Costa (Lot) Rica
San Jose, Costa Rica
San Jose, Costa Rica Costa Rica 7th – 13th August After a long day travelling – left Antigua at 4am, to catch my 8am flight to San Jose (luckily the pilot DID know the way to…). As I`d left booking so late, the only seats left were business class, so I did enjoy the luxury of a few inches extra leg room and real cutlery to eat my 3 bits of fruit (I don`t think TACA do vegetarian meals). My shuttle bus didn`t arrive until 3.30pm and I landed at 9.30am, so I had a very long and boring wait at the pick-up point, a very grotty and incredibly dusty restaurant at the side of a road, which served inedible food. Thank goodness for my laptop and several episodes of “Desperate Housewives”. Met a really nice lady from Washington on the bus, who offered me her brother`s loft apartment in Chelsea when I go up to meet Joe in New York in October (ace bit of networking on my behalf, if I say so myself!). Arrived at my final destination, Manuel Antonio (a national park on the Pacific Coast) and found myself sharing a mixed dorm with a very nice young man called Joseph from Australia (if only I were 30 years younger!). Had an early night as it was very dark, and there was nowhere around that was within easy walking distance. It was kind of nice though, to fall asleep to the sounds of the rain forest (and the torrential rain storm). Luckily the morning was fine, and I`d arranged to meet Trish (the lady I`d met on the shuttle) to explore the park together. They only allow 300 people in the park each day, and as we queued I must admit was a bit worried we wouldn`t get in. We made it through and joined the hoards of visitors eagerly trying to spot the wildlife. We didn`t have to wait long until a small deer wandered across our path. It did occur to me that the natural habitat was being ruined and the animals seemed far too used to human contact. We even saw someone feeding a monkey Cheetos (hmmm..) Still, it was very exciting to see snakes, spiders, coati mundis, racoons, monkeys, parakeets and sloths right up close. Once we wandered off the beaten track we were rewarded with some stunning views of deserted beaches and distant coastlines. From what I had seen of Costa Rica, it seemed an incredibly beautiful country and certainly more affluent than the previous places I had visited (most of the population seemed to own a much better class of shack). “A hill of (coffee) beans” obviously amounts to quite a lot around these parts. Sadly, the beach at the resort didn`t amount to much, so I decided to give it a miss, to go visit El Avion (a bar whose centrepiece was the cargo plane shot down over Nicaragua in the 80`s during the Oliver North “Arms to Iran” scandal). It proved an interesting spot to have a cocktail overlooking the ocean (but unfortunately, not a sunset – damn the rainy season). Yet another early wakeup call the next morning to take the shuttle to La Fortuna, hopefully to see another active volcano – Arenal. Sadly, once again, the views were spoilt by the weather, and my afternoon tour was spent walking through a rain forest (in the pouring rain). I discovered that am spectacularly bad at spotting wildlife when the guide points something out in the trees. Everyone else eventually sees the parrot/monkey/snake/grey blob in the bush, that is supposedly a sloth – except me, and I`m left having to pretend that I`ve seen it too! And that`s even with my glasses on. After the disappointing and very wet trek, we were taken to a spot that was allegedly good for viewing lava erupting from the volcano. Their technique of plying us with beer and a locally produced cocktail certainly did the trick and after half an hour standing in the rain, peering at what looked like a mountain covered in cloud, none of us much cared if it exploded or not. The final stop was at Baldi Hot Springs, one of several water parks set up around the pools that were naturally heated by the volcano. It was a very pretty setting, especially at night, when you could lie in a pool of bath temperature water gazing up at the stars, with the sound of the jungle all around you. It did make me feel quite lonely though, as it was really quite romantic and I felt like I needed someone to soak up the atmosphere (and the alcohol) with. My third early start in a row – and this time the shuttle was taking me over to the Caribbean coastline, through banana and coffee plantations and a small town called Liverpool. The bus made if through with all 4 wheels and the windows intact, so nothing like the real thing. Puerto Viejo reminded me of Caye Caulker, a tiny little coastal town by the sea, with dirt roads, interesting little shops and cafes and a black sand beach. My home for the next couple of days was a wooden cabana, complete with mosquito nets and a resident (and quite frankly, larger than I felt comfortable with) spider in the shower. The place has a very Caribbean feel to it – even the people here look and speak differently. Victor, the owner soon made me feel welcome, and knocked at my door around 6pm with a pineapple daiquiri (I could get used to this!). He offered to share some of their evening meal with my and even agreed to make a vegetarian version. I`d forgotten that everything was done Caribbean style here, so we eventually ate around 10pm! The coconut stew was worth the wait though. The next morning I planned to get up and catch the bus to the Sloth Sanctuary (which Joe had sent me the link to months ago, with instructions to bring one back for him). Caught the local bus along with some young Americans, and we had almost reached the sanctuary when we hit a police check point. We were all turfed off the bus and they insisted on seeing our passports. Naturally, we weren`t carrying them, and the senior policeman (a right b*%*ard) got very stroppy when we tried to explain in bad Spanish that we were tourists and only wanted to go a few more kilometres down the road. He was insistent that had to go back to Puerto Viejo, and then mimed putting handcuffs on. At this point, we all decided that trying to bribe them might not be the best idea and we had better go back. Very disappointed and very dejected we waited on the opposite side of the road for the bus. When a jeep sporting a Union Jack appeared, I rushed over and asked if we could have a lift. It turned out to be an American guy who owned a hotel in PV, who was happy to give us a ride back into town, where we quickly got our passports and shared a cab back to the sanctuary (can you guess if they checked our passports this time??), just in time for the last tour. It proved well worth all the efforts to get there. It was set up by an American couple in the 70s who owned the land, and were brought an injured sloth by some local girls. After looking after “Buttercup” and nursing her back to health, they became known in the area and started the centre to care for abandoned babies and injured adults (usually through climbing the electricity pylons and getting electrocuted). The tour was fascinating and started with a tranquil canoe ride around the lagoon, where we spotted toucans, kingfishers, eagles, monkeys, lizards and of course, sloths. Then the owner`s grandson (a budding Steve Irwin) showed us some of the adults that had been rescued but weren`t able to be released back into the wild for various reasons. It was great to be able to stroke these friendly and very cuddly creatures, and they seemed to love the attention. We then visited the nursery, but many of the young sloths were asleep, and they limit human interaction, as this might prevent them from integrating back into their natural habitat. So – sorry Joe, I couldn`t pinch one for you. The rain had held off for most of the day and I spent a relaxing evening eating dinner on the beach. I had intended to go for a bike ride on my last morning, but woke up to rain. It seemed to ease off, so after breakfast I headed off out of town to the next beach, Punta Uva. I still g ot soaked, but it was quite refreshing and I felt I needed the exercise. Caught my shuttle back to San Jose, which didn`t look very interesting or pretty and where I was advised not to venture out of the hostel, for my last night in Costa Rica.


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