Monday, 25 July 2016

July 24 - On our way home

We arose early as we wanted to be on the road by 5:30 a.m. Although it is only 158 kms, Google maps say it will take 2 hours and 20 mins to get to the Car Rental location and then we have to get to the airport 3 hours before our 12:50 p.m. flight. The weather is beautiful and the traffic going towards San Jose appears very light. However, traffic going the other way is very heavy. After an hour or so, we stopped at a Soda on the side of the road and had our last meal in Costa Rica. All the food we had was very good. This morning meal of Huevos Rancheros and coffee cost $2,800 colones ($7.50). I think this was our cheapest meal during our 10 days.

Shortly after our breakfast stop, we crossed a river where numerous people on the bridge were looking over the side. This reminded me of some information I had read about crocodiles that live in a river. We decided to stop and check it out. Yes, we were at the right stop. This was Rio Tarcoles, on the road between Jaco and San Jose. It is about 55 kms from Jaco.

At one time we were able to see 27 crocodiles on one side and three on the other side. It was an amazing sight. I read that approx. 40 crocodiles live in this stretch under the bridge.

We dropped off the car on time and with the gas light on. (we were to bring the car back with as little gas as possible). The shuttle to transport us to the airport was available immediately. We made it to the airport with time to spare. The San Jose airport security line was not too busy and we crossed to the secure side without out any concerns. Our flights this day were without any problems. We had an 1.5 hr layover in Houston and a 1 hour layover in Calgary. There were line ups in Calgary, but once I was able to make eye contact with an agent, we were moved to the front of the security line and made it to our plane with a few minutes to spare.

All in all, the trip to Costa Rica was fantastic. At no time I felt threatened or concerned. It felt like a very safe country. The locals and tourists were friendly. I was surprised at how little English was spoken. Val has been to Costa Rica twice and spent most of the time on the Caribbean side. She noted, the other side of Costa Rica has a greater Jamaican influence and much more English is spoken. I found the prices very high compared to other travel I have done. Even though we attempted a low budget holiday, this didn't occur. I am hoping to return to Costa Rica again. It was a beautiful country.  Pura Vida!

My next holiday will start on August 12 and I will be going to Iceland.

July 23 - Manuel Antonio National Park

After a very rainy day yesterday, today's forecast looks like sunny and hot for most of the day. I got up and had another cold shower; most of the places we stayed in did not have hot water. After the shower I used my new body lotion - with 30% Deet. We wanted to get to the park very early before the heat became unbearable. We found a Soda that had a breakfast buffet of sorts. For under 3,000.00mil colones  ($8cn.) We had a good breakfast and coffee.

Before 8am we arrived near the park, was waved into a parking spot and given a sales pitch for a guide. Although all the travel blogs warned of this, and said to avoid the "guide" pitch and hire a guide closer to/or at the park gate - we hired a guide and parked. Carlos showed us his park guide identification and his business card with his info. He spoke english well and lived for awhile in Alberta. We waited on the nearby beach for the tour to start (trans: to allow him to get a few more tourists). Cost for Carlos - 2 hour guided tour was 10,000colones or $20us per person.

Beach just outside of the park

Very quickly a family of five from Montreal joined us. The seven of us started on our walk, with Carlos giving us a history of the area and telling us what we will see. Before we got to the park gate we saw a small Caiman. When we got to the park we lined up to buy our passes - $16us or 16,000 colones. Although it is just after 8am there was already a line up. On each side of the road for several blocks leading to the park gate, there were vendors selling souvenirs, wraps, t-shirts, etc.  As well, as water and coconut water.

The Manuel Antonio Provincial Park was created in 1972 and is one of 11 Provincial Park's in Costa Rica. It is about 82 miles from San Jose and is internationally recognized as being one of the most bio-diverse parks on the planet. Although it is considered a small park it has almost 1,700 acres of land and 136,000 acres of ocean. There are numerous tours that can be taken through the park. There are catamaran tours, snorkeling, kayak, birding hikes, mangrove tours, and many hiking trails. We were doing a 3km guided walking tour. It is possible to do this same tour without a guide and/or take shorter trails.

We are barely through the park gate when we saw our first animals. Two howler money's,  a sloth and a white tailed deer.
A deer and a howler monkey

Howler monkey
Park gate area. That's our guide setting up the telescope
Sloth - through our guides telescope 

While looking at the animals at the gate it became apparent we were "waiting". After a couple suggestions that we move on Carlos said he was waiting for a couple more people. Soon six more people joined. Three girls from Mexico (I think), two young men from Spain and a fellow from Italy. All the guides seem to work together and if one saw something and set up their telescope the others would too. Quite quickly we had seen at least 5 sloths, a few green iguanas, a Jesus Christ Iguana, numerous kind of butterflies including an Owl butterfly which is one of the larger species. A surprising sight was a Rainbow grasshopper. This tiny grasshopper was on a stand of trees where our guide sited his telescope. This little grasshopper has 7 colors - the colors of the rainbow on it. When we asked how he found such animal/insect sighting, he indicated animals/insects don't move around much - they have their areas.

He then explained that sloths live their whole lives within a small circle of trees - about 8 trees. They eat all the leaves and then move to the next tree and continue to eat the leaves until they return to the original tree where new leaves have been grown. He said the sloths only come down to the ground once a week to defecate which also acts as fertilizer to "their life trees". Carlos says the only time sloths make a noise is when they mate and it is not a pleasant sound - it sounds painful. The park has both 2 and 3 toed sloths. Although we could see the sloths, we couldn't count the toes. Carlos says we saw one 3 toed sloth.

Owl butterfly
Jesus Christ Lizard
Trust me - there is a green lizard hiding in these leaves
Another sloth - Male sloth as it has a dark line down it's back.
We continued our tour and saw termite nests and leaf cutter ant nests. Surprisingly, we didn't see as many insects as we expected during our trip. We did see several spiders, but nothing frighteningly scary. Very few mosquitoes were seen - but in most communities, mosquito spraying was done on a daily basis. I did get some bites, but I believe they were from small flies and perhaps smaller spiders.

 In real life, this mound appeared alive with all the ants moving.
Termite nest
Near the end of  the walking trail near the beach, bathrooms and showers are available. A couple places during the tour, drinking fountains were stationed. Carlos indicated it was safe drinking water. None of the tourists tried it. Carlos pointed to a boarded, walking trail and indicated we could take the same trail we did on the way back, or take the boarded trail (also known as the Sloth Trail). He then walked us through three small beach areas and left us there to find our way back. The highlight of the Park was definitely my time on the beaches. White-faced Capuchin monkeys and raccoons were running all over the area.The Capuchin moneys, some with babies on their back and the raccoons were very used to the tourists in the area. They had no fears and were thieves, trying to steal whatever they could from the tourists.
Two adult and a baby Capuchin monkey
Two Raccoons
Val and I were sitting on the beach with some fruit between us that we were snacking on. A raccoon came right between us and attempted to grab our apples. People on the beach were attempting to protect belongings of others, when people were swimming. However, the monkey's and raccoons are quick and smart - they can open zippers on backpacks. We saw monkeys take a loaf of bread out of a beach bag and a monkey open a backpack and take a bag out and run. An iguana appeared to be lured out of hiding by our fruit as well, and skirted our area for quite awhile.

The beach sand was wonderfully clean, the water was warm, but the drop-off was quite sudden and the bottom was rocky, making getting out of the water more difficult than getting in. This area had been used by the historic Quepo peoples to catch sea turtles. They had built rock pools in which to trap the turtles. The Quepo people were famous for their ability to deep dive. They used large rocks and on a boat the would wrap their arms and legs around the rock and roll off the side of the boat,allowing the rock to carry them down fast and farther than if they had just dived.
 On the right side of the picture you can see the remained of a rock made turtle trap

We eventually had to leave this beautiful area. The park closes at 4p.m. We started the 3km walk back to the park gates and then several blocks further to find our car. The temperature was 31 degrees. We finally found our car and was met by a parking attendant who indicated we had to pay 2,000colones. Although I argued with her - there are no signs, we were not told....we eventually paid.

Back to Quepos and back to The Brooklyn Bakery for a sandwich and a piece of well earned amazing chocolate cake.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

July 22 - Quepos

We started the day off slowly. It's an overcast humid day. It's a good time to laze around enjoy the temperature and catch up e-mails, fb games and books.
Interesting cactus in Jáco

Vine covered tree by our hotel in Jáco
It starts raining and thundering at about 10am and we pack our car in a downpour. Given the rain is not cold, the only inconvenience is getting wet and it is warm enough to dry quickly.

We are off to Quepo and the El Sueņo Tranquil Hotel. Getting to Quepo was not difficult but finding the hotel was crazy. We ended up in several one way streets, and deadends. The torrential rain was turning little rivulets into streams down the roads. Small lakes appeared at corners. Google maps was not cooperating and kept going off line. Eventually we stopped to get directions right beside a bakery.

Given Val has been wanting chocolate cake for a couple days, stopping at The Brooklyn Bakery seemed perfect. We got directions (hotel just on the next block) and had lunch. For desert I had a chocolate glazed donut and Val had a piece of flourless chocolate cake. She shared. This was the most delicious cake I've ever tasted - it melted in my mouth, it reminded me of Icy Squares. We should have taken a picture but we couldn't put our forks down long enough to take the picture. The bakery is owned by a couple from Israel. She indicated 8 years ago they knew they were going to have a son so decided to leave Israel and moved to a country without an army. They now have two children and bought the bakery a year and a half ago.

After lunch we walked to the hotel a block away, given the rain and one way streets we didn't want to have to drive by it if we couldn't find parking. It was the wrong hotel! But a lady gave us instructions - "go around the city and drive by the green car, then go over a bridge with something yellow on top - follow the road you can't miss it"

 Well we managed to go around the city, found the bridge and got lost. At least we were closer - maybe. We now we're in an area with more graffiti, narrower roads, and lots of deadends. Val went into a store but no English was spoken. Google maps came back for a moment and we were able to get a glimpse where we were to go before we were off line again.

Eventually we found our hotel. A large room with two beds in it and two small night stands. No chairs, no pictures, no blankets. Sheets were put on the beds when we arrived.

Little English is spoken by the hotel staff. It appears the hotel is only partially finished. However this means the beds are new and it is clean. We don't need more than that.

The rain slowed down -I'm pretty sure it will not stop today. So we took a drive. Given our numerous wrong turns trying to find the hotel we kinda know the town. Now we can enjoy it since we have a place to return to.  It appears to be a pretty little town with a tourist port and working habour.

We lucked into finding a farmers market and got to have some free samples of unusual fruit and cheese. We bought some fruit to have as our supper.  Although we were told the names of some of the different fruits and vegetables...our memory was not long lasting.
I can't remember what these are, but they must be cooked to eat

I don't have a name for these three fruits

Our supper. Lychee, apples, blackberries and a delicious berry that tastes like a sour crabapple but better.

Friday, 22 July 2016

July 21 - Jaćo

Awoke to blue sky today and warmth. Costa Rica temperatures don't fluctuate much throughout the year but the humidity does. The wet and dry season vary on the location of the community. In Jaćo, rainy season is between August and October. Dry season is late November to April. The remaining months are "shoulder seasons" anything can happen.  I did some checking on C.R. weather and was surprised at the different statements of when rainy/dry seasons occur.

Anyways, we started our morning off at the Tiko Bar for a $3 breakfast while sitting in a swing seat. With a couple minutes I was mosquito bit. Today was to be our beach day and we checked out a location before we went back to Jaco Lodge to get our swim suits  and to coat ourselves with sun tan lotion.

We get to the beach and am surprised that no one else is there? (Well, maybe 10 - 15 people) There are about a dozen lounge chairs set up but no one is in them. The beach is 4 kms long. We decide to occupy a chair and are approached by a fellow who indicates he will rent the two lounge chairs with umbrella for $10US.  Way to much money for a budget holiday. So we sit on our beach towels in a bit of shade. Within minutes the shade disappeared and no shade was available anywhere on the beach (except under $10 umbrellas). We enjoyed the sun and read our books. A quick dip in the ocean lead us to understand this was not a swimming beach. The waves are very high. It is difficult to get into waist deep water without having to experience the large waves. The water is of a warm temperature. After a short while we decide to go back to our hotel. By the time we left, no more than two dozen people were enjoying the beach. Only one set of beach chairs had been rented.

The Jaco beach is the closest beach to San Jose and is the most visited beach of C.R. It is known for surfing and has numerous surf schools and board rentals in the area. August 6-14 the community is hosting the ISA World Surfing Games.  A tide chart I located indicated we are in a full moon phase and tides vary, on July 21 from .63 ft to a high of 9.35 ft. The sand on the beach is a mixture of blacks and brown grains and is referred to as a cinnamon sand.

We went back to our hotel and went in our pool for a short while. It is very hot - 31° with a real feel of 40°. The sun is intense. We are 655kms from the equator.

We decided to check out the community. We drove around and then shopped a bit. The community was started by a Texan named Jaco who inherited the land. He decided to make it into a play area/resort for his family. Although I couldn't find when the town was started I'm guessing it was in the 1950's. The community now has 10,000 people.
An amazing tree on the main street 

We finished up the day with a supper at a restaurant attached to a hostel called Papas and Burgers Art Cafe. Excellent food. Many of the staff stay at the hostel. If they work 4 hours at the cafe they get free accommodation at the hostel. Our waiter is from England and is having a break from taking Robotics Engineering. He says he will be returning home in August to start his next school year.

It didn't rain today. The first day on our visit that it hasn't. 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

July 20 - Monteverde Cloud forests - on to Jaćo

We initially intended on hiking some trails in the morning at the Valle Escondido Preserve but decided to delay it to the afternoon. We had a great breakfast at the Inn, which was included in the cost $40us a night. We were treated to another sighting of the coati just outside our room. The sun was up and it gives us a very different view of the cliffs by the reception area. I don't know which view I like best.
July 19 evening 
July 20 morning 

At 7:40am a bus picks us up to go to the suspended bridges at Selvatura Park. $30 per person  provides us with transportation to and from the park and a self guided tour of the suspended bridges. Many other tours and activities are also available including canyonerring, ziplining, insect and butterfly enclosures etc.

Our first few steps of our walk led us into the hummingbird gardens. This was an open area, it was not an enclosure. There were so many hummingbirds that it felt surreal. When standing close to the feeders you could feel the wind from the hummingbird's wings as they flew around your head. A highlight was having these tiny birds perch on our fingers while eating at the feeders. A sign in the area identified several different kinds in the area. I'm sure I saw 5 different kinds.
Very friendly hummingbirds 
Val had the birds sitting on her finger as well

The self guided walk took about 1.5 hrs. There were 8 suspended bridges varying in length and height. The trails cover 1.9 mi (3kms). The bridges were from 150 ft. to 500 ft. Heights varied from 36 ft to 180 ft off the ground. Most bridges were almost 5 ft wide and is noted to be the widest and studriest bridges in C.R.  It was not busy and for long stretches we could not see or hear anyone else - with the exception of occasional zipliners squealing with excitement near our location.

After the walk we spent more time in the hummingbird garden. We spoke to a staff about the lack of bugs on our walk. He indicated the altitude is very high and very few bugs live up here and no mosquitoes.  We then caught our ride back.

Given we had just walked 3kms in a high altitude we didn't choose to walk the trails at the Monteverde Inn and instead began our drive to Jaćo. Google map say 123kms - 2 hrs and 33 minutes. We stopped in Monteverde for a C.R. traditional lunch before we started off.

The road is wider than the previous day and gravelly.  But it isn't gravel like we have experienced before. This road seems to be gravelled with medium and large rocks. As well, there are significant holes to navigate around. A 4x4 would have been a better vehicle for this road. However it still was an interesting drive around and down the mountain. In several locations we saw lychee stands.

Once we connected to a major highway it was smooth sailing
 We found our Airb&b lodging quite easily. ... and no bunk beds this time....instead one double bed in a shared house. We indicated this was a mistake and would not be suitable. The host refunded our money and we then needed to find another place before the rains started again. We checked our resources - Expedia, Booking.Com, Airb&b and TripAdvisor. We located a place called Jaco Lodge and drove there to check it out. Surprisingly, the price upfront was cheaper than the sites said. It was $34us a night. A cute, clean little hotel with a pool and Continental breakfast included. We booked in for two nights and headed to a local Soda for supper. Another early night as the rain is coming down hard and the thunder is shaking the buildings. Temperature reached 32° today with a real feel of 40°. All in all - another great day in C.R.