Our airport to start intercontinental flights is VCE. One of the most frequented in Italy, and flying from VCE is more affordable then flying from Slovenia, even with hotel and parking included. All our intercontinental flights starts early morning so we stay one night prior to flight in a small nearby Hotel Mary; no frills Chinese owned but clean and close to airport.
Italian airports are not known as being the most efficient, and things can happen. After this episode I will have to extend the "Don't assume anything" motto also to airports. Here is how our first adrenaline rising "activity" happened: being early on the airport we were happy to be no.2 on the drop baggage counter. We have three suitcases; two carry on and one chek in. So i placed the biggie on the conveyor belt to be weighted, and while we were looking for ESTA, lady asks us to put the bags on the weight. So we put on both carry ons; "Nothing for check in?" she asked. Our eyes opened wide. Where is our biggie??!! Next 30 minutes the adrenaline rush was sky high. End result| they found the suitcase in the baggage hold area (of course, as it has no destination tag it must have been excluded at the first checking station). The counter lady gave us a lesson about how we need to wait for her instructions before placing the luggage (and no word about her previous claims that she surely did not see incriminating item on the belt before). Well, we were happy not to press the issue further (although we were not sure which suitcase they have tagged) so we continue our journey. Not before landing in EWR we will know if and what suitcase will be with us for next two weeks.
Before EWR we stopped in Frankfurt. Plenty of time to switch the planes, and the carrier, United replacing Lufthansa. Another lesson learned was that I should not only print the flight itinerary but also take it with us. It is a visa thing, and luckily there is a 30 min free internet time on FRA so I was able to download the itinerary to iPad and showed it to the security lady. safely on board, and on time. Well, not quite. Some mechanical problem with fuel doors kept us sitting on the tarmac for almost an hour. Never ever assume that things will go as planned, specially if you are on the connecting flight. Our almost four hours slot to cross the US immigration has shrinked to three hours. Still enough but think if we would only have two hours? Just play it safely when deciding about your flight connection times. The plane used was a Boeing 767-300. In economy enough room for legs (we are both not tall persons), staff was helpful, just the TV screen was a joke, almost as small as some bigger smartphones nowadays, and with much worse resolution. Here again iPad proves being an ideal travel companion. The lunch was not much better. I think that Ryanair et all are doing this business a favour by not serving any food ... next time we might put some sandwiches in the carry on. Pilot was pushing a bit so we landed after 9 hours. From landing to boarding we needed exactly 1 hour. However, the immigration line was short and moving fast, baggage was already on carousel (yes, we got our almost runaway suitcase) and second security check was also quick. And Newark is relatively small airport plus United has all flights in one C terminal. So calculating possible delays, longer waiting times, and potential changes of terminals, three hours is minimum of a safe margin one has to calculate when transiting through US airports.
There is plenty of eating options in Terminal C of EWR, and we were early, so we grabbed a quick snack. The plane to SJO boarded on time, but we hit the traffic jam on the tarmac. 4 hors and 30 minutes later we landed at SJO. The immigration process was the faster I remember, there were more officers then visitors. Before that, in the baggage claim area, an ATM provided us with some colones. I prefer to use the mix of colones and USD cash as my payment method.
Flying via US might be more affordable but it adds to the total flying time, and to the nervousness that is always presented when flying long hauls. Between the two hotels, we spent 24 hours without a bed; not our longest but with the age it becomes less tolerable. A hint for next time maybe stay overnight in US. Or just forget the costs and use direct flight with Iberia. And a warning if flying with Lufthansa: their carry on weight rule is strictly enforced, and at 8 kg it is incredibly harsh. Passengers are forced to put all of their stuff into check in luggage, and are thus at the mercy of goddess Fortune praying that their luggage will arrive with them in the same time to destination. Not a very relaxed way to start anybody's holidays.
Our hotel of choice is Adventure Inn. About 10 min from SJO in direction to San Jose, it is a small hotel operated by a Canadian father/son team. There is nothing special about it, it just provides exactly waht we are looking for. A clean and comfortable bed after a long arriving flight, a healthy breakfast, a well known place for delivering the rental car, and close to the highway for easy driving to each coast. On departure, nearby is a shopping mall for last minute purchases. And if we would miss our luggage, it would be our first stop also. They are paying for your transport from SJO. On arrival they are using INTERBUS. There is a link on their site, which connects with the INTERBUS site where general info about arrival time has to be inserted. The reply was almost immediate, and on arrival, there was a very pleasant representative standing outside with our name in hand. In no time their minivan arrived and we were on our way to hotel. Excellent service from INTERBUS. On departure AI will pay for a taxi.
RENTAL CAR - Wild Rider - 15 days
I've heard about Wild Rider on some German motorcycle web site back in 2008. I really liked what they said about his services, so for my first visit to Costa Rica I have his small Daihatsu Terios nicknamed Pepe. Really perfect car for two persons and for rough roads. Next visit I have upgraded ourselves to Toyota RAV4. Much better for three persons. This year since it is our posh travel I rented a Hyundai Tucson. Jose from WR was at my hotel sharp 9 am as agreed. We went through usual ritual. No pushing for any additional services, insurance is included, and they don't believe in GPS. So Jose was marking our roads, giving me several useful hints. Later on Thorsten himself showed up with the car, to wish us happy and enjoyable journey. All in all, as good as it gets. No frill, precise German operation. BTW Jose is a Tico, has a lot of useful info, and speaks excellent English.
SANTA TERESA - Otro Lado Lodge - 4 nights 3 days
Instead of using the faster toll road 27 we opted for a slower yet more scenic PanAm 1. There were several slow driving trucks ahead of us, but with plenty of time, we had enjoyed the now familiar views of green hills and local households. After 100 km and 2 hours we arrived in Puntarenas for our 2 pm ferry to Paquera. There were only five cars ahead of us. The ticket booth is in the Musmanni bakery across the road. Car and driver plus one passenger costs 29 USD (11.400+810+810 colones). Boarding started 40 minutes before departure, and the crossing takes 1 hour and 30 min. Then it was off the boat and toward Santa Teresa. The road till Coban is paved, then it is a Tico massage type. It took us one hour and fifteen minutes to reach Santa Teresa, and the part of the road after Montezuma was really in a bad shape. Is this drive doable in a sedan type of car? Yes, it is. But on the worst part of the road my comfort level in Tucson was like 2 (on a scale from 0 to 10) so if driving a sedan car it would be like minus 5. But it is your butt (pun intended).
For accommodation we decided for Otro Lado Lodge. Small property along the road but at a safe distance not to be bothered by noise (or dust in dry season). The bungalow No.1 is a two storey building with two beds, a kitchen and an open air bathroom on ground level, and a bed and another bathroom on first floor, plus balcony. It is oriented toward west. Bungalow No.3 is on the opposite side of a small pool. It is owned by a young Italian couple and is well maintained. It has a lush garden and a lot of hardwood. For breakfast there are different main courses to choose from, plus coffee and fresh juice. There is a yoga platform, and there should be yoga classes each day. First market is about 5 min away on foot, entrance to the beach is almost on the opposite side.
Santa Teresa is not a town or a village, it is one very long dirt or gravel type road following the coast, lined by different types of accommodations left and right, mixed with several eateries, surf shops and a couple of markets. As much as I have seen, most of the accommodations are geared toward budget oriented clientele, and most of the folks on the road are young and surfers. Choosing where to stay is important, also because there is no natural gravity point where people congregate (like a park or a major crossroad). Since ST is so stretched away, walking around is not the most interesting thing to do. Specially not in dry season. There are lodges above the road, up the hill, most probably with a better view, but then walking to the beach is even harder. One can drive the car. Be aware that traffic is slow at best, road is bumpy and in constant repair, and parking places are few. So choose wisely.
The beach itself is acceptable for sunbathing, but not for swimming. The sand is light beige, soft, however there is a lot of debris that lines the high water mark, and there is nobody around to offer a sunbed. It is a surfer territory for sure. They are all over the place, transporting their surfboards on foot, bicycle, bike, quad, car, ... You name it. The good news? Santa Teresa must be the Costa Rica's capital of bikini wear. You can see them everywhere anytime, being transported around on mostly cool young bodies. Should have come here some 35 years ago, and would most probably have never left.
If not for the roads.
On our second full day we (I) decided to do an introductory drive around tour. Took the road to Playa Manzanillo (nothing to write home about), then up the hill through a quaint village of Manzanillo continuing on the 160 almost to the first river crossing at Rio Bongo then chickened out and made a U-turn back onto 160A, thus reaching Cobano via Rio Negro. Believe me, this is a Landy territory all the way. There is some asphalt in Cobano, and more on the steep downhill road to Montezuma. Did I miss something or is this a 10 houses village? Driving a few hundred meters north we stopped to take some photos, and had enough even before crossing the bridge. The return to Santa Teresa on a now already known, and in some places freshly graded (but due to strong overnight showers muddy) road was slow, and we came back at 2 pm. We were in the car for 5 hours and we were tired and hungry. We had lunch at Soda Tizquita; the food was tasty and reasonably priced ( one chevice, one sopa mariscos, one casado con pescado and two zumo naturales at 13.500 colones). The summary of this drive: parts of the country between Playa Manzanillo and Cobano were interesting but for the road, I will not try it again (ever). Might be that I am becoming too soft, who knows?
So our third full day was again dedicated to relaxation. The weather started off cloudy (and yes, it rained hard again during the night), so after the breakfast we hit the balcony chairs with a book in our hands (literally for me, and Zvezda was reading it on her iPad). After midday I became restless so we went on a drive to have lunch. We drove all the way to Playa Manzanillo only to realise that the restaurant there was closed. So back and searching for option #2, Piedra Mar. This one was open. It is located on the (surprise, surprise!) paved side road to Hotel Horizon. The parking lot was empty but there were people sitting under an open wall type of rancho. We ordered an aroz con calamari et camarones, un pescado entiero and two naturales. It took some time for food to be prepared (which I always appreciate as it means the food is fresh) and it was a tasty lunch. It was 11.500 colones before tip. Back to the lodge for more reading. We also paid our rental as to have more time when leaving.
TARCOLES - Cerro Lodge - 2 nights 1 day
Last morning in Santa Teresa and the rain showed us what it is like when it rains really hard. The road was almost flooded, every pothole filled with brown water so I had to drive really carefully. Once in Cobano, it stopped, and we were approaching our 11 am ferry fast. Well, little did we know that there was no need for any hurry. Because on that day all over the country there were protests, and so also the ferry terminal was blocked for car traffic. People waited from 9 am, some of them having a plane to catch in the afternoon. The polizia told me that also the road via Puente de Amistad was blocked so we just parked in the line. It was a very peaceful protest, polizia on one side and protesters on the other. Their main claim was to get a decent pavement on road 160, and I have to admit that their claim was so right. This road's condition is really shameful. At 1 pm the organisers had decided to move the protest into the town, road blockage was cleared and we were all boarded on the 2 pm ferry. No harm done to our plans, only the forecasted afternoon boat tour on Tarcoles needed to be cancelled. We arrived at Cerro Lodge early enough to enjoy the nice sunset (luckily rain stayed on Nicoya peninsula) and after a tasty dinner and a quick chat with fellow travellers (all of them passionate birders) we hit the bed early. This was because next morning it was an early wake up call for a full day photographing tour.
Our plan was to visit Carara NP. We asked Federico, the owner of Cerro Lodge if he could provide us with a guide. "Yes, of course. What is your primary interest - birds, lizards, crocodiles?" "Photography in general, " was my answer. So he started calling around and came back with good news. "Randall is available tomorrow. But his car is in the workshop." Not a problem, I love driving in Costa Rica. So who is Randall? His full name is Randall Ortega Chavez and is above all a wildlife photographer, then a guide. While researching for this trip his name came up with some pretty good reviews so I had sent him an email asking for availability then. It was back in January and at that time there was no opening in his schedule. Getting him on a short notice was like a miracle for me. Talking to the guy to establish the pick up place, he asked me "Canon or Nikon?" "Nikon, of course!" "Good." So next morning he showed at the rendezvous place with an enormous tripod and a beast of a lens, a 500/f4. For the rest of the day, my task was to drive around and to be quiet while he taught Zvezda how to operate the gear and about trade secrets. It was a long day, driving in the back country above Carara, stopping at various places where there were birds, and sometimes there were no birds. But like the weather, also the wildlife is unpredictable. Randal is a very knowledgeable guide, and an excellent photographer. You may find him on Facebook, or phone him at (506) 8889-8815. If arranged in advance, he can provide you with a long lens so all you need to bring is a camera body, some cash and a lot of patience, and at the end of the tour you will have at least a dozen of shots that will fit in your The Best Of portfolio.
We dropped Randall at his house in Jaco, and returned to Cerro Lodge in time for a double coffee and a short birding along the road. Afternoon around 5 pm is the time when scarlet macaws are returning from inland toward the beach. Sometimes they are flying just overhead ( not good for taking photos but great to observe them) sometimes the flight path is lower so there is opportunity for some fly by shots. In addition, a colourful mot mot was perching close to the road. A perfect end to a perfect day for a photographer.
What I like most about Cerro Lodge is that it is a place where mostly birders come to stay. And they are all so easy to involve in a conversation, eager to exchange their last lifers and keepers and the rest of stories which makes breakfasts and dinners to be an entertaining affair. Speaking of dinner, food is freshly prepared, tico style, and very tasty. It costs 15 USD for a three course meal plus as much natural juice as you can drink.
No overnight rain while we were there, and since we hit the bed at 8 pm, were already up at 6 am, just in time for another hike along the road, before breakfast and Goodbye to Carara, Hello Osa.
OSA - Bosque del Cabo - 4 nights 3 days
After a short early morning birding hike, where we had a chance to spot several motmots and scarlet macaws flying inland, we started our long day drive to Bosque del Cabo on Osa peninsula. We left Tarcoles at 9 am and arrived at BdC six hours later. To our surprise the road between Chacarita and Puerto Jimenez is almost completely paved now. And Costanera Sur is in excellent driving condition. Even the infamous road to Cabo Matapalo is in a much better condition then what we remembered from two years ago.
Bosque del Cabo is one of those lodges that one reads a lot about, yet due to its remoteness and its price level is hard to decide about staying at. An invitation by a group of BdC fans which organised a biannual GTG there gave me an opportunity to check out this place (due to special discounted price offered by owners for this special occasion). It is located about 40 min from Puerto Jimenez to Carate road, then left for 2 more kilometers. It encompasses 800 acres of primary and secondary forest from the cliff above the Pacific. There are cabins alongside the cliff with excellent views over the sea, more rooms in the jungle garden, and a house or two to rent if your group is a bit larger. We stayed at Bambu, the cabin is made of hardwood with two double beds, and a porch overlooking the ocean. It is the last in a row, so next is a tree line where monkeys are regularly transiting. A pool, bar and restaurant area are a 2 min walk away. Due to its remoteness it is a full board option only. Its main attraction is the wildlife, wide expanses of cleared areas attracts all kind of mammals and birds. It is not impossible to spot also a cat roaming around. Monkeys, agoutis, coatimundis, etc give company to toucans, scarlet macaws and other birds. One has to be careful though as snakes are also a pretty common addition to BdC wildlife arsenal. In fact, first animal capture on camera was a juvenile boa. For all this to enjoy in full glory the weather must cooperate. We had no luck as during the night a heavy storm rolled in and it was raining the whole next day. At least thus we were able to chat with all the friendly people which I knew before only by their respective screen names on Tripadvisor or Fodor's.
Second day started with a sunny morning, and we were up and ready to hike. Among several hikes most popular is Titi trail, both because it is most easy to walk and because it provides the best chance to spot animals. Peccaries are common to be seen there, and of course monkeys. We have done this trail twice, have not seen any peccaries yet we had luck with crested guan and great currasow. Usual daily routine for wildlife lovers: wake up shortly after 5 am, get a coffee at the restaurant on self service basis, hike the Titi trail for about 2-3 hours. Get back in time for breakfast and exchange of "what have we seen" news. Then another hike on another trail, or participate in one of the activities offered by the lodge. Lunch time between 12 am-1 pm. After the lunch another hike then everybody hits the bar at 5.30 for happy hour and chat till dinner is served at 7 pm. Bed time is early and welcomed by tired legs. If not into hiking the trails, then one can just walk the road between the lodge and the entrance. After an initial steep incline, about 10 min long, it levels up and it is excellent to watch for birds and monkeys, and to observe the blue morphos doing their flying dance. Or just stay at the lodge, get a chair near the pool and a pair of binoculars. You never know who or what will show up on the grassy areas around the main house.
But before you do any hikes, read the info provided, and ask either staff or other more experienced guests about the trail you want to do. I learned my lesson the hard way. At 3 pm we went to the tropical garden, to check out the accommodations that are located there. It is about 5 min walk, over the suspension (hanging) bridge. After taking our time to walk around and to take photos of agoutis, we could take different trails back to lodge. Either go back to the lodge using the shorter path or return via the Zapatero trail. Zvezda opted for the first, me of course for the second option. A big mistake. On the map it looks short. And as a macaw is flying it also is short. But it goes down to the creek and up and down to next creek and up again ... After Zvezda asked me what time it was I knew I was in trouble. Nobody wants to be in the jungle after the sun sets. So we pushed onward even faster, down and up and after another hour of sweaty and heart pumping and knees screaming "give me a break" we finally exited the trail. With really deep relief I checked the time: 5 pm. To most of you husbands reading this I do not need to explain the type of look my dear wife was directing towards me. So, do not engage into more difficult or longer trails in the afternoon, do them in the mornings. When back at the lodge, and having a much deserved liquid replenishment, we were told that a sloth had been roaming around the lawn, choosing which tree would be his for next week. Darn! So my stupid decision not only brought us into a potentially risky situation, but also the opportunity to take some great shots of a sloth was missed, well, at least we had a really good workout on a natural stepping machine.
The one thing I was missing were scarlet macaws. So on our third, last day at BdC we decided to drive to Carate where they usually sit in the trees near the river. Most of the group decided to go down the Pacific trail but we had no will power to force us into walking about 400 steps down (and then up again) to the beach. We had seen that Vicky, one of our new forum friends, was also not going, so the three of us drove towards Carate. The first two small river crossings were OK, but after about 30 min of slow driving we arrived at the larger one, and it looked too deep for my wife's liking. Since I still remembered that she is always right, we turned around. Not much later I've heard the signature screeches of scarlet macaw. Several were sitting on a tree near the road, so we pulled our photo artillery out. Several more stops later we passed by the entrance of BdC and as it was still early for happy hour we decided to get a drink at Buena Esperanza bar. The owner, mrs.Martina was there so we were given the drinks and the local news.
After staying 3 and a half days at Bosque del Cabo, it is easy to understand all the rave about it, and the fact that there are so many repeated guests (record holder in our group has 13 visits). The cabins are nice, comfortable, all with excellent views over the Pacific. There are houses that can host larger groups, same or even better amenities (Casa Miramar has its own pool). Food was delicious; different choices for breakfast and lunch, and a buffet style menu for dinner. The staff very attentive but never intrusive. Trails are well signed and maintained. Wildlife sightings are one of the best we experienced, both mammals and birds. Its price might be the only not so good news. But also that is relative. So if your travel budget allows for, treat yourself with 3-4 nights at Bosque del Cabo. If not, and staying in Puerto Jimenez with a car, then drive up the road and ask them if you could hike their trails. As I said before, I suggest you hike the Titi trail.
UVITA - Tikivillas Rainforest Lodge - 4 nights 3 days
As we already knew the driving times, and the condition of the road, we were in no hurry to leave Bosque del Cabo early. Thus we once more hiked the Titi trail, had another tasty lunch and thanked our hosts from Fodor's BdC GTG 2013.
The road between Cabo Matapalo and Puerto Jimenez is one of the most beautiful ones we have driven on in Costa Rica. Open pasture lands, signature guanacaste trees, cows and horses, and many birds perching on trees or roadside fences make it a slow driving one. On the north side a storm was brewing so the sunlight reflected back giving the greens even more magical shades. No wonder that we needed more then an hour and a half to reach Puerto Jimenez. From there one smooth sailing toward Uvita.
Approach-road to Tikivillas Rainforest Lodge is short but steep. A sign for engaging a 4x4 mode is really not necessary as any driver will switch it on by default. And on the steepest part, car engine simply lost power and died. Quick on the handbrake, but hard on the clutch, I was able to overcome the forces of gravity, but I knew without smelling it that the clutch took its toll. Mainor, manager on duty, surely heard the engine revving and was down at the parking lot waiting for us. A friendly welcome handshake for me and a hug for Zvezda. Re. Parking lot, the lodge will have a new parking with an approach road that is much easier, and a 4x4 will not be mandatory anymore to drive to this excellent small luxury lodge.
Our villa was no.3, the highest positioned of all, which gave us the most fantastic view over the green forested slopes toward the Pacific ocean. You can hear the surf crash even at its elevation, about 200 m a.s.l.. Unfortunately, same cool breeze that allows for nice sounds also transfers the less nice ones, that is, of heavy trucks using the air brake while driving down the Costanera Sur road 34. However, as back home we are living near the highway, we quickly stopped hearing these less pleasant sounds, concentrating on the nicer ones.
The villa is a self standing building, one big room with a king bed and a single bed, small kitchen, bathroom with closet and indoor and outdoor showers. The indoor shower is such that I would like to have it in our house. The water is almost instantly hot. But the best is the large balcony, divided from the room by moving doors so when they are open, it is like sleeping under the stars (poetic exaggeration here as all but one night were cloudy so no stars visible).
Morning breakfast is served in the main lobby area, where a bar and an infinity pool are also located. The large black volcanic tiles just ask for walking barefoot on them. And the pool is one of the most romantic ones. In fact, this is adult only place. There are 5 villas so never more then 5 couples at any time. No surprise when I heard that honeymooners love Tikivillas.
Breakfast was tasty but with fewer options than in BdC. A fruit plate and Tico breakfast for me. And coffee, of course. Negro, sin azucar, sin leche. That's the only way to drink excellent costarican coffee. There are many plants surrounding the villas so birds are common visitors. Wake up early, make yourself a cup of coffee and sit on the balcony watching the many colorful birds singing and hopping from one bush to another. What a way to deep relaxation, maybe with a great book in hand. Unfortunately for Zvezda, not when I have car keys in my possession. So after the breakfast and a short but profitable photo hike we set out to explore the area. Richards, who manages the lodge during the day, gave us a hand sketched map pointing out some interesting sights. First we drove to Whales&Dolphines, a hotel high above the coast, about 10 min drive on partially paved road. It is famous for its view over the Whales Tail, a nature phenomena that is known also as Marina Ballena and is protected as a national park. There is a restaurant on site, a bar with young and welcoming staff (no surprise here), and a swimming pool of decent proportions. We were the only patrons early in the day, so with a cold cerveza in hand we watched as the tail slowly showed its form when the low tide increased. We did not have time to wait till around 2 pm when the low tide should be. However, I made a quick inspection of one of their rooms. There are 20 of them, in two blocks per ten, each with a view and a balcony. Interior is of a standard hotel, nice and clean, and the room is of a decent size. Definitively comfortable enough for a few nights. We continued toward a local waterfall situated along the road, left if entering Uvita, just before BM Supermercado. Drive straight and after passing the cemetary, veer left. A sign for Cascada Verde might be visible. We parked the car near the soda where we paid the entry fee of 3 US$ per person. Entrance is meters away. The waterfalls are two, each with a swimming hole. However, as soon as I had reached the first one and started to take photos, a strong shower started. My Costa Rica waterfall curse. Same happened back in 2008 at La Fortuna waterfall. At least Zvezda remembered the lesson as she stayed half way, and retreated quickly to the covered area by the entrance. Me, I was soaking wet. Well, it is the rainy season after all. So instead of looking for Carlos and his pet caiman, we backtracked to the lodge to change the clothes.
Later that evening we were invited to have a dinner with a couple from the States that we met at Casa Marbella in Tortuguero five years ago, and have kept contact ever since. Tish and Jerry have a house above Dominical, with a million dollar view. Not a roof between them and Manuel Antonio. We chatted long into the night so I got my first really late night drive in Costa Rica. At the end, it was a simple affair. Of course, the weather cooperated, no rain or fog or clouds. And yes, we have had to be concentrated once on main road as pedestrians do not know about the reflective protective items.
The clutch still oozed the bad odour so I called Thorsten at Wild Rider informing him what happened. He was ready to send us a replacement car, but we decided to wait another day. Our destination was going to be Boruca village. But mentioning our plans to Tish, she said there was no need to take a long and hard drive since nearby lives a lady that works tightly with that village. Thus instead we met at 9 am at the sign for Los Olas and Pacific Edge, and the later one is the small eco lodge run by Sandy and George. Sandy is very involved with supporting the women community from Boruca, and she is also selling their handmade products. My wife was in heaven due to the large selection of wooden masks and woven bags on display. While she was busy choosing what to buy, I've made a quick inspection of the lodge. I have counted 4 smaller and 1 larger cabin, all with a great view. Three different viewing platforms facilitate birdwatch viewing, and a small pool is handy to cool down when the sun is too hot. Sierpe was our next destination. Easy 45 minutes drive later we parked in front of the well known restaurant called Las Vegas. Richards suggested us to get hold of Don Jorge, the owner, for a boat tour on Sierpe river. But first we had lunch, an oversized pargo. In the meantime a young local guide Oscar was searching for el capitano of the boat, a large pontoon type vessel. The price for three hours for private tour was 100 US$, including the guide and refreshment drinks. Since we showed such interest in wildlife and local life, Jose and Oscar enjoyed the tour almost as much as the two of us. Zvezda made some great photos of a green iguana, squirrel monkeys and caimans, and of course, el capitano knew where the tree boas had their usual hangouts. It was nice to observe them, coiled on the branches above the river. But photogenic they were not, hiding the head inside the coiled body. We also passed by the house where Oscar grew up, deep down the river, and it was so interesting to listen about his youth in this wilderness. So much different then what city kids could learn about the nature. We were back at dock below Las Vegas some four hours later. Taking some more photos along the main road, just long enough that Oscar asked us if we could give him a lift to Palmar Sur. here he showed us the remains of an old train used in the times when bananas were the main crop here, not palms.
Third and last full day I pushed our exploration even further afield. Our goal for the day: to spot the elusive Resplendant Quetzal. Savegre Mountain Lodge in San Gerardo de Dota has an excellent record on number of quetzals sightings, so I called the lodge to arrange for a guide. Our ETA was 8 am so we woke up at 4.30, and started driving at 5 am, just with the first light. Driving to San Isidro de El General is all uphill, and into the rising sun. But the views, to die for (hmmm, sometimes the sun did blind me so be very careful and drive slowly). We reached PanAm in about 60 min, and then more uphill driving. The mist was laying like big lakes in the valleys, the sun was soft in early morning, and surprisingly we had to overtake only 3 large and slow going heavy trucks. So we were at KM 80 already after less then two hours. Here the road to San Gerardo starts, left if coming from San Isidro direction. And the road is an overstatement. It looks like a country road in our Alps. Narrow, switchback turns, sometimes paved but mostly not, steep descent. Strange feeling, driving an alpine look-alike road in Costa Rica. Passing by different lodges we finally reached Savegre Lodge. An older man was washing a car, and waved us down. Surely enough it was our guide, Marino Chacon himself, ready for action. But not before a cup of strong black coffee, and a bathroom break. Our goal for the day: to find and to photograph the quetzal. Senor Marino has been guiding for almost 30 years in that area, so if anybody, he knows about where to look for one. He took us to his favorite spot, which surprisingly was only a few steps from the main lodge. A large open clearing with two trees, and a group of birdwatchers was already at work there, having their scopes and binoculars targeted at the female quetzal. Unfortunately, she was in a deep shade so only a few shots were taken, to warm up the camera and the shooter. While we were waiting for the sun to come up and put some light on the bird, Marino was searching the perimeter for more exemplars. And then it happened; like by magic, with the sun up, a male appeared in all his glory. And by looking at this magnificent bird I realised why they named it Resplendant. Zvezda took a few shots and then she made a fatal mistake. She handed the camera to me to change some settings. I did that, but never gave the camera back to her. Instead, I was like in a trance, taking photo after photo of the bird. I told her later that she should have kicked me in the knee hard to give her the camera back, as she surely is a much better photographer then I am. Luckily, reviewing the photos later, I was able to get a few decent shots, so I was spared. But not without a promise to return to this place once again. An easy promise for me to keep.
After a few minutes of posing the quetzal flew away, and we started to look for more. So our final score was 1 male, 2 females and 1 chick. All dully photographed. Then it was time for Marino' favourites, the small colorful singers. They were really tiny but camera was this time safely in Zvezda's hands, and the little birds of all colors I observed through Marino's powerful Zeiss scope. Four hours has passed by like nothing, and it was lunch time. We invited our guide to lunch with us. He agreed, also because as an owner his meals at the lodge are free of charge. We have had trout prepared in different ways, both very gourmet. The cost for two three course dinners and three drinks was not low at 27.000 colones but it was worthy of its price. During the lunch Marino introduced us to Marcos Savoria, one of the most esteemed Costa Rican wildlife photographers. Marcos is a Nikon guy so we easily found a topic to discuss. He told us about the projects he is involved in, and we told him about our feelings for Costa Rica and its nature. Marcos shared a few trade secrets with me (to impress Zvezda next time) and when Marino pointed out that there is a book of Marcos on sale in the lodge shop, we bought it and Marcos was talked into signing it for us. What a perfect and memorable end to a perfect day. To add, the weather was excellent all day long. Sunny but at that elevation warm and fresh, just perfect for birdwatching. The lodge itself is also very nice. There are about 60 rooms, in cabins, and I have noticed that they are equipped with fireplaces. It must be quite a romantic place, fire burning in the fireplace. But we needed to return, it was already 3 pm. When we reached the PanAm I realised that at KM 80 we are only ten more kilometers from KM70, and there is a place that we still remembered fondly, Paraiso de Quetzal. Thus we decided to drive there, and to say hello to the owner, Jorge Serrano, if there. He was. While I sipped another strong negro, sin azucar, sin leche with him, and was catching up with the news, Zvezda was busy on the porch, trying to document as many of the little buzzers as possible. Mission impossible, so many hummingbirds were zooming around the feeders. In one of her photos, 8 of them are recorded. This was the only day when her 16 GB Sd card was filled up; almost 1000 photos taken in a day. So all you interested, you will need to wait a while for me to sort them out. After buying two bags of local coffee we returned back to Uvita, passing the highest elevation point at 3455 m a.s.l. according to our Garmin, and reaching San Isidro in good time. But then the rain started, and it rained hard all the way to Uvita. The rivers down in the valley showed how wet that day was on the Pacific side. Richards waited us with big umbrellas at the parking, so no more soaked clothes. We returned to the bar for one more banana colada, a signature drink at Tikivillas, and to tell Richards about our day. BTW, it was 4th of July. And we did have a firework display, a firework of nature colors.
Friday was our last day in Costa Rica, for this visit, of course. Another early walk with a camera on the road above the lodge, looking for more photo opportunities. Aracaris are the most colorful birds there, and also easy to find. Then some internet time while Zvezda was packing. She needed to be alone at that most important and delicate job, so I willingly left her for more macho company at the bar. And our last photo of this trip was maybe the best one. Jesus is a gardener at Tikivillas and he spotted a young green iguana in a bush near the bar area. The little fella was posing there thus giving me the chance to use all the knowledge recently acquired, and I finally nailed a shot that I am proud of. It was like Hasta la vista, baby, and I will be back in the same scene.
Three hours and 30 minutes was the drive from Uvita to Adventure Inn using the new Caldera road 27. Not really a highway like in US or Europe, but nevertheless much straighter then the PanAm, and much faster. But not my cup of tea. This is the only time I have witnessed Tico crazy drivers. Driving fast, overtaking on the right, trying to squeeze in where there is space only for half a car, no manners at all, etc. I much preferred the old PanAm even though it is longer and with so many curves. Yet road 27 is the fastest way to come to the beach from San Jose. One hour 30 minutes from Jaco to exit for Alajuela, and three toll booths at 450, 600 and 450 colones. The NavSat map navigated us through some unknown suburbs but safely to our destination. While still on the road I called Wild Rider to announce our safe return. Thorsten was happy hearing that we had no problems with the clutch, and Thomas inspected the car for any major damage, none found, we shook hands and most of the trip was over for us. Well, not entirely. We still had an appointment on our schedule, an important one. Luis, Rocio and kids came to our hotel, we exchanged the football shirts (me getting the better deal as Costa Rica still have chances to qualify for next mundial while Slovenia is already out) and news. What a person, Luis. He came back from Guanacaste and still had taken time and strength after a long drive to sit with us.
Return flight was early so we booked a taxi at 4 am (courtesy of Adventure Inn). There were 10 flights scheduled to depart between 6 am and 7 am so departure area was quite busy, but airport staff at SJO was very efficient. We paid the exit tax, checked in at United counter, and crossed the border in 65 minutes. The UA1079 to Houston started on time, and also landed on time. Houston is a huge airport, so here it took us longer to reach the departure lounge. However, moderately long lines and efficient staff made it into 1 hour and 45 minutes before we reached the departure gates. For anybody transiting through US airport I strongly suggest to have at least 3 hours between the flights, and for some less efficient airports, like MIA, even 4 hours are not too many. From Houston to Frankfurt we flew on a brand new Airbus A380 by Lufthansa. This is one big plane, inside the economy class it is as long as a train. 99 rows by 7 seats; but the onboard entertainment system is very good, so between writing reports, watching movies and sleeping, the 9 hours and 15 minutes flight was not as difficult as I feared it to be. One more short jump between FRA and VCE, and after 2 hours by car between Venice and Ljubljana, we were home, ready for another adventure.
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