A Travellerspoint blog

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On the Coast

Crocs.......

sunny 30 °C

Feb 18, 2015

We got up early and left Saint Elana as the sun was rising. We climbed down out of the mountains and headed for the Pacific Ocean. The road for the first hour was gravel and under construction with anticipated closures, which was the reason we left early to avoid lengthy delays.

After reaching the coast we stopped on a bridge and had a look at a large group of crocs just hanging out on the river bank below. Seeing so many gathered in one spot was a tad un-nerving. We also stopped for some colorful birds.

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We arrive in Quepos around noon. Quepos is the capital of Aguirre canton in Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica. The town is about 157 km from San José. Quepos is the gateway to Manuel Antonio National Park. The city is very tourism-oriented, having many bars and restaurants and a vivacious night-life. The town is named for the native Quepo Indians who inhabited the place in the colonial era.

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After checking into to another hotel, we headed out on a cataman boat for the afternoon till sunset. We stopped for a swim in the late afternoon and were surprised on how warm the Pacific Ocean is. There were a number of other tourist boats out with us. Its good to be back in warm weather.

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Posted by Colenso 19:13 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Monkeys

Sun, sand and a beautiful beach

sunny 30 °C

February 15 2015

The sun rises at 6 a. m. as do we. Today we were off on the local bus to Manuel Antonio National Park about 20 minutes away. It’s the country’s most popular park, although not it’s largest, they only let 600 visitors in a day. Although our guide had bought our tickets already, he was worried that we still might not get in. By 8 a.m. we were in along with many other people. Spotting wildlife was not hard, just look for the group of people with binoculars, cameras, and spotting scopes.

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It was breakfast time for the families of howler monkeys who were jumping from tree to tree with amazing agility even with a baby on their back. As the morning warmed up (interesting concept when starting at about 25C) the butterflies became active and flitted about around our heads. The most impressive, IMHO, is the neon blue morphos’ with an 8 inch wingspan that just ambled down the path in front of us.

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Our destination was the white sand beaches with a water temperature of about 30C. We left most of the group to enjoy the beach and headed off down the trail in search of white-faced monkeys or capuchin. We saw howlers and beautiful views but no capuchin. Disappointed we headed back to the washroom only to come across a group of about 10 white-faced monkeys chowing down on the fruit of a tree along the trail. On the ground below them was a family of racoons scoping out tourist’s backpacks to plunder.

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After a dip in the ocean and a laze in the sun we headed off to check out some of the trails in the park. The area is hilly so the park had constructed wooden staircases that went up and up and up (yup, it was really warm by now) eventually displaying wonderful views over the bays on either sides of the peninsula that we were on. We even found some birds and animals on our own without the help of guides or tourista paparazzi.

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We made our way back to the resort area of Manuel Antonio to catch the local bus back to Quepos and a dip in the pool. A very nice dinner finished a very nice day.

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Posted by Colenso 19:08 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Return to San Jose

Good-bye to our group

sunny 38 °C

February 20, 2015

We had the morning free and after sleeping in a bit for the 1st time in two days we wandered around Quepos, had lunch and returned to the hotel to swim. It was 100f (38c) with probably 100% humidity so having the pool available was a life saver.

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At 2:00pm we boarded our van and headed back up into the mountains. There was a huge traffic jam around road construction and we arrived back at the Don Carlos Hotel in San Juan around 6:00pm.

Our group had our farewell dinner and we said good-bye to our tour leader Jaime Guzman, who has been the best tour guide we have had on any our group trips. This was his favorite toy during the trip, he said that we should all try to be as happy as this guy.

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Tomorrow we take an internal flight to Liberia and then a ride to Playas del Coco on the Nicoyla Peninsula where we have rented a condo for a week.

Posted by Colenso 20:11 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Playas del Coco on the Nicoyla Penninsula

Change is in the wind

sunny 38 °C

February 21, 2015

The tour was over but that didn’t mean that the adventure was. We got a cab this morning from the San Carlos Hotel ( our very funky little hotel) to the domestic airport (Juan Santamaria) building which is located in the international airport which will make it very convienent when we return to San José to catch our return flight home in 8 days. Seems our plane was broken (this keeps happening to us) and we waited until they borrowed a plane from the other local airline before the 7 passengers took off two hours late. The plane was small enough that we even had shoulder straps and the pilot gave the safety talk that was basically, read the pamphlet (located right between the barf bags.)

We landed in Liberia which has a number of direct flights from Canada and the states arriving daily from the major airlines as this area is a significant tourist destination for Costa Rica. The Nicoyla Peninsula is hot and dry, unlike the rain forest we have been spending time in. Walking from our small plane in the afternoon heat and strong wind was like walking thru a clothes dryer.

We are in the resort community of Playas del Coco staying in a new, modern residential complex known as Pacifico. This is a mixed-use development built to U.S. standards with all of the conveniences, amenities, quality and design expected in a world-class resort and is very different than what we have been used to these last two weeks. http://www.pacifico-costarica.com/aboutarticles/pacifico-master-plan/ We even have a plug for our bathroom sink and a washing machine and dryer which has been working for the past few hours.

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We walked to a near by grocery store that would look at home in any upscale North American suburb and bought enough food for dinner then sat out on our balcony, in our gated community, drank wine and enjoyed our dinner. We have not turned on the a/c but opened the sliding doors to the balcony and had the ceiling fans going, a nice warm evening breeze blowing. Change has occurred….. we will start to explore this small town tomorrow.

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Posted by Colenso 18:48 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Our first look Playas del Coco

Hot & Windy

sunny 36 °C

February 22, 2015

Wow! What a change. Waking up in a fluffy bed, showering with hot water and more than enough thick towels. No roosters but some kind of dove or pigeon. We are staying just off the main drag on the edge of this small town. Playas del Coco gets its name from the many Coconut Palms that fill the area. The beach sets nicely in a horseshoe bay with scenic yet at times dry vegetation covering the rolling hills. This area is one of the fastest growing areas of tourism in Costa Rica.

Playas del Coco is a sport/commercial fishing town and is one of the oldest beach communities in Guanacaste Province. Its also a place where surfers can get a boat out to Witch's Rock, one of the many famous surfing spots in the country.

The Nicoya region of Costa Rica is also one of five Blue Zones—“longevity hotspots” populated by the longest-living people in the world—on the globe. All that natural beauty and happiness must be good for you! The latest finding that Nicoyans have longer-than-average telomeres suggests a biological mechanism. In other words, something is causing them to age more slowly. But what? The researchers looked at lots of potential factors, from education to fish oil consumption. There’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that psychological factors such as stress and social relationships can affect telomere length

We wandered down the main drag towards town. It’s about a 15 minute walk down to the water. Play del Coco has embraced its beach town image. Lots of souvenir shops and restaurants along the way but nicely mostly under shade trees. The sand is greyish, not the most attractive but clean. Surprisingly not busy as expected. Maybe it’s night crowd that livens the place up. We’re good without knowing. We walked down to the end of the beach and then to the beachfront club which belongs to our condo development and we have access to, for a swim and lunch. The wind had picked up and was blowing the sand down the beach. We headed back to the condo with a stop at the grocery stores…an adventure when the labels are in Spanish, and then to relax by the pools in the amazing hot wind.

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Posted by Colenso 18:57 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Hot Day

Turning left at the beach

sunny 37 °C

February 23, 2015

Ok, we understand that people come south during the winter for a variety of reasons and that once they arrive in paradise, they may have very different levels of activity from being somewhat like a sloth to risk-taking adventure seekers. While we enjoy ourselves in a lounge chair with a good book around one of our complex’s pools or down by the ocean at the “Beach Club” we don’t do sitting very well for extended periods of time.

We have discovered that there isn’t a lot going on around here, especially since its basically a desert resort community and almost all the day time $ excursions, with the exception of the booze cruises, leave Playas del Coco and head back up into the rainforest areas east of here.

So here is what we did today, our 2nd full day in Playas del Coco. After excellent coffee at a little place just outside our gated community, where Fred can practice his limited Spanish (he is pretty good in asking for or expressing himself in Spanish but has a pained look on his face when they answer back and he doesn’t have a clue what the hell they are saying to him), we slowly wandered down the main drag on the opposite side of the street than we did yesterday. We ducked into the little shops and tourist stores all the way to the beach.

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We turned left on the beach, unlike yesterday when we turned right, and walked all the way to the end. The entire horseshoe shaped cove is approx 2 kms long. There is much less development on this end of the beach than the opposite direction and this is also where the small river drains out onto the sand and disappears. We pass a couple of abandoned buildings and cross over a rickety bridge. By now its past lunch time and we stop in this little funky restaurant and have lunch. Its really, really hot with a strong wind blowing out of the north.

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Further down the beach are a bunch of boats up on the sand, some having been there for a long time and stripped of anything of value while others are simply waiting for the tide to come in.

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We walk out to farthest point and turn around heading back. On the beach, close to town, is the booze cruise boat picking up folks for the 2nd run of the day. We notice the same down and out older looking gringo, who approached us at the restaurant stating that he was a former Navy Seal down on his luck and was asking for money, hitting up the folks clamoring onto the catamaran. We can’t help but wonder if his story is true, especially with all the info in the media about PTSD these days. We will probably never know the truth.

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Posted by Colenso 18:42 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Do Very Little Day.......

Shock to the system

sunny 38 °C

February 24, 2015

Shocked the system today. Went to the gym. This turned out to be our “Do Very Little Day”. We walked over to the health club just outside the Gate House of our compound where we could work out for the discounted Pacifico rate of $6 each and then head to back to our unit (it was early so only about 31C) because we had to have towels. Even with AC in this smallish facility, one tended to sweat a lot because the humidity is so high. While we have been physically active on this trip including a fair bit of walking, this was our first real work out in 3 weeks and it was kind of tough.

After lunch back in the condo complex, we hung out in one of the tropical swimming pools reading and jumping into the water every once and a while. The talk around the pool was how cold it was or how much snow they had back up north at home. Lazy day……..which was nice.

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Posted by Colenso 17:51 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Rincón de la Vieja

Getting out of Dodge

sunny 35 °C

February 25, 2015

Up with the mourning doves for a trip to Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park. Rincón de la Vieja is an active volcano about 45 km from Playas del Coco. Its name means "The Old Woman's Corner", a reference to a local legend about a girl whose lover was thrown into the crater by her father; she became a recluse living on the mountain, and was credited with powers of healing.

Rincón de la Vieja stands 1,916 metres (6,286 ft) above sea level, and its summit is the highest point in Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park. It erupted most recently in September 2011. The volcano has a large number of fumaroles and hot springs on its slopes. The Rincón de la Vieja Volcano is set within the Parque Nacional Volcán Rincón de la Vieja, which spans over 34,000 acres (12,759 ha) and helps protect both montane forests and dwarf cloud forests.

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But first we had to do the drive on very rough roads for 1.5 hours. Eventually we reached the trail head and off through the very dry forest. Our first glimpse of volcanic activity was steam rising and rumbling noises coming up through cracks in the earth. We carried on eventually getting to ponds of boiling grey mud. Very neat. From there we headed out of the forest and into dry shrub land where it was very hot and had views down to the ocean.

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Our next destination was to a waterfall for a swim. The water felt very refreshing after all our walking. Back to the van and off to a ranch for a Costa Rican lunch of rice, beans, salad and some kind of protein.

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Although a nap was starting to sound good instead we headed over to the local hot springs for a mud bath. We were instructed to sit in the hot pool for 2 minutes then paint ourselves with volcanic mud with house painting brushes and let it sit for 10 minutes. The next step was into the river to wash it all off. It was supposed to be good for us and it did feel very refreshing.

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Back in the van for the ride back home. Tired but happy to have seen another side of Costa Rica.

Posted by Colenso 19:36 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Decision making day

Work out, beach and then reading by the pool......

sunny 38 °C

February 26, 2015

Decision making day. To go to the gym or not. To go to Nicaragua tomorrow or not. To use US dollars, Costa Rican Colons or Visa. To go to the pool or the beach. Answers….yes to gym (that was tough. Fred’s stiff), Yes to Nicaragua (pick up 5 a.m.) good exchange rate on colons. Beach then pool. Very different feeling at beach today because the strong winds of the past few days have gone down. Didn’t get sandblasted and the water was warmer. ran into a women on the beach with a baseball cap that said "Ex-Wife" and when Fred asked her if he could take a photo, she said "sure lots of folks love this cap." We like our small, old school beach community, lots of characters including that guy who claimed he was a former Navy Seal, turns out he has a Quebec accent! Lots of Canadians at the pool this afternoon, particularly Francophones.

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Posted by Colenso 18:29 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (2)

Nicaragua

A very long day......

sunny 35 °C

February 27, 2015

Coco is a beautiful place at 5 a.m. Quiet, lots of stars. The temperature could be described as ‘soft’ . While standing by the front gate in the dark, we were hoping to be picked up to start our whirlwind tour Nicaragua for the day. Sure enough the van arrived and as the sky gradually lightened we were off to join about 40 other people for a quick breakfast and on with the adventure.

Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American isthmus, bordering Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The population of Nicaragua, approximately 6 million, is multiethnic. Since its independence from Spain in 1821, Nicaragua has undergone periods of political unrest, dictatorship, and fiscal crisis—the most notable causes that led to the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Today Nicaragua is a representative democratic republic, and has experienced economic growth and political stability in recent years.

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Nicaragua has experienced several military dictatorships, the longest being the hereditary dictatorship of the Somoza family, who ruled for 43 years during the 20th century. The communist Sandinistas took power in July 1979. The Reagan administration authorized the CIA to help the contra rebels with funding, armaments, and training. The contras operated out of camps in Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. They engaged in a systematic campaign of terror and brutality to disrupt social reform projects. After the U.S. Congress prohibited federal funding of the contras in 1983, the Reagan administration continued to back them by covertly selling arms to Iran and channeling the proceeds to the contras (the Iran–Contra affair). They have been general elections since 1990. Nicaragua had seen positive growth in the tourism sector over the last decade, and it became the country’s largest industry by 2007.

But Nicaragua is a very poor country with much of the businesses owned by one family and/or friends of President Ortega. The differences between Nicaragua and Costa Rica were evident as soon as we crossed the border…no easy task.

The border is about 2 hours from Playas Del Coco on the Pan American Highway including a stretch under construction that results in serious traffic congestion. The drive is through low scrub with the occasional small farm with very tough looking cattle. When we get about 1 km. to the border we start to notice trucks and semi-trailers lined up. Apparently they sometimes have to wait there for days. Getting through the border for us, is a 3 step process. First, give the first of two forms we'd filled out, to the lady and get the blue stamp that says we’ve paid the exit tax, then over to get the outside of the bus fumigated (we must have looked good as we got waved through), then the guide took all our passports and the second form somewhere while we mingled around the Nicaraguan vendors and money exchangers that were waiting for us. First difference from Costa Rica…the crafts, leather, weavings, pottery, were more colourful and local. Standing around, an hour later our guide comes back with a border offical who calls out our names in his accented English and hands us our passports as we get back on the bus. One more inspection…an official comes on the bus to make sure we all look healthy and don’t have Ebola. We’re in!

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The road goes along the shore of the Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central American (with it’s very own freshwater sharks) very picturesque with two volcanoes on the other side. Very dry, small trees and scrub, lots more skinny cows. Horses are now being used for transportation. Standing out amongst this poor rural landscape are great towering, modern windmills making use of the wind off the lake.

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We drive to the city of Masaya and a lookout over a beautiful crater lake and then to lunch in one of the town markets with a bit of time for shopping. Another difference from what we’ve seen in CR, the towns seem older, more colonial, more liked Mexico or Cuba.

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After lunch we head up to another crater at the Masaya volcano in the National Park. We drive up through lava fields right to the rim of this huge crater. Surprisingly, the only visitors there. This is an active volcano, erupting last a few years ago. Clouds of fumes, which Fred gags on, occasionally clear revealing the deep pit below. It’s an eerie, fascinating place but we are only allowed to stay 10 minutes so as not to breathe to much sulfur and it’s back to the bus.

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On to some fresh air…we head to Granada, a beautiful old colonial town that sits on the Lake Nicaragua, jump into tourist boats and go for a ride through a number of islands close to shore and over to one that is the home of 4 monkeys. The monkeys are fed primarily by tourists, quite well apparently. They come over to our boat to get some melons (not really into bananas).
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Back to Granada for a wander around their zocalo with food and tourist vendors, horse drawn carriages, and families enjoying the end of the day. Government offices on one side, massive church on the other, not something we saw so much in CR.

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We’re running quite late because one of the group didn’t return to the bus as planned and they had to go and find her. Back to the bus, fill in two more forms, back to the border, Ebola check, hand over passport and form, guide disappears for 45 minutes, off the bus, official gives passport back, back on the bus, off the bus, hand in 2nd form and get blue stamp, back on the bus, get fumigated, past all the trucks and the long drive home. Back at our condo at 10:45 p.m. in the quiet, soft air. An excellent adventure.

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Posted by Colenso 09:17 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Last day in Coco

Do we really have to leave

sunny 38 °C

February 28, 2015

We slept in a bit this morning after our exhausting day yesterday altho by the time we got up at 7:30am it was already getting hot. Our trip is almost over. This will be our last full day in Coco as we fly out tomorrow, again on a little plane, back to San Jose where we will overnight near the airport and then head for home early on Monday.

What to do on the sunny beautiful last day? When we were be driven around yesterday picking up folks at various places, most in other small communities along the coast, we got to see some of the other developed areas. We felt that if we had had a few more days we would have liked to explore the coast both north and south of here. One really would need a rental car to do that as the buses go from the center of a small town to the main road and then to the centre of the next town. What we wanted to explore was along the coast.

After breakfast and doing the write up of our day in Nicaragua we headed out along the main drag for a little last minute shopping and to absorb the atmosphere of the area one last time. When we got to beach we look a number of the restaurants right on the water but eventually went back to the out of the way beach bar we had lunch a few days earlier and drank cold beers while waiting for our food, which was a good as last time.

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A slight tangent here for a rant about one of the people we met on yesterday’s trip (don’t know where this thought came from but will follow it). While this guy was a Yankee it really doesn’t make much of difference where he came from, altho he exemplifies one of the things wrong with the States. (his wife said that States were rapidly going downhill) We got to talking about where we were from and the differences between Canada and the States. Fred gave a high level overview of Canadian health care and how it works. The man from Michigan said he didn’t like “socialized medicine” and came back with a couple of stories he had heard someplace of Canadians who had died while waiting for health care but didn’t have any of the details, etc. He later stated that he never wanted to get sick in Canada because of our bad health care system. He had already been told how our system works, including emergency services, but would not let the facts get in the way of his belief system that was based on rumours and misinformation! He continued to complain that his taxes were way too high because they supported deadbeats who according to him would never work (he obviously did not understand where the vast majority of the US federal govt’ expenditures went). The problem is not that we had different political views, we can accept that, but rather that he based his beliefs on jargon and when presented with reality, denied its existence. People like he and his wife scare us because they sometimes vote!

A stroll along the beach. It was a bit busier today with locals picnicking and playing in the waves. Back to the condo for a last bit of pool time. Always sad to leave the beach, heat, and culture of Latin American. One more day…

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Posted by Colenso 19:16 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Heading Home

It's been a good trip

sunny 35 °C

March 1, 2015

Our trip can be divided into three parts; on our own in San Jose, with the group tour and finally in Coco-Peninsula de Nicoya and each was very different. Being on our own in a large metro area in a new country is always a test of ones ability to handle change and the unexpected. Living daily and close up with a group of strangers for two weeks is always a bit of a crapshoot. Some groups jell and others don’t mix well. It’s usually pretty easy to stay in an up scale resort and pamper oneself for the last week of a trip.

Start of the trip home…... Another clear blue sky, slight breeze, lots of mourning doves, 28C. Take an expensive van/taxi ride to the airport in Liberia. Flight time is pushed back an hour. This keeps happening. Airport wifi access isn’t free either and being cheap we will wait until we get to our hotel in San Jose to log on again.

It’s at least cool with a/c going plus it allows us some time to think about our month in Costa Rica. What to say…….

We really enjoyed our time here. Costa Rica is a micro-continent unto itself. There are 12 distinct ecological zones which are home to an astonishing array of flora and fauna, approximately 5% of all know species on earth. We trekked thru dense rainforests, dry deciduous forests, open savannah, lush wetlands including mangrove estuaries, montane cloud forests, volcanic skree, and tropical beaches, etc.

Oh, flight’s on schedule after all. The hot strong wind makes it hard to walk to the plane. We take the 12 seater, single prop plane again back to San Jose. When we got on there was a family on it who had got on in San Jose and were heading to a place called Tamirindo. The 10 year old boy had already thrown up in the barf bag, the dad had spilled his water bottle in his pack when he was trying to get the gravol out, the mom told us to be sure to put our shoulder straps on. The pilot/flight attendant checked to make sure we did. Said it would be a bit bumpy. 45 minutes later a cow watched us land and we dropped them off. The 12 year old wished us luck. A local got on and crossed herself, can’t help but wonder if she knows something we don’t. The 45 minute flight to San Jose was a bit bumpy but not too bad at all. Now we're sitting at the Hampton Inn near the airport waiting to go to the airport tomorrow a.m. We should get back around midnight tomorrow.

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It’s been a good trip. Not quite what either of us expected. We’ve been close up to many interesting wildlife: bright, colourful birds, crowds of hummingbirds, 3 kinds of Toucans, herons, egrets, and tiny bats… Then colourful and large butterflies, sloths, 3 kinds of monkeys, coatamundi’s, raccoons, agouti’s and peccaries. Oh and alligators and caimans, snakes and tarantulas!

Then there’s been the scenery…rivers through the jungle, sunrise canoe trip through an estuary (with caiman), volcanoes, bubbling mud, wet jungle, dry jungle, coffee, banana, pineapple plantations…

And the adventures: hanging bridges 60 metres high, zip-lining almost a mile across a valley, white water rafting, walking on white sands and swimming in 30c water, jumping into waterfalls.

The highlight for Gail was the homestay with the family on the farm. Our mutual language skills were limited but the family was warm and welcoming. We felt privileged to be able to spend the night with them. Fred most memorable was event was the Tarzan jump on the zip line, his heart is beating fast.

What we have seen in Costa Rica is a country full of contrasts. Rain, lots of it in the central area and desert on the Pacific coast. People who work 7 days a week, 10 hours a day attempting to get ahead and are very devoted to their families. Almost 70 years ago they disbanded their army to provide health care and education to their children. A country that believes that protecting their natural resources should be a high priority and struggles with getting much of its income from crops by multinational firms that are grown in a non-sustainable manner. Lots of razor-wire but people who have invited us into their homes, have been extremely helpful and friendly, who love their country. .

We are glad that we came to Costa Rica.

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Posted by Colenso 19:22 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

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