’06 Costa Rica

“fireflies spinning – sloth smiling – Chardi sipping – minds buzzing”

No entiendo ingles [noh ab-la eeng-gless]

Alajuela Thursday 28th Sep; we’re just out of San Jose its 10:30 pm our bags are just dropped in the room as we hie back to the to sup a Costa Rican beer and salute the start of 2 1/2 weeks.

Dawn, awake @ 5:30, like heck rollover and slowly surface @ 7:30 before our quick tour of Sarchi and Coffee Plantation plus whatever we can fit in on the way to La Paz. Sarchi is the home of the ‘painted wagon wheel’ and the Coffee Plantation is where coffee is grown! Ah to experience a really true flavoursome ‘espresso’ [my acceptance of coffee wherever I am has now been ruined – Costa Rican coffee is something to experience] Just had to buy 1.5 kilo’s for home. Our ‘tourismo’ taxi via Grecia ‘Steel’ Cathedral – I kid you not this is made of steel sheets. Then we are off upwards to La Paz [Peace Valley Waterfall Gardens] via ‘S’ bends, greenery and Volcanoes in the distance – just awesome.

We’re about 1300 m above sea level, humidity is high and the temperature is mild, our attitude is casual and the language barrier is about 80% against. I had the time to learn some Espanola… the arrogance of a Gringo!

La Paz [Peace Valley]: Reception hangs off the valley wall – looking from the balcony its about 2 storeys down the roof line of the Accommodation units. The Valley is mist filled with the wafting sounds of birds and cascading water drifting up to me. So off
down the walkway to the ‘terracotta roofed cabaña’s with a 67 lb kayak back pack. At this point in time I’m just a whisker from completing the a truly disappearing ‘Cheshire Grin’ [Alice in Wonderland – I am] The door opens into the cabaña… if this is a standard suite I’d need to be royalty to do justice to the Luxury suite. A king-size 4 poster bed is set off by a daybed that looks thru the window past the hammock and the dropping view down into the valley. Then there’s the Jacuzzi tub on the balcony plus the waterfall featured 3/4 bathroom with an open plan shower… all in tile and timber… none of that rank ommercial stuff here – it appears to all be local material.

Do we run the Jacuzzi? Fill the bath tub with the accompanying waterfall and wash our cares away? Or have a Chardi?

I fall to my knees and offer a ‘salaam’ to D the greatest holiday planner I know. then we have a Chardi!

Buenos Dias [bwennass dee-yass]

What an opening to a holiday. There’s a Trout farm; Ranarium [frog house]; Serpentarium [snake house]; Mariposa Garden [butterfly house]; Calibres [Hummingbirds – just magic] and then there’s the easy hike down trail past cascades, waterfalls and rainforest vegetation… birds chirping, frogs a’croaking and my legs aching from the up & down ‘the steps cut into the valley wall’. At the end of the Waterfall hike there’s the inevitable ‘tourist Shop but this one has a free coffee plus free bus transport back up the steep hill to the resort however I just turned around a walked/jogged all the way back – I still hurt from the body getting old versus the mind foolishly is still juvenile. After 3 days it was with a degree of regret that we left. But what the heck; the next adventure is to live in a ‘tree-house’ on the Caribbean coast.

San Jose overnight: Hotel Grano de Oro for dinner before the limitations of a rustic setting – our ‘travel Guide books’ gave the restaurant here a very high rating for quality, service and pricing what wasn’t mentioned is that, aside from all of the above which was excellent, the profits from the restaurant goes to a Women’s’ Refuge Charity. So having said that, again we had a wonderful evening which was buffered by the generosity of the Hotels’ policy.

Punta Uva (8km Sth of Peurto Veijo) Again a magical experience – under a the canopy of the rain forest, abutting the coast, is home for a week. The main living area is at ground level and completely open plan – there are no walls or flyscreens here, just a
fence surrounding the house to keep the dog out. Though the three-toed Sloth that fell to the earth one night kept us amused as he tried every tree under the roof to return to the wild. At times we were within 25cm of him and he just didn’t care, his only concern appeared to be “show me the way to go home, Bill Bailey…” Then it’s up along the swing walkway to the Bedroom which is about 6m above ground. Barely a 150m away is the ocean – the kayaking zone. There’s an Iguana sanctuary here as well, my ignorance never fails to astound me – I spent probably half an hour looking, looking but nary a ‘lizard’ did I see – then Dinah lets me know that they are ‘tree-top dwellers’, so it is best to look upwards! Traffic drives on the right-hand side here though with the increasing pot-holes it is more a case of negotiating a ‘mine-field’ as we pedalled down the road to one of the many local restaurants (or the massage retreat – no holiday is complete without a weekly massage! so spake the holiday organiser) So aside from the food, relaxed lifestyle we actually managed to get the kayaks out for a paddle. One quick run along the coast and a half day trip to Manzanillo Laguna (in the rain , the rain did clear but we were determined to kayak) Our CR transport dropped us at the top of one arm of the Laguna but not before he had dropped the front axle into a ditch, after 40 minutes we left him to it – he had no shovel, a pathetic jack and unfortunately little “Australian Idea” of how to extricate himself – me having no Spanish did not help at all; my sign language only raised a smile or a torrent of words; he ended up hiking back about 1km to get help from the nearby settlement. Anyway, we assembled the folder Kayaks in the drizzling rain, launched and after about 30 minutes of paddling with a poncho the rain cleared and the beauty of the Laguna reappeared – meaning that even in the rain we were able to appreciate our surrounds.

Bahia Drake (Pacific Coast – Osa Peninsula) After a night back in San Jose we hopped on Sansa Air [excess baggage being the kayaks!] to fly into Palmar Sur, drive to Sierpe and boat to Corcovado Eco Lodge for a few days in more rain forest. Its about 90
mins by boat from Sierpe to the Resort and we probably spent 87 of them driving rain. Our skipper ‘Norberto’ appeared to literally freeze as he stood aft steering the craft. This place, though we were here at the end of their season had it all. The cabaña was unique, though we didn’t really like the bugs etc falling from the thatched roof each night onto the bed – lights out seemed to resolve that problem. The flora and fauna just seemed to know what we wanted to see – Scarlet Macaws, Cappuccino Monkeys and Yellow-billed Toucans were all visible in the trees below us. Dinah managed to see a snake, as well as a diverse range of other birds, leaf ants etc. The nature walk through the coastal forest was a wonder, we even saw an Aquita. The Park was about another 2km further down the coast than we’d paddled the day before, in drizzling rain. Though the run north into
Bahia Drake was a dry run, with a secondary leg up a river [I took the long way back via a 45′ catamaran that was out in the middle of the bay]. Our last afternoon, Norbert, our boat skipper, went for a paddle in my kayak – he just took off at about 40 knots and never slackened for the hour he was gone – his grin on return was worth it, his 1st kayak run and our pleasure!!!
All too soon it was time to pack up and leave – the return boat trip was dry and as we ran back up the river, the skipper wandered through the mangrove tributaries’ showing us more flora & fauna – including a two-toed sloth high in a tree with the sun behind him, so all I actually saw was a grey blob up there somewhere…

Back in San Jose we shopped, we dined at the Hotel Presidente (which I thought was Esmeralda’s cafe – Esmeralda is actually a coffee brand!) where there were at least 8 security guards patrolling the boundary of the outdoor restaurant. Amazing place is
CR. We had planned to do the sight-see walk of the main features of the city on our last day but as we went to the ‘Jazz Cafe’ the night before, a top time as well as indulged in a few bottles of Chardonnay, the sight-see tour was a tad limited by debilitated bodies… Up at 5am and flew back into Bermuda – Top Holiday and Top Place!!

Our 1st visit (2006) we had a 3 toed Sloth as company for 2 days in the Tree House.
Never did we anticipate having another one in the tree beside our La Casita cabana 2 years later…

Persistent light rain accompanied us from San Jose to Puerto Viejo. The mountain descent was highlighted with vertical drops of water running down the escarpments abutting the road. The obvious result of slips was evident everywhere with mud strewn road surface to piles of rock, mud and foliage below stripped cliff face surfaces. Even a half hour delay while trucks, semi-trailers, tour buses negotiated one lane sections didn’t dampen the anticipation of the beginning six weeks on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
I even opted to get out of the Tourismo mini-bus to take a photo of one of the water-falls. Damp and happy I ran back through the puddles to continue our run down the mountain side. The enveloping mist of the rain clouds obscured much chance of seeing the adjacent valleys and peaks but not a worry.

As we approached the last 20 km into Limon the result of the previous weeks heavy rains was reflected in the stilt houses standing in the middle of mini-lakes of flood waters, the rivers were all at a level where the temptation, if I was a ‘white water’ kayaker, to run them surfaced more than once. As we got further from San Jose the roads seemed rougher with more potholes but that was just an enhanced memory from two years ago, I’m sure.
The coastal flats once we’d turned south of Limon were awash and in places the flow of water across the ‘highway’ was enough to deter the smaller sedans, not so our Tourisimo Driver, he just eased his way along the road ever aware of the potholes and running waters. The region has had nearly double the annual rainfall in the past 6 weeks, there’s ‘relief organisations’ assisting the Tico’s that have been affected by floods etc in the ranges abutting this SE corner of Costa Rica.

As our arrival to Puerto Viejo got closer so the deterioration of the roads increased. One of the major bridges had suffered with the foundations on one side being undercut; the bridge itself canted to one side and had twisted across the river bed. Locals told us that the flooding had been so bad that Puerto Viejo was isolated for a few days before the roads and washed out bridge could be repaired. So it’s now five hours since we left San Jose and the rain finally stops long enough for us to unload two kayak bags, four cases (full of clothes and craft gear), a pair of ‘loaded’ small backpacks and a weeks grocery shopping. La Casita is set beside a river, barely 30 m away and only a 300 m walk down a track to the beach. Open plan living on the edge of the jungle, no telephones or TV just us, kayaking, crafting and this laptop (with no internet connection).

Here it is Xmas Day, after almost a sleepless night…
Xmas Eve was near full of crisis’s, did the 3km hike into Puerto Viejo only to arrive
after noon. So the Post Office being closed for lunch meant an hour to kill. OK, let’s get the candles. We’d had a power failure early in the morning and our neighbour indicated that we’re dependent on ‘Tico’ time to have the electricity restored. So the candles now became a necessity for the uncertain power future. Now I’m in the main Supermarket, D said there are candles and all I can find are ‘tea-lights’. I’m about to pick up a package of them when a local of German descent grabs some tea-lights, flings them on the counter and indicates to his wife that’s all he can find. I felt him shrink when she took them, accosted the Tico floor staff and let fly with a mouthful of Spanish. There on the floor about 2m away in a plastic crate are the candles. Now why they are on the floor sticking out under the shelves and 2m away from the other candles etc is anyone’s guess but my problem was solved.

Now I’ve wandered up the street and have over the half hour to kill, so in my usual slack manner I hit a bar. No Corona cold; no Heineken cold only Imperial cold. No wonder that is all the bar has… decent beers were drunk last night and the ‘horse-pee’ is the only stuff left. Having read the ‘Tico times’ (English language newspaper) I wander back to the Post Office only to find it closed… the paper clearly stated that all Post offices will close at noon on Xmas Eve… so much for my retention powers! Anyway when I get back to La Casita, the Electricity boys are just finishing and driving off. Surprise, we still have no power. I’m guessing that they need parts or whatever however on checking we figure it out that we’re the only people with no power. Telephone call to the agent and a ‘Sparky’ is organised.

“Buenos Díaz” says the Sparky.

“No speak English” I replied.

“No Señor, you don’t speak español? So good day, how are you” in perfect
English says the Sparky (laughing)

I reckon he was trained in Oz; the main switch in the power box is burnt
out. So he bypasses the switch, fuses and connects us directly to the
mains. Hey problemo solved! Ain’t exactly rocket science here, you want
power; you got power, Adios, Merry Xmas Senor!

The kayaking has been pretty average due to the season. December through to February is Surf’s up. With close 1m breakers and up to 3m swell it is a bit dodgey getting out. So it’s a case of success or swamped!

If we look hard and far from the upstairs windows we can see Toucans feeding in a tree about 50m away. It is just a touch too far for either of our cameras to catch a decent photo. Coconuts fall almost daily from the half dozen Palms in the gardens. Now I like the juice and D likes the meat (Jack Spratt could eat no meat and his wife could eat no lean). So when I hear the thump as one drops, rain or shine I duck out and check the nut. So far it’s three for us and eight already chewed by the Squirrels and Raccoon before they dropped.

Boxing Day
Heavy rain overnight and I woke to hear a light drizzle and a deep ‘rushing’ noise. It’s not the water pump so what is it? The river is in full flow! The waves on the beach are pretty much flattened though seriously pounding with the wash running from about 30m offshore all the way to the beach. Had I a sit-on kayak I’d probably be out there in the wash and swell. Just too lazy to walk to town and hire one for the day, well today that is.

Squirrels leaping from Coconut Tree to Coconut Tree. Raccoon casually walking down Coconut Palm Trees. Tail raised with an impervious air a Skunk strolls by the balcony.
A crashing of branches signals an Iguana, on inspection theres a flurry of activity and a splash as it dives into the River. Blue Morph Butterflies skipping through the dappled shade of the River. Woodpecker diligently pecking inside a dead Palm tree, so intent that often I’m almost within touching distance before he flies away. White Fungi appearing overnight on the same tree. Distant colourful Toucans devouring fruit. Lizards jumping across the balcony rails (One even appeared in the kayak after I’d been swamped – he gracefully scampered away when placed on a branch. Kingfisher, diving into the depths of the river, feeding.

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