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February 12, 2011 / puravida2011

February 12, 2011 / puravida2011

We love Cocles!

So we’ve been here on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, barely north of Panama, for almost a week now and are establishing a rhythm to the days. We wake up early with the howler monkeys and toucans, then I have coffee, Chico has Komplete cereal with banana, and we either get ready for the beach or have a little bit of exercise, depending on the day. In either case we are at the beach by 9:00 or so, and the local beaches are gorgeous. We’ve tried Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita, and today spend a few hours at Playa Punta Uva, which I think is the best. Punta Uva is in a little cove, so the water is calm. It would be absolutely perfect if there were not ladrones in montes, “thieves in the bushes.” Signs are posted. And the beach is water, then sand, then thief-laden bushes. So we take turns in the lovely water, with the non-bathing person guarding our backpack (in which there are not many valuables, but the backpack itself is essential for our packing to come back to MN).
I did encounter a young American women whose backpack had just been snatched from her beach blanket. She was wandering forlornly down the beach, looking for a ladrone with her black sac. No luck. They disappear into the bushes. Ah well.
Our casita is nice and surprisingly cool. Based on our readings we expected to be very hot and moist here. It is certainly moist (in fact I don’t think my hair has been really dry since January 5th), but the house is under tall trees and with the ceiling fans running we actually need to sleep under a blanket to stay warm. It is very comfortable, built in local style, with lattice walls, so nature comes and goes as it pleases. Bats swoop through at nightfall, and I am being quite brave about them. Our bedroom upstairs has screens inside the lattice, so no bats there.
Speaking of cool and moist, hot water for showers is unpredictable. We start the hot tap, then get about 45 seconds of warm water before the stream turns quite chilly, then have to wait for the next bursts of warmth, which come at intervals with no pattern we’ve been able to discern. Chico considers the cool showers refreshing. I get kind of chilly. But shaving my legs with goosebumps gives me a nice smooth result.
We have cocoa trees growing in the yard and Chico thinks it would be fun to ferment the beans and make some chocolate. Based on the wikipedia entry this sounds like a lot of work. We can tour a local cocoa plantation to get more information on the process and decide from there.
On our first day here (without our camera, sadly) we saw a sloth in a tree next to the main road down the coast. It was eating leaves and seemed quite relaxed and mellow. We watched him for a while, then looked across the road, where a collection of toucans were settled in a tree. These things only happen when the camera is away. But we have collected lots of good photos of the nature here and share some now.

Cool frog in our yard.

This is a really big tree in our yard.

Ground-dwelling bird walking through our yard.

Playa Cocles, the beach nearest our casita.

Chico caught a toucan!

February 10, 2011 / puravida2011

Arenal to Cocles

Another day of adventure driving for us. Who needs ziplines when you can get your adrenalina on the national roads for free? Our roads today were not mountainous, but we had a very aggressive driver taking us the first three hours of our trip, passing everything else on the road, sometimes with very little room to spare. The highlight was when we arrived at a line of stopped vehicles extending several miles into the distance. Our driver pulled out into the oncoming traffic lane and continued driving quickly past the stopped trucks and cars, zipping into the break-down lane (off-road, really) when oncoming traffic would show up. He wasn’t the only one doing this. At some point it became clear there was no possible passage on the road ahead so Jonathan called his colleague in another van, who met us on the other side of a river without a bridge, vehicular or pedestrian. So we got out of one van with our luggage and skipped across the river on large river rocks, clambering out on the other side to resume our drive in a different van.
We made it to Cocles without further excitement. Next post will have details about our cabina here and the local towns and beaches…

February 9, 2011 / puravida2011

Birds

We had planned to take a guided tour at Arenal to do some bird and nature watching, but at breakfast Sunday morning we saw about 10 species of birds in 10 minutes, so we decided to have a low-key day, with a walk to town for lunch, a pedicure, and Super Bowl snacks, then a relaxing afternoon at Casa Luna, exploring the gardens and wildlife on site. What follows are some of the birds we saw, including a toucan, seen from a great distance but identifiable thanks to our zoom feature. We saw several other toucans, but they seem to like perching at the very tops of trees, and to enjoy flying off just as Chico has them in his sights.

We are not officially birders and don’t even have a bird reference here with us. I google when I see something cool, though, and have put together a list of possible matches for the photos. Maybe some of you (Jim and Judy?, Liette?) would like to help fill in the blanks.
Here they are:
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Wow! That took a long time with our slow connection. Hope it all uploads okay. I’ll post again tomorrow. XOXO

February 9, 2011 / puravida2011

Happily in Cocles on the Caribbean side

We are settling in here on the lovely Caribbean coast, but don’t yet have our internet connection from home. We’ll post more soon!

February 6, 2011 / puravida2011

Montezuma to La Fortuna

Chico took two anti-nausea pills at 6:45 yesterday morning, in anticipation of the long and winding road to Arenal volcano, and I think he would agree that every single milligram was necessary to keep queasiness at bay.  The roads around Montezuma had become somewhat familiar, with their jeep-eating potholes and twists and turns.  Oh, but the drive up through the mountains on the mainland, even though on paved roads, proved even more harrowing!

The drive from Casa Frangipani to the ferry at Paquera took about 1,5 hours, then the ferry ride was about an hour across the Gulf of Nicoya.  We had seagull escorts, doing areal laps around the ferry. 

The views in all directions were gorgeous and Chico and I had fun imagining cruising here in our live-aboard trawler, exploring the countless remote beaches lining the gulf.  When we arrived in Puntarenas our shuttle service met our group of six riders and we folded ourselves back into the middle bench of the shuttle bus, for what was supposed to be a 2-hour drive to Fortuna.  At the two-hour mark we were still 88 km from Fortuna, and 88 km is endless on these roads!

The first part of the drive from Puntarenas was promising: the roads were paved, pretty straight, people seemed to be following traffic rules.  Then we left the coast and headed into the mountains and everything changed.  The change was gradual, though, and about 30 minutes into the twists and turns Chico was still able to turn to me and say it was better than riding on the roads around Montezuma.  Not so many potholes, for sure.  At about that point we lost our view of the daytime sun for the first time in 28 days.  We entered the clouds and they were thick.  At the same time our road narrowed and there were segments where the guardrail protecting us from plummeting to an untimely end were glimpsed resting in gullies meters below the roadway.  And as we were twisting and turning in basically white out conditions we’d suddenly come to long bridges over rivers, where there is abruptly only room for one car.  If someone is coming from the other direction you must stop and wait your turn.  I think we were able to see about 15 feet in front of the van at points, which made this really an exciting exercise.

But our driver was very capable and delivered us safely to lovely Casa Luna Lodge, at about 1:30 yesterday afternoon, in a steady drizzle.  I felt very chilly for the first time since January 5th, and we did not know which direction to look for views of the volcano, since the clouds were so low and thick.  Just as we were heading out to the hot springs at sunset, though, the rain stopped. the clouds parted, and we had a magnificent view of the full volcano, with the sky changing from blue to pink to purple behind it.  Chico got a photo early in the process, but the most gorgeous moments were while we waited for our taxi, without the camera.  Take my word for it.  It was breathtaking.

Last night we went to Tabacon hot springs, which is a quite remarkable chain of scenic  pools and waterfalls, heated by the volcanic geothermal magic, surrounded by lush jungle vegetation, nature enhanced by art.  Very relaxing and kind of otherworldly. Deserves its own post, really, but I think we’ll move right on to birds.

February 6, 2011 / puravida2011

Last night in Montezuma

Friday evening, after eating the remains of our kitchen’s food for lunch in the afternoon (aside from some vinegar, soy sauce, a can of tofu, a can of refried beans, four hard-boiled eggs, a cantaloupe, and a cucumber, all of which we schlepped here to La Fortuna with us in a grocery bag) Chico and I made our last trip down the steep jungle path into Montezuma for dinner.  We had a nice meal at Puggo’s, meat kebabs for Chico and a whole baked fish with about two sticks of butter for me.  Mmm.  The taxi we had hoped to take back up the hill still had no driver in evidence after about 15 minutes of waiting, so I suggested we just climb back up, one last time, in the dark.  Great idea!

I think it was a brand-spanking new moon (at least I couldn’t see a sliver of it anywhere) and there are no lights after the first 1/8 mile or so of road, except for the occasional passing vehicle, which would blind us with its high beams for a moment, but then give us illumination for a few seconds, allowing us to lurch in the generally right direction for several paces.  Aside from the total lack of light and the risk of finding ourselves in the wrong spot when a 4X4 came barreling around a corner, it was much nicer to climb the hill in the relative cool of evening, without a bag of groceries on our backs.

About halfway up I started to think of snakes, though (and of you, Uncle Ed!), particularly of the highly venomous and somewhat aggressive (or “nervous” according to Wikipedia) fer de lance pit viper (Bothrops asper), which is nocturnal and likes living near people’s homes.  This snake is responsible for most of the snake bite casualties in much of Central and northern South America, and though it rarely causes death these days, due to antivenin availability, it can cause massive tissue necrosis at the site of the bite, sometimes requiring amputation, among other gory things.  And the viper is quite excitable and can squirt its venom 6 feet toward its victims.  Those of you medically-minded will be interested to learn that the average venom yield is about 500 mg and the LD 50 in mice is under 3 mg/kg.  Which means a single well-placed bite could kill 8333 mice of average size and toughness, if I’m doing my math right, which I could quite conceivably have messed up.  But heaps of mice, in any case.  Or it could kill me twice over, if I didn’t seek medical care promptly. and we know that prompt is a relative thing when there are ferries involved.

All of which is to say I became a bit jittery and began to stomp as I walked to give any snakes fair warning to clear the path.  I actually almost did step on a quite small snake coiled in the dirt road near our casita.  But it may not even have been a fer-de-lance, and in any case I missed it and it missed me.

We had a good night’s sleep with sweet dreams and rose early for the ride to the volcano, which will be my next post!