Monday, February 06, 2006

Travelogue - Costa Rica

Regular readers may have noticed I'm posting more pictures lately. When I started the blog I was clueless. Once I learned to upload pictures, I posted a lot of them but I hotlinked for months before I realized that was a bad thing to do. So I opened an account at Photobucket so I could just steal the graphic without stealing the bandwidth. But the process is cumbersome so I didn't post as many pix. I just discovered, that the "new" button on the compose post screen (the one that's been up there for months) will upload directly from my C drive. So now that it only takes seconds to insert the graphics, I'm able to post pix again.

I've been itching to travel again lately. When I lived up north, I almost always tried to get away for the month of February. That's not really an option for me these days, but I decided I could scratch that itch by reliving my past journeys. So for the first of what might become a series. Here's part of my Costa Rican odyssey.

The Hotel Britannia in San Jose was our home base in Costa Rica. We stayed there between excursions. Nice hotel, very authentic and in a safe part of town. It's pinker than it looks in the photo.

From there we hired a car and driver to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. We stayed in the Hotel Belmar. Nice place. Not too fancy but it felt like being in a Swiss chalet. The day we hiked the forest we stopped for dinner at a restaurant just outside the entrance. The food was great and we stayed so long we had to walk home 7 kilometers on a rutted dirt road in the pitch dark. The only light was from the stars. It was enough. Orion never looked so close.

We took a day trip to the volcano at Arenal. To get there, we had to first drive for about two hours on really rutted goat paths, in this smallish jeep-like vehicle. Eight of us were stuffed into it check to jowl, 6 tourists and the two locals. Then we still had to get across the whole length the lake. We scrambled into a long flat bottom boat with a canopy running the length of it. On a good day it takes about forty minutes and the sun was shining brightly when we launched. About 15 minutes out a huge squall blew in with gale force winds and pouring rain. It took us about another hour and a half to get to the volcano.

The rain had stopped by the time we landed but it was a welcome relief after the chilly ride to have dinner and play in the hot springs at the fancy resort Tabacon. The food wasn't memorable but the grounds were stunningly landscaped with little paved paths and footbridges over the little streams they built to channel the thermal spring waters from the volcano. Around the restaurant there was the waterfall you could sit under and they also had a pool system with a really big slide into the main pool. I almost lost my swimsuit the first time I tried it. Worth the money to swim there although I noticed on the way out that the low budget travelers were soaking in the streams that ran along the road for free. I expect that would feel just as good.

We didn't get to see much of the volcano. With all the delays on the road it was getting dark by the time we got to that part of the trip. But it erupted for us as were standing on the flanks and rained ash on our heads. As we sailed away under the stars on the now calm waters of the lake, we could see the lava flow down the mountain for a very long time.

For the next leg of the trip, we took a puddlejumper to Quepos. They cut the limits so close, they weigh you before they let you board. It was one of the few times I was scared on a small plane ride. It's a short flight, maybe 20 minutes but we were flying so low over the mountains in the middle, that the turbulence was significant. That was okay but the pilot was paying absolutely no attention. He was chatting away with the person in the co-pilot's seat, who was just another tourist, and gesturing and laughing. He wasn't even looking out the window. Suddenly the plane literally turned sideways and he finally grabbed the controls. I was glad to land at the Quepos airport, if you can call a quonset hut at the end of a dirt road with one landing strip an airport. Still it had a bar and after that flight, I needed a drink.

We stayed at the Parador just outside of Manuel Antonio. Really beautiful resort with their own resident population of wild monkeys and the room comes with the most astonishing breakfast buffet you've ever seen but not the place to stay if you want to be near the beach action. When they say they're remote, they mean it's a 10 minute drive down a dirt road off the main highway, to get there. Getting back and forth to Manuel Antonio is a project.

Actually getting there was relatively easy. The desk could conjure up a cab but you had to make an appointment. The first time we ventured out, we took a day trip to the reserve and its beaches. It was worth the price of admission. We saw lots of different "exotical" wildlife, including a galloping herd of monkeys and a tree sloth.

The beach is really long and has bays with little private stretches, so we ended up on the nude beach at the far end. It was a gay beach. I was the only woman there but my companion didn't care and just wanted to swim for a while at that point, so we stayed. After about an hour, our fellow beach goers were getting agitated and gesturing at us. Of course, our Spanish being weak, we didn't know why we had offended them. We had been minding our own business.

Finally one guy managed to convey that the tide was coming in and we would be cut off from the main beach in a matter of minutes. By the time we got back to the point the sea was indeed crashing against the rocks, where before there had a beach around it. Our benefactor was kind enough to lead us the best path up and over the cliff and right at the top of that outcropping you can see in the foreground of the photo, I found the most gorgeous shell. I offered it to our rescuer as a token of thanks. He seemed amused and admired it but smiled and shrugged as if to say de nada, and pressed it back into my hands.

We made our way back to the row of restaurant shacks that lined the beach near the main entrance and retired for mas cerveza and some beach food. It was well past dark by the time we thought to go back to the Parador. When we got to the road, there wasn't a cab anywhere. Now we were in a fix. It was way too far to try to walk but there wasn't even a car to be seen.

We stood by the side of the road and waited. In a half hour, three cars passed us and I tried to flag them down for a ride. No luck but word must have gotten around about the crazy gringos on the road because finally a guy in a jeep pulled up and I managed to communicate where we needed to go. I kept talking and pulling out more colones, and he finally agreed to do it.

When we were halfway down the "driveway" he slammed on the brakes. You have that moment where you think, oh great he's going to rob us, but no, he was all excited about something in the road. It was a young jaguar who froze in the headlights. We sat and watched it until it regained it's composure and scampered away. A rare sighting I'm told and it made it worth enduring the trouble of getting home but if I ever go back again, I think I'll stay in one of the cheap hotels within walking distance of the beach.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home