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Central America - Week 25 & 26

Cota Rica

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[Charlotte]
We left David and its little piece of paradise, Chambres en ville, early in the morning towards the border of Costa Rica. At this stage, we did not know what to do. We were told by a lot of backpakers that Costa Rica was expensive and that the locals were not very nice. Should we stay 5 days, a week or more? We did not have a plan. The only thing we wanted to do was to visit Corcovado National Park in the Osa Peninsula, which is south west of Costa Rica. We had been warned of the usual 4 hours wait to cross the border from Panama. It took us about 10 minutes to cross it without any difficulty! We then jumped on a bus to Golfito, where we took a boat to Puerto Jimenez on the Osa peninsula. We arrived there by lunch time. It was really hot. As we walked to town, we saw a few scarlet macaws having lunch.
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The afternoon was dedicated to finding a way to go the national park Corcovado. There are two options. The expensive one is to go with a guide and not worry about carrying a tent; the cheap option is to go by yourself and carry everyting....we then thought of the 5 days we spent carrying everything in Torres del Paine. Hence we went for the expensive option and booked a 3 days, 2 nights guided tour in Corcovado with Toucan Travel. Tip for those who wants to go to Corcovado: you should go to Hotel Carolina and ask for a guide so that you do not pay additional fees.
In the evening we walked around town to admire the beautiful sunset.
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The following day was meant to be a relaxing one before starting the jungle trek. We rented two bicycles and headed to the beach, which was about 45 minutes from town. I had a nice pink bike with a basket. Franck had a real bike with gears. The heat was unbearable. In addition, after 20 minutes, I lost my saddle. Then I lost it every 5 minutes. Franck complained I did not know how to sit on a bike. He then took my barbie bike and after realising that the saddle was indeed broken, he decided to get some tools and repair it. We stopped by a property not far from the beach, where a nice canadian woman, who settled there with her family a few years ago, gave us some tools. After a few attempts, we headed to the beach with the bike still broken.
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The beach was long and deserted. The sand was burning hot and the ocean was warm with some big waves. These might be the reason why there is nobody on the beaches in Costa Rica. As it was getting really hot, we left and went after the scarlet macaws. It started to rain on our way back. By the time we were back at the hotel, the light and pleasant rain became a tropical rain.
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We woke up the next day with a blue sky. The 6 o'clock call was quite pleasant as it is the only time of the day where you can breath and walk without streaming with sweat. After a 2 hour ride at the back of a truck, we arrived at Carate, which is 3.5km from the entrance of the National Park. Ronnie was our guide. We started to walk on a really long beach. The sand was sticking to our shoes, which made the walk harder.
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We arrived at La Leona, the entrance of the park. We then headed into the jungle and spotted two scarlet macaws that were arguing about something. From what I understood, the baby that was now big enough to feed himself wanted to be fed by his mother; the mother was not going to yield and flew away. We then saw an ant eater. We started to follow it. He then climbbed on a tree.
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We then saw a lot of spider monkeys, which were very curious towards us. Some of them tried to scare us by peing and dropping other substances as we walked under the trees.
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As we got closer to the camp site La Sirena, we saw two tapirs having a bath.
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We arrived at La Sirena late afternoon. Everybody were in bed by 8pm, exhausted by this long day.
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We woke up the next morning at 5am. We saw very few animals, only some monkeys. We went back after 2hours and headed for the second walk of the day at 8am. We saw again some monkeys and coatis, but no sign of the puma.
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Pumas have been seen quite often for the past few weeks. We were then eager to see this big wild cat. As we walked back to the lodge, we saw toucans flying from one tree to another. Franck was out of his mind, following them with his camera in hand.
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In the afternoon, we saw a beautiful snake, which was called by the name of Mica in Spanish.
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A monkey tried also to scare us by shouting at us while shaking the branch he was on. We then had a swim in the river, spotted a crocodile, which was fortunately not in the same river as us. Still, there was no sign of the puma. The evening at the lodge was quite tensed as someone did not come back from the afternoon walk. The night went darker and there was still no sign of him. Nobody was allowed to look for him at night as all sort of things might come out. He was still missing the next morning and the rangers could not find him. Meanwhile, as we were getting ready to get back to Puerto Jimenez, a tapir showed up near the lodge. It went really close, started to sniff around and headed back to the jungle.
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We walked all morning without a break. We were desperately looking for the puma...we instead saw a few footprints, which looked fresh to me. As we walked along the beach at low tide, a tapir was having a spa.
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We eventually arrived where we started, at Carate, by lunch time. Everybody was exhausted but pleased with this amazing experience. The missing person reappeared at the camp site the same morning in one piece. Having spent the night in the jungle, he managed to get back on a small plane but as nothing is free in Costa Rica, he had to pay 50$. The lesson, never get out of the trail.

[Franck]
The next morning we left by bus to the small village of Drake, just North of the Corcovado National Park, by the pacific ocean. Although very close in distance from Puerto Jimenez, it took us about half a day to get there as the roads and connections are not ideal in this part of the country. Drake has a very pleasant end of the world feel with very little cars, noise and people. The main draw is the proximity to the national park, the marine life around Caño island, a 45 minbutes boat ride from Drake, and the wildlife in the nearby rain forest. We didn't do much on our first day and just contemplated the scenery.
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On our second day, we decided to go on a snorkelling tour to Caño. This was very expensive, $75 each for half a day, and we thought that this was going to be a remake of our bad experience in Bocas del Toro a few days before. The area is supposed to be teeming with whales and dolphins but this wasn't the right time of year to spot whales. On the way towards the island we didn't see any dolphins either and we started to sense a rip off! As we started snorkelling, the guide told us that there were jelly fishes and that we shouldn't worry about stings. This wasn't pleasant at all as, at times, we were surrounded by jelly fishes and we got stung on our face, arms, backs, ... The underwater world wasn't bad. We saw various sorts of fishes in great number and saw one or two sea turtles but there was no sign of sharks that we were desperately expecting to see. As I was getting back on the boat after our first session, one guy still in the water said he saw a shark and Charlotte who was still in there managed to get a glimpse of its tail. I was beginning to get very frustrated. We then were left on a nice beach and were told that lunch was ready. It was 10.40 AM!! I ate all I could, as usual, and was not ready at all for our second snorkelling session a few minutes later. We went back into the water and this time we saw a lot of pretty sea turtles - hawkbills turtles - feeding at the bottom of the ocean and going back at the surface to breathe, within centimeters of us. This was incredible to witness this so close. We then saw one white tip shark, at the bottom of the ocean. At first I wasn't that impressed. We were looking at it from above, maybe 6 meters above, and it looked to me rather like a giant sardine that I would have enjoyed eating! Charlotte and I were looking at it, unimpressed, and the shark started to move its head up and it seemed like it looked at us. We both felt a chill as we realised that it was really a shark and not a giant sardine! Two other sharks came by, swimming from behind a rock. This was an amazing sight. A few minutes later, I saw a dolphin quite far on the horizon. Finally, back in the water, we saw a shoal of about 30 manta rays swimming and playing a few meters under us. I saw them from very close range and felt a bit scarred. Charlotte who was helping a little boy to swim, arrived a bit late but saw them from further away. Back on the boat, as we thought the entertainment was over, we saw a manta ray jumping a couple of times out of the water and flying a little while between each jump. Fantastic. Then, we saw a fish jumping out of the water, head straight into the air, and we first thought that it was a big tuna but later realised that we were seeing a group of dolphins jumping in the air, having fun and entertaining us immensely. Unfortunately we couldn't get decent photos of this but this was without a doubt some of the best couple of hours we had spent for a while, and definitely worth the $75! I guess we might have been lucky and in other circumstances this trip would probably have felt like a big rip off!
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Back in Drake, the weather wasn't good. It started raining a little bit and, as we were getting ready to have an early dinner before the night walk that we had organised with a local guide, it started raining heavily and we thought we would have to cancel the walk. Fortunately, the shower only lasted for 2 hours and at 7pm, fully equipped with our rubber boots, we left with Esteban for a 3 hours night walk into his grand father's land, right into the jungle. The objective of the walk was among other things, to spot the famous colourful frogs from Costa Rica. We started off with low expectations. We soon spotted a scorpion, a few spiders, crickets and cockroaches but none of the promissed frogs.
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We were wearing long sleeves and long pants and were sweating all the water from our bodies. The atmosphere was really hot and humid. Perfect for frogs apparently! We then saw a long and thin snake - apparently non-venomous.
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Our guide could spot the wildlife easily but knew little about the species we saw. He was very friendly and took the two of us only for the competitive price of $40 as opposed to the $70 quoted by big tour companies who only operate with groups of at least 4 persons. We really liked our experience with Esteban, especially when he finally saw one specie of poison dart frog, with a spotted red body and dark green legs.
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I got camera crazzy, as did Charlotte, and we probably blinded this poor frog with the flash from our cameras. The frog was no bigger than one of my finger nails but this was amazing to see that in the wild.
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We later saw 2 or 3 more types of frogs, a bit less colourful but still very fun to observe.
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Unfortunately we didn't see the famous Costa Rica leaf frog, the one with orange webs, a green body with yellow and blue colors around the ribs and bulging big red eyes. This closed what I will call, "Super Sunday"! This was the perfect day, the type of day that we will remember for a long time.

On Monday, we left Drake by boat at about 7 in the morning. The 90 minutes boat trip to Sierpe was very scenic as we first sailed at sea before entering a river flowing into the mangrove. We eventually wanted to get to Monteverde in northern Costa Rica but thought we couldn't make the journey in one day so we were prepared to stop overnight somewhere on the pacific coast. We took a combination of taxis and buses, got dropped off on the highway in what looked random places to us but finally made it to Puntarenas at 4pm where we were told that there was no bus to Monteverde until the following morning unless we got to some place 5km out of town where the last bus from san Jose to Monteverde might stop between 4.30 and 5.00. We didn't feel like staying in Puntarenas, which didn't look really nice, so we jumped in an expensive cab that took us to the "junction". We waited there half an hour and luckily got on the last bus to Monteverde but there was no space in the bus so we had to stand for 2 hours while the bus was making its way on really bumpy dirt tracks. We were shattered when we finally arrived in Monteverde after 7pm. At least, we didn't suffer from the heat anymore as Monteverde is at an altitude of about 1500m. We enjoyed our first night in a long time sleeping under heavy blankets!

On our first day in Monteverde we didn't do much. We were still enjoying the cooler weather and recovering from our past week. Charlotte felt like shopping and was pleased to finally use the credit card after months of abstinence. This means that we also had to send a parcel back in England to lighten our bags, which were getting dangerously heavy! Late afternoon, we went to the frog pond where we had a very informative 90 minutes guided visit showing us several species of frogs from Costa rica. We finally saw the famous leaf frog but it feels like cheating to show you this photo of a frog in an aquarium! We do it anyway as it is stunningly beautiful, ... for a frog.
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Monteverde is like a mix of many different places we have visited previously in our trip, but more expensive. We didn't do much here and spent almost 2 days cooking food and relaxing in our nice hostel. We nevertheless attempted to spot some wildlife in the nearby Santa Elena nature reserve. After an early start at 6am, we arrived at the entrance of the reserve where there are about 10km of well marked trails into the cloud forest. It rained quite a bit, was quite cold, and we know from our experience in Mindo in Ecuador that birds don't show up with this type of weather. We walked some 3 frustrating hours in the forest without seeing much at all. Honnestly, I think we might have seen 4 birds in total.. and not even nice ones.
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We were hoping to see the famous Quetzal but we may be luckier somewhere else later.

To conclude our Costa Rican adventures, we headed towards La Fortuna and the famous Arenal volcano. The trip involved a nice boat journey on a lake amid some nice mountain scenery.
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At the moment, the active volcano is unfortunately not throwing out lava as you see on all photos and as usual the summit is always in the clouds.
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We have a room with a window facing the volcano so we might be lucky and see it tomorrow before heading towards Nicaragua!
In the afternoon we went to the Baldi hot springs, a big rip off. The site is nice but we weren't that impressed by the various pools and we still don't understand why we had to pay US$22 each to get in and also US$11 for a rerturn trip by taxi... and I forgot the US$6 for the locker! Crazy.

On the whole our Costa Rica trip was pleasant and we absolutely loved the Corcovado National Park and its surroundings. The rest of the country wasn't particularly different from other places we have been to previously but it was definitely a lot more expensive and tourist-oriented without any soul. This is without regret that we are leaving tomorrow for Nicaragua.

Ciao

Posted by lebrunfo 17:50 Archived in Costa Rica

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Comments

All sounds fantastic! Oviously you don't get excited about seeing a few monkeys anymore! By the way, how many photos have you taken so far??? I'd hate to think, but I would be guilty of doing exactly the same in those circumstances!!

by astridyeo

We saw a few more howler monkeys today in Nicaragua and I was upset because they scared the king fisher I wanted to photograph!! I think I'm on about 5000 photos.. Charlotte is maybe on 3000 !!

by lebrunfo

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