Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Surf and Sand in Malpais and Santa Theresa

An early 7 am departure from Monteverde took us down the arid, agricultural landscape of the Pacific side of the Continental divide. The rough boulder roads turned into smooth tarmac and the drive was smooth sailing all the way to ferry in Puntarenas. Here we met Diane and Kevin, a wonderful couple from Nova Scotia. It would turn out that we would end up in the same town and share some laughs together.

The locals serenade us with song for the duration of the short 1 hour ferry crossing to Pacqura. Another few hours of dodging crater-like pot holes and we finally arrive at Frank's Place, a popular hang out. Unaccustomed to the surge in temperature, I don't recall when I appreciated air con and a swimming pool so much even though the pool water was warmer than the air temperature! At least it was wet! A lovely bar serving 2 for 1 Mojitos for Happy Hour, a cooler plunge pool and large green iguanas basking in the sun just topped off the 4 day chill out.

We walked to the beach to watch the sunset. This was a daily ritual for visitors and locals alike. Larissa tried swimming in the waves and became a body surfing machine. She just wanted to keep swimming.

Over the next several days, we chilled out by the pool, went body surfing in the ocean, browsed around town, dabbled in some shopping, drank beer and Mojitos, walked along the beach, explored other beaches up the coast, visited the Rain Forest Sanctuary for rescued animals, went shopping and lunch in Montezuma....a nice chill out to end the holiday.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Quetzals and Cloud Rainforest

The paved roads around Neuvo Arenal turned to gravel. Well, more like mud with large rock with boulders. We drove rough mountain winding roads surrounded in lush vegetation, as wisps of clouds misted the car. I thought the driving was lots of fun but it is always different when one is in control of the vehicle. I knew exactly when to brace for the bumps! I'm not too sure Barb and Bob thought it was 'fun' getting tossed around in the back seat. We climbed higher in altitude finally reaching the Monteverde Cloud Reserve area on the Caribbean side of the Continental Divide. There are several cloud reserves in this are so one could spend weeks exploring them. Steven had booked the well equipped Los Pinos Cabinas in St Elena, a perfect location for us to relax while watching the clouds float by. The weather finally turned for us, the sun shining between floating clouds.

We were able to make our own breakfast and planned to cook one evening meal at home. I love shopping in supermarkets. Mangoes, heart of palm, exotic corn munchies and beer (of course). We browsed around town that afternoon and relaxed. An excellent thin crust pizza accompanied by Tico tapas at Johnnies restaurant was enjoyed by all that evening. St Elena has changed from a few years ago when Steven and Michael last visited. The town roads are now all paved to attract more tourism.

We spent an entire day at Selvatura Park which is essentially a one stop shopping adventure park, cloud rain-forest style. It is located near the Sana Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. We branched off to do our own thing. I was determined to try zip-lining and the crowd eventually convinced Larissa to accompany me. We walked the walkways and bridges through the misty cloud rain-forest, toured a lovely butterfly garden, a snake and reptile exhibit and left the grand finale of zip-lining for the late afternoon. What a hoot! My only regret was bringing my camera. I should have left it in the locket because there is no way in hell I could take photographs while screaming the length of a zip line. I ended off the tour with a "Tarzan Swing Jump". Larissa says I screamed the loudest (followed by a fit of laughter). What an amazing feeling. That is likely the closest that I will ever get to a free fall jump. We returned with our faces covered in mud and big smiles on our faces.

The following morning, we met our guide Alexander for an early morning walk of the Monteverde Cloud Rainforest. Admittedly, this park is full of people. Don't go without a guide. I cannot image anyone having the fortune of finding a quetzal, sloth or snake. I would have just walked along and not known where to look. Rather, these guides come equipped with telescopes and knowledge of the places to look for wildlife.

No trip in another country would be complete without me experiencing at least one six degrees of separation moment. Of course, I bumped into one of my colleagues sisters in a cloud rain forest on a mountain in Costa Rica....because it always happens. But what fun it is. Here is Paula, from Ottawa....I work with her sister! Small world. (I used to work with her cousin too, I think).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Slice of Heaven in Neuvo Arenal

As it turned out, the lovely hike to La Fortuna Falls would be the end of our good weather. Rain, rain and more rain.....After 3 days in the Arenal area, we never did catch a glimpse of the infamous Arenal Volcano. There were no eager takers for the hot springs either. No one seemed interested in simmering in hot tubs with the rain beating down on their foreheads. I was keen but, Oh well. I did it last visit 14 years ago and have the fond memory.

We were supposed to spend 4 nights in Arenal but there was a goof up by the proprietor. The error in that 4th night reservation turned out to be a blessing. We secured a booking at a lovely B and B called Nicolas Chalet in Neuvo Arenal, a small community created after the 1968 volcanic eruption of Arenal Volcano that wiped out the old town of Arenal. The young Neuvo Arenal is located on the man made Arenal Lake.

Owned by a very friendly American couple with 3 gorgeous great Danes, we relaxed at Chalet Nicolas on the Tico style rocker chairs lining the front of the house our host John filled bird feeders fruit to coax wing endowed visitors. Watching birds is very relaxing especially with a glass of vinho blanco/tinto. We had a German schnitzel dinner, retired early and awoke to macadamia pancakes made by our hostess Cathy who revealed her secret of a local wholesale macadamia nut grower. We picked up wholesale nuts but wished the rain had not ruined an opportunity to see the macadamia plantation. Bummer again. Nonetheless, the memory will return at year end as I predict that some kind of macadamia nut cookie will be on my Christmas cooking baking roster this year!

This is a very happy looking Latanville family (minus Mikey who is out taking bird photos). I bought 2 of these rocking chairs so I hope they look just as good in my backyard. You will have to come over for a glass of wine to check them out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Adventures in Driving to Cloud Over The Volcano

After a few stomach flip flops, we were comfortable with the road. From the airport car rental, we drove immediately up the mountain side to Poas Volcano. The volcano is just how I remember it 14 years ago but the surroundings have changed. Costa Rica has certainly continued to develop an advanced infrastructure for tourism. Along with the improved roads and clean flush toilets come those pesky entrance fees, however. I could feel the altitude as I was huffing and puffing my way up the hiking trail. Poas volcanic lake is a green colour now, spewing steam to release pressure. We hiked a 1800 metre trail around an former volcano crater now filled with rainwater to form an acid lake and then hiked back to our cars.

We decided to take some smaller roads towards La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano. We figured this would cut back on a few hours of driving (the alternative is a 4 1-2 drive back via San Jose). I just can´t get used to this little 4 cylinder engine. The 4 adults plus luggage does not help. 2nd gear, 3rd gear, 2nd gear, 2nd gear, 1st gear....all the way through these windy skinny little mountain roads, we bypass coffee plantations, and other farming for export.

After a lunch of typical Costa Rican food (rice, beans, salad, meat or chicken) we were back on the windy road. Lots of construction, we noted. The winding paved roads turned into dirt roads with more pot holes, then were reduced to only partial roads. Just passed La Paz Waterfall, a common tourist spot, we are winding down the mountain road on a serious incline when a Spanish sign indicates, "Danger: Road Closed". It was all I could do to back that little sewing machine engine of a ´4 x 4 car up on that road. The car was almost smoking. Adventures in driving! Road closed. Time for Plan B.

The locals I spoke with discouraged us from taking our chance on the road but Steven spoke to locals who were not so cautious. That Steven was going to take the road. Good thing his mother and wife were there to talk him out of it! Next thing, we would be crushed by falling bounders. How do you explain that to the insurance company?

With some great navigating by Michael we, made it to Arenal. It was a long drive but the road was waaaaayyy better than the pot holed alley I recall from my last trip 14 years ago. Too many tourists use this road now so the Costa Rican´s keep it in a good state of repair. We made it to Arenal Green just in time for dark. We have 3 cabins that are situated for Arenal Volcano viewing.

Too bad the weather won´t cooperate. We have been here for two days and have yet to see Arenal Volcano, my friends. No valcano views this year, folks. The clouds are not being kind to us.

We had a wonderful hike to La Fortuna Falls. The climb back up the steep 600 metre steps was a great cardio workout. We relaxed, had a few beers and walked through La Fortuna (town) for a few hours. I had a lovely Rosta Rican meal - cerviche appetizer (marinated marlin, a white fish), BBQ chicken wrapped in banana leaves and a glass of white Chilean wine. Steven gushed about his grilled mahimahi.

Early to rise today, we ate breakfast on the run for a 7:15 am departure to some wildlife viewing at Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve. We spent about 3 hours on a river boat watching various birds and waterfowl, howling monkeys in the trees (the males bark very, very loudly to warn us off), iguana and cormorants, kingfishers, storks, etc.

We are relaxing now in the intermittent rain showers, having a beer/wine/nap before our evening dinner and spa at Tabacon Resort, a 5 star hot spring spa and resort. I am expecting it to rain this evening but the hot springs will keep us warm. We are hoping for a break in the the clouds so we can catch an evening gaze of the great Arenal Volcano from the hot springs. Keep your fingers crossed for us, folks.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Salute from San Jose

We are relaxing in the outdoor hotel lounge sharing a glass of vino tinto (or blanco). It is Chinese New Year so we have reservations for this evening at a well known San Jose Asian restaurant to celebrate Chinese New Yearś for Mikey. Happy New Year Sal and Wing!

We arrived yesterday all together but with a little bit of luck. TACA airlines had double booked all 5 of us....we just started grabbing any available seat. The Opportunist that I am managed to grab a Business class seat at the front of the plane. One poor guy had to leave the plane because there were not enough seats so it was a good idea I boldly grabbed that last seat in first class. I must say the hot wet towels, free wine, first class snack and service could not be appreciated by a more enthusiastic recipient. Ahhh....too bad it was the short haul flight. If only I could afford to travel in style all the time. To add to my pleasure, I sat beside this wonderful business man from Switzerland (Spanish speaking) who was chatting me up.

We met up with Barb and Bob (Stevenś parents) at the hotel, freshened up and went to a Caribean restaurant written up in my Frommerś guide. Lucky again. It had not occured to any of us that it was Valentines Day and every Tico had reserved the tables for romantic Valentine dining. Lucky for us. They agreed to seat and feed us since we were only interested in eating followed by an early departure for an early evening to bed.

Today we visited the Gold Museum and browsed around San Jose on foot. Admittedly, I have seen enough of Costa Ricaś capital. It has little to offer but it was nice relaxing day anyhow.

We returned to hotel - click on the link to your on this blog for the website. Aranjuez wonderful little place with lots of charm, inexpensive, hostel-like atmosphere but a beautiful spread for breakfast that is to die for! Amazing breakfast.

I had a poor sleep last night because the walls are like paper. I had a singing Romeo in the room beside me. This bohemian dude kept breaking out into song during his waking hours. He woke me up at 5 am. I figured out who is was when I heard him break out into song at breakfast. Yes, he has changed rooms for tonight. Good thing for him because he may have lost his life.

We are early to rise tomorrow to pick up our rental cars and drive to Arenal Volcano with a morning stopover visit to Poas Volcano.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Itinerary Costa Rica February 2010

Depart Toronto February 13th with Steven, Michael, Larissa and Cheryl. Barb and Bob will meet us in San Jose from Florida.

Arrive San Jose, Costa Rica February 13th.
Visit in and around the capital city San Jose February 13th to 15th:
Hotel Aranjuez http://www.hotelaranjuez.com/

Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna area, February 15th to 19th:
Hotel Arenal Green http://www.arenalgreen.com

Cloud Forest of Monteverde, February 19th to 22th:
Los Pinos Cabanas http://www.lospinos.net

Playa Carmen, Mal Pais, Nicoyla Peninsula, February 22th to 26th:
Franks Place http://www.franksplacecr.com

Back to San Jose February 26th to 28th
Hotel Aranjuez http://www.hotelaranjuez.com