Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Costa Rica: December 30, 2009

One interesting thing about the little bit of Costa Rica that I've seen is that everyone gets up really early.  It could how early the sun comes up or it could be that it is a primarily tourist economy, and tourists like to milk every minute they have, but I noticed here than other placed we've traveled.  At 6 am, people are up and things are starting to buzz.  It could be the howler monkeys that wake everyone up too.  So yeah, another beautiful morning, already 70 degrees.

view outside the Wood Chalet.

Anyway, today Danielle planned a nature hike in the National Park for us, and was recommended a guide (Estel) by the office of Manual Antonio Estates.  Estel and her driver picked us up promptly at 7 and after getting another small group, we were soon on our way to the park.  We had to stop outside the park while Estel purchaced guided tickets for us, so the taxi driver flipped down an LCD screen in the van an put on a DVD of Michael Jackson videos.  Strange, but soon we were on our hike.  Estel was more of a photographer than a guide, and really didn't have much to say about animals or plants unless asked.  What can I say, the naturalist/botanists at Lapa Rios spoiled us...  Estel was mostly just more interested in seeing and being seen by other guides.  But while I found her a little tedious, she did have the ability to spot wildlife with her Swarovski field scope, and she managed to come up with a few things to say about the animals we peered at through her scope (which would also photograph!)

Jesus Christ lizard.  (runs on water..?)

three-toed sloth.

Overall I found Manual Antonio to be boring and crowded and not worth the $90 we paid.  We stayed at the beach which was, well, a beach.  Honestly, the beach wasn't much of anything special.  Yes, the water was warm but the press of the crowds made it uncomfortable for me, and I really missed the seclusion of the deep rainforest.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Costa Rica: December 29, 2009

It has been an eventful past day or so.  Right after last entry, on our way to dinner, a foot and a half long Fer-de-Lance was coiled up by the walk way leading to our cabin.  These are extremely venomous snakes of the viper family, and are known for being unpredictable and often aggressive.  It was coiled up in a defensive position, bobbing its head from side to side.  The snake was clearly distressed by a couple of people who obliviously stomped by while returning from the night hike.

We asked someone from the hike to go get the naturalist guide and verify that it was the fer de lance.  When he eventually arrived and confirmed the species, he used his walking stick to persuade it off the walkway and down into the underbrush.  The snake was not interesting in fleeing however, and actually tried to get back on the walkway.

Danielle had a hard time focusing on her dinner after the encounter, but I was personally thrilled to get some pictures and finally see the snake we heard so much about.  That evening, our last night at Lapa Rios, we made a decision to visit an Animal sanctuary in the morning before our flight back to Pavas airport.  We spent the rest of the evening getting to know the Canadian family and went to bed just before midnight.  The next morning our Tico breakfast was waiting and we said goodbye to Lapa Rios.

We arrived at the doc in Puerto Jimenez and a nice 40 minute boat ride brought us to the shore of the mainland, across Gulfo Dulce, to an animal sanctuary just on the border of the Piedras Blancas National Park ( the dark green spot on the map ).  The animal sanctuary was amazing.  

Soon after the boat pulled up to the shore, the owner, a volunteer and a very special temporary residant named Sweetie (a 6 year old spider monkey) waited to greet us.  Sweetie went immediately to Danielle, grabbed her hand, and pulled her down to show her where a spider (brown recluse family) had bitten her two years prior. It was amazing and I was speechless.  She was doing exactly what she was naturally supposed to do -- socialize and be groomed by others.  Were we taught that she was about equivalent in maturity of a teenage girl. Soon the hormones would kick in and she would venture off into the wild to search for a mate...but currently, she loved the attention, and her adopted family of the sanctuary.

Pulling up to the sanctuary

It was amazing being that close to a wild animal.  Aside from the rules not to hold her, she loved the attention and spent time checking out everyone in our small tour group.  Continuing on in the sanctuary, we saw a pair of coatis, macaws (they'd been kept in cages with no perch, so their wings had become deformed...they can no longer fly except in a straight line),  a wolverine and wild pig -- both of which thought they were guard dogs because of how inhumanly were raised.  Moving on, we got to see two sloths, a kinkajou, and finally an enormous enclosure containing a troop of white faced monkeys.  This was probably the most touching part of the tour for me because these animals (think organ grinder monkey) all came from abusive beginning where their hope of returning to the wild is almost nil.  I'll never get the image of the poor female that would clutch her hands together under her chin, shake her head rapidly, and rock back and forth nervously.  Apparently she was forced in darkness and solitude in someone's basement for the majority of her life.  Not like I needed additional evidence that humans and monkeys share recent lineage, but would be easy to see how a human would develop similar behavior and psychological disorders if forced in similar conditions.  It's heartbreaking to see first hand what harm people can do to animals that should just be left alone.  I forgot his name, the American that bought those 800 acres 14 years ago and left behind a successful career to peruse a dream, but I hope he's able to keep going.  The locals mostly just don't have the appreciate of their environment yet.  He has had some luck hiring ex-poachers however, but it's hard when the culture of this area is to hunt.  A number of animals have nearly been driven to extinction due to poaching or exporting.  For instance, only 1 out of every 75 scarlet macaws makes it alive through the export process.  Or the Ocelot for instance -- a small cat of the region -- can be sold for exporters for $10,000.

A pair of two-toed sloths that were found on the ground near the sanctuary.  Apparently if they fall, the mother doesn't have the energy to go back down and rescue them.  It's true, they move very slowly...  these two were found near the sanctuary.

Soon we were back on the boat and sitting on a bumpy flight to Pavas, followed by a short flight to Quepos.

We arranged transportation to Manual Antonio Estates and were a little disappointed with the "Wood Chalet" -- maybe 25 years ago it was something special, but with the heat, damp air, and complete shade, the whole place had a mildew smell.  It was a little bit of a shock because we essentially had just come from paradise.  We opened up all the windows and set the fans to high and tried not to let the accommodations get us too down.  It was late afternoon, so we decided to walk down to the town of Quepos...we found this town pretty depressing.  Personally it reminded me of any town poor town in mexico I've ever seen, except without all the tourist trinket shops.  Our main reason staying here was to be near Manual Antonio National Park, so we tried to keep that in mind. People seemed nice however, despite the barbed wire fences and bars on all the windows just like we saw in San Jose.  Unless you had the money to live in a gated community, you better invest on heavy duty bars and razor wire.

We picked up some Costa Rican beer (Imperial) and a few items at a little store. Danielle made us a delicious beans and rice dinner back in our gated community, then it was off to bed.

Costa Rica: December 28, 2009

It will be a little sad to leave Lapa Rios, but more adventure awaits.  Last night after dinner we spotted two vine snakes and a walking stick on our way back to the room.  After ushering out a cockroach from one of the beds, we retired with the sound of the waves and chirping geckos.  This morning we hiked the ridge trail with Danilo.  Muddy, but educational and a good workout.

Blooms once a year.  Though they probably tell every guest that.

Poison dart frog..No tocar!

Little squirrel monkey

We also got a great lecture on medicinal plants.  The kerosene plant which smells like mango, is flammable, and also acts as an insect repellent.  Danielle spotted a coati, which apparently is about as common as raccoons here, but isn't nocturnal.  She also spotted another vine snake, though this one apparently packed a bite.  We walked through primary forest (never cut down) and secondary, both of which have the ground level, the under story, sub canopy, canopy and emergents. After returning and washing some clothes in the shower, it was off to lunch.  Then another stroll to the beach where we encountered a group of squirrel monkeys crossing the tops of the trees.  After a little while at the beach, it was back to the resort and a stop by the pool where we kept company with four bats under the roof of the pool-side hut.  Soon some howler monkeys gave us a good show, as well as a toucan and a great curasow.   

Lapa Rios continues to impress and educate.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Costa Rica: December 27, 2009

Awesome rainstorm last night.  Our first night in the jungle was fantastic.  After coffee and a quick breakfast, we went on a 3 hour nature hike to a waterfall.  Nice group and an another excellent guide.  The guides here are all very well educated locals, and it's very clear they love their backyard.

(the lodge provides the boots!)

After the hike, we had some idle time...which was weird.  I kept reminding myself to enjoy every second of not having something to do.

Costa Rica: December 26, 2009

We checked out of the Mariott and had an uneventful early morning cab ride to Pavas regional airport.  A quick breakfast, and we're boarded on a 20 seat Nature Air prop plane headed south to Puerto Jimenez on the Peninsula de Osa -- our destination was adjacent to Corcovado National Park.

Fun, but cramped plane ride.  I should have taken the aisle seat, but I would have missed some good shots..

When we landed we were met by the staff of Lapa Rios, which is a generator-powered eco-nature-wilderness-lodge 40 miles from no where in the middle of the rain forest.  After a quick wifi sign-off and a young coconut welcome drink, we were ushered to the back of a 4x4 for a bumpy ride to the lodge.

Our Cabin (#4) was incredible.  Perched about 800 feet overlooking the pacific ocean.  We had our own private sun-filled deck with a hammock for relaxing. No glass on the windows -- just a rough mesh to keep out the large insects at night.  And thankfully no air conditioning.

This was the view of our deck

We signed up for a night hike, settled in the room, had a delicious lunch (tres gallos for me), took a quick dip in the pool (salt water), then a hike to check out the beach.  En route we spotted some spider monkeys in the trees.  Beach was nice, but a little rocky.  Soon it was off to the night hike, which was fantastic.  Our naturalist guide, Danilo, was a botanist with 22 years experience in the rain forest.  We saw a vine snake, a giant toad, bullfrogs, scorpions, geckos, fresh water shrimp, iguana, giant spiders and even larger cockroaches.

The rain forest is awesome.

Another delicious meal at the lodge with two glasses very chilled Merlot -- I thought that was amusing, but it was 80 deg at 9:45 at night, so it was perfect.  The sound of the jungle was all around and the crash of the surf added to the soundtrack.  I remember thinking to myself that I didn't want to sleep so as to soak up every drop, but I couldn't wait to fall asleep to the sound of nature.  I heard no machines.  Danielle said that Lapa Rios, "under promises and over delivers" and I think that's pretty accurate.

Costa Rica: December 25, 2009

We arrived in the capital of Costa Rica (San Jose) via Miami on Christmas eve. Taxi ride to Marriott outside of the city, then straight to bed.  Early on Christmas morning, I slept in and Danielle booked an ariel tram tour departing at 10 am. We ordered a quick quick Tico breakfast of rice and beans and eggs and bacon for me (also Lizano salsa for me -- as common as tobasco sauce) and we were off.  The tram was fantastic, and was followed by a delicious lunch and a cheesy nature walk. Leaf cutter ants were everywhere. 

Dense primary forest outside of San Jose

Massive trees.  Looked like broccoli

a bug

On the bus ride back, it was interesting to see the town of San Jose.  While there's a lot of Americans in Costa Rica, they haven't brought a lot of Americana with them, so no sprawling strip malls and fast food restaurants.  I did see the golden arches, but it was right next to the airport.  Most stores are just concrete cubes with roll-up garage doors.  Also interesting to learn was that they mostly don't have street names...just the major intersections have names.  Addresses in Costa Rica are descriptive, even for large international hotels, and can read like:  "400 meters north west from the intersection of X and Y, fourth building on the right."  We debated back and forth, but I'm glad we opted for not renting a car. 

Christmas dinner (expensive) back at hotel.  

Smiles, wine and wifi.