GPS tracks

Our GPS recorded our track for a good part of the trip. Any photos we took while the GPS was recording are tagged with their location. You can look at this data in 3 ways

  1.  Click to see where we were. This just shows the track, no photos.
  2.  View the Gallery page as a Google Map. This shows photos but no track.
  3.  Download a file for Google Earth. This one has both GPS track and photo thumbnails, and lets you zoom around in 3D. You’ll need Google Earth on your computer in order to use it.

Photos posted

We’ve processed the photos from our trip and posted those worth sharing.  Go to the Gallery to see.

Some stats:

  • 15 days
  • 626 miles covered according to GPS
  • 2000 shots taken (Doug)
    • 600 deleted in-camera
    • 360 worth sharing
  • 250 shots taken (Lis)
    • 100 worth sharing

Pac Man Bird

While staying at Arenal, we saw many of these birds–the Montezuma Oropendula. They’re pretty big…the size of a large crow, maybe.
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But the awesome thing about them is the sound they make. Most of the time they make a chipping sound, but then all of a sudden, they’ll roll their whole body forward with their tail up in the air, and make a sound that is exactly the sort of thing you hear when making it to the next level of a video game (hence my nickname for them). Cracked me up every single time I heard it.  This was the best sample of the sound that I could find, but it still doesn’t quite do it justice.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBMJjgAK8Zg

Costa Rican food and drink

I wanted to write a few words about the food and drink we’ve had on this trip while the flavors are still fresh in my mind.

Beer & other alcoholic drinks
There are two beers you see everywhere in Costa Rica — Imperial and Pilsen.  Imperial is a lager, not long on flavor but what’s there is good.  Pilsen, despite the name, is not a pilsner; it’s similar to Imperial but has even less flavor.  You can get imported beers as well, mostly German.  Given the remote areas we were in, I stuck to Imperial.

Costa Rica does not produce any wine to speak of.  There are some vineyards that are giving it a go, but the climate’s not right and the product not highly regarded.  Consequently, wine prices are high since everything is imported.

Costa Rica produces sugar cane, so rum and “Guru” (essentially sweet, unaged rum) are cheap and good.  Tropical drinks such as piña colada — really, anything using local fruit — are quite good.  Other hard liquor is imported and expensive.

Coffee
Costa Rica produces a lot of coffee. It’s quite good — usually it’s a light to medium roast, served with a lot of hot milk added.  The traditional way to prepare it is to pour hot water through grounds held in a sock-shaped filter suspended by a wooden frame.  We only had it prepared this way once, and it reminded me of coffee from a French press.

Juice
We had a lot of fruit juice on this trip — with practically every meal.  They’re typically blends of different fruits, and usually not strongly flavored.  Quite pleasant, especially in our hotter locations.

Food
In an earlier post, I referred to comida típica — the typical or traditional Costa Rican fare. This dish, called casado, consists of white rice, black or red beans cooked with garlic & cilantro, salad with vegetables (we saw mostly carrot, cucumber, red bell pepper, heart of palm, avocado, and tomato) with a simple vinaigrette, fried or roasted plantain, and meat — chicken, fish, beef, or pork — cooked with some mild spices and/or marinated in fruit juice.  We saw variations of this dish frequently for lunch or dinner or both. Sometimes it came with corn tortillas, but we saw it just as often without.

For breakfast, we always saw fruit — watermelon, banana, pineapple, and papaya seem to be what’s in season right now — as well as scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon or sausage (the breakfast sausages are small like US ones but taste like kielbasa), toast, and rice & beans pre-mixed. 

A common alternative to the rice & bean type meal is pasta — I had a quite competent bolognese for one dinner.  I’m not sure where this influence comes from.

Meats here are all pasture raised.  Chicken and pork are excellent, beef less so — the meat itself is flavorful but they have a tendancy to cook it to death.  We saw 3 fish commonly offered — sea bass, farmed trout (famously farmed within walking distance of Savegre, our first lodge), and tilapia. All were quite good.

There’s a local cheese that I learned to like.  It’s mild (not very aged), somewhat squeaky in texture, with pockets of whey.  I don’t know what it’s called.

All in all, I enjoyed the food here, but will be happy to get back to my accustomed more varied diet.  I’ll especially be glad to get back to good old microbrewed ales.

Do you know the way…

On the final day of our tour, we headed from Arenal back to San Jose. We stopped along the way for a comida típica lunch and a visit to an artisan co-op for souvenirs.  The items in this co-op ranged from some campy & horrid trinkets (Costa Rica mug with enormous ta-tas comes to mind) to some really quite nice locally made furniture.  We also stopped at a grocery store for coffee and plantain chips to take back.

On the way to our hotel, we took a tour of some of the notable spots in San Jose.  It seems like a pretty typical city to me.

We then had our farewell dinner — complete with a rousing Twelve Days of Christmas adaptation (by Lis, of course) listing some of the trip’s highlights.  Our guide was visibly touched, saying nobody had ever written him a song before.  We said our goodbyes, and headed off to bed.  Most of the party flew out early this morning, but we are among the few stragglers with later flights.  We’re currently sitting in a quite pleasant little courtyard by the pool.  This morning has been a good opportunity to catch up on posting (now that the netbook is cooperating again) and getting our minds wrapped around the thought that in a few days, we’ll be back in Boston winter and back at work.

Today’s photo is of the foothills coming in to San Jose.
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New Years Eve — Free Day

On New Years Eve, the group had no scheduled activities at all.  This Free Day was a welcome opportunity to do some exploration on our own, and to do some suggested optional activities — we could choose from horseback riding, white-water rafting, caving, or as Lis has written about already, ziplining.  There were 7 of our group who went ziplining; everyone else did activities near the lodge.

Lis’s words here largely mimic my own thoughts on the subject.  I’ll only add that it seems somewhat incongruous as an ecotourism activity — my feeling is it’s much more about the adrenaline and sense of accomplishment than it is about enjoying the scenery or being outdoors.  Perhaps with practice it would become less about the activity and more about the surroundings, but it’s never going to be a soothing experience.

After zipping back to the lodge and having lunch, Lis took an adrenaline-crash-fueled nap and a few of us went for a short hike to see a large column of army ants.  As with the previous day, photographic conditions were challenging enough that my shots of this (the ants, not the nap) will require processing before posting.

The evening festivities began with dinner — the same buffet we’d had the first night, but with some more celebratory additions including a delicious pork roulade stuffed with vegetables.  The hall had been dressed up with streamers and balloons.  There was karaoke to be had (though nobody — none of our group nor the other guests — took it up).  There was a strange mix of American and Costa Rican music, including a guy who played guitar for a while.  At about 9:30, the waiter came around handing out sparklers and giving word that the promised “weather permitting” fireworks were on.  A “few minutes” (45, but who’s counting) later, we went outside for a really quite nice show.  There’s something to be said for a small fireworks display that you can be close to — you get a much better sense of three-dimensionality.  Soon after, the rain came back; the 4 of us who had stayed up until this point gave up and went to bed.

Today’s shot is once again at the lodge’s fruit feeder.  This is a Coati, a member of the raccoon family.
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Catching up: December 30

Thursday was our first full day at our lodge near Arenal Volcano.  The lodge there was originally built as a research station for the Smithsonian, but is now a quite nice hotel; in fact it’s the hotel that is the nearest to the volcano itself.

The weather at Arenal was… disappointing.  Having crossed the continental divide once again, we were technically on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.  Arenal is part of the first mountain range that Caribbean winds encounter. This means we saw at least some rain every day, and the weather was just generally cool and damp.  Our room was neither heated nor air conditioned, and so whatever it is about humidity that this netbook dislikes kicked in again and we were unable to post.  I’m not sure we would have had time anyway; we had quite a busy schedule.

We took a morning trip to the Hanging Bridges, a private conservation area with pedestrian suspension bridges through the rainforest canopy. We saw some good wildlife here — including two eyelash vipers (sleeping, thankfully) — and some good scenic views from the bridges.  The amount of people there, though, limited what we were able to see, and also made the bridges quite shaky from peoples’ footfalls.  I’ll have some great shots from here once I’m able to process them, I’m sure, but we would have had a better time if the place required (and limited) reservations for groups like ours.

We went back to the lodge for lunch, then out to the local national park in the area of the lava flow from Arenal’s 1968 eruption.  “Arenal” means sandy, and indeed its lava flows are not molten, liquid rock but more granular or pasty in structure, composed of large boulders that tumble down as well as the area’s characteristic coarse black sand.  We managed to make it the two miles in to the lava field in the dry, but the hike back was mostly in moderate rain — nothing like our trial by liquid on our first day at Savegre, but enough to make everything damp even through rain gear.

We then proceeded directly to a hot spring for a dip followed by dinner. The road to the lodge is not in very good shape and heading back just to turn right around again would have taken too much time.  I have to admit I was skeptical about splashing around in a hot spring in the tropics, but given we had just come off a wet hike it was quite pleasant.

Today’s picture is from none of these activities.  My photos taken in overcast conditions, outright rain, or the darkness of under the rainforest canopy will require more processing than I’m able to do in the field, so instead we have one of my favorite birds from the trip — the Great Kiskadee — on a feeder platform at the lodge.  These birds are very handsome, and are seen everywhere we have been.

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zip a dee do dah

Here’s how to zip line. First, let go of all sense of self-preservation and survival. Put on a helmet that will only contain the mess if you hit a tree, strap yourself into a harness and put on some ratty gloves.  Carry around your own personal pulley contraption. Allow a complete stranger (who isn’t fluent in your native tongue) to attach you to a cable that is anywhere from 50 (practice run) to 750 meters long and dangling above the rainforest canopy. Grab onto your little pulley device, lie back and tuck your knees into your chest. Relax your arms and allow said complete stranger to push you off the platform. Travel along cable at speeds that may reach 50mph. Try to overcome terror and look around a bit. Spread legs apart to slow landing and avoid bisecting yourself on cable. Land. Repeat.
LisZip.jpg
(this picture by our new friend Paul. It’s me. We did this on the last day of the year…certainly a memorable way to send off 2010.)

Travel day

As Lis mentioned, today was a fairly long travel day.  We have moved from the west coast, over the continental divide, to the area of the Arenal volcano — or so we’re told; on arrival we were socked in with fog and clouds and couldn’t see it at all.  We’re hoping for an improvement in the weather tomorrow.

On the way in we stopped at a pretty unique farm / restaurant for lunch.  The history of this place is that the Costa Rican government provides financial incentives for farmers to diversify beyond the predominant monoculture of whatever region they are in; the owner of this farm has done so in spades.  He manages to produce meals composed entirely of food raised on his 5-acre farm — every vegetable, grain, fruit, spice, or meat.  We had salad, the traditional Costa Rican rice and beans, steamed yuca (tapioca) and fried yuca chips, beef & mango salsa, and chicken in a typical Costa Rican preparation.  For dessert there was excellent rice pudding and coffee.

I don’t have a picture of this farm because (a) it was pouring rain and (b) I had a splitting headache, but it was quite an experience.  On our way out we were told the massive tour bus mostly blocking the access road belongs to some Hollywood actor, perhaps Christan Slater.  Sadly, we did not have a chance for a duck photo.  Drugs, nap, and shower took care of the headache, and we have just returned from a tasty if dimly-lit dinner.

Tomorrow, rain or shine, we will have some activities near the volcano, and we’ll be sure to update you as we approach the home stretch of this trip.