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Markus' Travel and International Living Blog

Markus is an enthusiastic traveler, who lives in Houston, TX (USA) most of the time, but also spends some time in Saalfelden, near Salzburg (Austria). He is fascinated by travel and also by his experiences gathered by living in two different countries and continents.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008
Adventure in Costa Rica: Caño Island, Snorkeling in Paradise, and more Wildlife

Previously on "Adventure in Costa Rica": We traveled by air and boat to get to Corcovado National Park and had some amazing experiences in the jungle. To catch up on that, click here (part 1) and here (part 2).

After a somewhat exhausting day of hiking and adventuring, we were ready for a somewhat more relaxed day at a small island (Caño Island) about an hour off the coast from Casa Corcovado (our hotel). This called for another boat ride, which only Ellen and I opted to take, since the rest of our party was concerned it might be too bumpy. (This proved to be true since the weather wasn't overly great, which made for choppy waters and a bumpy ride. People prone to sea-sickness would probably not be overly happy, but it also wasn't like there were huge scary waves either).


A typical view of Caño Island: Turquoise water, lush vegetation in the background, and a white sandy beach with palm trees.

Caño Island is a picturesque tropical island that features some of the best beaches I have ever seen. It provides great snorkeling and some nice hiking. It is also an ancient Indian burial ground and has some minor archeological artifacts anyone can hike to even without a guide. We did the hike and enjoyed it for the scenery, the jungle, and the wildlife. The island apparently has no venomous or otherwise dangerous animals, making it a much easier venture than the hike we did the previous day. We saw a snake or two, we saw thousands of Jesus Christ Lizards. We also saw a few Iguana and some Basilisks. The vegetation was lush and it was generally a cool place to be.


A Basilisk relaxing just off the narrow path through the jungle.

The "archeological site" turned out to be a bit disappointing. We saw a few smallish stone spheres (the local Tiki tribes created perfectly round spheres and nobody really knows how they did it), but that was about it. I imagine a guide could have made it an interesting experience, but just hiking there by yourself doesn't make it all that exciting. Come for the jungle and take the archeological aspect as a bonus.


Not a bad place to sit down for your lunch...

After our hike we returned to the white-sanded beach where Danny (our guide who had taken us there by boat) had prepared lunch with about enough food for 3 times as many people. So we invited a few of the other people around (there were a few other boat captains and guides, but generally, there weren't all that many people on the island) and talked about football (soccer) and had a genuinely enjoyable time.

We also went snorkeling at Caño Island. The choppy sea made it a bit of a murky day, so it wasn't quite the experience it could have been. However, we did see quite a few tropical fish and we also saw a giant sea turtle, which was very cool. On clearer (calmer) days with better visibility, I would expect snorkeling to be quite good there. Other people told us they had seen Barracudas and rays and all kinds of fish. At the same time, there are no crocodiles and reportedly no sharks to worry about, which makes the island a much better place to snorkel at than the beach at the lodge.

In the afternoon we headed back to the lodge and enjoyed the rest of the day at the jungle-pool. We went to bed pretty early that day since our journey went on to Quepos pretty early the next morning. Or so we though anyway. As it turned out, the weather took a turn for the worse the next day, so while we made it back to Palma Sur without much difficulty, the airport had bad news for us: Most of the flights had been canceled that day since the weather was so bad inland, that no flights came out of San Jose. So it looked like we were about to get stuck in the middle of nowhere, when all of a sudden a plane appeared out of seemingly nowhere and landed at the otherwise closed airport. It was our Nature Air flight and we went on to Quepos with just a few hours of delay.

Quepos is quite different from what we had seen on Corcovado. It is a much more tourist-oriented place with more of a relaxed party atmosphere and not as much of an eco-spin. However, Quepos has Manuel Antonio National Park which is also quite interesting. I will tell you about that in my next post...



This post belongs to a series of posts describing our trip to Costa Rica (May 2008). The following is a list of all 4 posts in this series:



Posted @ 4:45 PM by Egger, Markus (markus@code-magazine.com) -
Comments (13)


Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Adventure in Costa Rica - Corcovado National Park

Previously on "Adventure in Costa Rica": We traveled by air and river boat to reach the amazing Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge. To catch up, read this post.

Our first day in the Corcovado National Park (see previous post) was spent hiking through the jungle. We started with an early breakfast that day, before 7am. Very early for a night-owl like myself, but since it gets dark around 6pm this close to the equator, I had no problem going to sleep early, and I really didn't mind getting up earlier either. Half an hour later we were on our way into the jungle, which basically meant stepping away from the hotel buildings and there you are!

Casa Corcovado features a few hiking trails guests can use on their own, but for most of the trails it is recommended to have a guide. Our guide (Danny) was excellent. I clearly loved just job, nature, and all the wild life. He prepared us well for the task ahead and told us what to look for, and what not to touch. (In fact, if I ever return to Casa Corcovado, I would probably check to see if Danny still works there and request him specifically).

The Corcovado National Park is an amazing place to see, with tons of wildlife and lots of different types of jungle. And of course, this is not a zoo. So everything is natural and people are just visitors in this amazing part of the world. This means that there aren't any handrails and what you will encounter is a complete matter of luck. You are likely to see monkeys, sloths, frogs, snakes, ants, spiders, bats, iguanas, birds, macaws (parrots, basically), crocodiles, and all kinds of other animals. Some cute and funny, some not to be messed with. Nothing too scary, but you want to follow the instructions of your guide. Casa Corcovado has never had an animal-related accident, we were told, but you wouldn't want to be the first to sit down on a Fer De Lance. If this scares you, then Corcovado isn't the place for you. You are probably better off with a trip to San Diego.

But we are the adventurous kind, and we love the outdoors. And that day, we didn't have to go far that. Perhaps 50 yards into the jungle, after having seen a few lizards and some leaf-cutter-ants, we heard the trees move overhead and discovered a family of Spider Monkeys. It was quite thrilling to see the little buggers jump from tree to tree, clearly aware that we were there, but not too worried about us.


A spider monkey, just hanging out.

The same sight would repeat several more times as we hiked on. One family of Spider Monkeys we had a particularly good view of, and after a little while, the monkeys must have grown tired of us. While Danny was trying to get us in position for a good view of the primates while explaining about their behavior, some suspicious liquid started to drip down from one of the trees.

I brought it to Danny's attention: "Danny, what is happen up there?".
"Oh, the monkeys are drinking water", he replied.
"I don't think so. Looks like he is trying to pee on us...".
"No, I think he is drinking water", Danny insisted.
"I really don't think so. I can see him holding his weenie...".
"No, no. He is drinking water", Danny wasn't ready to concede.
"Danny, he is aiming for us!!!".
"OK, let's move on..."

What can I say? One just hasn't lived unless one has been peed on by a monkey. "Pura Vida!", I guess. Luckily he didn't seem to have had enough pressure build-up.


Another spider monkey, just before his well aimed attack. Maybe he didn't like getting his picture taken...

So we continued on our hike through amazing scenery. Trees as high as you could see. Green everywhere. Leaf-cutter ants creating highways that make Houston's Galleria area seem like a small trickle (although on quite a different scale). We saw a hollow tree with sleeping bats. The tree must have been 50 yards tall, yet you could see it its hollow top from inside. We saw a few snakes, although nothing venomous. We saw Jesus Christ lizards (the kind that can walk on the water), Basilisks, and Iguanas. We also saw a highly venomous Golden Orb spider who had spun a three-dimensional golden web.


A bat mama with her baby inside a huge hollow tree.


A golden orb spider. Probably close to 4 inches in length and also quite venomous. Spins a golden, three dimensional web.

We took a lunch break at a ranger station. We spent some time relaxing while watching a pair of macaws (the red parrots) flying overhead, while Danny whipped up some fish, some cold cuts, and a salad. Nothing too fancy, but very fitting for the location.


A pair of macaws flying overhead.

Before we headed back, we aimed for one more special treat: Taking a bath below a jungle waterfall, Tarzan-style. (No, not naked... just in the jungle and all...). The hike was a bit more difficult and not everyone was up for it, but Ellen, Danny, and I made it after about a half an hour. It was quite a cool sight. Unfortunately, "Poncho" denied us our well deserved batch. "Who is Poncho?", you ask. Well, Poncho is the local crocodile who "owns" the stretch of creek there. And if Poncho is in the wrong place, only Steve Irwin in his best age would have fancied a dip.


"Poncho" may still be small at 6 or 7 feet, but we didn't feel like swimming with him.

But it was all worth it in the end. We didn't get to swim, but we got to see Poncho, which was thrilling all in itself. (After all, crocs are known to be more aggressive than alligators, so you want to be a bit more careful). The hike back continued much in the same manner. We saw more monkeys and other animals. We also saw quite a few frogs. "Frogs?" you may wonder. "What's so cool about frogs?". But these aren't your average frogs. We are talking about poison-arrow-frogs here! At some point during the hike, Danny heard something and dove into the bushes. A few minutes later he had found the poison-arrow-frog. I tried to take a good picture, which caused us to chase it around a bit. It still wasn't easy, since the little fellow was hardly an inch long, so I ended up holding my camera just a few inches from the frog.


A one inch poison arrow frog. Don't make him nervous...

After we moved on, Danny and I talked about the frog some more: "So Danny, how poisonous was this particular frog exactly?".
"Very poisonous", he replied.
"What does that mean exactly?".
"For this particular species, it means that one drop can kill about 10 adult humans".
"10 humans?!?"
"Si".
"Like how exactly? On touch?!?".
"Si".
"So this frog could have killed all of us?"
"Yes, but it only produces poison when it is nervous".
"But wouldn't it be nervous after we chased it around for 10 minutes?"
"Si".

Well, that settled that. I guess I can one day tell my grandchildren that I survived an encounter with a one inch frog...

At this point, the weather was startign to take a turn for the worse (that rainy season kicking in again) and it was time for us to head home. Part of the hike took us along the beautiful pacific coast line that is a mixture of ruggedly rocky stretches and picture perfect sandy coves with palm trees.


The author on top of a rock, trying to get a GPS reading.

The ocean in this area is mostly deep blue with a few stretches of turquoise mixed in. It seems threatening yet oddly inviting at the same time. I was extremely tempted to dive in, but that stretch of ocean is known to have a lot of bull sharks (the aggressive kind) in addition to the crocodiles. All the local guides said they wouldn't risk it, so I decided to wait for the next day when we were scheduled to snorkel at an island about an hour of the coast. More about that in my next post though...


That's it... we are ready to head home and have a drink at the pool.

 

BTW: Thanks Gwynne, for letting me use your pictures!



This post belongs to a series of posts describing our trip to Costa Rica (May 2008). The following is a list of all 4 posts in this series:



Posted @ 9:14 PM by Egger, Markus (markus@code-magazine.com) -
Comments (22)


Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Adventure in Costa Rica - The Journey

Costa Rica, at least to me, has always been one of those places that I wanted to visit, but not quite enough to actually make it happen. Sure, I've heard of the nice beaches and the incredible variety in scenery and wildlife, but still, places like Australia, Egypt, or China have been above Costa Rica in my list of places to visit. After all, the pyramids, the Great Barrier Reef, or the Great Wall just are more obvious targets for "must see" places. So I filed Costa Rica under "cool to see if I get the chance" just above other Central American countries like Honduras or Panama.

All that changed this spring however, when the in-law's 50th anniversary came up, which was to be celebrated with a trip to Costa Rica. As it turns out, Costa Rica is not just "nice", but it is incredible!

A little research revealed that even though Costa Rica only represents about 0.1% of the world's land mass (the surface that is out of the water), it hosts an incredible 5% of the world's bio-diversity. In other words: about 1/20th of the world's animal and plant species can be found in Costa Rica. Or, to look at it slightly different: If you go to Costa Rica, you will get to see about 50 times as much as other places!

Our trip to Costa Rica started out in Houston, with a convenient direct flight into the capitol city of San Jose. Total flight time was a little over 3 hours, so shorter than many of the domestic flights I take in the US. We arrived in the afternoon and traveled on to our first hotel, which was just slightly outside of San Jose. The parts of San Jose I got to see where not really inviting, and I wasn't to sad to not have spent much time there. It looks like most capitol cities in relatively poor countries do: Most locals seem to gravitate there, and there are many poor areas and not much to do for a foreigner.

We spent our first night at the Vista del Valle Plantation Inn, which was just far enough outside the city to be cool. It is set completely in what I would have considered the jungle (until I saw the real jungle) and has some very nice scenery. It was nicely secluded and completely quiet. The perfect way to start a jungle vacation and to forget about the stressful days that had lead up to the trip. In fact, the thought had occurred to me that this hotel would have been the ideal place to disappear to and write a book. Nobody there to bother you. Nice places to sit and and just lean back and relax.


Our room at the Vista del Valle Plantation Inn

The only thing that was slightly less than perfect was that it rained as we arrived. Our trip took place in May. For those of us that didn't pay in geography class: That means the rainy season is about to start. I hadn't really paid too much attention to that, and besides, a lot of people told us that that was a great time to go, as the weather was not quite as hot, yet it didn't rain all that much yet. "2 hours every afternoon to cool things down" is what people who went to Costa Rica before had told us. We figured we could handle 2 hours of rain a day.

So we spent a nice night at the Plantation Inn (it stopped raining later) and had a nice dinner at the hotel's quiet restaurant (the only one easily reachable there without a car). I really only have good things to say about the hotel. The hotel was nice. The rooms were all in little bungalows and were quite nice, with a certain jungle-book-flair. And the people there were very nice too (a statement that is true for just about everyone I met in Costa Rica). When we arrived at the hotel, we didn't check in, but we simply left our luggage in the van and we were just shown around the hotel's gardens and swimming pool area, the restaurant, and all the different plants they had (since this really felt like the middle of the jungle). When we finally arrived at our rooms, our luggage was already there, and we realized our vacation had already begun 30 minutes earlier. In short: It was a very nice experience.

The next morning, we continued our journey to get the the first "real" destination: The Corcovado Jungle Lodge at the edge of the Corcovado National Park, one of the must stunning national parks in all of Costa Rica. National Geographic calls it "the most biologically intense place on Earth". The lodge we were headed for was right at the edge of the park and a perfect starting place to explore it. However, our interest wasn't just in visiting the park. Getting there is a little adventure all in itself. From San Jose, one can take a small jungle-hopper flight into Palma Sur, which is a small jungle airstrip. We took a flight on Nature Air, the world's only carbon-neutral airline (according to their own claims anyway). The flight itself is - shall we say - "interesting". The plane is relatively small, and the weather wasn't all that great, so it was a bit bumpy. What impressed me most was landing in the jungle. You could swear they are putting the plane down into the palm trees, until, at the last moment, the landing strip appears and everything works out fine (against all odds, as it seems to the rookie jungle passenger).


Nature Air flight from San Jose to Palma Sur

Palma Sur airport is quite small. Hardly more than a roof on four posts. There is no baggage claim there. The pilot gets out of the cockpit and fishes your bag out of the cargo hold and hands it over right on the tarmac.


Palma Sur airport. Terminal A I guess...

From there, you are on your own. Well, almost. We were in luck, because our assigned guide from the Corcovado Jungle Lodge (who was assigned to us for the entire stay there) picked us up and packed us into a van for the 20 minute ride to a nearby river, which was our "road" to Corcovado. That's right: The remaining 2 hours of the trip took us down a river and across the ocean to our final destination. I really enjoyed this part of the trip. After all, it's not every day that you go somewhere without roads. The boat was small and could only fit about 8 people (including our guide and the boat captain). (Note: We were told there was a 25lbs baggage weight limit due to this boat ride, but the guys there had never heard of such a limit). The boat ride was pretty entertaining as there was lots to see along the winding river, and even within the river, since there are crocodiles. However, the boat is big enough to provide enough protection for even the most squeamish of passengers.


The boat in front (blue top) is the one we rode to the hotel


Going through the mangrove on the way to the hotel


One of the "friendly natives", an American Crocodile. Not at all like gators...

A bit more than the first half of the boat ride was spent on the river, and we stopped several times to look at wildlife or the scenery. Danny (our guide) took the time to point out all kinds of things, from crocs to birds and other things. After about an hour, the river opened up into a pretty wide delta before it opens up to the Pacific ocean. At that point, the ride got a bit bumpier, and would not have been all that great for those who tend to get sea-sick. Personally, I enjoyed the boat-ride part of the trip a lot. After all, how often do you go somewhere these days where the journey includes transport on a boat?

After a boat ride that all-in-all took a bit less than 2 hours, we reached our destination at the edge of the national park. Casa Corcovado is a small eco tourism hotel that is completely cut off from the rest of the world. There is no Internet and cell phones do not work. The only means of communication is the hotel's radio. Electricity is available within limits, since all the electricity is produced by the hotel by means of solar collectors. All this goes along with Costa Rica's push for sustainable eco tourism, and I was quite impressed by the entire setup. Here we were, in the middle of the "real" jungle, with unbelievable scenery and wildlife around and hardly any connection to the outside world, yet we had electricity and a swimming pool. Nice!

The hotel itself is set up as a series of bungalows and individual small buildings that blend into the environment quite nicely. Every room is its own building that's a bit separate from the next building over. There is no air condition and no glass windows. Mosquito netting is all that is needed, as the temperature year around is such that no heating or air condition is required. However, I am told that in February and March, it does get a bit warm and the ceiling fan is much appreciated. Overall, the entire style of the hotel reminded me of colonial times. The contrast between the wilderness and the amazing flora and fauna all around, and the comfort of the hotel, was quite startling.


Our "room" at Casa Corcovado


The same room from the inside


The hotel's restaurant and bar


Ready for a dip in the jungle swimming pool?

The total capacity of the hotel is about 40 or so people, but when we were there, there never were more than 15 people counting the six of us. It made for a very nice atmosphere at breakfast and dinner, which was always held at the hotel's restaurant, which really was the only place to get food. The menu was limited to a few choices each day, but every day it changed. Most of the food was Costa Rican, and I quite enjoyed it. For instance, for the first course of the first evening, soup was served out of a cut-in-half coconut that was collected right on the beach belonging to the lodge. Pretty cool!

So those were the first 24 hours of our trip to Costa Rica. Our vacation and our adventures hadn't hardly even started yet, but as I fell into my bed dead-tired at 6pm (which is when the equatorial pitch-black night starts), I realized that the trip had already been worthwhile. The rain had started again and dripped on the roof. We could hear the sounds of the jungle. And nothing else. A perfect setting to get a good night's sleep before we were ready to venture into the jungle. But that shall be the topic of my next blog post...



This post belongs to a series of posts describing our trip to Costa Rica (May 2008). The following is a list of all 4 posts in this series:



Posted @ 7:44 PM by Egger, Markus (markus@code-magazine.com) -
Comments (196)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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