Archive for August, 2010

Tortuguero

Posted on August 30, 2010 by 2 Comments

The day was one of those days when so much happens that you almost forget it has all been one day. The night before we had been stopped by  a torrential rainstorm, and had to find a motel room in the small crossroads town of Muelle.  The room was fine, but the empty restaurant where we’d paid and later grabbed dinner became a karaoke hot spot soon after we went to bed. We don’t know what they were singing, but it was terrible, and they kept it up until late in the night.

We woke up early and headed out to check out a local hot springs. We were pleasantly surprised by a beautiful jungle park alongside a river with 4 pools (2 hot).  It was so nice we considered spending the entire day and camping there, but another rainstorm rolled in and we decided we were better off driving toward the Caribbean.

We drove a few hours to Cariari, where you take a labyrinth of dirt roads though banana fincas to find the boat dock at La Pavona. We showed up and found that the ferry was leaving in about an hour. We packed up our bags for a night without the van and parked Red Beard in the “secure” lot. The boat ride was about $3 USD each and the parking was $10 USD.

Tortuguero is only accessible by boat and about an hour’s ride from the dock. We have been wanting to visit a turtle nesting area for months. Timing, cost and the late nights have prevented it until we reached Tortuguero.

This was the first time we’d seen the Atlantic Ocean since we were on the U.S. Gulf Coast  in November.

The town has a Caribbean vibe and feels much different than not-to-distant Pacific coast. We are definitely in Creole country and most folks speak English as their first language.

The entire town consists of meandering dirt paths that connect the beach-side soccer pitch to the strip of tiendas and trinket sellers. We found a little hotel right next to the soccer field and  Bode ran out to watch the afternoon game and make some new friends.

We had some great Caribbean food that night – there was lot’s of simmering in coconut milk. Later, Bode schooled everyone in how to pick up cute European girls using only finger puppets. Pure genius.

Naturally, we were staying up late to go see some turtles. A guide is required to be on the beach after 6 pm so we signed up with Emilio for $20 USD each (Bode was half that).  Half the money goes to the volunteer organization that helps spot the turtles for visitors and makes sure they are safe. After seeing the thoroughness and checks and balances of the park system rangers, guides, and volunteers  – we were convinced our money was well spent. They are very serious about protecting this habitat.

We were a little unsure if we’d see any turtles, but Emilio assured us there were ‘turtles all over the beach’. A boat picked us up and took us to a station at the end of the beach. Only 8 people are allowed with each guide and each guide is assigned a certain area of the beach. Rangers and volunteers patrol the entire beach to ensure everyone is following the rules.

Our paperwork was checked and we were led out to the beach.  Immediately, the guide walked us to an enormous green sea turtle. She had dug a massive hole and was laying white ping-pong ball size eggs. Apparently they lay over 100 eggs at a time and return 7 more times each season to do it again.  After she finished and was beginning to cover the eggs, she flung sand all over us with her flippers. Everyone was just in awe. These giant creatures can really move some sand.

We walked down the beach where Emilio had found a turtle that was heading back out to sea. We slowly followed behind her to the ocean and watched until we could no longer see her. As we stood there, turtles emerged in the surf on both sides of us, just starting their 2 hour nesting ritual.

We walked the beach and found more turtles laying eggs and then returned to our first turtle to watch her go out to the sea.

Through all this, Bode was pretty amazing. It was late, but he was excited. He asked great questions and was really engrossed in the experience. Regardless of age, you know when you are witnessing a miracle of nature.

Yet another really amazing day.

Unfortunately for us, photography of any kind was not allowed (and closely monitored), as even the camera’s light-sensor might disturb the turtles and send them back out to sea. Since we came away without any turtle photos, we decided we would all create something to remind us what we saw.

While Jason’s may be the most accurate (former sand castle contest champ is on his list of random useless accomplishments,) I do have to mention Bode and I did ours while riding in a VW bus on a dirt road.

Filed Under: Costa Rica

Rio Celeste

Posted on August 28, 2010 by 8 Comments

We had lots of fun with my parents in town. We wrapped up the week with them by hitting a another beach with some great tide pools and interesting sea life.

We also had some time to knock out a few projects on the bus list, like repairing a couple of closet shelves and a thorough cleaning.

More importantly, we managed to get to my parents back to the airport without breaking down.

We had been waiting for our return to Liberia to get some new front tires, so this was our chance.  We met up with Doug and went to get new tires, where the tire guy told us our front right axle nut was really hot. He wouldn’t fix it, so we pulled out with our new tires and fixed it in his parking lot.

Jason had to take it apart and apply lots of grasa to the front bearings and make sure things were adjusted properly and we were on our way. I was glad that it wasn’t with my parents waiting to catch a flight.

We finally got on the road and headed up to Rio Celeste. There is a national park near here that is about 15 miles down a dirt country road, so we went looking for it. Again, we were warned it was 4×4 only, but we had no problems.

We heard a lady offers camping in her front yard, so we went to investigate. Sure enough, it was just her front yard and she wanted to charge us quite a bit for the privilege, so we passed on it. We drove around a bit more following hand-painted wooden signs for cabinas until we found accommodations in what Doug referred to as ‘the halfway house’.

The house was in a lovely valley, but was a muddy hike from the car. It had a bathroom, but no sink in it. The kitchen had a sink and a refrigerator, but no stove or cooking equipment. The walls didn’t quite go all the way to the ceiling. But, it was cheap and that is our usual criteria.

I was putting Bode to bed in one of the rooms when we heard Doug screaming about a giant spider coming up through the shower drain. Neither Bode nor I really wanted to go check it out, so we just decided to pretend we were asleep. Poor Doug.

We were 3 km from the park entrance, which featured an enormous variety of creepy crawly dead things in jars. The hike to the falls was only 2 kilometers, but Jason had sprained his ankle back in Montezuma and it seemed to be getting worse. He waited in the car with his leg up while the rest of us set out down the trail. What they didn’t tell us was the last kilometer involved sliding down a very steep muddy mountain. It was all we could do to keep from sliding all the way down to the bottom and by the end we were covered in dirt and mud. It was worth it.

The water color here is the same shade as the sky. The legend has it that when God was painting the sky, he dipped his brush to clean it into the water at Rio Celeste. It really was pretty amazing.

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Filed Under: Costa Rica

Costa Rica A to Z

Posted on August 27, 2010 by 4 Comments

When we have visitors, we try to get them to write a guest post. Here are my mom’s thoughts on the week…

Highlights of our week in Costa Rica…

Arriving at Liberia airport and seeing Angela, Jason and Bode holding a sign that read “Grammy and Granddaddy.”

Bahía Pez Vella: Our beautiful condo overlooking Sailfish Bay with multiple swimming pools. Bode tried them all.

Casado: Costa Rico’s national dish. A plate containing either fish, pork, chicken, or beef with
rice, beans, and fried plantains. Muy delicioso. The fish sandwiches are also good.

Dead chicken wind chimes.

Eco Tourism. Costa Rico has figured out that preserving the environment attracts tourists which helps the economy which helps provide a stable government.

Friendly, accommodating, laid back locals.

Green Season, recently renamed from the tourist reducing Rainy Season. Not to worry, the rain is only in the late afternoon or at night and lasts half an hour or so.

Howler Monkeys in the morning.

Iguanas and white-faced monkeys eating bananas from Bode’s hand.

Jason driving Red Beard, sans power steering, around curves and up a mountain like it was no big deal. Speed bumps are a redundancy when the roads are narrow, dirt, full of pot holes, and choked with bicyclists carrying passengers on the handle bars. His cooking isn’t bad either.

King sized crocodiles basking in the sun.

Long, lazy afternoons with my family.

Magpie’s that steal your breakfast.

Noodling with Bode at the swimming pool.

Open air dinning and ocean breezes.

Pedicure and shopping with Angela.

Quiet nights with only the sound of the surf.

Rocky the Raccoon who visited every evening. Make sure the door is closed securely or he’ll get in.

Swimming, snorkeling, snuggling, and sunsets. Bode excels in all but one. Sunsets didn’t mean as much to him as they did to the rest of us.

Tinker Toys and tide pools.

Unit thirty-three, complete with Shaggy Dog movie, which we watched every night. Our landlords owned one of the five dog actors in the movie.

Volcanic black sand. It might not be as pretty as white sand but it’s easier to see if you washed it all off.

Watching a mama whale and her calf cruise around for our enjoyment every afternoon.

Xanadu (Utopia) : A vacation in Costa Rica with Angela, Jason, and Bode.

Yellow birds building a nest in the palm tree on the patio.

Zerberts by the dozen from Bode.

Some random quotes from the week:

Bode: “Grammy , let’s play noodling. You wiggle your fingers and I’ll be the fish.”
Grammy: “Ouch!”
Granddaddy: “Didn’t anyone one else see that coming?”

Jason: “Is it still fishing if you don’t touch the pole?”

Angela: “Bode, Grammy is not a piece of playground equipment.”

Granddaddy: “I think that crocodile’s stuffed and nailed in place.”

Angela: “We’re back. Pour the wine, cue the sunset.”

Bode, on leaving our condo: “Can we stay someplace this pretty again tonight?’
Angela: “Uh, probably not.”

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Filed Under: Costa Rica

Bugs, Monkeys and Lizards

Posted on August 26, 2010 by No Comments

We took a river boat cruise to spot wildlife in Palo Verde National Park. It had been 3 days since my parents got here, and until then they had only heard the monkeys in the distance. It was time to see some.

The guided river cruise was great in that they told us all the species you are seeing – especially the birds. We’ve traveled quite a bit to areas where the guidebooks say it’s great for bird watching, but we’re not birders. It definitely makes it more interesting when you have someone to identify them and tell you all about them . We saw at least six types of heron – we even saw a nest with blue eggs.

Up next were the iguanas. We saw plenty along the riverbank, but in one particular spot they seem to be lounging around waiting for us. The guide threw out bits of banana peel and they gobbled it up as quick as they could.


We pulled over and picked a few long seed pods, which the guide said were nicknamed Monkey Guaba. Bode thought they were delicious, the monkeys seemed to prefer the bananas.

When the boat pulled over to a group of Capuchin (white faced) monkeys, they were shy at first. But after a while they were jumping on the boat. We got to feed them bits of banana. We’re not sure this was technically allowed in the park, but the guide provided the bananas and encouraged us. It sure was fun.

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Filed Under: Costa Rica

Meet the Parents

Posted on August 25, 2010 by 1 Comment

We’ve been so lucky to have lots of visitors lately, and we had 2 more VIPs coming in. Grammy and Granddaddy!

My parents came in for a week of relaxation with us and we are all very excited. With them came an entire suitcase of books for all of us, clothes and toys. Perfect timing. The usual hostel trade-in bookshelves are full of terrible reading that I’m too embarrassed to trade-in if anyone is around.

We rented a nice villa, which upon entering Bode declared was “just like a real house.” Not sure how the parents took that. He even had his own room, which he at least started every night in.

We picked up my parents in Liberia, a fairly small town (1 of the 2 international airports in Costa Rica) on my dad’s birthday. We celebrated van style with a box cake and chocolate syrup. Bode immediately wanted all of their attention–they read, played games, watched movies and went swimming every day.

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See You Samara

Posted on August 24, 2010 by 4 Comments

The strange sounds of what we imagined were a loose shock absorber led us to cut our drive short. Hay no problema – we were close to Playa Samara.

Dinner on the beach was great, and topped only by the fact that there was a river running right by the restaurant with other kids playing in it. You mean I can linger after a meal while Bode plays? Awesome.

The next day, unsure of a plan, we decided to check out the beach during daylight before deciding whether or not to move on. After only 10 minutes we decided to stay. The waves were close to perfect and Bode managed to find a friend instantly. We lounged under the shade of a palm tree until the tide started covering the entire beach.

We had lunch at another beach-side restaurant that was also next to the river…meaning the incredibly slow service was also no problema, as Bode was entertained. No crocodiles – we checked.

Jason quickly spotted a man with an incredible mustache. I spent way too long on Google images trying to identify it, but let’s just say it was curly. I hope that it won’t be Jason’s next great idea.

Out of the corner of my eye I see something familiar. I check, double check…and then say “Hey, is that Doug over there?”

It is!

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We Attract ‘Em

Posted on August 22, 2010 by 6 Comments

We said goodbye to Bree and Ray as they headed off to have a more luxurious end to their vacation before returning home to the Bay Area. Good thing, as we had an fairly inglorious departure from Montezuma.

There is a very steep hill just outside of town and we simply couldn’t make it up. Naturally, there was no one else on the road, so I just put it in neutral and rolled all the way back down to town backwards.

Angela and Bode went off to find ice-cream while I went to work. Valves were fine. Timing was good. The mixture on the right carb was off by a full turn. Weird. The right side of this engine is possessed.

We gave it another try and powered up the hill in 1st gear like a champ.

Most of the roads around here are dirt, so guidebooks and strangers give plenty of warnings about driving without a 4×4. I still don’t quite get it – we’ve been fine so far, even though it rains daily and this is supposedly the worst time of year for the roads. Granted, we haven’t taken any routes that require fording rivers, but still, just because a road isn’t paved doesn’t immediately mean that four-wheel drive is required.

However, we did manage to vibrate another shock loose after a few hours of bouncing all over these roads. Easily tightened back up.

Anyway, on to today’s story…

We pulled over to a soda to have some lunch and order up the usual casado. A few minutes later, a guy with long gray hair and no shirt walks in and makes a bee-line right for us.

“You must be the gringos from California!”

Yep – that’s us. He spotted us a few kilometers back and turned his truck around to come find us.

Of course, he had his share of old VW buses over the years and wanted to chat. He joined us at the table and introduced himself as Wayne.

I like preposterous theories, so there’s a theory about anyone named “Wayne” – especially if it’s a middle name – that could apply here. Think serial killers.

It wasn’t even five minutes after sitting down until Wayne tells us that he indeed, has killed a man. Right here in Costa Rica.

He spent most of his life in Minnesota and had a large piece of land near a lake. Life was good until his property was annexed by a nearby town and he had to start paying property taxes he deemed egregious. He sold the property – sold everything – and drove down to Costa Rica to retire.

He told us he paid over $5000 USD in bribes to corrupt border officials and police on his drive down here. I told him I refused to pay a $5 bribe in Honduras and walked away without being thrown in the slammer. He didn’t skip a beat and kept on talking.

He bought some property down here and proceeded to build a house and start retirement. It wasn’t long after that he went to some sort of Christmas party at a local establishment and on his drive home – at 1 am – struck and killed a man who he claims was sleeping in the road.

Things get fuzzy here, but after some brief jail time (2 days, coffee and food was good) he hired a lawyer. Over the next two years he made continuous payments to the lawyer, made donations to the local police force, and payments to the family. When he was finally literally out of money, the whole mess was ruled an accident and  the case was closed. Now a free man, he was effectively stuck in Costa Rica with no money or any way to get back to the US.

He does handy-man type work and seems to be building a business here and getting back on his feet. It’s hard to tell if he likes it here or not and claims that all the ex-pats here are drunks and pedophiles – rejects from the US. We didn’t ask which one he was.

We bought him his cup of coffee and thanked him for the conversation before continuing our way up the peninsula.

I wonder who we would have met today if we were driving a Toyota?

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