A note from the Publisher: The Costa Rica Blog Network has chosen to feature the following article for documenting an atypical Costa Rica family trip itinerary to “the misty highland rainforest”, “yoga and surfing”, and “the Jersey shore”. Thanks to Patrick for submitting his personal account to us. We hope you and the rest of the family remember your trip to some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful (and often overlooked) sites for years to come. Pura vida!
Featured Author: Patrick McGillycuddy (visit the Odysseus Abroad Blog)
Tuesday December 25th we blew off Christmas for the most part as we departed on 9:00AM flight to Juan Santa Maria International Airport Costa Rica (CR) with brief stop over in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. People said we could also fly into Liberia Airport closer to Northwest CR, but it was still similar distance drive to Arenal and our options were limited as we were using Airmiles. The only tickets available had a stopover in Tegucigalpa and it was well worth the exciting landing at the difficult mountainous airport. We had no windows on row nine of the 737 plane, but I could see through the windows on row eight, that it was a harrowing landing. People blessed themselves in preparation for the landing. I could see ridges and hills too close to the wings and even above the wings as the aircraft bounced in turbulence and banked away too close to the ground to hit the small landing strip. The ground came closer and the plane seemed to be crash landing on the roofs of small houses. I even wondered whether the pilot was too busy dealing with a situation to remind the passengers to brace for a crash landing. I kept my hopes up that we would still see a runway, but all I saw were houses with every detail of their tiny back yards; suddenly a runway appeared just seconds before the wheels touched down. The man next to me lived forty years in the US, but returns every year to visit family there. He clapped and blessed himself. When the plane finally came to a stop, all the passengers erupted in applause and I joined them. I remember in the early eighties when air travel was less routine and every flight landing in Ireland from across the Atlantic got an applause. Years have passed since I have heard applause, the last time being a troubled flight into Oakland in rough weather in 2004; when the pilot aborted the landing I assumed he would go to Sacramento, but he came around for another try, which is never reassuring. People fainted, oxygen was deployed and puke bags were being filled; people clapped when he got the plane on the ground, but I felt he was pushing the limits of a strong, which is limited to about 37 MPH and the wind was probably close to that at a perpendicular angle, leaving no room for gusts.
The few transit passengers for CR were asked to wait on the tarmac at the foot of the stairs. We were finally lead to a separate door by ground staff to enter the terminal upstairs, but there was some negotiating going on with airport security before we entered and when we got upstairs we were met by more security who asked us to return downstairs through immigration. I had filled immigration cards out just in case, but there did not seem to be an agreed protocol for transit passengers; the beautiful young Honduran lady who led us said it all worked fine yesterday, but they get different instructions from each shift of security. We were at the back of the line in security and the lady talked with one of the officials and then returned to talk with her other coworkers, more about hair and fingernails than what to do, but finally she casually said to come with her and we walked upstairs, bypassing immigration and security.
Arenal – “Misty Highland Rainforest”
We departed Adobe Rental company in a brand new Hyundai Tuscon automatic with only 46 KM on the odometer; I usually rather an old beat up vehicle in countries like Costa Rica, as any small scratch from a tree branch would be visible on a new vehicle, but I committed myself to be extra careful as we made our way for the three hour drive to our cottage at La Mansion Inn in the small village of Union, close to Nueva Arenal (there used to be a town of Arenal also, but the lake covered that now). It was dark by the time we arrived in La Fortuna and the road got windier and more remote as we made our way around the lake through the dense wet rain forests. Motion sickness was manageable, but on arrival Liam jumped out and puked in the driveway of inn as the Belgian owner welcomed us. We arrived in time for dinner, so we dropped our gear at the solid brick and tile Spanish cottage, got settled in and returned to the open air restaurant for Christmas dinner.
Wednesday December 26th we slept deep in the calm humid air off Lake Arenal and were kept sleeping longer by the steady rain; even the boys slept in late under the perfect conditions. After a breakfast of German bread and coffee we departed mid morning for a tour around the lake under improving weather. When the sun broke through it provided instead heat in the moderate rain forest conditions. We stopped in the town of Nueva Arenal, the mew cousin of the original town of Arenal which was submerged in the lake when they elevated the water levels. An Atlantis of muddy streets which lay below the waters was the only heritage for the bland looking new town. I wondered why they didn’t locate the new town right on the waterfront for aesthetic reasons, if for no other reason, but they may have looked for a flatter plot on which to set the town, rather than the steeper slopes of the lake, or they may have feared another rising of the lake in future. We parked and walked the streets passed the new church, grand by the standards of the rural villages. Someone had driven and make large ugly skid marks on the carefully sculpted landscaping of the local bank, maybe some accident, or someone having drunk too much on Christmas day. The residents of the small colorfully painted houses in the generic neighborhoods waved and saluted us as we wandered through their morning routine. Back in the tourist part of town, the German Bakery was packed and the souvenir shops hawked their wares, which looked like the same masks on sale throughout the tropics globally and mass produced in Bali Indonesia, baring no connection to the indigenous Costa Ricans, any sign of whom is hard to find in the country today. Cuban cigars were on sale, but no Honduran or local leaf, so probably catered for the American tourists.
The clouds hung low over the hills and we entered cloud banks at times as we continued down to Guadalajara and the head of the lake. The lake waters must have been low, as there was a deep band of red iron earth exposed. There was no sign of fisheries of fish farms which are common on freshwater lakes in other regions. In fact there wasn’t a boat signing on the lake throughout out tour of the day and the only evidence of boating activities were the signs for “Worl Windsurfing” center and some private resorts who offered water activities. We meandered the quiet windy roads at a breeze pace taking in vistas of the lake under fast changing clouds, interspersed with patches of sun and blue sky. At the head of the lake the clouds had lifted enough to unveil the heights of Arenal Volcano back east.
We drove around the lake to Tronadorada and visited a butterfly farm there; we drove up a steep hill and through a lush farm, but assumed it was closed. As we returned through the farm a lade emerged and we were advised to park. A nice lade led the way and we entered a double screen door into a large enclosure which was thick with vegetation and butterflies; Conor shrieked and was terrified of them, so stayed outside. They fed on pineapples which were dissected and laid on pedestals, away from ants and ground insects. Blue, green and orange winged varieties were mainly present. Most had camouflage on the back sides of their wings, so when at rest with wings closed, they looked like leaves and blended in with the environment. Some of the natural wonder of butterflies is taken away when they are cooped up in high volumes in such an enclosure, but it was a good opportunity to see them close up. We visited another pen where the lady showed us pupa in various states of development. The early ones look like a non-ripe fruit developing on a tree, the later stages make forms which look like a weathered leaf hanging from a tree.
We had already stopped in at Casa Delagua on the way up the lake to buy a book on the plants of Costa Rica; the place looked interesting and Annette had bought two paintings, so we stopped again on our return for late lunch early dinner. The chicken was very good, more free range texture than the couped up farmed types and I would see after lunch how they were raised. We had asked for hot chilly sauce and it was made from fresh chillies as we waited. The restaurant is on the second floor with open view on the west end of the lake. It was run by a family who farmed the hills behind the property for generations; they grew much of what they sold and offered us a tour of the farm, which we gladly obliged.
At the back entrance of the restaurant Juan Carlos, the boyfriend of the farmer’s daughter showed us cilantro grown in humus they made naturally, beside it was lettuce grown in sand to which they added nutrients in liquid form. In a vertical bamboo pole packed with humus and punched with a hold every ten inches grew lettuce protruding horizontally, but looking healthy. In a shed behind the restaurant Juan showed us how they made up the bamboo and other systems for growing fresh produce and also the trough of cow dung which was being eaten through by worms at an alarming pace. The trough would be turned into stable humus in two weeks. Any nutrient rich organic material can be used to make humus in this manner, something I would like to try with our organic waste at home.
The hills and homestead were rich with fruit trees and flowers. Papaya, Angel Trumpet, Banana and Palm trees grew randomly around the property and a colorful pink creeping flower had spread widely along one bank of earth. On the way up the hill to the greenhouse we stopped to view a line of ants returning home with green leaf, which the larger cutter ants had ripped from a newly growing tree. The smaller ants then carry these pieces, many times their size and weight back to the burrow whose entrance sat at the base of a tall bank of bare iron red earth. The ants have an enormous task of enriching and regurgitating the soil, which in turn allows more growth potential from the plants whose roots need to access nutrients, but who are also helped by the cavities and reduced density of the earth left behind by the colony.
I comment on the iron rich earth and Juan points out that there is quite a mixture, as another bank of earth nearby is dark brown humus, which may reflect volcanic minerals, or may reflect the thick layer of humus generated by the natural forests which covered these lands for millennium. Juan shows us lettuce and spring onion which is grown from seen in a sponge over a tank of nutrient rich water with no soil (a solution for the weeds I fight on our vegetable garden at home). Basil, green chillies, dill, cabbage, cucumber, both tropical and temperate climate produce all grow together in Arenal highlands making the place quite a paradise for a horticulturalist. Maze (corn) grew in lines planted directly in the soil. Some other crops had scummed to the leaf eater ants and would not recover. Juan noted that a large colony of leaf eaters would denude an entire tree in a day and form a thick highway back to their colony.
The boys needed some convincing to continue with the tour, their short video game attention span having been surpassed and it would take something. I was fascinated with the tour, but embarrassed, as Juan really wanted the kids to be engaged on learning the art of farming produce. “Chinese Ladies” were the answer; they grew everywhere as creeping greenery with pink and purple flowers. It was their reproductive system that caught the boys interest; a pod called a grenade which exploded when squeezed, releasing a biological spring mechanism which threw seeds in every direction like shrapnel from a grenade, hence the local name. Along the roadside Chinese Ladies grew over long distances, all driven by this ability to spread seeds and take the opportunity to grow on a new piece of soil. We continued up the hill and had a view of the banana plant fruit (not a banana, but a vine which grown large sausage shaped fruit on a banana tree) and the lush gardens of the homestead which the gran parents built many years before. The lake below was lit up by rainbows as the rains from the east met the sun from the west. The leaf cutter ants continued their relentless assault of the greenery up on the hill; like a tax levied on nature and photosynthesis they draw a full 1/6th of the green vegetation of the country to feed a subterranean fungus which produces the sustenance for the ants. However, their work on soil regurgitation adds much to the soil structure which sustains the plants and trees of the rain forest, probably more so than the leaves that they eat.
We returned to the Inn and the family went to swim while I took a long hike into the hills on an unpaved road in the descending light of later afternoon. The village houses were soon left behind and the steep lakeside rain forest gave way to elevated grazing land; the settlers had cleared the flatter highlands for grazing cattle for dairy and meet, which seemed to me a waste for the rich products which could be produced in the warm sunny wetlands. Meet should be produced on the Argentine pampas or the barren north lands which can not support the wealth of tropical produce, but cows seemed a default carryover of the immigrants from Europe. At least they used zebus cows, with the humped back, imported from India and which handle the tropics better than the northern European cows. I got lost in the highlands – not geographically, but in the isolation and cloud bound atmosphere which hung above the wet fields and grand Guanacaste Trees and other trees which survived the clearing. I took a right fork in the road passed a farm and up to a ridge with a view over the lake. Plots with a view were for sale, marked out on a map from an era when the world pumped money into everything property related, but the hangover left the moldy sign and plots derelict. Water water everywhere from the sly to the lake, but how would you get it to a plot one may buy up here?; No well, nor pipeline would work, but maybe a roof collection cistern. A herd of mean looking steers blocked my way on the unpaved road, which had by now become a grassland itself. I could have run the bullocks away, but did not want to bother with a stampede and I would have to return again through the herd on the fenced lane way, so I returned instead to the other fork of the road and up to the misty heights. I passed a derelict farmstead, a tribute to those few generations who beat their way through thick rich forest to sculpt the land into a hot version of the lower Austrian Alps, only to find their children to depart for a job in sales of the hospitality industry in La Fortuna. The land was consolidated now under the large holdings. I saw no people on my hike that afternoon which added to the isolated atmosphere, but during further visits to the highland ranched I would see the new labor force as poor immigrants from Nicaragua and surrounding Central American countries; in fact, there is likely more illegal immigrants shoring up the Costa Rican economy than that supporting the USA economy on a percentage basis.
Green leaf, warm rain, clean mud and grassy fields were inviting me to run naked through the cloudy isolation, but Victorian conventions prevailed and I stuck to the trail in my wet clothes.
There was a constant wind as I peaked the highlands and started a descent to the north; the mists got thicker here and visibility reduced further. A lone horse grazing along the pathway was startled by my stealth approach and jumped a stride into the lush vegetation. I would have been glad to have had a backpack and have kept going down the gentle decline toward Nicaragua, but instead reluctantly turned back towards the Inn. The light of day declined as I descended from the hills back to the lush rainforest by the lake. Night time brings a dense dark isolation in the impenetrable forests of thick vegetation of the highlands making even the roadways hard to follow. In contrast with the intensity of sights and activities of the daylight hours, night time is for introversion and we sat on the porch of our cottage in the evenings with view of the lights shimmering across the lake and the full noon (Dec 26th) giving contour to the low flying winter cumulous floating across the highlands. Fireflies hovered through the lush moist gardens and the gentle winds kept a background sound of flapping palm leaves.
Thursday December 27th we awoke to the rains which amplified as they beat on the thin tin roof, inducing us to stay in bed longer. I explored the highland trails further in the car before going east to the dam which holds Arenal. There is little access to the lake, it is mostly fenced off by ICE, the govenment body which runs the Electric and Telecommunications company of the country. However, some concession to watersports is made at the head of the lake, where some tour boats and kayak rentals operate and I even saw one speed boat with a water skier, but for the most part the lake was void of boats and activities, including fishing. I entered the Arenal Volcano National Park, but did not visit the welcome center, as I would return later with the family; Instead I drove around the lake to Rio Cero Negro on an unpaved track. The river was too high to cross the ford there, which is more accessible at drier times of year, so I stopped and hiked around the impressive vegetation. There was an eco-ranch nearby, Rancho Margot, an their guests strode by on horses. I witnessed a highway of leaf-eater ants moving significant volumes of green nutrition for the underground fungus which power’s their colony. On the return I stopped in El Frosfro to walk down to one of the few pathways to the lakeside. Arenal Volcano stood high at the end of the lake, but only revealed intermittently with the passing cloud and rain. I imagines a massive eruption producing a land slide which would hit the lake on the east side and push a tsunami wave up to the west end thirty kilometers away. The volcano is less active today, but has been active in the past decades; in 1968 the town of Pueblo Nuevo was hit by a toxic cloud from an eruption which killed 78 people in the town. The lake was elevated by ICE since then and the town was flooded, but one can still see the old streets when the lake is at low water. From the lake shore I had a great view of the sun-cloud-rain which whisked across the lake and hills at a fast pace. A man approached me as I returned to my car and pointed out a massive lizard on the branches of a tree nearby, trying to gather the warmth of the day. I was impressed at it’s size and color and grabbed more camera equipment to get a close up shot. They are routinely seen in the national parks, but this was a village and the man said they see them not so much.
What impressed my about the large trees around Arenal was the large volume of parasite and supported plant species which they support. The large branches are weighed down with cactus, ferns, tropical plants and weed who had taken advantage of the ecosystem which the large resinous structure. I drove into La Fortuna only to fill the car with gasoline; there are numerous resorts nearby the town and many hotels and restaurants, but I found little of interest there and was glad to be on my way back to the isolation around Union. I had met a lone raccoon near Castillo on the lake earlier, but now on my way back I came across a colony of Costa Rica raccoons. The roadway showed the signs of trees which had fallen and were cut away to re-open the roadway to traffic, some cut even since we first passed two days prior. The rain forest on the east side of the lake road was tall and steep and I could imagine a massive tree falling at any instant; in fact, there were some newly fallen trees which were cut away just in the two days we have been at Arenal.
As I explored more the lake of Arenal I started to realize that the drainage basin is actually quite small. Large rivers typically draw from enormous drainage basins, but Arenal lake is tucked in under highlands which crest just five or ten kilometers from the lake, so only water collection within that area is for the lake; however, there is a significant water flow which produced hydroelectric power (70% of the countries needs), which is bolstered by the high rainfall and the lee side of Volcano Arenal, which also drains into the lake.
Friday December 28th we woke to the rain and mists (as usual) after ten hours sleep and dosed an hour more; what bliss to sleep deep in the humidity with no time pressure to arise. We departed mid morning under the rains towards Arenal Volcano, leaving the main road to follow a rough unpaved track to a lake marked Caiko and some Eco Farm. I had it in my mind that it might be a larger lake identified on the map as Lago De Cote, but did not bother checking the map, as we mainly wanted to explore the highlands. The rich rain forests interspersed with farmlands give way to mainly highland pastured at the crest of the highlands which surround Arenal. We drove the remote roadway, as I wondered which tow truck would ever find us if we got stuck, but the remoteness pulled us forward and we ended up again in the misty heights, like the moors of England, but slightly warmer. We came across the first sign of life, a man cutting the lush tall grasses which lined the roadside, probably to take home to the cows. “Esto Lago achi?”, I asked the worker, but I got a strange glance, so we drove on and parked for a short hike. The road was descending into grass and the few steers who had escaped were enjoying the rich vegetation along the lane. Conor followed me along as Annette and Liam stayed back, but ultimately we thought it better not challenging them, as we would just end up with a run of steers in both directions.
We drove on across the large dam holding back Lake Arenal and stopped at the Arenal Volcano National Park, hiring a guide for a hike through the park and to see the 1968 volcanic debris. The park is natural and virgin vegetation, untouched by human activity, but many areas on the west side were denuded by volcanic eruptions and the bare landscape allowed to regrow naturally. We walked through an area thick with what looked like pampas grass, but our guide said it was more related too sugar cane, except did not contain the sweetness. The cane polls stretched 6 meters above us and had taken over after a massive hot toxic gas cloud swept through from a volcanic eruption (which also killed 78 people in Pueblo Nuevo in 1968). As we progressed, natural forests emerged and we walked slowly as we were fascinated by every aspect. Luminous blue beads grew on a plant which crept along the ground, a cousin of the coffee bean apparently, but of no value; the color was so bright, it must have been used in pigments by native people in the past. Mimosa plants lined the pathway, their green leaf apparently a source for medicinal anesthetic; most impressive of the plant was the immediate movement of the leaves when touched.
We came across a fig tree, which starts life by clinging onto another tree and as it grows it finally displaces that tree. It had by now grown to a massive size and bore no fruit as it was winter time. The tree depends on a specific type of wasp in order to pollinate the fruit; the wasp is attracted to an orifice on the golf ball sized fruit and climbs in through a tunnel which allows no escape. It was originally assumed that the tree was a carnivore, digesting the wasp as a part of it’s sustenance, however, it became evident that the fruit released the wasp again after a day, after being fully immersed in the pollen, later carrying it to another tree for cross pollination. We came across a Guarumo, or commonly referred to as a Walking Tree, as it can extend new roots to the ground in order to stabilize or grow further, making it look like it is moving. Eduard, our guide, pointed out the delicate single flower of the Zabralia Orchid, which they call a 1 day orchid, as they only appear briefly from time to time. The Wax Tree got more numerous as we proceeded toward the volcanic debris; the small beads of fruit are numerous and waxy, and the termites use the fallen fruit as a binding material to help build the clay like layers of their elevated nests. Along the way we crossed a wide swath of army ants; ants large and small marched in both directions across the pathway and we rushed over then so as not to get bitten. Apparently they don’t contain an irritant like leaf cutter ants, but their jaws are strong and they can bite hard. They have remained unchanged for 100 million years since the days of Gondwana, when all the continents were together; they forage restlessly and silently, but their presence can be heard in the forests as the insects, reptiles and birds flee before their inexorable invasion. Ants are an integral part of the ecosystem of Costa Rica and they have their preferences; they like sugar, or higher value items and they refocus their search party quickly when they find something valuable. The leaf cutters can strip a tree in a day.
We stopped under a large tree and waited quietly as Eduard searched for birds above; we finally spotted a wild Toucan, with it’s colorful beak, but our view was mostly obscured by the leaves. We saw a Clay Band Robin lower down in the branches. Mimbre (Wicker) grew throughout the wet forest floor and Philodendron grew thick with their waxy green leaves. We hiked out onto a tortuous river of rock which spewed from the Volcano in 1968, revealing the physical power of the eruption, as the stretch of rock lay a long distance from the source. Most of the lava flow emerged more slowly and remained on the slopes of the Volcano. Ash and toxic gas clouds travel fastest and furthest during an eruption, usually toward the west of the volcano, reflecting the prevailing winds. The volcano was routinely active for decades, with views of luminous pyroplastic flows on clear nights, but it is less active today. The volcano itself generates certain micro climates; the start of our hike was dry, but on the lee side of the volcano we emerged into continuous rain brought about by the effect of the elevated volcano itself, and the forest floor reflected the conditions with fungus, mushrooms and lush green leaf.
As we returned to the dry side of the train near the pampas, Eduard pointed out an Eyelash Viper resting on a tree. Insects are attracted by the fruit of a plant. Small lizards come to catch the insects and the Eyelash Viper sits close by waiting to pounce on a lizard, injecting it’s toxic venom to immobilize the victim before it slowly injects and digests the body whole.
Saturday December 29th I ran for the first time in a week; it was difficult to run the 8KM west to an arts shop under the close eye of the vultures along the lake, their wings spread grandly at full reach to dry and remove weight as they perched on the bones of a leafless tree. A small black bird, with fluorescent red patch the side of a cigarette box on his back, flew in and around the roadside where there was still natural jungle. A week ago I was a running machine, but now I could only plod along still adjusting to the morning and dodging the oncoming traffic on the narrow road. We were packed and on our way to Nosara on the pacific coast about five hours drive. We stopped in Nueva Arenal for supplied and as I waited and wandered around the entrance of the main shop, Super-Combo, I was observed the functioning of the town in the discussions of the locals who were caught waiting for a rain shower to pass through. These were country folk in for supplies, but they all knew each other. For the first time I could clearly see the Native American features of one of the customers, a man fit and erect, but not of the laboring classes who do the back-breaking work on the ranches nearby. The majority were of Spanish origin, but a few Afro-Caribbean were present also, probably drawn up to the highlands for work opportunities. The town had a nice sense to it, like Tralee or Kilorglin of decades ago. We departed in the rain, but the weather improved as we reached the west end of the lake and we were soon under the shadow of a bank of tens of wind turbine generators pushed hard by the winds crossing their elevated ridge. We crested the highlands and then the landscape changed significantly as we started the slow decline to the plains. The westward slopes are much dryer than the highlands and look more like the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in central California. Standing on a height above the lake I pieced together the theater of weather we had experienced over the past four days’ the trade winds blow from Africa into the Caribbean Sea and find easy passage over the narrow slip of land which comprises Central America. The warm humid air is lifted over the mountains, but finds a low point in the highlands of Arenal, which are sandwiched between the Cordillera de Guanacaste and Cordillera de Tiluran. The rising air cools and drops precipitation continuously in the mornings and only the warmth of the afternoon pushes a reluctant retreat eastward.
As we descended the gentle slopes we passed grand estates which ran the land as pasture or grazing brush. The roadside was lined with what looked like Cherry Blossom, but as I looked closer the texture looked slightly different (need to check the type of tree). We came by a massive bluff of red sandstone which showed signs of clean cutting by mining equipment and below it was a large pile of granulated red material, probably for making bricks. I was curious about a large cylindrical tower of striped red and white, maybe a water tower. I came across another and then as I descended into a valley it became evident that these were the balancing chambers for the long pipeline of water flowing from the massive Arenal lake reservoir down to the lowlands. We viewed down the valley to the water turbine generation station which extracted the valuable water pressure and flow to generate significant power for the country. Typically hydroelectric power is generated in water turbines located below the dam, where the water is released to a discharge point at lower level. I deduce that ICE has piped water from the back end of the lake, away from the dam, and routed to down the slopes a long distance so that they can extract more energy by locating the turbines much further below the lake level than that of the base of the dam. The collection basis for Lake Arenal is relatively small, but it produces so much energy because it is situated in place to collect so much continuous precipitation.
Nosara – “Yoga and Surfing”
We turned south at Las Cabas for 20 KM and then turned west on the finest two lane road toward the Bridge Amistad Taiwan, which was financed and engineered by the Taiwanese; locally it is known as “back stab bridge”, as the Costa Rican government took on a Chinese leaning policy over ties with Chen Kai Chek lead Taiwan. The road to the west was slightly worse, but the scenery beautiful as we passed find prairie ranches with the backdrop of the stump end of ancient gnarly volcanoes which rose steeply from the edge of the prairie to their forested peaks. We turned north about 15KM toward Nicoya and then southwest towards Samara on a back road through the interesting family farms and villages. About five miles before Samara we turned onto an unpaved road for 30KM drive to Nosara. We had to maneuver around some slower vehicles so we could proceed at 60KMH rather than 25KMH as dust rose everywhere from the dry pebble sand road. We arrived at the coast at Garza and viewed the magnificent Pacific before heading inland again to Nosara and a stop at the Villa Mango B&B, who brought us to the house which we had rented in town. Watch the locals she told us, they’ll steam anything that is loose. The clink clink clink of triple locked doors and barred gates were the norm for the area, a big contrast from the innocent highlands. The locals around Nosara seemed pissed off with the rocky unpaved roads so they drove faster and harder than even if they were paved. After a swim in the beautiful warm rough pacific ocean nearby, we drove up to Casa Toucan for ceviche and fish, while the boys had burgers and we watched the surfer bar scene. We swam at the pool and relaxed on the porch for the evening, a find central American tradition.
Sunday December 30th I ran in morning and returned to the beach for low tide by the rock north of beach for late morning low tide. Annette took kids to Yoga institute where she did a 2 hr class. I drove to town to get groceries and then further into the old Nosara town with it’s small strip of runway for access by small planes. They even had a half mile of paved road near the airport, something the airplanes don’t need, but may give a good impression to those arriving. We swam at high tide in the rough waves with boys and watched Sundown. Then we relaxed on porch reading. There was a hammock on the porch which was highly sought after by the family. I let the boys hang there during the day, but I claimed it in the evening as the most comfortable reading place. We are not normally beach vacation people, but Nosara grew on us over the days, with it’s natural beaches, yoga and isolation.
Monday December 31st we had our usual fill of running, swimming, yoga, hiking on the beach, reading and finally left home to celebrate the new year around 10PM, walking passed the Yoga Institute and following their path through the dark jungle towards town. I walked ahead, as I could barely make put the way, as Annette and the boys slowly made their way along with help of a small flashlight. I hid behind a Shri Guanacaste Tree and waited silently as the wandered along; jumping from the dark, shocking them, as they scattered in all directions under the Blair Witchesque beam of a single LED flashlight. The town was quiet, but we heard the music playing closer to the beach. We were heading to the Toucan Café for a drink to celebrate the New Year, but found it closed. We continued towards the music and found a large party ongoing at an establishment nearby, but it did not look like the kids would be appreciated and also had a cover charge for the New Year’s eve, so we walked on. We walked out on the beach under the full moon two days past. There was a line of bonfires along the head of the beach stretching a kilometer in each direction and the low water left a wide swath of smooth flat sand exposed under the clear moonlight. It was a nice memory to keep for year end 2012 and we walked back to the cottage where Annette found a Chicago countdown for New Year on the computer.
Tuesday January 1st 2013 I ran in morning north to headland and south to rocks. We had a lazy morning on the porch reading and I walked the paths near the house and viewed a large local iguana who inhabited a specific tree each morning. My backpack was missing and after searching the house and car we concluded it had been stolen. The French lady, Agnes, who checked us in had clearly warned about the casual theft and we were being reasonable careful, but my last recollection of the bag was dropping it on the chair on the porch as I grappled with the triple lock bar door and then the two locks on the main door so I could drop off the groceries at the refrigerator. I had sat outside near the bag that afternoon (day prior) continuously until I left for the beach with the boys, from which time Annette sat by the bag and then again as a family when we returned. It was not there when we locked up for the evening to depart, so must have been pinched sometime on between; it is still hard to see how, as we were in remote unpaved back roads and could hear anyone of the few people who walked by that afternoon. The vegetation is so thick, the porch is unseen from the roadway, so I suspect someone who knew the cottage. The backpack was no big deal, but I was more curious as to how it disappeared; I have been traveling for three decades and am no stranger to the street smart ways of security, having never lost anything to theft to my recollection in all those years. It didn’t contain much, but for my cheap Chinese sunglasses, my eighteen year old prescription snorkeling mask, a bottle of water and a small digicam I had bought for $150, but never yet used. The bag itself was a North Face bag I bought for $15 in a market in some Southeast Asian town, so I was under no illusion to its authenticity.
I did yoga on the porch early afternoon. That afternoon Annette went to the yoga institute for 1.5 hr Yoga while I walked south to headland and back under a rising tide, which engulfed the lagoon between, threatening to cut off my way home. Those gathered to enjoy New Year’s day were also taken off guard ta how fast the tide rose to connect with the lagoon, but we were able to wade through the confused waters running at times in both directions. Many Tico families were celebrating the holiday as a family picnicking on the beach, or up under the palm trees, a day off from the drudgery of supporting the hospitality industry. Obesity of not just with the North Americans who looked reasonably trim at Nosara with the yoga and surfing, but some of the locals carried an unhealthy weight.
I collected the boys from the Yoga Institute where Annette was doing a class and we headed back to the beach for high tide and sundown. The waves were not as aggressive this day as the water itself was calm and only the far offshore energy came in to break erratically onshore. Clam for a few cycles was followed by two or three waves crashing on top of each other as waves from slightly different angles complemented or canceled each other.
I rarely bring a computer on vacation, but did so in Costa Rica, as I wanted to get some quiet time to get catch up; it was insect central around my laptop, with it’s under lit keyboard, and dust from the road showered down on the key board making my new computer look shabby in hours. I was reminded about the Crazy Raspberry Ant which infests computers and electronics, inexorably attracted by the electromagnetic fields and I imagined the bites I was writing being eaten or diverted into another form. That evening a bee came by just as I was to take in a deep breath and I inevitably swallowed it; fortunately it was caught between my tongue and gums rather than in my lungs and we were able to remove it. Wanting to learn more about Costa Rica Tico/Tica culture, I googled the term and was brought to an online website catering to prostitution for single male visitors. Neither Nosara, nor Arenal were magnates for prostitution, but many of the resort towns along the coast are, as would be Jaco on our return to San Jose. There’s nothing wrong with prostitution in itself as a business deal, but it is sad to see hypocritical attitudes to it’s restriction in the US and disparity in wealth versus Costa Rica drive the industry.
That evening I finished a sad, but interesting book outlining the trials and tribulations of a Hmong family from Laos after the Vietnam War and on their journey to the US; The Latehomecomer, bu Kao Kalia Yang. I started an even sadder book giving an account of the massive famine which occurred around 1959 as a result of the failed policies of the Communist Revolution.
The days got slower and lazier day by day, so I barely remember what we did on Wednesday January 2nd. It was a lazy day; running, reading and yoga were involved and, with the tide low in the afternoon we walked to the beach and explored the shallow clear pools left behind. The waves lashed the outer rocks and water rushed in and out of the few rock channels which met the ocean. I had my eye out for a blow hole, but we did not see one. They are common along the flat outer rocks which sit below high tide; these form where the water scours out a channel under the rock, which eventually emerges through a cavity to the surface, allowing the horizontal kinetic energy of the force of incoming waves be concentrated and converted into energy which driven a tall vertical water spout.
Thursday January 3rd, after a final early morning run up and down the beach, we departed Nosara. It was just after sunrise, earlier than other mornings, and I was impressed at all the early morning activities, from Yogi’s doing sun salutes to training surfers practicing surf moves on the sand, and of course the other runners. The ocean was calm, but there were enough rollers coming from long distance in the pacific for the forty surfers in the water to get up on a wave now and then. I had finally got my strength back and had a good run. Annette walked the boys to the Soda (canteen) in the village for breakfast while I packed up the car and we stopped in at the secondhand shop to check if my backpack may have shown up there, but no luck. What I appreciated about Nosara was the remote and “no-attitude” approach to surfing and yoga. The dust rolled high in our wake as we crunched over the gravel road, breaking in our brand new Hyundai to the vibrations of such roads; I used to see nuts and bolts, even wheel-lug bolts on the road ways when I used to run the roads.
Jaco – “The Jersey Shore”
We arrived at Jaco (pronounced Haco) mid afternoon on Thursday January 3rd after we had driven four hours across the Nicoya peninsula and south by Puenta Arenas and along the beautiful coastal hills around the town where we would stay. We arrived in Jaco mid afternoon and soon found the Posada Hotel downtown, located on a side street just minutes walk from the beach. They needed a half hour to get the room ready, so we drove through town getting a sense of the place; being one of the closest beaches to San Jose the town had a Jersey Shore feel to it. Souvenir and surf shops lined the streets, which were filled with bus loads of tourists from the city. We stopped at a large grocery store to pickup food; over the course of our visit to Costa Rica, Annette and I started cooking more and more, not as a means of getting fed, as there many great food places around, but we were craving hot chillies, chick peas and vegetables, garlic and anchovies. The room and hotel were perfect, with a nice patio and pool where the boys swam in the afternoon. We cooked on the small portable cooker in the room and ordered taco from the vendor across the street and sat lounging as the sun declined. It was a small ten or fifteen room hotel run by Australians who had spent much time in Africa, but settled on Costa Rica as a destination to develop a hotel business, after having considered Panama and Belize. Panama was a strange mix of wealth and poor with too many development projects underway, probably mostly unjustified by the demand, which would make it difficult to start a business. Belize was too well developed already, but Costa Rica offered growth opportunities in a country which is relatively stable; in fact they considered the opportunities in Costa Rica better partly because there was so much potential to run things better. The Australians had a Dutch man managing the hotel for them; he was a nice person, but quite a character started to emerge as we lounged and chatted with him over the days.
Friday January 4th I was up for a run on the beach after sunrise and I continued along the road under the intense sunlight. There was a gym located overlooking the beach and the crowd was a mixture of fit gym types, out of shape city tourists, families, retired people and dog walkers. We got the car washed to remove the think dense dirt which had encased it from the unpaved roads of Nosara; I was also driving carefully as I wanted to get my full deposit back! We drove south to the Carara National Park, where we hired a guide and toured along with two ladies, a mother of huge proportions and her daughter from San Jose. The guide drove an old diesel Landrover down to a fishing village with the two women as I followed in our car. There we viewed a pair of large colorful Macaws perched high up in the canopy of a tree, their red, yellow, blue feathers clearly visible through the branches. We viewed some other seabirds and then returned to the north side of the park for a hike through the rain forest. We departed the main trail at one point and followed our guide deep into the virgin forests in search of fauna in the canopy; eventually we spotted a howler monkey way up in the canopy and near by a colorful Toucan bird. The guide had a challenge maneuvering our party through some uneven terrain and I thought the large lady would be left stuck on a tree at one point, but we managed to pull through to another part of the forest where we were able to see a white bat hanging from a palm tree. Throughout the forest floor were strewn chewed up berries, the leftovers from the fauna living in the canopy above. Ants scoured the leftovers along the forest floor, some of them quite large.
We returned to the hotel mid afternoon so the boys could swim; Liam was greeted and asked a question in Spanish by a boy who was already playing at the pool with his family. “I don’t speak French”, was Liam’s response to the confused boy, after having spent ten days already in a Spanish speaking country! The Dutch man went by the very unDutch name of Cary Mundo (Spanish for World), the first indication of a drift from his homeland and a wealthy family which provided exposure to the high life back in the 1980’s, but only an estranged mother remains today and the motherly disapproval of a Costa Rican wife and children. New aspects emerged from Cary with every conversation; running pirate radio station offshore UK & Netherlands, photography of aspiring models, a separation from his wife, a need to be away from San Jose. We had a pleasant two days in Jaco and were off in the morning on our way to the airport; fortunately we left early for what was reported to be a 45 minute drive and arrived at the airport close to two hours later. At the airport bar we met an young African American woman from Los Angeles who had come to Costa Rica on her own to learn surfing; there can be a strange attitude at some surfing spots in the US, but Costa Rica offers attitude free surfing and is a good place to learn.
On our return to Houston the news was reported that the Ambassador of Honduras embassy in Colombia had been robbed over the new year; apparently a party of prostitutes, alcohol and sex got out of hand and the guests stole computers and many valuables from the embassy, which gives a sense of the priorities of internation relations in Central America.
Click here to read the above post on the Odysseus Abroad Blog
About Patrick McGillycuddy:
Patrick currently lives in Houston, TX but has lived in many countries over the years. You can learn more about him and his worldly travels at www.mcgillycuddy.net
Post photos are owned by the featured author (not the Costa Rica Blog Network). Please contact the featured author directly for permission of use.
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Click here to read the above post on the Odysseus Abroad Blog
About Patrick McGillycuddy:
Patrick currently lives in Houston, TX but has lived in many countries over the years. You can learn more about him and his worldly travels at www.mcgillycuddy.net
*post photos are owned by the feature author (not http://www.CostaRicaBlogNetwork.com). Please contact the featured author directly for permission of use.