Costa Rica Panoramas

I hope that everyone is having a nice holiday.

In spare moments the past few days, I’ve pieced together a couple of panoramas from the Costa Rica trip. We saw a number of vistas that are impossible to adequately replicate with standard, static images. These panos should play in any web browser with Java turned on. Just click in the pano image and drag your mouse back and forth to move around in the image.

The first pano is a 180-degree shot back toward the beach from Punta Uvita, which is a sandy spit that juts out in the ocean in the Ballena (Whale) National Park. The spit is covered at high-tide, but at low-tide, it stretches out from the jungle about a half-mile into the ocean, coming to an end at some very jagged rocks, all set at a 45-degree angle, with big breakers just beyond. This is not a place to fall asleep at low-tide and find yourself stranded.

This shot is taken from the jagged rocks over the spit back toward the jungle. Click on the image to load the panoramic version in a separate window.

The other panorama is a 360-degree shot taken at Rio La Leona, at the entrance to Corcovado National Park, on the Osa Peninsula. It rained heavily for two nights while we were there, and we were able to see the beach landscape change a lot where this river emerges from the jungle to touch the Pacific.

This shot was taken at sunset from the sandy rise between the river and the ocean. Click on the image to load the panoramic version in a separate window.

I created another panorama, of sorts, a vertical one, of a tree that we saw at Cabo Manopalos, on the Osa Peninsula. The idea behind this image is to convey a bit of what it is like to stand at the bottom of one of these monsters and look up.

Cabo Matapalos Tree

On a totally different subject, I found a totally hilarious business that I kicked myself for five minutes for not thinking of first: The Post-Rapture Post: The Postal Service of the Saved. This site allows the devout among us to write letters, notes, or cards that will be delivered when the true believers are whisked off to Heaven and the rest of us are left below. Their FAQ page will crack you up (especially “How do we know that you will not ascend into Heaven with us?”), and with the prices they are charging, the guys that thought of this will be able to have little Heaven on Earth, assuming anyone is falling for this.

And something tells me more than a few are.

Wild Corcovado

Corcovado was great. Everything I had heard about it being a truly wild and untamed place was true; there is an “edge of the world” feeling about the place, in everything from the pounding, raw Pacific to the thick, nearly impenetrable jungle it slides up to but never quite touches.

The jungle floor was littered, at one point,
with these huge, beautiful purple flowers.

First, a disclaimer: You do not need to stay at an expensive tent camp, such as the Corcovado Lodge Tent Camp we stayed in, to experience Corcovado. In fact, if we were going back (and, someday, I hope I will), we would not be staying in a tent camp but would be camping or staying in one of the cheaper spots in Carate, such as the beach hotel. We enjoyed our stay at the tent camp, but we didn’t realize until we got close to Corcovado and talked to some other travelers that the tent camps just make your stay a lot more comfortable, and they are not required if you want to stay near the Corcovado National Park for a few days.

We took the collectivo from Porto Jiminez to Carate early Tuesday morning. The road beyond Cabo Matopalos was even worse than the section we explored with the rental car, and being crammed on a wooden bench in the back of a pickup truck didn’t make things any easier. The trip took about 2.5 hours, and we were really happy that we were going to be leaving Carate by air once we got there.

Kath was a little concerned about the collectivo transportation
experience from Porto Jimenez to Corcovado

We booked three nights at the Corcovado Lodge Tent Camp, starting on Tuesday night, and we included a flight back to San Jose that would get us back in time for our flight on to the States. When we arrived in Carate, we followed the other collectivo passengers, most of whom were simply heading to the park for the day, down the beach toward the entrance to the park. (I knew that the tent camp was near the entrance to the park.) When we finally finished the 2 mile, very hot beach hike to the tent camp, we were told that they couldn’t find our reservation. However, the excellent manager of the camp, Juan Carlos, took our paperwork and arranged for us to have breakfast while he sorted everything out. Apparently, they get few people that arrive via any other method than by plane, and at one point, Juan Carlos asked, “How did you get here?” Most of the clientele of the tent camp would not carry all of their gear with them on the beach hike, as the tent camp has a horse and cart luggage and supply delivery system. Still, everyone that arrives to stay at the tent camp has to make that long, hot beach hike, even without their bags. The hike makes the moderately-cool shade from the tent camp’s palm trees feel even better once you arrive.

The tents at the Corcovado Lodge Tent Camp are big,
clean, and are as close to the ocean as you would ever want to sleep

Over the next few days, we went on a canopy tour (which is really an observation deck) and a half-day hike into Corcovado. We also explored all of the trails on the tent camp’s 20-hectare property, which is full of wildlife, including lots of monkeys that roam through, some sloths, and plenty of birds, including eagles, tucans, and many more. It rained during our canopy tour, which made visibility a problem, and most of the wildlife stayed well away from us, probably crouched somewhere much drier than 70 feet up a tree.

Kath got into the canopy tour, which hoisted
us up to a platform 120 feet off the ground

The Corcovado hike was wonderful, though. We only did a short hike, turning around at the first big river in the park (which was even higher than normal, thanks to the rain), but we saw lots of interesting animals, including an anteater, several types of monkeys, and coatis. Heading back to camp, things got a little spooky, when we started smelling puma urine and seeing blood droplets on the trail. For a while, I could swear we were being, well, watched, by something. However, we all got out of the park without any problems.

Pick your favorite monkey! truk, posing by
the Corcovado National Park sign, is missing
the necessary climbing tail

Our stay at the tent camp was made much more enjoyable by the excellent company sharing it with us. Joe, an avid walker that calls San Francisco home (for now), arrived shortly after we did, and Patrick and Laura, from San Diego, arrived shortly after that. We shared our multi-course, family-style meals and had many stimulating conversations. All of the guest were avid travelers, and we picked up a lot of tips about how to travel to Myanmar, the comparative mindset of former cannibals in New Guinea, and advantages of taking part in a Semester at Sea voyage. We really enjoyed getting to know everyone, and the staff of the tent camp also went out of the way to get to know us.

Our guide, Percy, tells us about the river on our
hike through Corcovado. That night, we finally
got to see a sunset at the tent camp.

We checked out of the tent camp on Friday morning and started the long beach hike back the Carate airstrip, this time without our bags, where were transferred ahead of us using the horse and cart. Still, the beach hike was brutal. We were both completely drenched in sweat and wiped when we finally arrived. The small charter flight back to San Jose provided for beautiful scenery all the way back, and we even got back into Memphis a little early.

truk and Kath stand beside the “air taxi” waiting to wisk
them back to San Jose, which took us over many of the
places visited, including this beach in Corcovado

All in all, we had a wonderful time in Costa Rica. I’ll post more details about some of our impressions soon.

More photos of our stay at Corcovado can be seen here

Into the Wilderness

This will likely be our last post for a few days, as we are hoping to board a collectivo (local taxi – well, pickup truck with some seats in the back and a tarp over the top) that will take us to the entrance of the Corcovado National Park. If you are wondering where that is, find Costa Rica on a map, then find the small, most southern, most western peninsula, near the border with Panama. That’s the Osa Peninsula, and the Corcovado National Park takes up about half of it.

Corcovado promises to be a pretty rustic place to stay, with electricity supplied by generators for a few hours a day and not much to do other than check out the copious flora and fauna, lay on the beach, and go hiking through the jungle. We’ve got some reservations at a tent camp near the entrance of the park, but I’ve learned that you can just about expect anything in this part of the world.

Yesterday, we rented a little 4×4 car and drove around the southern part of the peninsula, including heading out to a big surf break near Cabo Matapolas, which at the end of the Golfo Dolce, where it opens into the Pacific Ocean. A few hardened surfer types were enjoying the decent waves as the tide was coming in, dodging rocks and looking a little smug that they had found such a sweet, depopulated place to ride.

This morning, we found another wonderful beach, even closer to Porto Jiminez, one with two breaks when the tide is out, each with a clear water and no rocks. You could actually surf the outer break to the inner break and then surf that to the beach. Alas, though, no rented board with us.

The collectivo leaves at 6 AM tomorrow, so we will have to get up early. We will probably chill the rest of the afternoon and enjoy our last bit of air conditioning for a few days – it has been in the upper 80s with 70% humidity the past few days, when it hasn’t been raining.

The next post will hopefully be in Memphis on Saturday. I just hope that Stephen got my email about needing an ride from the airport on Friday night…

Check out more photos of Porto Jimenez here

Relaxing in Porto Jiminez

Kath and I left lovely Uvita yesterday (Saturday) morning via taxi, amazingly making the Porto Jiminez bus just perfectly in Palmer Norte. That sort of thing rarely happens to us, where we make a bus just right when it is about to leave. Of course, we made the bus just in time, which didn’t leave any time to go to the bank, which is where we really needed to go, since we were low on cash. And it turned out that Porto Jiminez only has one bank, a Banco National, which doesn’t work with our ATM card. However, amazingly, the bank was open, which means that we could get money off of our credit card. So, I went inside and tried to get some money there, and they said, “No, we are only open for the telethon.”

The telethon? “What telethon?”

Some national telethon was happening, and people that pledged money could pay their pledges at the National Bank. So, even though the bank was open, and they had money, and they took credit cards, they wouldn’t do anything for me. So, Kath and I have been scraping by on our last collones and dollars, waiting for the bank to open tomorrow (Monday). It is pretty amazing: In the largest town in the region, with over 7,000 people in the town and many thousands more on the peninsula, there is only 1 ATM. And one unhelpful bank.

We spent our last day in Uvita exploring the national park and getting really sunburned walking all of the way out the end of the peninsula. You have to be careful there, because if the tide comes in, you have little time to hike the half-mile back to the mainland over the low sand spit.

We enjoyed a pizza in the middle of the jungle, in this strange little restaurant on the edge of civilization, where they have discovered the take-out cooked chicken. (Take-out is called “servico expresso” here, which does not describe the speed of the wait staff.)

We also had a wonderful stay at the Tucan Hotel and got to know the new owner, Tre, who is amazingly from Memphis. We got off of a dusty bus in the middle of the night and hiked up the road to his hotel, only to be greeted by a guy in a “Memphis Tigers” t-shirt. The Tucan is really an oasis for the entire area, and we think that Tre will be very successful with his new venture. Air-con, lots of hammocks, free Internet, and $1 beers make staying at the Tucan an easy choice.

Porto Jiminez has been pretty sleepy since we arrived, as it’s the weekend. We did watch a soccer game yesterday, though, were a big fight broke out, which is really unusual in Costa Rica (ticos are big pacifists and will usually do anything to avoid a confrontation). The fight ended up cancelling the game, and the cops were called. After the second big blow-up between these two guys, one guy went back to where his team’s fans were sitting and got a machete (where are really common all around Costa Rica) and ran at the other guy, in full view of the police. Thankfully, a bunch of machete guy’s friends grabbed him and got the machete away from him. Also, amazingly, no one was arrested, and the scene just gradually broke up and everyone drifted away. For a minute, there, I was sure we were going to witness a murder, though.

We will probably just hang around in Porto Jiminez until Tuesday morning, when we are due to get a collectivo to take us to Carate and the tent camps, where we will stay through Friday, when we fly back to the states. All is well, as long as the credit card keeps working… 🙂

More photos of Porto Jimenez can be seen here

Uvita Has It All

Kath and I have stumbled into another backwater wonderland in Uvita, a small, country near-beach community in the southern Pacific region of Costa Rica. Life is easy at the Tucan Hotel, the meals are cheap and yummy at the nearest soda (local restaurant), the beautiful waterfalls are only a 45-minute walk away, and the beach ends in a long spit that contains some local reefs. What more do you need?

Well, for one thing, we are still in need of a good way out of this place, something that will affordably and relatively quickly convey us from Uvita to Porto Jimenez by Monday, so that we can take a collectivo taxi to Carate and the Corcovado Lodge Tent Camp, where we have reservations through the end of the week.

It has struck us more than once that, just possibly, Uvita is so nice and unspoiled simply because it is so hard to get here and get away, at least without renting a car. Even though it is totally uneconomical, we tried to get rent a car for 24-hours, a one-way rental, so that we could get to the local bus hub and also see a local indigenous area. It simply wasn’t possible. Now, we are facing a 5 AM bus at some point in the next few days, which really isn’t desireable.

But for now, things are great. We are enjoying the sun and sand and $1 beers.

More pics of Uvita are available here

From Paradise to Nowhere

We are now in Quepos, after catching a water taxi from Montezuma to Jaco this morning and then finding a bus to bring us down the coast. We are planning to catch a bus this evening to take us down to Uvita, which get us close to our goal of being on the Osa Peninsula by Monday.

Montezuma was, in one word, amazing. I’ve been few places closer to paradise. Clear running waterfalls that slip into a crashing sea over tan sand. Cool sea breezes and plenty of shade on the beach to defeat the sun, which we hadn’t seen in Costa Rica until we arrived in Montezuma.

We didn’t take any tours there, just chilled. Like New Zealand last year, I believe that our photos of the area won’t approach its true beauty. No wonder so many folks spend longer than expect in Montezuma.

Check out more photos of Montezuma here