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Trip Report A Two Week Taste of Costa Rica

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For six out of the last eight Christmas holidays, we have travelled to Southeast Asia. This year we wanted to be closer to home. We were trying to get frequent flyer business class seats to go to Argentina and Brazil and by June, we gave up. Nothing was coming open and we weren’t willing to wait until the last minute to see if more seats became available; by that time all decent hotels would be fully booked. Costa Rica seemed to have a wide range of environments and experiences to offer, let’s go there.

So I did not begin planning this trip until July which was rather late for holiday time. Hence we did not always get our first choice of lodging but I was able to cobble together an itinerary that worked with various hotels’ availabilities during high, high season.

Up at five a.m. and at LAX by 6:30. No traffic until we got to the airport, then it was obvious that Christmas travel had begun. We nabbed some discounted first class seats on American. We flew to Dallas, had a couple hours layover and then to San Jose. The AA flights were smooth, on time. I lament the long gone days when the stewardesses served delicious fresh baked chocolate cookies. You could smell the yummy cookies throughout the plane while they were baking. And I suspect that cookie envy in Coach put an end to cookie baking for First Class. When I checked in online I chose my meals. Too bad those were not the entrees being offered.

We got through immigration quickly but luggage delivery was muy despacio (very slow). A taxi to La Rosa de America cost $15 and took about fifteen minutes. This small rustic lodge was a very clean place in a beautiful garden setting, perfect for an overnight stop without going in to the city of San Jose. I am presently sitting on a lounge by the pool waiting for our rental car to be delivered by Adobe. I'd compared four companies and Adobe had the best four WD rates and cars. We also ordered a cell phone and GPS.

It took us about four and a half hours to drive up to the Arenal area. We took the longer scenic route that offers views of agricultural plots and verdant jungle. Besides being more scenic our Adobe agent said the “faster” road was very windy and not recommended for anyone prone to car sickness. Our highway, #141, was one lane in each direction with some of the longest trucks imaginable on this route. Looking at our map, we thought we'd stop for lunch in Cuidad Quisada but the town was so congested and unappealing and parking near impossible. We got some colones at a bank, got gas along with pit stop and kept going.


A few miles further on we turned off the road at a sign for a hotel and restaurant. This was our first CR adventure. We parked in a wooded grove, walked over a creaky bridge that span a fast moving river and sat outside riverside. Good choice Fred.

An hour further on we reached Lost Iguana Resort. WOW, what a rain forest paradise this is. Our room, a luxury suite, is spacious, beautiful and in keeping with the environment. Oh, a small mammal which I could not identify just walked across our balcony, how delightful!

By the time we'd settled in to our rocking chairs on the balcony, it began to rain. And it rained for most of the next 2 1/2days. But this is suppose to be the dry season. Yes, I was told, but the seasons are changing; the rainy season began later this year and is extending later and the local conservationists are glad for the much needed rainfall. This tourist had sunshine in mind. The dining room, open on all sides, has front row seats of the lush vegetation. ...and the rain. I ordered a chicken entree and decided that would be the last dinner I wanted to eat at the hotel. While others have praised the food, I thought it was poorly prepared and lacking imagination. Before turning in, we checked in with CNN, same old bad news at home and around the world.

After walking around the lush property a bit, we drove a few miles to Tabacon Grand Spa and Resort. We had a discount four hour pass to enjoy the hot springs and lunch. The buffet lunch was excellent as were the bird sightings from our table next to the stream.

Tropical vegetation surrounded us. We walked through many of the areas fed by the spring. The setting was both magical and serene. We hung out in the adults only section, suitably named Shangri La, where new age spa music was playing softly to the patter of ligh rain. I sampled several different pools, all formed by thermal mineral rivers that form waterfalls and small pools as they flow through the property. The pools higher up are closer to Arenal Volcano, hence hotter. DH has health issues that make soaking in hot, hot water inadvisable but he enjoyed reading in a secluded area we'd found. It must be so refreshing on a hot, dry day. Hard to imagine it would be more beautiful. I still enjoyed the hot spring water cascading over me as rain dripped on my head.

Baack in dry clothes, I drove us to the tiny town of La Fortuna. Just before the town, the clouds became less dense and we could see the outline of what must be the Arenal Volcano. It was our only glimpse of it in three days. We walked the town in an hour or so. It's clean, friendly and safe but not much character. We stopped for a beer at Just Good Food and learned from the owner, Mike, just how he came to start this cafe seven months ago. He's fun to chat with and passed along several valuable tips. Turns out we'd already gotten scammed at the gas station. Make sure they reset the gauge to zero before pumping and that the gauge agrees with the amount requested.

After buying some wine and snacks at the supermarket we sat down to dinner at Don Rufino's. Each of our meals was delicious with subtle flavors and upscale presentation. Thanks to our GPS we made it back to
Lost Iguana in the rain and sometimes dense fog. Back at our room I took a shower in the outdoor shower room adjacent to the large bathroom. The roof of this secluded space is plastic, so the pelting rain did not disturb my refreshingly hot shower.

Next morning walking to breakfast we saw our first Chestnut Mandibled Toucan, what a striking bird. The hotel provides fruit on perches to attract birds in the area so tourists can enjoy them. The birds eat are given their ordinary diet and seem to enjoy the regular handouts.


By pre-arrangement, we met Erick Guzman, our private guide, by the entrance to Hanging Bridges. We'd purchased our senior discount tickets from Lost Iguana and their golf cart driver delivered us to Hanging Bridges.
I liked Erick as soon as I met him. He was personable and eager to tailor our adventure to our interests and pace. Unfortunately the weather was against us. Birds prefer the shelter of trees when it rains, not like tourists who defy the natural rhythms and insist on seeing these local attractions. The two plus hour walk along a trail and across six hanging bridges was a wonderful excursion into deep primary rainforest. Erick tried to seek out avian life with his repertoire of bird calls. At other times he set his cell phone to broadcast additional calls. When he pointed out a rarely seen hummingbird he was thrilled and eagerly told a guide friend who crossed his path. I take it that this is a playful form of one-upmanship the guides enjoy. Erick knew a lot about forest flora, fauna and critters and delighted in sharing with us. Erick can be reached at his cell 8844-7389 or his website www.tabartours.com. He charged. $45 for his morning guide services, well worth it.We finished our tour just as the rain began dropping buckets.

Back at LI we walked downhill to the dining room for lunch. Compared to the previous meal at their restaurant, their ceviche was yummy. Too rainy to hike around the property, we repaired to our lovely room. We sat on our balcony and watched the birds take cover in the rain. We watched the rain. There are innumerable conventional reasons for having sex, especially on vacation. Add boredom to the list.

I've finished reading The Hunter's Tale by Margaret Frazer. The nun, Sister Frevisse, is the unofficial detective who solves this moderately interesting medieval mystery. I'm engrossed in the literate prose of The Suicide Index by Joan Wickrsham. Good thing I downloaded several other works to my IPad before leaving home. And I bring along and read parts of Reflections on a Mountain Lake as a way to move in to meditation.

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    I suspect your husband is cheering for more rain. We love the Lost Iguana, such a pretty setting, and Don Rufino is our favorite restaurant in town. I find the weather in that area to be very unpredictable. We've had much better weather in July than we've had in December. The Lost Iguana serves a creamy poblano soup that is very good if you get the chance to try it. Nice on a rainy day. They have good burgers and guacamole too. Must be enjoyed with an Imperial. I've found the fish to be much better than the chicken. Lucky you to see a toucan!

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    Volcanogirl, this is a good time to thank you for all your sage advise during my trip planning. It was a great help and comfort. like the Bavaria from Imperial.
    And now more

    Today is departure day from LI. From our forest-edge table we watched Toucans feed and identified (rightly or wrongly) a Blue Grey Tanager, a Bananaquit, a Great Kiskadee, a Crested Guan and the striking black with red Passerini’s Tanager. Despite weight restrictions on the small planes we’d be taking, we brought along our heavy field guide: The Birds of Costa Rica by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean.

    Note to self: Next trip to Arenal area consider The Springs, Arnal Nayara or Leaves and Lizards and do Cano Negro (Rio Frio section) or Penas Blancas boat trip for wildlife.

    The drive to our next lodging, Villa Decary, was an easy one, no more than forty five minutes. My theory was that after all the hiking and adventure activities we planned to do around La Fortuna, it would be lovely to spend two days at a lake view bungalow and soak up the sun and read. Well, there was no sun and my eyes were getting sore from reading.

    We were greeted at Villa Decary by Daniel, the owner. A congenial escapee from Los Angeles. His wife Susan was away on business. I wanted to meet her; she was a great travel advisor and responded promptly to all inquiries. We have a charming bungalow which overlooks Lake Arenal. Its one good sized room with full kitchen and breakfast table. From our balcony I could see the lake an hour ago now heavy cloud cover obscures everything except the tall palms fifty feet in front of me.

    Since Villa Decary is a B & B, we ventured into Nuevo Arenal for lunch. El Caballo Negro is a lovely cafe on the grounds of the Lucky B & B. The eggplant parmesan was plenty good, the wine drinkable and the bird life abundant. On our way out I started a brief exchange with gringos who turned out to be expats. They'd driven from their home at a Pacific beach three hours northwest to get out of the sun. That hurt. So we talked for some time and got their views of living la pura vida in CR.

    After naps and cleaning up we headed back in to Nuevo Arenal. Our pizza at Moya's was really good. Diners at another table raved about the ahi tuna. We'd wanted to dine at The Gingerbread but it was closed Xmas Eve and Day. After a stop at the market we headed back.

    Feliz Navidad! DH and I were both up early so we drank coffee on our terrace and used our field guide to identify the birds that graced the tree branches close to us. Our cabin sits on a hill that overlooks Lake Arenal. This is a sublime location and in the afternoon the cloud cover had lightened, the sun made a brief appearance and I wowed at the beauty of the lake and the green clad hills beyond the far shore. Somewhere beyond those hills I bet the volcano is poised.

    Elkin cooked us a fine breakfast while we watched the birds enjoy eating their proffered breakfast of bananas and other fruits they favor. I got a shot of two Toucans feeding among other wonderful flyers.

    After Elkin finished his kitchen duties we three set off to visit Elkin's family farm. A few miles uphill from Nuevo Arenal the dirt track gets hard to maneuver due to the heavy rains of the past week. Way way up in pristine forest sits the family home amid 80 acres of pastures, stream bed and dense forest. Beyond the stream the land abuts a national forest. We hiked around the property as much as we could. Had conditions been usual we could have taken a two hour hike and crossed their stream. As it was, we sank into mud calf deep at some spots. Cows, horses and pigs grazed on their hillsides.

    As we walked, Elkin told us about his childhood on the farm. By nine he'd left school as all his seven brothers had done. Farm work is very demanding. Elkin's father, now seventy five still has the firm, sinewy body that reflects strenuous farm labor since his own childhood. His mother's life was equally difficult. She bore seven sons in nine years, sometimes with the help of a midwife, sometimes alone. She had full responsibility for procuring the food from their land and serving up three meals a day for eight men and herself. And if a milk cow was not in the immediate area, she might have to walk several miles through the farm woodlands to locate and milk one. But mama looked vigorous and fit at sixty eight. She's so engaging and full of conversation. I could only contribute minimally in my high school Spanish. Fred is a native speaker and the two of them chatted all through lunch. She'd set out a Costa Rican feast and we were so appreciative of her good cooking.

    While we were eating a family friend and her seven year old daughter stopped in for a Christmas visit. The little girl was quite shy. She brightened when I asked her about her Barbie (actually the Chinese imitation which was falling apart after several days) her shyness diminished. Finally, it was time to go, we had a Christmas dinner to attend at four. Driving uphill to leave the farm was so muddy that we needed to engage the four wheel drive and were glad we'd ordered it.

    Every year so two Natalie, an expat from New York, puts on a wonderful seven course dinner in the huge function room of her home. Suzie had emailed me well in advance to see if we wanted to attend this event. The afternoon began with drinks and socializing on a terrace with a killer view of Lake Arenal. Guests were both local expats and B & B guests staying in the area. I enjoyed chatting those around me. One of the guest couples came from Zurich. The expats living around the lake are passionate about their location and many have been full or part-time residents for many years. Naturally I learned about their backgrounds and their reasons for settling in CR and particularly in the Arenal area. Among our many Christmases abroad this one was particularly memorable.

    Fred and I were up early so we sat on the porch bird watching. We even put out fresh fruit to attract them but it seemed that they craved shelter from the rain more than food and stayed snugly in the dense trees. An hour later, while at breakfast, the rain had taken a break and the birds were eating from fruit filled perches. I saw two small Toucans munching bananas. Just writing about it puts a smile on my face.

    We left right after breakfast in hopes of some sunshine at lower elevations. On our way we stopped at John and Kathy Nicholas's B & B, per their invitation the night before at the gala dinner. They built Chalet Nicholas nearly twenty years ago, a lovely home with three rooms for guests. From their front porch we saw more species of birds come to feed than from anywhere else thus far.

    We drove down through Las Canas and down in to the Central Valley. I was craving sun so we made a detour for a beach stop in Puertarenas and found the local yacht club for lunch. I enjoyed tasty ceviche with the view of boats docked along the river. While Fred tried to reason with our now recalcitrant GPS, I sat by the pool and soaked up some sunshine.

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    You're so welcome, Robbie. I'm glad you guys enjoyed yourselves. I can vouch for both The Springs and Nayara if you ever want info. on those. I'm really enjoying your report!

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    It was a good thing that we left Villa Decary early in the morning. The roads were packed with local families on their summer break. We took the toll road, route 27, all the way in to San Jose. This new road is in excellent condition and worth the six or eight bucks in tolls. Be aware that gas stations can be forty plus miles apart, planning is important. The GPS was now behaving properly and we confidently followed its directions toward Hotel Grano de Oro in San Jose.

    Something festive was going on, lots of people on horses and we could not get to our hotel, police had set up barricades in much of downtown. Glad we also chose to rent a cell phone with the car rental. We called Adobe with our coordinates and they navigated us to our hotel. In short order the Adobe rep came to do the rental return, we dumped our luggage in our room and walked three blocks to see what caused such big crowds to gather.

    We were watching the annual tope (horse show) where horses and riders from all over CR come to show off their magnificent steeds or scruffy nags. They follow a parade route through much of the city. I wasn't clear whether the prize is awarded to the most beautiful horse or the one with the most elegant dressage walk. The Tope also features street parties every few feet along the route. Musicians are playing, couples are dancing on the sidewalk, friends are picnicking and everyone is getting or is already really, really drunk. I guess all the police kept the partying within safe limits. I hope the photo I took of a man on his handsome mare while each of his hands were engaged talking on his cell phone and drinking a can of beer. We walked back to our hotel and had dinner in their elegant dining room. Good food, excellent service. Our hotel room on the courtyard, lovely.

    Thursday was the beginning of a new adventure to the northeast coast. We were picked up promptly at 6:30 am. by the Manatus Lodge folks. There was one honeymooning couple sharing the bus with us. Brayan was an outstanding tour guide. He pointed out San Jose's landmarks as we made our way north out of town and in to the countryside. We followed Route 32 toward Guapiles. Brayan narrated the drive with comments about the region. When he spotted a Spider Monkey the driver pulled over and we got out for a closer look. The terrain changed often enough to keep my interest. Before entering a cloud forest, we passed a coffee growing area. The national park we were in boasts 400 species of birds, the largest in CR.

    It was a good thing that we left Villa Decary early in the morning. The roads were packed with local families on their summer break. We took the toll road, route 27, all the way in to San Jose. This new road is in excellent condition and worth the six or eight bucks in tolls. Be aware that gas stations can be forty plus miles apart, planning is important. The GPS was now behaving properly and we confidently followed its directions toward Hotel Grano de Oro in San Jose.

    Something festive was going on, lots of people on horses and we could not get to our hotel, police had set up barricades in much of downtown. Glad we also chose to rent a cell phone with the car rental. We called Adobe with our coordinates and they navigated us to our hotel. In short order the Adobe rep came to do the rental return, we dumped our luggage in our room and walked three blocks to see what caused such big crowds to gather.
    We were watching the annual tope (horse show) where horses and riders from all over CR come to show off their magnificent steeds or scruffy nags. They follow a parade route through much of the city. I wasn't clear whether the prize is awarded to the most beautiful horse or the one with the most elegant dressage walk. The Tope also features street parties every few feet along the route. Musicians are playing, couples are dancing on the sidewalk, friends are picnicking and everyone is getting or is already really, really drunk. I guess all the police kept the partying within safe limits. I hope the photo I took of a man on his handsome mare while each of his hands were engaged talking on his cell phone and drinking a can of beer. We walked back to our hotel and had dinner in their elegant dining room. Good food, excellent service. Our hotel room on the courtyard, lovely.

    Thursday was the beginning of a new adventure to the north east coast. We were picked up promptly at 6:30 am. by the Manatus Lodge folks. There was one honeymooning couple sharing the bus with us. Brayan was an outstanding tour guide. He pointed out San Jose's landmarks as we made our way north out of town and in to the countryside. We followed Route 32 toward Guapiles. Brayan narrated the drive with comments about the region. When he spotted a Spider Monkey the driver pulled over and we got out for a closer look. The terrain changed often enough to keep my interest. Before entering a cloud forest, we passed a coffee growing area. The national park we were in boasts 400 species of birds, the largest in CR.
    It was a good thing that we left Villa Decary early in the morning. The roads were packed with local families on their summer break. We took the toll road, route 27, all the way in to San Jose. This new road is in excellent condition and worth the six or eight bucks in tolls. Be aware that gas stations can be forty plus miles apart, planning is important. The GPS was now behaving properly and we confidently followed its directions toward Hotel Grano de Oro in San Jose.

    Something festive was going on, lots of people on horses and we could not get to our hotel, police had set up barricades in much of downtown. Glad we also chose to rent a cell phone with the car rental. We called Adobe with our coordinates and they navigated us to our hotel. In short order the Adobe rep came to do the rental return, we dumped our luggage in our room and walked three blocks to see what caused such big crowds to gather.
    We were watching the annual tope (horse show) where horses and riders from all over CR come to show off their magnificent steeds or scruffy nags. They follow a parade route through much of the city. I wasn't clear whether the prize is awarded to the most beautiful horse or the one with the most elegant dressage walk. The Tope also features street parties every few feet along the route. Musicians are playing, couples are dancing on the sidewalk, friends are picnicking and everyone is getting or is already really, really drunk. I guess all the police kept the partying within safe limits. I hope the photo I took of a man on his handsome mare while each of his hands were engaged talking on his cell phone and drinking a can of beer. We walked back to our hotel and had dinner in their elegant dining room. Good food, excellent service. Our hotel room on the courtyard, lovely.

    Thursday was the beginning of a new adventure to the north east coast. We were picked up promptly at 6:30 am. by the Manatus Lodge folks. There was one honeymooning couple sharing the bus with us. Brayan was an outstanding tour guide. He pointed out San Jose's landmarks as we made our way north out of town and in to the countryside. We followed Route 32 toward Guapiles. Brayan narrated the drive with comments about the region. When he spotted a Spider Monkey the driver pulled over and we got out for a closer look. The terrain changed often enough to keep my interest. Before entering a cloud forest, we passed a coffee growing area. The national park we were in boasts 400 species of birds, the largest in CR. Tortuguero means turtle in Spanish and it is to this area that leatherback turtles (April to May) and green turtles (July to October) come to lay their eggs on the beach.

    During the night I woke up every time the rains became torrential, three or four times. Our group of three couples gathered at the dock at 8:30 for our morning boat tour of a canal in Tortuguero National Park. The sun was breaking through and I was hopeful......for a few minutes. We all got our ponchos on in time to greet the most torrential downpour I've ever been in. Our tour was more than two hours with minimal sightings of birds or other local resident. Fred sagely opined that only us humans were foolish enough to be out in this storm. All other critters were under heavy cover. Between soakings there were three intervals (maybe ten minutes each) without rain. Some wildlife began to appear. We saw howler and spider monkeys, vultures, iguanas, a ringed kingfisher. Back at the room, I squandered electricity drying my wet underwear with the hair dryer. Ponchos are great rain gear but I did not manage to tuck the poncho completely under me, my Bermudas and beneath got soaked.

    Afternoon much better. I learned to enjoy the rain. This tour went into the park whereas our morning tour was on the periphery of the park. The first half hour was clear and the forest came alive. Then the sky darkened and we suited up. The canopy was higher in these narrower canals. When the rain turned to a heavy drizzle I removed my poncho hood, the quiet was beautiful. Light showers, more sightings----Spectacle Caiman (looks like a small croc), the shell of deceased Black River Turtle, an Anhinga in nest, a Little Blue Heron, Osprey, a Squirrel Cocoo, a flock of Great Green Macaws squaking loudly in flight.

    I did not like our guide Rey. He was not engaging and not very good a spotting wildlife. The majority of spotting came from the guests on board. Rey was excellent at identifying critters. Several times he asked the two couples if we were enjoying our tour. Blatant requests for tips was not endearing. I saw an Owl Butterfly resting on a wood post outside reception.

    At dinner we got instructions for getting to the 6:25 am flight. We packed up and got to sleep early. The rain was so loud again, I woke briefly several times.

    I’m sure I would have liked the experience here much more if it wasn’t always wet. The food and service from the wait staff here are both good. They make a salad with fresh hearts of palm that is delicious. Its hard to put my finger on what is wrong at Manatus Lodge. It felt like no one was in charge and the most knowledgeable employees were the waiters. An example of their poor coordination: we were instructed to put luggage outside our doors by 6 am and be at the dock at 6:15. The boat was five to ten minutes late and when we boarded, the other family’s luggage was not on board. We waited ten minutes for someone to walk fifty yards to get their duffles from their room.

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    If you ever want to go back, the Tortuga Lodge is excellent. Don't feel bad about the rain. We went in July, and it poured every day then too. Glad you go to see some wildlife.

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    It was only a five minute boat ride from Manatus Lodge to the air strip. The 19 seat plane arrived late from San Jose and departed late. Our connecting flight from San Jose to Drake Bay was also late, so all was well. Waiting in line to get our checked baggage weighed (our cheapo tickets allowed only 15 pounds) and stand on the scale with backpack, I noticed that checked luggage was closely monitored but no one got questioned about their weight with backpack. So I did some rearranging while in line to lighten our checked baggage and overstuff our backpacks.
    If you are in line early your checked baggage is sure to get on the plane. As the plane fills there’s a chance they have reached their maximum load and they will deliver luggage to your next hotel by car, so they say. We were told our checked luggage might not get on the plane, fortunately it made the cut.

    We landed at a tiny air strip and were efficiently conveyed on a windy road to Drake Bay. My excitement mounted as I glimpsed views of the alluring bay. The road ended at the beach where groups of tourists were waiting for water transport to lodgings in the area. A small motor boat whisked us off to Aguila de Osa Inn. The sun was shining and I was in seventh heaven. Aguila de Osa is set on a high bluff where the mouth of the Aguitas River reaches out into the Pacific Ocean. What a spectacular location.

    Our corner room was ample in size with polished wood floors and walls and screened windows that afforded views of the rainforest and bay. Despite the upscale charm of the interior, it is the large L shaped gleaming wood balcony that took my breath away. From my hammock, stretched across one side of the balcony, I could see two sections of the bay. The coastal view is bisected by rainforest trees where we watched impossibly colorful birds fly in and out. Only 12 rooms and 1 suite at the inn, just the size I like best. If I returned I would again request room 11; numbers 9 and 12 also looked lovely. These rooms are a bit of a hike from the dining room and activities launch area but well worth the climb.

    We’d been so sedentary up until now, it was time to get out and walk. We walked to the village of Drake Bay. Not really a village, one main street with two markets and a couple places to eat. We picked up some supplies at the market. The local people here, as in the previous places we visited in CR, were easy-going and friendly. No one is in a hurry; this is part of the ethos of “la pura vida”. On the walk back to the inn it was really hot and humid so we walked back in the surf (instead of on the sand) to cool off. After hot showers, we lounged on our balcony, shared some wine we’d bought and watched the action in the trees.

    Sunday... Fred decided to pass on the tour of the mangroves. Too bad, he missed a good one. Our group of seven were taken by boat to the Sierpe-Terraba mangroves. Carlos, our naturalist guide was terrific and the boat driver did his share of spotting as well. We sped (and bumped) across the bay for 25 minutes to reach the mouth of the estuary and into the maze of canals. These flooded mangrove forests are only accessible by boat, giving me the feeling that I was the first person to explore this untouched paradise. What a profusion of wildlife. Of the many sightings, I remember a tiger heron, boat-billed heron, stately yellow crowned night heron, green backed heron, tricolor heron, little blue heron, royal tern, water monkeys (no prehensile tail), scarlet macaw with young in a tree hole, some great egrets, black hawks, a green kingfisher, a black river turtle, a three toed sloth,and snowy egret.

    Monday, the last day of 2012.
    How wonderful to wake to birdsong and dawn light. After an excellent breakfast, snorkelers and divers boarded our boat for the 45 minute ride to Cano Island. Cano is 12 nautical miles from our inn. Fred got dropped off at the beach, divers were dropped at another location and us snorkelers were taken to a third spot. The equipment provided was first rate and the staff very helpful. Here I saw two turtles, royal blue damsel fish, king angelfish, a hawksbill sea turtle(endangered), some bicolor parrotfish, a panamic sergeant fish, a whitetail reef shark, starfish clinging to a reef. Rock.

    Our snorkel mistress was excellent in pointing out hidden fish and identifying them for us. All passengers were collected and we headed for another beautiful beach. The staff set out a tasty lunch. On our return home, we spotted some dolphins playing. Our Christmas (high, high season) package included two excursions and all meals. We skipped the hike into Corcovado Nation Park based on reports from other guests. Carlos had said we’d seen more wildlife on the mangrove tour than we would see in the park.

    Our last evening followed the pattern of the first two. Six o’clock in the lounge area for appetizers, cocktails and visiting with the other guests. Most of the guests were family groups. For the most part the adolescents and parents were interesting people and pleasant conversationalists sharing their day’s activities and sightings. After an hour of mingling a bell rings and we dine family style at tables for ten. Some dinners were better than others but on the whole the food was quite good.

    After dinner we all congregated at a viewing area below the dining room to watch New Year’s Eve fireworks. Like most guests, we retired early. Fred and I shared our thoughts and feelings about the year ending and the one ahead.

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    I would love to visit Elkin's farm.

    I learned to enjoy the rain... I know exactly what you mean. It usually takes me a little while to remember to do so while on vacation :)

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    Thanks Femi. Nice to have contact with you on a different board. Back to the trip:

    Tuesday- Happy New Year, Feliz Ano Nuevo
    After breakfast we said goodbye to the friendly staff and the guests we’d enjoyed most. I would say that Aguila de Osa was a class act, everything that Manatus was not. There was strong management presence and good staff organization. Activity coordination was well managed. Each tour leader was outstanding. The food was good to good enough and they had the cleanest kitchen ever. All staff knew who we were, what room we occupied, our wine preferences, our departure arrangements. I really liked the personal touches and smallness of this resort.

    Our flight to Porto Jimenez involved the reverse of our arrival: short boat ride, wade thru a stream, back on land transfer luggage and drive fifteen minutes to what looked like another jungle shack, the office of Nature Air. Our check in luggage was weighed but there was no weigh in of our person with carry on. While waiting for the plane to land, I watched a local vendor set up his wares outside the "office" while Fred chatted with the driver. By and by a very small plane (like a Cessna with hair under its wings) touched down on a one block landing strip. We flew across the Osa Peninsula to its southernmost town, Puerto Jimenez.

    When we deplaned at Puerto Jimenez Fred went over to ask a Nature Air worker and asked if he could drive us over to the dock a few blocks away (there were no taxis anywhere). When we asked the charge, he said none. We thanked him and gave him a generous tip. What a nice man. Per last night’s email, we’d agreed to share our boat to the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary with a family of four also headed there.

    I thought the boat ride would be a quick jaunt but it was a nice thirty minute ride across the gulf. En route we stopped at a private beach with a beautiful home on it. The owners, from Wisconsin, and their friends hitched a ride with us to Carol 's place. Lazario, our boatman, has been the caretaker of the Wisconsin family’s property for many years, raised his family there. The owners are lovely people who shared their information about the local area.

    Carol Patrick, founder of the OSA Wildlife Sanctuary, greeted us all on the beach. Within seconds of gathering under a shady tree for a brief orientation, her passion for the animals under her care filled the air. Already seated were two guests who had arrived on time. Carol gave them a choice of beginning the tour without us or hanging out with Sweetie and waiting for us.

    Of course, they chose to spend one on one time with Sweetie, the Spider Monkey who is being treated for a skin infection. Pardon the expression but the four kids in our group went ape over Sweetie. What a smart animal. She will hold your hand, politely take a proffered grape and with her finger point to the spot on her body where she'd liked to be scratched.

    Sweetie climbed up Carol's body and wrapped herself around Carol's head, we were now ready to tour her Sanctuary. We saw and learned about sloths, several kinds of monkeys, toucans and much more. I was surprised to learn that a toucan’s upper bill can exert 75 pounds of pressure.

    We could not visit the animals in the nursery, they were being rehabbed and hopefully to be released back to the forest. Any unnecessary contact with humans would be detrimental to their future survival. After an hour and a half of superb education, we took our leave.

    The boat ride back was also eventful. Several dolphins were fishing; needle fish come to these waters to spawn at this time and the dolphins were active right around our boat. After we dropped off the residents and guests we had spirited conversation with the family that shared the boat with us. They graciously offered to take us and our luggage to a pick up point for our transfer down the peninsula. Of all the tourists we'd met, we c licked with this family the most and exchanged contact info. I do hope we can see them in the future.

    The advertised 45 minute trip to Bosque del Cabo was really almost 1 1/2 hours on very, very bumpy dirt roads. We forded a few streams for extra excitement. Bosque del Cabo was worth the trouble. The property sits at the southernmost tip of the Osa Peninsula on Cabo Matapalo and overlooks both the Golfo Dulce and the Pacific Ocean. The property's 850 plus acres was put in the Osa Wildlife Preserve, along with neighboring properties to create a wildlife corridor from Corcovado National Park to Cabo Matapalo and further south into Panama.

    The backstory on Bosque is that Phil Spier, a surfer from Florida, bought land here and began with three units some twenty five years ago. He has expanded to ten cabins plus several rental houses. We’re in Bambu, a standard unit. A deluxe room may have had more space and a larger balcony but the privacy we have on our balcony (easily 40 x 20 plus a step down viewing platform closer to ground and tree animals) is unbeatable. The front and right side of our balcony is densely forested with much bird life. The left aspect of the balcony overlooks the Pacific. Our first sighting was of an aguoti eat nuts on the ground, maybe 25 feet away.

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    The bar was humming with happy guests drinking Tico sours and tasty pizza appetizers while sharing their tales of today’s adventure. The lodge is brimming to capacity, those in rental houses can also dine with room guests. We were assigned a table by whatever logic and then were treated to the most delicious buffet style dinner. Aa has been the case at every lodge, we were the oldest couple by ten to fifteen years. At holiday time, there are mostly families with kids from five to twenty and couples I their forties and fifties. We are 67 and 74.

    We both slept in then sat on the balcony and watched the action in the trees. At breakfast overlooking the Pacific, we crafted our plan for the day. We would get a ride down to the beach so I could swim and then do a guided bird walk in the afternoon. After riding on a rock strewn track we were delivered to a pristine beach. The bumpy rode was rewarded with seeing a morpho butterfly and spider monkey. For the first hour it was just the pelicans and us on this pretty stretch of beach. Later (maybe ten am) surfers and swimmers appeared. When I was ready to swim I saw that I was not at the best swimming spot, too many rocks. I decided to wear my sunglasses until I came to the best beach and then I'd hide them since the glare was painful to my eyes. Bad plan. As I was walking at water's edge a wave knocked me over and my glasses flew off. I waited for the next tide to come in and deliver them to me, the depth of the water no greater than six inches. Ultimately, the ocean would not give them up and I sadly accepted the loss of expensive progressive lenses and my own stupidity.

    I resumed reading in the sun with Fred reading nearby in the shade. Right on time the staffer from BdelC, picked us up. Good thing we opted to be driven, the trail to the beach was a 45 minute hike. Fred had tweaked his bad leg getting off the boat yesterday and the hike would have done him no good.

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    Enjoying reading your report. Sounds like you finally got some sunshine! Btw, Bambu was just recently re-built, all new wood. It was one of the originals and was ready for a do-over! Pan Dulce beach can be tricky indeed, getting into the water where all the rocks are not.

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    Apparently they do. We were directed to the end seats of a long table. Trouble was, we were the only guests at that end. We expected other to join but they did not. We moved over closer but family groups were in their own enclaves. It may just be that they do assigned tables when exceptionally busy. Next night we requested a table outside, closer to the sea view. They assign tables at Aguila de Osa but I liked it that way. Smaller tables and people more willing to engage. Each night we were assigned to a different table so we got to meet everyone that way.

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    What an enjoyable report, thanks! We spent a couple of weeks in CR a few years ago, and would love to go back. We stayed at Lost Iguana (it rained, but it was nice and sunny on the Cano Negro tour - some miles away, so if you go back, consider a day trip) and also stayed at BdC, so I understand how you feel about both of them :)

    Aguila de Osa sounds great, I will look into it for our next trip. Osa is such a wonderful place, with so much wildlife...

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    Thanks for the encouraging comments. My last installment coming up. Yes, Aguila de Osa was my favorite place of the entire trip. And yes, we could have been more assertive about our seating.


    After lunch I nabbed a chaise lounge (8 to 10 loungers for 40 + guests was totally inadequate) and read by the pool. Three boys, between three and eight, were jumping, splashing and yelling, not too relaxing for me but fun for the kids. I’d read that there is an adults only policy after four in the afternoon but with so many kids that didn’t happen.

    Swinging in a hammock that overlooks the ocean was blissful relaxation that occupied me until our birding excursion. Unlike the early morning birding conducted on the property, this 3:30 pm trip took us off the property and into pasture lands. Carlos brought an 800 power magnification scope from which we could see so many birds: a red woodpecker, social flycatcher, white ibis, palm tanager, crested caracara, a falcon. My favorite sightings were of a Baltimore oriole, several red lured parrots and a pair of stunning scarlet macaws. At B del C each activity is charged separately, in contrast to Aguila where they include 2 activities in their holiday package. No reduced fee if you choose not to do an activity.

    After a delightful outdoor shower (just off our bathroom) Fred and I sat on our deck enjoying a nice red wine and listening to birds calling and flying overhead.

    A major happening had taken place minutes before we entered the outdoor (open on all sides and high roof) dining room. A fer-de-lance had slithered across the wood floor and ended its reign of terror by decamping defensively (curled up) by a tree beyond the dining room. Apparently, this pit viper is among the most venomous snakes and one has to look carefully before taking a step.

    Today is our last full vacation day in CR. At 8 am we gathered to begin our 3+ hour "primary rainforest hike". Phillip Davidson, the resident biologist and our guide, has been living down in Osa for thirty years, researching and writing about the great biodiversity of this area. His current research involves monitoring the population dynamics of butterflies and amphibians; he believes this information can provide early indicators of changes that many affect many life forms including us.

    He had a wealth of information and presented it well. The hike did not cover much mileage but there was a lot of up and down hills and negotiating through surface tree roots. You must take care not to lose your footing or brace a fall by grabbing a tree with deadly spikes around it. I truly enjoyed this tour. It didn't help our morale that the other couple on this tour were in their thirties and had to wait for us after every incline. Well, I just have to get used to that.

    After lunch I nabbed a chaise lounge (8 to 10 loungers for 40 + guests was totally inadequate) and read by the pool. Three boys, between three and eight, were jumping, splashing and yelling, not too relaxing for me but fun for the kids. I’d read that there is an adults only policy after four in the afternoon but with so many kids that didn’t happen.

    Swinging in a hammock that overlooks the ocean was blissful relaxation that occupied me until our birding excursion. Unlike the early morning birding conducted on the property, this 3:30 pm trip took us off the property and into pasture lands. Carlos brought an 800 power magnification scope from which we could see so many birds: a red woodpecker, social flycatcher, white ibis, palm tanager, crested caracara, a falcon. My favorite sightings were of a Baltimore oriole, several red lured parrots and a pair of stunning scarlet macaws. At B del C each activity is charged separately, in contrast to Aguila where they include 2 activities in their holiday package. No reduced fee if you choose not to do an activity.

    After a delightful outdoor shower (just off our bathroom) Fred and I sat on our deck enjoying a nice red wine and listening to birds calling and flying overhead.

    A major happening had taken place minutes before we entered the outdoor (open on all sides and high roof) dining room. A fer-de-lance had slithered across the wood floor and ended its reign of terror by decamping defensively (curled up) by a tree beyond the dining room. Apparently, this pit viper is among the most venomous snakes and one has to look carefully before taking a step.
    As usual we were reading in bed by nine and sleeping soon after.

    Today is our last full vacation day in CR. At 8 am we gathered to begin our 3+ hour "primary rainforest hike". Phillip Davidson, the resident biologist and our guide, has been living down in Osa for thirty years, researching and writing about the great biodiversity of this area. His current research involves monitoring the population dynamics of butterflies and amphibians; he believes this information can provide early indicators of changes that many affect many life forms including us.

    He had a wealth of information and presented it well. The hike did not cover much mileage but there was a lot of up and down hills and negotiating through surface tree roots. You must take care not to lose your footing or brace a fall by grabbing a tree with deadly spikes around it. I truly enjoyed this tour. It didn't help our morale that the other couple on this tour were in their thirties and had to wait for us after every incline. Well, I just have to get used to that.

    After lunch I nabbed a chaise lounge (8 to 10 loungers for 40 + guests was totally inadequate) and read by the pool. Three boys, between three and eight, were jumping, splashing and yelling, not too relaxing for me but fun for the kids. I’d read that there is an adults only policy after four in the afternoon but with so many kids that didn’t happen.

    Swinging in a hammock that overlooks the ocean was blissful relaxation that occupied me until our birding excursion. Unlike the early morning birding conducted on the property, this 3:30 pm trip took us off the property and into pasture lands. Carlos brought an 800 power magnification scope from which we could see so many birds: a red woodpecker, social flycatcher, white ibis, palm tanager, crested caracara, a falcon. My favorite sightings were of a Baltimore oriole, several red lured parrots and a pair of stunning scarlet macaws. At B del C each activity is charged separately, in contrast to Aguila where they include 2 activities in their holiday package. No reduced fee if you choose not to do an activity.

    After a delightful outdoor shower (just off our bathroom) Fred and I sat on our deck enjoying a nice red wine and listening to birds calling and flying overhead.

    A major happening had taken place minutes before we entered the outdoor (open on all sides and high roof) dining room. A fer-de-lance had slithered across the wood floor and ended its reign of terror by decamping defensively (curled up) by a tree beyond the dining room. Apparently, this pit viper is among the most venomous snakes and one has to look carefully before taking a step.
    As usual we were reading in bed by nine and sleeping soon after.

    Today is our last full vacation day in CR. At 8 am we gathered to begin our 3+ hour "primary rainforest hike". Phillip Davidson, the resident biologist and our guide, has been living down in Osa for thirty years, researching and writing about the great biodiversity of this area. His current research involves monitoring the population dynamics of butterflies and amphibians; he believes this information can provide early indicators of changes that many affect many life forms including us.

    He had a wealth of information and presented it well. The hike did not cover much mileage but there was a lot of up and down hills and negotiating through surface tree roots. You must take care not to lose your footing or brace a fall by grabbing a tree with deadly spikes around it. I truly enjoyed this tour. It didn't help our morale that the other couple on this tour were in their thirties and had to wait for us after every incline. Well, I just have to get used to that.

    This afternoon I was sitting on our balcony while Fred showered. To my great delight I saw a troop of NINE spider monkeys climb up one tree and gracefully jump to the neighboring tree. WOW. No binoculars needed, they were that close. What a way to end our first trip to CR.

    We left in ample time for the drive back to the air strip. En route we got a great sendoff from two macaws flying low in front of our jeep.

    Back in San Jose we overnighted at the Courtyard by Marriott. Our 8 am AA flight had a lousy routing; we stopped in Miami before arrival in Los Angeles. We had a wonderful time (despite my complaints) and I’m ready to go back. In fact, I will post a draft itinerary later and hope you’ll comment. Thank you all otra vez.

    Hasta leugo,
    Robbie (short for Roberta)

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    Ooh, Fer de Lance - we saw one while we were hiking at La Selva in the Sarapiqui area. Our guide took lots of good pictures for us. I was thrilled to see it, but glad it didn't get too close. Your trip sounds wonderful. Aguila de Osa sounds like a neat spot.

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    Funny vg, the only place I have seen a tercipelo was at Selva Verde. Actually I take that back, I saw a juve one at El Remanso. I love seeing them though, as long as they are a good distance away and someone points it out to me.

    Crazy story from one of my stays at Bosque - nice couple there, total newbies to CR, did not know any of the animals, birds, etc. They were out on a walk and took that shortcut to the tropical garden from the driveway. At happy hour they were so excited about a snake they had seen and got great close-ups. Turned out it was a tercipelo and they had no clue! What was great was Carlos knew exactly where they had taken the photo, said he "knew that one"!

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    We would like to contact Eric your tour guide in Arenal. We don't have a phone to call his number and when I looked up his website, it was a company called tabartours that organized religious trips to Israel.
    Do you have any other way of contacting him. Maybe his website is a bit different than the one you gave.
    Really appreciate it. Leaving Monday.

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    I've had my close encounter with fer de lance in GGandoca Manzanillo NP. Almost stepped on a juvenile one, and those are the most dangerous as they deliver all of their poison (adult ones are more wise). They are so well camouflaged it is almost impossible to spot them.

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