Sonntag, 27. Dezember 2015

Pura Vida Part II

Note: This is the second part of the Blog I am writing about my time in Costa Rica. If you are interested you can find the first part here:

I ended my last Blog writing about the amazing Caribbean style dinner we had at our place in Tortuguero. Which was the perfect ending for our amazing two days in this small paradise. The food tasted so exotic as  the whole place seemed to be. I got so many new impressions in these first days in Costa Rica that it felt like that we must have been there for at least three weeks already.

So it was a strange feeling I had on the next morning when we met up at the shore of the Canal to get into the boat to get back to the civilisation. I was kind of sad that I had to leave this beautiful place with all this amazing wildlife and its beautiful landscapes. But on the other had I was really eager to explore the rest of this beautiful country. And I had the feeling that i was not the only person in the group who felt this way.

One by one, everyone of our group arrived, still a bit sleepy as it was early in the morning, but then we finally were ready to go.  And like on the way to Tortuguero, also the way back was really amazing. Again we were able to spot a lot of wildlife in the Canal and on its shore. Sometimes you had the feeling that there must be someone who is placing the animals in some place you can spot them, as you had the feeling that they were really waiting for you to spot them. But I guess we just have been lucky to be at the right place at the right time.
Again we spotted some lizards, a cayman, an abundance of  birds and also spotted some monkeys very far away.
It was such an amazing feeling to drive down that huge canal system that was leading us straight through some sort of Jungle. It really made you feel as if you were at a place like the Amazon or maybe African Jungle. It gave you the feeling as if you were exploring a whole new area. And you never knew what was waiting around the next bend of the river. Still one of my favourite experience of the whole time I had in Costa Rica.

But as all good things must come to an end, eventually we arrived the end of the canal and had to get out of the boat and get onto the bus to our next destination. This time we had a Minibus for ourselves and didn't had to get on a Chicken Bus again. Which was of course much more convenient and relaxing. But still we got our Costa Rican massage while driving on the bumpy roads.

And again it was really fascinating to watch the landscapes passing by. We passed all the huge Banana Plantations again and again they looked really impressing and huge. It just makes you wonder who should eat all those bananas. Even when you sell them to all corners of the world it seems a lot.
Besides the Banana Plants we could also see a lot of other green scenery on our way. The whole country is incredible green. A lot of forests, a lot of Farms, a lot of woods. Something I am missing even in Germany in this intensity. I really hope that Costa Rica will keep going on and saving all the protected wood areas and National Parks.
Even now the area we were driving through now it is not as forested as the rest of the country, as it was mostly farmland. But still it felt really lush and green. Just really enjoyable to relax in the van and to watch the landscapes passing by while listening to some music.

Before we arrived at our next destination we made a stop at a very huge Supermarket, which was unlike most of the supermarkets you usually find across Costa rica. This one could have been in the USA when it comes to the size and the products they were selling. It was modernly styled and more expensive then the usual shop you can find. But as our Tour Guide told us we would have a fridge at the next stop we decided to buy some cans of beer for the evenings there.
And so we left after around 30 Minutes with a good stock on beer and booze. So there was no risk that we would die because of thirst in the next days.
After about 40 Minutes more of driving we finally arrived at our next destination. Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, a town at the shores of the Sarapiqui River, in former times a booming Harbour town, but now with the big road network in the Country, the importance of the town went down dramatically. Nowadays it is more a stop over for Tourists who stop in this area, to visit one of the close National Parks or getting their Adrenaline kick at the Whitewater Rafting which is very popular in this area.

The place we were staying at, a very nice and beautiful Bed & Breakfast a bit outside of the town was maybe the nicest place we stayed the whole tour. The B&B is located on a really nice wooded lot which looks more like a rain forest than a B&B Garden. But this is one of the reasons this place was so special. You really have the feeling you could be inside of the woods as there were trees, flowers and bushes everywhere around you. It looked amazing and beautiful. And we had a great variety of Wildlife on  the property as well. In a tree right in front of the hut I was sleeping in was a sloth, in what other Hotel could that happen to you. We had some huge Lizards as well, a lot of different frogs and a lot of different birds. It was fantastic.
Everywhere on the lot were some huts where we were sleeping in. We even had two Tree Houses. It really got a special vibe. The thing I liked most in that place was the huge hammock right in front of my Hut. It was so nice to lie there reading, listening to music or just watch and listen to the nature around you. Just wonderful.

Another reason this place is so special was  the owner Alex, a really nice and wonderful person. Whose big passion and purpose in life is to help animals in misery.
He used to run a Sanctuary for Animals but had to close it down for some reasons. But he still takes care of injured animals .When we were there he took care of a Parrot. And our Tour Guide told us that at one time he was there, Alex got an Phone call and both left with Alex Truck to get an injured sloth.
So Alex really got a big heart and when you talk to him you can hear the passion about animals in his words. And his plans are to open up a new Animal Sanctuary, but as with so many things, he needs the money to open it up again. He already owns a big lot of land outside of town which would be perfect for this but I am afraid it will take some time until he is able to open it up.

We arrived in Puerto Viejo in the early afternoon and still had some time to spend. The most important thing was to get the fridge running so that we would be able to get some cold beers in the evening.
We spent the next hours exploring the near by town which was a short walk away and I had the stupid idea that I would be able to get some cash from a ATM Machine with my German Bank Card, but the ATM I picked wasn't accepting my card, I read that some ATM Machines in Costa Rica are not able to read the chip which is on it. I also had a credit card with which I could withdraw money, but as I found out I had the wrong PIN code for it. So I wasnt able to withdraw any money here. I tried some other ATM but with the same result.
I already saw myself stealing some of the chickens which were running around some of the houses nearby in a few days. But the people in my group reassured me that they would help me if I would really run out of money in one of the next days. A really nice reaction. It is good to know that you are not alone when you need help.
Some other members of our group wanted to exchange some money in a bank nearby, an idea which was nearly as naive as mine as we found out.
First of all, when you want to enter an bank you have to go through an Metal Detector and you get checked if you got any weapons on you. Once you made it into these Fort Knox, you just dont get the money, you have to show your passport several times, you have to fill out some forms, which are getting checked and checked again. It took my friends about 30 Minutes to get the money they need.

The rest of the afternoon was spent with exploring the amazing ground of the place we were staying and trying to discover as many animals as possible. I really loved looking at the sloth which was so close to my Hut. It is amazing that they can sleep almost all day long. Our Tour Guide told us that they only leave the trees every six or seven days to poop and then they are getting back up again and I guess almost immediately back to sleep. But still they are very fascinating. Especially with that satisfying look on their face.
And after we had some of the beers out of the fridge, we went out to Dinner in a small Soda Restaurant at the other end of the town. A Soda Restaurant is a cheaper sort of Restaurant and you will find these in every town. They are cheaper then the usual fancy looking restaurant as they are usually used by the local people, but to be honest, very often the food in the Soda Restaurants was much better than the food in the tourist places. So this is something I can really recommend to you when you are travelling in Costa Rica.
I had a wonderful steak in a really good chilli sauce that night. It was really, really spicy but it tasted really, really good. We had a really nice and relaxing evening at that place until we decided to leave and found out that it had started to rain. And we got our first impression of how the rainy season can be in Costa Rica. It was not raining it was pouring down, as if someone was emptying buckets up there.
And we would have to walk about 25 Minutes back to our Hotel. Of course we got soaked and looked as if we decided to go for a swim with our clothes still on. But this was kind of part of the whole adventure and I think in a way everyone was enjoying it a bit as well. But my clothes were still wet some days afterwards, they were so wet.

On the next morning it had stopped raining again in the morning and we were able to do the activities we had decided on the day before. The Majority of the group would do the Whitewater Rafting on the near by river. As I am not really keen on activities on the water so I decided to pick an alternative activity and went out to visit a nearby Biological Station. And I was lucky that three other persons decided to go there as well. So we had a small group together and took a cab to the nearby Station.

The Biological station which is just outside of town was founded by a cooperation of 63 different Universities and Research Institutions and was founded back in 1953 by a single person with a small forest property, over the time more and more Universities joined this cooperation and more land was bought. Today the Biological station owns a property which got the size of about 1.600 Hectares. On the grounds you can find several Research facilities and laboratories but also a Hotel where not only the scientists are staying but also Tourists who wants to explore the area.
But you can also visit the station for a guided tour as we were doing now. After we checked in at the Tourist Office we were greeted by our guide and he took us on an amazing three hours hike around the area. Of course you can only explore some of the outskirts of the area as it is way too big, and also the interior part is closed for tourists to protect the animals and to give them a chance to withdraw from the humans if necessary. At his south border, the Biological station is connected with the National Park Braulio Carrilo, so in this way a big protected area for plants and animals was founded. Something which should be copied in other countries as well.

The hike itself was amazing. We had a great guide who was able to tell us a lot about the history of the Station, about the plants we were looking at and he also helped us to spot some of the many animals around us. He had a really good telescope with him with which we were able to spot animals even from far away, and he was really good in taking pictures with our cell phones through it. Over the next hours we were able to observe a sloth, several monkeys, saw some really beautiful Toucans from really close up, watched the mating ritual of the poison dart frog and saw some Pekaris, a litte type of boar from very close up. It was so beautiful. Even  the rain which started again didnt disturbed us. It was wonderful.

Around noon we were back in the Hotel and still had some time left for us. I decided to walk back into town again to try the ATM of another bank I discovered on the way to the Restaurant last night. And this time I was lucky and it was working. After I had to wait around 15 Minutes to get to the ATM I was finally able to withdraw some money. So relieved I made my way back to the Hotel but decided to celebrate this small success with a really good smoothie from a shop I found on the way.
The next hours till the rest of our group came back from their adventure I spent in the hammock outside of my hut. Really relaxing. I had the feeling that I could get used to the life in Costa Rica. Pura Vida.

But in the afternoon everyone was back safely again. Our group had one small accident on the water right at the start of the tour when almost everyone fell into the water. But luckily nothing really bad happened. One member of our group hurt her ankle, but it was already better again on the next day.

Now with everyone back again Alex took us in his van and drove us to the lot of land he bought outside of town, which was nested a bit uphill in the nearby Hills. It was beautifully located between some wooded hills and once we were there we were greeted by some of his dogs who were living there. He told us that all of the dogs had a hard life so far and were abused in some ways. And now they finally seemed to have found a place where they could live. And they were more than happy to greet us as visitors there. They definitely made an happy impression.
And Alex small estate there was really impressing. He got some small farming going on there. He got a lot of cocoa plants and some other vegetables and fruits, but he told us that the birds and monkeys are way to fast and greedy for getting a real harvest there. But most of all he wants to make a sanctuary for the animals out of this lot. He is trying to plant as many trees as possible and let them grow in a natural way, so that one day it will look like a forest. And it seems to be on good way for that.  We didnt spotted many animals that afternoon but it was still a really nice afternoon out there and everyone happily gave Alex a small donation so that he is able to fulfil his dream there.

In the evening we decided against going out to town again. I think everyone was still wet from the night before, so we ordered some Pizza from a place nearby and emptied the remainder of our beer cans. It really was a nice evening with a lot of chatting, laughing and even some singing performances.
On  the next morning we had our last breakfast in this beautiful place which was always a highlight.  The first thing Alex did every morning was to put some fruits in a tree nearby the place we were sitting. As we were eating outside we were able to watch the birds pecking at the fruits nearby while we were eating our breakfast. Just wonderful.

After we said our goodbyes to Alex, who said he was really sad to see us leave, but would be over it once the bus was around the corner, we were on the way to our next stop. We were heading towards the border of Nicaragua to spend the day and night at a small agricultural community in the middle of nowhere. It was not a long drive to get there, only about 90 Minutes and it was the first time we were driving through a not so green landscape. The further north we came, the less trees there seemed to be. There was still a lot of farming, but the landscapes also looked a bit barren. Luckily the place we drove to was a bit different. It was nested in between some hillsides with a lot of forests on all sides. I couldnt even tell you the name of the place to be honest, I am sure it would be very hard to find it on a map.
But it was really beautiful and nice. Our first stop in the small villages was at the places we were supposed to spend  the night at. We had three host families we were staying with, so we had to build groups and decided who would stay with whom. As we had mostly couples on the trip that wasnt to difficult. But I was lucky to end up with a really nice family who was living at the far end of  the town. And had the advantage to have our Group Member from Madrid in the house as well. I am able to speak a little bit of Spanish but I do have my problems. But as my friend knew that I was able to speak and understand he couldnt resist telling the whole family that I was speaking Spanish fluently... Thanks again. :)
After we dropped our bags we were brought back to the centre of the village where on a roofed plaza we were greeted by the rest of the village with a wonderful lunch. Of course everythingfreshly made with the products of the farm. It tasted amazing. Some of the best Empanadas I ever had.

After that we were shown around the farm and were shown how everything worked there. Really interesting. In the end we followed one ongoing tradition there and everyone planted a small tree. A really nice tradition.
In the afternoon we had the option for different activities. Some people decided to do some of the handicraft courses they were offering, where you could either learn how to  make soap, create your own post cards or painting some cans in a beautiful way.
As I was still feeling active I decided to join the group who wanted to visit a nearby Waterfall. Accompanied by one of the villagers and a really nice Student who was spending some time in the village we made our way through the thick jungle downwards towards the waterfall. And again I had the feeling how amazing the Nature here in Costa Rica is. The colours of the leaves and all the plants are so intense and powerful and everywhere you looked you could discover some animals. Insects, birds, snakes or spiders. Even on this small hike we got a lot of interesting impressions. And also the Waterfall was a nice view and was worth the long way down over some really slippery steps.
Back at the village the others were still creative with their cans and soaps so we just sat down beside them and started the evening with some of the beers we brought with us as an gift to the people of the village. And they didnt lasted really long that night.
After everyone got their cans and soaps ready Dinner was prepared and we were able to help a bit and chopped some onions and vegetables and were shown how to make a tortilla out of a lump of dough. Something you have to be good in if you want to marry as as were told.
As i totally sucked in it, I guess it is no wonder that I am still single. :)

The dinner we had afterwards was wonderful. We had a really nice tasting soup and  then the evening entertainment started.There was a lot of dancing which I first refused to do, as my dancing skills are even worse then my tortilla making skills, but at some point I couldnt resist anymore and joined in. And to my surprise I really enjoyed it.
For the kids we build up an Can Pyramid with all the empty beer cans we had and told them to throw at it with a small lime to tear down as many cans as possible. Something they really enjoyed doing. After a while the kids didnt had a chance to have a go at it, as the adults were taking over. And it was made more difficult as everyone got spun around in circles before they were allowed to throw. It was a lot of fun.
A really enjoyable evening. As our hosts had to get up early again on the next day it of course didnt lasted too long, but it was still really nice.
When I was back at the house I was really tired and exhausted, but it was a really nice experience we had that day.
Unfortunately my day wasnt really over as I had a cock walking around the yard right in front of my window and he was crowing half the night. So I didnt slept too well that night. But I woke up with a really big appetite for chicken that morning. Strange, isnt it?

After an amazing breakfast at our Home for that night we were off on the road again. Travelling south again. The good thing about travelling in Costa Rica is that the distances are never that big, so you can easily get from one point in Costa Rica to that next. On the morning to took us about two hours including an Stop at an Cafe on the way to get to our next stop which was La Fortuna.

The villages claim to fame is its closeness to one of Costa Rica's biggest tourist attractions which is also one of it's greatest threat. The Volcano El Arenal. One of the many volcanoes you can find in Costa Rica and on the ground of the ocean in front of it's coast line. But unlike the other, El Arenal has still been very active in the last Fifty Years, following a big eruption in 1968 two near by villages got totally destroyed and 87 people were killed and masses of lava and debris came down the sides of the volcano and changed the whole surrounding area. The place where the two destroyed villages lay near by is now a huge artificial lake.
Until 2010 the volcano was still active from time to time and spit out some lava from time to time. But since the last eruption that year the Volcano had been quiet. But the danger is still there that it could erupt again without big warning signs as it did back in 1968.

Luckily it was quiet when we arrived there. And it would have been a shame if we had missed out this part of  Costa Rica as it one of the most beautiful areas of the whole country. Lush green forests which gives you the impression that you were in the middle of the rainforests because of their denseness are framed by a backdrop of huge Mountains, with the huge El Arenal standing out. It was an amazing sight. And we all were really eager to have a chance to discover this amazing place in the next few days.
The village itself is really small and the tourist part of it  is made up out of two mains streets which are running parallel to each other and you find everything you need there. Shops, Restaurants, a Post office, a Pharmacy, everything you need.
As we were too early to get in our rooms, we just dropped our bags at the hotel and went out to visit a nearby Waterfall which was recommended to us by our Tour Guide. It was supposed to be a nice place for hanging out and having a swim. And as it was really hot and sunny that day the idea to dive into some cold water sounded tempting. So we took a cab to the entrance of the small park that surrounds the Waterfall and made our way down the over 700 Steps towards the foot of the Waterfall, Getting down wasnt the problem. but the idea of going back up again didnt sounded too tempting. But on the way down we were always able to catch some glimpses of the Waterfall from different perspectives. And it looked really nice and inviting from every angle. The waterfall was dropping down from a really steep cliff down onto the base where the pool of the Waterfall was surrounded by a lot of green. Really beautiful and inviting.
As we finally arrived at the base we found out that almost half the population and visitors of El Arenal had the same idea as we did and the pool was really crowded. But we still were able to find a nice spot and took turns of going into the water and taking care of our stuff.
And how wonderful the water was, first it was really cold, but when you moved around a bit it was really lovely. I could have stayed there for hours. We later moved away a bit from the main pool as there was another, smaller one a bit down the stream. And here it was less crowded, and at least as nice as the other pool. We spent some really nice hours there just relaxing and swimming around before we made our way up the steps again. And 700 steps can be really a lot. But we managed to get up in a good time. And as it still was really early and still were in the mood to be active we decided to walk back the six Kilometres to the village.

And so we made our way back down a really green looking valley but we were surprised by a huge rain shower which turned into a big thunderstorm. So we took shelter at a nearby place which was selling fresh coconut water before we made our way down towards the village again. But by then we lost one person who decided to hail a passing cab and passed the surprised remainder of the group waving out of the cab. As it cleared up again we were on our way again just to be caught up in the next storm front again. And the sky over  the village, the direction we were walking towards, really looked dark and threatening, and you could see lightnings there almost every second. Not a really comforting sight.

As we all had different walking paces we got split up on the way and me and another friend out of the group arrived first at the hotel and I was more than happy to dry up again.
And what do you do on a day that you first spend swimming in a pool at a waterfall and then got totally soaked in a rain shower? Of course you are going for a swim again that evening.

As the whole area around La Fortuna got a lot of volcanic activity you also get one of the nice positive side effects there. Hot Pools. And some Business men had the wonderful idea to build some really luxurious and beautiful Spas around those natural sources of hot water. And we went to one of these Spas that night. And what can I see. It was lovely. The Spa was made up as a huge garden in which several different pools were build. All pools had different shapes and the water had a different temperature in every pool. Some were a bit cooler, others were really hot, others just had the perfect temperature. And to be honest there is nothing more relaxing then to lay in a hot pool under the night sky and just enjoy life. It was a lovely evening. I am not sure how much time we spent inside the water, but no one really wanted to get out again, it was so lovely. One of the nicest evenings on the whole tour.
We then ended this beautiful day in a Soda Restaurant close to our Hotel where we maybe had the best Dinner of the whole tour before we also called it a night.

On the next morning we had to get up early again as we had a packed day ahead of us. Our Tour Guide booked a double tour package for us that morning which gave us the possibility to do two really nice activities and didnt had to decide on what we wanted to do and actually were able to save some money as we got a better deal through this.
So our Tour Guide picked us up at our Hotel and after a short introduction we were on our way to the first stop of the day. The Hanging Bridges.

Situated on some hillsides a bit outside and above the city was a wooded area where some clever business men talked the family who owns this place over to lease this area to them to build up the Hanging Bridges. Which in Hindsight was a perfect idea. Now about 15 years later, the area belongs to the family again and they are making a fortune with visitors who are coming to walk across the Bridges and have a look at the wonderful scenery.
And the area really is perfect for hanging bridges as here and there are some deep valleys opening up between the hills and which are now perfectly connected with a web of Hanging Bridges. And on every one of the bridges you get a perfect view at the nature around, above and below you. It really was amazing. The views we had were spectacular, But not only the views from the bridges. Alone walking around in the forest was again a wonderful experience. The wildlife of Costa Rica keeps on amazing you every day you are there. Again we saw so many different animals.
It already started on the Parking Lot of this place.
Our Tour Guide brought to us to an near by tree and asked us to have a look around and see if we could find the animal. It took several minutes of looking up and down and around the tree to find the animal he was referring to. There was a snake on the tree which was perfectly camouflaged by its colour. We all stood a few inches away from it and were told that it was actually a poisonous snake. But actually nobody stepped back then. Everyone was so fascinated by it.
And so it went on. Again we saw so many different animals on the trail. Birds, Spiders, Lizards, Monkeys, it was wonderful. And that was even before we reached the first real bridge.
At first it takes a deep breath to walk over it, when you are not that comfortable with heights as I am. Especially as the bridges are tending to swing around a bit when you are walking on it. But after a few steps I was too fascinated by the views as to worry about the heights. It was wonderful. We were about 50 Meters above the Ground and had a lovely view across the Valley and an even greater view on the ground. It is amazing how high 50 Meters can feel. But I was really enjoying it. And so we went from Bridge to Bridge until we finished the whole tour. And from every bridge you had a slightly different view and angle on the nature around you. I really recommend it.

Once we got back out we stopped at the Picknick area which had a lovely view towards the Volcano, and which we were lucky enough to see as the clouds were disappearing from the Mountains. So we chose this spot to have a small snack and our Tour Guide even bought some beers and fruits for us. So it was perfect. Especially as we were able to see some Coatis from very close by. So far it was a wonderful day.

And it got even better  as we made our way on the other side of the Mountain Ridge towards the Volcano, where we entered the National Park that is enclosing the Volcano and went up an Hiking Trail that went up some really close Hills and from where you had a wonderful view towards the Volcano. Actually it wasnt a real hiking trail, it was a Trail the Lava let when it streamed down the Volcano one of the last time the volcano it erupted. This way you got a really good impression on how much force such an eruption got as we some some of the craters on the ground where some of the stones that got catapulted from the Volcanoes top. They were really huge and also really far away from the Volcano. And you could also imagine how hot the Lava must have been when it was streaming down the path we were walking now when it left such deep scars on the earth.

The hike itself was really enjoyable. It was not to hard and not too steep, so you were able to enjoy the wonderful scenery around you. Not many animals here but the landscapes were beautiful. We had the Volcano to one side and the artificial lake on the other side. So it didnt matter in which direction you were looking, you always had a wonderful view and I had several good photo opportunities.

When we reached the end of the hiking trail, at least the part we would be going our Tour Guide gave us an really good and interesting history of the Volcano and the big eruption back in 1968. After we all listened fascinated for half an hour we started to make our descend towards the bus again. Everyone I think was really amazed by the scenery and the history of the Place. This tour was really worth both the money and the time.

When we came back to the Hotel we still had some time to get ready before we went out for Dinner. As it was both Saturday Night and also the Home Town of our Tour Guide we were told to get ready for a great night out. And it really was. We first had dinner at a really nice restaurant, which served both good food and really good beer and afterwards went on to a really nice bar where we had some really good cocktails and some more chilled beers. And I think everyone had a wonderful time. It was the perfect ending of a perfect day.

To be continued....  

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