Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day 6 June 18 Manuel Antonio- Blue Monkey

After breakfast and a greeting from Chula, we headed to the park.  Our hike through the park to the beach was full of lots of photo stops.  We saw a sloth, baby iguanas, a toucan and several types of lizards.  After about a 40 minute walk I started to smell the ocean.  The closer we got the louder the waves sounded.  When we finally reached the beach the water was amazing and I couldn’t wait to get in.  It looked calm without rough waves that you find at many beaches in Costa Rica (hence the good surfing) so I went right in. The temperature was perfect, not too cold and so refreshing.  We all enjoyed some time swimming and then in the distance we spotted the monkeys.  They have a habit of visiting the park each day around lunch time so they can steal food.  We quickly grabbed our cameras and got to work snapping photos.  I kept thinking how many monkey pictures do I really need?  But the answer was always, as many as I can get.  I learned that you have to be careful around them and its not safe to snack in their presence.  They get a little pushy and expect you to share.  At one point one of them came down to see what he could steal from our backpacks.  Luckily we had already zipped them up but it didn’t stop him.  Unfortunately, he reached into the side pocket of John Earl’s backpack and stole some medicine.  He quickly ran up the tree with the medicine and proceeded to rip open the package.  Luckily he decided that he would rather have a cookie when John Earl rattled the cookie package.  Upon seeing the cookie he dropped the medicine and took the cookie.  Roxie rushed in and grabbed the medicine.  I’m glad he chose the cookie because I was worried about him.  They are quite inquisitive and have no fear. He later came back and stole my garbage bag.  He took it up the tree and piece by piece threw my trash down.  After holding on to the bag for a while he finally dropped it for a pringle.  I think they might just be trained extortionist.  They have learned to steal what they can and then trade it for something better.  After hours of monkey fun we had to leave for lunch but intended on returning for another swim afterwards.  As we left for lunch we had smiles on our faces and also the satisfaction that Scott finally got to see lots and lots of monkeys.  So far he has seen Capuchin and Howler.

As we ate lunch the skies started getting gray and the rain came.  We never got to go back in the park for another swim but it was ok since we had such a good morning.  We headed back to the hotel and when we pulled into the parking lot we noticed a troop of Squirrel Monkeys hanging out.  They didn’t hang around long and headed into the trees farther away from us.  The hotel staff said they would be back since each evening they come and crossed the street on the monkey bridge they made for them.  The bridge is actually a thick cable stretched across the road so they can across and not get hit by cars or electrocuted.  The bridge project has helped double the Squirrel Monkey population in Manuel Antonio, the only place they live in Costa Rica, in the lat couple of years.  We went back to our rooms to change to wait for the monkeys to return and while I was in my room I looked out and saw them on the roof of the rooms across the way.  There were several of them eating mangoes they were picking from the trees.  They moved around from tree to tree and headed closer to the monkey bridge.  I went out to the road to wait for them and could see them in the trees but they never came to cross so we went to dinner.  I’m sure as soon as we left they decided to make their move.  It was a great way to end our day.  We got to see three species of monkey so far and I got to say “I told you so” to my husband.  He now knows that indeed there are lots of monkeys in Manuel Antonio and Costa Rica.  Thanks John Earl for working that out.  I have a sneaking suspicion that you might be a monkey whisperer.


Capuchin Monkey

Squirrel Monkey

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 5 June 17 Manuel Antonio- Blue Monkey

Morning came too fast today.  We were sleeping nicely in our comfy bed but we were on a schedule and had to get moving we reluctantly got up, dressed and head to breakfast so we could depart for Manuel Antonio.  Today would be our longest drive of the whole trip, about six hours, including a stop for lunch.  With our comfy bus that wasn’t a problem thought since we could nap.  Of course I learned quickly that with this group it was not good to fall asleep.  They have a tradition of taking pictures of people when they fall asleep.  This is especially alarming to me since when you fall asleep sitting up on a bus you don’t always look too attractive.  I think I might have dozed off a couple of times but I’m not sure if they caught me and took pictures.  I know John Earl, his wife Roxie and Scott all got caught, as well as several of the girls who somehow figured out to crawl up in a tiny ball in their seats as they slept.  Along the way we stopped for lunch and then stopped at the Rio Tarcoles River to see the giant crocs.  The bridge crossing the river is a popular stop for travelers since the crocs are easily seen along the banks and in the river.  Shortly after that we spotted two Scarlet Macaws flying along the road.  We stopped and people got some very nice photos.

As we got closer to Quepos/Manuel Antonio the excitement was building.  This area has the prettiest beaches in Costa Rica and three types of monkey species, some only found there.  The monkeys are known for hanging out at the hotels and on the phone wires so we were on the lookout.  Before checking into the Blue Monkey Hotel, we went to the beach to have a look and stretch our legs.  Once back at the hotel we checked into our rooms and then met for dinner.  One good thing about the Blue Monkey is that they have a resident Black Lab named Chula and a couple of cats that hang out in reception.  I was having doggie withdrawals so it was nice to have a dog to play with.  Later in the evening we settled in and got ready for our beach time in the morning.  Manuel Antonio National Park features beautiful white sand beaches and lots of monkeys so I was really looking forward to my visit.  This is where I was going to prove to Scott that this area had lots and lots of monkeys. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day 4 June 16 Arenal- Arenal Paraiso

This morning was our last meal at Selva Verde so after breakfast we bid farewell to our friends at the lodge and headed off to Arenal National Park.  As we got closer we could see Arenal Volcano in the horizon.  The sky was clear and I was hoping it would stay that way so everyone would be able to see the full volcano.  When its cloudy you can’t even tell the volcano is there and I wanted everyone in the group to get a full view.  We arrived at the park and the sky was still clear so things were looking good.  As we hiked the trail to get closer to the base of the volcano near the most recent lava flow (the last major eruption was 1968) we were on the lookout for birds, insects and the elusive Golden Eyelash Viper.  We looked hard but had no luck.  Seeing one was on my wish list but you never know what you will get with mother nature.  We decided to continue on and hopefully have luck to see one on the way back.  Our hike took us over the volcanic rock trails higher and higher.  I decided that with my fear of heights I was better off staying at the halfway point that was high enough to get good photos of the volcano and Lake Arenal.  Some of the group, including Scott, hiked all the way up. After spending time enjoying the views we all headed back to the bus (some quicker then others, sorry mom we were snake hunting I swear).  Our next stop was to La Fortuna for a nice typical lunch at Lava Rocks.  After our delicious lunch we went to Arenal Paraiso Lodge to check in.  The views from Paraiso are great so it was nice that we still had clear skies.  Not everyone is as lucky so I was thankful.  After checking in we headed out to Baldi Hot Springs to enjoy soaking in the nice warm thermal waters coming from the volcano.  Paraiso also has their own private hot springs but the group likes to cover as many sites as possible to give variety so off we went.  After spending a few hours relaxing in the springs we returned to Paraiso for dinner.  After dinner most of us retired since it was a really long day.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 3 June 15 Sarapiqui- Selva Verde Lodge

Breakfast this morning was filled with excitement since the first activity of the day was a zip line tour down the road at Hacienda La Linda.  Since I have zip lined in the past and learned it was not for me, I decided to be the acting photographer.  Hey, someone had to do it.  As people put on their harnesses and helmets I could see excitement and nervousness in their eyes.  After everyone was suited up we were given a safety and procedure talk.  They learned how to slow down and break and how to hold on as they zipped across the cables from platform to platform.  One by one they set off, a few with tears but they all kept going, including super grandma Herlinda. At the end of the tour the tears were gone and everyone was filled with a sense of accomplishment and they were ready for their whitewater rafting trip later in the day.

After lunch most of the group set off for whitewater trip and several of us opted to do a local organic pineapple tour instead.  Don’t get me wrong, I love rafting but I’ve done it many times and never done the pineapple tour so I wanted to see first hand what all the good reviews were about.  In addition there were others who didn’t want to raft so I invited them to accompany me. We now know more about pineapple growing then the average person.  Our tour started when we boarded a covered trailer with comfy seats and our guide.  As our big John Deere tractor pulled us we traveled past fields and fields of pineapple until we reached the field that was ready for picking.  Along the way our guide explained the growing process and how they keep the farm organic.  When we arrived at the field that was in the process of being harvested we watched as workers picked the pineapples and load them into carts.  Then our guide got out and picked us several ripe pineapples and sliced them up.  In less then a minute and with a good side knife, he peeled and decoratively sliced up the pineapples and passed out samples.  I have to say that it was definitely the best pineapple I have ever eaten.  Our next stop was the processing plant where they separate the perfect looking fruit from the not so perfect looking.  The ones that are deemed not pretty enough are used for juice, candy and dried fruit.  The nice looking ones are sent to supermarkets for immediate sale.  As we entered the processing rooms we were instructed that we had to wear hair nets.  Nothing is more stylish then a black hair net so that was exciting.  Inside we learned about all the processes to prep, tag and ship the pineapple.  At the end of the tour we were treated to pineapple cake, fresh juice in pineapples and more fresh pineapple slices.  Back at the lodge we met up with the rafters and they told me that I missed out on a great time on the river.  I was sorry but too hyped up on pineapple to care.

This was our last night at Selva Verde and also a special birthday day.  One of our group members, Kelly, was celebrating her 30th birthday.  The trip was a gift to herself and I wanted to make sure she marked it in a special way.  Since Friday would be John Earl’s birthday I thought we could do a combined celebration after dinner so I requested a birthday cake be made for them and served at dinner.  Of course the staff at Selva Verde went above and beyond with the surprise.  As we got Kelly and John Earl to sit still for a minute all the dining room lights went out and a big cake covered with candles was brought out.  It was a very nice surprise and a delicious cake. 

Our Fearless Leaders

Pineapple Tour

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day 2 June 14 Sarapiqui- Selva Verde Lodge

Today started at 6:00am, followed by a good breakfast complete with howler monkeys.  They were hanging out in the trees right next to the dining room balcony.  Not caring about our presence, they enjoyed a breakfast of small berries growing in the trees while we took pictures and watched them in awe. After our special welcome breakfast we set off for our guided hike in Selva Verde’s reserve.  Once across the river we split into two groups.  One group was made up of those who wanted to do a more strenuous hike and the other for those of us that were not up to a hearty trek.  My group was led by John Earl and the other was led by one of the lodge’s resident naturalist guides, Alex.  Our first sighting was a Reticulated Glass Frog. This is a very rare sighting but John Earl has had the good fortune to see it two years in a row. I was very excited to get to see this amazing species in person and have John Earl give me tips for getting great photos of it.  After that we went off further into the forest to explore.  During the hike we saw several types of frogs, toucans and a couple of Hog Nosed Vipers, this of course made John Earl very happy.  We met up with the other group at the end of the trail and learned that Herlinda, one of our wonderful grandmas, gave the group a run for their money.  They said that keeping up with 77 year old Herlinda was quite a challenge.  That was our first indication that she was going to be the one to keep up with.  After our hike we had some down time until lunch.  Some of the group took a dip in the Rio Sarapiquí to cool off. 

After lunch we set off for Puerto Viejo to explore the river by motorized canoe. Once at the Puerto Viejo dock we boarded our motorized boat and set off to explore the Sarapiquí River.  Within five minutes we spotted a sloth up in a tree.  After snapping photos we continued on and saw several species of water bird, bats and monkeys.  We even saw a man fishing with water up to his neck.  He walked along side the boat with his fishing line and we were all surprised since in the past we have seen large crocs in the area.  It seems the local people have no fear of the crocs and have learned to cohabitate with them.  That includes the children we saw enjoying a swim.  After our boat ride we stopped in the town of Puerto Viejo to shop and visit the local ice cream parlor.  In the evening we met for dinner followed game playing on the patio.  Since it was raining it wasn’t really good for a night hike but the frogs sure did seem to be happy and were singing away.

Our Stylish Ladies- Nice Boots

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day 1 June 13 Sarapiqui- Selva Verde Lodge

We made it to Costa Rica safe and sound on an almost uneventful flight.  As we were pulling away from the gate and the flight attendant was explaining how to use the life vest a hand in the back of the plain was raised. Turns out some poor guy was on the wrong flight.  He thought he bought a ticket for San Jose, CA and was shocked to find out he was on his way to San Jose, Costa Rica.  We had to go back to the gate so he could get off.  After that everything was smooth.  Upon arrival in Costa Rica we went through immigration and customs and then waited for our wonderful group of 31 to arrive from Houston, TX.  One by one they came out and it was so nice to meet them.  Scott and I were pleasantly reminded yet again that the Gator Nation is everywhere as one of the students exited with her orange and blue Tim Tebow Gator shirt.  You just can’t get away from the orange and blue, even in Costa Rica.  Our next step was to board our nice comfortable bus.  We are definitely traveling in comfort in our large Mercedes bus complete with reclining seats and a bathroom. Our guide Javier introduced himself and our driver, Pablo, and then we were off to Selva Verde Lodge in Sarapiqui.

For many in the group this was their first visit to Costa Rica, but at least 8 participants were repeat visitors who love Costa Rica so much they are always happy to return and travel with these great teachers.  We are a varied group of teachers, students, parents, and even grandparents.  The youngest is 13 and the oldest is 84.  The one common thread we all share is our excitement and anticipation for exploring and learning about Costa Rica and its amazing diversity.  Our leaders are dedicated science teachers with a love for birds, photography, amphibians, reptiles and all that goes along with them.  I’m sure by the end of the trip I will know more about frogs and snakes then I could ever imagine. 

Upon arrival at Selva Verde we all got settled into our rooms and then enjoyed a wonderful Costa Rican meal.  After dinner one of our group leaders, John Earl, an amphibian and reptile lover, took us on a night hike in search of nocturnal species.  We didn’t have to go far for our first amazing sighting, Selva Verde’s resident Red Eyed Tree Frogs. There are at least seven of them that have made the pond outside the dining room their home. They could care less that we were there. Pictures do not do them justice as their eyes and colors are truly amazing.  Believe me I know, I took lots of pictures of them.  We were also lucky to see their eggs on the underside of a leaf. As we continued to explore we saw an armadillo, caiman (in the creek), Basilisk Lizards, iguanas and several different species of insects. Did I mention the Red Eyed Tree Frogs? After hours of frog and snake hunting we all decided it was time to turn in and prepare for our early rise the next morning.

Our Comfy Bus

 Most of our Group

Night Hike

Rarely seen Canopy Lizard