Farewell Costa Rica, Hello Snow

Snow and Morning Sun

We arrived at Sea-Tac to a fresh coating of snow, now that was a surprise, especially having come from the tropics.  No problems getting home from the airport thankfully and we finally arrived home around 1:30 a.m. and fell into bed.  Travel days always seem to be exhausting.

Welcome Home!

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Bats, Birds & Butterflies

BIRDS AND ANIMALS

This is a list of the birds and animals that we saw and remembered to write down.  There were many more, Andres and the other birders compiled a list of over 150 different birds alone.  Costa Rica is an amazing place!

  1. Acorn Woodpecker – San Gerardo de Dota
  2. Agouti – Corcovado
  3. Anhinga – Rio Frio
  4. Black and White Frog – Corcovado
  5. Black Ctenosaur – La Foresta and Manuel Antonio
  6. Black Swallowtail Butterfly – Monteverde
  7. Black Vulture
  8. Blue Morpho Butterfly – Monteverde
  9. Blue-Gray Tanager – Sonafluca
  10. Brown Pelican – Manuel Antonio
  11. Brown Winged Hawk
  12. Cattle Egret – Everywhere
  13. Clay-colored Robin
  14. Cloudless Sulfur Butterfly – Monteverde
  15. Coatimundi – Monteverde
  16. Common Ground Dove
  17. Crested Caracara
  18. Crocodile – Corcovado and Rio Tarcoles
  19. Deer – Manuel Antonio
  20. False Fer de Lance – Drake Bay
  21. Fer de Lance – Corcovado
  22. Frigate – Manuel Antonio and Drake Bay
  23. Great Kiskadee – Everywhere
  24. Great Owl Butterfly – Monteverde
  25. Great Tailed Grackle – Everywhere
  26. Green Heron – Rio Frio
  27. Green Iguana – Rio Frio
  28. Green Kingfisher
  29. Green Parakeet
  30. Ground Anole – La Foresta
  31. Howler Monkey – Corcovado
  32. Ibis – Rio Frio
  33. Jesus Christ Lizard – Rio Frio and Sonafluca
  34. Laughing Falcon – Pan American Highway
  35. Little Blue Heron – Rio Frio
  36. Long-nosed Bat – Rio Frio
  37. Nero Glasswing Butterfly – Monteverde
  38. Oropendula – Lake Arenal
  39. Osprey – Corcovado
  40. Passerrini’s Tanager
  41. Racoon – Monteverde
  42. Red-legged Honeycreeper
  43. Resplendent Quetzal – San Gerardo de Dota
  44. Roadside Hawk – Road of Death
  45. Roseate Spoonbill – Near La Foresta
  46. Rufus tailed Hummingbird
  47. Scarlet Macaw – Drake Bay
  48. Slender Anole – La Foresta
  49. Small Postman Butterfly – Monteverde
  50. Snowy Egret – Rio Frio
  51. Song Wren
  52. Spectacled Caiman – Rio Frio
  53. Spider Monkey – Corcovado
  54. Squirrel Monkey – La Foresta
  55. Swallow Tailed Kite – Road of Death
  56. Tamandua Collared Anteater – Manuel Antonio
  57. Three-toed Sloth – Manuel Antonio
  58. Toucan – Tarcoles
  59. Turkey Vulture – Everywhere
  60. Two-toed Sloth – Corcovado
  61. Violet Crowned Wood Nymph – Monteverde
  62. Violet Sablewing
  63. White Tailed Kite
  64. White-faced Capuchin Monkey – Manuel Antonio
  65. Yellow Crowned Euphonia – La Foresta
  66. Yellow Crowned Night Heron – Drake Bay
  67. Zebra Longwing Butterfly – Monteverde

One More Chance for San Jose

We don’t have to leave for the airport until 11:00 so we take advantage of the time to walk around the historic center, looking for something of merit.  To date we have not really seen much to recommend San Jose as a place to spend much time and today did not do much to change our impression other than  a series of parks that softened some of the hardscape that seems to define the city.  It still is not a place I would want to spend a lot of  time and consider it  a transfer point – fly in and get out into the countryside – that would be my recommendation.

San Jose City Park

Our Last Full Day in Costa Rica

One step closer to the trip being over and I’m not ready to go home and definitely not ready to go back to San Jose but here we go.  We do have a couple of stops in outlying neighborhoods of San Jose.

On the outskirts of San Jose we visited a company working with hardwoods, crafting large wood sculpture, trays, bowls and boxes, key chains and jewelry using even the smallest pieces of left over wood.  We had seen many of these items for sale in other shops on our journey.   The factory is set amid a lovely garden complete with pond and wooden sculptures on the covered walkways around the pond.  A large open-air restaurant and gift shop are adjacent to the work area.

Step Lightly

Downstairs women sort the pieces of wood first by quality, size and color.  Other women sit behind drills all day long drilling the tiniest of holes in thousands of pieces of wood, mind numbing repetitive work.  Upstairs the wood is again sorted by size and color for jewelry, necklaces, bracelets and earrings.  Our guide did say the workers have health care benefits, an hourly wage, vacation and a pension.  For this they work a long day, 7-6 and do not rotate positions, performing the same task day after long day. The women were socializing as they worked and the factory looked pretty clean but oh my what a job, representative of hundreds of thousands all over the world slaving away to bring us low-cost consumer goods. I think these women had it pretty good in the world of factory work but it was not easy for me to see this side of life in Costa Rica but reminds me to be mindful of what I purchase and appreciate the labor that went into producing it.

We ate lunch here in the outdoor cafeteria with a resident duck wandering from table to table looking for handouts. We did get to meet Julio’s wife and his five-year-old daughter who joined him for lunch; they live nearby in Alajuela and took advantage of him being close enough to visit. His daughter is darling and obviously loves and misses her daddy very much. We thought about how difficult it must be for their family to be separated for such long periods of time.  Julio is on the road for two weeks at a time with perhaps only a day at home between trips.  I suspect this decreases as the number of tour groups decline but I imagine it still presents difficulties for the young family.

Yenory

After lunch we drove to the home of a small businesswoman, who designs and crafts one-of-a-kind purses.  Yenory has quite a story to tell, she has overcome great adversity to get where she is today.  She is gaining international acclaim and recognition for her beautiful creations.  The President of Costa Rica buys her purses as do many other Latin American dignitaries and closer to home Michelle Obama.  It is a bittersweet tale, as she gains notoriety she is also battling multiple cancers and maintains a positive spirit and energy that we feel right away when meeting her.  She is a bright light and we wish her many years of continued success.

It was late afternoon by the time we checked back into the Hotel Balmoral for our last night in Costa Rica.  Unfortunately we even got the exact room we had last visit.  It is a noisy room with a light shaft outside the window that carries voices and all other noises form adjacent rooms and the smell of exhaust finds it way up from the street to our room through the open fire escape door.  This hotel has a fantastic location for visiting the historic center and is right on the pedestrian street, the restaurant is nice as is the lobby and public areas but the room is the least pleasant of all the places we have stayed.  Only one more night so no reason to complain but I would definitely look around for another hotel if I were ever to return.

We get organized and repacked for our flight home tomorrow and then meet the group for our farewell dinner.  Andres takes us to the University district of San Jose to a Lebanese restaurant.  It looks like an interesting area to explore but this is our last night and far away from our hotel.  The restaurant is quite nice; we appear to be the only customers though.  Dinner is very good and we enjoy seeing a more personal side of Andres.  He is quite a young man.  Some of our group leaves tomorrow morning at 4:30 a.m. so we make it an early night so they can get a little sleep.

Bird Songs

Peeling Bark

San Gerardo de Dota

The Resplendent Quetzal

A 5:30 a.m. hike to find the elusive Quetzal; George was up for it – before coffee – a first.  I was not up for it, having seen the Quetzal in Guatemala I decided to sleep in and had a relaxed morning until George and the other early birders returned fully charged, high on Quetzal.  They not only found two but one of them stayed put for 15 or 20 minutes a mighty reward for getting up so early.

Savegre River

After breakfast we hiked along the river to a lovely little waterfall.  The trail went through high mountain forests with beautiful flowering plants, epiphyte laden trees and the sound of the river; it was lovely.  We returned in time for lunch and a much-anticipated massage, did I mention the spa?

The resort may be in the middle of nowhere but there is a spa; the separate building sits right next to the river.  George and I enjoyed a couple’s massage listening to the sounds of the river as all the tensions of travel melted away; we left feeling both relaxed and rejuvenated.  It was FABULOUS, especially after our morning hike.

We wandered around the hotel property, photographing flowers and hummingbirds as we worked our way back to the room to change for dinner.

Pretty in Pink

This place is a amazing,  gorgeous scenery, nice hiking, of course the Quetzal but also a large variety of hummingbirds; I think this is my favorite place so far; the cool nights rank high on my pleasure meter.  We feel sad to leave this idyllic valley knowing that the San Jose is our next destination with all the noise, clutter and concrete of a big city.

The last two plus weeks in jungle and forest settings has been so amazingly diverse and all of it beautiful. When I find myself surrounded by nature I feel rejuvenated, inspired and more in balance.  We have seen so many new and marvelous sights and have met some wonderful people who will remain, in our minds, forever linked with this beautiful country.  Alas back to the city tomorrow.

Magnificent Hummingbird

Jeweled Hummingbird

Quiet Forest Walk

San Gerardo de Dota

Leaving Quepos we pass mile after mile after mile of palm trees.  The vast banana plantations are gone, giving way to the heartier African palms grown for their high quality palm oil and now the major export of the area.  The monoculture has seen is not seen in a favorable light by our guide; the plantations are notorious for pesticide use and poor working conditions and more importantly leading to an irreplaceable loss of biodiversity.   One person, one of the richest men in Costa Rica, owns the large plantation we pass.

We turn inland towards San Isidro and away from the ocean, our destination is high in the Talamanca mountains, about 6,000 feet elevation, this is home to the Resplendent Quetzal perhaps Latin America’s most magnificent bird.

Into the Mountains

We stop at La Finca de Don Tavo, a family-run dairy farm high in the hills and far from the main road.  Don Tavo’s daughter greets us and gives a little family history and history of dairy farm at such a high elevation.  The dairy has been quite successful in the past but with the rising price of corn they have had to sell their herd of specially bred high altitude cows, a very emotional decision for the family who spent years developing this breed.  The good news is they did save a few and are still able to make a living although the daughter now also holds a second job.  The acreage has been divided among all the children and the farm we visited sits on a beautiful piece of property with lush gardens and a mountain stream running near the restaurant.  We enjoyed the tour very much and relearning just how much our actions directly affect people in distant lands.  We had an enjoyable lunch and had time to wander the property before getting back on the road.

High Mountain Dairy

The road, Andres told us about “the road” we were approaching that would lead us into San Gerardo de Dota.  It is called “the road of death”.  This had us wondering what we were getting into now but apparently the name comes from the number of people that were killed constructing the road; that did not comfort us.  Indeed, we turned onto a one and one-half lane dirt road that began a steep descent with a series of hairpin turns that challenged the van but Julio took them with ease.  Our first encounter with a truck coming from the opposite direction had us all holding our breath . . . Julio passed with millimeters to spare.  We encountered a number of other vehicles on the way, happily they were vans and we were not on the drop-off side of the road, whew!  Where there was a break in the trees views were spectacular.  We encountered a couple of groups along the road, spotting scopes set up, looking for the elusive Quetzals.  We did stop and look but did not find one this afternoon.

There were a number of lodges as we descended to the valley floor, remember the valley is at 6,000 feet elevation. It seemed strange to be up so high and see tropical vegetation, our reference is Paradise Lodge at Mt. Rainier, very different but we adjusted.

We crossed a small bridge over the Savegre River to the lodge, a gorgeous building with flowering plants everywhere and to our delight hummingbird feeders on the patio with flocks of brightly colored hummingbirds.  We knew this was going to be perhaps the highlight of the trip, drop-dead gorgeous scenery.

Tree House

Green and Red

We found our cabin somewhat isolated at the end of the property, only one other cabin nearby.  The pathway through the gardens was enchanting and we could hardly wait to hear the morning bird songs.   Before dinner we explored the gardens and then stopped into the bar for a glass of wine.  It had the feel of a tree house, large windows looking out into the trees and, a cozy fireplace going in one corner and a covered porch for outdoor enjoyment.  Dinner was the usual buffet with the addition of a wonderful salad bar and dessert bar oh my temptations are everywhere.On to Dreamland

Manuel Antonio National Park

This morning we hiked to the beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park, along with many, many others, all gathering as soon as the park opened to avoid the crowds, oh well, we tried.

Entry to Manuel Antonio National Park

Once on the trail the crowds spread out quickly so it wasn’t  bad.  Right away Andres spotted a sloth in a tree next to the trail.  When we reached the beach Andres said he would stay and watch our packs so George and I walked the beach, a beautiful crescent cove, the water and the sun were warm many taking advantage of a sheltered swimming spot.

Two-Toed Sloth

As we wandered back to the trees for some shade we watched as a little white-faced Capuchin monkey made away with a sack taken from the backpack of a gentlemen who was napping right next to it.  We had been warned that theft was a problem at this beach, not by humans but by the monkeys and now we witnessed their speed and skillful lifting of an unguarded lunch sack.  As we neared the spot where Andres guarded our belongings there were monkeys everywhere and as we watched it appeared that one would come in a distract the unsuspecting while another would make the snatch, very clever ploy and quite successful.  We managed to leave with all of our things.

White-Faced Capuchin Pickpocket

We walked back toward town by way of a beach trail, crossing an inlet and then meeting the van at the end of town.  The beaches outside the park were crowded with people enjoying their weekend.

Manuel Antonio Beach

In town we had lunch at a nice little restaurant near the beach and then had an hour so to explore the town. George and I headed for the beach and strolled along a promenade. Quepos wraps itself around a picturesque inlet surrounded by primary rainforest. The village center is a six-block square of restaurants, bars, hotels, bakeries, art galleries and gift shops, all fronted by the main beach and fishing fleet, mostly sport fishing.  It is growing quickly yet has maintained its sleepy feel to date.

Coconut Drink

Lobsters on a Bike

We found a Saturday Farmer’s Market at the end of the promenade which we found is actually a street when the market is not in session.  An abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables were on display along with a vendor selling lobster hanging from his bicycle.  Saturday is a busy day in the little town of Quepos.

Farmer's Market

When we returned to La Foresta there was just enough time for a hike on the other side of the river so Andres led us through the gardens and into the forest where we spotted a three-toed sloth, iguanas and squirrel monkeys not to mention more Capuchins who seemed to think hurling things at us from the trees was great sport.  The hike ended up being longer than we anticipated and we barely made it back in time to change for dinner before meeting the rest of the group.

Pink Ginger Blossom

La Foresta Nature Preserve

We left the main road and continued on a narrow dirt road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere but finally coming to the end of the road at an open-air restaurant on one side of the dirt road and tables situated along the cliff face on the other side of the road.  A caution sign as we approached warned of Waiters Crossing.  It was a convivial atmosphere and we ordered a couple of pitchers of their famed sangria.  Just as it arrived at the table the sun began to dip and everyone abandoned their tables to watch it set into the Pacific reminiscent of the sunset scene at Key West.  It was magnificent as we jockeyed for position for the best photograph.  As it disappeared out of sight the patrons returned to their tables and dinner arrived in short order.  It was simply delicious.

Sunset from Ronnie's

Ronnie’s Restaurant near Quepos