Wednesday, July 2, 2014


June 23, 2014

Arenal Backpacker's Resort
I got up (I really have to concentrate on not omitting pronouns, now, when I speak English, after so many months of speaking Spanish.) even earlier than usual, because my shuttle was coming at 8:00 and I wanted to be sure I was breakfasted and ready in time.  That turned out to be fortunate because, when I returned from my shower, the mechanism had jammed and I could not get my key into the padlock on my tent.  It took two men from the maintenance department and some big bolt cutters to get it off for me.  That was stressful, but it all worked out fine and I was packed and ready long before the shuttle arrived.

Not wanting to spend the night in San Jose, I had booked a ride on an Interbus Shuttle.  It was a wonderful service.  They drove me door to door for $49, which I would have spent, anyway, if I had taken the bus, because I would have needed to pay for a hotel and taxis in San Jose.  The van was clean and comfortable.  When the driver learned I spoke Spanish, he invited me to sit up front with him, so I had lots of room and he offered a running commentary as we crossed the country, which was very interesting.  It took us about five
Interbus Shuttle
hours to make the drive.  The first part of the trip involved climbing up over the Cordillera de Tilaran and down into the city of San Ramon.  That took us about an hour and a half.  The road was very curvy and we were soon in the clouds where the visibility was poor.  I was very impressed with the driver (and Costa Rican drivers in general) who was very courteous and sane compared to the drivers I had in other nations.  There was no honking or passing on blind curves.  San Ramon was a city of 100,000 people up in the mountains.  Its primary industry was coffee.  It was an unattractive place, made even more unattractive by the fog that obscured what would otherwise probably have been pretty mountains surrounding the city.
Bad Visibility Near San Ramon
From San Ramon, we headed towards Punta Arenas on the Pan American Highway.  We passed through Esparza and finally sighted the Pacific near Caldera.  Caldera is a bay at the mouth of the Gulf of Nicoya.  We could see mountains across the Gulf and the scenery was pretty spectacular.  We continued on another hour to Jaco Beach.  At one point we crossed a large river with at least a dozen big crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks.  We followed the Pacific coast through Parrita and finally arrived in Quepos about 1:30 in the afternoon.  Quepos is a nice little town in the jungle, slightly inland from the water.  While there are many tour operators located there, it still didn’t feel like a tourist town.  Most of the hotels and restaurants were along the 7 km road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park.

I stayed at the Pura Vida Hostel.  “Pura Vida,” (pure life) is the slogan of Costa Rica.  It connotes a sort of
Pura Vida Hostel Outside of Quepos
green, “Let the good times roll.”  The hostel rambled down a steep, jungle covered slope on the narrow, curvy road just outside of Quepos.  While a quick walk from town, it was still quiet enough that we saw squirrel monkeys and a sloth right outside.  While the other guests were young, they were friendly enough and not hard partyers.  I was happy to hang out with them.  It started to pour down rain as soon as I arrived.  I didn’t want to walk to town in the rain, so I spent the afternoon in my room, researching Panama.

Finally, about 4:30, I decided I had to go to town before it got dark, even if it was raining.  I donned shorts and flip flops so that everything not covered by my raincoat could be easily dried and headed off to town.  I explored a bit and discovered the supermarket, but wanted to go to the bank first.  I got to the bank just after 5:00 when they closed.  I was using the ATM when the power went out and the machine rebooted.  My card was lost inside the machine.  I only had about $20 worth of colones, which wasn’t enough to pay my hotel bill or the balance of the rafting trip I had booked.  I started to get concerned.  I grabbed a cheap dinner at a chicken restaurant and then went to the grocery store and bought a few things for breakfast and a couple of beers.  Then I sloshed my way back to the hostel and spent the evening distracting a young woman from the pain of her burned calf.  She had crashed a motor scooter in Monteverde and burned herself on the exhaust and was steaming the scab off the burn with hot salt water at the suggestion of her friend’s nurse practitioner mother.

June 24, 2014

As much as I would have liked to get to the National Park before the crowds, my first order of business was recovering my ATM card.  The bank didn’t open until 9:00, so I was able to sleep in a bit.  I arrived at the bank just before they opened and there was already a long line of people waiting.  The bank was very efficient.  A touch screen monitor at the entrance gave us the opportunity to state our business and then printed out a ticket with a number on it.  Monitors over the teller windows directed each person to a particular window when his or her turn came.  Despite the line, I waited less than 10 minutes.  Fortunately, I had no trouble collecting my ATM card.  I just had to show my passport and sign for the card and I was on my way.  I walked back up the hill to the hostel, collected my day pack, and waited for the bus to Manuel Antonio.

Public Beach at Manuel Antonio
The bus picked me up across the street from the hostel.  The fare to the National Park was 285 colones (about 50 cents.)  The buses between Quepos and Manuel Antonio ran every 15 minutes and were clean, safe and reliable.  They stopped wherever you flagged them down.  We climbed up over the peninsula and then descended to the beach on the other side.  Hotels and restaurants lined the road nearly the whole way.  The views were gorgeous.  The Manuel Antonio area looked exactly the way you expect a tropical paradise to appear.  Lush jungle and palm trees reached all the way to white sand beaches and clear blue water.  Rock outcroppings jutted from the water.  The Manuel Antonio National Park occupied a peninsula and offered several coves with gorgeous beaches.  As a pale person prone to sunburn, I found tree shaded beaches to be delightful.  The entry fee to the park was $10, although the fee is scheduled to increase to $16 as of August 1, 2014.  The ticket office was on the street, a block or so before the entrance to the park.  T-shirt vendors lined the road and guides solicited business, although they weren’t too interested in me, since I was traveling alone.

Three Toed Sloth
Squirrel Monkey
Capuchin Monkey
Once inside the park, a dirt road led from the entrance out to the beach where the trails split.  Manuel Antonio is a very small park and gets the largest number of visitors of any park in Costa Rica.  In the morning, when the road was crowded with people and guides, it was easy to spot animals.  One had only to look in the direction that the guides were pointing their telescopes.  Within 50 yards of the entrance, I had already seen a sloth.  Shortly thereafter, I saw a troop of squirrel monkeys playing in the trees and on the power lines.  Next, I saw a large iguana creeping through a tree.  He moved almost as easily from tree to tree as the monkeys did.  Further down the road, I encountered a troop of capuchin monkeys.  Several of the paths were closed for maintenance.  Indeed, there seemed to be quite a bit of construction going on.  At the beach end of the road, there were several nice restrooms with changing rooms and showers. 

View from Cathedral Point
Beach at La Trampa
Thieving Raccoon
                                                                                                                                                                                   I followed a path along the beach and saw numerous raccoons, boldly trolling for food.  I continued past the beach and explored the Cathedral Point trail, which led out and around the tip of the peninsula and offered spectacular views and some tiny beaches.  The trail passed through groves of palms and then into a forest of very tall trees, before returning to the main beaches.  I stopped at the beach to admire the water and take a nap.  While I was sleeping, a raccoon attempted to drag my day pack out from under my head.  He was very cute, but was so persistent, that I started to worry we were going to have a confrontation.  I had been warned not to leave my bag unattended, but didn’t realize that it was non-human thieves I needed to fear.  After an hour or so of chasing raccoons, I decided it was time to leave.  As I walked up the path, I saw a capuchin monkey climb up onto a trash can, open the lid like he did it all the time, and proceed to remove the trash.  Several more monkeys appeared and they carried the garbage up into the trees where they divided the spoils.  Several raccoons milled about below them, snatching anything they dropped.

Monkey Opening Trash Can
Dragging His Spoils into the Trees

 I walked slowly back along the road and saw a large lizard and several small ones and a northern jacana, along with a few more capuchin monkeys.  I stopped into a restaurant and had a late lunch and a couple of beers while I tried to watch two soccer games simultaneously.  Then I bought a tank top, checked out the fairly awesome public beach, and talked to a surf school about possibly taking a lesson.  The water looked much gentler than it had at the Surfing Turtle Lodge where I had tried unsuccessfully for a week to take a surf lesson.  The price was the same $30 as in Nicaragua, but the lessons were an hour instead of two and a half.  The park closed at 4:00, so the bus back to the hostel at 4:30 was quite crowded.  The nearest place I could disembark was actually inside the edge of Quepos, so I visited a liquor store and bought a couple of more beers to have on hand before I trudged back up the hill to the hostel.

June 25, 2014

I had a lazy morning, since I had booked my rafting adventure for the afternoon when I hoped it would be warmer. I lounged around the hostel until about 11:30 when the rafting company picked me up.  They took me up the road to their office where we ate a nice lunch of chicken and rice with beans, salad and vegetables while they collected the rest of the group.  There were two rafts full of people.  One held a family of five and their guide.  Our raft only had three clients and a guide.  Our guide’s name was Flippy.  This did not inspire confidence.

We drove for about half an hour up the Rio Naranjo.  The van let us out a short walk from the put in and Flippy led us on an interesting nature walk while the other employees readied the rafts.  We nibbled cinnamon bark and ate star fruit fresh from the tree.  There were limes and oranges and several types of bananas growing along the road, including some purple ones.  Everything was ready to go by the time we got to the rafts.  We donned life jackets and helmets and picked up our paddles. 

The Rio Naranjo Where We Pulled Out
The stretch of the Rio Naranjo we rafted was mostly class II and III with a few class IV rapids thrown in.  The guides seemed intent on getting us as wet as possible.  They aimed for the holes where we got stuck while water poured over us.  Our raft was completely full of water and I thought we’d never get out of there.  Fortunately, the water was a reasonably pleasant temperature.  After a while, it started to rain and it rained pretty hard.  We heard lots of thunder and saw some lightning.  I did see one sloth, but after a while, my glasses were so wet I could hardly see anything.  The actual rafting part of the adventure lasted about two hours.  The last stretch was much calmer and we could relax a bit.  I was actually cold by the time we got to the van.  Fortunately, it was a much shorter drive back and I was the first one to be returned to my hotel.  I went straight for a hot shower.

Quepos Bus Terminal
Pez Vela Marina
My room had been shut up all day and was nice and warm.  It didn’t take long for me to recover from my chill.  I had been thinking of staying an extra day to enjoy the beach, but the weather looked wet, so I decided to head out into the rain to locate the bus station and check out the marinas for my sailor friends who were coming behind me so I could leave the next morning.  I donned my shorts, flip flops, and raincoat and grabbed my umbrella before heading out into the rain.  I walked down the hill into town and quickly located the bus terminal.  Quepos is quite compact, so everything is convenient.  Quepos actually lies two feet below sea level.  Back when United Fruit used to have huge banana plantations in the area, they constructed a sea wall and built the town on what was once a mangrove swamp.  They also built a big pier for loading bananas onto ships.  Today, that pier has been converted into a marina.  There is still a lot of construction going on there, but the harbor is tucked behind a substantial breakwater.  There were a few sailboats in there, but most of the boats were sport fishers.  There were also many boats docked in the estuary of the Rio Naranjo, but it looked like the channel might be hard to find and probably would be best navigated at high tide.  The official marina was called Marina Pez Vela.  It looked like it was meant to be high end with some nice restaurants and good security.  It was within easy walking distance of Quepos and the bus terminal.  It would be easy and cheap to catch a bus to Manuel Antonio from there.

I had been searching for a replacement for the day pack I bought in Mexico almost from the first day of my trip, since I had had to repair that pack before I ever even used it and had mended it several times since.  It was also poor in the water resistance department and everything I kept in it had to be wrapped in plastic bags if I wanted it to stay dry.  After I went to the bus terminal to determine the times for buses to Dominical, I spied some decent day packs outside a store near the bus station.  It was not a store that catered to tourists, but the packs were imported and it cost me nearly $40 to buy a new one.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I got it home I was pleased to discover that it had a padded compartment for my computer.  It was nice that it wasn’t obviously a computer backpack.  I spent all the money I had brought to buy dinner on the backpack, so had to trek back up the hill to get more cash. 

I ate roast chicken and French fries (I have never eaten so many French fries as I have in Central America.) for dinner at a fast food place and then picked up a small bottle of cheap hooch and some fruit juice at the local liquor store.  I spent much of the evening sipping cocktails and chatting with Mauricio, a young man from Mexico who was working at the hostel to earn enough money to take his motorcycle on a sailboat to Columbia.  Having just checked out the sailing trips from Panama to Cartagena, I knew that taking a motorcycle along was possible, but cost double what it cost for a person alone.  Unfortunately, it is impossible (or at least seriously inadvisable) to go overland from Panama to South America.  One has to either fly or go by boat.

June 26, 2014

I spent the morning packing and planning a trip to Corcovado National Park.  Then I caught the bus in front of the hostel that took me to the bus station.  The official schedule says there are three buses a day going to Dominical, but it turns out that there are really many more.  All the buses to Uvita stop at the edge of Dominical.  One has only to walk down the hill to the beach, which I was easily able to do, even with my rolling duffel bag.  The ride to Dominical took less than an hour.

Piramys Beachfront Hostel
Dominical was the opposite of Manuel Antonio.  The main street of the town was a dirt road.  While there were a few nice small hotels, the majority of the place was decidedly surfer funky.  Restaurants advertised organic juices and there were yoga classes available.  Most of the signs were made from broken surf boards.  I stayed at the Piramys Beachfront Hostel.  The sign out front said private rooms cost $26, but I got one for $12, which must have been the low season price.  The room was a concrete cave, but it had large, high screened windows, a private bathroom with hot shower and a comfortable mattress with a mosquito net.  I didn’t see any mosquitos, but it was comforting to know it was there.  Sitting under it made me feel like a kid in a fort.  The room was cool and well ventilated and the walls were painted with colorful murals.  It was funky, but comfortable.

My Mosquito Net
Surfer in Dominical
Dominical revolves around surfing and the waves were spectacular.  The beach wasn’t particularly attractive.  There as a lot of driftwood and plant debris and much of the beach was rocky.  The action was all in the water.  I got to Dominical just before noon.  I checked into my hostel and then went to the tourist information place to determine how to get to Sierpe before 11:00 in the morning to catch my boat to Corcovado.  The collective shuttle from Quepos had been full and a private one would have cost $70.  A taxi from Dominical was an even more outrageous $115, but there was a public bus at 4:45 am that would get me there in time.  It would be painful, but the price was right.  I was kind of hungry, but decided to wait until 2:00 when the soccer game came on to eat lunch.  Rain was predicted for later in the afternoon, so I took advantage of the sun to sit and watch the surfers and walk along the beach to the river and then back through the town.  Much of Dominical was hidden in the trees.  It felt a bit like a campground, rather than a town.

At 2:00, I went to the restaurant attached to one of the nicer hotels that was advertising a casado and a smoothie for 3000 colones.  A “casado” (married man’s meal) is a piece of meat (I had steak.) with rice, beans, and salad.  I even got spaghetti with mine.  It was a huge platter of food and I left most of the rice and spaghetti.  The steak was tender and flavorful.  It was the best piece of beef I had had in months.  All beef in Costa Rica is grass fed.  They even export organic beef to the United States.  I ate my lunch and watched Belgium beat Korea.  It was the most violent soccer game I had ever seen.  They seemed to be tackling each other constantly.  Both teams were extremely aggressive, which seemed odd to me since neither of them had a chance to progress in the World Cup.  Maybe Korea just wanted to win one game before they went home.  The Koreans never did get a goal, but they made some spectacular flying kicks.  They were entertaining to watch.

After the game, I went back to my room to rest a bit.  It soon started to pour down rain and it continued to rain all evening and into the night.  I never did go back out for dinner.  I just stayed in and watched Netflix.

June 27, 2014 

View from The Southeast End of the Beach at Dominical
Rocky Beach at Dominical
Friday was my day to emulate the sloths I had been seeing hanging out in the trees.  I got up latish and went out for a latte and a smoothie at a cafe near the highway.  In Dominical, the closer you got to the highway, the more civilized things were.  After breakfast, I went for a walk down the beach.  Rain was predicted, but the sun was out and the beach looked more attractive in the sunlight.  The southeast end of the beach was sandier and more attractive than the part closer to town.  There were parrots squawking in the trees.  The surf looked seriously sick.  I considered moving to Uvita, but knew the bus schedule from Dominical, so decided not to risk it, as I had to be in Sierpe by 11:00 am the next day to catch my boat to Corcovado.  At this time of year, the 3:00 pm boat was not running and it would cost me $20 to hire a private boat if I missed the 11:00 one.  There was no one to pay at the hostel, anyway.  I looked on and off all day, but couldn't find anyone working there.  It was very quiet.  I spent the afternoon working on my blog.  Around 5:30, I went out to the San Clemente Bar and Grill for a grilled chicken salad.  Dinner with a beer ran me about $11.00.  Beers cost just over $2, but food prices were pretty comparable with the United States.

Dominical Definitely Had the Breaks

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