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Costa Rica 2016 General

Costa Rica 2016 Day Six – Tortuguera to Cahuita

An amazing day and among the best of the trip. We breakfasted well and having settled the bar bill which was approaching the size of the GDP of Swaziland, I decided it would be a good time to try the hammocks. Epic fail. The rope couldn’t stand my enhanced weight and I dropped like a stone to the deck where I bounced straight up again a bit like a wheeble. Great hilarity all round and luckily only my pride was seriously hurt.  

 Into the boat for a fantastic three hour high speed boat ride through the park on a waterway that ran parallel with the coast for about 45 miles. The luggage was substantial which meant grounding at times and there was one moment when we thought we might need to get out and push, not such a good idea given the crocodiles which were in evidence. 

  
Occasional light showers but most of the time fresh air in the face, sun in the sky, the most incredible scenery with monkeys and bird life to be spotted along the way. This could have gone on all day for several days as far as I was concerned.   

 Eventually Willy dropped us off in the industrial outskirts of Limon, where we were supposed to be transferred to a local bus to take us to Cahuita, but the majority voted to pay an extra $5 to stay on the mini bus all the way, a decision which seemed very practical given the amount of luggage and that the public bus might be full or delayed etc. So we arrived in the sleepy village of Cahuita earlier than scheduled and had lunch in Ricky’s bar after checking into the Hotel Vas, where we were please to see a large room and a swimming pool.

After lunch we walked through the town and towards the Tree of Life animal refugee, but after walking for an hour or so in humid and showery conditions we returned to the hotel just short of the final destination which was supposedly 3km from town but turned out to be more like 3miles. A lovely let stretch though and I topped it off with a swim in the sea at a stretch of black sand beach that had been cleared of coconuts and driftwood and was just near an elegant looking yoga resort. 

We stopped at a reggae bar for a margarita on the way back and took in the views of the rough surf and the classic Caribbean palm lined playa negra. 

Fully refreshed we went out to a lovely Restuarant that evening on the sea front where instead of snapper we had fillet of sea bass. We had to move when a torrential downpour forced us all indoors, but that also meant we got to see the sloth making its way along the telephone wires at a surprisingly fast pace for a sloth.  

 We were ourselves sloth-like in leaving for the hotel and missed the kareoke which sounded like the group had a hilarious time when we heard the reports back. 

A lovely day. 

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Costa Rica 2016 General

Costa Rica 2016 Day Three – La Fortuna

Waking to the sound of traffic confirmed we were very much in the centre of the town and we made our way down the street a few hundred metres to a very nice establishment for breakfast of smooths and eggs and beans – this time in Valentines Day mode, with the chair backs sporting red muslin. 

Thereafter we were at a loose end. Not for us the sinew straining summit of the local flat volcano, but rather some gentle souvenir hunting, including some slothful fridge magnet shopping and an amble down the road to the bridge where we should see the very same, although the reality was iguanas rather than snoozing fur balls.  

    
    
   
Marciscos fish lunch after a very lazy morning, and whole sea bass fried substituted for snapper was delicious and nutritious. While settling up a taxi became free and we headed for the Ecotherm hot springs a little way out of town on the way to the volcano.

$36 well spent we thought as we changed in good modern facilities and then barefooted down to the choice of five pools all of which boiled us gently to varying degrees as we sipped our piña coladas under a canopy of green jungle foliage. What a tough life. 

Two hours was enough to both go wrinkly and get dehydrated despite replenishing ourselves with drinks from the bar.  After avoiding the lead cutter ant procession back to the elegant but hot water free changing rooms, we were back to the town with our same taxi driver via the funeral cortège. We freshened up for our meeting with the rest of the group for dinner at a typical Caribbean themed sports bar and restaurant where we had coconut shrimp and seared tuna respectively.  After a pleasant evening getting to know some of the larger group who we were now joining with, we retired to the domed bar over the road for a nightcap or two.  

    
   

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Costa Rica 2016 General

Costa Rica 2016 Day Four – Tortugera

An early start with a quick dash to the ATM as the next few days would otherwise be cashless. Not sure how much we were being charged for taking money out but it seemed very variable. Then we sardined ourselves into the mini-van along with too much personal luggage – you’d think by know we would know etc. and off we went to cross the country for the 130km or so to the North East coastal park area of Tortugera, stopping on our way for a cup of coffee and a couple of bathroom breaks, passing extensive fields of pineapple plantations and banana fields that stretched out forever.  

    


Gloria told us we couldn’t stop at one point due to the drug traffickers that operated in the area. Under cover of banana forests no doubt.

At the final stop we transferred the piles of luggage onto a long slim boat which got lower into the mud banks before a superhuman effort by the prehensile helmsman pushed the bow loose to float again. The human cargo then got on board and donned life vests that superficially covered parts of our torsos. We sped off downriver at waterskiing speeds dodging submerged trees on an adventure much akin to heart of darkness.

We were the last of the groups to disembark at All Rankins lodge at the furthest edge of the small riverside settlement of Tortugera. A very quaint and charming site right on the bank by the airstrip and within a very short walk of the ocean which we could hear clearly from our cabin A set in the middle of the small complex. We were settled in by worldly wise and laid back Willy, an immigrant from Jamaica who had a charming smile and a twinkle in his eye.

After lunch of chicken, rice and beans (and an extremely hot home made fermented kimched type cabbage) all washed down with the odd imperial, we had a free period to explore the area. I headed across the airstrip for a walk along the beach while Heather rested in the humidity of the afternoon. Stunning scenery and miles of deserted brown black sand scoured by rough riptides made the perfect backdrop for some shots of driftwood and the occasional sea bird.  

 Willy then took us by boat to the sea turtle conservation centre where we spotted a flock of green macaws squawking overhead.  

    
 An interesting hour or so learning about the successful conservation project for green turtles although the outcomes for the leatherback and hawksbill varieties were still uncertain.

If fishing was easy.....

We walked into town where sadly a change of plan meant that instead of visiting the Buddha cafe, which looked great, we had a wander through the town which took all of ten minutes before a glass of wine and then back to the lodge for dinner of fish, rice and beans. Tasty although smothered in enough garlic to keep the vampire bats away. We drank Willy out of wine of all types and got to know some of the other members of the party better as a result.

We slept well.

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Costa Rica 2016 General

Costa Rica 2016 Day Five – Tortugera

The start was postponed from 6.30am to 7.30, not due to any fuzzy headedness I hasten to add, but I think because we were on holiday. 

After celebrating one of the party’s birthday and 10th grandchild being born by cake and candles, we were off by boat into the park after buying tickets for entrance at the newly built facility. An amazing few hours followed with sightings of various jungle inhabitants like howler and spider monkeys, baby sloth, iguana, caiman and bundles of birds. Cameras clicking like turnstiles at the big match, we snapped and oohed and aahed away, craning and straining to get the best views and the best shots for the album. Great fun. Eventually after a splendid sighting of a caiman grinning at us from a log down a side creek we sped back into town, happy snappers indeed.  

 We then went on foot to the interior of the park, which complimented the boat trip perfectly. Muddy welly sploshing through the first parts of the short trail we spotted spiders, snakes, anteaters, lizards, more monkeys and Tango the toucan – my personal favourite.  

    
    
 This may be a time when pictures speak better than words and I’ll address that when back in the land of more adequate wifi.  Not complaining though – it was amazing to be able to email from the bus on the wifi from La Fortuna the previous day – isn’t technology remarkable! 

We noticed when getting back for lunch – fish rice and beans were no surprise, that we were leading the drinks leaderboard by some margin. We added a few imperials to our tally and settled in for an afternoon editing photos and enjoying the scenery. 

Back to the village later we avoided kareoke by a whisker and instead settled for rice with prawns before a fresh shower on the boat trip back, Gloria having rescued tile slapping dominoe playing Willy from the local taverna. 

An early night and we left the nocturnal frogs in peace, deciding we’d had enough wildlife for one day.  

    
    
    
 

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Costa Rica 2016 General

Costa Rica 2016 Day Two – La Fortuna/Arenal

After a good breakfast with fresh fruit, rice and beans and egg to set us up for the day, we set off by taxi to the bus terminal where we found a very smart terminal buzzing with comfortable quality coaches heading for various destinations across the country. 

    
 Ours took about 4 1/2 hours to go the 131 km – a journey which would take about 2hrs 40 minutes by self drive car. It was more enjoyable to spend the time on board, looking at the terrific views and the regular stops to pick up locals gave added interest.

We climbed to 1600 metres and agreed with Gloria that sitting in the front made sense as the road snaked its way through hills and valleys. The vegetation changed constantly, although I was sorry that I hadn’t photographed the beautiful orange blossomed tree we saw in and around San Jose as they disappeared shortly after leaving the city. We saw over 100 raptors, including two types of buzzard and a vulture. Obviously loads of small mammals about in the dense sugar cane fields and lush pastures.

After three hours we stopped briefly for a comfort break where two bananas were half the price of going to the bathrooms, but it was good to get out and stretch the legs, although we nearly left David behind when he was slightly tardy getting back in the coach. We handed back our pass tickets and the rest of the trip was busy, with standing passengers swaying as we continued to make slow but steady progress across the low lying fertile plains that led to the Arenal volcano and the nearby tourist town of La Fortuna.  

    

The weather changed from clear sunny skies at the start to cloudy and drizzly conditions near the end, so sadly the volcano we had come to see was shrouded in low cloud although the shape of it was still unmistakeable.

We checked in to the Cabinas Oriuma hotel – well more of a motel really, after a short walk from the bus station at La Fortuna de San Carlos. After booking the walking tour for the 3pm departure with Desiano tours in the town, we had a swift tasty salad and smoothie at a lovely new restaurant near the centre. The hotel is basic but central, and once we were given towels and the remote for the television we decided against the extra $10 for air conditioning, just relying on the ceiling fan to spread the humidity around the room a bit.

We were picked up by Julio and the travel company and bumped our way across town to pick up a very pleasant and friendly American family from New York whose two young girls were obvious adrenaline junkies by the sound of their itinerary.

The trip up the slopes of the primary forest to the foot skirts of the volcano was contrastingly low key.

Once there, we enjoyed views over the lake while we balanced on the lava flow from the 1992 eruption. Up to 6 years ago the site of the volcano must have been spectacular, with regular rock eruptions, ash and gas and at night, hot rocks visible at a distance. Today, although the volcano is graded as “active” it looked very passive. All was quiet apart from the oriol birds in the forest making a loud call while apparantly self righting themselves on branches although we never saw them do this. We saw one fly overhead and several parrots as well as things that were called turkeys although they looked like large fat pigeons to me.  

    
 After an imperial beer back in the coach we were back to the town where we met for dinner at 7.30 at the Caribbean Restuarant we had looked at earlier for a dinner of seared tuna and coconut shrimp.

We had decided against the tough hike the following day, although David was up for that, so he retired early while we sat up for a glass of wine across the road from our hotel where we greeted Gloria going out for a late night out with a local guide in tow.

An early-ish night for us too after battling the sticking bathroom door. The traffic noise couldn’t compete with our tiredness so a good rest was had in temperatures that were much less sticky than they had need earlier on. The hotel owners had both got very new very expensive cars which I first thought were the results from profiteering on the hotel side given the very basic nature of the accommodation but I later read were probably because they were also the local vets as well as hoteliers.  

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Costa Rica 2016 General

Costa Rica 2016 Day One – San Jose

We flew from Heathrow with Avianca airline – Colombia’s national carrier. We had a great meal in Heston’s Perfection Cafe in the massively improved and very smart Terminal 2 after having been dropped off by wobbly Rod (car wheels need aligning). Heston’s fish and chips were brilliant – crispy and light, with an optional pickled onion spray which became my base perfume for the evening.

The flight went well, with some red wine to ease the journey and we were soon waking up to the descent into Bogota, where things were understandably quiet at 3.30am their time (8.30 ours). The cafe opened at 5am in the impressive and spotlessly clean terminal. Just after we were ripped off by the shop for two bottles of water for $10.50. Why do they do that? It doesn’t do their tourist trade any good.

The cafe served brilliant coffee – Colombian of course and cheese and jam with pitta type breads.

The short flight to San Jose set off on time at 8am local and 90 minutes and a squashed empanada later we bumped through the turbulence to a landing applauded by many of the other passengers and we were in cloudy but warm Costa Rica.

A short transfer by pre-arranged taxi to the Hotel Rincon where we left bags and went out to wander the city before getting access to our room after 2pm.

I’m afraid it has to be said – San Jose isn’t the prettiest of cities. That’s being kind.

We looked for redeeming features but didn’t find any to speak of although the downtown area leading to the central market coughed up some increasingly bizarre examples of humankind and the market itself was a medieval labyrinth of offal and loofahs.

The El Patio Restuarant in the Balmoral Hotel gave us coffee and respite from the wind chill factor behind a curtain of plastic sheltering us from the cacophony of the central avenue walking street. 5 loud Americans left us to the slothful service which was later apologised for as we shivered our wait for the perplexing change from the 10,000 Colones note we had paid for the $6 bill.

I was thinking it was expensive at $33 based on my misunderstanding of the exchange rate so it was a relief to recalibrate my thinking and realise that 500 colones to the dollar – 750 to the pound, was going to make this holiday less expensive than first thought.

The Steifl pub that was supposed to offer good craft beer disappointingly didn’t sell white wine, only red. This was another recurring theme of the city as well as an apathy for serving customers that left us cold to the welcome – colder than the increasing wind chill, so we left there and after rejecting one traditional restuarant and being stumped by the closure of another ended up walking back to one we had seen earlier which had a balcony overlooking the Avenida Central which looked a good spot for lunch and people watching.

Locals had filled up the place with a lively noisy atmosphere which we added to with sizzling fajitas and enchiladas and a glass of white to enjoy while dodging the draughts slicing through the plastic sheeting dividing us from the throngs below.

On the way back there was a red carpet out in front of one of the few decent looking buildings to welcome what was obviously an important visitor and presumably designed to stop them dropping into one of the potholes or disappearing into the deep gutter on the side of the road lined with saluting guards and flashing policemen (the bikes, not the bobbies).

We got access to our room and were able to shower change and rest having met Gloria the diminutive but irrepressibly cheerful Cusconite guide who would be our guide for the trip.

The hotel settled us in nicely into our small and slightly damp dungeon like room – of course leaving and entering could only be achieved by push button security from the front desk which made the place feel a little more like a leafy prison than it did to start with when we had to wait for our genial jailor to release us onto the streets for a vain attempt to get a glass of white wine ahead of our 7pm pre dinner tour meeting. That attempt involved trying to track down the Craic – the local but invisible Irish bar and another attempt to be served white wine after being ignored for a reasonably lengthy time in a cafe filled with other gringos seeking hospitality refuge from the savage streets of hooting trains and polluting buses.

So we settled back in our hotel gardens where happy hour spilled over into happyish two hours over a bottle of Savignon Blanc for £14.

At 7 we joined David and Gloria in the lobby for a brief briefing which we probably should have suggested was done over dinner, but no harm done.

We enjoyed a very pleasant dinner of Fettucine Marisco and Caesar Salad over the road at the Cafe Momba(?) where we tried to work out which 6 cities in Europe Gloria should prioritise on her planned visit. David proved to be very interesting company – a well traveled Spanish origin doctor settled in Ottowa.

And so the day ended back in our dungeon where the noisy dogs and early movers didn’t much interrupt our slumbers.