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.

hanging out up high

Yesterday morning I caught up on much-needed sleep and didn’t get up until 10.  Which is good, because this morning we were up at 6:30 to take a walk down a hanging bridges trail. It was very cool, but because there were so many of us, the bridges wobbled a lot as we crossed them. I would have like to take more time to stop and look around (once I stopped being terrified, that is). We’re doing another bridge tour tomorrow, so maybe I’ll get a chance then.
We arrived at Arenal Observatory Lodge this afternoon after a lengthy bus ride. This is our last stop of the tour (well, except for one last night in San Jose before we leave). It is unfortunately cool and rainy, but it’s been that way for 10 days; it’s bound to change soon, right? At least our room is quite comfortable, and just down the hall from the lounge, from which I write.

December 27

As Lis wrote yesterday, on Monday we transferred to our next lodge.  Our current lodge is larger and less luxurious than La Cusinga, near an area that was becoming over-developed and on  its way to being the next Cancun before the Great Recession put a stop to it.  But the food is fine, our room has air conditioning, and drinks are included.  The morning was devoted to driving, but in the afternoon we took a boat tour of the nearby crocodile-infested river.

The Crocodile River suffered severe erosion during the recent floods.  Several homes and businesses were washed into the river, as it shifted its banks up to 50 feet or so.  Our guide is hopeful that this will serve as a wake-up call for local residents to restore vegetation along the banks which would have prevented this level of damage.

The river is also quite polluted with runoff, sewage, and trash from the big city (San Jose). It’s unfortunate that there’s not a lot the government here can do to prevent it; but as I’ve described they have other infrastructure needs to attend to. It doesn’t seem to bother the alligators, but we’re told levels of other animals are down.

Today’s picture is of a young crocodile, representing hope for the new generation.

December 26

On the day after Christmas, Lis and I went with one other person from our group and our guide for a whale watch with snorkeling in the middle.  For some reason, whale watches out of Boston never include this middle part.

We were looking for the humpback whales.  This area gets both northern and southern humpbacks, and I’m not sure which these were.  They’re the same species but not the same population we see in New England (though the joke is that whales do get a discount goingthrough the Panama canal).  The whales come here to give birth in the warm waters, but soon migrate back as there’s no food for them here.

We had quite a successful whale watch, seeing first a pod of 2 adults and a baby, and later a very active pod of 5 or 6 whales.  We also saw dolphins — which were too quick for me to catch in a photo — and a lot of birds.  And two sea turtles, a first for me.

Snorkeling was near Isla del CaƱo, 15 or so miles off the coast.  The snorkeling here was much nicer than the previous day’s, since the coral is much more abundant: silt runoff from storms — and particularly associated with the relatively recent construction of a new road along the coast — has
greatly affected the coral along the coast.

Today’s post has 2 pictures — the first a somewhat blurry shot of a Ridley’s turtle, and the second a member of the second pod of whales



Christmas Day

OK… we’re in a cooler, drier location now and the netbook is behaving itself.  I’ll be writing a few entries this morning to catch you up on what we’ve been seeing.

On Christmas Day, we went out for a snorkeling tour in the morning.  In the afternoon, Lis went for a massage while I went for a hike with one of the other tour members. 

On the hike we encountered some storm damage from Tomas in October — trail washout, trees down across the trail, etc.  The entire country has this sort of damage from this storm.  They got just an enormous amount of rain and wind, even though the storm did not hit Costa Rica directly.  The landscape here is very steep volcanic soils, which are prone to landslide.  Many dirt roads we’re traveling are heavily potholed; many paved roads have washed out sections or bridges.  The US
Army Corps of Engineers donated a bunch of temporary bridges; without these, even some major roads would be impassable. The trail damage is probably the least of the region’s concerns, but fortunately for us eco-tourism is big business so at least some of the trails have been repaired.

On the hike we saw some cool things, including some enormous trees that are reported to be 500 years old, and an agouti.  I didn’t have an appropriate lens with me to capture either of these, and
neither Lis nor I thought to bring an underwater camera for fish, so the picture for today’s photo is some terns on a floating banana tree we encountered on the boat ride back from snorkeling.


culture shock

We spent the weekend at La Cusinga Lodge on the southwest coast. This place was beautiful, with bungalows set among the trees,  blending in with the jungle perfectly. Everything was made of local wood and stone and offered a fabulous view of the Pacific. The food was all organic and local and our group had the whole place to ourselves, a little Christmas oasis.

Today we left La Cusinga and arrived at Hotel Villa Lapas, slightly farther north. It is a larger compound with about 80 rooms, group in units of 6 rooms each. The rooms are your typical hotel fare and of course there are many other people here. The grounds are very nice and there’s nothing wrong with the place, it’s just quite different from where we’ve been.

Our guide tells us that nearby Carreras National Park, where we are going tomorrow, is one of the best birding spots in the country. The group’s total count has topped 200; the previous record for this trip was 165, but there are some serious birders in this tour. Doug and I and several other people are skipping the morning “bird walk” (walk 5 paces, look at trees for 10 minutes, exclaim over sightings, walk 5 paces….), in favor of the afternoon “hike” (walk at a normal pace, but stop if anything interesting is sighted). Also, I need sleep. La Cusinga was beautiful, but between the bugs, our resident gecko (who knew they were so loud???) and the 4am howler monkey alarm, I did not sleep well.

After tomorrow, we had to Arenal Volcano for a few days and then return to San Jose.


My little netbook is unhappy with the heat and humidity and won’t boot. We will retry when we reach a lodge with AC but until then, I can post text from the phone but no more pictures.

La Cusinga Lodge

Today we said goodbye to Las Islas and transferred to our new location for the next few days, La Cusinga Lodge, on the Pacific coast.

Along the way we saw some scenic views and landscape that we had missed driving in the other night due to dark, and stopped to see some mysterious large stone spheres carved by an ancient civilization in the area.

After we arrived, we had time to hike down to the sea through the rainforest.  It was incredibly hot & humid, and even with a shore breeze I worked up quite a sweat.  But we were rewarded with some different types of rainforest vegetation and animals than we’d seen up to this point, including this orchid.


Class 5 roads

Today we spent more time at the seashore, at a conservation area accessible by one road — a dirt road that was heavily affected by hurricane Tomas.  Our trip leaders were advised that our tourbus would not be a good idea on this road, so we piled into SUV cabs for a bumpy, splashy, slow ride.  The local government doesn’t dare re-grade these roads until they’re sure the rainy season is completely over, or the fresh, vulnerable roads will just wash out again.  In the meantime, the local 4-wheel-drive cabs are doing a lot of business taking people up and down this road.  It’s still quite hot and humid here for a Bostonian, though there’s enough of a breeze to make it manageable.

Once we got to our destination, we went on a 2-mile nature walk down to the beach for lunch, seeing more cool tropical birds, trees, lizards, and more monkeys.  These guys are white-faced capuchin monkeys.  Lis and I have now seen 3 of the 4 monkey types in Costa Rica (red-backed squirrel, howler, and capuchin) and people in our group have seen the 4th (spider monkey).

Tomorrow we travel again, but just a short way up the coast.