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Costa Rica

The last days in Costa Rica.... from Holland (part 2)

Costa Rica trip 2002-2003

overcast -5 °C
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From where I left you off...

The next day saw us get on the bus to Rio Sierpe, in the south of Costa Rica. What was supposed to be a 5 hour bus ride, ended up being a 7 hour ride because we had to stop for the Tour de Costa Rica (not quite the Tour de France) but hey... Our bus driver must have thought he could make up for the lost time in the last 100 kms so we ended up barreling down winding mountain roads at a good 130 kms/hour... the speed limit was 80... speaking of scary experiences! All is well that ends well and we arrived in Palmar Norte for our van/boat ride to the Rio Sierpe Lodge owned by Mike, an American turned Costa Rican.

What a great place. Located on the river, with nothing around, it was the perfect place to spend our last three days. We had wonderful dinners with Mike and the other guests (go figure, all other guests were Dutch!) at his long table and sat and talked till Mike decided it was time to switch off the generator. This was no later than 9 leaving nothing but stars to light up the sky. For watching stars, this is the place to be with literally millions of stars that aren't visible in most countries due to light polution twinkling all over the heavens.

The next days were spent hiking, snorkelling and swimming at nearby mangroves and beaches. One of our best experiences was on our second to last day returning from the beach. Heading over full see, we spotted dark fins popping out of the water so we headed towards them. Sure enough, a school of about 20-30 pilot whales were all around us. Great picture taking time and marvellous to see all these mammals of the sea in the wild. After our boat driver jumped in, Luc felt he couldn't stay behind and went overboard to witness a pilot whale just 2 or 3 meters from his face. This face was probably the reason the pilot whales decided to dive (sorry Luc :)) and after about 10 minutes of enjoying them, they were gone as quickly as they came. A wonderful experience and a great icing on the cake!

The 31st saw us heading back to San Jose where we stayed at Costa Rica Backpackers and celebrated New Years in El Pueblo. Confetti, crazy hats and whistles were everywhere and it was certainly one of the funnest midnights I have ever experienced!

The 1st of January saw our final day in Costa Rica... sad but true. To go out in style, albeit American style and not Costa Rican, we visited Denny's for American, French and Farmer slams.... it was my first Denny's visit in 5 years and a good one.

As flights with Martinair go, the service was bad (although I hear it is better than on American airlines), not enough sleep, terrible food and bad movies. But hey, we had just spent three weeks in Costa Rica, so we weren't complaining...

Untill the next trip, that's it for me.... hope you all enjoyed reading the diaries! Thank you to Luc, David, Niels and Jeroen for a great holiday. Although not quite backpackers, guess we aren't quite tourists either! ;)

Take care and happy travels!

Adding a cool map of this trip on 04 December 2006

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The last days in Costa Rica.... from Holland (part 1)

Costa Rica trip 2002-2003

overcast -5 °C
View Costa Rica December 2002/January 2003 on Sam I Am's travel map.

Well, it is overcast and cold (a little snow) in Holland.... not a good combination by any measure and especially not after getting back from sunny Costa Rica.

Last time I left you off was in San Jose after a long day of travelling and with all of us except Lucas geared up to go rafting on the Paguera. Now, that turned out to be a day to remember!

It started off beautifully, sunny and bright promising to be a great day on the river. With rain having fallen the night before, the river was up and the rapids were looking exciting and fun. The section of the Paguera we were about to do was registered as grade 3 and 4, highest grade rapids raftable I have been told are 5, so this was going to be good. Of course, it was also the most expensive day activity we had done in Costa Rica so it had better be worth the money!

The four of us and our guide, we'll just call him Pepe for good measure, set off down the river enjoying the beautiful nature and pristine environment we were rafting through. As already spoilt nature observers of Costa Rica we were still impressed by the beautiful countryside we were passing through and spirits were high.

About 10 kms (out of 30) down the river, we were approaching the most dangerous rapid of the river, a grade four. Of course we didn't know this at the time but we were soon to find out. What happened in the next minutes was so quick that recollection is tricky. Approaching the rapid, Pepe told us to paddle hard, we were to pass a big rock in the middle of the rapid on the right at all costs.... well, we paddled a little too hard (Pepe blamed us:)) and took the rock over the left hand side....first problem. The force of the river pushed us on the rock and there we were stuck in the middle of the rapid. No problem, a little highsiding on the left was sure to help this problem... and it did, but a little quicker than our guide had figured on. Within 2 seconds, we were dislodged and smacked on the next rock down the rapid, this time the full force of the rapid was pushing against this rock and there we went. With we I mean David, Jeroen and myself. Niels and Pepe managed to hang on in the back of the raft, the 1/6th of it that was still above water. With the rest of the raft pushed under water it was no surprise we were lifted out either.

David had a fairly easy ride down the rapid and managed to scramble on to a rock in safety. My ride was a little bumpier, getting recycled in some deep holes a few times on the way down. For those of you who don't know, recycling is where you get pushed under water in holes untill the force of the water against the bottom pushes you back up again. If you are lucky, you get pushed out, if not.... you get recycled... again and again and again. Problem is you don't have time to breath in the short moments you are above water and if you don't know what is going on, it can be a frightening experience. This is exactly the experience Jeroen had! He hit the biggest hole in the rapid and while trying to fight it (apparently this is not smart but we only found this out afterwards) got recycled for a good half a minute; not that long but enough to make him think he was going to die in the whirling waters of the Paguera. Of course I wouldn't be writing like this if that had really happened and sure enough, he got pushed out and further down the river I managed to get a paddle to him and pull him out. Missing one shoe and his paddle, the only words he could manage were "thank you Sam, thank you Sam". Looking back it was hilarious though at the time we were not laughing... I think it is Jeroen's last time in a raft, so next to diving I guess the only watersport he will still tackle is swimming.... You will understand that back at the hotel that evening Luc was happy to hear that he didn't go along and further haphazard his neck!

To be continued... see part 2

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Day 16... San Jose

Costa Rica trip 2002-2003

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The Friday finds us back in San Jose after a nice long day in the bus, boat, bus back to the capital. We arrived in the middle of a day of Carnaval, meaning our taxi could not reach the hotel but for a few able legs it was still possible.

To be quite honest, there is not much news from here. We enjoyed Christmas in Montezuma. All Christmas day (and the day before and after) was spent on the beach where we tried to ride the waves which were a good couple of meters high. Of course being true men we did not use boards...that was a mistake! Most of us have some form of bruising to show for the power of the sea but Luc is worst off after taking a pounding by a three meter wave knocking his head and shoulder to the ocean floor (parents, don´t worry, he is ok...I think).

Chicos bar (the only bar in town) seemed to have fared well with us around and after the first day the manager (Eduardo aka Dikke Pepe) and his wife (Lovely Lucilla) were handing us all kinds of freebies, from shrimp plates to fussball games. A good time was had by all, especially after watching the Lakers get whipped by the Kings!

Today saw us all a little sad to leave Montezuma but then again, tomorrow the river Pajuera awaits our conquering as we take to its rapids! Luc is sparing his neck and won´t be participating.

The next day, an early start takes us to the Rio Sjerpe area where there most likely will not be any internet access (or any other type of access I believe!) for 3 days of nature. The 31st has us back in San Jose for New Years celebrations before departing on the first for Olanda.

Dont know if there will be more time for an update before getting back. If not, hope you enjoyed the reading, if so, stay tuned!

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Day 13...Montezuma

Costa Rica trip 2002-2003

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With blue jays peeping over my shoulder and a sign reading 'please don´t feed the monkeys', breakfast in Montezuma isn´t anything like most peoples perception of the day before Christmas. But then again, Montezuma, located on the Western (Pacific) coast of Costa Rica, isn´t your typical Christmas postcard location. Actually, it isn´t a postcard location at all with its odd collection of cabinas, hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes clustered together on a couple of hundred square metres of coastline only accessible by a dirt road through Costa Rican rainforest.

Montezuma might not win any beauty awards but when it comes to atmosphere and ambience, it is my perfect holiday destination. An atmosphere best compared to Haad Riin on Ko Pha Ngan in Thailand (without the full moon parties!), this small town on the Costa Rican peninsula has developed on the backs of countless backpackers (no pun intended) through the years. This was our choice to spend the Christmas days, and a good one indeed. After 12 days of travelling, a few days in one place isn´t a bad idea by any degree.

How we got here? After leaving La Fortuna and the Arenal behind us, we took three local buses to get us to the city of Liberia, located next to the Pan American highway and a half hour away from Rincon de la Vieja National Park. A roadside motel with ESPN, a pool and a Burger King across the road were exactly what we needed after a day of travelling. The fact that this meant sharing a double bed with Luc was quickly forgotten in the face of all this luxury.

The next morning we were up before 6 to see what we had come here for, the National Park. This National Park offered us one of our best days yet with more than 15 kms of hiking proving to be worth every step. A swim in the opal blue waters under magnificent Catarata La Careja (waterfall) was the reward of our first hike and must rank with the best locations for a swim worldwide (wonder if there is such a list...). The afternoon hike took us past another waterfall, small volcanoes eruping bubbles of grey mud and sulfur pools smelling as bad as anything I have ever smelled! All in all, a magnificently diverse day of hiking and one I would recommend to anyone interested in good hiking!

The trip back to our motel was interesting as well. In what turned out to be an unregistered vehicle, our driver pulled off the highway to wait till a police check was lifted. To pass time we had a beer only to find out our driver had already had 5 before picking us up (that explained his very cheerful nature!). After the police check was lifted the remaining ride was uneventful (thank goodness!) and a long day left us all weary, tired and longing for a dive in the pool. The next morning we slept in till 7 (!) before hitting the bus, ferry and jeep ride to Montezuma where the next few days will be spent.

For those of you in Australia, Merry Christmas today, for the rest: Merry Christmas tomorrow!

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Day 9...La Fortuna

Costa Rica trip 2002-2003

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On the choppy, windswept waters (famous to windsurfers) of Arenal Lake we got our first glimpse of the active volcano we had travelled from Monteverde to see. Yesterdays near 2 hour jeep/van ride had brought us to the edge of the lake where a small boat was ready to take us to La Fortuna: the village near the foot of the volcano. Although shrouded in clouds, El Arenal rose majestically in a countryside of rolling hills reminding me of a Scotland seen only on pictures (the patches of rainforest aside of course!).

No place booked to stay yet, but thats usually not a problem. The same here, with owners of different hostels and the like waiting for the jeep from Monteverde. We made the best decision yet and drove a couple of kms out of town with a guy who had cheap cabinas to stay at. This place was more like a resort than anything else-fantastic! A pool, basketball court, volleyball court, football field etc. etc. Our plan to stay for only one night was changed nearly immediately to include another day of relaxing by the pool-another great decision!

The evening of our 8th day included a near two hour hike to the foot of the volcano, spotting red lava and boulders flowing down the slopes and last of all, a visit to the hot springs. These hot springs were something else.... 7 different baths ranging in heat from 35 degrees celcius to nearly 70. One of the springs had a bar built in the middle selling cocktails...what a great place. We hung out there for a few hours, bribed our tour guide into arranging an extra bus back an hour later and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. After meeting a couple of canadians we invited them back to our resort for a late night swim. It ended up being our latest night to date... just past one in the morning: we are definitely growing old! This morning I woke up to find the rest of the gang seated in the kiddy pool playing cards...life is rough and as they say here in Costa Rica: we are enjoying the PURA VIDA!

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Day 7....Monteverde

Costa Rica trip 2002-2003

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Another day, another animal. Well, that was supposed to be true today. We set off to the national park for a treetop walkway of 1.6 kms, sure we would spot the Quetzal (which we learned was possible from the Lonely Planet), some monkeys or if we were lucky, another cat type..... no such luck. I don't think we got any further than a butterfly or two. But still, it was well worth it. Standing in between the tops of the trees at 1500 metres above sea level, you are in a different surrounding than in the Netherlands....first of all, the fact that it is at least 1000 metres higher than anything in the Netherlands, second of all, the fact that there is some prime rainforest all around you...wonderful! Tonight we went on a evening/night tour...that was great. Saw a tarantula, another sloth, some big rat type (for lack of words) and a lot of insects...

To get here, we set out from Puerto Viejo early yesterday morning, forgive me for not remembering what day it is anymore... they seem to blend. It was a long bumpy ride but because the bridge had been fixed, not as long as it could have been. The bus apparently hadn't been looked at while fixing the bridge, some axel under the bus broke about an hour out of PV. However, faster than I have ever seen at the dutch rail (or any other rail) we had a new bus ready to take us on to San Jose for our connection. That was the longest part of the trip....6 or more hours, 3 of which on unpaved roads; brilliant but we were glad to arrive here in Monteverde! A nice place, obviously living off of the tourism coming from the surrounding national parks.

Speaking of getting up early in the morning. I don't think we have slept past 9 in the morning since arriving...something we find very impressive. The fact that we haven't been to bed past 11 is probably equally impressive. Most nights are from 9 to 6....incredible stuff for us :)

Getting kicked out of this internet cafe now but it is 9 so way past my new bed time already... don't know where the next entry will be from. Tomorrow we are off to the Arenal volcano/lake and La Fortuna (the place nearby). After that on to Liberia (a city, not the country). Sometime soon I will write more.

Cheers and goodnight....tomorrow the alarm rings at 5.30 ...zzzzz

Sam

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Day 4...from Puerto Viejo

Costa Rica trip 2002-2003

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Day four brings an update from the far south east of Costa Rica. The Jamaican feeling town of Puerto Viejo to be exact. We arrived here earlier today after an interesting boat and bus ride (more later) from Tortuguero (far north east). As far as great places go, Tortuguero is one!

Nestled in the middle of a national park, Tortuguero surroundings boast an amazing array of animals, from the Manati (sea cow) to howler monkeys, from humming birds to tiny red frogs. Our accommodation was one of those places you can only dream about. On the river banks, hammocks a plenty, a self service bar, dinner and breakfast served every morning; what more does a person need? The tours through the national park made it the perfect place to spend a couple of relaxing, yet fulfilling days. We spotted all kinds of interesting animals, of which a dead manati and a oselot will stick to my memory the best (because they are the rarest to see I guess). Although the tours made at the park were great, the boat ride to the park was equally amazing. In the hands of Alexi (aka Carlos) we speeded down canals for a good 4 hours, occasionally stopping as Alexi pointed out some interesting flora and fauna along the way that only he could see till we were a meter away from it.

This morning that same boat ride brought us back to the town of Moin. Although no one probably knows it, it looked like it hosts the largest Dole banana handling center in the world with hundreds of trucks full of fresh bananas standing ready to be shipped to (probably) North America. That aside, from Moin we caught a van to Puerto Limon where the driver dropped us at a wayside road convincing us that this is where the bus to Puerto Viejo departed from. And sure enough, 20 minutes later, there was a bus filled with locals heading down south. There was still ample space in the bus and even Lucas with his 2+ meters could take a seat... half an hour later though, we all were ushered off the bus. A few weeks ago, a storm had destroyed a bridge and we now all had to walk across a log to get to the other side. The moment I was across I started hoping one of my travelling companions would fall off, but no such luck. On the other side, continuing busses awaited and a half an hour later we were on our way to this town. In a lot of aspects it reminds me of Byron Bay about 5 years ago; for those of you who have never been, the hippy mecca of Australia. It looks interesting so far, tomorrow will show more with a trip to the national park nearby.

More to come, dont know from where yet but it will be somewhere in the center of the north I imagine.... La Fortuna or so...

Take care,

Sam

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The first day....

Costa Rica trip 2002-2003

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Costa Rica is already great! As all holidays are supposed to start, our hotel (yes, I know, a HOTEL!!!) was not as booked as expected. Basically, it wasnt booked at all (sorry about the punctuation marks... I am in one of those internet cafes that wont allow them without trying to find the alt key that will work the same sign....ah well, at least it is cheap!). Anyway, after some calling around we ended up in a great place downtown. Let me tell you...not just a hotel but a HOTEL! It is wonderful and cheap too which is what I like best about it! We sleep in a ball room of some sort. Wonderful! The ESPN channel tops it off...

On to more useful stuff. Today we booked some trips through this great country. Basically the trip planned was ditched on the first day....and I wont say I told them so... when we got some great advice on where to go, what to do, what not to do etc. etc. Tomorrow we are off to Tortugeuro and from what I have seen it is one of those places we dream about when we talk vacation....beautiful, clean, beach, national parks, rainforest and a general relaxed atmosphere. I am pumped! After that, Cahuita is in the planning...Jamaican hospitality at its best...but then in Costa Rica! More is planned after that....actually, we have nearly the whole three weeks planned which is a bit boring but hey, it is only three weeks. Give me a break!

Take care and hope to write again soon...

Cheers,

Sam
ps. if you are ever in San Jose, check out Papa Pey at la Pueblo. The big guy is hilarious!

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