Sunday, 6 April 2014

Costa Rica With Some of my Favorite People!

I arrived in Liberia, Costa Rica in the evening of 11th and Trevor arrived the following night.  It had been nearly 9 months since I had seen him.  More precicely, 8 months and 27 days or 38 weeks and 6 days or 272 days or 6528 hours or 391680 minutes or 23.5 million seconds!  Any way you look at it, that is a long time!  I was so excited to see him again!  I met him at the airport in Liberia and picked him up with our rental car. 
We spent one evening in Liberia then hit the road to drive inland to La Fortuna, near the Arenal Volcano where I had heard there are hot springs, an active volcano, lots of opportunities for wildlife viewing and some hiking trails.  The drive took us from the province of Guanacaste inland to the province of Alajuela. Arenal was Costa Rica's most active volcano until 2010 and is one of the top 10 most active volcanoes in the world.  While we were there the volcano appeared dormant (i.e. no smoke, no fire, no lava) but the volcano remains an imposing and recognizable geological feature which can be seen from far away.
Far away from the volcano you can already see it just above Trevor's head
There had to be about 100 different, sometimes very funny signs for this hotel/restaurant we saw on our drive along the roadside.  The signs said things like "Free Beer", "Best Coffee", "Only 40 more curves until Toad Hall", "You are Almost at Toad Hall", "Come to the Famous Toad Hall" etc.  This sign was seen right after we passed Toad Hall.
Coatimundi (also called Coati) are very cute members of the raccoon family.  We saw a troupe of them alongside the road and when we pulled over to take photos, they ran up to the car.  These cheeky beasts are very used to getting fed by tourists and Trevor did not disappoint them and gave them some little bits of apple.  The cutest thing about the Coatis is that they sound like little squeak toys.
Delicious dinner in La Fortuna.  Trevor had a peppercorn steak and I had a Jalepeno Pepper steak, both were amazing!
Arenal Volcano
Trevor and I did a short hike at the base of the Arenal Volcano which ended on an old lava field with excellent views of the Volcanic peak.  On our hike we saw a lot of wildlife including more Coatis, Howler Monkeys, lots of lizards and iguanas, a small snake, many different birds and butterflies.
Rush hour traffic on the road between La Fortuna and Tilaran

Typical Costa Rican Coffee.  Hot water is poured through the hanging filter (or as Trevor refers to it "the old sock") and into cup
Pet Crested Guan at the hotel we stayed in (The La Fortuna Hostel Resort)

The area between La Fortuna and Tabacon is renowned for natural hot springs and there are some very fancy resorts and hotels that have hot spring pools on their grounds.  I found a website that told you how to get to the free hotsprings right next to the Tabacon Ecotermal Resort (which costs over $30USD/person to enter).  Trevor and I checked out the free hot spring during the day and then returned in the evening with a headlamp and a change of clothing to enjoy the soothing warm waters in the river.  Many locals were there and had brought beers and picnic dinners to spend the evening.  It was really beautiful, free, and magical when the fireflies started to come out and twinkle around the warm waters.

Trevor and I decided to use one morning to do the challenging hike up the dormant Cerro Chato Volcano which is beside the Arenal Volcano.  The hike took approximately 4 hours and was very hot and steep.  We hiked through farmland up to the base of the volcano and then the hard climb through the jungle began.  Once we reached the top we were treated to excellent views of the Arenal Volcano (and we treated ourselves to an ice cold beer we had brought with us).  A short, even steeper hike down from the rim to the green waters of the crater lake where some people swam but we just enjoyed the view.
Arenal Volcano from the top of Cerro Chato

mmmm beer
crater lake at Cerro Chato

A flower in the Ginger Family seen on the hike to Cerro Chato

After the long hot hike, Trevor and I went to the nearby La Fortuna waterfall for a swim in the refreshingly cold waters.  You could swim towards the waterfall but the water was falling with such force you couldn't get much closer than where Trevor is swimming in the top photo.

The day after our epic Cerro Chato hike, we had a lazy morning before driving to Arenal lake and the nearby Hanging Bridges.  This spot has opportunities to view wildlife as you hike along trails and cross multiple (11 I think) suspension bridges which reach across steep valleys and keep you up near the canopy of the trees in the valley below.  We saw more Crested Guan, a Toucan, lots of leafcutter ants, Coatis, many different butterflies including the huge blue Morpho Butterfly, and heard our first group of Howler Monkeys making their blood-curdling jungle calls.  Seriously, look up "Howler Monkey" online and find a video that has their calls.  It is a very disturbing sound!
line of leafcutter ants
Trevor and I near a small waterfall 
Me Tarzan
Interesting woven nests of the Montezuma Oropendolas.  The birds have a distinctive call also.  We often heard them long before seeing them.
On March 18th, my best friend, Jenny, her husband Chris, and their 2 boys were due to arrive in the evening.  Trevor and I drove back to Liberia, spent almost 2 hours in the Maxi Pali grocery store buying supplies for all 6 of us for our 2 week stay.  This was a challenge since the Maxi Pali is where the locals shop so there was no English labeling, brands were different, and getting what we wanted from the butcher counter was a bit of a guessing game.  After our epic grocery adventure, Trevor and I went and got the keys to our beautiful condo with a killer view overlooking the extremely scenic Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste.  We moved the groceries in, relaxed for a few moments, had a bite to eat and then went back to Liberia to return our rental car and meet Jenny and her family at the airport.  It was so nice to see my bestie, Jenny, and her husband Chris and the boys who I've missed so much these past 9 months!  Both Mathew and Caleb had grown up a lot and gave me big hugs when they arrived.  We all piled into a taxi for the 20minute trip back to our condo.
My gorgeous bestie Jenny and her hottie husband Chris
Caleb (5 years old)
Matthew (7 years old)
Our time at the condo can be split into two segments.  The first week we made do with no car and explored the area near Playa Hermosa, relaxed, and enjoyed the condo and the common swimming pool at the condo.  We made daily excursions down the big hill to the beach and back up the hill which was challenging for everyone, especially poor Caleb who got overheated and miserable during the climb nearly every time.  We discovered that a cold snow cone on the beach right before the climb began was a good pick me up as was a dip in the condo pool immediately upon reaching the top of the hill.  One day we wenre climbing and he was moving very slowly, with a very red face, in tears saying "I can't do it, someone carry me" a few minutes later he was jumping into and out of the pool yelling "THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER!".  On the last evening of this first segment (the no-car segment) we all were hanging around after supper and Jenny commented "Another day in paradise" to which Caleb replied "No.  Tomorrow is the first day in paradise because we get a car".  From the mouths of babes...hahaha. 
Hammocks are awesome
we often saw Iguanas on the walk up and down the big hill from our condo
At the end of the long climb up the big hill
Lots of shenanigans by the pool.  I think Trevor got the brunt of it.  One day I went to the pool with Trevor while the kids were watching a movie and Trevor got chatting to some of the people in the pool.  I decided to go back to our condo while Trevor stayed behind.  When I got back to the condo, Caleb asked me where Trevor was.  I said "He made some friends in the pool so he's still there visiting".  Caleb then asked "Big friends or little friends?".  I think he was worried about missing out on some fun in the pool with his bestie, Trevor!
During the no-car segment, of our stay Chris went on a reconnaissance mission by himself and discovered the perfect beach on the north end of Playa Hermosa.  We all went there the following day.  It was a long walk and we had to time our adventurous trek during low tide so we didn't get stranded on the secret beach.  Once we arrived it was pure paradise with lots of tide pools to explore, a few interesting dead pufferfish on the beach, a cave full of hermit crabs, good snorkelling around the rocks, a sandy, private beach, a few trees for shade, a small trickle of a waterfall where Caleb, Matthew and Trevor could dig in the sand to create freshwater pools, and even noisy Howler Monkeys up in the trees!  Henceforth we called this beach "Chris's Beach" or "Daddy's Beach".
Daddy's Beach
Colorful crab spotted on the way to Daddy's Beach
My bestie and her family walking back to the condo in the early evening after a nice afternoon at Daddy's Beach.  Note the kids are smiling because they have snowcone treats ;)
Before we picked up the rental car Trevo and I decided to spend a morning scuba diving with Rich Coast Diving out of Playa Del Cocos, the beach just south of our beach.  Jenny, Matthew and Caleb decided to come for a morning of snorkeling on the same boat.  The diving was ok, but not world class as there are not many corals, visibility was quite low, and the number of fish species is limited when compared to places like Indonesia and other parts of Asia.  That being said, there is always something to see and I saw some lovely new nudibranchs, lots of pufferfish, very large Giant Damselfish, a small reef shark in a cave, lots of big Moray eels, and even one eel out hunting.  Jenny and the boys were lucky enough to have an enthusiastic young Divemaster in Training (DMT) as their private guide and they got to see a 1.5m long White Tip Reef shark!
Snorkeling adventure
Scuba-Trev in the low visibility waters of Playa del Cocos
Beautiful Nudibranch 
Big, well camouflaged Scorpionfish with a Mohawk.  Just kidding, that's an urchin behind him. 

On the first official day in paradise (according to Caleb), Jenny and I went back to Liberia to pick up our rental car, a Hyundai Santa Fe.  After a brief grocery shopping trip in Liberia we returned to the condo (after a few wrong turns) to pick up everyone else and drive to Tamarindo Beach.  We did a little shopping, had a cold drink, saw the town (a bit busy and a lot touristy), played in the surf and then returned to our condo.
The kids working on their journals in the evening after dinner.  They would write a few lines about the day and draw a picture.  I wish I had kept up on my blog during this time so I didn't have so much catching up to do now!
The next day we used the car to drive to Rincon de la Vieja National Park to do a short (4km) hike to see some of the evidence of the volcanic activity near the base of the volcano.  The hike took us through a forested area with large strangler figs and opportunities to see wildlife.  We saw more Coati's, a few Agouti (if you've seen the Princess Bride these are basically ROUS's... Rodents of Unusual Size.  Basically, a cat-sized rat without a tail), some White Faced Capuchin Monkeys.  We also saw evidence of the volcano including small vents (Volcancito's and Fumaroles) where steam which smelled of sulfur was escaping, boiling waters, and mud pots where hot mud bubbled as gases were escaping.
Strangler fig with the boys 
Matthew with a bold Coatimundi 
Boiling water! 
Steaming Volcancito 
The end of the hike was very hot and dry!
Trevor by a large ugly colored thermal lake.  More evidence of volcanic activity.
The following day we had a tour by boat of the Tempisque River near Palo Verde National Park.  The tour guide was excellent at spotting and pointing out wildlife along the river and we all really enjoyed it.  A few of my highlights were the row of tiny long nosed bats who clung to the trunk of a tree and formed a line for camouflage.  When threatened by a predator, the bats sway side to side so that the row of them appears like one large slithering snake rather than a number of small, bite-sized bats.  We also saw a 12 foot long crocodile!  Yikes!  He was huge!
Basilisk lizard, also known as the Jesus Christ Lizard because it has the ability to walk on water by catching a bubble of air under it's feet as it runs across short stretches of water.

White Faced Capuchin Monkeys along the river

Crocodiles in the river!
On another day we discovered the beautiful white sands of Playa Conchal at the end of a track across an adjacent beach and up over a hill (4WD or AWD required!).  This was the most beautiful beach we saw in Guanacaste and it had a fun vibe with lots of kids, families, lots of local Costa Ricans (Ticos), people playing music, and people selling beers and BBQ kebabs on the beach.  Snorkelling was good here and there were lots of Moon Jellyfish (these ones don't sting) that the kids could check out

Caleb and Matthew at Playa Conchal

Enjoying a couple local Imperial beers at Playa Conchal 

Chris and Trevor under our "rented" sunshade.  We actually didn't pay for it, we just agreed to buy a couple beers and maybe something to eat from the guy who set it up earlier who was parked just up and behind it.
After a very fun holiday with Jenny and her family filled with delicious home-cooked meals, tons of activities, exploration, relaxation and a lot of games of UNO and scrabble, on April 1st it was time for their flight home to Calgary.  Trevor and I dropped them off at the airport in the morning and we headed to higher, cooler climes once again.  Trevor is not much for hot weather and beaches so we drove the 4 hours to the Monteverde Cloud Forest in the Puntarenas Province where temperatures promised to be about 10 degrees cooler (28 instead of 38 degrees C for daytime highs!).

Beautiful vistas on the way to Monteverde.  The roads were TERRIBLE though with gravel that was more like rubble comprised of large rocks and small stretches of pavement pocked with potholes.  We punctured two tires on these roads in two days and had to have two tires patched!

When we arrived in Monteverde, we checked into our budget hotel with a killer view (the Monteverde Inn), and went directly to the Children's Eternal Rainforest to do a short hike.  The hike had a great pamphlet you could take with you which had information about the plants and wildlife you could read at stations as you hiked the trail.  Very well organized!  We heard bell birds which sounded like a rusty hinge and spotted more Agoutis (ROUS's).
A short hike in the Children's Eternal Rainforest near Monteverde

The lovely Bouganvillea hedge at the Monteverde Inn where we stayed

That evening we did a guided night walk through the forest.  Our guide was excellent and showed us all sorts of wildlife we would not have spotted on our own. 
The very interesting click beetle has two glowing lighs on it's back which mimic the eyes of a larger creature for protection.

This is a soldier leafcutter ant.  Our guide borrowed someone's hat and held the ant up to the hat so the ant bit onto the hat.  Then the guide demonstrated how strong the ants are by holding the ants body and showing how the ant could hold up the hat using just it's huge pincer like jaws.

At one point our guide told us to gather around a hole beside the trail. He told us that a Tarantula lives in the hole but they are very sensitive to vibrations made by large animals so when we  walk past they go into their holes.  He told us to stay very still and he used a small stick to make small vibrations (like a small bug) near the entrance of the hole....
AND THIS HUGE TARANTULA CRAWLED OUT!!!! it was almost as big as my hand and was AMAZING!

He also showed us this funny green pompom which was about the size of a softball.  He said it was an Emerald Toucanet but all I see is a bird mooning me!
The next morning after getting our tire patched and changed (for $3!  What a deal!), Trevor and I went to the Monteverde Cloud Forest to do a hike.  Near the entrance there is an area where they feed hummingbirds where what must have been nearly 100 hummingbirds of manu different sizes and colors buzzed around and fed at multiple feeders.  This was the closest I've ever been to hummingbirds.  It was incredible.  I couldn't stop smiling.  The collective term for a group of hummingbirds is a "charm" and I couldn't think of a more fitting word!

Trevor getting buzzed.  Can you spot both hummingbirds in the photo?

The hummingbirds were so bold they would perch right on our hands if we held the feeders. 
The hummingbirds were so beautiful!

 The Monteverde Cloud Forest is near the continental divide.
Trevor found us another Tarantula.  I believe this is called the "Orange Kneed Tarantula" and you can see how big it is because I put my hand near it for scale.

Trevor also found this huge millipede thing - yuck

Me TARZAN! (again)
After our hike we drove the 4 hours back to Liberia (plus a short backtrack and then a stop to repair another flat tire) where we spent one more night.  I had to drop Trevor off at the airport the next morning which was really sad after getting to spend nearly 3 weeks with him.  But, my adventure is nearly over with only 2 more months to go before I return to Calgary in early June.  I think I can make it but it was so nice to see Trevor again!
Once Trevor went through security, I hit the road again and drove 3.5 hours south to Jaco.  Once I arrived I went to the School of the World where I will be spending the next four weeks studying Spanish and Surfing (3 hours of Spanish and 2 hours of surfing per day on weekdays with weekends off).  The town is busy, and touristy with a bad reputation for a party scene and prostitution.  I didn't research it much before I decided to sign up at the School of the World (oops).  However, I have been here almost 3 days already and I think it's nice.  I've avoided the party scene, I am staying  at a homestay with a lovely local family (Ines, her husband Eric, 16 year old daughter Aimee, 7 year old son Gabrielle, 3 year old son Antonio, and 19 year old orphaned nephew Alfredo.  So far I have spent my days hanging out at the School of the World which is very peaceful and full of friendly travelers/students, I did a one day tour of the Manuel Antonio National Park where I finally saw some sloths! and I spend my evenings and mornings at the homestay chatting with Ines in Spanish which is a struggle but is exactly the kind of practice I need in order to learn the language!
The beautiful School of the world

Jaco Beach and a Jaco beach selfie
I have my first surf lesson at 6:30am tomorrow morning and my first Spanish class right after that... wish me luck!






1 comment:

  1. You must be so happy to be reunited!!
    Enjoy your journey!
    When are you back in YYC?