Costa Rica 7/04

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A glimpse of real eco-tourism; rainforests, waterfalls, volcanoes, coffee farms and a natural hot spring...

LaPaz - Encantada waterfalls

I took an opportunity to do a short summer "sanity vacation", this time south to Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a quick 3 1/2 hour flight out of DFW, located between Panama and Nicaragua in Central America. There's a lot to recommend here (I returned  again in April 2006 with Craig and in November 2012 with Ben). Costa Rica seems safe, offers a lot to do and see, has few bugs and surprisingly is not that hot. It reminded me of some of the less crowded areas of Hawaii. During the rainy season (May - November) you need great, not just good raingear, as it rains hard in the afternoon. Regrettably, my first and last impressions came from San Jose's airport - the worst airport I've ever experienced, with almost no services, very long lines for no reason, and a litany of other idiocy.

Thursday July 22nd

My flight arrived from DFW at 9pm CST (no daylight savings time in Costa Rica). After more than an hour clearing immigration and customs, I headed outside where I was met by a Marriott greeter who escorted me over to the side for a 15 minute wait for the van to the hotel. The trip to the Marriott took just another 10 minutes. The Costa Rica Marriott is truly magnificent. It's set on a coffee plantation with nice views from great rooms with large balconies. The hotel travel desk had already set up my tour for the next day, based on exchanging emails the week before. I only had two full days, so I wanted to hit the ground running.

In Zarcero - Evangelisco Blanco's topiary garden

Friday July 23rd

The tour began with a 7am pick-up at the hotel by Tropical Excursions. My tour routes and stops for both days are shown on the map in the first picture above. I usually avoid organized tours because they move too slow, have hideous food and a hit-or-miss chance of being surrounded for the day by obnoxious people. All it takes sometimes is just one. This 12 hour tour went well. I met an interesting group of people and had an excellent tour guide. The food was still hideous and it moved slow, but I wouldn't have been able to move as fast driving on my own. We stopped first at a coffee farm north of San Jose (second picture above).  From there we headed toward Poas volcano, stopping briefly for breakfast. The weather changed fast from sunny and pleasant to rainy and cold as we climbed the mountain. The view at the top was completely obscured until the rain let up. Then, suddenly the clouds lifted and the mile-wide Poas crater appeared right below us (third picture above).

From there we drove to LaPaz Waterfall Gardens which had a butterfly observatory (just try to get a picture of butterflies sometime - that's why there's none here), a hummingbird garden, and a series of four waterfalls along a steep walkway. The trick to taking waterfall pictures there (large picture at top left of this page and fourth picture above) was to cover up the camera until you shoot, because the spray from the falls soaked everything in seconds. We ate a lousy cafeteria lunch there that everyone else on the tour seemed to love and then headed off through the virgin rainforest toward the lowlands on the northern Caribbean side of the country (first picture below along the road).

We arrived at Puerto Viejo (approaching Nicaragua) and took a great boat trip on the Sarapiqui river (second picture above). There was a lot of wildlife along the shores. The third picture above shows monkeys perched in the trees. Monkeys were everywhere. We spotted a sloth hanging from one tree (fourth picture above) and saw a bunch of iguanas, bats, crocodiles and oxen. As sunset approached, we headed back through the Braulio Carrillo National Park, taking what is referred to as 'the road of death' across to San Jose. The road itself wasn't in bad shape, but the heavy rains crossing the mountains made it a bit exciting. I finished the day at the wine and tapas bar at the Marriott - La Isabela. I really enjoyed this restaurant, which did an excellent job of capturing the flavor of a small Andalusian tablao. Two flamenco dancers provided live entertainment (first picture below) and the tapas and wine selections were superb. I had the cured Spanish ham, marinated white asparagus, roasted garlic, swordfish with a curried eggplant puree, tenderloin in a spicy cheese sauce, and two good Tempranillo wines. Total cost including tip was under $40.

Saturday July 24th

My Saturday tour wasn't quite as good as Friday's, but it was worthwhile. Pick-up at the hotel was at 10am. We headed up to Sarchi, which is the place where Costa Ricans make their famous painted ox carts as well as most of the furniture used in hotels and public buildings. Sarchi itself was touristy, filled with junk shops, but also had a crowded town square with a bazaar going on in front of the town church (second picture above). From Sarchi we headed up to Zarcero, stopping at their town square which is filled with an interesting topiary garden done by Evangelisco Blanco (large picture top right and third picture above) fronted by a church with some unique paintings by Misael Solis. We ate lunch just outside of Zarcero as heavy rains moved in. From there we headed north to the very active Arenal volcano, which casts an imposing presence for quite a distance along the drive (fourth picture above). Lava flows were evident every few minutes cascading down the slopes.

Just behind Arenal are the Tabacon Hot Springs, where we changed into swim wear and spent a couple hours moving between a series of natural hot spring mineral pools ranging from over 110 degrees F at the top down to about 100 F near the bottom. The first picture below is the view from my favorite top pool looking through the rainforest up toward Arenal. The second and third pictures below give a flavor of some of the other mineral pools. As evening set in, I could see bright red lava flows coming down the slopes of Arenal from the top mineral pools. A striking view, but regrettably the night pictures I took were obscured by Tabacon Resort's lights. We then had a crowded, somewhat edible cafeteria style dinner there, which again everyone on the tour except me seemed to love and then drove to a lookout point for some night lava flow views. We then did the long drive south to San Jose, getting back to the Marriott around 11pm.


Sunday July 25th

I spent a relaxing Sunday morning enjoying coffee and breakfast on my balcony (view shown in fourth picture below) and then took a couple of long walks into two small towns near the Marriott.

Having once again accomplished my goal of slowing myself down and generally returning to my own vague definition of sanity, I flew back to Los Angeles through DFW that afternoon.

Home Up Aruba 10/04 Aruba 4/09 Aruba 7/13 Aruba 5/14 Cancun 5/07 Costa Rica 4/06 Costa Rica 7/04 Costa Rica 11/12 Curacao 2/05 Grand Cayman 12/00 Jamaica 7/07 Panama 12/13 Puerto Rico & Vieques 12/08 Puerto Rico & Vieques 9/08 Puerto Rico 12/07 Puerto Rico coasts 7 & 9/14 Saint Kitts 2/06 Virgin Islands 12/03

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