A Travellerspoint blog

April 2021

Santa Elena and Monteverde

Up in the Clouds!!

sunny 70 °F
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22 April 2021

Santa Elena and Monteverde

Rain and Howler monkeys were all that we heard.... all night. The volcano was mostly obscured and since we didn't have to check out til noon - we took our time.

We retraced some of the route we took getting up to Arenal until just about where we reached the small town of Puerta Nueva. A left turn took us up, up and up some more. At we went up, the condition of the roads went, down, down, down: some dirt road, some not, some 2ish lanes...some not. It was an interesting ride to say the least.

We arrived safely into Santa Elena, a small town in the mountains near Monteverde. Having made better time than we thought we would, we stopped for a late lunch at a soda (diner/cafe): Restaurant La Soda Coati. As we entered, we were directed back outside to wash our hands before we entered. (Never had that happen in the US!!) The menu was written on a white board and there was quite a selection. Panini and quesadilla were our selections - a little different but very delicious.

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Our home for four nights will be an Airbnb apartment right near the center of town: Opa's House owned and run by Silvio and his family. Some of the reviews described it in the middle of town but still feels like the countryside - we'll see.

As we pulled into a gated driveway right off the main street, we were greeted by a lovely green space - pool included. Though we can still hear a bit of street noise - we see nothing but jungle hillside. Opa's is exactly as described by in the listing.

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We've decided on three or four nights at each of our stops rather than running from place to place. This is how we like to travel - it's not for everyone but it works for us. We then get a "feel" for the location and even get to meet some of the locals.

Getting settled took no time at all. We wandered through the little town, checking out the location of the supermercado (grocery), tourist office etc. The main square area is on a flat mesa type area with roads leading in and out that wind up and down the near by hills - like a little, tiny SFO ...sort of😉.

One of the tours we wanted to take was to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. All the reviews we'd read really encourage people to take a guided tour - unless one is especially adept at finding small birds and animals in the midst of heavy jungled forests. Not the case with us😏. So from a recommendation from www.mytanfeet.com, we booked with www.threebrotherstours.com a 0730 tour with a 0700 pick up.

NOTE: Jim found the www.mytanfeet.com website when we started planning our trip. It has been our "go to" so far. We were able to get a discount for our rental car, along with a few other perks from Adobe car rental. I was reading about the Monteverde area and came upon their recommendation for www.threebrotherstours.com.

With an early morning start, we had a quiet evening in our studio. After, checking out Santa Elena - I think all our evenings are going to be rather quiet. With just a fraction of the number of tourists they normally have, Santa Elena rolls the sidewalks up quite early.

23 April 2021

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve.

Up before the alarm and out in front by 0700, we were greeted by Ehlbert - one of the "three brothers" and we were off up the hill. The road up the Preserve made the ride up from Arenal look as smooth as glass. It did appear that workers were attempting to do some road work but with the number and depth of the pot holes we encountered - they have job security.

If you go to the Preserve on your own, you have to park in the parking lot. The charge is $5 per person (not per car). With that charge you are shuttled (round trip) up the hill to the entrance. Being with a guide, we were brought right up to the main gate - no shuttle necessary. Also, when booking a guide, check to see if the entrance fee ($25) in included or not - most are not but we did know this.

Arriving at the main gate, our temperature was taken before we entered. We paid our entrance fee and given a wrist band that would allow us to come back to Preserve any time before 4pm. With some scoop from one of the other guides, our first stop would be up one of the trails to where a quetzal female and a nest was reported to be. We found her quite easily. The coloring of the female quetzal is not as brilliant as the male. Not being camera shy, we got a few photos of the female and waited a bit to see if the male would arrive - he did not😢. Our time in the park was very special. We felt like we had it all to ourselves. Ehlbert told us that during a normal tourist season, the Preserve caps their numbers at 800. Right now, they are lucky to see 50. The whole time we were there, we saw less than 10 people. This is likely to get smaller with the new Level 4 Travel Advisory since recently most of their tourists have come from the USA.

Our three hours in the forest flew by (lolol)...We saw a tarantula, many different birds and finally - we saw it!!!!!! - the Male Resplendent Quetzal and not to be out done - his mate was right there with him. They were quite a ways away and our pictures are with a scope and my cell but much better than I could have done.

Below are pics from our hike through the forest. I do have to make an apology to all birders out there. While I do really appreciate their beauty - some will just be know to me as LBB's - little brown/blue birds and not their names😊.

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Posted by pjburke 16:51 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Our last day in Arenal

But not before a culinary adventure!!

rain 77 °F
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21 April 2021

Arenal Observatory Lodge

Well.....we don't mind hiking in the rain but horseback riding...not so much. Went to sleep to the soft and sometimes hard drumming of the rain...and woke up to the same with the guttural howling of the "Howler" monkeys.

Note: I do have to say that, rather unexpectedly, the WIFI here is excellent. Not only have I been able to download photos, post of this blog but my Mom's caregiver popped up with a video chat on Whatsapp so that we could say HI to Mom. It was a pleasant surprise.

We decided to take a drive over to La Fortuna...just to check it out. Only about a half hour drive but a world away. I'm sure it's a lovely town but we're so happy we decided to stay at AOL. We drove in, circled the crowded streets, got a little lost...and drove right back out in search of a place for lunch.

I told my navigator (Jim, of course), that it was his job to find a place. My job was to keep my eyes on the the road - especially important here in CR.

He saw a small sign, had me turn around and we headed onto to a rather narrow side road. We kept driving - narrow road, narrower road, one lane bridge, dirt road. My thought: "Did we miss it?" Nope - keep driving!! There was a T in the road at the end of a VERY steep incline....????? Where??? About 50m (150ft) to our right stood Jalapas. We pulled into the small parking lot next to a small building - windows - floor to ceiling, looking out over the rolling hills of the Costa Rican countryside. OMG!!!

I've been told that we should rename our blog "All they do is eat and drink". Well, today that would be so appropriate.

Checking with the one person inside - just to make sure it was open, we were guided to a "table with a view". Within minutes, another car pulled in - it was the owner, Luis.

It was the beginning of a lunch we will not soon forget. We started with a surprise from the owner - Chicharrones and Cassava (sautéed in garlic). Jim and I shared two small apps: Ceviche and Calamari. On to lunch - Gallos de Carne Asada (Beef Tacos) and Hearts of Palm Salad which was totally different than we expected. It was more like a risotto. We knew now that we would not need dinner😊 and just as we got up to leave Luis came out with a sweet treat - Tres Leches Cake. This surprisingly light dessert was the perfect way to end one of the best lunches we've had in a long time. Check out the pics 😁

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During our time at Jalapas, we had the chance to talk with Luis and he filled us in on the background of this lovely little cafe . Building started about 18 months ago and was finished...of course, right before COVID hit. It's only been fully open for five months. He said that they are doing "ok". It is really out of the way and tends to be a bit of a locals place. I would encourage anyone who gets to the La Fortuna area - make the trek (really not that difficult). You will not forget it.

The drive back to AOL was in and out of raindrops but after this lunch there was no way our spirits would be dampened ☔

It was our last afternoon at AOL and we wanted to make sure we experienced the, much talked about, view from "The Nest" - 150 steps up in a rather narrow observation tower. We were told the views were amazing...of course, the minute we reached the last step...the clouds moved in and it started to rain.....no pour!!! It was still amazing!!

Time to pack up, as we will be leaving tomorrow. On to a new adventure - the Monteverde area of Costa Rica which is famous for it's Cloud Forest, the Butterfly Garden and we're hoping to see the Resplendent Quetzal (though sightings area rare - we've got our fingers crossed)🤞

Posted by pjburke 21:31 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Off to the Mountains!!

Arenal Volcano

semi-overcast 85 °F
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19 April 2021

LIberia, Costa Rica

Last night was a quiet one. I worked on the previous posting and once the anticipated rain started we sat outside enjoying the cool(ish) moist air...and a nice cold beer. Of course, once it stopped raining - it was back to the AC.

This morning, the fun began. We repacked our bags. After really only 24 hours - we didn't need a lot of repacking. I think there was only one other guest last night so we had the dining area to ourselves for breakfast. Costa Rican pancakes are really quite good.

Adobe rental agent (Jorge) and our rental, a nice 2020 Hyundai Tucson, arrived just about 0930. After a quick inspection of the car and signing appropriate paperwork, we packed up and were on our way. I was a little nervous about driving in CR but I thought...after driving in Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Bosnia and from Belgium to Portugal - CR can't be that bad.

First stop - Kolbi store to buy a SIM card for my cell. Verizon charges $10 per day on their international plan. We paid $45 for a month with Kolbi. Also since we didn't rent the GPS with Adobe ($7per day) we are using WAZE and/or Google Maps hooked right into the car's nav system. Not sure about Google Maps but WAZE is free and we're using WhatsApp, email and/or Messenger to stay in touch. It's all quite easy.

SIM card in and we headed south into the mountains. We'll be staying at the Arenal Observatory Lodge (AOL) for three nights. It's the only hotel in the Arenal Volcano National Park and was highly recommended by my cousin Carolyn.

As you might or might not know - we don't usually splurge on accommodations. We like clean, comfortable, local places but since our 30th was last year and our three month European trip didn't happen - for obvious reasons. We did splurge a little at AOL. We opted for the Smithsonian Room with a direct view of the volcano.

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Again - I digress. Back to my first driving experience in Costa Rico. After the first couple of miles - it was easy peasy. We were on the CR version of a freeway for about a half hour and then on to local roads. I was glad that we had WAZE. Signage is pretty much nonexistent as far as street signs. There was the occasional arrow pointing to a town but we could have gotten lost very easily.

I really thought it was going to take us longer than it did. There was hardly any traffic on the road. Making a left on to one road we were taken aback. There in front of us, glimmering in the bright sunlight was Lake Arenal. We really didn't think we were that close. We pulled over and also got our first glimpse of the volcano.

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We decided to stop for lunch along the way and noticed a sign for Le Bistro. Pulling in, it looked very promising. Walking through the restaurant to their outdoor dining area we came face to face with a beautiful, full length view of Lake Arenal. With the sun out, feeling the gentle breeze....we couldn't ask for more.

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Lunch finished and clouds rolling in - we were off. About thirty minutes down the road we found the sign for our turn off to AOL. Oh, if I didn't mention - we did opt for 4 wheel drive on our rental vehicle. We didn't think we would need it for our trip to Arenal but I was glad that we had it just in case. The 2Km drive up to the lodge had more than it's share of vehicle swallowing pot holes but once we go to the lodge - all that changed.

The manicured grounds, lush foliage and beautiful view was so much to take in - a jungle paradise.

Checking in, we we're given wrist bands that allowed us access to the amenities (pool, spa, hiking trails) and identified us as guests in the dining room. After settling in our room #29, we we off for a short hike/walk. It wasn't difficult but just walking along the paths felt like an adventure.

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Dinner was a pleasant surprise. Ceviche, local cream of pumpkin soup - not exotic but very tasty.

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Off to bed for our first night in the jungle, no AC but none needed as we have a screen door to our room and a ceiling fan. With the noises of the jungle in our ears - sleep came very quickly :-)

20 April 2021

Arenal Observatory Lodge

OMG - the best night sleep I have had in a very long time - 9 hours!!!!

Before breakfast we found ourselves on our porch searching for wildlife - again they do not disappoint!!!

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We signed up for the free guided nature walk at 0800, so it was breakfast at 0700. Opting for the Tica Breakfast (eggs, rice and beans, queso, fried plantains) - it did not disappoint. We think Rice and Beans is probably the Costa Rican National dish - and we've had it a few times on the trip so far. The rice and beans here at AOL are so far the best!!! I think they mixed fresh cilantro in and it made all the difference...yum.

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At 0800, we met Didier for our walk. We were the only guests that opted for his early morning trek. Our one hour walk ended up being over 90 minutes. Didier took time to show us some of the hidden gems of the local jungle. He also educated us on the local Costa Rican tribes - his, the Maleku.

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After lunch, we were off to explore some of the other trails. It was an easy hike and we had the jungle all to ourselves!!

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20210420_132403.jpg Jim waiting for the rain to end.....

We did make it back just as the rain started.....and it was a good thing. It rained through Happy Hour and Dinner and into the night.

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Horseback riding is on the schedule for tomorrow but we can wait til morning to make our final decision. We haven't been given much hope - looks like a system is coming in.....Fingers crossed!!!

Posted by pjburke 16:47 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Vaccinated and Traveling - off to Costa Rica

We took the leap

semi-overcast 88 °F
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It seems a little redundant to say that this has been a helluva year...but it has. I'm starting this blog by saying that we know not everyone agrees that it's time to start traveling. We respect your opinions - we really do but we have to ask that you respect ours.

Jim and I talked long and hard about traveling - to do it or not ..... we've decided to travel. We have been diligent in our research and found that Costa Rica is a country that we are comfortable with their precautions. Please know that we have been vaccinated, are still wearing our masks, washing our hands and staying clear of large gatherings - pretty much the same things we have been doing for the last year.

With that said - I hope that you will enjoy this trip with us!!!

18 April 2021

Liberia, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a country that has been on our radar for years - now that we're here, we're not sure why we hadn't made the leap before now....well - we've leapt!!

The trip itself has actually been a pretty easy one. We left yesterday - Tucson-Houston-Liberia Both legs between 2 1/2 and 3 hours - the long part was the layover in Houston. With the recommendation of a good friend who has spent a lot of time in Costa Rica (thank you Jerry), we decided to start and end in Liberia and not San Jose. In fact, we don't have plans to go to San Jose at all. I'm sure there are some uniquely Costa Rican cultural sites but large cites, right now, are not where we want to be.

We arrived late, flying across a very dark landscape dotted with just a few smatterings of city lights. As the plane was descending - my thoughts were "where the heck is the airport??" and then, within seconds, runway lights and we landed. This airport makes Tucson (or Rochester) look like Houston. The terminal itself is quite modern - jetway and all. Down the escalator to Passport Control, it was apparent that we were the only flight (and our flight was not full at all). The frequent signs alerted arriving passengers to what information we would need to provide Immigration: current passport, hotel information, departure information (which they never asked for) and a QR code which verified that we were insured medically for $50K per person and also for $2K to cover quarantine accommodations in the unlikely event that we test positive when we go to leave and need to quarantine for 14 days. (I'm not going to go into the insurance process but if anyone has questions - get in touch with me - it was much easier that I thought it would be).

The Immigration Officer sent us on our way with a smile and "Adios - Enjoy your trip" :-) Bags arrived shortly and a quick scan (no questions) at Customs and we headed out the main doors to find Emmanuel from Hotel Villa Hermosa (Liberia). Even though his mask hid his face, his smiling eyes made us feel immediately comfortable. His Dad, Carlos, was waiting in their van at the curb and within minutes - we were on way.

LIB Airport is a short, fifteen minute drive to our guesthouse....and that was with a short tour of downtown Liberia added in. Saturday night and Liberia looked like Saddlebrooke - barely a soul in site - except for a young lady on a corner - but I'll let you use your imagination.

We pulled into the Hotel compound, got checked in, procured two very cold beers and Manuel lead us to our room. Our room has a double and a twin - is simple and clean and (lololo) the same colors that my living room used to be. We have AC, a frig, TV (all Spanish channels) and really good WIFI. We talked with Emmanuel a little bit and found that most of their guests come in during the week for business (as they are close to the city center). It was time for bed with anticipation of what Liberia would be like in the daylight.

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...a fairly restful sleep and we're up for our first full day in Costa Rica. We had actually planned for a quiet day (not picking up our car until Monday morning) and are glad we did. The flight wasn't hard but after not flying for more than a year - it took the wind out of our sails a bit.
Breakfast is included in our stay and Emmanuel's Mom Heidi is in charge of the kitchen. They have an extensive selection: four or five different Tico dishes (all with the famous Costa Rican rice and beans), pancakes, a couple American dishes and even a Veg dish - and of course, fresh fruit and Costa Rican coffee. Great way to start the day.
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Anticipating some afternoon storms, we took off after breakfast and walked into the city center (about 3 miles RT). The town reminded Jim of small towns in Peru from back in the 1970's. Most of the roads (not all) were paved with some one-way - others - two way but with not real rhyme nor reason. Being Sunday morning in this very Christian country - not much was open (except for a couple supermarkets) but the two churches we passed we're doing a booming business. At the large Catholic Church, there was a line to get in. It appeared people were social distancing and also stopping to sanitize their hands before entering.

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With the heat starting to wilt us, we headed back. The AC in our room was a welcome relief. Combine heat and a little jet lag and it was time for an early siesta.

Waking 1pmish...we were a bit peckish but was we walked out - we were greeted with a darkening sky...so instead of walking downtown again to eat - we headed across the road to Pizzeria Hermano Castillo. Can you really go wrong with pizza - even in Costa Rica??. For about $10 USD, we even have leftovers.

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Tomorrow our rental car is being delivered to us here at the hotel and we will be taking off for the Arenal/La Fortuna area - the adventure will officially begin...stay tune!!!

Posted by pjburke 01:23 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged #liberia Comments (3)

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