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Costa Rica

sunny 31 °C

Thursday 21st April - Ometepe / Monteverde

Today we left the island of Ometepe and sadly also Nicaragua.
We caught the early morning ferry at 7.30 back to the mainland and then drove for about an hour to reach the
border checkpoint to enter into Costa Rica.
We duly paid our "exit fee" ($5) to escape Nicaragua, walked around 500m across the border and
passed through immigration. It was then a 5hr drive to reach Monteverde.
Costa Rica, unlike Nicaragua being the poorest country in CA, is along with Panama the most expensive,
US dollars again were widely accepted although the official currency is the
Costa Rican Colon at around 500 to $1.
We stopped off on route for lunch and then the big change hit us -
we drove off the highway into a very modern shopping mall car park complete with retail outlets everywhere and
the depressing McDonalds symbol. In the supermarket we really saw the difference,
everything you wanted, plus all the prices were quite a bit more expensive than the UK.
We arrived late afternoon in Monteverde and after another quick turnaround went straight out for a j
ungle night walk in the nearby Santa Elena Cloud Forrest Park.
It was just getting dark as we set off, but a big difference in temperature compared to Nicaragua,
still it was in the mid 20's, clear sky and full moon as we walked in the pitch black,
equipped each with a torch along the jungle trails.
Great atmosphere with only insects making the noise.
Within a few minutes we had seen various birds sleeping in the canopy including Toucans and Hawks,
then we heard a rustling and saw our first Armadillo,
they are actually nearly blind with very poor eyesight, so we could get very close without disturbing it,
other creatures were spotted including Racoons, Giant Stick Insects and Leaf Cutter Ants.
After a couple of hours in the darkness we returned back to the lodge and on to our hotel.
We had a short walk to a local restaurant and tried our first Costa Rican dish,
The most popular/traditional dish is "Casada" which consists of Rice, Beans, Salad and
then a main ingredient - (fish, meat or veggie etc.)
We walked back in the now cool, but refreshing night air and an early night.

Friday 22nd April - Monteverde

Up early as we'd arranged an early morning walk in the famous Cloud Forest.
Monteverde was founded by Quakers from the USA, who settled there in the 1950's and
bought much of the land in the surrounding area, being pacifists suited them as Costa Rica had disbanded it's armed forces a
few years earlier.
The Quakers named it Monteverde (Green Mountain) after its all year round green plants.
The Cloud Forest is basically caused by the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean winds meeting over land,
causing this unique ecosystem to be formed.
The Reserve consists of over 26,000 acres of cloud forest and consists of 6 ecological zones,
90% of which are virgin forest. There are over 2,500 plant species (including the most orchid species in a single place),
100 species of mammals, 400 bird species, 120 reptilian and amphibian species.
We met our guide at the park and headed along one of the many canopy trails, his knowledge,
not to mention his eyesight was amazing, spotting wildlife that you'd normally just walk right past.
The highlight of the trek was actually spotting the elusive Quetzal, something we never expected to see,
not at threatened extinction levels yet, but sadly heading that way.
On the return trek we stopped at a feeding area for hummingbirds are saw lots of different species very close up.
After lunch we ramped up the activity level and went on a Zip-Wire canopy ride across the top of the reserve,
after a couple of tame starter runs, we had a fast 600m single run across the valley, then a mega 2,000m "Superman" flight horizontally
(with a second harness pulley) across a vast valley and very high up, (it's supposed to be the longest Zip in Latin America).
Luckily I had managed to borrow a chest harness for my GoPro so we got some great shots of the runs.
We ended the excitement with an optional "Tarzan" come-bungee swing,
which basically starts off with a mad free fall, followed by a massive swing which continued several times before coming to rest.
After an exhilarating time, we went out to sample the Costa Rican Beer - "Imperial"
Another 4.5% Lager, we'll it was cool, refreshing and well needed, a few more lagers later,
we had some local veggie Nachos and ended the night, sat on the balcony outside our room with a nightcap or two.

Saturday 23rd April - La Fortuna

Today we moved on to towards Volcano Arenal and its local town of La Fortuna.
Leaving the hotel early, we drove a couple of hours to Lake Arenal, then got a "Jeep Ferry"
(a very small boat with just a covering above) to the other side of the lake,
although it took just over half an hour to cross to the other side,
we then jumped aboard a local bus to our nearby hotel in La Fortuna.
La Fortuna is a small sleepy town, that came to provenance after the Arenal Volcano erupted
(after being dormant for over 400 Years) in July 1968.
Since then it has remained dormant and also access to it's summit is now closed.
We arrived at midday so with the free time, decided to go to the famous
La Catarata de la Fortuna, a 70m waterfall about 7km from town. It's now a protected area and once inside,
you are allowed to swim close to the falls as it crashes down to the plunge pool below. We'd took our swim gear,
so we went for it.
Cold at first, but very refreshing as you try to swim towards the cascade only to be forced back by the sheer strength of the current,
it was like swimming on a treadmill.
We then returned to the hotel and went out for a walk around the town and an evening meal -
at the best fish restaurant in town !
Irene had Mari-Mari and I had Tuna, both with Potatoes n Veg, just what we'd been craving for, for a over a week!

Sunday 24th April - La Fortuna

We had a free day so we'd booked a day out on the Lake, wildlife spotting.
We were left the hotel for a 2 hour drive towards the Nicaraguan border to
Cano Negro. On route we stopped next to a river bridge in an area famous for
Iguanas. There were loads of them sprawled about everywhere, some up to a 1m in length.
The bus then continued to the lake and we border it for a 2.5 hour cruise.
Just after setting off we were spotting wildlife straight away, numerous birds, Caymans, Howler and Spider Monkeys,
a great King Fisher - the biggest in Costa Rica. It was very rewarding and we certainly saw more than we thought we would,
but alas the elusive Sloth still remains to be spotted.
We arrived back late afternoon and went for a walk around the town,
booked a table in the great fish restaurant from the previous night and grabbed an ice cream to cool down while watching the
clouds circling the Arenal Volcano in the distance.
The day ended with another nice night sat in the Snapper Restaurant.

Monday 25th April - La Fortuna / San Jose

We had some free time prior to leaving for the capital San Jose in the afternoon,
so we'd arranged to go to the "Hanging Bridges" a nature walk through the Cloud Forest at the Mistico Private Forest Reserve.
The trail is 3km long through the jungle canopy and crosses 16 bridges ranging from a couple metres off the ground, to over 40m. 10 of them are fixed bridges and the other 6 are actual swinging rope bridges.
The humidity was high as we walked through the Park, but quiet, without many other people,
so it felt more natural and not like a theme park.
We managed to spot a few monkeys, a Viper and some Toucans during the walk before returning after a couple of hours for
some welcome fresh fruit and drinks. Once back in La Fortuna, we finally packed and left for the Capital San Jose.
On route we stopped off at another small reserve after a tipoff that there was a Sloth about !
On arrival we quickly paid our entrance fee and YES ! We managed to spot a male Sloth, sat high up in a tree.
(they sleep around 18 hours a day and when they eventually move, it's at a very slow pace,
so we were able to get some good photo shots) - Mission accomplished, we headed on to San Jose.
San Jose is the capital and is the home for over half the counties population.
We arrived late afternoon in a very busy, modern, concrete capital city and we all decided to out for a final nights meal together,
as many of us were leaving to go off in other directions the following day, (we would be continuing on our own, to Panama).
The hotel was situated close to the centre and the main attraction,
the Plaza de la Culture, (the main square). After checking in, we went for a walkabout in the capital, visiting the
Plaza itself, the National Theatre and the main shopping precinct.
Afterwards we went straight to a local Costa Rican meal and had some Wraps accompanied by a few "Imperials".
On the way back most of the shops and bars had closed down and the seedier side to the capital started to reveal itself,
as the next thing we noticed was the number of ladies that suddenly appeared on street corners and
the nearby bars looking like something out of a spaghetti western !

Posted by Andy-Irene 21:29 Archived in Costa Rica

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