Costa Rica
December 23, 2002 - January 10, 2003

    Richard and I chose to take advantage of my three week school vacation this year and head off to explore a few of the many regions and ecosystems of Costa Rica. W e landed in San Jose, the capital, about 23 hours after leaving Fairbanks. After about 5 hours sleep we headed off to a small airport to get on an 8 seater airplane to begin our adventure at Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula portion of the country. It was HOT and very humid. Sweat poured from our bodies for 5 days straight! Our little bungalow at Drake Bay Wilderness Lodge had ceiling fans, which kept things comfortable at night.
-  Our first day there we walked a trail that paralleled the beach for a couple of hours each direction. We ran across a large band of White Faced monkeys and heard Howler monkeys off in the background.
-  Day 2 we traveled by boat for 1.5 hours each way to Corcovado Park to do the day long Sirena Ranger Station hike. We hiked all day through the rain forest and saw a Tapir, Howler monkeys, Scarlet Macau's, a Viper snake, White Faced monkeys and lots of different birds. On the way home we stopped at a gorgeous waterfall we could stand under and cool off. We didn't run into anyone else hiking all day. How nice! The surf had really kicked up in the afternoon and it was interesting seeing our boat driver navigate the waves. Yikes. Richard and some of the other guests went out in the boat that night to swim in the Luminescence of the sea.
-  Day 3 we chose to do a bit of sea kayaking across the inlet and into an estuary. It is a strange experience for us Alaskan paddlers to be kayaking in warm ocean water. I could get used to that! Each day we started with a great breakfast, had lunch provided and had wonderful dinners. Beans, rice, fruit and veggies at every meal.
-  On our last full day in Drake Bay we took a boat ride to San Josecito where there was gorgeous beach, great snorkeling and a great little hike to the Rio Claro where our group swam upriver for a short distance to a waterfall. We saw lots of Scarlet Macau's that day as well as being met by a band of Squirrel monkeys back at the lodge.
-  On day 5 we flew back to San Jose to spend the day in the big city. San Jose is at a much higher elevation and is much cooler, so that was a nice break from the heat. We did a bit of shopping and wandered town but not being much of a city girl I was looking forward to leaving for Monteverde in the morning. Hotel Don Carlos was a nice spot to overnight.

At 8AM our shuttle van came to drive us over very bumpy dirt roads for about 4 hours to Monteverde. We stayed at a small place called La Colina. Great breakfast was included. We were also near Stella's Bakery, which was hard to pass by each day without tasting something. No dieting on this trip!
The afternoon of day one we walked through the Children's Rainforest. This is sponsored by the local school children to help educate them about preservation of the rainforest.
-  Day 2 we took a cab to Santa Elena Reserve. This was our first initiation to Cloud Forest. Wow!! Large trees, leaves, vines growing everywhere so thickly, without trails would not be passable. After spending the morning there we walked a bit down the road to Selvatura where we did a Canopy walk and tour of a Butterfly Garden. Another great experience. People there were also doing zip lines through the Cloud Forest but we chose the slow walking option. I know, how boring, when we could have been flying through the trees.
-  Day 3 we walked up to Monteverde Cloud Forest at 7AM for the early morning guided walk. It is totally amazing watching these guides spot wildlife and birds. We saw Resplendent Quetzals, famous for this area. Later in the day, while we hiked on our own we spotted a sloth, Howler monkeys, Coatis and lots more birds. Monteverde was incredible.
-  Day 4 we went to Finca Ecologica, which was another rainforest walk. At lower elevations than Santa Elena or Monteverde reserves, it was not as lush but still wonderful. We were able to see many Coati's, Howler and White Faced monkeys, birds, coffee and banana plants. We continued our walk to Santa Alena, a small town down the road a ways, and back to Monteverde for dinner.

-  Day 5 we hopped another minivan which we were in for 1.5 hours before hopping on a boat for an hour across Arenal Lake, to meet a cab which drove us about half hour to our hotel near Arenal. Fun journey to our next destination to explore the Arenal Volcano. Our hotel had a pool with hot thermal water, which we spent evenings lounging in. Our little cabin was surrounded by gorgeous gardens and plants, which attracted all sorts of birds. We could see the volcano from our room but the active side of the volcano right now was not in our view.
Richard and I had arranged for a morning tour with a guide to the volcano. Our hike was through the rainforest interspersed with areas where the lava had destroyed areas of the rainforest during two different eruptions. We spotted two different types of toucans. The highlight was hearing the volcano "breath", erupt and seeing rocks cascading down the sides. We continued to hike the remainder of the day in the area and listen to the volcano while watching birds and monkeys. Can't beat that!
The next evening we went with a guide to a special place to hike again through the rainforest and watch the lava flow after dark.

After a few days in the Arenal area at Hotel Arenal Paraiso we hopped yet another minivan to the coast to Playa Grande and Hotel Las Tortugas. This is a few beach miles North of Tamarindo. We spent our days walking the miles of beach in each direction. There is an estuary that divides Playa Grande and Tamarindo that boats stand by to shuttle beach walkers across.

We had several "adventures" while at Playa Grande.
#1- We were able to see Leatherback turtles come onto the beach near high tide to lay there eggs. We were also fortunate to see some hatchlings. What a unique and special opportunity.
#2- We came back from roaming the beach one day and found our sink and floor drains had all exploded sand and guk all over the bathroom and kitchen area. Ceilings, floors, counters, you can't even imagine the mess and smell. Not exactly what we expected to come home to but being tough Alaskans, not much surprises us. The owner was mortified and proceeded to move us to their own studio apartment, which is usually saved for relatives. The upper floor had a huge balcony and a view of the ocean. The area below us is where the monkeys came through as they traversed the area. What wonderful compensation for our inconvenience.
#3- OK, our trip sounded so perfect. Well, our 3rd day at Playa Grande we borrowed a canoe to go paddle the salt-water estuary. It was early morning and we were wanting to get to the end of the estuary before the tide changed to ride the tide out. We were in a very narrow and windy section of the mangroves when I hear panic from Richard, who was in the front of the canoe. By the time he yelled wasp nest and ducked. The nest of swarming bees, hanging from the tree, was in my face. Yes, screaming and about 20 stings later I did manage to get the wasps off me by splashing lots of salt water over me. I was ready to jump in, tip the canoe and deal with the crocodiles and alligators in the water but I didn't have to resort to that. I popped a Benadryl and had my epi-kit ready but did not need it. I took Benadryl for the next few days for swelling and itching but didn't have any major problems. I found two more stingers two weeks later. Poor Richard thought he had killed me. The owner of the hotel was starting to think we were jinxed. I think he hated to see us each day and find out what else went wrong.

So, as you can see, we had another great vacation. Because of areas we choose to vacation and the activities we always choose to do, we always have some interesting adventures as a part of our trip. We didn't even tell you about the huge scorpions on the walls or the poisonous snakes we nearly stepped on while they scooted in front of us. Things went smoothly our last few days on the coast and we left Costa Rica knowing we would be back some day soon. Warm people and an interesting, diverse and wonderful place.

Nina Tartakoff and Richard Kemnitz