had 500 hectares of private forest in which they had built canopy bridges for the use of resort guests only.

 

Sloth baby – moms back is to you in the photo, babies face is around the left side

This afternoon got a bit weird when we tried to find a local art gallery highly recommended on trip advisor. The directions said 10 km south of town so we hired a taxi and headed out. Once there we found a small building by trial and error that had some paintings in it. I really liked one of them but we were unable to find anyone who spoke english – one lady finally said they were closed and the owner was not there. Carol and I convinced her to sell us the painting anyways. We followed her to the main hacienda – which was stunning – to wrap the painting up – and in the day light it became evident that the painting was covered with streaks of mouse droppings and what looked like bird guano as well. So no sale -she told us the main gallery was in La Fortuna -where we just come from – and that there were lots of pictures just like the one that had the deposits on it. So now we need to get back into town. The guy at the bar said he knew of a taxi driver he could call – which he did and who arrived pronto. He was wearing some odd sort of quasi military uniform and had no meter in the taxi – luckily we knew what the fare should be so Carol told him what we would pay. Off we went, him talking on the cell phone asking for directions to our destination in La Fortuna while negotiating tight turns and traffic. this was the only time in Costa Rica that I have immediately used my seat belt when a vehicle has started off. so – we arrive in La Fortuna – go to the Gallery location and nothing like what was explained to us. Another adventure…. we finished our day poolside eating potato chips and taking in some sun. Yes the sun is out now :-)))

If you are interested in the real Costa Rica this isn’t the place to spend time – the south part of the country is much more my cup of tea.

 

Saraqipui to La Fortuna

North western Costa Rica Β is completely different from the easy going Caribbean coast line. Succession forests and areas cleared for cattle are all around us as the land recovers from logging in the past which took down a lot of the mature rainforest in this area. 25% of Costa Rica is protected now so many stands of mature rain forest are developing. The lodge here has been a good break and rest in preparation for the second half of the trip. A huge covered veranda with chairs and hammocks overlooks the river which is 30 feet away, the gardens are spectacular and the eating common room is screened and airy.

 

Not many bugs around, or animals for that matter – the heavy rain has driven them deep into the bush. Bird watching early the first morning was productive. Some of the forest trees are bearing fruit at the moment and were good places to spot some interesting species. At least they don’t throw fruit at you like the monkeys did πŸ™‚ The rain kept us close to the lodge – napping and watching the river and birds who braved the down pour.

The day closed out with a cooking class where we made chicken and cheese empanadas – they turned out pretty well πŸ™‚ The trick is in the dough – as pastry dough and I don’t generally agree, how it will turn out when i get back is questionable. Looking forward to trying to duplicate it at home. Enjoyed watching the food scrap disposal program at the lodge , plates are scraped out a window into the ground below the kitchen and the family chickens devour the lot .

The humidity is 1000000% Β here- everything is wet, including any paper money, containers and all clothing – we are looking forward to getting into dryer climes and getting some laundry done. We leave this morning for La Fortuna. The trip will start with a 2 hour tractor ride out of here and then a visit to a coffee plantation for exploring and lunch.

 

It was nice to see the countryside in daylight on our trip out to the main roads. All was uneventful on our trip to the Planeterra coffee plantation.

 

We had an awesome tour of how coffee is picked and prepared to be roasted, visited the various machines that are involved in the process and ended up having an excellent tilapia lunch. The tilapia was raised in tanks right outside the restaurant and the fish was fresh πŸ™‚

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The coffee used to be hauled to the pacific side of the country for transport loaded in carts similar in appearance to the photo here. The carts were decorated according to the status of their owners and pulled by oxen.

 

Once loaded in boats the beans made the long trip down South America through the Drake passage and on to Europe. The city of San Jose came into being as a coffee transportation hub once the railroad was punched through to the Caribbean side the country, making transportation of the beans to their markets much easier. this was all pre-Panama canal.

have arrived at our hotel in La Fortuna – tomorrow is white water rafting – a first for me…..

 

Tortuguero to Saraqipui Valley

A couple of things became apparent today – first of all when it rains here it RAINS, and secondly a sense of humour is an absolute requirement for travelling in this country. Our day started early after listening to the rain and wind pound the resort all night. In the morning the 2 foot drainage ditches around the hotel and boardwalks were full and water was everywhere. Our trip back out the canals from Tortuguero was spent keeping an eye on the 150 Evinrude powering the boat as it regularly hit bottom and kicked up with a spray of sand, water and fumes. They must go through a lot of propellers here. The boats go around the various curves of the river almost on their sides – between the swaying and the fumes funnelling into the boat every time the motor kicked up, several people got sick. Arrival at the offloading station presented another problem as the heavy rains had turned the walk way up to the flatter area into a skating rink – – up we slid carrying and dragging our bags to under cover by the restaurant. It is still raining so hard it is difficult to see.

Our transport arrived and off we went only to be caught in a gigantic traffic jam resulting from a bad accident a few miles up the road. We finally reached our restaurant stop and broke for lunch plus a stampede to the washrooms. The restaurant was open air – with a roof, food cooked over a wood fire. A change in tables was necessitated by the aroma wafting over us from the bathrooms. Did I mention it was still raining???

the food was excellent – one of the best meals I have had in Costa Rica. Home made cheese, guacamole, chickens, tortillas πŸ˜€πŸ˜€

Back in the vehicle we got and off we went. The traffic had cleared and we made good time to La Virgin where we met our next form of transport, a Massey Ferguson tractor pulling a hay cart. Once all supplies for the lodge, staff and all of us with our bags etc was loaded off we went to be brought to a standstill by a car stalled in the middle of a one lane bridge. A couple of the guys pushed it out of the way and off we went again at tractor pace bumping along with most of the group popping gravol pills at a steady rate – beer also made an appearance at some point.

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Now it gets a little weird……. 15 minutes into the trip and after crossing ariver, a tire blew on the tractor trailer. Everyone got out so the guys could fix it. Did I mention that it is still raining??? hard…. The tire blew just opposite a small farm and our CEO asked if we could shelter in an outbuilding on the farm. It turned out to be a chicken shed with a very sharp machete on the side bench and some interesting looking stains on the bench beside it. Some of us began to hear faint bango music ……….

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So – tire fixed, back on the road again, pitch black by now. Anne stupidly says – so what is going to happen next? …………….. Remember all the rain??? The road is a muddy quagmire and on the last steep hill it became evident that we were skidding backwards and headed into a jackknife situation. All stops and we get out of the trailer. Our group trudges up the hill with the tractor following us and then someone spots a frog on the road – everyone surrounds the poor amphibian, flashbulbs going off, one of the group moved the frog so it wouldn’t get squashed by the tractor and then we got in the trailer again. and yes it is still raining…..

And we arrivedπŸ˜€πŸ˜€πŸ˜€πŸ˜€ The Magsasay Jungle lodge was initially a vacation and weekend home for the family who now run the property as a lodge. It is 30 feet from the Rio Peje river. Dinner was excellent and we have rooms right by the river. It has also stopped rainingπŸ˜€πŸ˜€πŸ˜€πŸ˜€πŸ˜€πŸ˜€

 

Tortugureo Day 2

This is a lovely lodge, right on the river. The trees are filled with birds and little lizards are everywhere. This morning we were up at dawn to take a small boat trip in to Tortoguero National Park. Some good photo ops and our guide was excellent. This area was a logging centre and turtle producer before the regime and ideas changed. There has not been any logging here for a long time and the turtles are completely protected – interestingly enough the channels that the logging companies built to float logs out are still navigable and we explored some today. Spider and howler monkeys were in the trees, groups of Toucans visited, and the occasional iguana and cayman was spotted. Will let the photos tell the story.

 

 

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