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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Posted from Atlanta, Georgia, United States.

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

Posted from Cahuita, Limon, Costa Rica.

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

Posted from Roxana, Limon, Costa Rica.

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…

La Fortuna and Volcan Arenal

We picked up our vehicle and bravely headed where no man has been before (OK, probably that’s not actually the case) by heading north from San Jose up towards La Fortuna, a base town for Volcan Arenal, a big volcano that used to be the most active volcano in the world I think, from a massive eruption in 1968 followed by almost continuous spewing until 2010. On the way we passed another volcano, Poas, which you basically drive up the crater and then can look down into it,  except we couldn’t as it was too cloudy that day. In fact, that set the tone for the next couple of days. The roads up there are very windy and not too well signed, which led to a 30km “diversion”, i.e. drive 15km, realise you’ve gone wrong and then drive 15km back to the junction you missed. Thank goodness we have a working GPS in the form of the phone with a local sim card to get us out of trouble, which amazingly has pretty much kept signal all the way so far!

Random waterfall along the way, a guy here was selling strawberries which were lush,  which is not something I say very often!

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Shortly after getting back on track, we pulled into a low-key looking place on the side of the road for lunch, which turned out to be superb,  overlooking a big valley and they had a load of bird feeders set up at the tables, this is a violet sabrewing:

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And these are something else, we’re not sure what, our cheatsheet of local fauna has let us down here:

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Next day we did a 4 hour hike up Cerro Chato, another volcano nearby, which is a fairly steep climb up through rain forest terrain from a resort called the Observatory Lodge, followed by a rather steep descent down into the crater for a swim in the lake that now exists there. The water was pretty freezing, but a welcome relief after the humid climb up, and a first for me,  to be inside a volcano crater! There were a load of people up there who’d been duped by a cowboy outfit selling an unofficial route up there too which was apparently murder to climb, I think we could’ve sold our map several times over for an easier escape route for them.

This is the “easy” route, a sweaty hour or more climb up over roots and rocks

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This is looking down into the crater from the rim:

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There’s a nice little waterfall in the Observatory lodge grounds itself, which must get pretty impressive in wet season I should think

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This is Volcan Arenal itself, in the distance, this is really the clearest shot I could get

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The cloud isn’t really showing much sign of clearing up so we’re going to move away around to Monteverde which is basically the other side of Lake Arenal which is where a load of coffee plantations and, dare I say it, zip lines through the forest canopy are!

San Jose

We’ve arrived! After a great flight to Atlanta, followed by a rather average one to San Jose,  we find ourselves in a gorgeous hotel in town, with a none too shabby breakfast

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Which you’re forced to eat outside

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Today has consisted of pottering around the city really, getting over the jetlag, which we think is 7 hours, but one can never be too sure. We did the national museum, which was a hotch potch of various things, including a butterfly sanctuary

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There’s two of them in this pic, wishing each other a good day:

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Later we’ve dropped in at the national theatre, a lavish affair paid for by taxes on coffee exports and rice and beans imports in the late 19th century

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This was followed up by some free music in the park, there seems to be some kind of festival going on today

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The streets are lined with wonderful street art everywhere such as this

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It’s been a nice introduction to the country, surprisingly so as the city doesn’t really get good reviews on the whole. Tomorrow we’re picking up our 4×4 and taking ourselves off to the mountains with just a sloth for company (don’t worry, he’s not real)

We do have a phone number in case of emergency, +506 62818484