Friday, January 23, 2009

Costa Rica!!

(Still) Having a few issues with the photos right now in blogger... will try again tomorrow night.

Well – we started off with a couple of days on a farm near Siquirres, which is about 2 hours North East of San Jose. We did well with getting a local bus there, costing us only $4 each! We even managed to get off at the right stop and not have our bags stolen (mainly because I was watching the baggage compartment like a hawk every time we stopped!). We had some nice local food before getting a taxi (quite a unsuccessful journey!) to Brian’s farm up towards the mountains and Turrialba area. It’s not really a farm as we would imagine here in the UK – it’s more an area of land that you can occasionally farm things from – there were some unbelievably tasty lemony orange things on the trees outside the guesthouse we stayed in and we hiked to where some of the locals were chopping up a tree that had fallen for wood (massive tree, very impressive). So we spent the days lazing around in the hammock – watching the birds and listening / trying to look for the frogs. Brian is ‘the’ guy to go to in Costa Rica if you want to see some serious frogs – which I did (and Rob was very soon to realise he did too!). We went out on two hikes – both at dusk / beginning of the night and within about 5 minutes managed to spot the one frog I’d definitely wanted to see (red eyed tree frog) – apparently they are really common here – although the ones we saw (about 5 or 6 in total) over the days we stayed with Brian were the only ones we saw the whole holiday (though we could hear some in the other places we stayed, we couldn’t see them). We hiked further into the farm on the second night and found the second frog I wanted to see but didn’t think we would – a glass frog – the one we saw (the one below) is an Ilex glass frog. We saw some other very cool frogs (the red eyed stream frog being my third favourite) and all round had a good frog spotting relaxing start to the trip!

From Siquirres we then took another local bus to Limon, then another bus down to Puerto Viejo, which is almost as south as you can get on the Caribbean coast without hitting Panama. It’s a very relaxed place with a bit of a reputation, and being offered hair braids and drugs within about 10 minutes of getting off the bus you realise why it has that reputation! Pretty place though and it was nice to see the Caribbean Sea again after so long! The place we stayed at was cool; we had our own little bungalow with a nice hammock and table etc. We also had a nice little bird watching bench around one side of the bungalow which we sat at one morning getting photos of the humming bird. We spent some time on the beach, playing in the waves, checking out the beaches further down the coast etc. We were told that this was one of the best places to see a sloth (they have two-toed and three-toed sloth’s in Costa Rica) and although I spent a lot of time gazing up into the threes that Brian had told us they like the most – we didn’t see one. I was gutted as although you can see them anywhere; this was supposed to be the place! Anyway, we got a taxi to the bus station to get our nice 4.5 hour bus journey back to San Jose and one the way we saw this one in the road!! Such a funny creature – it totally just stopped, looked up at the taxi, and then continued to walk around towards the trees!

So back for another crappy night’s sleep in San Jose before our ridiculous 6am pickup for the rafting trip. We were on the four day trip which meant a day of rafting into the lodge half way down the river, then two days hanging out at the lodge and doing trek’s etc, then another day of rafting out. The first day’s rafting was pretty tame (call II and III rapids), but the last day’s rafting out was going to be III and IV rapids so that was the exciting day! The lodge itself was beautiful, all made of wood and three stories high – which was a little worrying from a structural point of view, especially taking into account our lovely stone bathroom up there on the third floor! Great food and cocktails at 5pm every day it was a great place to spend Christmas. We did a day trekking out to a farm on horses (clearly the best ‘four-wheel-drive’ vehicles about!) – as most of you know, Rob and I are not a fan of getting around by horse (although for some reason we keep ending up on horse treks) – we both spent most of the day scared half to death, there were some very steep parts to the trek and I think I would have been much happier to get off and walk most of it! We trekked out to a Tilapia farm and did a little bit of old school fishing (both Rob and I caught fish and had them for dinner) then around to Jose’s (the horse owner) house for lunch and to check out Jose’s collection of snakes and a cayman (stayed well back) then back to the stables and a nice walk through the forest back to the lodge. Nights were spent eating and drinking until about 9pm when they turned the generator off and everything went dark! For Christmas day we walked up into the rainforest and then followed a river back towards some huge boulders that had been made into a cool natural waterslide by the river water. So we grabbed the rice sacks and had a few goes – lots of fun! The last day rafting out was really good – we ended up in the raft with a bunch of male Americans that were really into the whole macho thing. Rob and I sat at the back of the raft – which is a change for us as we usually sit at the front, and I’m glad we did as the macho Americans did most of the paddling work and when you are at the back you really have to get right into the rapids before you see how big they are – and they were BIG. Lots of fun though – the guide we had was pretty game for a laugh and tended to take us the hard way into and out of rapids and we only got stuck once!

Another crappy night in the crappy San Jose hostel and then we were on the bus North to Arenal to see the volcano (hopefully) and try the canyoning that had been recommended to us by people on the rafting trip. Arenal was probably the first proper ‘touristy’ place we went – plenty of expensive restaurants and bars, and most of the prices started to appear in US$ rather than Colones. No visibility of the volcano on the first day, the second day we went canyoning and it was great fun – a lot less scary than I thought it would be – some photos below but they really don’t do the heights of the waterfalls any justice! The first one was 100 ft high and the second one was 250 ft high. Crazy. Had some great food afterwards and went into the ‘town’ with a few of our fellow cayoners for some beers, then met up with them again for dinner. Our final day in Arenal and we finally got to see the volcano! Very nice it was too – all sorts of stuff coming out the top. We spent the day in the hot springs / spa place – very well organised and super pretty, very strange climbing into hot water when it’s so hot outside though – and in my head streams are always cold! Had a lovely massage in the spa that removed all my aches from the previous day’s canyoning and a fabulous lunch in their restaurant complimented by a margarita! Early night for an early start of our dodge journey from Arenal to Monteverde via Jeep-Boat-Jeep.

Well – apart from them picking us up an hour late, the journey wasn’t bad at all – very long with a typical stop off at a mate’s restaurant / shop for us all to buy overpriced food / stuff! Our place in Monteverde was in a great location, we were able to walk into the town of Santa Teresa (which seemed more touristy than Monteverde) and also walk to the cloud forest reserve, and have a bunch of nice restaurants, cafes and bars close too. Monteverde was again very tourist orientated but we got to see some more frogs, and had a nice walk about the cloud forest – although we did see more wildlife at the café outside the cloud forest than we actually saw in the forest – but, I guess animals are smart and they know humans feed them! Saw some more humming birds although I think the photos look much better with real flowers in rather than the ugly plastic feeders! The second day here we got to do the ‘official’ zip line canopy tour thing – it was a bit cattle like – everyone in, take the money, everyone on, everyone off etc. It was very very cool being that high up above the canopy and it really gave you a great view of just how massive the forest is – you are basically 500 + feet above the ground on a bit of wire, and I think the top speed is 40mph. Add in the 65mph winds and it was a very exciting morning!! The longest of the lines was about 750m – great fun, highly recommended! That was New Year’s Eve so we went out and had a few celebratory drinks and a nice meal – very grown-up New Years eve, no throwing up or anything! The next morning we were up early and off to the reserve – we decided we were close enough to walk there - but I think we must have guessed where we were on the map wrong because it was a quite the hike! We walked up to the continental divide – saw a few birds but generally not that much, we saw much more wildlife at the visitors centre where the visitors were feeding the animals!! Saw some more humming birds – managed to get extremely close and now understand why they are called humming birds.

From Monteverde we took the supposed ‘easy’ route to Montezuma – this was a tourist bus that advised saying it made getting around Costa Rica easy – having taken local buses up to now we thought we would treat ourselves – especially as this trip involved a local bus, a ferry and then another bus. Anyway – something went wrong with the booking and they didn’t pick us up. As we had the receipt our hotel person told us it was their responsibility to get us to Montezuma. So we sat around for a while waiting to see what happened… eventually a taxi appeared and we started off towards the ferry port. It’s a fairly scary journey down to the port as you go from a reasonable altitude (5600 ft) to sea level, along what appeared to be ridges and saddles between the mountains. I say appeared to be because of the speed we were travelling, I was just happy I wasn’t getting a closer look else I think I would have been even more scared than I was. Eventually we got down to sea level and paved roads (seatbelt on then for the driver) and we figured that either the driver was in a really big rush, or he was trying to get us to the port by a certain time. There were some scary moments in the town where he was just overtaking (on the wrong side of the road) the whole line of people waiting at the red light, then when he got to the front of queue he’d just jump the light! We arrived at the ferry port at 10.58 – just in time for the 11am ferry! The ferry was OK – packed but it was nice to be on the sea again! We picked up the bus on the other side of the ferry and everything was going smoothly until we pulled over to side of the road with a blown radiator! Luckily Rob and I were prepared by this point for the fact that something else might not go right so we calmly got the beers out of our back packs and started drinking! Eventually we got to Cabano and then got a taxi to Mal Pais and to the hotel. Mal Pais was beautiful and dusty. Very dusty. But some awesome sunsets and lovely beaches and great places to eat (we had some unbelievably good argentine chicken and some great pizza!). We had a fun couple of days just exploring and then we hired a quad bike to check out the beaches a bit further away – lots of fun driving it on the beach! We decided that we’d done enough cheapo travel and so we got the small plane back to San Jose rather than the 6 hour bus and then a taxi to our very cool and crazy hotel. I think you could probably stay for a week in that hotel and notice something new every day. Very arty / decorations / sculptures etc. Lovely room and probably the best food of the trip (bar the argentine chicken).

So all round – a great trip! The only thing I would recommend – do not fly with Delta!

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