Costa Rica

Published: March 9th 2014
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Tropical FlycatcherTropical FlycatcherTropical Flycatcher

lots of these in backyard
We are off on our first snowbird type holiday-one month in Costa Rica.Day one was the usual SSI get up early for the ferry gig, then to the airport and wait 4 hours… We got in to Phoenix about 630 PM and shuttled to the fabulous Econolodge-very handy place and excellent value.

In the morning, I got three great bird shots with the new camera (Eurasion Collared Dove, Fan Tailled Grackle and a Northern Mockingbird) After the non-gourmet breakfast, it was back to the airport to catch the 1.10 PM US Air flight to San Jose. (5 more fun filled hours)

The new air travel scam is to sell you a reasonably priced ticket, then hammer you with luggage fees. We paid about $800 each for the return tickets and then had to pay another $112 each for one bag for the four flight legs. What you now see are people trying to beat the system with intense carryon programs.The upper bins are crammed full very early in the boarding process so guess what the airline response is? Check the extra carryon stuff for free which seems to be a reward for not playing by the rules????

In any case we got into the SJ airport on time and were met by Frank Colon, proprietor of our latest Air Bnb place. The condo/apartment is located about 30 minutes from the airport high up above the city Ajuluela. We can see the lights of San Jose and Alujuela from our deck. We are in a gated compound but I think the neighbourhood is perfectly safe. In any case we got settled in and everything seems fine.

The next day Frank took us on a tour for groceries etc and turned over the car. We also met all the other residents (3 from Canada and 4 from the USA) Very friendly bunch and we got invited to a Superbowl party. The game was the usual triumph of hype over substance with the commercials being the best part.

Driving here takes a bit of effort.There are not many visible street signs, the maps are out of date ( we had three maps with each showing different roads) the drivers are all in training for Formula One, and the roads have lots of giant unmarked hazards. Apparently people here collect manhole covers and storm drain grates are highly prized. The major (and only) route to the east coast is known as the highway of death...

We did a bit of a local tour and went downtown to get money changed, buy a Sim card etc. Downtown here is pretty easy to get around in once you get the streets figured out. Groceries, depending on what you buy are about the same price as Canada. It is also illegal to wear a hat in a cell phone store.

The next day we drove out to the Poas Waterfall Garden which was a pretty easy trip for our first rural driving experience- about 30 km. A trip highlight were the roadside vendors selling fresas (strawberries) Our first thought was Jimmy Buffet so we bought some tequila.

Poas is quite the place with a very nice nature park including a butterfly garden(enclosed) an apiary, a reptile place, cat house and a hummingbird garden. We sort of ended up in the place for free as the ticket selling place wasn't marked (you had to be there to understand) We had a nice visit and put money in all the donation boxes...We also walked down to the falls and back up to
Rancho Capulon Rancho Capulon Rancho Capulon

really excellent place
the car.

We drove back to the apartment complex and learned from the other tenants that the Poas admission fee was actually $38 per person-oops.

After some relaxing days we did some other more complex trips, most of which involved getting lost. In Costa Rica road signs are generally non-existent and the maps seem to be guesses. Our next rural trip was to Sarchi and it was quite the experience.

After these two warmup trips, it was off to the west coast to visit Manuel Antonio, Carara and Puntarenas. For those using this blog to plan future trips to CR, you could probably leave Puntarenas off the itinerary. After exiting it, we then drove down the highway to the Tarcoles River area where our excellent bed and breakfast was located It was called Rancho Capulin and it turned out to be one one of the best places we have ever stayed. We had our own private cabana and pool and were greeted by a flock of Scarlet Macaws. Dinner was also great at the nearby Mirador Restaurant (to prevent confusion most restaurants in Costa Rica are named Mirador??)

The next morning it was off to Jaco which is a real touristy location with lots of opportunities to buy beach accessories. Before Jaco is the Tarcoles River crocodile place beside the bridge- very impressive.

After Jaco, it was a fairly uneventful drive to Manuel Antonio where we were to meet Bernie Sanchez, our birding guide. After checking into the Lacolina at 1300, it was off to the park for a true wilderness experience with Bernie. There couldn't have been more than 300 or 400 people on the trail, but we did see lots of birds and other wildlife. We did an ocean dip and then it was back to the hotel for dinner (the waitress was from Regina)

After a very short night it was up at 0430 and down the road in the dark back to Carara National Park for our guided walk. (admission for tourists is $10 USF-probably a good thing) Today there were 2 guides and they were both excellent. First stop was for tucans and an endless number of other birds - by lunchtime we had seen a total of 70 species including such weirdos as the Bare Throated Tiger Heron and the Montezuma Oropendola. I also learned about digiscoping with an IPhone. We had lunch at the El Jardin and then bought a Borucca mask and a lacquered tray-not sure how we will get them into our luggage?

The next adventure was finding our way back to Alajuela via highway 27 which appears to be so new it isn't on the map.Lots of tolls and a really good highway- as the toll money accumulates they will probably buy signs...We ended up at the new Chinese football stadium in San Jose. From there it was back to the airport where we turned too soon and ended up in a part of Alajuela that was new to us and the map makers. Finally at about 1730 we made it up the mountain to the complex. I think it took about 5 hours to travel 150 kilometres.

A really interesting thing to do in Alajuela on Friday and Saturday is the big farmers market. One of the best we have ever seen and it has an amazing variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at great prices. We over bought every time we went. Parking is always an issue but we found a nice big guarded lot near the market-apparently free. When we came back there was a ticket on the windshield which we assumed meant we shouldn't have parked there- however it turned out to be a promotion for a car wash...

One thing we had on our list was a trip to San Jose which we prepared for like a military expedition-at least two hours of map work with a definite plan for finding a place to park plus an exit strategy.The plan worked and we found a nice Parqueo within a few blocks of the city centre.We met some Salt Spring friends , had lunch and then wandered around a bit.The four of us mutually agreed to give the museum a miss. Then it was back to the car and the excitement of leaving SJ- We do know the way from San Jose etc. with the help of google maps for the iphone.

After a few more relaxing days at the compound and various social events with the neighbours, we booked the one day bus/boat tour to the east coast. A major highlight was the 0520 pickup at the local Denny's... Our guide, Tomas turned out to be a true philosopher and we were able to get new insights on a variety of important issues. After picking up the rest of the tour participants, we divided into a Spanish group and an English group. The journey out of SJ took us up the pass (highway of death) through the longest and shortest (only) tunnel in CR. The road is a thrill and we sat on one part of it for 90 minutes while a couple of trucks were pulled from the ditch. Apparently the day before a couple did a suicide pass and were hit more or less simultaneously by a truck and a bus at about the same spot. The opposite direction double lines for the passing lanes are commonly ignored...

We arrived unscathed at the boat place and started off pretty much on time. The boat ride was described as a chance to see all kinds of wildlife including crocodiles, jaguars, tucans, etc. However after 30 minutes or so we only had seen 6 Brahma cattle and some shorebirds. Waterski speed does not make for good bird identification. One interesting note was that the 150 HP Johnson outboard was propane powered.

We stopped in Tortuguero for lunch and did see a medium sized caiman in the creek near the buffet..We also saw a few more birds, monkeys, some iguanas and a sloth. Then it was back down the canal and river to the dock and home to Alajuela on the highway of death. We did the pass in the dark,in a light fog and in heavy truck traffic. To make it more of a challenge, the bus headlights were defective-pretty exciting.. Finally home at 930.

The next day we did some organized relaxing and tried to watch the Olympics-double gold day ( women's curling and hockey) Sandra and Ron arrived in the evening and we did the airport run with no problems. Fresa margaritas for all...

The four of us did a return to Poas and actually paid the entry fee. ($52 each including lunch) We also hiked the volcano trail which was a highlight and better than our daily street walks back at the condo.

Our final excursion took us back to the east coast for a 2 night stay at Piscina Natural in Cuihuita. We did another trip over the mountain but it was relatively uneventful. We also passed through Limon (as quickly as we could) and it made Puntarenas look pretty good. The east coast is pretty laid back and not very crowded but it is very hot and humid.

That night we had a sloth join us for dinner (in a tree above our table) The next day we did a long walk to town and along the ocean in the National park-lots of monkeys, raccoons etc. I saw a semi-palmated plover (they summer in Saskatchewan) We also visited Puerto Viejo which is a bit more touristy than Cuihuita.On the way back we stopped on a side road and heard/saw some howler monkeys-very loud for their size.

Our ride home the next day (Wednesday) was pretty easy and we got to the condo at 3.30- the latest news is that Salt Spring got 52 cm of snow-good to hear when you aren't there. Winnipeg is at -34C

We left CR on Friday-early flight into Phoenix, layover and home on Saturday. As usual it took longer to get from YVR to the house than it did to fly from Phoenix to Vancouver- the joys of island living. I think our next snowbird trip could be Mesa.


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