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Trip Report #1 - Osa/Bosque del Cabo

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Trip Report #1 - Osa Peninsula - Bosque del Cabo

In an effort to combat the shock of returning from our trip 9 days before Christmas, with not a present bought as shoppers we are not, as well as combating a good dose of the after-trip blues, I’ve decided to lose myself in memories by composing the first installment of a trip report.

My husband and I spent 16 days in CR, beginning and ending one night each in San Jose at Hotel Grano de Oro, which we absolutely loved. The food, accommodations and staff were excellent and we were able to change US $ to colones at the front desk, so we never had occasion to leave the place. We were too busy working our way through the menu in the short time we had there! Did I mention we like to eat? Our trip consisted of 4 nights at Bosque del Cabo on the Osa Peninsula, a couple of nights at Arenal Observatory Lodge, followed by 4 nights at Almonds & Corals on the Caribbean side near Manzanillo, and ending with 3 nights at Selva Bananito in the foothills of the Talamanca Mts., also on the Caribbean side.

I thoroughly researched CR before deciding where to focus on for our first trip there. Once I pinned down the areas and places I was interested in staying, I solicited the help of Solimar Travel who further assisted in narrowing my choices down to a sensible schedule and who booked all of our accommodations and transportation, including transfers to each subsequent place by private transfer, Interbus and Nature Air. (My husband is a reluctant traveler and basically just shows up at the airport the day we depart, although being a computer weenie he was in charge of the digital camera dept. and purchasing a new pair of binoculars for bird watching.) Everything pretty much went like clockwork. Thank you Solimar.

Our trip was perfect in every way, including the weather. The only rain we saw was in late afternoon or overnight and once during a hike up a river with a waterfall rappel, so since we were already wet we didn’t mind the rain. We left home Nov. 29 and returned Dec. 16.

After about 17 hours of travel, we were met at the airport by Eduardo who whisked us to Hotel Grano de Oro. The following morning Eduardo again whisked us to the airport at Pavas for our flight to Puerto Jiminez. The flight was delayed an hour, for no obvious reason, but other than that we were very satisfied with the professionalism of Nature Air. The 45-min. flight was uneventful, although it was a bit disconcerting when the cemetery first comes into view as the plane is touching down on the short runway in Puerto Jiminez.

Kevin, the driver from Bosque del Cabo, and Philip, Bosque’s wildlife biologist who was tagging along with Kevin so he could take care of some business in town, kindly waited the extra hour it took for our flight to arrive. It would have been one long walk otherwise. The hour ride to Bosque is an adventure, but actually reminds us of the logging roads we drive on at home when we go on hikes and climbs. Kevin won the prize for pointing out my first sighting of squirrel monkeys cavorting in the trees near the road.

Seeing the look on my husband’s face on arriving at Bosque was worth all his grumbles about being made to travel. He had told most of our friends that we were “roughing it” at eco lodges in CR. Bosque is a very special place and I definitely wouldn’t consider it anywhere near roughing it. On arrival we were immediately served lunch, all the while being entertained by a capuchin monkey that was running along the railing and hoping for a handout. We thought it was cute until the staff explained that the monkeys were starving and normally don’t come so close to humans or that close to the restaurant. We were very happy one morning when we were told there were no bananas for breakfast as the monkeys had broken into the storage area and eaten them. I would gladly have shared all my meals, but of course that’s forbidden for obvious reasons. It was quite distressing to watch the monkeys right outside our cabin picking green bananas, trying to eat them and then throwing them down because they were not yet ripe. It was about this time that I understand they closed Corcovado National Park to tourists. It did not affect our plans, however, since we never left Bosque’s 600 acres.

Aside from the monkey situation, Bosque was everything and more than I had hoped. I was a bit worried that, after reading the many accolades on this site, it would be like a movie you hear too many good things about and are disappointed when you finally see it. Not so with Bosque. We made fast friends with many of the staff and I almost cried after the 4 short days when I had to leave my newfound friends and our cabin. We stayed in the Gecko cabin and loved it.

The remainder of our first day we familiarized ourselves with the grounds and hiked down to the Pacific Ocean. The tide was in, so we had to stay up on the rocks to avoid being pulled out to sea. A couple of days later we hiked back down when the tide was out and were able to take a jaunt along the beach to explore.

Our first morning I couldn’t wait to awake to the howler monkeys that I had read so much about. Sure enough, at around 4:30 a.m. they started their racket. I poked my husband and said “howler monkeys.” He mumbled, “Sounds like a pack of dogs,” rolled over and fell back asleep. Some nature lover he is!

The second day at Bosque we went on a 4-hr. guided trip with Philip and learned about the jungle, leaf cutter ants, lizards, snakes, birds and the relationships between the various plants and animals. We were graced with the presence of many butterflies, the most awesome being the blue morpho. I thought I had seen the most beautiful butterfly in Australia, the blue Ulysses, but the morpho is by far the best I’ve ever encountered. We would see it often during our time in CR.

After that outing, Philip suggested after lunch that we hike down the creek to the waterfall, so we took him up on the offer. It was a great outing and we saw and heard some more monkeys as well as various poison arrow frogs.

That evening we joined Philip for the 6 PM night walk. I was thrilled and excited when Philip had us shine our headlamps on the bushes and we could see what now in my mind were hundreds of diamond-looking eyes peering at us. My hair stood on end when we got closer and I realized they were huge spiders lurking in the large bushes we walk past day and night. I gave them a wide berth after that. In addition to the spiders, of which I am terrified, we saw snakes, frogs, bats and toads, none of which frighten me. The first evening in our beautiful cabin as I was getting ready for bed, I heard my husband scurrying around near the bed. As I was getting ready to crawl under the covers, he kindly informed me that he had removed what he termed a “tarantula-sized spider” from the wall at the head of the bed. Needless to say, I did not sleep that night. Probably why I was awake to hear the howler monkeys at 4:30 AM. That was the only incident where a spider was where it was not supposed to be. I don’t mind them in the bushes as long as they stay there. Under no circumstances do I want a spider on me.

The next couple of days we hiked almost every trail at Bosque, went on guided bird watching trips with Eduardo two mornings in a row, where I jumped up and down with glee when we spotted almost any bird that was different than home. I kept a list and in the 2 1/2 weeks in CR I wrote down about 100 species. Eduardo jumped up and down with excitement when he spotted for us a rare turquoise cotinga. He was an excellent guide. I was amazed at how he could spot the birds. I pride myself in being very observant when I am walking in the woods, but sometimes even when Eduardo would point them out, I still could not see them. The second morning we bird watched, it was quite humorous when Kim the owner and her cat Tiger accompanied us on part of the venture. How many people can say they’ve been bird watching with a cat? What more could a cat ask for in life than to have an expert point out the location of birds? Tiger was on his best behavior, though, and seemed to only be along for the company.

Each evening we would hit the bar for the nightly drink special before dinner, chatting with the few guests that were there. I felt redeemed in my choice of the Osa when a National Geographic photographer who has been to Bosque each year for 15 yrs. or so and who is doing a coffee table book on the Osa, gave us kudos for coming to the Osa on our first trip. He said it takes most people 3 or 4 visits before they figure out the Osa is the best. He enthralled us with a slide show one evening. We decided it was pointless to drive ourselves crazy trying to get pictures of the birds and wildlife we saw when we can just buy Roy’s book when it comes out, hopefully by the end of 2006.

At the most there might have been 15 guests staying during our visit so we were a tight bunch. We made friends and very much enjoyed the family style dining in the evening.

Our third day we ordered a box lunch and hiked to the Golfo Dulce side where we sighted scarlet macaws and had howler monkeys screaming above our heads right next to the trail. Since we carry a small tape recorder to record thoughts, birds and jungle sounds, we have an excellent recording of the monkeys that my husband has loaded onto the computer to go along with our picture show. It was most kind of them to cooperate.

Our final evening there were only about 8 guests and an American couple who had joined us for dinner who have a vacation home in the area. It was a bittersweet evening knowing it was our last. My husband and I, along with another guest from Florida, closed the bar down and reminisced about the great times we’d had in our short visit to Bosque. It definitely gave us enough of a taste to know we want to return some day. We were quite right with Marvin the bartender by that time. My husband had enough Spanish that we were able to communicate back and forth, allowing him to practice his Spanish and vice versa.

The morning we were leaving I awoke to an upset tummy. I believe in Mexico it is known as Montezuma’s Revenge. I was not very happy at the prospect of having this malady knowing that I had a rough car ride to Puerto Jiminez, followed by 2 Nature Air flights to get to Arenal. My sympathetic husband helpfully suggested I wear two pairs of underwear in case I had an “accident.” Thankfully the Pepto and Immodium I ingested did the trick. That was the beginning of tummy problems for the next 3 days, but nothing that my wonder tablets didn’t take care of. I wrote in my journal at one point, “Pepto Bismal and Immodium are my friends.”

After our final breakfast we snapped pictures with our Bosque buddies, Gerly, Eileen, Jenny and Dennis and exchanged a couple of email addresses and Kevin collected us for the trip back down. Philip was again joining us to try the bank one more time in PJ. After dropping Philip off at the bank Kevin took us through some side streets of PJ to get to the airstrip. Along the way we encountered many dogs of dubious descent. Not once in our entire time in CR did we see a dog on a leash. It was sort of refreshing, if you like dogs, that is, which we do, having left a dog and cat with a pet sitter at home.

So, this is my first installment. Wordy, I know, but I could go on forever and never say enough about the sights and sounds we encountered. We are both outdoorsy nature lovers and have a total fascination for anything new in the wilderness. We could not have chosen a better destination to feed our curiosities.

The next installment, to come at a later date, is our short, but action packed stay at Arenal.

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    Lovely report, you've brought back some great memories. You got to meet Roy Toft! That is fabulous. Nice to hear about friends like Gerly, Jenny, Kevin, etc and that the howlers didn't disappoint with their "wake-up calls".

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    I can't wait for the rest - hope you hurry!!!!

    Reliving our February trip as I read. We too felt that we were leaving family behind when we had to go. We also stayed in Gecko, wonderful, wasn't it!

    You definately chose the perfect place to start your CR adventure.

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    Yes, you are bringing back great memories for many of us! Keep it coming--BdC, what a special place. Can't wait to read about the rest of your trip--especially the Caribbean side--I'm anxious to read your thoughts about Almonds & Corals!

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    Installment #2 - Arenal

    While at Bosque, I forgot to mention that one afternoon we chatted with a guy named Alex who had a table set up near the pool with what he termed "Jungle Jewelry" and "Nature's Tough Tiny Toys." The items were made from seeds he found in the jungle. I bought a necklace and we ended up purchasing a few of the toys to take home, but since we were trying to keep our luggage down around 25 lbs. for the Nature Air flights, we didn't have room for much. Next time we go to CR, we plan on bringing an empty duffel like we normally do when we travel, or better yet, a duffel with items for children in CR. Alex told us that with part of his profits he purchases school supplies for children on the Osa. I mention him now because he pops up later in my story in another part of the country.
     
    While waiting for the plane to arrive for our flight back to Pavas, my husband commented on the fire safety preparedness. It consisted of a fire extinguisher sitting between two orange cones next to the runway. It was a toss-up as to which was larger, the extinguisher or the cones.
     
    I made sure to sit on the opposite side of the plane on the return trip so I could see the Pacific side, which was sunny and beautiful. We did not include Manuel Antonio in this trip but I understand it is not to be missed in the future. It looked great from the plane.
     
    We had a short wait at the airport before we were thoroughly searched and escorted with one other couple to another Nature Air plane, this one a 6-seater with two bench seats facing each other and one in the back. I felt like an executive. It was a very nice plane. The only concern was that there was only one pilot. I have to admit thoughts of what would happen to us if something happened to the pilot entered my mind. I was hoping the other couple had some piloting skills, but alas, they had the same thoughts and asked if either of us was a pilot. Other than some minor turbulence because of the smaller plane, it was another great sightseeing opportunity for the 22-min. flight to the La Fortuna airstrip, which made the one in Puerto Jiminez look luxurious. I think it had recently been constructed in a farmer's field.
     
    We were met by Max who worked for Interbus for our scheduled transfer to the lodge. The driver (not Max) drove us through the touristy town of La Fortuna, and up to Arenal Observatory Lodge. It took about an hour. Arenal, or “Him” as Max called it, was in clear view. Once we started on the road to the lodge it was obvious the road had been in dire circumstances due to rains, proof being a dump truck on its side in the ditch where a road crew was working. We came upon it right after it happened and the poor road crew looked quite perplexed as to how to remedy the situation. Interbus tried to collect $40 for the transfer, but it was prepaid and they didn’t argue once I gave them my voucher.
     
    We were very pleased when we arrived at the lodge. The volcano is spectacular from that vantage point and you feel as if you are living almost right on its slopes, which I guess you are. We had a Smithsonian room which looks directly at the volcano. It fills the entire picture window. We were able to lie in bed at night and watch the rocks and listen to the booms. I have to confess that while unpacking I discovered I had inadvertently given a free ride in my bag to a Bosque cockroach. I evicted it to the outdoors and figured it could fend for itself. Shortly after checking in we ate lunch and had just walked outside and were talking with a staff member when the volcano blew and emitted a huge cloud of smoke and dust into the air. The staff member ran into the restaurant yelling, "The volcano is blowing!" and left us to our photo opportunity.
     
    My husband decided to have some down time and I decided to explore the grounds. I walked across the suspension bridge to the museum and pool area. The pool is a beautiful infinity pool with the jungle as a backdrop. Stunning. Past that I followed the signs to the waterfall trail. I hooked up with a Canadian couple who thought I was Canadian too. We live very close to the Canadian border and many people think we are Canadian, but I've never had another Canadian think so. I must have a twang. We took each other's pictures at the beautiful waterfall where we ran into four more Canadians from Vancouver, which is about an hour north of where I live.
     
    I returned to the room, all the while hearing the volcano rumble and boom. I felt very fortunate to be there and that the volcano was visible. We have active volcanoes in Washington State, but ours are covered with snow. This was a much different experience.
     
    We eventually went to dinner at the restaurant. Compared to the excellent food at Bosque and Grano de Oro, we felt the prices were high here and the food not very good. We also felt the staff was a little cold, but after Bosque where the staff was extra warm and friendly, it was probably not fair to compare them. This staff was used to dealing with tourists from all over the world who come and go. Upon checking in we were immediately inundated with all the available tours, which we couldn't possibly do in the short time we would be there.
     
    The following day, which was our only full day, we had breakfast and decided to not do any tours but explore on our own. We hiked the Old Lava Flow trail. It indicated it was approx. 4 hrs. RT. We did it in about 2 hrs. not counting the time we lounged around at the end. The trail drops steeply to the slow flowing river (at least on this day), which you have to wade across, and then climbs steeply and continues to climb until the end of the road. Before we took off, Esteban told us #1, not to leave the trail, #2, turn back if it gets foggy, #3, bring food and water and last but not least, go no farther than the sign with the big red "X". Well, we hiked and hiked and could hear the volcano rumbling and emitting whooshing noises as we got closer to its base. When you come out of the trees you are on a vantage point and can see the top of the volcano. The trail continued on, so we continued on. We dropped down into a ravine and ended up following cairns. We were definitely in the old flow zone at this point. It was about then that we started discussing the fact that we couldn't understand where the sign was that we were not to go past. We saw some cairns further up the slopes and walked a ways, but decided to park ourselves where we landed as the trail had petered out by this point. The day was sunny and most of Arenal was showing except for the very top. We had a bite of lunch and enjoyed the serenity of being the only ones there. We could look back down the valley and see the lodge and lake in the distance. The volcano would make the oddest whooshing sounds and it was quite creepy. I can understand why native peoples believed volcanoes were gods.
     
    After about an hour the top cleared off completely, we snapped some more pictures and decided to descend as it looked like the clouds were moving in. We retraced our steps following some of the cairns and stopped at the vantage point for one more look before entering the forest. Lo and behold what was large as life in front of my face but the sign with the big "X". We were chagrined to discover that neither of us had seen it, probably because as you come out of the forest you are focusing on the volcano, not the tree with the sign. It was embarrassing to think that the people in the observatory might have seen us on the slopes through the giant telescopes. We quickly descended, crossed the river, ascended the steep hill to our room and changed clothes fast so we couldn't be identified as the perpetrators of what not to do on the Old Lave Flow trail. It was a great adventure, though.
     
    After some lunch we decided to check out the pool. We were the only ones there. After a freezing cold shower that the pool guy told us to take before entering the pool, we tread water, which was also cold, and chatted with the pool attendant. He was about 21 or 22 and had a 16 yr. old girlfriend. He epitomized what I think of as the Latin male attitude in that he couldn’t believe that my husband did not have a son. He asked him that more than once and then would shake his head like my husband was a total failure. He also asked if I had older sisters and whether they were ugly. Now what in the world does that have to do with anything?? After I started turning blue from the pool water I jumped out and hopped into the large Jacuzzi, which faces the volcano. We sat there talking to the pool attendant some more until we were warm enough to dry off and return to our room. I've since read the pool is spring-fed, so no wonder it was so cold. It must not have been a thermal spring!
     
    The birds at Arenal are spectacular, including the Montezuma Oropendulas. The Oropendulas come in flocks and make the most interesting sounds while bobbing forward on a branch. The lodge would put hang fruit from a tree branch morning and night near the restaurant, which was close to our room, and we would have birds of every color under the rainbow feeding off the fruit.
     
    Our final evening we decided to forego dinner after our late lunch and since my tummy was still acting up. Arenal put on quite a show all evening so we were very content to watch and listen from our room. Twice that night I awoke to large booms.

    We were slated to leave at 7:30 AM the next morning, so arranged for an early breakfast. The code was three taps on the window of the restaurant and a staff member would let us in.
     
    We hastily ate our breakfast, checked out and sat with our bags on the bench outside the reception area to wait for Interbus. We waited...and waited...and waited, as other groups of people hopped on small vans and buses for tours, etc. One driver asked our names, but it did not match his list so he moved on to another couple, a wild looking guy and woman. I had noticed the man walk by earlier and noted to my husband that he was a scary looking dude. He had a weight lifter build and was covered in tattoos and had long, wild blond hair and a hoop earring.
     
    We waited about an hour past the pickup time. I went back into reception to ask them to phone Interbus to make sure they were coming and was told that Interbus had just phoned and had discovered that for some reason our name was not on the list, although it should have been, and they had notified the policia to flag the van down and turn it around to come back for us. When it pulled up it was the one that the wild looking guy was in. It turns out he was yet another Canadian and as friendly as can be. We ended up riding all the way to the Caribbean with him and his partner, a woman from Germany, and hooked up with them over the next couple of days. He turned out to be a real kick in the pants. His zest for life was very infectious.
     
    We were so glad to know that our ride showed up, we didn't mind at all that it was late. We did feel bad, however, that Frank and Chris had to ride all the way back from La Fortuna to pick us up. They were good sports about it.
     
    We changed into another van in La Fortuna for the long ride to the Caribbean. The weather was good. We stopped in a small town for a potty break and snack. It was my first experience with a public restroom. Now I know why some posters suggest carrying some TP. This one happened to be missing not only the TP but the toilet seat as well, not that I planned on sitting on it. We had a worried moment when the van would not start after the break, but a few of the guys pushed it and got it going.

    Along the way, I was amused by the “growing” fence posts and decorated Christmas trees on people’s porches. We changed buses one more time and it was quite a shock to get out of the air conditioned bus. It was very hot!
     
    My next memory, after passing the Dole fruit plant, was arriving in Limon. We dropped a woman off downtown. I felt like I was back in Jamaica or a different country altogether. It was not a place I think I'd feel comfortable hanging around in, especially at night. As we continued on down the coast toward Puerto Viejo it got very pretty with lots of flowers blooming against the aqua Caribbean waters. It sprinkled a bit but then cleared up. We dropped a Spanish couple off in Cahuita, who thankfully had acted as our interpreters on the trip since none of the other occupants spoke fluent Spanish, and then continued on the bumpy road towards PV. We started encountering tons of people on bicycles, locals and tourists alike. It was a great sight.
     
    Most people departed in PV, except for us and Frank and Chris, who were going to try to find accommodations at the end of the line in Manzanillo. We were delivered right to the door at our next destination of Almonds & Corals and were immediately greeted by
    Peter, who with his wife, Patricia, manage Almonds & Corals. Patricia’s sister, who lives in San Jose, owns the place. Peter is Dutch and always has a smile on his face. We checked in, he showed us our tent cabin and we quickly realized our adventures were far from over.

    To be continued...

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