Saturday, August 9, 2008


I've been back from Costa Rica a bit over a week and now have a bit of perspective on our previous two weeks of travel. Relative to many of the places I've travelled to, Costa Rica is very easy. Tourism is amongst the country's top four income streams...and they do it very well. It's an exquisite place to take in jungle/rain forest flora and fauna, to partake in high adrenaline activities like zip line canopy tours, white water rafting and water fall hikes and to enjoy the gorgeous beaches. Costa Rica, unlike it's Northern neighbors, El Salvador and Nicaragua has invited mega-international corportations like Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte to reap its harvests, causing many of its citizens to benefit financially. There was not a single Costa Rican we met who attempted to discuss immigration to the U.S. (When I was in Africa and Peru, it was a non-stop topic of conversation.) Rather, many ex-pats (especially from the U.S. and Canada) immigrate/retire in Costa Rica. The Costa Ricans who do leave their country typically do so for education or travel--not for permanent immigration.

As for the trip, I took full responsiblity for organizing just about every detail. I booked hotels, transport and activities all in advance...and everything occurred pretty much as I expected it would. The trip lacked the high drama of spontaneous solo travel, rather it was relaxing, beautiful and Dennis and Linda proved to be fabulous travel companions.

LAX Sunset Landing

Linda, Leanna and Dennis

Maleku Girl

Sunset over the Caribbean

Dona Minerva's Cooking Class

Dona Minerva (from top to bottom) makes an omlette, sautees chicken with onion, sweet chili and garlic, tomatoe cilantro onion presentation, fried plantains, and plantain dessert (with cinnamon, sugar, cheese, and condensed milk).

Sea tortoise nests

Tumescent tortugas arrive at night, dig these massive nests and drop upwards of 100 golf-ball sized eggs.

Caribbean Beaches

Black sand, tranquil...a very special place.

Pacuare River Rafting

The Pacuare is a super-fun river...and as you can see, we had a blast.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Jungle Lodging

We stayed in these wonderful cabinas during our stay at Tortuguero. At night the sounds of insects, birds and frogs filled the air while warm rain pounded on the tin roofs.

The Banana Business

Bananas are one Costa Rica's primary exports. International companies such as Del Monte, Dole and Chiquita provide their Costa Rican workers with housing and benefits. Here are images from the Del Monte orchard and processing plant. (Blue plastic bags are placed around bushels of bananas to speed their ripening.)

Horseback Riding

We returned from our canopy tour by horseback. Featured riders are Dennis and Linda. The last photo is my horse, from a rider's perspective:)

Indigenous Costa Rica...

Descendants of the Maleku peoples, hang out in a thatch roof hut, dress "Indian" and sell crafts to Costa Rica's thriving tourist market. I bought one of the blue mariposa (butterfly) masks, featured on the upper row of the third photo...the mariposa symbolizes peace and love. It all sounded good to me:)

Rushing Waterfall

This is the backside of the huge waterfall (catarata) we swam in at Arenal.

Boat Ride to Tortuguero

It's a slow jungle river--this is what it FEELS like.

Sounds of the Jungle

There's not much to watch here, but pump on the volume on your speakers and LISTEN to the rich sounds of the jungle!

I Ride in on the Canopy Zipline

This is so fun....Do it, the next time you get a chance!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dennis Rides the Canopy Zip Line...

Watch Dennis ride out and back on some of the very long (and exciting) canopy zip lines!

Linda Rides the Canopy Zip Line!

Linda was fearful of venturing out over the forest canopy solo--watch her ride off (and back) with one of our Costa Rican friends!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Around Puerto Viejo

Somehow we decided to take one more tour--it sounded like it would feature a meeting with an herbalist-shaman as well as a visit to a chocolate factory, a visit with some indigenous peoples, and a hike to a waterfall.

Mostly it was a hike to a waterfall. The hike included walking through five rivers (some nearly hip-deep.) And being Costa Rica it rained throughout the hike. Our guide did admit that the last time he took a group on this tour was back in December. As we trudged through one swift river after another, I very much understood why. At one moment I lost my footing in the river and fell. Not seriously, just a minor bash on my knee. Mostly I was terrified for my camera. My camera case is hardly waterproof and it had been immersed. As soon as I could, I examined it. Yes it could still shoot, but the zoom was dead. I shot pictures as best as I could, hoping this was not a permanent condition. (Fortunately it wasn´t. After a good drying out under a lamp, my wonderful camera returned to normal.)

After the hike which did feature an amazing waterfall, we visited some Biri Biri people who were making crafts in a traditional looking hut for people like us to purchase. (And dutifully I purchased something.) Then we did go to a Chocolate Factory where we saw a bit of a demonstration of how cacao beans are made into cocoa butter and then eating chocolate. (Being a connosieur of really high-end dark chocolate, I wasn´t too terribly impressed.)

Finally we visited our guide´s father who is an herbalist (and not a shaman). We were shown bark that he has used to cure cancer, potions that he uses to balance the hormone levels in women...and in men as well as rocks that are used for hot and cold stone massage. I so wished we would have had the time to explore these amazing sounding substances.

Puerto Viejo Banana Azul Style

When I was planning this trip, my Costa Rican travel agent had suggested we´d like Puerto Viejo, a laid-back Caribbean beach town. In exploring lodging options, she´d sent me a link for Banana Azul. Don´t ask me how she knew about it, but damn, it was such a fabulous choice.

Banana Azul is hidden down a road that few people who visit Puerto Viejo ever frequent. (Our driver had no idea where in town it was.) After many missed turns we arrived and were met by Colin, a gay man from Canada. The hotel was designed him and his partner about four years ago. The reception staff seemed to all be gay men, hailing from all over Latin America. Their attention to details was phenomenal. Clearly they were the most traveller-friendly hosts we´d yet encountered. The hotel grounds are adjacent to a pristine stretch of Playa Negra. The dining area includes a ground level aquarium with fish and sea turtles...and the seating areas feature some wonderfully gawdy benches and tables.

We stayed at the Magic Moon Beach House which is down the road from (and managed by Banana Azul). The beach house is absolutely gorgeous. It includes two sleeping rooms, a kitchen, a deck with a hammock, a garden with fruit trees and two cats and one dog. We were immediately at home with hunger-struck cats, a dog whose eyes match Bacchus´ (my dog who sports a brown eye and a blue eye) and a beach front that is literally footsteps away. Despite that it was hardly ¨authentic¨ Costa Rica, for our last few days we felt very blessed.

Home Stay in Sarapiqui

When I initially designed this trip, the homestays were to be a central part of the trip. Students would become junior anthropologists by living with local families in a countryside village. This homestay was a bit of an afterthought. Ultimately it was really fun.

After our bout with ¨jungle tourism¨ in Tortuguero we landed in Sarapiqui, a traditional agricultural town in the middle of Costa Rica. It was pouring as we arrived at the town´s community center which had arranged our visit with Doña Minerva and her family. After a quick orientation about the town, which included discussion of a high teen pregnancy rate , we piled into a taxi and were taken to our ¨home for the night.¨ Doña Minerva hugged us warmly and showed us to our rooms. I had a little single bed with a Mickey Mouse blanket and Linda and Dennis, spent the night on bunk beds. (Most of the homestay guests are in their teens.) Next we were offered a tasty stew made from beef, carrots and potatoes. We then watched American TV (the family has a satellite receiver mounted on their zinc-covered tin roof.)

In the morning Vladmir, Doña Minerva´s youngest son, walked us down to the Sarapiqui River where he often works as a Rafting Guide. He gravitated to Dennis´cool Nikon and started composing pictures. He decorated Linda in leaves and made her into a jungle woman. He was so much fun! Next we studied traditional cooking with his mother. She taught us how to make tostones, flatted fried plantain chips. Then we made a rich creamed chicken dish and finally a sweet plantain dessert using sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, condensed milk and cheese. I imagine it was one of the higher-calorie indulgences we´ve had since we´ve been here.

Considering the communal cold shower, the noisy roosters and the rickety bunk bed, Dennis and Linda were especially glad that our homestay was just one night. That afternoon a friendly driver came by, loaded up our many bags, and drove us down to Puerto Viejo, a town on the Southern End of the Caribbean Coast.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


There´s a place on the Caribbean Coast that is a refuge for several kinds of sea turtles and tortoises...and a haven for turtle tourism. Hearing that it´s a Caribbean Coast "must visit," we arose very early (5 am) from our delicious La Fortuna hotel and loaded our gear into one of those ubiquitous "turismo" vans. After several additional hotel stops to pick up other early risers, we headed to Rancho Roberto Restaurant which serves as a rendezvous point for travelers coming from other directions. There we gobbled down some breakfast, loaded our gear into a large turismo bus and headed east. Along the way we visited a banana plantation, witnessing the ripening, washing, and packing of bananas. After pineapple, bananas are Costa Rica´s #2 export. Then we drove further to a dock. There busloads of people were being loaded onto river boats. Our group was loaded onto several barge-like boats depending on whether we were going for one, two or three days. We´d selected a two-day trip which included a night in a jungle style hotel, several beach walks and a chance to watch a tortoise lay her eggs on a moon lit beach.

Costa Ricas turtles' reproductive process has been endangered as the result of human activities such as light pollution, garbage and waterfront development. And at tortuguero those turtles who do manage to reproduce (a mature female will lay eggs every three years) are studied carefully by scientists and tracked nightly for tourist-observers. The tell-tale signs of a turtle's readiness to drop her eggs are tracks along the beach and the digging of holes. We were treated to a live-action performance. Our Mama spent nearly an hour dropping her over 100 glistening golf-ball sized eggs. Then she covered them with sand, created a pseudo nest to confuse egg-hungry predators and then returned to the sea. And we spent an amazing evening in our jungle cabanas. The sounds of cicadas and birds filled the night-time air; then the rain began to pound on our clangy tin roofs and I sort of slept. The sounds were so amazing I just wanted to stay awake and listen.

The next day we went out on a nature boatride and a nature walk, feasting our eyes on birds, sloths and monkeys. When photographing these distant creatures wore me out, I´d shoot the beautiful reflections of the jungle leaves on the gray-green river.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Canopy Tour and More

When I visited Jamaica a couple of years ago, one of my most favorite activities was the canopy tour. When I heard that Costa Rica's Canopy Tours are really good, I put it on my "someday" list. And today was became that "someday." Briefly canopy tours allow a treetop level view of the forest by riding ziplines from about a dozen different staging areas. At times one can go as fast as 65 mph, with the wind blowing into one's face and the green wet jungle below, it's absolutely spectacular.

Dennis took to it immediately--we would take turn videotaping each other and Linda. Linda found a way to conquer her fears by riding in tandem with one of our Costa Rican guides. The guides became her surrogates!

After riding some ziplines that spanned several thousand feet...and ultimately surviving it all, we were taken to a sample Meloka village. The village featured wooden structures topped with banana leaves and the "inhabitants" explained that they only wear their "native" dress for tourists. After a bit of Meloka woo woo, we were invited to look over the many crafts that present day Melokans make for visitors like us. Considering that there might be a small space on my international mask wall for a Meloka mask, I selected a nicely painted one featuring bright blue butterflies which symbolize love, peace and liberty.

Then it began to rain. Not a light sprinkle, but rather a cold incessant rain. Just because it was raining hard there was no way our tour would quickly end and we'd be handed mugs of hot chocolate and sit around a fire. Rather, we forged ahead. Next we were placed on top of horses whose saddles were sopping wet. And then we simply became drenched through and through. The horses trudged through lots of mud...and eventually we arrived at the staging area. Soon enough we were returned to our hotel, hot showers and dry clothes.


Cataratas means waterfall in Spanish...and due to Dennis' careful web-searching we managed to book rooms at the Cataratas Eco Resort here in La Fortuna. The place is gorgeous with pools, waterfalls, pretty gardens, a great restaurant and spacious bedrooms.

And up the road from the Cataratas Resort along a very bumpy road is an impressive waterfall. We walked about a mile to the trail, paid a tourist fee, and then began to descend many many steps. At the bottom you can swim in the rough and amazing current. It was one of those indelible moments as I took in the bright moss-covered walls, the heavy mist of the waterfall and just let my body bounce in the current. Later I found a spot below where the waves could pound my back....perfectly.

As I walked back up those many stairs and my face quickly filled with sweat, that moment of complete bliss in the midst of the waterfall made it all worth it.

Arenal and then some

Arenal is a percolating volcano that graces the La Fortuna region. Every so often a bellowing occurs as steam blows out and molten rocks tumble down the side. We were taken on a late afternoon walk around the volcano's base and then as the sun set, we witnessed glowing red rocks in the far far distance. 1968 is the last time the volcano seriously errupted, destroying nearby towns and ending lives. Since then geologists have been studying the activities of Costa Rica's nine active volcanoes, with the hopes of averting such calamities. Altogether, Costa Rica has 119 volcanoes.

And as a result of Arenal's activity, there are many hotsprings in the region. Our tour included a dip in one that is based at the swanky Tabacon Hotel. We cavorted amongst dozens of pools, pounding hot waterfalls and an exciting waterslide. Afterwards we gorged on way too much food at the hotel's evening buffet.

White Water Rafting on the Pacuare

The Pacuare is a fabulous river for white water rafting...and we, Dennis and I, had the privilege to ride its class III and IV rapids. Linda, who is fearful of these kinds of things, went on a Pineapple Plantation Tour... We were outfitted with lifejackets and helmets and packed into an inflatable raft with a mother-daughter duo from Denmark and two-teenaged cousins from Mexico City. Thus our Costa Rican guide's commands were nearly trilingual. While we jumped into the river several times to swim, no one fell out against their will! There's a beautiful jungle along the edges with thick rain forest, tropical flowers and a scattering of riverside lodges. The roofs of these lodges were the only time I was able to see thatched roofs. Everywhere else in Costa Rica the roofs are corrugated tin, some rusty and many painted orange to mimic Spanish tiling.

Our guide, Ricardo, had us do a paddle-raising "high five" everytime we successfully traversed a rapid, in Spanish "rapido." On several easy rapids, he placed one of us on the front of the boat so the moment the first wave washed over, this "volunteer" would fall backwards into the raft--and we'd all burst into hysterics. Another antic was having one side of paddlers reverse themselves with everyone paddling forward so that when we traversed an easish rapid we'd be running it in circles! Finally when we engaged the intense class IV "rapidos" he'd yell get down and we'd all bunch ourselves into the bottom of the raft and get flooded...and of course laugh with glee!

Having run rivers in Australia, Africa, Thailand and California, this was certainly a favorite. If you ever get a chance to run the Pacuare, do it!!!

Temple Mounds at Guayabo

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tropical Flowers at Guayabo

Guayabo Petroglyphs

Diarama of Guayabo

What remains of the Cabeceras peoples that inhabited this site are mounds--this reconstruction visualizes what it might have looked like prior to 1400 A.D.

Plaza Sculptures in Turrialba

Considering that Costa Rica does not invest in military activities, the country has no war time heroes to celebrate. Thus the plaza sculptures in Turrialba feature local wildlife...