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09 September 2011
Photo Friday: rain, rain, go away!

This week's rain has been a bummer, reminiscent of some of the heavy rains in tropical places we've visited. (Although it's much more fun to experience rain in an actual rain forest as opposed to rain flooding into your basement.) Here's a snap from the archives:

rain at Arenal Volcano
attempting to view lava flows in the rain at Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, is one of the country's top sites to visit. When I was there in 2007, it was recommended time and time again as a must-see. Unfortunately on the day I took the tour to see the lava flows, a torrential downpour blocked most of the view. I did get to see the volcano from afar under better weather conditions, but it wasn't quite the same. There's a much better pic in Marina Villatoro's guest post on Arenal.

view of Arenal from dowtown La Fortuna
view of Arenal from downtown La Fortuna

See more fabulous travel photos at Delicious Baby's Photo Friday.

RELATED LINKS
* browse
all photos from La Fortuna
* browse all photos from Costa Rica
* read blog entries about La Fortuna
* read Marina Villatoro's guest post: Arenal Volcano


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29 July 2011
Photo Friday: aye-aye, cap'n!

Oktapodi seems to be in a cruising state of mind lately, so here are a few boat-related images to take us into the weekend...

Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala
Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala

Grand Canal, Venice
Grand Canal, Venice

Loy Krathong, Thailand
Loy Krathong, Thailand

Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Río Dulce, Guatemala

Oranjestand, Aruba
Oranjestad, Aruba


For more fabulous travel snaps, check out Delicious Baby's Photo Friday blog carnival.


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13 November 2009
Guest Post: Arenal Volcano


This is our first guest post, by our friend Marina Villatoro of Travel Experta (her bio is below). If you're interested in contributing a guest post to Pulpology, drop us a line!

The Arenal volcano is a 1,633 meter high mountain with a perfect conic shape and a crater of 140 meters. It is geologically considered a young volcano and its age is estimated to be less than 3,000 years. The locals also know it as "Arenal Peak,"  "Pan de Azúcar," "The Canaste Volcano," "The Costa Rica," "Río Frío Volcano" or "The Guatusos Peak". It is located in the northern region.

arenal volcano

It was asleep for hundreds of years and had a single crater with minor fumaroles covered by dense vegetation. In 1968 it had an eruption that created three more craters on the western flanks but only one of them exists today. Arenal is considered to be Costa Rica's most active volcano and almost every night the crater offers a spectacular show of lights with its explosive eruptions, creating the most amazing views. Although the main attraction is the Arenal Volcano, the area offers much more:

Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano National Park
Arenal Volcano is actually part of this national park. There is also a second volcano called Cerro Chato, which has been inactive for around 3500 years. The park is part of the Arenal Tilaran Conservation Area that protects 16 protected reserves in the region between the Guanacaste and Tilarán mountain ranges including Lake Arenal.

Lake Arenal

Lake Arenal
Lake Arenal was originally a small lagoon, but in 1973 the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity built a dam and within three years, this became the biggest lake in Costa Rica with a surface of 88 square kilometers. It is a wonderful place to windsurf or do some sport fishing.

La Fortuna Waterfall

La Fortuna Waterfall
This is the most popular excursion in the area, after Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. The waterfall is reached by a 5.5 kilometer gravel road. On foot it takes about an hour to get there, but you can also visit it by horse or by car. Bird watching is also very popular in this area. Once you have reached the waterfall, you can take a trail that will lead you to a natural pool where you can go for a swim.

Arenal Hanging Bridges

The Arenal Hanging Bridges
Here you will find eight bridges measuring between 8 and 22 meters and six hanging bridges that vary between 48 and 98 meters. From there you will have a great view of both the Arenal Volcano and the lake. Some of the most popular activities here are the natural history walk, early morning tour, bird watching and night walks.

Venado Caves

The Venado Caves
The Venado Caves are located in the village with the same name, about an hour by car from La Fortuna, to the north of Arenal Volcano. Water is what formed the caves many million years ago. Presently, the caves consist of limestone rocks, stalactites, stalagmites and corals. It has a total length of approximately 2.5 kilometer with 10 large quarters. During the rainy season the tunnels can get filled with water. This is the reason access by visitors is forbidden in this season.

Cano Negro

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge
The 10,000-hectare reserve of Caño Negro has the most biological diversity in Costa Rica. There are trails and paths, but the easiest way to access it is by boat. The Rio Frio flows through it and during the wet season it becomes an 800 hectare lake. The reserve is especially popular among birdwatchers and sport fishers.

Penas Blancas

Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge
This 2400-hectare refuge was created to protect plant species and the watershed of the rivers Ciruelas and Barranca. The river canyons were formed million years ago when Central America was covered by the sea, by unicellular algae that built up deposits and transformed into chalk like stone.


Marina VillatoroAbout the author: Marina has been living in Central America for over 7 years and her site Travel Experta is all about traveling in Central America. Marina loves to help people plan the perfect vacation to this amazing part of the world! You can sign up for her RSS feed and join the fun on her Facebook fan page and follow her on Twitter at @MarinaVillatoro.

 

 

Related posts:
*
Spelunk! tales from the Venado Caves
* Waterfalls and volcanoes and hot springs, oh my!
* Adios PSE, and on to La Fortuna!

 

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17 July 2009
Photo Friday: Tamarindo raft-up

a beautiful Tamarindo sunset
another jaw-droppingly beautiful Tamarindo sunset

In keeping with the "I wanna go to the beach!" theme I started last Photo Friday, here are some pics from Tamarindo, Costa Rica. This was the first stop on my 10-week trip through Central America in 2007. I was fortunate to stay with some very generous friends who are building a house on Costa Rica's gorgeous Pacific Coast. They invited me to come to their version of a neighborhood picnic, an event called a raft-up where everyone goes to the beach, piles onto a bunch of catamarans, and heads to a more secluded beach for a day of grilling, music, games, and general beachy goodness. That's *my* kinda block party! But that's how it's done in Costa Rica, where "Pura Vida" is not just a tourism slogan but a way of life.

raft-up dance party!
raft-up dance party!

Pura Vida at the Tamarindo raft-up
Pura Vida at the Tamarindo raft-up

Tamarindo Still Life
Tamarindo Still Life: flops Imperial

Related links:
* All pics from
Tamarindo
* All pics from Costa Rica
* All Costa Rica stories
* Check out more photos of other cool places at Delicious Baby's Photo Friday!

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31 July 2007
Taking Red Umbrella to a whole new level
One lonnnnnng day morphs into three

Y´know, I figured it was gonna be a *long* day, I just didn´t realize it was gonna be one of THOSE days...

Up and at ´em at the butt-crack of dawn, I made my way down to the dock to catch my 6am water taxi to Moín. I was dismayed (but not entirely surprised) to hear that there weren´t enough passengers for the early run, and we´d be leaving at 10am instead. Dagger! Not fatal, but it does severely muck up my plans for the day. Not only will I not get to run my various errands in San Jose as planned, but I will be arriving into San Jose just as it´s getting dark. Something I was trying to avoid. Well, there´s nothing I can do about it, and no sense worrying. Might as well make the most of the extra time this morning.

So, with four hours to kill, I scoped out some breakfast, and the only good deal in the otherwise very expensive Tortuguero: bottomless cups of coffee for less than a dollar! Sweeet, things were looking up a tad. Despite the horrendous Muzak offerings in the cafe -- Celine Dion (twice!), Lionel Ritchie, Knights in White Satin, god help us -- I spent some time catching up on my journal and catching a serious caffeine buzz. Next stop, the internet cafe, where I informed Bronwen of my slight change of plans and let her know I´d find an i-caf as soon as I got to San Jose. She was supposed to arrive before me and would be online after 4pm, so everything should fall into place eventually.

While waiting for the 10am boat to depart, I learned that there was a better way to get to San Jose, via another connection through another town. Which of course nobody had told me about. Grrrrrr. Once again, live and learn, there´s nothing much to do about it now. The boat trip back to Moín was unremarkable, although I did strike up a conversation with a friendly Canadian couple who were heading to Puerto Viejo. I managed to put in a plug for Margarita´s Guesthouse, and we had a good laugh about the David Hasselhoff thing.

we arrived at the lovely scenic port of Moín (love the smell of oil refineries in the afternoon! smells like victory!) and just about everyone from the boat hopped into a tourist shuttle headed for Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. The Canadians (never did get their names!) and another girl and I decided to grab a cab into Limón, where we would connect to our respective buses. Only one problem... no cabs to be found. Apparently if you didn´t choose the expensive tourist shuttle, you were on your own. No worries, our intrepid band of four trooped out to the main road and eventually flagged down a cab. It was just the sort of thing one might feel nervous about if one were all alone, but in an impromptu posse, it was an adventure rife with possibility!

I got dropped off first, and, dodging a crumbly-looking homeless woman, made my way into the terminal to buy my bus ticket to San Jose. With fifteen minutes to spare (sweet, again!) I glanced around at the denizens of the terminal. It was mostly the usual suspects -- women with little kids in tow, old guys selling stuff, an Artie Lange lookalike shoveling chips into his sweaty gullet -- nothing too scary. But I was glad not to have to spend any further time in Limón, and I was glad to be leaving the unrelentingly hot and humid and sketchy Caribbean Coast behind.

Got on the bus, and oh look! My assigned seat was next to the Spanish Artie Lange. Fantastic. His terrible aftershave only faintly covered his funk, and the combined smells resembled something like the inside of a rancid paper grocery sack that´s been filled with cheese and left in the sun. Charming accompaniment for the next three hours.

After a quick pitstop in Guápiles, leaving just enough time for the resourceful snack vendors to hop aboard chanting "MangoMangoMango! Jugosaguafríasodaplátanos! Mangomangomango!" we headed up into the mountains, signaling the return to San Jose. And, despite my best intentions to keep it all together, I started to freak myself out with "What´s the Worst Thing That Can Happen?" scenarios. Apparently my little brain can generate LOTS of appalling worst-case scenarios! I´ll spare you the details.

And then we crested the hill and started down into San Jose amid quite possibly the most brilliant sunset yet. The entire sky ws splashed with shades of pink, purple, and orange, and the hills seemed to be on fire in the glow of the setting sun. Truly the best Costa Rica had to offer, even in this most ugly and dangerous of places.

Bronwen keeps her chin up on the awful Nica borderOK, to bring this long story a bit closer to its end... I hopped a cab, found an internet cafe that was still open, got the address to Bronwen´s place, and had the same cab take me there. We hung out for a few hours with her roommate -- both of them were in Costa Rica for a three-month internship at a human rights org -- and tried valiantly to stay awake until our 3am bus left. The next 25+ hours on the Ticabus were spent attempting to sleep, stay warm in the frigid chill, and occasionally hop off and back on the bus at border crossings. The worse was the Costa Rica-Nicaraguan border, where we sat in the bus for about three hours, then waited in line to get our bags checked. When you reach the front of the line you have to hit a button attached to a big stoplight. If it´s green, you can get back on the bus, if it´s red... well, fortunately neither of us had to find out as we both got green. But how frickin´ random is that?!?!

the Dreaded and Troublesome Page 11There was also a somewhat scary moment on the border between Honduras and El Salvador, when the immigration officials couldn´t find the correct stamp in my passport. Now, my passport happens to have a lot of stamps and even some extra pages, but I *know* the guy stamped it at the Nicaraguan border, I saw him do it and so did Bronwen! But they kept flipping around and shaking their heads and saying "This is a big problem!" I thought for sure they were going to ditch me on the El Salvadorean border in the middle of the night. Turns out the miscreant had put a fifth stamp on an already crowded page -- hereinafter known as the Dreaded Page 11 -- which it took three officials to eventually find and not until after several long moments of intense sweating on my part. Never a dull moment! It was small comfort to have a CouchSurfing compatriot along for the ride, if only to tell my story if I never returned to civilzation...

 

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
29 July 2007
And it's off to Guatemala!
So long, Costa Rica, and thanks for all the fish

Again, I must apologize for not getting a chance to add more blogaliciousness. (But you're getting used to this by now, aren't you?) Internet access was both expensive and flakey on the Caribbean side. I have started backfilling some of the earlier entries, but I still have lots of pics and stories to share!

In the meantime, had a lovely stint in hot & muggy Tortuguero, getting an intimate view of huge green turtles as they laid eggs on the beach in the moonlight and viewing other wildlife on a guided canoe tour. Tortuguero is not easy to get to/from, and I spent an entire harrowing day today getting back to San Jose to meet up with another new CouchSurfing friend, Bronwen. Together, she and I are taking the overnight bus to Guatemala. It leaves San Jose at 3am this morning (eek!), goes through Nicaragua, stops tomorrow night in El Salvador, and we arrive in Guatemala City at 11am on July 31. Should be an interesting trip, to say the least. Stay tuned for more details!

 

Posted by soniaz at 11:55 PM | Link | 0 comments
28 July 2007
The good, the bad, and the ugly

Today was PURA COSTA RICA, start to finish, the good-bad-ugly all mashed together into life´s rich tapestry. Fitting, I guess, since it´s my last non-travel day in this country.

are we having fun yet? note Creepy Richard in the back of a canoe full of girlsAlrighty then, so my day began at the butt-crack of dawn (claro!) when I was supposed to meet the omnipresent Richard in the "lobby" of my guesthouse at 5:30am. After waiting for what seemed like forever, and just as I was about to give up, the dude appeared on the back porch. Creepy, but at least he´s consistent! We headed to the dock, where about 15 people and 5 or 6 dogs gathered for the canoe tour. That meant we´d need to split up into two canoes, and as luck would have it, I wound up in the front seat of the canoe piloted by Richard. Lovely. At least he was at the other end of the canoe. Almost as soon as we shove off, and we´d passed the obligatory park checkpoint, it started to pour holy hell. Which meant that in addition to getting thoroughly soaked, I couldn´t hear a single thing Richard was saying about all the wildlife we were supposed to be seeing. But neither could the two girls sitting directly behind me, so we formed a sarcastic peanut gallery with our own commentary. It was almost fun.

cayman close-upEventually the rain did clear up and we were actually able to see some cool stuff: sloths, spider and howler monkeys, a cayman, two otters, and tons of birds. It was definitely better to see the critters up close and personal from the canoe, rather than in the big motorboats used by the fancy lodges.

I got back to the dock and decided to book my passage back to civilization (or at least Moín). There´s a 6am and a 10am boat, and as long as enough people show up they´ll leave at the earlier time. Which gives me plenty of time to get to San Jose before it gets dark. Perfecto.

OK, so now it was time to check email and see what was up with Bronwen. I got far enough to see that she hadn´t sent me any reply emails when the connection totally crapped out. Fantastic! The grizzled old lady behind the counter was certainly not going to provide any tech support, so I gave up and decided to try to call Bronwen. She had our bus tickets to Guatemala, and I hadn´t yet made any contact with her besides a few emails. But supposedly she was here in Tortuguero somewhere! I staked out a public phone, whipped out my Costa Rican phone card, and dialed the number in my guidebook for Laguna Lodge. Busy. Four or five times in a row. Crapdoodles. Maybe there´s another number, but where to find it? Not on the internets! And they weren´t any help back at Meriscar. Hmmmm, what´s a resourceful girl to do? Ah-ha! Call Jeff & Carol in Tamarindo and see if they could scare up an alternative number or two. So that´s exactly what I did. Carol, amused, agreed to dig around a bit and see what she could find, and then call me back at the payphone. As luck would have it, somebody else needed to use the phone during that time. Fortunately he was only on for a few minutes (you never know!) and I was able to call Carol back and get the correct number.

Great! Now we´re cooking with gas. I dialed the number, and it actually rang through and an actual person picked up! Grrrrrrreat Success! I fumbled through my explanation -- trying to find a friend whose last name I did not know, that´s classy -- and eventually confirmed that she was in room 84 and would I like to leave a message? Yup, OK, please have her call me at... But when I gave the Meriscar number (also from my infernal book) the guy insisted that it couldn´t possibly be right, it didn´t have the correct Tortuguero extension. Nice! Two for two! I asked if they might have the number there at the Lodge. Foolish mortal. Why would they? So I had to go back to Meriscar and find out what the frickin number was. The guy seemed really confused but eventually gave me a biz card with four phone numbers printed on it. Once I confirmed which number would actually ring through to a phone that somebody might answer, I headed back to the payphone to try the Lodge again. And of course the phone was in use, and when it was my turn the number was busy again. But eventually I did get through, and left the rest of my message for Bronwen to please call me at Meriscar. It also occurred to me that I should let the Meriscar folks know to expect a phone call from a Canadian chick who doesn´t speak much Spanish, just so they weren´t caught totally off guard.

cool driftwood on the beachRight, so that brings us up to about 4pm. Time for a bit of reading, and a quick stroll on the beach. And where to have dinner? The book recommended two places: Miss Miriam´s, which was closed on Saturdays, and Miss Junie´s, which was in "town." Since I had to pass the payphone on the way to Miss Junie´s, I decided to leave another message for Bronwen just to hedge my bets. This time the person spoke English, so I left as much information as I could muster, with a worst-case-scenario that we´d just meet up in San Jose at the Ticabus station.

Dinner was delicious, a lovely local seafood specialty with coconut milk and exotic spices. Back at Meriscar, I inquired without much hope about "una llamada de mi amiga" and was pleasantly surprised to hear that she had called! No message, just the same phone number I already had, but that was some progress, anyway. I went back to the payphone, and of course on the first try it was busy. ::::: sigh ::::: Got through on the second try, and the guy informed me that Bronwen was indeed expecting my call. It took a while for him to find her -- fortunately I still had tons of minutes left on my card -- and eventually tracked her down in the restaurant. I have never been so happy to hear the voice of someone I´d never met! She was relieved as well. We agreed to check in via email tomorrow, and perhaps meet up at her house in San Jose to await our 3am bus departure. Whew, good, glad that´s all set!

Back to the ranch, to pack (yuck!) and attempt to think cool thoughts amidst all the humidity and pesky insects. Supposedly Guatemala is a bit cooler, at least at night, which will be a welcome change!

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
27 July 2007
Cucarachisima!
And other Tortuguero strangeness

cucarachisima!OK, there´s something *very weird* going on in this room. Maybe the floor is treated with some kind of strange insecticide (not sure if that´s comforting or not) or maybe there´s something even stranger afoot (so to speak). All I know is that yesterday night there were two fat black ants crawling merrily around, and within minutes they were squirming crazily on their backs, and then they were dead. And tonight I came back to my room to find THE BIGGEST CUCARACHA -- I mean, we´re talking cucarachisima -- flat on its back on my floor. I thought he was dead until I started snapping pics. (Oh, c´mon, of *course* I had to document this!) And then he started twitching. Bleccch. The true freakaliciousness happened when I tried to get him OUT of my room. No way I was touching him. (And you like how I just assigned the male gender to this bug?) So I tried shoveling him up with my flip flop. No dice. Too big. Tried sorta chopsticking him with both flops. Nope, all I succeeded in doing was crushing him a bit. And he was still twitching. Ewwwwwww! This was getting nasty. I finally just swatted him out into the hallway. I had every intention of rocketing him off the balcony into the yard, but he got stuck in the weird plastic hallway flooring. Eh, let the obnoxious French couple next door find him tomorrow morning.

But I´m getting ahead of myself. I woke up this morning, reveling in the relative calm and comfort of NOT being at Rockin J´s. The previous evening, a friendly Bananero employee named Richard helped me and one other guy named Jay find a place to stay, and we wound up at Cabinas Meriscar, recommended by the book as a cheap and basic guesthouse. Yep, basic it is, but for $5 a night in a private room meant for three people, I can´t complain.

Anyway, after taking a nice cold shower (jeez it´s hot here!) and unpacking my things a bit, I heard a knock at my door. And I opened it to find Richard, the friendly guide from last night. Ehm, OK, that´s a little weird, but whatever. He was following up on a conversation we´d had about the various tours that are available, and he clearly wants to make a commission on the sale, and that´s his job, so fine. The tour situation in Tortuguero is overly-complex: there are two shifts for the night tour, and the guides have a lottery system to find out which timeslot they get, and you don´t find out whether you´re in the 8pm or the 10pm tour until about 5:00 or so. Plus you have to buy your own entrance to the Park, which must be done sometime before 5pm. Oy vey. OK, fine, if that´s how it works, I´ll go to the tour office this evening, after having purchased my Park pass, and figure it out.

Ten minutes later, he came back  :::: sigh ::::  to say he´d just come by Meriscar at 6pm to let me know about the tour time. I asked if he couldn´t also buy the Park pass for me, and he agreed. I gave him the funds, he gave me a receipt, and we were golden. Crikey.

downtown TortugueroAlrighty, next item on the agenda was finding an internet cafe and attempting to make contact with Bronwen, a new CouchSurfing (virtual) friend with whom I was planning to take the bus to Guatemala. She was supposedly staying at one of the swankier lodges on Tortuguero -- wrangled a sweet student rate -- which was a bit further away and only accessible by water taxi. We´d agreed to attempt to connect via email since we would both be in Tortuguero at about the same time. Now, if only I could find an internet cafe. Jay and I set out to explore the town and see what services were available. Once we left our ´hood of South Central Tortuguero -- keep your pimp hand strong -- the surroundings got a little less sketchy and a little nicer. There was only one i-caf in town, and it had the same expensive rates I found in Puerto Viejo, but beggars can´t be choosers. I did some quick email catchup and left before I could rack up too much of a bill.

hammock on the guesthouse back porchI passed part of the afternoon in the hammock on the back porch of Meriscar, which overlooked the ubiquitous town soccer field and also caught a nice ocean breeze. After dropping my laundry off with Carmen, I decided to hit the beach for a bit. It was actually quite pleasant there, with a nice strong breeze and big chunky waves. The water had a decidedly greenish foamy hue to it, so I decided not to do any swimming, although there were plenty of people in the water and lots of surfers. I had just settled into a nice comatose state when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Richard. OK, this was starting to get a bit stalker-creepy. I laughed nervously and said something silly about "Oh, you always know just where to find me, don´t you?" And he mentioned something about maybe joining him for a nice cold beer in an hour. Actually, a nice cold beer sounded pretty good just then, but I gave him a nice vague maybe, if I still happened to be there in an hour. I was glad to have left the beach without needing to negotiate that awkwardness any further. Hey, if he really wanted to see me he could just show up at my room again. :::: shudder ::::

I was sure to keep the door locked tightly at all times.

Posted by soniaz at 1:00 PM | Link | 0 comments
The fearsome Crocostimpy
Nature show on the beach

As promised, Richard did show up around 6pm to inform me and Jay that we would be taking the earlier tour. Fortunately, at the time, I was in the kitchen cooking my dinner, so there was no further encounter with him in the upstairs hallway. He almost didn´t produce my park pass, the bastard, claiming he´d completely forgotten to procure one for me. But then he came back later, pass in hand. Creep.

Anyway, the turtle walk was totally surreal. Our guide, Maria, didn´t seem to have a whole lot to say, and her West Indies patois was incredibly difficult to parse out. The non-English speakers on the tour all but gave up on her. It was a beautiful night to be on the beach: full moon, big silvery waves. Unfortunately there were waaaaaaaaay too many people, despite the whole timeslot dance. The park has a cadre of volunteers to monitor the turtles, tag and measure them, watch out for illegal poaching, etc. When one of the volunteers spotted a turtle laying eggs, we all crowded around for a look. It was cool, but also very weird. I mean, how would you feel if a bunch of people got all up in your business with a bunch of infrared flashlights?? As somebody said earlier in this trip, "You almost want to tell the turtle: Ma´am, I apologize for the intrusion!" True dat. But it was still a groovy and unique experience.

And then we spent a bunch of time standing around on the beach, not getting any further information from Maria, unlike the other tour groups whose guides were spouting off turtle tidbits and other info. We watched one turtle come lumbering out of the surf, take one look at the ginormous crowd, and whip a u-turn back into the sea. Can´t blame her one bit for that decision! We did watch another huge turtle make her way back into the ocean, having finished the work of laying and covering up her eggs. Those things move pretty fast, considering it´s like dragging yourself up and down the beach on your elbows. The whole thing reminded me of that episode of "Ren & Stimpy" where they did the nature show... and if you get that reference, you´re even more twisted than I thought! ;)

turtle egg campaign 1 - the Butthead Approachturtle egg campaign 2 - hey, big boy, real men don't need turtle eggsSadly, it's still common practice to steal turtle eggs right from the beach. They're believed, among other things, to have aphrodesiac powers. The Costa Rican government has launched some interesting PR/educational campaigns to discourage this activity, and there were posters up all over town. These are two of my favorites, each taking a slightly different approach to the same message: Hey, dude, listen up! It is so NOT COOL to consume stolen turtle eggs! They do not make you more of a man! Cut it out!

 

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26 July 2007
Mariachi Torture
A circuitous route to Tortuguero

Yes, boys and girls, it´s time for another stressful travel day! It didn´t help that I got barely any sleep due to an incessantly barking dog yapping all night long. I´m completely over the hammock thing, too. I said goodbye to Jules and Tony and happily left Puerto Viejo for Tortuguero, further north on the Caribbean coast. It´s only accessible by boat, and you have to go through Limón, which is a total pit, but Tortuguero is a protected turtle sanctuary so it seemed unique and worth the trouble.

Heh. Famous last words.

The bus to Limón was no big deal, although we did have to stop for another of those police searches where they made us whip out our ID. At least we didn´t have to get off the bus. Got to Limón and there was a cab driver offering rides to Moín, the port where you catch the bus to Tortuguero. Perfect! Wouldn´t have to spend a minute more than necessary in Limón, a place where most guidebooks strongly recommend against female travelers staying the night lest you be swept up into a prostitution ring. Lovely. The driver turned out to be quite a chatty fellow, and offered me his opinions on everything from curvy women to the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

He dropped me off at some random restaurant on the edge of the canal in Moín and said the boat to Tortuguero would be $35. Yikes! That´s $15 more than they said it would be at Rockin J´s... but then again those folks tended to have less-than-reliable information. Well, let´s face it, it doesn´t make sense to argue over a measly fifteen bucks. Maybe it´s possible to get a better deal on the ride back. I paid the fare, got a receipt, and was told that the boat would be coming by around 3pm. Ehm, what? It´s like 11:30 now! What the hell am I supposed to do for almost four hours in this dump?

empty bar, scene of Mariachi Torture sessionAnswer: sit by myself (or occasionally with the proprietors of the restaurant) and watch bad Spanish game shows that favor the sound effect BOIIIIIINNNNNNNG. Midgets, too! (Bruce, you woulda loved it.) Then the situation went from bad to worse when they turned on this awful music that sounded something like a twisted Spanish polka, blasted at ear-shattering volume. Just what the flock is going on here? Does this guy just REALLY like this music? Does he think I might like it? Does he think it might attract other patrons?? The only other living thing on this block is an irritating squawking turkey-type bird across the street. Maybe the bad mariachi music is meant to drown out the turkey? DAGGER that there´s no one else here to appreciate the sublime weirdness of this situation...

never smile at a crocodile!Just as I was sure the godawful mariachi music was going to drive me insane, 3:00 rolled around and the "Bananero" boat showed up. Ohthankheavens. On the boat were a few other gringos and a handful of locals. Where had they come from and why had they not been subjected to the Mariachi Torture Machine? Life is not fair sometimes. Anyway, after the usual Tico pickups and dropoffs, we cruised out to the canal and cranked northwards. The scenery was absolutely stunning. Lots of birds, flowers, trees, you could hear the howler monkeys off in the distance, and we saw an *enormous* crocodile on the riverbank. Got right up close to him, and he struck a menacing pose, and then slunk into the water. Kickass.

sunset on the Rio TortugueroWe stopped at some random bar for a pitstop. There was a garden with beautiful tropical flowers and two kids playing with their pet parrot. Much nicer than any reststop along I-95! And the sunset was spectacular as well. Serene and beautiful. This boat trip was the perfect reminder that it´s GREAT to be alive. Mariachi music notwitstanding.

 

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25 July 2007
Lazy day, crazy night
How I became an assassin

Tony ponders life's mysteries from a hammockA laaaaaaaazy rainy day, and the perfect excuse to lounge around in a hammock all day, reading and chatting. Met a new friend in the hammock lounge at Rockin J´s, a biology teacher from Darby, England, named Tony. Funny guy! Seems like you could wind him up and he´d chat all day. But unlike most people, where you´re wishing they´d just shut the hell up after a few sentences, Tony managed to keep me (and then Jules) amused for the better part of the day. We discussed hacking, teaching, travel philosophies, and how much fun it is to pretend to be a different profession when you meet new people. I´ve decided that from now on I´m going to be an international assassin. I could tell you more, but then I´d have to kill you.

Benno & Adele are ANIMALSWhew, and that totally lazy day turned into a totally crazy night. Where to begin? Around sunset, Tony introduced us to two of his British cohorts, Benno and Adele. They set up a minibar next to Tent 25, and we spent the next hour or so playing some wacked drinking game with animal charades. (Tony, if you´re reading this: I MUST get those pics of each of us "doing" our animals!) Once we were good and knackered, it was time to head out in search of dinner.

And that´s where things started to go a bit awry. It was only then that we noticed just how much gin & tonic Adele had put away. She was a little wiggy to begin with (who gets fired from a volunteer job on a farm after just one day?!?) but the booze put her over the edge. After Adele caused a bit of a scene at the first restaurant because they were out of whatever the heck it was she´d wanted to order, we decided to split before they started spitting in our food or worse. OK, the second place seemed to be a better choice, until Adele decided to order us all a round of tequila shots and then was shocked when the bill came. And then she insisted we were all angry with her for incurring this extra expense, so we had to have a big group hug in the middle of the dustry street. Fantastic.

Jules and Tony with their fierce bouncer staresRight, so we finally made it to Cafe Maritza, where there was indeed live reggae music and all of Rockin J´s seemed to be present. The place was OK, but had that tinge of malaise you sometimes get in Caribbean clubs... as though one of the edgy Rasta guys might just whip out a knife at a moment´s notice and gut one of the turistas like a fish. Fortunately we had two fierce-looking bouncers in our posse. ;)

After listening to the thunderingly loud music until our ears began to bleed, we headed outside for some air. The evening´s coup de grace was seeing Adele engage in conversation with the magic-doin drug-sellin guy who looked like a grizzled Santa Claus, and then insist he was her friend and that he was going to give her a ride home! And then -- wait for it! -- she got on the handlebars of his rickety-ass bike and they rode off into the darkness. We worried for a bit that she might wind up sold into white slavery, but then decided that she´d probably annoy her captors into letting her go within a day or so. Ay caramba.

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24 July 2007
Beachy goodness in Puerto Viejo
And a romantic candlelit meal

Turns out sleeping in a hammock is more novelty than comfort. Or maybe I am just getting too old for this shizzle. (Never!) Anyway, I was happy to get out of bed at the crack of dawn. But not so happy to discover that for the first time there was no free coffee at this place! Buzzkill!

Nevermind... Julia had mentioned something about renting a bike to explore the nearby beaches, and I decided to do the same. The beach within a few steps of the hostel was convenient, but littered with rocks and dead reef and other scratchy unpleasantries. Supposedly the beaches just to the south were much nicer. And for $5 a day to rent a bicycle, it was hard to go wrong. Even if you haven´t actually *been* on a bike since the early ´90s!

Lizard pigI wobbled down the road to check out "The Lizard King," the nearest high-speed internet cafe, and was shocked to see how expensive it was. ($4 an hour, are you kidding me?) Nevertheless, the place was run by two Cali expats with a pet pig, and had air conditioning, so it made for a nice place to spend a quick hour catching up on email.

beachy goodness at Playa CoclesNext stop, the beach! The guidebook (and also the chick at Lizard King) recommended Punta Uva, but I opted for the much closer Playa Cocles. Not a bad place to spend a few hours. Wide, sandy beaches, lots of surfers, nice breeze. I parked my trusty steed and headed past the lifeguard stand. Owwwww! Molten hot sand! Back on with the flops! I set my stuff down and jumped in the ocean for a dip. The water was really warm, and the waves weren´t as dramatic as on the Pacific Coast, but it was still fun to bob around a bit and watch the surfers. Tons of surfers, from seemingly every country. Kids as well as adults. Fun to watch!

And from there, a trip into "town" to find a decent grocery store. A much more pleasant trip than the previous day, sans huge bag and with some rickety-but-functional wheels. It´s definitely got more of a Jamaican feel here, with Bob Marley all over the place and tons of little streetside vendors. I found a grocery store, and an ATM, and headed back to Rockin J´s feeling very productive indeed.

Julia with our fry-up masterpieceOnce again, Jules and I proved that we really need to open up a restaurant. We´ve perfected "hostel cuisine" even under the most challenging of circumstances! Tonight´s repast was a sausage and potato stir-fry, with a splash of red wine, and I must say it came out astonishingly well. Ehm, and the astonishing part came when all the power went off! Fortunately we were cooking with gas, baby, and had a handy lil´ flashlight to get the job done. That´s right, we rock.

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22 July 2007
Resbaloso Cuando Está Mojado
An expensive but splendid day at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Yes, I think today has been my most expensive travel day yet, but it was totally worth it.

After a leisurely and thoroughly delicious breakfast, and a chat with one of Margarita´s other denizens, David the socially awkward former law enforcement guy who has relocated to Costa Rica and seems to have taken up permanent residence at Casita Margarita, I set off for the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. My guidebook informed me that there was a bus there from downtown Alajuela, but I neglected to see the important detail that the bus only ran Tuesday-Saturday. Today being Sunday, I was SOL.

Margarita to the rescue! She found me a ride with a trusted cabbie. The trip would cost $35 round trip, but she insisted that that was a reasonable price. He would also take me to the Poas volcano for another $25, but since (a) that seemed a bit much for one day and (b) I´d already had my fill of viewing cloudy volcanoes, I demurred.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens visitor centerThe 60-minute ride there was incredibly scenic, passing through beautiful mountain scenery and small towns. And, true enough, I didn´t see a single public bus along the way. I did, however, encounter the first speed bumps I´d seen since arriving in Costa Rica. Didn´t even know they believed in those things down here! We arrived at the La Paz visitor center, which was jam-packed full of gringo tourists, just as it was starting to pour. My helpful driver offered me his umbrella, since I´d stupidly forgot my jacket, and we agreed to meet back at the center in an hour and a half.

don´t stick your tongue out at me, mister!And what a stellar hour and a half it was! Entrance to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens is about $30, and worth every penny. The first part of the park is a self-guided tour through the various "garden" exhibits: birds, frogs, butterflies, orchids. Had the potential to be really boring, but it was put together in a really fantastic way. They have these huge open-air (but enclosed) structures where the critters wander around in something resembling their natural habitat, and you can get right up next to them. The bird exhibit was cool -- parrots and macaws and toucans, even a few monkeys. But the butterfly exhibit was the Bomb Diggety. Tons and tons of butterflies, all over the place. Huge morpho butterflies that are spotted brown on one side and an incredible otherworldly blue on the other. Orange ones, red & black ones, brown-striped ones, all over everywhere. Just hangin out, like ya do. It was possibly the most tranquil place I´ve ever been. I didn´t want to leave.

But wait, there´s more! The frogs were OK. Not as copious, and split into nocturnal and diurnal species. They cleverly tagged the spots where the nocturnal ones were snoozing with little informational cards. The wide-awake ones were a bit harder to spot. The orchid garden next to the frog hut was beautiful as well.

oktapodi digs the fallsAnd, of course, the waterfalls truly rocked the house. There are five all together: El Templo, Magia Blanca, Encantada, Escondida, and La Paz. You follow a downward path (mostly stairs) past each one, and they´re all clearly marked. (Another Costa Rican first!) I think Encantada and Escondida were my faves, because they sorta join together for a two-fer. But they were all totally amazing. A goooooood day.

Back at the Casita, I decided to stroll into Alajuela to find an internet cafe. Margarita had warned me that about the road, which had gotten a bit damaged during recent storms, but I was completely taken aback by the giant gaping caved-in portion of road with fresh sewage running by. Lovely! The nearest internet cafe was running Windows 98, maddeningly. And it started to pour on the walk back. Never mind, when I got back to the house, my laundry was all clean and dry, and there was a fantastic dinner awaiting. All is right with the world again!

Oh, and for those of you who couldn´t take the time to visit Babelfish and translate "Resbaloso Cuando Está Mojado," it means "Slippery When Wet." Take that, Bon Jovi!

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21 July 2007
Skeeters and David Hasselhoff
From La Fortuna to Alajuela

I have to say, I am pretty glad to be leaving this place. It´s not just the sweltering humidity, ants everywhere (I don´t think I´ve ever seen ants in a microwave before), or the strange geisha-like relationship grumpy Gringo Pete has with his Tica helpers. Nor the fact that Julia has headed off in a different direction, and after traveling with her for about a week I will definitely miss her stellar company. No, the worst thing about this place is that the mosquitoes are absolutely VICIOUS!!! And thanks to those hearty Zamborsky genes I seem to attract every bug in the country, no matter where I go. I´ve noticed that the skeeters are different in different parts of Costa Rica... on the Pacific Coast, they left little red bumps that only started itching a few days later... blessedly there weren´t any in Monteverde... and here in La Fortuna they actually create a puncture wound. I nailed one of ´em in the shower yesterday and it left a nasty bloody splat on the wall. No amount of bug spray seems to help, either. Thank goodness for chloroquinine! Maybe I should take up drinking gin & tonics...

Anyway... as glad as I am to be heading out, I´m a bit nervous about hitting San Jose. It´s supposed to be a pretty nasty place, especially after dark. There´s a direct shuttle there from La Fortuna, but it was full today, so I´m taking the public bus and from there will need to find my way to Alajuela, a suburb of San Jose where a recommended guesthouse is located. I was prepared for a series of misadventures.

Kathrin knows the way to San JoseHowever, it went much better than expected! Sometimes that happens, and you just have to be glad for it. For starters, I had a companion on the trip, a German girl named Kathrin who also found us a faster bus into San Jose. The "directo" was scheduled to leave around 12:30 and get into San Jose around 6pm. However, she discovered a not-so-directo bus that went to San Rámon, at which point we´d switch buses and the one I took passed right through Alajuela. So not only did I get into Alajuela about an hour earlier, I didn´t even need to set foot in San Jose. Sweeeet!

La Jefe de la Casa, MargaritaI arrived at Casita Margarita by taxi from the Alajuela bus station, and was ferried into the house by a very sweet 50-something woman, none other than Margarita herself. She was surprised to see me so early, as I´d told her the previous day over the phone that I didn´t expect to be there much before 7pm. She poured me a cup of coffee in her kitchen, and I chatted with her for a few minutes before her 86-year-old mother shuffled in. We continued to have a pleasant conversation, during which Abuelita was duly impressed that I had a 96-year-old grandmother. Hearty peasant stock strikes again!

Oooooh, David Hasselhoff is dreeeeeeamy!I also met Steffi and Fabian, two German students who were studying Spanish and working at the bird sanctuary next door. But the highlight of the tour of the house was the signed photo of David Hasselhoff, who apparently stayed at the guesthouse a short while ago. Not sure what he was doing at a $20/night guesthouse in the suburbs of San Jose... maybe it was Margarita´s excellent cooking that brought him there. Who knows? Anyway, it was a source of amusement for all, and many Baywatch jokes were bandied about. 

This place rocks. The $20 price tag was a bit steeper than I´d been used to, but when you consider that three stellar homecooked meals and laundry were included, not to mention a private bedroom & bathroom with the hottest shower I´ve encountered yet, it´s actually a bargain. And it´s nice to be in a home where you are treated as part of the family.

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19 July 2007
Spelunk!
tales from the Venado caves

Woo-hoo! The blog is up and running! It´s going to take me a while to backfill the entries from Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, and La Fortuna. And I´m still figuring out how this all works, so bear with me while I get everything in order. In the meantime, I´ll entertain you with tales of spelunking.

For starters, the word "spelunk" is just about the funnest word ever. Use it three times in a sentence today! It´s fun for the whole family! So when my travelbuddy Julia suggested we take a spelunking trip through some rainforest caves, I was all over it. Our guide Guillermo ("Memo" to his friends) picked us up and drove us out to the cave site, stopping briefly at his house to pick up boots and towels. On the 45-minute journey out there, he showed us a promo video depicting people slogging through cave tunnels and sloshing through water, which was meant to serve several purposes. First, here´s a taste of what you´ll be doing. Anyone with bad knees or fear or bats need not continue. Second, check out these great pics you can get from our photographer! Third, seriously, we really don´t want you to schelp your camera around in the muck, you´re much better off letting us handle the pics. OK, point taken. Julia and I agreed to split the $20 fee and share the CD between the two of us.

Sliding on our boots (mmmmm, like slippery bowling shoes!) and helmets with attached flashlight (I´m sure there´s some ridiculously technical term for this device) and feeling ever-so-sexy, we splashed off through the rain to the cave entrance. After double-checking that none of us had any bat phobias, Memo led us into the cavern. The next two hours were filled with scrambling over slippery rocks, wading waist-high through a rushing underwater river, checking out the bats and spiders and other creepy critters, and having an absolutely marvelously muddy time.

Julia got the photo CD, so you´ll have to wait till she gets back to Miami and sends me the pics for the evidence, but trust me when I say that this was one of the most fun tours we´ve done so far. The "Totally ´80s" videos on the ride home brought out some hilarious commentary from our spelunk-mates... my favorite being "Yeah, they´re the one-hit wonder band without the one hit." Good times, good times.

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18 July 2007
Waterfalls and Volcanoes and Hot Springs, oh my!
A busy turista day
I am getting more exercise on this trip than I ever thought possible. Definitely better than sitting in a beige cubicle staring at a computer, no doubt.

First stop was a trip out to the Reserva Ecológica Catarata Rio Fortuna. We´d been warned that the walk out there was mostly uphill and not-so-nice, so we grabbed a cab ride from a funny little guy who jabbered at us in Spanish the entire time. He insisted on picking us up at 11:30 after we´d hiked the falls, and wouldn´t take no for an answer so we gave up trying.

oktapodi digs the Catarata Rio Fortuna We did get plenty of exercise from the hike down to (and course back up from) the enormous waterfall. It started out as a leisurely stroll over a bridge or two, but rapidly devolved into a downward spiral of a million crumbly stairs. It was totally worth it, though. The waterfall was AWESOME in every sense of the word. Powerful spray, strong current under the falls, beautiful river flowing over huge rocks and down to a more tranquil watering hole with fish. (And of course the obligatory dog... how the heck did he get down here???) Of course we jumped in for a swim under the falls -- after all, the prohibition against it was merely a "recommendation" -- and the water was FREEZING! There was a pretty good-sized crowd there, and it was funny to watch everyone´s shocked reactions as they jumped in.

another "life doesn´t suck" momentBetween the strong current and nipplicious temperature, it wasn´t possible to stay in the water for very long, so we got out and tried to dry ourselves, which was tough to do in the wicked spray. But it *was* tremendously relaxing, or rather not so much relaxing as tremendously invigorating and cleansing and energizing to be in the presence of such a force of nature.

William knows 10 uses for a heliconia plantBack to Gringo Pete´s (which wasn´t such a bad walk, downhill) and just barely enough time for a quick change of clothes before our 3:15 volcano/hot springs tour. They picked us up right outside our door, and our guide William was incredible. He was a native of the area who´d been around for the 1968 eruption and hikes the "dangerous" side of the active Volcán Arenál  regularly. He had some cool stories and pics from various rescue missions as well as anecdotes about tribal uses for various plants found in the forest on the slopes of the volcano. He decided his life would be a lot easier if he learned English and joined the tourist trade, which was almost nonexistent 20 years ago when the first backpackers strolled down the streets of La Fortuna and the locals opened up their doors and windows to gawk.

The view of the lava flows was mostly impeded by torrential rains and low clouds, but we were still able to see a few red chunks rolling down the side of the mountain. Even standing
in the pouring rain, shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists from every country around the world, it was still pretty dope.

Baldi Hot Springs And so it was a welcome relief to get to the hot springs! A bit smaller and less crowded than the nearby Tabacón, Baldi Hot Springs is a series of mineral pools lined with natural stone, heated by the nearby volcano. Each is a different temperature, and some have waterfalls or swim-up bars. Julia and I decided it looked a lot like something out of "The Flintstones," like someplace Wilma and Betty might go for their spa treatments. Sadly, we couldn´t persuade the cheesy Tom Cruise-wannabe waiter flipping liquor bottles to give us any free drinks. But e
very once in a while when the clouds cleared, you could get a quick glimpse of the glowing red cone of the volcano right next door. Sweeeeeet.

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17 July 2007
Adios, PSE, and on to La Fortuna!
A travel day. They´re always a bit stressful, having to do the whole packing dance (oh, how I HATE packing!), and schlepping your stuff into some random vehicle, and not knowing exactly where you´re going to wind up sleeping that night. Even with the pre-arranged "Jeep-Boat-Jeep" ride in this case, it was still a tiring day.

Plus, having to say goodbye to Pensión Santa Elena was a bit sad. You never forget your first, and I suspect this hostel will have spoiled me for all future ones. But we´ll see.

ferry across Lake ArenálThe Jeep-Boat-Jeep trip is a convenient way to get from Monteverde to La Fortuna, and takes about three or four hours where the public bus would take at least triple that. You actually take a tourist minivan on either side of the lake, not a jeep, but let´s not split hairs. The ride across Lake Arenál, with the volcano looming in the distance, is quite beautiful, even moreso when mysterious clouds cover the volcano´s cone.

We had them drop us off at Gringo Pete´s, a festive purple building just off the main drag in La Fortuna. It seemed nice enough -- and you just can´t beat $3 a night! -- but the vibe seemed a little... off... Anyway, we trekked down to the grocery store, determined to make use of the grill in the backyard of the hostel. And what an adventure that was! Some German dude helped us move the grill (away from his laundry, oh ye of little faith) and helped us stack the huge chunks of charcoal in the correct teepee formation. After some coaxing, and the use of some funky little starter bricks called "Chispa!" we got the coals to catch. Fire! Fire! Fire! The burgers (precooked frozen patties, sadly, were all we could find) turned out pretty well, even with processed cheesefood slices. The corn was an utter failure, but hey, nobody´s perfect.
Julia hefts a giant bag of charcoal that is approximately the same size she is Chispa! fire!fire!fire! Julia works the grill grrrrrrrreat success!


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16 July 2007
Another walk in the clouds
Since the SkyTrek package we purchased granted us free entry into the Monteverde Cloud Forest, Julia and I decided to do a bit of hiking this morning. After saying goodbye about four times to our buddy Nathan, who, sadly, was heading back to the States (we´ll miss ya, you Supreme Master S**tf**k, you!) we shared a cab with some other travelers and headed to the park. We wound up chatting with some teachers from Texas who had just come from La Fortuna and were happy to share their experiences. One thing about travelers, you can *always* count on them to share an opinion or story or two. Sometimes this is helpful, sometimes not, but it´s always entertaining!

Monteverde Cloud Forest visitor center Upon arrival at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, we were presented with a map and two suggested trails. We opted first to take the Sendero Bosque Nuboso (it being a Cloud Forest and all) and headed off in the direction the signs pointed. The trail was really poorly marked, and split off in a few places, so we just took an educated guess (with some help from my trusty lil´ compass, thanks Mark!) and figured we couldn´t really get too far off track since all the trails went in a big circle. We continued to follow our little waffle path friends, and eventually we did get back to the Visitors´ Center. Not at all along the suggested trail, because we hadn´t hit a few key bridges or other items on the map, but still not bad for two city girls.

go ask Alice, I think she´ll know... The second, much shorter trail took us to a lovely waterfall. And along the way I saw both the funkiest orange caterpillar ever (totally shoulda been sitting on a giant mushroom smoking a hookah) and the tiniest worm ever that landed on my pinky finger and twitched around in a confused daze. Costa Rican wildlife totally rocks!


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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Cloud Forest
A night hike in Bosque Eterno de los Niños
OK, so this tour had nothing to do with the Jim Carey movie, but it was a very cool chance to see the nocturnal critters of the Bosque Eterno de los Niños (Children´s Eternal Rain Forest), in the Bosque del Tigre reserves. The park is run by the Monteverde Conservation League and was established with money donated by schoolchildren around the world. (Any grade school teachers out there who are interested in getting involved in this program, drop me a line! A grabbed a pamphlet with more info.)

our guide works his flashlightWe wound up with a group of 8 people, including a family with two pesty little boys who insisted on stopping to examine every spiderweb in the forest. Nevertheless, our guide (who had a strange name that sounded something like "Gray Beans") was chock-fulla information, although his impish smirk made it hard to believe him when he told us things like male spiders masturbate a lot, or that one particular ginger plant´s leaves were referred to as "natural toilet paper."

creeeeeepy tarantulaWe saw some cool stuff, including a sloth with baby, funky spitting beetles, and a huuuuuuuuge tarantula. Gray Beans tried using a stick to Smoke Him Outta His Hole... but we all know how well that works. We also spent some time chasing through the dark, totally off the trail, attempting to track down some elusive mammal known as an "olindo." Never did see it, but it was fun dashing around the forest in the dark. Very Blair Witch.

French dancingAfterwards we went back to PSE to reprise our spectacular pasta dish, despite the kitchen being crammed with a bunch of French dudes who were putting on a cooking show. After dinner Julia and I hung out with these three amigos (plus their Israeli friend) on the porch for a while and they amused us by doing some impromptu Fred Astaire dance. Julia had more patience than I and actually went out with them to the only bar in town, where apparently they bought tequila shots for everyone in attendance.

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15 July 2007
Have You Hugged Your Webmaster Today?

If you see mine, please give him a big hug and a smooch... I think he´s feeling a little lonely... Apologies to those of you who have been checking this site for blog updates, I promise they´re forthcoming. In lieu of that, I´ve uploaded all the pics from Tamarindo and Quepos-Manuel Antonio, and should soon have some cool pics to share of the wild bus ride from Puntarenas to Monteverde.

Today Julia and I are doing a zipline and canopy tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Kick ass!

 

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Hurtling through the clouds at 400 feet
Ziplining in the Cloud Forest kicks major ass
a common sceneToday Julia and I got to see some of the best that Monteverde has to offer. We started off with a canopy tour along the Cloud Forest´s hanging bridges. Very fun. And fortunately we both have the same photographic obsession, so neither of us minded when we stopped every few minutes to snap a picture of something cool. And there was LOTS of cool stuff to see... the forest is dense and lush, with layers of things growing on other things, towering trees, and more green than you can possibly imagine. And being a Cloud Forest means the clouds actually roll in over the treetops, so that you feel as though you´re on top of the world. Many pics -- which don´t even do it justice -- begin here.

ziplining platformsRight, so that was in the morning. And just as the aforementioned clouds began to look a bit ominous, it was time for part two, the zipline tour! What a wacky experience. You strap yourself into this harness that hooks onto a little pulley, which, along with your two tour guides, soon becomes your best friend in the world. You trek uphill and across a few hanging bridges into the high canopy, and end up on a high platform. And by now, in our case, it was pouring rain. Sweet. They start you off on a fairly short line, just to get the feel for it. Guide number one (Freddie, who kept making Freddie Krueger jokes) clips you into the line and shoves you across the canyon. Guide number two is waiting at the other end to catch you, and they always do catch you, even though you´re convinced you´re going to hurtle straight through the platform and straight into a large tree. Good times!

Sure, it would have been more fun if we´d had a sunny day... supposedly you can see Volcán Arenál from the higher platforms. But there was something totally cool about whizzing through the rain and the clouds, over 400 feet from the ground, at almost 40mph.

We finished up the day by cooking an exceptional pasta dish back at the hostel, and learning a new card game with our bunkmates. A good day, indeed.
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14 July 2007
good vibes at Pensión Santa Elena
Ahhhh, a relaxing catch-up day! It´s essential to have one of these do-nothing days periodically when you´re doing long-haul travel. Otherwise you quickly burn out. For me, catch-up days include getting some laundry done (in this case, at the lavandería across the street, for about five bucks), responding to email, and getting some work done on the site. Yes, working at the computer has actually become a  RELAXING activity, who woulda thunk it?

Ro gives a warm welcome It helps that the vibe here at Pensión Santa Elena, a backpackers´ fave just a few blocks from the Monteverde/Santa Elena bus station, is really welcoming. They have a huge hammock on the porch where you can sit and watch the world, and the occasional smoke-belching truck, go by. Butterflies and hummingbirds hang out in the purple bush across the street. The people staying here are pretty diverse, from the typical 20something backpackers to European families with small children. (See, Katy, people do travel with their kids!!) And the staff are amazing! Friendly, with a wicked sense of humor, and so helpful with tour and travel info it´s unbelievable. (And there´s a TON of stuff to do here, from ziplining to night hikes.) I never thought I´d sleep in a bunk bed again, much less in a shared room with five other people, but somehow at this place it´s not so bad. Check out the pics to see some of the great times Julia and I spent at PSE.
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12 July 2007
No alimentar a los monos
Monkeys and Americans at Manuel Antonio

don´t feed the monkeys! seriously!Today was a good day! Nothing like a blast of fresh air and wildlife to shake off the travel dust. The public bus from Quepos to Manuel Antonio was a whopping 150 colones, which is less than 30 cents. After traversing a shallow river and climbing a slippery hill, you find the entrance to the national park. The park is well-marked with signs introducing the various flora and fauna, and sternly admonishing visitors NOT to feed the monkeys. Apparently the poor critters are suffering from heart disease and other health problems related to eating people food. The beaches are beautiful and the trails are gorgeous.

if you have any poo, fling it now!After fielding a snarky comment from an American jerkwad who clearly thought I was trying to hone in on his guided tour, I tried to stay clear of the groups with tour guides. It´s pretty easy to spot monkeys and sloths and other wildlife... you just watch for the gaggle of people with their cameras pointed in the air. I decided to take the waterfall trail, which seemed to be the road less traveled. It snaked through lush dense rainforest, up steep slopes and across winding streams. Beautiful! And, as luck would have it, along the way I met a nice American family from Connecticut. The daughter, a GW student, was doing a summer study abroad program in Costa Rica, and her brother and dad were visiting her down here. I hung out with them for the rest of the afternoon and they invited me to join them for dinner.

El Avion restaurantI managed to hook up with my CouchSurfing (virtual) pal Julia via email and suggested she come out and meet us for dinner at El Avión, a restaurant made from the remains of a crashed CIA plane that was supposedly involved in the Contra scandal. A little touristy, but cool! And thanks to the eagle-eyes of my new American friends, we were able to spot Julia and spent the rest of the evening munching and conversing. I had managed to secure bus tickets to Monteverde the next day (through Puntarenas again, joy!) but Julia was going to stick around for another day, so we agreed to meet up in Monteverde at the Pensión Santa Elena, a hostal that came highly recommended from several sources. 

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11 July 2007
Ah, the "real" Costa Rica
Or, how I survived my first crazy bus ride

What a day, what a day. I officially lost my "riding on a crazy Third World bus" cherry today, and lived to tell the tale!

We begin with a ridiculously early departure from Tamarindo, on a bus that was supposedly oversold so I didn´t have an actual seat. And it didn´t even really stop where I needed to catch my next bus, but according to Carol´s Spanish teacher the common thing was to hop off at a nearby town and take a taxi. OK, fine. I wound up with a seat for the first hour, then had to stand for the next three. Not as bad as it sounds, except when people wanted to get on or off the bus and everyone standing got shoved around a bit. The bus was full of workers heading to Liberia and San Jose, as well as women with two or three children in tow. No chickens, though! At one point a woman with a small child in the seat next to her shoved part of the way over and offered me half a seat, which was very sweet but I had to decline. My big fat American butt would have never fit in that tiny space. And standing, while a bit tiring, wasn´t really all that bad.

Enlisting the help of the bus driver and fellow passengers, I managed to get off at "Las Cruces de Barranca," which despite the name was not much of a crossroads, just a small bend in the road with a ramshackle bus stop. I caught a taxi into Puntarenas, and waited around for my CouchSurfing friend Julia to arrive from Sámara.  We´d never met in person before, but figured it should be easy to spot the gringas at the bus station. Unfortunately the place where the buses left for Quepos was across the street from the actual terminal, so I wasn´t sure of the best place to stake out a spot. In the process of moving from one place to another, I witnessed a woman getting her purse stolen -- several nearby young men joined in the chase, but I didn´t stick around to see how it ended -- and decided that it would be best to get the hell outta Puntarenas ASAP. I did try calling Julia´s cell to let her know I´d be taking the earlier bus than the one we´d agreed to, but I could only get through to her voicemail, so I left a message and hoped we´d meet up in Quepos.

The second ride was quite pleasant -- oh, what a difference a seat makes! -- and I arrived in Quepos around 4pm. My first attempt at finding a hotel based on a recommendation in my guide was wildly unsuccessful. There are no actual street names in Quepos, and after the third person I asked had never even heard of this particular place, I settled for the second choice which was a block from the bus station. Not glamorous, but it was clean. I tried leaving another message for Julia, and explained my situation as best I could to the kind woman at the front desk, but otherwise there wasn´t much more to do. So I grabbed a quick snack from the nearby convenience store, and went to bed early. Hopefully, somehow, I´d find Julia tomorrow.

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08 July 2007
Tamarindo Raft-up
All hail the turtle!

Absolutely the best way to spend a Sunday, hands-down! The first annual Raft-up was sorta like a neighborhood picnic, except in this neighborhood that means going down to the beach, getting on a bunch of catamarans, sailing off to an even more remote beach, and spending the day swimming, sunning, playing volleyball, and enjoying tunes and a catered buffet. Sa-weeeeeeet!

all hail the turtle!Thanks to the drill-sargeant organizational skills of Jeff & Carol's friend -- let's call her Sally, names changed to protect the guilty -- we were all assigned to the "good" boat, well-stocked with libations. And in a stroke of genius, Sally had also brought a floating turtle to serve as a beverage caddy! The first Moment of Zen came when Sally's sister Jessica decided to tie the turtle to her ankle and swim ashore from the boat. The rest of us followed with our "noodles," and were most amused when the turtle got flipped over, sending Jessica's sunglasses and several beverages into the sea. The sunglasses were never found again, but thanks to the laws of physics, most of the drinks remained unharmed, with only a slightly salty taste around the rim of the bottle.

beachy dance party goodnessThe second Moment of Zen occurred when the DJ decided to put on "Low Rider." And of course I couldn't help but start to shake mah groove thang, almost without even realizing it. Suddenly two hotties appear and start dancing with me. Instant dance party on the beach! Life does not suck.

The day ended with a spectacular sunset, marred only slightly by Sally´s completely drunk husband Matt stumbling on deck and almost breaking my toe. And then a lovely dip in the pool back in Casa Maya. Good times, good times! I am blessed to have such fantastic friends in such fantastic places.

Check out the rest of the pics from the raft-up and around Tamarindo in the photo section.

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07 July 2007
A lucky-seven day

Lola... sommmmmmme pig!Another relaxing day in paradise. Today we drove out to Playa Avellanas, along some notoriously bad roads that apparently used to be even worse. Passed some great scenery, from beef-jerky cows along the side of the road to "haunted forest" old-growth trees. And on to the beach, home of Lola´s Restaurant and Lola the Pig. Now that is sommmmmmme pig! The beach was cute, and had a bit of a hippy-crunchy feel to it, with lots of surfers and dreadlocked folk hanging out in hammocks. We had a lovely lunch at some funky carved tables on the beach, and some random dude with a random gourd instrument strolled around twanging it tunelessly. (Well, what can you expect from a gourd, a long piece of bamboo with a single string, and a chopstick?)

the scene at the Surf ClubThat evening we were hoping to catch Saturday Night Bingo at the Surf Club, the neighborhood sports bar owned by two Americans who never quite made it past the "Endless Summer" phase. But, alas, we lacked critical mass for bingo, so instead we just hung out for a while and met some of the locals. Characters, all! The local George Carlin lookalike spent a good half hour telling us about a fascinating dictionary website which he kept referring to as "Spanish Dick.....T! Don´t forget the T!" (The more you drink, the funnier he gets.) Another wild-and-crazy Saturday night in Langosta!

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06 July 2007
Made it to Tamarindo!

The flight to Tamarindo was a breeze... thanks to last year's Caribbean junket, I have become a seasoned veteran passenger of micro-aircraft! And fortunately I was warned about the 30lb weight limit for checked baggage, unlike the four whiny American girls ahead of me in line who had to ship their luggage on the next day's flight and hope for the best.

This shot just about sums it up:

Nature Air: on the tarmac - First of all, how the heck are they going to fit all that luggage into that tiny little airplane??? Second, do you really think the plane's going to be able to fly through all those dense thunderclouds? Obviously since I'm here to write this, the flight made it safely to Tamarindo quite smoothly. And I was pleased to see that Nature Air is the world's first carbon neutral airline. Go Ticos!

Jeff and Carol's rental place is fabulous, but when they finish construction on their new home they'll really be living large. I got a tour of the various plots they're developing in Tamarindo Heights. Verrrrry nice. Spent the rest of the day hanging out and taking a quick walk around Langosta (croissants and all) with Jeff, Andrew, and Babee the Israeli wondermutt.

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05 July 2007
Ah, the petty indignities of air travel!

oktapodi doesn't like airports muchThis morning was rough, as i expected it would be. Didn't get a lot of sleep and I was really nervous as Mark drove me to the airport. I hate goodbyes! But it's only 10 weeks... And I did get a few last-minute phone calls in while I waited for my flight to depart. (The Corky Buchek tune was a niiiiiiice touch!)

The flight started out very promisingly, with an exit row seat next to a cute couple, he with a bit of an Adrian Grenier thing goin' on. But major thunderstorms in Miami completely FUBAR'd up the entire airport. Many verklempt people, and delayed flights, and gate changes. Blecccch. Ultimately, it worked out fine, and I got to the San Jose airport only a bit later than expected but verrrrrrry tired. Caught the free shuttle, and checked into a ridiculously nice room at the San Jose Marriott to get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, the journey continues as I head to Tamarindo to hook up with Jeff & Carol.

 

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