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Costa Rica Trip Report Part 1

2005-12-11 - 4:50 p.m.

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all photos © 2005 by Elaine Radford & Roger Williams
sunset at playa hermosa, costa rica
As we all know, due to the events of late August, rescue personnel were doing medical triage on the baggage claim at Moissant Airport, which necessarily caused the airport to shut down and our vacation to western Canada get cancelled. The grizzly bears are presumably in hibernation by this late date, so we rescheduled for Costa Rica instead, using the vouchers we got for volunteering to be bumped in Panama on Easter. If you just want the bird trip list, check here. Otherwise, here's part one of my trip report.

Saturday, December 3, 2005

When I did the online check-in, the computer asked me if I wanted to be put on the list for free upgrades to First Class, and when I said yes, it changed my confirmation number to a different one from the hubby's. This I inferred to mean that Continental doesn't upgrade the companions of Northwest Gold Elite. At least they agreed to "priority tag" DH's luggage so that our bags would all come out together.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com Ah, First Class. It isn't really that the pre-boarding cocktail is so important on a 45 minute flight. But it just tastes better when the coach flyers board and see you sipping your wine as they schlep through the aircraft to find their miserable little seats in the back. Once again, poor DH was among the coach flyers. But at least they allowed me to move him to an Elite seat near the front of the plane.

I didn't get upgraded on the international leg, nor did I expect to, since Northwest wouldn't upgrade a Continental flyer in such a situation. However, we had aisle seats across from each other, so we were pretty comfortable. The only issue is that the couple in the middle and window seat on my side were completely drunk and went from all huggy/kissy to a near-brawl. The young man seemed to be playing some kind of mind game, first whispering things and then saying he hadn't whispered them, and then acting all puzzled that his companion was getting freaked out. It was pretty creepy.

DH's bag came out first with its beautiful blue "Priority Tag." My bag did not come out at all. Yes. They did it. Continental Airlines lost my luggage. I couldn't even be bothered to get upset.

It was already dark, so we caught a cab for the hotel, which was on the beach. I could hear the ocean before I saw it. The night was clear, with Mars and the various stars like gemstones on black velvet. The fuzz of the Seven Sisters was easily visible. Little did I know that it would be the only clear night of our visit!

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Image hosted by Photobucket.com Our resort was called, "El Velero," the yacht, so I ordered a couple of tours -- one a sunset tour for today, one an all-day adventure for Monday. We did a little birding in the area and walked along the beach, although I admit to being thrown off my game by the fact that I didn't have my swimsuit or flip-flops or special witty little microfiber beach towel that is super-absorbent and takes up hardly any room. Fortunately, we found an inexpensive little store on the waterfront where we both bought sandals, DH grabbed some dark glasses, and I got shirt, pants, swimsuit, dress, and even a turquoise necklace with a big shell on it to match the dress. The total was $125 so I figured that if I never got my bag, I'd just send Continental the bill, and it was small enough that they'd pay it -- and if I did get my bag, I wouldn't care that I'd spent some ungodly sum of money.

At breakfast, I ordered huevos ranchero, and I liked the sauce so much that I had it for breakfast every other day I was there except once. While we were eating, DH spotted a huge iguana sunning on the roof, but of course it took off like a shot when we brought the camera out. It's never an official birding tour until you see the Osprey, and we got this one early, since it frequently circled the hotel area and once went for a nice dive just steps away from us. At lunch I had a dish called Mahi Mahi Creole, which also had a delicious red sauce. My before lunch drink was a piñacolada that turned out to be big enough to be a milkshake.

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If you squint at the photo of our sailboat, you'll see a little blue dinghy. That's how we got to the sailboat in the first place. Yeah, we had to sort of jump in the dinghy while the surf was pounding all around us and then get rowed out to the big boat. Of course, I was completely inappropriately dressed and slung around with camera and Swarovski to boot. Fortunately, DH brought a plastic bag to wrap the camera against such an eventuality, and we managed to board the sailboat without too much excitement.

The cruise came complete with Popov vodka and tonic or Imperial beer. OK, so it wasn't the wine list at Bradley Ogden. However, to my surprise, they also served a delicious mahi mahi ceviche that was shockingly good with a splash of hot sauce.

We had beautiful views of the area, including an odd island shaped like King Kong's head, called El Mono, the monkey. There were live volcanoes in the distance, but they seemed to be creating their own clouds, which we were to discover was a common hobby of volcanoes in Costa Rica. A school of Tuna created their own surf as they churned the water to trap the smaller fish. Magnificent frigatebirds, many fine younger birds with bold white heads, circled overhead, while Brown Pelicans often lounged on the small islands of volcanic rock.

I guess we're easily amused, but one of the most interesting things we did on the cruise was study the huge rainbow over the distant volcanoes, turning our heads this way and that while wearing our polarized sunglasses to make the rainbow snap in and fade out of view. The sunset started out orange and ended up pink, with red underpainting of the dark but somewhat distant clouds.

Late in the evening, I got a call from the front desk. My luggage had been delivered. Hooray.

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Monday, December 5, 2005

Yesterday, we'd heard the Mantled Howler Monkeys, but we hadn't quite bestirred ourselves early enough to get the best of the bird or animal watching. Today, DH again slept in, but I hopped up and strolled around to check out the wildlife. I noticed two vividly marked long-tailed silver and black animals chasing each other around a tree trunk; they turned out to be Variegated Squirrel. Maybe the best bird of the walk was the Blue-Crowned Motmot, who flew in close and then permitted me to stroll around and confirm his identification from every angle. The orioles and the woodpeckers were less cooperative -- they all flew up in a mixed flock, and I had to pick quickly where to focus. I decided that one of the orioles was likely good old Baltimore Oriole, so I focused on the other, also a male, which proved to be Streak-Backed Oriole, after I looked back and forth from the plates to the bird a few times. Alas, by that time, the woodpeckers had made their sneaky escape. A Rufous-Naped Wren took a sand bath steps away from my feet. I'd met this bird before, but this handsomely marked species is always worth a second look.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com I didn't bother with camera or binoculars on the day cruise. The plan was just to relax and let it happen. The other people on the cruise were a mother/daughter pair celebrating the mother's birthday. There's that moment I dread now, when people ask me where I'm from and I tell them. However, in this case, it turned out that the daughter was a vet who had volunteered to do animal rescue in Gulfport. So, for once, we were actually talking to people from outside the area who had a clue as to the size of this catastrophe.

And here is the place where I insert the rant. Because, I'm sorry, I don't care if you are from Florida, or whatever the story is, if you weren't here, you have no clue. We all know what Homestead, Florida is, but you don't know what Cameron, Louisiana is, or what Long Beach, Mississippi, is, or any of dozens of other towns in between that have been utterly crushed. (Cameron Parish -- yes, the entire parish -- is still closed, and there is some difficulty getting permission for the annual Christmas bird count, which will be later in December, perhaps December 26.) That's because this disaster is too huge. One town like Homestead can be reported on and understood. The entire coast from the Texas border to the Alabama border is too big. You can't photograph that. No reporter can take the time to drive through all that. So people think it's like Andrew or Camille, storms a tiny fraction of the size of Katrina. I feel like grabbing the next person from Florida who tells me, "Yes, I'm from Florida, and I know," and demanding that they tell me, when exactly, the entire coastline of Florida was utterly destroyed. People don't mean to be clueless, they mean to be kind, but they still just don't have a freaking clue.

OK, rant over.

We got to an atmospheric little island with a rocky cave in it, we were rowed to shore in the dinghy, and then the two man crew set out the snorkeling equipment and the beers and just let it happen. Now I had never been snorkeling before. When I was younger, I couldn't see without my glasses or contacts so there wouldn't have been much point. Then, when I did get Lasik, I guess I just got busy and never got around to trying it. So, it was my first time, and I have to admit that it was pretty scary. I didn't even think it would be, until I put my head under water and somehow got convinced I couldn't breathe.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com After awhile, I told DH to go on ahead. I was beginning to think it was something I would have to try several times, on several different occasions, before I could make myself do it. However, one of the ladies came by and mentioned the beautiful fish of the coral reef, and I guess I got motivated. I was never a graceful or elegant snorkeler, but I managed to stay under long enough to see the first fish -- a big yellow-bellied guy. That got me excited, and I dog paddled out to the actual coral reef area. Here were the colorful little fish, many a cobalt blue like the blue glass I have in my bedroom window, others with red tails and yellow side stripes. Finally, on the way back out, I saw a big black and yellow striped fish. He was the devil. He came so close I thought I could pet him, so he calmly dipped down under me, and you know what happened next. Sputter, gasp, spit! I'm sure that fish is still laughing his head off. But I don't care. I think I did pretty good for someone who just started at my age.

After exploring the cave, we picnicked on the beach. I'm afraid I started a war among the hermit crabs with my leftover bread. Oh, they knew what it was, all right, and they all wanted a piece.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com For dinner we decided to get out of our hotel and try the little place across the street, El Pescado Loco, The Crazy Fish. We both had the lobster. It was a good value, but it was Spiny Lobster, not Maine Lobster, which is logical considering where we were, so it was a little bit chewy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Today, we had a rental 4WD Suzuki delivered to the hotel. While we were waiting for it to arrive, I went to pick up supplies from the grocery store, so I missed the Blue-Crowned Motmot coming down and dancing on the roof of the vehicle while DH and the agent were going over the paperwork.

We set off, with DH at the wheel, for the Rincón de la Vieja. There are two units to this volcanic park, and we hoped to arrive at the Santa Maria unit, where there are hot springs that a person can actually soak in for therapeutic purposes. Actually, we ended up at the Las Pailas unit, where the springs are bubbling and steaming over at temperatures greater than the boiling point of water!

When we first pulled up to the park, I noticed another couple feeding an animal. I mean, right out of the hand. I thought it was their pet until I realized that I didn't know what the hell kind of animal it was -- and, besides, others just like it were coming over to hit us up for our food. Later, I'd learn that these bold panhandlers were the White-Nosed Coati.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com We took what was supposedly an easy hike in a circle to see fumeroles, mud pots, the token waterfall, and boiling hot springs. And we did see all of those things, but it wasn't such an easy hike. At one point, we had to cross a rather deep, stony creek, and I was worried that I'd dunk the camera. In fact, I started over and then went back. But, fortunately, I found a shallower spot and did manage to get across. It was well worth it. The mud pots were on that side, and they were furious little mini-volcanoes that were constantly lobbing up angry little splats of thick gray mud.

It wasn't very birdy, maybe because we arrived later in the morning, but the two life birds I got were good ones -- the rare Crested Guan, three of which did everything but perch on my head before I saw them, and an even closer view of the odd-looking Lesser Ground-Cuckoo. We also saw some White-Faced Capuchins, which I failed to identify at the time, because the fur of the arms and head in the photo of my guide is white, where our capuchins were a vivid orangey-gold. But they were capuchins, all right. I got a couple of photos that were a little blurry because of the dark of the forest, but plenty clear enough to confirm the identification at my leisure.

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When they say hot, they mean hot. These hot springs are 106 degrees -- Celsius. Look closer. That's boiling water, bucky.

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The feisty and constantly boiling mud pots, which erupted to throw up clods of mud every few seconds, were possibly my favorite volcanic feature:

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We again had dinner at El Pescado Loco, where I had the "tipical meal" in the chicken version. It was delicious, juicy, and a steal. We ended up having dinner and a couple, three rum drinks apiece for a grand total of around $24.

Whew. You've just finished reading Part 1 of my Costa Rica trip report. Click right here for Part 2.

black-cheeked 
woodpecker, male

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