Saturday 21st October – San Jose – Madrid – Birmingham

Despite not needing to get up early we still woke before 6am.  We met some of the others who were still in the hotel for breakfast at 8.30 and then after packing and checking out we had a wander around San Jose.  The city itself is pretty compact and we were able to see most of it in a couple of hours.

We visited the National Theatre and had a coffee and cake before walking up and down the main street.  Costa Rica doesn’t really have many old buildings and most of the new ones are pretty utilitarian.  Still, if killed a couple of hours whilst we waited for our 12.30 transfer to the airport.

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Our transfer went smoothly and our flight to Madrid left on time.

So, sitting here in Madrid passing the 5 hour connection time until our flight to Birmingham!

My reflections on Costa Rica:-

  • Extremely hospitable and friendly people – everywhere we went the people that we met were welcoming and seemed genuinely pleased that we were visiting.
  • An odd currency arrangement where everything can be bought in either Colones (the local currency) or US dollars!
  • The country seems to have a commitment to ecology and protecting the environment – perhaps unsurprising given the amount of income fro tourism.
  • Beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife – everywhere you go is rich with animal and plant life.

Overall, a fantastic trip  with great memories!

Friday 20th October 2017 – Manuel Antonio National Park and Quepos – San Jose

After and early breakfast we were taken by minibus to the entrance of Manuel Antonio National Park.  We spent a couple of hours walking along the trails and spotting wildlife.

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This trip was far more successful than our visit to Monteverde National Park and we were able to spot lots of different animals.

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The park itself was extremely humid and very warm and we were all soon dripping with perspiration.  However, it was worth it and especially when I managed to spot a sloth in the trees!

 

In the park we visited a couple of the beaches which were home to even more animals!

We were due to leave at 12.30 and so we headed out of the park for some much needed refreshment.

The journey back to San Jose took about 4.5 hours as we arrived during rush hour.

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We got back to the hotel Don Carlos at 6pm and met up with the rest of the group after a quick shower for the farewell meal and a few drinks!

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We were particularly glad that we were not joining some of the group on their 3am transfer to the airport!

 

 

 

Thursday 19th October 2017 – Quepos

We were up at 7.30 this morning for a trip in a catamaran to spot whales and dolphins. The rain from the previous night had, thankfully, stopped and the weather was warm and dry but the sky overcast.

After breakfast at the hotel we were collected by minibus to be driven the short distance to the port. Here we received our wrist bands before we boarded the boat for an 8.30 start.

We has a departure drink and the boat cruised ou out of the harbour and along the coast. The views were impressive, with the lush rainforest rising directly from the shore.  The boat headed in the direction of the national park and you could see the route of the road that we had taken the previous day, with the various hotels, lodges and hostels lining it.

The boat then headed out to sea to spot where in their migration. We did see a turtle in the water quite close to the boat, but sadly we weren’t lucky enough to see and whales or dolphins.

We headed back towards the shore and into a bay where we moored up and were able to go swimming, use the slide in the back of the boat and jump from the roof!

Lunch of pasta and fish kebabs was then served before cruised back to the harbour for 12.30.

We spent the afternoon relaxing and shopping for some tat (souvenirs) to take home, avoiding another heavy and lengthy thunderstorm, before meeting with the rest of the group for food!

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Wednesday 18th October 2017 – Monteverde to Quepos

We had an early alarm call so that we were ready to depart at 7am for the 5 hour drive to Quepos. Packing the rucksack is getting harder now that along with clothes, we are having to find space for the coffee and sweets that we have bought.

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The first 90 minutes of the journey was on unmade roads and there were a number of short delays caused by workmen trying to repair the damage from the recent storm.  We also stopped briefly for a photo opportunity.

The road wound its way down the valley with thick forest on either side and we bounced our way down until we came to the main road to San Jose and Quepos.  After a short time we stopped at a lovely roadside café.  It became immediately clear that the drop in altitude from 1500m to almost sea level had made a huge difference to the temperature and when we got off the bus it was warm and dry!  The coffee at this stop was excellent, as was the chicken sandwich which was filled with avocado, lettuce and tomato, with a slice of pineapple on the side.

We carried on a main road and stopped at a bridge crossing a river for views of the local crocodile population.

Sometime later, driving along the coast road, the driver braked fairly suddenly as he had spotted a flock of scarlet macaws.  They have spectacular colours, but are pretty difficult to get good photos of.

The weather here was significantly warmer than at Monteverde! We drove on and eventually arrived at Quepos at about 2pm and we were able to check in to the hotel.

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After a short break we all met up to catch the public bus to Manuel Antonio, the village at the entrance to the national park, about 7km from Quepos.

By the time we arrived we were all keen to get some food and so we had a lunch overlooking the ocean.  We were also able to spot squirrel monkeys from our table! We’ve now seen all of the four different types of monkey in Costa Rica.

After food we caught the public bus back to spend the evening in a couple of the local bars, first watching the sunset in a bar which has an old plane which was abandoned in Costa Rica airport in the 1980s following Costa Rica’s involvement in the crisis in Nicaragua, and afterwards in a pool bar!  The sunset wasn’t as good as the previous evening, but the cocktail was very tasty!


We ended up getting a taxi  back because the heavens had opened and there was a thunderstorm!

 

Tuesday 17th October – Monteverde

We had breakfast at the lodge – more pancakes, scrambled eggs and fruit, and Ed and I decided to book on the coffee/sugar cane/chocolate plantation tour, along with Lu and Tom.  We were picked up at 9.40am to be driven to the plantation, stopping on the way to collect some other people.

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We arrived at 10am and started the tour which included seeing the coffee, sugar cane and cocoa plants.  We learnt that none of the above are actually native to Costa Rica!  The coffee is best grown at altitude and the plantation that we visited is a family owned and run affair.  They process their own crops and export directly to coffee shops around the world. The coffee is dried three ways – natural (in the seed), honey (with the outer shell removed) or clean (with all shell and sap removed) – and this affects the flavour.

Next we saw the sugar cane processing – the old fashioned way (using an ox), and the ‘new’ way using a water wheel.  We were also able to see, and try, how they make sweets from the sugar cane.  The sugar cane liquid is heated to get rid of most of the moisture and then poured onto boards where you need to work it until the consistency changes.  The result is a fudge like sweet, which it turns out sets rock hard – best enjoyed fresh!

We then moved onto the cocoa plants and saw how the beans are first fermented before being dried and finally crushed to make cocoa powder.  We were able to sample the different tastes at each stage and it was clear that it is only with the addition of sugar and milk at the end of the process that the chocolate becomes sweet!

The final product that we were shown was how they use the sugar cane to distil the sugar cane liquid to make a very potent drink – we sampled a very small portion of the drink – at 60% it tasted very strong!  This is a traditional drink in Costa Rica although few people now make their own moonshine version after the government introduced strict controls to prevent people being made blind or even dying from the neat version!

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At the end of the tour we were taken to the family house (where a number of tables had been set up) and given a sample of coffee, traditional lemonade, and a tortilla topped with the fried root of one of the local plants.  We decided to hold off on buying coffee here so that we could visit their café in the town centre to try the different sorts of coffee that they sell.

We were taken back to town by minibus and as it was now lunchtime we returned to the Treehouse bar for a drink and snack.  Here we met up with some of the others who had been doing their own activities that morning.

Our next stop was the coffee shop with Cheryl and Angela where we were served by the barista who had been roasting the beans earlier at the plantation.  He gave is samples of the natural roast, honey roast and a chilled peaberry roast before we decided which to buy to take home!

We caught a taxi back up the hill to our hotel this time and sat around in the courtyard.  We spotted some more birds in the trees and also a ‘variegated squirrel’ with black and white on their back.  At about 5pm the group met up to walk a short way from the hotel to have a view of the sunset over the Bay of Naycona. It didn’t look promising initially as it was quite cloudy, but in the end the sunset was amazing – but not well captured on camera.

On return to the hotel we had a short break before again meeting up to go to a local restaurant for dinner where the food was OK, but not of the same standard that we had the previous evening. The service was also pretty slow despite it not being that busy and it was 9.30 before we got back to the hotel.  We headed straight for bed ready for an early start on Wednesday.

 

Monday 16th October 2017 – Monteverde

After breakfast at the lodge of fruit, pancakes and scrambled eggs, we drove about 15 minutes up the road to the Monteverde cloud forest.  The recent storm damage meant that the reserve that groups usually get taken to was closed.  There was also quite extensive damage to the trails in the Monteverde forest and we had to walk the last half a mile because the road was closed as part of it had been washed away.

We spent the next 3 hours wandering through the forest looking for wildlife.  Unfortunately we were not as lucky as on previous wildlife walks and we didn’t see large numbers of animals or birds.  The birds that we did see were much smaller and not as colourful.  However, we did manage to spot a couple of agoutis (a small rodent about the size of a cat), some butterflies and a number of birds.  It was also interesting to see the trees, some of which also support huge amounts of other plants which live on them.

At the entrance to the forest is a cafe which has set up bird feeders which attract significant numbers of different hummingbirds.  We all attempted to get some decent shots, but the speed at which they move made that a bit tricky.

After a quick coffee and empanada for me, we were taken back into the main town where we had a mooch around at the various shops before getting some more refreshment at the Treehouse restaurant – built around a large tree.  The pizza was delicious there!

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After another drinks stop, we started to walk back to the lodge.  The town is built on a number of hills and the walk back up was very steep in places.

Our last activity for the day was a night walk to spot some creatures that come out at night!  This started at 5.30pm and we were led through the forest by a local guide.  We were able to spot some stick insects, a couple of armadillos, a large tarantula, a number of other spiders and, finally, a sloth high up in the trees with a baby.

(Awaiting photo from ED!!!) 

The minibus dropped us back in town and we had a meal at Mar y Tierra.  The steak in a hot sauce was probably the best meal so far in Costa Rica – tasty, well cooked and served and in nice surroundings, all for a very reasonable price.  Ed’s chicken with bacon and cheese also looked excellent!

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After food, some of the group, including Ed, headed back to the hotel whilst Anja, Cheryl, Angela and Fran went to a local bar with some pool tables where we played pool (mostly badly).  Sadly, by the time we finished at about 11, the taxis had all stopped running and so we had to walk back up the hill to the hotel again!  A final nightcap was required as a refreshment after our efforts!

Sunday 15th October 2017 – La Fortuna to Monteverde

There were no plans today until our transfer to Monteverde at 2.30pm so we had a lazier start.  After breakfast at 8.30am we needed to decide whether to visit the waterfall at La Fortuna.  However, we elected for a more relaxed day spent around the town and we wandered into the centre.

Our first stop was the rainforest cafe where we had a very nice coffee and a huge piece of cake!

We spent the next hour or so wandering around town and seeing what tat there was to buy in the various souvenir shops.  As we wandered past one of the bars, Cheryl, Amanda and Angela called out to us and we used the heat of the day as an excuse to stop for refreshments.  It turns out that it was happy hour before 11am and so we just managed to order a cheeky cocktail before the end – a pinacolada for me and a Mai Tai for Ed.

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As we had to checkout by midday, we headed back to the hotel. On our way back we saw some marching bands who appeared to be performing some sort of competition. We were lucky to see two iguanas sunning themselves by the pool when we got back to the hotel!

We walked back into town for some lunch and met up again with Cheryl et al.  We initially went to a local soda, but it was quite busy and so we went back to the Lava Lounge.  We ordered a number of different dishes to share including tortillas filled with cheese and chicken, spicy chicken wings, nachos and deep fried yucca.  It was delicious!

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It was now time to meet up with Fran and the rest of the group for our transfer to Monteverde.  At the hotel we loaded our bags onto a minibus which took us about 30 minutes up the road where we changed to a boat.  This was to take us across Lake Arenal to meet up with another minibus for the final journey to Monteverde.  The boat ride took about 45 minutes and we could see the mountains rising from the lake and some amazing views of the lake and volcano.

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The journey on the other side was about 2 hours and we were able to see some of the numerous and large landslides that had been caused by a recent storm.

The sunsets at around 5.30pm in Costa Rica and so Monteverde was dark when we arrived at 6pm.  However, we had been able to stop a couple of times to take some photos of a spectacular sunset.

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Our hotel is the Historia lodge, which is about 15 minutes walk from the main centre.  The whole area is pretty hilly and also a lot cooler as it is about 1500m above sea level. We were given our rooms and then met back up in the common area to decide what we wanted to do over the next few days.

After agreeing that we all wanted to do the night walk the following day we walked a short distance to a local restaurant for some dinner.  I had sea bass in a white wine sauce which was lovely. (Sea bass is quite common in Costa Rica and also inexpensive).  We returned to the hotel and had a couple of nightcaps with some of our fellow travellers before going to bed!

 

 

Saturday 14th October – La Fortuna

We were up for breakfast at 7am having had a good night’s sleep. The hotel we are in at the moment, the Arenal Radfer has air conditioning so it wasn’t quite as hot and sticky as previous nights.  The same guide from yesterday arrived to take us to the Tenorio Volcano national park.  The main attraction here is the blue coloured river, the Rio Celeste.

The journey took about 2 hours and on the way we spotted a toucan:

img-20171014-wa0004-15482736778876403316.jpgThe weather closed in on the journey and by the time that we were ready for our walk it was hammering down!  Undeterred we set off on the trail.  The trail is itself is about 2.5 miles and the rain continued for the first 30 minutes or so.  Fortunately the weather remained warm!

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Our first stop was at the waterfall.  We descended loads of steps to a view point where we had a great view of the waterfall and the blue colouring.  The rain had stopped now but the mist remained, but it didn’t stop us being able to see how unusual the colour was.

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pano_20171014_101834-16743365788025985436.jpgWe retraced our steps up to the footpath and walked upwards along a trail with the river below.  The path got increasingly muddy and more difficult to negotiate!

After another 20 minutes or so we came to a lookout where we should have been able to see two craters of the volcano.  However, the mist defeated us and all we could see was into the valley below.

We descended to the river, following the track and came to an area with a pool.  Once again we could see the blue colour of the water.  There was also an increasingly sulphourous smell caused by the volcanic gases bubbling into the river.

The final leg of the walk was to see the source of the Rio Celeste.  We continued alongside the river crossing a couple of bridges which had a limit of one person at a time!

After about half a km we arrived at the source of the river,where two other rivers meet and cross a seam of minerals which give the river its colouring.

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We returned to the car park by the same route, hoping to be able to see some wildlife, but we weren’t as lucky this time.

We stopped for lunch in a local soda before starting on the journey back to La Fortuna.  On the way we stopped at a huge old tree.  You can see how much other life relies on the tree with other plants growing on it.  We also spotted another blue jeans frog, this time you could also see the tadpole being carried on its back.  The frog was taking it up the tree to find a plant, like a bromeliad, with a reservoir of water.

It was almost 4pm by the time we got back to La Fortuna and I took the opportunity to have a swim in the hotel pool.

We had a couple of hours to kill so after a couple of beers we met with the rest of the group, but without our guide, for some food.  We headed to a soda in the centre of the town and were served beer in jam jars!

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Our last stop of the night, with a depleted group, was to a bar serving craft beers.  Despite this, we still managed to be in bed by 10.30pm!

Friday 13th October – Santa Rosa to La Fortuna

After a decent nights sleep, punctuated by a brief neighbourhood battle of the local dogs, I woke at 4.30am! The dawn chorus was the usual mix of birds and, as has been the case since we left San Jose, the ‘barking’ of the howler monkeys.

We got up and ready for breakfast at 7am.  Our host was not around but had left one of her friends preparing our food which included biscuits (a sort of fried dough), fried plantain, fresh juice, scrambled eggs cheese and rice and beans!  We also had coffee which was perhaps the best yet!

 

After breakfast we finished our packing and were picked up at 7.30am for the trip to La Fortuna.  We said our goodbyes to Alexandra and loaded the bus.  By now there was an extremely heavy rain shower.  Once the bus joined the main road, the journey to La Fotuna (also known as Arenal) took about an hour.  We travelled through areas flanked by farms, including these farms with huge fields of pineapple.

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We arrived and left our bags at the reception of the hotel that we are staying in. We met our guide, Pablo, and the driver, Felix, to take us on a ‘hanging bridges’ walk.  The journey from La Fortuna took about 20 minutes and once there we had a great view of the volcano, albeit that it was mostly shrouded in cloud and fog.  The volcano has been ‘dormant’ since 2010, although was very active between 1968 and 2010, adding over 200m to its’ height.

 

The walk through the forest, and over the hanging bridges took about 2.5 hours and we saw some more wildlife, although sadly still no sloths! There were some close ups of snakes and lots of Motmot birds:

When we returned to the start our driver had prepared some water melon and pineapple for refreshments.. The pineapple was amazing – sweet and juicy – very unlike anything I’d ever eaten.

Once fed and watered we drove back to the volcano national park for a walk up through the lava flows created by the 1968 eruption.  Our guide explained to us about how the crater had increased in size since 1968 and showed us some photos of the various stages of the mountains development.  It now stands at over 1600m tall.

When we returned to the hotel, at about 4pm, we checked in and spent some time catching up with diaries etc.  The hotel has a pool, although I don;t think that anyone in our party has yet to sample it!

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After a shower Ed and I popped to the hotel bar and after just one round had exhausted their supply of the local beer, so we had to switch to something else!

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We met up with the rest of the group for dinner and headed to Mango’s – a restaurant not far from the hotel.

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We all had our food and a few drinks before heading back to the hotel for bed!

As an aide memoire for me…in the photo above, our fellow travellers are, from left to right:

  • Angela – a Zimbabwean born South African accountant who has lived in London for almost 20 years.
  • Cheryl – a South African who has lived in the UK for almost 20 years.
  • Jessica – a Spanish traveller with perfect English.
  • Amanda – our senior group member – from England
  • Tom – a recruitment consultant from Stoke
  • Ed
  • Me
  • Anya – a German currently living in Switzerland
  • Lu – a Chinese man living in Beijing
  • Fran – our Costa Rican guide.

Another great day!

 

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