Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Remarkable Pacific Coast - Manuel Antonio Park

After a half day bus ride from Monteverde, we arrived at the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. The hotel Si Como No was in a lush tropical setting on the hillside with a spectacular view of the Pacific, although it was not a place for those weak at the knees as it was on a steep incline.  However, it had the advantage of being on its own nature reserve, including a butterfly garden.  There was also a resident toucan that we could see from our bedroom window a couple of mornings and a three-toed sloth on a tree just in front of our building. Too bad we missed the bird walks they held early in the morning - I've heard they were quite productive. 

View from the lobby of Si Como No
The resident toucan

Three-toed sloth - the first time I could actually see the face of a sloth!

We spent a morning hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park, encountering unusual wildlife native to the area, including an unusual owl like bird called a Potoo.  The trail led us to a gorgeous sandy beach.  It was a wonderful experience swimming again in the warm waters of the Pacific - I was reliving my childhood!  White-faced capuchin monkeys were hanging around the beach area, ready to steal bags from unaware bathers.  They looked very cute - when they don't have your bag.

One of several wonderful sandy beaches at Manuel Antonio 

The Potoo - an owl like creature, well-camouflaged in the forest - it looked like a tree trunk!

White-tailed deer giving its faun a shove
A nephila spider and its web

White-faced capuchin monkeys

Lowland Jesus Christ lizard

One morning, a catamaran took us out to sea for sightings of a family of dolphins and the brown booby, a seabird that supposedly always shows up near the dolphins.  It was my first encounter with wild dolphins - what an amazing experience!



Brown booby

Heliconia butterfly

Mating ritual of Heliconia

Morpho butterfly in the Butterfly Garden

Flock of scarlet macaws beside the highway to Manuel Antonio

Ctenosaur lizard on the hotel grounds

It was January when we visited and the heat and humidity was bearable.  What amazed me was the complete lack of mosquitoes - we were able to enjoy our evenings dining in restaurants that were all open air, without having to worry about bug bites even though we were right in the midst of the tropical rainforest.

The beautiful Pacific Coast was the last stop on our Costa Rican journey.  We returned to San Jose after spending three days in the park.  The return trip was uneventful except for a mouth-watering stop at a fruit stand on the way - we bought the sweetest, most fragrant mango we ever tasted...

For our food experience in Costa Rica, please check Foodsparks, the food blog.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The "Cloud" Forest and coffee plantation visit

Monteverde, in the northern part of Costa Rica, is famous for its cloud forests, characteristically wet with low cloud cover.  But when we visited, there were no clouds to be found, only blue skies and dry weather.  While we were happily hiking in the sun, our guide thought it was worrisome and hoped that it's just a temporary El Nino effect and not permanent climate change that's affecting the cloud forest.  As its name implies, if there are no clouds, there won't be any cloud forests, as the critical weather conditions for its survival is missing.

This is also where people go ziplining so they can see the forest canopy in closeup.  I stuck to the hanging bridges, still a great way to see the forest canopy and I can take pictures!   Our guide pointed out lots of flora but the only wildlife I saw was a click beetle and the humming birds that were attracted to the feeders in the Humming Bird Garden near the entrance.

After a morning in the cloud forest park, we went to a coffee plantation for lunch.  The tour of the coffee plantation was very interesting and we had a lot of fun with the local guide - a standup comedian!   We learned a lot about the coffee plant and what it looked like, how it was processed and what constitutes the best coffee - light roast as opposed to dark roast. Best of all, we got to sample each kind of roasts at the end of the visit and also ate out of a fresh cut cocoa bean and sampled chocolate made from it.  It was a really enjoyable visit.

Humming birds in the Humming Bird Garden

Tree fern

One of many trees being strangled by vines, typical in the cloud forest

Seed of a wild avocado tree

The lush cloud forest canopy

The beautiful hanging bridge #4 and the posted sign on its capacity (only 50 persons? and no mention of weight!)

An orchid growing on a tree trunk

A rather unusual click beetle

The coffee berry on the tree and opened up.

Coffee beans! 

Cocoa beans

And finally, I love this image of a coffee plantation worker who seemed to be enjoying himself even though he was literally arm deep in coffee husks!  

Pura vida, as they say in Costa Rica...

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Arenal National Park hike

Our second day in Arenal, we went on a hike in the forest at the foot of the volcano.   Rafael, our very knowledgeable guide, pointed out different features in the forest, making it a very interesting hike.  Most of it was an easy stroll on the trail but the last half was over lava rocks, some of it quite steep and uneven.  But the sight of the volcano close up was worth it.  

The trail.

A nephila spider and its web.

This is called a "backbone" tree - looks tall and healthy, but it's hollow inside!

A tank bromeliad - they were everywhere, on the ground and on tree trunks.

Ant-hill of the leaf-cutter ant

A leaf-cutter ant carrying its load

The lava rock trail
Many beautiful orchids along the trail...

Lava rock

At the foot of the ever elusive Mt. Arenal

After the hike, we drove around the man-made Lake Arenal and had lunch in a restaurant on its shores - a pretty place memorable for its nice patio and huge homegrown macadamias.  We arrived in Monteverde after a long bumpy ride on pot-holed roads, almost an indirect way to protect the cloud forests from intruding tourists.

A beautiful sunset in Monteverde