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Sculpin
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PostFri Feb 22, 2019 10:14 am 
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Now that I am retired, my wife and I save our pennies each year and travel to the tropics to blot out a couple weeks of January weather.  This year, it was Costa Rica.

We rented a car and stayed at "shared" rentals.  Rental cars are quite expensive in Costa Rica, and the shared rentals were a mixed bag, but it was OK and still cheaper than using a tour service.

Hiking in the tropics is not so much of a thing.  Weird toxic and disease-carrying critters.  Incessant tropical rains turn paths to mud.  In most places there are no views of anything except forest.  The vegetation riots year-round.  It gets really hot and stuffy during the day.

But Costa Rica is a bit of an exception.  There is a well-established "eco-tourism" industry that focuses on trails, although most of the trails are paved walkways.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

On our first full day, we headed for the famous and popular Poas Volcano, where you can peer down into the summit crater lake.  As we drove up through blowing clouds, we came to the entrance station.  A dour but friendly fellow asked us if we had bought tickets below.  No.  He said that was good because the weather was bad and we would not see the lake, so he recommended not doing it.  So we left.  Plan B!

It wasn't too far to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, one of the many private eco-lodges with day passes and trails.  Here we encountered some sticker shock, as a day pass was $45.  It turned out the cost was OK because LPWG is the eco-disneyland of Costa Rica, with lush gardens, bars, swimming pools, a full-on zoo, and a string of thundering waterfalls.  We spent the rest of the day seeing all the sights.

Poison Dart Frog
Poison Dart Frog
Tropical Flower
Tropical Flower
Palm Fruit
Palm Fruit
Lynn and the Sculpin
Lynn and the Sculpin
La Paz Beauty
La Paz Beauty
Fern Frond
Fern Frond
Pathways at La Paz
Pathways at La Paz

The next day we drove to Puerto Viejo on the Carribean Coast.  Costa Rica is sort of "second-world" in that some aspects are very civilized and others are more third world.  Lots of spiked iron fences, barred windows, and razor wire, that's third world.  Good paved roads and a working middle class, that is first world.  But the trucks are often third-world slow, tropical rains require constant road repairs, and a new water pipe was being installed along the highway.  What should have taken three hours took most of the day.  Plan accordingly.

Cahuita National Park

On our first full day, we hiked the beach circuit through Cahuita National Park.  Cahuita is quite popular with both tourists and Ticos (the name the natives use to refer to themselves), and still has one of the last remnants of coral reefs in Costa Rica (all the rest have been destroyed by siltation from logging and banana plantations).  Cahuita itself is a park because the land was/is useless.  It is a peninsula that sticks out into the ocean, but the highest point is along the natural berm at the top of the beach (which is also where the trail goes), behind the berm is brackish swamp with mangroves and other salt-tolerant trees.  Cahuita is full of wildlife.  We saw three sloths, troupes of howler monkeys, coatis, "shell" raccoons, agoutis, and lots of tropical birds.  While admiring a sloth, I felt a stinging on my ankle.  By the time I got my sandal off, I had nine ant stings.  Now I am pretty careful about where I step in the tropics, but these were acrobat ants.  They are tiny, black and nondescript, and I was only standing on a ant road, not a nest, but they are very aggressive.  It only hurt a little but I got nasty itchy welts.  This was the only real insect assault we suffered other than a few sand fly and mosquito bites, but there were actually very few of those.

The Beach at Cahuita
The Beach at Cahuita
Cahuita Swamp
Cahuita Swamp
Shell-breaking Raccoon
Shell-breaking Raccoon

Then it was back to the central highlands.

Mistico Hanging Bridges


We arrived in early afternoon but decided we had enough time for Mistico, another private eco-lodge.  This place has truly epic hanging bridges over deep ravines.

Those bridges, they hang III
Those bridges, they hang III
Fuzzy Heliconia
Fuzzy Heliconia
Heliconia Study
Heliconia Study
Tropical Serenity
Tropical Serenity
Arenal Vista
Arenal Vista
Those bridges, they hang II
Those bridges, they hang II
Those bridges, they hang
Those bridges, they hang
There are waterfalls
There are waterfalls
Tropical Flower
Tropical Flower
Lynn and the Fetid Flowers
Lynn and the Fetid Flowers
Fetid Flowers
Fetid Flowers
Pucker Up!
Pucker Up!
Praying Mantis
Praying Mantis

As we were walking along, we noticed some critter clutter (folks looking at a critter).  As we approached, a guide standing there pointed out an Eyelash Palm Pit Viper.  It was a small but very beautiful snake that packs quite a wallop.  Of course, there were tourists leaning over taking cell phone shots from six inches, prompting the guide to say "that's too close!"  shakehead.gif

Eyelash Palm Pit Viper
Eyelash Palm Pit Viper

Arenal Volcano

Arenal is probably the most famous volcano in CR.  It started a new eruptive phase in 1968, but entered a quiet phase of the eruptive phase around 2010.  Before that the attraction was seeing a glowing lava flow at night.  The big draw, though, are the hot springs resorts on the northern slopes.  There are quite a few, ranging from very toney to more working-class, all of them built of "gunite grottoes," hot pools, and theme bars.  We did spend a day at one and it was a lot of fun.  We also took a day to hike at Arenal Observatory Lodge, an eco-lodge.  While the view of the volcano is excellent, and we saw wild toucans in the gardens, I would not recommend it.  The trails all go through farm land, not forest.  There is another private trail just below AOL that goes through a natural landscape.

Arenal in the mist
Arenal in the mist

There was a dead baby snake on the road, having apparently gone mano-a-mano with a tractor tire and lost.  Apparently all the snakes in CR are pit vipers!   eek.gif

Viper meets Tractor
Viper meets Tractor

The gardens were quite pretty:

Alien Plant
Alien Plant
Exotic Beauty
Exotic Beauty
Tropical Waterfall
Tropical Waterfall
One of the only blooming Bromeliads
One of the only blooming Bromeliads
New Growth
New Growth
Tropical Penstemon?
Tropical Penstemon?
Heliconia
Heliconia

Tenorio Volcano and the Celestial River

It was only a short drive over to Tenorio, where we stayed at a very spartan lodge located right on the Celestial River.  The next day we took the very popular trail to the "source" of the Celestial River.  The source is actually the confluence between two clear streams, but the water below is bright, sky blue.  The Ticos like to say that the location is where God dipped his brush after he painted the sky, and that looks right to me.

Where God Dipped his Paintbrush
Where God Dipped his Paintbrush

Supposedly the blue color forms when the stream on the right, which has a pH of 3.1, meets the stream from the left, which carries aluminosilicates.  The drop in pH causes the aluminosilicates to complex and become visible...at least that is the scientific story.   huh.gif
However it forms, it is quite striking.  There was also a waterfall and some nice forest things.

The Celestial Waterfall
The Celestial Waterfall
Oddball Flower
Oddball Flower
Tropical Flower
Tropical Flower
Tropical Flower
Tropical Flower

On the trail, a guide pointed out a fresh track from my favorite animal, the tapir.

Tapir Footprint!
Tapir Footprint!

I was in heaven!  A tapir track!  Three toes!  The only surviving odd-toed ungulate (rhinos, horses) in the New World! Of course, we would never see a tapir since they are nocturnal.  The lodge we were staying at even had a tapir sculpture.

Sculpin and Tapir Statue
Sculpin and Tapir Statue

That evening we had a lovely Tico meal and listened to live Calypso marimba.

Tico "Comida Typica"
Tico "Comida Typica"

Next it was off to the Pacific Coast, where we caught the sunset.

Pacific Coast Sunset
Pacific Coast Sunset

Manuel Antonio National Park

The following day, we went to the most popular National Park in CR, Manuel Antonio.  This park protects a rough headland with stunning beaches and good snorkeling in calm seas (they were not calm, in fact all the snorkeling sucked).  The beaches feature large populations of both iguanas and thieving White-headed Capuchins.

They Want My Banana
They Want My Banana
Aggression Display
Aggression Display
The Dominant Male
The Dominant Male

Carara National Park

For out last hike, we visited the last remnant of low elevation mixed forest on the Pacific Coast.  Here "mixed" means a combination of plants from the wetter south coast and the drier north coast.  We did not get 100 meters down the trail before we noticed some birds in the brush.  At first we thought they might be trogons but they turned out to be Squirrel Cuckoos.  There were four of them, and as we watched, more birds appeared, tanagers, an ant wren, a warbler.  As I focused my binocs on a blue tanager, I noticed the ground was crawling with big ants (we were up on a concrete walkway).  Army ants!  When army ants march across the forest, they stir up all the insects and other little critters, and catch and eat what they can.  What they don't catch is snatched up by a variety of birds, the ones we were seeing.  I started to tell Lynn that I had just read the night before that the signature bird of army ant colonies is the antbird, which feeds exclusively in front of army ants and simultaneously tracks the progress of other army ant colonies by communicating through the forest with other antbirds.  While my lips were still flapping an antbird appeared and started feeding.  Apparently none of these birds actually eat army ants, I guess they can protect themselves.  No bird pictures, unfortunately, my camera is optimized for close-ups.

Tropical Flower
Tropical Flower
The One that Held Still
The One that Held Still
Tropical Flower
Tropical Flower

We did see the local version of White-tailed Deer.

White-Tailed Deer Fawns
White-Tailed Deer Fawns

The most famous resident of Carara is the Scarlet Macaw.  This park and the surrounding area is the only remaining habitat.  Even this area is down to 400 or so breeding pairs, up from a low of 200.  We did see (and hear!) Scarlet Macaws high in the branches, which was quite a thrill.  We also saw all three species of monkeys (the fourth species is too rare too even hope to see), White-headed Capuchins, howlers, and spiders, numerous other birds, and the ubiquitous sloths.

All in all it was an excellent hiking vacation!  We are planning on going back, so if you have any Costa Rica hiking beta, please share.

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Even my best friends, they don't know, that my job is turning lead into gold. When you hear that engine drone, I'm on the road again, and I'm searching for the philosopher's stone - Van Morrison
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RichardJ
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PostFri Feb 22, 2019 2:34 pm 
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Excellent report!  My wife and I went there a couple years ago. Brought back some good memories.
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RichP
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PostSat Feb 23, 2019 6:38 pm 
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Lovely photos. up.gif

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Without obsession, life is nothing. John Waters
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Brushwork
Know your complex



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Know your complex
PostSun Feb 24, 2019 12:13 am 
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Very cool pictures!!!!   Thank you for sharing !!!!!

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When I grow up I wanna play.
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Sculpin
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PostTue Feb 26, 2019 8:56 am 
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This is the "Tenory Trio."  That is actually my name for them, they did not speak a word of English and I am struggling mightily to learn Spanish.  So I don't really even know their names, but they are somehow associated with Café Tenory, which also created the comida typica in the image I put in earlier.  Café Tenory is just a few klicks from the Celestial River Source hike.

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Even my best friends, they don't know, that my job is turning lead into gold. When you hear that engine drone, I'm on the road again, and I'm searching for the philosopher's stone - Van Morrison
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ofuros
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PostTue Feb 26, 2019 1:51 pm 
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Colourful & varied pics, Sculpin...thanks for sharing that warm tropical report.  wink.gif

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jbrink
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PostTue Mar 05, 2019 8:56 pm 
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Great report on your adventure Mr. Sculpin. Thanks for posting.
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Bedivere
Why Do Witches Burn?



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Why Do Witches Burn?
PostThu Mar 07, 2019 12:18 am 
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Nice report!

Have been to CR twice now, stayed in Tamarindo the whole time on the first trip (but we did do a couple of tours of nearby nature attractions) and the second time we stayed in Tamarindo for a few days then went up to Monte Verde for the second half of the trip.

Really didn't do any hiking.  I'd like to go back and do more "feet on the ground" type stuff.  One of the national parks features a lodge that can only be reached on foot.  I think it's about an 8  mile hike.  Rangers will take you out on nature tours from there.  Would love to do that.

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