Category Archives: Costa Rica

Do You Know The Way To San Jose?

view from the Cultura de PlazaThe capital city of Costa Rica, San José, gets very little press in the guidebooks and, like most travelers, we had used the city as a place mainly to get from here to there as it is located in the center of the country.   This was our fifth trip to the city and, aside from the Tica Bus station and some quick food restaurants around our hotel, we didn’t know doodley about the capital except that it was big and hectic with traffic and pedestrians scurrying about.  Like all of our previous visits the weather was chill and gloomy; gray, overcast and frequently raining regardless of whether the rest of the nation was in the wet or the dry season.   However, unexpectedly, we found ourselves with a full day to see a bit of the city as our bus for Panama City did not leave until midnight of the following day.Rosa del Paseo

We did know a good deal about our lodging as, despite our travels, we can be creatures of habit and kept returning to a charming little hotel we had discovered during our first visit. The Rosa del Paseo is housed in a turn-of-the-century Victorian private home and was built 115 years ago by the Montealgre family who made their fortune exporting coffee. Rosa del Paseo It is reputed to be one of San José’s most charming stucco homes and is located near the heart of the city on Paseo Colón. The Rosa has kept pace with the times, undergoing regular upkeep and upgrades yet is nevertheless surprisingly evocative of 19th-century Costa Rica.another staircase It has the traditional central courtyard and is graced with period furniture and oil paintings. Beautiful details are spread throughout the hotel, including transoms, ornate stucco door frames, original tile floors, polished hardwood and parquet floors, gleaming wainscoting and a collection of antique sewing machines on original tables scattered here and there.  In the midst of the frenetic movement of the modern capital city of San José, the Rosa del Paseo retains its dignity and composure.

The Ticos with whom we had spoken had highly endorsed both the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) and the Museo de Jade.  Our map was a bit sketchy as to the exact location of the museums so we opted for the most obvious solution and hailed a cab to the Plaza del Cultura.the Gold Museum below Pigeon Plaza

And there, residing below the Teatro Nacional (National Theater) was our goal. But to get to the museum we needed to navigate our way through a plaza full of pigeons which refused to be flustered by our passing. Indeed, they moved leisurely out of our way delaying just long enough to make certain we were not bearing gifts of food.view from the Plaze de Cultura

The gold museum contained an amazing assemblage of Pre-Columbian gold pieces ranging from raptor broaches and clasps to warrior breast plates and collars and included numerous animal figurines for ceremonial use.Gold ornaments

Maybe subconsciously we’d assumed that, after the depredations of the Spanish and the centuries of interminable grave-robbing and looting, the pieces remaining would not be so numerous or would be of lesser quality. Fortunately we were proven wrong and we were astonished and impressed by the quantity and wealth of treasures assembled in one place.gallery

Coming back into daylight brought us to the National Theater, a magnificent building that is a monument by, for and to the 19th century coffee barons. Performance room in the National Theater

The theater was modeled after and imitative of only the best of European architecture and was built with European marble, windows and chandeliers and decorated with European paintings, silks, brocades and crystals. The barons lobbied the government agreeing to assist financially in its construction but, in the end, 94% of the costs were raised by a general tax overwhelmingly borne by the common population, the non-coffee barons.  And, without a doubt, the masses might have appreciated the century old Steinway and Sons baby grand piano which the maestro graciously limbered up for our enjoyment.San Jose pedestrian walk

As the afternoon waned, we hoofed it a few blocks over to the Jade Museum, a five-story building of modern design tastefully filled with a wealth of multi-colored jade objet d’ art.  Again we marveled that this quantity of masterful work had survived the last centuries of pillage and plunder. We were well pleased with the museum even before we encountered the overwhelming and astoundingcouples coupling collection of ceramics, a massive number of pottery pieces in pristine condition. Tucked away on the fourth floor was an unexpectedly large exhibition of ceramics and sculptures of Pre-Columbian indigenous erotica  which displayed an avid interest in sex, sexual roles and childbirth.  Our close examination was interrupted by the announced closure of the museum which led to our hurriedly breezing through the remaining floor before exiting into the tumult of the city and ending our cultural expedition.

We can’t say that we are a great deal wiser about San José but we learned that beneath the exterior of hurried consumerism and anonymous architecture there are true jewels to be found. The beauty contained in the museums and National Theater made us glad that we had spent a little more time exploring San José.

By Richard and Anita

Housesitting: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Tineke sTwice a day flocks of brilliant green parrots flew by overhead, sometimes alighting here and there among the verdant trees on the property and sometimes continuing on to the neighboring trees.   They screeched and gabbled and the air reverberated with their riotous cacophony. Like clockwork, at dawn and dusk, the air was also filled with the guttural calls of the howler monkeys.  A few iguanas lived on the property including one dignified male who measured at least two feet long from head to tail.  Butterflies, in a profusion of patterns and hues, alighted briefly on the flowers and we rushed to take pictures before they fluttered away.Magpie jays

A variety of other birds visited us from time to time including the beautiful and regal Magpie Jays who squawked like shrewish crows in a deafening shriek.  And hummingbirds, always there were hummingbirds flitting among the flowers.  Tiny frogs hopped about along with enormous toads, both of which occasionally wandered into the house and had to be scooted back outside gently. variegated squirrel

During the day, one of our favorite visitors, the variegated squirrels, would climb down from the trees, sprint in a funny little run-hop a few feet to another tree and climb back to a safe perch.  And at night there were a multitude of stars spread across the firmament, lightning bugs blinked randomly about and, to the north and east heat lightening arced in brilliant flashes.Tineke s house

We housesat for several weeks on a property six miles outside of Tamarindo, Costa Rica on a parcel of land approximately one hectare (2.5 acres) located at the end of a long dirt road that branched here and there as it delved into the countryside.road to Tineke s

The homestead had a variety of palm, banana, mango, lemon and bamboo trees, as well as several enormous trees which spread broadly providing welcome shade. Flowering plants and bushes were scattered about the property which was fenced all around and secured with a gate half of which hung drunkenly, twisted and totally useless.

And here begins the first story, this one about the marauding cows and horses, who visited several times over the course of the first few weeks, trying their best to graze on the thick grass and delectable, flowering edibles.edible grazing for cows

We would tramp about, with Yippy barking enthusiastically but ineffectively in his unaccustomed role as a cowherding dog, and finally funnel  them back out onto the road.  Not especially fun during the day but a whole different game when this had to be done two times in the dead of night with only the light of the stars and a couple of travel flashlights.  We would peer around the property here and there at looming shapes that would suddenly break into slow trots, urged on by Yippy’s hysterical barking, in any direction but where we wanted them to go! A couple of nocturnal bouts of this entertainment led us to the inelegant but practical idea of closing the working side of the gate and driving the car into the breach left by the inoperative side of the gate.  And once again, our nights were undisturbed and the problem was temporarily solved.Yippy I-O

And the car…we had agreed to rent the car for a nominal sum so that we could run errands, grocery shop and visit the beautiful beaches around Tamarindo.  We were looking forward to the experience as we hadn’t driven a car since we left the States in September of 2012.  It was a nice looking Nissan with 4-wheel drive and … two totally bald rear tires.  In Costa Rica the roads are in notoriously bad shape:  paved roads have no shoulders, abrupt drop-offs and deep potholes.  And the dirt roads?  They are washboarded, rutted, and fissured with fractured stones working their way up to the road surface. Tire life expectancy of a tire is none too long in this part of the world and so, you guessed it … a flat tire.   Jorst, a highly esteemed German expat and tire fixer extraordinaire, arrived within fifteen minutes of our distress call – we were told later that this was not common – but we were duly impressed! He performed the requisite tasks for the nominal fee of $20, an astonishing price for roadside assistance.  Of course, we were a little leery of driving unnecessarily as we still had one American Bald Eagle on the driver’s rear. So, after some back and forth with the homeowner we sprang for two new tires ($175).  Problem solved.

Our housesitting gig included looking after the property and house, maintaining the swimming pool (which started out a bit murky but which we coaxed into a sparkling blue) and the animals.  The four pets were friendly, well-natured and very mellow. 3 outta 4Yippy, the inept cow dog and wanna-be watchdog (also not a successful occupation), was the alpha animal. There were two cats; the younger cat, who we nicknamed Queen Calico, was regal and rather stand-offish except with Yippy with whom she had a rather strange fixation;Strange bedfellows! flirting and rubbing herself sinuously around his legs, curling herself around him seductively when napping and lavishing his face with licks and laps.  Actually, we enjoyed watching this strange affair! The second cat was a tabby we called Fat Cat or Big Mama and she would scold us with long plaintive meows first thing in the morning and throughout the day if her food dish was empty.

And the last player in the ensemble was Dolly, a sweet, golden-colored medium-sized matron with a cataract clouding her left eye and comical ears that flopped over at half-mast. Dorrie - Dolly

It was easy to imagine her in a nursing home, inching her way behind a wheeled walker in a confused daze, peering about with no clue as to where she had been going. It was not her age but her hygiene that created the initial issue; to put it mildly, she was highly odoriferous!  We looked at each other the first night of our arrival with a “How are we going to make it through five weeks with this reeking creature?” expression on our faces.  And, to further add to her unimpressive introduction, the next morning we found out she was incontinent as well. The following week we ended up taking her on the first of four visits to the vet after the hair around her tail and rear end fell out in big clumps almost overnight and the skin became angry-looking and inflamed.  She received a giant dose of antibiotics ($100) to treat a massive ear and skin infection, parasites and the ticks that she had hosted.  And (oh praise Jesus!) an antibacterial bath!   We were instructed to bathe her twice a week with the medicinal shampoo, a ritual that transformed her into a soft and sweet-smelling critter.  As for the incontinence problem?  Since the house was open aired with only grills and gates that covered the doors and windows we moved her bedding (freshly laundered) about ten feet to the covered porch so that her ancient bladder could awaken her at night and she could totter off into the darkness to relieve herself.  Another problem solved.

butterflyAnd so, we finished the last days of our home and pet caretaking gig sitting on the covered patio, watching the birds, listening to and enjoying the fresh scent of the rains with Dolly stretched out dozing on one side of the big work table, Yippy underneath at our feet and the two cats curled on pillows napping on the chairs; our little adopted family.  We’d had a Costa Rican rocky road this housesit and solved even more problems than the ones we wrote about here but we’ll miss this place with all its downsides because, it turns out, there were a lot of upsides, too.Bananas flowering and growing

Note:  The homeowner, a lovely Dutch lady, reimbursed us fully for all expenses incurred during our stay.

By Anita and Richard

 

The Beautiful Place: Lugar Bonita

Lugar Bonita

“Where are you from?”  “How did you end up here?”   While we’ve been traveling those are among the first questions we ask and answer as we meet people and exchange our back stories.   One of the reasons we hear most often is that it’s cheaper to live here in a Latin American country or that one can have a much higher standard of living (think maid, cook, fancy digs) for the same amount of money.  Others move to another country because the people are friendly, the culture and history are intriguing, the weather is more agreeable or they’re hankering for adventure.  As for Wanda and Jerry…

Lugar Bonita

Wanda and Jerry had successful careers and upon their retirement sold their home in Arizona and took off for Costa Rica in 2000 with a dream of finding paradise.  They arrived in San Jose and began traveling around the little country looking for the place that titillated their fancy. They were among an earlier wave of expats who were relocating to a Costa Rica which was welcoming retirees with open arms and enticing incentives to move to their country.  In Costa Rica they could find a new home where the life style they wanted could be afforded after years of slogging it out as entrepreneurs on the American economic treadmill. They found a property east of Tamarindo beach in Barrio Josefina which measured one hectare or 2.5 acres and the deal was struck.Tne main house

The property had an existing house where they lived while they closely supervised remodeling and enlarging that structure and incorporating it into the future paradise they envisioned. The construction began in earnest in 2001 and was, by and large, completed in ten months.  When all was done there stood a main house with a large pool and the sizeable rancho, a covered open-air living area with a high peaked ceiling and huge outdoor kitchen. Lugar Bonita Rancho

Lugar BonitaScattered around the property as well, because Wanda loved to entertain guests were smaller casitas, free-standing abodes with en suite bathrooms.Lugar Bonita

And then the work began – turning the buildings into a home.  Wanda and Jerry imported the comforts of a North American lifestyle in two cargo containers including a riding mower and household goods; two sub-zero refrigerators, furniture and all the other paraphernalia and brick-a-brac that constitute a fully stocked home.  They hired a maid cum cook, who lived nearby, for six days a week to maintain the habitation and prepare the evening meals. Then they settled into the life they had dreamed of and Jerry, a passionate gardener with an engineering background, worked almost daily, ultimately removing thirty-five trees from the property and landscaping the grounds, bringing beauty forth.  And … life was good.Lugar Bonita

Another ten years went by and life moved on bringing health problems that forced a relocation to the States.  The property was put on the market and sold, after a couple of years, to two American investors.  They hired Wanda’s son, Sky, and his Colombian-born wife, Sandra, as their property managers.  The estate’s new iteration is as an end destination for weddings, fiestas, birthdays, reunions and all manner of happy events that can be rented by the night and accommodates up to eighteen people in comfort.Lugar Bonita

Our travels bring us into contact with many people and, in a fortunate happening, the Lugar Bonita was next door to the home we were housesitting. Sky and Sandra welcomed us to the neighborhood and invited us over to the property several times.  They shared the evolution of the Lugar Bonita as well as stories about Wanda and Jerry who followed their dream and created a paradise…Lugar Bonita

By Anita and Richard

The Panacea: Do Nothing, Just B-e-e-e-e-e….

Panacea de la MontañaJust down the road from where we’re housesitting is a nondescript sign on the side of the highway announcing “Panacea de la Montaña” which leads onto a rutted dirt road of dubious worth.  After the initial slog you arrive at a junction on a level flat. A quick glance at the road ahead informs you that this is the time for four-wheel drive for the final push up the steep grade.  Panacea de la Montaña

The discreet sign alongside the highway and the pitch of the daunting road may be inadvertent but no one arrives at Panacea de la Montaña unintentionally. It is, in fact, an end destination of repute; a boutique yoga retreat and spa visited by individuals, groups and aficionados intent on participating in a sublime physical and spiritual experience set inside the forested canopy of the coastal mountains of Costa Rica.Panacea de la Montaña

And when you reach the crest near the top of the mountain there is a vista of a lush and fertile valley below and mountains in the distance all swathed in variegated hues of green.  Panacea de la MontañaAn infinity pool seems to drop into the valley so that the vast expanse spread out before you can be admired and contemplated, a hypnotic and mesmerizing view. Panacea de la Montaña

Once you leave the common area of the pool, patio and cocina (kitchen) and pass by the yoga pavilion you enter the more private space of the cacitas, the individual residences for the guests.  The little dwellings, seemingly set down on the mountainside randomly, offer private views of spectacular scenery from the covered porches.Panacea de la Montaña

Trails meander around the mountaintop and slopes, spread with white rock for easy visibility and edged with larger river stones.  There’s a feeling of discovery as one wanders about this little bit of paradise; every turn reveals something new such as a totally unexpected labyrinth amid the trees or benches here and there for contemplation. Panacea de la Montaña

And interspersed throughout the walk are signs painted by guests with meaningful bits of wisdom or river rocks decorated with pithy expressions of inspiration and insight.Panacea de la Montaña

Upon our arrival in Tamarindo we were introduced to the three owners of the yoga retreat by Tineke, for whom we were housesitting.  Mary leads the yoga classes and Debbie, who is also a yoga instructor, acts as gourmet chef extraordinaire while Peter deals with the business side of living in nirvana as well as teaching aqua fitness classes and providing reflexology treatments.  We signed up for four weeks of classes and, from our novice perspectives, were  bent sideways, forwards and backwards, stretched out and relaxed within an inch of our lives. Here, amid the greenery of the coastal forest and accompanied by the twittering of birds, the flitting of multi-hued butterflies and the baleful calling of the howler monkeys, we slowly stretched and breathed to the measured and calming cadence of Mary’s expert instruction.   Each class was unique and had the successful goal of making us feel refreshed both mentally and physically. One of our favorite sessions (no effort involved!) was a restorative yoga class that focused on us moving our bodies into a variety of comfortable positions fully supported by various pillows and cushions and concentrating completely on doing nothing, breathing deeply in and out and just b-e-i-n-g.  And, at the end of every class, when the cymbal would chime softly, the realization would slowly creep into our minds, “But, surely that wasn’t ninety minutes already?”Panacea de la Montaña

And all too soon our time, not just for the day, but for Panacea de la Montaña had come to an end.   But we gained, with the aid of Mary’s classes and instructional materials, the ability to continue with our practices as we decamp again for parts further south.Panacea de la Montaña

By Anita and Richard

Nesting Sea Turtles at La Playa Piratas

Daniel, our guide for the evening, picked us up shortly before dark. The group was small, just the two of us and two young women from Argentina. The night would be dark as it was broken cloud cover and the crescent moon would not rise until much later in the evening. We were off to search for the nesting Pacific Black Sea Turtles on the beaches north of Tamarindo.

Pacific Black Sea Turtle - photo credit Rosa Sandoval photoa available at http://seaturtlesofindia.org/?page_id=358

Pacific Black Sea Turtle – photo credit Rosa Sandoval – photo available at http://seaturtlesofindia.org/?page_id=358

We turned off the highway onto a dirt road rutted with washboards and after considerable bouncing and rattling about arrived at La Playa Piraticas. Daniel went ahead to scout for turtles coming ashore and our small group waited on the beach listening to the sound of the surf and watching the stars beginning to populate the heavens.  The white foam of the waves was interspersed with several massive rock outcroppings silhouetted against the night sky under the faint glow of the stars. A few fireflies flickered here and there, pinpoints of light in the night.

Daniel emerged from the blackness and quickly led us in a single-file walk south along the beach for a few minutes to where we quietly approached and spied upon a female turtle who had already dug a shallow, circular depression about six feet in circumference. She had selected a spot high up on the beach, near the encroaching trees, and could dig no further down for rocks and roots impeded her progress.  She continued to labor at the task for some time while we watched and then, exhausted, relinquished the chore and made her way awkwardly back towards the sea. We saw her enter the surf and a wave finally lifted her and restored her graceful movement.

Returning to the sea

Returning to the sea

Sea turtles leave distinctive tracks along the beach which alerts guides that they've come ashore

Sea turtles leave distinctive tracks along the beach which alerts guides that they’ve come ashore

We immediately regrouped and Daniel led us back north along the beach to find a second sea turtle whose black bulky form we had sensed, more than seen, arising from the waves when we had passed the spot previously.  We remained on the beach until Daniel, using his red light, scouted around quietly to find where she had decided to nest.  Stealthily we approached her, and remaining soundless and kneeling about two feet away to her rear watched as she created the circular depression for her nest alternating between her front and back flippers and pivoting  from side to side about the depression to make sure that the depth remained consistent.  It was fascinating to watch the intensity of her digging, flinging the sand out of the depression.  Although we were crouched a couple of feet behind her as she dug, we were splattered by several flippersful of sand on the face and body from her powerful efforts.

Once she had completed her digging of the circular depression, it was roughly 18 inches deep and uniformly level and compacted. Work then began on digging a trench which would be at mid-line of the rear of her shell and would serve as the repository of the eggs. Using her rear flippers she bore into the soft sand to remove and spread the material. With the trench roughly 15 inches deep, and with no further fanfare, she began laying her eggs.

laying the eggs

At this climax of the evening we found it necessary to relinquish our place at the nest after we hurriedly snapped a couple of pictures aided only by the guide’s red light. A government biologist, alerted by Daniel, came to take possession of eggs as they were deposited in the nest and transfer them to a beach where the danger of high tides exposing the nest to predators would be lessened.

It probably makes no difference that there is a taxonomic disagreement as to whether the Pacific Black Sea Turtle is a unique species, as some contend, or a subspecies of the more predominant Green Sea Turtle. The sad and sorry truth is that all sea turtles are endangered by extinction. Their dwindling numbers remain subject to depredation by natural foes such as land crabs, raccoons, gulls and other shore birds but thus it has always been. Man’s voracious appetite, along with habitat depletion, threatens the turtle’s existence. It was with this sobering reality that we savored the night as we watched the eggs, loosed from the mother’s body, fall into the sandy cavity of the nest designed through the millennia as the hatchery of the turtles.

 

 

 

 

 

By Richard and Anita, June, 2014

 

Tamarindo or TamaGRINGO: Tourist Mecca On The Costa Rican Riviera

southside beachIn mid-May we crossed the width of Costa Rica from the Caribbean shore to the Pacific coast heading for the small town of Tamarindo where our next housesitting assignment would be.  By one estimate, 25% of the people who deplane in Costa Rica will end up hanging out in Tamarindo for some part of their vacation. When you consider that in 2012 over 2,000,000 visitors came to this small Central American country that’s a passel of folks to pack into a small sea-side town.access to swimming beach

In 1995, when the regional airport facility was upgraded to the Daniel Oduber Ouiros International Airport in nearby Liberia the response from the commercial carriers was a stifled yawn; one charter flight per week was the total through-put for the tourist invasion in that year.  Fast forward to the turn of the twenty-first century and the main highway into Tamarindo was still not entirely paved.  So what happened to turn this sleepy, insignificant fishing village on the northwestern Pacific coast with the Costa Rican Riviera as its new moniker into a mecca for hard-body surfers and eco-tourists? Surfboards and surf schools

The genesis of Tamarindo is probably known to some of the life-long residents who remain in the area and perhaps those who wish to sift through the property records. Quite possibly it was a keen-eyed surf fanatic, with some connections, who noticed that Tamarindo Beach had two main breaks for the ride seeking surfer; Pico Pequeño, a rocky point in the cove, and El Estero, the excellent river mouth break. On these two breaks, the biggest waves can get up to twelve feet during November and December and the rest of the beach breaks are perfect for learning.

south end

As word spread, or was promoted, money arrived to support the gringo dollars just beginning to flow into the economy. The pump had been primed and the spigot was about to open.

Banks, ATMs, Realtors & Shops

Banks, ATMs, Realtors & Shops

One ex-pat, who was present at the creation, recounts that the boom began around the turn of the century. The city had been growing slowly but steadily with new businesses like hotels, restaurants, and surf shops opening but, seemingly in a blink of the eye, growth accelerated and continued at a frenetic pace until the economic bust of 2008. The sunny shores of the Golden Coast of Guanacaste, Costa Rica were not immune to the plight of the “too big to fail” crowd and the boom cycle stalled.multiple signs

Now, that economic reality does not diminish the fact that this little burg is a hopping place – especially during high season.   The small town of approximately 3,000 residents in the low season can swell to 10,000 and more when the tourists arrive in force in November through April.tourist businesses

And it’s not just the surfers anymore. Eco-tourism is a substantial portion of the economic vitality, which is no accident as Costa Rica is perhaps the most protective of their natural resources of any nation in Central America.  Playa Grande, north of Tamarindo, is where the Leatherback Turtles come to lay their eggs. The Leatherbacks take over the beach from November to April, digging their nests on the beach, covering them with sand and returning once again to the sea.  With Las Baulas National Marine Park and other bio-preserves readily available there are numerous eco-friendly activities, including night turtle watching, diving, snorkeling, body surfing, zip-lining, estuary trips, bird watching, horseback riding and surf fishing.

playing in the water

Tamarindo and the surrounding areas fit many sizes and shapes: surfers, nature enthusiasts, honeymooners, families, backpackers and all-inclusive mavens delight in Tamarindo’s multi-cultural community and tropical paradise activities. And the development has left niches for almost every class and every budget. The town’s combination of affluent foreign culture, chic cafés and restaurants, all in the flavor of authentic Tico culture, has a strong appeal for locals, expats and foreign visitors. So in a short time the original drowsy beach village of Tamarindo has evolved into the most bustling tourist destination on the Costa Rican Riviera. Not too shabby.

Doctors and Pharmacies

Doctors and Pharmacies

By Richard and Anita, June, 2014

 

Cahuita: Cow Whee What?

Bus station mural There was no breeze and the town felt almost deserted in the mid-afternoon sun as we entered Cahuita for the first time after a forty minute walk down a dirt road from El Jardin Glorioso where we were staying. Main street Cauita At the northern end of the main street was the first grocery store named, incongruously, the Safari, and about three short blocks away and anchoring the other end was the second grocery store, the Vaz #2.  Cahuita National Park sat at the southern edge of the town. Two additional streets in Cahuita pointed west; they linked up near the bus station on the road out of town.

Cahuita is a funky little Caribbean beach town where the days play out slowly and there just isn’t a lot to get excited about.  It’s a laid-back place for the traveler who wants to enjoy the mix of rugged coral, black and golden sand beaches and hike through the rainforests rather than party the night away.  the populationThe name is derived from an indigenous word Cawi for the towering, twisted Sangrillo trees that, along with mango, palms and a variety of other trees, comprise the coastal forest.  The town’s origins can be tracked back to Africans who were brought via Jamaica in the late 1800’s to build the coffee railroad from San Jose and work the banana plantations. The Afro-Caribbean culture is still in evidence among the local population and a jumble of Caribbean patois, English and Spanish seems to be the language of communication.

North end of CahuitaAfter a few long walks into town to buy groceries or sample the restaurants we followed our hosts advice and rented bicycles for 5,000 Colones ($10) a day; big clunky, graceless, single-speed contraptions with sluggish coaster brakes.  These sped us on our way with less effort along the dirt roads and we explored the national park and the town and its environs at our leisure (as everything seems to be done in this humid, tropical area).

Cahuita ParkCahuita National Park was established in 1970 and is Costa Rica’s only free national park. It’s small land mass, 2600 acres, was established to protect the large coral reef off the Caribbean coast which is still endangered.National Park We donated towards the park’s maintenance, chained our bikes and walked for a few hours along its trails, beaches and occasionally upon long, wooden, raised footpaths elevated above swampy ground.  The sun overhead was filtered by the coastal forest canopy, the air humid and the atmosphere quiet and tranquil, broken occasionally by some insect buzzing or a birdsong.  Golden beach at Cahuita National ParkOur hike was gratifying although we had hoped to glimpse either the two or three-toed sloths or a troop of capuchin monkeys inhabiting the park.  Our efforts however rewarded us with the sighting of a lone howler monkey high in the trees and a couple of raccoons ambling across the path.  And, thankfully, no pit vipers were spotted either since they also occupy the park.Upside-down sloth

Since we had no luck spotting the sloths in the park we hopped a bus to the nearby town of Puerto Viejo and visited the Jaguar Rescue Center, a sanctuary that protects injured animals and returns them to the wild whenever possible.  And, finally, we saw sloths, both two and three-toed, high in the trees adjoining the property (so we can truthfully say we saw them in the wild) and climbing sideways along branches or hanging upside down inside the sanctuary. Camoflauged tree frog We saw several varieties of frogs alongside a cleverly landscaped natural-looking lagoon including one so cleverly camouflaged that it nearly defied the focus on our camera. In several sturdy Baby howler monkey sleepingcages were species of the poisonous snakes including the fer-de-lance and the golden eyelash pit viper.  There was a half-blinded anteater that had been rescued and (so cool!) four small baby anteaters and a few baby howler monkeys.  Although we’re not zoo fans the Jaguar Rescue Center was a unique, educational and uplifting experience that we really enjoyed.

Baby anteatersIn retrospect we’ll still stand by our statement that there’s not a lot to get excited about in Cahuita; that’s different from not a lot to do. You just don’t get too animated – that can be hard work in the hot tropical sun, don’t you know.Red-eyed tree frog

By Anita and Richard, May, 2014

 

 

 

« Older Entries