Final Thoughts- impressed with the National consciousness of ecology that pervades CR. That starts with laws that prevent hunting of any kind. I didn't see any mountains stripped of its resources. A little boy even schooled us on where recyclables go! The govt rates towns based on their cleanliness and it becomes a sense of civic pride. That is an attitude, a mindset. Wherever we went, there were people bicycling, and not just for transportation but for sport and exercise. It is the cleanest developing country I have ever visited! This was just a recon mission; we will be back with the kids!
25 July 2015
As I watched the sun descend behind the cordilleras of Costs Rica, I reflected on what this trip has meant to me. Traveling through Costa Rica reminded me of the influence of Latin America in my life. Living in Ecuador at a young age had a profound influence on how I viewed the world. All of those memories came back to me; the language, the culture, the history, the people, the land, the smells, the sounds, the sights and the tastes. With a job that increases in insanity every year and a wife dealing with a chronic illness, life can be overwhelming at times. These are the experiences I go back to to stay centered, to feel that interconnectedness with the rest of humanity as well as to the natural world.
The Resort pt. 5- we finally left the resort Saturday morning after one last hedonistic breakfast. The drive out was ugly and depressing, wondering how the people must eek out a living off such a desolate land. There seems to be a direct relationship between how well the environs are doing and how well the people are doing. Makes sense. As we continued our drive S, it became more lush and green. I began to breath a little easier, seeing the familiar fruit stands and sodas along the road. We finally arrived at a cute little colonial B&B outside of San Jose. Furnished all in wood with indigenous folk art, it was a perfect way to end the trip. We walked down to a local restaurant filled with young Ticos having wings and beers. We got to bed early as we had an early flight.
24 July 2015
The Resort pt. 3- This is Genesis. She was our regular pool server. We followed her around to whatever pool she was working at. A total sweetheart. She helped us with Spanish and we helped w her English. I wish more Americans would travel abroad and pay attention to working conditions in other countries. Genesis works 12 hours (including 1 hour bus ride each way), 15 days on, 2 off. She also has to pay for language lessons out of her own pocket. Not sure of her pay but Costa Rica is NOT a typical cheap Latin American country; prices are comparable to the U.S. Would make Americans appreciate what unions have done for them over the years...
23 July 2015
The Resort pt.4- it was interesting observing different types of travelers as we stayed at 4 different places. At the Arenal Lodge we saw a lot of Europeans and birders with their hiking gear and 10 foot lenses on their cameras. The environs brought out a single-minded purpose of being there; the love of nature. The Treehouse brought out the adventuresome, those willing to hunt for that sweet spot to maximize the experience. Then there are the Resorters, ahh the Resorters! Folks that, for the most part, have no interest in learning about the country they are entering. No knowledge of the language and scared to leave the comforting confines of the resort. You go to a country with the most biodiversity in the world and you stay on a resort? Go to The Keys; it's a lot cheaper with better snorkeling!
22 July 2015
The Resort pt. 2- I really wanted to try and understand my surroundings so I went on s morning hike offered by the resort. Based on the road in, we weren't going to get out and explore the area, our original idea. Dominated by drought resistant foliage, loose sandy soil. Mountains are steep and forest dense, with nasty cactus intertwined throughout. Wildlife is everywhere, from awesome birds (a common refrain in CR!), lizards and of course monkeys. Saw appx 20 of them pour down a hillside and then saw them later running through a field and playing in the trees. I appreciate its own unique beauty. It isn't our sanctuary in the forest and that is OK!
19 July 2015
Saturday July 18 pt. 3- the terrain continued to get uglier the further N we went. There was always a series of mountains to the E, the only visual saving grace. We turned off the main road and had to go another 20km on a dirt washboard road. Torture. The resort is brand new so we expect some wrinkles. They tried to put us in a ground floor room facing a hill of dirt. Literally. No no no, we marched to the desk and had a polite fit. They moved us to a corner room on the third floor facing the mountains (we are ok with no ocean view). Much better, very luxurious setting. We took showers after a long day, ordered room service and put on robes provided by resort. That is funny because I think robes are stupid and pretentious but when in Rome...
The Resort Pt. 1- due to the decrease of activities, I will chronicle random thoughts and feelings (w pics of course!) as we wrap up our trip... As I said earlier, the resort part of the trip wasn't starting out too well. The environs were ugly and they tried to put us in a crappy room. That situation was remedied and we fell into a familiar routine; beach in the am, lunch, nap, afternoon beach, dinner. Hollys MS prevents afternoons outside; too frigging hot! My goal is to love this place despite its ugliness. I had to smile this morning- I heard Howler monkeys so maybe this place isn't so desolate...
18 July 2015
Saturday July 18 pt. 2- Sad to be leaving but satisfied with a last walk, we packed up and headed off the mountain. We traveled around Lake Arenal on a windy road that seemed to last forever. We stopped for lunch in a small town that reminded me of Ecuador and got a pic around the lake. We knew that where we were going was not so pretty so we were prepared. As soon as we got around the lake and headed N, the landscape changed quickly. Lush vegetation gave way to a dry, high chaparral environment. Always surrounded by mountains, they made one think of the Southwest. (It is called a dry tropical forest) The towns we passed through were industrial, ugly and much poorer. I saw a latrine for the first time in CR. Trepidation began to build, wondering if we would regret leaving the comfort of our trees...
Saturday July 18 pt.1- We were totally bummed out today. Pounding rain all night and into morning. We feel like we haven't gotten in the hikes we wanted to. During breakfast, the sun broke out over Arenal and the top was revealed again for a few short moments. We put on our gear and headed out. Walked through pastureland and forests with waterfalls. It was just what we needed before heading N to the beach. We were starting to get sad at leaving la selva. The woods are our spiritual home, it is where we feel most at peace with the world around us. Nothing like breathing in a breath of woody pine scented air!
17 July 2015
Friday July 17- Kind of depressing today. It has rained pretty hard for the last 24 hours. To be expected in a rainforest during the wet season! We did some shopping down in Fortuna and I made Holly take my pic with a shrimp; taking my mannequin series international! We went home and started reading and listening to the pouring rain. We heard a ruckus about 200 yards out and we saw spider monkeys playing. We watched a mom carry her baby through the trees. When the nature gods have taken away from us, they have given back in some other way!
16 July 2015
Thurs. July 16 pt. 2- after zip lining we went in to town to do a bit of shopping. I went outside, looked up and there she was, in all of her majesty. I yelled for holly and we started to take some pics. We drove to the town center and got that classic Latin American shot; small village church with las montana in the background. We feel blessed she graced us with her peak. Arsenal only shows herself 2 weeks a year. Give good energy and it comes back in kind.
Thursday July 16 pt. 1- today was a bucket list day. Time to cross off zip-lining. A bit nervous but they gave us a quick lesson and into the truck and up to the top of the lines. Definitely a bit freaky but you got used to it when you look to the left and see towering volcanoes and look the other way and see a valley floor with farms as far as the eye can see. We then got to the Tarzan Swing, which gave me pause I have to admit. They hook you up, you walk off a ledge and do a crazy swing. Don't think they will be using the video of my death grip in any promo videos! Totally fun and would do again, despite being made fun of by total strangers for being such a puss!
Sitting in the 3am darkness listening to the night sounds and watching the silhouette of Arenal disappear and reappear behind clouds. Since we have been here we have been playing a cat and mouse game with her. Everywhere we go, we have one eye on her, waiting for the peak to be revealed. One time we pulled over quickly as the clouds were lifting then they dropped back down! I have seen many awe inspiring places but this is different. There is an ominous energy that commands respect. Arenal has killed people in my lifetime; geologically that was seconds ago. To be sitting on an apex of the Ring of Fire is s transcendent experience...
15 July 2015
Wednesday July 15 pt. 2- In the afternoon we went to Proyecto Asis where we toured the center and volunteered. Proyecto is a wildlife rescue center whose goal is to rescue wildlife to release back into their natural habitat. Many come from people keeping these animals as pets, mothers being killed, etc. Many can be re-integrated, many cannot. We saw monkeys, birds, raccoons, pigs, coati and a caiman. After we got an education from our amazing guide Carlos, we prepared and fed the animals. A much better experience than I was expecting!
Wednesday July 15 pt. 1- today we headed out on a short hike from the lodge. This is everything I imagined a tropical rainforest to be. Lush, moist, greens of every shade. Sounds of dripping water everywhere, birds and the occasional Howler monkey filling the air. Completely alone but surrounded by life, both seen and unseen. We have been taking the hiking slow as Holly is nervous about her MS. This is some serious terrain so when they call a hike 'difficult', we approach with trepidation. She has been fine so far! We hiked down to a waterfall and enjoyed the power and majesty. As we were hiking up, a 4 ft snake slithered by Holly and she freaked. We stepped cautiously afterwards! There was a fine comfortable mist during the walk but got caught in a downpour at the end but cameras were ok after we waited it out under some foliage. Weather in the tropics- wait a minute and it will change!
14 July 2015
Tuesday July 14 pt. 2- after leaving the Treehouse we stopped at Leos, another Mark recommendation. So often, tourist stuff isn't even made in the country. We know Leo painted the stuff himself. They gave us the big coconuts and loved showing off their parrot. We were planning on eating at a Soda before getting up to the lodge but when we left Fortuna and headed around the other side of the volcano, everything changed. It turned into resorts and hot springs. Didn't find one Soda. (Sodas are CR fast food. Small roadside stands where you find cheap awesome food.) As we were driving up, all of a sudden we came to cars at a standstill. We then noticed a bunch of critters populating the road. Very cute; called coati and related to raccoons. We turned up towards the lodge and the road turned dirt with crazy inclines. The whole environment had changed by the top. Much more of a N Cali/Pacific NW feel; conifers, ferns, moist lush forest. And Arenal, constantly looming, ominous...
Tuesday July 14 pt. 1- Today was a transition day. We moved from the Treehouse up to the Arenal Observation Lodge at the base of Arenal Volcano. We wish we had stayed another night at the Treehouse. Mark and Lucy were so gracious and personable we would go back again. The breakfasts we superb and we enjoyed all of the animals around the property. Last night we saw a sloth and the baby up in the trees but was gone in the am. We checked out but took a walk down to the waterfall before leaving. It was so dense the forest was dark. In addition we kept hearing howler monkeys somewhere in the woods. Creepily cool!! We then headed out for our next stop, the base of a volcano!
13 July 2015
Monday July 13th pt. 3- Orange Howler Monkey- Due to genetic defects, this monkey is orange to tell the other monkeys that he is damaged goods and not 'mate-able'. He was all alone with no other monkeys around while his troop was playing in other trees. Curious, even tho he was destined to be isolated, his mom fed, nurtured and taught him to survive knowing she was going to turn him out. Maternal instinct is strong! He looks SO SAD!
Having amazing time!
Monday July 13 pt. 2- ...beginning my quest into the Heart of Darkness to find Col. Kurtz! Actually, I Think Apocalypse Now was filmed somewhere in LA. Anyway, we slowly went down the river and our guides were excellent in pointing out and talking about the wildlife. The monkeys swinging, playing, lounging from the trees. We saw 3 kinds, Spider, Howler and Capuchin. Forest echoed with sounds of breaking branches and screeching; totally cool! Also saw a couple Doing The Do and got a disapproving look from the Top monkey! (Endangered bird is black and white one.)
Monday July 13 Pt 1- Today we decided to do one of the tours recommended by Mark. It was a boat ride down the Cano Negro, in northern CR near the Nicaraguan border. We started out early for our 2 hour bus ride. There was an annoying teacher who was speaking Spanish to the driver about Nicaraguan politics, freedom fighters, blah blah blah. Just felt very 'look at me and how good my Spanish is'; teachers can be so annoying! ;) fortunately she was being taken to the border and would not go on the tour with us! We drove from Arenal N through expansive pineapple and sugar fields which then transitioned into a flatland that felt like a delta region. We turned off into a dirt road where we saw all sorts of birds. I am not even trying to remember names because there are so many! We saw one bird (next set of pics) that only has 40 mating couples left; pretty special I'm told! We saw a Caiman and a family of birds. We arrived at our departure point and I couldn't shake the feeling I was...
12 July 2015
Sunday July 12 pt. 1- After an all night long bruising downpour, we weren't sure how the day was going to go. We woke up to coffee on our porch and birds at our feeder and we went for a walk before breakfast. The rain subsided on our walk as we explored some of the flora. We picked an orange from a tree and it was the most sour thing I have ever tasted! We sat down for a delicious breakfast which we shared with many birds and an agouti, a rodent. We met a cool couple from Chicago, Brittany and Shane. We decided to hang for the day and we headed out for Fortuna. Mark, Treehouse Guy, told us there was a festival in Tanque, on the way to Fortuna. We rolled in to a town just starting to set up. On one side of the street was a soccer field with a game of 8yr olds playing. On the other side of the street was a gathering of caballos and their owners, decked out in cowboy regalia. Over the loudspeakers blasted corridos straight from Mexico.
Sunday July 12 pt. 2- We grabbed some beers from the tienda and sat and watched one of the soccer games. We started to cheer for the team whose section we were in! Kids had mad skills! We then went over to where the caballeros were gathering. We were welcomed into the tent where a young cowboy poured us a shot of the local brew out of a milk jug. Like a strong Mudlside! We hung out, drank and engaged with the locals. Of course we heard 'gringos' several times! We felt very welcomed. We then headed out to Fortuna which sits in the shadow of Arenal volcano. We had a nice meal, roamed the square with families and kids playing. We finally said goodbye to our new friends and headed back into the trees!
11 July 2015
Sat July 11 pt. 2- We finally arrived at our 1st dwelling after a grueling day of travel. Cleveland to Dallas 3 hours, Dallas to Costa Rica 4 hours and then another 4 hour car ride from the capital of San Jose to our 1st abode, a treehouse in the rainforest. We rented a car but the rental company provided us with a driver to get us here. That was probably a good idea to get us comfortable with the lay of the land. Besides, we were too busy gawking at all of the sights! We drove through clouds and pouring rain, past waterfalls on steep mountain roads overlooking vast expanses of fincas (farms). We stopped at a small tienda (store) where we got some fuerte Costa Rican coffee, empanadas and some dulces (sweets). Andres, our driver, then stopped at a restaurant for a delicious meal. I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised at how well I have been doing with my Spanish. I have been holding conversations pretty well and most Ticos (Costa Ricans) know some English so it is all good!
Sat July 11 pt. 3- We are sitting on the porch of our treehouse in the increasing jungle darkness. The rainforest is filled with all sorts of sounds I am not familiar with. I have to keep reminding myself that this is an environment I am completely unfamiliar with; these aren't the Ohio deciduous forests I am used to! Monkeys, sloths, toucans and God only knows what else are out there in my immediate vicinity; CRAZY to say the least! Very excited to get out and explore explore explore!!
Saturday July 11 pt. 1- "Woke up high over Albuquerque on a jet to the Promised Land". Starting to get a little nervous but excitement is the overwhelming emotion. I keep going through all of the Spanish I may need and I just need to chill. It will flow as the situation dictates. I am so glad we have our own car; it will give us so much more freedom!
10 July 2015
Friday July 10- The kids have been dropped off at grandma and grandpas and we are killing time until our plane leaves early in the morning. We decided to fly out of Dayton because it was much more practical as far as dropping off the kids. Getting very excited to get back to Latin America. Of course, every country has its own energy but there are cultural commonalities based on who colonized the area, whether it be the English, Spanish, Portuguese and the Dutch and French to lesser degrees. We have been traveling more in former English colonies (St. Lucia, Jamaica) and it will be nice to get back to the Spanish influence. Based on limited experience, there also seems to be less indigenous influences in the former English colonies than in the former Spanish colonies; not sure how accurate that is...