Sunday, August 31, 2008

August 29

Off to Manuel Antonio National Park this morning. It rained all night again and so we are lucky to see blue skies for our day at the beach. We park at the entrance and there is a long walk in, down a gravel road. It’s easy to think "oh no, a 20 minute walk!” but within moments we are all captivated by sloths hanging in the trees, bright red and purple crabs crawling alongside the road, turtles and butterflies, monkeys, birds – you almost can’t count all of the cool things to see. In no time we are by the beach.

We claim a picnic table for all of our food etc, and jump into the deliciously warm ocean. There is a nice strip of beach with forest right behind – monkeys, sloths, and raccoons rule here and food and back packs must be carefully guarded! There is a great hour’s walk around Cathedral Point for the more adventurous, and tuna salad, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips and fruit for lunch – followed by MORE time in the ocean with higher tide and bigger waves. The rain does not begin until we are all back on the bus - A perfect day. Then on our way back to the hotel we find a family of spider monkeys traveling in the trees along side the road – this is the only species of monkey we had not seen so it’s pretty exciting.

Dinner tonight is out in a local restaurant; it is Alex’s 14th birthday so we have cake for dessert and present him with a jar of the same blue hair gel his pen pal used to groom his hair after swimming. It’s also my last night with the group as I head out in the morning. Sorry to be sating goodbye...

August 28

Up at 5 am for the early flight to Manuel Antonio – this means a boat ride across the canal (all of 4 minutes) to a tiny airstrip and a tiny building with a tiny counter where you weight your tiny bag for check in (30lb weight limit) Unfortunately the weather is bad in San Jose and the plane can’t make it to us – so BACK to the hotel for more charades until we get the call that a plane is on the way.

We do make it to San Jose and quickly on to our connecting flight just in a tiny window of time before the airports shut down again for bad weather. Somehow we land just in time for our scheduled zip line adventure. Ahem. This was definitely the thrill of the week and though I confess to a moment of almost uncontrollable panic when I looked down to the abyss from the very high platform, I did manage to suck it up and complete all 12 lines of the course.

Everyone loved it. I think the secret is to simply not allow yourself to acknowledge all the ways in which you could come to serious harm doing such a thing.

The rain began just at the end, conveniently, and continued while we enjoyed a great lunch before heading to our hotel. This afternoon I joined the guides on a very wet trip doing errands – the grocery store, the bank – as I wanted to see the town. This is where I stocked up on mayonnaise con limon which is my new favorite food. It has not ceased to amaze me how much it can rain here.

The hotel is a sprawling 5star Italian villa sort of resort; the air conditioning and sumptuous beds piled high with pillows are all quite inviting after our nights at 'camp'. Dinner tonight is in the open air dining room, and tastes great.

How to ruin a perfectly good manicure..

These hands looked *so* good at the wedding - and now look! Oh well, it has all been worth it, and by now I've found remover and made myself respectable again. (PS - the toes still look great!)

Tortuguero August 27

Last night’s rain beginning not until we were safely in bed!) was torrential, but here’s the thing: Not only do howler monkeys begin war-whooping at about 445am, they also throw bombs of monkey poop as a way to defend themselves and their territory – the noise is deafening as it hits the tin roofs and it is an interesting way to wake up in the morning.

This morning: a jungle boat expedition – tons of birds and monkeys. Blue skies! Later a fantastic kayak expedition down the narrower canals where we see turtles and caiman and more monkeys. The highlight of the day – maybe of our whole adventure – was witnessing a large family of capuchin monkeys battling with a bird guarding her nest. The bird fought valiantly but the monkeys won. While the nervous mother bird paced and squawked along the water’s edge the monkeys went ahead and raided the eggs, carefully drinking their nutritious contents from the shells. Even our guide said she had only seen anything like that just once before.

The weather is beautiful all day, for our wildlife viewing and swimming later in the pool. We cap it off with a wild game of charades, dinner, and early to bed.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

From Sarapiqui to Tortuguero, Aug 26

This morning we leave the Sarapiqui region for the trip to Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast. First we must rescue a bat from the ladies room by the reception area at the hotel. Once he / she has found her way back out we check out and walk down the road so we can cross the amazing bridge on foot. Our driver Juan Carlos follows a bit later, to give us time to get ahead. Along the way we see our first toucan! We took a longish drive (filled with riddles, Wordles and Symbol Simon games). The scenery is worth the drive, and the stop at the banana packing plant was fascinating (you have no idea what goes into getting a banana from its plant to your store!). About 11am we board a small boat - long and narrow, about 4 seats across, with a canopy in case of rain or blazing sun (both being prevalent) and roar our way down the canals to Tortuguero National Park and our home for the next two nights.

A friend who shall remain nameless unless he wants to come forward has coined this area Torture-Guero, and I think it is my favorite paradise on this trip - deep jungle, long riverways, no roads, you go everywhere by boat. The 90 minute boat ride in shows us a crocodile, countless beautiful birds, and lots of monkeys (monos!). We are greeted at the hotel's dock with the sweet and fruity welcome drink - the music is a bit loud by the pool, there are lots of Spanish and German tourists roaming and it feels a lot like camp! Our rooms are in blocks of 4 scattered along covered pathways, and you just never know when a monkey might leap over your head on his way to the next tree. Accomodations are simple but great - damp? Well yes, everything here feels a bit damp (like camp) but there is hot running water and a flush toilet and a comfortable bed and ceiling fan.

Later we take the boat across the canal to town (a five minute ride), where we visit the Caribbean Conservation Corporation and learn about the plight of the green sea turtle. We walk down the beach where there is not supposed to be swimming allowed– both sharks and severe undertow live here – though several people are in the water. We visit the center of town - about a block long – ending at a tiny local store where we can buy ice cream bars. The local kids are deeply involved in band practice for the upcoming celebrations, and we cheer them on before going back to the hotel for salsa dance lessons and dinner.

Though we might have been tempted to be in bed by 8, instead we donned our dark clothing for the night walk in search of nesting turtles. This is highly organized and regulated by the park system – again, a boat across the canal to the ocean side and a quiet shuffling walk through the dark pathways – no lights allowed!. The sky is brilliant with stars but there is NO moon at all, something I don’t think I have ever seen before. All night I am not sure if I should be looking for turtles or constellations. Anyway, we are lucky enough to see three turtles in various stages of laying eggs, covering them, camouflaging the site, and returning to the ocean. Pretty darn cool!

Monday, August 25, 2008

my moth friend

White water rafting

Sunday August 24 -

It thundered rain all night long - how could so much water come form the sky?? It is an amazing thing to witness. I had a guest in my room last night, a moth the size of a dessert plate (I told someone a frisbee but that was an exaggeration). I coaxed him outdoors since I didn't want to accidentally crush him (he kept landing on my pillow) It was an odd pleasure to discover him outside my door this morning waiting for me I guess. My moth buddy.

I can't say the sky was clear blue exactly this morning but it wasnt raining as we left for the rafting trip. ON the way we stopped at a small stand and tried the local specialty pejibaye, the fruit from the same tree that we get hearts of plam from (we ate those later at lunch!) It gets boiled with salt, split open and served with a dab of Costa Rican mayo (I am definitely heading back to the store for some of that mayo, very limey!) It was one of those great unscheduled moments, and we loved it, even those wo did not like the pejibaye.

Then on to our appointment with adventure! For the first time we could feel the sun on our skin, and it was a perfect two hours of rushing through the water - not so high as to oblitrate the rapids, but high enough to have a few thrills. The guides are entertaining, the fruit snack fantastic (watermelon and pineapple, did you know Costa Rica is the world's largest exporter of pineapple?) - the water was not exactly warm but 'refreshing' and I did in fact swim. Even if you didn't swim there was no way to avoid becoming totally drenched, and better to jump in than be tortured by splashing. The lunch deserves the label of best ever - make your own tacos and loads of hearts of palm on the side. Yum.

Then on to the school where we me the two pen pal boys - a wild free for all soccer game ensued, no teams, no sides, about 40 kids going wild. The girls in our group stand back not daring to join in. The boys come back to the hotel with us and we take a tractor ride to a pool by the waterfalls - the ride is rough, the pool and setting is pretty, the rain starts again....
The moth is still outside my room, clinging to the wall. Maybe I'll let him back in tonight.
Tomorrow to Tortuguero!

Sunday August 24

I am in fine shape to meet up at 730am with the group for the drive to Sarapiqui ... The day starts off fine but I quickly learn how weather changes in Costa Rica depending on where you are. As we rise into the mountains (did I know La Paz is a cloud forest??) the clouds descended on s, the cold micty air closed in and the rain came down. By the time we got out at teh waterfall gardens it was pouring. We waied - but nothing changed, so we plowed ahead. The good part was, we had the place to ourselves since no one else was silly enough to attempt it. We went through the exhibits - mostly under cover which was good - but came out the other ens to do the walk to the waterfalls. Under the bit of cover provided by the forest we went slowly over the slippery walkway. Even though we were soaked to the skin - even plastic ponchos do not keep you dry in this kind of rain - we *loved* the forest and the waterfalls. Lunch was a bit chilly - some other group had taken over the fireplace so we could not get close to dry off - but the food was good and spirits were high. Fair to say by the time we got back to the bus we were all ready for a nap - is that not the point??
After making a stop at a local grocery store - a favorite thing of mine - we arrived about 4pm at our hoel, Sueno Azul. After crossing two narrow wobbly bridges (holding breath) I felt like I had arrived to another world. It is a bit like camp - forested, damp, rustic and cozy all at once, many small low buildings scattered, each with a few rooms for guests. A large common area set above the pool and jacuzzi, a pond, the river, and further on are trails and ... who knows what mysteries lay beyond? The river is a constant rushing noise - but the rain begins again and the torrents drown out all other sound for the rest of the day and night. Dinner is good, and the dampness begins to feel normal.

San Jose and the wedding

From Saturday August 23 –
This morning I had a walking tour of the city of San Jose, with a man named Julio who does this now for the love in his heart. He knows everything about the history of San Jose, and all of Central America! This city is quite a sad place really, no one lives here anymore, all of the interesting architecture has been torn down in favor of pretty revolting modern stuff thrown up with no thought to any city planning. Many homeless on the streets, lots of litter and abandoned buildings - just sad. I got a lot of intersting history, but really understand why we do not include this in our tours. Not many people would enjoy it! I had to check out of my room - which is why I'm all dolled up, sitting in open air cafe at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica, one of the oldest buildings in the city. It is pouring rain and hot, Costa Rican style. I have a chilled glass of white wine and a plate of sea bass ceviche, and am in heaven.

I am picked up at 3P to go to Sole's wedding. A traditional Costa Rican wedding, just great, in a lovely church with Sole looking so beautiful. Of course I did not understand a word of it, but then love is a matter of the heart is it not?? Words are not necessary.

This was followed by a full night's dancing and partying ina unique art hotel. I met many people I only knew via email before, that was fun. The food and dancing were great, and I was in bed asleep by midnight?

Pura Vida Costa Rica!

from August 22 2008

Logan airport has never been so crowded – at 5am there is barely room to walk nside the terminal. The line snakes back and forth countless times, and it is hard to even find the end of it – which adds to the overall chaos as hundreds of people drag luggage and whiny children through the crowds. It takes almost 90 minutes to reach the counter and check in my bags 0 then a quick dash to the gate to board the plane. First time in my life it required the whole two hour advance the airlines asked for.

So I was starving when I got onboard and searched for the hard boiled egg I packed. Unfortunately with all the tossing around of bags it was flattened, with the shattered shell thoroughly imbedded in the egg. Inedible. I resorted to the $4 on-board breakfast of a packet of cheese and crackers, with a few nuts and raisins thrown in. The alternative looked like it was mostly Oreos and Cheez Its which made me wonder what American Airlines thinks the definition of ‘Breakfast’ is.

Landing in Miami I headed to the next door terminal for my connection to San Jose. It must have been a mile walk at the very least, up and down stairs, around construction, down long hallways. How do children and the elderly do it?? Many food options along the way, so I grabbed a Chili’s salad to eat later. No internet, not even for a fee. This plane was full too - but for the seat between me and the woman by the window. We were very lucky for that but tortured by the distinct urine smell in our row (made note to check for lingering odor on me afterward) Everyone was so excited to be going to Costa Rica (except the toddler who screamed nonstop for 2.5 hours) so there was lots of chatter and celebratory drinking, sort of like college week

So I arrived without incident. The San Jose airport was a treat – simple and small, I got through it in no time, There is even a bathroom right in the luggage collection area, so convenient! The bathroom was spotless, with a woman mopping the floor every three minutes. It smelled delicious like oranges –well, really it was like orange creamsicles. Cuca met me in full Thomson Family Adventures regalia – the sign, the hat, the jumping and shouting with excitement. I joined her on her carpool loop, Costa Rican style – to her home for two kids, then to school for the eldest, then to her parent’s to drop them off. We finally settled at Hands, where we had an appointment adjacent to Sole’s for manicures and pedicures. For over two hours we were pampered – massaged, scraped, rubbed and painted, until our nails looked perfecto! Though I feared the total bill (there was water, tea, and Sole’s bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry wine graciously served as well) the total per person was a mere $22. No tipping. Wow, I might be moving to Costa Rica. Afterwards Cuca and I joined her husband Danilo at his new Caribbean restaurant for some fantastic ceviche and rice and beans with chicken. The hot sauce was perfecto, and the waiter had a flair that made the whole experience special. I made it to my hotel about 930P – 1130 for me on Boston time – realizing I was ready to collapse. I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.