Quepos

20170413_141329.jpgSo after La Fortuna we headed down to Quepos on the Pacific Coast. Since we didn’t have a lot of time, we decided to take a flight on Nature Air– a 25 minute flight to the Pacific Coast. The Arenal airport just outside of la Fortuna is super tiny – washrooms, a bar (that was closed when we were there) and two check-in desks for the two airlines that use the airport. Super easy to check-in and impossible to get lost. The 19-seat planes are as comfortable as you can expect – no a/c and not much airflow, but the air does get cooler the higher you are, so I didn’t find it too bad. (Fiancé may disagree)

Once in Quepos, we got a shared shuttle to Playa Espadilla, the beach area where our hotels (more on that in a minute) were located. Super each, about $20US total.

So, hotels. The hotel we wanted to stay in only had availability for the last three days of our planned stay, so we booked two nights at Vela Bar. Nice place, but we were a little taken aback by our room, which was one of the non-newly renovated rooms. (It turns out the room was great – although it didn’t lock very well, we had a small sitting room type area, with no a/c, and our bedroom, which did have a/c was up a short flight of stairs, a room large enough for a door to open, a double bed, and a night-stand.) The room had two patios – one off the bedroom at the back, and one at the front.

One evening, while having a beer on the front patio, reading our books, a small cat ran up the stairs and sat on the far end of the patio….viciously “playing” with a mouse. He came over for pets and cuddles afterwards. We didn’t realize that he wasn’t actually playing with the mouse, but having his dinner, until the next morning.

Our other hotel, La Posada, was right on the edge of Manuel Antonio Park. This room was much more modern, but larger so the a/c had to work to keep it cool and less humid. One of the bonuses of being on the edge of the park, besides easy access, was that occasionally wildlife would come to visit, like this deer that wandered around the fence.20170416_155039

Our first day we spent at the public beach – you can rent chairs and umbrellas for about $10US for a full day – you can leave your towels to go get food at one of the restaurants that line the street, and the people who rent the chairs will watch them for you. We arrived on a Friday (Good Friday in fact) and it was incredibly busy, the beach was packed. Lots of options of things to do – they had parasailing, surfing lessons, boogie boards to rent, or just play in the waves (our option). Lots of people hawking wares, but a simple “Non, gracias” and they would wander on to the next umbrella.

We decided to spend a day in Manuel Antonio Park, relaxing on one of the relatively secluded beaches in the park. After the security check point, where they look for contraband (such as alcohol and chips) we headed along the dirt road, past groups and guides. These guides, with their telescopes to spot hidden animals in the canopy, can be hired just outside the gates. We decided to verge off the dirt road and onto a wooden boardwalk that had been built through the forest, paralleling the road.20170416_085854

We decided not to hire a guide, as our focus was more on the beaches inside the park. We headed to Espadilla Sur. As you follow the path, you come across a long arc of a beach, that quickly fills up as people arrive. This is also prime monkey spotting territory, as the monkeys gather in the trees nearby. If you keep walking, however, you reach a slightly more secluded beach – which is where we decided to set up. The waves here are slightly larger and slightly more powerful, which was great for us.

While in the park, we did manage to catch glimpses of some wildlife – besides the lizards and monkeys, we also saw raccoons (who knew Costa Rica had raccoons?!?) and a coati-mundi. We found out afterwards that this is a great place for spotting sloths – it may well be worth it to hire a guide and wander through the trails to see the wildlife of Costa Rica.

The night walk we booked ended up being far better than the one we had done in La Fortuna. It ended up being just ourselves and another guy from Edmonton (Canadians unite!). We driven just outside of town, and along a bumpy road, then dropped off with our guide. We ended up finding quite an array of animals – a kinkajou running through the canopy, monkeys, opossums, scorpions, moths, spiders, and a wide variety of lizards. Incidentally, scorpions under UV lights are incredible. We walked for about 2 hours, at a fairly slow pace (obviously) stopping frequently to see whatever the guide had found. And yet, about 20 minutes in, we were all dripping in sweat. It was that humid.

Our last full day we signed up to do a catamaran tour. Which ok, I had to talk Fiancé into, because yeah it sounds boring. But! It included snorkelling time, which I thought would be well worth the boat cruise aspect of it.

So we headed out on the catamaran tour, with a brief stop at Manuel Antonio park (just off of Playa Espadilla Sur, where we had spent the day before), then off to find dolphins – watching them play in the waves at the bow of the boat. Then it was time to snorkel – we probably spent about a half hour to 45 minutes in the water, watching the fish swim around the rocks, and trying desperately not to be dashed upon them. (the current was a little bit strong).

20170417_105707

After our snorkelling excursion, it was back onto the boat for some lunch, and to terrify ourselves on the slide at the back. The slid had a near vertical drop, and you were instructed to put one hand on the back of your head, the other holding your nose, and to cross your legs….before they pushed you down, and you went skidding across the water like a human-sized, very heavy, pebble. We could also jump off the roof of the catamaran into the water below – this being only slightly less terrifying than the slide.

After our boating excursion, we had the driver drop us off at El Avion a restaurant/bar situated in and around a C-123 Fairchild cargo plane. The restaurant has an excellent view over the Pacific Ocean, and we had been planning to come for lunch or dinner during our stay. Somewhat unluckily it did end up raining while we were there, so our views weren’t as fantastic as they could have been, but the canopies hanging over the edge of the roof kept us dry, and the food wasn’t bad.

20170417_165403

 

Advertisements

Nature Lover’s Paradise – La Fortuna, Costa Rica

This Easter, after a not too terrible winter, we flew to Costa Rica for nearly 2 weeks of rest, relaxation….and some mildly strenuous activities.

We started off our trip in La Fortuna, a small town near the base of Arenal Volcano. Our hotel, Volcano Lodge and Springs, was about 6 km outside of town. We made the mistake on our second day of trying to walk into town – I suppose if the weather had been milder, it would have been fine, but as it was it was hot and the sun was merciless. There wasn’t near as much cover as we had planned on, so we arrived in town sore, sunburnt and exhausted. If you’re staying at any of the hotels along the road leading outside of town, definitely get a cab if you’re planning to visit the town itself.

Our first day we had booked a 3-in-1 tour with Anywhere.com– visiting a park with hanging bridges, a waterfall, as well as a volcano hike. (There is a 4-in-1 option that includes a soak at hot springs afterwards, but since our hotel had hot springs, we opted not to do that tour.) We were picked up on time (bonus!) and on the way to the Mistico Park our guide and driver suddenly stopped. There were two toucans on trees near the road, so we all trooped out of the van to peer through telescopes at the birds.

These telescopes are a routine sight in Costa Rica, as most guides carry them to help you see animals that may not be that close. Interestingly, most guides are also adept at lining up cellphone cameras with the lens of the telescope to take pictures!

Once at the park, we split into two groups – one with the families with kids, and one with the couples (a mixed group ranging in age from late 20s to late 40s). As we walked through the park, we would stop periodically to see various animals – snakes, frogs, sloths, monkeys. The park has 16 bridges, 6 of which as hanging bridges at various lengths and heights. As someone who’s nervous about heights, I did have a few moments on the first few bridges, but quickly adapted to them with no trouble.

After the nature walk at the park, we headed to the La Fortuna Waterfall. With 500 steps leading down to the waterfall, it’s not exactly accessible for people with limited mobility. (And climbing back up the steps is exhausting). At the bottom of the stairs is a small flat area with a few benches – on one side is a calm river where kids can splash around, on the other is a pool at the base of the waterfall, where those of sturdier fare can swim. The force of the water hitting the pool, plus any wind, does create a bit of a current that will try to push you towards the rocky shore. (I should note that at the entrance to the waterfall is a small shop, along with washrooms that you can get changed in.)

From there we headed back towards the volcano for a short hike up a small ridge to get a better view of the volcano. First we had a brief history of recent eruptions, and how the volcano came to the shape that it is today, and then we set off for a short 20 minute hike. The hike itself isn’t too strenuous, although there is one steep section near the top.

Our last day in La Fortuna we booked a stand-up paddle (SUP) boarding excursion on Arenal Lake. The company provided life jackets as well as the board, and drinks and fruit at the end of the paddling. We were guided around the edge of the lake, paddling for about one and half hours, before stopping and loading our boards onto the boat following us, getting to enjoy some fresh fruit and a beer, before heading back to the launching point.

That evening we went to the nearby nature reserve –Arenal Natura Ecological Park – for a night walk. While we didn’t see any mammals, or snakes, we did see a plethora of frogs, some caimans, and crocodiles. The tour itself was about 2 hours, and not very strenuous. We were in a small group with several children – I think I would have preferred if they had split up the group into families/non-families, as a lot of time was spent trying to get the kids to a) let everyone have a turn to see (insert animal here), b) keep their flashlights down and not in people’s eyes, and c) behind the guide and not out in front.

Monteverde’s Green Mountains

My first stop in Costa Rica was Monteverde, a wonderful area of coffee plantations, zip line adventure companies, ecological preserves, rainforest and the worst roads you’ve ever had the mis/fortune to ride on.  The slash there in case you’re a fan of bumping over potholes that could swallow most small cars.

Getting to Monteverde from Liberia is a bit of an exercise in patience and, as we found out, miming.  You see, to take a bus to Monteverde you need to:

  • In Liberia, catch a bus to Canas
  • In Canas, catch a difference bus to Tilaran.
  • In Tilaran, catch a third bus to Monteverde.  That runs once a day, at 2:45 (according to the schedule we were given.)

That’s pretty much an entire day of being on and off buses.  So when we were approached by a man offering a ride to Tilaran for $60, we…realized he didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak Spanish.  Much miming and broken sentences in both languages later, we offered $50, and off we went.  We arrived in Tilaran around 9:30, and were again approached by a different man, who offered us a ride to Monteverde for $70.  Again, we found ourselves awkwardly debating the price, and finally we all agreed on (and understood) $60.  So we piled in his car, started off…..and he asked if he could bring his wife.  Turns out, I think (remember, I don’t speak Spanish) he and his wife are from Monteverde and they were going to use the day to visit their family.

Did we get taken?  Most likely.  We could probably have talked both men down more, but honestly….we were tired, and we had the money.

Arriving in Monteverde, we found our hostel, and booked a coffee plantation tour at El Trapiche  – where they grow not only coffee, but also bananas, plantains, sugar cane and pineapples. 

We toured through the bananas and plantains, and then headed into the sugar cane, before getting to the good stuff.  The coffee.  Seeing it in all its stages – how it’s grown, dried, the bean separated from the kernel, and then roasted, was incredibly interesting. 

The next day, we headed out to Extremo Park to do a little zip lining.  There are multiple zip line companies in Monteverde, and I think most of them are fairly similar.  Extremo offered a 1km long “superman” zip line – where you fly like superman from one mountain top to another.  It’s a fairly bare bones operation, in that it’s only zip lines (with one 55m repel, and a tarzan swing) and no canopy tour or suspension bridges, which some of the other companies do offer.  While it is bare bones, it doesn’t scimp on safety.

Our final day in Monteverde, we hit the Trainforest (great for kids!), the Serpentarium, and the Ranario butterfly garden and frog pond.  (Although, it’s not really a pond, more of a small frog zoo.)  That evening, we did a night walk in one of the ecological parks near the town.  While we didn’t get to see many  mammals (other than a coati), we did get to view several bird species, and a tarantula.

Monteverde is a beautiful area in Costa Rica.  As it is in the clouds, there is occasionally a fine mist in the air.  Blue blue skies above you, a warm mist around, and suddenly…..one of the most vibrate rainbows you’ve ever seen.  Who could pass up a chance to see that?!

Playa Grande Played Me (or How I Learned to Surf)

I grew up in a small town in a large province very far away from any ocean.  Two days driving in one direction would get me to the Atlantic.  Four days driving in the opposite would get me to the Pacific.  However, I did grow up surrounded by water.  Rivers, lakes, puddles, ponds, pools….swimming, canoeing or just playing around.  I love water, and every time I hit an ocean I’m reminded again of just how much.

While in Costa Rica, I decided that I needed to take a surfing lesson.  I had wanted to in Hawaii, but didn’t find the time.  There would be no excuses this time.  I contacted Point Break Surf and booked a lesson for January 2.

There were two other women 9sisters from LA) taking lessons with me.  We started with a how-to demonstration on land – how to paddle, how to stand, how to stay safe.  Afterwards we hiked our boards down the beach to an empty stretch where we wouldn’t hit the real surfers with our beginner bumblings.

The first time on the board in the water, we just body-surfed the board to the beach.  The second time, we rode it on our knees.  On the third try, we were to try to stand up.  Standing up proved not to be the problem for me – staying standing is where I needed to put in a little practice.  The next try, though, I managed to ride the bunny-wave (borrowing some ski terminology here) to the shore.

We were just riding the white water – small waves that wouldn’t prove too much for our meager abilities.  Hey, everyone has to start somewhere right?  Gotta learn to stand before you can ride.

I did not too bad – every other wave I fell off, true, but I rode as many as I floundered.  It’s a learning curve – learning when to start standing, learning how fast (or slow) to do the litany of steps towards standing (ok, so….on my knees like a table, check.  One foot between hands, check.  Start standing and turn body, check.  Eyes on the beach!  check.  Knees bent, check.) But I (somehow, someway) managed to stand on a few waves.

A quick break for water that wasn’t salty, and a new application of sunscreen, and we were back in the water.  I was given a different board – one that was a little more stable than the others.  I got to ride two or three waves when suddenly, I pearled.  (That is to stay, I dived nicely off the front of the board, as if I were diving for perals).  The board flew out behind me, and I hit the water, with a sharp pain hitting my knee.  I looked down, and it turns out I had gashed it pretty good.

The new board had a mount in it for a camera, and that mount hit my knee, cutting it pretty good.  I was lucky – my instructor, Matt, was cool and calm.  He grabbed his med kit, bandaged up my knee, and took me straight to his doctor.  She took a look at my leg, and set to fixing me up.

6 stitches later, Matt drove me back to my hotel, and made sure that I was ok and didn’t need anything.  I’m a little bummed that I didn’t get to surf more.  I had a fantastic time, and Matt was a great instructor.  It’s definitely something that I’ll be doing again, regardless of the accident. 

Once my leg heals up, I’m getting “Playa Grande, Costa Rica” tattooed around the scar.  It’s an awesome souvenir!

Taking the Cost-a outta Rica

<!–[if !mso]> st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

Things have been percolating on the travel front, as well as the couchsurfing front, so expect to see a ramp up in posts.  I don’t want to blog about two unrelated topics in one post, so I’ve decided to hold off on my couchsurfing post for now.  While I’ve hosted my first couchsurfer (hint: it went well), my second arrives in about two weeks, so I’ll wait to blog about that until after he’s left.
This post is all about Costa Rica.  After much debating, googling, and price hunting, my friend Jason and I found a return flight to Liberia, Costa Rica for $850CND, tax included.  This is pretty phenomenal.  We leave Ottawa on December 27, and return on January 5.  I’m pretty stoked to ring in the 2012 somewhere in Costa Rica – maybe on a beach, maybe in a cloud forest, who knows?  All I do know is there won’t be snow involved.
We found the flights on the Travel Cuts website.  We have a bit of a circular route – we fly to Newark, then transfer to a flight to Houston, then a flight to Liberia.  On our way home, we fly Liberia-Houston-Chicago-Ottawa.  Our layovers are generally 2 to 3 hours, so all luggage should make the transfers as well; and we won’t get caught up in any border delays.
I know I said I wanted to go to the Canary Islands – and I do – but this price was just too good to pass up.  Assuming La Palma doesn’t slide into the ocean and cause a mega-tsunami, I can always go at a later date.  There were a few signs (or omens) that kept popping up for Costa Rica.  While looking at sleeping bags at MEC, there was a Costa Rica guide book left on a table.  Reading an online newspaper, I noticed the travel section was devoted to Costa Rica.  A friend mentioned that they were going to Costa Rica next year. Ok, so only three signs popped up, but it did seem a little serendipitous. 
Nothing besides the flight has been planned.  We do know that we’re going to be staying mostly in the north-western part of the country – hiking Arenal volcano, zipling in Monteverde and the cloud forest, scuba diving/snorkling/surfing/relaxing on the Pacific coast.  I’m also hoping to couchsurf at least one night in Costa Rica to experience it from the surfer end.  
The friend I’m travelling with is a scuba diver.  I’ve never been certified – I’ve never been anywhere where it was needed – and I’ve been looking into it here in Ottawa.  There’s one spot, within a half hour bus ride from my place, that offers an Open Water course starting in October, for $300.  The only problem right now is that the course is once a week, for 5 weeks, and ends at 11:30 pm.  I’m up at 5:30 am during the week for work.  That is not good math.  But I’ll continue to look into it.