Category Archives: Costa Rica

A few of our favorite things — Costa Rica edition

We’ll go back to the land of Ticos for just a bit, if you will allow us, to share with our blog readers our favorite experiences from our four weeks in Costa Rica. This was done by secret ballot and a complicated weighing process, and it seems to faithfully represent the will of the family. (Although parasailing is second on the list and only 3/5 of the family actually parasailed, the people have spoken, and the kids really seemed to have a good time up there.)

Our Top 5 Experiences in Costa Rica
P10101401. Snorkeling at Cahuita National Park (March 30)
It was fun when we went snorkeling. We saw so many fish! I loved it! We put toothpaste inside our goggles because it made it easier to see. — Lanie

  1. Parasailing at Playa Espadilla, Manuel Antonio (April 12)

Parasailing was an amazing experience. The most exciting parts were taking off and landing. First, we soared up into the air. We went so fast! The ground sped away below us. Once we were up in the air, it was slower but still really exciting. It was so cool to be hanging suspended hundreds of feet in the air! When it was time to land, the boat slowed down and we fell into the water. When we were almost there, the boat sped up again and we flew back up a little ways. I expected the water to feel cold but it was really warm! We rode on a jetski back to the beach. — Zoe

 P10100033. El Trapiche Farm Tour, Santa Elena (March 23)

How this will affect my gardening, I don’t know. Seeing the world’s three greatest (legal) vices all being cultivated on a relatively small area of land was definitely an inspirational experience for me.   The liberal samples of coffee beans, cocoa beans and sugar cane in various stages of production were inspirational to everyone else in the family. We even got a tiny bit of local cuisine that was not produced from one of the farm’s “Big Three” crops. — Bob

P10101174. Whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River (March 29)

We went white water rafting in Costa Rica. It was really fun because we got to go really fast. We went for about 3 hours. We did some hiking also. There are 5 classes of rapids. Class 5 is the biggest. We got to do classes 1-3. My favorite was class 3, because they were the biggest. — Nadia

IMG_75515. Giovanni’s Birding and Animal Tour, La Fortuna (March 26)

We met lots of talented guides on this journey — those that could spy a dozen different animals where we saw only trees — none was quite the match of Giovanni. As we barreled down the roads of La Fortuna in his van (which luckily he wasn’t driving), we would suddenly screech to a halt, and within seconds he’d be on the roadside with his telescope, beckoning us over to see a perfectly framed creature. (Later on, we found he could pull off the same stunt even when he was driving.) And he so clearly loved what he did — after a morning of shuttling us around starting at 5:30am, he actually volunteered to take us out again that afternoon so the kids could pet a baby sloth. And, against all odds, he delivered on this promise. It doesn’t get much better than that. —Jen

Sentimental family favorites:

IMG_7271Bob: Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. I remember walking through this park and feeling totally at peace. The high canopy and the well maintained trails made the experience comfortable and soothing. After a brush with the Resplendent Quetzal in the parking lot, we were virtually unmolested by any other wildlife — or any other tourists for that matter — for most of our walk. Also, our house was a half-kilometer from the gates. We got there on foot. This was at a time when I was not excited about driving our rental car over unpaved roads.

P1000967

I’m not sure at this point what you’re meant to be looking at in this photo, but it gives you a sense of the atmosphere.

Nadia: Santa Maria Night Tour, Santa Elena. We went on a night tour In Costa Rica. We walked around a farm with flash lights and saw a lot of animals. We saw a sloth and an olingo. I liked it because I like sloths and walking around the farm in the dark was fun.

Zoe: La Fortuna swimming hole. I really liked swimming in a natural swimming hole in La Fortuna. It was beautiful. Water cascaded into a series of small pools and then finally over a waterfall into a large, deep pool. The pool had steep sides and was perfect for jumping. It also had a rope swing. I wanted to try the swing. I was nervous because it was so high up. When I did it it was awesome! I swung out over the blue water and then let go and fell a long way to the water. It was so fun!  (Sadly, we had gotten several dire warnings about being robbed, so we didn’t bring a camera and thus have no photos of this gorgeous spot.)

P1010374Jen: Manuel Antonio National Park. This place had it all — miles of gorgeous beaches, turquoise waters, trails through the jungle and into the mountains, and animals throwing themselves into our path at every turn. It’s amazing that one small area could offer so much.

Lanie: Proyecto Asis, La Fortuna/San Carlos. We took a tour around an animal rescue center. There were lots of animals, even an ocelot! After seeing them we got to feed them. I liked the ocelot. I also liked to feed the parrots. We got to go in to their cage.P1010069  (Note: Zoe wishes to document that she voted for this one too.)

 

Family scoresheet: Each family member voted on their favorite Costa Rica activity in order of their preference. First choices scored five points, fifth-place choices scored one. The scores were tallied and the activities ranked.   Tallies and voting are listed below:

Pick                                                                          Score

Snorkeling                                                              18
Parasailing                                                             14
El Trapiche                                                             10
Rafting                                                                    10
Giovanni                                                                  8
MA NP                                                                     6
ASIS                                                                         5
Monteverde/quetzal                                              2
Swimming hole                                                      1
Night farm tour                                                     1

Voting

Bob

  1. El Trapiche farm tour
  2. Manuel Antonio National Park
  3. Giovanni’s bird and animal tour
  4. Snorkeling, Cahuita National Park
  5. Monteverde Cloud Forest Refuge

Jen

  1. Snorkeling in Cahuita
  2. El Trapiche
  3. Giovanni’s tour/up close with baby sloth
  4. Manuel Antonio National Park
  5. Seeing the resplendent quetzal

Zoe

  1. Parasailing
  2. Snorkeling at Cahuita National Park
  3. Whitewater Rafting
  4. Projecto ASIS
  5. Rope swing/swimming hole in La Fortuna

Nadia

  1. Whitewater Rafting
  2. Para-sailing
  3. Snorkeling at Cahuita National Park
  4. Giovanni’s Animal Tour in La Fortuna
  5. Night Farm Tour in Santa Elena/Monteverde

Elena

  1. Parasailing
  2. Snorkeling at Cahuita National Park
  3. Feeding animals at Projecto Asis
  4. Whitewater rafting
  5. El Tapiche Farm Tour

 

Para-sailing!

Me and my sisters decided to go para-sailing.  We asked the man what it cost ourselves. The man said it cost $50 per person, and you had to be three or older.  So we decided to go.

They harnessed us up.  Then they told us the rules: Stay straight; hold on; don’t fall off.

As we took off, it was like flying. Seeing the wake of the water of the boat, I felt as light as a feather.  We went for a long time.  I was not scared.

It was worth it.

 

All harnessed up

All harnessed up

There's the boat in the background, ready to go.

There’s the boat in the background, ready to go.

IMG_7758

There they are — that little speck over the land bridge between the Cathedral Point and the rest of the national park.

IMG_7757

Coming in for a landing

Coming in for a landing

 

IMG_7769

That $50 per person includes a jetski trip back to shore!

IMG_7771

Ready for the next adenture

Costa Rica gets what it wants — Rid of us!

We didn’t tell you this, but before the dust of Nicaragua on our shoes had been covered by the dust of another country, when we were in no-man’s-land petitioning for entrance into Costa Rica, we had to prove one thing. It wasn’t economic means. They had posted several signs congratulating themselves on not charging an entry tariff. We didn’t have to pledge allegiance to anything. We simply had to prove that we were going to leave Costa Rica at some point before any roots grew under our feet.

Jen had to pull out her Kindle and show the confirmation for the plane tickets she bought, thankfully, the night before when we were on Ometepe pondering new adventures in a new country. Before we could get to those adventures, the man at the entry station needed to see that we had an exit strategy.

They turned up the heat, too.  It was 104 degrees in Quepos when we walked to the bus.

They turned up the heat, too. It was 104 degrees in Quepos when we walked to the bus.

That is the strategy we used yesterday to fly to Belize, leaving a country that was very nice, but all the same asked us not to let the door hit us on the way out. I mean, c’mon, yes we like tourists, yes we like your money, but we don’t want you to get too attached. Let’s just keep it casual, you know. Keep it simple, baby. Free and easy.

Anyway, Costa Rica’s a nice place, but it was clearly trying to get rid of us at the end. Jen got a stomach sickness early last week and that was just a shot across the bow.

Yesterday, for the first time in all of our experience in Central America, the bus was late. We waited in the hectic Quepos terminal, with very little information to go on, trying to figure out why the noon bus to San Jose was still not in the terminal at 12:30. It’s not you, Costa Rica wanted us to think, it’s me.

They also employed advertising to remind us of our native country in a clear attempt to draw us back to our nest. On the bus back from Quepos I saw even more signs of US cultural imperialism: Office Depot, Hooters, Carl’s Jr. — we don’t even have Carl’s Jr. in New England! How do they rate one down here?

Preparing to spend our last 3,000 Colones in the airport.

Preparing to spend our last 3,000 Colones in the airport…

In the candy aisle

…in the candy aisle.

And then, as a final boot in the pants, this weekend it seems that they froze our assets. Our debit card — our access to trip-lubricating money, our life line — would no longer work at the Bank of Costa Rica, where it had worked fine for the past four weeks. We were very lucky that Jen spotted the noble Lion of the Bank of America Central during our taxi drive to the hotel. We’d been in this country, it is clear to me, for longer than that for the country comfortable with.

Jen seriously doubts this money freezing thing really happened, even though she can’t produce another reason why our card suddenly wouldn’t work at the national bank of Costa Rica, even though it worked at BAC. I agree that it would seem counter to Costa Rica’s purposes of kicking us out. Despite the lack of an entry fee, Costa Rica does charge a hefty exit tax (like $29, per person) and if we can’t get to our bank account how are we supposed to pay? Have you thought of that, Costa Rica?

In the welcoming arms, only briefly, of  an El Salvador layover

In the welcoming arms, only briefly, of an El Salvador layover

Yes, they have. What is right there inthe airport, right next to where you queue up to pay the exit tax? It’s a cajero automoatico. Is it under the rotating cube of BCR? No, the ATM in the terminal proudly sports the BAC’s lion. We don’t need your stinking service fees, gringo, just go.

Well played, Costa Rica. I hear you loud and clear.

0n the water taxi

On the water taxi

Anyway, we’re gone. At the top of this post you can see a map of our complex journey among the Ticos. I’ll soon start the Belize map, which will feature even more water taxis, and — Jen was particularly excited at this because she’s keeping track of  modes of travel — a golf cart!

On the dock at Caye Caulker

On the dock at Caye Caulker

That’s what picked us up on the dock at Caye Caulker and drove us the kilometer to our very nice villa. We tried the pool out and then headed back into town to wait for our dear friends the Brooks family, who were in Belize and coming out for a week in another villa right here on Caye Caulker!

In a new conveyance!

In a new conveyance!

Except they weren’t on their way, they were already here. We got our first glimpse of them from about four blocks away. They were standing in the middle of the main intersection in town (on this Caye there’s only bikes, golf carts and a couple of dump trucks). Nadia spotted a large group of people — some tall, some short — wearing backpacks. It fit the profile perfectly.

We spot the Brookses.

We spot the Brookses!

They spot us!

They spot us!

By the time we caught up to them, they had sat down at a restaurant and were preparing to order some lunch. It was a joyous reunion, complete with nachos, smoothies, tug of war with a palm frond, lots of talking and a stray dog that seems to like noise and activity because she seems to have adopted our families as her own. A man with a shirt that said “Tourism Police” started to approach them, probably to put an end to the palm frond abuse, but upon taking in the entire mass of swirling children and dog, wisely decided to keep walking.

Happy kids by the sea

Happy kids by the sea

Happy parents by the seafood vendor

Happy parents by the seafood vendor

The accommodations are great here, the scenery is magnificent, and we’re ready for a week of adventure with our friends.

 

(Almost) Paradise

Squirrel monkey

Squirrel monkey

After our extremely long travel day, we arrived at our final destination in Costa Rica — Manuel Antonio National Park.  We’re here for five days, and are moving at a pretty relaxed pace — especially given the heat and humidity.  (I’ve been moving at a particularly slow pace, as I found myself sidelined for a couple of days with nausea and stomach ailments.  But yesterday I pulled out the 80-pound medical kit that I’ve been hauling all over the continent, and decided to hit it from all angles — immodium, rehydration salts, antibiotics.  I’m not sure what worked, but I’m much better now.)

P1010362Today we headed for the park itself, which consists of a string of beaches with reefs offshore, bordered by jungle that rises sharply into high hills.  Even the bus ride was beautiful, with the blue-green Pacific stretching out far below us.  And the park certainly did not disappoint.

Bob and I pretty quickly determined that if someone wanted to go just one place in Costa Rica, this would be a pretty solid choice.  The beaches were amazingly beautiful.  There were miles of trails through the jungles.  And the animals — well, it was hard to believe.  In most place you have to really cross your fingers that (a) the animals will be around, and (b) you will be able to find them (which generally requires a guide).  But here, it was like the animals were all auditioning for the next National Geographic

Mama capuchin with very new baby

Mama capuchin with very new baby

centerfold.  Monkeys, sloths, deer, raccoons were all practically throwing themselves in our path.  Monkeys, in particular, were everywhere, including a troop of the supposedly rare, elusive, and endangered squirrel monkey, which are endemic to this park.  Many of the monkeys were carrying adorable little babies on their backs.

You could hike up through the rain forest to a high lookout point with an amazing Pacific view, commune with the monkeys for a while, then loop back down and cool off with a dip in that same Pacific.   What could be better?

Panoramic shot at Cathedral Point

Panoramic shot at Cathedral Point

View from the Cathedral Point trail

View from the Cathedral Point trail

Well, there is one thing.  The observation Bob and I made seems to have been shared by some other people.  A LOT of other people, in fact.  All of whom were here today also, cluttering up the paths and poking us with their cameras and blocking our views.  We’re not used to that in Central America.  (Apparently most of them are Americans.  Someone asked me about the beach on the path today (in Spanish!  and I answered!) and then asked where I was from.  When I said the U.S., the woman he was with shook her head and said, “Encore!”  Too bad for her that I haven’t completely forgotten my high school French (though learning Spanish has irretrievably messed it up) and knew that she was saying, “Again?!” rather than asking for a repeat performance of my masterful Spanish.)

The "rare" and "elusive" squirrel monkey

The “rare” and “elusive” squirrel monkey

Anyway, this place is an excellent closer for Costa Rica.  I’m glad we came here late in the trip.  Otherwise, some of our other wildlife experiences, with less promiscuous animals, might have seemed disappointing.  Tomorrow we have one more day of relaxing (sunset and possibly surfing on the beach is planned) and then off to our final two weeks in Belize!

From sea to shining sea

It wasn’t the Oregon Trail, or even Route 66, but it turned out to be a pretty long day of travel linking us from Tortuguero on the Caribbean to Quepos, where we are today, on the hills above the Pacific.

Yesterday’s breakfast was administered by Mrs. Beyette’s sleepy daughter, who was kept awake be the rain. She has to sweep out the breezeway, it seems, when the roof leaks, and she said she was up late doing that. Still, she was to fuel us up, and then, hopefully, take a siesta. I don’t think there were any other guests there when we left.

A rainy start to the morning commute, but no delays reported on Tortuguero's main artery.

A rainy start to the morning commute, but no delays reported on Tortuguero’s main artery.

It was still raining as we hit the car-free road to the public boat terminal, which, surpisingly isn’t the nice town docks a little north of Mrs. Beyette’s place. Instead we walked a few minutes south to a place where the public water buses just slide up on shore a little.

We had purchased our tickets the afternoon before — 1,600 colones apiece plus 1,000 apiece for each of our big backpacks — to be sure we got on the 9 a.m. boat. An early start would be crucial in making all of our connections.

All we need now is the boat.  Plus the other boat for our luggage.

All we need now is the boat. Plus the other boat for our luggage.

The 9 a.m. water bus was sufficiently full of tourists and traveling locals that all our baggage was placed on a separate boat (and coveredy by a tarp). This proved important because not long into the trip we turned onto a small side stream that was choked with fallen logs, often very shallow, and flowing pretty consistently against our direction of travel.

IMG_7700

On the jungle cruise

Carefully navigating upstream, looking out for empty soda bottles tied to submerged hazards, the captain made his way deeper and deeper into the jungle. Several times we bumped the bottom, often we had to pull over and cede the way to boats traveling downstream, and at some point during the two-hour trip I began to realize we hadn’t seen the luggage boat since we departed Tortuguero.  Maybe its skipper knew a short cut?

After the muddy landing at La Pavona, it was land travel the rest of the way

After the muddy landing at La Pavona, it was land travel the rest of the way

It ended, as all of our travle stories have during this trip, happily enough. The luggage boat passed us about an hour and forty minutes into the trip, a few extra tarps covering its payload.  Twenty minutes later we were pulling up to the muddy hillside that was the La Pavona landing.

At the top of the hill was a depot where most tourists from our boat headed for fancy tourism transit and we got assistance from the very kind driver of the local bus. He brought us to Carriari and informed us how to get to the terminal for the San Jose bus.

It was only three blocks away and it was nestled between a bakery and a smoothie shop, very convenient for lunch time connection. Even better, we only had a 45 minute wait for the direct bus to San Jose. An initial sketch of the day’s travel contained the possibility that we would have to take another bus to another town to catch a fast bus to San Jose. Also good news: Even though the bathrooms cost 150 colones to use, the lady let me in for free.  All the ladies in our group got hit by the tarrif.   It must be my new haircut.

Lunch outside the ticket window in Carriari.

Lunch outside the ticket window in Carriari. Look for these places on the map. They really exist.

From there, it was like a highway to ever-increasing levels of civilization. We soon got back to the road we traveled to get to our rafting trip; this time we were going the other way. I recognized the large Pequeno Mundo store and the huge Taco Bell billboard well before we made it to the tunnel through the mountain. The inverse of the previous trip was true. Once we left the mountain pass and started to descend toward San Jose, the skies started to clear up.

It was dry by the time we reached the Caribbean bus terminal. A short taxi ride (very reasonable now that we know to seek out an official red taxi with an orange triangle on the side) brought us across San Jose and the public transport continental divide to the place where the Pacific-bound buses gather.

We had to wait an hour and a half for the next directo to Quepos. It was more than enough time to get a quick dinner at a corner cafe and for Zoe to inquire in the information kiosk if there was wifi in the terminal. (There wasn’t.)

The last bus trip showed just how civilized San Jose is. I spied a Walmart, P.F. Chang’s, Payless Shoe Source, Outback Steakhouse and a Pizza Hut. There was also a Simon Mall and an intriguing place called the Canada House, which featured a “Maple Market.”  Add all this to the Applebee’s I saw last week and it’s starting to feel like Stoughton.

The Sun had set by the time we reached the Pacific coast, leaving us the pleasure of seeing the sights for the first time when we venture out this morning.

Our bus driver was kind enough to drop us off a few minutes from our apartment and all that was left was a steep climb, guided by a night watchman, and the unfortunate discovery that bedroom #2, the one with the extra bed, was the one with the air conditioning unit. If not for the full day of travel behind us, Jen and I might have been nimble enough to alter the arrangements without anyone being the wiser.  The kids are attached to the room its coolness by now.  It’s pretty hot here.

Otherwise, we seem to have fine accommodations and we’re excited to see what this side of the continent has to offer us.

As a last note about today’s journey: This should be our last multi-stage public transport day (unless you count next week’s two-leg flight to Belize or the flight home, but those don’t have the drama that bus and water travel do).  We saw signs for flights we might have taken to get us across Costa Rica.  The flight from San Jose to Quepos is reported to take only 20 minutes, which is attractive compared to our three-hour bus ride.  Our travel today was efficient, both economically and ecologically, as public ground transportation usually is.   I don’t know how much the flights would have cost, but we were quoted some exorbitant rates for private shuttles to various points.  Here’s what yesterday’s intercontinental journey cost us (NB, we missed our window with Lanie; all the buses had signs that clearly said, “Children over the age of three pay full fare”):

Water taxi: 1,600 colones per person, plus 1,000 colonels each for five big backpacks =  13,000 colones or about $26

Bus from La Pavona to Carriari:  1,100 colones per person = 5,500 colones or about $11

Bus from Carriari to San Jose: 2,200 colones per person = 9,000 colones or about $18

Taxi between bus terminals in San Jose: 3,500 colones plus 1,000 colones tip = 4,500 colones or $9

Bus from San Jose to Quepos (directo with service to INVU, which is near enough our apartment that we wouldn’t need a taxi): 4,500 colones per person, plus 2,000 colones tip = 24,500 colones, or about $49.

Total trip cost: $113

Not out of adventure yet

P1010304

Actually, we didn’t all paddle. Mostly, it was just me and the guide, and even I stopped from time to time to gawk.

One might fear that we would be in danger, after 50-something days on this trip, of running out of new and exciting things to do. Worry not, oh follower of our adventures. New and exciting opportunities present themselves almost constantly here.

Jen woke up with a start the other day and said, “We haven’t been on a canoe yet during this trip!” And within an hour we were on the water paddling with our guide across the inland waterway. It was a new conveyance for us, plus we managed to encounter some new animals in the jungles and marshes. The family got to see some caimans in the wild (remember, they did not see the ones I saw on the boat ride here, and the one that was occupying the pond at the ASIS Project was practically in captivity, though it wasn’t a rescue animal and it nearly leapt out of its skin to catch a dog while we were observing it during coffee break).

We got pretty close to the Night Heron.

We got pretty close to this Night Heron. Night Heron don’t care.

The green heron was cool and so was the night heron. We were able to get up nice and close thanks to the tranquilo nature of canoe travel (there were many boats out in the channels, even before 7 a.m., but many of them had motors). In fact, our guide did not seem concerned at all about getting close to the animals or even running into them, as was the case with the first caiman we saw. There were a few other near misses, including the above-mentioned herons. The birds, to their credit seemed unperturbed by our proximity.

It should be said that we’re starting to consider ourselves experts in jungle animals, to the extent that even though our guide told us we were seeing howler monkeys, some of us were doubtful, due to the fact that the monkeys seemed to be holding onto branches with their tails. At the ASIS Project we were told that spider monkeys were the only ones in Central America with prehensile tails. At least that’s what we thought we were told. We might have actually been told that spider monkeys were the only ones at the ASIS center with prehensile tails. According to Wikipedia, both spider monkeys and howler monkeys hold onto things with their tails. It’s a good thing I kept my mouth shut during the canoe tour.

We took a homework break to watch a movie.

We took a homework break to watch a movie.

Other than that adventure and a brief walk through the National Park at the end of the main street here, we’ve been keeping a low profile. We’re not bored, mind you. The girls’ teachers have given enough homework, and the girls have waited long enough to get to it, that the days here have been filled with pretty productive study. The motivational factor is that in just over a week (!) we’ll be meeting up with our friend the Brookses in Belize, and who wants to still be working on homework with the Brookses around? Nadia’s mystery story is getting written (and quite suspense-fully, too), Zoe’s personal reading responses are flying out of her pen, and Lanie is tearing through math packets on money and measurement.

This restaurant was called the Buddha Cafe.

This restaurant was called the Buddha Cafe.

Going to restaurants for dinner every night is excitement, as well, though we’re rapidly making our way through the options available. I took the truly adventurous step of getting my hair cut at the barber whose shop is on the other side of Mrs. Beyette’s kitchen from us. Sadly, at press time no pictures exist of the results, but I was pleased enough that I told the barber I wasn’t going to be wearing my hat for a while. He said a lot of things I didn’t understand — that still happens here — and I wouldn’t let him change my part to the other side of my head, but it was not an unpleasant experience, and it will have grown in significantly by the time I make it back to the US. Also, I do still have my hat, in case the haircut honeymoon ends when I look in the mirror in the morning.

And lest we forget what true adventure is all about, tomorrow we have a trans-continental trek, Caribbean to Pacific, spanning, potentially, six legs of travel. That is adventure Central American-style. Our ipods are charged. There’s bread and peanut butter in the bag. We’ll write you again from Manuel Antonio.

The Amazon of Central America

We’re really on roll as far as adventure goes. We’ve rafted, snorkeled, battled monkeys for our lunch, and now we’re touring the Amazon. Almost.

Four hours on a boat? Check our forearms for anchor tattoos.

Four hours on a boat? Check our forearms for anchor tattoos.

Actually it’s a remote and watery region on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica that is sometimes called “The Amazon of Central America.” We took a four-hour boat ride to get here, but when we leave the ride should be shorter.

This was another example of mobile tourism, like our raft ride that linked us between San Jose and Cahuita.  But unlike that trip, this one was calm and peaceful, and we stayed mostly dry — except me, who got misted whenever the captain cranked up the engine.

Main Street Makers luggage tags: beautiful, yes, but also rugged enough for the Amazon of Central America

Main Street Makery luggage tags: beautiful, yes, but also rugged enough for the Amazon of Central America

The boat ride took us from Limon, about 50 kilometers from the house we were staying in, through winding river passages and wide sections of inland waterways. We snatched views of the ocean and of tent communities of Semana Santa revelers. We also saw ranches and homesteads that seem to be accessible only from the water. The rivers became so shallow at some points that we needed to adjust our seating arrangement in the boat to make sure we didn’t get stuck.

P1010259

Birds of the inland waterway

P1010269 IMG_7619 IMG_7621

Welcome to Torguguero Village

Welcome to Tortuguero Village

There was a fair amount of river traffic, but still over the four hours we were able to see lots of wildlife, especially aquatic birds. I did catch a few glimpses of caimans, and at one point I swear I saw a big iguana swimming across a wide stretch of river, but nobody else noticed these.
The destination point was Tortuguero Villiage, a community on a long, narrow strip of land flanked on one side by the inland waterway and on the other by the Caribbean.

We walked quite a while on this trail, which was build a few years ago to allow turtle-watching tours to move around without disturbing the beach.

We walked quite a while on this trail, which was build a few years ago to allow turtle-watching tours to move around without disturbing the beach.

I overheard a tour guide tell his group yesterday that the island we’re on is at some points only 200 meters wide. We tried to walk to the end yesterday but finally gave up. It’s long and narrow.

It is also a National Park and a major nesting place for three species of marine turtles. Between boat rides into the jungle, black sand beaches, and turtle tourism, there is lots to draw people here. An additional draw is the fact that there are no cars here. Most of the commercial traffic her takes place on boat; the rest is carried manually or pushed on hand carts along the wide concrete sidewalk that is the main street of Tortuguero Village. This intriguing aspect reminds us our visit to Italy a few years ago when we enjoyed wandering the alleyways and cruising the canals of Venice. The Amazon and Venice in one trip. How can you beat that?

We may not see sea turtles, but we say this guy.

We may not see sea turtles, but we saw this guy.

The only snag we’ve run into is that this is not a great time for turtles. Peak season for the most plentiful species here, the Green Sea Turtle, doesn’t begin until June. This is technically Leatherback Turtle season, but Mrs. Beyette, our hostess, tells us that the season is just beginning and things are kind of slow. A few nights ago the tour group had to walk a long way to find a turtle; it was almost midnight by that point. Mrs. Beyette says the tour would be ok for adults, but she didn’t seem to think the kids would be up for it. If it didn’t involve walking well beyond midnight, I think we’d try it .

P1010296

The Easter lollipop hunt ranged into Mrs. Beyette back yard.

P1010297

Instead, we’ve been moving forward on homework progress and also combing the plentiful gift shops of Tortuguero.  Lanie made some friends in the playground yesterday evening, and her sisters used the time to buy some candy and plot out an ersatz Easter Egg hunt.

Lanie's playground friends

Lanie’s playground pals

We’re limited by a lack of a kitchen here, but Mrs. Beyette’s family provides a nice breakfast for us — the Gallo Pinto here has more spices in it; it’s very good — and we’ve been managing to put together small lunches for ourselves.  There are multiple restaurants, some down winding foot paths, that offer us lots of dinner options.

Otherwise, we’ve been enjoying some small pleasures.  The playground is a treat, as was the rainstorm yesterday morning.  It was the first significant rain we experienced since … probably since December or November, actually.

Jen and Lanie venture into Main Street to feel the rain.

Jen and Lanie venture into Main Street to feel the rain.

It was raining at bedtime, too, and the sound of it on Mrs. Beyette’s aluminum roof was very pleasant.  Plus, it helped to cool things down.

A canoe trip may be in the cards, but swimming in the ocean probably won’t. The waves are very big and the currents are strong. We’ve only been wading so far, and it most likely won’t go beyond that.

A taste of the Caribbean

The main Spanish  vocabulary that the girls have learned involves ice cream flavors.

The main Spanish vocabulary that the girls have learned involves ice cream flavors.

We’re here in the Caribbean lowlands, and boy has the weather changed.  It is HUMID here, as well as hot.  Most of the other places we’ve been so far have been only one or the other (apart from Arenal, but we had air conditioning there so we didn’t notice so much).  We hang our damp bathing suits up to dry, and the next morning they don’t feel any different.

We have a great little house here in Cahuita, tucked away into the jungle but just a short walk from the beach, town, and national park.  Bob and I, at any rate, are happy to be rid of the car.

P1010197Cahuita is a tiny town, but with a very cool vibe that’s different from anywhere else we’ve been.  It’s our first trip to the Caribbean, and the influence of the early immigrants from Jamaica and the other West Indies is obvious.  Brightly colored shacks and stands line the roads and reggae music blasts from the bars and shops.  White sand beaches curve away from town in both directions, with the beautiful blue/green hue of the Caribbean just beyond.

Catching up on some homework

Catching up on some homework

We’ve had a pretty relaxing time here, catching up on schoolwork and strolling the beaches and town streets — and running to the little local market approximately 6 times a day.  (You don’t have to plan well when the market is a five-minute walk.)  Apart from snorkeling, our big outing was to Cahuita National Park, which was created to preserve the offshore reef as well as the beach and rainforest.  (As an aside, there are a lot of national parks in Costa Rica, but they are not remotely on the same scale as what you would see in a US park.  Cahuita, for example, consists of a single trail in the jungle that runs parallel and just next to the beach.)

P1010193

Snake eating a lizard!  Kind of hard to see but theres a tail sticking out of his mouth.

Snake eating a lizard! Kind of hard to see but theres a tail sticking out of his mouth.

We hiked along the trail, jungle to one side of us and gorgeous beaches to the other.  There was plenty of wildlife to be seen.  Most notable were the Capuchin monkeys, which became increasingly populous as we got further from the entrance.  By the time we got to our endpoint, Punta Cahuita, they were all over the place, scurrying through the trees and eyeing our lunches.

P1010207There were also a huge number of horseshoe crabs in all shapes and sizes.  The girls spent a substantial amount of time rounding these up into sandy pens and looking around for larger, empty shells to try to entice them to upgrade.  We determined that there’s a bit of a hermit crab housing crisis, though, because we couldn’t find anything.  Punta Cahuita is entirely composed of bits of different corals and shells, which made for hurting feet but was also beautiful and fascinating to comb through.

Monkey scheming to get our lunch.

Monkey scheming to get our lunch.

P1010230

The coral and shell beach at Punta Cahuita

The coral and shell beach at Punta Cahuita

 

Other than that trip, we’ve been taking a cue from our surroundings and taking it easy.  We go swimming in the warm blue waters, browse through the shops in town, or hang out in the yard of our house.  (The other day we saw a sloth fall out of a tree just outside our yard.  It seemed to recover.)  Bob and I even walked down to the nearby Reggae Bar one night after getting the kids to bed.  (It took three nights for us to work up the energy for this, even though we started talking about it the first day.)

Crowded beaches

Crowded beaches

It’s just as well we don’t have a strict agenda, because things are a bit crazy here this week.  Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a big deal here, with the whole country on break and flocking to the beaches.  The usually deserted beaches and sleepy town were thronged with locals.  At one point we looked around the crowded beach and concluded that we were the only obviously international tourists in sight.

OIMG_7603n our last night we decided to have a roving dinner of all the delicious-looking street food that we’ve seen being cooked up, and it did not disappoint.  Pura vida!

I don't know exactly what this thing was, but it was delicious.

I don’t know exactly what this thing was, but it was delicious.

Under the sea

Lanie enjoys another boat ride.  This time everyone else liked it, too.

Lanie enjoys another boat ride. This time everyone else liked it, too.

A few days ago we went snorkeling on a coral reef. We took a boat out to where we were going to snorkel. The boat ride was really fun because it was so choppy. We climbed up waves and then slid back down. When we got in the water, it was so warm! Snorkeling was an amazing experience.

The reef was pretty close to the surface and the water was really clear, so we could see the fish really well. Most of the fish on the reef were pretty small.

We saw many more fish than we expected to see.

We saw many more fish than we expected to see.

There were bigger fish in the gaps and alleyways in the coral. In the deeper water on the outskirts of the reef, there were huge schools of larger fish. Some of the fish in the schools were huge! Most of the fish in the schools were gray, but there were some colorful fish mixed in.

We saw so many cool fish! There were black fish with neon yellow tails and blue spots on their tails. The spots were so iridescent that they seemed to glow. My favorite fish was a greenish teal color.  It had lots of other colors on its tail and fins like blue, purple and red-orange.  We also saw lion fish, sea cucumbers, anemones, a giant hermit crab and a few sharks.

Cool coral.  Our guide pointed out an octopus tentacle hanging out of the crack at the bottom.

Cool coral. Our guide pointed out an octopus tentacle hanging out of the crack at the bottom.

There were also several really interesting types of coral.  Some looked like they had mazes in their patterns.  Another had projections that looked like a stag’s horns.

We found out later that the place we were snorkeling was part of an “underwater trail” connected to the nearby  Cahuita National Park. When we were in the water we  could still see the shore, and could swim in any direction and find things to look at.  Most of the fish were in the places where there was lots of coral.

This shark was resting on the bottom.

This shark was resting on the bottom.

I can’t wait to snorkel again in Belize!

 

Rafting the Pacuare

Swimming break

Swimming break

We decided to go rafting in a rather roundabout manner.  I was looking into transit from the San Jose area to the Caribbean coast (about a 4-hour drive), and found that there was a rafting company that would pick you up in one place and bring you back to another — door to door service each way.  Given the cost of a shuttle for the same distance, and the fact that we got breakfast and lunch thrown into the bargain, it was a pretty good deal.  The only downside was that our hotel pickup time was 5:45am.

Natural water slide

Natural water slide

We were initially supposed to raft the Reventazón river, because the Pacuare was for age 12 and up only.  However, they let us know a few days in advance that due to low water levels this would likely be boring for all but little kids.  After a bit of back and forth, we worked out a deal — they would take us to a separate section of the Pacuare, where there were no Class IV rapids.  So, we were all alone in our one raft, with no photographers present — so sadly, no good rapids photos!  We were too busy paddling.

We came back from our short hike to find this lovely snack laid out for us.    When snacks are provided on outings here, they usually consist of a whole watermelon and/or pineapple fresh cut on the scene.

We came back from our short hike to find this lovely snack laid out for us. When snacks are provided on outings here, they usually consist of a whole watermelon and/or pineapple fresh cut on the scene.

A couple of days ago we went white-water rafting.  It was really fun.  We got to swim and eat pineapple and watermelon.  We also went for a hike.

There are five classes of rapids.  Class I is the calmest.  We did classes I, II, and III.  When the guide yelled “Forward!”, we paddled.  When he said, “Backward” we paddled backward.  There were other commands like “lean in!” and “left/right back” and “get down!”  If we didn’t act quickly enough, the boat could flip over.  Lanie decided not to paddle so she only had to lean in and get down.

The end point of our hike

The end point of our hike