Welcome to the Jungle

Trip Start Apr 13, 2010
Trip End Jun 07, 2010

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Where I stayed

Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of San Jose,
Friday, May 28, 2010

It's Thursday, I'm up at 4.15am (ouch!) for a long, long travel day to San Jose in Costa Rica (eventually arriving at 6pm)! Exiting Nicaragua is simple enough, entering Costa Rica involves an interminable 2-3 hour wait to get our bags "checked" by the single employee appointed to said task. On the way to Costa Rica, I have a song playing on my Walkman - "The Day it Rained Forever" by Aurora. How very apt, as Costa Rica is largely covered by cloud/rainforest and it would turn out to be "The week it rained forever"!

Costa Rica is the foremost ecotourism destination in Central America and being a wildlife lover, one of the destinations I am most looking forward to on this tour with a couple of included guided walks in National Parks. Interestingly enough, Costa Rica abolished it's army in 1948, spending the money saved on infrastructure (eg. healthcare, education, etc), and so is probably the most expensive country in Central America.

We have one and a bit days in San Jose, Thursday evening the leaving day for those who will not be continuing with us, Friday a free day for optionals and the joining day for newbies. It appears that 3 weeks of continuous drinking has caught up with me because I'm not too well and spend most of my time in the hotel (although it does give me the opportunity to update my blog). However, I am reliably informed by others that those sights I had wanted to see in San Jose such as the National Theatre and Gold Museum are none too hot so I think I've saved some money and time there. My roomie Kaine has also decided to rejoin me for the last day on Thursday which I'm very pleased about so we have a proper send-off involving mucho bebidas and a very late, crazy night.....

On Saturday, we have a shortish drive to La Fortuna, a tourist town which services activities associated with nearby Volcan Arenal, but there isn't much to do in the town itself except eat, drink, sleep and souvenir hunt. Volcan Arenal is constantly active, spewing lava and ash. The last big eruption was in 1968 when nearby towns were flattened (La Fortuna escaped, hence, it's name). Most of us book a visit to Volcan Arenal NP to the look-out point where we're told, if it's reasonably clear, we can see lava eruptions. First, we have a one hour trek through the park (Silencio Trail) to look for wildlife, but we don't see much - some howler monkeys from afar, the odd bird, and lots of ants. Arriving at the observation point at sundown (it's quite a few kilometres away from the actual volcano), we do indeed see lava and molten rocks falling down the side of the volcano, but as we're so far away and it's getting dark, it's very difficult to get a good picture - you'd need a camera with good optical zoom set on long exposure and definitely a tripod. I don't have a tripod but have the rest, my pictures aren't great, trying to hold the camera steady on a 4 second exposure and pretty difficult to focus, but they do give some idea of what you can see. Some of the others head off to the Baldi Hot Springs (which I'm told were great, should have gone!), but still not too well, so back to the hotel and an early night!

The next day is free to do various optional activities (canyoning / rappelling, caving, kayaking, etc) but another day of rest and recuperation for me I'm afraid! Being on such a long trip, it does give the opportunity to have a rest now and again, especially if you're not well, rather than trying to cram loads in if you've only got a 2 week holiday. Sunday night is supposed to be party night at the bar across the road, La Cascada - we're there until about 10.30pm waiting for the masses to arrive but we end up being the only ones there! Off to bed then!

On Monday, we travel to Santa Elena, next to the Monteverde Cloudforest, basically another town of hotels, restaurants and tour agencies rapidly expanding to service tours in the surrounding area for gringos. We take a private van for about half an hour to the shores of Lake Arenal, then a boat across the lake (~1 hour), followed by a 2 hour drive to the Don Taco Hotel, situated on the outskirts of town at the top of a hill (the hike up became a real strain in the following days). We visit a tour operator (Desafio) in town to book optional activities, after much umming and aahing, I decide to go for the ziplining tomorrow, hmmm, interesting as I don't like heights!

With the afternoon free, some of us decide to visit the Serpentarium (US$6 entry booked through Desafio as opposed to $8 on the door). We go about 4pm and this turns out to be an excellent time as about an hour later, it's snake-feeding time, with baby mice, still alive! It may not be pleasant for some but that's nature for you. A few of us then visit nearby Ranario Frog Pond at a quite pricey US$12 for a one hour guided tour. I thought it was very interesting, we see about 25-30 frogs/toads in terrariums. The place is pitch black and we're taken around by our guide by torch, who then shines his torch into each terrarium to find the inhabitants. It's best to visit in the evening as we did as the frogs/toads are mainly active at that time. There's a top pizza place in town (can't remember the name!), and the "Special" pizza hits the spot!

The next day, we have a guided walk through Monteverde Cloud Forest. Due to it's elevation, we see plenty of birds (good for me) during the walk but nothing in the way of mammals. Make sure you do get a guide if you go as without him, we would hardly have seen anything. His ability at recognising sounds and spotting birds is amazing (and he has a 100x scope which is very handy!). We spot the prize bird, the Quetzal, and also see Toucanettes and the amazing Three-wattled Bellbird with it's strange moustache!

In the afternoon, it's Ziplining time! Being afraid of heights and never having done it before, to say I'm slightly nervous nervous is an understatement. However, after the first couple of lines, I must say it's an amazing experience, shooting through and at times over the forest canopy, hundreds of feet in the air. I do go "wrong" at one point and on the longest line, end up turning back to front in the middle of the line and go down backwards, also losing orientation and putting one hand where I shouldn't, in FRONT of the pulley, a prime candidate for losing fingers! Luckily, my fingers remained intact! We have a "special surprise" in the middle of the ziplining, a tarzan swing! It seems similar to a bungee jump, something I've never done and would never do. However, the only reason I do the tarzan swing is that me and Matt both don't like heights and we only do it as the other agrees to do it. I don't want to think about it afterwards, it's hard to describe the experience (especially the initial jump off the platform), I would probably never do it again, but I'm so chuffed I actually managed to do it (even though the first time I went to the edge of the platform, I was so nervous I had to step back and let Matt go ahead of me). Crazy stuff!

Wednesday, and a 4 hour drive to the small town of Manual Antonio, home to Manual Antonio NP, comprising white-grey sand beaches backed with thick wildlife-filled forest. The following day, we have a guided walk in the park. We do see plenty of wildlife (white-faced monkeys, sloths, snake, insects) but it's absolutely bucketing down with rain so you can't really take photos and the weather actually spoils the walk, you just want to get out of the rain and get back to the hotel. However, in the afternoon, it's dry and I go back to the park on my own (ticket is valid all day), and I see howler monkeys, sloths, my biggest toucan yet, an iguana, lots of crabs, very worthwhile.

On Friday morning, on the internet, I read the news that Volcan Pacaya in Guatemala has erupted (resulting in a few deaths) and I reflect on the fact that 3 weeks ago, I was toasting marshmallows on a river of flowing lava on the slopes of this volcano.....

Back to San Jose on Friday where we say goodbye to a few people and hello to one other, and we get a new "emergency" tour leader, Jessica, for the final leg of the trip in Panama! Goodbye Joslyn, tour leader extraordinaire for the last 6 weeks on her final Tucan tour!

Being a wildlife lover, I loved Costa Rica and will definitely be coming back at some point having only scratched the surface with a visit to two National Parks, and there are plenty of more adventurous activities for those so inclined. The capital, San Jose, has a pretty good nightlife too, and English is more widely spoken in the country than other places in Central America.
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