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!

Costa Rica Day 6: Monteverde to Montezuma

Crossing the Gulf of Nicoya

Day 6 started much the same as day 5, it amazes me how the weather outside can sound so wild, yet when you open the curtains everything looks calm and beautiful.

Our journey today takes us from the mountains in Monteverde to the sea at Montezuma, again via minibuses and a boat trip, but this time across the Gulf of Nicoya, the sea we could see from our cabin. The first hour of of the drive took us down the other side of Monteverde, again on a gravel track, the landscape on this side was less lush, but equally as beautiful, with lots of spines coming off the mountains catching the morning light creating great texture and patterns, unfortunately we didn’t get to stop for photos this time. The next part of the journey down to the Panamerican highway was on a smooth road, with lots of flowing turns and gradient changes, it would have been perfect in my MX-5. The last section through Punterenas through to the port gave us a view of non touristy Costa Rica, but I guess a port town isn’t really going to show off the best of a country.

Our driver dropped us off over the road from the port, along with two Canadian yoga teachers we were travelling with, gave us tickets, told us to catch the 11:00 boat and that someone called Luis would be waiting for us at the other end. After a bit of stressing, we got on the only boat that was sailing at 11:00, but without any details of where the boat was going, either on the ticket or boat itself, so it was a tense 15 minutes while we wondered of we were on the right boat. The Gulf of Nicoya was calm for our crossing and the various islands gave me plenty of opportunity to take photographs, so the 70 minute crossing flew by, I even saw a family of rays swimming alongside the boat.

Paqueras where the boat docked was worlds away from Punterenas, just a shack and dock where the road met the sea, we could already tell that we were in a much more relaxed part of the country. As promised, Luis was waiting for us when we disembarked and he dropped us of at our hotel in Montezuma an hour later.

Our room at the Amour de Mar is really nice, panelled with dark wood with a sea view and a five minute stroll to town without any hills. (It has wifi and a large lizard living in the tree outside too.)

After a quick scout around town and some lunch at a shack overlooking the beach we went back to the hotel, to relax in their garden, which had hammocks handily positioned within range of the hotel wifi, which has to be the best way to catch up on twitter/blogs.

I managed to miss the sunset, although with the hotel facing south east, it wouldn’t have been ideal. We’ve got a tip for where we can go to see it better tomorrow, or failing that, Malpais is west facing.

Costa Rica Day 5: Monteverde

View over the Gulf of Nicoya

After a night of high winds, which sounded like they were doing their hardest to blow our cabin down, we awoke to a lovely view down to the Gulf of Nicoya and beyond.

After breakfast we got a taxi up to the cheese factory in Monteverde, where we had a tour of the factory, sampled some of their cheeses and bought ice cream/milkshake for the long walk back to Santa Elena, which wasn’t too bad as it was mainly downhill. When we got to Santa Elena we spend a lovely few hours chilling out on the terrace of the cafe at the Orchid Gardens (using their wifi to upload my last few blog posts).

As Monteverde is most famous for cloud forests, we spent our afternoon at Salventura in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, we opted to go for the hanging bridges tour, rather than the zip lines, so that we would be able to take everything in, rather than whizzing past, scaring the wildlife. As it happens, we didn’t get to see much wildlife, either we’re just not as good at spotting it as the guides we’ve had, or the creatures have got fed up of all the noisy visitors and moved to a quieter area of the cloud forest. Even though we didn’t see many animals, it was good to see the cloud forest from the canopy, looking up from the ground, you don’t realise quite how many plants grow off the bigger trees, without touching the ground.

We finished off the day with a drink in the Tree House bar and a great meal at Johnny’s Pizzeria, then another long walk back to our cabin, luckily for us the relaxing at the beach part of our trip starts tomorrow!

Costa Rica Day 4: La Fortuna to Monteverde

Lake Arenal Panarama

The fastest way to get from La Fortuna to Monteverde is a so called Jeep-Boat-Jeep transfer, which should really be called a Minibus-Boat-Minibus transfer, as there were no Jeeps, or 4x4s of any make were used.

The first part took us down to Lake Arenal, where we boarded the boat for the hour long crossing. Luckily the lake wasn’t too choppy and the light was pretty good, so I was able to capture some photos of the stunning scenery. The last part of the journey was all on gravel roads, so whilst the distance wasn’t that far, it took about 90 minutes, with a stop for photos along the way. The landscape in this part of Costa Rica is up there with the most beautiful parts of Scotland, so it was a good journey, if a little bumpy.

We’re staying in Santa Elena, slightly down the hill from Monteverde, as all the tours we want to do are quite spread out and Santa Elena is a good base and feels more off the beaten track than La Fortuna. Our cabin has great views down to the Gulf of Nicoya, with the trade off that it is a steep walk back up the hill from town.

The area is known for its cloud forest and ecotourism, so for the first evening we went on a night walk, hoping to see a sloth, although we saw a lot of birds, insects and mammals, a sloth wasn’t one of them. Our guide poking a red kneed tarantula with a stick to get it to come out its hole was a particular highlight! I decided against taking my camera as it was going to be dark and some times it is great to enjoy things without a camera.

The evening ended with dinner in a treehouse overlooking Santa Elena high street, which seemed really busy until about 9pm, when everyone vanished.

Costa Rica Days 2 and 3: La Fortuna

Chilling by the pool

The trip to La Fortuna started off with a drive down the Panamerican Highway, the main road in Costa Rica, although it is only a single carriageway. The most common sight on the road is the large American style trucks thundering along, but you never know when you will find an ancient tractor chugging along around the next corner, which made for an interesting drive.

For the last 100km or so we turned off the highway onto small and sometimes unsurfaced roads which took us right around Lake Arenal, giving us great views of the turquoise lake, named after the local volcano.

When we got to La Fortuna we decided to have a quiet evening, almost 2 full days of travelling and jet lag had taken its toll, so we spent the rest of the day enjoying some great food in town and chilling at the hostel as the next day was going to be a busy one!

Day 3 started off with fresh fruit and pancakes, well it would have been rude not to on Shrove Tuesday! As we didn’t have anything planned for the morning, we got a taxi up to the waterfall (catarata in Spanish), about 5km from town. The waterfall falls 70m to the valley floor, which looks impressive from the viewing platform at the top, but even more so after you have descended the 480 steps to the valley floor 600m below! At the bottom I took a few pictures and we paddled in the river for a bit, before climbing back up the 480 steps and walking the 5km back to town, and all before lunch too!

Our efforts must have been recognised, as while we were walking into town for lunch the clouds which normally enshrouded the Arenal volcano which dominates the local skyline parted for 5 minutes, giving us a rare sight of the summit.

After lunch we went on a nature walk, starting of at the viewing area for the volcano (now in the clouds again), then descending through the jungle, with our guide Julio pointing out various flora and fauna. We didn’t manage to see a toucan, although we did hear one, this is the animal I’m really hoping to see, as part of my inspiration for coming to Costa Rica is from when I worked at Travelsphere Holidays, who always had a toucan as the main picture in their brochure for their Costa Rica tour. So fingers crossed we mange to see one in Monteverde, which is our next destination.

To end the day we went to the Baldi hot springs, to relax in their 25 hot pools ranging from 32 degrees to 67 degrees, although I found 40 to be about right for me. I also went on another type of catarata – a waterside!

This post and the next few are coming a bit late, as I’ve been without an Internet connection for a few days. I’ll also be swapping out the iPhone photos when I get back to the UK.

Costa Rica Day 1: Travelling

Leaving on a jet plane by Lewis Craik

Today has been mainly spent in aeroplanes or airports, the picture above was taken about 20 hours ago, on the first plane in London, now we look more like zombies, but the airport hotel in Liberia seems nicer than the one in London. Plus we had lunch at what I’d like to think was an authentic American diner at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas.

The real adventure starts tomorrow morning when we head up to La Fortuna.

MX-5 Underground – iPhone

Black & White MX-5 by Lewis Craik

I dropped Jen off at the supermarket and was told “I’ll be back in 10 minutes”, so what else was I going to do when presented with an underground car park and my MX-5? This shot was taken and processed (and car returned to where I’d dropped Jen off) before she got back. Much more fun than shopping!

Hopefully I’ll get a chance to shoot here with my proper camera soon.