Saturday, December 31, 2011

Travel day, 12-29, part 4

Once we hit that dirt road, travel slowed considerably.  We crept along, and finally took our second scheduled rest break, at a place Erick called "El Dos"--a little town?  Not sure.  We parked at this restaurant...
which had two other large busses and several tour vans already there.  I didn't even try for coffee, just got in the line for the men's room. (Yes!  a line for the men's room.).  But most of us quickly found the promised treat of this stop, an old-style sugar cane press, that we'd get to try out.  Erick let us taste some of the raw cane stalk (sweet, juicy, crushing to a fiber-something mess you have to spit out).  I volunteered to be the "oxen" to turn the press, and had my big Conan the Barbarian moment, though without the muscles suddenly growning in the jump-cut editing.
Pushing wasn't too hard til they redoubled the already crushed cane stalk and fed it back through.  That slowed me down.  But we got a pitcher of juice,

a frothy slightly green-tinged liquid, which tasted sugary, and here's a surprise, kind of green.

which met with mild enthusiasm...

Well, that was exciting, but we were offered a little sip of the real purpose of that sugar cane juice, the local moonshine that it turns into.  Here's the Fresa moonshine face:

and the Cindy moonshine face (I did have to ask her to repeat it for the camera):

Our host posed with his press and his product, Steve at his side:

And then back on the bus.  12 kilometers to go.  It took over another hour.  We arrived well after 1 p.m.  But it's always worth the stops.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Travel day, 12-29, part 3

And we kept going.  We left the Lake behind, but the road didn't much straighten out.  Nice scenery though.  An occasional small town:
Quiet country places:

Wide-open vistas:

At 10:55 a.m., we hit the dirt road that would be with us the rest of the way to Monteverde/Santa Elena, as we wound higher into the mountains.

(I especially like trees that stand out like this.  Not sure why.)
more to come

Travel day, 12-29, part 2

Not much farther along, we stopped for photos of Lake Arenal, where coincidentally a couple souvenir stands had chosen to set up (perhaps not that hard to figure out--there are not many safe, wide-enough places for any stops on this road).

Mostly, at this place, wood carvings.

And I went back and forth, trying to decide if I liked the carved wooden crocodiles (caymans?).  We are planning to go dangle bits of meat to the crocs on the 31st, somewhere nearer the Pacific, but Erick said he'd never seen quite these kind of carvings.

So I bought a smaller one, and asked the happy vendors to pose for me.

Sigh.  Something else I probably need to carry on the plane, instead of packing.

Travel day, 12-29, part 1

Ok, this was a long, interesting day of travel, leaving La Fortuna at 8am, headed toward Monteverde.  Erick projected a 4-hour trip, with lots of qualifications about the roads.  He also gave us the option of one stop or two, and I quickly urged two official stops.  I've found I enjoy those "between places" about as much as many of our formal activities, in country after country.  Let's see how it went...

We started the long circle around Lake Arenal, with a history of why this lake is here.  It seems that in 1968, the Arenal Volcano had a major eruption, destroying several towns, killing people, and the government decided that they just couldn't move back there (somewhat more efficiently than we deal with flood zones), and so they moved the towns and built a dam.  It is used mostly, Erick says, for hydroelectric power (so more Bagnell Dam than Glen Canyon, I suppose), along with activities such as jet skis and kayaking (Wait! kayaking?  let's go back).  In an eery twist, when the Lake lowers in dry season, sometimes parts of the old towns rise, ghostly, from the water.  It is a pretty lake, the side we're on off-limits to development.
But history is interrupted for our first unplanned stop, to gawk at 6 howler monkeys munching on the upper leaves of a cecropia tree:
We pass some 'common bamboo' and stands of eucalyptus trees, and Erick points out that both of these are invasive, alien species.  The government is actively trying to eradicate eucalyptus, and restore native tree species.

8:40 a.m.  But ecology is also interrupted, this time for 3 coatimundi (or coati, or in Spanish, pizote).  They look cute, look eager to good investigate us for food, but we have been warned they can be aggressive and painful.

Before long, we actually do arrive at the first planned stop, in Nuevo Arenal, one of the moved villages.  We stop at the German Bakery, which is actually run by a German couple.  Mary was delighted to practice a bit of Deutsch, and I had managed to survive to this next oasis of coffee.  Allison found a friend:

and several folks found more souvenirs.

Back on the bus, we heard about the windmills coming up soon, to your left--
And we learned more about Costa Rica's plans.  Their new president (their first female president) has pledged that Costa Rica--the whole country--will be carbon-neutral within the next few years.  Will extensive wind and hydroelectric power (and little need for heating or AC), they might make it.  Back home in the U.S., well, we're behind.  We need to plant an awful lot more trees, and maybe figure out a few more things.

later, bob

Zip Lines!

Well, I have a few blogs to write before this one, but here are some photos from the group's visit to the zip lines today (12-30-11) here in Monteverde.  Here's Allison:

And Bobbie:
And Fred:
And Graham, our fearless leader:

And more gracefully, Trish:

more soon.

Off the bus...

12-28-11  We arrived back at La Fortuna about 3 pm, and stopped so several could buy towels and swim suits, for the waterfall adventure ahead.  Me, well, I jumped off the bus to go buy stamps and have some blog time (there is pretty much no time to stop and think or write on these tours if you do all the activities).

I took my backpack, made sure I knew directions to walk back to the hotel, and on my own.  At the post office, a small clean office, the two British women in front of me told me postcards to Europe are 340 colones each, and I found stamps to the US are 280 each [oh, though we can use US dollars anywhere in Costa Rica, here they do have their own currency, the colones--named after Cristof Colon (Columbus), and exchanged at more or less the rate of 500 colones /1 US$].  The post-worker clarified, flashing his fingers, that I really did want cuarente (40) stamps, punched in a code, and the machine printed them off right there as labels.  Not the dazzle of big pretty stamps, but a lot easier.

After that, a little shopping, a walk past the pretty town-center garden, and I stopped for a beer at a local cafe, the Restaurant El Jardin,  I ordered an Imperial, the waitress smiled, and there I was, free!  Although the Arenal Volcano has officially stopped streaming out lava, last year (much to the disappointment of Brian and Laura, who also managed to shut down the Hawaiian volcanoes by trying to visit recently.  Picture the TV ad:  Have a volcano in your back yard?  Want the garden and swingset instead of the tourists and lava?  Call Brian and Laura, Volcano Busters!), the volcano is still the focus of La Fortuna, its hold on tourists, and so my little cafe had hand-painted volcano napkin holders, along with the ubiquitous red sauce and the Lizano salsa ("La original desde 1920").  On a high wall were 5 photos of Arenal in various eruptions and iconic silhouette.
The Sony flat screen on the wall played some chunk of a Happy Feet movie, and then moved on to highlights of the Costa Rican-style bullfight (very similar to Portugal, not the matador-sword model of Spain), where dozens of guys run through the arena taunting the bull til it tires.  No blood, except in the highlights, which had the unluckly or clumsy runners trampled.

A peddlar on the street put the raincover on one of his two huge backpacks of leather shoes, and moved on down the street.  A shift changed, and a happy off-work waiter had a beer.  Some local, perhaps ex-patriot American, and surely a character (longer blond hair, a white casino hat, a cheap floral print shirt, skinny legs), had his water bottle filled with white wine, then sat smoking at the one-table smoking area.

Most fun--a tourist lady (tourist, I realize, seeing her the next day when our bus stops at the German Bakery--the flow of tourists has its own patterns; will I see her again today in Monteverde?) ordered a meal, and her rice came shaped in the perfect cone of the Arenal Volcano.

I made it back to the hotel, an easy 15-minute walk.  The group visited the La Fortuna waterfall, and later that night, the Arenal 'hot springs,' which they didn't realize is actually a spa.  All had a good time.  Maybe they will post a few pictures.

later, bob

Ara Ambigua

After La Selva (12-28), we stopped in our long drive back to La Fortuna for lunch at the Ara Ambigua Lodge (a place I wish we had stayed at, instead of that disaster of a hotel in La Fortuna) .  We ate in the long, open-air gallery.  Again, a fairly typical Costa Rican meal, though this time with fish instead of chicken or beer.

The old hotel poodle wandered by just outside the railing, trying that cute thing, looking for handouts.  Most astonishing, though, I actually spotted birds!  Perhaps not a major achievement, since they were 5 foot away, just above the poodle path, and neon-bright.  This blue honey-creeper...

and dazzling little bit of feathers, several of some kind of tanager...

And then back on the bus, hours to go...

La Selva

On 12-28-11, we were up early (early) for the 2 1/2 hour drive northeast, to the La Selva Biological Station, a private reseach reserve (where I had wanted to come take a short class last January, but it overlapped a bit with our CC semester.  Alas) .  We all had on the right shoes (no flip-flops or open toes), divided up into 3 groups, and set off for a walk, first across the 50 foot suspension bridge, where we were warned not to bounce too much. 

Our guide told us about research conducted here--dozens of on-going projects, such as studying the vocalization of bats, which apparently have different dialects, even 100 yards away; continuous air sampling, related to climate change studies; and the odd project of getting the deadly fer-de-lance vipers to swallow microphones...(in one of my traveling writing books, we read about someone 'lightly' bitten by this viper; there was a picture of the ugly flesh-dissolved scar, a year later...).  And botanic researchers can rent 'tents' with a certain percent of light, for decades at a time, to study, say, orchids.
Not far over the bridge, the first of several wild peccaries wandered through.
Our guide told us this is part of an odd human sympathy--because we like the 'big cats' (jaguar, puma, etc.) and focus on their possible extinction, and because they like to hunt peccaries, they don't cull the peccaries here, but now the peccaries strip whole areas of nuts and new shoots. 

Meanwhile, we cross several "ant highways," 3 inch wide streaks in the mud, worn there by the passage of ants.  We spotted some of the leaf-cutter ants busy at work.  They estimate these critters can consume 12% of the foliage in the rainforest.  And there is an incredibly complex process of them cutting dead leaves from plants to get new, healthy growth (to harvest), something with wasp larvae, leaf-fermentation, protecting the colony from fungi...Well, ask one of the biology teachers.

And just a few steps away, we find small red 'poison-dart' frog, which also has a complex relation with forest plants, the tadpoles hatching in bromeliads, the mother adding unfertile eggs to feed them.  This guy thought it might be safe under Todd's foot:

Off into the forest, we walk through the secondary growth (this was once a cattle ranch, between the paved path and the river; experiments are allowed in this section, like planting new species, collections, but only observations in the stretch on the other side).  Our guide (need to figure out how to spell his name!) stabbed one tree with his knife, to show us the quick flow of rubber...
And he picked up the small oval fruit of another tree and lit it--it contains so much of a kerosene-like fluid that it will burn (and only once, he said, actually exploded during his demonstration)...

Well, lots more--like the Pringle-break...
And Allison saying she was waiting for a velociraptor to pop out through the green, Steve expecting a visit from a Predator, and a rescue from an ex-governor of California.

We passed a bomba (?) tree, a relative of balsa, whose root-base was so wide I couldn't get a good photo.  Another tree, one filled with other plants, our guide said that researchers had come to study the insect life, at one time spraying it and catching all in nets below, a 'horror show' of spiders and scorpions raining down, with thousands of other critters, 97% of them new species, which they are still working on, years later.

And on the way back, our guide spotted not one, but two green macaws--and what he had never seen before, the macaws mating.  A positive thing, for this very endangered species.

Other groups saw monkeys, other strange plants, have other stories.  A great place.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On the Road Again

12-27 and more and more time on the bus…headed toward our second hotel at La Fortuna.
We met some fellow travelers:
Saw more green countryside and nurseries:
A country church:
And then we got to the little switchback roads in the mountains.  At one slow point, there were a couple white-faced coatimundi--a little like raccoons crossed with cats, but, well, something else.  Lots of photos while we waited on a bus ahead of us to make the turn at what is called Devil’s Elbow:
It's hard to really picture how 'interesting' this highway is.  Here's a couple views of the road:
This doesn't quite show that half-mile gorge just over the edge.  But we made it just fine.  Along the way, we found various wildlife--at least Erick would spot birds, everyone else would be dazzled, but I pretty much never can spot the birds.  I did see the "laughing falcon" perched by himself on a tall dead bare tree, but got only a very blurry photo.  And I could see this toucan, color-coded for the bird-challenged:
 And I can spot the 3-foot iguanas curled up in this tree or that (this at a car-stop that uses the iguanas to draw folks in for ice cream and souvenirs):
later, bob

Headed toward lunch

For 12-27-11  Headed toward lunch

More country-travel...
A strawberry stand (a local specialty)...
And a typical lunch—rice, beans, carne o pollo, a fried ball of yucca, a chunk of baked, sugared plantain, some perhaps chunks of potato, and a bit of salad...un casado con carne (o pollo):
later, bob
Subscribe to our feed