Joined February 2017 Message
  • Day69

    Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica

    March 25, 2017 in Costa Rica ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    Caribbean vibes, a change in weather, beach time and one last dose of animals.

    Puerto Viejo is a small beachside town on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and it also happens to be our last stop in this country. There's a few different beaches either side of the town, a couple of which have some decent surf so it's a popular place for surfers here. Otherwise there's not a heck of a lot going on but the Rastafarian culture is definitely apparent in this neck of the woods.

    Given we had the flexibility of a car and the hostel options weren't looking great, the four of us opted to stay in an Airbnb house about 4-5km south of the actual town for just a few extra bucks a night each. It was a wise decision and we ended up with a wee two bedroom place nestled in amongst the jungle with the best kitchen I've seen in a long while, (which we made some good use of) and essentially an outdoor living room. The perks of having an all year round warm climate I guess! We did have our fair share of insect visitors though, can't have it all. We spent much of our time here just relaxing as the previous week had been jam-packed with walks, activities and clocking up the driving hours.

    The first night rendered us some torrential rain which seems to have been a common theme in this country, a bit of a novelty considering we've seen next to none for the rest of the trip. The novelty soon wore off when we wanted to go and make the most of the beach, but instead we ventured to the nearby Cahuita National Park for a walk in the jungle by the beaches in the drizzling rain. In the beginning it was almost as if the sky and sea had merged into the same dull grey, but by the end of our leisurely stroll the day was trying to clear and the horizon became obvious again. Hooray!

    We were blessed with much better weather the following day so we kicked off the morning with a visit to the Jaguar Rescue Centre. This non-profit animal sanctuary and rescue centre was started by two vets who looked after a sick baby jaguar after its mother was murdered. Unfortunately the baby also died in the end, hence why they named the rescue centre after her. Nowadays they rehabilitate all sorts of different animals from birds, monkeys and sloths to crocodiles, wild cats and deer, with the view of reintroducing them back into the wild where possible. Any animal that couldn't go back to the wild for whatever reason, is given a permanent home at the centre. It is a slick run operation and it was great to visit a place that genuinely cared for the animals. You hear far too many stories of places that pose as rescue centres or sanctuaries but still treat the animals badly or don't try hard enough to get them back out there.

    The only way the centre makes money to care for the animals is from people like us visiting or just generally giving donations. The only way to visit involves doing a which allows you to meet all the animals and hear their stories of how they got there and their progress. Even though many of the species we had already seen in the wild, it was amazing to see these ones up close and to see each of their different personalities. One that was particularly cute was Rollo, a baby white-faced monkey who kept doing a little growl. The other was a peccary (similar to a pig) called Conchita who roams free in the centre and kept making cameo appearances as we made our way around, too funny. She was found alone when normally this type of pig travel in groups, so she was bought to the centre a couple of weeks prior. The other animals to mention are the sloths, of which they have many. Unfortunately a lot of animals in Costa Rica are either hurt or killed by the power lines as they're poorly insulated, so many sloth babies are often left without mothers which is how they end up at the centre. While it's obviously not great the reason they're at the centre in the first place, at least they're getting the help they need to get back into the wild when they're old enough and oh my goodness they make for cute viewing! The centre has many of the two-toed sloths which we haven't really seen and they are adorable so we were very happy to see them.

    While the centre doesn't currently have jaguars, they did have a few other types of wild cats, none of which we'd managed to see thus far as many of them are endangered, nocturnal or just much deeper in the forest. The margay was by far the cutest but also supposedly the most feral of the ones we saw. They're probably smaller than a medium sized dog but they can do some serious damage. The one currently there supposedly tried to take down a deer in the centre at one point before the staff came to the rescue, so you definitely wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of it. They also had an ocelot and a jaguarundi which had an abnormality in its spine which is currently awaiting surgery for.

    The Jaguar Rescue Centre was definitely a highlight and it was nice to know that the money was going somewhere useful. Who knows, maybe I'll come back to Puerto Viejo someday and help to volunteer here too. Playing with baby monkeys and sloths all day doesn't seem like too much of a tough gig!

    With the sun well and truly shining, the rest of our afternoon was spent at one of the best beaches in the area, Playa Cocles. There happened to be a surf competition on the same weekend so it was quite busy but made for some good entertainment in between body surfing the waves ourselves. Finally some sea water that was a refreshing temperature! Win.

    Puerto Viejo also marked our final destination with Shorty and Em as they head north to Tortuguero for a few days before flying back to London and we head south to Panamá. They've been some great travel buds and it's been awesome to catch up after a few months apart. We had a few overpriced beers (compared to the rest of Central America) at the beach to commemorate the occasion and bid farewell to them, Terry and Costa Rica the following morning.

    Costa Rica has been a completely different ball game to all the other Central American countries to date. It almost doesn't fit the mould. The prices for everything are much higher for a start, it's much cleaner in terms lack of rubbish, everything is lush and green - there are 35 national parks covering 11% of the country. There's animals to be seen everywhere and we saw more than our fair share of them. Some things here are more forward, some things are backwards. It's interesting. All in all we've had a great time getting amongst nature and having some freedom with a car for a couple of weeks was definitely a plus too.

    Pura Vida Costa Rica. Back to the bus game for us. Panamá here we come.
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  • Day67

    Cerro de la Muerte, Costa Rica

    March 23, 2017 in Costa Rica ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Our big day of driving continued from Sierpe and took us high up into the mountains that cover a large proportion of the lower half of Costa Rica. The highest point took us to the top of Cerro de la Muerte at 3451m, which was a fair amount of hill climbing for old Terry. We were just happy we weren't covering this by foot. The change in altitude bought with it a massive drop in temperature and a complete change of weather. We started the day in stunning sunshine, blue skies, strong heat and humidity in Drake Bay but in the mountains we found ourselves in the clouds, lapping up the cool breeze and even a few stray drops of rain.

    The locals obviously make use of the altitude up here as we saw many different types of food crops and of course many a coffee plantation too. Costa Rica is another Central American country which is well known for its quality coffee and have an estimated 130,000 coffee farms. Subsequently it is one of their main exports, although not as much today as previously, considering at one point in the 1900s it accounted for 90% of all their exports.

    The rest of our journey was largely uneventful but long, with the driving shared between Mike and Shorty until we hit the other side of the capital San José where there was much more traffic. With just single lane roads and a double yellow line constantly, everyone seems to just pass each other anyway whenever there is the smallest gap to do so. Shorty followed suit but didn't realise that there also happened to be two police cars parked on the opposite side of the road. Subsequently they pulled us over and then proceeded to try and tell us that it would be a $600USD fine for passing on s double yellow line. This was when I wished I'd done a bit of reading up on how corrupt the cops are here and how best to play it but obviously we knew this was a big yarn. $600 was laughable but maybe some people would fall for that. Eventually with a bit of bartering and pretending that we only had $50 on us, the end result was somewhat more of a bribe so they didn't write a fine. We probably could have got away with less or not even paid at all but in broken Spanish and just wanting to get back on the road and be on our way, Shorty and Em took the hit.

    By this point this 10 hour journey was really becoming a chore. Get us to Puerto Viejo. Stat.
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  • Day67

    Sierpe, Costa Rica

    March 23, 2017 in Costa Rica ⋅ 🌙 27 °C

    And so the 10 hour journey across the country begins. Unfortunately this is as direct as the route can get because there's a huge national park in the middle of the country that prevents us going straight across. Cue the tiki tour that takes us in basically a semi-circle almost back to San José before going over to the Caribbean Coast. It would actually be faster for us to go through Panama but two border crossings would add to that time and also there's the minor detail that we aren't allowed to take Terry out of Costa Rica. 10 hour journey it is then.

    Torrential rain on our last evening in Drake Bay had us all a bit nervous about tackling the river crossings again on the road back out. Our host Lucy recommended us an alternative route that would supposedly shave an hour and half from our total time by taking a new road that doesn't even exist on Google maps. With no signs on the roads, we were instead armed with some fairly vague instructions, "cross the first river and take the second left past the airport, there's a school on the corner."

    Bring on the unpaved roads again and here goes.

    We crossed the first river and then looked out for any signs of an airport. We knew realistically it was probably just going to be an airstrip of some kind for small planes but saw no such thing. We reached the second road on the left and saw no school either. We looped back and saw a school a bit further down that second road on the left so took the plunge and hoped this was the one we were after. We couldn't really afford to take the wrong roads either as there were no petrol stations for miles and Terry was already on less than half a tank.

    The road took us in all sorts of directions around the hills but also gave us amazing views of the mangroves along this part of the coast and through forests again. We have been very lucky to see some amazing scenery here in Costa Rica. Everything is always so lush and green and clean. It's so nice to be somewhere clean again after a few months in some seriously grimy countries where they really just give no thought about throwing their rubbish wherever they please.

    15km took us almost an hour on the unpaved roads. It was somewhat soul destroying to see written on one of the first signs we'd seen in a while but eventually we joined up to a better road that got us covering ground more quickly. This route required us to take what Lucy described as a ferry, across one of the inlets by the small town of Sierpe. Mike and I had already pictured that this was going to be more of a barge like the one we had used in Guatemala, but we hadn't expected that it was going to be powered by a small boat attached to the side of it. Classic.

    Two workers guided us to drive onto the back of this barge with one other car for the short journey across. It was only 20 metres or so of water that required crossing so it was over within a couple of minutes but at least it provided some entertainment and a change of scenery for a short while before we continued on. Whether this route really saved us any time is yet to be seen but nonetheless it was nice to see a different area.

    A road block from a children's sports day in Sierpe had us taking a tiki-tour of the town's few streets before we finally arrived back to proper roads and the highway for the next leg of the journey. Happy to see the back of unpaved roads that's for sure.
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  • Day66

    Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

    March 22, 2017 in Costa Rica ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    This area is insane. It is honestly like a scene from the TV series, Lost - if you can handle the back breaking boat journey to get there, that is.

    Corcovado National Park occupies 40% of the Oso Peninsula and is hugely biodeverse making it home to half of Costa Rica's species. There was a time that people inhabited this area but in 1975 it was declared a national park and therefore these residents had to move elsewhere. Today it is dense forest, although the area we walked in was of course secondary forest so not so thick and the trees weren't as high as other places we have been.

    We had a 5:30am wake up call in order to leave the lodge by 5:45am to follow our host Lucy down to the beach (who said travelling was easy or relaxing?!). There we met with our guide for the day, Alberto and picked up our surprisingly large packed lunches. Where was all this food for Acatenango? These days it's mandatory to have a guide to visit Corcovado, presumably partly due to its immense size, a somewhat lack of marked trails and also to protect the park and its wildlife. Although it was a bit of a sting on the old budget, the plus side of having a guide is that they are able to tell you about the animals you see and they're more likely to know where to look to find them in the first place, not to mention that they usually carry around a telescope which makes it possible to get a decent view of said animals, especially when they're often far away or hidden amongst the trees.

    Drake Bay sits on the outskirts of the park so a boat trip was required to get us to the Sirena Ranger station, the area of the park where we were going to be walking. With no jetties in sight, the boats can only do wet landings at the beach so it was a barefoot affair as we clambered onto the boat with some companions for the day. And so began a one and a half hour boat journey that would liken to riding a camel at speed. Huge swells made for a bumpy and uncomfortable ride, definitely stirred up my old back injury yet again and probably gave everyone else a new one. It wasn't all bad though, we had stunning views of the coast and the jungle, not to mention an insane amount of deserted beaches. Backs and bums having definitely seen better days, we finally reached the bay we were after. Some decent surf (at least 2-3metres) provided a slightly hairy entrance but clearly it wasn't the driver's first rodeo as he manoeuvred the boat to surf the waves in so we made it to shore safely. Another wet dismount onto the beach meant we were battling with sandy feet to then put socks and shoes on top of to walk with for the day. Joy! After a quick sign-in at the tourist office which was really just a couple of sticks and a tarpaulin, we were on our way.

    Within ten minutes of walking we had already seen numerous animals - coatis, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, some ground based birds I can't remember the name of and one of the largest grasshoppers I've ever seen, literally the length of my hand or possibly even longer. The morning continued with the guide helping us find all sorts of animals including a sloth and it's baby (so adorable) as well as the well camouflaged red eyed tree frog, which is brightly coloured red, blue and orange underneath but when sleeping as we saw it, you can only see bright green.

    While we've seen many animals now multiple times in some of the other national parks in Costa Rica, it is still interesting to go to different parks because we've had different experiences with the animals at each park. For Corcovado one of the highlight was watching a big group of spider monkeys having a fight in one of the trees and making an almighty racket. At one point one of the monkeys fell or was thrown by one of the others, a decent distance out of the tree to the point where our guide had to go and make sure he hadn't died or was lying hurt on the forest floor. Unable to spot him, we carried on with the assumption that it just looked worse from afar and the monkey was ok.

    Crossing a couple of streams, we found a Cayman which is like a small crocodile, lurking with its head above water. Even though they're much smaller they still manage to look menacing. A little walk longer and we reached a river mouth where we stopped to have an early lunch whilst birds circled overhead and loads of tiny crabs all with unique shells scrambled on the sand underfoot.

    After lunch we continued on our mission to find the elusive Baird's Tapir, the largest mammal in Central America and one of the animals we hadn't managed to see in Costa Rica yet. Unfortunately they're endangered which obviously makes them a little harder to find, but Corcovado was going to be our best bet. During our hunt we found some squirrel monkeys, also endangered and only found in a small area of Costa Rica. We saw one of these in Manuel Antonio bouncing in the trees by the beach but this time there were two just resting in the trees which supposedly is not common to see as they're usually busy bodies as their name would suggest. Our guide strayed off the path a few times to check by streams and rivers as tapirs can swim and also will go to water to drink. Still no luck. We'd mostly given up on the chance of seeing these creatures when suddenly we stumbled across a mother and baby sleeping not far off the one of the paths.

    The guide took us quietly closer to we could each get a better look one at a time and have the opportunity to take photos. The tapirs were much bigger than I expected, I'm not sure why I had in my head that they were like the size of small pig. They're bigger than a large pig but smaller than a rhino or hippo. Supposedly their closest relatives are actually rhinos and horses. After a few minutes of us being there, the baby got up and started walking away and calling to the mother. They have a very strange call, almost like a high pitched squeal which really doesn't match what they look like. Tapirs have bad eyesight so they rely mainly on hearing and smell to find each other and find their way around. It turned out the baby had sensed another male tapir coming. Normally tapirs are solitary animals aside from mother and babies so sometimes the males attack the babies but in this case he just ended up settling down to sleep near them. This is usually the only time you see more than one together.

    Everyone was happy that we'd managed to spot the tapirs when we'd almost given up and we continued our way back to the boat on a slightly different route, when suddenly Alberto was shouting "snake!". Again this was the first we'd seen in Costa Rica, but blink and you'd easily miss it. This one was a tiger rat snake which moved very quickly in the leaves on the forest floor but we managed to catch a couple of glimpses of it before it slithered away. Our weird streak of finding animals we hadn't seen before continued with an anteater who bounded across the path in front of the guide and Mike who were at the front of the group, before proceeding to jump up and climb a tree. Such bizarre looking creatures they are.

    Our boat was waiting for us when we got back to the beach and so followed another sketchy exit from the bay through big surf which had us hanging on for dear life when it almost tipped us out a couple of times. Against the odds we were back at Drake Bay by early afternoon which gave us time to hit the beach and have a swim and a bodysurf at what is basically a deserted stretch of beach.

    The four of us hit a bit of a wall about where in Costa Rica to head to next. The idea of climbing Chirripo the highest peak in the country, was thrown around but it was by no means a small adventure and would have taken the best part of two days which none of us were really sure we were up to. With not much else we wanted to see or do in the middle of Costa Rica, we decided instead of wasting a couple of days just to break up the travel it was best to take the hit for one day and take the 10 hour journey over to Puerto Viejo, a beach town on the Caribbean Coast.

    Bring on the cabin fever.
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  • Day65

    Bahía Drake, Costa Rica

    March 21, 2017 in Costa Rica ⋅ ☀️ 13 °C

    It's one of the most isolated places in Costa Rica but Bahía Drake (pronounced drah-kay) was well worth the effort to get to, especially as a jumping off point to visit Corcovado National Park.

    It took us about 4 hours to drive from Manuel Antonio to Drake Bay on a somewhat roundabout route. On the map it looks like the road is right on the coast but in reality we only caught glimpses of it every now and then between palm tree plantations and forests. Eventually the road goes inland to Piedras Blancas, where we turned off (well actually we missed the turn originally didn't we, Shorty!?) back to the west towards Peninsula de Osa. This route took us past Golfo Dulce, but again we only periodically had glimpses of this stunning gulf between the trees. After driving a decent while without seeing much of anyone or anything except for forests, the town of Rincón was an unexpectedly large settlement for Costa Rica but it also saw the end of the paved roads. A quick pitstop for a cup of joe and a fruit shake and we buckled in for the last 20km or so stretch on unpaved roads.

    These unpaved roads didn't have any signs and we frequently reached a fork in the road that we'd just have to take a gamble with because even with our google maps on, we weren't really matching up with being where we should be. Terry had to take on three river crossings, for which we were thanking our past selves for doing the research on needing to hire a 4WD. Supposedly in wet season the road becomes impassable and I can definitely believe that. The rivers were still quite deep in parts so it took a bit of guess work on where best to drive. We were just hoping there was no more rain while we were in the area! Perhaps these roads all join up eventually or we have some good intuition but we somehow made it to Drake Bay just before nightfall and managed to get a quick glimpse of the beautiful deserted beach. What is this place!

    After driving for so long without seeing signs of much civilisation, it was slightly bizarre to suddenly find the village at Drake Bay. Like other places we've been to in Costa Rica, it was quite small and mainly just one street with a dairy, fruit and vege store, a handful of restaurants, tour companies and the like.

    We pulled up to Paradise Lodge, our home for the next couple of nights to find the lovely owner Lucy and our wooden hut (or cabina as they're called here) amongst a lovely garden come forest. For less than the price of a hostel dorm, it was a no brainer to stay in a nicer place and have a private room for the four of us, especially after a couple of nights in the prison cell dorm at Manuel Antonio. Lucy quickly got us organised onto a tour for Corcovado National Park the following morning and then explained about the animals we might see even just in the garden here. In the end we didn't spend much time there in the daylight so only really saw a handful of birds and a rogue toad! Supposedly they saw a tayra (weasel like thing) while we were on our tour though. It still amazes me how many animals there are in this country and the fact that you can see them amongst areas of civilisation so often.

    We had hoped to make use of the simple outdoor kitchen and do some of our own cooking but the prices at the supermarket (really just a dairy) weren't great nor was the produce so we figured we'd just stick with going out. We had to succumb to the hamburgesas again. Help. Thankfully the comida rapida (fast food) place we went to also knew how to make a mean fruit smoothie. It's all about balance right...?

    Next post: Corcovado
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  • Day64

    Cataratas Nauyaca, Costa Rica

    March 20, 2017 in Costa Rica ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    A visit to a stunning waterfall, but not before a horrific walk that left the four of us dripping in sweat, looking like the waterfall we were trying to get to.

    This post is a bit out of order just to make things confusing but think of it more as a side post. As I wrote previously, with messing up our timing in Manuel Antonio to visit the national park, (i.e being there on a Monday, the only day of the week the park is closed) we had to do a bit of a switch around of our plans. We'd intended to visit a waterfall called Cataratas Nauyaca on our journey from Manuel Antonio further south, but ended up doing this as a day trip instead.

    The road took us past huge palm tree plantations and subsequently a palm oil factory. We're unsure if this is an eco-friendly one, but that's the hope. It looked rather ominous though. Costa Rica is the leading producer of palm oil in the Americas and while there are global ethical standards to be followed in terms producing palm oil whilst still protecting the environment, not all companies actually follow these. Some companies here have been in trouble for degrading the environment plus child and immigrant labour issues. Sigh.

    On a brighter note, we found another cheap (for Costa Rica) roadside restaurant that did good and cheap food for lunch on the way and then ended up returning again for dinner because when you find a good one, just stick with it.

    In hindsight, it probably wasn't our wisest move to embark on this one hungover and in the brutal heat in the middle of the day. This waterfall is on private land so we purchased our tickets from the grumpy woman at the desk and set out to walk to the falls. We quickly realised she hadn't actually told us where to go nor were there any signs, so had to go back to the office and ask, much to her displeasure it seemed! We left our car on the main road because the woman also didn't inform us that we could have driven the first kilometre or two and parked our car in a carpark. Normally this wouldn't be such a big deal but this first kilometre or so of the walk happened to be a rather steep hill which was fine for the way down but the whole time, we were thinking how bad it was going to be walking back.

    The rest of the walk was undulating, through farms and across streams. Normally it would probably be quite an enjoyable 5-6km walk, but on this particular day it felt like hell to all of us in the sweltering heat and humidity. It would have been about 35 degrees and humidity that day must have been at least 80-90% and honestly, I don't think I've ever wanted a swim more in my life. I'm not sure I've ever been so sweaty in my life either. It took us about an hour and each kilometre there was a sign telling you how many more there were to go. I'm not sure if this was a good or bad thing, but each kilometre began to feel longer and longer and signs further and further apart.

    The relief of finally reaching the waterfall was immense. Shoes and clothes couldn't be discarded fast enough and we scrambled over the rocks into an amazingly refreshing pool at the base of the waterfall. Bliss.

    The waterfall itself was stunning with multiple different layers and levels. You could sit underneath it and have a free shower or water massage due to the power of the water. In some ways it was surprising the amount of water here because there are so many other waterfalls and rivers that are just completely dry at this time of year - it being dry season and all - but definitely weren't complaining. There seemed to be many American school or university groups and families around, perhaps this is a common area to be holidaying in for them. Some of the lads scaled the waterfall and jumped off various levels which was fun to watch.

    We spent an hour or two at the waterfall and then succumbed to the fact that we were going to have to endure that walk all over again. A quick visit to the upper section of the waterfall that you're not able to swim in and then we were on our way. The walk back was actually much more pleasurable and seemed to pass much quicker, possibly because we had cooled down and the day was cooling down too. Until we reached that beast of a last hill, that is. Our somewhat higher spirits were quickly dashed especially with cars driving past us. Even the two-wheel drive cars were battling to get up the hill on that dirt road.

    Normally you'd probably say a beer was well deserved after this day but after the previous night, none of us could face one. It's fair to say we were all well and truly pooped!
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  • Day64

    Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

    March 20, 2017 in Costa Rica ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    The heat and humidity is well and truly back in full force. Holy heck. But we're back by the Pacific Ocean and the beach. Only problem is it's not a refreshing place to swim - honestly the water temperature must be at least in the late 20s. It's insane, but at least being immersed in water is better than being immersed in your own sweat.

    Manuel Antonio is essentially a settlement on one long street set in the hills that carries on down to the coast, right next to the National Park of the same name. Again it seems mostly tourist focussed with hotels and restaurants and prices to match. Thankfully having the car meant we could avoid walking up and down these hills all the time.

    Our hostel in Manuel Antonio was Vista Serena and as the name suggests, it had a serene view. Situated up on a hill, from the balcony of the main building we could see out to the Pacific and witnessed arguably one of the best sunsets I've seen in a while. Unfortunately I can't rave about our dorm so much. It was a 16 bed dorm that resembled a prison cell but it was cool at night and it was somewhere to lay our heads, which at the end of the day is all we really need. We managed to see some more woodpeckers just outside of our room though and many other birds from the main balcony, including the beautiful scarlet macaws.

    We spent our first afternoon at a lovely long stretch of beach called Playa Espadilla. It's situated right next to the entrance of the Manuel Antonio National Park and is basically jungle backing straight onto the beach, it's insane. A couple of people pointed out a sloth sleeping in one of the trees, quite hidden but we think it was a two-toed sloth which have a slightly different coat to the three-toed one we've seen and of course less toes. Supposedly the two types of sloth are not actually related, they've evolved completely separately but just happen to have similarities. We also saw a squirrel monkey bouncing about in the trees, fun little critter. So amazing to see these animals just hanging about right by the beach and with humans nearby.

    That evening we somehow ended up rather deep in beers after dinner at the little shack next to our hostel. The workers at the shack even ended up letting us choose our own music to play by Bluetooth which ended up in rounds of choosing a song each and only added to the amount of beers consumed. Smart play. Many a Kiwi song was played and our budget was well and truly blown but the four of us had a good time and plenty a deep chat. At one point we started trying to talk to a lady on her own at the next table, only to realise she was deaf and didn't speak any English. After a bit of trial and error with google translate, we came to the conclusion that she was from Ukraine and spoke Russian. I have no idea how she was getting by over here with that combination of things but props to her! Turns out there's different sign languages in the world too, as when I tried to practice the alphabet with her, it was completely different to what we were taught at school in New Zealand. I guess also because the Russian alphabet is different anyway...

    We managed to time our visit to Manuel Antonio for the only day of the week that the park is closed, Monday. We only realised our poor planning on the drive half way here, so we had to do a switch-around of our planned activities. I'll write a separate post about our visit to Cataratas Nauyaca.

    Tuesday morning rolled around and the four of us had another early start so we could get to the park for opening at 7am to try and avoid the crowds, the heat and hopefully increase our chances of seeing more animals. Considering Manuel Antonio National Park is the country's smallest and most popular park, we should have probably expected that even at this time it would still be busy as everyone else had the same idea. Supposedly the reason the park is closed on Mondays is to allow the animals relief from these crowds and there are now daily visitor caps too. I can't help but feel these daily caps should be much lower given our experience.

    We got walking quickly to try and get into the less populated trails of the park. Our first impressions weren't great of this park, at one stage we thought we weren't going to be able to see anything given the amount of people and the noise of everyone talking. The park itself is set right on the coast and also encompasses three beaches so we headed out to the trails that lead to these first. There are many short trails here, most of which we ended up completing within three hours or so.

    You can hire guides for this park but none of them seem to be overly official and we backed ourselves enough to try and find the animals on our own. You could probably quite easily walk through without seeing anything much if you weren't looking hard enough or were just unlucky. We met a few people along some of the paths early on who hadn't seen anything, hopefully they were able to eventually. Thankfully we managed to see quite a lot of different animals in the end.

    On our way out to the beaches we spotted some spider monkeys, an agouti (a weird rodent like creature) and a lone white-nosed coati which crossed the path we were walking on and almost jumped up on Mike! Mike got his wildlife spotting goggles on and found a three-toed sloth hidden in the trees, a basilisk lizard, squirrels and many a monkey. He spotted two white-faced monkeys in the trees who subsequently decided to come down and see us. The boys and I weren't really sure what the monkeys would do so we were half chased away by them, much to Em's enjoyment! The monkeys were very inquisitive and it was amazing to see them up close. One of them appeared to have a huge gash in his leg, possibly from a fight but whether the park knew about this or would do anything I'm not sure. There were no park rangers about that we could see, so who knows how this side of things work here.

    The views from the lookout and the beach that we walked to were lovely, turquoise waters and rocky coastlines with golden sand. There was another path we could have taken to see the other beaches but by this point the park was rapidly filling up with tour groups and it looked like the walk would be a battle for personal space so we decided against it. We headed back towards the main entrance on the main path, where guides were pointing out many sloths and monkeys in the trees. We took a path to a waterfall in the hope of perhaps seeing some frogs that we hadn't been able to spot yet, only to arrive at the end of the trail to a completely dried up waterfall. Probably to be expected given its dry season, but a little heads up would have been nice!

    After a bit of a sketchy start at the Manuel Antonio park, we did actually end up seeing a fair few animals and enjoyed the views of the coast but we were also equally happy avoid the increasing crowds by late morning and seek relief from the heat and humidity. A quick dip at Playa Espadilla again and we're on our way to the next destination of Drake Bay, which is further south on the Pacific Coast but a lot more isolated, in order to visit Corcovado National Park.
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  • Day63

    Tarcoles, Costa Rica

    March 19, 2017 in Costa Rica ⋅ ☀️ 34 °C

    Crocodiles. Far too many crocodiles.

    The road from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio took us on a lovely scenic route down from the mountains, through Tarcoles and over the river with the same name.

    Tarcoles is on the map because of the huge amount of crocodiles that reside in the river below a bridge on one of the main highways, so it warranted a stop. I'm talking at least twenty crocodiles that we could see, let alone the ones hiding secretly in the shallows. And not small ones either. These were some of the biggest crocodiles any of us had seen! You would not want to fall off this bridge. Why they all hang out here, I don't know.

    We had a quick stop in the beachside town Jaco, which weirdly reminded me of beach towns in New Zealand. Struggling to find cheap food, we continued on and stopped at one of the roadside restaurants instead for a local style meal - Casado. Generally your choice of meat with beans, rice, cheese, salad and sometimes squash. This particular place threw in an egg too for good measure. We're battling a bit with the food in Costa Rica. Prices are up on previous countries but also the cheapest food is American style food - hamburgers, pizzas, fries. You know the drill. It's bizarre that local style food is not the cheapest choice as it is in most countries and street food doesn't seem to be a thing either. Doh.

    Short post whilst in transit! Manuel Antonio, here we come.
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  • Day62

    Monteverde, Costa Rica

    March 18, 2017 in Costa Rica ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    Monteverde translates to "green mountains", which accurately describes this area. Lush green forests cover the mountains and we welcomed the relief from the heat, even though we weren't particularly high to warrant a 10-15 degree drop from Nicaragua - only about 1500m.

    We stayed at Hammock House in Santa Elena, a small town similar to La Fortuna on the outskirts of the Monteverde Reserve. They cooked a mean pancake brekkie that got us going each morning and had a few hammocks to cement the name and pass the time. A wee balcony out the back

    Arriving mid-afternoon and again battling with a severe lack of free activities, we walked to see a huge old Ficus Tree/Florida strangler tree. These trees are neat. They have a strange growth habit due to an adaption of growing in dark forests where there's a fierce battle for light. They usually start as seeds dispersed by birds in the treetops then grow roots downward to envelope a host tree whilst also growing roots upwards for sunlight. In some instances the host tree dies, which leaves behind an empty column-like tree mould which is what we saw. This particular tree is amazingly tall and you can climb probably a good 20metres up inside of it. Nature is pretty cool huh.

    The Monteverde area is known for its lush green cloud forests, so we headed to one of the lesser known ones in the hope of escaping crowds and steeper prices. Santa Elena Reserve was only a 20 minute drive from our hostel but had a completely different climate. Microclimates they say. The sunshine we had in Santa Elena town was replaced with some heavy rain in the reserve. We got there early in the hope of having more of an opportunity of seeing wildlife and beating the crowds but I think the rain meant that people nor animals turned up! Unfortunately we didn't really see any wildlife here - mainly just a couple of insects. We heard lots of birds but rarely saw them and missed out on seeing the Resplendent Quetzal. This bird is supposedly one of the most beautiful in the world and this was the best chance we had of seeing one but obviously it was not to be. There a still a couple of other places we may see it, so there's still hope yet. To be fair, if I were an animal in that rain, I probably would have huddled up somewhere to hide too!

    We did a few different trails which ended up taking us around three hours, most of which was in the rain in an appropriately named rainforest. Even with the lack of wildlife, it was a beautiful area to walk. It reminded me a lot of New Zealand trails especially as there were so many ferns which looked very similar to the ones we have at home. It was epic to be amongst so much green again, especially considering it has been dry season everywhere we've been. And no litter in sight either. Hooray! Given only some of the paths were paved, we were all rather soggy and muddy by the end of it all.

    Back in the sunshine and warmth of Santa Elena town, we hit up one of the local coffee shops. Post cups of joe, we got talking to the guy working there and established that the cafe had only been open four days. It was part of a company that is well known for its coffee farm and tours in Monteverde, so he was impressed at the knowledge that Mike and I had learnt about coffee from our time in Central America. Before we knew it we were being sat down again whilst he made us all a Chemex style coffee for free using the specialty coffee from the farm. What a lovely guy.

    Mike's solo MERC the previous night had scouted us an awesome sunset spot, perched on the top of one of the hills, looking out over Lake Arenal. It was super windy but it was yet another amazing place to see the sun disappear. One of my favourite pastimes when travelling is the ability to find so many wicked places to watch the sunset and just having all the time in the world to do so. It's so calming and it's just something that always gets forgotten about when everyone is caught up in the daily grind.

    Monteverde was a stunning area, but unfortunately our backpacker budgets weren't up to the amount of tours and expensive activities such as zip-lining on offer here to warrant staying long. We're fine with it though, for Mike and I it's going to be tough to beat the zip-lining we did in Laos, and the others weren't down for the extortionate prices either! Next we're changing it up by heading out of the mountains and down to the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio to be exact.
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  • Day61

    Laguna de Arenal, Costa Rica

    March 17, 2017 in Costa Rica ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    FindPenguins only lets me add six photos to each post so I'm feeling Costa Rica is going to have more posts than usual, partly just because of the amount of photos we're taking and the amount of different animals we are seeing, even just on the side of the road! Even the journeys between places are becoming part of the fun. The joys of having your own car and travelling on your own time.

    The journey from La Fortuna to Monteverde took us essentially in a big loop on a road around Lago de Arenal and beyond. Although the two places aren't too far apart geographically, (say 26km) there's a national park between them that stops us from taking a direct route. Lucky for us, it was a stunning three hour drive with views of the lake and then views of farmlands in the hills. The winds were high and the lake was rough so there were numerous wind farms in the hills spinning away and kite surfers making use of the lake.

    We'd only been driving about 15 minutes before we saw a load of cars stopped on the road. This has become the sign that there is wildlife around, this time it was realised at least 10 white nosed coatis just hanging out by the roadside. They're an animal I'd never heard of before, but supposedly they're from the same family as raccoons. Females and adolescents can travel in groups of up to 30, whilst males usually roam alone. They're slightly bizarre looking creatures with almost pig like wee snouts and long tails, but they've been a highlight to date.

    Further into our journey Em somehow managed to spot a monkey in the trees off the side of the road as we passed by in the car. How, I don't know, but with a bit of backtracking we pulled up and realised there were a few mantled howler monkeys. Mike and I had seen and heard these in Mexico and Guatemala, they're noisy wee things. I can't even describe the sound, you might have to google it if you're interested. These ones weren't making any noises however, but they were quite tough to see, let alone get photos of as they move a lot and they were quite far away and hiding in amongst the trees. Hooray for the zoom lens, which also doubles as a set of binoculars. Em is almost swimming in choices of camera lenses to use so she's been kind enough to lend me one of her zoom lenses while we're here, which is proving very useful for all the wildlife.

    Rough, unpaved roads on the last 40km stretch into Monteverde tested old Terry's 4WD skills. Thankfully he's passed with flying colours although we may as well have gone on a rollercoaster the way our heads were bobbing around! It's bizarre in some ways that these well-travelled roads are still unpaved. We've seen better roads in less well-off countries over here. Looks like all the money is going to looking after the national parks instead. Fair call.
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