Costa Rica 1989 (w/Christmas 1988, Cozumel, Mexico & last days in Guatemala)

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December 17th 1988
Published: January 23rd 2010
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Beach BeautiesBeach BeautiesBeach Beauties

Our cadre of daughter, nieces and their friends in Cozumel, Mexico Christmas 1988: niece Denise, her friend Jennifer, niece Marie, daughter JJ, niece Colleen and JJ's friend Rebecca

This is a continuation of my putting our old travel journals onto this blog site. See previous one: Guatemala 1988, which is the first in this series; this is the second. Again, I am relying on photos I happened to have scanned and ones people have sent to me as I do not have access to my original photos. Thank you all who sent me photos - much appreciated! When we return to the states (this is being written in Germany where we are living this year) I'll add/substitute original photos.



December 15, 1988 - Antigua, Guatemala

(Originally written on Feb. 14, 1989 in Costa Rica)

Leaving Antigua was hard. We had become quite comfortable and had made many friends. Since Christmas was fast approaching, however, Antigua was being deserted by gringos.

Just prior to leaving Guatemala I mailed a Christmas package
Guatemala Post OfficeGuatemala Post OfficeGuatemala Post Office

The Post Office building in Guatemala city was patterned on a building in Antigua, which I have a photo of in my last blog
to my family in Washington state. I have never experienced anything quite like the Guatemalan Postal System. Bernie said I had to put this in my journal, so here goes:

Postal System

First, the post office in Guatemala City is huge (cannot mail anything over two pounds from Antigua, so it was necessary to spend an hour on a bus getting to the city). When I say huge I’m talking two whole square blocks. If a friend, Grace, and her Spanish teacher hadn’t been with me, I may have wandered around the P.O. indefinitely. No rooms were labeled; every room had a counter and people in line with packages; there were dozens of rooms.

After asking many people, we were finally directed to the proper counter whereupon I presented my neatly wrapped package (first mistake) to Lady #1. She wanted to see what I was mailing, so she tore off the brown butcher paper. Fortunately I had packed everything inside in a large plastic bag (old sugar bag), so things were still contained. Lady #1 looked at my stuff and said okay, now I could rewrap the package, however, I needed to turn the bag so that
Cozumel, MexicoCozumel, MexicoCozumel, Mexico

As you can see, the island of Cozumel is just off the Mexican coast, across from Cancun
the name of the sugar company was inside, and that, of course, meant repacking everything. Also, I couldn’t tape the bag closed, I had to sew it. At that point I thought I’d had it - how in the world was I going to sew the package up? Not to despair, Lady #1 directed me toward the hall where many people were rewrapping their packages. Lo & behold there was a boy (approximately age 12 and the son of Lady #1 I’m convinced) who sewed up packages for a price. In this case the price was right - about 15 cents. He had a hole puncher and twine, and sewed up my package expertly and quickly. He also had a permanent marker to write the address on the plastic, which worked great. Now mind you, nobody was supervising the rewrapping, so at that point I could have put in cocaine, or whatever.

Okay, package rewrapped and now I have to fill out three different forms. Should be easy since there is an example in English on the wall. The trick was figuring out where to put the address of the person receiving the package and where to put the
Kathy & Bernie in Cozumel 88Kathy & Bernie in Cozumel 88Kathy & Bernie in Cozumel 88

I know this is a blurry shot, but Rebecca, who sent me this photo, reminded me that Bernard's mustache was only 1/2 - he'd shaved off the top part so his SCUBA mask would seal better!
return address. The example had Jane Doe mailing a package to herself in the states and using the same address in the states for the return address. Very helpful. I went to the example in Spanish and figured it out.

Now I am ready to get back in line and have Lady #1 inspect my package again, which passes muster. I was then directed to Lady #2 who weighed the package and checked the forms. Next to Lady #3 who would actually affix the postage. There was only one person in line ahead of me with a small package. In most countries a postage meter is used and a sticker with the amount of postage paid affixed to the package. Not in Guatemala - stamps were used, and Lady #3 was having a difficult time finding room on the package for the 100 or so stamps needed. The package was solid stamps, and then of course the stamps had to be cancelled! I thought Lady #3 was going to pulverize the package.

My turn and I’m glad I don’t have anything breakable in my package. I spot a problem right away - ain’t no way stamps are going
Our BugOur BugOur Bug

The girls couldn't really sit down in the back, so hung onto the roll-bar as we zipped around the island, turning heads wherever we went
to stick to the textured plastic sugar bag. Lady #3 spots the problem and starts shaking her head, “impossible” she mutters several times. I am way ahead of her by now and run back to the wrapping table to retrieve a piece of butcher paper, back to Lady #3 to explain that the stamps (all 100 or so of them) can be put on the paper and then the paper could be taped or whatever to the package. She buys half of it; she puts the stamps on the butcher paper and cancels them. She doesn’t, however, want to tape the paper onto the package, so she neatly folds the paper (stamp side in) and tries to tuck it into where the package has been sewn. No go. She then sends someone to track down my sewer, who is eventually located and told to re-sew the package to incorporate the stamp paper. This was done and the paper successfully attached. Can you visualize this package? No postage was visible and I had my doubts as to whether U.S. postal people would think to look at the piece of paper sewn on the end.

When we left the post office
Denise, Colleen, JJ & RebeccaDenise, Colleen, JJ & RebeccaDenise, Colleen, JJ & Rebecca

As we cruised from dive spot to dive spot, there was time to relax and sunbath
after an hour we were near hysteria and our fingers were all stuck together. One of the forms had to be attached to the package and was not self-adhesive. What we had used was glue (from a cup with a stick) similar to the glue we all used in kindergarten - not Elmer's but the clear brownish stuff. Well, the glue was useless, but all three of us had taken a turn at trying to get the form to stick - the only thing the glue stuck to was our fingers.

I, of course, was convinced the package would never reach Washington. I was wrong - it arrived safely and before Christmas; my mom did comment on the strange wrapping.

Cozumel, Mexico - December 17, 1988 - January 12, 1989

Christmas in Cozumel was great. Bernie, I, daughter JJ, her friend Becky, and nieces Marie, Colleen and Denise all became certified SCUBA divers. Daughter Christina had just started a new job in Seattle and couldn’t join us. A friend of Denise’s, Jennifer, joined us, but didn’t dive.

The diving is fantastic in Cozumel and we had a great instructor, Paul. Paul took his time with Beck
Alfonso in 2007 in front of Garden HouseAlfonso in 2007 in front of Garden HouseAlfonso in 2007 in front of Garden House

We've remained good friends with Alfonso over the years - stayed with him on two other occasions. He came to Tucson for a visit and also visited us in the Netherlands when we lived there in 2001
the Wreck and me, so although we were nervous at first, he managed to calmly get us under water. Don’t tell Paul, but I can’t swim (well, nobody asked), so was more leery of the water than the others. I’m also a tad claustrophobic so had to fight that. Bernie, having spent all his youthful summers at the ocean, took to SCUBA immediately. JJ with nerves of steel was also a natural. Colleen, Denise and Marie took so easily to SCUBA that Paul had them underwater their first day.

I’m afraid Cozumel will never be the same - our lovely nieces, daughter and friends were the hit of the local disco and club scene. We had quite a few young men coming by the house to see them - some fancy juggling took place on occasion. Bernie and I went to a club one night with four of the girls (JJ & Becky had returned to Alaska already). When Bernie trooped in with all of us in tow, the waiter who seated us said “Wow, are you one lucky guy!” We were hardly settled before men were moving in on the girls - “Heidi ya all, ma name is
San Francisco BeachSan Francisco BeachSan Francisco Beach

We learned to dive here - started with beach dives and worked out way up, so we spent a LOT of time here either diving, sunning, doing water activities and yes, eating
Grady and I’m from Houston. Ya all Merikans?” Of course we denied that we were, but he caught on and was hard to shake.

The worst (or best) line of the trip was delivered by a real winner of a guy. When he heard that JJ & Becky lived in Alaska he said “Oh, I just love Alaska! I’ve never been there, but ya know I video taped the episode when the Love Boat went there and watch it all the time!” Would you go out with that guy?

We rented a lovely house, Garden House*, in downtown Cozumel and had a cook for part of the time - sure worked out great for the eight of us. We also rented a bright green VW bug with no top (it had a roll bar). We were quite the sight zipping around the island with six lovely ladies crammed into the back seat. They couldn’t really sit on the seat; they had to sit on the back of the seat and hang onto the roll bar. We were honked at and waved to constantly.

To make a long story short, we all loved diving (we even did an exciting night dive) and are eager to dive in other spots - we all had ideas about another dive Christmas next year. Then again skiing was mentioned . . . . Have to wait and see where we are next year.

*Alfonso Viladiu was our landlord and that was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. He arranged our dive master and the cook for us also. We rented Garden House several more times.

Costa Rica - January 13 - February 15, 1989

What a wonderful country! It is so different from Guatemala - much wealthier and more westernized. Costa Rica has almost no indigenous people, so lacks the color and crafts of Guatemala.

It is easy to see why so many Americans are retiring down here. The climate is nice (around the capital city of San Jose, which is the middle of the country, it is almost always in the 70°s F.), relatively inexpensive, foreigners are allowed to purchase property and open businesses, and many locals speak English. It is also a lush, beautiful country.

Our first two weeks here we rented a car and explored the entire western part of the country - from the cloud forests of the NW (Monteverde, where we saw quetzal birds (at a distance), to the beaches in the SW. Went deep sea fishing and I caught the biggest fish, a dorado (mahi-mahi) while Bernie caught several yellow-fin tuna.

Some of the roads were very rough and are impassible during the rainy season (May - Nov.). Because of the lack of good roads, many beautiful beaches remain remote and the area sparsely populated. We did, however find North Americans living just about everywhere we went.

Small World Story: We were staying at a very remote beach resort on the Nicoya Peninsula (west coast), which took us four hours by car on bad dirt roads to get to, and which we had literally stumbled (gratefully) upon, when we ran into the mother, brother and his family of a friend of ours in Anchorage, Holly Gaskin.

Whitewater Rafting

Next we did a three-day whitewater raft trip on the Reventazón and Pácuare rivers (near Tortuguero, east coast). Dennis Woerner, a friend from Anchorage, was in Guatemala doing volunteer dental work and decided to visit us in Costa Rica for three days. Dennis accompanied us on the raft trip.
Costa Rica BirdsCosta Rica BirdsCosta Rica Birds

Costa Rica is a birder's paradise. Years later we returned on a birding expedition and finally saw a quetzal up-close and personal
The rivers had class III and IV water with lots of rapids. The scenery was outstanding - mostly virgin rain forest, but it only misted one morning since this is the dry season (temperatures +/- 80° F). We stopped several times to climb up to wonderful waterfalls with deep pools for diving and swimming. We saw toucans and numerous herons and water birds.

We only lost paddlers once when Bernie and two others were thrown out of the raft after we struck a rock wall hard and tipped the raft. One guy bruised a knee, but no real injuries were sustained. The guys who fell out had to buy beers for the rest of us - that hurt more than being dumped I’m sure.

We overnighted the first night in the town of Turrialba where we met some kayakers who were practicing for the U.S. Kayak team. Seems Costa Rica has some of the best whitewater and it is warm - that was important to them because they could practice for long periods of time.

The second night we camped on the river. That was fun, but a herd of cows (we were evidently camped in their
Reventazon RiverReventazon RiverReventazon River

May look calm in this shot, but it has some really scary rapids. When it was slow like this, we jumped in the water and floated behind the raft.
pasture) drove us crazy all night - they were very curious cows. Several times we were awakened by cows being uncomfortably close. Dennis’s tent collapsed after a cow tripped over a tent stake. It was rather amusing, but scary to think the cow could have fallen on Dennis.

Back to San Jose to see Dennis off - back to freezing Alaska (yes, we’ve been keeping track). We then headed to the beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park (near Quepos on the pacific coast).

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio park is near the center of the west coast. Talk about gorgeous! We stayed at a hotel situated on a hill overlooking the ocean and a 5 minute walk to the beach. It was much warmer there (85° - 90° F.), but a nice sea breeze made it lovely.

Late one afternoon we were walking in the park jungle and saw a group of about 20 squirrel monkeys. These monkeys are reddish brown, tiny and fast. We watched them for about 10 minutes as they flew from tree to tree right over our heads.

The following day a whole troop of capuchin monkeys were in the
Tortuga LodgeTortuga LodgeTortuga Lodge

This was a typical Costa Rican jungle lodge - beautiful setting, nice amenities, surrounded by nature, and with knowledgeable guides
trees at the edge of the beach and could be coaxed down with bananas. These monkeys are so cute - they have a white face with a black cap, making them look like monks, hence their name.

We saw our first sloth here, well, as they move veeeeerrrrry slowly, we saw a blob we were told was a sloth.

Another afternoon we were writing letters on our veranda when a multi-species flock of birds flew through - we were magically surrounded by a dozen different kinds of birds from hummingbirds to guans (chicken-size).

Marenco Biological Station

On to Marenco Biological station (south of Manuel Antonio and north of Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula) for three days. Marenco is remote and you have to fly or take a boat - we flew. We had a PhD. biologist guide, Pia, who took us into the jungle all day, every day. We saw more howler monkeys, loads of birds including about 10 pairs of scarlet macaws (look like huge red, blue and green parrots - beautiful!), green parrots, hawks and falcons. Additionally we learned about the flora and fauna and general ecology of the rain forest.

One day when we were out in the ocean a huge school of dolphins surrounded and accompanied our boat for about 15 minutes.

Tortuguero National Park

After Marenco we flew to Tortuguero National Park on the Atlantic (East) Coast (north of Limón). This place is famous for tarpon fishing and water wildlife. A canal system criss-crosses this area of the coast, and the Tortuga Lodge where we stayed had boats to take us through the canals. On our first day we saw several crocodile (or cayman - our guide wasn’t sure), a river otter, four different kinds of heron, parrots, aracari (toucan-like birds), two kinds of kingfishers, several kinds of ducks, lots of huge iguana and other lizards, a laughing falcon, turtles and a group of about 10 howler monkeys (two with young).

The howler monkeys were great to watch and hear. They have a roar that sounds like a gorilla and yet a howler is only about one to one and one-half feet tall (not including the tail). The roar is so loud it can be heard up to three miles away, often giving the impression of being closer than they are.

Our second day on the canals was much like the first except we saw a tree full (8 - 10) of keel-billed toucans (like the Fruit Loops bird) up close. They were so beautiful and we were so excited because we’d only seen them from afar. We also saw spider monkeys for the first time and six other birds that were new to us.

This concludes our Costa Rica trip - we fly to Mexico City on Feb. 15 where we meet friends and go to Cuba for a week. From Cuba we’ll head to Argentina and begin our trek north.

Hope the cold spell in Alaska is over - you all made international news. Someone told us that 80 people had died from the cold. Found that hard to believe. Bernie was sorry he missed the cold weather as he enjoys (?) the extreme temperatures - says it separates the real Alaskans from the wimps. I, on the other hand, being a wimp in good standing, didn’t miss it one bit. Takes a real Alaskan to admit he/she hates cold weather I say.

You all take care and be good. Drop us a line now and again to keep us updated. It is hard to believe we’ve been gone eight months already. We miss everyone, but are having a ball and are excited about South America. We’ll keep you posted.


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