Friday, December 19, 2014

Whitewater Rafting Costa Rica on the Paquare River

Overnight White Water Rafting on the Paquare River!

This was what we had been waiting for! I was really looking forward to this. We went with Exploradores Outdoors, a tour group that doubles as onward transportation to the next city when you are done with your rafting trip. We had our pickup in San Jose, so first we took the bus from Manuel Antonio to San Jose, which was really easy. We spent a nice afternoon in SJ, walked around a bit, then hit the sack early for our 6am pickup for RAFTING!

This was in San Jose- I fit right in! ;-)

Here's a typical meal in Costa Rica- rice, beans, chicken, veggies and fried plantains. Served on a banana leaf.

SIDE NOTE: How to get from Manuel Antonio to San Jose.
Taking the bus to San Jose from Manuel Antonio is pretty easy. You should buy your tickets ahead of time, and you can only buy them from the bus station in Quepos. From anywhere along the road to MA, take the bus (630 colones) to the end of the line in Quepos and buy your tickets (4675 colones) right there at the bus station. Use Tracopa Direct. Direct is a little more expensive, but worth the money since you won't be stopping in every little town on the way. We did this on a free day, and spend some time exploring Quepos. There wasn't much there. We got some ice cream that was kind of weird. Meh. On the day we left, the bus was about 45 minutes late. We met a guy who said he had missed the previous two buses because he didn't know where they were picking up from - so we asked around and found out they were picking up from out in the parking lot. Bottom line: ask someone! Double check. And if something seems fishy, ask someone else. END SIDE NOTE...

This was our boat! There was only 5 people in our boat, plus our safety kayaker, in that cute  little tiny looks-like-a-bug kayak behind Oz. The safety kayaker scouts the route ahead and charts the way for our guide. Our guide then shouts directions at us and we are trained in how to follow his directions- Left forward! Stop! Right back! etc. He said our safety kayaker was one of the best in Costa Rica, and I could believe it! he did tricks like balancing on one end of the kayak, surfing a wave, and totally flipping the whole thing upside-down. They were both really good guides.

The other couple were Canadian, and having a nice vacation from the snow. It was really chill having the whole resort all to ourselves.

Here's our little hut

No windows, those are screens! 
The room is totally open to the air and jungle sounds, and always the roar of the river below. 

By night, our guides turned into chefs, and whipped up a gourmet meal. This dinner was both chicken AND fish, rice and steamed veggies with mushroom gravy. There was also plenty of beer and wine. All included! What an amazing experience. They also served up lunch when we got there, and breakfast the next day.

Here's the kitchen/lounge area. From this deck there were multitudes of butterflies, birds, and especially hummingbirds! The birds were having a great time playing in the trees. And at night, fireflies!

The next day was filled with a lot more rafting, and we met up with a group that was doing a day trip. Lunch was a pit stop on the side of the river, where we got to socialize with other rafters. There was a cool spot on the river where a hot river flowed into the Paquare. Our guide maneuvered us over and we got to enjoy the warm water on our feet. The water in the Paquare wasn't really cold, it just wasn't really warm. We had kind of a cloudy day, so we weren't as warm as we could be. In fact, it poured buckets when we first arrived at the resort, and instead of going on the waterfall hike we all just took a nap! It was so soothing to sleep under the rain. We saw a bunch of waterfalls the next day, and it didn't rain the next day. We were thankful the rain stopped, because they said if the river gets too high they don't raft, it can be too dangerous.

I don't have any pictures from the actual rafting because all we had were our iPhones, which were safely in the van along with our clothes, not on the boat with us! All I can say is the river was beautiful. Iconic jungle rafting, with toucans flying overhead, waterfalls spilling over from high cliffs, and people have a great time. If you like adventure and you don't mind getting wet, I highly recommend it!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Costa Rica part IV: Manuel Antonio, the beach life

We took a bus from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio via San Jose. We were supposed to go to Puntarenas from Monteverde, spend the night there, then go the next morning to MA, but we got on the wrong bus! I knew something was funny when the bus left half an hour early! Turns out it left right on time. That is the last time I get on a bus without asking the bus driver first where he's going!

Well it turned out alright, because we didn't really need to go to Puntarenas. The guide book had said the only reason people go is to take a boat from there to the Nicoya Peninsula... Which would have been really fun, maybe for next time! By the time we figured it out, it was 5 hours later and we were in San Jose. The bus driver helped us get a cab to the bus station in the knick of time to hop on the last bus to MA. We arrived in MA 3 hours later at 10 pm with no hotel... A friendly surfer bum directed us to a hotel that didn't seem too dodgy, the Costa Linda Backpackers, for $24. It was good for one night, and the price was right, but super smelly bathrooms led us to check out the National Park Backpackers down the road, where we originally had our reservations.

Nice place to have breakfast
 NP Backpackers had a wide open space, with a clean feel to it. There was a sparkling blue swimming pool, and a wide open space that let the sun in. It felt much more welcoming than the dark jungly atmosphere at Costa Linda. I think during high season NP might be crawling with loud hostel-ly mish mash and what not, but during this rainy season, it was fairly quiet. The cleanliness was maintained by a crew of 5 or 6 Ticas who looked like they resented the backpacker crowd but nonetheless did a fabulous job of maintaining the place spotless. I loved them, and the clean bathrooms.

How happy were we at Manuel Antonio?
We had a wonderful time enjoying the beach, and the sunsets.
A tropical paradise...

Pure joy

Typical evening


My office


Aside from enjoying the beach, we hiked at the national park. Did I mention our hostel was literally right next door to the park? How convenient. We hiked all over that park. No need for a guide, which at a rate of $20 per person for the tour, I thought was too much. They had the benefit of huge telescopic binoculars and knowledge about where to find the ever elusive sloth, but I'll have to say we saw our fill of lovely wild animals and didn't miss what we didn't see!

Spider Monkey

There are a few beach spots inside the park where you can chill out, bring a picnic, and swim. You'd have to plan it ahead of time to bring your stuff because the beach is about a 1/2 hour hike (depending on how fast you go) from the entrance.

After the hike, we had an amazing meter long pizza at Pizza Pata. Seriously yummy, especially after the hike! It's about halfway between Manuel Antonio and Quepos. The cab fare was $5. If we took the local bus, it costs 600 colones per ride, which is like $1.
We had a nice surprise- We ran into the couple, Shani and Ofer, that we saw in Monteverde (from on the boat and in the restaurant on the rainy day) - they had just arrived and we shared our experiences. It's always fun to run into friends in foreign countries!

 We went exploring around some of the nice hotels. They had beautiful grounds. 

 You can see the peninsula which is part of the National Park. 


We wrapped it up with dinner at El Avion, a restaurant with a giant plane in the middle of it. We got there just in time for a beautiful sunset, and bid farewell to the Pacific Coast.

We are gearing up for the next adventure, the long awaited 2 day rafting trip! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Costa Rica Part III: Baldi Hot Springs & Jeep-Boat-Jeep to Monteverde

Baldi Hot Springs

What better way to recover from a 10 hour, two volcano hike in the pouring rain? 

We thought doing it in this order was a no brainer. Hike first, hot springs after. The weather complied. It was a nice, overcast, cloudy day. We spent the morning waking up leisurely, made breakfast, and hung out with Sonia, our tour guide extraordinaire at Red Lava Tours, planning the trip to Monteverde on the "Jeep-Boat-Jeep" tour.

The tickets we had for Baldi were good for staying there all day, but Sonia suggested waiting until 3 or 4 to head over, since, as she put it, how long can you stay in the hot tubs? She was right. We got there at 4, and by 7 we had hung out in all (25) pools, and were thoroughly wrung out and ready to hang out dry. Not to mention hungry, and boy did that buffet look good! We paid $35 for entry fee and all-you-can eat. They charged $6 for use of a day locker, and a refundable deposit of $20 for a towel. Click here for the TripAdvisor review. Trip Advisor seems to be the ultimate in helping figure out your trip in Costa Rica. Almost every place we went to asked us to leave a TripAdvisor review for them. So we did! It's a good way to suss out options for yourself, although it can drive you crazy, sorting through all the b***s***.

This was the room we ate in. Swanky. Somehow I didn't get a picture of the dee-licious buffet!
Swim up bar, or walk up bar. Your choice! Could be dangerous...

We didn't bring the camera with us during the day, so we walked around after dinner to get a few shots.

The colors here changed every few seconds, and the football game was on tv. Here is Oz, doing a beautiful job modeling how AWESOME this place is!

Hot water pools, with hot waterfalls... Does it get any better than this? Look at those green leaves!

When can we go back?

This was a true tropical paradise... Way better than Disneyland...

The next day was the Jeep-Boat-Jeep "tour" to Monteverde. I would call it "Shuttle-Boat-Shuttle" as there was no jeep. The shuttle picked us up right on time in front of the hotel, and took us with a full house of other backpackers to the side of the lake. We "hiked" down a walkway to the boat and got ready for the ride. It was beautiful, in a cold and rainy sort of way.

Once on the other side, similar shuttles picked us up and ferried us all to our respective hotels and backpacker hostel resorts. We went to Savegre Inn, a place recommended by Sonia at Red Lava. It was the perfect sanctuary from the blustery winds. Teresa met us at the door with perfect English, and lo and behold, our room was like a treehouse, with amazing an view onto windy treetops. We had our own bathroom, and the shower, oh the shower with hot water and good water pressure! (It's the little things, I tell ya.) Cozied up in our room, with the winds howling outside, we were hesitant to leave, but the day was still young and we had things to do. Places to go. We only had this afternoon and tomorrow morning in Monteverde, so it was go-time.

Our cozy, cozy room.
We bundled up against the weather.
Braynor, the hotel manager, is young and motivated. He is SO EXCITED to share Monteverde with us. The rain does not bother him at all. We asked about a good place to eat, and he said he'd walk with us there, even though the weather was (to us) wretched and unpleasant. Good thing, because we might never have found it! The place was pretty good, and we ran into a couple there we had seen earlier in the day on the boat. We had been advised by Andres from the 2 Volcano hike to check out the Ficus in Monteverde, and Braynor said he would take us there.

So off we go for the infamous ficus. To get here it was quite a hike, up more hills, in a steady pouring rain, and off the road onto an unmarked trail. When I say, "quite a hike" I mean, it only took about 40 minutes, but we were kind of tired of walking in the rain! While initially doubtful about the cost-benefit to such a trek, we nonetheless followed the stalwart Braynor as he happily kept babbling on about volcanoes and wind, and how great Monteverde is... And what we found far surpassed any of our expectations!

View from the top! Some 100 meters up.
What you see here is that  the ficus grew up around another tree, that then died and disintegrated, leaving a hollow, tree-shaped column in the middle. Up into this column we squeezed and climbed, and this is the view from the top!  
Here we are, inside the bowels of the tree. You cannot be scared of heights or small spaces to climb up in here! And just as we started climbing, Braynor tells us that snakes like to hide in crevices, so if we see one, freeze! If they see movement, they will attack!
Totally worth it. The wind, the rain, the uphill trek.

On the way home we stock up at the grocery store, as we can cook in the kitchen. It seems that we are the only guests in the place. Kind of eerie... and peaceful.

Fabulous view from the dining room.

Oz as chef, cooking on this enormous oversized gas cooktop.

Backpacker special: Hambuergette with Monteverde cheese.
The next day we love the fresh fruit, coffee and toast provided, and take off for the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. We get a round trip taxi ride plus entry fee deal. All the hotels around Costa Rica seem to operate on some kind of deal with the various contractors, from taxi drivers, tour guides, equipment rental places, restaurants, etc. They must get a kick-back here and there, if they send their customers to a partner. I am used to this from travel in many other places in the world, and it's not offensive to me. I just make sure I ask around, read reviews, look at the guidebook, and take everything with a grain of salt. And if I'm not 100% satisfied, it's not the end of the world. We came here for the experience, and for that, we got what we came for!

Ok, I'm off the soapbox. The cloud forest was beautiful, quiet and relaxing. The hike was pleasant, and surprisingly well-maintained. A walk in the park, compared to the 2 volcano hike in La Fortuna. You could do this hike with flip flops if you felt like it. We used our Keens. Paved the whole way, with railings for the stairs, and signs that more or less pointed in the right direction. There were various options for self-guided hiking on well-marked trails. We took the 4.2k route, which is about 2.5 miles. The entry fee was $18 per person, including the taxi round trip. Overall, a nice budget option which doesn't have to take up the whole day. We were aiming to gt back to Savegre Inn by 2:00, and walk over to the bus station by 2:30 for the 3:00 bus to Puntarenas. We were to stay in Puntarenas for one night then leave for Manuel Antonio the next day, but... Check the next blog post for that story!

On our way out of town! (You can pretty much see the whole entire town in this pic, it's that small!)

All smiles at Savegre Inn! Oz, me, Teresa and Braynor
Overall, we had a good experience in Monteverde, despite the weather. It is such a tiny town, you can walk through it in half an hour. Then main attractions lie in the adventure tours that are touted every 10 feet, and shouted from the door of every store. Like La Fortuna, Monteverde has zip lining, canopy tours, horseback and ATV rides, etc etc. Go if you have the time! And ask around about the ficus...

We bought tickets for the bus out of town, and off we went! Adios Monteverde, it was a rad and rainy 24 hours! Next stop: Manuel Antonio.

Do you have questions? Comments? Please leave your message down below, I love to hear from you!