(Click on a picture at the bottom to pull the full sized gallery up!)
Our first day in Costa Rica Fabian and I stayed around San Jose to await our friend Hagen who was arriving the following morning. We rented a car and headed up to Poas to check out a nearby volcano. The summit was completely enshrouded in clouds and we only saw into the crater for a few seconds, but we hiked around in the forest in the rain and it was fun being together again. Checking the guidebook, we decided to investigate some cabins to stay for the night, inspite of being warned – for good reason – of a harrowing driveway. What a score! They were makeshift places with fireplaces, candlelight only, a tin roof, and warm water that was heated through a coil over the gas fire in the stove. You could see for 70 miles all the way across the Central Valley; at night it lit up like the Milky Way, but below. The hillside was covered with Calla Lilies and cows were grazing in the front yard. For dinner we went down to the “restaurant” which was really the owner’s front porch. There were no other people and they never turned on the lights. A woman came up and mentioned a few things she had in her refrigerator. We ordered fish because that is what they advertised as their specialty. So we were surprised when a man came out, tacklelbox in hand, and begged us to please be patient while he went and caught our fish!! The weather that night was WICKED, sheets of rain pounding on the tin roof and the wind blowing so hard that I was really surprised the cabin didn’t blow over. The owner was nice enough to call us at five in the morning on our rented cell phone so we could get to the airport in time to meet Hagen. If this all sounds spartan, I must say it was the most beautiful location of any place I had ever stayed. (Note: I matched it again in Husavik, Iceland, later)
The next day Fabian, Hagen and I headed up to Fortuna near the somewhat famous Arenal volcano. It was a spectacular drive – check out the pictures of the rickety bridge – but the road that snaked through the mountains was not for one at risk of getting carsick. Our first full day there was one of our best. In the morning we hiked to the Fortuna waterfall in the middle of the rainforest, climbed over the rocks, played in the water and took lots of pictures and video. In the afternoon we drove about an hour to the Venado Caves. This was not an easy feat because they were off in the middle of nowhere and almost none of the roads in Costa Rica are marked. The tour of the caves was something of a family affair, and in retrospect, the safety standards were absolutely nonexistent. Believe me, no enterprise like this could exist in the U.S. for they would surely be sued. You see, we asked for the more “adventurous” (of course!) tour. They warned that we might get wet. LOL We were crawling around on our hands and knees through the mud! Climbing down sheer faced rocks with barely any handholds. Due to the heavy and unseasonable rains that were occuring at the time, there was a raging river going though it. At different points we had to crawl through a hole about a foot and a half wide on the floor and through a waterfall. OK, this was a BLAST! Full of comraderie and accomplishment. Oh yeah, there were bats flying around in the cave too. That night we relaxed and acted like kids in the spa at our place, which was a the base of the Arenal volcano.
The next day we headed over to Monteverde, taking the long way, which brought us to within five miles of the Nicaraguan border because there was a rain caused landslide on the main route. Our intention was to do a Canopy Tour there because we heard it was the best place in the country for this. These are “tours” at the tree top level which were begun as a way to get the general public to more fully appreciate the rainforest ecology. Well, actually, it was more like an amusement park ride. Only way more fun! You are suited up in all the necessary gear, and you roll along, hanging from cables as you go tree to tree, high above the forest floor. Hagen insisted we all make monkey noises, but no one could do it as well as he. Our tour had the added bonus that we did repelling down the tree on ropes. Fabian had done this many times in his rock climbing career, but it was new to me and I learned a lot.
Monteverde was rainy and cold, and so the next morning we headed out of the mountains to spend our first day at the beach. I was amazed to find out that, being from Washington State, Hagen had never been to a swimmable beach! So as soon as we hit Jaco, Hagen was out in the surf! The body surfing there was awesome, warm and just powerful enough. The weather was amazing. Our destination was the most famous national park in Costa Rica (Manuel Antonio) which consists of a series of five or six gorgeous beaches connected by trails through a wildlife-rich sea level rainforest. We stayed at this location for three days enjoying the water, trying to see monkeys and other native Costa Rican animals, hiking about, and having whats called Casados for dinner. That means “married” and it s a mix of many different food all piled on one plate. One afternoon Hagen and I kayaked out to this island off the coast a bit. A storm blew in over the mountains while we were out there and we heard a few cracks of thunder. I wasn’t too nervous about it, and in fact it was really beautiful. Hagen is one of the most extroverted people I’ve ever met and he was fun to have around. When we got back onshore he just walked up to a group of Costa Rican kids, not speaking a word of Spanish, and joined in their soccer game. He wasn’t able to spend as much time in Costa Rica as Fabian and I, so we got up at the crack of dawn to drive him back to San Jose.
For our last few days Fabian and I headed down to Mt. Chirripo National Park which has the highest peak in the country. We took the road up into the park as far as it would go until we stopped at another family run place recommended in our guidebook. The road was nearly impassable and we were not surprised upon our arrival to find that we had a flat tire. We heard there were more thermal springs off in the forest a couple of kilometers away so we hiked off in search of them, accompanied the entire way by the dog that belonged to the hotel. These were clearly the most charming and least commercial hot springs I’ve ever seen. It was something enjoyed by the local people who lived in the mountains. We were missing Hagen a bit thinking how he surely would have arranged a water polo match among the kids that were there. The next morning we hiked in the area through an ecological reclamation project (check it out at http://www.cloudbridge.org). They are establishing a “cloudbridge” –rebuilding the forest across areas that had been deforested years before so that certain endangered species can reestablish themselves by enlarging the ecological niches.
Before leaving Costa Rica we decided it would be nice to see another beach. So we drove extremely slowly for 30 kms down the boneshaking gravel “road” out of the mountains, changed the tire at the first town, and headed to Dominical, another surfing mecca. Indeed, the waves were wild there! Almost too much for body surfing, but it was way fun!! Our last morning we went down to another national park on the water, Marino Bellena. The tide was WAY out when we got there and we walked for miles along the beach, at one point far out onto a spit that becomes flooded over at high tide. It was hot and sultry (I kept thinking how impossible it seemed that it was 3F in Traverse City that day), dramatic clouds were blowing in off the ocean towards the mountains in the background, people were horseback riding across the sand, fishing boats sat anchored in the surf. Fabian and I just strolled along thinking about our Costa Rica adventures and what fun we might have back in the Michigan icebox. (As it turned out we later took another hike along the frozen beaches by the Sleeping Bear Dunes–what a contrast!!). Then it was back in the car toward San Jose and our flight home.
For more information check out my friend Jason’s website where he can help you with a Costa Rica trip: http://www.facebook.com/mycostarica