Monday, February 16, 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Last day!

I think I left off yesterday afternoon sitting at the pool and reading. I ended up meeting a really wonderful man there! He was in the jacuzzi when I walked by and came over to say hello. Turns out he's a retired actor living in NYC (who isn't, right?) He started telling me stories about being in plays with Anne Bancroft and Jason Robards up in Boston and was really fascinating. He got me curious so I googled him later, and did see his son with a reference to him. I'll need to investigate further when I get home! Anyways, his wife of 52 years died around a year and a half ago. This was his first trip without her, and he came in part to see his neice and nephew's coffee farm here. He's spending a month touring the country.

He told me the rumor that the hotel owner said he had a fling with Marilyn Monroe, thus the homage to her. Though Mark smiled and me, winked and said he thought it was wishful thinking! Oh, and I guess his wife dated "Jimmy" Dean for a bit when he was a starving actor.

I invited him to meet us for dinner and we had a drink in the Marilyn Monroe bar, joined by Marilyn's reincarnate herself. I had a really yummy caipurihna, which I've had in Phoenix. It's a drink made with a Brazilian liquor and muddled/crushed limes. Very good. I also decided that I had to have a guaro drink, the native liquor before I left, which was good as well! I asked if they have a drink that I heard about on Three Sheets (a show similar to the style of anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, but revolving around the different alcoholic beverages and customs of different countries) called "Gringo Muerte" or gringo killer. The bartender, from Michigan, laughed and said he'd never heard of it. Not sure I'd really want to try it anyways! Had an amazing dinner at out hotel. It was expensive but well worth it (I had ceviche and a salad, Melanie coconut shrimp, both served in a half coconut.) Mark had tagiateli with different fish and a creme sauce.

We said goodnight and got up early to head to poas. Poas is one of the largest volcanos in CR, and is near the epicenter of the earthquake that hit around a month ago. Everything I was told was that Poas is fine, but that La Paz waterfall nearby was damaged and closed. We did see a few cracks in the road and it was a beautiful drive meandering through coffee plantations. Unfortunately by the time we got up there it was obscured by clouds, so you couldn't see the crater. Mark said he went yesterday and you could look right in and see the lava! I was very disappointed but decided to make the best of it and headed back to go to Los Chorros waterfalls. Surprisingly, the way to Poas was very well marked, with frequent signs. of course the distance was different on each, and I saw two signs within a few feet of each other, one indicating a 22 km distance, and the next 25!

A couple had taken a cab up and asked if we could drive them back to Alajeula. Sure! In they came and off we went! They are from Munich and were just wonderful! Stephi and Martin. They ended up joining us to the waterfall which was a nice treat. The drive down the hill was very steep and rugged, and only wide enough for one car!! I drove and it was a bit scary. But we made it (thankfully with no one coming the other way!!) At the bottom a woman explained the area and offered up a guide. She must have spoken in a local dialect, as neither I nor Martin understood more than a few words.

Off we went through the forest, and quickly found the first waterfall and climbed down. We meandered through the paths in the woods to find the other, where you can swim and go behind the falls, but never did! The one we saw was beautiful and worth the trip. We started getting hungry and decided to head back to check out downtown Alajuela, where they were staying. It was quite a big city, crowded, a million people milling around and very narrow. We parked the car and decided to walk. The parking place was tiny and the spot barely had room for our car. As we debated our plan of attack, the guy working in the garage offered to back it in, an offer we were all to happy to accept! He zipped right into the spot with inches to spare! The town center has a little park with a huge church. We walked by, snapped some photos, then headed to find a restaurant. The one we decided on didn't seem to be there anymore (taken over by a Taco Bell, or some fast food US place) so we found another. The food was ok, but very inexpensive. I was on a mission to try Tres Leches, a cake known in this area, and got a piece here. It was.. interesting. The cake is very moist and is in a creamy liquid, and the frosting is kind of spongy, like a soft mirangue. It was not what I expected and I'm glad I tried it, but won't again!

We left Martin and Stephi (after getting their e-mail) and decided to head back to the hotel to relax by the pool and maybe the jacuzzi. The man working at the garage pulled the car out for us as well, and earned the tip we gave him!! We drove back happy to leave the crowded city and traffic. With the steady stream of people, it made Phoenix traffic look minimal!! I'm tired from the heat, high humidity, and the hike, and it was a bit noisy in the hotel last night.

I'm not sure if I mentioned yesterday the boy on the bike who almost rode into my car! I saw him coming, just meandering from the side of the road. He was looking to the side talking with someone, and his bike was going in the other direction. I came to a complete stop and watching him come close, then honked. Barely anyone hits their horn here, and we were told by someone it's rude, so I didn't want to. But he was about to hit me so I had no choice. He actually looked at us, and glared, and pulled away! Harumph!!!

A little R&R this afternoon. I don't feel like going to the bird zoo that's nearby, and we heard from several, including Stephi and Martin, that San Jose isn't nice. Martin was told that if they want a smaller, nicer and cleaner city to go to Alajuela! Alajeula was a bit much, so I won't be headed to San Jose!

Tomorrow morning I head home to Phoenix, and I'm ready. My flight is bright an early, and I have to be there around 6:30 am. I've been getting up by 6 so it shouldn't be too tough! CR has been a wonderful adventure, and I would highly recommend it! There's so many diverse areas to see. Travel is challenging but kind of exciting in its way. The country is lush, green and beautiful and the people are wonderful!

Happy travels! I expect my next trip will be late summer.. stay tuned!

Friday, February 13, 2009

San Jose outskirts

This will be a bit brief as the internet keeps going down at this hotel and the computer is pretty awful. But free! The drive was beautiful, and on a paved road (yay!) Outside of La Fortuna looked much nicer than anywhere we've seen. The houses are nicer, very brightly colored and area is better kept. Perhaps the road helped that area. All farmland and some with sloping hills and other areas very flat. Much easier for farming. We passed through a couple of small towns, and in one I saw a man riding a motorcycle with a young baby, maybe a year old, on the seat in front of him! Ah mio dio!

We saw a larger town called Quesada (San Carlos) and from there it looked poor again. In Zarchero we passed a beautiful church, but didn't stop until we saw a little cafe by the road to take a break. Most of the towns in CR are pretty ugly-- very dirty, touristy with lots of souvenier shops, and not much character. Oh, and Karen, you'd love it as every other store seems to be a shoe store!

We lost the road in Naranja and had to backtrack to get to the highway. Driving here is very difficult as no roads are marked and direction are often "follow the road." Well, the road forks many times! But, it's adventure I say! We did manage to find the cut off to get to our hotel without going all the way to the airport, and checked in mid day. lots more people here than our other hotels. The hotel is cute, very brightly golden yellow colored, like the color of marigolds. There's a check in, tour area and a little store, a separate building has Marilyn Monroe's bar and restaurant, a lobby, pool, nature trails complete with two gorgeous caged birds, a hot tub. Very much surrounded by large, plants so you feel like you're in the jungle. The manager, Gary, is from MI and moved here full time 6 years ago. He gave us directions and recommedations to a restaurant for lunch and fruitas, fruit shakes. He was very nice and we chatted a bit. I told him I though that naming the dog "Marilyn Monroe" was funny and rather fitting, and he laughed and said that he believes she's the reincarnation of Marilyn.. "a buddhist thing" he said. I just laughed and said I thought it was karma!

We headed off to Grechia and Sarchi. Grechi was large and not quaint at all. Had a large red impressive church in the center. We drove to Sarchi, the artisan center of CR in search of the restaurant and a cute town to walk around in. We found the restaurant and while the food was so-so, the shakes were incredible! Melanie got a pineapple, coconut, mango, and I got pineapple, passion fruit and mango. Both were incredible! The man who served us is I believe the owner, and he's selling the place. Absolutely adorable older man and very nice. I was glad for the recommendation, as we never would have found the place if we didn't know where to look! Sarchi looked like any of the other towns so far. The church dominates the town in the central park, at the top of a huge hill. I was surprised as the book I read said it's pink with turquoise trim and is often said that it looks like a birthday cake. Well, the church was cream with tan trim!

We drove around a bit, stopped to get my nephew a CR shirt, and headed back. Not much to see or to walk around. We have been told the restaurant at our hotel is very good, so I think we'll check it out. The area doesn't look all that great, so I think I'd rather not go far at night.

The pool has a nice little water feature so I think I'll go enjoy it with a book for some R&R. Tomorrow we try to got o Poas. We were told that it is open and worth seeing if it's not too cloudy. Worst case the drive there is very nice and worth seeing, and we can turn back when we hit the park. There is also a waterfall nearby that I'd like to see. I found a park with a little ruin of a town, but Gary said it's far and on the other side of San Jose. So i think we'll stick more in this area and explore. There is a bird zoo nearby too, where they rehab injured birds. They do have a quetzal and it may be worth seeing one up close, though I'm a bit birded out! So, we'll see what time we spend in Poas, etc. La Paz waterfall is definitely closed, so not going that way. We'll miss the hummingbirds and butterflies there and exploring the peace lodge, a super nice and incredibly expensive hotel, but there's plenty else to do!

Hasta luego!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The rainforest is..

.. Very rainy! I woke after a sleepless night to the sound of.. rain. The volcano is obscured by thick clouds, so I dont think Ill be seeing lava during this trip! I guess Ill have to plan one to Hawaii! After Italy.. but anyways, I got up early as our trip to Cano Negro wildlife preserve was to begin at 7:20. We got a desayuna typica (local CR breakfast) which Im now addicted to, and the shuttle got us promptly. Three other couples joined us, from Washington DC, Montreal and San Diego. The couple from San Diego was a lot of fun, and we talked a good bit sharing our adventures in travel. They were actually going to Eco Thermales tonight, so I gave them scoop.

The drive was long but wandered through some beautiful farmland. Jorje was our guide, and Don Juan our driver. I started calling our driver Eagle Eyes, as he was amazing! He was driving at a good clip and stopped quickly to pull over. He spotted a sloth in the trees! The look like a brown-grey circle and can barely be seen, I suppose, unless you know what youre looking for! We ended up seeing two 2 toed sloths. The houses were mostly very small with tin rooves surrounded by flowing fields of papaya, plantains, casaba, yucca, ornamental plants, sugar cane and pineapple.

It was at this point that the tour guide asked if we have our passports. I never carry mine on me, because if God forbid my bag is stolen... so it was resting comfortably in the room safe. I asked about this, as we werent crossing into Nicaragua so I couldnt figure out why wed need it! He insisted we were crossing a border but said hopefully we wouldnt be stopped. It wasnt until the drive back that I realized he was pulling one over on us!! I had visions of being trapped in this country for longer than planned--which wouldnt be the worst thing!

We stopped at a restaurant on the way for water and juice. the restaurant is called Las Iguanas, and we soon found out why. There were 8 to 10 HUGE iguanas sunning themselves on the trees next to the restaurant! Apparently they like to live by a river, and there was one right there as well. The restaurant owners feed them tomatoes and other veggies, and they just hang out. They were green iguanas, though a few of them had bright orange spines down their back. We found out from our tour guide that those are males, and their spines turn orange during mating season to attract the females. He also told us that many of the birds are the same, where the males are brightly colored. I found this interesting, given that it seems to me that with people, women tend to do more ´primping´than men!

Jorje told us about the people that live in this area. Only around 35% graduate high school. Around 30 years ago family sizes were 5-6, and now they mostly have 1 or 2 kids only.

We passed a huge Parqueo sugar mill, and then a lone bird on top of a bare tree. Jorje said its a laughing falcon, and that the superstition goes that if its on a green tree, it will rain, and if it is seen on a bare tree, someone will die. Happily moving on... We came across a field of cows, and a baby cow decided to race our bus. It was really cute! We saw lots of different birds including egrets, spoonbills, kingfishers. We pulled over to a shrub to listen to a white collared bird sing to us. Then we saw some caiman, like a small crocodile. It was very cute! We saw lots of coconut trees as well and then a three toed sloth. And we werent even at the park yet!

We got to the park, following a rather arduous drive on a rock and dirt path. We got out, took a break, then headed onto the boat for the tour of the river. Right away we saw a huge group of howler monkies. Jorje started making the call that they make, and in about five minutes, one responded rather persistently! it was really interesting, like they were having a great old conversation. Then we came across some white faced capucian monkeys, like the ones I saw at the last hotel and then a spider monkey. We were very lucky to see all three that inhabit this area. One other monkey lives on the atlantic coast side, which is the squirrel monkey. The spider monkeys are usually very active during the day but this one was sacked out sleeping. I actually saw him first, and his back legs were dangling, and his head was resting on his hands on the branch. He was too far for a picture but quite cute. I did get some of the howler monkeys with pics through Jorjes binoculars.

The boat ride was for two hours and was so interesting! We saw lizards, the emerald basilisk also called the ´Jesus Christ´lizard as they can run on water. It was cool to watch as it stood up on two legs and dashed across the water. Then we pulled up to what looked like a dark band on a tree trunk. Turns out it was a group of bats sleeping! i have no idea how they saw it, and it was really interesting. They looked like scratches in the tree! We then saw a bird that sounded like a pig squealing!

We got back to the restaurant and had a tipico meal. Mine was casado chicken and rice with vegetable pear- not sure what it was like, but it was good, rice, black beans, chicken wiht a sauce, and a cooked plantain. It was very good.

It rained a lot on the ride back to the hotel. Unfortunately the weather isnt clearing so it looks like the day will end with rain. Its cooled down though, which is good, though its still pretty muggy. Ive been wearing my hair tied back to keep from scaring people! Im considerate that way..

Heading into town for dinner in a little bit, then maybe out for some drinks at a local hangout. We head out in the morning to the last area we visit. Im not sure if the next hotel has a computer i can use, so well see. Its the hotel we stayed at our first night, but we were in late and up early so I didnt get to explore the grounds. Im unsure what we will do.. we will explore grecia and sarchi, two artisan communities. But the earthquake hit the Poas park, and Im hearing conflicting information if its open or not. We did hear that its not worth going to the volcano if its cloudy, which it has been much of the time. So, i did find another waterfall we can explore, a butterfly farm and a park with a ruin of an old town that had a population fo 10k including buildings, aqueducts, etc. Ill see what the hotel suggests, and explore a bit as well. Tomorrow will be half travel I think, and then one more full day following that.

If I can write again, i will.. otherwise, Ill post an update when I am back and post some of the pics. Lots so far!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Heaven in Arenal

I forgot to mention the other piece of adventure that I stumbled on (literally) during the horseback ride. As we trekked through the jungle, I came upon a wood suspension bridge. This was not like the one we saw in the cloud forest that was of metal, but it was rope and wood. Yeah, good times. It swayed like you wouldnt believe, and i unfortunately did look down. Did i mention how afraid of heights i am? Well, at that point I was invested and wanted to see the falls I could now hear, so I dashed across (of course, making it sway all the more). On the way back I did take more time, got a pic, and took pics of the stream rushing below. It was quite pretty.

We went into La Fortuna to a soda that Eliomar recommended for lunch. (Soda El rio). It was very good, basic food. I got arroz con pollo and melanie got rice and veggies. The bill with a juice drink for Melanie and a bottled water for me was I believe $10. Good deal, lot of food! Sandy, it will be right up your alley! We saw a guy run across the street with two huge bunches of bananas, and i did get a pic. The only negative of the restaurant is that its open air and lots of trucks drove by.

Took a nap as i was quite exhausted. Apparently it poured as i slept, so I guess i really did sleep deeply. The volcano was quite obscured by clouds, and interestingly, I just realized that the sonic booms that i hear periodically are likely from the volcano. Sadly though, still no lava or sparks.

We asked Eliomar where Eco Thermales is, as I didnt see it where he said it was. Its a big wooden door that is unmarked! i never would have found it if I didnt ask. Sandy, it is almost across the street from Baldi springs, on the side of the road of Hotel el Silencio del Campo (2 or 3 places towards the town.) It was gorgeous! Total jungle with plants everywhere. They have a locker, bathroom and changing area, then you walk down one of several paths to the springs. There were five pools, ranging in temperatures, and a little waterfall in one. It was really beautiful. It was just heavenly, and my body was aching from the day and my bruises on bruises, so it really was nice. Eliomar suggested that we not walk as the road is so very dark ( he didnt count on my very white legs!!!) We did decide to drive and were sure glad we did!

We soaked for a little over an hour then changed for dinner. It was a tipico dinner with homemade tortillas (yum!!), rice, bean paste, salad (i was craving salad, surprisingly enough, and decided to risk it, as they dont use purified water), juice that was a mix of pineapple juice and passion fruit (tried it but didnt want to drink much due to the water in it), chicken and steak. For dessert we had rice pudding which was very sweet but quite good. Everything was prepaid but the drinks are at cost (we got caught on this sandy, so wanted to let you know!!) They were pretty inexpensive though. As we ate it started pouring, but passed quickly. Its quite humid today and the storms didnt seem to break it, but overall the weather here is really gorgeous. Ive made good use of my keen shoes, as i wear them everywhere! So glad I brought them! And my water shorts have come in handy too!

I met a couple from Iowa in the springs who were really interesting to talk with. They were up at Coco beach and came down here for two days. They also did a horseback ride without the wading through the river, but they werent able to go right to the falls. As scary as that trip was Im glad I did get to the falls! They did get to see the Maleku village though, where i only saw one building. (Id still take the falls!!)

Tomorrow we go on a boat tour of Cano negro, that Im really excited about. Ive heard its one of the best tours to do. Cano negro is a wildlife preserve on the border of Nicaragua (only a few miles away.) Its most of the day, and a 90 minutes drive each way. We leave a little after 7 and get in after 3. Eliomar just popped in that he wants to close a little bit early to watch the soccer game (apparently in CR they call it soccer and not futbol!) Honduras vs CR. So.. signing off. Hasta manana!

Arenal Adventures

Hey, that was not on the brochure!!!! --more on that later..

Last night we decided to explore La Fortuna center. It was tour shops, souvenier shops, restaurants and little else. It had none of the quaintness of the Santa Elena center in Monteverde, and I was a bit disappointed. I wont be spending much time there! We ate dinner at La Choza, which was very good. Comida tipico (local cuisine) in an outdoor, open air place. Tile floors and picnic bench tables. The food was fairly pricy relative to some other places weve been to, but the portions were huge. We both got chicken as we were told thats what they are known for. Also got an avocado y platain dish for an appetizer.. wasnt sure what to expect and it was a surprise. They mashed the plantains and fried them, almost like a thick (very thick) tortilla, and then they had guacamole, bean dip and pico de gallo. It was very good with hot sauce (good but I thought a little bland).

We then went back to the hotel and sat by the hot spring. Saw a HUGE toad, well a smaller one and a big one, and got pics. We watched them eat dinner too! Had a margarita and went to bed early. The volcano cleared a bit, but no sparks to indicate lava flow. Maybe tonight. Oh, and to keep my mom from having a heart attack from my last post, the lava flow is on the other side of the volcano.

I woke up really early in the morning and headed to the restaurant to watch them feed the birds. Not sure what I expected, but it wasnt it! They stuck pieces of banana on a bare tree and birds really flocked to it. And two mice too!! The colors were amazing, and there was one that was black and a flourescent red-orange, and one that was a baby blue color. Also a vivid violet one that was very small. In no time the fruit was gone.

For breakfast I had desayuna tipica. Rice and black beans with cilantro, scrambled eggs on a very thick and small tortilla. It was incredibly good, esp with some hot sauce! I met a bunch of guys in town from LA for one (Eric´s) bachelor party week. Much more exciting than a night of drinking and watching strippers! There were seven of them and they were a riot. Just Eric was out at first and I sat down with him. His friends one by one started piling in, and one was more of a riot then the next. They just got in the night before so I shared my MV adventures with them. They were staying here for a few days then headed to Jimenez (I think) for surfing. Seems to be the hot surfing spot, as i heard several people talking about it. I do love traveling for the amazing people you meet.. both locals (Ticos) and tourists. Ive met several folks from England, Australia and many from all over the US. its fun to share our adventures.

Met a wonderful couple with a cute little baby from Indianapolis. They heard me talk about MV and were planning to go there, and asked about it. They were very excited. I saw them again climbing the falls, but more on that...

I got picked up at 8 for my horseback ride to the La Fortuna falls. I was a bit nervous as I had only been on a horse twice, once a month ago. But this excursion sounded so wonderful and i didnt want to miss it! I met with Jonny, my guide, who was an adorable (Oh god, I cant believe Im going to say this) kid (ugh!!) of 21. My horse was HUGE and much bigger than his! I could barely get up in it, and there was no little step to ease the way up. Thank goodness for yoga! The horse, Jitano, was a bright red color and 10 years old. He was also not the docile trail horse i rode in Phoenix! He had a bit of spunk and wasnt pleased when I tried to slow him down from the trot he broke out in!! I got used to it after a while, and with a little arguing we managed just fine. We rode for maybe 40 minutes on a dirt road that was very rocky by several small rapids and rivers, then cut off through a beautiful field. Jitano wanted to socialize with the other horses we saw (thus our arguments!) but i managed to keep some control and off we went. We stopped first at a small fall called Pino Blanco, and left the horses. The rest of the way was climbing.

350 steps down, with some of the steps so wide I could barely navigate them on the way up! Through the forest, and it was really beautiful, with the sound of the falls. We climbed down and saw a river that was maybe 50 feet wide. Large rocks and some rapids in this section and just below. Across the river was a set of stairs. Jonny pointed and said thats where i was to go! ?????? Seriously! There was another way around that you could view the falls, but not get close. Um, ok. Of course I didnt bring a plastic bag for my camera, but did wear my suit. Good thing! And thankfully I brought my tevas instead of sneakers. While i was a little leery hiking through the forest with them, I was thankful!!!

So, stripped to my suit and proceeded to step into the coldest water Ive felt!!! i had my camera tied on my neck, and i was praying to keep it dry. After two steps in the river, i was just praying to make it across! The rocks were very slippery and sand was hard to come by under my feet. The current was strong but i was determined! Off i went! it took around 10 minutes to wade across, in water that was waist deep. Whew! I don{t recall reading about this in the brochure!!!! I climbed the steps and off I went to the falls. it was worth the view and simply magnificent. I climbed down to the base and took lots of pics, and this is where I ran into the couple with the baby from my hotel. I recommended the tour guide Adrien, that we had in the cloud forest and spoke with them for a bit. The air was misty from the falls and the weather was perfect.. warm in the sun and a little cool in the shade.

After 15 minutes or so I decided to make my way back. I{m not sure if it was the excitement of seeing the falls or if the current was stronger, but it took twice as long. Instead of being waist deep it was chest deep and I started getting really nervous! It seemed to take forever and i slipped a couple of times and thought I was going down, but managed to catch myself. I got 10 feet from the end and tossed my camera to Jonny. I finally made it over and kissed the ground! After a few minutes of drying off and calming down, I tossed my jeans back on and off we went. The stairs were quite a hike, and I{m thankful I do a bit of it back home! We got to the top, took a break, got the horses and headed back. We ran into another group and my horse was very happy to have company.

What a blast! Jonny works on the farm with his grandfather, whom I met. Hes lived in La Fortuna his whole life, and has been to San Jose and one other area in CR. Hes never been out of the country or anywhere else in CR. He is curious but wont leave his grandfather, whom he feels needs his help. Hes a really nice guy and we talked a lot about life in both countries. Oh, forgot to mention that there are zip lines going near the falls, which would be quite cool! I met a big black dog when we got back, whom Im told does zip lines. They said they have a harness for him and everything.

Headed back to the hotel for a shower, then we go into town for lunch. Im starved! Were going to a soda, which is a Tico restaurant for the local cuisine (the locals are called Ticos. I made the mistake of calling someone a local, and got a funny look. Then i realized he probably thought i said loco, or crazy person. ooops!)

Few things I forgot-- found that theres a very big mountain next to the arenal volcano, called cero chato. Its a volcano as well, but not active. We also passed a maleku indian hut on the ride, which was interesting!!

Not much planned for today, just maybe some exploring, then Eco Termales tonight. Its a hot spring that is family run and offers local cuisine. I heard the gardens are beautiful and its very much worth seeing.

No sign of lava flow yet, and I was told that if there is some youd usually see sparks at the top of the volcano. Ive been told the best views are in arenal park (you cannot hike the volcano, but can hike around the base of the volcano) and the Arenal observatory lodge, which I think I was told is closed at 5 to non-guests. Eliomar told me about a guided hike that you can do, so I will think about it. The roads are very windy and dark at night, so not sure we want to drive. Will see tomorrow what i feel like doing!

Eliomar has been very wonderful to us, sharing tips and great information. Hes adorable too, and I told him he´s in my blog and now famous. He got very embarassed so I said that I would just say how handsome he is! I swear he blushed...

Ok, Im off. I have no idea how i got that apostrophe in the last paragraph (i know Im obsessing, but I hate when my typing is this bad!) Having trouble as the keyboard is set up differently and since I dont look at the keys to type, I am getting goofed up! Anyways, very tired from the day and its only noon! Looking forward to some exploring though. No rest on vacation!!!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Goodbye jungle Hello volcano!

We woke up to the most glorious day in MV!!! It really was beautiful. Sunny, light breeze and warm. We ate breakfast, again with the family of monkeys and got some great new shots! Decided to check out the cheese factory, and so glad that i did!! It was cool watching them work from an observation room. They had two oxen pulling a cart outside, to a tanker truck. They had a huge case full of different cheeses, almost any kind you can imagine, including ham and cheese mixed (odd) and chocolate cheese. Now, I am a chocoholic, mind you, but that just sounds wrong!!! They have ice cream and caramels, which I was told must be tried. So 8 am i had macadamia nut ice cream, with local macadamias. It was worth every moment!

before I forget, this keyboard is a bit off and the apostrophe cannot be reached. I see the key, but cannot do it with alt, control, great alt, etc. So, if you get some funky symbols, my apologies!!!

I bought some caramels, dulce de leche (caramel sauce) and we headed out to check out an art studio that we drove past several times. I{m SO glad we did!!! The artist, Marco Tulio was really a cool guy with crazy big curly hair, and his 1 year 1 month old daughter was just beautiful! Nalia was shy but very friendly. I found it interesting that she was reading a book in hebrew, b ut didn{t ask about it. The artwork was wonderful and a mix of sculptures in many media and paintings. I took some pics and several of the sculptures I was considering how I{d fit in my suitcase! He was a really nice man, curious and between his broken english and my spanglish we were able to do ok. He was very interesting. He admired my journal and said that he cannot get any like that and showed me what he has. It{s all made of banana paper I believe. I offered him mine for a trade.. as long as i have something to write on, i don{t mind, but he wouldn{t accept it. I was afraid it would be rude to push so i didn{t, but I did leave him a tip in his jar for his time and for opening for us. It was one of those moments when its really wonderful to meet someone from another culture and have that click. He showed me some beautiful sketches he did as well.

the drive out from MV was every bit as bumpy as the ride in, and longer. Some areas were so pitted that we had to cross to the other side, and sometimes even off the road! Some areas had fresh soil filling the holes which was really nice, but few! The road rule defininely is whomever is there first, and whomever is more aggressive goes! It takes a lot of concentration driving on these roads. For the most part the roads are completely unmarked, leaving the driver to guess which way to go. The maps show some forks, but not most.

We came across two loose horses and as we crossed the turn, a loose dog following. Hmmm.. I was hoping a rider was nearby and sure enough one followed a moment later on a horse. there were many cows outside the fences eating by the side of the road, and quite a few loose dogs. The drive was gorgous! the terrain went from jungle in MV to a patchwork of sloping hills covered in farmland, with crops, and horses and cows grazing. It{s really beautiful. The sky was a bright blue and filled with big puffy white clouds. It{s warm today, almost hot but with a breeze very nice. A bit humid, but again not bad at all.

This area is some of the best 4 wheeling I{ve ever done!!! We got to a town called Tilaran and back on pavement we drove. Yay! We lost the path to Arenal following several forks, and decided to stop in town for a drink, bio break and directions. We stopped in a cafe and got two milkshakes, and met Jeff, a wonderful man from Texas who [gave it all up[----no idea where quotes are on this keyboard!! and moved down there. He used to do business in CR and when the market in the US crashed and he lost a lot, he decided to make a huge change. He said there are around 150 americans in the area, and all are very concerned about the US economy impact. He said tourism is down over 40%, so Sandy, be sure to bargain, esp on hotel!!! He lived there for four months and really loves it. Something to aspire to!

We got back on the road fortfied and with directions and soon came to lake arenal. It{s a beautiful shade of blue and just gorgeous. There are windmills in several areas around it, interesingly, that had to be turned off for a few days due to the storm. The winds were too great even for them! The long windy road around the lake seemed to take forever, but then we caught sight of the Arenal volcano. wow.. it{s HUGE and just amazing. This volcano is live and does have lava flows, so it cannot be hiked. Amazingly in the US I{m sure we would not allow building so close to the volcano, but here it{s done. A town that i believe was called Tabacon was destroyed in the last century due to the lava. The people we spoke with in MV said that in three days they saw no lava, and no volcano as it was obscured by the thick clouds. Here it{s just beautiful!! The volcano was obscured for a bit at the top, but there are great views to be seen.

We came to our hotel which can only be described as paradise. Eliomar checked us in, the same angel who helped me with my booking problem. i won{t go into that here, but suffice it to say that i will never, ever use again, and would very much discourage anyone from using it! happy to provide details if you{d like. Done with my rant.. the grounds here are simply gorgeous. Flowers and plants of every kind and color, and beautiful wood cabins spaced well from each other. Pool, and --sound of angels singing-- a hot spring in the back. We checked in, changed into bathing suits and marched right on back there. Past the duck pond and the pool and a row of bird of paradise flowers to the hot spring, complete with a little waterfall. OMG, this is a slice of heaven. Oh, and right near a bar (and no Jason, contrary to what you may expect i did NOT drink!!) We soaked in the spring, laid out on the teakwood loungers and just relaxed. Heaven. Eliomar had given us a map and told us where the restaurants i found are, and made a few recommendations. So, we just relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful weather! There are horses on a property next door. The only negative I see is the monstrosity of a hotel next door. It{s hideous and huge and just out of place!! C{est la vie.

We have a perfect view of the volcano from our window. Our room is very nice with a tile floor, a bathroom you could fit 200 of your closest friends in, high wood ceilings. Well appointed and not fancy, but incredibly nice. I would so recommend this place!!

We are headed into La Fortuna shortly to explore, then get dinner at a place-forget the name- but it{s CR tipica. Known for their rotisserie chicken, and people just seem to rave about it. Sandy, I{ll get the name typed in later. I{m looking forward to exploring a bit, now that we{ve relaxed from the long ride. It took around 4 hours to get here or a little less, so not as bad as expected. this area is very touristy, so I am very glad i went to Monteverde as well to get the other flavor of CR. One thing that amazes me about this country, which is the size of West Virginia, is how very diverse it is! The different areas are like completely different countries in every way. This area looks nothing at all like MV, and while it{s beautiful, it is littered with hotel after hotel, all with views of the volcano. Beautiful and worth seeing, but very touristy.

I am borrowing Eliomar{s computer, so i may not be able to post again until tomorrow. They do have wireless but I didnt{ bring mind, figuring it wouldn{t be readily available. I know I{m being neurotic but I really need to figure out how to get the apostrophe!! Oh, and one of the hotel guests told me to be sure to get to the restaurant before 7, as they put out a ton of bananas for the birds, and there are at least 20 different kinds. How fun! Oh, and another thing is that Ive seen at least three different kinds of butterflies on the property. Saw a monarch, a yellow one, and a black and yellow. I tried to get one to land on my finger with no luck. Maybe tomorrow!

Adios!!! I{m excited about my horseback ride to the La fortuna waterfall tomorrow... can{t wait!!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Monteverde day 2: Quest for Quetzal

It was a rough night, as the sound of the wind whistling through the mountains became louder than any banshee scream heard by the scots. I have been through hurricanes and never felt winds like this! We were told we're lucky, and that last week they were 90 km! This was enough for us!

When we got our laundry last night and got back into the hotel, the pups decided to have fun with us. The furry white dog ran in front of our car and danced around, so I had to get out to distract her. Not the worst thing and she was very friendly and adorable. Her buddy warmed up too so I had a furry lovefest. Don't tell my critters!

Being in the cloud forest is something. Everything felt damp when we got up, and books left on the table were actually curled! May not have been worth drying everything as my fleece that I forgot to dry was as dry as the rest of my clothes! The weather was windy this morning but (I'm reluctant to say) NO RAIN! Hopefully I didn't jinx myself. We got up early for our tour of the Monteverde Cloud forest, and grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel. Joined by a family of monkeys! There were four and a baby and two came right over to the windows banging on them. I got lots of great pics..what a thrill! They are the white-faced capucian monkeys. The cat came over for food too (I guess I look like an easy target) and the dogs walked us over to our room. I felt badly that they were out last night, but figure they're used to it. To give you an idea of the temperature, I had a tshirt, two long sleeved shirts, a fleece and a raincoat, along with thermals and hiking pants. (thankfully later in the day, I've stripped off layers as it's getting nice enough that one long sleeved shirt will do just nicely).

We met our guide, Adrien, who was absolutely wonderful! Sandy, if you detour to come here, I would highly recommend him and have his info. I know I've talked a bit about the awful weather, but it's very unusual. A cold front moved into the Caribbean and it's messed with the weather here. It's usually more sunny here and much less windy. It's supposed to clear tomorrow. Having said that, it's gorgeous now.. breezy and warmer, and sunny for the most part.

The forest was just amazing. I'll probably add to this later, but want to get the highlights. We were not two minutes in when we spotted the elusive Quetzal. A bird nearly extinct, with a luminescent green body and bright red chest, with a very long (2 foot or so) tail. I got some pictures and it was really impressive. We saw a young sloth curled up between swaying branches sleeping, and older one hanging out, two howler monkeys and tons of birds. Hummingbirds, etc. We also saw a quantimundi (sp) the animal that we saw yesterday which was scared off before I could snap a picture. I got a great photo of him. We saw a puma footprint in the mud (though no puma!)

Adrien told us about life in Monteverde, where he's been his whole life. He is married and has a three year old. Tourism is the dominant job here, and he loves what he does. He said many new people have moved in bringing drug trade with him, which upsets him quite a bit.

Back to the cloud forest-- the Quakers from Alabama settled here in 1951 and started the area. They have a cheese factory which remains, and they started the preserve. The trees were swaying and creaking, so loudly in fact that we thought there were woodpeckers around! A bit unnerving when we saw trees down due to the winds last week, and witnessed their wrath. The continental divide runs through this park, so part of the park has very different weather and foliage from the other side. You can actually see a difference. We saw a bird that they call "R2D2" for obvious reasons, and saw an owl as well. One of the hummingbirds was really carrying on screaming about the owl being it the area, to warn others. I took a ton of pictures. The forest was green and lush and had some amazing flowers, and many varieties of orchids. It was truly worth seeing.

When we walked out we went to the hummingbird gallery where there were feeders everywhere that they fill three times a day to keep up with demand. We saw 8 different kinds of the 50 in Costa Rica and Adrien knew every type. There was one that was a vivid violet and beautiful!!!

We drove back to the hotel and ate at Donde Henry, a comida tipica (local cuisine) cafeteria style restaurant in the square, or actually, triangle, in the center of town. Very simple, inexpensive, good. (Rice and pinto beans, a quesidilla-like thing with meat and potatoes, stewed meat with salsa, fruit juice-- i tried the tamarindo and liked it, but then thought to ask and it was NOT purified water. So bottled for me!)

At 3 we have a tour of El Trapiche planned, a sugar cane plantation where they harvest coffee, bananas and pineapples. I'm really looking forward to it!!
Diego picked us up for the tour. When we were leaving, we saw a man put the second white dog in the car (not sure if I mentioned him, he looked like the other white dog, Osa, and is named Oso. I thought they were related, but apparently not! Anyways, I asked where he was going and he said "home." Apparently every three days Oso comes to Arco Iris to visit! Then the owner bring him home, and three days later goes to get him! How funny!

El Trapiche was amazing! We took a two hour tour of this farm that is family owned for four generations. They had a tilapia pond, chicken pen and of course, a guide dog (who is "the boss" I was told.) We walked through the banana plantation, sugar cane, coffee plants, and learned about the growing and harvesting of each. It was so interesting! Also saw a pineapple growing, and some tobacco. We saw how the coffee beans are picked, dried and processed. There is a beetle that eats the coffee plants, and they found a creative way of keeping it away. We saw white cups hanging among the trees filled with guaro (a sugar cane liquor that is illegal to distill. There is a commercial grade version available that is 30% alcohol, but when you make it, it's 80% alcohol!) So our guide made it very, very clear that of COURSE they would not distill guaro, but if they did, they showed us the process. But of course they don't! Anyways, they said that the beetles are attracted to the scent and fall in, drunk! He said that's an issue with the workers as well, who are mostly from Nicaragua. It's very hard work, and seasonal, so many of the CR's don't want to do it.

Cutting the sugar cane is hard work, esp as this farm is hilly which makes cutting it by machine nearly impossible. Cutting it by hand can be dangerous as the leaves are actually sharp like razor blades! They began doing the tours 4 years ago to keep the farm in business, and it's easy to understand why.

Coffee picking was interesting too. Pickers quickly and selectively grab the red beans, and are paid by the basket (Caheula). A good picker can pick one caheula an hour, which pays them around $2 USD. If there are too many green beans, they get a 40-50% decrease in their pay. In CR only arabica or arabica blends are grown. This is a low wage, but liveable here. (side note- which amazes me as it's much more costly here than I expected, esp. relative to peru! )

We then took an ox drawn cart back to the farm and watched el trapiche, the machine used to process the sugar in work. Few use it any more as it's labor intensive, requiring oxen to move the large plates. We watched the machine suck in and press the cane and the sugar liquid come out. We got to taste it, and it's super sweet as you'd imagine! We got the cups of it right next to the guaro distiller (what a tease!!) We then watched them heat and stir the sugar, to make blocks of the thick brown sugar. Few places make it anymore and it's mostly consumed in CR and interestingly, in Holland, where it's used for chocolates.

I bought coffee for people (of course!) and a journal made of banana fibers that is painted by hand. Oh, and we saw naranjilla trees, an orange fruit that bitter like a lemon. Also called limon mandarina. We got to try the juice, fresh brewed coffee run through a cloth filter, and made some candy of the sugar. It was hard work and super sweet! We also got to try the blocks of sugar, which was tasting of molassas and you could feel the sugar crystals.

We got back to our hotel, played with the pooches a bit, then headed out to the frog pond. We say maybe 25 different kinds of frogs and toads, including dart frogs, glass frogs, a "blue jean " frog with a green body and dark blue legs, tree frogs and the famous red eyed tree frog that CR is known for.

We then headed out to dinner at Tramonti, a pizza place. Usually I want local food, but we weren't terribly hungry and a pizza sounded good. One of the best I've had outside of NYC! It was brick over and very well done. We headed back after that for an early night. The wind blew but not quite as badly as the night before, and I was finally able to get some sleep.

This morning we head out to Arenal, probably with a short excursion to the cheese factory run by the quakers. The day is beautiful, sunny, breezy and warmer than previously, so hopefully the storm is moving out!! Driving between areas takes time, and getting from here to Arenal will be around 5 hours as we have to drive around the lake (now I understand why the tranport option was jeep-boat- jeep!) I will try to write later. Oh, and the monkeys joined us again for breakfast and I got a few funny new pics!

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Myth number 1: there is such a thing as a "dry season" in a rainforest. Or in Monteverde, more accurately a cloud forest. I believe the distinction is the altitude. Driving around is quite interesting as you go into pretty deep cloud cover for periods of time, which makes it more exciting! :o)

Sam's bucket list
Item #122: Canopy tour/zip line--- CHECK!

I did it. Well, more accurately, Marcello and I did it, but more on that.. We got to Selvatura Part and my heart started to race. I'm not only afraid of heights, but the height and speed.. well, let's say I tried my best to not think too much (yes, Jason, it's possible). We got geared up in the harness and the helmet, of which I have a lovely photo to remember the moment. I then made up my mind that I was going tandem (taxi, as they call it.) Standing at the top of the first platform with my heart racing, I knew there was no way I was doing this without someone else. So, Marcello to the rescue! What more could I want than an adorable Costa Rican guide to go with me. I apologized in advance for the volume that I knew would come, and he just laughed. Silly man. Marcello must mean either "hero" or "man with bloody ears." I let out a yelp as we jumped off, and what a thrill it was! It took me two trips off the platform to open my eyes and look, but i was glad I did. The trees rushed by and the rain pelted my face. The views were gorgeous.

Until I got caught on a platform in a wind gust (thankfully, not hanging on the line.) The platforms do move a bit which didn't have me feeling very happy. It was only two to the end, and a huge gust (mind you, the entire time was windy) blew causing the guys on the platform to yell "grab the line." I won't repeat what I said.. There was a "Jesus" swing as well, where people could jump off the platform and swing. Much like bungee jumping. Um.. no way in hell anything but my corpse was doing that one. It was great fun to watch and the men yelped more than the women! What a hoot.

15 lines we slid down. I'm glad I did it, I am, but probably won't be doing it again anytime soon. Unless I see Marcello again. :o)

Almost forgot to mention (actually I did, and just went back in to edit) the last zip line was over 1KM!! OMG, I was scared half to death. It went on and on into the clouds and we went so quickly! It was funny as it ended up as three of us (a guide, me and melanie.) We noticed once we got in that no one went solo on this one as it was so long. This was was really incredibly fast, and with the wind and rain, I actually couldn't see. About 3/4 the way through it, I was able to look (though I'm not sure that was the best idea.) Apparently this is one of the longest zip lines and it was something!

We saw an interesting animal when we got back to the lodge. I'm not sure what it was-- was like a raccoon in size and manner, but had a longer pointy nose. I got my camera out and was just prepared to click when a rather brilliant person ran over to greet it. Yeah. So the creature ran off and no one caught it on film. What a shame, but hopefully we'll see one tomorrow during our Monteverde cloud forest tour. We're going early to hopefully see more wildlife.

We got back and I have only been this wet once in my life I think! It took work to strip off our saturated clothes, and of course it's cold and windy so we were frozen. Decided to grab a bite to warm up and headed to Morphos. Sandy, for your benefit (as I know you love to know about the restaurants!) Morphos was a very cute little place in the center of town near our hotel. It was raining so hard we did choose to drive there. It was decorated with butterflies everywhere, and candle light. The food was fantastic. Melanie got arroz con camarones (rice and shrimp) which was fabulous. Had a lot of cilantro, which was unexpected. I got curried chicken and pineapples which was very good as well. We got got hot tea (for the obvious reason) and headed out to look for a laundry to dry our clothes. With the cold temps and humidity, we don't think our stuff will dry. Oh, and no heat in the room! This was the most expensive laundromat I've ever seen! We didn't even ask for them to wash, only dry a load of clothes and two pairs of sneakers, and it was around $25!!! They said the sneakers will take two hours (???) I was debating just trying to light a fire and hanging them over, but I'd probably get arrested! It would have been less costly to get waterproof boots, though my fleece managed to get soaked under my waterproof jacket. The wind and water apparently found a few not perfectly fastened parts!!

So, came back to the hotel for a bit, and then need to pick our nice and toasty clothes up at the laundromat. Expecting a rather cold night, but thankfully I brought my fleece pjs and melanie flannel. Yeah, what a hot picture I know, but we'll be toasty at least!!!

Tomorrow's weather is expected to be like today, so we'll probably have another fortune in dryer bills! I did bring my keens and may just wear them instead of soaking my hiking shoes every day. The room doesn't have a hair dryer either which we figure doesn't matter much! Within a few minutes of stepping outside we're soaked anyways!!!

Enjoying the trip, though this weather does make me appreciate Phoenix!!! I'll post again tomorrow.