Monday, January 9, 2012

Beach and Coffee fun

After the long and exciting festivities of New Year's, it took me a while to recollect the last two days of our Costa Rican journey. They consisted primarily of Manuel Antonio Natural Beach Park on Sunday and the Britt Coffee Plantation on Monday.

The majority of our group spent Sunday at the beach, which when full to capacity will actually close. Interesting. Erick gave us each the opportunity to either go on a nature walk with him or spend five glorious hours on the beach. I believe most stayed on the beach. The only advice Erick gave us was to stay away from the poisonous Manzanillo Tree and the thieving raccoon's that like to feast on tourists sandwiches. It's true, it happened.

Many thanks to Bobbie for letting me steal this picture off of Facebook.

This is how Steve spent his time at the beach!

Monday was the exclusive, 'Coffee day,' at the Britt Coffee Plantation, where they give regular tours to coffee addicted people daily. The guides walked us through the unique harvesting, roasting and tasting process. I never expected to learn so much about coffee in my life. We each got to taste, 'but not eat,' a raw coffee bean. This wasn't the highlight though, our local celebrity, Bob got to be put in the spotlight at the end of the tasting tour!!

That's pretty much the last of the major trips that we all had together as a group. Tuesday was a tough day with all the sad good-byes and even sadder plane delays...and airport food....

But it was totally worth it!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

We had various celebrations,

around the hotel pool, some out for dancing, some of us walking through the happy town along the main strip, but many of us finally gathered for the main event on the beach.  There were dazzling fireworks...

along with that spot of floating light in the left corner, a burning hot air balloon, soaring off over the ocean, and more explosions all along the beach...

This was the most dramatic fireworks I've ever seen in person, partly because the ones from our part of the beach were being launched from 15 foot away, straight up, and we could feel bits of ash and paper rain down on us.  Well, us, and the several thousand people there on the beach.

It took awhile, but they finally got our bonfire going...

and we met up with the dance-crowd...

and eventually back to the hotel (50' away) for a relaxing wind down.  A good start for the new year.

later, bob

Jungle Crocodile Safari

The highlight of the morning was this boat tour, the Jungle Crocodile Safari.  Three main features--the boat ride on the Tarcoles River, birds in abundance, and crocodiles.

Not a minute out, we spotted a young croc sunning on a log, and we all took way too many pictures there.  The main show was when the boat captain, Santiago, spotted a sandbank with a small croc, beached us, and hopped out of the feed the croc a chunk of chicken.

We identified quite a few birds all along the way, though I seldom managed a good photo.

But quickly, Santiage found another muddy piece of bank, and jumped out to put on a show with a rather bigger, pregnant female crocodile.

And off again, with us amazed he still had his hand.  Here's what the whole area looks like:

Not much further on, we found a herd of cattle coming to the river for water. Erick had told us that only the day before, the oldest, largest croc, knicknamed "Osama" (because he hides well), had taken a cow.  Unlike wolves around Yellowstone, or mountain lions in Missouri, there is no revenge for the farmer--all wild animals are protected.  Period.  Costa Rica sees the wildlife and ecotourism as its true future.  So here we have an encounter between an ambitious young croc and the herd's bull, who kept a close eye on it, and seemed ready to stare it down.  (How much bull does it take to make a crocodile blink?)

Oh, and another bird...yellow-headed something, that seemed interested in the next show...

The next show being Santiago trying to rouse Osama...

by lifting his tail, and then pulling the sleepy croc off his muddy cushion.  They seem to have a nice relationship...

But the food is what matters...

Santiago got several rounds of applause during the trip.

Let's see...another bird...
And we spun around into the mangroves, the strange-rooted trees that thrive in brackish water, and provide a haven for quite a few species.  While there, we caught the briefest glimpse of a red macaw--really only because its bright red flashes out through the leaves.

A good tour.  Erick did comment on the tires and trash in the river, caused by dumping for miles upstream.  He says a group is working to clean up the river.  Maybe they should consult with Missouri River Relief, which does a great job back home.

Oh, I skimped on the birds, but Erick had given us a chart, and called out birds by number.  Here's the chart, with most of what we saw circled:

later, bob

The Road to Rio Tarcoles

We left Monteverde and headed for toward the Pacific.  There were some steep overhangs with the bus, but not as rough as getting there.  Nice views...

More of the simple mountain-country life...

We had one stop along the way, a non-descript gas station.  I didn't even buy postcards, though I got a shot of expresso to add into the Imperial mug some folks got to help me through these deadly 90-minute coffee deserts.  Here, by the way, is our group bus...

We passed Puntarenas--Erick talked about the "entrance," as if these were a small peninsula, though it seems to also be a province (?).  A quick glimpse of the jail in passing (none of us has yet needed to visit)...

and then reached our destination, on the steamy, lowland estuary of the Rio Tarcoles.  A big adventure ahead, a whole separate post.  Meanwhile, here's a bit of the gift shop--the carvings that are omnipresent in Costa Rica.  I still haven't asked Erick whether we do good (economy) or harm (ecology) buying these gaudy hardwood handicrafts.

(And I still haven't seen a sloth this trip.  That may have to come on another visit.)

later, bob


The town, actually Santa Elena, was started in the 1950s by an American Quaker community (probably, I'd guess, attracted by the 1948 abolition of the military in Costa Rica).  They focused on dairy farming, and there's still good ice cream and cheese here.

But today, the town thrives mostly on tourism.  It's pretty much a backpacker haven...

Has lots of nice, cheap food shops, like this panaderia (bakery)...

where several of us, getting back too late from the Hanging Bridges to do the Night Walk, sampled a guave pastry, strawberry and pineapple struddle, and a sort of corn meal pudding, the texture of flan without the sauce. 

We also tried the ice cream--Cindy has the orange-pineapple, Fr and I the soursop, and Steve the macadamia.  All good.

And we did a tourist visit to the Tree House Restaurant, built around a still living tree.

later, bob

Activities in Monteverde

Monteverde is a place for lots of adventures.  On 12-30, the group got up and went to the zip lines.  Later through the day, some went horseback riding, got to various museums (hummingbirds, insects, perhaps reptiles), a Night Walk through the forest, and I went with a small group to the Hanging Bridges--another nature walk, from a slightly different perspective. 

The twenty minute drive was a thrill ride in itself--Steve compared it to the Screaming Eagle.  Nothing treacherous, just the effect of the Monteverde roads.  (Erick reports that there used to be a popular t-shirt: "I survived the roads in Monteverde."  The roads haven't improved, but the t-shirt didn't survive.)

Our guide started with specific rules:  "don't die, don't get lost." 
However, it took only 10 minutes for the German couple on this tour to get lost.  They would have prefered the tour in Spanish, but alas, they were outnumbered, 6 to 2.
We learned more about cloud forest processes--that there aren't that many flowers, and that when plants do bloom, they prefer the dry season, since more pollinators are out.  Speaking of pollinators, our guide (no idea what his name is) told us that bright flowers, esp. the red, or orange, or pink, are usually for birds, who have no sense of "aroma" (smell); scents are for insects.

Fig trees are common here, where again they get the bad rap of killing the trees they climb around.  But certainly bizarre shapes...

At a cut rubber tree, we find out that rings aren't a way to tell age in the tropics--there aren't the same seasonal shifts and spurts of growth that mark off years.

We learn that monkeys get the same mosquito-borne diseases that humans do, such as malaria and yellow fever (oops, forgot to take my malaria pill last night--though doubt I need it--only one mosquito bite this whole trip so far), so they use various pungent leaves to keep the bugs off.

Our guide did know where one big tarantula lives, so he prodded it to come out for a photo op (but I never got a clear shot).  And we saw some hummingbirds at a feeder.

The big end thing was the chance to climb up through the hollow inside of an old ficus tree...

And here's one flower...

later, bob
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