Friday, January 24, 2014

Costa Rica: Coming Home

Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014

We are on our way home from Costa Rica. We must leave behind this beautiful weather and go home to below freezing temperatures.

All my adult life I have suffered from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) from October/November to April. My vibrant summer health slowly disappears and my life becomes a struggle of survival, going to work, then coming home to crash. And if I should catch a cold, life becomes more difficult. A couple of years ago a friend suggested, "How about going away to sun and warmth in the middle of winter, like January or February?" Why had I never thought of that? Possibly because when you have four children with school schedules, vacations must come when they have time off.

As my health continued to decline this winter, I caught some virus which may have eventually led to a bronchial infection, maybe even a touch of pneumonia. Tom had the virus before me, so we were both coughing much as we started our Costa Rican vacation. We were hoping this rest in the sun would restore our health. The first half of our trip was in the tropical wet forest. Although we did not see much sun, I noticed that Tom was tanning. Daily we noticed our coughing decreased until it disappeared.

As we wait in the airport, we are aware that we are fully back to our summer health. To wake up feeling well is one of the blessings in life I treasure. I hope this will carry me through the remaining winter months! We have already decided that we will spend one week every winter in some type of tropical region.

And back in the icebox...-2 °F!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Costa Rica: Beach Life

Tuesday & Wednesday, Jan. 21–22, 2014

Our hotel, El Jardin del Eden (The Garden of Eden) is in the center of Tamarindo, the beach-town we are staying in on the Pacific.

We start each day here with with a fabulous breakfast in the hotel’s open-air restaurant under a thatched roof of palm branches, next to the pool.
Breakfast includes all the fresh fruit you can eat: watermelon, pineapple, passion fruit, cantaloupe, and bananas.

We strolled along the main street in Tamarindo, the small beach town we are staying in. There are restaurants aplenty as well as little shops. I even bought a sundress to wear to the hot, sizzling beach.

We ventured out many times during the day to the beach and into town. We always had our cool room to recover from the sun and the heat!

A delicious cold smoothie break as we walk is sooo soothing in such weather!

The highlight of the day was watching the “stunning sunset” advertised in the brochure. The sun sets at 5:45pm. We were at the beach by 5:20, strolling toward the sunset. Oh my goodness, I have never seen the sun set so quickly. Within minutes, the sun sank 30 degrees and disappeared behind the rocks. The beautiful rays of sunlight swiftly gave way to darkness. By 6:20 pm, it looked like it should be 10 pm. Shops that were lively till sunset hurried to close up, and people scurried from the darkening beach. We knew we needed to get to a smoothie shop before they closed.

Yet the half hour before sunset was so romantic. There was such a large crowd at the beach, strolling, swimming, fishing, laughing, and playing. We walked holding hands, talking and watching so many activities around us. There were more people at this time than during the overly hot daytime. I think every sunset is a big event here. We will experience another full day at this town famous for its beach, surfing, and sunsets!

The walk to and from the beach and town is quite pleasant. From the hotel, we have a private access that takes us past the pool and gardens, then through a long narrow walkway lined with palms.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Costa Rica: River Rafting and Onward to the Pacific

Monday, Jan. 20, 2014

Today we had a two-hour safari float on the Rio Tenorio.

Our first transporter was Erik, who picked us up at 6:50am. About two hours into our travel, he stopped at a small town for a snack break. We were not hungry after having eaten a large breakfast at the hotel. It turned out he had not eaten anything yet. He was consuming a hefty meal. It would have been fun to eat with him.

As we continued the drive, Erik would give a brief history of this town or that. Also he stopped our car so that we could get out and see a two-toed sloth crossing the road in the rain by hanging from the power lines. We stood there without umbrella and rain gear and took pictures. It was a steady drizzle. 

During the next hour of the drive, as we were coming down from the mountains, the weather changed to dry, sunny, and hot. When we reached the rafting site, Erik introduced us to 2 other transporters. He unloaded our luggage and drove off.

Our two new transporters were Diego and Salim (Tom heard Alan, but to my ears Salim). Diego would point out highlights of our travel. Whenever we hit an especially rough patch in the road, he would blurt out, "Yeehaw!" (cowboy style) which amused us. Quiet Salim/Alan told us that he would be our raftman. He asked us if we were married. Then he asked us if we had any babies. When we told him we had four, he exclaimed, "Four babies!”  When we told him we were grandparents, his eyes got big.

This was a WONDERFUL and such a peaceful raft ride down the river. Just Tom and I and Salim, who loved what he was doing. He said he was on vacation every day, and he gets to exercise the whole time rowing for us. He would point out interesting trees, such as mahogany, balsa, cashew, and paprika. He stopped for animals such as crocodiles, howler monkeys, various types of iguanas and oh so many different kinds of birds (blue heron, kingfisher, osprey, ibis, tiger heron) for Tom to take pictures.

He said because it is dry season, the river water is much lower. He learned to speak English by talking to people while going down the river.

We stopped for a snack.
Salim cut up a fresh pineapple,
and we drank orange juice.
After a two hour ride, Diego met us. He said he napped waiting for us to come down the river. So he was happy and chipper, and Yeehaw-ed when he saw us. So these two drove us to a restaurant for a meal. Then they drove off.

So what happens now! We were eating our lunch but wondering where our connection to our final destination was. I asked the restaurant host if we have our luggage. He said Yes. OK now what!!? When we were almost done eating, Diego and Salim/Alan drove up. I was a bit relieved. Now I could ask them what happens to us!

Diego told us that he would be driving us to the town of Tamarindo on the Pacific coast. Whew!!! Now the car was in full A/C. It is hot, dry, and sunny outside!

We made a brief stop in the city of Liberia, where Tom bought a charger for his iPad from a street vendor.

Then on to Tamarindo and the Pacific.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Costa Rica: A Lazy Day of Rest

Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014
This morning was a bit chilly. I woke up to a gentle rain. It rained most of the night and couple of hours in the morning, then again in the evening. The rain is misty. You can see many people without umbrellas or raincoats. I wanted to see our beautiful view, so I wrapped myself in a blanket and went out to our back porch.

Later, our cleaning lady used the same blanket and Tom's to make two love birds in the shape of a heart. Awwww!

Today was a wonderful lazy day. We spent the whole day walking, bird watching, taking pictures, sitting in Jacuzzi, eating, and just enjoying being together...


Costa Rica: Tropical Wet Forest

These are just some pictures of our Arenal Hanging Bridges tour in the tropical wet forest. It was a misty, wet day.

Way in the distance you can see people standing on a
mid tier bridge. This was taken from a canopy bridge. 
Tom and I at ground level
This is an unusual flower!

If you look really closely, there
is a large insect (~6 in. long) on
the left side of the hanging

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Costa Rica: Arrival and First Adventures

Friday, Jan 17, 2014

We arrived in Panama City at 2:20pm. When we walked out of the airplane, it felt like we were in a sauna. Here I am, black turtleneck, long sleeves, and heavy long sweater. How did all the other people dress for the weather and they boarded the plane in Chicago in freezing cold weather same as us? I took off my sweater. Now I am carrying my coat, scarf, sweater, backpack, purse, and luggage. Next time I will layer clothing in such a way that I can be in a summer outfit upon arrival.

Costa Rica...arrived at 3:45pm.  Cloudy here with drizzle. This special guy Adrian spent 4 hours with us, driving us to our hotel in Fortuna. He told us that Costa Ricans are easy-going, friendly people. They commonly use the phrase pura vida to describe how they’re feeling. He drove us up a mountain 3800 feet above sea level on the way to Fortuna. In fact, we were driving in the clouds, and at times it got quite scary winding in and out on a narrow mountain road in the fog and rain.

Then we stopped to have a real local Costa Rican dinner at a small Mom & Pop restaurant (locals call this kind of restaurant a soda). Delicious. We had casado pollo. Casado is rice, beans, salad, and fried plantain. Then you add grilled chicken, beef, or fish. This is a very typical Costa Rican food. Adrian said he can eat that for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So could I.

Finally we arrived at our accomodations for the next two days—Lomas del Volcan (hill of the volcano), a rustic mountain cabin, yet extremely nice, clean, and well furnished. Also, a balcony with a view.
So our first day starting at 6am O’Hare airport, we arrived at our destination after 8pm at our lovely and scenic cabin at Lomas del Volcan in Fortuna. No late night adventures for us...we pretty much went right to bed!

Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014
Woke up to soft rain. Back porch view is BEAUTIFUL… lush and green! I could stay in this little cabin for a whole week decompressing from work and deadlines.

Arenal Hanging Bridges Tour

Since our tour started at 7:30am, we had an early breakfast. It was super nutritious and delicious! Beans and rice, fresh pineapple, passion fruit, and watermelon, baked plantains, sausage (an unfamiliar variety), and some finely chopped vegetable dish.

We had a fantastic guide named Carlos who is passionate about the whole ecosystem. This region is a Wet Tropical Forest (different than rain forest). Some areas near here are called cloud forest. Last night’s mountain drive must have been through a cloud forest. The whole time during our tour, Carlos was always looking for interesting birds, monkeys, trees, sybiotic plant life...all too interesting yet hard to remember all he said. He says he could easily give an eight hour tour, and I believe him. There were so many trees with more than one other plant growing on them, some as a parasite, but others  in a symbiotic manner where one plant helps the other to thrive.

During our walk, we were at three different tiers of the forest. We crossed hanging bridges at each tier of the forest—ground layer, mid layer, and canopy layer.

Both in the tropical forest area and at our cabin, which is at the base of Arenal Volcano, we would normally have great views of the volcano, but alas, the fog has obscured it. Yet I love the mist and gentle soft rain.

As we are sitting at our lovely porch, Tom is noticing so many birds that are different than what we are used to in the US Midwest. So our serene resting place has become a place of bird watching while we are sipping our coffee.