Trying to Dry Out in a Cloud Forest

The past few days have been eventful. Yesterday, we attempted to walk to a waterfall outside of La Fortuna, only be completely soaked by several downpours while we walked the 7 KM, uphill (occasionally against a 10% grade), only to discover that the waterfall was really only so-so. And we paid $14 to just get into the waterfall, only to take a couple of pictures and leave. It wasn’t worth the walk down to the pool to swim and then the steep walk back up. I think New Zealand last year really spoiled us concerning waterfalls. Anyway, despite the challenges of the walk, the scenery was beautiful and almost made the whole thing worth it. Almost.

Kath and truk at Lake Arenal

In the afternoon, after changing out of our wet clothes, we took the jeep-boat-jeep, well, actually, van-boat-van connection to go from La Fortuna to Santa Elena, just beside Monteverde. The trip was uneventful but very beautiful, including a spectacular sunset as we neared Santa Elena, the first one we had seen since leaving Memphis. Yes, it has been that cloudy. And wet.

Sunset when nearing Monteverde

Today started with a cup of extremely good coffee at the Treetop Cafe, which is a restaurant on the main street in Santa Elena built around a massive tropical tree, which covers the entire structure. It really feels like you are a kid in a tree house. I’ve been in several places like this, especially in Australia, but I’ve never seen it done this well before.

Next, we headed off to a Don Juan Coffee Plantation tour. Kath and I usually hit wineries when we are traveling, but there really isn’t anything like that here. What is here, however, and all over the place, are coffee plants. Our guide, Marcos, stepped us through the entire process, from how they germinate the plants, nurse them, fertilize them, and pick them. Then, we saw the coffee beans removed and left to dry, natural-style, in the sun, and then moved all of the way to the roasting process. We had no idea how involved the entire process is, nor did we understand that is traditionally done on a such a small scale, including only 1 or 2 hectares of coffee plants for one coffee company. It left us with the impression that much of the best coffee never leaves the area, much less the country.

Riding the oxen cart on the coffee tour

This afternoon, we went walking in what is called a “hanging bridges” tour, which takes place in a cloud forest outside of town. While suspension bridges are involved, this is really just a hike, albeit a very pretty one, through an area that stays permanently wet, at least for 200 days a year. It rained the entire time we were on the hike, so most of the animals we would normally have been able to see showed more sense than we did and stayed hidden away and at least partially dry. The walk was enjoyable, but after a while, the lack of sunshine just starts playing tricks on your mind. Our camera really had trouble with the lighting. I think it may have been one of the most difficult places to take a clear photo that I’ve ever seen. The foggy conditions played havok on the autofocus.

Tomorrow, we are going to take a taxi to a different cloud forest and walk our way back to Santa Elena, visiting various places along the way. While it should be a good time, we are both looking forward to heading to Montezuma and the sunny coast and away from the rain.

View more of our photos of Monteverde

They Don’t Call It a Rain Forest for Nothing

Even though it is currently at the end of the rainy season in Costa Rica, it has been pouring almost relentlessly since we got to Fortuna. The clouds around the volcano have been so heavy that it has been difficult to figure out where the volcano actually is, much less check out the mouth and see any lava or steam. Regardless, we’ve been having a great time.

Katherine waiting for the tour to get going again

Yesterday was a big day, starting with a boat tour down the Rio Frio from Canas Negro and ending up at border with Nicaragua. We saw dozens of varieties of birds, including Amazonian kingfishers, wood storks, and several types of white herons. There were lotsof other creatures without wings about, too, including many turtles, a few Jesus lizards, and little crocs. Monkeys where in several of the trees, including an albino howler monkey, apparently pretty rare. We also saw some gigantic iguanas hanging out in some trees below a bridge, with the males bright orange as they get ready for the mating season. (They return to their standard green-brown afterward.) It rained most of the trip, but the sky let up on us when it mattered most, like when we disembarked for a picnic lunch.

Some big, male iguanas hanging out

In the afternoon, we hiked up the side of Volcan Arenal to the site of the 1992 eruption, which destroyed a side of the volcano and left a massive lava rock (well, boulder) field in its wake. This was the first place where I heard avalanche refering to something other than snow. The 1968 eruption destroyed a town nearby, and the government used the lava rocks from that eruption to build a dam to create Lake Arenal, which provides the entire region (including parts of Panama and Nicaragua) with electricity. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!

truk and kath at Lake Arenal

We ended the day at a hot springs resort called Baldi, where the water is heated by the volcano, which apparently could blow again at any time. (The last eruption was in 2003.) While we didn’t get to see the volcano’s top, we definitely heard it rumble while we were at the bath. It sounded like very ominous thunder. Baldi was great, with definitely the hottest water that we’ve ever seen at a hot springs resort. Some of the baths were close to 160 degrees…

Baldi has hotter water than that around this cayman

Today, we are heading to Monteverde, which is across Lake Arenal and on the other side of the volcano. To get there, we have to take a jeep, then a boat across the lake, and then another jeep into town. We were going to take horses from the lake into Santa Elana (near Monteverde), but we are going to save our horseback riding for the cloud forests in the area. Also, with all of the rain lately, the route would have been treacherous.

More photos of this portion of the Costa Rica trip can be seen here

Livin’ La Pura Vida

Thanks to the wonderful accommodation at my job, plus the Lamberts, who are watching our dogs, and John for taking us to the airport (way too) early in the morning, Katherine and I find ourselves in Costa Rica, struggling with our Spanish and trying to stay dry at the end of the rainy season.

Katherine after enjoying her first gallo pinto,
the “Tipical Food” in Costa Rica

We flew into San Jose yesterday and immediately remembered why we haven’t spent much time in big Latin American cities. Right after leaving the airport, we were put on the wrong bus and, after getting off the right bus, we were almost robbed. (Someone got our backpack pouch open, but we got away from them before they could take anything.) Last night was not restful, as we picked a hotel near the bus we would be taking today, but that also meant it was a main drag. Oh, and across the street from a really loud nightclub.

Today (Monday) has been much better. We made our morning bus for La Fortuna, which is about 6km from Volcan Arenal, a big volcano that promises to spit lava at us when we assault its trails, sometime tomorrow. We are also planning to check out the local hot springs and maybe take in a river nature cruise.

The park in the center of La Fortuna

Right now, we are just taking it easy, trying to get into the “tico” (what Costa Ricans call themselves) way of life, which really appears pretty laid back. There is a lot of lounging around going on here, which is really what a vacation is all about anyway, isn’t it?

Panoramas and Memories

I just found a great cache of panorama images, submitted by photographers from all over the world. I especially like the Prague images:

http://geoimages.berkeley.edu/wwp_all/map/near/50.104_14.431_tile_0_60.html

(Note: All of these panoramas require Quicktime be installed on your system and available for use by your web browser. If they don’t load, then you probably need to just install iTunes, which will install it all for you automatically.)

My friend Dave and I bought some equipment to develop black-and-white photos while we were in Prague in 1994-95. Amazingly, the store where we bought our equipment is a subject of one of the panoramic photos.