Trip to Costa Rica, Oct/Nov 2000

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Our tour started in San José, the capital and major population center of Costa Rica. There were 14 in our group (Overseas Adventure Travel) plus guide and driver. I had considered renting an SUV and driving ourselves around. But the tour sounded sooo easy, and included so much variety, that it was an easy decision. And a good one in retrospect. Coffee Plants On our drive out of San José's 'central valley' we passed coffee plantations. Here's a picture of coffee beans, the few red ones are ripe. We were told they don't all ripen at once, and as a result they pick by hand over about a four month period. Ronda loved the coffee served on the trip, all local stuff. We got used to being approached by a waiter or waitress with two steaming pots. Not caf and decaf as it would be in the states, but coffee and hot milk. The default seems to be 'con leche' so you have to be careful to specify 'café negro' or you get half and half.
Ginger Flower

Everywhere we stopped there were beautiful gardens. This plant looked to us like a protea (Hawaii), but we were told it was a form of ginger.

Ronda & Dave river rafting

The tour did its best to provide a variety of activities. On our third day they took us to a spot on the Sarapiqui river where a rafting company sent most of us downstream in rafts. Lunch after rafting There were a few mild rapids and one of our group did fall in for a brief dunking. One of the rafts later served as our lunch table. The waterways are great ways to see the birds, but we were a bit occupied to see very many on this excursion. Also the cameras, binoculars, and notebooks were left behind to keep dry.

Tour group on horseback

The next day we stopped at a private ranch and rode their horses around the quite large property. This shot shows the whole posse. Brahma cattle during horseback ride The next shot is of Brahma cattle which are apparently the preferred breed for beef in Costa Rica. We saw them grazing all over during the trip.

Here is Dave with a Scarlet Macaw named Rafael. Dave and Rafael, Scarlet Macaw He is a pet who hangs out at the dining room at our hotels. Rafael's claim to fame is that he dances quite nicely when La Cucaracha is sung to him. The hotels arranged for us were mostly small 'lodges'. Later in the trip we stayed at a much larger place, and it confirmed my notion that smaller is better. The small ones don't have air conditioning, but although very humid at times, it was never hot. The ceiling fans seemed to keep the rooms comfortable enough.

On one of our drives, we stopped at a bridge over a creek so we could look down at some trees. Iguanas (chicken of the tree) The trees were loaded with iguanas, perhaps 50 of them. Some, like the one at the center left of this picture had bodies over 2 feet long and tails that could have made them 5 feet overall. Impressive prehistoric-looking creatures.

One character in our group stated that wherever he goes in the world, and he as travelled quite extensively, he tries to eat the local exotic meats. Naturally, seeing what I heard referred to as 'chicken of the tree', he put in his request.

There was a bit of driving as the tour took us to various parts of the country. One day we drove almost up to the Nicaraguan border to a reserve called Caño Negro (liberally translated to black lagoon). A boat took us up the Rio Frio into the reserve. It was during this and subsequent boat rides we saw most of the our wildlife. Anhinga (bird similar to cormorant), Rio Frio This picture shows an Anhinga (center of picture) spreading its wings to dry. It is like a cormorant in that it 'flys' underwater to catch fish. These species lack the oils that most birds have in their feathers, and this allows them to stay underwater long enough to spear their dinner. But the feathers get wet and they need to dry them to fly efficiently.

Cayman, Rio Frio

Here is another attempt to photograph wildlife with my 'point and shoot'. At the center of the picture is a Cayman. Water boy in Rio Frio

Here is a wildlife shot I couldn't resist. This little character poked his head up on our return to the dock.

Our unit at Bosques de Chachagua lodge

We were two nights in most of the lodges outside San Jose. This one, Bosques de Chachagua, was a beautiful place. Each unit was separate, and the bathrooms were large indoor tropical gardens. Bosques de Chachagua bar and pool There was only a handful of guests besides our little group staying there. The bar and pool looked inviting although we didn't have a chance to use them.

Peñas Blancas school visit, Eddie the guide

The tour company, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), includes a visit to an elementary school in the tour package. Our group stopped at the San Rafael school in Peñas Blancas (white boulders). As we stepped from our van, each of us was taken in hand by a pair of little kids and led into the school. One of the kids made a welcoming speech in english, and they did several folk dances in costume. School visit, girl representing each of 7 provinces Afterward, the kids led us into their classrooms to see their work, etc. I was thoroughly charmed.

We learned that a tourist from a previous OAT tour had made a donation that enabled this school to have english classes. We met the english teacher, a young woman from the U.S., who had swapped places with one of the local teachers and had been conducting classes. School visit, girls dancing The twist was that San Jose TV Channel 7 had a news team there to tape the whole thing. So our every move was recorded for TV. They interviewed our guide and three of the tourists, including myself. School visit, TV News interview The interviewer told us that the story would be on Channel 7 news the next Monday at 6PM. Most of the group would be back in the U.S. by then, but the five of us who were doing the trip 'extension' resolved to try to watch the show.

Arenal volcano from Tabacon hot springs resort

This shot shows the best view we had of the Arenál volcano. It was enshrouded in clouds the whole time of our visit. I bought a couple of post cards to see what it looked like. We didn't stay at the Tabacón hot springs resort (shown in foreground) but had access for the day to their grounds and facilities. It's a posh spa, with pools with various degrees of heat, warmed by the volcano.

Ronda & Dave on horseback

Here we are on our second horseback ride, this time at the Buena Vista lodge in Guanacaste province. The destination for the ride was another spa, with mud baths warmed by a different volcano. Most of the group did the mud bath thing. The ride back to the lodge was quite rainy.

At dinner it was night of the iguana. Our compatriot Bill was served a large bowl of the stuff and he shared with anyone else who was willing. It had been marinating all day and tasted indeed a bit like chicken.

Canopy tour platform

I had heard of forest canopy tours, and pictured platforms and walkways built in the treetops. Canopy tour cable between platforms The canopy tour that was made available to us was quite different. There are platforms built in the trees, as shown here. But the platforms are connected by cables, not walkways, and one moves to the next platform by sliding down the cable. Ronda between platforms It's quite a thrill. Not much chance to view wildlife, though I did see a bit of howler monkey movement in a distant tree.

Female crocodile

We took a boat ride on the Rio Tarcoles, near Punta Leona specifically to view crocodiles (cocodrilos in español). There were quite a few resting on the river banks. River birds The river has been badly polluted in the past and is in the process of being cleaned up. We could see a bit of trash on the sides. But overall the scenery was beautiful and birds were in abundance. The shot on the right tries in vain to capture some of the beauty, flights of egrets and mist in the hills.

Boat to Punta Coral, Gulf of Nicoya

One day we took a boat trip across the Gulf of Nicoya to an area called Punta Coral. It's at the tip of the Nicoya peninsula and is a relatively undeveloped property owned by the boat company. The boat itself was an old veteran, all wood, and apparently beautifully maintained. Dave in kayak, Punta Coral

At Punta Coral we had very humid and hot hike, but I enjoyed getting out on one of their little kayaks. Lunch at Punta Coral, Marimba player

Afterward they served an elegant lunch, accompanied by an 80+ marimba player. He told me later that he had made the marimba himself using his machete to cut the pipes from PVC tubing. Quite practical considering the humidity.

Our driver, Juan Carlos & family, and our guide, Eddie & family - at goodbye dinner

This shot is at the goodbye dinner for the main group of 14. It shows our driver, Juan Carlos, his wife and new baby, and our guide Eddie, two children and charming wife. Eddie was amazing and had us all charmed from early in the trip. He presented a very positive view of his country that reflected his pride and affection for it. Only later did we come out of our reverie to realize they really do have some serious economic, social, and ecological problems.

About this time my camera up and died, and I had to buy a disposible for top dollar at the next opportunity. My camera was supposedly water resistant, with rubber seals etc, but I think the humidity worked its way in anyway. In fact later I found that several of the developed rolls of film showed moisture damage. Next time in the tropics I will keep the camera and all film in zip-lock bags with dessicant packets.

Calypso band, Tortuguero Reserve

The spell was broken when the five of us going on to Tortuguero met the next guide, Ronnie. Ronnie was the guide from hell, Eddie's evil twin. He took pleasure in telling us shocking statistics that proved the country was going down the drain. 600,000 banana worker jobs threatened due to increased competition from Ecuador. Crime rampant; no living creatures in the banana plantations due to pesticide spraying. Oh dear. It was good we had the Eddie innoculation first. This shot shows the calypso band playing at our lodge at the Tortugeuro reserve. Ronnie joined the band to play the cowbells and is the one in the white shorts with cigarette dangling from his mouth.

At 6PM we interrupted the band and gathered around the TV in the bar for the Channel 7 news. And there we were in living color. I was on for all of 3 seconds, but the band was very impressed and referred to me afterward with great respect as the 'TV mon'.

The lodges in the Tortuguero area not accessible by road. After a long van ride on a gravel road through banana plantations we transferred to a boat and blasted over the canals and river for the next 2 hours. There are quite a few lodges there, and a small village. Transportation is solely by boat. We were told that to eliminate pollution, new outboard engins are required to be 4 cycle, and in a few years they will be required to have electric motors. I do believe the 4 cycle part, since I saw an amazing display of huge (85 to 110 horse) Japanese 4 cycle outboards.

Dave & Ronda at Caribbean during muddy hike

We took a boat across the lagoon and hiked through to the Carribean. The boots were provided by the lodge since the trails are very muddy. Canal, Tortuguero Reserve The canals and rivers are quite beautiful and these were the first blue skies we saw.

Piper Navaho for plane ride back to San Jose

Instead of the long boat and van ride, the tour package included a charter flight back to San José. We waited at the asphalt landing stip until our plane showed up and whisked us back to civilization. View of Tortuguero canals and Carribean

This shot is from the plane and shows part of the canal and river system that parallel and eventually drain to the Carribean.

List of Birds we saw in Costa RicaChestnut Mandibled Toucan

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