Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Beach Time

No trip to Costa Rica is complete without a trip to the beach. Although we had initially planned to skip the beach on this trip, we found it necessary to change our itinerary. We figured a cold rainy start deserved a warm sunny ending. We booked one night at El Velero Hotel, which sits directly on the beach of Playa Hermosa. We arrived to find sunny skies, a gentle breeze, and warm surf rolling along the sand. We had just enough time to take a couple strolls in the surf, swim in the ocean, eat some great ceviche and witness yet another perfect sunset, from the front lawn of El Velero at happy hour.

More Moneteverde Wildlife

Purple-Slated Hummingbird

Nesting Hummingbird


Black Guan

More From the Monteverde Trails

Monteverde Wildlife

Male Quetzal

Howler Monkey



Hiking in Monteverde Reserve

Our last two days in Monteverde were spent hiking the trails within the Monteverde Reserve in search of the Resplendent Quetzal and other cloud forest creatures. We lucked out and spotted 2 female Quetzals on our first day and a male and female on the second day. They were feeding on the fruit from an avocado tree, which provides approximately 80% of their diet. On the second day we were able to watch the male Quetzal fly about from limb to limb allowing us to witness a dazzling display of his iridescent plumage.
We also saw several howler and white-faced monkeys, a kinkajou, and a bold little olinga that had a bad sugar water habit. Several times throughout the day this crafty mammal would work his way across and down a wire that held hummingbird feeders at the Colibri (hummingbird ) Café. He would then hoist up the container of sugary delight and guzzle it down until shooed away by café personnel.
The Colibri Café attracts 30 different species of hummingbirds including the largest of Costa Rica known as the Purple Slated Hummingbird. Sitting on a bench in front of the feeders is a bit like sitting in the middle of an aerial strike zone and being dive bombed from all sides.
The cloud forest environment is cool and frequently cloudy as the title implies, but for us it was cool and sunny, making for extra pleasant hiking. We hired a guide for our trek which cost $15.00 on top of the $15.00 entrance fee. Unless one is extra skilled at spotting wildlife in heavy foliage and has a high quality pair of binoculars or a spotting scope, a guide is a must. They are trained in locating all kinds of things that the untrained eye would blaze right past. They are familiar with the sights and sounds of their environment and they also know where all the hot spots of habit are located. They are also a wealth of information for those who are interested in learning more about local flora and fauna. One fascinating factoid we picked up was that on one tree in the cloud forest there can be as many as 200 different plant species growing on it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Photos Around Arenal

The Top of Arenal (A Brief View)


Hummingbird on a Wire

Gutter Toad

Eye of the Beast

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I heard that!

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Trip to the Bat Cave

On one of our afternoons off, we visited a facility called, The Bat Jungle. We learned some fascinating factoids that we know you’re dying to hear. So, without further adieu, here they are:
1. Mascara is made with bat guano.
2. Bats are most closely related to monkeys.
3. Bats have very good eyesight, hearing, and a sixth sense (echolocation).
4. Bats give birth to only one offspring per year that has a 50% mortality rate.
5. Echolocation: There is research indicating that blind people may use the same technique for navigation.
6. Most bats are small; however there are some in Indonesia with a 6 foot wingspan.
7. Bats are responsible for pollinating the Agave cactus, so without bats, no Tequila.

Escuela de Espanol

Monday morning bright and early (7:00 AM), we started our week of Spanish school at CPI in Monteverde. First order of business was taking a test to assess our current level of comprehension. Dave and I were assigned the same instructor per our request and made up our small group of two.
The classes normally run from 8:00 AM until 12 noon with a 20 minute coffee and snack break at 10:00. The school provides tasty local food for the break and for lunch, a Costa Rican couple sells hardy typical meals that include meat, rice and beans, and a salad or a vegetable for approximately $3.50. There are additional optional activities included at no extra cost like, movies, dance and cooking classes, cultural lectures and poetry. The school also assists with booking tours and transfers and provides a 10 percent discount at local businesses. Afternoons are free to take tours, hike, relax and of course, study. All of the staff is friendly and ready to assist with anything you need.

Arrival in Monteverde

The Monteverde area is hilly, with a lot of dirt roads. Most of the people either walk, ride dirt bikes, or 4-wheelers everywhere. There are several great restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and a grocery store within easy walking distance from our apartment and school. Our apartment is perfect! It sets on a hillside overlooking the heavily forested area of Santa Elena with the Gulf of Nicoya shining in the distance. Every day in the afternoon, there is vividly colored rainbow, sometimes double or triple, that paints its way over our apartment. Rolling clouds of mist tumble down the hillside, but never totally block our friend, the sun.

Moving On

Our transfer from Arenal was a bit of an adventure. We were packed tightly into a van with other tourists in transit and driven to Lake Arenal, where we boarded yet another portable sardine can. This one floated, but wouldn’t start. After flooding the engines and trying a couple of other boats that also wouldn’t start, a second attempt at starting brought one of the engines sputtering to life and we puttered across the lake at full throttle. After landing on the other side of the lake, we were assigned to a mini-van that would take us to our final destination in Monteverde.
The roads from Arenal to Monteverde are notoriously bad, with steep uphill grades and numerous potholes. We had to get a running start at one such grade, and our van died about half way up. Behind us were at least five other mini-vans all positioned at different levels on the hill. Our driver turned over the starter until it was dead beyond any doubt. Next, the van directly behind us pulled up next to us and the drivers briefly exchanged words. The driver from the other mini-van managed to squeeze past us and positioned his van in front of us. We were then ordered out of our van and a small nylon rope was tied between the two vans. Amazingly, the rope held, and they were able to pull-start our van. Our driver was replaced by the one in the lead van and promptly disappeared at the side of the road. We all piled back in the van and with our new experienced hand at the wheel, were able to make it the rest of the way without incident.
Just outside of Monteverde, we encountered something we hadn’t seen in a week, the sun. Wow! Was it always this bright?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tabacon Hot Springs

The Grand Spa

Tabacon "Pummeler"

Secret Entrance to Eco-Termales!

Eco-Termales Pool

Another Eco-Termales Pool

Spa Daze!

What does one do when one has planned activities like, photographing wildlife, and rappelling down waterfalls of brisk stream water, when it’s continually raining and cold? Well, if there happen to be hot springs nearby, one might be inclined to seek comfort in their soothing waters surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. This is precisely what Dave and I chose to do with our last couple of days in the Arenal region.
On one afternoon, we visited the hidden gem of Eco-termales, located just a block down the road from our hotel. There is no sign marking the entrance to the facility, only a large wooden gate standing open, followed by a long driveway lined with dense jungle foliage that disappears into the distance and entices one to enter and discover what lies beyond. Eventually, a reception area is revealed with a friendly attendant who provides you with a towel and a locker key. A stone pathway lined with lights disguised as mushrooms leads you to a series of dark turquoise pools varying in temperatures from 97 to 109 degrees. The outside world is completely obscured by walls of deep forest green, the sound of waterfalls, and tropical bird calls. Immersed in tranquility we surrendered our plans and graciously accepted our fate.
On our final day, we splurged and booked decadent spa treatments at the grand-daddy of all hot springs, Tabacon. This lush facility boasts a multitude of pools surrounded by eloquently designed tropical gardens, and a piping hot stream that delivers numerous waterfalls of all sizes to submerge one’s stress -laden shoulders beneath. The largest waterfall, I dubbed the “pummeler”, due to a pounding force that will literally knock you over if you don’t brace yourself. The Grand Spa, located at the center of Tabacon is the ultimate destination for those who wish to be pampered to the extreme. Services available include a variety of massage modalities, beauty treatments and a sweat lodge for those in search of a spiritual experience. I selected a package that included a volcanic mud wrap, mud facial, and Swedish massage. Ooo la la, was it divine! First I was painted from head to toe in warm volcanic mud. Next, I was wrapped in plastic for about 45 minutes, after which time I was taken to a private hot spring to scrub the mud off of my newly created baby soft skin. The treatment was completed with a luxurious hour long Swedish massage. I emerged a brand new woman, I’m sure of it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Soggy Trails

Beyond the mist lies a rumbling giant!

Soggy Trails

Mystical Mountain

Bring on the Rain!

Horseback riding to La Fortuna Waterfalls was cancelled this morning due to heavy mist known as drizzle in Oregon, combined with intermittent downpours of not so tropical rain. Shortly after making our decision to lay low and stay dry, the thought of spending an entire day inside with so many adventures waiting lead us to don our rain ponchos and head for the trail. We took a taxi from our hotel to Arenal Observatory Lodge and explored some of the trails within Volcano National Park. As we set out on our little sojourn the wind howled through the towering Eucalyptus trees that lined the trail. Heavy mist rolled all around us and the eerie exotic call of the Oropendola emanated from just beyond our field of vision eluding our quest for a sighting. Periodically there were low rumbling sounds, presumably from the volcano though I suppose it could have been thunder. The intermittent downpours eventually merged into continuous torrential rain, so we opted out of the cold water soaking experience and headed back to the lodge for lunch. We had a hardy burger and fries and from the comfort of our table overlooking the forest, we were able to observe several Oropendula at a feeding tree the lodge had set up just outside the window.

Birds around Silencio

Yellow-Crowned Euphonia

Yellow-Crowned Euphonia

Great Kiskadee

Blue-gray Tanager

Silencio del Campo

Becky seeking shelter from the rain!

Hot springs at Silencio.

Silencio hot springs.

Well, we still are having a bit of rain, but the surroundings are beautiful!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Baldi Hot Springs

Baldi Hot Spring entrance

Nature trail at Baldi

156 degree waterfall!

Baldi pool

Baldi hot pool

Nature path at Baldi.

Hot pool at Baldi.