Goodbye, Costa Rica!

On the morning of our departure from the Mawamba Lodge, we discovered that Favio would be our escort all the way to San Jose, where, the next day, we would catch our flight. And, we discovered that a slightly different kind of boat was waiting for us. It had a roof!




Of course, it was raining, but we were a merry band anyway. As usual, Dianne and I were in the front.

The good news was, that we would not be heading south back to Limon’. Instead we would be heading west to La Pavona. Of course, no one told us this. I had to cipher it out when we got back.

So here was our trip:

La Pavona

We started out on the Tortuguro River headed north past San Fransisco. We then took a sharp left to the bottom of the “V” where we entered the Rio Suerte.  This river appears as a squiggly line that runs to La Pavona. Those squiggles are not an exaggeration. Here is how things started out as we made ourselves comfortable on the Rio Suerte:

As it turns out there are two boat companies that regularly serve the Tortuguera area and they make daily runs up and down the river ferrying passengers to La Pavona. The total cost for the 1.5 hour boat trip is $3.

Here is part of our encounter with another boat servicing the same area:

Clearly there can be no fish in the entire  Rio Suerte that does not suffer from PTSD on a daily basis. Boat traffic like this is not something you expect in such an eco-friendly country.

Along the way we encountered these guys along the river bank, filling bags with sand, presumably for construction purposes.


Eventually a boat would come and pick of the load, but this was all hand work. Nothing more than a shovel and two guys.

After what seemed like a long time indeed, we arrived at our destination!

Thankfully, it had quit raining! But it was still a little on the muddy side. I played the geezer card and soon Favio and some of the other guys helped me with our bags.


The white bus at the top of the hill was waiting to take us to San Jose.


To their credit, this was a smooth operation and it took no time at all to get our luggage to the bus, which Favio helped make sure went to the right destination.

So, here is La Pavona:


By which, I do not mean to say, here is a restaurant in the village of La Pavona. This IS La Pavona in its entirety. And it is a very nice place which charges for use of the restrooms and serves good food. Also it provides parking for anyone with business in the Tortuguero area.



Here is a telling sign about the problems of providing such a service out in the middle of friggin’ nowhere:


When the power goes out, we switch to batteries!

Soon we were on the bus and heading for San Jose!


It is a 2.5 hour trip which started out on a well-maintained gravel road that eventually took us to the state highways, all nicely paved and well marked. This trip gave us a chance to see the interior of Costa Rica. Here are some random photos:






The worst poverty I have ever personally witnessed was back in 1971 when some friends of mine and I walked across the Mexican border into Tijuana. That route takes you on a bridge over the Tijuana River. I remember looking over that bridge onto what appeared at first to be like a landfill full of trash. Instead, what it turned out to be was hundreds of people living in appliance cartons in a small cardboard city. Then, a few years later Dianne and I with some friends took a train from Ojinaga, Mexico to Chihuahua. The train stopped at a number of small villages where the luckiest families were privileged to live in old boxcars.

These are things a Holmes County country boy never forgets. I am pleased to report that nowhere in Costa Rica did we see poverty at that level, but clearly not everyone is enjoying the prosperity of the modern age. On some of the Costa Rican web sites  the authors clearly identify themselves as part of the “third world”. But, in many parts of the country improvements in infrastructure and are plainly visible. Speaking only in regard to what we actually saw, Costa Rica appears to be a country on the upswing. So, to answer the question about what our turtle tour guide considered to be the two worst problems facing Costa Rica today? Drugs and corruption. So, let’s all name places where those things are not a problem!


We were not far along on our journey when all of a sudden this steel gate comes down across the road like a railroad crossing:


So,we’re all like, “What the…?” Then, along the gate comes a long string of banana bunches! This is a banana crossing!



After all the bananas had crossed safely, we were allowed to continue.

We passed through several more villages

A rare 2-story


A school:


Never like to see bars on windows and doors:


A butcher shop:


A police station. The quote below he window reads: “Educate the child [so as] not to [have to] punish the adult.”


As we got closer to San Jose, the true passion of the locals began to show.


And, if you need some tires for the big race!


It turned out that the people who run the Mawamba Lodge have other holdings as well! Soon our bus pulled up to:


We were treated to a very nice buffet at no additional cost!


After a fine feast we were ready for the trip to be over. Sure enough, we were soon in San Jose!


As it turned out the bus took us right through downtown:







As you can see, this is a bustling capitol with high energy. It is renowned for its theaters and museums, none of which we saw. Next time for sure!

And, like all cities, there are less prosperous areas:




Here is something funny that happened downtown:


The red car in front, a taxi, pulls up to the intersection at a red light. the bike pulls up behind him. The guy in the other red car comes in too fast, hits the bike and drives it into the taxi. The biker is not hurt. They all get out of their vehicles and inspect the damage. The taxi driver sees no major problems, gets in his cab and drives off. The guy who hit the bike and the biker look things over. They don’t see any damage. They start laughing, get on or into their respective vehicles and drive off also. All this in slightly more than one minute. In America there would have been cops, fistfights, insurance adjusters and, more than likely, gun play.

From here we headed out toward the airport. More and more San Jose became like a typical American city:





Well, Anywhere Costa Rica put us up in the Adventure Inn Hotel, near the airport. And, while not all adventures are of a positive nature, this one was! what a nice place to spend your last night in Costa Rica!








But here’s the best part! They even have a special sink to wash out your socks and underlovlies!


AND a fabulous free breakfast:


So, after breakfast, and in typical fashion our ride to the airport showed up right on time. Soon we would be headed home!


Interestingly, while countries like Argentina charge you a $160 pp fee to enter the country, Costa Rica charges you $29 to get out! Well, in spite of that, we were sorry to leave. This trip was, in our view, a great adventure, something you don’t just turn off when you get on the plane.

So, why go to Costa Rica? First, it is hard to imagine anything you would want in a vacation experience that can’t be found here. You want rugged, beautiful scenery? Beautiful beaches? Exotic wild animals? Luxurious hotels? Great food? Relaxation? Adventure? Safe travels? A great place to take the kids? It’s all here. And more.

And, I should add, there is no substitute for visiting a country with a tourist oriented economy. It is one thing to have the incomparable services of a company like Anywhere Costa Rica to help with the planning. It is quite another to see that plan executed to perfection by a multitude of drivers, wait staff, hotel managers, guides and more all over the country. Costa Rica tourism is a well-oiled machine that we have experienced nowhere else.

And, on top of that, the cost of travel is probably about 10-20% cheaper than comparable travel in the US. So, start collecting those free airfare points and get out there! You won’t regret it.











The Great Turtle Hunt!

Tortuguero National Park is the most important sea turtle nesting area in the western hemisphere and each year from July through October mama turtles come from as far south as Brazil and as far north as Florida to lay eggs on this 22 mile beach. And, since we were there in early October, we were advised that we could sign up for a night visit to the beach to witness this miracle of nature. So, of course, we signed up. Just because we signed up, though, did not mean we would be approved. The tour was to begin at 8 pm, shortly after dark. If we were approved to go we would be notified at 5:45 by a sign placed in the office window. So, at the designated time, we nervously approached the window. Yay! We were in!

So, by now you are looking around this blog post and perhaps you are saying to yourself, “Where’s the pictures?” Well, there aren’t any (hardly). Here’s why:

Tortuguero Turtle Rules

You will need to click on this to read it.

Nor surprisingly, some years ago tourists got wind of this miracle of nature and fell over each other and the turtles trying to see it. Even worse, before then hunters killed the turtles for soup. So, only recently has the government stepped in to stop all this foolishness. In the national park these rules mush be followed. So, no cameras or cell phones. You actually have to go and just look. What a shock to the system!

To set the scene for you, here is what the beach looks like in the daytime:


Somewhere down there is where we were, probably about where the fog starts.

So, anyway, a group of about ten of us met a little before 8 pm at the lodge where we met our guide. He was not one of the lodge staff, but a specially trained guide from the national park. He led us to our boat and off we went into the night. I should mention something else about our group. Included in the count were these two children and their parents:


The girl, I would guess was maybe seven and I doubt that the boy had blown out his fourth candle. Later, when I complemented their mother on how well they managed on this somewhat difficult trip, she said that this was their reward for being good. That was how much it meant to them.

So, anyhow, we’re out on this river and there is not even a hint of moonlight. The only lights at all are the running lights of the boat. We round a bend and there is now another lodge in sight. We pull up alongside it and the first thing we hear is a loud dance music! So, I’m thinking maybe the band is going to be dressed up like Mutant Ninja Turtles and this is all some kind of elaborate hoax.

But we soon were snapped back to reality. This was only a place to disembark. Once we were of the boat our guide said to stay together, keep quiet and follow his light. Then off he goes in to the darkness.

We were soon well past that lodge and winding our way along a path, sort of, through the bush and the trees. The guide was the leader, of course, and he directed his flashlight behind him to theoretically light our way. Well, he lit the way of the first three or four, but the rest of us, farther back, soon found ourselves tripping over tree branches and who knows what else. We yelled at him to slow down and eventually he got the idea that he had lost of few. Then he asked if anyone had a flashlight and the family with the two kids did. That helped.

We continued on like this for maybe twenty minutes, although it seemed longer. All of a sudden we found ourselves at some kind of park entrance with fence around it. Our guide told us to wait while he went and talked to the park rangers. A quick glance around revealed that there were maybe five or six more groups like ours standing around waiting. Well, he starts talking to a nearby ranger and while my Spanish is not exactly fluent, I could tell by the volume and the tone that this conversation was not going well. In time, though, the guide came back and told us it would be a while before we could get out to the beach.

So, if you read the rules above (there’s still time), you may have noted that, once you are in the park the rangers are in charge. In addition, there are people who roam the beach, called spotters, and they are the ones who find the turtles and report back the location. And, the beach is divided into five “bases”.

Anyhow, we are waiting around killing time and I started up a conversation with the guide, a very nice guy really. At one point he said he loves Costa Rica and it’s a wonderful place to live, but it has its share of problems. I asked him what he considered to be the worst problems. He gave two answers, which I will reveal in the next and final chapter of this blog.

Well, all of a sudden the walkie talkies start cracklln’ and we are off! This time we are joined by somebody from the park. He and the guide start up another Spanish conversation and, once again, it seems a bit more passionate than the situation calls for. We wind our way through more trees, but this time white lights are forbidden. Both our guide and the park guy have red flashlights. But, they are not making a race of it, so we are able to keep up. We eventually end up in a clearing, at the edge of which is another path to the beach. The park guy goes down the path while we wait, with one red light remaining. We wait about fifteen minutes. The park guy does not return. Instead there is more crackling of the walkie-talkie. When the conversation is over our guide says, follow me.

We walk down this clearing for about twenty minutes till we come to another trail. The guide stops and says they think they have a turtle. He is going to check and make arrangements to get us there. His last instructions were, “Stay here!” Off he goes.

So, here we are, 10 people including two small kids, out in the forest on a pitch black night, left alone. As you might imagine, most of us saw the humor in this situation. In our various travels Dianne and I sometimes find ourselves saying, “You know, I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of things, but I never (fill in the blank).” This was one of those occasions.

After about another fifteen minutes, all of a sudden we see a red light. Our guide has returned. They had found a turtle. We were on our way!

Once again we were winding our way through bushes and trees, but this time we soon found ourselves on the beach. This is not South Beach, though. There is plenty of driftwood, coconuts and other stuff to trip over. We wound our way through these things, then suddenly the guide stopped.

Now here we were surrounding a square hole larger than a card table and about two feet deep. Down in that hole the red flashlight revealed a very large sea turtle. For her, the egg laying process was done. Now she was covering the eggs with sand. I happened to be right behind her and can testify that she could throw sand in high volume and considerable force. Our guide estimated that she was about three and a half feet long and probably weighed about 300 pounds.

Green sea turtles live most of their lives in the ocean. Every two years they come down to Costa Rica to lay eggs. And, while the ladies are onshore, depositing roughly a hundred eggs in the sand, the gentlemen are swimming about a mile offshore, smoking big cigars and playing cards. Where they learned that kind of behavior no one knows.

So, we watched our turtle throw sand for a while and the kids were getting quite a kick out of it. We all were, of course. Suddenly the turtle decided she had done enough and began to crawl out of the hole. Even though it was plenty deep, she had no problem getting out. She took a look around, found the ocean, and began her journey back to the sea. After she cleared the hole we followed along behind her. The guide insisted that the kids follow immediately behind her and we all filled in behind them. Of course, it would have been that way had the guide not said a word.

Here is a Google photo that comes pretty close to what we saw. Just imagine it all dark and the turtle red.

Well, it was an incredible thing to witness. As she pushed her way through the sand, she left little plow marks. In just a few minutes she made her way to the surf. She didn’t even slow down. The waves covered her and she was gone. We all said our goodbyes and wished her well. Hopefully, though unlikely, she didn’t even know we were there.




DSCF6110By the time our boat pulled into the Mawamba Lodge it was hot enough to blister paint and the humidity was high enough to leave a wake in the air as we passed through. Imagine our surprise, then, when we found that our room, in fact none of the rooms, was air conditioned.


There was the screen you see and another on the opposite wall with a fan in the middle. OK, so here is what we discovered about the Mawamba Lodge. It is kind of like going to camp. True, the pool and lounge are not generally camp features, but the rest of it seemed quite familiar, in a Band Camp kind of way.

And, you know you have to kind of pay your respects to our adventurous predecessors, like, say, Ferdinand Magellan. Did HE ever complain about the lack of AC? Of course not!

It was not, entirely, the lack of AC that proved to be most daunting aspect of our stay at the lodge, however. It was something else entirely. In the picture above note the wall behind the bed, a pleasing reverse batten style of woodwork. Well, At the lodge, each housing unit contains two rooms such as ours, separated by a repeat of the aforementioned wall.


Here we are, peering into the as yet unoccupied room of our neighbors.

Turns out that the only separation between the two units was that wall, which, simply put, consists of a nicely trimmed out sheet of 3/4″ plywood. This means that the slightest of sounds generated in one unit is transmitted in its entirety to the next. It may even be amplified. Moreover, this element of construction carries all the way to the bathroom in the back. People, when you are in a country, the staple of which is rice and beans, lets just say the anxiety level can get mighty high in such living arrangements.

Later, in our comings and goings, we would introduce ourselves to our neighbors, a very nice Dutch couple, on this very porch.  By that time, though, it is an understatement to say that we already knew them intimately.

Shortly after we moved into our room I looked out the back screen and, to my surprise found this guy basking in the sun:


Iguanas were all over the place, all well fed. It was always a pleasure to come across them. After all, who couldn’t love this face?


By the way, those growths on the side that look like cue balls apparently, in some way, help the iguanas keep cool. By the end of our stay we all wished we had them.


When we checked in we were told that we were signed up for the morning tour, the next morning as well as the lodge tour and the afternoon tour. In addition, it was now nearing the end of the time of year when sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. If we wanted to see that, the cost would be extra and the tour would be a night. We thought, you know, why not? So, we signed up.

We were then told, that since out boat had arrived late (news to us) they were holding dinner for us at the cafeteria. Once we got there we were to sit at the table with the name of our guide, who was called Favio. So off we went.

In true camp tradition, the food was served cafeteria style. There was always a nice selection and soon our plates were filled and we headed for Favio’s table. There were still people there, none of whom were Favio, however. And, this was not the outgoing talkative bunch that we had experienced elsewhere in Costa Rica. So we started in.

Soon, a tall slender man came over and introduced himself as Favio. We gave him our names and he said we were signed up for the morning tour, as was everyone else at the table. He said, to us all, “Well, they are calling for rain tomorrow. BUT, what’s the worse that can happen? We get WET! Ha ha”. Then he left to join the other guides for dinner.

This is Favio:


Well, Dick Goddard himself could not have predicted the weather better. By the time we assembled at the boat docks at 6 am it was absolutely pouring rain:


Our boat was ready. Wait a minute. Where’s the roof?


Dianne and I were once again in the front. Good time for a selfie!


This time, there was no poncho supplied. We wore waterproof, or quick-dry stuff we had packed And, of course, it was a warm rain. But waterproofing does not solve every problem.

We were soon winding our way through the jungle:


So, let’s say that you’ve had a hard day in the jungle and you decide to lean up against a tree for a little rest. Well, if the poison toads and snakes don’t get you, there are always these guys to liven up your day:



The upside is, in these waters we did not see any crocodiles (not that there weren’t any). Instead we met a few of these guys:



This is a caiman, a closer relative of the alligator. Not quite as big as a croc, still a most unwelcome swimming partner.

In time, it quit raining and the river was quite pleasant:



On our later tour we saw both new and familiar faces:

This bird is called an aninga.



It is a water bird, famous for being able to dive deep and stay under for very long periods of time. To help it dive, however, it has no water repellent on its feathers so, after a tasty meal, it has to sit on a branch and dry out.

It did not take long till we were back among the Howler monkeys:


But, for the first time, we found a family of White-Faced Capuchin monkeys and they were quite active:



Favio, of course, explained in detail all the qualities of the various animals and much more. He is a guides, guide. Extremely knowledgeable, he is a take-charge, no nonsense, high energy guy. He is another in a string of outstanding Costa Rican professionals that it was a real privilege to meet.

Between trips into the jungle, Favio took us on a tour of the lodge grounds:


Yes, the lodge has its own park. Here are some of the things you can see:


These look like the sweet, yummy mimons we had eaten earlier. Not so fast!


Instead of the candy-like insides, there were berries instead. Turns out these are very different plants and the berries are used for red dye.


Toucans are everywhere.


They also have three houses to support wildlife in the area: one is a butterfly house


And the other is for amphibians:


Speaking of frogs, Favio found this guy sleeping on a leaf:


He’s just like any of us when the nap is just a little too short!


Well, after three tours in one day, it was time to rest up for the Great Turtle Hunt!



Up The Lazy River

Our destination was the Mawamba Lodge in Tortuguero National Park. And we were a long way from our destination. On the trip from Puerto Viejo to Limon our driver, a young man in his twenties, told us story after story of his life in Costa Rica. He grew up in Bribri near the border with Panama. He said that in his younger days he and his friends liked to slip across the border, where booze is cheap,  and sneak it back home to sell for a tidy profit. He was full of adventure.

So, we are chatting away about all kinds of things. Eventually we enter Limon, which has done nothing to become more appealing in the three days since we last were here. Our driver took us by the docks and we were still telling tales when all of a sudden he pulls up to this place:


And, guess what? It is still pouring rain. No matter. it was time to head north. We said goodbye to our driver and threw our luggage on board. A nice day for a cruise. As luck would have it, the two front seats were available. The crew stuck our luggage into plastic bags and gave us rain ponchos.



About fifteen other people climbed on board and off we went. Here is where we were going:

Map to Tortuguero

You will notice a nice road leading out of Limon heading west. Well that’s the wrong direction. You will notice no roads connecting Limon to Tortuguero. That’s because there aren’t any. Instead there is a series of canals connecting to rivers for the entire fifty miles of coastline. We settled in for a mighty long boat ride.


Although the rain did little for our respective complexions, we remained otherwise dry. And for the early part our captain, another young man, stopped to point out wild life. But we couldn’t do that all day. In time the rain let up and the captain poured on the coal.

At first gradually:

The first part of our trip was along a canal. Here is a typical view:


Often, as you will see, they were much narrower. Now the captain picked up the pace:

Frequently the canal would empty onto rivers large and small. Here is a typical river view:



About ten miles in, we suddenly found ourselves at the mouth of a very large river, the Rio Matina, as I later learned. It had plenty of wild life:


But it also emptied out into a very unwelcoming Caribbean:


Here is how it looks from space:

Rio Matina

Well, we, of course, knew nothing about these canals; rivers, or any of this. We had been expecting a bus ride. My first thought, after casting eyes on the pounding surf was that this dude wanted to put out to sea. In which case I, and I’m sure others would happily and heartily  have broken into a loud chorus of Zevon’s “Mutineer” as we threw the captain overboard.

Fortunately, such action was not required. The captain bore hard to port and took us up the river for a while till he found another canal entrance.


From here we crossed the River of the Mother of God, who fortunately, we did not meet, a few canals and finally a very large river, the Parismina.

The Parismina is a big river:


There are a number of resorts in the area, and lots of boat traffic:


Now the captain felt it necessary to show these nimrods what we could do:

We would have preferred to just tell them. Now, about two hours in, the captain decided it was time for a break. We tied up at a little, I don’t know, dance hall? Anyway, they were serving cold beer and I was more than ready for one.

Here is the captain, re-securing the ship:


Here is our vessel, nicely moored:


During our stop, the captain came up to me and said, “My job is to take you to Tortuguero Village. For an extra 20 USD’s I will take you directly to the lodge.” Well, Anywhere Costa Rica had warned us about just this kind of thing, where vendors already paid would try to earn themselves a bonus. I told him that I had paid to get to the lodge and I was going to get what I paid for.” He did not argue. Later I saw a couple women hand him cash for something, but I wasn’t close enough to hear what it was.

After we got to the village, he came up to me and said we were close to the lodge. He would just go ahead and take us over.

Otherwise,  our stop was very welcome indeed. For one thing, they had bathrooms.


We were glad to see a couple local boys heading out to fish. One had fishing gear, the other a machete. That seemed odd.


Eventually it was time to board again. Not far from our stop we met this guy:


Makes you wish you had a machete.

The Parismina river has a number of resorts like this one:


And, while we loved highballin’ up the river, we soon were back in the canals. But getting into them was not always easy. We actually ran aground and our captain, to his credit, did the heavy lifting himself.


Soon we were in canals that were very narrow indeed:

Yet, there were always reminders of why we keep our piggies in the boat:


Finally, Tortuguera Village hove into view:


And just up the river, after just under four hours at sea,  our destination, Mawanda Lodge:






Gettin’ Ziggy With It!

I had read that the best surfing in the area was down at Manzanillo, and, while neither of us had any interest whatsoever in hanging ten with the locals, we thought it might be fun to run down there and check it out. So, after we left the rescue center we called a cab for the roughly ten mile trip. What we found was a little less than exciting.

Here is the parking lot:


There is one main bar in town which plays reggae so loud even Bob himself can probably hear it, tho he’s been dead for many years.


There is a grocery around the corner from the bar and then this is the residential area:


Down the street is the local church:


That’s it, folks. You’ve just seen Manzanillo. Except across from the bar there was this little soda. We stopped for lunch.


The food was great! Clearly this was the best place in town.


We ran into a Canadian couple here and mentioned how surprised we were to find essentially nothing here. They said to wait till Saturday. Ziggy Marley was coming to the area to play a concert. Day after tomorrow they said, there will be thousands of people here. Well, that was also the day we were leaving so all we could say was, “Good luck to them all!”

Having been disappointed by Manzanillo, the next day we decided to rent some bikes at the lodge and ride into Puerto Viejo. It was still steaming hot, but the town was only about a mile from the lodge. So, off we went.

Puerto Viejo is a boomin’ little town and quite colorful.



Sanitation was not quite up to the standards of other Costa Rican towns we visited, but we have seen far worse elsewhere.


This is a combined youth hostel and restaurant.


The town is literally right on the beach.



We decided to settle in for some ocean-front dining. What better choice than the Krazy Lobster?


We were served by a young local man who was quite the conversationalist. We were chatting away when I brought up the subject of the big concert tomorrow, which we later learned was actually going to be in Puerto Viejo. But, when I mentioned it, he got all serious. “Are you going?” he asked, somewhat alarmed. I said no, we were leaving tomorrow, but had heard about it. He said, good. You don’t want to go down there. There’s going to be lots of gang fights. That’s how it is with these concerts, he said. Back when Ziggy played reggae, no problem. But when he changed to roots and funk, that brought in a whole different crowd. Now all they want to do is fight. But, he said, maybe they will keep the fights out on the edges. Then it will be OK to be near the stage. I said by the time the concert starts we won’t even be near the town. But, I thanked him for the advice, even though I was more than skeptical that somebody like Ziggy would come down here without tight security.

So, anyway, after lunch we went on a shopping spree and bought our usual post cards. I do love the colors down here, though.


There was even a nice little mall with air conditioning!


And, lots of sodas and coffee shops. This sign spoke the truth about Costa Rican coffee.


Down the road a piece we ran into a coconut man, selling a fresh drink. For a 500 colonie piece you were one whack from the machete and straw away from paradise!




We headed back to the lodge for dinner and looking out over the front desk we observed about twenty people with dreadlocks who, we guessed, were either part of Ziggy’s entourage or some of his fans.

Later in the evening we observed a woman about our age pushing a stroller with a very restless young toddler inside. The woman was doing her best to keep him happy, but with little success. We also observed two young ladies, always with fruity drinks in their hands, who would stop an talk to the older lady from time to time and then flit off somewhere. It didn’t take long to conclude that one of these young ladies was the toddler’s mother. The old lady was either paid help, in which case a poor investment, or, a close relative.

As the evening wore on both the toddler and old lady became increasingly unhappy. At last, one of the girls came back and took over. We went back to our cabin, though, and did not see the conclusion. Sweet Dianne, as you might guess, kept a running commentary throughout.

The next morning I came down early for breakfast. I could not help but observe the guy next to me was feeding his young son and was every bit the opposite of the “parent” we had seen the night before. I was afraid he’d be gone by the time Dianne arrived, so I discretely took a picture. By then the child’s mother had arrived, but the dad kept right on with his son:


Dianne came down and we had a pleasant breakfast, but it was time to get ready for our long trip to Tortuguero. Soon the bags were packed and we were sitting in the lobby waiting for our ride. It was pouring rain.

As we were sitting there we noticed some camera flashes. Somebody passing through asked if we wanted our pictures taken with Ziggy Marley! We stood up, looked around, and sure enough there he was. Unfortunately, by the time we made it up there the photo session had ended. He saw us, though, and came back just for us. A waiter took my camera and ouila! I wished him well with the weather. He smiled and gave us one of those signs with palms together like they do in India. A very nice guy! Also, it was obvious he was the person I had photographed earlier.


Soon our ride arrived and when he climbed in the driver said, OK, I’m taking you to Limon and then you have a three hour boat ride to Tortuguero!

I was like, Wait! What?

I pulled out my ever-present Anywhere Costa Rica itinerary. It said something about a boat captain, but it sounded like it was near Tortuguero, AND “exact logistics vary from day to day.  Surprise, surprise!

On the way out of town the driver stopped by Ziggy’s venue. It looked a little damp:


It was clear that the only gang fights on this day would be with mud pies.


On the way out we passed a couple of go-getters arriving early for good seats.


Later, we were unable to find any evidence on Ziggys Facebook page or his web site or any other site, that the concert was ever held.


To The Rescue!


At our request, Anywhere Costa Rica did not schedule any tours for us in Puerto Viejo. We planned to make this part of the trip more of a time for chillin’ instead of exploring. But in 90+ degree heat and 600% humidity (it went up), there is only so much chillin’ you can do. Our peeps from Tripadvisor strongly recommended a visit to the Jaguar Rescue Center, which was not far from our place, so we called a cab and went down there. The cab driver, by the way, was one of the indigenous people and, as it turned out, he knew William. Small world!

The Jaguar Rescue Center was started by a couple of European zoologists who had witnessed the destruction of habitat in Costa Rica and its effect on wildlife. The first animal they tried to rescue was a baby Jaguar whose mother had been killed by local farmers. The baby was too far gone by the time it was rescued and did not survive. The center was named for it, but jaguars are rare, so don’t go there expecting to see one.  No problem, there are plenty of other creatures to meet. Starting with this guy:


The Center is located in, and connected with, the national forest. As soon as these animals recover they are reintroduced back into the wild. Sometimes they will choose to reintroduce themselves back to the Center, but mostly they stay out there. This sloth is about ready to go.


I find that, other than the obvious behavioral similarities, one other thing I have in common with sloths is that neither of us are favored by extreme close-ups.


No jaguars were in attendance, but cats were still well represented by this margay. Although he is not nearly as large as a jaguar it still would be no fun prying him off your keester.


And we were glad to see a pair of spectacled owls.  Not always the best photo ops in this place, though.


This Fiery-billed Aracari landed on some kid’s back pack!




And what a cute anteater!


No nature place would be complete without a poison dart frog!


And more toucans! This one could leave any time, but likes to hang around the gift shop.


This was our guide, busy taking a red-eyed frog off a leaf.


Most of the staff are volunteers, typically students who come from Europe, US and Canada. There are a number of monkeys here for rehab, injured by a predator or human. The morning we were there a monkey just showed up from the forest. He had not been rescued. He just stopped in to see what was going on!

When the rehab is complete they take the animals back into the forest for a trial. They may come back many times, but eventually they find their way. The few who don’t stay at the center indefinitely.

A visit to a place like this is something you don’t forget, not only because of the unique animals they work with, but also because of the commitment of the staff and volunteers. It is a ray of sunshine.

Here is a link to their web site:



Puerto Vijeo

Well, people, the first thing we noticed as, at last, we piled out of our little bus was that the cool mountain air was gone. On the coast it was H-O-T with somewhere between 300-400% humidity. And, while I am no fan of these conditions, sweet Dianne tends to wilt like a little flower. So, the first thing on our minds as we checked into the Cariblue Lodge was A/C!

The Cariblue is located south of Puerto Viejo, between that town and another called Manzanillo, very close to the Panama border. It is also almost up against the Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge which is a combination rain forest and jungle. As a result, wildlife is abundant.


The central feature of the Cariblue is a huge tiki lodge. This is the dining area.


The rooms are actually little bungalows. This was ours:


Quite cute, AND, with A/C which struggled to keep up with conditions. They also have double units:


Plus, there is a combination recreation area/gift shop:


But, getting back to the subject of wildlife, there was plenty around:


No shortage of these guys, but they kept to themselves.


In spite of the clearing done to build the lodge there is still a substantial amount of canopy overhead, and, as I mentioned, this place is well connected to the rain forest. As we suspected, there were monkeys all over the place. What was our first clue?


It didn’t take an e-mail to Tarzan to figure  it out. Specifically, these were Howler monkeys. How did we know?

Well, as we have learned, the Howler monkey is the loudest mammal on land (second only to the loudest animal, the blue whale), and a male can be heard for miles. The message he is broadcasting is that this is his territory and other males are invited to scram. Which apparently they mostly do.

Unfortunately, the broadcasting of this information begins well before dawn and often right outside our cabin. Having heard about this before we came down here, I brought along a recording microphone and stuck it out on our porch. The monkeys were not as close that particular morning, but, if you follow these simple instructions, you’ll get the effect. First, take whatever device you are reading this on and move it into your bedroom. Turn up the volume full blast and set the timer for 4 am. Then, to quote Axl and Slash: Welcome to the jungle!

Hope you found that to be as refreshing as we did!

Across the road from the Cariblue, is a very nice beach, largely deserted the entire time we were there:







The Caribbean is always beautiful. This coast is famous for its rip currents, though. Typically, the locals didn’t seem to care. Maybe they looked at it as a cheap way to get to Panama. But, if you did happen to get pulled out, you could be assured that someone would soon be at the rescue:


As they have for centuries.


Leaving Arenal

Map to PV

Our next destination was Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast. It is a 5 or 6 hour run down there so we were booked for a 6 am departure. However, when we got to the front desk of the Volcano Lodge after our day at the hot springs the staff said I was to call the transportation company for late breaking news. We, of course were hoping they were planning on a more reasonable hour, but as it turned out they said they would only be a half hour late. The clerk overheard this conversation, though, and when I hung up he said the kitchen would not be open that early, but they would be willing to pack lunches for us to eat along the way at no cost. Needless to say, we took them up on the offer and sure enough, two sack lunches were waiting for us when we hauled our carcasses up there a little after six.

So, I would be remiss if I didn’t make you aware of the excellent Volcano Lodge. This is the best place we stayed in Costa Rica and one of the best we have experienced anywhere. First, it is a large property. We were driven from the lodge to our room, otherwise it would be about a twenty minute walk. Here is what our place looked like:



There are two units per building and each room is quite spacious and even includes a TV with some English channels, the only place we stayed that did.

I should also point out that the rooms, grounds, restaurant, hot springs, everything is immaculate.


And there is a nice patio out back


Here is the view from the patio:


The volcano is right out back, so if she ever blows while you’re staying here you can count on being squished like a grape.


There is also a banana tree


But, they have a way to go before harvest time. Our room was toward the end of the property, but very close to the restaurant/pool/hot springs area:


The walkways are landscaped beyond belief


This is the entrance to the restaurant, the hot springs are terraced above. You just go up there and plop yourself in. In the mornings, the staff divert the stream, drain the pool, and sanitize the whole thing.

If you come after dark, these lights, which hang from a nearby tree,  guide you to the path in.


The staff is so friendly that by the time we finished our short stay there we knew all of the waiters on a first-name basis.

And, there are flowers of every description:






Also, this is the staff who created the creatures we posted on Facebook:


It was just a joy to stay here. Of course, if the volcano blows, the joy would be substantially diminished. Pricey? You would pay much more per night for a room in Port Clinton in the summer. And WAY more to stay on South Bass Island.

So, anyway, the van arrived promptly at 6:30. Armed with our sack lunches and luggage we began the journey south.

Here is the first thing that did not escape our attention. Paved roads!


But here is also the blessing and the curse. Although the roads are paved, almost all the bridges are single lane. And this is a country with a lot of rivers. But everyone manages and no one who has been on the roads of Monteverde is likely to complain. I should add, by the way, that I would have been perfectly fine with renting a car for this leg of the journey. The roads are good and the signs are adequate enough to keep you out of trouble if you have a decent map.

This trip, even though on a main highway, was a chance to see Costa Rica off the beaten path. For example, rarely would we see a house like this:


(Sorry for the bad picture. The driver was not in a stopping mood). Typically you see houses like this:


This is a typical village:


Again, a child being walked to school. Always good to see:


All the way down Route 32 we had the mountains to our right:


As we got closer the Limon the scenery started to change. These were the first of many banana plantations we would see. Bunches of bananas are covered in blue plastic to help them ripen sooner and to protect from insects:


Limon is the second largest city in Costa Rica, population around 55,000. More importantly it is the only deep water port on the Caribbean side. It is a busy place:





There was also a much more noticeable change in housing:



Bars on windows and doors become commonplace. Generally not a good sign. Also, property upkeep appeared to fall below the standard seen in the villages.


Limon seems to have its share of problems. In a few days we will return and take a closer look. For now, we are off to Puerto Vijeo.





Some Like It Hot!

As you might imagine, after a hard morning of smashing cocoa beans, the old muscles get mighty tight. Fortunately Anywhere Costa Rica booked us into the Tabacon Hot Springs in the afternoon. Problem solved!

Tabacon is a resort in its own right, with a luxurious hotel on one side of the road and the hot springs on the other. The one advantage to being near a volcano is there is no shortage of hot springs in the area. Our hotel actually had one as well, but nothing like this. Here is how the Tabacon web site describes it:

Tabacon Resort’s thermal natural springs are 97% rain-based and 3% magma-based. Rainwater enters the earth through fissures on the surface and is then heated by magma found in the earth’s core. Once heated, the waters rise to surface, taking with them minerals found in the earth’s rocky stratus.

There are three thermal springs that naturally surface and flow in the property at 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). Total volume generated by the three springs is 80 liters per second (approximately 20 gallons / second). In total, there are five different springs that exist throughout the property, with temperatures ranging from 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). There are two main branches to the thermal river that flow through the gardens, and one cold river spring that flows down from the rainforest.

Magma from the Earth’s core? Don’t think so. Well, OK! So, when you get there you go to a lodge-like place where they have a restaurant on the upper level and a changing area with lockers and showers at ground level. So you change into your swim suit and they give you a big, fluffy towel and off you go! The general advice was, the closer to the mountain you get the hotter the water is.

Of course, the whole place is landscaped to the nines. Here is where you start out:


This leads to your first hot pool:


Of course, everywhere is the sound of rushing water. And, while this pool looks most inviting, it doesn’t take long to find out it is h-o-t! It took a while before the missus and I could get all the way in, and not long before we got all the way out. The beginning was not auspicious.

Then we came upon this waterfall:


Here the temperature was a much more comfortable. Past this railing there are stone steps that take you behind the waterfall and you can sit in there and contemplate whatever.


That blur you see close up is yours truly. This was my favorite part of the whole place.

So, as you work you way up the trail, you have your choice of a number of pools you can go into some are hotter than others and some the water moves much faster than others:





This place is beyond gorgeous. AND, after you have boiled yourself to a fare-thee-well, they have a pool where you can cool down:



At one end is a stairs you can climb up to the balcony and then slide into the pool. At the other end is a swim-up bar. Personally, I found that end to be a little more refreshing.

THEN, just when you think your mind has already been blown, it starts to get dark. The whole place takes on a brand new magic.







Well, as beautiful as this place is, there is only so much hot water you can take. Time to change back into street clothes and hit the restaurant:


A perfect end to another Costa Rican day!

So, what does a day in this place cost? You can spend the entire day here (which, if you do, believe me they will have to pour you into a cab since you will no longer have function in any extremity) for $85 pp. AND that includes dinner at the above snazzy restaurant. And by a day, they mean 24 hours, so, had we regained the ability to walk, we could have come back the next day! As it was, we had a bus to catch for Puerto Viejo.




If chocolate is the answer….the question is irrelevant.

On our last day in Arenal we were scheduled for the Rain Forest Chocolate Tour. On the grounds of this place they have, of course, many cocoa trees. They also have a variety of other plants as well. For example:
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This is a vanilla plant, which is really an orchid. The only edible orchid there is. But, we wanted to get to the main topic, which didn’t take long:

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This is a cocoa tree. And, as you can see, a German couple joined us on the tour. Here is a close-up of the green cocoa pods:

DSCF5161 - CopyThe pods are ready to harvest when they turn yellow. Except these:

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These pods are part of an experimental hybrid designed to create special dark chocolate. Yummy! So, here are some typical ripe pods:


When you open them up this is what you see:


This picture is actually from our previous chocolate tour, but it illustrates the point. Cocoa beans are arranged in layers inside the pods and are surrounded by a gooey coating. Here is one bean fresh from the pod:


We were each given one and invited to put them in our mouths to savor the coating, but NOT bite down on the bean. Well, the coating is kind of sweet, kind of sour. It’s not disagreeable, but no one stood in line for more.

So, the way cocoa is processed is, the pods and goo are emptied into a container and the goo is allowed to ferment over a period of a few weeks. I should also add that this process attracts a great many bugs, just so you know.

DSCF5182 - CopyIn this box you see the fermentation beginning in the lower right and progressing up the scale. By the time the process ends the goo is gone and you end up with a dry bean ready for processing.

The processing begins by finding a tourist dumb enough to do the heavy lifting:


After the tourist passes out from exhaustion, you end with with a combination of cocoa and chaff. Chaff is removed in the same age-old method of our wheat-growing ancestors, wind:

DSCF5192Here is the finished product:


Good job, tourist!!! But, as you can see, in spite of his Herculean strength, he could only smash this stuff to a coarse grind. Now it is time for a finer grind, assuming you can find another tourist gullible enough to roll a heavy stone:

DSCF5201Fortunately, one was in attendance. Here was her finished product:


You will notice a cream-colored substance layered on top of the chocolate. That, my friends, is raw sugar. If you’ve ever bitten into a square of baker’s chocolate you have some idea of how bitter pure cocoa can be. YECCCH! The sugar works wonders!

Now it is time to mill the two together. Let’s see if we can find someone to do the work of ten lesser men:


Here is the finished product:


Now the magic begins!

DSCF5212Hot water is added:

DSCF5214Then it is whisked to a frothy delight! Then samples are distributed:


DSCF5219If you look past the right hand of this satisfied customer you will see a line of jars. They were filled with everything from mint to orange extract to cinnamon and many other delights. We had many a refill and each time could choose the combination of additives we desired. Want to know what the best, and most popular one was? It should not come as a surprise: salt. Whatever flavor you choose, salt makes it better. Guess that explains a few things, sadly.

Cocoa had long been a principle export of Costa Rica. But, in the 1970’s 80% of the crop was destroyed by a fungus called monilia. The entire industry was devastated. But, with research and planning and the introduction of fungus-resistant strains, cocoa is making a huge comeback. Costa Rica is now one of only 9 countries in the world that produce the quality of cocoa needed to make dark chocolate. We were more than happy to be there for the revival.

Volcano Climbing!


The other couple who were with us did not sign up for the Volcano hike, so we dropped them off at their hotel. Now it was just Dianne, William, Edgar and me. We drove back through La Fortuna and around the volcano to the entrance of a national park. William and Edgar took us past the tourist drop-offs and out to a trail head where there were no other people. William pointed out the tour buses we could see below and said we would get a jump on them. The three of us got out and Edgar drove off to park the van and wait.

William pointed out that we had come around to the charred side of the volcano. From La Fortuna it looks green much of the way up. But this side was blacker with considerable erosion from the rains.

Well, Dianne and I had already climbed 1,000 very steep steps, so we were a little leary about this hike. It started out easy enough:


We started walking an easy path across a very bucolic pasture. Not to go too far off topic, but here is something we saw all over Costa Rica.

DSCF5104Whenever farmers want to fence in a field, they just go along and stick these roots into the ground every 10 feet or so. Then, in about three months they grow into trees and, ouila! Instant fence posts! Sure beats the post hole digging from the days of my youth!

Well, anyway, it didn’t take long till the path became much steeper and rockier:


Fortunately, someone had made a trail through all the rocks, which, of course, are all lava, thankfully well cooled.

DSCF5070Now the path had become quite steep. Fortunately, William knew the kind of couch potatoes he was dealing with, so he stopped often to tell us about the medicinal properties of even more of the plants along the way.

Finally, we reached our destination, a clearing with a great view of Lake Arenal.


And the hotel where the movie stars stay. Will Smith (or somebody) paid over $1K per night for a month while filming:

DSCF5100In the 47 years since the great eruption here is how much vegetation has come back:




One of the most interesting sights from up there was this lake, created after the initial explosion of the volcano launched a bus sized boulder into the air. This, of course is where it landed.


William was kind enough to take a picture of a couple of Sherpa’s he found along the trail.


Then we began our descent.


Along the way, William pointed to a distant speck, which he explained, is the white roof of the park’s visitor center. We had the option of hiking down there, or, he could call Edgar and have him pick us up at the trail head We were not crazy about  a hike of that distance, but we told him the only thing we hadn’t seen that was high on our list was toucans. I asked if we could just walk the road up here and find some and then Edgar could pick us up on the road. No problemo! So off we went.

And what a pleasant walk it was, just the three of us. We had a chance to just talk and enjoy our time. Once again, he started describing the plants, the birds and the trees we were seeing. Then he stopped in front of a tree, pulled out a knife, and stabbed it about six times. Immediately, from each wound, a white liquid began to flow. It was a rubber tree! How great it is to see something you’ve heard of all your life but never experienced!.


Except for the light bark it looks (to me) like any other tree in the forest. But, no!

DSCF5130Now, you may ask, why is it on fire? William was illustrating a point that even in a rain forest, IN the rain, you can still light latex and start a fire. Good to know!

DSCF5119William stretching some latex. He said that, growing up in the forest, if a kid broke a leg or an arm, their mothers would make a cast by coating the limb with multiple layers of latex. That’s what he said. I’m no doctor.

We walked a little farther, and, finally!


Toucans! They don’t have much of a song. More of a chirping sound. But, they sure are beautiful!

So, with the mission accomplished Edgar soon arrived to ferry us home, the perfect end to an extraordinary day. Getting to spend so much time with these exceptional people was not only a pleasure, but a real privilege, for which we are grateful. It is an experience we will never forget.

Edgar and Ileana


We left the river and walked this trail to the farm we were to visit. There were all kinds of fruit trees, flowers and even cattle on this beautiful farm. Here is the main house:


We received a VERY warm greeting from the ladies of the house. William and Edgar brought out a pineapple and star fruit and began carving:


William gave us quite the tutorial on how to correctly carve a pineapple. Here is the finished result:

DSCF4917About the time he finished carving, the woman who had greeted us brought out a fresh pot of Costa Rican coffee. What a great snack!

One of the children of the farm is an excellent horse rider and has won events all over the country. Here are some samples:

DSCF4923We could not have felt more welcome than we were here (or so we thought), and when you leave you wish you could come back later just to see how everyone’s doin’!

BUT, we could not stay. Lots of things still to do. Soon Edgar had in his van and we were off the the La Fortuna Falls.

On our way William warned us that to get to the base of the falls we would go 500 steps down and 500 steps back. Well, that didn’t seem as bad as, say the Statue of Liberty or the Washington Monument. So, we didn’t give it another thought.

When you get to the falls there is a visitor center and the a path that leads to the trailhead that will take you to the bottom. Along that path there is a steel bridge that overlooks a small stream. We were about half way across that bridge when William stopped us. He pointed to a nearby tree. This is what was resting on a branch of that tree:

DSCF4938This pretty guy is called an Eyelash Viper because it has extra scales around its eyes that make it look like he has eyelashes. There is only one other snake in Costa Rica, as these things are ranked, which is deadlier than this one. We did not pet him.


We began our descent. The top of the trail was nicely finished in concrete. About two-thirds of the way down, though, was the remains of the old trail. The waffled surface became narrower and more uneven. Challenging to say the least. But, eventually we found what we were looking for!


The other couple with us decided to go in for a swim. We declined. The water, they said, was cold and quite invigorating. We went for the photo op:


Then it was time for the hard part:



We left ahead of the others since we knew it would only be a matter of time till they caught up. We made it over half way before they did. We didn’t want to hold up the other people so they went on. William was kind enough to stay with us. And, as usual, all the rest of the way up he pointed out numerous plants and their medicinal qualities. He should have gone into pharmaceuticals.

After we got to the top and caught our respective breaths, we were back on the road again. Instead of going back into La Fortuna, we passed through the village of Los Angeles. Very nice.


Soon we were in Edgar’s neighborhood. It was time for lunch!

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As soon as we arrived, Edgar got to work opening coconuts for a refreshing drink!

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Then it was time to visit the outdoor kitchen and dining room!

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There we met Edgar’s wife Ileana. We had pre-ordered lunch. We were able to choose from beef, chicken, or fish. One ordered beef, the rest of us ordered fish. Ileana got right to work. The wood stove was already hot.

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Ileana’s English was also very good. She made us feel right at home.

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Before long, things were cookin’!

Then it was time for coffee. With this coffee maker you measure the coffee in to the netting at the top, pour the hot water into it, and collect the finished product into the pot below. Costa Rican coffee deserves the high praise it gets from everyone who visits.

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Lunch was prepared under the watchful eye of a frequent guest:

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Soon lunch was served!

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What a feast in paradise!

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The fish, tilapia, was served over rice, with black beans, plantains, and a vegetable we cannot remember, but which is delicious, served in a tortilla. We all became members of the clean plate club.

After this excellent lunch, it was time for a tour of the grounds.

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William found a visitor in the coconut tree!

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A sloth had decided to rest among the coconuts!  Then there was this parakeet, who also had free run of the place:

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Want hot chocolate? Here’s a cocoa tree:

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Sweet tooth? How about some mimons?

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And if you can’t reach them, well, No problemo! Edgar was happy to bring in the crops:

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Just give them the hook! Soon there were treats for everyone!

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What a nice desert!

While we continued the tour with William, Edgar went back to the house.

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What a beautiful setting!

Then Edgar returned with a special surprise: Their first grandchild!.

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Edgar and Ileana’s daughter, Yuliana, works for Anywhere Costa Rica. In fact, she had been my first contact with them. Then, she to turn me over to someone else because her doctor told her to rest. Good advice, as it turned out! What a surprise to actually meet Yuliana and her new baby! Understandably, she chose to stay in the house.

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We continued our tour and William pointed out all the other things Edgar grows out here, including avocados, numerous fruits and berries, and on, and on. Soon it was time to go, although all of us would have gladly stayed longer.


We couldn’t leave without a photo of some of the nicest people we have met anywhere in the world. And that is our lasting and best impression of Costa Rica. We met so many people who were not just doing their jobs, but who were genuinely glad to meet us and to welcome us into their country and, sometimes, their home.

And, even though we had already been on a float trip, stopped at a farm, hiked down to and back up from a waterfall, AND had a fabulous lunch with some great people, well, there was still time to hike up the volcano!



Well, we got nicely settled into The Volcano Lodge and pretty much chilled for the rest of the day. Bright and early the next morning we were picked up for our 3 in 1 tour of Arenal through a company called RainForest Explorers. The driver’s name was Edgar and the guide’s name was William. He is pictured above. Both spoke excellent English. Since we would be together all day, we had plenty of time to talk. On one of our longer drives, William told us his story.

His full name is William Bogarin-Solano, but to everyone he is William. (We didn’t learn his full name till we Googled him when we got back.) William calls himself an Indian and his family is part of the indigenous people who are still found throughout Costa Rica, mostly in the Guanacoste region in the northwest. As a child he lived in a small village at the base of Arenal. When he was growing up, few people even realized that Arenal was a volcano. It had been dormant for 500 years, so everyone thought it was just a mountain. All that changed on July 29, 1968. For a day or so before that day, the ground around his village began to shake violently. There was a stream on his family farm where the cattle would go for a cool drink. Now suddenly the water was too hot for the cattle to get anything. On the morning of the 29th the mountain exploded. A huge cloud of dust and gas darkened the sky and boulders the size of cars flew as many as seven miles away, exploding where they landed. William and his family ran for their lives. Because their village was on a hill top, they escaped the hot gases volcanoes produce. His friends in a nearby valley were not so lucky and more the 80 people were killed that morning by the hot gas. That village is now at the bottom of Lake Arenal.

For years he would not go near the volcano, but in time he began to overcome his fear. Eventually he climbed the volcano and has now been to the top (strictly illegal in this day and age) eight times. Following the big eruption the volcano remained active, with regular lava flows, then it became quiet for a time. But in 2000, it erupted again, without warning. While this was a much smaller eruption, William’s best friend was hiking with a couple of tourists near the mountain. They were all killed by the hot gas. A few days later someone chartered a plane to fly up and see what it looked like up there. The plane crashed and 10 people were killed. William was part of the team who hiked up to recover the bodies. A few years later he climbed to the top and spread a blanket as a memorial to those who lost their lives.

William now keeps a laminated photo album of these events, which he shared with us on our drive. This is the eruption of 2000:


This is the site of the plane crash:


This is the memorial blanket he left at the top:


On a lighter note, the actor/rapper Will Smith filmed part of the movie After Earth in Costa Rica, where they spent six weeks in a $1,000+ per night hotel nearby. William guided Will’s family through the forest. Here is Will, Jada Pinkett-Smith and their son.


More about William later.

The 3 in 1 tour starts with a float trip down the Penas Blanca river, then a hike down to the La Fortuna waterfall, and, finally, a hike part way up the volcano. Now that’s a lot of hiking for us geezers, but William was unfazed. Along the way we stopped to pick up another couple, and that was it, just the six of us. We drove through the village of La Fortuna (more about that later) and then we were out in the countryside. Here is some of what we saw:


Those skinny little trees are tapioca, which is grown commercially in the area. The tapioca you eat comes from the root. Then there were these:

DSCF4744The is a field of pineapples, which are grown in many places in Costa Rica. It is, by far, the tenderest and sweetest we have ever had. And, every place we stayed served it fresh every morning for breakfast.

In time, we pulled into a staging area and William and Edgar filled the boats with air.

DSCF4751We were pleased to learn that the guy in the blue shirt, part of the other couple with us, had just retired from the Coast Guard. Always nice to have backup!

Soon William had us ready to go:


Before long we were cruising down the Penas Blancas! Dianne and I were with William and the other couple was in a boat with Edgar.


Those of you who grew up near the Killbuck Creek will remember that it often had a certain aroma, which was, shall we say, organic in nature. Well, the Penas Blancas could have been its twin. Still, it was quite pleasant cruising down the stream.

Soon William would call out a bird here, a tree of a certain type there, or a flower over here. It was one thing after another and, for some reason, I had a hard time picking out what he was seeing. But he was gracious enough slow down or row over for a closer look. In time I started to get the hang of it. Here are a few of the many, many things we saw along the way:



Wild bananas, which William pointed out, are much sweeter and smaller than the ones we buy. But they can’t be grown commercially because they ripen too quickly.  Notice the red flower? The bananas are above it in the leaves.


Soon William spotted this guy lounging in a tree. Sloths, by the way, have few natural predators. The reason is, they are so inactive they have very little muscle mass. So, there’s not much there to eat.


William took a picture of a couple of tourists enjoying the cruise:


Then all of a sudden, he starts paddling toward the left bank. He had spotted some howler monkeys!:


And, even better, monkey babies:

Howler Babies

We watched them for a while then William went over to shore a picked a fern leaf. He laid it against my sleeve and slapped it gently. Then he took the fern away. This is called a Tattoo Fern and the powder it leaves is made of spores.


A little farther downstream William stopped again. He left us, climbed a bank and went into some big-leafed plants a short distance away. When he came back he was carrying this guy:


This is the famous Blue-Jeans Frog. It is poisonous, but William assured us that as long as he washed his hands soon he would survive. He did a nice job of staging the frog to make it look like we’d found him in the wild.


In time, William announced it was time to stop for a snack. There is a farm nearby and they were expecting us. On the path to the farm we met this Iguana:

DSCF4902He was uninterested in us.

We also passed a star-fruit tree. You see these at Meijers sometimes. The fruit, not the tree.


On The Road Again!

Well, it was finally time to say goodbye to Monteverde and head for Arenal We had been promised an even rougher road and Costa Rica did not disappoint!


Not exactly what one hopes for in a main highway. But, at least we were in a vehicle better able to handle it:


This time we had almost a full size bus, with lots of people heading our way, most of them youngsters.

But even a bus has its challenges:




So, map fans, here is where we were going:

Monteverde to Arenal

At least this is where Google Maps thought we were going. In reality, we were told as soon as we got on board that we would be crossing the lake by ferry and would be met on the other side by people who would take us to our final destination, in our case the Volcano Lodge.  And, in spite of the bumps, there was some beautiful scenery along the way.





After a couple hours of sightseeing we stopped at this restaurant for snacks:



Bamboo was definitely the theme for this place. Some other buses pulled up as well so we had time to chat with a few Americans. We had long been in the minority. Most visitors are from Europe or Australia. We even met a couple with whom we had hiked the cloud forest. They were headed somewhere else. Small world!

Then is was back on the road. In a while we came upon a wind farm.


Then we came to a small village. And here is a scene we saw repeated time and time again regardless of where we were in Costa Rica, a parent (usually the mother) walking a child to school. VERY nice to see.


Here is the school.


So anyway, we are driving for another hour or so and all of a sudden we see a big lake. In a few minutes the driver pulls his bus beside a metal shack and announces that this is as far as the bus goes. We would be boarding a ferry.  At the top of the picture is where our bus was. At the bottom is our boat. The cement slabs are the extent of capital improvements in the area. It is a dirt trail down the hill. Fortunately these young boys volunteered to help us with our bags, which we greatly appreciated. We gave them each 1,000 colonies (about $2) and they were pleased as well.


We had no trouble finding our bags later:


Actually it was a pretty nice boat:


And a very fun and scenic ride it was! By the way, whenever we travel we generally try to represent the US in a positive way. Glad to see that this spirit has found its way to the younger generation as well. For example here is one of the guys who crossed with us.


Soon Volcan Arenal  hove into view


As we got closer the clouds almost came off:


Before long, we started to head for our dock, which, as it turned out, was a bunch of rocks in the water leading to another dirt path. Our vehicles were above waiting for us as promised:


 Soon we were speeding away to the Volcano Lodge on nicely paved highways. We would not ride another gravel road the rest of our time in Costa Rica.

A Clear Day In The Cloud Forest!

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is largely the creation of George Powell, an American doctoral student who came to Costa Rica to study many species of birds found here. Once he arrived, it didn’t take long to realize that the forests were being decimated by various elements. Not only did he have substantial personal wealth, but he was also very persuasive and was able to get a mining company to agree to create the preserve on its land while he purchased neighboring parcels. The preserve was founded in 1972 and now contains 26,000 acres. A cloud forest, by the way, is a forest that is often or sometimes covered by clouds to a point where mosses and other moisture-loving plants can thrive.

For our tour, Anywhere Costa Rica hooked us up with Marcos Mendez Sibaja, who is a dual US and Costa Rica citizen. He has established a tour service named Pasion Costa Rica and is available for much more extensive hiking than just the morning trips that we were on. Marcos was the first of several truly excellent guides we met during the trip. His knowledge of the area is outstanding. He is very personable and works hard to make sure you see as much as possible, understand what you are seeing, and all your questions are answered. Plus, his English is easily understood. That’s Marcos pointing at the tree.


Here is the trail. Very nice.


There were only six of us on the tour and we were only minutes into it when we spotted our first monkeys and sloths. Then, the word got out among the guides going up and down the trail, that someone had spotted a Resplendent Quetzal. Well, you would have thought that gold had been discovered in a nearby creek. Considering that a half-hour ago we never even heard of this bird, we were all now desperate to find one. Here is why:

Well, I wish I could tell you that I’d taken that picture. Or, that we’d even seen one. Sadly, no. We did not find a male, but we did find a female:


Still a pretty rare find, we were told. By the way, if you go back up to that picture of Marcos you will see that he is carrying a field telescope. What he and several other guides did for us is, they will train the telescope on the subject, and then take your cell phone camera and take a shot through the lens. That’s how we got this one. Unfortunately, a little lens cleaning was needed, so the colors are not so bright.

Along with the quetzal, we also found a Red-bellied Trogan, another rare find apparently. However the picture was too bad to post. OK So, shooting through a telescope doesn’t always work.

In Costa Rica there are over 1,400 types of orchids alone, not to mention the thousands of other flowers that are literally everywhere. Here are a few:






Along the trail we also met a cute little guy, called an agouti. You will see his face below the red ears. They are kind of like big prairie dogs, about the size of a cat. They don’t care to be seen, especially by humans. Interestingly, we later learned that they are considered to be a delicacy by the various boa constrictors that roam the area.


Then we came upon a hole in the wall. Who lives there?


This young lady:

DSCF4352As you might have guessed, tarantulas are common here in the cloud forest and at lower altitudes as well.

One of the most common trees in the forest, both up in the mountains and along the coast is this one, the ficus tree:


This is also called the Strangler Tree. The reason is, that sooner or later, an airborne seed from a nearby tree will land on its trunk somewhere. From that seed a vine will grow up and attach itself to the tree. the vine will also grow down and plant itself in the earth. Over time, the vines will circle the tree and slowly strangle it to death. Then it becomes a new tree. You can see the vines already at work on this one. Ah Nature!


Here is a young tourist daring the tree to strangle her.


Fortunately she escaped and found her way to this waterfall.

Our morning hike ended a place set up at the park to attract humming birds. These birds are everywhere in Costa Rica. Here is a VERY small sample:





What a GREAT way to spend the morning. If you’re ever up that way, Pasion Costa Rica, highly recommended.

Later that evening we arrived at a place called Hidden Valley for the night tour. Hidden Valley is a roughly 40 acre preserve owned by a young man from Boston who came to Costa Rica as a preschool teacher in San Jose. He found this place in run down condition, attracted some investors, and set off to create an eco-friendly place for tourists. Much of the lodging is still under construction, but some rentals are available.

He told us that the locals, when they found out what he was trying to do, were very friendly and helpful. For example, he found that he needed permits to build some of the structures, like observation platforms, that visitors would want so they could see the wildlife. He found that the permits would be expensive, but even worse, there is always a backlog, so that it might take a year or more to get approval. His friends advised him to go ahead and build what he wanted anyway. If he got caught, he would still have everything done and it would be cheaper to pay the fine. There is no substitute for local information!

So, anyway, there were only four of us on the trip, including the guide. By the time we got into the forest, it was totally dark. We were each given flashlights and off we went. Well, there is nothing quite like being in one of these forests at night. For one thing, the noise of the crickets is overpowering. And these aren’t the crickets we are used to in Ohio. These crickets look like this:


And, there is no shortage of them. So, we are looking under leaves and into bushes, trying to find some wildlife. It didn’t take long to find this:


Although this snake has the markings of its more poisonous relatives, this one is harmless to humans and actually is beneficial. It is called a cat-eyed snake and he enjoys strangling frogs.


We also came across this roughly ten foot high mound of dirt with a nylon pipe running over it. Turns out the pipe is temporary and the mound is an anthill of leaf-cutter ants. The ants were still quite active and we were told they never sleep. They just work till they die. More about them later.

We saw a few other things on this trip, but it was not apparently a night when the critters felt like stepping out. But, believe me, just being out there is experience enough.  To top things off, we came to an opening in the canopy and it was a night when the stars were as bright as they are in western US. Absolutely beautiful.

Well, that was it for Monteverde. Tomorrow we would be off to the volcano at Arenal.


Time For A Hot Cup Of Joe!


After our morning adventure on the zip lines we asked to be dropped off in Santa Elena to get some local currency. We were greeted by the first of many tropical downpours, a regular afternoon event. I was able to get only about $100 worth of Colones (or, co LON ees, as they are called) at a time from the ATM. As it turned out, that was enough to hold us for a number of days. The exchange rate is about 560 colonies to one dollar US. Not as bad as Argentina, but still enough to require mental math. The US dollar is more than welcome in most stores. In fact, one of the guides told us that their government holds a large number of US dollars in reserve and that reserve is the foundation for their currency, sort of like a twisted version of the gold standard. So here we are in the US printing dollars as fast as the presses can run and with who-knows-what behind them, and these guys are using those dollars to shore up their economy! What a tangled web we weave.

So, anyhow, Santa Elena is a very charming little town with a number of good restaurants. The locals suggested we try this one:


Don’t know why, but the place looked kinda familiar. Anyway, the food was excellent and the price was very good.


We were also pleased to see this:

DSCF4186It was too early in the trip to  go to this place. Later we would wish they had a branch on the coast.


Here is one of the best surprises: Dianne had inadvertently left a bag in Columbus which contained her meds. She went to this pharmacy to try to find some suitable substitute and was told that the actual meds she had lost were available in Costa Rica without prescription. The only thing they would not sell is the usual street drugs, which, of course, were not on her list. This solved a HUGE problem.

Pretty soon it was time for the coffee tour:


The Don Juan Coffee and Cocoa Tour is a tourist standard. I’m only showing the coffee part, because we later went on another cocoa tour that had more info.


I learned later that the ox and cart are a national symbol. These poor guys had to stand out in the pouring rain, just for the photo op. During the tour they weren’t even mentioned. But, the driver led them to shelter as soon as the tour started.

So, other than the old commercial that showed Juan Valdez and his donkey bringing in coffee, I really knew very little about actual coffee making going in. Coffee is more of a bush than a tree and it favors the mountains. It is, of course grown in much of Central and some of South America. It likes the tropics. Here is what young bushes looks like:


Here is a single mature plant:


The red berries, called “cherries” by the locals, are ready to be picked. The picking is still done by hand by people who carry bushel baskets through the rows. They guide said they might get one to maybe three dollars for a picked basket.

So here are the steps in making your hot cup of Joe:


I don’t see Juan’s donkey in that second picture


After the cherries are collected they are taken to a processing plant where the red cover is removed. Here is a machine that does that job:

DSCF4200As it turns out, this machine is made in Ohio!

DSCF4202The CS Bell Company has been making grinders and processors since the 1800’s and are still operating today in Hillsboro, east of Cincinnati. Who knew?

Here is what the inside of the cherry looks like:

DSCF4193After the beans are removed they are spread out for drying.

DSCF4215It’s a little know fact that coffee tastes better after a bunch of tourists walk all over it. Yummy!

After the beans have dried they have kind of a tough skin. This is taken off like chaff is taken off wheat, Then the green coffee is put in bags and shipped all over the world. When it arrives at its destination it is roasted to bring out the desired flavor

DSCF4230Based on the chart we were shown, here is the outcome of some of the roasting process: This guy took the info very seriously!


As I said earlier, we’ll save the cocoa part for later, but there is one other cool thing they showed us. Sugar cane also grows abundantly in Costa Rica and our guide happened to have a few stalks handy. With a machine much like an old ringer washer he invited us to run a stalk through.


The machine collected the juice, to which he added fresh squeezed lemon juice and  then distributed to the group in small cups. Oh my!

Well, that was the end of our first full day! Tomorrow we will take a morning walk through the cloud forest and then a night walk as well.

Zip It!!!

Apparently, when I filled out the form with Anywhere Costa Rica about things we wanted to do, I must have checked the box that said Extreme Sports, because what, to our wondering eyes did appear on the itinerary? A zip line, that’s what. Not just any zip line either. This was EIGHT lines all sort of connected. Although we had seen zip lines before (and heard lots of screams, we presumed from delight) we had never actually done this ourselves.

Well, when we saw it scheduled we kicked around whether to cancel or go for it. I kinda wanted to do it, Dianne kinda didn’t. As we looked into it further we found that they give you a short trial run. After that you could decide whether to go the rest of the way or not. AND there are other activities as well, including a nature hike and a tram ride. After much discussion we decided to give it a try. Here is the layout:

Sky Trek

Our driver arrived right on time at the Trapp Family Lodge to take us to the Sky Park. Fortunately, the first order of business was the nature walk, the area in green on the map. The heavy lines you see on said map represent these:


A series of seven suspension bridges helped us over the deep ravines. Of course, the guide wasn’t happy until we looked down at the deepest spot, which, to us was merely a black hole:



Our guide was quite good. Not only could he explain many of the exotic plants that grow down there, he also was excellent at spotting wild life.

This was our first ever two-toed sloth:


Followed very soon by our first-ever howler monkeys:



And, our first-ever centipede!


He was also very good about taking pictures for us:


But, all good things come to an end. It was now time to tackle the zip lines. If you go back to the map above, you will see that the zip line course outlined in red. Essentially, you zig-zag down the mountain, in a series of 7 lines. The first line is the trial line where you declare yourself to be in or out. If you are in, you are in for the entire run. You can’t just do a line or two and say, “I’m done now.”

So you go up to the shack and a couple of guides meet you. Ours were named Bernie and Elvis. There were only four people in our group, Dianne, me and a couple from Amsterdam. The guides fitted us all with harnesses and helmets. For me, they provided a helmet with a bracket for a GoPro which was a big help. I had brought a clamp, but it would not have worked.

After we were secured in our harnesses, the guides gave detailed instructions on how to hang from the line, how to put your feet out before they apply the brake, and so on. Then it was show time. The couple from Amsterdam went first. Dianne, understandably, had serious doubts. To her credit, she gave it a try:

After her trial run, and gauging the impact on her newly replaced shoulder, she decided to settle for the tram ride up the mountain and then to call it a day.She did get a damn fine glamour shot though:


As it turned out, this was a good call. On some of those lines you go lickety-split and the stops are very sudden indeed. Much like a jet landing on an aircraft carrier. When that hook grabs you, WHOA NELLIE! Not something you want to try with a bionic shoulder.

So, that left three of us. We all rode the tram up the mountain (the orange lines on the map), said our farewells to Dianne and proceeded to climb this big tower to our first line. The climb pert near killed us.


Then it was time to go! The couple from Amsterdam did a fine job of cheering me on, a much-needed service. Elvis and Bernie were VERY professional. There was no funny business with these guys. They were all safety first. That’s what sold the deal. That and the fact that I could almost see my destination at the end of the first line. Quite helpful. Then it was WOOSH and I’m hanging over some ravine at a fairly high rate of speed. The boys told me that the worst thing would be to not go fast enough and get stuck out there somewhere. In which case you have to turn yourself, while suspended, and pull yourself hand over hand to the end point. In other words, they are not coming out to get you. (Although, I suppose they would if there were no alternative. They can’t just leave you hanging. Probably)

Well, it was immediately clear that lack of speed was not going to be a problem. What was a problem was that my head was up too high and the GoPro was scraping on the zip line. I had a hard time keeping far enough down to prevent that. So, not only did I grind off a fair amount of the case, but the video has a lot of buzz on the sound track from the cable hitting. That is why you are getting a video of the second line (Line 3 on the map) instead. They were able to adjust my harness and lower me down a bit. That mostly solved the problem. Here is the second line:

The way the brakes work is, they have a long cord hooked to a tubular pad. They run that pad out a hundred feed or so and when you hit it they pull on the cord. It is the cord that absorbs the impact, and the guide pulling it that slows you down. It is all fairly abrupt, however, and it gives you a pretty good jolt. It is actually as much fun as the ride itself.

Well, in time, we became pretty comfortable with all this and it was really a LOT of fun. In no time at all we had knocked out all the remaining lines except the second to last, the one the You Tube people call, “Big Papa”. The guides did not. To them it was Cable 7. Cable 7 is 2,460 feet long, 196 feet at its highest point, with a maximum speed of 46 mph. This is what it was like:

At the end of this line we had the choice of jumping off the platform we were on using something like a bungee cord, although you don’t bounce back up. You free fall for a while, then it sort of catches you. ( I have video of the Amsterdam couple doing it. If you want to see it, send me a message). This is not what I signed up for, however, and I wanted to do the last zip line. So, Bernie rode over first to catch me, and off I went for the last ride, which was event less.At the end, Bernie was gracious enough to pose with what was probably his ten thousandth tourist.


Well, we had done all this and it wasn’t even time for lunch yet! We had to get back to the lodge so we wouldn’t miss our ride to the afternoon coffee plantation tour!

Into the Cloud Forest!

The flight from Baltimore, Southwest’s hub, is about four and a half hours. And, to make things even better, the flight was only half full! Yay for the rainy season! SJO is a small, but clean and modern airport with, maybe, 13 gates all in a row.

As soon as we walked into the baggage claim area we were met by Anywhere Costa Rica people who told us where our bags would be coming out and where to find our driver. A very warm welcome, indeed! While we were waiting for our bags I tried to use the ATM to get some local currency, but it did not work. The only one working had a long line and we knew better than to get screwed by the World Exchange counter, so we decided to wait till our destination. We had enough USD’s to tide us over and they are usually accepted as readily as the local “colonies”.

We soon had our bags and met up with our driver, as smooth a process as we could have wanted. Our driver was a young guy, mid thirties, who spoke excellent English. He was driving a mini-van. When he found out it was our first time in Costa Rica he proceeded to give us the background about the country and what it is like to live here. Here is where we were going (as you know, you can click on the picture to enlarge it):

Map San Jose to Monteverde - Copy

All the way out of San Jose we were in fairly heavy traffic. Our driver told us we could stay on the main highway and not see much, or we could take a side road down the Pacific coast for a much better view. Since we would not otherwise see the Pacific side, the choice was easy. Before long we were in the very beautiful countryside.


In about an hour we were on the coast, just south of Puntarenas. There are two deep water ports with container terminals in Costa Rica. One here and one on the Caribbean side at Limon’. Neither are very large. So, the ships just wait in line.


There is a nice beach. Nobody was there.


But here was the best part for us:


Sodas are small restaurants and they are seemingly everywhere. But, what we were interested in was the Frutera. Here is what they had to offer:

DSCF4029The fruit with stems is called Granadilla, related to Breadfruit. The others I don’t know.

DSCF4028Our driver directed our attention to the red, fuzzy fruit in the back. They are Mimon’s although the locals often call them lychees. All you have to do is split the red part and this is what you get:


You just pop the white fruit into your mouth and prepare for major sweetness (and a fairly large seed). They are delicious! I bought a kilo, which proved to be more than enough given our hectic schedule.


While we were at the market we saw this truck. We later learned that much of the food distribution across the entire country is handed by a bunch of Bimbos. Shocking!


Soon we left the coast and began our ascent toward Monteverde. You will notice the nice paved road. It didn’t last long.


Before long we were on route 606. My Holmes County peeps will quickly recognize this type of road. To their credit, the Costa Ricans made theirs wide enough so that if you meet a milk truck you don’t have to back down the hill. Otherwise; it is the bone-jarring, tooth loosening, suspension cracking experience of our youth. Except the rocks on this road are much bigger than our traditional gravel. To top it off, we hit our first rain storm. Here is a little of what it was like.

We were on this road for seventeen miles. The question of renting a car faded well into the background. Our driver, who lives in La Fortuna, which you will see later,  said that he rates the roads up here like we rate white-water rapids. This one he gave a Class 3. Later we told him our next stop would be Arenal. That road, he said, is much worse. Give it a Class 5.


Now we were getting into the cloud forest.


Not too hard to look at.

In time we made it to the charming village of Santa Elena. More pictures of this place later.


Anywhere Costa Rica had selected for us the Trapp Family Lodge, which, as it turned out was another five or so Class 4 miles above Santa Elena near the Monteverde Forest Preserve. Soon we were putting our teeth back in our heads as we arrived at our destination.


The Trapp Family Lodge is a beautiful facility with some of the friendliest staff we have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Here are a few shots of the place.


Hardwoods throughout the entire building. This is the view of the back. Our room is past the last window.


 In addition, they have absolutely beautiful grounds!


You want flowers?




And the best part? The total cost of the room: $94 per night. Recently I saw an ad for them at $74 per night, presumably for a little smaller room. We loved this place!

Costa Rica 2015: A little background info


If my memory is correct, which generally it is not, it seems it was back in the ’80s that Costa Rica was “discovered’ as a place where the cost of living, and property, was cheap, the scenery beautiful and the people friendly. So, a flood a retirees and escapees began to head in that direction.

By that time Costa Rica itself was undergoing its own transformation. In 1949, following a civil war common in that part of the world, the new government took the extraordinary step of becoming the first nation in the world to abolish its army. By the eighties the economy had moved from being primarily a coffee and produce exporter to becoming a center for Eco-tourism. Much of the land was protected either by the government or privately and by the nineties tourists became the primary economic engine.

For many years we have come across people who have been there and loved it, and it has long been on our list of places to go. However, it did not become high on that list till it came time to cash in some expiring free Southwest air miles.

We started accumulating those miles with an Air Tran credit card some years ago. Then Southwest bought Air Tran. The miles, although computed differently, did transfer, but the process hit a little turbulence and it wasn’t clear that  those hard-earned miles had arrived at their destination safely until early this year. When they did arrive, they brought their October, 2015 expiration deadline with them. So, we had some planning to do.

At the time the all this was going on the farthest destination Southwest flew was Aruba. And, while we would have been plenty happy going back there again, we are always looking for something new. That’s when Southwest announced they would soon begin service to Costa Rica! Yay! For various reasons, including the arrival of our new granddaughter, we could not travel much before the dreaded miles expiration date. So, I slowly began looking into everything Costa Rica had to offer, which was a LOT!

As is my custom, I started with Tripadvisor. They had all kinds of fabulous beaches and national parks as destinations, mostly on the Pacific coast. So Dianne and I looked over the list and settled on a few places. We decided it would take about two weeks to see all this stuff and avoid a mad rush from place to place. I was able to confirm that our flight would indeed be free. So, we booked October 1-13. Now it was time to fill in the details.

I started looking a You-Tube videos about Costa Rica. To my surprise, one of the first videos was from a couple guys who live down there and who strongly advised against renting a car. WHAT??? How are you supposed to get around? People on TripAdvisor had mixed opinions of the subject, but they all agreed on one thing: it would be pricey. The cost of renting a car down there is a little high, BUT the government requires you to buy insurance, regardless of what your own policy and/or credit card might cover. This       required insurance would be, at least, $55/day. Hmmmm. Not good. Sounded like the kind of racket you run into some times. Still, I had a hard time nailing down an alternative. The whole country is no bigger than West Virginia. Surely it can’t be that hard to get around.

Earlier in the year one of my Facebook friends, Amy Kutschbach, had posted pictures from her trip to Costa Rica. Making no progress on my own, I messaged her about car rentals and getting around generally. She replied with some good advice and sound reasoning which was, a) DO NOT rent a car because roads are awful and signs are few, AND, b) let the locals arrange both your vacation and your transportation. She recommended a site called “Anywhere Costa Rica”.  They give you good suggestions to choose from and the service is free! OK. Now we were getting somewhere!

I got on the Anywhere Costa Rica site and got to work. First the give you a nice checklist of things you want to do down there. Then they ask for your budget and how many days you plan to stay. You send them that info and they assign one of their staff to work with you. Sure enough, almost instantly, I received a reply with suggestions for places to visit and things to do. Following Amy’s pictures, comments from TripAdvisor people and our personal preferences, Dianne and I soon had it narrowed down. We replied back and soon received a phone call from Yuliana, our guide for this experience. She agreed that we had picked some excellent spots, but she pointed out that October is still the rainy season in Costa Rica. For that reason some of the places on the Pacific side actually close and regardless, we might well spend considerable time in the pouring rain. OK. This was good to know. She said we would still be alright in the mountains, but would be much drier on the Caribbean side. She suggested some places to visit there, which sounded just as good. Soon we were narrowing things down again. Before long, we had a plan.

Not only did this plan include the properties, it also included all transportation from the airport, to every destination and back to the airport. And all within budget. Here is the final itinerary:

T. +1 888-456-3212 | T. +1 541-359-1963 | L. 2479-8811.


Oct 01, 2015

Monteverde: Transport, Checkin
Private Transfer Service for 2 adults from Alajuela and SJO Airport to Monteverde.
Pickup at International Airport (South West flight #602 at 11:30) at 11:30AM.
Local # 2469-2020 / 8704-9393. Confirmation # 21933. Adult Rules: 11 and older. Child Rules: 4-10 years. Infant Rules: 3 and younger.
Arrive in Monteverde. Dropoff at Trapp Family Lodge.
Checkin: 2 adults in 1 room (Superior Room, 2 Queen) for 3 nights at Trapp Family Lodge.
Local # 2431-0776 / 2645-5858. Free Breakfast. Adult Rules: 12 and older. Child Rules: 5-11 years. Infant Rules: under age 5.


Oct 02, 2015

Monteverde: Tour
Sky Tram, Sky Trek and Sky Walk Monteverde for 2 adults.
Pickup at Trapp Family Lodge in Monteverde at 07:00AM.
Tour Rules: Sky Trek (zip lines) weight restriction: 217lbs and maximum waist width of 56 inches. Minimum height required for Sky Trek: 1,40 meters. What to Bring: Closed toe shoes, long pants or long shorts, a light jacket, camera.
Sky Trek Local # 2479-4100 / 2479-7832 . Confirmation # R-203579.
Tour ends: Dropoff at Trapp Family Lodge in Monteverde.
Don Juan Sugar Cane, Chocolate and Coffee Tour for 2 adults.
Pickup at Trapp Family Lodge in Monteverde at 02:30PM.
Tour Includes: Guide, coffee picking, and plantation tour. What to Bring: Comfortable clothing, camera, and sunscreen.
Tour option: Regular Tour
Don Juan Coffee Tour Local # 2645-7100/ 2645 6858.
Tour ends: Dropoff at Trapp Family Lodge in Monteverde.


Oct 03, 2015

Monteverde: Tour
Guided Tour Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve for 2 adults.
Pickup at Trapp Family Lodge in Monteverde at 07:20AM.
Tour Includes: Naturalist guide, entrance fees, transportation (if requested when booking). What to Bring: Comfortable clothing, hiking shoes, insect repellent, camera, water, raincoat.
Language / Idioma: English Tour type: Regular tour
Pasion Costa Rica Local # 2452-1717 /8828-2417.
Tour ends: Dropoff at Trapp Family Lodge in Monteverde.
Hidden Valley Night Tour for 2 adults.
Pickup at Trapp Family Lodge in Monteverde at 05:00PM.
Tour Includes: Naturalist guide and flashlight. What to Bring: Warm clothes, long pants, hiking shoes, insect repellent, rain gear, jacket, camera (optional).
Hidden Valley Local # 8378-1657 / 2645-6601.
Tour ends: Dropoff at Trapp Family Lodge in Monteverde.


Oct 04, 2015

Arenal: Change Hotels, Transport
Trapp Family Lodge (checkout by 12pm)
Shuttle Service for 2 adults from Monteverde to Arenal.
Pickup at Trapp Family Lodge at 07:45AM.
Taxi-Boat-Taxi Local # 2645-7140 / 2645-7638. Please take into account there is a walk from the van to the boat and boat to the van on both sides of the lake and the luggage will need to be carried by all passengers. Families and elderly people will be given priority by the drivers. If any member on your party requires assistance please inform us in advance. Adult Rules: 7 and older. Child Rules: up to 6 years. May include one or more stops and a connection with a vehicle change. Exact logistics vary from day to day.
Arrive in Arenal. Dropoff at Volcano Lodge & Springs.
Checkin: 2 adults in 1 room (Superior Room , 1 King) for 3 nights at Volcano Lodge & Springs.
* Early checkin may be possible.
Local # 2479 2800. Confirmation # 52330. Free Breakfast. Adult Rules: 12 and older. Child Rules: 5-11 years. Infant Rules: under age 5.


Oct 05, 2015

Arenal: Tour
3 in 1 Safari Float, La Fortuna Waterfall and Volcano Hike for 2 adults.
Pickup at Volcano Lodge & Springs in Arenal at 07:25AM.
Tour Includes: Transportation, bilingual naturalist guide, bottled water, fruit, lunch, and entrance fees to the parks. What to Bring: Hiking shoes, water sandals, rain jacket, comfortable clothes, swimming suit, insect repellent, sunscreen, towel, and camera.
Rainforest Explorers Local # 8921-6427 . Confirmation # 879.
Tour ends: Dropoff at Volcano Lodge & Springs in Arenal.


Oct 06, 2015

Arenal: Tour
Rainforest Chocolate Tour for 2 adults.
No pickup transportation included.
Tour Rules: This tour does not include transportation. The tour is located on the road to La Fortuna waterfall, in front of Cabinas La Catarata.
Tour Option: Regular Tour
Rain Forest Chocolate Tour Local # 8474-4007/2479-0090.
Tour ends: No dropoff transportation included.
Tabacon Hot Springs for 2 adults.
No pickup transportation included.
Tour Includes: Entrance fee. Lockers and towels are available paying a refundable deposit. What to Bring: Camera, bathing suit, sandals.
Tour Option: Entrance Fee Plus Dinner
Tabacon Hot Springs Local # 2479-2099. Confirmation # S144300.
Tour ends: No dropoff transportation included.


Oct 07, 2015

Puerto Viejo de Limon: Change Hotels, Transport
Volcano Lodge & Springs (checkout by 12pm)
Shuttle Service for 2 adults from Arenal to Puerto Viejo de Limon.
Pickup at Volcano Lodge & Springs at 06:00AM.
Interbus Local # 4100-0888 / 4100-0890. Confirmation # 428555 . 1 piece of luggage and 1 carry-on allowed per passenger at no cost (extra luggage – $15 per piece). Adult Rules: 12 and older. Child Rules: 4-11 years. Infant Rules: 3 and younger. May include one or more stops and a connection with a vehicle change. Exact logistics vary from day to day.
Arrive in Puerto Viejo de Limon. Dropoff at Hotel Cariblue.
Checkin: 2 adults in 1 room (Bungalow, 1 King + 2 Twin) for 3 nights at Hotel Cariblue.
* Early checkin may be possible.
Local # 2750-0035 / 2750-0518. Free Breakfast. Adult Rules: 6 and older. Child Rules: 5 and younger.


Oct 10, 2015

Tortuguero: Change Hotels, Transport
Hotel Cariblue (checkout by 12pm)
Shuttle Service for 2 adults from Puerto Viejo de Limon to Tortuguero.
Pickup at Hotel Cariblue at 08:10AM.
Notes: Upon arrival to Muelle Los Almendros please ask the boat captain to call us or Mawamba Lodge.
Terraventuras Local # 2750-0750 . 1 piece of luggage and 1 carry-on allowed per passenger at no cost (extra luggage – $15 per piece). Adult Rules: 12 and older. Child Rules: 4-11 years. Infant Rules: 3 and younger. May include one or more stops and a connection with a vehicle change. Exact logistics vary from day to day.
Arrive in Tortuguero. Dropoff at Muelle Los Almendros – connecting with Mawamba Lodge.
Checkin: 2 adults in 1 room (Standard Room Classic Tour 2 Nights/3 Days, 1 Double + 1 Single) for 2 nights at Mawamba Lodge .
Pick Up Location: Muelle Almendros in Tortuguero (connecting with Terraventuras). – Drop off location: Adventure Inn in Alajuela
Local # 2293-8181 / 8854-6155. Confirmation # R149074. Free Breakfast. Adult Rules: 13 and older. Child Rules: 5-12 years. Infant Rules: under age 5.


Oct 12, 2015

Alajuela – SJO Int’l: Change Hotels
Mawamba Lodge (checkout by 12pm)
Checkin: 2 adults in 1 room (Standard Room, 2 Queen) for 1 night at Adventure Inn Hotel.
Notes: We have secured a free shuttle service from Adventure Inn to SJO Int. Airport on 10/13/2015. This service is provided by Interbus (ref. # 429057). The shuttle departs at 8:30am, please be ready at the lobby of the hotel.
Local # 2239-2633. Confirmation # 45159-E. Free Breakfast. Adult Rules: 13 and older. Child Rules: 5-12 years. Infant Rules: under age 5.


Oct 13, 2015

Alajuela – SJO Int’l: Checkout
Adventure Inn Hotel (checkout by 12pm)

IMPORTANT: Anywhere Costa Rica has prepaid each of the bookings shown above. If a provider requests payment or if you have any problems, please call us immediately at 2479-8811. If you pay a provider directly, we will be unable to issue a refund. All cancellations and modifications must be made with Anywhere Costa Rica. We try to help clients get full refunds in every circumstance. However, we must respect the cancellation terms of our providers. Tours often operate rain or shine. Hotels, shuttles, and flights have stricter cancellation policies. Early notice on conflicts or cancellations allows us to better negotiate a reduced penalty.

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