Top five from 2012

I’d been meaning to take part in the “Your Top 5 From 2012” thread on PistonHeads.com for a while, so once I’d selected my five favourite images of last year, I though they would make a good blog post too.
Cement Works
Rugby cement works – A shot I’ve had planned for quite a few years, as I can see it out of my kitchen window.
Hoffmann's Woodpecker
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker – This guy woke up up while I was having a post surf nap at the Funky Monkey Lodge in Costa Rica.
BMW Z4
Ali’s Z4 – Taken on the A39 near Porlock on Exmoor during our trip to Devon.
Cloud forest abstract
Cloud Forest Abstract – Another one from our trip to Costa Rica, this was taking in the Selvatura Cloud Forest.
500
Fiat 500 – This was only meant to be a test shot, while Jen was shopping, but I really liked the effect with plain car and bright building.

Costa Rica: Hoffmann’s Woodpecker

Woodpecker

When we were in Santa Teresa our afternoon usually consisted of chilling out on the veranda of our cabin, one afternoon I was woken up from a nap in the hammock by a tapping noise, which turned out to be this Hoffmann’s Woodpecker on the tree next to our cabin. I don’t normally take photographs of wildlife, but I was able to get my camera and grab a few frames, including this one which I am quite pleased with, especially as it was taken on a relatively short 200mm lens.

As mentioned in my posts from Costa Rica, we actually managed to see more wildlife in the grounds of the Funky Monkey Lodge, where we stayed in Santa Teresa, than on some of our wildlife excursions. I think the relaxed vibe in Santa Teresa must have affected the local animals too.

Costa Rica: Tamarindo Sunset

Tamarindo Sunset

I’m still working through images from my trip to Costa Rica (renovating a house, is taking up most of my free time at the moment), but I’m getting there! This sunset was captured in Tamarindo, the last place we stayed and there’s just something I really like about it, so I thought it was worth blogging. The photo isn’t technically perfect, in fact it was taken on my Canon Powershot S90 compact camera, but I really like the colours of the sea and the sky (I did accentuate them a bit when processing the raw file) and it just makes me want to be back in Costa Rica on the beach at sunset.

Costa Rica: Cloud Forest Abstract

[photoshelter-img width=’375′ height=’582′ i_id=’I0000AizrfIU3t.Y’ buy=’1′]

I am working my through the images I took in Costa Rica over the last few weeks, and this one has jumped out as probably my favourite.

We were on the “Hanging Bridges” walk in the Selvatura Park, which is in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve and I saw these trees and knew I could do something with the symmetrical lines. However, on their own I wasn’t happy with that shot, it was too messy, so I added in a bit of movement and as soon as I saw the preview on the back of my camera, I knew I’d be really pleased with the final result.

Costa Rica Days 14 & 15: Travelling home

Our journey home didn’t start too well, our shuttle to the airport didn’t show up, meaning we had to get a taxi to get to the airport in time to catch our flight. Liberia Airport was suitably chaotic, probably not helped by one of our airline’s flights being cancelled or everyone having to go to a separate queue to pay “departure tax” before they could even check in.

The chaos continued when we got on the plane, as not only was the air conditioning not working (with the outside temperature well over 30c) but the pilot couldn’t get the engines started, which wasn’t exactly confidence inspiring. In the end we took off over an hour late and got to Newark without any problems, we even got a good view of Lake Nicaragua.

In the end the flight was 40 minutes late into Newark, leaving us less than an hour before our flight to Heathrow took off, with us needing to clear US immigration, collect and recheck our bags, pass through security again and get to the furthest gate away from where we started. It was a bit tense, especially in the queue for immigration and we needed to run most the way after that, but we made it onto our flight just before they shut the doors.

Again, the flight was fine and passed quickly, we landed early and even got through passport control without having to queue, but after waiting ages for our bags it became apparent that they hadn’t made the transfer at Newark, which wasn’t too much of an issue as anything important was in our hand luggage. We were met at the airport by my parents and it was good to be driven in a nice executive saloon on smooth motorways after two weeks of minibuses on unpacked roads.

As I type, my first memory card is being imported into Lightroom, so expect a few more posts over the coming days/weeks.

Costa Rica Day 13: Tamarindo

Tamarindo Sunset

Our last full day in Costa Rica started well, with Huevos Rancheros for breakfast, overlooking the beach. We then walked to the estuary end of the beach as we hadn’t explored that end of town yet, it didn’t take long to get there, but as we were walking we were approached my street sellers trying to get us to buy everything from ceramics to cocaine, then when we got to the estuary someone tried to sell us a boat trip. So we decided to walk back along the beach, which was much nicer as that part of the beach was almost empty.

The afternoon was spent chilling on our terrace back at the hostel, before heading out again late afternoon to walk along the other end of the beach and catch the sunset. As there were clouds on the horizon the latter part of the sunset was gorgeous, but too dark to photograph without a tripod, so I enjoyed it with Jen, drinking an Imperial beer and reflecting on a great trip.

Costa Rica Day 12: Santa Teresa to Tamarindo

It felt like a shame to be leaving Santa Teresa, because we’d both really enjoyed our time there. As we weren’t getting picked up until 8:45 we were able to go down to our favourite breakfast place, Don Jon’s, to get pancakes to fuel us through the 5 hour minibus journey.

The journey itself wasn’t too bad, especially the second half which was mainly on paved roads, and we got to Tamarindo at about 14:00. We checked into our hostel, which we were glad to see had air conditioning, and went into town to find some lunch. It turned out that Tamarindo wasn’t quite the thriving metropolis that we were expecting from what we’d heard from other travellers. It actually reminded me a bit of Newquay in the UK, a surf/party town, but obviously with a more Costa Rican flavour.

I had been really looking forward to seeing the leatherback turtles laying their eggs on Playa Grande, just across the estuary from Tamarindo, but it turns out we are a few weeks too late. Rubbish. As Tamarindo is also on the Pacific coast, we went down to the beach to catch the sun setting, it wasn’t quite as beautiful as in Santa Teresa, but with a few boats moored out to sea I should be able to take some interesting photographs.

I neglected to take any photos on my iPhone, so there won’t be a photo on this post until I get back to the UK.

Costa Rica Days 9, 10 and 11: Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa Highstreet

I’ve only done one post for our time in Santa Teresa, as they would get a bit repetitive. We’ve been getting up, grabbing breakfast, going surfing, relaxing during the warmest part of the day, watching the sunset on the beach, getting dinner and then going to sleep.

Our cabin has proved to be surprisingly cool at night and we haven’t managed to get any more bites. The biggest problem is the noise from the local animals, both wild and domestic, around sunrise but we’ve got used to it. We also have plenty of wildlife joining us on our terrace, including a woodpecker and a gecko in our outdoor bathroom.

The surfing is really good, the water is warm, but the sun is a bit on the bright side and we’ve both got burnt, although I consider sore arms and sunburn to be signs of a good surf session. We’re surfing on proper boards (8’6 NSP minimals), rather than the soft foam boards we’ve used before, I actually prefer them and will be hiring one next time I’m in Croyde. I was stoked that on the first day, when we had a lesson, I managed to catch some green (unbroken) waves, which are a lot more powerful and was my aim of the trip. Our lesson was good as we had one instructor for the two of us and we both made progress as he was able to spend time with me when Jen had caught a wave and vica versa. On our third day surfing we noticed quite a few seabirds circling around, then behind us a school of fish near the surface, the sort of thing that we would normally see on BBC’s Planet Earth was happening 25m behind us. Amazing.

Santa Teresa is one of the three villages that make up the Malpais area, Malpais is in the south, about 2km from our hotel, with Playa el Carmen in the middle and Santa Teresa in the north. The area feels less touristy than the other places we’ve visited, with only a handful of tour operators, on the other hand the restaurants are great, with both local and international cuisine covered. The restaurants don’t look like anything special, they’re usually just an open sided hut, but the food amazing, I’m not sure I’ll ever get fish burritos as good as the ones here.

There’s one main road which runs through the villages, parallel to the coast, but it is main road in the loosest sense of the term. The road isn’t paved, so the choice of transport for the locals are quads/ATVs, which seem to outnumber the 4x4s and cars. But the walk down to Malpais isn’t too bad in the evening and it is good to nip down to the beach to catch the sunset. Sunset seems to be the main part of the day, with seemingly the whole town on the beach either surfing or watching the sun dip below the horizon.

Costa Rica Day 8: Montezuma to Malpais

Santa Teresa Sunset

Before we left for Malpais, we had one thing left to do in Montezuma, go to the waterfall. We decided to go before breakfast, to try and get there before it got too busy. This plan worked well, on the way up we only saw a couple on their way down, who said something to us in Spanish that we didn’t understand, however, from the look on their faces it wasn’t “It’s an easy walk and the water is warm”. So we did what any one would do, and carried on up the waterfall. We eventually got to a section where we couldn’t see a way through, but there was a path heading up the hill, we followed that for 5 minutes with the path getting steeper, gnarlier and further away from the river, so we called it and headed back down. When we got back to the river we saw a group on the opposite side on an actual path, that we must have missed, so we crossed the river and took their route and we were at the waterfall within 10 minutes. A local girl got to the waterfall just behind us, before we could get our rucksacks off she was in the water, telling us how refreshing it was and as quickly as she’d got in the water she was out and off up to the next waterfall, leaving us on our own to enjoy the waterfall. I got in for a swim and it was very refreshing after the hard walk up, it was deep too, other than the rock I’d walked in on, I couldn’t touch the bottom. We were visited by a small grey and white bird, which would sit right next to us, until I’d got my camera out. With the arrival of a group of American girls we decided to leave as we’d enjoyed having the waterfall to ourselves, so we walked back to town for a Heuvos Rancheros breakfast over looking the beach.

The transfer to the Santa Teresa part of Malpais where we’re staying was pretty uneventful, we opted for a taxi rather than getting the bus as we feared that our hotel would be at the top of a hill and if was way too hot to be going up hills with our full rucksacks.

Arriving at the Funky Monkey lodge, it wasn’t up a really big hill (just a little one), but we were a bit concerned about just how open our cabin was, both to the elements and small biting creatures (we’ve both managed to attract a few bites, despite using insect repellant so strong it has damaged my watch), but other than that the hotel looks great and everyone is very friendly. I’ll post tomorrow and let you know if we survived.

As it was the hottest part of the day we decided not to do much more than walking to the beach and getting lunch. At the beach the tide was out, but it was so clear and warm, more so than at Montezuma. After a quick paddle we headed back into town for lunch, then back to our cabin to chill out for a bit, as that is really all you can do in the mid afternoon heat here. As even not moving wasn’t helping we went up to the pool to cool off further, whilst swimming we were able to watch monkeys, including a baby clinging to its mother’s back, swinging through the trees no more than 10m away. There were also humming birds, lizards and squirrels, so more wildlife than we had seen in any of the reserves.

After our swim we walked down to the beach to catch the sunset, with a west facing beach and the next landmass being the Philippines I had high hopes. It seemed like the whole of Santa Teresa had gone down to the beach to watch the sunset and it was great sitting there with Jen as the sun dipped behind the horizon.

As we’re running a bit low on funds we decided to get a taxi up to Malpais where the ATMs are and have dinner at that side of town. Both the ATMs were empty, but we had a great dinner at an Argentinian barbecue restaurant, we’d been pulled in by the smell from the meat the chef was grilling over the biggest indoor fire I’d seen.

Costa Rica Day 7: Montezuma

Montezuma Beach

Thanks to the combined efforts of the local cockerels and howler monkeys I was awake at 5:45, knowing that sunrise would be at 5:58 (thanks to the handy Sun Seeker app on my phone) I decided to head out for a walk with the camera, the sunrise from the hotel wasn’t the best, It is always a good thing to be up and about at that time of day for the good light, so knowing the sun would be positioned well, I took a stroll to the main beach in town, which was already fairly busy with fishermen, swimmers and joggers!

When I got back, Jen was just getting up, so we had breakfast at the hotel (Huevos Rancheros – yum!) and decided that we would get the public bus to Cabo Blanco national park. I’d never been on a Central American bus before, but it seems that posted times are guidelines, you can get on or off the bus anywhere on the route and you pay the driver as you get off the bus.

We were dropped off at the end of the drive to the park and after about a 10 minute walk we got to the ranger hut, to be told that the walk to the beach and back would take 5 hours, which we didn’t really fancy, so we opted for the hour loop instead, which actually took us 2 hours with stopping etc.

The first animals we saw were bats hanging in a crevice in a tree, which were annoyingly a bit too dark to photograph. Then trekking through the jungle we saw plenty of butterflies, including the Blue Morpho, which with electric blue colouring and a 15cm wingspan were both beautiful and easy to spot (also impossible to photograph as when they land they fold their wings & blend in with the jungle). The last 1km of the route proved to be the best for wildlife, with a lizard basking on a branch right next to the trails and a family of monkeys in the trees making a lot of noise feeding, then eventually coming down to only a few metres above our heads.

Having seen the monkeys we deemed the trip a success and headed back to the park entrance to catch the bus back to Montezuma, hearing, then seeing 4 Howler Monkeys on the way. The bus was about 20 minutes late, but that didn’t seem to surprise the locals who were also waiting, when we got back into Montezuma we treated ourselves to an ice cream, dropped our bags at the hotel, then went to the beach to relax after a tiring but enjoyable morning.

It was good to get in the sea again, there wasn’t much swell, but enough to body surf a bit, I can’t wait to get on a surf board in Malpais! While we were drying off in the sun I noticed a big splash near the horizon, then again but also noticed the huge tail causing the splash, after a day of searching for wildlife we’d managed to see whales without going anywhere!