Diary/Photo Journal

Long Week of April 10 - 21, 2008

Well, a bit of time has elapsed since I got around to organizing our jaunt to Costa Rica in the Spring of 2008.  I can release a barrage of excuses; however, the truth is, I got so involved in our work and some personal matters that our website received a lesson in patience.  But alas, remembering my enjoyment in creating these pages, I am once again back at the keyboard.

Gerson and I went to Costa Rica to spend some time with my sister, Alexis, and three of her four children (and a couple of their friends).  My sister decided to take the family to the Jaco area for their Spring Break and we thought, what the heck, we could use a little zip-lining, rafting, surfing, hiking, swimming, horseback riding trip ourselves.   We flew in a few days ahead of time so we could find a place for us and to set up some of the experiences that we wanted to introduce to the kids.

Being rather fortunate, we found a terrific 3-bedroom, 2-bath condo to stay in just a minute from the beach and a few hundred feet from the main strip through the town of Jaco.  As I was inquiring about various tours, Gerson made his way into a little bar nearby.  By the time I got there, he was on a first-name basis with an ex-patriot (someone that was from the United States but now lives in another country) that lives in town.  He eagerly referred us to a real estate man and we wandered off in search of his office. 

When we arrived at the office, there were a couple of other gentlemen sharing the realtor's company and upon hearing of our wants, one of the men (Keith) offered us an unbelievable deal on a rental condominium.  We strolled over and took a look and that was all we needed.  We paid him cash of $500 for a total of 13 nights and moved in.  Lo and behold, Keith was our next-door neighbor.  Having this place so centrally located and with a friendly ex-pat next door, made the trip even more enjoyable.

The additional days spent around Jaco also gave us the opportunity to take our little rental car to places that we were better off not discussing with the rental car agency.  Ah, but no worries as we did not encounter any problems and found some remarkable corners just north of the city.

(This page will seem a bit picture-laden and that is because we just did so much in such a short amount of time and the pictures themselves tell much of the story).

The road less travelled

Love the bamboo tunnel

Some of the scenic points in the area

Just to put the crocodile's size in perspective,
the two individuals are about 15' (about five
meters) long.  Swimming was not an option.

Besides those quiet little corners, Costa Rica is known for its spectacular beaches and it did not disappoint.  I think the only things that shared our beach were the occasional skittering iguanas.

Our alone-time

Gerson has the ocean all to himself

After a few days of peace, the troops arrived at the Los Suenos Marriott Beach & Golf Resort, a small, upscale development north of Jaco.  Spending a day poolside, looking out over the ocean, reminded us of our many pleasurable days in Brasil.  The only difference was the ability to float over to the pool bar and order one of those ridiculous fruit concoctions that we hate to admit that we love to drink.  As I affectionately say about the difference between my sister and me, Alexis is "Rolex" and I am "Mickey Mouse" (and yes, she wears a Rolex watch and I wear a Mickey Mouse watch).

But it was nice to deviate from our normal humble travel practices and indulge in some 5-star treatment.

Claire finding fun anywhere
Gerson, Alexis and Grace working hard at doing nothing
Alexis enjoys having a "staff" to wait on her
Reid tried to convince us that that was an
alcohol-free drink (suuuurrre)

Noisy night visitors

After a day of much ado about nothing, we dragged the clan into the mountains (Montes de Oro) for a day of horseback riding up and zip-lining down.  We had a perfect day for what was to be a laugh-ridden and scream-filled experience.  It was so much fun to see the kids unhesitatingly jump onto the zip-line and hear their excitement as they flew down the mountain. 

The ride up the mountain made use of the local transportation

Grace and Claire making the helmets look cute
Alexis and Reid are ready to go
Claire, Gerson, Reid and Grace start the trek

Our view from on top of the world

Louise and Reid bringing up the rear
One of several river crossings
Christian, Reid's friend, enjoys his ride

Even my sister (who I swear had a powder compact hidden somewhere on her person as she always made certain she looked totally put together), dove right into the spirit of things and took advantage of our flights over the various pools and waterfalls by dipping her feet whenever she could.

Our motley crew:  Claire, Louise, Mark (my sister's
friend), Gerson, Alexis, Christian, Reid, Grace and
our fantastic guides

Claire, Gerson and Alexis get into the zip of things


Alexis makes a splash

I think the smiles have it.  What a great time!
Alexis, Louise and Mark

One of the best parts of this excursion were the many pools and waterfalls that we went over and through.  We crisscrossed a long, steep, winding river and oftentimes we vaulted off the edge of a cliff overlooking the waters.  I would like to go back and hike the entire zip-trail because there was so much beauty to see that I missed in the whiz of the ride.

Grace, Claire, Reid and Christian set up
for the prime photos
Louise and Gerson strike the pose

We had a respite at one waterfall and we just could not resist figuring out the way to make the best of it.  I started to climb up the sheer wall when I just could not see the toehold necessary to cross out into the water.  Fortunately, I caught a brief look from one guide to another and I realized that THEY knew how to get over to the water so with my imploring look, the guide showed me the trick.  A few carefully planted footsteps and I was sliding down the face of the waterfall.

Louise and Gerson have never found a
waterfall they did not like. 
Gerson taking the plunge

No sooner than Gerson and I were down the waterfall, when Reid and Christian scrambled up the rocks to do the same.  Of course, being young and seemingly immortal, they decide to "surf" the face of this rock wave to the horror of Alexis.  I do not know what was more fun, watching Reid and Christian make it down the slide or hearing Alexis loudly gulp her breath as her son jumped to his feet and started slipping down the stone.

Reid "rock surfing" Christian showing his style


Just plain ole goofing off
Reid and Christian
Gerson and Claire find their sweet spot

Christian, Reid, Claire, Grace and Alexis

We concluded the adrenaline-filled day with a terrific lunch at the Hotel Vista Golfo, a picturesque mountain-top hostel.  Only the local birds competed with our voices as we recaptured our day in various embellished synopses. 

Claire and Gerson zipping over some of the
beautiful sights

Louise hamming it up for the camera

Mark hanging out

Tandem zip with Louise and Gerson that almost had Louise
falling off the platform

What an awesome day!  And what an ending!
View from the Hotel Vista Golfo

The next day, we were off to the beach to indulge in the waves.  We headed south of Jaco (near Playa Hermosa) and found a wonderful black-sand beach that we had all to ourselves.  However, a short time after we arrived, we discovered why the beach was somewhat deserted.  I will give you some hints:  black sand beach, strong sunshine...yep, it was quite amusing to watch everyone make the hot-sand-hop to the water. 

Claire, Grace, Reid and Mark get good use of the toys

Reid found a way to conquer the hot black sand

Gerson making the most of the day


Christian finds his sweet spot

Alexis involuntarily becoming one with the wave

There is something about having a cold beer on the beach that is akin to a bag of peanuts at a baseball game or perhaps, a cup of hot chocolate by a fireplace on a cold, rainy night.  It just tastes better!  We have enjoyed the local beer Imperial before (as rated on our Beer Index) and this time was no exception. 

An "enhanced" Claire

One of the other beachcombers

Incredible views along the drive south of

Costa Rica shoreline lives up to its beautiful

A touch of a cloud forest

In keeping with the days so far, we were off to yet another adventure: white water rafting.  What we did not know was that just the journey to the river was a good part of the excitement.  From driving along a bone-jarring road through palm tree (for palm oil) and teak groves, to stopping to pick up the colorful (and harmless) spider, to crossing precarious wooden bridges that I would swear were not wide enough for the bus.  It was quite the trip and we welcomed anything the river wanted to splash at us.

Palm groves, both thriving and culled

Palm fruit to be harvested, nut by nut

Exquisite teak forests

Just a couple of our interesting crossings

I cannot pass up the opportunity to play with
bugs - a very cool spider (eats only fruit, not people)
Love the face on the back of the spider's head

An interesting note about the palm groves.  When the older palm trees are no longer fruitful, new trees have to be planted (as the palm tree does not have an infinite lifespan).  The caretakers pour diesel or fuel oil in the roots in order to suffocate the plant.  Once the tree dies from the suffocation, the top of the tree falls off and room is given to the new trees to be planted. 

In route to the river:  Reid, Gerson, Grace, Alexis, Claire,
Mark, Christian and Louise

Getting geared up

Finally on the water:  Gerson, Louise, Claire and Grace

Gerson and Claire ham it up

Louise and Gerson strike the pose

Smiling while we are still dry

Mark, Alexis, Christian and Reid starting off

Just one of the many colorful critters
(Red Eyed Tree Frog)

We came to the end of our road, literally, and disembarked at the river's edge.  After the bus ride, the rafting trip did not seem so scary and we were giddy with excitement.  We were lined up and outfitted and even participated in some stretching exercises before jumping into the raft.  On the sly, Gerson was talking with the guides (in Spanish so the kids would not understand) and telling them to not worry if we get soaking wet and to give us a wild ride.  I could hardly mask my laughter as the guides just grinned and nodded to each other.  Yep, we were in for a wet and wild ride!

The pictures say it all...

Now you see us...now you don't

The rafting version of a "high five"

Another colorful frog
(Strawberry Poison Dart Frog)

The guides took Gerson's request seriously and both boats did a disappearing act in the rapids.  The photos compiled here are a combination of the photos taken by the rafting company's photographer and what I was able to take with my own camera.  Fortunately, I was able to keep my camera safe in a waterproof bag and at every pause in the action, I tried to get as many photos as I could.  It is always easy to take great pictures when everyone is smiling from ear-to-ear.

Now it's the other raft's turn to play
hide and seek. 

They did not quite get the "high five" as Reid
did the unthinkable and dropped his paddle
(tsk tsk tsk)

For some reason, Alexis always finds the camera

but then, there are times when you are just hanging
on for dear life

After several rough spots, we pulled up onto the shore for a little trek time up to a waterfall.  It was immediately apparent that this was a fall made for jumping off of and we raced to the top of the rock.  I think I most enjoyed having my sister look over at me while Grace, her youngest, was leaping off the rock and giving me this look of "where did that come from?"  I just knowingly smiled and was inwardly so tickled to see Grace be so fearless.

Again, Alexis knows where that camera is...with Reid
and Christian

Gerson and Grace cooling off

Just a little gem tucked away

We had the feeling that we were being watched

Reid and Christian did not waste any time

Alexis with Claire and Grace

Louise enjoying the solitude for a moment

Whilst playing in the waterfall, the boys decided to sit underneath a smaller cascade that we later deemed "leech ledge".  Yes, you guessed it!  There was an assortment of various sized leeches and the boys recreated a famous scene from "Stand By Me" when they searched every nook and cranny for the affectionate creatures.  Fortunately for them, they did not find any hanger-on'ers, but it did put us in temporary hysterics.

Reid taking the plunge

Louise just having fun

Reid and Christian on their "leech ledge"

Usually difficult to spot, this Toucan made his
presence known loud and clear, emphasis on the

A Green and Black Poison Dart Frog


Grace takes her leap of faith

Followed by Mark, Louise and

Praying Mantises are just cool bugs

Various monkeys and a sloth
that are typical in Costa Rica
(photos from the rafting company)

I lost count of the number of rapids we battled through before we had a few minutes to drift along in the calmer waters.  The kids did not waste any time diving right in and floating down the river.  It was a nice reprieve from the hard work of paddling and the canyon echoed with our laughter while telling our version of survival in the killer waters.

Our float time and gorgeous scenery

Reid gets an "8" for the dismount

Just horsing around

Just some more good pictures and yet again,
Alexis was finding that camera!

We were soon back into the fun parts and finding ourselves immersed in the white foam of the churning water. 

You think I would have drank half the river with the
amount of time I spent with my mouth open.  Besides
being inundated with water, we were overwhelmed
with adrenaline

Disappearing act

What an exceptional day.  We were so tired that we hardly noticed the bus ride back to civilization. 

I was head and shoulders above them all...
but when that boat dipped down, I was
completely under the water.

I was smiling with relief because I stayed in the boat!

A vivid Scarlet Macaw

Views into Manuel Antonio

The next day, we ran off by ourselves and gave the kids their time at their "resort".  We ventured up into Monteverde and its cloud forest and it did not disappoint.  We found ourselves within an eerily quiet forest that looked like something out of a Stephen King novel.  We had to wear rain gear as the "clouds" were so heavily laden with moisture that we would have been soaked to the skin.  As it was, the mist swirled around our heads and dripped down our necks as we walked the curious trails.

Paths into oblivion

The newest rain-gear fashion

The sun was trying to get through

These ferns were about 100' below us and
about 20' (6+ meters) across

Cool walkways through the trees

The further we walked into the forest, more and more incredible trees came into our view.   We often found that we were not looking at just one tree, but many forms of plant life clinging to the "one" trunk. 

Gerson hidden in the mist

The root systems of some of the trees
were extraordinary, drinking their necessary
water right from the moisture laden air

This tree was marked by this sign and it
explains how exceptional and necessary
its life really is

After our cloud forest jaunt, we dropped into a open-air hummingbird plaza and a butterfly garden/insect hatchery (Mundo de Los Insectos) and oohed and aahed our way around these special places.  Standing in a cozy patio, we were surrounded by sounds of the hummingbirds whizzing by our ears.  These delicate birds would fly so close to our faces that we could feel the air displacement as they shot by. 

One of the only hummingbirds that I could catch
on my camera - they are certainly quick little buggars

Some of the other interesting critters we got to see up close
and personal

A chameleon-like grasshopper and a mother scorpion
taking her kiddies out for a stroll

Look closely at these pictures.  The green, stick-like
things are the bugs (hermaphroditic walking sticks)

and the brown thing that looks like a leaf is also an insect

Very cool camouflage

Funny thing is that we greatly anticipated the visit to the cloud forest and we actually had more fun and more amazement at the butterfly garden (and insect display).  As luck would have it (and probably our noticeable enthusiasm), we were chosen to hold a newly emerged butterfly and encourage its release into life. 

When a butterfly emerges, it is still wet and has to take some time to dry its wings.  During this time, the butterfly will just sit calmly, slowly opening and closing its wings to assist in the drying process.  Something about holding this fragile and beautiful creature gave me chills right down my spine.  What a lovely experience!

Our emerging butterfly decided to hang
around for a bit so I just walked along with
it for some time

Gerson found a friend as well

Just some of the other butterflies that did
not mind our intrusion

The ones with the large spots have evolved
to look like Owl's eyes and ward off
would-be predators


Still coming off the pleasure of our time with the smaller inhabitants of Costa Rica, we spent the next day with the family which meant back to the beach.  We had yet another glorious day with the sun and sand and we especially liked having drinks, ceviche and local fruits delivered right to our towels. 

Just a little beach south of Jaco

Gerson was proud of his little moat as the tide was
coming in and he wanted to protect us.  Of course, the
tide eventually won and we had to relocate

Reid trying his surf skills

It's all about Claire. 

Claire playing with the waves or rather, the waves
playing with Claire

Getting her first Henna "tatoo".  (Look at Alexis's face...don't worry Alexis, it comes off eventually)

Coming to the end of our action-packed trip, we decided to stay close to home.  This gave us the excuse to relax at the resort and watch the boys play with the personal watercraft.  Of course, even before Reid disembarked from his ride, he was yelling to his mother "MOM!  You need to buy one of these when we get home".  Alexis just played the "I'm old and getting deaf" card and pretended not to hear him.

Alexis keeping watch

Reid not wasting any time launching his craft

Reid and Christian taking their turns

Mark and Grace pried the watercraft away from the boys,
 but not for long

Local fisherman trying to catch the dinner special

Savoring the last hours of what was a fantastic trip and even better, no injuries in all the stunts we pulled off.  The photos do not lie and I figure this page is worth about 100,000 gleeful words.

Claire and Grace making the most of the pool time Gerson enjoying some one-on-one time with his beer

And again, we come to the conclusion of yet another fantastic adventure which was made all the more delightful with the inclusion of my sister and her kids.  So, even though I am completing this page some months later, the memories and the warm, exhilarating feelings are as fresh as ever.  What fun we had!

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