Thursday, October 30, 2008

Day 6 in Costa Rica (10/20)

Day 6 was left open as a whatever day. After breakfast we rented a boogie board and headed to the beach. We went through our gate:
And this was our view.
If we looked to the left, we could see Manuel Antonio National Park.
Looking to the right we cold see the ridge where some of the Ritziest hotels are, including Si Como No and adults-only Makanda by the Sea.
By 2 o-clock everyone was pretty pooped and David had earned the worst sunburn of his life. He was not aware that there is more UVA, UVB closer to the equator. He also did not think to reapply sunscreen. As of the writing of this Blog, David's shoulders are still red. That evening he went through almost an entire bottle of aloe. Lena, however, continued to enjoy the pool.
While mom and grandpa watched.
That evening, we had our only fancy meal of the week. We caught the only cab we took all week to Ronny's Place. It is located on a bluff just south of Quepos. The restaurant has a roof but is open all all four sides. The view is beautiful.
We drank out of pineapples and coconuts (Suzette had a star-fruit margarita) while the rain came gently down.
The food was fantastic.
There was wildlife on walls.
And on the rafters (yes that is a moth the size of your hand).
And jumped into our laps.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Day 5 in Costa Rica (10/19)

Day 5 was our horseback ride. We were picked up at 7:30 and we headed out to an area North of Quepos. The "company" we used is called Brisas del Nara, but it is really just a family that has horses. We were picked up by the owner, fed by his wife and were escorted by their approximately 19-years-old Nephew, Eric.

Eric was really awesome/impressive, but his situation was somewhat sad. It was clear from speaking with him that he was extremely bright. And he disclosed that he hoped some day to be an architect. But it was our impression that he felt responsible to continue to work for his uncle (notwithstanding his own desires) escorting tourists because he was the only person who spoke English well.

In any event, before our ride we were fed breakfast. We had the best pico de gallo pinto of our trip, really the best Costa Rican food of our trip. We then headed off.

The ride was beautiful:Eric explained that the flower on a plant we passed (below) was the source of the scent for Channel No. 5. It did smell nice.
More nature:
The horses seemed very healthy (below). This was the only tour that we had that wasn't "private", which we think was due to the fact that it was the off-season. We were joined by a nice couple from Chile.
Our final destination (after approximately 1.5 hours aboard) was a waterfall, which we could see from afar:
and eventually from anear:

Below the falls was a natural pool, which was extremely refreshing. You could dive off a rock appoximately 1o feet above the pool. After our swim we started back. Shortly thereafter it started to pour rain, which was actually quite nice. In general, getting rained on in Costa Rica is a pleasure as long as (1) you are wearing quick dry; and (2) it eventually stops.

In any event, upon our return, we were fed lunch. David had his first Imperial beer (signs for it are everywhere in Costa Rica) and we were driven home by about 3.

It ended up raining for the rest of he day and we just lounged about the house. In all, it was a great day and the only "normal" Costa Rican weather we had all week.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Costa Rica 10/18 (Day 4)

On our third day in Costa Rica we went on a really fun zip-line tour. They had a photogragher on the tour with us and we will post about that day as soon as those pictures arrive from Costa Rica. In the meantime, we are jumping ahead to day. On day four we visited Manuel Antonio National Park. It was an amazing place. We hired a guide to go lead us through the park, who appropriately was named Manuel. He was great. Apparently (approximately 10 years ago) the Costa Rican government set a program where it trained high school students as naturalist guides to the National Park. Manuel was one of those students. For the last 10 years he has been leading tours and he is passionate about it. At one point he found a flower on the ground that he surmised had been picked by a "pirate" guide (as you get near the park [and assuming you look like a tourist] you will be approached by a number of people in official-looking shirts who attempt to convince you to hire them as guides before you get to the "real" guides; the pirate who approached us with pretense that he wanted to inform us that the entrance to the park had been moved [which was technically true]). He was pissed. His voice dripped with scorn. In any event, it worked out for us because it was one of those cool flowers that smell like garbage (to attract fly polinators). He also got agitated in describing how Dole had exploited the rainforests and that, because of Dole, Manuel Antonio wasn't acutally old-growth rainforest anymore because the old-growth trees had not yet returned. Finally, we learned from Manuel about the difficulty of normal Costa Ricans to visit the United States. Manuel indicated that he had wanted to visit the U.S. National Parks for years, but that he was unable to get a Visa. He stated that he had even considered marrying a friend (who happens to be a U.S. citizen seeking permanent status in Costa Rica) so that he could have the chance. It was striking to us because our own ability to travel anywhere in the world we want on a whim is basically assumed.

In any event, we were impressed by him. He is currently writing a book on the park (which our concierege (more on her later) is editing. He, like other professional guides carried a telescope to help spot animals. Without him and his telescope we would not have seen nearly as many animals. The picture above is one of the many three-toed sloths that we saw in the park that day.

Although not that exciting to many people, as an avid composter Suzette finds fungi very interesting. We won't bore you with fungi fun facts, but we just loved these orange mushrooms.
We also saw many of these land crabs in the park. They were very exciting to see because you would look down at an area of forest floor and realize that all those brightly colors things on the ground that you thought were just leaves or flower are actually moving crabs
This is just a cute lizard.
This might be the most amazing photo that we took during the whole trip. What is is that raccoon doing you ask? Eating an iguana of course, couldn't you tell! This is not something that most people get to see, even in Costa Rica. In fact, our guide was really bummed because he had left his camera at home that day and was not able to get a shot of it. The other really amazing thing about this is that person who noticed this was not our guide (in fact he had walked right past it) but was our ten year old daughter, Lena.
This is the one that got away.
This is another sloth having a good scratch (taken through the telescope).

After our tour of the park we stopped on the public beach to get lunch from the "Chicken Lady." I am sure that she had a real name, but our guide insisted that everyone calls her the Chicken Lady. We all had Chicken or Fish Casado and Lena pronounced that the Chicken Casado that she had was the best Chicken Casado of the whole trip. As you can see from the look on her face she was really enjoying lunch.

We don't have anymore pictures from this day because after lunch we dropped off our camera and everything else that we didn't want to get wet at out rental house and headed back to the National Park to swim at Manuel Antonio beach, which is considered by many to be the nicest beach in Costa Rica. For us Northern Californians it was amazing to think that the warm water that we were swiming on was the same Pacfic Ocean that we had back home. The kids had great fun body surfing and getting really sandy.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Costa Rica 10/16

We woke up early on day 3 with great expectations. We were scheduled for our first "tour", a zip-line activity. But first, a digression. As you may know, Costa Rica did not adopt the daylight savings model. Therefore, during daylight savings time Costa Rica is only one hour ahead of SFBay while, at the same time, being in the Central Time Zone. Accordingly, the sun rose at about 5 a.m. Generally we did too. In any event, we woke up to more rain. It had now been raining since our arrival (we subsequently learned that it had been raining since Saturday the 12th of October). We began to get a little concerned that it would rain during the entirety of our stay (we had been warned that it was an unlikely, but possible, scenario). The concern intensified when the zip-line folks called and told us the tour had been cancelled due to rain. We decided to make the best of it and explore the area, including our yard, which included:coconut trees

banana trees
a beautiful path to the beach
lovely bromiliads
and our own neighbors, the Capuchin family. The capuchins visited us most days in the afternoons, swinging about on the trees above the pool,
often with Lena below.

We also visited the town of Quepos, which as you can tell from its wikipedia entry, is not the cultural mecca of Costa Rica. In order to get there we took the bus. There is a single road that runs from Quepos to Manual Antonio National Park. There are few outlets along the road. Most of the hotels and restaurants in the area are along that road. When people refer to Manual Antonio as a town or area, they are usually referring to the area along that road. The bus runs up and down the road, making each stop at half-hour intervals. In our experience, it did not appear that many tourists took the bus (relying instead on taxis), but it worked well for us. Each trip cost 210 Colones per person (approximately 40 cents).

We wish we had taken pictures because the visit to Quepos. Often, with the exception of the natural world, Costa Rica did not feel very different from home. But Quepos did feel different. It looked kind of like a very run-down small town, e.g., lots dilapidated builings. There were lots of people outside who seemed a little run-down as well. The bus station had hundreds of people, waiting for buses in the rain and talking on a large bank of pay telephones. At the same time there were many business that appeared to be targeted at gringo tourists, i.e., tcotchky shops, bars and a few restaurants. They seemed to do brisk business even during the down "green" season. In any event, we had a nice lunch at Milagros, went to the bank (at which we needed to present I.D. to an armed security guard and be "wanded" by a second armed security guard prior to entry) and bought some sovenires. We left Quepos feeling that one visit would be enough.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Costa Rica 10/15 (Day 2 part 2)

At noon we were picked up at our Hotel and headed to our ultimate destination, Manuel Antonio. On the way there we stopped at a Soda/fruit stand. In case you were wondering the photo above is of the fruit stand and the photo below is our lunch of Chicken Casado. Lena was over the moon when she found out that we were going to have white rice and beans at every meal (No, really she loves beans and she never gets white rice at home).

This next shot is of our friendly house creature. Every house in Costa Rica should come with a surprise young Black Iguana in the bathroom? At about 8:30, after the girls had gone to sleep, Robert (our father/father-in-law/grandfather), who was traveling with us, could be heard squealing from his bedroom. Suzette and David came to investigate to find Godzilla staring at us. We attempted to chase him out the door, but instead he ran into the shower. David, standing on the the toilet, attempted to usher him out with a towel. But after a significant amount of hissing, he bit the towel. At that point David attempt to drag him out the door by the teeth. He got about halfway when Godzilla decided to run underneath the headboard of the bed. At that point, David figured that was good enough. But Robert seemed somewhat unsatisfied. So the three moved the bed and, with one group lunge, urged Godzilla back to his natural habitat.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Costa Rica 10/15 (Day 2 part 1)

We woke up to a rainy morning (above is the view from our little suite) at the Hotel Martino.
Here is Lena ready to head out the the main building for breakfast.
The Hotel Martino was a strange place. Our suite was quite elegant, with hardwood ceilings (difficult to describe), very nice furniture and a bathroom as nice as any in a five star hotel. The grounds were also very well kept. In other words, all of the "big stuff" was great. At the same time, it totally skimped on the easy stuff. The pillows were tiny and cheap and one bedroom was missing a door handle. The same thing could be said about breakfast. Breakfast was supposed to be included, but all they had was bread (which was homemade) and a toaster, some yogurt in plastic containers and some mediocre cut-up fruit. But the paucity of breakfast was likely due to the fact that it was the low season and it did not appear that there were many guests at the hotel. Yet breakfast was still very nice. They cooked us some eggs, brought juice and coffee and we sat on a patio with a beautiful view. There was even a clean friendly German Shepard that came by to keep us company. In any event, by the time that we had finished our first meal in Coast Rica we had already broken a number of dietary rules, on which the kind nurses at Kaiser has instructed, including eating fruit that we had not peeled ourselves, drank fruit juice and ate yogurt.
After eating we went across the street to Zoo Ave (Hotel Martino sells discounted passes to the Zoo). Once there we almost immediately saw a golden orb Spider. We actually saw many of these spiders while we were in Costa Rica. They have the most amazing golden colored webs.

Here is a Ocelot also at Zoo Ave. It was very active while we were visiting which made it hard to get a good picture, but it was very exciting for us.

Zoo Ave is not like a traditional zoo. It only displays animals that can't be returned to the wild and they have strong captive breeding programs to increase the wild numbers of endangered birds. It is a small, but very welcoming place.

If you do get into San Jose in the late afternoon or evening without time to your ultimate destination, we would highly recommend staying at Hotel Martino and visiting the Zoo. The staff was very nice and the rooms were an excellent value.

Traveling to Costa Rica 10/14

We departed in the early morning hours from SFO (Thank You Lauren for dropping us off at the airport) There is not much to say about the first day of our trip except that five hours is a long time to spend in the Miami Airport. I really think that you could see the whole airport in under four hours, no problem;) We had a really smooth trip and arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica to a light rain and our first mini-culture shock. We were supposed to have a driver from the hotel, but he (there were no female drivers/tour guides etc. throughout our trip) was nowhere to be found. But we were somewhat prepared (the hotel said to take a cab if the driver didn't show up, which makes one wonder if they ever show up). The cabdrivers were relentless. Each one of more than two dozen beckoning, cojoling and lunging towards our luggage. However, all the guide books warned us to take only the official "orange taxis" so we retreated into the relative safety of the terminal to order a cab. It probably shouldn't have been, but it was a little chaotic.

After a quick cab ride to our hotel near the San Jose Zoo we then settled in for the night.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fall was in the air....

.....but not in the farmer's market basket. I did not buy that much because we are leaving for vacation soon!! I have to say that I just love living in California. I did get peaches, nectarines, figs grapes (they were in my daughter's bag) carrots, onions and spinach.
After lunch the two daughters sat down with some Sculpey clay and made people .
Sara working.
Lena with a tiny black cat in her hand.
These photos are not the best because I was taking them as the sun was going down.

Here is Lena's Halloween witch and tiny black cat.This is Sara's best little person, by the way Sara mixed those colors herself to get just the right color. I know that I am biased, but I think that my two girls are wonderfully talented.