Costa Rica Trip Log, January 2013
A trip log by Mark R. Leeper
We took the Caravan Tour of Costa Rica. Caravan seems to have a special relationship with Costa Rica. This was the first tour the company ever offered. And all over you see places where it might be hard to walk you see handrails that say Caravan Travel provided them.
Oddly the tour is a winner two ways. The price of the tour is very reasonable for what you get and the accommodations are all just about top flight.
At this writing we have stayed in four hotels. One was in a rain forest that had beautiful foliage and monkey and sloths in the trees. That was the least comfortable place to stay. The other three were quite fancy hotels with beautiful decoration. The one we are currently in is a five-star hotel. This is a ten-day tour and I suspect you would pay more on your own just to stay in the hotels. This tour includes all meals. We never had to buy a meal. With the exception of maybe two meals every meal was a buffet. The food was for the most part good, and that is as much as you can hope for on a buffet table.
It may not be the best tour of the country. Our Tour Director, age 21, has been guiding tours for only a year. That must be five or six tours. Her knowledge seems just OK. At sites she does not take us in but sends us in. We pass other tour groups whose leader is explaining the site, but we are sent in to glean what knowledge we can. The director is quite personable, but just does not impart sufficient knowledge to make this a real learning experience. Some of the tour sites turn out to be just ads. The pineapple plantation tour is not a tour but a one-man show promotion for Costa Rican pineapples. But at least it was on a pineapple plantation even if we did not tour it. The coffee plantation tour was a two-man education and comedy show, nicely done, but not even on a plantation. It was a promotion for Brit Coffee. The Sea Turtle Conservancy was actually at the Sea Turtle Conservancy, but they had nothing to show us but a film. And that came down to an appeal.
Of course the heart of the tour were the wildlife cruises. The animals we were looking for were smaller than the ones in Africa and harder to make out. I have a particular problem in following other people's descriptions of where to look to see an animal.
At something like $1400/person the tour is a great deal if not the ideal tour.
I guess the first day going to a new country is always the best and worst. You are exhilarated at going to a new place you have to get to the airport, pass security. Even with a LONG to-do list I am always afraid you have forgotten your passport or some such other stupid action. I seem to delight in torturing myself against my conscious will.
Our plane is at 9 AM so we wanted to get to the airport at 6 AM. That meant leaving the house at 5:30. I set my alarm for 4:15, but woke at 4. I had a long checklist of pre-trip action items like putting the lamp on a timer and turning off the icemaker. I still was ready to go at least 20 minutes early. Breakfast was a tuna sub, left over from three days before. A sub shop wrapped it. It was fast, filling, and it left no dishes to clean. I have to remember that for future trips.
On the shuttle we talked to a couple going to Cabo, Mexico. It sounds like a nice place to visit.
At the airport there was a fast like no check our luggage and a slow line for security. The only problem I had was a piece of candy in my pocket had to be investigated. I assume it was the candy. I think some tart candies are electrical conductors. I know this on the basis of one incident. At one point I had a Jolly Rancher in the same pocket as a 9-volt battery. I noticed at some point that the pocket was getting hot. It seems a candy had come in contact with both leads and right through the wrapper it shorted the battery.
Our gate always seems to be the furthest out. I got a good chance to try my new camera. I got a great picture of the sun rising over an airplane in foreground and the New York skyline in the back. My camera, a Lumix, looks to be a good camera, but it is really tough to remember where in the menus to find a given feature. My last camera I knew how to get to all the useful features and was a lot more self-explanatory. Evelyn is taking my old camera and I have to remind her to set the time and date on it.
Waiting to board the plane we met Chris and Harry, also on the Caravan Tour. They are from the north part of Philadelphia. They have done a lot of travel in the US, but they did not mention much foreign travel. Almost everyone on the plane seems to be speaking English, but there are a few Spanish speakers. The guy sitting at the window seat took a picture of the people coming down the aisle. I offered to take his picture, but he did not understand. I gestured me-photo-snap-you. He thanked me but said no.
We got new luggage for this trip and just a light touch pushes it in any direction with grocery cart type 360-degree wheels. It is amazing to have to hold it back. Rather than having to drag it I had to grab it when on the jet way it started moving to the plane by itself. Usually I have to carry my luggage kicking and screaming.
It does not look like there will be many empty seats. Nope.
This should be a shorter flight for us. I think it will be about five and a half hours.
We are flying on United. Each seat has a TV embedded in its back. It is running ads as soon as you sit down. Then they interrupt it asking you to watch a safety message. You are a captive audience. But do they put on a safety message? Not before they put on an ad for United that you are forced to watch.
When they started putting individual TV screens on seatbacks I knew where it was going to lead. You have a choice of paying to watch a movie or you sit through the whole flight with repetitious advertising six inches from your face. It does not make any sense. If I could afford to stay in a fancy resort like they advertise, would I be flying coach? We are all in tight little seats. Being on the aisle I has had to get up and make way when one of the two others in my bank of seats gets up. Takes a long time to unbuckle and put up tray table, etc. Air travel is just not fun any more.
We got a meal out of it. It was sort of an omelet in a pita with optional Cholula sauce. I have never seen hot sauce on an airplane before. It is a welcome sight. The woman sitting next to Evelyn did not want hers so I got a can of tomato juice and added sauce to make it spicy.
I am listening on my iPod to a radio adaptation of TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE with Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston. I think the third voice is Frank Lovejoy. Good cast. I guess that is my own in-flight movie. One complaint, they left out the Federales sequence. I guess nobody could do a good enough Alfonso Bedoya impression.
I could not get much impression of the land from the plane since I had an aisle seat and could not see much out the window. When we landed I asked Evelyn, "How did you enjoy your flight and how can I?"
Naturalization and Customs were each fairly easy, but too far apart. In between we had to pick up our suitcase from the luggage carousel. We waited and waited and it did not show up. There were fewer and fewer people standing around the carousel. After standing there about 25 minutes I began to get worried. I told Evelyn to keep watching to see if it came out and walked around the carousel. Apparently our suitcase had come out as one of the first, before we even got there and someone thought it was his, pulled it off the carousel, realized it was not his and just left it sitting on the floor. People can be so thoughtless.
After passing customs we left and our group found us. Actually there was just one other couple who landed at this time, Mek(?) and Sandy, a Canadian couple from Mississauga. The trip to the hotel was a little disheartening. We saw an awful lot of the same restaurant chains we have at home. There was KFC and McDonalds and a bunch of others. We saw little we recognized as distinctively Costa Rican. Globalization has taken its toll of uniquely Costa Rican culture.
We got to the hotel, the Real Intercontinental. The first problem I had to face was how to set up my CPAP. There was one outlet net to the bed on the window wall. But I needed a table to put the CPAP on. I could have used the desk chair, but then we would have no place to sit while working at the computer. There was the usual luggage rack, but the CPAP would fall between the straps. It was a nice little puzzle and I like puzzles. This one had an easy solution. I took a wooden hanger from the closet and placed it on the rack perpendicular to the straps. This proved to be a nice stable base for the CPAP.
This was now about 3:00. We decided we wanted to see something of San Jose so we asked our guide, Fiorella (Fiorella Matarrita), what there was to see in the area. Just the mall across the street. Otherwise there are no interesting sites nearby. OK we went to the mall. It looked a whole lot like a US mall. In the food court I think that 2/3 of the venders were US chains. I think this country is already a lot like another US state. I hope it proves to be wrong.
We stopped at the food court to sample a taco al pastor. It is slivers of meat (beef?) and a chunk of pineapple. This as at one of the more Costa Rican looking stands Fogoncito. And we tried a mango sundae Jr. At the Burger King stand.
The mall was not a good place to learn about the local culture since the mall was a lot like malls in the US. Many of the same shops. Evelyn did find a book with essays by one of her favorite authors Argentinean Jorge Luis Borges. But even the prices were a little more than in the US, but in the same ballpark. The main bill here that people use when they start is the 10,000c bill. That is just about the same as the $20 bill in the US. It is like in the US I pay most of the price of the item in $20 bills and then the rest in small bills or I pay all in 20s and get change.
After the mall we went back to the room to rest. I wrote in my log. I talked with people from Atlanta at dinner. The dinner was a buffet. The food was OK. What I did not like is that as soon as everyone went through the buffet line once the management took it down for fear someone would come back for more. The quality of the food was mediocre.
Now that we have seen our tour mates we realize there are maybe three people younger than us and about 40 people older. Most I would guess are in their 70s.
After the dinner we had a short orientation and introduction to the tour members.
That is about all of interest for the day.
I cannot say I slept well. I was up early and listened to Georgia by Plato, which I had on my iPod.
There was a big buffet layer out which had some Costa Rican dishes in addition to the usual American dishes. I had some meat pie and plantains. There was a good salsa picante, which I had on scrambled eggs. They do a good hot chocolate.
We were on the bus and left about 7:25.
We are on the bus now and the drive will be about two hours.
Costa Rica has 4.3 million people in a country about the size of West Virginia. Biggest industry is tourism. Next is technology.
As we drive the feel of the land becomes more tropical and Hispanic. Fiorella points out a Wal-Mart and a KFC. It is as if she is proud that the country is becoming a lot like America.
Security is a big part of life in Costa Rica. All the windows on the houses have bars and fences and walls have razor wire.
If you have a house you have to fence it in to keep out squatters. If you allow squatters for a certain length of time you lose the right to the land. Even if you fence the land you have bought it goes back to the state if you have not improved the land in a certain length of time. On some (all maybe) houses only go to a certain altitude because everything above is protected state park land.
Fiorella our guide who has a constant smile, also talked about the education system in which everybody gets educated. If someone lives isolated with no neighbors for miles the government will pay to send a tutor.
Fiorella has a thick accent that is often hard to make out. Every once in a while it is a real problem. Sometimes she will say "over there" or "tree grows like this," gesticulating. From the back of the bus it is hard to see it.
As we drive the road gets steeper and our ears crack. We are going up to about 9000 feet. The guide points out the most noticeable plant. It seems to form a flat umbrella shape more than a meter in diameter.
Poas is a volcano with a crater that you can look right down into from an overhanging point. But as even the tour company said that 70% of the time the crater is covered with fog. This was one of the seven in ten. Here was a walk you could take to the crater and one you could take to a lagoon. However both sites were covered with fog and other than some nature along the paths there was not a lot to see.
As we walked along the paths we passed other tour groups for whom the guide was explaining what his group was seeing. Our group was just sent in and told to have a good time.
Lunch was at a bar and restaurant, El Mirador (meaning the lookout). It had a nice view of a valley and a mountain. After that it was about an hour's drive to the Britt coffee plantation tour. The Britt coffee plantation has whole comedy show put together to teach you how coffee is grown, processed, and tested. They have a coffee souvenir shop and a separate coffee shop. What they don't have is a coffee plantation. It was a learning experience, but the whole site was really an enjoyable ad for Britt Coffee. It is kind of a brash idea for an ad. It was fun if not authentic.
On the ride to the hotel we ironed out the details of tomorrow's plans.
Real Intercontinental of San Jose, CR
++ Hotel is run very well. I have no constructive criticism (!).
+ Fancy hotel with nice appointments
+ iPod player in radio
+ Many pillows on the bed
+ Gymnasium, Jacuzzi
+ Bathrobes in bathroom
+ Sumptuous breakfast buffet
+ iPod player in radio in room
+ wide screen high def TV
0 no fridge or microwave
0 $4 for two hours Internet time
0 All cable stations in Spanish or English w/subtitles
Dinner was buffet again. For some reason Evelyn picked a table with a sports discussion going on. I do not follow sports.
Back at the room we purchased two hours of Internet time and took turns reading e-mail. We got a PDF of the manual for my camera. I had one already, but it did not seem to correctly explain my camera. Turns out it was a manual for a DM-ZS7 and my camera is a DM-SZ7. Why do they have two cameras with such similar names?
At breakfast I concentrated on foods we do not get at home: Rice and beans, tortilla, fruit juice and cocoa.
It is a long bus ride to Tortuguero. I cannot always tell what Fiorella is saying. She was telling a story that made no sense about a frock. She continued the story long enough for me to realize it was about a frog, not a frock.
The butterfly garden seems to be a side attraction of a restaurant. They have an indoor garden of plants and trees and they breed a wide variety of butterflies. To get in there are two doorways guarded by girls in animal suits. They greet the visitors, but their real purpose is to make sure the doorways are kept blocked by netting so the butterflies do not escape. We spent about half an hour walking around and getting pictures of butterflies. I think Evelyn is better than I am at this. Maybe I am just critical of my pictures.
After you leave they serve a snack, mostly of fruit and fruit juice. It is a nice break on a day with a lot of travel.
The houses we see are more shack-like with metal roofs. We drive through banana fields with acres of banana trees. There a re lots of the trees since each tree gives only one bunch of bananas. But it is a useful crop since it produces fruit all year around. The banana trees have blue plastic bags placed on them to protect them from insects and weather. To move the picked bunches out they use a sort of rail system to move the big blue bags of banana bunches.
We are also seeing more cattle. While much of the city looked like the US, you can really tell you are in the tropics around here.
After a stop to rest and use restrooms we boarded a boat to take us downstream on the Lucky River. Actually I think it is the Surety but that means lucky. It was on a small boat and we could see on the banks occasional animals. We saw a crocodile and caiman lizard. We saw several egrets and a spider monkey or two. That let to the Penitent River, which is wider and much faster but besides some birds at a distance we saw no animals. This hour or so water trio took us to Pachira Lodge of Tortuguero. This is a lodge accessible only by water near the town of Tortuguero across the river and also accessible only by water. The lodge was carved out of a tropical forest. It is very open. The windows have only screens and various wildlife can be hear or even seen in the trees.
Pachira Lodge of Tortuguero
+ beautiful tropical surroundings, sloth in tree very near our room
0 rustic feel
0 this is to some extent roughing it
- no temperature control beyond ceiling fan
- no shampoo
- electrical outlet not firmly in wall
- bathroom tissue not flushable
- walls very thin, you hear your neighbors very clearly
Once we arrived and were given our orientation talk we took our luggage to the room. We talked about travel at lunch. On the way back to the room a sloth was spotted just feet from our room. Each time we saw the sloth through the day he had climbed higher in the tree. At this point I am wondering if he will still be in the tree tomorrow since he seemed to be on the top limb at dinnertime.
At several of the major tourist attractions: the Poas Volcano, the butterfly garden, and the Tortuguero dock, there are bright yellow railings with stickers that say provided by Caravan Travel. Caravan seems to have a special in with the Costa Rican government. That is a geographically correct statement. It is not like yesterday when we supposedly toured a coffee plantation in a place where there was no plantation. We actually were in the Sea Turtle Conservancy, but only to watch a movie that was a pitch for support for the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
This area is the most important nesting site for green sea turtles. It is not really known why turtles come here and this beach is so important to their reproduction, but that is being studied as well as all aspects of a sea turtle's life. I think they have concluded that geomagnetism plays an important role in turtle navigation. The video gives just basic information. A man named Archie Carr founded the turtle research facility and lobbied for laws to protect the sea turtles. Harvesting was killing off green turtles and Carr got them some legal protection with laws to restrict harvesting and a training program for marine biologists. What is now called the Sea Turtle Conservancy is what they called the "epicenter" of turtle research for the world.
It seems to me we could use a conservancy for a lot of other animal species. From there we walked on the beach the turtles use when the mother lays the eggs and abandons them. There are no turtles this time of year.
Following that we had time for a walk through town. The stores may or may not have been built for tourist trade, but the stock and pricing certainly indicated that this is a town mostly concentrated on the tourists. This is not how to learn about the life of a typical Costa Rican.
One thing I could tell about the tone is that they properly appreciated dogs. There were dogs all over town,, many very likeable.
Evelyn and I shared a coconut water before going back.
We had a briefing before dinner on what was upcoming. They had it in an open pavilion and some of us had problems with mosquitoes. Mosquitoes seem attracted to my metabolism.
Following that was dinner, a sort of mediocre buffet.
Back at the room I worked on my log until I got sleepy.
No monkeys were noisy in the morning. What a disappointment.
Well, the big panic of the morning is that my palmtop started acting really strangely. Every time I brought up menu to showed me a help screen for whatever application it was running. I had to transfer the software to another palmtop that Evelyn had far-seeingly brought. I think I will have to send it to the shop.
Our morning activity is a outing on the river in an open boat looking for animals. We did see quite a variety. We saw:
-- water snake (very short)
-- spider monkey
-- snowy egret
-- little blue egret
-- Jesus Christ lizard
-- blue jeans frog (heard)
There is some sort of visual perception system I am missing. I need more help than other people in seeing an animal someone else has sighted. There could be a hippo in a tree and I will just see limbs and leaves. I am a little better if the animal is moving. But I am told that there is a sex difference in males and females. Women are better at picking out patterns and men are better at picking up on movement. It does not make a lot of difference. I am slower than most men at finding an animal in the brush.
And once I do see the animal I immediately lose it again if I take my eyes off of it and try to find it with binoculars or camera viewfinder. I look at the pictures I take and they look terrible. There is a lot of foliage and no animal to be seen without a search. If they are properly framed they look blurry.
But at least it is nice and cool being out on water. I did see my share of animals, though not the obscure ones.
Getting off the boat my wraparound sunglasses fell out of my pocket and got stepped on.
They had a snack waiting for us when we landed. It was pizza that had mostly gotten cold and some fruit juice drinks.
Then it was back to the room. I mostly checked out my palmtop, which was still misbehaving. I tried to get some pictures of the butterflies on the tree outside our room. Again I could not catch them very well. Mostly I got caught up on my log.
The sloth seems to have moved back down the tree and is resting a little lower. They climb a tree and only come down once a week, mostly for waste management. Whenever you pass by people are looking at the sloth.
Lunch was chicken in a sort of cream sauce. The chicken did not have a lot of fat but everything around it did.
After lunch we talked to a new neighbor about his Road Scholar tour of Costa Rica. I brought the PC to Wi-Fi range of the office and I checked my e-mail. Back home they are expecting a blizzard and here I am hot and sweaty and looking at tropical animals.
At 3:30 we had another river cruise. It was much like the morning cruise. We saw a couple of Jesus Christ lizards. They are so called because in their youth they can run across the surface of the water. It does not have webbed feet but somehow gets enough resistance from the water that it can run across the top. When they get older and heavier they lose the ability. This makes them morose and they start wishing they were back in the old water running days.
We saw an otter, which took about 10 minutes to track by bubbles on the surface of the water. Finally he climbed a tree and some people got a picture or two of him. I was not fast enough and in the wrong position. I think if getting animal pictures were really my goal I would be much more disappointed.
We saw some monkeys on trees. It is clear that when a boat pulls up the monkeys get really active. They run over limbs and jump from tree to tree. Some guides say they are showing off for the visitors and others say they are afraid and agitated. I think they are trying to show there numbers as a sort of threat that if we want to start something we will be outnumbered by tough monkeys.
At one point our guide pulled the boat to a riverbank and he and the pilot went off together into the woods. A few minutes later they reemerged carrying a palm leaf. On the leaf there was a "blue jeans" frog. So named because it is bright red over most of its body but with bright blue markings on 6ts legs. This is how I know I am not in Alaska. In warm climate animals wear bright colors. The whole frog is only about three-quarters of an inch long, but he really stands out. I got a few pictures. The frog was escorted the length of the boat. Then he was taken back to the woods so he could tell his family, "boy, you wouldn't believe the day I've had." We got back to the room about 5:20 PM and at 6 they had a calypso party for us. I could no convince Evelyn to dance, but I got up for the final number, Day-O, which seemed to go on and on and on.
Then at dinner the sports people sat at our table. There are three of them, two not fat but just large people. I was thinking conversation would be hard because I have so little interest in sports. They turn out to be great conversationalists and a wide range of topics. We talked about lotteries, a little math, and movies. Probably the best dinner conversation of the trip.
I wish I had better communication skills.
I got back to the room after dinner. At one point we heard two alarms go off, one from my palmtop, one from the computer that was ailing. I thought that was a good sign. In fact it seemed to be back to normal. So I will switch back from using it.
At about 6 AM the howler monkeys started making King Kong sounds. I am sure it is just a warning that they are wild and vicious animals and that we all better leave the jungle and the hotel to them. Of course when you see them, they are just not that formidable and they are all howl and no bite. They are probably trying to impress possible mates.
Of course everybody hears them as the walls are far from sound proof. You hear the neighbors talking as they wake up.
I tried to have a light breakfast that was mostly fruit so I do not gain too much weight.
As I said last night I heard an alarm go off from my errant computer. That seems to indicate to me that its problem was just the moisture in the air and with an airing it would cure itself. I moved the data card to my traditional computer and the problem seemed to be completely gone. Diagnosis: the humidity caused the problem and it was just a temporary fault.
We had an hour ride up the river to rejoin with our bus. We stopped to see two or three crocodiles and one Caiman lizard.
Then we changed back to buses after a half hour stop in the restroom bar. Then back on the bus for what is mostly a travel day.
We see banana and coconut trees.
95% of Costa Ricans have cell phones. Fiorella did not say, but part of the reason is the cost of setting up landlines.
I was listening to a podcast about tours. Costa Rica is really expanding as a tourist destination. It still can be a site for an inexpensive vacation with cheap prices if you know where to find them. They have eco-lodges that are environmentally sustaining.
If you have some time they recommend you go to central markets (Mercado Central) to meet the people.
We went to El Zeibo for lunch. It was an OK buffet. The deserts we get seem frequently to be squares of a custard cake. They had a musical show sponsored by Caravan travel. It was three musical numbers, each with some reference to Charlie Chaplin. This sparked a fun conversation about older films.
We see a fairly large set of references to Charlie Chaplin in Costa Rica. He will appear on billboards, in ads, etc. It could be just coincidence. But he seems very popular here.
After dinner someone pointed out there was a very lonely dog out back. I went to see and there were four very friendly dogs. Coming back to the front a number of women had found a tree out front that had dropped some beautiful seedpods. I told them that they should not take them home. It is quite dangerous to introduce unfamiliar plant materials to our home environment. And another tourist was explaining to them how best to sneak them past customs. It was clear they were more interested in his advice than mine. His would reward her with a nice ornament and it would be at someone else's risk. Self-interest wins over citizenship again.
Our next stop is at a pineapple plantation. Pineapple is a major export of Costa Rica.
OK we had the pineapple plantation tour. Unlike the coffee plantation tour there was a genuine pineapple plantation on site. We could see it from the bus on the way in. Our pineapple plantation tour was taken without us leaving our seats. A comedian came out and gave us a routine that told us incidentally how to choose a good pineapple, what they do with rejected pineapples, not a lot. And we sampled pieces of pineapple, pineapple juice, and fruitcake. All very tasty. Mike, who gave the presentation, has cutting skills with a knife that would do a Japanese hibachi chef proud. I over-indulged, I think. I really like pineapple. It just barely edges out fresh mango. And pineapple is much better canned.
It was about two and a half more hours to Fortuna in the San Carlos valley. This also seems like a posh resort and our room looks a lot like a bungalow. It is a beautiful area with a volcanic mountain.
Arenal Springs Resort of Fortuna
+ Very nice room seems like a luxury bungalow.
+ Refrigerator in room, two bottles of water included
+ Good food in restaurant
+ Beautiful shower with walk-in
+ Two big double beds
+ Free Wi-Fi in room
+ Soap and shampoo
+ Hi-def TV
+ Very nice buffets with a lot of choice
0 have to insert room card for dome of the
0 computers in lobby for charge
- Hard to use drying line because it goes right through plants
- Have to wear a band around wrist for the whole visit.
- Toilet must be held down for seconds to flush
Dinner one of the other tour members said he saw me with the dog and was impressed I knew how to handle a dog. She had at first pulled away dorm mu hand and I had turned it to let her smell the back of my hand. I don't know where or if I had learned that. I do know dogs are distrustful of the palm side of the human hand. I have found horses that were also. Hands do things that dogs and horses don't like. But the back of the hand cannot reach out and turning it gives the dog an opportunity to sniff without being threatened. Once a dog smells nothing threatening, the dog feels more comfortable.
Dinner was quite good and dessert was ice cream with chocolate syrup. Very nice. I wonder what this trip is doing to my weight.
Well, we started the day getting some nice pictures of a parrot. The day is kind of foggy and gray, but I am hoping it will burn off.
The breakfast buffet is quite good. Caravan Travel has booked us into some very good hotels.
I was reading about Costa Rica in Wikipedia. It is the first country in the world to outlaw sport hunting. That may be because there are so many rare and valuable animals. And if the wildlife feels secure around humans it make for a better tourist experience and tourism is the country's largest industry. It also was chosen as having the highest quality of living.
As we drive we pass and Iguana tree. It appears to be two or three trees that have become famous as a nest of iguanas. All over in its branches you see large iguanas. Growing we see teak trees. I am not sure which trees were teaks. Also there were sugar cane fields and a refinery, which turned them into brown sugar. This area also has oranges growing.
On the bus we also heard about the Google War in 2009. Apparently misstated the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Nicaragua threatened to go to war to get the Google borders that gave more land to Nicaragua. Costa Rica has no army having abolished the army in 1959. This gave them no armed defense against Nicaragua. Canada agreed to defend Costa Rica and had its army on standby. The World Court apparently ruled for the old borders. Nobody ever fought in the Google War but Costa Rica won even without an army. Google now runs a disclaimer with its maps.
One more river cruise this morning. The embarkation point was Los Chiles. I told Fiorella that with a town with that name I expected lunch to be piquant. She said it wasn't, but later they did have hot sauce on the table.
The cruise was on the Rio Frio to the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge. Again on the cruise we saw egrets and caimans. We saw some of the white-faced monkey and close up saw an orange howler monkey nicknamed Blondy. They it was a spider monkey with a recessive gene. Also I believe we saw a capuchin and a gold-billed heron. There was also a cormorant.
The highlight for us was that we went a short distance into Nicaragua. Depending on how you count that is 66 countries we had been too.
I told the guide that there was an article about one of these monkeys being narcoleptic. It might not be true but it is the legend of the sleepy howler.
Lunch was at a place called Helicon. It was a buffet of rice and a hint of chicken, chips and black beans, and pineapple.
It is a long afternoon drive back to Fortuna. Fiorella lets her old people sleep.
Our activity of the afternoon is the Baldi hot springs. This is a set of mineral springs piped into baths of varying temperature. I had never been in mineral baths before. I guess the hot water is soothing. Each of several pools seems to have a waterfall. I particularly just letting hot water fall on my neck. I think it eased a stiff neck I had been having. The problem was that there were no clocks around so we had to finish early for fear of being late. While waiting I folded a flower for Fiorella and left it on her seat on the bus.
Back at the room we worked on the computer, wrote in our logs, and packed.
This was interrupted by dinner that was a good buffet except for the main courses--Hawaiian Roast Pork and beef. There was guacamole and chips as an appetizer. That is nice.
As soon as Evelyn was up and we had our bags out I decided to get a picture of the volcano mount unspoiled by people. I went out to the end of the street to gat the best view. There was someone else one block up doing the same thing. He got in my picture. I guess most of my ideas someone else thought of first.
There is one of our trip members--I will call him Steve to protect his privacy (but more because I still have not memorized people's names)--had a really interesting experience. He had taken a motorcycle into the mountains. He had stopped and a Coatimundi came out of the woods over to investigate him. The Coatimundi was satisfied and gave a whistle. A couple dozen Coatimundis came out of the woods to look at his stuff. One climbed his leg. He caught this all on camera. That was an experience.
We had bags out at six and went to breakfast at 6:30. Evelyn is going slowly because she leaned on one of the bags with 360-degree wheels and it slipped out from under her. I am hoping that she will not have problems.
It is a rainy day and the bus will go in and out of clouds into the hills. Fiorella tells everyone to turn on the reading lights over their heads. Then she says to turn them off. "That was to make the bus lighter."
The Hanging Bridges in Arenal offers three trails into the rain forest. To build them they have placed bridges over gorges. Some bridges are just plain steel bridges. OK, but not great. Then there are the hanging bridges. To build one they shoot two cables over the gorge. They secure them--that's the hard part. Then they suspend a bridge from the cables. With two supporting cables the flat of the bridge stays perfectly parallel to the plane of the two cables. You can walk across the bridge and it stays perfectly level. That is the power of a parallelogram. Very convenient. The people who scream do not like that the bridge shakes them left and right, but it stays perfectly level.
We did not see any wildlife, but we saw a lot of rain forest.
Lunch was at a restaurant called La Troja, supposedly a place with very good chicken. Actually it was a little dried out, but they served it in big pieces like a quarter chicken. Whenever we have had chicken here we have had it cut in small pieces. I think that is why it had such a good reputation.
From there it was back on the bus and a long ride to Guanacaste. Guanacaste is what we call a Mimosa tree.
We had a stop in Liberia to allow some cheap shopping. We went into a grocery and got some coffee as souvenirs for people back home.
Fiorella tells us that Guanacaste is a town of supernatural legends. This, of course, interests the horror fans in both Evelyn and me. I guess Costa Rican horror stories are set in Guanacaste.
Many of the legends of Costa Rica are shared by Mexico and much of Latin America. Some of these legends are similar to folk-legends from other parts of the world. Most of these stories are thinly disguised morality tales of someone who does not behave the way society says they should and by misbehaving they are opening themselves to being vulnerable to hellish demons. Also of the stories I was able to find in other places, there is no consistent version of the story. I guess that is what makes them folktales.
This story is reminiscent of Japanese ghost stories. La Segua is what appears to be a beautiful woman who looks for young men traveling on the roads. She attracts these men like a succubus does. They cannot resist the combination of strong drink and a beautiful and willing woman. The Segua parties with unsuspecting travelers, all the while getting them drunk and trying to seduce them. She succeeds and she takes them to bed, but at the crucial moment her lover will see either her head or her whole body transform to the head or body of an animal. The traveler finds he is making love to a female horse.
La Llorona (The Crying Woman)
This is a famous story I ran into as a Mexican horror film, THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN and later as LA LLORONA. It is a legend in some ways very similar to the legend of the Flying Dutchman. Maria is in love with a man who does not want her. In specific he does not want to be tied down with her two children. But Maria is obsessed. If her two children were all that stood in her way they could be removed. She drowned both of them. But still the man she wanted spurned her, and let's face it, a woman who drowns her own children might not be a really great marriage prospect. Maria is heart-broken and given to crying. Finally she drowns herself, but even heaven does not want her. Her sin is so bad her spirit is sent back to earth for eternal penance. She wanders the world as a crying spirit.
La Carreta sin Bueyes (The Ox-Cart without an Ox)
Our magical hour is midnight; in Costa Rica the scary time is 3 AM. Magical things happen at 3 AM. In this case you can hear at 3 AM an evil ox-cart, which moves without an ox to pull it. I guess it is just one of these enchanted ox-less oxcarts. Actually the story of a man named Pedro who tilled the soil and was unkind to his oxen. On the day that the village animals were to be blessed Pedro tried to bring his oxen directly into the church where they would do damage. The oxen knew they did not belong in church and would not go in. Pedro told the priest that his oxen did not need blessing since they had already been blessed by the devil. The priest blessed the oxen and cursed Pedro and the oxcart so that he and his oxcart to walk the earth with his oxcart travelling by itself as if enchanted. That may sound a little too magical so some versions say there is a casket in the back of the wagon and it is carrying Pedro.
[Note: I was not able to find anything about this legend on-line even trying possible alternate spellings.]
A Mica (pronounced "Meeka") is a demonic dog-wolf combination. He haunts people and then jumps into ceilings to hide. I guess he finds ways to hide in ceilings. (This must be considerably easier in office buildings that have suspended ceilings.) Midnight is the scary time for Micas. At midnight he does three back flips and three front flips. Then his skin falls off. That seems horrific. But it is then that the haunted have an opportunity over the scary beast. If you take his skin and put in a meat bowl with meat and add salt he loses the ability to transform back. [I hope I have that right. It does not make a lot of sense to me. But the legend is probably why I don't want to eat in the restaurants in this town.]
The Two Cadejos
There is not one but two Cadejos. They are big, mean-looking hairy dog-like creatures. The black cadejo is vicious and evil. The white cadejo is angelic and good. (Some places it is the other way around.) The black cadejo hides in shadows and attacks the unsuspecting. But the white cadejo comes to their rescue. Some versions of the story say the black cadejo is the Devil Himself.
The afternoon drive was a long one but we finally got to our hotel in Guanacaste.
J.W. Marriott Guanacaste
+ A beautiful five-star hotel
+ Luxury appointments
+ Very large bathroom
+ Opaque curtains make room very dark
+ Big bed
+ Screened patio
0 bedroom has big voyeuristic picture window into bathroom with view of tub and shower, can be closed with panels
- No grabber in shower
- Heavy charge for Internet access
- No clock in room
- Very spread out, our room paced at a 9-th of a mile from the lobby (shorter id you cut across open areas
- Most activities come at high additional cost
- Smoke alarm flashes brightly and irregularly all night
- Found bloodstain on one of the pillows
- Ceiling fan squeaks'
The room was luxurious, but that bathroom was a very string touch. It is like there is a big picture window (no glass) between the bed and the bathroom. The toilet is in an alcove at the far end of the bathroom and that has a door. But one is free to leave the panels open to watch people take a bath in the tub or shower.
DE on TV that had old Mexican B movies. I don't understand the Spanish dialog, but it is interesting to watch a few minutes now and then.
Dinner was very good with a large choice though I got the sea bass. Sadly I got careless and took just a bite. A bone wedged itself between a tooth and the gum and broke off. I don't know what happened to the splinter. My hobby for the evening was to try to get the spine out of my gum. Nothing worked. The next day I felt it less but it was still there. Then it just mysteriously disappeared. It is either dissolved or it has buried itself too deep to feel.
And that was about it for the day.
This was a day at leisure. There was not a whole lot of learning about the culture so I will go through this quickly.
Breakfast was a nice buffet. This was a day at leisure so I decided that we should do what we rarely do when we travel. We sprung for the $10 plus tax and got Wi-Fi for our room. I got caught up on my email, picked up some podcasts for my iPod. Evelyn checked the TV and they had one of her favorite films on, APOLLO 13, but dubbed into Spanish.
I got off the computer and so Evelyn had it for a while. The resort is on the Pacific and has a nice beach. Evelyn and I decided go down and walked on the broad tan-colored beach. I saw one of the women from our tour and told her "there supposed to be an ocean around here. Is that it?" Apparently she thought it was.
Lunch was pretty good. Evelyn thought it was better than dinner the previous night. And it had no bones.
After lunch we went back to the room, but it was still being made up. There were a couple of hammocks. I helped Evelyn into one. But I had considerably more trouble positioning myself into mine. I am not sure the lowest parts of me were actually off the ground. I have to brush up on my hammock skills. It is really embarrassing.
The tour company had arranged a "happy hour." I guess that means a free drink by the pool. I hate the taste of alcohol so I invented a drink. It is mostly coke with a finger of margarita syrup. That was darn tasty.
Back at the room we checked the news on the computer. We tried TCM and the film was SPARTACUS. That is a favorite film of mine. I was keeping track of when sundown was coming so we could photograph it. I went overboard on the picture taking. Well, it is all free. I may get only two or three very good pictures.
Speaking of good pictures, on our Southern Africa trip I was jealous of the people who could get really good close-ups on the animals we saw. I did not get pictures nearly as good. I needed a camera that had better telescopic. I got myself a Lumix fairly inexpensively from Costco. Well it did get better pictures, but they were still small animals in the middle of big backgrounds. The Lumix has a very big manual from which I learned what I needed to know to take pictures, but the pictures were disappointing.
While I was playing with the camera this evening I wondered what would happen if I played with the telescopic control while reviewing a picture. I got controls that could expand the picture around any picture I picked. I could view a close-up of a picture I had taken. I took a picture that had been disappointing and expanded around a point of interest and there was a really good picture. I had not understood what I was envious of in Africa. It was only partly the telescopic power of the camera. The other part was being able to zoom in on the picture in display. Not a lot but some of my pictures turned out a lot better than I was expecting. They have to be cropped a bit--really the camera display does not improve the final picture, but it looks good in the camera.
Sundown was very impressive with a bright red sky. Later as it went further down the clouds were blue and pink, what I call Maxwell Parrish colors.
I saw the last half hour of SPARTACUS and enjoyed it quite a bit. When that was over what was the next film? CHAPLIN. Costa Rica loves Chaplin.
Dinner was pretty good. As nearly all meals we get it is a buffet. Back in the room I did some writing, but mostly played with the camera.
We had to have luggage out at 6:30. After that we went to breakfast. We left at 8:00 AM. In the morning we drove through the cattle-raising region of Guanacaste. Some of the topography is a lot like the US Southwest with flat land and hills in the distance. You could film a Western here. Or you could film a Guanacaste in Arizona.
We pass through the Blue Zone of Nicoya. This is a place where people live a long time. The people live unstressed and that is what they say is the reason for long life. How long do they live? Fiorella says people live 70 to 100 years. Somehow that does not seem like a lot. I think the Nicoya people have been sold a bill of goods. They are living so long. They are just taking a dull town and trying to make that sound like a good thing.
We stopped at a snack stand and there were yellow banisters provided by Caravan. There is clearly a deal where the stand provides plumbing and Caravan provides banisters and a steady flow of customers.
Lunch was at Nambi in Punta Reynia. Another buffet. Fish and beef. A macaroon for dessert. Evelyn bought a souvenir for a niece.
After some shopping we headed out to the Tarcoles River for our last river cruise. We saw lots of birds: great blue herons, falcons, egrets, and several jacamars. But the prize find was a crocodile about 15 feet. He was something like 12 feet long. He seemed a little old and tired, but he did represent proof of concept. We were told he was about 75 years old. The only part that was moving easy his tail in the water.
On the bus on the way back I checked my photos. I got a couple of shots of birds in flight that looked pretty good to me. Most were not that great. But we shall see when we get home. The camera helps a lot in getting better pictures. With this many pixels you just have to get the subject in the picture somewhere and crop it down later. An approach of ready-shoot-aim works better than it should.
We were in some fancy hotels earlier this trip. Today they just wanted one near the airport. It is OK, but not terrific.
Quality Hotel Real Costa
+ Convenient little motel
+ Free Wi-Fi in room
+ Coffee maker and iron in room
+ High def TV
+ Shower is hot and has a good stream
0 no fridge or microwave
- Fluorescent over door irritatingly flashes
It was nice to get a hot shower after being hot and sweaty on the river. At 5:30 we congregated for a dance show. They had some really professional dancers doing Mambo, Bathgate, Tango, and Salsa. Then they picked unfortunate tour members and tried to teach them to dance. It made for a fun party.
One guy who had been telling me about his Christian studies, trying to get me interested apparently was a little taken aback to find out I was Jewish. He wanted to know what Jews thought happened after you die. I told him that different Jews believe different things. There is no central authority that all or even most Jews accept. Most Jews seem to find atheist and agnostic Jews perfectly good Jews.
After dinner we posed for group pictures and then went back to the room to pack and go to bed.
Breakfast was a little light, but mostly because I had previously eaten sampling as many different foods as I could. That made for some full plates. There were the usual farewells at breakfast and all the way to the airport.
Not much unexpected to report about going through security. There were maybe two people ahead of us in the security line. But they have all the same rules. Take off your shoes and belt, that sort of thing. Here you also have to take off your wristwatch.
We got to the waiting area about 10 for a 12:45 plane that we were told when we check in that it would be 30 minutes late taking off. That is more than three hours of waiting.
They picked a few random people at the gate and gave them a separate security check. Then when we went through the jet way everybody had to open their bags and have them inspected. On me they found some adhesive tape I use to repair my palmtop. Adhesive tape is a forbidden commodity apparently. They confiscated it. Who knows? Maybe terrorists can attack a plane with adhesive tape. Actually I guess it could be used instead of rope to tie up a hostage, but I think they have to have imagination to think that one up.
The flight home was dull and uneventful. The airlines claim they serve a snack, but I will give them credit that what they serve I would call a meal. They had chicken and cheese on a roll. Evelyn didn't care for it, but I liked it. I don't think the packet of Cholula sauce went with it. I don't know. I did not try it. But I think the packet was really just an ad for then sauce with a sample inside. They would have served it with oatmeal.
There was a long line through Customs, but it really did not spend that much time with only one person. We were home by 9 PM.
I made general comments about the tour. I will finish with comments about our guide Fiorella Matarrita. Fiorella is 21 and has been given responsibility for 44 tourists, the large majority of which are more than three times her age. She is a very capable woman who at the same time has a lot of charm and a big smile. On the whole tour nobody had a negative thing to say about her. So I will. It is not her fault, but I have a hard time understanding what she is saying through a thick accent. Occasionally I have had to think for a few seconds to understand what she has said and by then I have lost the next thing she has said.
Also occasionally I think she made some minor mistakes like point out something a "over there." From the back of the bus we cannot see where she is pointing. There were some sites like the butterfly house where her people were just sent in rather than guiding them in and explaining things. This was not her fault. She is a 21-year old. The company was expecting so much from her already. But it made obvious that other tour companies could at times provide more.
Overall I have to say that Fiorella is a bright and attractive and responsible woman of whom a lot is asked by her company and who does surprisingly well. She also has the affection of all of her charges. She does a lot to make the tour a travel bargain.