Exploring the Rio Frio

Trip Start Jan 15, 2013
Trip End Jan 27, 2013

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Where I stayed
Hotel Kokoro Arenal La Fortuna
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Alajuela,
Monday, January 21, 2013

The main event today was a cruise on the Rio Frio where we scoured the riverbank for more sightings of wildlife. After an early breakfast we loaded up in our mini-van and set out for an hour-and-a-half ride towards the Nicaraguan border to the town of Los Chilies. There we boarded our boat for the morning and set out to explore the banks of the Rio Frio.

Los Chilies is very close to the Nicaraguan border and is a major transport point for Nicaraguans coming into and exiting the country. Most of them make the trip to find work; they are willing to fill manual labor positions that are not attractive to Costa Ricans. Upon our arrival at the docks at 9:30 this morning, many men and women were already present with their baggage, waiting for the boat that was not due to arrive until 12:30. Later, when we passed the dock just before the boat was due, it was absolutely packed with people and baggage waiting to make the trip back to their homes in Nicaragua.

As we traveled towards the border we went through a number of checkpoints. Although there is a program by which Nicaraguans can enter Costa Rica to work for a defined period of time, Rafael said that many attempted to sneak into the country without going through the expense of obtaining a passport or doing the bureaucratic paperwork necessary to come legally. He said that he had never had a tour bus stopped, but just in case he wanted us all to bring copies of our passports.

During our drive Rafael provided a thumbnail sketch of the tension that exists between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The situation was brought to a crisis stage two years ago when the Nicaraguan government seized a region of Costa Rican territory to give them access to dredge the river that divides the two countries. Presumably this is part of the Nicaraguan government's plan to develop a long-desired trans-ocean canal similar to the Panama Canal.

Costa Rica does not maintain an army, so they had little recourse other than to take their complaints to the United Nations and the World Court at The Hague. The World Court has the matter under review, but in the meantime, according to Rafael, a great deal of environmental damage has been done. One of our tour members asked why the Nicaraguan government thought they could compete with the Panama Canal after the current effort to increase its capacity has been completed. Rafael responded that some Costa Ricans believe the function of the new canal would be primarily as a highway for moving illegal drugs from Columbia into the pipelines that lead to the drug markets in the United States.

We spent a very enjoyable three hours cruising on the Rio Frio. With the expert spotting help of Rafael and our boat captain, whose nickname is Mango, we were successful in spotting many species of birds and other animals. Rather than enumerating all the animals we saw I will post a few pictures. One of the most interesting was an unusual variation of a howler monkey that sported a completely yellow coat. Our guides indicated that they had been spotting this howler monkey off and on for the past two years, and despite its strange coloration, it had apparently been accepted by the other monkeys of its clan. It was interesting to observe that the orange howler had an infant with normal dark-brown to black coloration.

Towards the end of the cruise we crossed over into Nicaraguan territory for a short period of time. Our boat captain was clearly uncomfortable as he reversed direction and headed back towards Costa Rica. Once back at the Costa Rican side of the border we all went ashore. One member of our group walked back across to Nicaragua, to the dismay of Rafael, and reported that he saw many old campsites. We speculated that this is where Nicaraguans had camped waiting for an opportunity to sneak across the border undetected.

After we returned to our lodge in La Fortuna we headed once again to the hot springs from the Arenal Volcano for another soak. The water in the primary spring was so hot we all decided to avoid it and use a secondary pool, which contained water that had cooled somewhat. It was a soothing end to another good day in Costa Rica.

The picture of our lunch plate that we posted yesterday elicited comments from Jane and Barbara, so we decided to post pictures of all our meals today. The one thing they all have in common is rice and beans. That’s true even for the dinner, whose plate seems to be devoid of this Costa Rican staple. However, after the main plate was served, our waitressbrought out the bowls of the ubiquitous rice and black beans as a side item. If you plan to travel in this part of the world, it would be an excellent idea to develop an appreciation or at least a high tolerance for this dietary staple.
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Jane Leff on

Interesting politics. I vote for no new canal.
By the way, do they offer Beeno before meals?

Barbara Roberts on

Keep the information about the wildlife and food! So interesting!

Nancy on

Love the photo of you and Robert in the hot spring. Looks great, especially when we're dealing with 10 degree weather in the NE. The rice and beans diet reminds me of a semester in Puerto Rico during college. It was a staple that I grew fond of; however one of my friends lost about 15 lbs due to her aversion to it. Enjoy the rest of the trip.

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