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Costa Rica

Costa Rica: Arenal/San Jose:Goodbye to a View of the Volcano

February 4-5, 2012

all seasons in one day 78 °F

This was the first morning that we could actually see the Arenal volcano clearly since we had arrived. We took this opportunity to take some shots quickly before it got covered in clouds again. We had a delicious lunch and got into our shuttle 3 hour ride to San Jose. It was raining a lot but the drive was still beautiful with winding roads all the way. The driver stopped so we could get some other shots of the volcano from a distance. We enjoyed chatting it up with the fellow passengers. David Mekles, was really interesting, he’s a guy from LA who now lives in the Dominican Republic and runs a banana farm called Banamek with his brother. I’m looking forward to visiting that farm someday with Tony. Another couple in the van gave us some local recommendations for our next trip to Costa Rica: The Parador Hotel in Manuel Antonio, and Tikisia restaurant just outside of San Jose which is supposed to have a gorgeous view and local dancers on weekends.


Christel was super excited to see some gorgeous green and red parakeets (I think) when we stopped to drop off some of the passengers. They were so cute and we even caught a picture of two of the birds laughing together and then “kissing” :) When we finally arrived in San Jose, we were happy to be staying at the Hotel Presidente—it was perfectly central to everything, super safe and nice. I indulged in an hour long massage in preparation for our “return to reality” tomorrow. That night we had a nice meal at a place nearby and checked out a casino nearby. We were pretty beat so we called it an early night. . .


Sunday morning we got up early and headed to the airport after breakfast. . . so sad to go. Really loved Costa Rica. This place is amazing, the people, the food, the wildlife and nature. Next time I plan on bringing Tony and going more off the beaten path. . perhaps Corcovado National Park and some of the East side of the island. . . and hope to take my Tico friends up an offer to learn to surf next time!


Posted by Tony.Ruby 13:19 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Costa Rica: Cano Negro: Howler Monkeys & Camouflaged Caiman

February 3, 2012

sunny 83 °F

In the morning we booked a daytrip to the Cano Negro Reserve in the north; this area is under 20km from the Nicaraguan border. Along the 2 hour drive north we passed tons of pineapple farms and greenery. We love the little fences they make using local twigs. We made a quick stop on the way for drinks and an “iguana tree”. Cano Negro was terrific; it’s sort of the Amazon meets the Everglades. We got loaded on a river boat and went up and down the river for 3 or 4 hours. We saw tons of wildlife, including lots of camouflaging Caimans (my fave was the one that had a butterfly land on its nose), shore birds including Egrets, the Amazon Kingfisher, spoon-billed Heron, iguanas, turtles, long nose bats (sleeping on a log in the daytime), fresh water turtles , Jesus Christ Lizards (called that because they can walk on water) and tons more.


Christel was most excited about the two separate troupes of Howler Monkeys that we saw. It was insane to hear them long before we could see them in the trees (they are VERY loud). They are quite agile hanging up in the trees using just their tails at times to eat leaves. The second troupe was a sleepy bunch just lounging around on the branches. Some of the plants growing out there are pretty neat too; one looked just like a banana but inside were tons of anthers for pollination. Afterwards we stopped for a delicious lunch plate known as a “Casado” complete with protein (in my case pork chops), plantains, rice, beans, cabbage and corn. . YUM!


We were pretty tired on the drive back so we napped a little and admired the greenery. Back at our hotel we admired all the pretty flowers and inadvertently noticed some hummingbirds in the shots we took :) While sitting on our patio Christel was saying that she really wished we had seen a toucan on this trip since we would be heading out the next day. . and just then out of the blue she thought she spotted a bird with a long yellow bill in a tree just on the periphery of the property about a few hundred yards away. We followed it as it flew to the other side of the property and then joined with a second toucan . . . awesome; all our wishes had come true in Costa Rica! :)


That night we got all dolled up and were ready to hit the town. During dinner at our hotel we asked our waiter Andres what was going on for the evening and he said if we could wait about 30 min we could head out with him in the employee transport van into downtown to some local spots. We had a blast that night and definitely hit up some local spots like El Establo. We practiced our salsa and merengue moves with Andres and also met a boy band that was happy to take hang out and take some pictures with us (Christel especially enjoyed that).


Posted by Tony.Ruby 13:26 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Costa Rica: Arenal:Sloth Sighting Among Volcanic Hot Springs

February 2, 2012

sunny 78 °F

We left Monteverde early that morning and after eating a hearty Costa Rican breakfast we started our way to the city of Arenal. The drive was really scenic with views of fields, animals grazing, and streams. After about 2 hours in the car we came to Lake Arenal and boarded a ferry to take us across to the other side. The ferry was pretty short and the highlight was seeing the Arenal volcano looming ahead of us in the distance. We were sad to hear that it is no longer active so we wouldn’t be seeing any smoke billowing or lava flowing on this trip. As we chatted with some of the fellow passengers we realized everyone would be going to Tabacon hot springs tonight—which is precisely the sort of thing we try to avoid.


We were starved when we arrived at the Arenal Volcano Inn and quickly got to eating a huge plate of pesto pasta and having some afternoon cocktails. The hotel grounds were gorgeous and we had a clear view of the volcano from our patio but we quickly realized that this is a place for “old folks” with tons of senior citizen groups vacationing and realized we would definitely be leaving the resort for other activities.


That afternoon we went to the EcoCentro Danaus which is a small privately owned eco-reserved located just on the outskirts of Arenal. . .and that is when I finally got to see my sloths! Ariel a representative from the local Maleku tribe helped point out the sloths for us; I don’t think I could spot them on my own just yet. Not only did I see the two-toed but also got to see the three-toed species out in the wild! :) They sort of look like balls of brown of gray fur curled up in the trees until they start moving around. Christel and I spent quite a while just standing there checking them out. I think the two-toed species is cuter (they have a more well defined face). They also had gorgeous orchids, other flowers, and d birds galore. On our way back we asked our taxi driver about hot springs and he said that there’s a place that is naturally formed called “Chojin” that is free but not safe to go at night because of the rocks and potential for theft of our belongings.


Instead, we were ready to relax and headed to The Springs Resort and Spa---wow for $40 we had full access to all of the volcanic hot springs (they had at least 12 different pools with varying temperature. The most amazing part of it was that there was NO ONE else there in the section called “Los Perdidos” so Christel and I were able to enjoy the different water temperatures and waterfalls without anyone to disturb us!?!


The bar at The Springs was great and they had a musician named Darin Talbot from Lake Tahoe originally. He was a great and took requests to do great covers of our favorite songs. We had an absolute blast listening before and after our dip in the pools. This resort is a few miles off the main road (not the easiest to get to) so Christel being the brave one asked him for a ride back into town and he happily obliged. He said “she’s gutsy, no problem”. That night we contentedly passed out that night after the hot springs and excellent music.


Posted by Tony.Ruby 10:43 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Costa Rica: Monteverde: Quest for a Quetzal

February 1, 2012

semi-overcast 68 °F

Christel is such a good sport---I wanted to get up at 6am be one of the first at Monteverde Cloud forest for bird watching. She got up without complaint, we had a delicious breakfast downstairs and with binoculars and cameras in hand we were off. It was a 20 minute ride to the park and it was terrific. Bright and early is the best time because there are fewer people and the birds are most active. The Quetzal (rhymes with pretzel) is one of the most famous tropical birds and definitely on my to-see list for this trip. We had a great 4 hour hike with our private guide George—he happened to have a Swarovski telescope with him so we could see amazing things like a 2 hummingbirds in a nest super far away, a blue eyed anole lizard, grasshoppers with pink spots on them, a thorn bug which camouflages underneath leaves, the holes in trees where Quetzals live and the tiniest species of micro-orchids I’ve ever seen (much smaller than my fingertip)! George pointed out some black seeds in pods that are used by locals to make dopamine for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. I would need to see some studies on that :) It was amazing to be in nature surrounded by gorgeous plants and flowers; it wasn't nearly as scary as it looks to walk on the suspension bridge. We were getting a sneak peek into things we might normally miss while walking through the forest.


George’s vest had an embroidered Quetzal on the back. There are never any guarantees when you’re out in nature and near the end of our 4 hr hike I was starting to get worried that we wouldn’t see any Quetzals. During our hike we could hear them but couldn’t find them! Then we turned a corner and we could catch glimpses of Quetzals moving around in the trees but they didn’t sit still long enough to get a good picture of one :( Perhaps next time. . .


Afterward we went to the hummingbird gardens and I watched them for at least an hour. Be careful to stay out of the way of their nectar because those beaks are pretty sharp and scary! There were at least 8 species of hummingbirds and an imposter called a Bananaquit bird. This yellow, white and black bird has a long enough beak so he comes to the feeders to sip on the hummingbird nectar. There are just too many to name but my favorites were the violet-breasted one and the one with a brown face. Afterwards, we split a cab with some fellow travelers on our way back into town and grabbed lunch at Amigos again. . yummy tortilla soup before doing a little shopping. We picked up some earrings for ourselves and lots of yummy chocolate and coffee to take home.


At this point I was feeling a little disappointed because I hadn’t seen any sloths yet. As we walked back to our hotel I tried to decide what to do for the evening. We thought about zip lining but it was really cold and crazy windy--we both felt a little nervous about hanging from a wire. . save it for next time. At this point it was close to 5pm and on the walk back we passed right by the Frog Pond. We went right back in to see some of our favorite species again--especially the blue jeans frog (little red ones with blue legs) and the colorful poison dart frogs. A piece of advice: be sure to go at night because the frogs weren’t nearly as active during the day, they were all sleeping and you could hardly find them!


Christel was exhausted. . and rightfully so after all that hiking today. She decided to sit it out while I went for a night walk at the Hidden Valley Trail in Santa Elena. . I was secretly hoping to finally see a sloth since they’re nocturnal and I hadn’t seen one yet. Well, no such luck but I did get to watch a gorgeous sunset with views of the Pacific Ocean while learning about some other cool creatures. It was a small group, just four of us and we walked for about 2 hours through the forest in the dark with flashlights. We saw coatis (relative of the raccoon) hanging out in gnarly old fig trees and agoutis which look like really big hedgehogs. Have you ever seen a sleeping bird? I hadn’t . . . they look headless because they tuck their heads into their wings. It’s so cold up there that it’s hard to wake these birds up; their metabolism slows to a crawl at night.


Of course, no night walk would be complete without using a stick to coax a tarantula out of her hidey-hole—this one was red and black. Ironically, my favorite creature of the night was the smallest: an army ant. Our guide rubbed the end of twig to transfer some of her scent on the twig before angering an army ant. She showed us its mandibles (jaws) up close-- it was so angry that it bit the end of the stick that she had touched and was able to hang on to it without letting go—holding onto that stick was the equivalent of lifting 3000 times it's body weight. . crazy huh? Nature is amazing in so many ways. Back at the hotel I was ready to warm up and was greeted by a beautiful cheese plate and wine that Christel had prepared for me. WOW! I am so spoiled :) That night we took advantage of the jacuzzi to rest our weary muscles and called it an early night.


Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:45 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Costa Rica: Tamarindo: Partying until the Moonset

January 28-Jan 31

sunny 82 °F

My good friend Christel from California and I had a great trip ahead of us. Next to Tony, she is my favorite travel buddy and I have known her for years. We headed off to Costa Rica but not without a quick stop at Miami International airport for conch fritters! On the flight down we watched the sun set over the ocean and looked forward to the bliss of being away and just enjoying the moment.

We landed closer to the Pacific side of Costa Rica. At the Liberia airport we quickly met our driver who about an hour later dropped us off at our hotel Hotel Zullymar in downtown Tamarindo. As he drove, he mentioned that the "fiestas" were going this weekend on in a town nearby and that we may want to come back and celebrate with the locals. After checking in and dropping off our bags we were ready to hit the beach. It was already night so we had a very romantic lobster dinner (where's Tony when you need him?) on the beach. As we leisurely ate and drank out cocktails we noticed that over the course of a couple of hours we had inadvertently watched our first moonset!?! The moon was half-full and high up in the sky when we first started eating and we watched it set on the horizon around 11pm---it looked like an orange boat out there on the water and we watched in disbelief as it slowly disappeared beneath the horizon. Pretty amazing. . we didn't even know Moonsets existed! Did you? Afterwards we went to a bar and relaxed for a little bit before heading to bed.


We were awoken by the sound of tropical bird calls just outside our window that first morning in Costa Rica---aaaahh so nice to be away. We ate brunch while watching a pair of parakeets playing in the trees on the beach. Afterwards we went for a walk along the water’s edge, carefully stepping over tide pools until we arrived at Playa Langosta. This is the place to go if you want to have a romantic getaway without the craziness of Tamarindo which is a party and surf town. On our walk back we spotted so many pretty birds, it was difficult to count them all. That night we caught the local bus to a town called Jaucas for the Fiestas de Santa Cruz. We enjoyed some of the local cuisine. It was everything we hoped for and then some—bullfights, rodeo, folk dancing and marimba music. The night ended with one of the nicest fireworks shows ever—they seemed to go on forever! That night we went out to a locals spot (Pacifico) and made some new friends including Christian, and many Ticos (local Costa Ricans) who wanted to teach us to surf. . it was a late night of dancing and chatting it up. . I think we got home at about 4am!? That night we learned a saying in Costa Rica: Pura Vida which translates to "Pure Life" but really means something along the lines of "full of life, or this is living"!


When we woke up the next morning it was almost noon! We knew we wanted to go check out some of the snorkeling and other beaches today. We opted to take a tour on a catamaran out to the other beaches. We went with a company called The Lazy Lizard—boy are we glad that we did. It wasn’t cheap, about $75 but it would be about 5-6 hours and included unlimited alcohol, lunch and snorkeling and kayaking gear. Totally worth it! The crew was amazing—super nice, and helpful; we loved everyone, especially Ryan with his silly mustache. We both went snorkeling first; it was Christel’s first time in about 20 years so she was nervous but got the hang of it pretty quick. I got to go sea kayaking and our guide had found a baby octopus. He brought it back to the boat and Christel and I both were feeling adventurous. . probably from all the delicious rum punch and decided to try and hold this live octopus. Just look at our faces. . yes it is just as creepy as it sounds. In terms of what it felt like. . . the inspiration for suction cups must have been octopus tentacles! On the ride back we got the gorgeous view at sunset with the sky changing too many colors to count. That night we had to celebrate because it would be our last night in Tamarindo. We met up with Christian and went to Aqua for another late night of dancing.


The next morning we were very sad to be leaving Tamarindo because it had been an absolute blast. We wish we had a couple more days of beach time but we were moving on to a different kind of fun. The lunch we had that day was amazing—the nachos were seriously the best I’ve ever had, everything was made from scratch. We relaxed and enjoyed our last day at the beach while watching paddle surfers on the water. Our ride picked us up at 1pm and we were off to Monteverde.

We didn’t know what we were in store for . . . the ride was long, bumpy and dusty. . almost 5 hours even with air conditioning it wasn’t exactly comfortable. It was worth it for the views as we went over mountain passes and appreciated panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. At around 6pm that night we arrived at Poco a Poco hotel in the Monteverde region. What a great hotel! Had all the amenities one could want including free WiFi and super close to everything.

We were pretty exhausted but I really wanted to check out the tree frogs so Christel and I walked out in the WINDY, cold weather, just a block or so to the frog exhibit and saw some of the most beautiful frogs ever. Night time is the best time to go because most of the frogs are nocturnal and sleeping during the day. I finally saw a glass frog which was elusive in the Ecuadorian Amazon, their bellies are translucent so you can see their internal organs!

We ate dinner at Amigos (a local recommendation), delicious garlic tilapia and tortilla soup was perfect. We were exhausted and headed back to the hotel. We were on the top floor and that night was a little difficult to sleep because the wind was blowing so hard it felt like the roof was about to fly off. Apparently, it is always cold with really strong winds in the Monteverde area—be sure to bring a warm, waterproof coat =)


Posted by Tony.Ruby 08:53 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

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