Tag Archives: Costa Rica

Last day in Costa Rica

13 May

Saturday 5 May, 2012. We’re touring one last time in Alajuela, and leaving Costa Rica in the afternoon. We’ll be home Sunday evening.

We were drawn to the square near our hotel, that faces the Alajuela Cathedral.

Alajuela Cathedral

Alajuela Cathedral

We spotted a man who looked typical under his bright white hat.

Man wearing a hat

Man wearing a hat

And we crossed the square and there was a little girl with a pink polo shirt and her abuelo who were busy feeding pigeons. Hundreds of pigeons. People were gathering around them and watching. She was so happy and he was so proud. The grand-father poured a few crumbs on the little girl’s head and soon both of them were assailed by birds.

Little girl and her abuelo feeding pigeons

Little girl and her abuelo feeding pigeons

Attracted by the commotion, squirrels crept down a tree nearby. I didn’t think so many squirrels could populate a single tree. They wanted their fair share, of course. And children and adults were happy to deliver.

Feeding a squirrel

Feeding a squirrel

Vlad was close to one, extended his hand and the squirrel sniffed the empty hand before trying someone else.

Squirrel sniffing Vlad's hand

Squirrel sniffing Vlad’s hand

Each squirrel would snatch the food and hop back on the tree trunk and climb someplace to eat, wary of other hungry squirrels.

Squirrel feeding

Squirrel feeding

Back to the little girl with the pink polo shirt. She decided the pigeons were more rewarding and got back to them. This is her, holding a plastic bag full or crumbs, proudly leading hundreds of pigeons. Such a happy face.

Proud little girl leading hundreds of pigeons

Proud little girl leading hundreds of pigeons

But we wanted to explore Alajuela again, since it had been raining the day before and there was sun on that fine morning. We walked for two hours and a half, not very fast, and spotted six churches and four soccer fields. And we explored only a fraction of the city!

Soccer game

Soccer game

We followed a man who was pushing his cart on the road. We had seen several of them already. He seemed to sell drinks and snacks. What we had also seen in other places through the country, are people at street lights selling bagged fruit or vegetables that they hold in both hands, and even shrimps in a bucket.

Man and cart

Man and cart

Another thing that striked me compared to where we live, was how prettier their advertising posters and paintings are. Except in San José and Cartago, cities have modest posters and advertising paintings that appeal to me far more than the industrial, gigantic printed ones. Here’s the advertisement, painted on corrugated iron, for a car wash and parking, and much more, it appears.

Hand painted advertisement on corrugated iron

Hand painted advertisement on corrugated iron

We got back to our hotel, via a part of town that was more spacious and nearly deserted. Maybe it was that people were eating lunch. I had the feeling we had the streets all to ourselves. Here is a bright blue minivan parked in front of a house where people sold pineapple, 3 for 1000 colones ($2).

Mini van parked in front of pineapple store

Mini van parked in front of pineapple store

And here is the outside of the fruteria Las Delicias.

Fruteria Las Delicias

Fruteria Las Delicias

Soon after, we checked out and hopped in a taxi. The fare was supposed to be around $6, but when I asked the driver, at the airport, what he said in Spanish sounded like 13,000.00 colones. I realized, but too late, that he had probably said 3,000. Ahem… I gave him 11,000.00 and was looking for more when he gestured it was enough. Then he seemed to be looking in his wallet either for change or for a receipt, and we were getting our backpacks. Since he wasn’t handing us anything we said good bye and left. He followed us with his eyes. This is when I realized he had let us give him nearly twice what he wanted. Oh well. He had been a decent and friendly driver.

And before 5 p.m., we left Costa Rica, relaxed although tired, and our heads full of extraordinary memories. We had wanted to visit that country for years and we were not disappointed at all. Vlad did a wonderful job organising the trip, choosing the route, selecting places and lodges. It was such a great vacation.

Bye bye Costa Rica, view from plane

Bye bye Costa Rica, view from plane

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Costa Rica: Puerto Jiménez to Alajuela

12 May

Friday 4 May, 2012. We’re leaving Lapa Rios lodge in the beautiful and preserved Osa Peninsula. José, who drove us there four days ago, drove us back, as well as two other people from the lodge who needed to be in Puerto Jiménez. José spotted a caiman on the way; we had told them how foolish we had felt the day before, standing only meters away from one and joking we had yet to see a caiman.

We were in Puerto Jiménez at 11 a.m. and had over an hour to spare till we needed to board our flight. It is a small city by the golfo dulce (because the ocean water is “sweetened” by much river water). We walked in streets, few of which were in asphalt concrete, circled towards the waterfront and back to the airfield.

Puerto Jiménez road

Puerto Jiménez road


Puerto Jiménez house? cabin?

Puerto Jiménez house? cabin?


Puerto Jiménez waterfront

Puerto Jiménez waterfront

The plane was even smaller than the small one we took four days prior, however, the flight was devoid of any air pocket and I enjoyed it even more. We flew to Golfito where a few passengers got off and a few others boarded, and then we took off for San José. It was all so very lovely from above.

Our plane in Puerto Jiménez airfield

Our plane in Puerto Jiménez airfield


Pilots preparing to take off from Golfito

Pilots preparing to take off from Golfito


Instruments and gauges in the plane

Instruments and gauges in the plane


Near Golfito from the plane

Near Golfito from the plane


Flying over San José

Flying over San José

We were going to spend a night, the last one, in Alajuela, which is the closest city next to the San José airport. It was raining but not a lot and we spent our time improvising a tour, taking pictures of what we found beautiful (and I took a lot of pictures).

Alajuela canon, statue of Juan Santamaría (the national hero), flags

Alajuela canon, statue of Juan Santamaría (the national hero), flags


Alajuela traffic lights, traffic, colours

Alajuela traffic lights, traffic, colours


Alajuela. Man on a bicyle. Catchy colours.

Alajuela. Man on a bicyle. Catchy colours.


Alajuela. Three men having a snack and watching television.

Alajuela. Three men having a snack and watching television.


 Square at dusk.

Square at dusk.


Alajuela. Sunset.

Alajuela. Sunset.

After sunset, we found ourselves near the Alajuela Cathedral and went inside. It was very pretty. Vivid colours, some parts painted as fake marble, a narrow but long vaulted ceiling with several biblical scenes painted in bright colours, rows of white neon lights. We were intrigued that there was a band inside, tuning their instruments and rehearsing. And there was a steady flow of people, all dressed up, who were coming in. Was it going to be mass or was there going to be a wedding, we wondered. After more than an hour, mass hadn’t started, more people kept coming in, and the band had rehearsed tunes and songs a couple of times. We felt sort of out of place, not dressed up and while we were respectful of the place and people, it had been mostly curiosity that made us stay. So we left. We found a bar and had a drink (Imperial bier for Vlad, tequila sunrise for me). We walked by the cathedral again an hour or so afterwards and mass was taking place. The big cathedral was filled up. I don’t know if they were celebrating something particular of this is their regular Friday mass, but I was impressed. I suspect the former, as there was a crew filming, a master of ceremony with a microphone, one cleric dressed in golden-coloured clothes and a dozen others dressed in white.

Mass in Alajuela Cathedral

Mass in Alajuela Cathedral

Costa Rica: day tour in the Corcovado

10 May
Thursday 3 May, 2012. Third day at Lapa Rios in the Osa Peninsula. A day of adventure, like I wrote yesterday as a teaser. The helpful staff at Lapa Rios had asked whether they could help us make arrangements or provide information, so we told them we were keen on a day tour in the Corcovado and had heard there was a bus going to Carate and it would be helpful if they had more information. They said the bus in question was called “colectivo” (or camion) and wasn’t a bus strictly speaking. It is a truck and behind the cab the passengers area is made of wooden planks as floor, two long benches and this is covered with a tarp. I think most of the lodge staff came to us over the two days prior to make sure this is how we really wanted to travel. One of them even said it could be a traumatic experience (sic). We thought we would live through it. We actually enjoyed it, being a one-time experiment.

We woke up at 5.45 a.m. to prepare ourselves, get an early breakfast (again, the staff was kind enough to accommodate us, as the kitchen normally opens at 7), and be by the country road before 7 a.m. with one of the staff members, Eli, who wanted to make sure we were on the right track and find out from the driver when and where we had to be to make it back to the lodge on the same day ;) We paid the flat fare ($8 per person for a single ticket), climbed inside and waved Eli good bye. With us were four or five locals and four other young tourists.

A fellow traveler in the colectivo looking at the landscape

A fellow traveler in the colectivo looking at the landscape

It was a long trip, all in all, 1h30 for something like 20 km. It had been bumpy, some rough patches even hurt our back. The truck passed through water (either rivers, or puddles big as small ponds), climbed steep rocky hills at the speed of the sloth, but the driver was pretty good, I found. We arrived in Carate around 8:30 a.m.

Vlad gets off the colectivo

Vlad gets off the colectivo

It was already hot outside and the weather was gorgeous on that day, with sun and big white clouds. We needed to walk on the beach forever to reach La Leona, where the entrance of the Corcovado National Park was. The beach was splendid. We wondered why nobody was either sunbathing or swimming. We later heard there were rip currents. And sharks.

Long beach and palm tree, walking toward the Corcovado

Long beach and palm tree, walking toward the Corcovado

After an hour of walk along the beach we reached La Leona, gave our tickets to the guard and mumbled something about high-tide around noon, crossing the river, “walking two hours”. We nodded and took off, it was nearly 10. We entered a forest by the beach but were walking on a trail in the woods. There was something peculiar about the light during the morning. I think it had to do with the very fine mist created by the breaking waves which crept inside the forest and was visible when met by the sun. I saw beautiful sunbeams through the trees. We soon saw capuchin monkeys, at eye level and only a few meters away from us. This appears to be a favourite position:

Capuchin monkey

Capuchin monkey

We found ourselves at the river the guard had mentioned. It wasn’t noon already but the waves met the water of the river. We took off our walking shoes and socks, rolled up our trousers and waded in waters that weren’t too deep (mid-sheen) but reached our knees when a wave was breaking. We met a couple of trekkers who tipped us that there was a Baird’s tapir near the Cementerio Madrigal and they explained how to find the place, not far from where we were. We were looking for a smaller animal than it actually was (my idea of a tapir was that it was as big as a cat, and Vlad thought it was the size of a dog). Then I saw it. Huge. The height of a poney, the bulk of pot-bellied pig, the feet of an elephant and a dinosaur, the ears of a hippo and that snout which is so distinctive.

Baird's tapir

Baird’s tapir

We came a little too close to the tapir who went away. We followed. Then Vlad spotted an anteater in a tree. This too, was larger, longer, and bigger than we thought. It was really beautiful. Alas, it was pretty active, moved a lot and at some point we couldn’t keep up.

Ant eater

Ant eater

We were near the beach and walked to it. Perfect place to picnic. The Lapa Rios staff prepared sandwiches, crips and cakes.

Vlad sitting on a tree trunk near the beach at picnic time

Vlad sitting on a tree trunk near the beach at picnic time

At 1 p.m. we resolved to turn back and take our time. We had to be in Carate where the colectivo had dropped us by 4 p.m. (or spend the night and catch the next one on the next morning). The light has changed. Less over-exposed. But the mist and sunbeams were gone. We crossed the Rio Madrigal again.

Crossing the Rio Madrigal where the high tide waves meet the river water

Crossing the Rio Madrigal where the high tide waves meet the river water

The spider webs in the forest were beautiful, strong, small, tightly woven, and there were many of them. Some bare branches even looked like a whole dream catcher with the amount of spider webs they bore. We saw several golden orb spiders (they’re the length of my index finger):

Golden orb spider

Golden orb spider

Vlad spotted a squirrel for the second time on that day. This one was reasonably close to us. It was busy munching wood (isn’t there good acorn in Corcovado, I ask?), checking on us from a distance every now and then.

Squirrel, close-up

Squirrel, close-up

Then I spotted a black-throated male trogon on a low branch. It was splendid!

Black-throated trogon

Black-throated trogon

We resumed our walk but stopped almost immediately; I had spotted a black and green dart frog:

Black and green dart frog

Black and green dart frog

Again, we resumed walking but soon stopped under a group of capuchin monkeys with their young. One appeared to smile at me. And then I wondered, was it a smile or was it baring its teeth at me. The latter, most likely. I went from “awww, look, it’s smiling at us!” to “wait, this isn’t a pretty smile”. So here’s a non-threatening monkey, looking up at a young one (the baby isn’t in the photo):

Capuchin monkey closer, lifting his face

Capuchin monkey closer, lifting his face

We exited the forest (and the boundary of the Corcovado) after 2 p.m. and braced for the long walk along the beach, under the sun. We stopped mid-way next to a pond to watch the Jesus Christ lizards run on the water. What a singular spectacle. The spot was lovely. With no wind, there were palm trees reflected in the water. We took a little break. Vlad joked that the one thing we hadn’t seen was the caiman. The next instant, there was a swift movement and a splash –a caiman was there, not 3 meters away from us! We were so certain there wouldn’t be one (we had inspected the pond edges on the way to the park in the morning), that we didn’t think to check again. Oh, the idiots. On the photo I took of the spot, we can see a dark shape by the water, behind a log, it is the caiman (I have increased the contrast in post-processing to make it a little bit more obvious, but still it is a fraction of the photo, and this made me think of where is Waldo).

Stop by a pond on the beach, caiman by the water

Stop by a pond on the beach, caiman by the water

We laughed at ourselves for a while, and kept walking back to Carate. At the end of the beach, there was one last beautiful animal in plain view. A yellow-headed caracara was perched on a low bare branch not far from us:

Yellow-headed caracara

Yellow-headed caracara

We reached Carate at 3.40 p.m., with ample time for drinks and reflection. What a great day. It was as though every animal we had seen had been planted there for us to admire. The colectivo was a little late and we were back at the Lapa Rios lodge shortly after sunset, 5.45 p.m.

5 p.m., on the way back in the colectivo, red dirt road

5 p.m., on the way back in the colectivo, red dirt road

We were greeted, like a couple days prior, with wet hand towels and fruit cocktails. And then it made sense. Both were totally welcome and highly appropriate. The staff asked us how it was, they looked worried but not for long, we looked and were delighted.

Costa Rica: Second day at Lapa Rios, more beach and rainforest

8 May

Wednesday 2 May, 2012. The morning of the second day at Lapa Rios, I got to see the sun rise. It wasn’t yet 5:30 a.m. and surfers were already in the water between the pan dulce playa and the backwash playa. Two of them. I sat on the deck and sipped coffee, took photographs of what was around me. In the tree above the roof, there was a big iguana which had been there already the day before. It had barely moved. It was partially hidden by foliage but in the morning sun its colours were splendid. There were hummingbirds in the little garden trees by the deck. And butterflies. Pelicans which crossed the sky between the forest and the beach. None of the photos are good enough to post, though. So here is our bungalow as seen from the deck:

Our bungalow as seen from the deck

Our bungalow as seen from the deck

It occurred to me that morning, and at other times during the trip, that while one is busy taking a photograph of something, there is often a sound that disrupts the whole process, because one knows this is something else worth photographing. I sipped more coffee with Vlad around 6:30 a.m. when he woke up (the slacker).

We had decided to go down to the beach again before breakfast and left at 7:30. Pan dulce playa and Backwash playa:

Pan dulce playa

Pan dulce playa


Backwash playa

Backwash playa

There were several surfers, by now. Here is one who was smiling (perhaps it isn’t obvious on the small photo):

Surfer smiling

Surfer smiling

From the beach this is the view we had on the bungalows:

Some of the Lapa Rios bungalows as seen from the pan dulce playa

Some of the Lapa Rios bungalows as seen from the pan dulce playa

On our way and at the beach, we saw spider monkeys, crabs, scarlet macaws, a black vulture. We left in time to get breakfast up-hill at the lodge, and came back down. On our way, we finally spotted the sloth in one of the trees. A naturalist had told us the day prior that a sloth had been spotted in that tree and there was a good chance it was there. But the tree was quite tall and not exactly bare of leaves. Anyway, there it was, far up, and we saw its fur. For a good while we could not guess in which position it was. We were pretty sure its back was facing us and this is it. After some time, it moved slowly. One has to see it to reckon how slow the movements are. We distinguished an arm and guessed where his head was. We knew this was a male; we had heard from a guide in Manuel Antonio national park, that male sloth have a black strip along the neck. We were keen to wait to see more of him. I was thinking of my good friend Amy who is endeared by sloth. Eventually, he showed us his face:

A sloth!

A sloth!

We had spent so much time there that returning to the beach wasn’t a plan anymore. We indulged in lazing around for a bit at the bungalow and went for lunch. Food was delicious there. I can’t think of any good reason to miss a meal at Lapa Rios ;) All the more reason that from the deck next to the tables we had seen many birds and animals. And there happened to be spider monkeys, albeit a bit far:

Spider monkey dangling from a branch

Spider monkey dangling from a branch

In the afternoon we went back down-hill along the edge of the rainforest. We meant to walk on the country road a good while and reach a flat area with fields and a river, where we expected to see herons, birds of prey and possibly a caiman. But we didn’t since we spotted so many other animals after travelling only a short distance –a yellow-headed gecko with a blue body, the sloth again (which was apparently sleeping and had shifted position a bit, he was sitting and bundled and his arms were hugging a branch and his head seemed to be rested between his folded arms). We also saw an agouti which we sort of tracked as it progressed in the forest parallel to our trail. A little farther down, Vlad spotted a blue-crowned motmot, a lovely colourful bird with a long tail which tip resembles two rackets.

Yellow-headed gecko

Yellow-headed gecko


Agouti

Agouti


Blue-crowned mot-mot

Blue-crowned mot-mot

We went into the forest, instead of going to the plain. We were looking for a waterfall but had no idea where it was. We crossed a river but couldn’t progress on the side of the river we thought we could find the waterfall. We saw more vegetation than wildlife, to the exception of ants with a big yellow abdomen that looked almost golden. Some of the trees had colours on the bark that made me think of camouflage. Here is Vlad next to one of them, a big one:

Mini Vlad next to big camo tree

Mini Vlad next to big camo tree

We found ourselves on the path we had taken the night before with the guide. We easily found the tarantula nest. Vlad couldn’t resist; he grabbed a thin stick and did as the naturalist had done to coax the spider out. He lightly touched the mesh of thin web outside and around the edges of the nest –hairy brown legs darted out to attack the stick. Guillermo had described this as fishing. So Vlad fished the tarantula out. It took him a couple of minutes. Well done.

Vlad fishing out a tarantula

Vlad fishing out a tarantula

As the guide had said, it was too bad we didn’t have a grasshopper for the spider, as it had really earned it. I wasn’t going to find it myself, scared as I am of insects. Again, I was so eager to be out of the forest. It was going to be sunset soon and this part of the forest was already getting dark.

The sunset colours were pretty. I can’t believe it took us two days to look for them.

After sunset colours in the clouds

After sunset colours in the clouds

The dinner time and evening were rich in emotions. During dinner a huge brown grasshopper decided to land on my back and stay there until Vlad carefully took it away. Already the night prior at dinner, a couple of lizards had landed on my hand from a beam in the ceiling and they scared me, but I didn’t freak out about the lizards as much as I did about the grasshopper. Then we walked to the bungalow, where I went straight in whil
e Vlad stayed outside and walked further down to look for tree frogs or poison dart frogs. As soon as I closed the door I noticed another big brown grasshopper which was on the door, inside the bungalow. I called Vlad and asked him to come save me again, which he did. Whew. But that wasn’t all. A few minutes afterwards I spotted a big black cockroach inside one of the white mosquito nets that surround the beds. That wasn’t all, there was another one, one of the kind that is wide, long, flat and brown. It was at eye level, on the mosquito net that served as separation between inside and outside the bungalow. Both of them were immobile. So I did that too, at a safe distance from each of them, and surveyed them till Vlad returned and was my hero again.

The week prior in the mountains, a huge green grasshopper flew straight to me cheek and landed next to me on the bench. There has to be a law that the insects will go to those who are scared of them. If Vlad had similar experiences during our stay, either I wasn’t around when it happened, or he didn’t make a big deal out of it and didn’t tell me at all ;)

We’re now back where insects are minuscule and I can tell that these don’t scare me as much as they did pre-Costa Rica. Last night even, I ushered a spider outside. Yay, me. End of the insect phobia rant.

Closing statement of the entry at hand. Our next day in the Osa Peninsula was going to be quite an adventure and this is a story for next time.