The Pacific coast side of Costa Rica is in the throes of development along the beaches. There are also a few very upscale eco-tourist lodge type places, that one guide suggested to us was for those richer than God. We did stay in Jaco for a few days, and explored the national parks here. Carara and Manual Antonio were both amazing and different. Mauricio, an angel of a guide, swooped us up early one morning and the Larry, Ron, Helen, Doreen tour truly began. We hooked up with him at an ungodly hour of the morning to first catch the birds. Worth every moment of lost sleep. We chased down the elusive nesting Macaws, hitting back roads, pockets of forest, and empty beaches, to view the cashew trees that host the nest. Macaws love the cashew.
This journey led us into the face of some significant damage as massive floods occurred a week before we came to Costa Rica. The rain overwhelmed the rivers in this area, and many little towns were severely hit by flood waters. Twenty-seven people died in this storm and the clean up has only just begun, as it is still raining in Costa Rica. Mauricio, our guide from Tour Heaven, of course knows everyone. When our little group trooped over a deeply, deeply rutted muddy road, there was always someone there, with a gleam in their eye, telling is there was a Macaw nest right over there, and sure enough, there they were.
Mauricio also showed off the crocodiles. Lovely, prehistoric creatures. So many. Laying on the sandbars of rivers, swimming close into shore, catching a few sun rays. Scary suckers. Lots of “trailing hands in the water” stories during this viewing. Mauricio also took us into the national park for a tour that showed us those lovely poison dart frogs, plump ground birds, and the usual creatures hanging around rainforests. Mauricio was awesome. He is an educated biologist, with a true love of his country’s assets. It would be foolish not to have a guide into the forests, and he was exceptional. He showed us a splendid day.
Larry and Ron hit the zip line on Ron’s birthday, first thing in the morning. Helen and I stumbled through the morning catching up, drinking the rich Costa Rican coffee, and just hanging at the condo looking for Macaws. The looks on Larry’s and Ron’s faces when they returned from their adventure told everything. They had a blast. It is an amazing experience apparently. Up on the tops of trees, zipping through the canopy, chasing the Macaws. The pictures were incredible!
Manual Antonio town and park is a hilly village area to the south in Costa Rica. This is the national park with all the monkeys and sloths you can see, as well as caiman (a relative to those lovely crocs). Ron, Helen and Larry took the guided tour through the jungle to see this spectacular scenery and animals. This area was actually still mostly closed due to the flooding. Rubber boots would have definitely been an asset. I took a pass on that tour and hung with a few 4 and 5 year old kids, whose fathers were tour guides. Helen, Ron and Larry are the troopers, wading into mangrove swamps, crossing rivers in questionable boats, but they came back with spectacular photos and a good story. The kids filled me in on Tico life, and introduced me to their mothers and grandmothers and aunts.
After exhausting the Jaco and south area, and all it’s Mexican/Asian fusion restaurants, and internet cafes, we headed over to the Caribbean side, passing through San Jose. This is a city I would probably skip, only because with no street names, and addresses, it is a hell of a city to get through. Best to get to the highest point and check landmarks kind of city. With the help of a bus driver, and a police officer who stopped us for driving in San Jose on the wrong day, according to our license plate, we found the road to Puerto Viejo. Costa Ricans control their pollution by keeping cars off the road certain days of the week, according to your license plate number. Gee that sounds familiar. Anything to cut down the traffic would be helpful here, trust me. Once the officer got us on our way, we went through the largest rain forest I could have imagined, like Jurassic Park awesome, and ended up on the Caribbean.
This side is still relatively unspoiled, except for Puerto Limon. It was highly recommended by locals, when they heard we were heading to the Caribbean side, to by-pass that city. It is a major port in Central America, and has everything you can imagine from those 1940s labor movies; this side has it’s issues. Settled by mainly Jamaicans when United Fruit decided to decimate the rainforest and plant bananas, they were brought in to work the crop. It has a decidedly Jamaican feel, with the reggae, roots, and ska music, and the wonderfully delicious Caribbean cooking. (What is with all the Tex-Mex-Thai on the Pacific side?). English, not Spanish is the language on this side, although all the schools now teach Spanish. The English is typically Caribbean, and we had a struggle at first getting it. But if all else failed, we would switch to Spanish and it was fine. We stayed in Puerto Viejo (once called Old Harbor when the banana was king), a sweet little village in the southern part of CR, close to the Panama border. We stayed at an amazing eco-lodge, Cashew Hill, and were immediately immersed in the jungle world of monkeys, sloths, and exotic birds once again.
Helen and I laughed so hard when we first saw the cabina we stayed in. It was a surprise. Mostly for it’s rusticness. Kind of like a tent cabin in Yosemite, but a little damper, and a whole lot more exotic in the sound effects department. The new owners of Cashew Hill, Andrew and his mom and family, have been renovating and begun renting these fabulous rustic eco-everything cabinas. It was unreal. We shouldn’t have laughed. These were the “high” end of accommodations as we noticed later. This place is for anyone who wants a truly wonderland type experience. The setting, the people and the little cabinas are all sweet. Andrew and his girlfriend Elly were fabulous. The road was so bad, they hauled us up and down to the village in their massive four wheel drive everyday so we could go see and do stuff. Well actually it was me they were hauling... Everyone else walked..which was an easy stroll, I’m getting there.... Being at the cabina wasn’t so bad either, as you are in the heart of the rainforest, and the Toucans, monkeys, sloths, and Macaws are still everywhere. Our night sounds could be used in a movie soundtrack. It rained everyday and night. But it is gloriously beautiful, much more “natural” in that the tourist dollar has not turned this into a nightmare of hotels and events.
Tourists are from all over the world here, and it has a much more laid back, slow moving, rhythm reflected in the lifestyle of those who live here. We ate local food at Sodas (little restaurants serving traditional food), and splurged one night at an asian-fusion place run by a German. We also found a great breakfast/lunch place, Bread and Chocolate, whose owner, while running the best breakfast place almost anywhere in the world, is also a chocolatier of amazing skill. We ate everything, including his chocolates. Fabulous. Tom the owner, is from Baltimore and has been in Puerto Viejo going on 6 years. I can see how that happens.
Cannot say enough about how great it was traveling with Ron and Helen on the Birthday Tour. They are fun, adventurous, and willing to try everything. It was Ron’s 65th birthday, and every day seemed a celebration of that milestone with them. They muddled through the cabinas with us with their sense of humor still attached. We laughed a lot, just from the sheer joy of sharing something new and loving it!