Category: Costa Rica

Thank you Latin America

Thank you Latin America

Here we are at San José airport awaiting our early morning flight to the States.

We’ve had the most amazing 13 weeks travelling in seven Latin American countries, seeing unique natural wonders and meeting inspiring people. And we’re also celebrating getting around with no significant mishaps or issues – i.e. nothing stolen and no serious illnesses.

It’s the end of something that we’ll never forget. But as they say; when one door closes another opens. Or in this case it’s the gate to board our flight to Dallas.

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Capital time in San José

Capital time in San José

The place to enjoy Costa Rica is not in a town or city, but on the beach, in a jungle or on a boat. So we had few expectations for our day in the capital San José.

But the great thing about any city is the capacity to surprise. It’s the unexpected that stands out and engages.

The picture above shows an extraordinary sculpture by the Costa Rican artist Marisel Jiménez called Retablo de la Corte de Carlos Jiménez. It was for us the highlight of the Visual Arts museum under Plaza de la Cultura.

Also unexpected was reliving the hayday of aviation at the old international airport which has been spared re-development. Wonderful old footage showed the glamour of air travel in the fifties.

IMG_5201Where the planes took off from, is now the La Sababa park and here Roger captured some young Ticos excelling at roller blading.

IMG_5204Meanwhile Hilary was delighted to see an exhibition examining the depiction of women on Costa Rican currency. As the picture shows there have been 36 men on banknotes but only two women.

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Gardeners’ world

Gardeners’ world

Costa Rica would be a fun place to establish a new garden. Imagine having the pick of so many colourful flowers.

We love flowers, but find it hard to name any apart from the obvious. So can anyone name some or all of the ones we have photographed below? Your expertise would be appreciated – please use the feedback form at the bottom of the actual post.

 

Strangler trees in the forest

Strangler trees in the forest

It’s a battle for survival. Bird v bird. Insect v insect. And tree v tree. Hiking in primary cloud forest, we spotted this great example of a strangler tree.

Most commonly figs, banyans or vines, strangler trees share a common enveloping growth patten.

After germinating in the crevices of a host tree, they grow downward roots and upward branches to reach above the forest canopy into the life-giving sunlight.

The original support tree often dies, leaving the strangler tree to continue growing with a hollow central core. Sometimes the strangler merges with the original tree to create a sort of conjoined hybrid.

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Whilst we are writing about trees….. we saw this “walking tree” in the Amazon Basin. If crowded out by another tree, it can move several metres each year by growing new roots and retracting/killing old ones; enabling it to move towards light
Growing your own coffee

Growing your own coffee

At our hotel we asked about a coffee tour. And guess what, our host’s father owns a farm just up the road. Apparently 90% of all coffee production in Costa Rica is done by farmers with less than five hectares.

We understood this was going to be a short drive in a 4×4 with a nice view at the top. But something must have been lost in translation. Francisco arrived, complete with his machete, and asked us if we had enough water and bug repellent for a two hour trek.

At first his farm looked to us like dense jungle on a very steep hillside. But with us panting for breath, Francisco soon revealed a large area of coffee bushes – they look like small laurels with tiny white flowers.

He explained, prior to the 1980s there were many more bushes here. Since then government grants have encouraged farmers like him to re-forest their land. So for Francisco the coffee (and the bananas) are now just a small cash crop.

Coffee growing was introduced into Costa Rica in 1779 direct from Ethiopia. In the 20th century it was fundamentally important to the economy, and locally grown beans were considered some of the best in the world.  But today it accounts for around 11% of exports – well behind electronic chips.

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Francisco’s coffee bushes are on a steep hillside overlooking the hamlet of San Gerardo de Rivas where we are staying
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Some of the few coffee berries still on the bushes; harvesting takes place September-February
Travel Tips 5 – Knowing when to check out

Travel Tips 5 – Knowing when to check out

It was pouring, we stepped off the bus with no place booked. This hotel looked fun and inside we loved the wacky stone walls, wooden spiral staircases and the back basement room whose window touched the forest.

But come the time to switch the light off and go to sleep it all felt different. First the sounds of large bugs and insects thrashing against the interior walls. This put Hilary into a panic especially when one evil looking monster flew straight into her face.

Then it was Roger’s time to get unnerved. With the forest eerily lit from an upstairs room, the view out of the window looked like a giant aquarium full of aquatic plants – it was as if we were sleeping under water; open the window and we would drown.

Thank goodness we had only booked for one night. The next morning we paid up and left and are now just down the road in a family-run hotel that’s the same cost but so much better.

So our advice for middle aged gap year travellers is to unashamedly move on if you are not comfortable anywhere. And to help, at a new hostel/hotel where you haven’t been able to do any prior online research, only commit initially to just one night.

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

Heading to the hills

Heading to the hills

At Palmer Norte we debated our next bus journey. Back up the coast for more of the same or inland to visit the cloud forests. We decided after a week of pristine beaches and temperatures in the high 30’s we needed cool air and exercise.

From the tiny village of San Gerardo de Rivas the road leads up the valley to both the Chirripo National Park and the privately owned Cloudbridge reserve.

This is Cloud Forest landscape – where the humidity comes from the clouds drifting through the tree-tops rather than any rain. There were trails to walk, cold streams to swim in and beautiful forest-clad hills to photograph.

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Roger on the trail up through the Chirripo National Park
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Hilary cooling off at the private Cloudbridge reserve. 50,000 trees have been replanted here since it was established by Ian and Genevieve Giddy. They visited the area in 2002, spotted the de-forestation and decided to buy the land.
Paradise lost

Paradise lost

This sign made us smile, but it also got us thinking. When does a touristy beach town lose the feel of being “paradise”? Maybe it’s when the tarmac arrives, or the first fast food outlet or even a tattoo parlour.

With no planning laws, an eyesore can be quickly created instead of just natural beauty. Here’s what we mean – a scene at Bahía Drake where we’ve just stayed.

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When ugly, cheap point-of-sale and shacks get thrown up to attract tourists and make money, how should we react?

Should we view this critically as killing the “tourist experience” and despair? And in future, seek out expensive places designed and built by corporates who have the money for aesthetics. Or just arrive by cruise boat.

Or should we leave our “designer eye” in the first world, and continue spending our money at the shabby places run by locals? If we do the latter, whilst it may lead to less than perfect results, it is a sustainable approach that nurtures local communities.

Canopy walk zip-lining

Canopy walk zip-lining

Harness fitted. Helmet on. Safety talk. Our first time canopy zip-lining and despite some pre-nerves we absolutely loved it.

Enjoyed 12 zip-lines high up in a unique primary forest environment. We were 25m up much of the time with the longest zip-line 500m long; that takes 47 secs to get down. It was great standing on the wooden platforms and being immersed in the heights of the forest.

Having reached speeds of around 35mph, braking was by squeezing the zip-line with the purpose made leather glove we had on our right hand.

Expat Martina’s story

Expat Martina’s story

There’s a lot of expats in Costa Rica. From America mostly, but the owner of the hostel where we are staying is German. At the age of 47, a holiday changed her life.

Martina is an inspiring woman. She liked to escape the harsh winter each year by going somewhere hot and sunny. In 2008 she visited Costa Rica as a volunteer for the Corcovado National Park and simply fell in love with Drake’s Bay. So she stayed on, working in hotels, whilst looking at the possibility of making a new life in Costa Rica.

Returning to Germany (Luebeck, near Hamburg) a year later, Martina sold her beloved 500 year old house and all her furniture and moved here permanently. She opened her hostel, initially just two rooms and a small restaurant, and now it’s a thriving business offering the best value for backpackers in town. I am totally happy to be living exactly here in this beautiful part of the planet and working in tourism is the best job ever she told us.

A mile further down the coast, tourists are paying around $200 per night for so called “lodge-style” options whilst we stay at Martina’s Place for a fraction of that. The excellent kitchen means we can cook our meals and the lounge area allows socialising with the other backpackers.