|H Family Adventure||
Tuesday we moved on to Monteverde! The landscape changed drastically as soon as we drove higher up in the mountains. Clouds constantly pass through the town which causes a mist/light rain. It is much cooler with a strong breeze that keeps the bugs down. The house we stayed in was on the outskirts of town and had some huge trees around it. The house itself was small and basic, but it reminded me of a cozy Rocky Mountain home with lots of windows.
The owner of the house, Melvin, showed us around the region the next day. First we went to a huge, massive ficus tree. Ficus trees are unique because they find a large suitable host tree and grow up and around it. They don't feed on it in any way, but rather use it for support. Eventually the host tree dies because the ficus canopy becomes so large it blocks all the sunlight. Slowly, the host tree rots away leaving a large, empty space and also provides lots of nutrients in the ground for the ficus. The ficus tree that we visited was special because the tunnel in the middle, where the host tree used to be, was so large that almost anybody could climb up in it. Mom, Dad and I climbed all the way to the top, which is over 50 meters according to Melvin! At the top of the tree we had a view of the whole town too!
After the ficus tree we drove down into a neighboring valley to Melvin's family's farm. It used to be a dairy farm, but now it is an ecological farm with sugar cane, banana and plantain trees and a lot of hiking trails. Before the hike Melvin's sister made us pizza and we watched birds fly to and fro around a homemade bird feeder. The bird feeder was neat because it was a small dead tree with banana pieces all over it. We counted over 18 species of birds, including an emerald toucanet which is really hard to find because they blend in with the forest so well. We then went hiking for several hours and found several fresh puma tracks from the night before! Even though we choose not to go into the Monteverde Reserve with all the tourists, we had more fun doing what we did!
We graduated from our Spanish school on Thursday! Friday morning we went horseback riding to the Nauyaca Waterfall. The horses were not the best and fought among themselves the whole way there and back. Thankfully I was the lucky person on a horse that kicks other horses which meant that I could not be kicked myself! The waterfall had two sections to it. The top one was at least twice as big as the bottom cascade but had no pool below only rocks. The lower section had a huge, deep pool with several good jumping spots. Another cool thing was that there were a lot of different fish and some of them were sizable. The waterfall seemed like it belonged in a movie set because it was stunning!
Saturday we packed up and left at 10 AM. Three hours later we arrived at a condo that Dad had rented for us for one a night. We arrived at a large security guard booth. Then drove 8 Km down a windy road and passed another security guard check point, drove 2 Km more down the road and passed the final security guard checkpoint. All this just to get to the condo. They definitely are not taking any chances at this place!
Along the road to the condo, there were a bunch of different neighborhoods each with a security guard checkpoint. There were 2 beaches, a hotel, mini golf course, several restaurants, and a pools. Behind our condo there were several huge trees with a drop-off to the ocean. A pair of scarlet macaws were flying around the trees and giving us a show.
Sunday morning we were back on the road by 10 AM. We drove three hours north to a place close to the cloud forest. Our destination was a house on a little farm next to a river. The landscape changed drastically on the way there. It went from jungle to dry hills to sparsely forested jungle.
When we arrived we found a river next to the house and went swimming in it. We also arranged for the farm hand to take us around with him in the morning and feed the animals.
We met Jose at 7 AM and the first thing he showed us was how to milk a cow. Then we fed some pigs and sheep. A ten minute walk down a trail led us to a herd of water buffalo which were very intimidating.
We walked back to the house, ate a quick breakfast, then walked down another trail to the community Sustainability Center. The Sustainability Center is a place where the locals go to learn things like how to farm organically, process sugar cane and to do many other activities. It is an important part of this small community because it is the main place where they all get together. At the center they had a large house and a barnyard. There were ducks, geese, chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep, an emu, a five week old baby donkey (with parents), and they even had a tame coati! This place has been a big surprise!
Monday through Friday we went to Spanish school as usual and the only thing out of the ordinary that happened was that Dad and I learned the basics of surfing Thursday afternoon. Dominical is known as one of the best surfing places in Costa Rica and attracts people from all over. Dad had arranged for an instructor to meet us at Playa Dominical. He had us spend the first twenty minutes practicing how to stand up correctly on the board in the sand. Then we swam out about 100 yards with our boards and rode the whitewater in. The first time Dad fell off and I managed to stay on. We did this for about an hour.
Saturday morning Dad and I were in the car by 6:15. We had an all day fishing trip ahead of us! Our boat, called the First Row, met us at Quepos Marina and after an hour boat ride we were out to sea. When we got to the spot our captain picked we found it was quite crowded. I counted over twenty boats in this one area! It turns out that when the boats first go out, they go to where the fish were last caught the day before.
The first mate managed to set 8 lines out in less than ten minutes and not long after we had a bite. I let Dad go first to show me how it's done. It took him ten minutes to bring it in and when it jumped we found out it was a sailfish. The fish was about 90 inches and looked to be 80 pounds.
An hour went by and Dad was starting to worry that he would be the only one to catch a fish when we finally hooked onto another one. As soon as the fish realized it was hooked it jumped four times. It took me about 7 minutes to bring it in. It was another sailfish except much bigger! Our guide guessed it to be 105 inches and 100 pounds. This one we tagged before letting go. At this point the boats had spread out. In about forty five minutes we hooked onto another two and Dad let me have them both. We used our second and last tag on one of them.
We went about another two hours without any action when we ran into a feeding frenzy. There were about 200 birds, 100 dolphins, and our guide said there were yellowfin tuna under it all. We spent another two hours trying to hook onto a tuna without success but the dolphins made quite a show for us. They were doing flips non stop! It was my favorite part of the day for sure. Dad was next in line for a fish but we only had bites and no takers. Later when we got back to the dock we gave the tag information to the local fishing shop so they could enter it into the system. Next time the fish is caught we will be notified how much it has grown and how far its traveled. We ended up catching more fish than most the other boats. Overall, I loved it!
Our weekend started on Friday, but we didn't get to sleep in. We were all in the car by 9:00 AM since we had planned a 3 day vacation in Drake Bay. We drove an hour and a half to Sierpe then took a very small and cramped ferry another hour to Drake Bay.
Drake Bay is on a small peninsula called the the Osa Peninsula which is home to 50% of all species in Costa Rica. We went to Corcovado National Park which is the most biodiverse place on the planet according to National Geographic. Our guide told us the peninsula has almost twice as many species of trees than the whole United States and Canada combined. Dad had found us a cabin in a small lodge that had an amazing view.
As soon as we unpacked we went on a canopy tour that was down the road. The canopy tour was zip lining through the jungle canopy. Sometimes we were closer to the floor and sometimes we were up really high. The longest zip line was 400 meters. You control your own speed by using a leather glove and pressing down on the line to break. Not something you would find in the US! On several of the zip lines Kylie didn't make it all the way across because she is so light. One of the guides had to go get her!
Saturday morning we went horseback riding then dismounted and hicked down to Rio Claro which is in the middle of the jungle. Next, we floated down the river in life jackets. Ian was our guide. He pointed out lots of cool things like the walking palm that looks like it has twenty legs. He was extremely knowledgeable with just about anything in the jungle. I brought my snorkel mask along so I could look in the river. There was a plethora of different species of fish big and small. After the hike and a horseback ride back we stopped and had lunch at a local's rustic house in the jungle. Doña Maria prepared the meal for us. It was a full day!
Ian talked us into doing a night tour with him. We decided that we would go even though we had to get up really early the next morning. We walked along in a creek finding different species of frogs, snakes, and insects. We were also lucky enough to see two kinkajous which are small nocturnal animals that look like a cross between a cat and a monkey.
Sunday morning we all got up at 5:15 AM because we were going into Corcovado Park. A thirty minute boat ride took us to the small outpost that is the entrance of the park. We hiked for four hours and were fortunate enough to see a tapir which is really rare in Costa Rica. A tapir looks like a jumbo sized pig and an anteater were combined into one creature. We made our way back home by 4:00 PM because we had Spanish class the next morning.
Believe it or not we became trapeze artists Sunday. We had to wake up early and drive an hour away to get to our trapeze school. The place was small but pretty amazing. Imagine just one trapeze net with two bars and a great view. It was about halfway up a mountain plus you had a perfect view of the tallest waterfall in Costa Rica right across the valley.
We started off learning some basic skills like changing from hands to feet while hanging on the bar. Mom was the first one to try it and she made it half way. It took us all several tries and about an hour later every one of us were able to swing upside-down and catch our instructor who was on the second swing. So far it has been the favorite thing that we all have done in Costa Rica.
Monday it was time to go back to Spanish school. It was also the last day in the house we were staying in. We didn't do much besides swimming and homework.
Tuesday morning we had all our things packed and sitting by the door. We did go to Spanish school and afterwards Dad invited Anna, our instructor, out for lunch with us. There is a great fish taco place right down the street. As soon as we arrived back at the house we loaded as much as we could into the car and drove three minutes to the next house. The house itself is based on a courtyard style and focuses on a large circular living room which overlooks a 180 degree view of the ocean. My favorite part is that the road leading in is on top of a ridge line so the house ends on a cliff. The house is rather run-down and looks about thirty years old, but the view and all the wildlife make it amazing.
As it was becoming dark we saw two large toucans and a bunch of smaller ones in front and behind the house. We also found a colony of about thirty tent-builder bats under the eaves in the courtyard. The sunset is unbelievable with the view. We ended up going back to the hotel restaurant right down the road and it is still as good as the first time we went.
Wednesday we had Spanish school like usual but on our way home we stopped on the side of the road because we heard rumors of a sloth in the area. We were lucky enough to spot it climbing up a tree. It was faster than I thought it would be, but it was still slow. For some reason it kept climbing up this one branch that was becoming skinnier and skinnier. At one point when it was close to the end we could hear the branch cracking a little. Right after Dad exclaimed, "I think its going to break!" of course it broke. The sloth and branch fell about twenty five feet into the bushes below. It didn't move for several minutes and we thought it could be seriously hurt, but it slowly made its way back to what it thought was a tree but was really a stump. When it realized it couldn't go any farther it just stayed in place and reached out toward us. We took some really good pictures. Later when we showed them to a local they said we were really lucky to be there at that moment. It was an amazing experience for us, but probably not for the sloth!
Thursday we had school as usual. The only thing out of the ordinary that we did was to walk on the beach after we went for sushi. At the end of the beach some locals were fishing which inspired Dad and me to try it there. We have yet to do so but hopefully I can convince him to go!
On Friday we did not go to the Spanish school. Dad and I did our pool work for scuba. The plan is to become certified while we are in Dominical. This required all day in a pool practicing different skills and safety things. Regrettably, we started at 12:30 PM and ended at 5:30 PM. However, it was awesome! My only complaint was that the deepest part of the pool was 5' 6" so my head was above the water when standing.
Dad woke me up at 7:30 AM on Saturday so we could be at the scuba shop by 8:30 AM. We had our first open water dive planned! The boat ride to the dive spot, which was right off an island called Caño, was an hour long. The ocean was very calm and we were lucky enough to see dolphins! The boat was quite full. There were two captains, two dive masters, a snorkeling guide, three other divers, two snorkelers and all the gear in a twenty foot boat.
Unfortunately when we got in the water, I discovered that I could not go past 15 feet because my ears would not equalize. In scuba diving you have to clear or "equalize" your sinuses every couple of feet as you go down because the pressure can mess up your ears. I think my allergies are the cause. Next time we go I will take a Sutafed before the dive.
After realizing that there was no way to fix the problem easily, I decided to join with the snorkelers. It turns out that I made the right choice because the other scuba divers said that the water was extra cold and the visibility was very bad where they went. Where we snorkeled the water was warm, the visibility was good, and we got to see a sea turtle up close! Our snorkeling guide even said that he heard a whale while he was going under to point stuff out for us!
When we arrived back at the house it was already close to dinner time. The hotel right down the road from our house has a restaurant so we decided to walk over to make reservations. On our way to the restaurant we found a group of over twenty white-faced monkeys that were jumping from tree to tree. If there was a monkey jumping contest these guys would win! The farthest recorded jump a white-faced monkey has ever done is twenty two feet. We threw a couple of bananas up to them and they became instant friends with us. They never came all the way to the ground but they did come down to the lower trees and followed us. When we got to the hotel we found a group of fifteen howler monkeys that were right next to the pool. The friendly monkey (that Kylie mentioned) was there and even came down to the guests which made their day!
Everything except the main courses of the dinner was amazing. Kylie ordered a mushroom soup that Dad thinks is the best he has ever had. We all ordered our steaks medium rare which was a mistake because here that means raw. The dessert redeemed the dinner because each one we ordered tasted amazing and Dad's came with a fire show. We are definitely going back to that restaurant!
The last two days we have been busting our butts learning Spanish! It's not too hard, but there are so many words I have yet to learn.
We have mostly settled into our routine now. Mom wakes the family up around 7:20 AM. Next, Dad makes Kylie and me café con leche. Then we have breakfast and make sandwiches for lunch. Finally, we're in the car by 8:45 AM and off to school.
For me café con leche has become necessary otherwise I dose off around 11:00 AM! I look forward to when we get home because we usually eat a mango or two and jump into the pool. The toucans show up around 5:00 PM so we make sure that we're out of the pool by then.
For dinner we have been going out a lot because the food is so inexpensive here.
The only thing out of the ordinary that happened the other day was that we saw two different types of wild monkeys. One white-headed capuchin and four mantled howlers. Mantled howlers are the most seen and heard species of wild monkeys in Central America.
Before we left for school in the morning, we found another mantled howler in front of the house. Earlier in the morning he was howling like crazy and woke all of us up. If you didn't know that monkeys howled, you'd think that a monster lived in the forest!
After class Dad and I went fishing. We found a guide that would take us out in kayaks and show us the ropes of the local fishing. Our guide, Jimmy, picked us up from our house at 2:00 PM and we drove thirty minutes south to the Terraba River. We loaded into a boat, that had the layout of a river cruise boat, which took us another twenty minutes up the river. The ride there was my favorite part because the river looked similar to the Amazon River. There were crocodiles and the shoreline was made up of sand and mangroves. The best part of the ride was that we were lucky enough to see four scarlet macaws flying over us! We spent several hours floating back down the river in the kayaks fishing, but only had two fish. Dad caught a small snapper and the guide caught a medium snook. It was a great experience though!
We saw our first wild monkeys yesterday! Mom and Dad ditched us in the morning and went to the grocery store. When they got back Dad took Kylie and me to a restaurant for lunch. It was really cool because it was a large open-air sports bar. It is high up on the mountain, has great views, and is where the American tourists and expats hang out.
After lunch we went to the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary. I was expecting a large, fenced in piece of jungle with different species living in it. Surprisingly, there were many separate cages of different sizes. In each cage there were either hurt or disabled animals. Some of them were being rehabilitated and some have to live there permanently. We saw three different types of monkeys, several types of parrots and parakeets, baby sloths, a coati, raccoons, squirrels, a nocturnal squirrel-like animal called a Kinkajou and an anteater.
In the middle of the tour, when our tour guide was showing us the baby sloths, four wild white-headed monkeys swung into the trees overhead and started harassing the monkeys in the cages. Our tour guide said, "The only reason they are here is because I am giving a tour. Usually they wouldn't dare get so close because I throw rocks at them." They went so far as to jump onto the other monkeys' cage which really stirred them up. By then our tour guide had had enough and threw several decent sized stones at them. The wild monkeys were immediately scared off and we continued with our tour. It turns out white-headed monkeys are extremely evil, mean and are very cannibalistic. The cage of monkeys they were harassing were there own kind too!
The next morning we woke up early so we could get to our Spanish class by eight thirty. Mom, Dad and I are in a class together with our own teacher and Kylie gets to share a teacher with another little girl almost her age. The class is about four and a half hours long but has two, fifteen minute breaks. Each classroom is a small, screened in gazebo that has only a table, four seats and a whiteboard. The hardest part for me is that our instructor teaches Spanish completely in Spanish! Wish me luck!
We are back on the road! It has been awhile but traveling already feels normal. Our flight to San Jose was on time and the airport wasn't crowded. As soon as we stepped outside of the airport though it was a completely different world. People were yelling at us left and right in Spanish asking if we needed a taxi. The man who helped us with our luggage found us an official taxi that took us to a hotel. Apparently only the orange taxis are registered and the other ones are illegal. The next morning a rental car was delivered to us and we were off (after shopping for groceries of course)!
Originally we thought the drive to Dominical was only a couple hours, but it took over four. When we did arrive we were pleasantly surprised by the house Dad had rented for us. It has an amazing view and a pool! As the caretaker was showing us around, two toucans flew up into the tree that is right in front of the porch! A few minutes later two more flew up and they started talking to each other. It was so cool! Because it was getting late, we got dinner to go then went to bed.
I woke up to the sound of birds, which are very loud and repetitive here, which was amazing! The first thing we did was go to a farmers market five minutes down the road then we stopped by another grocery store. When we got back it was close to lunch time, so we grabbed a couple mangos and jumped in the pool. We spent most of the day chilling by the pool and went to a sushi place for dinner. Just before dinner we decided to go on a walk down a path that we found close to our house. It took us into the jungle and then to the ocean. We were hoping to see monkeys and sloths but we had no such luck. We did see lots of birds and carpenter ants though!
I had forgotten to mention how hot and humid it is here. In Moorea it is just as hot, and probably even more humid, but at least there is a constant breeze there!