#9: Les arbres bizarres et enormes
Pura Vida Costa Rica!
#9: Les arbres bizarres et enormes
Pura Vida Costa Rica!
Costa Rica has been wonderful. We were here 4 weeks … could have spent a year … and perhaps then ended up like that thousands of gringos who came to visit but never quite made it back home.
In no particular order, here’s my top 10 list for Costa Rica. Kaia and Jake have included lots of photos, so I’ll leave that part to them
1. Easy going, very welcoming people. Costa Ricans (“Ticos”) use the expression “Pura Vida” to mean “good life”, “things are good” … and in general, “all is well”. It says a lot about them.
2. The environmental consciousness exuded around Monteverde … especially the climate change rally
3. Swimming in the very clear, cool pool at the base of the waterfalls in remote Rara Avis
4. The turtle life cycle … especially watching the nesting process at Tortuguero (and seeing little “Squirt” making a run for it!
5. The sounds in the cloud and rain forests …. birds, crickets, frogs, and especially the howler monkeys
6. Exquisite beaches – tree-shaded at Manuel Antonio and the vast and deserted beach of Zancudo
7. moonlit skinny surfing on Zancudo beach, while watching an electrical storm (in the distance!)
8. local fruit that is packed with flavour – the pineapples, mangoes, lichi, coconuts & bananas
9. Awesome critters revealed to us by our guides on day and night hikes: frogs, snakes, lizards, spiders. My favourite bird has to be the Scarlett Macaw – stunning, raucous, and they always travel in their pairs
10. The way Costa Rica lives the “eco” in ecotourism
10. watching the lightning storm across the water from the beach in Zancudo
9. swimming at night and seeing phosphorescence
8. the horseback ride up to Rara Avis
7. Costa Rican coffee
6. swimming in Rio Claro in Corcovado, hanging onto vines that touched the water
5. the climate rally in Monteverde and seeing a sloth so close to the road
4. scuba diving with Jake as my buddy
3. the hammock on the porch at Rara Avis (and being the only guests there)
2. seeing and HEARING howler monkeys (and dodging their excrement!)
1. coming across a mother turtle covering her eggs on the beach at 5am in Tortuguero
What we really needed after our hectic ‘circumnavigation’ of Costa Rica (on land, of course), and especially after the 3 days of extensive hiking in Corcovado National Park (wearing rubber boots), was a week to unwind on a beautiful beach! Well, that is exactly what we got at Playa Zancudo! We have been renting a lovely house called “Puertas del Sol” that belongs to a former colleague of Cam’s and her husband. Muchas gracias, Kristine y Jim! They discovered Zancudo Beach 5 years ago and have been spending about half their time here ever since. Photos and info about the house are on Facebook as ZancudoPlayaPlata, if you’re interested! At low tide, the beach is really wide and completely sandy (hardly a shell or stone to be found!)
Occasionally, we would see someone ride by on a bike, motorcycle, or ATV. I saw one person jogging, a few dogs, and two guys collecting a type of shrimp that lives in the sand. Other than that, the beach is pretty much deserted! Admittedly, this is the low season, so the small (and set back) beachfront motels and cabinas are mostly empty. However, in conversation with Annie (Peterborough friend who is now living in Panama) I learned that even when they came here for Easter weekend, the beach was empty (proof: her husband Rodney went skinny-dipping in the middle of the day!) How can this beautiful stretch of beach be so quiet? I’m thinking the name might keep the crowds away (zancudo means mosquito in Spanish!)
When we arrived last Wednesday, we were met by Alex (Kris and Jim’s friend and property manager) who made sure we got to the casa with all our bags. We were eager to meet his daughter, Yively (pronounced “Jibelly”) who is 11, so he brought her by after school and the kids got to swim together and practice their Spanish. Yively explained that she is in a class of 31 students who are between grades 2 and 6 — a ‘one-room schoolhouse’! She invited us to come to the school the next day. We decided the teacher probably wouldn’t mind (foreign guest speakers who are 12 and 13 years old are a novelty), so we went. It was actually bigger than I had imagined (several classrooms all opening to the outdoors) and the students were divided into smaller groups because the English teacher was there as well as a Resource teacher. Oops — perhaps not the best time to interrupt! They all came back into their main classroom and Kaia and Jake introduced themselves and spoke a little about Canada (doing their best in Spanish!) The students then invited them to play soccer on their nice grassy field. It was girls against the boys (very even strength) and everyone left their shoes on the sidelines. Says Kaia about playing barefoot: “You don’t have to worry about anyone stepping on your foot with cleats!”
The day we arrived, Alex had asked us if we wanted to buy some fresh fish. Of course! Zancudo is known for its excellent fishing. Well, he showed up with 3 kilos of tuna! Cam promptly looked up a recipe for ceviche (raw, marinated tuna) which turned out great! Both Alex and Yively said it was excellent so the next day, Cam made more and Alex brought his wife Jorleny over to have some, too! We also ate breaded tuna on several occasions (3kg is a lot of fish!)
It’s been fun having access to a fridge and kitchen. We’ve learned how to make “gallo pinto”, the popular Costa Rican rice and bean breakfast dish.
Cam rented a surfboard which we have had here for most of the week. He and the kids have made good progress (while I managed to ride some waves, lying down on the board). However, our original plan to go to Povones (well-known surfing beach south of here) was cancelled once we realised that the Zancudo waves were more than enough for beginners! Apparently, the waves in Povones are much more intense and the beach is more rocky. Cam & kids have enjoyed surfing under the full moon the past few nights too.
We have kept ourselves busy in and on the water, on the beach (building a huge sand castle and riding the bikes that Alex lent us), doing lots of blogging, reading, playing cards, and my personal favourite… getting the laundry done in a place where it actually has time to dry completely before being repacked into a backpack! Yeah! (We were pretty stinky when we got here!).
We’ve had beautiful sunny mornings and rain for a few hours most afternoons. There have been some awesome thunderstorms; lightning like I’ve never seen it before that gets etched into your retina for a few seconds. We’ve had some great night swims (the water must be about 30C) and have twice seen phosphorescence in the water. Magic!
We will have Alex and family over for a barbecue tonight (he’s bringing more fish!) and leave by bus tomorrow morning at 5:45 en route to Panama (1 day in Panama city) and then flying to Quito. Zancudo was just what we needed …we feel refreshed and ready for more adventures!
We were sitting in the common room at our hostel in San Jose, checking the bus schedule for San Jose-Drake Bay – we were headed to Corcovado National Park on the SW coast of Costa Rica and would enter from the north in Drake Bay. Seemed like the only bus was at 7 am and got in at 3 and then there was a half hour taxi ride and a 2 hour boat ride to Drake Bay. The bus would go through Quepos, which is not very direct. We were exhausted from all the early mornings from Rara Avis and Tortuguero and were really not excited for the next day. My dad decided to check the plane schedule, and the flight left SJ at 7 am and arrived in Drake Bay at 8 am. Even better, the next day was my mom’s birthday. So happy birthday Mommy… (we sang to her on the plane!)
On arrival to Drake Bay, the Taxi driver told us that the 8 km ride from the airport (long gravel landing strip and a bathroom whose toilet has no seat) to the town would cost 8 dollars each. Being stubborn, and thinking there would be other options, we decided to start walking, only to realise that it was the only taxi (and possibly the only 4-wheeled vehicle) in town! Jake and I could hardly walk 400 m at a time with the huge packs on our backs. Then we got to a river we had to cross. Some locals showed us the shallowest place to walk through it. As we crossed it, the taxi drove by us in the opposite direction. It looked like a pickup truck with a raised back that had some seats in it. It is like that because of the river that flows across the road. He told us that he would be back in an hour. So my dad and I started walking there, and Jake and my mom stayed and waited for the taxi with the
packs. When we arrived in the small village we went our our hotel “Martina’s Place”, where we met our Guide for Corcovado, Rodolfo. The next morning, we would board a boat at 6 am that would bring us south along the coast to a ranger station in the park. But until then we were free, so we went to the beach and to the “Heladeria” (ice cream shop) for my mom’s birthday.
The Ranger station had a lot of services: kitchen, WiFi, covered area to pitch your tent, Restaurant, rooms for rent, and my dad got excited when he saw Solar Panels! We brought and cooked our own food and slept in our tent.
Our Guide Rodolpho was fantastic. He was really committed to helping us find all sorts of wildlife, and would take us on long hikes and pause all along the way to listen and look up, down, and all around. The day we arrived we hiked 5 hours then went out again before dark for 2 more – we were trying to find a tapir. Second day the hike started at 4:15AM – 30 minutes before there was any light – we were back 4 hours later. After eating, we set out for another 6 hour hike .. the last 2 hours focused on finding the elusive tapir.
Corcovado is known as Costa Rica’s most important park. National Geographic says it is the most biologically diverse place on earth. Here’s some of the stuff we saw along the way:
Cool stuff, eh? We were definitely rewarded for all our hiking. And what was day 3? Oh, yeah, we hiked 20 kilometres out of the park. With rubber boots on. We had to go across two rivers, and much of the hike was on sand beach in the heat of the day. Ready, Set, Go.
Part way through, Rodolfo showed us a cave with little bats in it!
We left at 7:30 am. We finished hiking at 3 pm. The last 4 kilometres, I thought I was going to faint. You should have seen the joy on my face when Rodolfo said “200 metres left!”. When we got to the end, all I wanted to do was go out for ice cream, put my feet up, and relax. Guess what we got to do instead? Squish ourselves into the back of a truck for two hours as we got driven back to Puerto Jimenez on bumpy, bumpy roads.
That car had no ventilation at the back, so imagine how happy we were to get out, shower, have some fish dinner and ice cream, and go to bed! Even better, our room had three double beds so Jake and I got our own. 🙂
In his post below published yesterday, Jake did a great job explaining the nesting process and how tourists are controlled to minimize impacts on nesting. I wanted to make a few additional comments about how impressive conservation efforts are in Tortuguero. Ecotourism at its best, in so many ways. Everywhere you looked in Tortuguero you see signs and murals about turtle conservation. The night turtle tour was jam packed with turtle ecology and conservation information … as an eco-tour should be. Four species nest at Tortuguero. Leatherbacks are classified as “vulnerable”. Green (the ones we saw) and Loggerhead are endangered. Hawksbill are critically endangered. So this conservation work is pretty important. Like salmon, turtles return … somehow! … to the very beach they were born on after about 20 years. They nest on the beach 3 to 4 times over a one month period, but may go 2 to 3 years between nesting. As Jake mentioned in his description of our encounter with little “Squirt”, light plays a critical role. I think this is one area the town could be more vigilant. We heard of some stories of villagers collecting up and reclocating hundreds of baby turtles that had walked right into town following bright lights.
There were research stations affiliated with the park, and many volunteers from abroad helping with the work. I think this caught the interest of Kaia and Jake.
Tourist infrastructure in the town was very obvious but very scaled down. Only 1 story buildings, no pools or sprawling hotel grounds with pools. People come here for the turtles.
I guess the most important question is whether the money and awareness (leading to political pressure for stepped up conservation efforts) coming from tourists ultimately does more good for the turtles than the impacts we had. I felt a little badly for the mom who nested late and then slid back to sea with an audience of about 20 people. We were behind her more or less … but I can imagine she was pretty stressed. But if we didn’t come … would the community still be eating the turtles? I didn’t get a chance to try to find an answer for this question yet. Any thoughts from readers?
I’ve also added a few more photos of the journey to and from and around Tortuguero.