Sunday, May 30, 2010

z - Home again - Pura Vida

A few times during our time in Costa Rica, we were asked whether we speak Spanish... I used to say no, until I thought about it for a little bit..... here is what we know - probably not all perfectly accurate....:
Hola! = hello :)
Dos cervesas por favor = two beers please
Que banjos? = where is the bathroom?
taxi = take me there
Mucho gracias = many thanks!
Pura Vida - pronounced "purra veerrah' = everything is great/life is good
Chow!  = goodbye
And with these few words and a few more here and there, we got around pretty well - all the way home.  Pura Vida!!
I have put the last two albums of photos up on the web - album 4 and 5.
love, light and laughter
Annie and Frank

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

o - Time to say goodbye.....

There are 120 volcanoes here in Costa Rica - only 6 of them are active.  The one that we staked out for 4 days earlier in our stay here, to no avail, is the only one that one can see the lava flowing - not sure we believe that though seeing as we never even saw the top of it :) The second most active volcano is Poas Volcano and is right here in San Jose.  This volcano only delivers geysers that one can smell for miles around - sulphur. And so Sunday found us on a day tour, headed up the side of this volcano to see the blue green lake inside and breath deeply of that rotten egg smell. 
We were picked up at our hotel, just outside San Jose, at around 3000 feet and tootled up that narrow winding road to around 7300 feet.  It was a lovely drive, there are flowers everywhere, huge cork trees which look a bit like a huge knobbly tree drawn by a comic, or like something created in Disneyland.  They have fascinating patterns, gnarls and folds all the way up their trunks.  The flowers here are amazing - so many different types and colors, shapes and smells and the regular rain seems to light them up and give them an extra sparkle.  The bouganvilla is incredible, it flows over walls, climbs other trees, hangs onto the bars in front of the houses and all the colors are mixed in - looks like a salad of colors.  And Plumbago - that beautiful soft blue flower is everywhere around too, there are huge bell like flowers, some in a very pale yellow and others in pale pink with white edges and bird spluttering around them trying to get inside.  I just know that there is not enough space in my brain to get to know all the different types of flowers, so I did not even try - just happy to see and enjoy them.
It took about an hour and a half from here to the Poas Volcano, winding our way up the mountainside, watching so many different levels of live passing by outside the windows.  It seems to be a slow lifestyle as soon as one gets out of hte city - maybe because it was Sunday. Many of the houses were decorated with washing hanging on anything that washing could be hung on, making the scenery brighter and even more colorful.  People were all spread out on porches, in the road and draped over cars and bikes as they chatted to others doing the same.  And all the way, the flowers lit it all up. 
At one point along that tiny, winding little road, we found a good many houses in ruin and were told of the really big earthquake just over a year ago that killed many people and hade a whole community disappear - and it ruined these houses too.  Apparently there are on average about 2000 earthquakes a year - and the one we had felt was a 6.4 magnitude - but because it was in Quepos, on the coast, it did not do any damage that we heard about.   Anyway, up and up we drove, looking down on the tops of the trees, seeing the sunlight gleaming off the bromelias in the moss laden trees, watching birds flicker all over the place and the clouds wafting through the valley as well.  We finally got to the top, often feeling as if we should get out and push, all piled out and walked the last mile to the top.  It was a white out.  Not cold, just  - well, we could see nothing at all through the clouds!  So we waited, and waited.  We all blew in the same direction together, but nothing helped and after about 25 minutes and the cloud and mist only getting thicker, we once again admitted that defeat regarding a volcano and trooped back down the hill.  In the information center at the gates I took a photograph of a photograph and will post that so you can see what we should have seen. 
We then headed off to a coffee Plantation.. .Bodega Plantation, for lunch and a tour and explanation.  I really found it interesting.  The coffee plant is a beautiful deep green, almost shiney and they were all covered with little green berries.  Occasionally there were dainty little white flowers, looking and smelling rather like Jasmine, dotting the limbs but the main blooming event was well passed.  The berries turn fire hydrant red and ripe starting in December and ending in February.  During these months the plantations rely heavily on the illegal immigrants to do the picking.  The berries have to be hand picked, one by one and a basket full gets the picker the equivalent of $1 !  And we are not talking about a small basket at all.  Its tied to the pickers' waist so that he can pick with two hands, the depth of the basket is about from your finger tips to your elbow and almost as wide.  An experienced picker can do up to 20 baskets per day.  Wow.  Hard and backbreaking work for very little reward.
The coffee then gets taken to a sorting area where they are floated along and sorted by quality or weight - the ones that float are low quality and discarded.  The cherry then gets cracked open to let the coffee bean out and its taken outside to the courtyard for drying in the sun.  The top quality coffee beans gets dried this way, the others go into a dryer at high temps for a day to dry.  Outside, the beans are turned over by hand with a  rake looking tool, every twenty minutes, for three days.  If/when it rains, its all quickly raked together and covered up to stay dry. Repeat process.  At this point, the coffee bean has absolutely no taste and is a pale cream color.  Its then sent to the roasting machines where the time its roasted is critical.  Seven, 13 and 17 minutes all deliver a totally different color, quality and taste of coffee, so a close watch is kept on the clock.  Apparently Starbucks buys a lot of their coffee at about $160 per huge bag that makes about 1000 cups of coffee. Quite a profit worked in there, it seems.
And so we left there to head to the small town of Sarchi where we were promised a good shopping experience.  The bridges here are painted with really pretty intricate little patterns, as are many of the buildings, or part of them.  We stopped at the worlds largest ox cart - a really beautiful and huge piece of art, and I wondered if it could still be called an ox cart if there were no oxen big enough to pull it?  And then we came to the souvenier shop where we picked up a few items - there was not much of a choice and too much of the goodies were either too heavy, breakable or too expensive. 
By now it was raining really hard again and we headed home.  The guides have so much really interesting information and I really should have taken my notebook with me.  One of the things we saw on the way was a huge soccer stadium being built.  Its really fancy and reminds me of that huge stadium in Australia - you know, the frilly edge and all right on the water front?  Apparently China is donating it all - down to the last nail.  When I asked why, the guide said that everyone knows that China will want something in return, but it has not been asked for yet.  Now I dont know if its just me - but does that not sound just a tad insane?  The other interesting tidbit that I remember is that Costa Rica has an agreement with the USA - Costa Rica is to keep on protecting as much of their land as they can, even the woods used for the tourist trade is imported from Nicaragua, and in return, if it is ever needed, the USA will protect Costa Rica with its army. 
After a very full day we threw a few coins in the penny slots, won a few extra's back and sat gently in the room drinking beer and eating chips!  How ordinary, but we are definitely getting into the 'going home' mode now.  This morning we decided to visit the Rescue place they have here for birds and animals found either hurt or ex-captivity that need a place to stay.  It's called ZooAve and they have a fantastic breeding program as well as a re-introduction program too.  I really wanted to see a Quetzal, its the most beautiful bird, hard to describe, but I will put a photograph of it up soon.  We were told that we were guaranteed to see one at ZooAve.  Its not a zoo as in a normal zoo... but its a very beautiful place.  The scarlet macaws of different reds, yellows and greens hung out in the branches above our heads, sqwaking as we clicked away, hoping to get that perfect photo to take back with us. The cages that these birds are in are suited very well to each different bird.  We passed the parrots, the cockatoo type birds, more green ones, some big, some small.  Some had silly yellow looking rubber-like globby shaped things on their heads, the peacocks and other birds happily tootled around the grounds herding their young away from us, fortunate enough to not be behind bars.  The iguanas apparently wont breed while in captivity, so they are also loose and we saw them draped over the top of many cages and on branches all over the place - those things get huge!
And so we came to the cage that said "Quetzal".  I was almost afraid - I so badly wanted to see one and photograph it and all.  But.  Again, I had not been specific.  I had 'asked' to see a quetzal - not to see it up close and in a way that could be photographed beautifully and all!  So, I saw it - waaaaaaaaaay at the back of its enclosure, with its back to us as if in a sulk.  The wires on that particular cage were tripled, dont know why, which made it almost impossible to get any sort of photograph of it.  I tried, and tried and tried again and after we walked the whole place, we came back to see if he was in a better mood - no luck.  But - I had achieved what I wanted to do - I had seen a Quetzal and some of the photos show the coloring, but I will have to look at photos of others to see what they look like.
It was really lovely wandering through ZooAve - it took about two and a half hours and we saw a great variety of very weird and wonderful and beautiful birds, a good many different types of big cats, panther and jaguar included, peccaries, wolf, many different types of monkeys, many of which were not in cages.  The whole place is rather like being inside the rain forest, gently dripping everything, strange and wonderful flowers and plants, insects and bugs- and so peaceful and quiet.  Mangoes and papaya's grew everywhere and we nearly got hit by a falling mango while we stood and watched the white faced monkeys playing about 10 foot away from where we stood.  And then I found the toucans!  They were way at the back of their enclosure, but before long they came to play - oh it was glorious!  God must have been having SUCH fun with His paintbrushes when he made them!  Those beaks are an artwork in itself, and then those feathers, the colors and the bright bright eyes looking at one through the fence with unguarded curiosity.   The one particular one with the most coloring in its beak, hopped and clicked its beak at me,posing this way and that and would have gone on much longer if I had stayed.  He sounded quite indignant when I finally left him to head on down the path.  And then, right at the end of the walk, we came around a corner to hear "Hola!  Hola!" and looked around to see who was calling us........ a parrot!  And then he proceeded to have a full conversation with us in Spanish - he did both sides!  He must have been saying something funny - one of the little kids there was nearly crying with laughter.
We got the young lady at the entrace to call us a taxi and she handed me a piece of paper with the number 1047 written on it.  I still dont know what that was about, but it obviously meant something judging by all the hand waving and talking she did.  The taxi rattled to a stop in a cloud of dust, honking loudly at us and I bent down and asked him to take us to the Orchid Gardens.  No English.  But he signed that we get in and he would take us to someone who could speak English.  Its very weird in a way getting into a rattletrap, dented and rusty car with a total stranger, in a strange country, no common language and then screaming off at high speed down a narrow bouncing road with hairpin bends, not knowing really where we are or where we are going.  I must say that its not a horrible or uncomfortable feeling at all - just odd.  Anyway, the Orchid Gardens were closed with no explanations so out came our hotel door key, showed it to the driver, who nodded 'Si, Si!' and took us back to our hotel - at breakneck speed!  He quickly learned that I take photos of everything and it was not long before I felt this almost continual light tapping on my arm as he pointed out, with a huge grin,  stuff for me to take photos of.  Now I have many pictures of things that I have no idea what they are :)  He was sweet though and looked very proud when I caught what he pointed out.
And so we have reached our saturation point.  It feels like months that we have been here, feels like our heads and hearts are full of the wonders of an incredibly beautiful, diverse and culturally rich country.  We flew over the tree tops in Monteverde, dragged our fingers through the waters of Tortuguero on the Caribbean Coast, waited in absolute anticipation for the clouds to clear and the lava to flow at Arenal, walked the treetops over swinging bridges.  We have have seen more beautiful beaches here than my camera will hold, screamed down the canals on the Osa Peninsula and almost melted in Corcovado!  Each corner we turned gave us something else to treasure, some other adventure, experience or some truth to see and digest.  From the sunset on the river, to that awesome little green froglet, the hunt for the Quetzal, the blue jeans red frog, the flowers - oh all those flowers! ..... everything has been amazing and there is too much to mention all over again.
It's been one heck of an adventure with something new every day for almost three weeks.  And now its time to head back home again, where we can sit back gently, savor the experience and we can get to see the photos on a bigger screen and relive it all once more - yeah, even Corcovado and that crazy cabin.  Tomorrow, Tuesday, we have nothing planned at all - just relaxing, maybe swimming, a slot or three, a beer or two, packing, snoozing, maybe sorting more photos and then very early on Wednesday morning we catch our flight back home.
Through all our travels to these amazing and sometimes insane places, one thing is very clear - that there really is nothing like home.  I truely believe that if we did not look forward to going home, we would not be able to enjoy these adventures as much as we do. 
All your emails have been wonderful and I am really glad you could share this adventure with us - thanks!  The rest of the photos will be online sometime this week - I will let you know when......
Till the next time
love, light and much laughter.
Especially to U3, which is really U6 :)
Annie and Frank

Saturday, May 22, 2010

n - So Thankful....

Thursday night at the quaint little hotel Aranjurez found us both slapping ourselves all night long....  You see, we had not quite learned enough yet.  When we booked into the hotel and I asked for a room with airconditioning and was told that they have fans only because it does not get hot enough here - well, I just let it slide right by.  What I did not realise is that when a hotel only has fans in this neck of the woods, that means that..well, there are more airholes in the structure than is normally ok. And so it was here as well.  The quaint little garden right outside one set of windows of the room, was nicely humid and fairly buzzing with little flying critters that I had found cute and somewhat interesting earlier.  The other windows were all of the slatted kind and not one of them closed properly at all.  All nice when one only has fans and the weather does not get hot!  But........ when there are mosquitos, ants and other critters breeding gardens everywhere, it definitely does not make for a good sleep.  I literally woke up one time with me smacking my own face and when it was finally light enough to get up there were a good few different types of bugs, now dead, littering the bed alongside us. The shooting in the middle of the night somewhere nearby outside also did not help, neither did the fact that any time either of us moved even the slightest bit, the bed scooted across the tile floor, heading to the opposite wall.  Finally we put a couple of little coffee tables between the far wall and the end of the bed - that helped but created a fun obstacle course for me to climb over ever time I headed to the bathroom! 
So we packed up yet again, checked out early, got a refund with a smile and headed out again.  The taxi driver took us on a sightseeing tour around the city, all while trying to convince us that we were going on the most direct route.  Suuuuuure.  It was a 5 minute drive that took almost 20 minutes, but what the heck can one do if he pretends not to speak English and waves his hands feverishly around while jabbering loudly and frenetically while weaving in and out of traffic??  We got here safely, and thats what really counts..  And while we were booking into this hotel, we heard some others who were wondering about the earthquake we felt yesterday.  I was sitting on that ever moving bed sorting through photos when I felt everything shake - the lights rattled and I reached out to quickly grab my camera before it fell off the table.  It was not all that bad and no one ran outside yelling or anything, but it really made me think about sleeping fully clothed!  Apparently it was centered around Quepos, near Manuel Antonio and was much better felt down there!
So now we are here in Irazu, a little suburb right next to San Jose.  The cameras have stopped fogging up finally - that was quite irritating... with the humidity further south, every now and again we could only see a thick fog through the lens.  Off came the lenses and we would gently blow them clear, until the next time.  Both the camera's are going to need a very serious cleaning job when we get back again.  Now we are all spread out in the hotel room - yes, it has airconditioning, no air holes for critters, hot water, a flushing toilet and a view of the Poas Volcano.
Yesterday we literally just relaxed - it was so good to totally unwind, not have to think of finding another place, not have to pack up again, not have to figure out what or where next..... we just relaxed, had lunch and then popped into the little casino right next door for a chance at luck.  We fed in a note that had a horrendous number on it - 5000 colones.  That is the currency name here - colones and the exchange rate is around 500 colones to one dollar..  So although it was almost nervewracking to gamble with such a huge number on the bill, it was onlly $10.  I played and lost all mine, Frank played for a little while and then........ ting ting ting TING....he won something and it was spitting it all out into the tray making one heck of a noise and flashing a light above it as well.  We are still not sure just how much he won, but think it was around $150 dollars.... time to get out of there and call it quits - and we did.  We had a ticket to half price at happy hour at the hotel bar, but it was so noisy and busy there that we happily slipped past it and headed to the room where Frank had put a beer on ice for us earlier.  And so we had the best nights sleep for weeks! 
This morning we booked a half day city tour of San Jose..  They dont do the tours of the church's here at all - but we got to visit the Gold Museum and the National Theater which were both very interesting..  The National Theater is the most beautiful building with about five different styles of construction.  We were fortunate enough to be there when a group of people were practising for a production and we watched them doing their twirling dance steps from the darkened top balcony.  The dim lights all around gave me just enough light to be able to take photographs - and I am rather happy at how they turned out.  The inside of the building had huge statues all around, some tall and austere looking, one even looked totally ticked off at whoever looked his way, and others were stunning artworks with the feelings oozing out of them - like the one of a mom sitting curved gently over, holding her infant in her lap.  It was made of white marble and was all rounded and .. just beautiful.  And the paintings - they were just awesome too.  Every part of the ceiling had some huge painting on it - in a huge frame.  Some were very colorful while others looked like life in the clouds in an imaginary story - all soft and inviting.  There were huge gold plated ornate designs everywhere and the whole feeling of the place was very welcoming, with long spiral staircases winding their way upstairs. Its definitately one of the most elegant buildings I have ever been in.
Apparently way back when the mode of transport around here was still by horse and cart - people would wish the dancers and performers "a night of lots of shit".  Seriously!!  If there was lots of it, that would mean that many horses had passed that way and they would have good attendance that night.  Makes sense, but not a figure of speech I am about to adopt either!
And the Gold Museum - that was more about the ancient cultures and the items they made from different mediums like clay, wood and metals.  It was incredibly fascinating and the detail in some of those things were stunning!  The little talismen that they would create always depicted the connection between humans and all other creations, so many of the items were fascinating things with incredible detail.  The building itself was weirdly built and of course I tried taking pictures of that too - but was quickly shut down by the security guy there.... no pictures of this concrete structure at all allowed.  I was free to take pics of all the contents, displays and all - just none of the walls and ceilings.  It looked pretty sturdy to me and we wondered why they would worry about that.
After seeing all the gold and stuff and the Theater, we were taken for a drive through San Jose proper.......  the good, the bad and the ugly.  Being Saturday, downtown was really busy, with cars parked all over the road, little roadside stores all along the sidewalks and people everywhere popping in and out of the shops along the way.  It continuously stuns me that there are huge piles of garbage everywhere and it alljust seems to be part of life around here...  The shops all have bars over the doors and windows and most have apartments above the them that are also all barred up with razor wire strung for miles everywhere.    When we were driving through the residential areas, the rich, the middle class and the poor areas - it felt as if everyone is living in a prison...  I kept on taking photos of these barred up homes and shops, of the razor wire that in some places had flowers growing over and through them, but still there, and found my mouth hanging open in absolute thankfulness of where and how we live.
I cannot, absolutely cannot imagine living behind all those bars and that razor wire and then when outside of all of that, to face the trash in the roads..  We asked the tour guide about the crime and the bars and all and he spent about 10 minutes telling us that there was no problem at all with crime in Costa Rica - that the bars and all are a status symbol here.  If your neighbors have pretty bars, then so should you.  Hmmmm- then why does the razor wire all have the names of security companies on it?  I know that they cannot talk about the real picture here, and it is heartbreakingly obvious that there is a tremendous crime problem in this country.  One of our more independant guides about a week ago, was telling us that the organised crime is absolutely terrible and that its a very very hard place to live if anywhere near the cities.  This is not a place I would like to grow up in - not near the cities at all.  I have stopped carrying my camera with me when we walk around, or even my handbag.
But even with all this, there does not seem to be a problem during the daytime - everything moves right on, kids walking by themselves, moms sitting in the parks with the kids, pigeons fighting for food in the square and very tolerant drivers everywhere.  We escaped the rain today - only finding a few drops earlier but now the lightening is flickering again outside, lighting up the outline of the volcano in the distance.  Tomorrow we are taking a tour up onto that volcano and also to a market place where we hope to find some interesting things that want to find a home in Tennessee.
Oh - and I put another two albums of photos up on the web yesterday :)
Till next time and with deep thanks for our lot in life
love, light and laughter
...... an extra dollop to U6 - I miss you all lots!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

m - a quiet day.

Yesterday was a tiring day all in all and we were really glad to be in that little hotel room in San Isidro.  We went to sleep without supper, too tired to even worry about that.  I sat up quite late sorting pics writing - there was no bedside light to read with and the main light was brilliant white.  So.  We both woke up a lot more relaxed and rested.  It had poured again all night long but the rain on the roof sounded lovely.  It was still raining and I quickly checked the weather report which said that up in the mountains where we were, it was going to rain for three days!  Aaaarrrgghh.  This was where I wanted to go and find that beautiful Resplendant Quetzal bird!  There was not way we would have a chance to see it in the mist and fog and rain.  So another decision happened quickly.  I had spent some time looking at places to go and found one really near San Jose - central to everything and anything we decided to do.  It sounded quaint and all and decided to go and have breakfast, call the Interbus or Shuttle company and head that way.
Sure - too easy.  Neither the Shuttle nor Interbus runs up this way - its too high up in the mountains and not enough tourists come this way.  Back to a taxi which is hellishly expensive.  Finally the hotel manager said that they would drive us in their minibus to the next hotel, about 4 hours away, for $200. No bargaining at all, period.  We both thought about the taxis we had taken, the air conditioners, speedometers that did not work and decided to bite the bullet and go for it.  It took us 5 minutes to pack up and drag all our luggage, which I swear is now double the original weight, down the stairs again and there we sat, in hightened anticipation to leave again.  This feeling of wanting to leave places was becoming horribly familiar, but we really did not feel like exploring anything in the pouring rain.  Definitely aging, methinks.
I sat up front of the minibus and had a glorious view - Frank had all 12 seats to himself and I heard him happily clicking away as we drove through the most awesome mountains!  Every now and again we would catch a glimpse of the views that would have filled up my camera had it not been raining or foggy.  It was beautiful and really high up and a gently winding road led us up and back down those mountains.  Through the fog we could often see the bright red of the bromelias attached to so many of the trees all along the way.  They are huge and rather beautiful plants and I always want to see what is living inside their leaves.  We stopped at a few places along the way to buy fruit, cheese and some other goodies.  The driver knew no English whatsoever and he had strange taste in music - or rather, the sounds that kept pouring from the radio.  It was blissfully cold up in those mountains which was a wonderful change for us.
And then we hit the city again - through tiny roads, a gazillion cars.  Some places along the way were pretty backed up as there was a  stop sign where a traffic light would be really welcome, and it was obvious that this was an ongoing problem because a variety of vendors had set themselves up along the side of that short stretch of road.  In a few places on the mountain road, we were reduced to only one lane as the other had fallen down the hillside.  No repairs were made, and instead, there was a yield sign painted on the road and a flimsy piece of tape fluttering slowly over the gap.  No one bothered, and traffic went by pretty smoothly.  It was an abrupt change of scenery from the mountains to the city - gotta say that I much prefer the mountains.  The driver was frantically working his GPS, trying to find the new hotel in the little town of Aranjuez, and the roads got narrower and narrower as we went along.  And then he stopped.  You've got to be kidding! 
We were in a very odd little place with most of the buildings and houses covered with bars and trees thickly placed on the sidewalks.  By now we are not surprised by anything at all - but it definitely did not look like the pictures on the website.  Well, actually it did, just much more like real life and the websites photos had obviously had a good cleaning in Photoshop.  Ah well. The man behind the desk spoke English!!  Whooo hoooo - 10 steps ahead already!  We booked a room for a couple of days and dragged those bags down the corridor where we found a neat and tidy room - so much bigger than the other and it had a bathroom that I would love to have at home!  Even reading lamps, a tv that did not have snow, extra tables and well........ its a good place to relax for a few days.  There are little gardens all over the place inside the main hotel building and I read that the hotel is a conglomoration of 4 houses, joined together - hence the gardens in odd places.  Its really quite quaint.
Here is an interesting tidbit about this area :  The first electrical plant, inaugurated on August 9, 1884, was built in Aranjuez on the southwest corner of the Calderon Guardia Hospital. With this lighting that consisted of 25 lamps, San Jose became the third city in the world, and the first in Latin America to have electrical lighting, preceded only by Paris and New York.  Initially, the lighting service covered the area from the Atlantic Railroad Station to the Del Carmen Church, and from there to the Parque Central , and then on to other parts of the city. Thanks to the energy generated by the Pelton Wheel which was installed in Aranjuez by Manuel V. Dengo and Luis Batres in 1892, the electrical lighting of the incandescent system was made available to homes.
We were pointed in the direction of a cafe where we could get lunch and dinner if we wanted to - the hotel only has breakfast.   And off we tootled, zigzagging down roads, over the railway track, losing and finding ourselves and all the time finding fascinating things, from little stores to strange trees to many many eateries along the way.  We passed the hospital and Currency building, gawked at the wall art all over the place and walked around piles of bagged trash in the roads.  When walking, you have to keep a close eye on the pavement and road - there are manhole wide open, smaller holes, deep curbs and well........ we kept our eyes firmly on the road.  And then finally we found the Cafe.  We sat outside under huge bamboo, with birds flittering around the yard and fish in a fish pond.  It was very busy and the people watching was glorious!  Our food was simply delicious and the beer ice cold.  A definite re-visit is in view.
Today was probably our quietest day yet - nothing exciting apart from being fortunate enough to see even more of the beautiful countryside.  I have spent a good bit of time sorting through more photos and will hopefully get them up online tomorrow or so..
love light and laughter
to U3 espcially - Joleen, I hope you knee is feeling better already!
Till next time

l - Into the Mountains.. and cool air!

So after I got all that off my chest last night, typing in a dark room and putting mental blocks on all the nooks and crannies in that shack, and exhausted from lack of peaceful sleep and being lulled closer into slumber land by Franks gentle snoring..... I joined him in an attempt to get some rest.  We had that extra fan right next to the head of the bed, which drowned out some of the rattling of the roof fan and made a good difference in the temperature in that shack, and somehow I drifted off too.  It was lightening outside way in the distance and was lovely the way the outlines of the trees lit up with each distant strike and the frogs all over seemed to come alive and chirrup even louder as the sky lit up.  We were much more relaxed the second night there, caring less about where we were and all - maybe we were just plain exhausted or relieved to know that we were leaving the next day.  So we slept for a while - all the way till the sky spit wide open with one absolutely indescribable crack of lightening right next to our shack! 
I think both Frank and I woke up when we were a good 6 inches off the bed!  What a storm that was....... it lasted all night long and the lightening danced around us, so close and so brilliantly and so continuously that everything was like daylight at times.  The roof fan sucked in the rain through the holy screen up near the roof and sprayed us with a cool mist all night till Frank turned it off, and one of the holes in the roof collected a good dollop of water before dropping it squarely into Franks bellybutton.  Yes, I laughed!  I got up a few times to make sure that the laptop and cameras were not getting wet and to go to the loo - it really was very eerie softly pattering around there wondering what creatures had slunk in out of the rain.  This morning Carlos told us that his sister was nearly bitten as she walked around their house, by a Ferdilance (sp?) - a very very poisonous viper, and when I told him that we had been getting up at night, he kinda went very quiet.  Hmmmmm.  Anyway, we are all ok, and it really was interesting to listen to that incredible downpour of rain, the thunder that literally rattled the tin roof and the absolute brilliance of the lightening.  We both said this morning that we were a bit worried about one of the huge trees around there, toppling over, but there was nothing our thoughts could have changed, so.
But the storm put any chance of a drive across the peninsula to see new things on our way out of there, firmly out the window.  All roads were flooded, all streams overflowing, so Carlos had organised a ride for us back to the beach, a boat ride and a free taxi into Palma Sur. His English is not that great and our Spanish just is not functional yet at all, so we were hoping that this was what he said as he bade us goodbye.....  And so, down the muddy road we went, over the hanging foot bridge again where we waited for a good while watching the water that ran over the road rise up even further.  Then along came someone who signaled for us to get in, we did, and off we bounced across roads that were now seriously compromised with deep ruts still getting deeper with the water washing down them. It was a very interesting ride. While we were waiting on the beach, we watched as three little doglets went rushing after the big black birds that were at least double their size!  And they even flushed out an iguana and a scarlet Macaw for me - bonus day!! :)
We piled into this 16 seater little boat with half a roof and took off into the waves again, with more dark grey clouds threatening on the horizon, but to my surprise, we headed to the left - wrong way!  Uh oh....... we just laughed, not able to understand anyone else on that boat and frankly not really caring, we just enjoyed the ride.  The swells were not too high and the ride down the coast was beautiful. Every now and again the boat would hit the water hard and a glorious spray of white water would blank out the world for a second.... I really enjoyed it.  We picked up some more people at three other lodges along the coast and I recognised two of them from when I had been researching places to stay.  No matter which one we picked, we would be leaving today anyway.  It all looks so awesome on the internet, and in reality its still amazing, but ...... well..........  After about half an hour going in the one direction, us now kinda interested in where we were going to end up, they turned the boat around, kicked it in high gear and zoomed back up the coast in the 'right' direction  I have to admit to a bit of disappointment - somewhere new would have been good.  And remember those mean jagged black rocks I told you about on the way out there?  Well, this guy just waited for a few seconds for a big enough wave and then drove us straight through the middle of the two meanest rocks and we surfed through that gap like professionals!  I almost clapped :)
At Sierpe boat dock we were met by a very enthusiastic taxi driver, but we had been warned against them, so continuously shrugged him off.  But he stuck like glue  and was rediculously insistant that we go with him, so eventually I found someone that could speak a smattering of both English and Spanish and finally it came out that this was the driver that Carlos had told to drive us to Palma Sur for free.  Phew - great relief all around, and off we went with him.  Evidently he was going to take us to Palma whether we liked it or not - Carlos had told him to!  The bus stop and small town of Palma was totally deviod of any English speakers or understanders, so after pointing at the map, scribbling of dollar amounts, scratching out and scribbling lower numbers the taxi man scored and we once again piled our stuff into his truck and headed up the road for about two and a half hours to a little place south of San Jose, called San Isidro. The drive was beautiful and hot, his air conditioner did not work, but we literally felt cooler with every extra mile between the Osa Peninsula and us. We drove on roads that we have not yet been on, some pretty good and others tiny ribbons winding around the mountain side with the engine screaming and wheels barely turning much of the time.  The driver was a fair sized guy who really flung himself enthusiastically into those corners, nearly ending up on my lap at times as the tires screamed around the corners, but again, the scenery and passing miles made up for it.
And so we were dropped off at a hotel in the middle of town, just about to pay for it when I heard the word "fan".  Uh Uh - NO way!!  Airconditioning or nothing!  So, I yanked back my passport and money and we headed out the door, now with the wheels of our luggage squealing in protest, in search of a taxi to take us to another close by hotel.  And now we are here, somewhere in the Talamanca Mountains where everything feels much calmer and is definitely cooler.  Its somewhere.  Its somewhere with airconditioning and not a single bug in the room so far!  The bathroom is so small that you can only change your mind halfway at a time, and the room is really sparse - but its almost paradise to us for right now.
We are going to explore San Isidro tomorrow a bit, I think - it sounds like an interesting town.  Its been raining here ever since we arrived and if its going to be wet again tomorrow, we might just head out here to somewhere else again.  I have found a neat little place further to the north east of here that we can go and see what's there.  Time is running short now and strangely enough we are almost ready to head home again.  Almost.  It's coming up fast.
I laughed at all the email reactions to my last update - our reasons for doing all that?  Well, because we could!  And if we had not, we would always wonder what it was like, now we know.  It was rather like driving up to the end of the road in Quebec Canada - all the way to a tiny little town right up against James Bay......Chisasibi was its name and it took us three days of driving from the US border, straight north, to get there, only to discover, well, nothing!  LOL.  But now we know.  And so it is with Osa - its beautiful, rugged, loved by many and at least a small part of it was seen by us - even though it was through foggy glasses.  Now we know.
The airconditioner has kicked in - bliss!  Frank is gently snoring and even though there is no early morning planned, tis time to bring today to a close.
Till .....whenever.
love light and laughter - lots of it

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

k - If we were only 20 years younger....

And so we sat on that outside porch of the resturant at Sierpe, little knowing what was ahead of us.  After not too long a time we were told to 'come! come! to the white boat".  And off we tootled, down the steps where we watched as our luggage was flung into the bows of the little boat.  I said a little prayer for my laptop but right along with that thought was a definite "oh well, whatever" and a smile.  Before leaving, a bunch of black garbage bags were grabbed by one of the guys riding with us, and he struggled for a good while to get our bags inside them.  "the rain - she's comin!".  I had packed the laptop and all camera stuff in a waterproof bag inside the suitcase so was not too worried about anything getting wet at all.  So the bags were then loosely draped over everyones bags and the kid went to sit on top of them all!  Sigh.
We cruised through the magrove swamps on a 'tour' that was much more exciting than the one we had the other day that we paid for!  This boat was only about 25 foot long but it had a really good motor attached to it and soon we were scudding around corners racing with two other boats going in the same direction.  It got interesting as we crossed their wake and we soon noticed that all the people on the other boats had lifejackets on.  We could not even see any on ours!  But it was fun - we stopped to get a closer look at a crocodile who really was not interested in being gawked at and slid into the water smoothly, reminding me to hang on just that bit tighter as we screamed around the next corner.  And then we saw the breakers - yup - the ocean, right ahead, and were soon bouncing over the waves that really were not too big at all, but still!.  There was an outcrop of black, very jagged rocks on our left and the boat capitan just kept on getting closer and closer..........then we stopped and my eyes kinda sorta popped out.  We were looking at *huge* breakers coming right at us between two of the most evil looking of those rocks!  And we just hung out there.  I did not even want to look at the El Capitano - he needed to concentrate, obviously.  After about a minute and a half of no one saying anything at all, no explanations and a definite unbelievable hush amongst the passengers, he suddenly kicked that motor into top gear and took off like a missile!  Around those rocks we screamed, that motor giving it all it had.  We bounced up on top of one wave, fell into the trough, only to look up and find another one waiting for us.  Then we were flung sharply to the left where we rode the top of the next big one for a little while before falling off like a tired surfer..  Hoo boy.  I think my fingers buckled the aluminum awning frame that I was clinging on to.  What a totally wild ride that was..... it only lasted about 3 minutes, but geez. 
We were still a good distance away from 'our place' and for the rest of the ride we ran parrallel to the beach, watching the breakers crash onto the miles of brown beaches, creating 'milk moustaches' all along the way, as the palm trees stroked the the sand as the breeze blew.  All along the beaches are little houses dotted - mostly made from corrugated iron, washing hanging outside on the lines and kids playing happily outside.  Here and there was an obvious hotel and we dropped a few people off along the way.  And then it was our turn.  Curly haired, bandana wearing middle aged Carlos was patiently waiting on the beach, just as he said and greeted us as we did the wet landing thing off the boat.  This is when we have to step off the boat into the water and wade a short distance to the shore.  No problem at all.  And there we stood on one of the more remote beaches of Costa Rica listening to the quiet around us.  It was glorious.  Getting here had taken over an hour boat ride.
Carlos, not at the picture the voice had painted,  carried the luggage up the beach where we were met by a motorcycle driving pretty fast right towards us and at the last minute doing a star studded u-turn!  The tall, thin guy on the motorbike had his thick black hair combed straight back and upwards, dark glasses perched on top of this do, a bright red t-shirt and a huge, brilliant white smile for us as he reached his very limp wristed hand across the two feet space to greet us with a shy and coy 'hellloooo" as his eyelids fluttered suggestively.  It took everything I had not to burst out laughing - I was sure it was a joke, but what if it wasn't.  It wasn't.  Thank goodness I had not laughed!
We were told that the motorbike was a taxi - but not ours and shortly a pickup/bakkie arrived and our luggage once again flung into it. We asked if we could sit or stand in the back of the truck - it had high railings all around and looked like fun.  A good many people laughed, but up we climbed and off we went. We learned really quickly to watch out for branches that hung there waiting for us, but we both thouroughly enjoyed the ride along roads that had been seriously washed out by some good rains.  I think the best was watching Carlos' face as we bounced around the roads past people he obviously knew.... they all laughed and he jabbered something back at them which I am sure we would have loved to hear if only we could have understood!  We passed a few little stores, many people waving, some houses on stilts,lots and lots of beautiful countryside..
And so we came to a river.  A very very full river that no truck could get through.  A short discussion between Carlos and the driver ensued, we were told to get out, out came our luggage as well and we started walking to a tiny little wooden hanging bridge that was about 15 foot above the muddly red water rushing down below.  Apparently the rain hit this area hard this morning, but we missed it totally on the river and out in the ocean.  On the other side of the little bridge were horses.  And we were told to wait.  So we did. There was a lady with a small baby in a house right next to the road, who was washing piles of laundry with those old fashioned scrubbing boards.... made us truely thankful for what we have at home.  It did.  Not too long passed by and another car came to pick us up and took us to the 'hotel'.
And here is where we realized that we bit off much more than we could chew....I really really should read between the lines better, but we were both excited to come down to the Osa Peninsula and it sounded so good at we did not want to pay $250 per night for some hotels around here, which there are not very many of, but all seem to be really expensive...... so I - yes, I will take responsibility for this one....... I picked a place that was much cheaper and sounded kind of 'cabin-ey".  It is.  Very.  We were led down a muddy slippery narrow path of slick red mud, between really pretty flowers, to a cabin in the jungle that looks like the Unabomber's shack!  Frank and I looked at each other, swallowed our words and went in.  Yes, there are three beds - a double bed and a bunk bed set.  Yes there are clean sheets on the beds, there is a table, a very tiny refridgerator that was shuddering as it worked and even a coffee maker!  Whooo hooo!  There was also at least an inch space under the door - and to the left of it, and to the right of it.  Thankfully, the spaces inbetween the planks of the door itself were only about an eighth of an inch - THAT should help keep the bugs out!  There is no glass, just gauze, but the bugs never came crawling through the huge openings all over the gauze wraparound - there was no need - the door was pretty much open to them!  The floor is painted green.... well, I say painted, loosley. Once upon a time it really was painted, now...well, it was chipping up and...... well, you get the picture.  The carpet was one of those things your great great grandma made out of all the left over bits of nylon of different colors that were of no use for anything else and the light shone brightly through the many holes in the ceiling which is tin and very very patched. 
Now wait - I know you all think I am sounding like a really spoiled brat - but this shack is right in the freaking jungle with the constant falling of coconuts, and dripping rain and humidity.  The fan that was attached to the ceiling is pointed away from the bed,  and the double bunk - well, I got up on it and it needed two of us to get me down again, so that was not an option to sleep on, even though it is much closer to the fan, that rattles and has years of dust and webs swirling around madly as it churnes itself around in an ineffectual attempt to cool. The table has a tablecloth that has definitely seen better days and could do with some 'get the stains out' bleach, but it was decked with flowers that wished desperately that they were still in the garden.  The plastic chairs looked as if too many toucans had nested right above them and the beds - well, everything has a damp, mildewy smell to it.  And the bathroom?  Laughing.  The shower has some kind of fancy contraption with open wires sticking out of the top, and we had to attach a hose to a garden style tap/faucet, turn another switch and literally only dribble the water out if we wanted any hot water.  We got warm water once - for about one minute. Seriously.  The toilet is the lowest I have ever seen one - I swear my knees got hooked on my ears the first time I sat down!  The floor in there is .....well its old linoleum, not very well glued down anymore.
Nice sweet rustic place in the jungle.  Just what I ordered, right??  Yup.  But before you say that you would have turned around and left or found another place - consider the trip it took to get here!  There were no boats going back until the next day and we were exhausted.  So we stayed the night.  To put it mildly, Frank was not happy at all and I spent some time thinking that if I were still only in my 20's, this might be ok.  We did not sleep much at all - its sticky, muggy hot as hades and Frank woke up at 3am with a bug crawling all over us, which he frantically swotted in the pitch dark and spent the next hour and a half anticipating the next, bigger bugs arrival.  The next morning we were set to go into the Corcovado National Park.  Well, while we are here, lets see what it is that we came here for, right?  So 6am found us eating a really good breakfast - oh, supper last night was delicious too!, and then Carlos, with a huge backpack arrived and off we went.  He glanced backwards at our feet and told us to go and get our boots.  Boots?  Ummm.  He emitted this long, eyebrow raising, oooooohhhhhh with his lower lip caught between his teeth, then shrugged and off we went again.  We should have known better.
The first two miles to the gates of the National Park were done in a 4 wheel drive vehicle that nearly got mired  down in a good many times along the short distance.  And then it was time to get out and do some serious time.  Immediately, my glasses fogged up, but I could not see anything with them off either, so I started the endless cycle of wiping them on my shirt and then perching them on the tip of my nose so the heat from my face took a few seconds longer to mist them up again.  I just knew that Frank was dealing with the same issue, but I just could not turn around and look at him right then.  And into the jungle we slid on shoes with no traction at all.  You know how they tell you not to step on dead logs, how dangerous the viper snakes are around here, the Bushmaster and others equally scary - well, we went thundering through the undergrowth, dead trees, muddy holes, past huge tarantula holes with only one thought in mind - Dont lose sight of Carlos!!  Here we were trudging through one of the remotest parts of the Osa Peninsula, with no idea how to get out of it, a tiny path, many scary stories and one very fit guide who could escape from us in just one split second.
Very soon we saw Puma footprints in the mud - Big Ones!  And very recent ones.  We also came across the spoor of the Jaguar.  Apparently they dont go for human meat, which was sort of comforting, but it had scared all the other animals away.  And so started five and a half hours of pure unadulterated hell.  We walked where even the Jaguar and Puma's were slipping in the mud.  Neither of us was going to say the words "I want out or back", so on we went.  I swear that the paths we walked were not meant for humans at all.  The leaf cutter ants made better pathways for themselves!  We climbed vertical slopes, all on wet leaves and slippery red clay like ground, in our normal little Walmart shoes!  We came down the other side of those hills on the same type of turf, but at times with no more than a foots width of the path and a very steep dropoff to a huge amount of pain. 
We did see spider monkeys and they rattled the branches furiosly at us, yelling loudly as we walked on, we saw butterflies, a poison dart frog and some toucans way up in the trees.  I know we heard hundreds of other animals, but fogged up glasses, a brow dripping buckets of sweat into already fogged up eyes and a heavily heaving chest did nothing for  my curiosity at all.  When we did stop, and we did quite often, it was really pretty, the river was cute, the small waterfalls looked lovely except for the jagged rocks we would have to walk over to enjoy their coolth and the sunlight filtering through the branches hundreds of feet up are firmly in my camera.  I swear that we lost ten pounds each on that walk!  Everything was wet before we even got into the jungle and within minutes we were soaked.  I forgot to put on a belt so had to keep hoiking up my pants.  Thankfully I did not have to carry the full weight of my camera - that thing weighs about 5 pounds, because I brought the brace thing that goes around my back and hooks onto the camera in the front, so that I can walk hands free.  Do you have any idea what its like to stumble through the jungle for five hours in a steam bath with bugs and ants feasting on your ankles with an elastisized dohicky clutching your wet shirt around your back and five pounds of camera tightly to your chest?  I was not a pretty picture at all!
And Frank carried the backpack with the rainponchos and what felt like a six hundred gallon waterbottle in it.  There was no way that either of us was going to pee in that jungle, so we limited our intake of water too, which kept this huge bottle of water weighing Frank down.  But....... we did it.  We finally got back to the 'hotel' and had had much friendlier thoughts about it along the way.  At one point the heat got to me and apparently I turned a really pale white right before I sat down on the side of the path.  Not a nice feeling at all - but it passed too.  It was too hot in there to think of sitting for long - we just wanted out!  We hiked 12 kilometers - about 7.5 miles in about 5 hours
So, here we are all cozy in our cabin in the jungle, Frank trying to catch up on sleep, our extra fan whirring and jigging around on the not so green floor and the heat seems to be building still. We booked three nights here, but are leaving in the morning as early as possible, before it gets too hot.  Carlos is very disappointed, but the heat really is just too much.  Out of everything, its the humidity and heat that is draining us of everything, energy, curiosity, excitement and even the want or need to eat.  Its unbelievably oppressive.  We were going to go on a snorkeling trip tomorrow, but Carlos told us a bit more about it and we decided to pass on that one.  The beaches are black or very dark brown sand, and they absorb the heat and cook the soles of your feet very quickly - so there would be no gentle meandering down any beach on the island at all... We would be sitting in a palm tree grove, heavily dosed with bugspray stuff, apart from the hour and a half we were to spend in the water.  The trip was to start at 7am and we would be back by 3.30pm.  Nope.  Pass.  We both decided that we can snorkel somewhere else another day.
So, when you read this, we will be somewhere else already.  Where, we are not quite sure, but from what we understand, Carlos will drive us out of here, across the peninsula to a hotel in Palma something or other where we will find a hotel with airconditioning, a pool and internet.  Call me a wuss.... but this is just too hot for us to handle.  This would be an absolutley stunning area to explore if it were just a tad cooler or we were twenty years younger - but its not going to get any cooler at all and last I heard, we dont get to be younger again..  I guess we really are too old for some things already.  We both struggled a bit with wanting to cut short this leg of the trip, but something Carlos said yesterday in a totally different context stuck with me.  He said that its our vacation and we must make sure that we enjoy it.  Well, we are making sure of that.  This wilted laying around in pure heat exhaustion is no fun at all
But dont misunderstand - we are glad we came here, glad we tried, it's been an experience that we will never forget and will look back on with smiles and much laughter at our inability to adjust to certain things.  A good and fun experience too and that boat ride in here was an amazing, exciting and exhiliarating experience!  :)
So - till wherever we end up or start up next
love, light, laughter and coolth!
U6 - I dare ya all!

j - Inbetweeners..

Slowing down for a day or so has brought so many things to mind that I know I have not put in the emails - so here goes. 
Everything is damp and growing or rotting and bromelias grow on anything, dead trees, living trees and even concrete posts..  As long as they can get a grip, they stick, it seems.  In the leaves of the bromelia's are all sorts of creatures, some frogs lay their eggs in the tree tops in them, others live in there as adult frogs, as do many other creepy crawlies.
We went on the mangrove tour yesterday afternoon - it was nothing much at all - a slow putter around some mangroves for about 3 hours.  We saw one boa constrictor curled up in a tree but the guide did not want to wake it up.  It rained the whole time we were out on the boat, be we did not get wet - the roof had a good overhang and I still managed to click away a good many times.  It was nice to sit in that quiet little boat, only 6 of us including the guide and driver and not have any expectations at all - just a gentle passing of the time to the tune of gently swishing water. We went to have lunch, as part of the tour, and it was really good - chicken served with the typical rice and black beans.  And another very lazy night followed with many thoughts popping into my mind.
Our first morning at the Coco Beach hotel while we were eating breakfast, the white faced monkeys came down to grab some bananas that were lying next to the pool.  It was good to see them so close by as they made a mad dash for a banana and then screamed off as if they had succeeded in the raid of the century!  And then, the first non pregnant cat we have seen here, arrived on the scene and showed a good amount of interest in  the monkeys.  Cat sat under a chair thinking she was invisible, with her huge eyes like saucers, pointed upwards to the railing where the monkeys danced and pretended to make a dash at the bananas.  Evidently they did not much like Cat sitting there.  One of the bigger monkies made a sound and at the same time, a more serious fake play towards the bananas.  I think that he was dared, as right before this, there was much chattering and jabbering amongst them up high in the trees.  Anyway, Cat had had enough - monkey got too close, so off she slunk and watched from a distance as the monkeys then raided the rest of the bunch of bananas.  Some of them grabbed three at a time and then still managed to cling to the trees as they dashed away.  Yup, I do have photos of that too.  The camera is pretty much with me all the time.
There is a fascinating little plant here - it totally wilts the instant you touch it, even gently.  Its such a faker!  One second its all green and happy looking and then next it looks as if its never had a drop to drink in its life!  After about 8 - 9 minutes it swells up again and looks perfect again.  Very strange.  Apparently there is an electric charge when we touch the leaves..Talking about electrics and stuff - the tiny little window/wall unit airconditioners here dangle precariously from their spot on the wall, pretending to be all cozy and sealed up with what looks like old cushion stuffing jammed all around where there should be no air leaks.  Well.  Life is not perfect :)  And the steps are broken and one is quite a steep step, so they put a little plastic foot stool there for one to use as a step.  The pool looked good, though, all clean and crisp with beautiful and intricate tile work all around on the walls.  Its amazing how they take so much trouble with one thing, and then something like washing the floor of the walkways is left well alone.
The different colors of bouganvilla and  hibiscus flowers are just lovely - they light up gloriously right after a rain and the drops catch the sunlight and sparkle all over the place.  Right after it has rained, and before the steam starts, is my favorite.  Everything drips, its cool and there is a special light that really sings to the camera.
The town of Quepos, which is the town for the locals and not much for the tourists and which is just outside of Manuel Antonio, used to be flooded by the sea water, with the houses and buildings all up on stilts.  Then a banana company came in and built the wall to keep the sea out and now everything is solidly built on the ground.  The banana plants later all got a very bad blight from the country just south of here, Panama, and they were all pulled out and African palm Oil palms were planted.  These now fill huge tracts of land all over the place - they are quite impressive in size and also the different shades of green all in one field.
There are so many hotels and other places to stay around Manuel Antonio.  When we first came in and drove those really horrible roads to the other fancy hotels, we hoped so hard that the place we had picked was not like that.  It wasn't.  We were within really easy walking distance to everything, the beach, the National Park and the store to buy beers!  Manuel Antonio also offered a zip line, and all of them say they are the best, the highest and the most visited.  We did the best one - I just know it :)
And so yesterday ended slowly and lazily, but I did manage to book us the bus ride to Sierpo, which is down on the Osa Peninsula and the gateway to the Corcovado National Park.  Actually, I booked two different companies without realizing it and a little while later emailed one of them to cancel.  I never got a response.  So this morning, we upped, packed, ate breakfast and stood outside on the steps with all our luggage waiting to see who was going to pick us up.  We amused ourselves while waiting by playing with those plants that 'die' when you touch them - we had a whole flowerbed all wilted :).  Finally, about 15 minutes late, a mini van comes screaming around the corner, shudders to a stop right in front of us in a cloud of dust and a guy jumps out saying "Annie?".  Yes.  He threw our luggage in the back and off we zinged up the hills and around the corners, leaving Manuel Antonio behind us....
And then I wondered which bus service had got to us first!  Yup - only then. We were the only two on the ride and the driver did not speak English either. But we sat back and enjoyed the two hour ride down the coastal road, only having a vague idea of exactly where we were.  The road was a good one, with sidewalks most of the way and the rolling hills accompanied us all the way to the ocean where we could see palm tree lined beaches and tidal pools stretching for miles and miles. The coastline is not reserved for the rich at all and much of the way seems to be owned by private individuals with very roughly put together houses.  Its a totally different life here.
We passed through Uvita, Saverge and a few other little towns that I cannot begin to try and pronounce - but they are all quaint and feel as if one has gone back in time a good many years.  Many bicycles, many people walking, kids allowed to walk on their own and people actually watch for oncoming cars.  About 30% of Costa Rica's lands are protected in some way or another - National Parks or just Protected Status.  Its so good to see so much just left to be whatever its going to be. - makes for a really beautiful country.
And so we headed further and further south, to the beat of Costa Rican music blaring from the radio that had very scratchy speakers, and the driver bopping to the music with his earphones in.  Occasionally he would pull them out as if they were bees that had stung him, only to grab his cell phone and talk loudly and animatedly into it - and then get back to the boppin.  In Palma Sur we passed through more banana plantations on the left and palm oil trees on the right and in the town center there were a good many huge round stones that came from Cano Island.  They dont know how the orginal local people made those stones, or why, but they are really impressively large.  Reason for research.
We were dropped off at the Las Vegas Bar and Resturant to wait for the boat to the Corcovado Eco Lodge.  It was a long wait but fascinating watching all the people coming and going there.  We were very surprised at just how few people speak english here - both the tourists and the people in the town of Sierpe.  Both Frank and I did a short walk around the town, but quickly headed back to the shady resturant where we watched the mangrove shoots float down the river.  the tide was on the way out and little islands of new mangroves floated by the thousands out to sea - many sporting beautiful purple flowers and doing a twirling dance, just for us, as they passed by.  It was quite something to watch.  I almost wanted to wait there and see them all float back upriver.
As we were sitting there quietly contemplating the tides of life - actually just blanking out for a while, I get this tap on my shoulder, a phone thrust into my hand and this guy telling me in very broken english that I had a phone call!  WHAT??  Heck, not even I knew exactly where we were - how could someone be calling me??  On the other end of the phone was Carlos, from the Eco Lodge, telling me that he would wait for us on the beach.  He asked me something else, but I have no clue what it was, so he just said that he would meet us on the beach.  Beach? What beach?  But it sounded good to me..... its not often that I have been tracked down by someone who only knows my first name, with an accent like that and who wants to meet me on a Costa Rican beach.......... Sounded good to me!  And Frank too :)
And so started one incredible ride....... But you will have to wait for the next email before you get that story
Love light and much laughter
especially to U6

Monday, May 17, 2010

More Photos

More photos are up to the link below and look in the Costa Rica 2 file..
Off to a cabin in the Rain Forest first thing in the morning - bus ride, then boat ride and we will be tucked away under the trees for a few days at least. 
Till later
love, light and laughter.
Especially U3

Sunday, May 16, 2010

i - Manuel Antonio National Park

So here we are in a small hotel, just about 4 minutes walk from the beach - Coco Beach.  We left Monteverde the other day with the wind still blowing like crazy.  It was interesting that even though it never seemed to let up, there were no clouds of dust around - maybe the wind had blown all that away already...  It was quite unsettling walking through the cloud forest the day before on our own, with that wind howling so much.... we heard many trees cracking and it gets kinda lonely in there with the tree tops waving all over the place and the screeching wind way above. 
The roads out of Monteverde are something else.... by that I mean that they are an adventure in itself.  For about an hour we rattled, hopped, screamed, dove and climbed tiny, bumpy, rocky dirt roads with no barriers, no safety things as all.  The road is narrow and from sitting inside the van, it seems as if it should be a one way road.  But no.  Not at all.  Big trucks would come at us, mostly from around corners when we were higher than the tree tops and on an almost blind corner, and yup - there was space.  Just.  The rear view mirrors nearly always kissed in passing and many of us on the passing side unconciously scooted over as those trucks passed by.  The sides of these roads are eaten away by the rain and wheels and I am absolutely convinced that if we had fallen off there, no one would ever find any trace of us at all.
The views were just stunning and the camera clicked away insanely, trying to capture bits of Costa Rica to take home with us... Hmmmm - I said that h-word a tad easier this time.  The green of the countryside is beautiful and there are endless streams and little rivers flowing in almost all directions.  And then we seemed to come off out of the clouds and back onto ground level where people lived, shopped and walked around again.  It was like a different universe.  We travelled a good way on the Pan American Highway, which is a road that literally starts in Alaska and ends in the south of South America....  That was one seriously busy road - only two lanes, one each way, no sidewalks, pull off places at all for miles and miles.  We drove along the coast for a while which was beautiful, dotted with islands all over the place and the sea a lovely blue.  There was a big four masted ship lying at an angle that told us that her adventures were over - but she had a good view, at least.
Then we stopped for a "poo poo rest" as the driver so delicately put it.  Any stopping places here involve fruit and veggie stores, touristy things and a mignicifient displays of colors in towells, cloths and other goodies.  We also stopped off at a big river where we all walked for waht felt like half a mile out onto the bridge to look at the crocodiles in the water. They were big.  They were faaaar down and they barely moved.  Everything here is so basic - not in a horrible way, but there really are no frills to anything, and its all totally ok.  The fruitstands are filled with fruit straight from the trees, no polishing or picking only the pretty looking ones - they are all there.  When we sit down at a table, we always have to wipe away some insect, leaf or dust of some kind.  The tables are on wonky legs, the table cloths have definitely seen better days - and its all ok... its part of what Costa Rica is.  We found this in Baja as well and loved it there just as much.
After driving through a good many little towns, past a good few obviously tourist-only places, we finally arrived in Manuel Antonio. And the roads we had to drive to drop some other off at some of the fanciest of hotels were just horrendous!!  I swear the driver paled a good few times as the wheels lost traction going down hill and the van stalled twice when trying to climb some of those hills!  Again, this was not on a road as we know it, but a pathway of rocks, stones, sand and slipperly leaves, at about treetop height and about half as wide as they should have been.  Seriously, those hotels need to make a better road in.  Or not.  Tourists go there anyway, evidently.  
We were picked up this morning at Poco A Poco Hotel - a lovley place with really great owners and staff, by the way, at 7am and got here around lunchtime - about a 6 hour drive.  We were tired and hungry and wanted to get to the beach, so after unloading here at Coco Beach Hotel, we grabbed the camera and headed down the road.  Then monkeys yelled at us as we walked down the road, swinging in the branches.  The beach here is also not long at all, and after walking for a while, we found a little eating place right on the sand.... They served awesomely cold beers and a fantastic hamburger and fries.  As we sat there sighing is enjoyment and watching the surfers dance the waves, we all jumped at a huge and sudden clap of thunder.... and then it rained, and rained.  And Rained!  Huge ploppy drops thundered on the corrugated iron roof and people scrunched into the covered area, meeting new people as they all sat at already occupied tables.  It was a lovely atmosphere.  The couple that sat down with us spoke some language that I could not identify or understand at all.  We had a good many laughs though and sign language worked some of the time.  I think.  Maybe thats why they were laughing!  After about an hour, the rain cleared up enough for us to walk home in a light drizzle - it was fantastic and cool - right before everything steamed up again.  Literally.... the roads, paths, roofs, trees - everything steams!
And then on Saturday we went for a guided tour into the National park.  Our guide, Albin, carried a powerful telescope with him on a tripod to see closer up what there was to see.  This time we mostly just enjoyed the walk while we chatted with him, all of us learning a bit more about both our countries.  We did see a couple of sloth, a strange variety of lizard and had a green parrot come to say hello.  As we walked away from him, that bird yelled at us!  We could almost hear him yelling 'Wait for me - where are you going?", and then he walked on the electric wires above the path right above our heads!  Albin said it was unusual to find this type of bird in the park and its need for human company was obvious.  Probably someones parakeet that had escaped.  When we turned a corner and lost the powerlines, it was almost sad to hear the desperate sqwaking of this bird... until another group of people came along and then we kept them company back up the pathway.
The beaches in the park are beautiful with long lazy limbs of trees reaching out low over the sand towards the waves.  Poison green apples litter the ground everywhere, mid sized iguanas scrambled from shady spot to shady spot, trying to beat us there.  the waves pounded onto the shore in a very impressive way and it was hot, very hot and very humid.  After walking around for about 4 hours, we stopped off at the little grocery store and bought some more water, mangoes, beers, chips and chocolate - energy!!  We also stopped off for  a twirly whirly ice cream and two slices of pizza to eat later.  It was funny that when we were ordering our food, the guy behind the counter, who was about 28 - 35 years old, barely made eye contact with either of us... but as we sat there eating the ice cream and waiting for the pizza's to be warmed up, we watched in amuzement at how that same man bobbed, and danced, smiled and laughed with the two young ladies who had come in behind us!  We sat and watched and smiled with a lovely kind of peace.
It was a very lazy rest of the day - we slept a bit, walked back to the National Park for another look and wander down those beaches which were less crowded than the one near the hotel and generally just let life pass by at a very gentle pace.  It gets dark here around 5.30 and thats pretty much when Franks eyelids start falling..... oh wait - talk about falling......  After our walk through the National Park in the morning, Frank came out of the bathroom after having a shower and slipped on the tiled floor.  What a horrible horrible moment that was.  It was as if it was all happening in slow motion and I could not get there fast enough to catch him!  He bounces well, but ended up smashing his head into the wall with the rest of him scrunched up into the corner, just groaning.  Horrible, horrible moment.  Fortunately nothing broke, cracked or split open, but he started growing an egg on his head and I ran downstairs to the kitchen to get some ice.  Today he is fine, a little achey but fine and just has a buise on his head left.  His hand swelled for a while - but... All ok again.  PHEW.
And so yesterday ended and today began again, wake up, switch on fans, head out for breakfast of fruit and scrambled eggs and a lovely huge cup of coffee.  And then we relaxed for a few more hours, took an amble down to the beach again and found some little knick knacks that wanted to go home with us and here we are, again parked off gently, watching the trees for monkeys or suchlike and waiting till out pick up arrives to take us to the Mangrove swamps for the afternoon, and dinner.
It's heckishly hot here. hot and humid and if someone had to ask me for just one tip about visiting Costa Rica, it would be to buy clothing one size bigger than you normally wear!
Tomorrow morning we are heading even further south to the Osa Peninsula and Drake Bay area.  There we will be picked up by a boat and taken into the jungle where we will stay for a few days, at least.  Apparently their internet is not working - she emailed me to tell me this.  Hmmm.  Okey dokey.  Maybe she was just talking about their wireless and maybe we can fix it and maybe not.  So, if you dont hear from us for a while - this is why.
I am hoping to get some photos up tonight - but that will depend on what time we get back from the Mangroves.  We seem to have slowed down quite a bit, or rather, it feels as if we have run into a wall of heat and its really tiring us out quite a bit.  The lady I spoke to from Corcovado Eco Lodge, where we are going next, says its nice and cool in the rain forest there and they have plenty of fans around too.  We looked at many places to stay in the Corcovado area and most were around $110 per night per person!  This place is $50 per cabin per night - food included.  It's definitely going to be interesting :)
This was going to be a short update - but look there - another book!  ah well.
Till......the next internet connection.
love, light and laughter
yes,yes, U3 too! :)

Friday, May 14, 2010

h - Monteverde and zip lines!

Oh boy, what a day its been..... but let me backtrack to leaving Arenal only yesterday - it already feels much longer ago than that.... Firstly, we never saw the whole volcano - it was cloudy all the time, especially over that specific volcano. A few times we made a dash for the camera when it seemed as if the wind would blow it clear, but no luck.  Maybe its just a myth?  Just kidding.  Soon after breakfast the van came to pick us up for our "jeep, boat, jeep" ride across the lake to Monteverde.  It was not a jeep that we got to ride in, but one of the many tourist vans that are continuously buzzing around here, fetching and carrying tourists everywhere and anywhere.  Most of the vans are ......well, their wheels turn, the doors close (mostly) and they are all legal and licenced.  There are others that are much newer and clean and all, but those are for the Rich Tourists.  Its much more fun in 'our vans" :)
So off we bounced, jostled and careened around a bunch of new corners for about 30 minutes until we jarred our way down a slope to Arenal Lake and the boats that were to take us across. Two of the young ladies that were also on this ride, took out their ipod ear pieces just long enough to ask very concernedly whether their luggage would get wet!  It took some convincing before they even let the bags on the boat....  Now just what type of boat did they think they were going to get for that price?  A yacht??  The boats were just fine and everyone stayed dry, unless you sat at the back, like we did, and then the wake kinda spilled over - a lot. But it was fun to be out on the water and I found a seat right at the back in the middle where the flying water did not reach and happily snapped away with my camera for the forty minutes we screamed across that lake.    We had a view of the illusive Arenal Volcano - but it stayed shyly behind its skirt of clouds.
And then we arrived on the opposite shore and were told that "we need to wait here because........ because we need to wait here".  Ok then.  We waited. And waited.  Until another van jiggled its way down something that was a cross between a river bed filled with rocks and a mud patch - in other words, a 'road'.  A bunch of tourists fell out of the doors as it opened, relieved to be there in one piece and we were told to jump in.   And so started the most incredible drive through the countryside.  Rolling hills of brilliant greens, dotted with tiny houses, shacks, huts and cows all over the place stretched for miles and miles on each side.  The narrow, horrendous road wound itself through this like a little brown river.  Monkies played in the trees, toucans yelled at us from the tree tops and we all hung on for dear life, continuously twisting our heads around for the next view.  Well, apart from ipod girls who be-bopped their way through all this with their eyes closed!  I can just hear it one day in about 20 years time when they tell their children that they 'were in Costa Rica'!  ha.
The drive went on for about two hours and we made two stops along the way where we bought some local snacks, petted the local dogs, watched the kiddies walking all on their own, in school uniform (blue and white) down the roads.  Again, these are not roads as we know them - just dirt roads made up of endless potholes,no sidewalks and its absolutely common to be jarring our way around a blind bend, only to find a taxi reversing at full speed towards us..... no problem - throw up some dust, pass him with millimeters to spare and a wave from driver to driver.  Just today Frank told me my gray hairs shine beautifully!  No wonder.......even they are sweaty! 
And so we were dropped off at Poco a Poco hotel.  I just love that saying.... Poca a Poca means "slowly, slowly we will get there".  Like a tortoise - just keep plodding away, keep going, never give up.  You get the idea.  Poco a Poco........
The first thing that hit us as we got out was the wind... Oh boy did that wind blow and howl and whistle and blow some more!  We were put in a room up on the 4th floor.  No elevator, very sore muscles still from all that climbing and walking etc the past two days and faced with these steps just did us no good.  We got there though and were immediately greeted by the most insane wheezing, wailing, screaming of the wind...a tree branch was hitting the balcony and the balcony roof had lost a nail or three and was happily and loudly making that fact known.  We looked at each other with desperate wide eyes and agreed that there was no way at all that we could get any sleep in that room...... so down those steps we went again to change rooms.  While we were waiting for the new room, we had gone walk around in the town..  This town is built on hills........ to get anywhere  you need to go down and up and down and up endless hills, and we did.  We also went to a cafe where we bought something small to eat and some coffee and contemplated the next hill down.  The coffee here is very good.  After a good long walk and stretching of the protesting leg muscles we headed back 'home again',  chanting "poco a poco, poco a poco" all the way.  The new room is much quieter but that wind still whistled like I have not heard in a very long time.  I think we were tireder than we thought, because we were quite ticked off with life in general (how incredibly spoiled!) and swore not to stay long at all.  So we made a pot of coffee, I tied online for a while, the tv was put on and we watched it rain sideways as the rain and wind blew all possibility of doing anything not only out the window but sheer out to sea, I bet!  
After a little bit, Frank slid down the bed into a fully horizontal position, and shortly afterwards I did the same.  This was around 5.30pm.  I woke up briefly at 3am to take my jeans off and then again at 7am this morning!  Frank too.  Thankfully we woke with new attitudes, a smile and keeness to see what was out here.  We anticipated a quietish day, sedate and almost relaxing.  A day to catch our breath and unwind a bit.  And it started like that.  We were driven back past some of those lovely hills and valleys, to the Monteverde Hanging Bridges and other things.  We had a tour booked for the bridges, butterflies and hummingbirds..  We chose to  do an unguided walk through the forest and gently ambled along its pathways, which were actually much better than many of the roads around here!  We did not see much life at all - well apart from gorgeous trees, flowers and other plant life...... we heard birds but did not see them and we thoroughly enjoyed standing in the middle of the hanging bridges looking down on the tops of the trees for miles around.  Those bridges are on average about 150 feet above ground level.  We could see a good many people zooting along on the zip lines above the trees and way above the bridges.  A good many whooped and yelled and waved as they screamed by - it looked like fun.  And on we plodded for about and hour and a half till we arrived back at the starting point.
We still had lunch, the butterflies and birds to see but nooooooo, Frank got a gleam in his eye and off we went to find out about the zip line tour!  We quickly rented a locker, stashed everything but my camera and joined the line to do this crazy thing!  They put us in a harness that went around each leg and then around our waist and had two big clips on it and clanged like a chain gang when we walked.  We were the oldest couple by FAR, and, I noticed, were the only ones allocated red helmets... the others all got orange ones.  They gave us a short lesson on how to work the 'brakes' and how to sit and all. You hold one heavily gloved hand behind your head on the cable, gently - no frantic grasping allowed.... bend your knees and hold on to the cord that strings you to the cable, with the other hand.   They asked if anyone wanted 'taxi service' down the zip line.This is when one of the guys flies with you, and basically brakes for you.  Well, I wanted to take photos and not worry about braking or hitting the platforms on the other end or whatever, so I got the taxi service - for the first 4 ziplines!  They he said that I was on my own - and it was awesome! 
We zipped along 5 lines and then had about 5 minutes of hiking higher up before coming to the next line.  That was rough on us, walking with the extra weight and uphill and all, but we did it.  And .....well, how can one explain what it feels like to be screaming down a cable on your own, sometimes over 200 foot up in the air and seeing forest for as far as you can see?  How can I describe what that wind in my face felt like or how desperately I just wanted to stop the ride in the middle and just hang there for a while and soak the view up?  And the joy and sadness of reaching the tiny platform again and again without anything going wrong with that whistling line still ringing in my ears. Oh it was all great.  there were 13 ziplines all in all and I really could have done 23!  On one of them, one of the guides told me that he would take photos of me as we were going down, and he reached for my camera.  GULP!  But I handed it over with a smile - Frank just stood there laughing at me!  The guy got some nice photos, I must say :)  I dont just hand over my camera to anyone at all, and here I did it way up in the air with only one second hesitation and to a guy who was ahead of me and going to scream away from me at high speed.  Hmmmm.
And on one of the platforms, as I was struggling to get my glove off to take a photo - another one, yes... I felt my bracelet break.. its a small little thin bracelet and it fell onto that platform way up in the sky and started jiggling its way throught the holes.... but I nabbed it in time!  I would have hated to have lost it there - no doubt some magpie would love the shiny thing for its home.
The zipline was absolutely fun  and I will do it again whenever I can.  It was tiring - well, the walking between platforms was, and we turned down the opportunity to walk yet another half mile to do the Tarzan Jump... we figured we were both secure enough with ourselves to know that we were better than Tarzan anyway, and we headed back to the lodge for lunch and the butterflies and reptiles.  Oh yes, I changed the hummingbirds for reptiles.  Lunch was great, the flutterbie's beautiful and the snakes were awesome! but nothing quite like the shower I had once we got back to our room.
What a lovely day that was.  It would have been such a pity if we had not done the zipline.  I would recommend it to everyone!  I never really knew what it was at all, but now that I know.......... :)
We spent a good while at the front desk finding a place to head to tomorrow and finally decided on a place called Coca Beach Hotel, right next to the Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacifica Coast of Costa Rica.  Its about two thirds of the way down the coast and apparently there the monkeys play on the beach much of the time.  There are long open beaches, palm trees and the room with all amenities cost only $50 per night.  We plan to spend a good few days there.  Its within minutes walk to the main entrance of the park and one can walk into the forest right from the hotel too.  The bus ride there is about 5 hours, so we will be really ready to rest up for a while after that.  The lady, Lilliana, here at Poco a Poco has been incredibly helpful and very friendly. 
So, tomorrow at 8am we will be off on yet another leg of this adventure....everyone says its a bit touristy there, but the little hotel we will be in is small and a little bit away from the big, expensive ones. We will see, but those long open beaches with their palm trees and quiet are really calling  us loudly.
Till then...
love, light and laughter - and Poco a poco..... :)
Annie and Frank