Friday, December 30, 2011

Spending New Years at Casitas Tenorio

A Mot-Mot came for an early morning visit.
   As I post this I am sitting on the front porch of our cabina at Centro Turistic outside of Tilaran Costa Rica. The wind is blowing so hard it is forming white caps on my coffee... I love the wind! Today is beautiful with the sun shining, birds singing and a Mot-Mot coming to visit me in front of the cabina... Perfect!
  We are leaving this morning for Casitas Tenorio, which is in the rain forest on the side of Volcan Tenorio. I am really looking forward to our time there. Of course as usual, something happens to make you think you aren't going to get to go... this morning it was the door on the van falling off... my husband was packing our things for the trip and went to open the sliding door on the side of the van when it fell off the hinges...Yikes! Fortunately our friend Rachin, a mechanic extrordinare and owner of the van we are renting, was able to help my husband get the van road worthy again. So we are off as soon as I pack up the computer and take one last spin around the grounds here at Centro is so beautiful here.
  In case you want to learn more about Casitas Tenorio I will leave you a link you can follow and of course in a day or two there will be a post about what we have been doing while perching on the side of a volcano!  Until next time... Pura Vida!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Few Days at the Beach

  As much as I love the rain in Costa Rica, after seven days it was still raining and I was beginning to hear my vacation clock ticking. We have had an inordinate amount of rain for this time of year. The kind of rain that even a stalwart rain lover like myself would blanch at the thought of going out in. It looked like it was here for the duration, so my husband and I decided to get off the mountain and go to the beach on the Pacific side for a few days.
  We packed up the 1983 VW van that we have rented from friends with a cooler full of groceries and my camera equipment and down the mountain we went! We broke through the thick layer of clouds that was drenching the mountaintop, about half way down the mountain. It was kind of like descending below the clouds in an airplane. In the blink of an eye we went from pouring rain and howling wind, to sunshine and dry roads...amazing! We pulled onto the Pan American Highway and pointed the van west.
  It is possible to get your feet wet in the Pacific Ocean a little less than 2 hours after leaving Tilaran, if you go to Playa Hermosa or Playa Panama, but on this trip we are going to some of the more remote beaches south of there to Parque National Marino de Baulas, 3 or so hours from Tilaran. We had reservations at Sol Y Luna Cabinas in Playa Grande, and planned to use it as our base of operations. We would do day trips to some of the other beaches along the reserve.
  The area around Playa Grande is a known nesting ground for the Leather Back Turtle, so development has been limited to reduce ecological impact on the turtle's nesting area. The few hotels in this area are set back from the beach behind a screen of trees, and there is very little outside lighting, so the turtles won't be discouraged from coming ashore to lay their eggs.
  We chose to stay in a cabina, rather than a hotel room, so that we could cook our own meals and have greater interaction with our surroundings. The cabina was clean and cozy, with doors that open to a varnished wooden deck equipped with two hammocks.There is a lovely pool tucked amongst the cabinas,with a swim up bar where they will serve you tasty tropical concoctions.  The beach is a few minute walk through the jungle from the cabina, but you can still hear the ocean. The path through the jungle offers an opportunity to see some beautiful butterflies and wild water fowl as they go about their business. It was a perfect place to escape from the rains for a few days!

The cabina living area with a view of the hammock deck

The pool with swim up bar

  We arrived about four p.m. and rushed to get unpacked so that we could watch the sunset. The sun sets quickly this close to the equator, so if you dawdle you will miss it! We arrived just in time to catch the sun floating momentarily on the sea, before dropping like a rock, leaving us with just the slightest hint that the sun ever existed on the western horizon. Sigh! I would have to get my sunset shots another day!
The 10 minute walk back through the jungle to the cabina seemed to take forever in the dark. We had a flashlight but the thick dark of the jungle swallowed most of the light and all we could see was the ground right at our feet. It was nice to finally see the jungle open up and the light from the cabinas show us the rest of the way home.
    At first light we took a nice long walk down the beach and then set off to find Playa Negra, a beach where you can find black sand. It was slow going since the roads are dirt and full of rocks and potholes, but eventually we made it. Playa Negre, is a surfer beach, the waves are good but the shore is treacherous in places.The name of the beach comes from the fact that the majority of the beach is large expanse of  black lava rock. I wouldn't want to wipe out on a surf board and end up taking a tumble over the sharp lava rock bed just beneath the surface of the water, but it didn't seem to deter the surfers... they have had one too many whacks to the back of the head with a surf board if you ask me...
Playa Negra

The beach is more lava rock than sand at Playa Negra

  Anyway, the beach was beautiful, as many treacherous thing are. We enjoyed a delicious vegetarian lunch at the Hotel Playa Negra, collected some black sand for my sand collection and began our long bumpy journey home. We arrived just in time for me to get some photos of the sunset!
  The next day we spent hanging around Playa Grande, playing in the water, exploring the many tidal pools, and taking photos. The sun is quite strong at this latitude, so we retreated to the cover of the jungle when we started getting toasty. We found a local haunt for Storks, Herons, Egrets and Spoonbills, while walking around under the tree cover. It was a real treat to get to watch them feed and preen, apparently unaware that we were nearby. There was too much cover for me to get many good photos of them while they were feeding, but I guess there are some things are better experienced without the camera...

We found the Storks secret hangout

A large rock outcropping on the beach at Playa Grande

  Our final sunset on the Pacific Coast was seen at a beach named Bahia de la Piratas, or Bay of Pirates. Probably so named for the tall "islands" that sit just off the shore, making a perfect place for pirates to lay in wait for passing ships. On this day though it is a perfect place to sit in the arms of my love and watch the sun plummet into the sea....
Sunset at Bahia de la Piratas

Monday, December 26, 2011

More Photos

Here are some more photos from our recent trips... I have posted so much scenery, I thought you might enjoy seeing some wildlife.

A Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird at rest

A pizote... also known as a  White-nosed Coati
A Pair of Red-lored Parrots

Another pair of Red-lored Parrots... the tree was full of them!

A Roseate Spoonbill in flight

Costa Rican Varigated Squirrel

A dozing lizard I found on a midnight stroll. He was about a foot long nose to tail tip.
I hope this post finds you all well and enjoying a good post-holiday mail day!! Shalom, Elle

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Some Views from Costa Rica

Yesterday was the Sabbath. A day of rest and reflection, full of peace and restoration. It is the one day that I can spend any way I want, no requirements on my time, no chores, no to do lists. It was pouring rain when I woke up, the winds were high and the rain was blowing in circles, so I stayed in bed for awhile. After a while the sun came out and the rains turned to a mist... the perfect weather for rainbows.
  My husband and I decided to go for a walk. The winds were high so it was really one step forward and two steps back, but I adore the Tilawa winds. There is something very exhilarating about the wind in your hair and the mist coating your clothes and exposed skin with a fine layer of water. The temps are in the 70's so it can be a bit chilly with the combination of mist and wind, but it is addictive. I will make the most of it while I can and I will dream about the sensation of the cool mist in my face long after we have returned to our homestead in North Carolina.
  We have about two weeks left to our trip, and there are still many things we are going to do before we head for home. We will be heading up to Tenorio National Park for a few days. Tenorio is a dormant volcano, covered in trees all the way to the cone. We will be staying on the side of the volcano, in a cabina surrounded by rainforest. There will be lots of flora and fauna to enjoy and several hiking trips to be done. I am really looking forward to it.
   For today I am going to share some photos from our recent wanderings. I hope that you are not getting tired of hearing about our trip... 

Catarata San Luis, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Mountaintop view from Monteverde. 
Wind turbines for generating electricity. Tierres Morenas Costa Rica
Playa Grande on the Pacific side of Costa Rica
Tide coming in. Playa Grande, Costa Rica
Sunset at Playa Grande, Costa Rica
I am looking forward to having the ability to post mail again, but in the meantime I have been writing "letters" to you all on my blog. I know it isn't the same as a letter in your mailbox, but I think about each of you as I am writing. I hope that this all finds you well and enjoying the holidays. I pray for blessings and peace to be with you all! Until next time! Elle

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Rio Celeste

  Near the town of Bijagua de Upala, in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, there is a river called Rio Celeste. The literal translation for the name in English is Sky River. It comes by its name honestly. The confluence of two rivers, one which contains calcium carbonate, the other which carries sulfur down river from local volcanos, create a chemical reaction in the place where the two rivers meet. The water turns a light turquise blue, right before your eyes. Amazing...

  We took our visiting group of friends, (known as the Carolina Berg Wanderers), to the Rio Celeste confluence to watch nature's perpetual chemistry lesson in action. Actually, we took them to the opening in the jungle, they took themselves down the many stairs to the river. For several days before there had been copious quantities of rain, so the trail to the river was a slippery, muddy mess, but it is worth the ordeal to get down there!

The confluence

  There is a place in the river not far from the confluence that actually bubbles up boiling hot water that smells strongly of sulfur... the temperature of the water is 240 degrees. It is not recommended that you swim in the area where the water bubbles up, but there is nothing to keep you from it. Unlike the USA where everything is regulated, controlled or limited, Costa Rica leaves most things up to the public to decide for themselves. If you want to swim in 240 degree water, who are they to stop you... That has its good points and bad points... but generally I prefer being left to use my own good judgment. There is a lot of freedom here that we just don't experience in the United States. It seems odd that the US is called "The Land of the Free"... but I digress...
  The confluence of the river is just a hint of the feast that is to come... Back up the pathway that wends through the rainforest there is a split in the path which leads to a real treat... a waterfall. I know, I know, another waterfall? But really, this is one waterfall that shouldn't be missed. At the point of the waterfall the two river have already mixed so the water coming over the falls and the deep pool beneath it are both sky blue! The verdant green vegetation that fringes the pool and covers the rock walls on either side of the falls is a wonderful foil for the bright blue water. A friend from the group we took down there said, " I will see that blue waterfall in my dreams for some time to come!". I am afraid I will have to see it in my dreams for awhile since I couldn't make it down the deep cut steps to the falls with my bad knee, but there have been lots of pictures taken that I have enjoyed. I will be making another trip to Rio Celeste around New Years just to go to the falls, by then I should be fit to make it down the stairs (Lord willing...) and see it for myself! So, I have my own pictures from the river to share with you, but in this post the waterfall pictures will be credited to my husband, who was kind enough to take them for me.

  I hope that this post finds you all well, enjoying life and having good mail days! Until next time, Pura Vida!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

La Fortuna

  One thing I have found about the mountainous region of Guanacaste, Costa Rica is that no matter what local feature you are looking at, it almost always ends in a waterfall. The area where we are staying gets 200 inches of rain a year, (that translates to about 17 feet of rain a year). The number goes up as you travel around Lake Arenal toward Mount Arenal, one of the ten most active volcanoes on Earth...(more about that another day). The volcano and the rain forest both create their own weather, so the daily weather report is virtually useless. One thing is certain, when it comes to the weather here in the area around the lake... it will rain sometime today. Maybe all day, maybe while the sun is shining (rainbow time!!), maybe in fits and spurts, or after the sun goes down, but it will rain. That brings me back to the real point I am trying to make, there are a lot of waterfalls in this part of Guanacaste. All that water has to go somewhere. So it runs from the canopy to the ground, the ground soaks in as much as it can but the majority runs down hill to the nearest river, which then cuts its way through craggy rocks and over land falls to become some pretty awesome waterfalls. The waterfall de jour is the La Fortuna Waterfall.

A view of Lake Arenal from the road
  My husband and I and our 11 guests made our way from Tilaran to La Fortuna by bus early in the morning. The winds were up but the skies were clear. The view of the lake was lovely with the sun shining on the water. You could see the water being whipped up into white caps by the strong Tilawa winds. The wind mills on the ridge of the mountains around the lake are whirring away, generating electricity that will supply the locals with power. This is a familiar view for my husband and I, since we lived on a mountain top right across the valley from a row of wind turbines, but for the group visiting us it was a first. Unfortunately, there is no good place on this twisty turny road to pull a bus off for a photo op, so we continue on around the lake. We pass by the quaint pueblo of Rio Piedras, (Rock River), and Aguacate, (Avacado), and then on to Nuevo Arenal, which is a slightly larger community with a delightful German Bakery and some tourist traps that sell souveniers. From this point on to La Fortuna it is mostly just unimpeded views of the lake and rolling mountains on one side and jungle on the other. It is only 52 kilometers fromTilaran to La Fortuna, (about 33 miles) but takes more than 1 1/2 hours to get there due to the curvy roads and poor road conditions in some areas. Except for those who had to deal with motion sickness no one seemed to mind the time it took to get around the lake.
  La Fortuna's most famous attraction is Arenal Volcano which looms large on the scene, jutting 3000 feet above the surrounding lanscape. But today we are not able to see the volcano as it is wreathed in a thick layer of clouds and will remain so all day. Fortunately, today we are here to see the waterfall and for some of the more intrepid souls on our trip, a hike (scramble, climb, crawl, grapple) up to the smaller, dormant volcano Cerro Chato... Later in the week we will return to La Fortuna to view the volcano and go to the hot springs. Hopefully Arenal will oblige us by showing itself when we return.

Stairs down to the rocky beach
The descent to the La Fortuna water fall is steep, but there are very solid steps and a rail most of the way down so it is possible for most people to make it down to the falls. I am still gimping on an injured knee so it is slow going for me and I definitely will not be trying Cerro Chato with the rest of the group. I enjoyed all the foliage and the birds that called back and forth and flit through the scene as I make my way to the bottom. I would love to just park myself on the stairs and take it all in for awhile, but there is a time table to be met today, so I continue on.
  At the base of the stairs there is a  mirada, (a look out platform), where you can get a really nice view of the falls and the pool below.

La Fortuna waterfall

Around the bend and down a little further there is a little rock beach and a safe place to wade out into the river below the falls. I spent the majority of my time in this area, watching the birds and marveling at the great heights of the rain forest above me. I hung my backpack on one of the several hooks that were screwed into a railing at the base of a giant tree and waded out in the water to get a better view of the dense foliage clad mountains that loomed above. The water was brisk in speed and temperature and felt great running past my tired feet and sore knee.
The water rushes over these rocks and then quiets down to become a pool safe for wading in.
  By the time I was ready to make my way back to the top, our hikers had returned from making a run at Cerro Chato. It is a difficult hike, even for experienced hikers. So they were grateful for a less demanding trail and the cooling water of the falls. Once they were down I began my slow climb to the top... step with the left foot, bring up the right, being careful not to anger my knee by putting any strain on it. I am glad that I am alone so there is no one to witness my ascent.
   We made our way back around the lake just in time to witness the sunset over the lake. The sky splashed its lovely pinks and oranges onto the face of the lake where they dissolved and faded into the depths. The sun sets quickly in this part of the world but puts on a lovely, if brief show for those fortunate enough to be there for it.
  There are no words to describe how my heart swells with love for this place. There is so much life, so many wonders that the dense forest keeps secret, only to share with those who are willing to brave its depths. The strong Tilawa winds sing songs of the power of volcanos and the goodness of the lush misty rain forest that is home to hundreds of species of living things. As the wind blows my hair into tangles and moves on down towards the lake it carries my heart's song along with it, a song sung to God for creating such a place.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cataratas Viento Fresco

Leaves wet with mist

  The mist from the rainforest collects on the leaves of the enormous trees above my head. The weight of the rills of water bends the leaves down so that the water runs from leaf to leaf down the canopy to the forest floor. Everything is saturated...including me. As I hike down the seemingly unending trail of moss covered steps to the valley below, I marvel at the beauty of the forest around me. Giant tree ferns sway in the breeze, while the thousands of bromiliads that clothe the trees add splashes of pink and red to the myriad shades of green. Rays of golden sunlight filter down through the canopy to illuminate the tiny water drops that hang from the tips of every leaf and branch. They shimmer and sparkle as the sunbeams touch them. It is so quiet I can hear the beat of my heart in my ears. The only other sound I hear is the distant pounding sound of the waterfalls somewhere below. I feel very small.

  This place is known as Cataratas Viento Fresco, which translates to English as the Fresh Wind Waterfalls. It is located a 21 kilometers from Tilaran, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. It is not just one waterfall, but a succession of five waterfalls, ranging in size from 66 feet to 283 feet. Years after purchasing a large acreage, the land owner stumbled across the series of falls by accident while out exploring his property by horse. Over time the land has been developed so that the falls can be enjoyed. This entailed cutting a swath through the rainforest and carrying countless bags of cement down handhewn steps to provide a safe walkway for guests to enjoy the awesome sights below. Due to its remote location and lack of good road access for large tour buses, it remains a quiet, local attraction. I am sorry for the lack of income for one who has done so much to make this place accessible to the public, but not having large crowds of people thundering down the valley, disrupting the peace and possibly damaging the delicate balance of nature there, may be a blessing in disguise.

Rio Serana first of five waterfalls 

  Much like the leaves in the forest collect water and drop it from one layer of the forest to the next, each waterfall adds its contents to the next via network of fast running rivers. The waterfalls vary in size and grandeur as they descend down the valley. The Rio Serena waterfall is the first one in line.Water from the river tips over the edge of the landfall through a small gap in the rocks. It falls 102 feet to the pool below before wending its way to the next fall some distance downstream. Next is Hidden Falls. Water runs over the rocks and then descends 66 feet to a pool below, bouncing and tumbling between and over the rocks before being swallowed by the river and carried on to the next fall. There are caves on either side of the falls that would allow for a great view of the back side of the waterfall if there were a safe way to get to them. But since it isn't recommended to try to reach them due to the danger of being forced to the bottom by the power of the water coming over the falls, the view from the caves must be left to the imagination.

Hidden Falls

  I am afraid that on this particular trip my journey must end at the second of the five falls. The way becomes steeper from here and due to a spill the day before, my knee will not tolerate any more of an incline. I will have to enjoy the last three falls vicariously by the photos and stories from hiking group we are hosting. I don't really mind though since my slower pace down the stairs meant I was left alone to make my descent. This allowed me the opportunity to enjoy the solitude of the forest and absorb the essence of the place. It was priceless.
  Rainbow falls, Slide falls and Rock Falls are hidden from my view as I turn to climb back up the multitude of stairs between Hidden Falls and the mirada (overlook) at the top near the parking lot. From the mirada I can see in the distance, Slide Falls (312 ft). It looks like a long white ribbon caught among the trees at the base of the valley. Quite a view even from so far away.

Slide Fall as viewed from the lookout

Today was our first full day on the tour with our guests. I believe that Cataratas Viento Fresco was a great way for the group to be introduce to Costa Rica... Rain forest mist, five waterfalls, plenty of oxygen intake while descending and climbing the hundreds of steps to the bottom and back up, a picnic lunch and a nice nap in the late afternoon. In the evening we will venture out to have dinner in one of our favorite Tilaran restaurants, Las Brisas.

  I hope that this post find you all well, enjoying life and getting great mail! I will write again as soon as I get a moment... being a tour guide means there are a lot of demands on my time, but I am loving every minute of it!
                                                                 From Costa Rica, Pura Vida!!  Elle

*This event actually occurred on 5 December, but time being in short supply and limited internet access meant I had to wait until today to post.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Visitors and Monkeying Around

Dear Friends,
Poinsettias growing by the roadside
  I hope that this finds you well and having a good weekend. We are well and looking forward to the coming days with much anticipation. Our first week in Costa Rica was spent making arrangements and taking care of business. It took a few days to get settled in and then we needed to start preparing for the next stage of our visit.
  We are hosting eleven people from my husband's hiking group for a week of hiking and sight seeing. We will be staying at a place just outside of Tilaran that has some quaint little cabinas, a huge pool, (by Tico standards), and beautifully landscaped grounds all for $12 a night per person! As we speak my husband and a driver are making the several hour trip to San Jose, in a 28 passenger bus, to meet them at the airport. So-o, as of tonight we will be playing host and tour guide for the next 8 days. It will be very nice to be able to share this place with people who have heard our stories about living in Costa Rica. They will hopefully come to love this place as much as we do.
  I am not going on the ride to San Jose and back. I am taking some quiet time before all the activity starts later on this evening. Dawn broke this morning with skies congested with thick grey clouds. The winds were high all night, and the rain beat hard on the tin roof of the house in fits and spurts, but by morning all that was left was the cloud cover. It has continued to be gray most of the morning, but the temperature is comfortable, even with the wind. So I will sit on the veranda and watch the birds and enjoy the breeze before I have to put myself in "host mode" to greet our guests.

Patriarch Howler on our farm in 2009
Off in the distance I can hear the howl of the patriarch male Howler monkey. He is just letting anyone close by, (within 3 miles, since that is how far his voice will carry), know that his family is claiming the area as their present feeding ground. Howler monkeys travel a circuit that takes about 2-3 weeks to complete. This  is done so that they don't exhaust their feeding areas. They spend a day or two in a nice grove of Cecropia trees, (their favorite food source), and then move on. This allows the trees to put on new leaves before they return to feed again a few weeks from now. From the sound of it, these monkeys are still out a ways from the house so we won't actually see them in the trees for a couple more days. Howlers don't come down out of the trees unless there is a problem, like a baby falls from a limb that was too thin to hold it, or gets unseated by the high wind gusts of "windy season". If this kind of thing happens the male will howl loudly, while a female or two goes down to retrieve to baby. They will not be on the ground very long since they have many predators on the ground and their best defense is the fact that most of their predators can't reach them in the canopy.
Mother and babies watching us work
  When we lived on the farm in Sabalito, we had two Howler families that would come and visit. During the course of the year I got to see the family grow and in a way we were accepted by them as part of their environment. Howlers are very shy of people. If they are disturbed or feel threatened the male will make a ruckus while the rest of the family discourages closer inspection by throwing poop at those who venture too close. The monkeys never threw poop at us.We would quietly observe them and keep our distance, over time they began to venture closer. Before long we were practically on a first name basis. They would hang out in the trees near our vegetable garden and watch us work.The young males would entertain us with acrobatic feats of daring until their mom or grandma would call them back closer to the clan. I always felt so blessed and full of awe at their acceptance of our family. The  electrician that came to work on our well was not so fortunate... while he worked on the electric box for our well pump the Howlers pelted his truck with poop. He was not amused, but I think the monkeys were quite pleased with themselves.
For the next week I will not have consistent internet access. We will not have WIFI at the cabinas and many days we will be gone from dawn to dark, so I won't be able to go into town to an internet cafe as often as I would like. I will continue to write my blog entries and then post them when I can get to town. There may be times when I am posting more than one entry, so make sure that you check out below the top entry for the possibility that I posted multiple days worth of entries. I am very excited about what the next week will hold. There will be many activities going on and lots of opportunities for photos and stories for me to pass on to you. I know that this is supposed to be a blog about letter writing and mail art, but in a way each of my posts from Costa Rica is a letter to you all. I hope that you are interested in hearing about our time here, please let me know what you think. If you wouldn't mind, from time to time leave me a note in the comments to let me know how things are going with you... it is hard to be out of contact with you for 6 weeks. I miss getting your letters and hearing about life in your world. For now I will sign off and send this out into the ether. Until we next meet, Pura Vida!  Elle