Well we had good news because the next day we awoke early to brilliant sunshine and no rain. We quickly threw on swimsuits and headed to Manuel Antonio National Park. After turning down multiple offers of private tour guides we had a lovely breakfast overlooking the beach of strawberry pancakes, passion fruit smoothies, and incredibly fresh omelets (the eggs here are free-range and deliciously dark yoked).
To get into the park you have to cross a polluted little river but it was low tide and so we were able to get across by scrambling over some rocks and a little hill. Leaving at high tide we paid a small boat operator to shuttle us across – we had heard it was polluted plus snake infested so we didn’t want to cross the then waist high water. Here is our Knoxville girl as she first hits the beach.
The park is not cheap for tourists and we paid $10 a person (12 years and over) to get in but that is for the whole day. It is not a large park and there are three main beaches and quite a few trails. Based on local advice we did not have a guide (they wanted about $80 for 1 to 1.5 hours) and just hung out on the beach. We saw quite a few small groups of intrepid hikers clad in sturdy boots and khakis and armed with cameras and camcorders following their trusty guides. They sure looked hot and sweaty from my view lying under a palm tree on a beach towel!
From our readings and locals’ description we thought we would see lots of monkeys and sloths and so when we could see none we were disappointed and thought it was because of the lack of guide. But I spoke to two separate people who said they had only seen one sloth from a great distance and no monkeys. We did see two toucans flying, various lizards and big iguanas plus tons of crabs scuttling around which made the children happy. The beach was lovely and the water comfortably warm. There were lots of rock pools with little fish and crabs so Charlotte and Max enjoyed paddling in those and discovering new things. Ben swam happily as he loves the water, especially oceans and waves. The riptides were not as strong in this area which was good as Costa Rican beaches are notorious for these and there are many drawings each year.
The sun was strong though and we really needed heavy sunscreen. By noon Mark was a little burnt despite the lotions and Ben’s nose and cheeks took a toll. I had the younger ones looking like little greased pigs so they were fine and since I have a tendency to enjoy my beach time lying in the shade with a good book, I didn’t see a reason to deviate from this except for occasional dips to cool off. Here’s Mark and Ben cooling off happily.
After another alfresco late lunch of pizza back in the hotel, Mark and Ben went fishing with one of the hotel gardeners. He took them to a pier area and they only caught two fish but had a good time. When they got back we went to the hotel pool at about 5 pm. There are three small pools at this hotel and on our side of the area there was only one other place rented so we had our pool to ourselves. Ben was the first there and yelled at us to hurry as the place was surrounded by monkeys! The pool was tucked away among big tropical trees and bushes and there must have been 30 small white faced squirrel monkeys (I think although if the pictures are of another type please let me know). They careened around, leaping from tree to tree and feasting on mangos and these long bean shaped fruit things. The hotel room next to us had a metal roof and they raced across this making a tremendous racket while leaping and pouncing on each other. They played in a similar fashion to cats I thought. Young cats do that silly pouncing and then bouncing sideways kind of teasing play and these monkeys had similar actions. They did get into a couple of fights especially when one came up and hit a baby. The mother went for the aggressor and pinned it down, hitting it in nasty fashion. I wondered whether there was sibling rivalry perhaps – not sure of this type of monkey’s social roles. Perhaps there will be a Monkey Manor show on Animal Planet someday!
Hunger pulled us away from the pool by about 7:30 and we said goodnight to the monkeys (still going strong despite it being dark) and went off to dinner at the Black Cat restaurant. This is another nice alfresco place but with Italian food. Good but similarly pricey. The ants and wildlife returned to the hotel but a couple of nice glasses of wine again and I slept well.
Mono Azul Pool:
The first night in Manuel Antonio we had a pretty heavy storm and the radio station announced we had another tropical storm heading our way. We were quite upset about this but headed out and found a neat restaurant that had been created on the hills overlooking the water. El Avion restaurant was built around a converted C-123 plane used by the CIA in the 1970s to run arms to the Contras in Nicaragua. Usually the views are spectacular but we had to be content with quick glimpses of the water reflected in huge lightening flashes! The food was good and some of the better we have had in Costa Rica but quite pricey for what it was. We spent $75 on one appetizer, three juices, two glasses of wine, and four entrees. Here is Max at the bar entrance.
We headed back to our hotel where we actually had a house with three levels. The place had great views of the surrounding jungle and gardens from the big picture windows and balconies, lots of beds, television, and two bathrooms plus kitchen. No phone and no hot water except for the separate water heater in the shower that gave off a nasty electrical burning smell and only slightly warmed the water. However the most unpleasant was the incredible amount of wildlife that also “rented” the place. We arrived back at night to find the kitchen area overrun with huge ants (a good centimeter long) and various other beetles and crawlie/flying things. There must have been 300 plus ants heading around the place and these suckers were not things you could squash with a paper towel – these required at least 3 whacks with a shoe to drop. The next day I quietly mentioned it to the hotel clerk and she just smiled and said it was normal here and handed me a can of bug spray. We later sprayed the doorway but these ants just looked at us, laughed and ran faster! We gave up.
I know, I know it’s the rainforest and we are in their home – all that blarney. But when I rent a hotel room I really do not want to share it with local critters. I know I’m being squeamish and not getting into the jungle spirit but so be it. I HATE bugs! I actually quite welcomed the orange gecko that seemed to live above my bed as I hoped it would eat anything close to me. And after a few glasses of wine each night I managed to fall asleep without imaging things crawling on me.
Before describing the beach I want to mention some sad things we saw on the coastal road. Last week we were planning to go down there but awoke to heavy rain so thankfully we postponed our trip. At the time we didn’t know the heavy rain was from Tropical Storm (some have said hurricane) Alma as the local news didn’t report anything. We have been told the US news was describing it quite well – not sure if ignorance was bliss here!
Anyway we later read that about 900 homes were damaged or destroyed on the Pacific side. This was the first storm in about 120 years that formed in the Pacific rather than the Caribbean side so perhaps it took people by surprise.
A week later on the drive we noticed heavy mud on the sides of the road and then saw a few of the small towns had badly damaged and muddy houses along the main road. Many had water damaged furnishings in trash piles outside and one of the schools had a pile of damaged desks in front. The water must have been pretty high if the marks on the side of some of the houses came from this storm and the deep mud looked for unpleasant living. Look on this first picture at the water mark on the house.
Despite it all the people were as always smiling and carrying on pleasantly. Costa Ricans are the nicest folks as a group – well except behind the wheel of a car!
Back from a trip to Manuel Antonio National Park which is located on the western Pacific side of Costa Rica and is purported to be one of the most beautiful spots in the country and most visited park. We were lucky as it was not crowded at all. Perhaps the poor weather put folks off!
We actually had a good and dry drive down. It is about 4.5 hours on a lovely but windy and harrowing road through the mountains to get to the beach. Lots of orchards and plantation style houses plus roadside fruit stands offering wonderful mangos, pineapples and more. We caught a first glimpse of the ocean at Tarcoles and continued onwards along the coast road with occasional brief views of water. There are many large villas tucked away on the hill areas all focused on the views but there seems little to do in the area other than enjoy watching the ocean to one side and mountains to the other.
The road was quite well maintained until we got past Jaco and hit some scary bridges. There were three of them but one has been replaced with the other two being currently built (thank goodness). The bridges looked like old railroad ones and were one lane only with traffic creeping across what looked like metal bars with pieces of metal plate and wood across. Huge trucks and a barrage of buses and cars were crossing and the bits of metal flapped and looked loose. To add to the interesting crossing, below were strong flowing rivers that probably contained crocodiles (I had my eyes shut so couldn’t see those). This is a picture of one bridge!
We stopped at one river (with a good bridge) and were able to see about 15 huge crocs just basking in the sun below us. Another couple of pictures may show how many there were. They looked to be about 12-14 feet long – not sure if that comes through in these pictures though.
The coastal road took about two hours and we finally arrived in Quepos and then our hotel (on the road between Quepos and the national park) early afternoon. We stayed at the Hotel Mono Azul or Blue Monkey which we discovered is owned by a really nice American family. They have a nice restaurant and the kids were happy to discover great pizzas.
Well I should be grading papers as we hope to head to the beach tomorrow for a few days. We had planned to go last week but were rained out from two tropical storms hitting. About 900 people’s homes were damaged in the Guanacaste area and the rains caused local mudslides but we didn’t see anything too destructive around our house.
We were up early as Jacob (our 18-year-old) left to fly back to the US after spending three weeks here. His plane took off (hopefully) about 15 minutes ago and he will be picked up in Atlanta by his older brother Sam. Mark and he figured out the exit visa payment — $26 per person to leave the country. You pay at a main desk in the airport and everyone has to pay in order to leave. In other countries this is levied into the price of the ticket but here is separate.
We are all sad about Jacob’s leaving but so glad he could come for at least three weeks. Having experienced his older brother leaving home last year (well I’m actually in denial of this and like to think of him just being on a sleep-over somewhere), I am very cognizant of how short a time we have with our children living at home. All our travel memories include the boys; from Sam at 6 months fast asleep on an Amtrak train that had broken down in the middle of the Arizona desert to trying to wrestle a double stroller, newborn and toddler on and off the subway in London (including Mark carrying them all up a huge, steep and broken escalator to get out of the subway). Travel is not always easy or glamorous with babies and young children but somehow it gets into their very being and senses even at such a young age. Plus we have found having children is a gateway into being more accepted and part of new communities. Playing at the local playgrounds and pools gets children and parents interacting with new friends. We have had waiters pick up our children and carry them off to feed them snacks and treats that we hadn’t thought of ordering. Sharing a tired smile with another mother when your toddler is throwing a big fit about leaving the park connects you to moms from every culture.
So it feels full circle to see our 18-year-old take off on his first international flight alone. Knowing Jacob this is just the first of many journeys. I know all parents say this about their children but he really is an incredible young man. I learn so much from him as he quietly seeks to make the world a better place. He is an activist who doesn’t shout or yell or make others feel bad but rather just gently tries to model a different path. I have tried to talk him out of some demonstrations or events because I’ve been worried about his safety but he just explains the steps he has taken to be safe and manages to reassure me. Anti-KKK rallies, Food Not Bombs, Gay-Rights marches and more. He lives peacefully and gently in the world and tries to get others who don’t practice such tolerance to change.
Let’s just hope he and his brother who is house-sitting (see I said he was only on a sleepover) manage to get along for the next two months in peace – while figuring out who is going to cut the grass! He’s also a wonderful photographer and has taken most of the photos so far on the blog so let’s hope I can continue in his talented footsteps.
The clouds here are amazing. As you come into valleys surrounded by mountains the clouds group at different levels which makes them look very 3-D kind of thing. I don’t think I have seen such impressive ones anywhere else. Sometimes it feels as if you could almost touch the low, wispy ones and then there are layers of other types at varying levels. These pictures don’t do them justice I’m afraid but perhaps give a small sense of the environment.
OK last picture of the volcano (can you tell we were impressed). It was really hard to capture the night time lava flow but Jacob got some small movies of it so if we can get those organized I’ll share.
Leaving the Volcano
When we left Arenal we decided to spend a few hours at the much talked about hot springs in the area. So we went to the Baldi Hot Springs which has something like 25 pools and water slides etc. all at different temperatures. Beautiful place and the small pools surrounded by tropical plants and trees area lovely. Sadly, not a place to go to during the day when it is hot out because the pools are HOT. The coolest pool we found was about 95 degrees and some were about 116 to 120 degrees. We dipped our feet in and yelled at how hot! The water slides were in the “cool” pool and they were big slides. Ben (13) and Jacob (18) and their dad were game to try both of the open ones (a 3rd and bigger one is being built) and they did crash down them. All three tried each slide once and shuddered saying “no more.” It was very bone jarring ride down and they flipped over at the end shooting into the water in great pain. They were kind of stunned staggering and limping out of the pool. Mark said it was way worse than the old and rickety water park in Malaysia that was on top of a multi-story mall!
The swim up bars were kind of nice until I realized that a coke or bottle of water was $5 a piece (we had forgotten sunscreen and bought a bottle there for $22.00). So we rounded up the children and headed for home. It was another lovely drive through rolling mountain sides and small towns – a bit tricky when it rains but still lovely.
We arrived home to Santa Barbara with great happiness. It’s funny how quickly this is now “home” and thus when we travel away for a few days it feels so nice to get back to our familiar and comfortable house here.
Work of course backed up which is why much of this blog is only now being filled in – sorry!
It seemed a little bizarre to be hanging out in a jacuzzi with a volcano exploding behind us but here we are! The grounds around the lodge were just beautiful (rain forest area). I guess all the good volcanic soil helps things grow well. Mark saw monkeys but we missed them. We did see tons of hummingbirds and other colorful birds and butterflies. I was bitten by some type of nasty fly-thing. Mark claims it was a horse fly but the blood dripping out of my arm make me skeptical on that! Ants are in abundance everywhere and the leaf cutters are fascinating to watch — very industrious.
We headed off to Monteverde a few days ago. This is a neat area founded by Quakers who left the US in 1951 as they wanted to leave behind the constant fear of war and the need to pay taxes to support militarism. They chose Costa Rica because it had no army and a big focus on peace. They came to farm but saw the need to create a preserved area focused on education and conservation of the cloud forest and thus the Monteverde Biological Cloud Forest Reserve was formed. Nearby the little town of Santa Elena is a funky/hippy/research scientist kind of place and where most hang out when not in the preserve.
Anyway our drive as to be about 4 hours and we knew the last two were over an unpaved road and heading up mountains. To get to that point it was supposed to be a 2 hour drive on Highway 1 — the Interamerican Highway that runs through much of these countries. We were going happily along (not that fast as much of it is only 2 lane) and were happy to see that we only had 15 kilometers to our turnoff when suddenly we ground to a halt. And there we sat and sat and sat. In fact we sat there for 5 hours – OK we did creep along about 4 kilometers or so and finally reached the problem which was a collapsed bridge that was being filled in with dirt. Each side had about 10 vehicles creeping across this packed dirt and the backups were hours long on either side. There were industrious folks around all this who walked up and down the traffic jam selling chips and frozen ices. And people got out of their cars and the buses and wandered around picking mangoes off trees and chatting to each other. Quite a relaxed group.
So after keeping children happy and content (we were not so relaxed as many) crammed in the car for that long we finally hit the dirt road and began our climb upwards. That was when I started saying to myself “what the heck was I thinking here?” The dirt road wound upwards with steep drop-offs down huge mountain sides and not a barrier or metal post in sight to stop anyone plunging over. In many places the road was only wide enough for one car despite the fact we would suddenly encounter a truck or even a big bus!
Halfway up our joy increased as it started to rain. The good part of this was that you couldn’t see how far down those drop-offs were. The bad part was we missed some of the incredible scenery. The road passed huuge sloping vistas of valleys and mountains in brilliant shades of green (hence the rain). Cows were all over the places; many of them wandering alongside the road.
We passed quite a few “cowboys” on horses and of course the ubiquitous dogs that are in every driveway and road here. We also saw goats and quite a few horses but mostly skinny cows that were often clinging to steep hillsides in positions that left you clueless as to why they didn’t fall off. Mountain cows!
Well we got to the top and found our hotel despite pouring rain. We stayed in great lodge/hotel called Arco Iris Lodge and since there were six of us we had the “Old House” which used to be the owner’s house and was a two story, three bed, two bath, kitchen beautiful wooden house. The bathrooms were granite tiles and open showers – very cool and the whole place was wood and airy. It was set in a neat little group of cabins and grounds. But the best thing for the children were the bounding dogs and friendly cats that they all bonded with. These were the friendliest folks running the place and helped with anything. We ate breakfast there and it was delicious.
The additional 5 plus hours of the drive meant Mark and older boys missed their canopy tour that day but since it was pouring with rain that was OK. It was quite good as they rescheduled for the next morning and it was clear and almost sunny. They had a wonderful time doing the Original Canopy Tour that had 11 platforms and two big rappels that were 45 and then 120 feet! The tour started inside a huge hollow strangler fig that you climb up. They were impressed but all three said “that was pretty scary!” What a shame I had to stay with the two little ones!
We wandered around the area but did not see a great deal of wildlife – well except for the big tarantula on our doorstep! Monteverde Serpentarium was a hit with the kids especially as we went at night and they gave us flashlights to shine inside the cages.
This is a neat area but gosh seems hard living. Last year it rained for so many days that we were told the buses and trucks couldn’t run for a couple of months. Sometimes it rains solidly for weeks at a time. Almost as bad as England (my home So recommendations are to go during the dry season and since we were right at the beginning of the wet I can see why. Still the Arco Iris Lodge and surrounding beauty was worth the drive (although I did better leaving after taking Valerian).
The road out of Monteverde heading towards Lake Arenal was again unpaved and took about two hours but thankfully did not have quite the same drop-offs.