Day 11 – Friday – Oct 5 – Puntarenas Costa Rica

Central America Caribbean
October 6th 2012
Published: October 6th 2012
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Hello from Costa Rica. WOW what an excellent day in port!

Let’s start with a little background information first. The country was named by the Spanish Explorers based on rumors of gold and vast riches which could only mean that this section of Central America was the costa rica - the "Rich Coast."
Costa Rica occupies a unique position, lying between two oceans and two continents. On both coasts, tropical rainforests rise to the mountains of the interior, many of which soar over 13,000 feet above sea level. On the Pacific side there are brown sand beaches. Puntarenas is the cruise ship gateway to Costa Rica. Just down the coast is a smaller port called Caldera, which is exclusively for commercial shipping. October and November are the rainiest months, with the Pacific side getting annual rainfall of about 50 inches while the Caribbean coast gets up to 200 inches per year.

Anyway, we arrived early this morning and it was a beautiful clear day in Puntarenas. We got up early and had breakfast before reporting to the theater and waited for our tour to begin. We were called promptly at 8:00 and boarded our bus. The pier is very long so the buses were actually waiting on the pier for us instead of having to walk to shore. Our tour was a full day excursion to the interior of the country and there were 48 of us.

After about an hour’s bus ride through the Costa Rican countryside, we arrived at the Rainforest Aerial Tram. We started under sunny skies but it got overcast as we approached the rain forest. We watched a 10 minute video about this 222-acre conservation park and then boarded an open-air gondola. There were 8 passengers in each gondola. Our gondolier guide was a nice lady who spoke good English with only a slight accent. The gondola rose up slowly and smoothly through the forest. While in the lower portion (called the Secondary Forest) it was fairly hot and humid, but as the gondola rose higher, (into the Primary Forest) it felt cooler and more comfortable. Coming back down was the reverse affect. The car traveled up to near the top of the mountain, with our guide pointing out numerous flowers and trees, explaining how some prospered with lesser sun and how others protected themselves from animals. We had great views (going up and back down) of the verdant plant-life, hanging gardens, sightings of wildlife and pretty waterfalls. We did not see much wildlife because this is not the season when flowers and fruits are on the trees, so the animals are elsewhere to feed themselves.

One of the things they explained was that the tram company contributed a portion of the fee to Save the Rain Forest, a fund designed to help preserve the primordial forests. Also they have banned all smoking anywhere in the forest park.

After our tour over the canopy of the rainforest, we began a guided tour hiking through the winding and climbing trails under neither the forest. We hiked past a medicinal plant garden and past a snake exhibit set in the tropical rainforest. Janet had a little trouble with the heat and humidity hiking the trail, especially on the steep sections, but she managed all the way around the trail.

Our guide pointed out all kinds of plants and broke off little pieces to pass around for us to smell. We also crossed an “ant line”. Running a long way up the side of the path was a colony or ants which had chewed (or somehow broken) off pieces of leaves. Some of the ants were carrying the pieces of leaf up the hill and another were marching back downhill to get another piece. Clearly the colony was working together to transport all this back to the nest. There was one place where our path and their’s crossed, and they had a little sign on the ground to get our attention. The guide explained that the ants don’t actually eat the leaf itself, but instead they eat the coating on the underside of the leaf and then discard the leftover greenery. It was interesting and David tried to take a movie of them.

We aren’t exactly “snake people” but the tour guide explained there are more than 100 different types of snakes in Costa Rica and only 22 of them are venomous. That gives everyone a 80% chance of surviving a snake bite. Actually there were only 2 people who died of a snake bite last year. By contrast, 6 people died from having coconuts fall from a tree and hit them in the head. The morale of this story is that if you see a coconut tree, you should run for your life.

After the walk around the trail, we were served a refreshing lunch in the local restaurant. We had Pasta Salad, Rice & Beans, a variety of vegetables, and numerous fruits. The entrée was a chicken breast. This was described as a typical Costa Rican lunch (except the pasta was a substitution for lettuce required by Princess). After lunch we visited the rainforest souvenir shop before returning to our bus. There was a 3-man percussion band playing lively Latin American songs between the restaurant and gift shop – David tried to record a little of the music. In the gift shop, Janet found a beautiful jute tote bag with butterflies and the bird of paradise flower as well as some cough drops since the rain forest set off some allegries.

Next stop was a river boat on Tarcoles River for your unique jungle river journey. Upon arrival at the covered landing, we boarded an open-sided pontoon boat to explore the river, which sits at the Guacalillo Estuary. It is noted for its mangrove forests, the estuary is also home to many birds including the cuckoo, hummingbirds, Panama flycatcher, herons and egrets. The river also supports a wide variety of water birds such as ospreys, cormorants, pelicans and thrillingly, one of the largest colonies of crocodiles in Central America.

We traveled upriver and got barely away from the dock when we spotted our first crocodile. Traveling further up river we saw many more, from babies sunning themselves on sandbars to a 50 year old 5 meter long croc. Several times the boat slid right up besides the crocodile. The guide said that Australian crocs will literally jump up from the river and grab food before it can get away. Fortunately Central American crocs are more laid back and wait for fish to swim to them – USUALLY. Since David was sitting next to the rail, only about 2 feet above the water, he was very careful not to lean too far out. The guide warned us not to hold their hands out if the boat – the croc will enjoy fingers but the cameras for difficult to digest.

We went back down the river to the coast and up one of the side canals. The river has eroded the bank dramatically the last few years and the mouth of the river is much wider than a decade ago. We saw where the mango roots grew right down in the river. There were a huge number of birds everywhere, but the best view was a Red Macaw just as we returned to the dock.

By the time we returned to the dock, the hard fiberglass benches were starting to feel kind of uncomfortable. There was a gentle breeze blowing across the boat so we weren’t really too hot, but we were definitely ready to get up and stop sitting on those benches. They served us a refreshing snack of fresh fruits and tried to sell us some souvenirs, but we were getting pretty tired by that time. We boarded the bus again for the ride back to the port and our cruise ship. All along the way our guide gave us all sorts of interesting information, but even he was talked out on the return drive and let us have a short siesta.

We had brought a couple of rain jackets just in case it started
Crocodile Crocodile Crocodile

not photo zoom
to pour. Fortunately it stayed dry (although progressively more cloudy) all day – it probably would have been uncomfortable wearing a jacket at this temperature and humidity anyway.

We got back to the ship just about 5:00, which only gave us a little time to get cleaned up and dressed for dinner. They had installed a new highway this year which saved the bus about 30 minutes going and coming. There were a lot of flea market stalls along the bank near the pier where you could buy all kinds of souvenirs, but we were too tired to tackle another expedition this evening. The original tour description had predicted a 6:00 p.m. return, so we had informed everyone that we might not be back in time for the traditional dinning.

We made it to dinner on time. Janet had a Mushroom Tartlet, Fettuccini Alfredo, and a Pork Chop dinner. David had melons for appetizer, Caesar Salad, and the Prime Rib entrée. For dessert Janet had caffe latte ice cream and David had Black Forest cake. Once more, it was a great meal.

Vic and Carol had gone to a half day
Up Close - Mr CrocUp Close - Mr CrocUp Close - Mr Croc

no photo zoom
tour, visiting an Indian village back in the interior. They learned a lot about old ways of life in Costa Rica and were particularly impressed with a visit to a grade school. Anyway, we exchanged stories all through dinner, but all believed that tomorrow will need to be a day of rest – good thing it is a Sea Day.

One interesting item we were told is that Costa Rica has the 3rd highest literacy rate in the Americas. Our guide explained a lot about how he and his brothers/sister went through school and how they have gone on from there. He told us a lot of other things, but right now it is hard to remember too much of it.

Unemployment in Costa Rica right now is only 5.9%! (MISSING)The average monthly wage is about $500 or less. The single largest export is not bananas or melons, but instead are Microchips. Intel has a large factory near San Jose and HP has one too. Microchips accounts for 24%!o(MISSING)f their annual exports. Also there is a growing business in Call Centers because they are in a favorable time zone relationship with the US, and because the schools have been teaching English to most of the students (Spanish is still the national language). Our guide told us that a good Call Center person can be paid about $1000 per month – twice the annual wage. In the US those are jobs which were exported.

There was not really much live entertainment on the ship this evening – we guess they expected everyone to be kind of tired today. We are back in the cabin and will try to stay up and see the movie Avengers. It is being shown in the Movie under the Stars, but also being simulcast in the cabins. That way if we get too tired we will already be in bed. Tonight we move the clock forward one hour so tomorrow we will be on our home time zone.

Congratulations to the Cardinals for not only making the playoffs, but also winning the Wild Card Game and making the real post season tournament. If they keep winning, we might even be able to watch some of them when we return. That will be a week from tomorrow, but we plan to make the most
Another BirdAnother BirdAnother Bird

one of many, many birds
of the remaining days.

David took over 200 photos and several movies (anyone want to see a close-up of a crocodile?), but only a have been inserted in the blog. However it was a very photogenic excursion. Everything is green and lush, and appears to be neat and clean.

One last comment – the river bank where we toured had been cleaned about 6 years ago and they removed 4000 tires which had floated down the river. Every year since, they have held annual cleaning sessions. The first couple of years it was just local people but then they involved folks from up-river (who saw what their littering had caused) and each year since it has been less and less liter along the river.


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