Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Costa Rica Part 8

The morning after the Big Bang we headed for Nosara, a little beach town on the western coast. We had a 3-hour ride over mostly bumpy, dusty roads. The roads through the larger towns were mostly paved and so were occasional patches out in the country, mostly, it seemed, in front of impressive-looking houses. On the way, we passed this man herding  cattle.

We had a wonderfully relaxing time in Nosara.  We rented a house owned by an American--probably an aging surfer--who had bought the house years ago as an investment. He was now ready to move on to something else, so the house was for sale.

The house came with a pool.  Although David and Simone braved the ocean,  the older folks waded in the ocean but swam in the pool that came with the house.

Barbara made breakfast every morning,

but we had lunch and dinner at local restaurants, all of them very good.

We were charmed by what we took to be "our" resident cat. He darted into the house whenever he had the chance.  Simone and David bought food for him, which he chowed down voraciously. The landlord later informed us that he actually belonged to a neighbor.

On our next-to-the-last evening, we celebrated Ron's birthday by having dinner in the festive outdoor garden of a hotel.  It was a warm, starlit night within sight of the Pacific. A slender crescent moon appeared in the sky, but it did not look like the upright crescent moon seen back home on outhouse doors. This crescent moon looked more like a bowl. We called it the "smiley-face" moon.

On our last full day in Nosara, we went to a nearby hotel for a self-guided nature walk. After descending a newly-built stairway of over 100 steps, we walked along a trail for awhile and soon decided we must have missed a turnoff. The signs were confusing. The older folks decided to return to the hotel. David and Simone opted to continue.

After ascending the 100+ steps, we  found a table on a breezy 0cean-view patio and ordered drinks.  After awhile, we began to be a little concerned about David and Simone. Why weren't they back? We waited some more, chatted some more, drank some more, quietly fretted and still they didn't appear.  Just as Barbara was about to inform the woman at the reception desk that they were lost, David and Simone came crawling up the stairs, sweaty and muddy. The trail was poorly marked. They'd gotten lost.  After wandering forlornly in the wilderness, they found a log stretched across a river and shinnied across that on their butts, trying not to think of crocodiles.

Simone explains how they found their way out of the jungle.

We took little 3-wheel taxis back to the house. Ours got a flat tire. Fortunately, we were fairly close to the house when the tire gave out.

The next morning, our van took us back to San Jose, a ride of about 5 hours. We spent our final night at the Hotel Buena Vista. The hotel van took us to the airport early Monday morning. We said good bye to each other there,  as each couple had a different departure time. Barbara and Ron were headed for Chicago; David and Simone, to Los Angeles, and Phil and I to Baltimore.

Houston was a nightmare. Only three officials were available to check the passports of at least 500 returning, travel-worn, tax-paying citizens. Some people, pleading the need to make a connecting flight in 20 minutes, jumped ahead in line. Others just weaseled under the cordon because they felt entitled.  Tempers flared. Babies cried. Bored officials yawned. 

We reached Baltimore after midnight, watched hopefully for our suitcase to arrive on the carousel, filed a missing suitcase report, found our car without too much trouble in the jam-packed parking lot, went home, fell into our welcoming bed. What a wonderful trip!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Costa Rica Part 7

A "night walk" in the cloud forest was the final scheduled event of our time in Monteverde.  The six of us had our own guide. Oscar was passionate about the cloud forest. His mission in life was impress on visitors  the importance of cherishing and preserving this sanctuary for native plants and animals. He couldn't wait to show as many of the wonderful birds and animals as he could, so he zipped around all over the place. 

Unfortunately, my sense of balance disappears almost completely when it gets dark. I wobble. I list to the side. I zig-zag uncontrollably. In order to show us all the critters, Oscar had us ascending slippery stone staircases, descending slippery stone staircases, moving along dark and winding trails, dodging branches and stumbling over the occasional rock. Soon, I was struggling to keep up with the others. It was misty and I was cold.  Fortunately, Simone offered to let me hold onto her arm, and she guided me along. Kind, dear Simone. I called her my sherpa.

We saw a monkey, sound asleep high in a tree. Catching up with another group and their guide, we saw a toucan, also asleep.  "He wasn't here when I came by last night." Oscar told us. Someone asked, "But doesn't he always sleep in the same place?"  "Of course not," Oscar replied. "He moves around to fool predators." My favorite bird was the beautiful mot mot. Oscar said that if you saw one, you could be sure of spotting its mate nearby. I had already noticed this from our balcony at the lodge, where one on a nearby branch was soon joined by another.

It was a strenuous walk for me and I was very happy to get back to Cala Lodge.  All I wanted to do was to drift off to sleep under a warm, soft quilt in a dark,  quiet room.  Just as I was approaching Dreamland, I was rudely jerked awake by a horrendous sound,  one  tremendous, sharp boom followed by a long-lasting a rumble. What was it? Some kind of thunder heard only in the mountains? A runaway locomotive colliding with a nearby building?  The gas stove exploding in the kitchen?

Almost immediately,  a young man and woman from the staff were hammering on the door, calling out, "Are you all right?" My husband was still up. He let them in.  "We're fine," he replied.

"A tree came down on the building!" they said.

"Yes," said Phil, "I can show you where it fell."

He opened the door to our balcony.  The tree had fallen very close to our room, splintering part of the roof.

"We can move you to another room," the woman offered.

"No thanks," we said. I wanted to stay put. Our room was fine.  The noise and the sudden awakening were by far the worst part of Horror # 4. 

The next morning, before leaving for Nosara, we saw the damage caused by the wild avocado tree. The owner and his assistant were already busy with a chain saw.

On the balcony, the morning after. Damage to roof visible just to the right. 

The view from below. Balcony seen through branches above roof on lower level.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Costa Rica Part 6

I think my favorite excursion was to the coffee farm. Phil and I went by ourselves, as the other four had taken the tour the previous day while Phil was at the dentist.

The farm as very small. The family's modest house was surrounded by a yard full of lovely flowers, which had a purpose, as we were soon to learn.

We were the first to arrive for a tour that day.  Gabriella, the farmer's young interpreter, asked if we would mind waiting for an hour until another group arrived. (The group comprised two dozen dentists from Seattle and their traveling companions.) "No problem," we said. We spent an hour that balmy spring morning enjoying the flowers and hanging out with the family's cat, who was sunning on the patio.

As soon as the dentists arrived in their posh Toyota tour bus, the farmer invited us to inspect some coffee plant seedlings in pots.  My brother-in-law, Ron, wrote the following paragraph, which nicely summarizes what the farmer told us: 

On Monday, we (Ron, Barbara, David and Simone) visited a small organic coffee farm. It was nothing like what I expected. The coffee trees, only four to eight feet high, are not arranged in rows, as in larger commercial farms, but helter-skelter on the small hills on the side of the mountain. Interspersed among them are fruit trees of every description: lemon, lime, grapefruit, mango, avocado, orange, and more. The fruit is never picked! Rather, it drops to the ground, to provide nutrients for the coffee trees, which receive no commercial fertilizer. 

There are also orchids and other flowers everywhere, in order to attract the bees that pollinate the coffee flowers. When one breaks the shell off one of these coffee beans, one can taste the honey on the bean. Large coffee producers wash off this honey through their vigorous washing system, but here, the washing is more gentle, and the honey remains on the bean, making coffee taste sweeter and more chocolate. The mix of coffee trees, fruit trees, and flowers made this yet another beautiful vista.

Ron added:
The cloud forests are changing, because of global warming, and are very fragile. Plants that are rooted in the earth can tolerate periods of little rain, but epiphytes (such as orchids) cannot survive three days without moisture. For now, this is a very, very, special place, and I am enormously grateful to have been able to be in it.


After we had seen the coffee plants at various stages of growth, the farmer told us about the production of coffee. He took us into a small one-room cabin where his wife had lived as a child with her parents, brothers and sisters. He showed us how the beans were laboriously ground and  roasted in his grandparents' day.

Gabriella, our guide, explains how beans were roasted years ago.

We were then shown modern production methods, from harvesting, drying, roasting, and bagging.  The tour ended in in a little coffee house (which was being enlarged in compliance with government regulations). Our hosts served everyone cake and their own home-grown coffee. It was a delightful day.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Costa Rica Part 5

This morning after breakfast we walked to the nearby butterfly garden, where we had a guided tour.  Our enthusiastic guide was a young American woman who’d gone to college to study design, lost interest in her chosen field, dropped out, come to Costa Rica, fallen in love with the country and found her life’s work in environmental studies.  She escorted us through several large netted enclosures where the butterflies lived, mated and died.  In the first enclosure, the butterflies lived entirely on sugar water.  As the day progressed, the sun’s heat fermented the sugar water. As evening approached, the butterflies became slightly drunk. After three weeks of daily happy hours, they passed away. 

In another, larger enclosure, they lived on cut-up fruit, such as papaya.  Because of the vitamins and minerals in the fruit, these butterflies lived a few weeks longer than the sugar-water group. 

We also learned about the regimented work lives of the resident ants, saw specimens of hundreds of local insects, were amazed at the size and intricacy of several spider webs,  and heard a few hair-raising tales about scorpions hiding in boots.

I liked this sign outside the rest room in the reception area.

In the afternoon, we headed for Selvatura Park.  Our van soon caught up with a dozen riderless horses, all wearing saddles, which were trotting along in an orderly line. A helmeted cowperson on a moped was herding them. The van driver had to poke along behind them until they abruptly turned left and went down another road. 

At the park, we walked through a series of bridges suspended high near the top of the canopy, marveling at the profusion of trees and ferns.  A narrow steam of water meandered far, far below.  The air was filled with bird song. 

Phil, my sister, Barbara, and brother-in-law, Ron

Eventually, we noticed a peculiar zinging noise. Before long, we realized the zinging noise, sometimes accompanied by a scream, was coming from a couple of  ziplines, which could be seen from several of the bridges.

The zipline is a Costa Rican invention. It has escaped from its homeland and is seen in recreational areas world wide, including one at Savage Mill, not far from our home in Laurel, MD. Phil offered Ron a zipline ride for his 82nd birthday, which fell on Wednesday, midway through our vacation.  Ron said he’d think about it.