Costa Rica

Trip Start Aug 01, 2003
Trip End Jan 27, 2004

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Thursday, November 6, 2003

La Fortuna Arenal, Montezuma, Quepos, San Jose, Tortuguero

A startling contrast between the rest of Central America and Costa Rica is the immediate reaction from all of us. However, having travelled further down through Costa Rica we realise it is only really a certain area of it. Where the famous Arenal volcano is. And with Costa Rica being recognised as one of the most ecologically famous areas then it makes sense that this is going to be a more affluent area. However, as a rule I believe that Costa Rica has a very strong economy, is not ad loggerheads with any other country politically so by nature is a much more stable country.

Still nothing could prepare us for the beauty we encountered driving around Lake Arenal to La Fortuna (Volcano Arenal). The houses were completely different. No longer shacks but proper bungalows with bars on the windows, a driveway with a car parked in it and fresh paint in pastel colours of pink, blue, yellow and green. The lake itself was dark green, and reflected the low mountains that hugged the edge.

Everything was vividly dark green on the side of the ride where the lake was. On the other side was an abundance of hills covered in tropical plants of all colours, all of which are again oversized. Plenty of lakeside properties for sale so I think it must be an upcoming area soon to be very desirable. Either that or the volcano is too active and people want out. Either way the whole area is beautifully kept and a welcome change to the dirt and grime we have been seeing until now. All the time in the background is the volcano itself. A huge silhouette, you can only imagine what the top looks like because it is shrouded in cloud. But having seen other volcanos along the way with the traditional pointed cone like top, I imagine this to look the same.

The volcano has been active but it rained a lot while we were there. We spent the evenings looking out for the streaks of lava to fall down the sides of the volcano but being in the lit town this made it difficult and the cloud did not help. Some of the group went on a hiking tour but Andrew and I decided we would do our own thing. We set out to look for the waterfalls but missed the sign completely so ended up walking the road into the countryside for three and a half miles. Decided we wanted to push ourselves a bit and get in training for Machu Pichu so we kept going and walked a round trip of 7 miles in just over two hours. Not bad going.

Itīs the 8th of October now and we are heading to what turned out to be another of my favourite places. The Nicoya Peninsula. Instead of driving along to the end of the Peninsula which would take hours we take a ferry across to the tip. This one is a proper grown up ferry and I sit up top in the sun getting even more brown, listening to my CDīs and taking in the scenery as we sail along the coastline of the peninsula. Again I cannot emphasise the depth of green that makes up the mountains and tree lined bays. Every now and then I can glimpse a small stretch of sand where I can just about make out the white surf of the waves breaking the shore. Itīs a beautiful sight and a wonderful ferry crossing.

We have the van with us this time so arrive on the peninsula and take an hours drive to Montezuma. A very small resort with a few bars and excellent restaurants and a sandy bay. The coastline is rugged. You canīt swim as there are black rocks dotted along the beach with fierce waves crashing on to them. The spray makes the shoreline looked hazy, a bit like the coastline in Ireland, but the temperature is very very hot so it makes the whole thing feel magical. We are staying in a beautiful hotel and Jo and I are lucky enough to have one of the cabinas (a wooden hut on stilts, circular, with two double beds inside and a balcony outside which has two rocking chairs, a table and a hammock). A lot of time is spent out here as well as in the pool which is bright bright aqua and overlooks the rocky beach.

I had one of the best times here. We ate fantastic food, drank great wine and had an idyllic two days. We had met up with the other group as well so some of us went off in groups and some of us did our own thing. I will remember this to be one of my happiest times away for many reasons, the company, the laughter, the ocean, the rocks, the food, the pool, the cabina.

Snapped back to reality we leave to take the ferry back to the mainland and drive to Quepos. Having spent a bit of time on the beach watching the surfers and in fact Jo and I tried a little body surfing ourselves, not easy but do-able, we settle on Quepos. Not very interesting place but we are here to do the Canopy Tour. Flying through the tops of the trees in the rain forest on zip lines. The most exhilarating fun I have had since jumping out of a plane. So much so, I would definitely do it again. It is a cross between crazy fun and serenity. Go figure!

We are driven deep into the rain forest through even more banana plantations for just over an hour. Once we have climbed a little higher we arrive that the base of our tour. We are kitted up in harnesses, hats, ropes and lines and gardening gloves (to stop our hands from burning on the lines). Then with our harnesses and metal clips jangling from our belts we start walking up into the rain forest to gain some height.

On the way we are talked through some of the flora; the walking palm tree which houses the palm hearts that are served in salads over here and whose root system is on the outside so it looks like the tree is standing on 50 legs, new legs grow to one side of the tree throughout the year allowing the entire tree to move up to 5cms per year across the floor of the forest (fascinating). Teak leaves which when rubbed together between your fingers release the henna dye used for tattoos (this one is red and stains my fingers for quite a while). We see a funny little frog, very small, black and luminous green splodges, it doesnīt look real but it is.

When we have climbed for 15 minutes we come to our first tree. We climb four storeys of steps up the tree and are harnessed on the line above our heads. I have done this before 100ft over Bewel Water to raise money but I donīt remember feeling this wobbly. Maybe because I am going across the trees and not down to the ground. And maybe because the platform I am about to land on is full of people. And maybe because the tree I am standing on is swaying. But I grab my harness and throw myself off. After the initial terror of jumping off a great height I burst out laughing and just love flying through the air.

The trees get higher and the zip lines get longer. After a few jumps (there are about 14 altogether) I start letting go of my harness as I fly through the trees and let my arms, legs and head drop straight down, like a rag doll. I am almost upside down and am spinning at the same time. There is nothing like this feeling. Of weightless ness and flight!

We also have a couple of rappels to do to get down the trees. Basically abseiling off a platform down to the floor of the rainforest. We have no training for this so I do as I am told. He connects a rope to my harness, I take the rope above me in my left hand and the rope below me in my right. I am told if I release the rope in my right hand I can slide down the rope.

I step off the edge of the platform into a sitting position (of course Iīm not actually sitting on anything I am hanging on for deal life). I push my feet away from the platform release the rope from my right hand very slowly, once, and drop a little. Then my confidence is with me again and I decided to go down as fast as I can. I release the rope completely and whiz down to the bottom, I know I am going quite fast as I can hear the guys at the bottom cheering me on. Fantastic. My gloves are burning and the trees are flying past me as I make my descent. Just before I get to the bottom the guy down there gives the rope a sharp tug which stops me dead. I scream and look down laughing. Brilliant fun. I am eased down the rest of the way and someone says to me "why did you come down so fast?". With a huge grin on my face like a little child I say "why not?".

Difficult to top that one!

Whatīs next? San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. Quite nice as cities go but it is just a stop over point for us. We have the afternoon to do some chores in the centre and I have arranged to leave some things for my Aunt Kate to bring home. How about this for bad timing? I am in San Jose on the 13th and she will be flying in on the 24th. She is also going to the same places as me but a couple of weeks later. Canīt believe I come all this way and after four months gets so close to meeting up with her but we miss each other.

Next day and we are off to Tortuguero. We take a very small boat, only our group can fit in it, and travel 3 hours up the river. Tortuguero is on a strip of land which is flanked by a manmade river on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. You can fly there (Mum & Pete, I have taken a photo of the runway where I think you landed - if you can call it a runway) or take the boat up the river. This was a lovely riverboat trip and we stopped along the way to look at egrets, white faced monkeys, spoon billed thingys (canīt remember the last bit of the name but they are pink and look like stumpy flamingos), crocodiles, sloths (I saw my very first one which was really exciting) and an abundance of other birds that I couldnīt identify. Pete, where are you when I need you?

Tortugeuro has to be the most primitive and basic place I have ever stayed in. I canīt help but feel that it is perhaps a little bit of a taster of things to come in South America. There are a couple of restaurants there but it is more like eating in peopleīs houses and their menus consist of about fur things. There are a few shack houses, a couple of gift shops and two supermarkets which, under the circumstances, are quite well stocked. Most importantly they sell emergency ponchos in red, blue, orange and yellow which we modelled for most of our time during our stay. Apparently this is one of the wettest places on earth. Well, I reckon they could be right.

We were held hostage by the rain a bit but ventured up the beach to release some baby turtles that were ready to hatch. Once the guy found the whole where the eggs had been laid (as main as 100 in one nest) who started pulling tens and tens of baby turtles. I picked one up and it sand in my palm, a tiny little thing. The turtles lie still for a moment while they work out where they are and then on cue they all run down to the sea. It is incredible and the sand is alive with these little babies all racing, flippers flapping, to the sea. The waves are fierce and you wonder how they will make it. I understand that only one in one hundred will survive and grow to become a huge turtle.

I decide to track the one that I picked up and I put him down onto the sand. I follow him madly scrambling through the sand. This must be the most horrendous obstacle course that any little fella can endure. He finally makes it to the waters edge and I take a picture of him being swallowed up by the surf. After all of the effort to get there and he gets chewed up in the sea. Still, I am sure mother nature knows what sheīs doing.

Thatīs Costa Rica - the time we spend in countries seems to be getting shorter but I am happy to be getting a snapshot of so much rather than spending two much time in one place. Itīs 15th November and we cross the border into Panama.
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