Monika's Costa Rica Travel Journal

Costa Rica September 7-16, 2006

Sept 7, 2006

After a long 12 hour day of traveling, I finally arrived into the San Jose airport. The building itself was very clean, and while on a smaller scale, it reminded me of the new sections in the Sea-Tac airport, and it surprised me a little with how modern it appeared to be. After a quick trip through customs, I made my way out to the foyer where I encountered a crowd of people waiting behind glass doors for passengers. Some were holding signs with last names, others anxiously awaiting what I found out later was the Costa Rican soccer team. I decided to go to the taxi stand inside the little lobby and paid $13 for a taxi ride to Hotel Santo Tomas, and off I went. The freeways were very well developed, much more so than I had anticipated or experienced in other Central American countries, and the bright lights of the city were on par with any major metropolis area. I arrived at the hotel, checked in to the Victorian style room, and very quickly turned in for the night.

Sept 8, 2006

I received my wake up call in time to be out in the lobby waiting for my pick up at 6:30 AM. The rafting company shuttle bus came very promptly, and I was introduced to one of the guides as I boarded with my luggage and settled in for the hour and a half drive out to the first stop for breakfast. Along the way, we were given instructions for rafting as well as some safety tips. After a hardy breakfast, we set off for another 45 minute drive the rest of the way to the river put in. We put on the helmets and life vests and were off. Our rafting guide was very knowledgeable, and was training Maricela in guiding as well. She delighted to share with us her love for the outdoors and the river, and it inspired us all to look forward to a great rafting trip! After rafting some great rivers in the Pacific Northwest, I must confess that the Pacuare far surpasses by previous rafting trips. The constant rapids make for a consistently thrilling ride, and the build up with smaller rapids at the beginning to huge rapids at the end leave little time for flat water in between. The passing of blue morpho butterflies at constant intervals, as well as the birds overhead make the scenery itself worth the trip.

At the river’s take out, we piled back into the van, and I met up with a private driver to head for Selva Bananito Lodge. We drove 1 ½ hours to the rendezvous point at Salon Delia, a small tavern/restaurant in Bananito town where I transferred to the pickup truck which took us the remaining 7 kilometers on extremely bumpy road! Arriving at the lodge, a welcome cocktail and hearty dinner was waiting for me, after which I settled into my beautiful wood bungalow overlooking gorgeous views of rainforest.

Sept 9, 2006

In the morning, I awoke to the sounds of birds telling me it was time to wake up. I found that in the middle of the night I must have become cold, because I had the sheet and blanket piled on top of me and tucked in around my sides. That was a surprise, as I did not anticipate feeling cold at all the entire time I visited. I rose quickly to go down to meet Alan, my guide, to try climbing the kapok tree. The system involves two ropes and two handles that grip the rope to use to pull yourself up higher. While it appeared to be a fairly easy exercise, by the time I reached the top, I was exhausted and wasn’t quite sure I would have the strength to come down! The view from the top of the tree was gorgeous, and Alan shared with me about the species of birds, and yes, even ants, that they found around Selva Bananito. After taking my time descending, I pulled off a very sweaty helmet and decided to take a shower before breakfast. All the guests came together for breakfast, and lots of café con leche (coffee with milk) before deciding to head out for a horseback ride to the rainforest, with a brief hike and a zipline trip out to the canopy tower. A pit viper was camping out next to the zipline to the platform, all coiled and ready to strike at anything passing by that looked like dinner. I could barely see it at first, as its colors blended in with the dirt, but Alan had trained eyes and pointed it out to us. We zipped over to the platform and looked around in the canopy and in the ravine. Then we zipped back, and headed back to the lodge.

After a restful lunch break, we traveled back down the bumpy dirt road to head to Cariblue Resort on the Caribbean Coast. Upon arriving, we were met with a charming little town, with not much to it other than gorgeous beaches on one side of the road, and buildings on the other. Cariblue is such a fun place, with a nice pool with swim up bar, large common area with pool tables and board games, and thatched roof bungalows nestled into the vegetation around the property. Another traveler and I, Shane, met up for dinner and a thrilling board game before dinner. The food was fantastic! And we enjoyed some of the live reggae music playing that evening before turning in for the night.

Sept 10, 2006

I woke up early to the sound of the Caribbean morning. I headed off to the lobby to meet up with my driver and traveling companion for the rest of the trip. But I stopped in my tracks as I spotted a bright red lizard crawling around on the outside porch. I attempted to take a picture before continuing to the walkway where I met Marco. He looked well rested and ready for the day. We piled into the van, which was spotlessly clean, and started the trip to Turrialba. Our drive started off well. It soon became obvious that I would need to put my Spanish skills to work – my driver could only say phrases in English that are of the commonly useful type, such as “bathroom?” I welcomed the opportunity to practice my conversational Spanish. We hit it off immediately.

The drive to Turrialba was absolutely gorgeous! While we passed many small towns on the way, but for the most part it seemed as though we were driving on a road through endless amounts of mountainous forests. We arrived to Guayabo Lodge, one of the inspections on my list, and was greeted with a charming and quaint building on the hillside of the volcano overlooking the valley. The views were breathtaking and the rooms very lovely and welcoming. After a quick visit, we continued on our way, over the Cerro de la Muerte (Mountain of Death), and began our descent into a lesser-known cloudforest region, tucked away in a ravine. We arrived at Savegre Mountain Lodge and checked in to our respective rooms for the evening. I was surprised at how cold I quickly became, and tried to build a fire in the room with the materials provided. Unfortunately, I was defeated and confirmed the fact that I would never make it far on Survivor. I actually broke out my jeans and jacket for this evening, as the cool mountain air was not something I had anticipated.

Sept 11, 2006

This morning we woke to a crisp mountain morning, and yes, still cooler weather than I had expected. We went to dining room for a delicious breakfast with fresh fruits, eggs, gallo pinto, and coffee. After the feast, we headed to where the horses were tied to go on a brief ride to a nearby waterfall. We rode on trails through the forests, admiring the beautiful river rushing to our right as well as the sounds of the birds overhead. The trail was very muddy, a feature that I guess is common in a rainforest where it rains often! We left the horses in a clearing before continuing on foot. Our path took us across a bridge -- then we crawled down to a huge boulder on the side of a large waterfall along the river. The interesting thing is that you would not even see the waterfall without crawling down below. The water mysterious seems to simply disappear into nothing and miraculously reappear 8 feet down.

After attempting to take a few photos that did not turn out very well due to the spray of drops on the lens, we went back to the lodge where I quickly packed to continue on with my travels. The drive the rest of the way was very pleasant, and we arrived to the hot Pacific coast area right around the height of the day’s heat. It was quite a shock from the cool temperatures at Savegre. We continued south along the coast to visit some lodges and hotels in the area, before finishing up at La Cusinga, our point of rest for the evening.

La Cusinga is located on a bluff overlooking the ocean with some of the most breaktaking views I had seen yet. The covered common area is located on an outcropping, and the open-air structure allows for an almost complete 180 degree view of the ocean and the beach along the coast. I explored the grounds a bit, and took the quick 15 minute walk down to see the beach that the lodge has direct access to. I enjoyed a great dinner prepared by their own Chef Dave, brought in from San Francisco who puts together amazing meals! After dinner, Marco and I decided to relax in rocking chairs while watching the sunset over the ocean…what a spectacular treat that was! It is a shame that my camera was not better able to handle the image, as no matter how many different ways I tried to change the settings, it just was not able to fully capture the colors and the beauty of the real thing.

Sept 12, 2006

I was having a great night sleep, well deserved rest from some long days of travel, when at around 4 in the morning I began to hear horrendous screeching and howling outside. At first I ignored it, assuming it was in my dream, or in my imagination. After the sounds began to increase in volume and frequency -- and I became more conscious -- I realized that the howler monkeys outside were the cause, and that no, I was not in a dream, this was really happening! At first I found it to be almost mystical, and very neat to be able to hear that while sleeping cozy in my bed so close to these animals. But after about 5 minutes of enjoying the moment, I began to wish that they would be finished, or more on to another location, so that I could go back to sleep! It is interesting that pull one can experience between being absolutely fascinated by nature, and then the next feeling irritated by it. I did my best to just block out the sounds, and eventually did fall back to asleep, for which I was very appreciative.

This morning Marco and I decided to set out on a morning hike on a trail around the property. While I was half dazed with eyes glossed over from my shaky night of sleep, we were still able to see some animals scurrying about in the foliage. A coatimundi, a paca, or an agouti, we were not sure, as neither of us are wildlife experts! But we saw something fuzzy scurrying around, and I was able snap a picture of what looks like a furry ball of something! After our short hike, I returned to change into my swimsuit to go and take a dip in the nearby natural pool fed by a small waterfall. It was located an easy 5 minute walk from my cabin. The water felt nice and cool, a pleasant temperature compared the hot climate on the coast. While not that large, I was able to swim around a bit, sticking my head under the water to hear the sounds of the waterfall through echo underneath.

After returning to the cabin, Marco and I packed up to head on our way for a quick trip 10 kilometers north to visit Hacienda Baru, a private wildlife reserve with public trail systems, butterfly sanctuary, and their own zipline canopy tour. We walked through the butterfly sanctuary, looking at all the different species and colors. I knew that so many different kinds were even in existence! After this we walked through the trail systems, spotting a monkey troop jumping from one tree to another, as well as some other furry balls of something along the ground.

We continued after our short stroll through the park on the dirt road to Quepos. The area here is very well developed; the entire road over the hill between Quepos and Manuel Antonio is spotted with multiple hotels and restaurants. We arrived to our hotel, settled in, enjoyed dinner at a nearby restaurant and then I fell into bed for a long awaited full night of sleep.

Sept 13, 2006

This morning we woke early to visit the Manuel Antonio Park as soon as it opened, in order to try and beat some of the crowds and hopefully see more creatures waking up and starting their day. After walking to the entrance and purchasing our tickets, we began to stroll along the sand trails, looking into the vegetation to try and see any moving objects. We saw some agoutis moving around about 10 feet in the distance. These things look like large rats, or rodents, and I was amazed to be able to see such an odd looking creature so up close. We continued to hike around on the trails, admiring the beautiful beaches inside the park and dipping our feet in for a bit to wade through the water. While we didn’t spot any monkeys inside the park (which is rare, as supposedly they are very commonly sighted here), we did spy multiple sloths lying around in trees, doing what they do best, sleeping. We saw some white faced monkeys on the hotel grounds during an inspection nearby, which took care of my monkey-fix!

After the quick trip inside the park, we continued on our way along a bumpy road to Monteverde Cloudforest. We made a stop to spot multiple crocodiles sunbathing underneath a large bridge. The Río Tárcoles Bridge, also known as the Crocodile Bridge draws a crowd of tourists looking over the sides at the large reptiles bathing themselves in the sun. We arrived to Monteverde after a bumpy four-hour drive up into the mountains. The whole area is covered with green, and the mist from the clouds settles in among the trees to make it look like something out of a movie. Marco and I completed hotel inspections in the afternoon, in order to have a full day open tomorrow for some fun. I settled into our hotel overlooking the mountains and watched a beautiful lightening show! After deciding to give up on trying to capture the lightening streaks with very slow camera, I turned in for the evening.

Sept 14, 2006

This morning, Marco and I woke up early to go visit the Cloudforest Reserve. We arrived a little bit early, but made sure we had time for a stop for our café con leche in town. We patiently waited in the chilly morning air waiting for the park to officially open. When we were permitted to enter, we began to walk along the very wide trails, trying to learn the balance between watching where we were stepping, and trying to watch the swath of green on each side for any movement from an animal. On the whole, we really only saw some birds that were a bit fascinating, and plenty of green plants, but as neither of us were trained in the different species, it all looked for the most part the same to us! We walked around in a loop, and included a stop at the Continental Divide. Looking over the edge of the lookout to see only thick clouds that obstruct any sort of view, I shrugged my shoulders, and we decided to return. I guess that is why they call it a cloudforest!

In the afternoon, we went to the Aventura Canopy tour, where I was fitted into a harness and joined a group of other tourists to embark on an amazing system of short and long cables throughout the canopy. The main purpose of a canopy tour, is to get up high in the forest canopy to increase your likelihood of seeing the wildlife that predominantly live this high up. The problem with this theory, however, is that on a zipline tour, one is so preoccupied with the thrill of the ride that they have next to no time to look around for birds or animals! The ziplines were so fun, starting small and easy, and working their way up to one of the longest I have ever been on -- it seemed like it took minutes to finish the last one! The entire tour consisted of 16 cables, and one rappel off a platform (where the guide decided to play a trick on me and drop me suddenly without warning)! He had control over the speed the whole time, I think that they just wanted to hear me scream. The tour also include what they call a Tarzan swing, which is where the person jumps off a 15 foot high platform (this is just my estimate) and then the rope catches you and swings you out and then back. This is probably the closest I will ever come to bungee jumping, but it was fun to try!

After our adventures, Marco and I stopped by the Amish cheese Factory and got some ice cream, the best that I had the entire time in the country! Then we returned to the hotel for dinner and then some much needed sleep.

Sept 15, 2006

This morning we got into the van (which by this point was becoming like my second home) and continued on our way (after coffee, again of course) to drive down the mountains to Lake Arenal. At the shores of the Lake, we met up with the boat driver, Markes Anchia, who took me on a boat tour of the Lake. He shared with me some of the fascinating history of the Lake, how it was flooded intentionally to provide a way for transporting goods across the deep ravine. He told me too that at one point in the 80’s the level of the lake was so low, that you could see the steeple of the church from the a flooded village sticking out of the water. We were able to spot some birds along the shores during our boat ride, as well as some monkeys in the trees (who seemed very irritated that we were interfering with their nap time). Upon reaching the other side, we got out of the boat and waited for Marco to arrive in the van. He had to drive all the way around the lake, and although he said he would drive fast, we still beat him. The day was very cloudy, and I was a little skeptical that a huge volcano even existed, as you could not see anything! We watched some howler monkeys in the trees on the side of the road for a time, until he arrived. Then we hopped in and went about inspecting hotels along the road as we made our way into town.

After a full afternoon of inspections, we arrived at Lomas del Volcan, where we were staying for the evening. At Arenal Kioro the owner invited us to dinner and we did not want to miss it. Their dining room has gorgeous views of the volcano on the lava flow side, so at night, when it is clear, you can see the glowing red lava flowing down the side of the volcano. We were met in the lobby by a young man who was waiting for us; a nice touch that I was not expecting. We proceeded with an absolutely fabulous dinner, and great conversation (about what, I cannot remember). Towards the end of dinner, we heard some other dinner guests ooing and awing, and Marco and I looked up to see that the clouds had cleared and red lava was flowing down the volcano. We were amazed at the sight and immediately all conversation stopped while we gawked. The waiter came up to us and said he was a little surprised, because it had been doing that for at least 10 minutes already, but we had not noticed because we were completely absorbed in our conversation. He had figured that it just didn’t fascinate us like it did other guests. After finishing up with dinner, we returned to the lodge where we turned in for the evening at the feet of the volcano.

Sept 16, 2006

This morning we woke up bright and early to head on our way to visit La Paz Waterfalls Gardens. About half way between the trip from Arenal to San Jose, the Park is like a mini zoo with a huge butterfly sanctuary, frog house and snake house where you can see and even touch many of the varieties that are native to Costa Rica. The gardens also have a system of trails that lead to each attraction, including a pond with huge goldfish and waterfalls all along a river that runs through the property at the bottom of a hill. There is also a traditional house on display that is furnished and equipped like an average farmer’s home from 100 years ago. We wandered through the park looking at all the attractions, ate a buffet lunch at their restaurant, and then continued on our way to Alajuela – a city north of San Jose – to inspect some hotel options in the area. In the evening, we returned to San Jose and enjoyed dinner with some others from the in country office in San Jose. It was nice to finally be able to meet and chat with some of the people I email with everyday! After a great Caribbean style meal, I returned to the Hotel Le Bergerac, said good-bye to everyone, and turned in for the 5 hours of sleep I would have before catching my flight home in the morning. All in all, the trip was fantastic and I could now easily say that I fell in love with the country and the people!