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Mountains and Delphi

It’s been a couple of days of twisty mountain road driving. After another fabulous night in Meteora and the hint of some bad weather ahead, we were almost tempted to hole up there for one more night. Bravely though, we took the plunge and drove over the mountains to the ski town of Karpenissi. En route, I think I found the proof there is indeed snow in Greece, just a patch of it, not really visible,  to the right of the tree on the left. 

In the same spot is a shrine, of which you pass hundreds along the roadside, although you can’t see it, this one has a burning oil lamp in it and a picture of a young lad standing in what looks like the exact same spot. It seems like it’s common that if someone were involved in a near miss of some kind, either in that spot, or maybe it’s just a favourite spot of theirs, they build a shrine there to offer thanks for the save

Also along the road are hundreds of beehives, we got as close as we dare to get a snap, the bees were certainly being husy

Eventually we arrived at Karpenissi, nothing special in itself, but I always enjoy being off the tourist trail from time to time,  experiencing a bit of the real local life. We found ourselves a lovely cheap room, this is the view in the morning with ominous weather brewing as we were due to drive out through the valley that’s shrouded in cloud

We’d taken a drive down there the evening before, to the village of Megalo Horio, a few kilometres down the river. Fresh river fish is a big thing around these parts, today trout was the catch

Then we took a bit of a walk up a stream, health and safety don’t seem to have made it as far as here yet, the bridges were a little rickety to say the least 

Local honey on sale

Next day was another epic drive through the mountains, there was rain to begin with in the aforementioned valley, but it soon cleared up for another great drive, through a rather bizarre road cut into the side of a gorge 

We passed through sporadic tiny villages, including Prousos, with yet another monastery perched precariously on a ledge

Ending up in Delphi, the town itself nothing too inviting, where we experienced our first terrible dinner but still got a good deal on a nice hotel with a view. Next was the archaeolgoical site of Delphi itself, another set of ruins dating back to the 8th century BC, but most active between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. The site’s impressive 

Especially for me this stadium, old though it is, its current form is as recent as the 1st century AD

Lisa was impressed by the realife nature of some of the statues, though she got told off for posing next to them for a photo

Today we’ve gone back to Athens and returned the car without a scratch on it, and as I write we’re en route to the island of Paros. We’ve so far successfully dodged a load of thunderstorms and a promise of cooler weather, my UK friends will delight in knowing that the weather’s better there then here at the moment! 

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Meteora 

Meteora is as far north as we’re going to go on this trip. It’s home to a whole area of rock pinnacles with ancient monasteries on top. A truly inspiring landscape. 

Happiness is when you go to pick up your rental Fiat Panda and they give you a Qashqai instead, parked outside our excellent guesthouse. 

The journey north from Athens was pretty smooth, even leaving the city centre wasn’t bad, apart from motorcycles cutting you up continuously, and the sat nav sending you along a road for buses only and the usual other nuances. Once out of the city, the highway was almost empty and got us up to Trikala in about 4 hours, where we randomly stopped for lunch at a taverna by the river. The food was the best yet, and a feast cost us €13, helped on by a stranger who bought us two beers. He seemed to be a friend of the taverna owner, I have to say the people here are as friendly as you’ll ever see. 

Then we went onwards to Kalambaka, the service town for Meteora, but quickly drove on by to Kastraki, a village right under the rocks and absolutely beautiful, with a much more laid back vibe than Kalambaka has. As I write, I sit on our balcony with a view. 

We did our own sunset drive around the monasteries, of which there are six that are still functioning, there are several more ruined ones too. 

Today, after a breakfast to die for, consisting of lots of pastries, cheese and cake, which pleased a certain person,  we first of all hiked up to the Adrachi, the column in the above picture, which is said to resemble Jesus, a very pleasant shady walk past a few houses and churches. Then we headed up by car again to visit some of the monasteries by day. 

A courtyard of one of the monasteries. The inside of the churches on them are extremely ornate, covered in frescos going back to the 14th century in some of them. You’re not allowed to take photos inside. 

Back in the day, they used to haul the monks up and down in a net attached to a hoist, hand wound by other, hopefully strong and trustworthy, monks. You’re looking at a good 100 feet straight down in one of these

One of the monasteries had an “Ossuary” in it, full of skulls and bones. Not sure what that means yet, if it’s all the dead monks or what 

I was curious about the level of security they have on these places. Is it to keep intruders out, or the monks in? 

Lisa enjoys a blue sky, Queen of the castle, it has been a lovely day of about 33C or so

Later in the afternoon we hiked well over a kilometre down a steep track the monks used to use, to the edge of Kalambaka, for no obvious reason except to get a drink in a typical  local taverna where friendly cats and tortoises running amok

I would have to say that Meteora is a must-see of Greece, it’s absolutely stunning and well worth the trek to get up here. Next stop, we think is going to be to drive through the mountains to Karpenissi, there a bit of a threat of some thunderstorms though so even will see. 

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Athens 

We had a pretty smooth journey over, despite Southern Trains’ best efforts to make us miss our flight from Gatwick, only to arrive to rain as we got off the plane. Definitely not what we signed up for! The small hotel we have is in the Plaka district, close to the Acropolis and the action is fabulous, and a snip at €80 a night. One short flight of stairs from our room gets you to the roof terrace, and from there, this is the view, by night 

And by day

Today has been the usual touristy things, naturally the Acropolis, this is fairly obviously the Parthenon 

and this is the Erichtheion

This is the Odeon, which is a little more atmospheric than your typical counterpart back home. Last night’s performance was cancelled because of the spot of rain! 

There’s another old Theatre of Dionysos,  where I have the best seat in the house 

We were impressed that they have facilities to get wheelchair access to the Acropolis itself, though the arrangements may not work out too well if you have a fear of heights 

There’s a walk along the north slope of the hill below it, nice and peaceful and apparently where graffiti artists hang out

Next on the list was Ancient Agora, with a somewhat Parthenon-like building

A cute church 

All over the place are stones and statues that have been recovered and awaiting re-siting. Lots of the statues have had their heads chopped off

Right through the middle of the site is a tube line, I hate to think what they carved up when they put that in

Finally we stopped off at the Temple of Olmpyian Zeus, another very quiet spot as everyone else seems to focus only on the Acropolis 

Tonight we’re off to sample some nightlife before getting up early tomorrow, ie somewhere before 10, to pick up our rental lawnmower to head up the mainland for a few days before doing a little island hopping 

Roof Repair Phase 1 – In Progress

The works looks to be going well so far, though I’m awaiting a heavy rainstorm before I can be sure!

Here are the four valleys that have been replaced:

The top of the wall on the bay window tower has been capped with felt:

The stone work on the front elevation has been chipped back, ready for re-facing:

The section on the bay window tower itself is just out of reach, so hasn’t yet been chipped back until the scaffolding is extended out slightly:

There’s a hole in the lead gutter. This is going to be fixed:

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Roof Repairs

Gurney’s taken a few pictures of the roof on 3/12/16 which illustrate some of the work that will be done, and some that will be needed in due course.

Most of the valleys have already been replaced, except for two of them. This one has already been patched a couple of times and is now leaking again into the room above the entrance hall. This is due to be replaced in the first phase of work:

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This is the other one that will also be replaced initially, it’s leaking through the door frame of the entrance to my lounge:

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This chimney stalk is the one above the entrance hall. The stonework is fairly heavily degrading towards the back of it. The stone is basically sound on this so should just need facing and pointing:

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This is the chimney on the wall next to number 37. The back corner of it needs facing and pointing:

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This is the chimney on the wall adjoining number 33. It’s in slightly worse condition, but hopefully will still just need facing and pointing:

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This is the chimney above the lounges. It’s been badly repaired at some point, many years ago, and the stonework on the west side of it has come away from the stalk itself. Also, one of the pots fell off this stalk earlier in the year. Luckily a TV aerial caught it and stopped it from falling too far, and I’ve moved it to a safe place for now:

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This is the rear stalk that’s adjacent to number 33. It’s actually in good condition this one, but does require facing to a couple of small stones and some repointing. Behind George is the pot that fell off the other stalk:

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A closer view of the same stalk:

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A later phase needs to address the rhone at the back of the building. I’ll get some better photos of it on another day, but in the centre of this picture is the internal angle of the back of the building where the bathrooms are. The rhone that’s half out of sight below that point is way too small for the huge volume of water that sometimes comes off the roof, and the water pours in sheets down the back of the building:

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This is a close-up of the same spot. Right in the middle is the water gate which is supposed to channel the water off the roof valleys into the rhone, but it’s faulty. Water spills over the left hand edge of it, under the slates, as you look at it, and goes all over the top of the wall. This is what floods my bathroom:

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Atlanta

OK, you wouldn’t normally expect Atlanta, Georgia to feature in an itinerary of Costa Rica, but on this occasion, thanks to good ol’ US of A immigration, it did.

The last night in CR was fine, we took a hotel near the airport run by a Geordie and her Italian husband, not this one though:

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Then we were treated to an hour on the tarmac at San Jose due to some immigration issue there, then on our late arrival into Atlanta where we should’ve had a couple of hours’ layover, we were met by queues that were miles long at immigration, supposedly due to the automatic passport machines going down.

Surprise, surprise, we missed our connection then had to queue for hours more to re-book the flight and see about a hotel. They booked us for a flight the following day but were told all the hotels were full, due to hundreds of other passengers also missing their connections. So we were left to our own devices, and eventually got ourselves to bed at 1.30am.

Next day we had a few hours to kill so went to Atlanta’s midtown area on a whim, for a quick walk in the rain around Piedmont Park and then lunch at nearby Joe’s on Juniper. Not the most subtle of gay bars, though it took us a while to figure it out. The clues are all there though, the “Adult Trivia night”, “Salad Tossed Daily”, “Eat, Drink and be Mary” and the back of the servers’ T shirts which read “100 beers and stiff cock-tails”.

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And so a great trip had to come to an end, and the sleepy folks prepare for the long drag home.

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Cahuita

The road to Cahuita was reasonably long, but fairly straightforward. For about 100Km or so we were on the main highway feeding the ports of Moins and Limon, but it’s just a regular two lane road and FULL of very slow trucks. You can quite often get sections that are straight enough to overtake, even though the lines usually tell you that you can’t, but they are duly ignored. The problem is there is so much traffic in both directions that this is easier said than done.

At one point there was a truck in front of us, and ahead of him I could see what I thought was a dead animal in the road. I expected the truck to straddle across it, and I was getting ready to either do the same or swerve around it, as it looked quite big. Instead the truck stopped, and I went past it, only to find it was a live sloth! We’re not sure if he had fallen from a tree or was taking a leisurely stroll across the road to find a new feeding ground. He was so cute, I hope he made it OK.

For quite a while we followed this chap on his bike, who seems to have a small wheel alignment issue – he’s actually (somehow) driving in a straight line here. God forbid he ever needs to use his brakes!

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A typical local coffee brewed at your table in a roadhouse stop

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On arrival at Cahuita we found a very pleasant little traveller’s town on the coast, and found a chalet operation, the Alby Lodge, which was deserted and had the place to ourselves

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Well apart from plenty of crabs who were living in every corner

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And the caiman that lives in the pond

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A well earned rest on the porch after a long day

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More importantly. a refreshing drink

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The town has a beach either side of it, Playa Negra to the north, with sand that is really quite black, though perhaps that doesn’t show so well in the pic

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And to the south, Playa Blanca, with beautiful golden sand. Unfortunately we forgot our cameras the time we walked along this properly

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A few kilometres up the road is the sloth sanctuary, not the best presented of places really, I have to say. They could do a lot better with it. Nonetheless, they are CUTE!

This is Mille, a two-fingered sloth with a hangover. Interestingly it’s incorrect to say two “toed” sloth, as they all have three toes on their feet, it’s just their hands that are different.

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Next are Johnny Depp and Taz, also two-fingered, who live together, which actually doesn’t happen in the wild. In the tree tops, they would mate for 40 seconds, with a 100% pregnancy success rate, then go their separate ways.

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This is Toyota, a three-fingered sloth. They are more active during the daytime than the two-fingered variety who are more nocturnal. That’s not saying a lot though as they barely move. Toyota literally has three fingers, (not six) as he’s only got one arm! He lost one when he grabbed an electrical cable on a pole when moving between trees. This is the number 1 cause of sloth deaths and it’s very unusual to see one survive it at all

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A baby sloth

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Finally this is Buttercup

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We were lucky as she decided to come down for us and say hello

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A genuine tree-hugger

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High-five

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Cahuita was a wonderful ending to the trip, more so because we hadn’t really planned on going down that far originally. However, that time has come when we need to start packing up and head back up near the airport for our final night

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Tortuguero

This was a fairly epic journey, from coast to coast. Coming off the peninsula we did a balance of what the crazy lady on the GPS wanted us to do, versus common sense and it worked out well. We retraced our route across the ferry and then foolishly ignored crazy lady by taking a route over the north of San José towards Guapiles. This has us driving up some nutty steep mountain roads over all sorts of terrain in some crap weather, heavy rain and fog. I’m sure the views from up here would be epic on the right day. Hours later we arrived at Puerto Viejo where we overnighted in another zoo.

Breakfast time at the cabin

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Right outside the cabin we got to see out first sloth in the wild. You can’t really make it out here as they’re very high up in the tree, but this is mother and baby here.

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We got a lovely cabin for the night, featuring a typical gringo shower where they basically stick an electric shower head on the end of a pipe. Health and safety is always forefront here though, as you can see by the “do not touch” sign. A slight snag with this is that the power switch is on the unit itself.

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From here it was just a couple more hours’ drive to La Pavona which is where you park your car and get a boat to Tortuguero, as this area is only accessible by boat or plane, but not by road! The boat was interesting as there’s not really any water in the river in dry season, so you’re constantly dragging along the bottom or scraping the banks, desperately looking for a few inches of depth to make passage.

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The engine on our boat was overheating and kept cutting out, but still we were faring better than one we passed coming in the other direction who’d spanked his motor against a rock and cracked the gearbox case. We had to carry on for several miles before our guy could even get a phone signal to summon help, so I hate to think how long they were stuck there.

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Eventually you pop out of the river into a series of deeper water lagoons which is where Tortuguero Village lies, and old logging village now given over to tourism. Although we scored an excellent room in the Casa Marbella on the waterfront, the vibe in the village was a little weird, and they really hadn’t made the most of the restaurants, many of which were dark and dingy, whereas they could have lovely outdoor areas or waterfront decks. An alternative to staying in the village is to stay in a resort out in the jungle of which there’s several, but you’d need to organise yourself a bit to arrange the boat shuttle to get there and once you’re there you’re sort of stuck there and fully reliant on the resort’s facilities to get you around, which is not always my cup of tea.

A huge lizard at the hotel, he’s about 3 feet long

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For the next morning, we had a choice of taking a motor boat into the marine national park, or an electric canoe, or a kayak. For some inexplicable reason we chose the kayak, the only one where we had to exert any effort. This is the only time we had our paddles in sync

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The rest of the gang – a couple of mad Swiss who we think later missed their flight home, who were more concerned about lighting up a fag than the tour we were on, and an American girl who I don’t think was even awake

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We saw a variety of stuff at close quarters, most of which hasn’t come out well on film, but I did catch a good one of this caiman, who wasn’t at all concerned about how close I was

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Similarly with these anhingas, male and female

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Later in the day we did a trek through the park, which was frankly rather disappointing as there was next to nothing to see. In the right season you’d see the turtles as they are coming up the beach to mate, but without them there wasn’t a whole lot else..

Next day we braved the boat back up to La Pavona, thankfully there’d been a bit of rain so there was at least a fraction more water in the river than when we came down. A caiman watches our boat

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Safely having picked it up (the car, not the caiman), we’re making our way south down through Limon province along the Caribbean coast to Cahuita

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Montezuma

From mountain to the ocean, the Pacific coast to be precise. A relatively painless drive down via a pretty good quality dirt road brought us eventually to Puntarenas, from where you catch a car ferry over to Paquera on the peninsula de Nicoya. It was 39C when we got to the quay, the first real taste of heat on the trip! Having an hour to kill before the ferry sailed, we got a bite to eat at a restaurant at the pier, mainly to keep an eye on the car parked there in the queue. You wouldn’t normally expect too much of a place like that but the grilled fish was to die for, one of the best meals had so far. The ferry was good, complete with DJ spinning 70s dance numbers, then we drove across to Montezuma village, foolishly relying on the GPS to show us the way. It knew some shortcuts, which had us driving through rivers and getting us well and truly airborne. Secretly I have to admit I enjoyed that ☺ It remains to be seen if Europcar agrees when I return it.

We checked ourselves into a cabin in what can only be described as a zoo. This was a full on casa, up in the jungle behind the beach, with two bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and hall with a private deck of about 40 square metres with a jacuzzi in it,  and no neighbours within sight! There was a whole colony of iguanas living on the tin roof, possibly the stupidist creatures I’ve ever met as they don’t seem to realise they can’t actually get any grip on the pitched roof. As soon as they move, you can hear them slithering down uncontrollably whilst they try and manoeuvre themselves ready to jump onto a  branch. When they can’t make it they end up catapulting themselves over the edge and fly past your head on their way to an undignified landing on the deck.

Sky TV dish on the cabin roof. Can I not get away from there, ever?

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An iguana on the roof, getting ready to make that leap of faith

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Capuchin up in the trees

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Apart from that there were howler monkeys and white throated capuchins everywhere, bats, white nosed coatis, who were none too camera shy like this fella.

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A cheeky capuchin helping himself to a leak in our water supply

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All of this is passing Slothy by. He doesn’t do much, but then hey, he is a sloth

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Here’s the jacuzzi action

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We left it full of water one night, and the evidence was there in the morning of a load of monkeys partying in it. They had been going around the corner to poop, very clean party monkeys

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Then there were agoutis running around everywhere, basically like overgrown rats without a tail. White throated magpie jays used to come and have breakfast, which is to say come and have our breakfast. Also there were some vague chicken like things hanging out. More worryingly, Lisa saw a crocodile, thankfully not from the cabin, but a good 20 metres from it!

We hiked 40 minutes or so up the coast to Playa Grande, a big sandy beach popular with surfers and only accessible by that walking route, then checked out the waterfalls, a spectacular series of three tiers, all of which can be jumped off from a variety of heights and risk levels.

Most of the good pics of this are on Lisa’s camera, but with the combination of cables and bits and bobs I have here, I can’t get anything off that one at the moment. A square peg isn’t fitting in the round hole.

The grey dot, upper right,  is me ignoring all the advice and rock climbing the first tier of the falls.

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Look closely here and you’ll see two figures, centre right, one is climbing and just above him is one flying down having leapt from near the top.

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This is looking down the second tier which is the official jumping area. A crazy gringo is mid-leap

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Montezuma was certainly a slice of chilled out beach life, but the time has come for a bit of a drive across the country to the Caribbean coast.

Monteverde

The road to Monteverde was our first real indication of why one hires a 4 wheel drive to tour Costa Rica. The first section was OK, just twisty mountain roads, but the last 40km or so was a dirt road, and much of it in questionable condition at that, sometimes steep, deeply rutted, gravely or sandy. A couple we met on the volcano the day before had driven the 4 hours or so to the night before in the dark, thank god we didn’t do that!

We settled in the village of Santa Elena and found ourselves a terrific cabin to stay in, here’s “Slothy” that we rescued from a market stall in San José who is now travelling with us, relaxing on our deck.

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First stop that day was a coffee plantation, where they have also started producing chocolate recently, interestingly the coffee bean is native to Africa but grows better here, whereas the cocoa bean which is native to here grows better in Africa.

This is sugar cane, another product of the same plantation

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The waterwheel powers a mangle which crushes and juices the cane

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We got to make our own sugar, and here it is. We got top marks for ours in our group, nevertheless it’s now in the bin

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The coffee operation is much more up with the times, the machine on the left grades the beans by size, the next one along shells them

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The evening was spent loafing around town,  where it was cold enough that I had to wear my fleece and dig some leg extensions out from the depths of my case, followed by a night sleeping under a  blanket. Definitely not what I signed up for when we came over here!

Next day was the big event – a canopy tour, which is essentially a bunch of zip lines through the cloud forest canopy. The astonishing part of this is that I persuaded Lisa to partake as well! We chose the “original” tour from the four or so available in the area, which is either the first one of its kind in Costa Rica or the world, depending on which version of the story you believe. The main reason for going with this one is that it’s more focused on the views of the forest rather than the newer ones which are much more extreme in terms of length, speed and height etc, which are aimed at the adrenaline junkies.

They start you off on a Tarzan swing, a fairly small one as they go, but still gives you quite a rush, especially at early o’clock which is what this was. Butter fingers prevented me capturing the evidence that Lisa actually did this, but I did get a video of a random Irish girl in our group of four.

This is Lisa in full swinging a action, a somewhat blurry figure near the centre left of the picture

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Next up were the 14 zip lines, the longest of which is 800 metres, captured here by one of the two guides. Apologies for my somewhat offensive beer gut which gets into shot at the end, which definitely needs a bit of TLC when I get home!

I almost look like I’ve done this before

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Not sure the same can be said of Lisa ☺

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The whole group, waiting for the remaining guide to zip over (he’s the photographer)

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They also drop you down this rappel line off one of the platforms and you climb back up through the centre of a hollow tree which was rather cool.

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Tempted though we were to stay one more night, in the interests of time we are pushing on to Montezuma, a traveller’s beach hangout on the peninsula de Nicoya on the Pacific coast for something just a little bit different…