Day 20: Back home

All good things must come to an end, and this holiday in Costa Rica does so too.

We have experienced it all, ranging from tropical beaches, alpine highlands, tropic rainforests, wetlands, the food, the heat, the humidity, the people and most of all the language. Spanish is hard!

We would love to go back one day, to further experience the wealth of flora and fauna that makes up for an interesting visit to one of the few countries in the world without an army.


Day 19: Back to San José

Even though we have already spotted a Quetzal ourselves, we thought it would be nice to just get out early and go together with a guide to see more of them!
So, here we are again, at 05:45 in the morning gathered with our gear to go out and find something.

Today, we didn’t have to travel far: we found an adult male Quetzal in the tree directly adjacent to the restaurant!his tail feathers had not reached their maximum length yet, as the male quetzals loose the long feathers during the nesting season and regrow them each year. The nesting season lasts until June, and this guy was clearly not done yet.
He was sitting in the tree, peacefully digesting his wild avocado and didn’t mind us buzzing around the tree trying to get a good shot in the difficult morning light. We hope it worked out well!

Right after this, the guide took us a few hundred metres down the road to an area where loads more fruiting wild avocado trees were, and we got lucky. Eventually, we encountered 2 more juvenile males, and two adult females for a grand total of 5 quetzals! If you ever want to see this bird: go to San Gerardo de Dota, it seems to be Quetzal Capital.

After returning to the lodge, we had breakfast and immediately went out again to find some more wildlife. The guide’s main interest were hummingbirds and smaller vocal birds, and boy did we see a lot of those! In total, we have seen about 25 different species, all with long unpronounceable names and who all have at least 1 different specie of bird which looks virtually identical! The guide could tell them all apart. (or pretended to be able to really well)

We then packed our bags, loaded up the car, had one more meal and went out on the drive down (literally, from 2200 to 1200 metres) to San José. Without any major setbacks, we handed over the car to the guy from the rental company who actually was waiting for us, about an hour early. The Toyota Rav4 has served us well!
In anticipation of tomorrow, we are now waiting for things to happen.

Tomorrow, the transfer will pick us up from the hotel at noon and will bring us and our luggage to the airport. From there, the journey back begins, and before you know it, we’ll be back home! Looking back on these three weeks was quite simply put amazing, Costa Rica is awesome. Pura Vida!

Day 18: To San Gerardo de Dota

Now, this was an interesting morning! Around 5am, we found out that a bat had inadvertently made its way into our bathroom! When we entered the bathroom, the bat would start flying frantically trying to get out.
It came in through an open window, but could not find its way out again.
This means that we had to open the door from the bathroom to the hotel room and both sliding doors outside to coax it to go away.
It did, three times actually, as the bat went out quickly, and probably didn’t like what it was seeing there as it circled around and went straight back in. It did so three times, and eventually we were too fast for him in closing the doors and away he was!
Quite an adventurous morning if I may say so.

After this, breakfast. Of course! No Gallo Pinto for me again, as they didn’t offer it today, but I was greeted by the smell of pancakes. Not bad!
The journey from Ojochal to San Gerardo de Dota is not very long, but there is a very distinct difference in height: we go from sea level to +2200 metres in about 100km!
This also means that the temperature drops quite significantly. We started out with about 30 degrees at breakfast, and arrived at the Trogon Lodge with only 10 degrees Celsius left.
As we were still wearing our shorts and flip flops, we were not quite dressed for the occasion as you might say.

We were met with a dinner, served as lunch. Two full plates of food! We quickly changed into something more appropriate as it was still only 13 degrees with rain. After this, we decided to walk to a nearby waterfall, which led to Kirsten finding her own male Quetzal! He was sitting just feet from us, and we took some amazing pictures.
The Lodge also has a nice balcony at the restaurant, where we pretty much spent the rest of the afternoon trying to take pictures of the resident Hummingbirds. Quite nice!

The Lodge itself it laid out very much like Hobbiton, only the houses are full sized and not built into the hills.
Tomorrow, we’ll go on a Quetzal spotting tour first, while after breakfast we will go find any other animals residing in these high Tropical Cloud Forests.
After that, we drive to San Jose already…


Day 17: Ojochal

Yet another day here in beach paradise.
The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is littered with beaches, and with the temperatures reaching well over 30 degrees with high humidity, what better place to be than in the ocean, next to a lovely beach. Not, it unfortunately is not white, but still. 😉

Right after breakfast a pickup shows up to take us to Uvita, the nearby place where the Dolphins & Whales tour will take off. This tour works slightly different than what we are used to, as we have to walk from the office (all geared up wearing our life jackets and flip flops) via the official entrance of the Ballenas National Park to a large beach where the boat still sits on its trailer.
The boat is (not so) gently removed from said trailer by simply backing it up into the surf until it nearly floats, wait for a large wave, and yank the trailer from underneath it by stepping on the throttle of the towing car. When this was done, we were told to take off our shoes and enter the ocean to get in.
Crude. But effective nonetheless.

Fully installed, the only thing to tackle is the surf itself. Starting from the beach, the breakers pose an interesting challenge, but everything was skilfully handled by the captain. We were warned in advance, but nobody got disproportionately wet during this ordeal.

During the tour we found several sets of mother Humpback Whales with their calves, and even a pod of male Humpbacks! The latter even resorted to jumping from the water, something even the crew of the tour has rarely seen. The mothers and their calves generally take it a lot easier and just float on the surface an generally do nothing.
Today was also the very first time we have heard the whales sing without any amplification! The captain turned off the motor, and the singing was very clearly audible. Wow!

After the tour, there was some obligatory swimming in the pool of the hotel, and the necessary treatment of the sunburnt skin. Even when you take the right precautions, being out on water always gets to you. And, as we are both quite tired by now, we’ll tuck in early and prepare for tomorrow.
That is the day, we have to leave Ojochal, and head a little further inland to San Gerardo de Dota, to try and find some more Quetzal, amongst other things.


Day 16: Ojochal

Today, I totally forgot to take pictures! That is a weird thing, as I usually think about that when I’m out and about on holiday.

Today is Sunday, and because of the fact that the nearby village hosts the Festival de Ballena all hotels are packed! A lot of Costa Ricans enjoying their weekend over here. The festival is held as the migration of Whales is peaking right now, so many tours go out to view them.
Neither one if those tours will be containing us today.

We start the day with a nature walk in the garden and on the premise of the hotel. We also saw our very first (clearly visible) sloth! Over here, it is the Three-toed Sloth, and it was really active this morning. So cool!

After this, we decided it was time to visit the beach as temperatures are not that high yet. The tides are working against us, as we had to race to keep our towels dry because of the high tide coming in way faster than expected. This also cut our visit to the beach short, as 2 metres of debris riddled stoney beach is not a nice place to put the towels down. 🙂

The rest of the afternoon was spent poolside. This is quite relaxing!

Tonight, we tag along with the volunteers to go turtle patrolling on the nearby Tortuga Beach. That meant walking the length of the beach until either the time was up or us finding a turtle ready to lay the eggs. Over here, they have the Olive Ridley Turtle in its egg laying season, while we saw Green Sea Turtles before. The Olive Ridley Turtles are much smaller, but equally green.
The volunteers work in three shifts during the night: 7-10pm, 10pm-1am, 1-4 am. We opted for the earliest shift, and were picked up to walk to the beach at half past 6. In the pouring rain. Yay!
This unfortunately meant that we were to patrol during the night in the rain, or if it ever stopped raining, just in the dark.
For about the first hour it rained like crazy, but afterwards everything cleared up and with the full moon and lightning out on the ocean, it turned out to be an amazing night.
But, no nesting turtles.
On this beach, they average about 1 per night, which means that over three shifts chances are small for you to see one. And unfortunately, we didn’t. But we are sure that that beach was the safest beach ever, as we were 5 strong patrolling it against poachers!

Tomorrow, we’ll be on a boat doing a Dolphins & Whales tour! I’m curious and looking forward to it!

Day 15: To Ojochal

This morning was unlike the many ones before it: we slept in! So instead of breakfast at 07:00 we actually only turned up at 08:30, a full hour and a half behind our regular schedule, now that is being on holiday!

The drive from Manuel Antonio to Ojochal is actually very short, and the entire length of road is tarred and has an 80km/h speed limit, so making progress on those roads is easy. We actually arrived at Vollas Gaia in Ojochal way too early, but the staff here was kind enough to let us check in anyway, and even offered some advice on how to spend the rest of the day!

That meant that we were off to a beach right after lunch.
All beaches in Costa Rica are public, which means they are freely accessible and free to use. To get to Ventanas Beach however, you must pass over the grounds of a German guy, and he is asking money for that. This is legal, and I guess it is for him a nice way to make money on the side. So, we coughed up the 3000 colones for parking and for using his back yard to get to the beach and off we were.

And then the thunder and rain started. The weather over here can turn in the blink of an eye from clear and sunny into drizzle with distant thunderstorms. Too bizarre!
That happened to us today, and so our time at the beach was only short lived as being on the beach in an thunderstorm is not the best of thoughts. We did however find some Howler Monkeys in the trees right next to the beach, and generally had a good time over there after all.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the hotel pool (you can’t get any wetter that in a pool, right?) and in the supermarket, as groceries still need to be bought.
We are turning in early today as well, as tomorrow a small guided tour is held in the backyard of the hotel to watch the local wildlife. So, breakfast is at 06:30 again!

Day 14: Manuel Antonio National Park

After yet another breakfast for champions, this time with fresh fruit and the inevitable Gallo Pinto, our guide Brian arrived to pick us up for a tour inside Manuel Antonio National Park.
Yesterday, we negotiated a good price over the phone, and today was the day.

We got in our car and followed the guide to the park. After parking and getting the entrance tickets, $10, as usual, we were off. The park itself is only 7km² and a large part of it is accessible through senderos or paths. The main path leads to a large intersection of paths, one of which leads to the central Manuel Antonio beach.
The main path is actually nearly a road, but as it is wide and clear it is also a very good location for spotting animals.
In the scorching heat we have seen a very large troop of Squirrel Monkeys as they crossed the road. This is the first time we’ve spotted those! that was a real treat. You know it is a good sighting if the guide starts taking pictures!

We also encountered many other animals, big and small, including the two other species of monkeys living inside the park: Howler and White faced Capuchin Monkeys. We even got to see e few sloths! They unfortunately refused to show themselves, and remained that grey blob high up in the tree. 🙂
The guide even offered us the sweetest pineapple I’ve ever tasted at the end of the tour, and helpfully told us we could stay in the park as long as we wanted.

With the temperatures rising to well over 30 degrees again, we didn’t feel like walking a whole lot after the tour. And decided to see some of the beaches inside the park. As it was high tide at the time, we didn’t get to go to many of the beaches, to we walked back to the main beach and found ourselves a nice spot under a tree, right next to some Costa Rican dudes and black lizards. Yes, they were really close, approaching us to within two metres! The Italian couples next to us were scared out of their pants, which made the situation that much more enjoyable.
The water here is really nice, but the swell is enormous! It is hard to stand up in these waters, but it is too much refreshing to resist. Yes, this must be one of the few times I actually enjoyed swimming. 😀

We went back around 3, only to grab a quick bite and gear up for the next tour: a night tour to view frogs!
We had the best pizza yet, in a place called El Wagon. It looked very much like the standard tourist trap, but they offered awesome pizzas. The lace even included recliner chairs to sit on, and a full size train wagon to have your dinner in! The rains started to pour quite heavily during dinner, which didn’t give us good hopes about that night…

Around 6, Brian showed up again, and we drove off to the private property the tour would be in as the National Park closes at 4pm. Even with the rain, we have seen an enormous amount of frogs! Red-eyes tree frogs everywhere, in total we have spotted 9 species of frogs, most of which I cannot remember the names of. Including the many other nocturnal species like night jars, bug-eating crickets, spiders and much more, this was a very good trip.

Tomorrow, we are off again, and leave Manuel Antonio for Ojochal which is also along the Pacific Coast. Who knows what this place has in store for us!

Day 13: To Manuel Antonio

Today, we have got a full day of driving ahead of us. From Rincón de la Vieja where we woke up this morning to Manuel Antonio National Park is about 275kms or 4.5 hours of driving.
That is long and far, at least for Costa Rican standards!

Luckily, the roads are way better than we have previously seen over here. Most of the time the maximum speed is 80km/h instead of the 60 we are used to, and the roads are tarred and in good condition compared to the roads on the Caribbean side of the country.
This means the 275kms can be driving within a day. It is only a good thing that we started off early this morning, we left the B&B around 8am.

We entered the town of Manuel Antonio around 2pm, right after we had lunch in a Soda next to the road, on,y to find that the room would be ready in 20 minutes. We could spend the time waiting in the (closed) bar/restaurant/patio area.
As we were running low on colones, we decided that time would be best spent looking for an ATM in town. We found one, and even did some grocery shopping along the way, and returned in about half an hour. Still, the room was not ready.
We decided to check out the speeds of the WiFi at the hotel, and made do with another half hour.
Rather unfortunately for us, the temperature had risen to well over 34 degrees Celsius with high humidity and virtually no shade: and with a closed bar, there is not cold beverage for us.

Oh well, those were actually the only problems we encountered along the way, the resort is nice, we had a lovely dinner of pollo in the town and basically spent the afternoon in the pool after unpacking the car.
Still, without a cold beverage though!

This afternoon, we booked some tours in and outside of the adjacent National Park: a morning and an evening tour. We are looking forward to spotting the Pacific animals already!
PS: today, a small flock of Red Ara’s flew by. Really nice!

Day 12: Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Breakfast today included Gallo Pinto (lucky me!) again, and after having devoured it I felt great.
Today was going to be a log day, with us walking the Rincón de la Vieja National Park for most of the day.

We started a small 3km track leading past several volcanic active places like fumaroles, mud pools, hot water pools, etcetera. This path leads through dense forest which means we are shielded from the heat: today it is well over 30 degrees Celsius again with high humidity. After completing it, the dark clouds have started forming on our left, right and in front whilst we have heard not so distant thunder for at least an hour. That means rain.

We were scheduled to walk a 4 hour round trip to some really lovely waterfalls where we would also go for a swim, but we decided this would probably mean walking in torrential rains for an extended period of time and thus not for us. After our “good” experiences with walking in the rain previously this year we were not quite up to it here. Instead, we walked about a third of the distance to a location where a river enters a hole in the ground to continue flowing underground. It sounds weird to go to such a place, but since neither of us has seen something like that before, it seemed like a nice thing to do.
And so it was! The walk up there was really steep and slippery but very rewarding in the end.

Right after returning to the parking lot, all the while with the thunder rolling in the distance, it started raining which was the signal for us to go back to the hotel and contemplate our next activity.
After getting at the hotel, the rain basically didn’t stop, and we settled in the waiting hammocks to just relax and read. We are on holiday after all.

Today, we encountered quite some wildlife on our little walk: ranging from a Turkey Vulture who was nice enough to perch on a pole at about 4 metres distance, via White-throated Magpie-Jays playing in the trees to a Nine-banded Armadillo happily foraging so close to us that the long zoom lens we were carrying could not even focus on it!

Tomorrow, we leave this NP already and head for another one: Manueline Antonio NP which is most well known for its beautiful beaches. Yes, we live the tough life over here. 😀

Day 11: To Rincón de la Vieja

05:00. The alarm clock sounds, and we know: it is time for us to get out of bed as we have a busy day ahead of us.
First, we will be picked up at the hotel at 05:30 for a morning bird watching tour, and after that we’ll have breakfast.

The tour takes place not inside the Monteverde Reserve, but just outside in a privately held piece of forest of which the sole destiny is to be turned around from secondary forest into primary forest. Along the way, naturalists guide tourists on tours to view the wildlife which is becoming ever more present.
This morning, it looked like the forest was completely empty! We heard some birds sing their songs, but they would not show themselves.
Until, in the final half hour of the 3 hour tour, a parrot!
Our very first in Costa Rica!
The guide had to sneak us into the adjacent property (a hotel) through some barbed wire sneaking around in the bush, but finally we got a good, clear view of it and we just loved the experience! It is a white fronted parrot, completely new to us!

Right after this, an Emerald Toucanette and even a female Quetzal showed up and made these final moments a real treat. What an awesome way to end the tour.

After breakfast, we checked out, jumped into our car and drove back to the entrance of the Reserve, to spend some more time with the hummingbirds at the Colibri Café. We spent another hour and a half practicing our skills trying to take a picture of a hummingbird in flight or while hovering. That is really, really hard! We found out that the lighting conditions were better yesterday, but still think we managed to get some great shots today. Furthermore, the garden is such a nice place to be, as the hummingbirds are zooming around like bumblebees and because of the low season, nobody is there.

Finally, we decided it was time to go, and embark on the journey to Rincón de la Vieja National Park which is about 120km or 3.5 hours away. The road took us over about 30kms of untarred, very bumpy roads, and the Panamerican highway which has been under construction over the length of 50kms for at least a year and a half. I guess that just is the way things work around here. 🙂

After arriving at the B&B Aroma del Campo (which is really rural!) we decided today has been long enough and just relaxed at the B&B. They have a small pool, some resident animals, a few hammocks and enough space to just linger around and do nothing. Add a nice 35 degrees Celsius to the mix, and you’ll understand it has been a nice afternoon. 😉

Tomorrow, again a full day ahead of us! We are going for a walk in the park to see the park’s famed volcanic activity with fumaroles, mud pools and much more.