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).

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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.

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Monkeying Around at Monkey Land

One thing I’ll give resorts is that they’re a lot like hostels, in that people talk to one another more than they do at hotels. You sit down in the lobby to check wifi, you start chatting. You sit down at lunch, you start staring at the crowing peacocks, look over at the person at the next table, and start talking. You go to the beach bar for a nightcap, and you…well if you’re me, you try to read a book, but people start talking to you.

Which is how we ended up chatting with people at a bar one night (they flagged us down to ask if we were from Holland. Which we’re not, for the record.)

They had booked a tour to Monkey Land before leaving home, and told us a bit about it. You hold a small bowl of food, and the monkeys come over and climb over you, jump on you, and just generally have a lot of fun playing around. This was about all the information we got – they weren’t even sure at that point what the name was – they thought it was on an island, in fact. So the next day we googled ‘monkey excursion punta cana’ and…voila. Monkey Land.

We booked online, and had no way to print the paypal receipt, but I screenshot the email, and that’s what we used when we were picked up. We had no problem with not having a paper receipt.

Runners Adventures picks you up in a new, well taken care of vehicle, and drives you to a meeting point (which happened to be just across from the dune buggies). From there, people climb into the correct vehicle (I guess occasionally, they have different vehicles pick up people from resorts in other locations) and off you go. The road at first is smooth, but eventually we pulled off onto a very bumpy back road.

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Through the mountain pass to Monkey Land we go

From there, we wound our way through the mountains, before stopping at another typical house. Unlike our tour with the dune buggies, this one was more informative, with information on growing, harvesting, and roasting both coffee and cacao. Then it was another sales pitch and sample of the coffee and hot chocolate, before we were on our way again to Monkey Land.

At Monkey Land we were given a short “do’s and don’ts” list – don’t panic, don’t pet the monkeys, do allow them to use you as a climbing post, and then we headed into the monkeys’ enclosure.

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The enclosure walls

The enclosure is pretty huge – the monkeys have more than ample room to play, run around, and live. There are sides, but no ceiling/roof, and there is plenty of vegetation. The monkeys are squirrel monkeys – they’re pretty small, about 2lbs full grown, so when they jump on you, you’re aware of it, but it doesn’t knock you over. They were even-tempered, playful, and very interested in our food bowls.

Once inside, we were handed a small metal bowl filled with peanuts, cucumber, bananas, melons, apples…lots of different fruit. We were lined up again a railing, underneath a tree, and the monkeys ran over to pick through our bowls for whatever treat they wanted. They climbed over us, stood on us, jumped on us…and it was the cutest thing ever.

After  a few minutes, we walked down to a scenic lookout for photos, and more monkey mugging, and then around to a massive tree that the monkeys sleep in.  Again, we were lined up for the monkeys to climb over, and after that it was back out of the enclosure.

All in all, we spent about a half hour in the enclosure, asking our guide a few questions, taking pictures, and getting lots of monkey loving.

Dominican (Republic) Drift

It’s 7 am, I’m on vacation, and yet I’m up. Two of these things don’t go together.

But I get to drive a dune buggy (or boogie, as they insist on spelling it) today, so I’ll make the sacrifice.

We had booked the tour through our travel agent at home, hoping to have things paid upfront before our vacation, so we didn’t have to think too much about money while we were away. This was advertized as a dune buggy tour, with a visit to a typical house, and then a swim in a cenote. The Fiancé wanted to do the dune buggies, I wanted the cenote swim, it seemed a great compromise.

(After a quick google, I found out that cenotes are natural sinkholes filled with water.)

So at 8 am, we’re eating breakfast in the buffet, sucking back coffee because somehow we need to function, and coffee seems the best way to make that happen.  At 8:30 we head to reception, the pick up point, for our 9 am pick up. (It takes about 10 minutes to get from the buffet to reception.) We avail ourselves of the free wifi, and move to the entrance, waiting on the benches that line the walkway.

And we wait and we wait.

And then we wait some more, because maybe it’s (fill in name of country here) time. Our travels have taught us one very important factor: Most places have a very fluid sense of time, and a (insert time here) meeting could be 20 to 30 minutes later. We’re not rushed, we’ve got time, and we figure they won’t start without us.

Only they will, because they don’t pick us up.

And this begins a long journey of phone tag, frustration, and at least one middle finger directed to yours truly.

We email our travel agent at home about the problem, then we ask at reception to use the phone and call the (local) company. The woman at reception responds with a “I’m just scratching my face” middle finger, but nonetheless calls the company. The company informs me that a) I should have called at least 48 hours before to reconfirm (never mind that my voucher says ‘confirmed’ and we called 6 days ago to confirm) and b) I should have talked to their (non-existent) on-site representative, but not to worry! She would call me in my room in 5 minutes.

To save you the problem of reading the next two hours of back and forths between us and our travel agent, suffice to say that we didn’t get the call, we did get frustrated, and we insisted on a refund before heading to the beach, where there were no sun loungers left. (It was an all around frustrating day).

But we did get a call from the (apparently existent) on-site rep, who offered a tour the next day in place of the missed one. This time pick up would be 8 am. We decided to give it a go instead of fighting for a refund, so we agreed.

So here I am at 6:30 am, blurry eyed, trying to find someone with coffee in the buffet.

After that, it was back to reception, waiting again, and with relief a pick up by Punta Cana Boogies. We ride in the bumpy transfer vehicle to their headquarters, where we are given a quick run down of safety procedures, and needed equipment (something to cover your nose, as it is dusty, and helmets), and sign our waivers. Then we pick our helmets (in my case a bicycle helmet) and our vehicles, we put on our safety belts, and then….we wait.

Once everyone is ready to go, we head out of the parking lot, through a puddle (soaking everything we have with us) and down the bumpy, uneven back road.

Staff has blocked off any cross streets, allowing us to go through without fear of being smacked by wayward truck, or of getting lost. We head up a hill, down a hill (gathering speed at an alarming rate) and then around a bend to a beach.

Where people are surfing, and NO ONE TOLD ME I COULD SURF. I totally would have picked that as my excursion had I known. But alas, I didn’t, so I get to watch people surf and try to head off all the peddlers who want me to buy stuff. (Apparently my ‘Non, gracias’ isn’t enough, and they look at The Fiancé for confirmation.)

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Surfers waiting for the perfect wave

After the beach, we drive back past the headquarters, to a typical house, hitting more puddles (and cow patties, that splatter all over my hands). We’re given a quick briefing on growing coffee, before they give us the sales spiel. However, we love coffee, so we buy a coffee package, before wandering around the building while others barter and check out the cigar rolling.

Then it’s on to the cenote. It’s a quick 5 minute drive from the house. We pull up in a double line, jump out, and head towards the cenote. And are promptly disappointed. It,s not a ‘swim’ as advertized, rather it’s a ‘line up with others, quickly strip, jump in, and quickly get out for the next person in line.’ The jump isn’t far – about 3 to 5 feet down to the water, and fairly safe; while there are rocks, it’s easy to jump just past them to the deeper water. It wasn’t very cold – more like an Ontarian lake in June, fresh and cool, but not a shocking jump right back out again cold.

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Blurry cenote visit – we were rushed down, in, and out

After our dip (jump?) in the cenote, we dry off (always bring your own towel! Douglas Adams had it right), and it’s back into the dune buggies to drive (past the typical house) to the headquarters, where we mingle around while they try to peddle DVDs of pictures, soft drinks, and ice cream, before heading back to the resort.

All in all – lots of fun. Dune buggies are fun to drive, cenotes are fun to jump in, and it’s a good morning out. But it’s definitely a dune buggy tour with a cenote tacked on.