Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Right Left Turn

About half way (7 km) down the volcano, we took a left turn to our first adventure. It was not on the schedule, but those are often the most memorable and exciting. We were headed to our first ever canopy tour.

As with everywhere else in Costa Rica, we had to get past the security guard. We had some time to burn, so we grabbed a drink and something to eat at the snack bar. Our tour time was scheduled for 2 p.m. Surprisingly, we did not have to pay when we first put our names on the list, they give you time to change your mind.

As our trip time gets closer, we pay and get harnassed up. Lockers are provided to secure your valuables; however if you lose the key it will cost you $5. We can take our cameras, but for safety reasons we are instructed not to use them on the zip-lines. That's OK by me, I am keeping both hands firmly on the cable apparatus.

The harness is actually quite comfortable and believe it or not I do not have any butterflies : ) I am ready to go. Our guides our friendly and helpful. We ascend using the tram way. At the top is a large observation platform. In one direction you can see Arenal Volcano, the other is Arenal Lake.

Before you get to the long, high cables you have an opportunity to practice on 2 short cables. You practice the proper form (knees pulled up, ankles crossed) and how to slow down (legs spread wide). If after the second cable you decide you don't want to go on, you can walk back to the observation deck and take the tram down to the bottom. Be aware that at this point you will not receive a refund (as of this writing $66 per person).

After the practice run you are ready to go to the longer cables. I forget the lengths and heights of the cables, but they can be a bit overwhelming. I do know that the last cable is roughly 1/2 mile long and can reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.

It was the most exhilarating experience of my life. Really amazing. I would like to do it again some day.

Friday, May 30, 2008

North to Arenal Volcano

Up early because of the trucks and the time difference. We took a stroll around the gardens and ate a leisurely breakfast of black beans and rice, fresh fruit, plaintains, eggs, and Costa Rican coffee. The food was delicious.

We were on the road by 8 a.m. We figured that we had about a three-hour ride ahead of us. Driving here is like riding a rollercoaster, up and down, and round and round. The roads are not the best, they are narrow, no shoulder, and so many cars that you have to fight for space. At times a very unpleasant experience. Most bridges are only one lane and there are a lot of them, so at one bridge you have to yield (ceda) and the next time the other guy has to yield. It works pretty well, but sometimes I was left wondering if the other guy was going to yield...they get as close as they can.

Keep in mind that it is totally acceptable to honk, so honk away if it makes you feel better.

When you arrive in La Fortuna, you are almost there, just a few more miles up the road. As you turn off the main road and you see a sign for Arenal, 14 km. You think, yeah, we're almost there, but let me tell you, those are 14 of the roughest kilometers I have ever ridden in my life. It took us about 40 minutes. Narrow, short wheel base vehicles do not offer much comfort on roads like these.

It was a great accomplishment when we finally arrived at the security gate. The road got better and we were greeted with this view. . .

We arrived at the lodge around noon. We couldn't check in until 3 so we had some time to burn.

We headed back down the mountain.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

May 16: San Jose

Our arrival in San Jose was uneventful. We picked up our rental car and successfully made it to our first hotel; Orquideas Inn.

Let me just say that this little boutique hotel is one of the nicest places I have stayed in recent history. The hotel gardens are beautiful. The restaurant has a great menu and the food is delicious. The best breakfast in town is included in the price of your room and served on the patio by the pool. The fruit is fresh and the eggs are cooked to order.

The owner is obviously infatuated with the late Marilyn Monroe and the restaurant and bar is a colorful collage of photographs of her. The rooms are comfortable and reasonably priced. They don't offer wi-fi, but they do have a PC that can be used by guests with free internet access.

If you travel to Costa Rica and plan to spend any time in San Jose, I highly recommend this hotel.

Fred is a permanent resident at the Inn. He is hybrid macaw that was born and bred in captivity.

Dinner Night 1: Grilled Swordfish
Lunch: Chicken Fajita
Dinner Night 2: Black Bean Soup, Hearts of Palm with Blackberry Sauce

Downside: Located next to a well traveled road. The big trucks started about 5 a.m.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Departure: May 16th, 0600
I checked us in for our flight on the 15th to save time at the airport. The drive to the airport takes about 90 minutes. It was uneventful and we made good time.

Airport Parking:
I don't know about your airport, but Hartsfield-Jackson in ATL has a park and ride. We used it for the first time and we will use it again. It's cheaper and the van drives you right to the terminal. No bag drag : )

Upon our return, the van driver checked the parking information provided by the first van driver and took us right to our vehicle. No bag drag and no searching for the Murano in the dark : )

Arrival in San Jose:
We arrived in San Jose on a balmy Friday afternoon (1300 local time). We were excited and ready to start our Costa Rican adventure. Our first stop was to pick up our rental car.

Rental Car:
Rental cars can be expensive by the time you add in the expense of the insurance (collision, tire, and windshield insurance) is recommended. If you don't have nerves of steel, you might consider using public transportation. Buses and taxis are readily available and affordable.

Tico's do not use maps (this information from a local who was kind enough to speak to and help visitors, in very good english I might add). Tico's don't use addresses either; they use landmarks plus they have the advantage of knowing where they are.

Anyway, we quickly got used to the landmark method of navigation . . . McDonalds, KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Papa Johns, and Mega Super (Tico version of wal-mart). Street signs are far and few between and are hard to see even when they are posted.

Without notice, streets can change from two-way to one-way. If you are lucky enough to see a sign that reads "No Hay Paso" do not enter. I cannot count the number of times we ended up on a one-way street. Dangerous.

We had relatively good directions to our hotel and we made it without incident, giving us a false sense of confidence in our ability to drive in and navigate in this city.

Other Street Signs:
Alto = Stop
Despacio = Slow
No Hay Paso = One Way

Driving in General:
It's ok to honk your horn. There is a difference in the friendly "I am going to pass you" tap and the "Get the %#&@ out of my way" bleet. You will quickly discover which is which.

It appears to be ok to run red lights, cut in and out of traffic, and turn in front of oncoming traffic. The streets may or may not have lanes. Tico's just drive where they want (at least it felt that way to us) and they are aggressive.

Did I mention that it's a good idea to purchase insurance for your rental car?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

T - 12 Hours

Less than 12 hours till departure for Costa Rica. The bags are packed; we are checked in for our flight. Ready to go. Are we really?
credit card
hungry - not
Feeling a bit anxious but not sure why. I hope we aren't getting too old for this. Travel I mean. Anyway not much to say so I will sign off. Come back soon to view pics : )

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Down by the River

A couple weeks ago I was walking down by the river on my lunchbreak and I noticed an interesting configuration of tree roots. They looked like a person with arms reaching forward. My mission today was to try and capture the Treemaid. So here she is . . .

I may have to go back with different light. Although the light was good today, not overly bright. From this angle you can very clearly see the arms, head, and torso. Here is a long shot . . .

Several people were fishing. With scoop nets they catch bait fish. In fact, the Cree Indians used to fish in this very spot.