Thursday, September 4, 2008

Things I'm thinking about

Those many many smooth red spots all over my body... you don't feel the bugs biting but oh my goodness how they ITCH for days to come. I made a stop at the local pharmacy for some antihistamine gel that makes a tiny difference for enough time to feel human again. The experience in the shop was fun, even if I do start scratching like a monkey again a few mnutes later.

Epiphyte is now a part of my every day vocabulary. Not only do I recognize epiphytes everywhere, when I see one I very clearly hear and see my friend Linda jumping with glee, arms in the air, crying out "EPIPHYTE!" during our game of charades.

Rain is totally cool, and more people should be prepared for it on a regular basis so as not to miss out on what life has to offer. Everyone should own a good poncho no matter how silly they look in it. And umbrellas? How come I never really knew before how AWESOME and useful they are.

Hiking boots are invaluable. Why did I think sissy Keens with socks would be worthwhile in Costa Rica? Even in my hikers my feet were drenched on more than one occasion - but had I only worn Keens my feet would now be as mossy as my boots are. No kidding - green stuff growing all over those boots!

Almost everywhere in Costa Rica you are asked to NOT put your paper into the toilet, but to deposit it into a bin next to it. It makes me wonder why it is OK in the USA to drop paper and other things into our toilets....yes yes of course we may have more sophisticated plumbing but still... maybe we should rethink our habits?

On a similar note - the nice lined bathing suit worn by swimmers and lifeguards everywhere - forget it! It could never dry fast enough to be useful. Which is to say, even though it's been washed with soap several times the mildew smell is so potent I am afraid they'll ban my suitcase from the airplane.

September 4, everything unexpected

This morning we expected to be packing up for a drive to meet Sole - she would take me on to Guanacaste and the beach hotels while Cuca returned to San Jose and her family who had expected her a couple of days ago (and then her son Ignacio went and broke his collarbone just to make the point!). But as we were going to breakfast Sole called from the road - those rains in Guanacaste we keep shrugging off were not going away. Oh those nasty hurricaines.
The region is declared a Yellow Zone, about to turn Red, the rivers are beginning to flood, and it's time for Plan B.
So Cuca will drive me back to a hotel outside of San Jose, and Sole tried valiantly to return home -- but alas she cannot get back over the bridge and is stuck looking for a hotel for the night. Cuca and I begin the long crawl down the wet and slippery mountain to San Jose...
... It takes us over two hours down the unpaved road to get to the PanAmerican Highway. Our most tense moment is documented in this photo - a big beer truck, stuck solidly in deep mud and having churned up everything in its path (not to mention how it hogged the narrow road) We were not quite sure what to do next. After some conferring with the locals we decided to try and make it - and with Cuca's *Expertise* behind the wheel we spin our way through the mud and beyond the stuck truck. I am sure I saw sweat trickling down Cuca's forehead.
Once on paved road it was more about traffic and rain - it was almost 5 hours before we finally landed at this nice hotel where I will spend the night before flying out in the morning, a day earlier than expected. It's also a couple of adventures earlier than planned, and I am so sad to not have my time with Sole on the north Pacific coast (I've promised to come back soon, sorry Jim).
But this last adventure today was pretty hair raising! Not the kind of family adventure we advertise, but an authentic experience for sure.

Monteverde September 2 - 3

This morning we wake to yet another amazing volcano view, and head off towards Monteverde. First we're dropped at the dock where we have to say goodbye to beloved Jose - how will we ever survive without his careful attentions?? That is quite unclear. But we enjoy a delightful 30 minute ride across Lake Arenal - the sky stays clear - then we board minivans for the dreaded ride to Monteverde. I've heard all about these roads, and have prepared by taking a Bonine to help with motion sickness (it's not supposed to make me sleepy but the truth is I am kind of out of it the rest of the day...) The ride is indeed bumpy and winding, I mean REALLY winding up and up and up the mountain and around the tighest curves you have ever seen. We make one stop (for breath?) halfway - altogether it's about 2 hours to our hotel.
El Estbalo is a large property of villas spread out over an area so wide and steep they have a bunch of vans to drive you where you want to go. Unfortunately we have to wait for our rooms - though once they realize we are there for an inspection we get pampered a bit more (I must be traveling with a rock star). We also have a rental car that is dropped off to us so we can get around - since the whole driver / guide thing did not work out as planned.

After brushing our teeth we speed off to do hotel inspections. It is interesting - the road up the mountain is brutal, but in town everything is nice and paved. It seems though they do NOT want to encourage the masses to climb that mountain to come visit, they DO want them to enjoy their stay once they are there. But several of the hotels are out of town enough to be on wild roads. The 4 wheel drive in mandatory here.
So far there is no view here, we are solidly centered in a cloud of mist mixed with rain. ANd in fact I have no outdoor photos of Monteverde as it just never stops being so wet I can't pull out my camera.
Our early morning visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is wet - the ponchos are as mandatory as the 4 wheel drive - but I have learned enough to not let that stop my good time. It is about a two hour walk with a naturalist guide - the wildlife has mostly taken cover from the rain but the forest is so beautiful and interesting it hardly matters. We see a sloth and baby getting drenched up in a tree, and the highlight is a nest of tiny baby toucanets peeping out for food. The hummingbird garden is fantastic, where you are buzzed constantly by these tiny (and some big ones too) birds who need to be constantly fed to survive.
The on to an inspection of Selvatura, a place with everything in one spot - a zip line (I've already earned my badge, and decline to do it again in the rain) a series of 9 hanging bridges (we do this walk) and exhibits of reptiles, butterflies, and insects.
Back to our hotel for a more complete inspection there (I really AM working on this trip!) and then we go back to a small restaurant / cafe with free internet to have dinner - appetizers and dessert! - before going to bed.
We watch The Firm on tv, in English with Spanish subtitles, before falling asleep, the view out the window still just one big smear of white cloud.

I may not have a photo of Monteverde, and this would be because it never stopped raining....

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Arenal August 31 - September 1

This is an example of a photo that should NOT be used in any marketing materials about the Arenal Volcano region, since one can never count on a view like this... It also does not mean we haven't had PLENTY of torrential rain - but we have also had amazing volcano views as you can see. I have about 68 pictures just like this - its hard to stop.
We made it here from Turrialba (after inspecting both the hotel we stayed in, and a fancier one nearby where I could actually understand the manager's Spanish because she spoke so slowly and clearly! Not a native speaker) The drive was under 4 hours, winding, gorgeous valleys and views. In Arenal we did a bunch of hotel inspections and spent an evening brewing in the Ecotermales hotsprings - set amongst gardens full of flowers and toads there are a series of pools with water flowing from the hotsprings - the temperatures range from warm to what we referred to as egg-boiler hot. This last one we could only stay in about 2 minutes. I could have soaked in these springs all night, but eventually we changed back to dry clothes and enjoyed a fantastic family style dinner right onthe property and then went home to fall into our beds at the hotel.
Early the next morning we visited the famed Hanging Bridges - our guide Jose had his telescope and we enjoyed several hours of exploring, looking, listening and smelling for the wildlife that lives there. In the afternoon we checked out the bustling town of La Fortuna (ok, so I might not be getting the order exactly right here) then went to enjoy a lovely dinner at a fancy hotel.
It is interesting how heavy downpours here can turn to clear skies in no time. One moment you are in a cloud of white, the next the volcano is right in your face. I never see any red lava at night, but thoroughly enjoy the puffs of smoke and rumbling of explosions throughout the day. It takes me awhile to realize it isn't thunder I'm hearing!

Aug 30

Up early in the pouring rain – and off to the airport even though we know the plane is delayed and maybe even cancelled. But if it does take off and you’re not there, well tough luck. I am accompanied by Juan Carlos, Lis, and Isa – driver, mentor and guide – who kindly make conversation with me while we wait to see what will happen. After an hour I do in fact climb aboard the tiny 12 seater; I hear it is the last flight to return to San Jose before the airports close again. I guess this happens a lot in Costa Rica!

I am met by Cuca and Jose Pablo. All these guides and drivers have me spoiled rotten. I haven’t carried a bag, opened a door, or wondered when to have a meal for over a week and I no longer know how to take care of myself. Yet I can tell this next week is all serious business – we have lots to see and do. We drive through beautiful country to Turrialba and a little hotel, Villa Florence, set above a tiny village. We are greeted as if we are long lost family, by the Costa Rican owner and the transplanted Canadian manager. Then off to CATIE where we are met by a very nervous guide who walks us through the gardens before we all hop on bikes (helmets included!) for a nice, fairly level bike ride through the plantations of sugar cane, palm trees and meadows. There are tons of birds and beautiful vistas though I learn pretty quickly I can’t navigate the rocky road and look around at the same time. This is a beautiful valley, very lush, surrounded by cloud swept mountains – very un-touristed and a pleasant picture of local life. Later we enjoy a coffee tour, at the end of which we all get to try the ‘slurp and spit’ method of coffee tasting – fascinating but not likely this will be incorporated into my morning routine. Dinner at a local restaurant is steak with a coffee sauce.
Bed feels really good.