Friday, November 23, 2012

Costa Rica Part 2--Papagayo Gulf

This brings us to Day 5 of our epic vacation, waking up at the all-inclusive Occidental Allegro Papagayo Gulf.  I don't normally seek out this type of vacation, but we thought it would be nice to relax for a few days, too.  Well, the excitement started right after breakfast when we joined a group of kids feeding bananas to white-faced monkeys on the beach.  There were tons of them!  And just 2 days ago we were thrilled to see 2!  We had promised the kids some pool time so the adults sunned/read while the kids swam and then got some serious face painting.  On a tip from one of the waiters at breakfast we loaded up into the car and headed out to find the cataratas, or waterfall, de llano de Cortez. After about an hour drive and a small donation to a local girls school, we were stunned by the beauty of this place.  The water was cold at first, but we all (even Grandma!) swam under the falls.  It was breathtaking.  We made it back in time for amazing sunset views, frolicking on the beach, and the dance show.  Ok, so maybe this stop won't be all lounging by the pool!

Our view of the pool and Papagayo Gulf.

Trent feeding the monkeys.

Frank and Mom on the beach.

Me and the Captain!

Katreina and the  waterfall.  Amazing.

Grandma and Katreina are among the swimmers here!
Sampling fresh coconut water.
Checking out sunset at the resort.
My water babies.
Grandma and the entertainment staff.
Happy Thanksgiving!  Day 6 of the trip we decided to take a snorkeling/fishing/beach/caving tour through the Gulf and out into the Pacific.  The snorkeling was so-so, especially as we all got stung by some sort of nettle.  Trent rode my back and Katreina ended up crying.  Fun!  Soda fixed their moods and we were off the Pacific.  We saw tons of pelicans and frigate birds while we attempted to hand fish.  The crew then took us ashore for a delicious cookout, complete with a bonito they caught.  We played in the ocean, tortured hermit crabs, and explored some caves.  K and I almost got sucked through one!  On the way back we had some dolphins join the boat.  The big news of the day happened after we got back and the kids were playing at the pool, fighting over a ball when Katreina FINALLY lost her crazy loose tooth!  Colones or dollars?  That night we had lots to talk about as we enjoyed our Thanksgiving buffet feast!

Sailors on a powerboat. 
Frigate birds.
Hand fishing (that's the bait he's showing off).
Strutting their stuff on the beach.
Frank and his mom in one of the caves.
"All I want for Christmas is my 2 front teeth!"

We enjoyed our time at the beach, but we were anxious to arrive at a location before dark for once and we were all a little excited to get to Monteverde and the cloud forest so we left right after breakfast.  This was a nice stop, with the highlight definitely being the waterfall.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cost Rica, Part 1--U.S. to Arenal Volcano region

Day 1 started as a smooth day of traveling--that quickly changed in Miami! A delayed first flight and a kid that was dying to go to the bathroom made a very short layover even shorter! Surprisingly we and our bags arrived in San Jose without any more issues. Getting through the airport and getting the car were pretty easy, and just after dark (wouldn't you know it!) we hit the road. It was twisty, turny, rainy, and narrow--Frank did awesome!

Day 2 we explored the grounds of the resort, enjoying birds, iguanas, butterflies, and a sloth! After a quick dip in the pool, we joined a tour to Arenal Volcano. The top was clouded, but it was still very impressive. And we saw howler monkeys, black mandible toucans, coati, a sloth, iguanas, and leaf-cutter ants marching through the forest!

The balcony over the San Carlos River at Tilajari
K describing the butterfly life cycle in the resort's butterfly garden.
Arenal Volcano
Toucan spotting around Arenal.
Amazing sky (and a toucan!) at sunset.

Day 3 we did a full-day tour to Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve. The trip to the reserve was nice as we learned a great deal about the agriculture and people of the area. We cruised the Rio Frio via power boat and saw a rare jabiru couple, howler monkeys, snake-eater birds, trogon, heron, and caiman. The highlight was seeing white-faced monkeys, and then seeing one almost get eaten by a caiman! After the tour we let the kids swim before heading out to eat at a local joint. When I ordered the proprietor looked at me and said, "no." We couldn't tell if he was out of something or really disagreed with my selection!

My animals on the river tour.
K collecting coconuts.
Meat.  Need I say more?

Day 4 we decided to do one final tour in the area before heading out and it was amazing!  We floated down the Penas Blancas and San Carlos Rivers with our outstanding guide, Pedro.  Along the way we saw a ton of wildlife--crocodiles, rainbow-billed toucans, howler monkeys, snake-neck birds, tiger rattle snake, basilisk (a.k.a. Jesus lizard), Great Blue heron, long-nose bats, slugs, swallows.  But the most amazing part of the trip was a visit to the estate of Senor Don Pedro, a sweet 100-year old family patriarch and farmer.  His daughters and several farmhands work on the organic farm, sans electricity, and welcomed us with coffee, tapioca bread, plantains, and Brama cheese.  He loved getting hugs from the kids!

Heading out on our river float.
We had a great view of tons of howler monkeys!
Enjoying coffee at Don Pedros.

We closed our visit to the San Carlos Valley and headed toward the shore.  We took a path that took us along Arenal Lake where we attempted a few geocaches, and we tried out a "Soda" for lunch.  I think we just didn't hit a very good one, but it did the trick.  We arrived at the Occidental Allegro Papagayo just after sunset.  After a long day of travel we just hit the buffet and then went to bed.