Friday, February 26, 2010

Photos of Drake Bay, Costa Rica

World's smallest gecko?

Osa peninsula is one of the few places in Costa Rica to see Scarlet Macaws.

Butterflies everywhere.

Kayaking on the river - very pretty and we did not even get attacked by Caimans once!

Scary bridge.  Zane's comment: "It looks like they stole some people's decks to build it"

Sunrise over Drake Bay - view from our veranda.

Typical beach, Osa Peninsula.

The "New Terminal" at Drake Airfield, or so the sign said.

Drake Bay, Costa Rica

We have just spent 4 days at Drake Bay on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, on the Osa peninsula and near Corcovado National Park.  This area is one of the least developed and least populated parts of Costa Rica.  We flew in a small plane to a smaller airstrip then drove in a "taxi" (Land Cruiser) over interesting "roads" to get there.  We did a lot of sweating and collected various sunburns and mosquito bites.  It was very beautiful, with the rainforest coming right down to the beach.  It was also amazingly hot and humid - I do not recall getting my shirt soaking wet so quickly by just standing around.  We walked through the forest, went kayaking and swimming in the local river, and took a trip to Cano Island to go snorkelling.  Along the way we saw many birds, lizards, butterflies and fish, as well as the local caiman (croc) who lives near the mouth of the river.  Somehow we missed the mammals - marine and terrestrial.  The snorkelling was nice, with more coral and fish than we had expected.  Even better the water was about 80 degrees F.  The weather, aside from hot, was generally good until the last day when it absolutely poured for several hours, with thunder and lightning to boot.  All in all a very nice little adventure with the exception of the man who came into our room at 4AM and made off with Zane's backpack.  Zane has handled it very well.  After returning to the city today we made a trip to the mall and have replaced most of the essentials.

Next stop - not sure!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Photos of Monteverde, Costa Rica

Even deep in the forest you were never far from a rainbow.

Looking down to the Pacific Ocean.

Monteverde roads.  Lots of complaints but frankly they were freeways compared to what we drove on in Africa.

Tarantula.  Harmless, or so we were told.

Cloud forest.  Very dark and difficult to photograph.

Forest flowers.  Seemed like you could always see at least 1 type of flower from wherever you were.

Blue-Crowned Motmot.  A Handsome bird.

Wild Orchids.  Something like 400 or 500 type grow in the area,
only about 10% of the species grow on the ground.

Hey does this make my ears look big?

Monteverde, Costa Rica

We have just spent a week in the cloud forest of Monteverde. Zane attended another week of Spanish classes, and the rest of us tried to help the first two weeks of classes sink in with some independent study.

The weather, which is typical of the area, has been quite interesing. Often the sun would be shining on us, yet a strong wind would be pushing the clouds down the mountain and making us wet. Almost always a rainbow is hangng around somewhere. This constant moisture (366 days a year we were told) is what makes the cloud forest thrive. Up to 1/4 of the living mass of the forest is epiphytes - bromiliads, spanish moss, etc.

We walked through the forest both during the day and in the evening. It was quite beautiful, very dense and moist. along the way we saw birds, monkeys, racoons, agoutis (giant rodents), and spiders. Luckily, no snakes.

We visited a bat house, which was very interesting and educational - there are over 100 types of bats including vampires!) in Costa Rica, and more bats flying around at night than birds during the day!  After the demonstrations, we visited the 90 or so resident fruit and nectar eating bats, which were actually very cute hanging from the ceiling eating bits of pineapple and papaya.

We got a bit of the history of the area (which is quite interesting) during our tour of the local cheese factory. Actually even the tour guide also had an interesting history - Costa Rican parents, raised in Wisconsin, now giving tours of the cheese factory in Monteverde.  Monteverde itself, as well as the cheese factory, was founded by a group of Quakers who left the USA around 1950 after being prosecuted for failing to register for the draft. The 11 families came to Costa Rica, which had just gotten rid of their army, bought land in the mountains, named it Monteverde, then tried to figure out how to make a living. Cheese was it. Today the factory takes the milk from about 240 farms, the largest of which has 50 cows. About half the farmers bring their milk to the factory every day in 40 liter milk cans. Along the way the Quakers also donated land to allow the establishment of he first Cloud Forest Reserve in the region.

Next stop, the beach and jungle at Drake Bay in SW Costa Rica.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hummingbirds, Monteverde Costa Rica

Yesterday, after studying Spanish all morning we visited the Hummingbird Gallery whuch is located near the entrance to the Moneverde Cloud Forest reserve. Inside is a gallery, gift shop, and cafe.

Outside is where the action is - there are about 10 hummingbird feeders that are very busy. At any time there may be 10 to 20 hummingbirds around, as well as a few Bananaquits (wishing they were hummingbirds). We saw at least 8 different types of hummingbirds, and they were very entertaining. The birds are quite used to having people around and let people approach them quite closely without flying away.

Coppery-Headed Emerald (Female) - Found Only In Costa Rica

Violet Sabrewing (Male)- Largest Hummingbird In Costa Rica

Green-Crowned Brilliant (Female)

Green-Crowned Brilliant (Male)

Purple-Throated Mountain-Gem (Female)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Photos of Arenal Costa Rica

Waterslide action!

Sunset from the base of Mt Arenal.

Mt Arenal, one of the world's most active volcanoes - though you would not know it from this photo!

Mt Arenal showing a bit of volcanic activity.

Some sort of basilisk lizard, I believe.

Green Iguana.  Tastes like chicken, so I hear.

These Morpho butterflies are especially stunning.

Butterfly on ginger plant.

Sloth doing something unusual - actually moving & scratching!
Note the green algae growing on its arm.

Collared Aracari (small Toucan) coming for breakfast.

World's smallest frog?

Muy bonito rainforest stream, Chachagua.

Rainforest in Chachagua, Costa Rica

Arenal, Costa Rica

After leaving our Tico Familia in San Joaquin, we spent a couple of days in nearby Alajuela.  This coincided with election day in Costa Rica, and the Super Bowl in the USA.  Election day was a rather festive affair, with people driving around flying their polical colors and madly honking their horns.  The favorite, Laura Chinchilla, was elected as the first woman Presidente of Costa Rica.  We did manage to catch most of the Super Bowl as well, and were pleased to see New Orleans emerge victorious.

Then it was on to the area around the Arenal Volcano, one of Costa Rica's most popular tourist destinations.  We spent the first few days south of Arenal proper, near the "town" of Chachagua, at a remote lodge nestled among the rainforest.  The place was pretty much deserted and we enjoyed the surroundings and the many birds, lizards, and frogs to be found there.  Walking through the rainforest was particularly nice.

We took a tour to the Arenal volcano, which is one of the most active in the world, having been continuously active since a massive and surprising eruption in 1968 that killed about 90 people.  THe volcano was quite sleepy during our visit, and in fact hiding behind the clouds, but our guide was very good and gave us plenty of information about the volcano and local environment. It was amazing to walk through what appeared to be a mature forest, but had in fact been growing on bare lava for only about 15 years.

We splurged a bit and spent a day at a flashy hot springs resort at the bottom of the volcano, which was quite nice, complete with hot and cold water slides, and hot pool with the requisite wet bar.  They also had a nice collection of crocodiles, butterflies, and leaf-cutter ants, and we saw lizards and monkeys around the grounds, as well as many kinds of birds.

Refreshed from the hot springs, we spent our last night in La Fortuna, the tourist-trap laden town that caters to the Arenal area, where a good bit of the afternoon and evening was rainy. 

Later today it is the Jeep-Boat-Jeep transport to our next stop, Monteverde.  Zane will have another week of Spanish school, and the rest of us will do our best to study and keep up with him.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Photos From San Joaquin de Flores (and around) Costa Rica

Black Vulture, Sarapiqui river.  They were eating a dead cow floating in the water.

Sarapiqui River.

Leaf cutter ant, Puerto Viejo.

Lunch cooking, Puerto Viejo.

Sloth.  So close on the trail it startled me.

Sloth (just crossed the road), near Puerto Viejo.

Beach near Puerto Viejo, southern caribbean coast.

Church (Catholic, of course), Sarchi.

Finished Ox Cart, Sarchi.

Oxcart factory in Sarchi.  All machines run from a water wheel.

Our Tico familia: Wendy, Mariella, Anna (Mama) and Minor (Papa).

Arriving at Spanish language school, San Joaquin de Flores, Costa Rica.

San Joaquin de Flores, Costa Rica

We have just spent two weeks attending Spanish Language School in the town of San Joaquin de Flores, not too far from Heredia and San Jose in Costa Rica. My brain is hurting! We lived with a Costa Rican (Tico) family, who were very nice to us. However, they did not speak English, so we had plenty of opportunity to practice very basic communication! All of their children and grandchildren lived close by so the house was often full and boisterous. We walked to school in the morning, classes were from 8AM to noon - all Spanish all Morning. The teachers were excellent and we all made some great progress, hopefully a good start in order to survive the next few months.

In the afternoons and weekends we studied or went on outings. We went to the city of Heredia for a walking tour, and to the movies at the local mall (Avatar 3D, English with Spanish subtitles, a few of which I actually understood). We visited the town of Sarchi, which is noted for the production of "traditional" and festively decorated Ox Carts. We visited the "factory" where these were produced. All the power tools were run from a water-wheel. Many belts and wheels running around the place. Each cart is hand-painted, which takes one painter about 2 weeks.

We spent a weekend down on the southern Caribbean coast in the town of Puerto Viejo. Here many of the residents are descended from afro-caribbeans, and the culture is more like Jamaica than Costa Rica. The beaches and jungle are very beautiful. The weather was hot and humid. We were fortunate to be in town for the big surf competition. Watcing the crowd was (for me) just as interesting as watching the contestants. We rented bikes and rode around on the (mostly) dirt roads. I went a little further down the coast and saw many birds, a few monkeys, and two sloths - both very close up. Zane went boogie boarding, and we all ate very well. Sadly, for our Spanish skills, there was not much studying that weekend!

After school ended we took a couple more excursions: a boat trip on the Sarapiqui River, and white-water rafting on the Pacuare River. The sarapiqui river was tranquil and pretty. We saw many monkeys, a sloth, some bats, poison dart frogs, a caiman (small croc), and many birds. The rafting trip was fantastic, 18 miles and 38 rapids, class 3-4, through pristine rainforest. We all agreed perhaps the most beautiful river we had ever seen. Might have even been prettier if I had worn my glasses!! Only Zane took an unplanned swim, and he was hauled back into the raft quickly. Unfortunately no photos from that trip, although we may return!