Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Costa Rica Part 3

Very bright and very early on Sunday morning Victor arrived to guide us on a bird-and-plant tour of the world-renowned Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.  But first we enjoyed Cala Lodge’s complimentary breakfast. Each guest was given a small plate of cut-up tropical fruits and a glass of orange juice. You could then choose from a menu offering granola with milk or yogurt, an omelet or the lodge’s special breakfast of eggs with rice and beans.  The delicious coffee came from a small, local farm and the home-made marmalade came from the owner’s old family recipe.

Off we went to Monte Verde. The parking lot was already crowded with “Turismo” vans and buses when we arrived. Crowds of tourists were waiting at the gate. Victor led us in, carrying his tripod. He told us how Monteverde was settled in the early 50’s by a group of Friends (Quakers) from the United States. They came as dairy farmers, but soon realized that the cloud forest had to be preserved, so they set much of their land aside as a refuge for plants and animals. The forest is a great profusion of trees, plants, ferns, bushes, shrubs, orchids and bromeliads.  Birds call from the tree tops, but it takes a trained eye to spot them and bring them to your attention. Victor pointed his telescope on this large black bird, which he said was a kind of turkey.  (He took the picture for us by placing the camera against the lens of the telescope.)

Here is a photo of the quetzal, which everyone hopes to see during a visit to the forest. (Picture also taken by Victor, who was sorry it didn't turn out "better." I was really pleased with it.)

Phil was intrigued by this “strangler fig,” a parasite that encloses and eventually kills its host tree.

During the ride back to the lodge, Victor told Phil he wouldn’t mind going to hell because he liked heat. He had visited Minnesota in the winter as a teen, arriving without a warm coat, and had been shocked at how bone-chillingly cold it was. In later years, he experienced extreme coldness again when he travelled to Amherst, MA to learn about biodiversity and conservation. Phil joked that the devil would probably see to it that there was a special cold place in hell just for Victor.

Back at the lodge, we had a problem. Two years ago Phil began feeling—not pain, he assured me—but what I guess he would have called “twinges” in his upper right bicuspid. The left bicuspid had long ago been replaced by an implant, after he’d cracked it by chewing ice. This is a man who has wonderful teeth, except for this couple of rogue outliers.  When a filling recently fell out of the right bicuspid,  he assured me that the dentist said it would be “fine” to leave things alone as long as the tooth didn’t bother him. Well, on Saturday night it began to bother him just a little. He said, “Be sure to remind me to have this tooth looked at when we get home.” Now, on Sunday night,  he said the words that opened the door to Horror # 2. “My tooth really hurts and we’re not going home for a week. I don’t know what to do.”  He talked to Barbara and Ron and we all agreed he’d have to see a dentist as soon as possible. The pain kept him awake all night.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Costa Rica Part 2

The sign said Hotel Buena Vista: a Chic Hotel. It was a small hotel, in Alajuela, a suburb of San Jose.  A row of lawn chairs in the little patio garden looked out over a distant San Jose spread out below, its lights twinkling as darkness fell. Sunset was around 10 minutes to six, so darkness was not long in falling.

Our room was on the second floor, with a tiny balcony. We heard a birdsong that sounded like a ringing cellphone. Downstairs, in the dining room, the van driver turned out to be our waiter.  We ordered dinner—a conventional menu with Costa Rican touches—and while we were eating, Barbara appeared.  She and Ron had started their day in Chicago and arrived later then we did. David and Simone, flying Alaska Airlines (!) from Los Angeles, were still en route. We didn’t talk long with Barbara and were soon asleep in our comfy queen-sized bed. Gotta say, the hotel had advanced plumbing. Everywhere else we went, we had to put used toilet paper in a strategically-placed lidded waste basket. It took me nearly a week to learn to do this consistently, which necessitated some icky fishing expeditions.

David and Simone showed up the next morning at breakfast.  At 9 AM, we six piled into a van for a 3-hour ride to Monteverde.  It was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride all over again. Costa Rica is a small country.  It’s about the size of West Virginia, covering a little less than 20,000 square miles.  That’s why we were surprised to see a large body of water to the west as we climbed toward Monteverde.  We guessed it was a lake until the driver set us straight:  we were looking at the Gulf of Nicoya, which is part of the Pacific Ocean.  

After many miles on a rough and winding road, we arrived at Cala Lodge in Santa Elena, the gateway town to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. 

The lodge was owned and operated by a family. Vases and paintings of cala lilies brightened the reception/dining area. Each couple had a “junior suite,” a room with a balcony, a private bath and two beds with forest-green quilts, a queen and a twin. We were too tired to do much else than have pizza at a nearby restaurant and fall into bed. Costa Rica prides itself on encouraging an earth-friendly lifestyle. Signs in the bathroom urged guests not to waste water, to re-use their towels, and to use the same sheets throughout their stay.  Costa Rica has also banned the use of Styrofoam for take-out. I was delighted to see that the box in which I brought my leftover pizza back to the room was made of sturdy paper, unlike anything I have seen before. So there is a life after Styrofoam after all!

Overnight, a roaring wind made Ron dream he was back in Chicago. It woke my husband, Phil,  at 3 AM.  He went out on the balcony. Millions of stars in a cloud-free sky twinkled down on him.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Costa Rica Part 1

Flower placed at entrance to shower stall at Hotel Buena Vista

March 14, 2019

Dear friends and family,

We are back from our trip to Costa Rica.  The trip was thoughtfully planned by my sister, Barbara, who is more seasoned a traveler than I am, which made it all the more delightful.  We traveled with her and her husband, Ron, who celebrated his 82nd birthday in a foreign cloud forest, as well as their son, David, and his wife, Simone.  We enjoyed getting to know David and Simone better. Simone turned out to be my Sherpa on some of the more perilous hikes.

On March 1 it snowed in Laurel. Bundled up in winter coats, we parked our car at the Baltimore airport at 4:45 AM and were on the plane to Houston by departure time at 6:00 AM.  In Houston, we walked as fast as our elderly feet would take us to make connections with the plane to San Jose.  No time between flights to grab anything to eat, and American carriers no longer provide meals. You have to purchase them. The pretzels were good and so were the cookie, the coke and the juice.  Horror # 1: on the HoustonàSan Jose flight, while fumbling with the ear buds to watch an in-flight movie, I dropped my hearing aid down the space between the seats. All I could see down there was a jumble of unforgiving metal mechanisms which would surely crush the hearing aid or put it forever out of reach if I tried to move anything. Fortunately, the man beside me in the aisle seat located it.  I gave up on the ear buds and watched Can You Ever Forgive Me? without sound at least 3 times before returning to Baltimore. It’s about a writer who did something bad.

Arrived in San Jose late in the afternoon.  Going through customs took forever, but soon we were outside looking for the promised van from Hotel Buena Vista.  At least 300 greeters/drivers were waiting, some holding signs that said things like “Welcome, Bill and Melanie”.  Total confusion. The hotel had advised us to e-mail them in advance to arrange transportation and we all had tried. All we received from them was a message, in Spanish, that said, “Thank you for your e-mail. We will reply as soon as possible.”  Repeated e-mails elicited the same response, so we gave up and hoped for the best.  After all, we had reservations and they knew we were coming.  Still, there we were, tired and hungry and stranded.  A lively little lady of about 70 seemed to be there to guide and direct the lost.  She had us sit on a certain bench and told us to just wait.  She stressed that above all, we were not to take any taxi.  Eventually a van from Hotel Buena Vista showed up. We had the first of our “Mr.-Toad’s-Wild-Ride”-type trips during our stay in Costa Rica. Up the mountain the little van roared, heedless of the abrupt no-guard-rail drop-offs  and the many rocks in the road.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

And Still It Snows

Enjoying a snow day in suburban Washington, DC.  The schools and county government offices are all closed.  No zumba class for me today. I think I'll make waffles for lunch.