2005 tour North and East Costa Rica
From Friday December 9th to Tuesday December 20th, 2005
Costa Rica, officially the Republic of Costa Rica (Spanish: Costa Rica or República de Costa Rica, is a country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the east and south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and south and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Costa Rica, which means "Rich Coast", constitutionally abolished its army permanently in 1949,thus becoming militarily neutral. It is the only Latin American country included in the list of the world’s 22 older democracies. Costa Rica has consistently been among the top Latin American countries in terms of the Human Development Index, and ranked 54th in the world in 2007. The country is ranked 3rd in the world, and 1st among the Americas, in terms of the 2010 Environmental Performance Index. In 2007 the Costa Rican government announced plans for Costa Rica to become the first carbon neutral country by 2021. According to the New Economics Foundation, Costa Rica ranks first in the Happy Planet Index and is the "greenest" country in the world.
Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, 10° North of the equator and 84° West of the Prime Meridian. It borders the Caribbean Sea (to the east) and the Pacific Ocean (to the west), with a total of 1,290 kilometres (800 mi) of coastline, 212 km (132 mi) on the Caribbean coast and 1,016 km (631 mi) on the Pacific. Costa Rica also borders Nicaragua to the north (309 km or 192 mi of border) and Panama to the south-southeast (639 km or 397 mi of border). In total, Costa Rica comprises 51,100 square kilometres (19,700 sq mi) plus 589 square kilometres (227 sq mi) of territorial waters. The highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripó, at 3,819 metres (12,530 ft), and is the fifth highest peak in Central America. The highest volcano in the country is the Irazú Volcano (3,431 m or 11,257 ft). The largest lake in Costa Rica is Lake Arenal.
Costa Rica also comprises several islands. Cocos Island (24 square kilometres / 9.3 square miles) stands out because of its distance from continental landmass, 300 mi (480 km) from Puntarenas, but Calero Island is the largest island of the country (151.6 square kilometres / 58.5 square miles). Costa Rica protects 23% of its national territory within the Protected Areas system. It also possesses the greatest density of species in the world.
Because Costa Rica is located between nine to ten degrees north of the Equator, the climate is tropical year round. However, the country has many microclimates depending on elevation, rainfall, topography, and by the geography of each particular region. Costa Rica's seasons are defined by how much it rains during a particular period and not to the four seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. The year can be split into two periods, the dry season known to the residents as summer, and the rainy season, known locally as winter. The "summer" or dry season goes from December to April, and "winter" or rainy season goes from May to November, which almost coincides with the Atlantic hurricane season, and during this time it rains constantly in some regions.
The location that receives the most rain is the Caribbean slopes of the Central Cordillera mountains, with an annual rainfall of over 5,000 mm (196.9 in). Humidity is also higher on the Caribbean side than on the Pacific side. The mean annual temperature on the coastal lowlands is around 80 °F (26.7 °C), 69 °F (20.6 °C) in the main populated areas of the Central Cordilera, and below 50 °F (10 °C) on the summits of the highest mountains.
Flora and fauna
Costa Rica is home to a rich variety of plants and animals. While the country has only about 0.25% of the world's landmass, it contains 5% of the world's biodiversity. Around 25% of the country's land area is in protected national parks and protected areas, the largest percentage of protected areas in the world.
One national park that is internationally renowned among ecologists for its biodiversity (including big cats and tapirs) and where visitors can expect to see an abundance of wildlife is the Corcovado National Park. Corcovado is the one park in Costa Rica where all four Costa Rican monkey species can be found. These include the White-headed Capuchin, the Mantled Howler and the endangered Geoffroy's Spider Monkey. They also include the Central American Squirrel Monkey, which is found only on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and a small part of Panama, and was considered endangered until 2008 when its status was upgraded to vulnerable.
Tortuguero National Park—the name Tortuguero can be translated as "Full of Turtles"—is home to spider, howler, and white-throated Capuchin monkeys; the three-toed sloth and two-toed sloth; 320 species of birds; and a variety of reptiles. The park is recognized for the annual nesting of the endangered green turtle and is the most important nesting site for the species. Giant leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles also nest there.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is home to about 2,000 plant species, including numerous orchids. Over 400 types of birds and over 100 species of mammals can be found there. As a whole, around 800 species of birds have been identified in Costa Rica. The Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad is allowed to collect royalties on any biological discoveries of medical importance. Costa Rica and parts of Panama are home to the vulnerable Central American Squirrel Monkey. Deforestation, illegal pet-trading, and hunting are the main reasons for its threatened status. Costa Rica is a center of biological diversity for reptiles and amphibians, including the world's fastest running lizard, the spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura similis).
Route in 2005:
Laguna Del Lagarto Lodge in het gelijknamige natuurreservaat
Hotel Heliconia in Monteverde
Hotel Lomas Del Volcan in La Fortuna
Hacienda Guachipelin in Rincon de la Vieja
Hotel Cala Luna in Tamarindo
Friday December 9, 2005: Departure
After a short night resting, we get up at 07:00 AM. We both are a bit nervous, cause of the long flight and because we’re traveling to a continent, we’ve never visited before. My parents in law (Maurits and Betty) pick us up at our place at 07:45. Betty will take our dog Cartouche with her: Be good, little one! A quick goodbye and Maurits takes us to Mechelen-station. There we picked up last Saturday the tickets in exchange for the vouchers we received from our touring operator and now we can leave with the 09:11 train to Schiphol, The Netherlands. We’re passing by Berchem, Roosendaal, Rotterdam en then it is the stop from Schiphol Airport itself. We get out of the train and go one floor up. Then another floor up and we’re at the level of departures. We immediately see our flight is already 1 hour late for departure. No problem, it is only 1 hour, no panic. We go to the check-in counter and give away our bag packs. We eat at Burger King, cause we’re a bit hungry already. We walk around at the airport, go out and buy some small cigars and go outside the airport building to smoke one. Our vacation has started. We pass customs without any problems and stroll to gate G8. At the end of the hallway, there are 6 relax seats with a perfect view on the departing airplanes. A few of them are really big ones, like the one from Singapore Airlines. A magnificent view. The planes pass at about 20 meters in front of us. Taking the 1 hour announced delay into account, we board on time, at 15:00. Our seats are completely at the end of the plane; 40 G and H. The seats are placed in several rows: 2 – 4 – 2 (window, center, window), a large Boeing 767. Here we are for the next 10 hours. We first fly to Orlando and we first go to the north of the US and only then we start going south to Orlando, Florida. Those 10 hours are in the end not that bad. We get to see some series (Friends, Mr. Bean, …) and we get 3 times something to eat, so time passes by pretty quickly. We drink a lot, because our doctor told us to. It really is necessary during a long flight like this. We read a bit, make sure we move from time to time and arrive at Orlando International Airport at 19:30 (it is 01:30 in Belgium). We need to queue for a while to have all formalities done (left index, right index, picture taken), then they check our hand luggage and we move on to the next plane at gate 23. Now we’re ready for another flight, this time it is going to take only 3 hours: nothing, when you compare it too the 10 we just had. This is less fun, because there is less legroom, but anyway. After 2 hours and 50 minutes we arrive at San José’s Juan Santamaria International Airport. Local time is 23:30 (06:30 in Belgium) there is another hour of difference between Orlando and Costa Rica. Luggage arrives really fast. Eef is only away for 2 minutes and Timo already has the 2 bag packs. The last luggage and passport controls are performed and we go outside for the transfer to Hotel Palma Real with Ara Tours. Everything is scheduled perfectly, especially for a southern country. We get a private transfer to the hotel, with a lot of explanation in German. Finally we arrive at the hotel at 00:45, receive the key to room 212, walk around the neighborhood for half an hour and go to sleep, tired, exhausted. Check if the mobile works and notify our parents, that all is OK here.
Saturday December 10, 2005: Volcano Poas and Laguna del Lagarto Lodge
At 05:00 in the morning Timo is already awake. He decides to go out at 05:30 for a stroll (with his digital camera’s). When he hears the sounds, he is sure he in Central America, even in the city of San José he can hear jungle noises, marvelous. He is out for about an hour and a half and he enjoys it very much. For a person, that loves birds: “Pleasure Overload”. Take a shower, eat breakfast: eggs, hot tomato sauce, rice and black beans. We make sure we’re ready, wait a little while in the lobby, check the maps and travel guides we have. At 08:45 the guy from Adobe (car rental) comes to give us the car we ordered upfront. All is OK pretty soon; the guy is very friendly and gives us some advice. At 09:30 we can take the Daihatsu Terios direction Poas Volcano. Entry costs 6 $ per person and 2 $ for parking the car. We arrive there at 11:00 without getting lost, which was not without effort, because the signs, that are available, sometimes point in completely wrong directions. We first visit the small museum, but this is not really worth visiting. Everything displayed is old and explanation is only in Spanish. Then we take the path to the crater, about 600 meters. We can see the crater very good, although it is very humid and misty. We just have to wait for a few minutes for the clouds to disappear. After seeing the crater, we take the path further down to Lake Botos with only rainwater (so no stinking fumes here). From here a special trail (Escalonia) leads through the rainforest and it ends out on the parking lot, so we take this instead of walking the same way back. We see a lot of squirrels here, a lot of birds and the first hummingbird. Total coolness. We walk the trail and enjoy the surroundings and nature and we arrive at the parking lot around 13:00. We start drinking a lot of water, because temperature is rising quickly.
Passing through San Miguel we drive to Pital. On the way to Pital we stop to see a stunning waterfall (Cascade de la Paz). So far so good. We arrive in Pital around 15:00 and there the round ends, also according to the map. We need to take a good gravel surfaced road from Pital to Boca Tapada. We know we have to take this road, this is the only way to get there, for about 28 kilometers to Boca Tapada and then an even smaller road (?) brings us another 9 kilometer to the Lodge. We arrive finally after a breathtaking trip at the lodge at 16:30. The nature is wild there and also the road can be classified as rough. We saw a lot of birds on the way and also some pineapple plants. We really are now in the middle of nowhere, at the end of the world. People at the lodge are very friendly and they give us room 20. Not very luxurious, but the rooms are clean. We leave our luggage in the room and go to the terrace to drink a beer, 2 Pilsen. We are no longer thirsty. At 17:30 we go out to take a shower, because one hour later we can go and have dinner: chicken, hearts of palms, manioc, green beans, carrots with a very tasty sauce, typical Costa Rican. For desert: what else is possible here, we already saw it along the road: pineapple! We now drink Imperial (La Cerveza de Costa Rica). Then we have the choice to join a group of people to go out and feed the caiman. We’re not yet too tired, so we follow our guide. Jozefien, Fraulein, Mein Hund and some others, they all receive raw chicken. They just crawl out of the pond surrounding the lodge and we’re surprised, when a big animal suddenly is only about 1 meter away from you. If they notice too much movement or sudden noises, they quickly dive back into the pond. Also the ‘house frog’ wants to get his picture taken. A tree frog lives inside a terrarium at the lodge and needs to show himself one time a day for the tourist. At the same time nice and cute, but not that good for the animal. We take the animal on our hand, even Eef does that. The frog has wonderful colors and very long and slim legs. After this adventure we take a beer to our personal terrace and enjoy it there. It is only 20:15 and we’re already very, very tired, so we go to bed early at around 21:00. We will notice this will be the case more often. You live differently at home as here. Get up at 06:00 and go to bed at 21:00. In the middle of the night we wake up and it rains unbelievably hard. Rain in the rainforest. That’s a special experience!
Sunday December 11, 2005: Rainforest and boat trip in the river San Carlos
Sunrise is very early: at 05:30. By this time we start to wake up also and we are woken up by a morning concert of birds, some very close, others far away. We have breakfast at 06:30. At least, that’s what we wanted. Breakfast serves only at 08:00. This means, we have about 2 hours to watch all the different tropical birds. De people at the lodge hang bananas in a tree and some in a branch over some bushes. We sit here and get to see hundreds of birds, flying, fighting, playing. A marvelous sight! The most beautiful are Keel billed toucan, collared Aracari and Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, the montezuma oropendula. A kind of tanager (black and red), a little small blue bird en two woodpeckers. A flycatcher and with that I’ve mentioned the most common and most important species. This is really indescribable. If you like birds, then this is paradise. We see during breakfast (rice with black beans, egg, bread and coffee), one of the toucans fly out of the tree and comes straight to us. He lands at a distance of only 1 meter from our table. Seeing the bird now this close, it is a beautiful sight. Magnificent colors. Didier (our guide later) shows us through binoculars 1 scarlet macaw. We can check them out as often as we like. The birds are about 100 meters away in a very big tree. We already saw 5 birds landing there last night; they use that particular tree as a sleeping and hiding place. At 08:00 is the time to leave for a walk through the rainforest with Didier. We’re completely surrounded with rainforest and with a beautiful garden. That is the home of a few species of hummingbirds and they fly like daredevils. A black vulture in a tree in the garden is also nice to see. We receive a pair of boots to walk on the jungle trails and a stick (to keep up straight on the slippery soil). Timo first thought of not taking a stick, but then saw the guide take one and he decided to take one also – and it was good he did. Off we go! We receive a lot of explanation of the forest vegetation. We see a lot of leaf cutter ants, a salamander and a lot of poison dart frogs (little blue jeans). First we see only 1 or 2, but along the trail we see about 50 in total. It’s a small frog, but ‘cute’ as the two Americans, who joined us, describe it. We do not see a lot of birds, only a tinamou. Beautiful is the other kind of poison dart frog we see (the green and black one). This one is bigger. It is awesome to walk to real tropical rainforest like this. Didier points us to a special plant: monkey stairs. The monkeys use this to climb in trees more easily. After 3 hours we exit the forest and take the gravel road back to the lodge. When we come back, we eat lunch, spaghetti with cheese.
At 13:30 they come to our room to start the boat trip on the river San Carlos. We take 2 people in our car to the next stop: We leave Didier in one of the houses along the road and the other one will be our guide on the boat. When we arrive at the boat rain is poring down and we make sure we’re quickly dry in the boat. We’re on the river San Carlos now and will go all the way to the San Juan, that river is the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The boat is fast and we see a lot of animals on and along the river. On the way to San Juan we see turtles, 1 American crocodile, a lot of blue and white herons, 2 jacana’s, a falcon, kingfishers, anhinga, cormorants and some iguanas: in Costa Rica they call it ‘chicken of the trees’. The locals sometimes eat the meat and it tastes like chicken. After a trip of 1.5 hours we arrive at the village Boca San Carlos, a small village at the mouth of the river. We walk through the village en receive some more insight in the plants and flowers and fruits, the people cultivate in their village. There are 2 schools, a police station, a church and a clinic, where a doctor is only available once a month. In the school the children have decorated the X-mas tree and there is 1 teacher and 1 student. In the other school there are 10 students and also 1 teacher. The different types of fruit and flowers that grow there are: orchids, star fruits, kokospalms, strong peppers, manioc, maracuja, oranges and some kind of fruit, that taste like lemon. We stop at the bar to have a drink. There is always a tame parrot that runs around in the bar. He’s cute.
After the drink we go back to the boat and go for the return to the lodge. We go a lot faster now and see mostly the same animals as we did on our way to Boca San Carlos. As an extra we now see small bats that are hanging over the river from a tree, a huge American croc and some black vultures. When the crocs or the caiman are just lying on the shore or on a tree, there is no problem the Costa Rican guys make sure they leave very fast, when they glide into the water. They quickly turn the boat and get away. It was a great day and a great experience. First this morning the hiking in the rainforest and a marvelous trip on the river this afternoon, even though the weather is not that great. At around 17:00 we’re back, where we started and we take our jeep back to the lodge. Back at the lodge we proudly present the digital photographs we took to Adolpho. Very close to the terrace we see a nose bear (coati), but we’re too late to take a picture. We take a shower, write our diary, rest a bit and go out for diner: malanga, broccoli, flower cowl and pudding. Again we leave early to go to bed. We did not expect, that we would be also getting up that early and also going to bed early. We‘ve already read this in the diaries of other people, who visited Costa Rica, but did not think we would be doing this. A person lives here between 6 in the morning to 21 and not from 9 to 23, as one does at home, a person really adapts to the rhythm of nature.
Monday December 12, 2005: Trip to Monteverde
Rise and shine very early as we’re already used to do every day since we arrived. Sun rises at 05:30, so then you’re awake. Timo takes a stroll through the garden in search for some hummingbirds and parrots. It is no problem at all to see some of them right here. We pack the bag packs; Eef woke up as well by now and we go out for breakfast, where we meet again with the same birds from yesterday: parrots, toucans… It looks like the most normal thing in the world by now, but it really is not. We enjoy every moment of our time here. It is too much to describe in words. We eat cheese, fruits and some bread. After breakfast we write something in the guestbook and go to pay our bill (148 $) and we leave the lodge for a nice trip of 2 hours over the same road as we came here. Around 08:00 we’re off and it is raining, that is not that good, but then again, we’re still in Costa Rica. We drive again along the plantations of pineapple and yucca. There are a lot of jacanas on the road (looks like a moorhen); a complete family. Next to that there are a lot of cows (we call them ‘zeboes’) and white heron as we thunder over the road. It takes about 1.5 hours again to reach Pital. There we take the road to La Fortuna and Volcano Arenal. A big red road on the map and everything is going smooth. We pass along a lot of plantations and see a lot of vultures circling high in the air and some of them are just at the side of the road. We choose not to stay in la Fortuna and check out the Arenal, off course not, we will come here again in a few days. Here we need to take a small road along the south of Lake Arenal to drive to Monteverde. We do not follow the road to Arenal itself, but take the other side. We drive for about 20 minutes with an average of 20 km pre hour, up and down, up and down, but then reach a point, where a tree is preventing us to continue the same trail. So we turn around and we think it is a good thing it is happening now and not within 2 hours or so. We return to the good red road, drive around Lake Arenal to reach Tilaran. This road is supposed to be a good one, but it is not at all: a lot of holes in the road, so we’re obliged to drive slowly and very carefully. The 41 kilometers take about 2 hours of our time.
It is raining, it is dark and that makes it even more difficult. Thick fog, rain, very hard wind, not a good thing at all. And it will probably be for the rest of the day like this. It is nice we do not stay in La Fortuna today, because you don’t see anything, not the volcano, no nothing. It is pretty dangerous to just drive there. We have a halt in Tilaran a look for something small to eat: apples, bananas and toast bread. A short break and then off to Santa Helena and Monteverde. We take a wrong turn, only for 20 meters and a jung Costa Rican says it is not easy to find and sells us a ‘detailed’ map how to get there. He was just kidding, because all turns were indicated very clearly from this point on. We even suspect them of removing the signs, so they are able to sell their maps. He says we have supported the construction of a school with the money, so we have done well. Now it goes up and down, just like the road to Pital this morning, but now wet and slippery with fog and sometimes very steep. We have a 4x4 and we need it. Normally tourists need approximately 3 hours to get there; we arrive in Santa Helena after 2 hours, search for 20 minutes for the hotel, where we arrive at 16:00. A good reception. We receive a cocktail with rum and they bring us to our room then. While we drink the cocktail we receive a lot of information, what excursions we can take tomorrow. Now we first take a rest and then we go out to check out the village. We walk down and pass by the ‘Frog Pond’. We take about one hour of time to visit the frogs, toads and a guide gives us some explanation about the animals. The explanation consists most of the time of locating the frogs and telling us what kind of animals is in there. Cool. Seeing the frogs in the rainforest was a bit cooler, because we saw the animals in their naturals environment. We go on to the village, buy some cigars and go back to the hotel. It is already dark and we’re hungry. Right on the other side of the hotel there is a pizzeria. We enter there and first have a salad (for 2) and then a pizza vegetariana (Eef) and Sea bass (Timo). The food is good and not expensive. After dinner we go back to the hotel and book a guided trip for tomorrow. They will take us to the Santa Helena Cloud Forest, there we can do a ‘skywalk’, exhibition “Jewels of the rainforest” and “The Hummingbird Garden, especially for Timo. In the room we install the net against mosquitos, smoke a cigar and go to bed early again, around 21:00.
Tuesday December 13, 2005: Monteverde skywalk, hummingbirds, insects
Thanks to the net we only have 2 bites now. Jippy! The bed was not really good, but despite of this we slept OK and we’re feeling good. Breakfast is buffet: cheese, fruits, coffee and bread. We need to go to Santa Helena, want to get some money, need to buy shampoo and want to use the internet and send a mail for half an hour. We’re not lucky; the village ahs completely lost electricity, so we’ll have to wait to surf. We buy a bottle of shampoo, drive to Monteverde village itself, but there is nothing much to see, so we return to Santa Helena. One time electricity is up, a second later it is down. We rent 30 minutes of surf-time, when power is back, send an e-mail home and try to get some money at the banc again. Just at the moment, when we need to receive money out of the machine, power is gone again and our MasterCard does not come out again: STRESS! Timo enters the banc to try and get his card back; Eef watches the machine in case the card appears again. Only 1 person in the banc speaks a bit English and then it looks like it is much easier, when someone speaks a bit of Spanish. After about 15 minutes Timo already sees someone walk by with the card, but he still doesn’t have it. At 10:10 Timo has the card, but no money! We’ll try again later. They first had to check some transactions on the card. They say no transaction was done and Timo needs to sign a paper (in Spanish). Hopefully they are good people, because he doesn’t really understands, what he’s signing. It was either that or not getting the card back. Not really much of a choice, then. We still have about 10 minutes to get to the hotel. They will pick us up at the hotel around 10:20. We get in the van and the driver drops us at the ‘Santa Helena Cloud Forest’. The entrance to the skywalk is immediately in front of us and we start the walk without a guide.
The weather is not good, foggy and raining, so we will most probably not see that many animals. The cloud forest does leave a big impression. It is huge! We walk over bridges hanging in the trees about 30 to 50 meters above the ground and we’re still not walking in the highest tops. There still are trees that are 20 meters growing above the bridges. Everything is much bigger than it is in Europe. Plants are growing on the trees, sometimes you can’t tell which are leaves from the trees and which are plants growing on the trees. It is indescribable; a person has to see it in real life to understand. We carry an umbrella and it is very useful indeed. Eef only has a K-way, but when it really starts to rain hard she joins Timo under the umbrella. We walk on the forest trails from 10:50 till 12:30. Very nice! After this it is time for the exhibition ‘Jewels of the Rainforest’ by Richard Whitten. It starts with a video about the life and work of this person. He has collected, filmed, observed a lot different insect species and now he has an exhibition of these bugs in a museum in the Santa Helena Cloud Forest. The most species hanging here are moths, butterflies, but also other different species. Some are specifically living in Costa Rica, but he has collected also species from other continents and there is also general information in biodiversity and diseases spread by insects. We get a very good explanation of our private guide Henri, which is quite cool. He says we’re the first Belgian visitors of the centre, so we need to write something in the guest book. Then we seek for a while the heat in the museum shop. There everyone gathers to look for some warmth en a dry place. We drink a coke and then go back out to the butterfly garden. This is a perfect moment for Timo. He has been waiting a long time for this and now the moment has finally arrived. On an open spot in the forest, close to the reception hall and museum shop, someone has hung 5 reservoirs for the hummingbirds. There is a kind of water with honey in the reservoirs that are designed especially for the birds. We were thinking on seeing a few birds, but there are a couple of 100 flying around. We stand under the umbrella en watch the birds; it is marvelous to see the birds flying through the sky. They fly up and down and right next to our ears to the front and then back again. You can really approach them very near, from a range of 30 centimeters.
It still is raining, so we need to stay under the umbrella. You hear them fly by, fight and you’re able to admire the daredevils from very close by. Really awesome. If the weather would have been better, we could have stayed here even longer, than we can now, but it’s getting cold and we go in again. There we wait for half an hour and they bring us back to the hotel by van. There we take a shower and start the evening by taking an aperitif: 3 caipirinha per person and then we go out to eat. It’s happy hour in the hotel, so we don’t pay that much for the cocktails. The special thing was they did not use normal lime, but mandarin lime: the same shape, almost the same taste, but the color of a mandarin. During aperitif we had already decided we are going to take chicken a brochette and a salad. The waiter however presented the daily specialty: a kind of ‘fruit de mer’, but hot with garlic and brandy. We couldn’t say ‘no’ to that temptation. First we had a salad that they prepared at the table. A dressing with olive oil, 1 raw egg, mustard, anchovy, garlic, cheese, bread crusts. This was all pored over the salad: delicious! It is called Cesar Salad. Then they start to prepare the main dish, also next to our table. They use 2 old pans with a lot of oil and lime. The things they prepared were: 1 lobster each, crab, mussels, calamari, gamba’s, … everything together in the pan and with a lot of garlic and brandy. Very, very, very good taste. We also got some rice and some vegetables with it, but practically do not touch it. As a desert we get a banana with ice cream. We normally would never order a desert, but it was included in the menu, so we enjoyed the ice with banana. Completely full, we go back to our bungalow number 36. We read a bit and decide, what route we’re going to take tomorrow to go to La Fortuna. Then we go to bed, it’s already 21:00!
Wednesday December 14, 2005: To La Fortuna – Volcano Arenal
After a bad night because of a bed, that was too short and not wide enough, we needed to sleep with 2 in 1 bed off course, we get up at 07:45, a bit later, than normal. We’re surprised it’s already this late in the day and start to pack our things. We put everything in the car and go for breakfast. Everybody was very friendly; indeed yesterday we had a menu of 150$ (lobster and caipirinha’s) and gave them a 3$ tip. The breakfast is pretty quick, bread, juice, coffee, chocolate cake, breakfast cookies and cheese. We pay the bill and leave the hotel around 08:45. We don’t drive to Tilaran now, but we take the road to Las Juntas. The road is not even better, than the other one, but it takes us much faster to the Interamericana. We reach the ‘highway’ at 10:00 and drive direction San Ramon. Eef is only behind the wheel as the police already make us stop. Damn. She should not drive, because we only can have 1 driver: we had to pay extra to make sure we could drive the both of us and now the police stops us. But this is not what it’s all about: she was driving at 82 kilometers per hours and the allowed speed was 80. A fine of 10.000 colones or 20 $ is what this costs us, pay immediately, no mercy. Drive carefully! We drive on and have some traffic jams, because they are repaving the road. In San Ramon we take the red road north to La Fortuna, the roads are very steep and we have some problems on the way to La Fortuna with the car, cooling system is not working properly. We’ll take a look later on. We locate the hotel Lomas Del Volcan pretty easily and check in already at 14:00. We get bungalow 309, the last one on the hotel grounds. Cool, 2 giant beds en a very big hotel room and two terraces: one at the front to watch the monkeys and a second with volcano view. We don’t see the volcano however due to the low clouds, hopefully we can see it later today or tomorrow. We unpack our things (+/- 15:00) and go for a swim (cold) and a bubble bath (hot). After an hour we’ve had it, our hands are completely wrinkled and we go to our room completely relaxed. We take a shower, buy 4 beers (Pilsen) en drink them on our terrace surrounded with birds and monkeys. Paradise part II (part I was Laguna del Lagarto Lodge). At 18:00 we go down to eat, but the buffet will only be ready in one hour, so we drink another 2 beers. We have soup, a mixed salad, pasta with tomato sauce, rice with hearts of palms, fish with nice vegetables and chicken Costa Rica. A lot and very tasty. We don’t want any desert. We return to our terrace and drink the last beer we have in the fridge. Very tired we go to bed. At 01:00 we are awake again and see the volcano clearly without any clouds. Everything clear, fantastic view from our bed! We’re too tired to get out and there are too much mosquitoes.
Thursday December 15, 2005: Volcano and Caño Negro
This night we have been awake a lot of times, but we at least saw the volcano completely from top to bottom. The night was quite clear and we saw it without a single cloud. Beautiful! We wake up early and we hope to see the volcano clearly again this morning. Noooot! We make ourselves some coffee and try to spot the volcano between the clouds from our terrace. Nothing to see up till now. We drink our coffee and go for breakfast later on: eggs, rice and beans, bread, a pretty and delicious buffet. During breakfast clouds disappear a bit and we see Arenal with only a small piece of cloud. Cool! Now we can leave relieved, having seen the volcano, to Caño Negro. Yesterday we were still in doubt if we would go out to the reserve or stay to see the Arenal. What if the volcano would only be visible for a few minutes and we would be in Los Chiles. And another risk: what is we stayed in La Fortuna to see the volcano and it would not become visible, then we would miss out on the reserve of Caño Negro. Everything is OK now. We saw the volcano and we have time and gasoline to drive to Los Chiles. By 09:30 we leave the hotel and La Fortuna and take the road to the north for 120 kilometers, near the border of Nicaragua, now a bit more to the west than in Boca Tapada. We do the distance in 1.5 hour and arrive at 10:00 in Los Chiles. The road to Los Chiles is very good; this is for this time a good experience! In Los Chiles a Costa Rican asks us if we want to see the Rio Frio with himself as a guide: 16$. All right. Let’s go. We travel over the river very, very slowly, but the advantage is, that we see a lot more animals than the time before in the Lagarto Lodge. It starts with two kingfishers, and a few cormorants. We travel along the riversides of the Rio Frio and spot a lot of caiman, lizards (Jesus Christ, they call it basilisk), monkeys (howler and spider monkeys), white herons, iguana’s and some vultures in the sky. In this slow way we sail on the river.
A bird, that is a relative of the quetzal, a kind of heron, that has a very thick beak a lot of lizards, caiman and iguana’s. Just before we stop we see a sloth with a little baby, which is a beautiful sight! We enjoy every second we’re here. We stop at a farm along the river and walk around there and see a big iguana and some fish from the river, living here in a basin: carfish? What I could find on the internet it will probably be the alligator gar. A bit later we leave for the real reserve of Caño Negro, but this time of year it is not much. It is only a small plain of swamps, but in the wet season the water rises to 2 meters higher than now. Then only way of checking that out is by boat. Now the boat only can go a few meters and then we return. We stop to pay our trip. It is sixty $ and not sixteen $, a little misunderstanding. But the trip was worth even the 60 $, so that was no problem. He returns a bit faster, than we came, stops a few seconds at a tree with bats in there. Then he goes to a beautiful tree, cuts one of the fruits (looks like a banana) and cuts it and does some things with it. Eef needs to hold it in her hand and Timo has to tear the top off. A beautiful flower appears: the national flower of Nicaragua. Investigation on the net has provided info, that this flower (pachira) is not the national flower of Nicaragua. We go back all the way to Los Chiles and there take the car back to La Fortuna. We see that the car was unlocked all the time we were on the boat. This is something we need to be careful about. We drive back to La Fortuna and try another time to withdraw some money, but we’re not lucky again. In the bank it takes too long; people there look at going to the bank as a social happening, but for me it is just a way of quickly having some money. So we return to the hotel. A quick swim and look at the Arenal, then we take an aperitif write our daily reports and go out for dinner. There is a very good buffet again, almost the same food is served as yesterday. We like it, eat everything we get and go back to our bungalow to sleep, hopefully we sleep better than yesterday.
Friday December 16, 2005: From Arenal Volcano to Rincon de la Vieja
Tonight we slept a bit better. We have breakfast as usual (buffet). The volcano Arenal shows itself very beautiful saying goodbye to us. Very nice. At about 08:00 we check out and take the car to Tilaran and Liberia. We now can see the volcano from the other side. We reach Lake Arenal now when the sky is clear and the weather is fine. This is a much better view, than the first time we were here. We drive along the lake on the same bad road we did a few days before. Today it is not that bad, there is something to see at this moment thanks to better weather conditions. On the road we encounter a wounded nose bear; we give him something to eat. A bit farther we see a bunch of black vultures about 20 of them. A truck has dropped some bags probably with some food in there; the animals have smelled the scent and have come to grab a piece of food. They are fighting for the food on the road and next to the road. When we reach Tilaran, we take the road to Las Cañas. On our way to the city, we need to take a first stop, because the engine is getting overheated. We wait for about 30 minutes until the engine has cooled down, we poor some water in the cooling circuit and drive on. We need to stop another three times and a bit further in the neighborhood of Bagaces we need to give up. We have to stop and call the renting office to check with them, what we need to do. When they return our call after about 10 minutes, they say someone is on the way. Luckily we have the mobile phone with us in the car together with the numbers of the renting company.
We wait for an hour for the guy, and he gives us a new car: a Terios, but now a green one. Now we can leave having a bit of 2 hours delay. It is not that far any more, cause 1.5 hours later we arrive at hotel Guachipelin. At the reception we receive a complete explanation of what can be done here and in the surrounding area. We start by going out to the ‘Termales‘ and then to the reserve Las Pailas. At the Termales there nothing much to see; a boiling pond and all the installations for complete body-care with mud-pool, sauna, cold and hot water springs. We don’t take the time to do this, we’re only here for the activity of the volcano and therefore we need to go to the park. It is now 15:00 and the park closes in 10 minutes. We drink something and go to a waterfall that is a bit from there, instead of going into the park. It is a small path down and the waterfall is about 7 meters high. It’s worth the trip. About an hour later we’re back at the hotel. Eef swims in the hotel pool, Timo writes the dairy. We discuss the possibilities for tomorrow. We can enter the park at 07:00. If we have an early breakfast, we can go to the park at about 08:00 and then leave for Tamarindo after a 2-hour visit. Maybe we’re there then at about 13:00 or 14:00. We’ll see what we will do tomorrow morning. We have our aperitif: Imperial from 17:30 to 19:00 and then we go out to eat. Again buffet: salad, rice, beans, turkey, meatballs, pasta, mashed potatoes, vegetables, … We don’t take desert and around 21:00 we go to bed.
Saturday December 17, 2005: A short drive from Rincon de la Vieja to Tamarindo
Rise and shine together with the sun. We didn’t think it would be that easy, but we have no problems with the hour differences, or with rising early and getting to bed early. Maybe returning from here back to Belgium will be a bigger problem. We hadn’t unpacked a lot of things, so we didn’t have to pack a lot. That was easy. We’re ready at 06:45, but breakfast is only served from 07:00, so we go for a stroll and we take some more pictures. Then breakfast: fruit, bread, eggs, rice, coffee, and juices. At 08:00 we leave for Tamarindo. First we need to take the bad road to Liberia, arrive there at 08:45 and at 10:15 we arrive in Tamarindo, again the last few kilometers were over very, very bad road. A short search for the hotel, but find it rather easily. They give us bungalow 314, with a mega-bed, big bathroom and very big bath. Safe, mini-bar, air conditioning, TV, everything is present. This is an ideal way to ending a fantastic vacation. We unpack and at 11:00 we go out to the beach that is very close by. Magnificent, beautiful, unbelievable. We walk to the direction out of Tamarindo and stop for a swim. It is just paradise here. We spot a lot of brown pelicans.
After 2 hours we leave the beach and decide to go and visit the village. We stop at the supermarket ‘Dos Piños’ and drink some lemonade and water, we’re very thirsty. Then we try to get money and this time it works. I haven’t seen such a high-tech machine, not even in Belgium: it welcomes us by displaying my name in the screen. We receive the money and get our card back. Cool. We walk around in the village, buy postal cards, cigars, a few souvenirs. We eat a very tasty hamburger at a local bar/restaurant. Just a note: this is the first time we have lunch in Costa Rica, except for the day in Lagarto Lodge. We return to the hotel and buy some beer and water to take. Back in the bungalow we take a shower, wash our hair (yes, we have a hairdryer) and we’re ready at 16:30 to go back to the beach. We see a lot of pelicans and a lot of small crabs, which disappear, when you come too close. We enjoy the beautiful sunset. At 17:30 the sun has set. We stay out on the beach a little longer and start our aperitif on our terrace. At 19:00 we go to the restaurant. Timo has tuna fish with a red pepper sauce; Eef has fish goulash, very strong and with a lot of beans. Before this a cesar salad. We’re tired, but we enjoyed this beautiful day, we go back to the 314, watch some television and go to sleep at 21:00. At 21:00 someone rings at the door?????? We did not sign the paper for our order at the hotel restaurant. We close our eyes again and go back to sleep. Zzzzzz.
Sunday December 18, 2005: Snorkel and a day of rest
After a good night rest, we rose at 06:30. Beautiful weather, nice temperatures! We go for breakfast at 07:00 and afterwards set sail for Playa Conchal, where we go for a swim and go to snorkel. We reach the beach in half an hour and run directly into the water. At least Timo does. We’re at a big beach, Playa Brasilito, but you don’t see anything, because of the amount of sand that is in the water; visibility is not even one (1) meter. No ideal circumstances to snorkel. We take the car and drive a beach further to Playa Conchal, which was the first idea to go to. Here the sea is not that rough. Timo first swims alone, sees some little blue fishes, a few striped ones black and yellow and a small sea snake. When Eef joins Timo waves are higher than before and visibility is poor again. We don’t see more fishes, than before. Shells from the beach are in our trousers and sticking all over our body. We lie down a while and check out the brown pelicans, sitting on the rocks and watch a couple of frigate birds fly over. The birds fly on high altitude.
Since we have a professional eye now, we can spot them quite easily. After and hour we leave back to Tamarindo, as usual just lying around is not our thing. We remove the shells by taking a shower, write the dairy, drink a beer and make sure we know everything we need to know for the return tomorrow. That is less good news. We rest and swim at the swimming pool. Another quick shower and then we go back to the beach for another beautiful sunset. This second time it is even more beautiful. Today we don’t eat at the hotel’s restaurant, but go out to the village. It is not much of a problem to drive in the dark here, because we already drove this road a few times the last couple of days and it is not that far either. We have a salad, calamari’s with garlic (Timo) a lot of garlic and a big meat brochette with salad for Eef. At 21:00 we’re awfully tired and we go to bed. Timo watches some TV (Mission Impossible II) and sleeps at 22:30.
Monday and Tuesday December 19 and 20, 2005: Leave Costa Rica
An early rise at 05:50. We have a long journey ahead of us and it starts by driving for 5 hours to San José airport. We reach the renting company at the airport without much trouble. In about 5 hours we’re there. First we had to drive the very bad road from Tamarindo to Liberia, then the ‘highway’ to San José. The first 30 kilometers the road had holes of one meter by one and almost one meter deep. In San Ramon we’re very lucky, this time there are no traffic jams. The works in progress have been finished and traffic is OK now. The Adobe office is found quite easily as well. We pay with MasterCard the last costs, insurance, a little bit of gasoline and then they take us to the airport itself. At the airport we pay 52$ taxes for us staying in the country and fill out again the necessary customs documents for the US. What a bunch of papers to fill out, and this only for transfer purposes. But then again, you can’t blame them after what happened September 11th. We leave for Orlando right on schedule (14:50) and land there at 19:00. At 21:00 we can leave again for The Netherlands. The return flight will only take 8 hours and not the 10, when we came here. Timo is lucky he can sleep for about three hours; Eef does not sleep for a minute. At 11:11 we land at Schiphol airport, it is now Tuesday December 20th. We only have to wait for the luggage and then we can take the train to Mechelen. Roel calls to check where we are and also Maurits does. He will come and pick us up the Mechelen train station. At 12:40 we take the train and arrive in Mechelen at 15:00. We can’t sleep, but are able to take a bit of rest on the train. Maurits picks us up and then a beautiful trip ends.
Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola), Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), Blue-gray Tanager (Thraupis episcopus), Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius), Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), Chestnut-mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos swainsonii), Clay-coloured Thrush (Turdus grayi), Collared Araçari (Pteroglossus torquatus), Common Caracara (Polyborus plancus), Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), Great Egret (Ardea alba), Great Green Macaw (Ara ambigua), Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus), Great-tailed Grackle (Cassidix mexicanus peruvianus), Green-Crowned Brilliant (Helixiodoxa jacula henryi), Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana), Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus), Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), Little Tinamou (Crypturellus soui), Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens), Mangrove Swallow (Tachycineta albilinea), Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma), Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa), Olivaceous Cormorant (Phalacrocorax olivaceus), Orange-Chinned parakeet (Brotogeris j. jugularis), Passerini's Tanager (Ramphocelus passerinii), Purple-throated Mountain Gem (Lampornis calolaema), Red lored amazon (Amazona autumnalis salvini), Red-crowned woodpecker (Melanerpes rubricapillus), Ringed Kingfisher (Ceryle torquata), Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao), Shining Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes lucidus), Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), Violet sabrewing (Campylopterus hemileucurus), White-Tailed Trogon (Trogon viridis chionurus), White-throated mountain-gem (Lamporis c. castaneoventris)