Costa Rica

15th - 30th January 2018

A hazard of flying to your destination is the lack of control over who sits beside you. When that person is carrying some kind of major snot plague, it can really affect your enjoyment of your holiday. Phil was unlucky but battled on to make the most of our trip to Costa Rica. Things became worse when our flight was delayed due to a mechanical fault and the pre-ordered special meal failed to arrive. Life seemed much better once we arrived in San Jose.

The next morning, after a trip to the office of the travel company, we had many new, mostly Scandinavian friends as we'd booked with a Danish tour company. We opted to walk back to the city and see the sights with Annette and Jack from Denmark. The holiday we'd booked was a tour of sorts, travel was independent rather than in a group, yet you kept running into people who were on more-or-less the same itinerary. It was a great way to travel and by chance our new buddies were with us throughout our tour, if not necessarily on the same transport between locations.

The travel rep had recommended lunch at the Central Market in the city at one of the many 'Sodas'. These were snack bars offering three course lunches for local workers at reasonable prices and the location allowed us to enjoy the hustle, bustle and bizarreness of the local market while we ate.

The reason for the marching band accompanied by people dressed in giant papier-mache heads was unclear to us, but fun to watch. This was followed by a display of local dancing right in the middle of the market hall.

We stopped in at the Costa Rican National Bank's Pre-Columbian Gold Museum to check out the ancient gold artwork, mostly salvaged from tombs.

Annette admires the sculpture in the park.

Entertainment at the market

Annette and Jack at the Soda

Local dancing demonstration

Pre-columbian Gold

City life wasn't the reason for visiting Costa Rica and the next morning, extremely early, we were headed to our next venue, Mawamba Lodge in the Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast of the country. The journey took a while. After a breakfast stop and an hour long trip along a bumpy and often almost submerged dirt road, we reached the boat terminal.

The only access to the National Park and the village of the same name is by a boat ride of around an hour through dense jungle. The continuous downpour made it difficult to load passengers and luggage onto the boat without everything getting soaked and the glimpses of the jungle we were able to see through the steamed-up rain covers were tantalising but frustrating as we wove our way down narrow channels to reach the lodge.

Local artwork in Tortuguero Village.

Our pet iguana at the lodge

After an extensive buffet style lunch at the lodge - the Costa Rican's certainly wouldn't let you starve during your visit - we headed by boat to the nearby village for a guided tour. With Phil now in need of relief from the plague, we sought out a pharmacy. Giselle our guide informed us that there was no pharmacy, but that she 'knew a man'.

Suspicious, we headed to the souvenir shop she'd indicated and explained the problem in rusty Spanish. 'The man' disappeared into a small locked cupboard in the back of the store and returned with two partial blister packs of tablets. As best we could understand one was a painkiller, the other some kind of cold remedy. Tablets were sold individually and, still a little uncertain, we purchased enough to tide the patient over until we would reach somewhere with a 'proper' pharmacy. Whatever they were they helped.

We walked the mile back from the village, which resulted in another soaking in the pouring rain, but sightings of both of Costa Rica's sloth species, three-and two-toed. We were so excited as our one ambition for our trip to Costa Rica had already been fulfilled.

The next morning we toured the grounds of the lodge with a knowledgeable guide and spotted more sloths, many types of birds including toucans, and bats which lived in the eaves of the accommodation blocks. Another deluge cut our tour short, leaving the butterfly and frog gardens to visit the next day.

Everything was soaked, even our waterproofs and in the high humidity there were no signs of anything drying. Hearing that thick poncho style waterproofs were available in the town, we volunteered to head back there and pick some up for ourselves and other guests before our boat tour that afternoon. This act alone, of course, ensured we wouldn't need them, so it was well worth the trek. Medicine for a cough was now required so we also paid a visit to 'the man'. Today's remedy came in a more recognisable form.

The Mawamba Lodge's resident toucans

Pet sloth above our room.

Blue-Jeans frog in the frog garden

Croc sunbathing

We were lucky to see many types of wildlife on our boat tour of the National Park, mostly thanks to the brilliant observational skills of the boat captain. Sloths, Monkeys, many birds and even crocodiles were pointed out by our guides. It was an amazing experience and as our schedule allowed an extra day at the lodge it was possible to do it all again the next afternoon.

Another perk of the extra day's stay was that we, Jack and Annette were offered a steak lunch at an exclusive table for four.

Fortunately for the trip back to civilization, the rain held off and it was possible to open the sides of the boat to give us a good view of the amazing jungle waterways.

Back at the boat terminal serious measures were needed to get passengers ashore without wading through deep mud. Our bus was delayed due to a fallen tree blocking the road and then some roadworks slowed our journey, but while we waited in the traffic queue, a sloth entertained us by walking along the phone lines beside the road carrying her baby on her stomach.

After another heavy meal in Guapiles, we changed bus to head for the city of La Fortuna close to the Arenal Volcano. Our hotel was close to the city centre yet had a lovely riverside garden and swimming pool. Unfortunately we had yet to see the sun in Costa Rica!

Sloth family sidling by the window.

La Fortuna.

The famous cone-shaped Arenal volcano was rarely visible from the city due to low clouds and according to Jack, who snapped the only photo, we missed the few seconds at 6 am when there was suddenly a clear view.

We took a guided hike up to the lava flows of the volcano, which only stopped erupting ten years earlier, and were able to glimpse more wildlife, including sloths, on the way.

The next blissful stop was at Ecotermales Hot springs for a soak in the volcano heated pools, a few drinks and dinner.

Annette and Jack at the Lava Flow

The route to Monteverde, our next destination, high in the cloud forest, involved a boat ride across Lake Arenal followed by a mini-bus ride along winding, gravel roads.

In Monteverde, where the wind always seemed to howl, we were keen to visit the town's 'Bat Jungle'. Fortunately we arrived in time to tag along with a tour which had just started and learned a lot about the much-maligned creatures from our enthusiastic guide. We spent as long as we wanted just observing the bats flying, feeding and sleeping before heading back to town for a lovely dinner with Annette, Jack, Peter and Joan at 'The Green'.

The road to Monteverde

First view of the Pacific Ocean on the way to Monteverde

Bat Jungle

The reason for the stay in Monteverde was to walk the 'Sky Walk' through the cloud forest canopy. We were lucky to make an early start before the rain began and the crowds gathered.

Despite the elevation of the suspended walkways, when surrounded by the tree tops you never really felt high up, which was good for the not-so-fond-of-heights members of our party.

At one point our wildlife guide got very excited and seized Christine's camera to take some shots of an apparently rare bird. The rain started just as our walk through the tree-tops was drawing to a close. The cloud canopy earned its name, but we had our trusty ponchos.

While we waited for our ride back to town, we watched an enterprising White Nosed Coati making its way from vehicle to vehicle in the car park in search of snacks.

Walking through the tree tops

The rare Barred Something-or-other

Not so rare Ponchoed Danes

White Nosed Coati

That afternoon we visited Monteverde's 'Herpetarium' and enjoyed the displays of local snakes and frogs. Our entry included a return visit in the early evening when the animals became more active, which proved well worthwhile.

As we headed for the Pacific Coast for our final stop at Manuel Antonio National Park, we finally saw the sun. Our hotel was quirky, consisting in part of airplanes abandoned by the CIA after the Nicaragua crisis, which were fashioned into a cocktail bar and rooms here and there. Our room was more conventional and the balcony offered great sea views.

Monteverde's Herpetarium

View from our balcony at Manuel Antonio Park

Visitors in the garden - Squirrel Monkey

We took the local bus to the busy park. It was much visited by locals and particularly on the weekend. The resident wildlife had learned to take advantage of this and were renowned for stealing food from the bags of people enjoying the beach.

We walked to the beach, catching sight of Sloths, Howler Monkeys, Capuchin Monkeys and Raccoons.

Back at the hotel we made the most of the sunshine and swimming pools before developing a taste for Piña Coladas at the bar across the road!

Howler Monkey


Capuchin Monkey

Thieving Raccoon on the beach

Waiting at the bus stop

Ex-CIA planes

After two blissful days in Manuel Antonio, it was time to head back to San Jose ready to fly home the next day.

We managed to fit in a visit to the Spirogyra Jardin de Mariposas, a butterfly filled haven of tranquility in the busy city which we'd spotted in the guidebook, but which locals seemed to have no idea existed. After an hour unwinding in the company of multi-coloured, fluttery friends we left the garden to be confronted with a stray cow. Unusual to find in the city, it was beginning to attract attention. We could only wonder where it originated.

Spirogyra Butterfly Garden

Do we even want to know what that cow is doing in the city?

We arranged to meet up with Jack and Annette for our final dinner together and headed out in search of food. This proved tricky as San Jose seemed to close early on Sundays. When we were beginning to fear our only option was fast food, we finally came across the "Burro Loco", an intriguing establishment serving local food in a cafe downstairs and with a cacophony coming from the karaoke bar upstairs. We realised just how fine we had cut it when we'd just sat down to order and they closed the shutters behind us. Were we to be trapped until we performed karaoke? Fortunately not.

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