Costa Rica Part 8 – Tenorio Volcano National Park

Well folks, here it is, the final Costa Rica installment. Just in time to make room for canoe trip recaps!

On our return to the coast from Monteverde we detoured to Tenorio Volcano National Park, which we highly recommend! It has a super 6km hike (round trip), which we were fortunate to hit on a not-too-blisteringly-hot day.

rio celeste (12)

The hike followed the Rio Celeste, and the first attraction en route was a beautiful falls. And beautiful stairs to get it to it. Many, many stairs.

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rio celeste (4)

From there the trail continued to the next look, which provided a view of the Tenorio Volcano Complex, which is part of the Guanacaste Volcanic Mountain Range. The Tenorio Complex consists of Tenorio One, Tenorio Two, and Cerro Montezuma.

DSCF2161DSCF2156rio celeste

After admiring the volcanos we continued along through the woods and over some bridges to the turn around point, where there is a very cool phenomenon occurring in the river. Two rivers (Rio Buenavista and Quebrada Agria) meet at this point, and the bright colour is caused by the mixing of two non-coloured effluents. The pH change in the mixing point increases the particle size of a mineral present in the Rio Buenavista. Some of these aluminosilicates rest on the river bottom (the white sediment), but most remains in suspension in the water. These suspended particles scatter sunlight in such a way that the river becomes a gorgeous sky-blue.

In the physics word, this optical phenomenon is called Mie scattering (for the record, physics bores me to tears. I included this sentence purely to make my physicist Dad proud. Or maybe to poke fun at his love of physics. Hi Dad!).

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And thus conclude my Costa Rica recaps. Sad, I know. Time to change channels back to spring and summer canoe trips…guess I don’t have much to complain about!

Costa Rica Part 7 – Catarata Llanos de Cortes and Palo Verde Park

We’re nearing the end of my recaps, and I’m mashing two things together for this one –  a waterfall and one of two national parks that we visited.

First off, post scuba diving one afternoon we drove to a popular waterfall that was nearby, say a 40ish minute drive, called la Catarata Llanos de Cortes. Although not an official park, it does have an entry fee, operating hours, and a lifeguard (who stopped me from getting as close the falls as I wanted to…).

It’s a gorgeous spot with a lovely pool for swimming below the falls.

There was also supposed to be a trail to the top of the falls. However, we waded across the river to get to it, and found it blocked up with caution tape. Now, we did see a group go up anyways, but we weren’t in the mood to break any rules and potentially have to explain ourselves in Spanish.

Instead, we swam, relaxed on shore for a little while, swam again, and then headed back to Playa del Coco. Had we come earlier in the day it would have been a great spot for a picnic lunch and to hang out with a book. For us, the 4:30pm closing time meant a relatively brief visit.

Our biggest day trip venture from Playa del Coco was to Palo Verde National Park. Now, this is the only thing we did that I don’t wholeheartedly recommend. It was good…but it wasn’t great enough to be worth the long, very rough drive in. So while it was still a good experience, in hindsight we would have opted for something different. But, if you’re passing close by, it could be worthwhile. It was also a great place for birding, if you’re into that, and I bet it would be a much different place in the rainy season – it was quite oppressively hot and dry when we were there.

The park entrance was one of my first big Spanish tasks, because the staff there spoke absolutely no English. Through my Tarzan Spanish, hand gestures, and maps, I was able to book us a boat ride and find out which two trails were most recommended. Not bad!

Our first destination was the boat tour, but en route we were entertained by capuchin monkeys!

At the end of the road our boat was waiting for us. A couple from Quebec were on the tour as well, so I had fun chatting in French (and feeling much more competent compared to my Spanish bumbling!)

On the tour we saw lots of birds, some iguanas and, most impressively, lots of crocodiles!!

Those crocs could move FAST. No matter how hot it was, there was certainly no temptation to jump into that murky water for a swim.

On our drive back out through the park we stopped for two walks, the first being quite a short one, basically the length of this boardwalk. You can see from the cracked mud how dry it was!

Our second walk was more substantial, about 1.5km each way (which doesn’t seem substantial, unless you’re there and feeling the heat!). This one took us to a nice lookout. And included howler monkeys startling us with howls along the way!

All in all, we saw and did some neat things in Palo Verde. It didn’t end up being our ideal activity (although the crocs were cool!), but that speaks more to our own interests and inclinations than the experience itself, so don’t let that deter you if it really appeals to you!

My next post will talk about a national park that we did really love!

Hasta proxima!

Costa Rica Part 5 – Scuba Diving!

I loved everything I have described in Costa Rica so far. But…I have been working up to my absolute favourite, and now’s the time!

For a little bit of history, wanting to scuba dive is probably the longest memory I have. It has been a dream since I was a little kid, and it hasn’t wavered. I actually started lessons in Newfoundland in high school, but broke my collarbone after the first class (I had a bad habit of doing that for a couple of years). Anyhow, other great adventures kept knocking scuba back to the sidelines, until I finally made the leap this year, knowing I would regret not doing it.

(Spoiler – it was everything I thought it would be and more. Freakin’ loved every second of it.)

I did my pool sessions and theory exam with Sault Scuba in the Fall, aiming to do my 4 certifying dives in Costa Rica. A bit of research narrowed my Costa Rica choices to 2, and I’m extremely happy with the one I chose, Summer-Salt Dive Center.

My excitement was contagious, and my Dad opted to join the fun with 2 Discovery Dives. This included a pool session the day before diving, to practice a few skills and get used to the equipment. Summer Salt was very accommodating and let me join the pool session too – I welcomed a quick refresher as I had finished my course back in November.

The next morning we hopped into the boat, Voltareta (Spanish for somersault), and headed out to our first dive site.

Dad and I were able to do these dives together, to a 12m limit. Dad was partnered with our instructor, Carlos, I was buddies with Guillermo, a dive master in training, and another DMT was leading our group. On both of our dives I did a few skills with Carlos when we hit the ocean floor, and the rest of the dive was a fun cruise.

Mom came along and snorkelled, so got a few pics of us at the surface.

I didn’t bring a camera until my 4th dive so didn’t get any pictures on these ones, but we saw a bunch of stingray, many types of fish, and a seahorse!!! Technically the following pics are from later dives, but I think we can all accept the mixed up chronological order…

Southern stingray:

Round stingray:

So many pufferfish (I didn’t see a puffy pufferfish until one of my last dives)!

Freckled porcupinefish:

Guineafowl puffer:

And here’s where I give kudos to our instructor and brag about my Dad. Carlos was a fantastic instructor – he had a calm and quiet way of inspiring confidence and success while requiring a high level of competence. As a complete newbie, my Dad was very comfortable cruising around 12m under the surface with Carlos.

And my Dad – on one of our dives he swam too close to the DMT in front, and his mask got kicked and half filled with water. Fortunately not fully, because he was still able to see. Carlos guided him through the mask clearing (he had practiced in the pool), and Dad stayed cool, calm and collected even though it took a few tries.

Meanwhile, I was floating around hoping he was ok and watching the first stingray swim by…as he missed it all. Luckily there were a lot more to come!

The next day my parents stayed ashore while I went out for dives 3 and 4, to a max depth of 18m. Dive 3 included some underwater compass work which was really neat (the compasses are like the marine compasses on our kayaks), and the not-at-all fun skill of complete mask removal, replacement, and clearing. There were lots of other DMTs and past DMTs on the boat this day, so there were a bunch of us cruising around together, and Marine took some photos for me on my third dive, which was appreciated!

Dive 4 was a purely fun dive, so I brought my camera on this one. I don’t actually know which pics were on this dive and which were on a future day, but here a few!

Barberfish – notice how they lose colour at depth

Giant Damselfish:

Cortez Angelfish:

A school of some other type of fish:

King Angelfish:

We saw a spotted eagle ray swooping by on this dive too, but captured only in my memory.

There was nothing I enjoyed more than being on and in the ocean, so I hopped aboard again for a morning of snorkelling before we left town (scuba was off limits because we were heading to altitude). I convinced my Dad to come too (it wasn’t a hard sell).

I thought that was the end of my aquatic adventures for this trip…but no! After a couple of days in Monteverde we decided that we all preferred to come back to the coast for a couple of days before leaving, instead of a few long driving days on potentially (probably) rough (terrifying) roads.

This worked out swimmingly for me, as I was able to fit in one more morning of diving, while leaving a 24 hour window before our flight (I didn’t feel like ending our vacation with a case of the bends).

On the boat this last morning was myself, a woman from Quebec taking a course, and another French couple taking a course. So we ended up talking a lot of French that day, which was fun. Because everyone else was taking a course, it also meant that I had a dive master, Nicolay, as a private guide.

On our first dive we checked out a shipwreck (an old fishing boat).

And saw lots of other cool things too, including this octopus. Can you find it?

Cornetfish:

We saw lots of jewel morays, and one Panamic Green Moray:

And a #scubaselfie

I was feeling pretty comfortable with everything, so asked Nikolay for some advice on better air consumption (it’s normal to use a lot more when you’re new…but I wanted to do better). With his tips I went from a dive of just over 40 minutes on the first dive, to 62 minutes on the second! I was pretty happy about that!

The surface interval on this day was pretty incredible too, because there were tons of devil rays jumping all around us!

A few more pics to represent the last dive…some are actually from this dive, others I have no idea. And apart from the barberfish feeding frenzy I don’t know what the other fish are, so please tell me if you know!

Moral of the story is, if you’ve ever been thinking of scuba diving, do it. And if you’re ever diving in Playa del Coco, dive with Summer Salt Dive Center!

Costa Rica Part 4 – Diamante Animal Sanctuary

In my previous post about zip lining, I mentioned Diamante Adventure Park, and how we chose not to go zip lining there. However, this park has a number of different activities, and we did visit the animal sanctuary, which was well worth it! The sanctuary is the largest in the area, and all of the animals have been rescued by the Costa Rican Ministry of Wildlife. Now, enough with the words, on with the pictures.

There was a variety pack of frogs and pretty flowers. And a bunch of reptiles, but they didn’t photograph well in their tanks.





A howler monkey feeling the heat.

Turtles, iguanas, and large, toothy iguanas (right?).



Sloths! So lazy they wouldn’t even eat at feeding time, when the keeper was hand feeding them (Jack the Dog must be part sloth…).

There were many butterflies. Here are two.


And beautiful toucans.

Rainbow Toucan
Yellow throated toucan
Fiery-billed Aracan

And last but not least, there were 4 types of jungle cats. I was only able to capture two decently, since they were behind glass.

Jaguar cooling off
Ocelot
Cutest little ocelot of all time

Costa Rica Part 3 – Ziplining

One of the things we wanted to try while in Playa del Coco was a zip lining tour. We came across two main options within a reasonable distance of town  – Congo Canopy and Diamante Adventure Park. Both looked great, and by no means am I saying that one is better than the other, but they do seem to be very different experiences, so choose accordingly!

The Diamante zip line tour seems fantastic for those with a need for speed and adrenaline. It includes superman jump, a free fall, really loooooooooong zip lines… cool stuff, but not for us. Instead, we opted for the “family friendly” original zip line canopy tour at Congo Canopy, with 11 cables and 3 hanging bridges, and we were more than happy with our decision.

We were there first thing in the morning, so we were able to go as a group of 3. Private tour!

The classic “before” shot

We had two guides with us, who were super nice, and also hilarious. It only took us a few minutes to get used to their jokes and remain nonchalant when they came flying towards us hollering as though they couldn’t stop. Or offered a high five just as they were about to take off down the zip line…and then held on as though you were to be yanked right off the platform. They were fun!

The guide on the left has zip ties poking out of his helmet like porcupine quills. Before we started he explained that each one was for a client who died, and that he planned to add 3 more today.

We also had a photographer zipping (hahaha) around with us. Since we couldn’t bring cameras we thought it would be worthwhile to pay for their photo service, and with three of us it made a lot more sense to pay for a CD with a bunch of pics instead of just one each. So all of the pics in this post were taken by the Congo Canopy photographer (who was also a super nice guy).


You can see in the above pics that we have one gloved hand resting on the cable behind us as we cruise down the line. One of the things we liked about this particular zip line tour was that, because the cables were not extremely long and fast, we were able to have a bit more control. For example, we controlled our speed by braking with that back hand as we approached each platform.

As I mentioned above, there were also a few hanging bridges to cross.

No zip ties added yet


One of the cables had the option of going upside down!

The only unfortunate thing with this one was that we didn’t know if we had to pull ourselves upright before reaching the end. Not knowing, I started to, but the guides called out not to. Which was fine, except that my parents were watching from the far end and thought that I had tried and failed. Given that, my Dad decided not to go upside down, although he did briefly go hands-free!

We also had the option on one cable of going superman style. This one was with a guide, who took care of the braking.


What happened next is possibly the best memory of the entire trip for my Dad and I. See, my Mom was an enthusiastic participant and was having a great time, and was also completely content to go last every time and to forego the superman flight. Well, on the next cable, our guide motioned to Mom to come over first and started setting up the harness and cable…about halfway through it dawned on her that he was actually setting her up for the superman! But too late now, off she went, and is glad she did (I think)!

Although we went in the morning so it wasn’t AS hot as it could have been, quite frankly it was never not hot. The tour was nicely set up with some water along the way. We took a break for some water and pictures on the highest platform.

Another great thing about this tour was the wildlife that we saw! I could be wrong, but I suspect one wouldn’t have as many interesting sightings on the zip line tours focused more on adrenaline.

Howler monkey howling!

The elusive Costa Rican black and white bird

And finally, the after shot.

Survivors

It was a fantastic morning. The site also offers other activities – horseback riding, a small animal sanctuary, ATV tours, and river float trips. We had a few minutes after zip lining and checked out the animal sanctuary, which was worthwhile as an add-on, but wouldn’t be worth it if that was all you were going to see (it’s neat, just quite small, there is another I’ll recommend later that is a primary destination). Definitely a spot worth checking out if you’re spending time in the area.

Costa Rica Part 2 – Sea Bird Sailing Excursions

We arrived in Playa del Coco on a Friday afternoon, and took that afternoon to wander around and get settled in. For Saturday, we wanted to plan something that didn’t require any driving around and, of course, I wanted to get out on (and in) the water. A trip with Sea Bird Sailing Excursions fit the bill perfectly.

We opted for the morning sail and snorkel tour. After breakfast we strolled down to the meeting spot on the beach, and hopped in a dinghy which took us out to the sailboat.

On the boat with us were two families, the captain, Sabastian, and a couple of crew members. There wasn’t a lot of wind, so we motored along, out of the bay and past some rocky islands. Even with the sails down it was just so nice to be cruising along on the Pacific Ocean with the warm sun and breeze.

Basically, I was ready to move aboard.

We were very well taken care of on the boat, with plenty of water, fresh juices, and sliced watermelon and pineapple. After an hour or so we anchored next to a larger island, got geared up, and hopped in for some snorkelling.

This was the first test of my new YI lite action cam and its underwater case, and I’m pleased to report that it works just fine! That said, many of these underwater pics were taken by a snorkelling crew member and sent to us afterwards.

We swam around for some time (I have little sense of time went snorkelling or diving). We saw lots of brightly coloured fish, sea urchins, and the outline of a ray hiding in the sand (the picture is a lot better than what I actually saw!).

Back on board, the crew hoisted the sails and we sailed back towards the beach. Motoring was nice, but true sailing was spectacular! No pictures of the wildlife seen on the return trip, but we had a small pod of dolphins go leaping by, and then a sea turtle swam right up to the boat and poked its head out to look at us! Incredible.

We moved from the bow to the cockpit after the sea turtle visit to get a bit of shade.

This was our captain. He lives on a sailboat and is sailing to the Galapagos in a few months.

I am exceedingly jealous.

It was the perfect activity for our first full day in Costa Rica, and I would definitely recommend checking out Sea Bird Sailing Excursions is you’re ever visiting the area!

Costa Rica Part 1 – the Overview

As I sit here on the couch, staring at the snow, it seems like a good time to start recapping my recent trip to Costa Rica with my parents. It was a great trip packed with fun things, so will be covered in a series of blog posts. This first post will be a basic overview of where we went, where we stayed, what we ate, etc.

As soon as our flights were booked (maybe even before), I was online googling scuba diving in Costa Rica. I quickly narrowed things down to Playa del Coco (El Coco), on the Papagayo Gulf on the Pacific side, where there are a lot of nearby dive spots and a high concentration of dive shops. So, we set up our trip to start in El Coco for about 6 days, then head to Monteverde in the Cloud Forest, followed by a trip to the Arenal Volcano, and then back to Liberia (near Playa del Coco) to fly home. Now, this plan changed later, but we did start in El Coco and visit Monteverde.

I loved Playa del Coco. LOVED. It was hot, but with the ocean right there, that was fine by me.

We stayed in an Air B&B condo that was a 5 minute walk from the beach.

It was also a 3 minute walk from a daily iced coffee at my favourite little coffee shop.

The nearby beach was great for morning runs, daily swims, and evening strolls.

In Monteverde we enjoyed a small bed and breakfast place overlooking the Cloud Forest.

We ended up back in El Coco at the end of our trip, and stayed in a small hotel with a nice pool and shady hammocks.

I’m by no means a foodie, but did make some effort to document some of our meals.

We enjoyed a few nice dinners at beachfront restaurants, piña coladas and sunsets included.

We also ate at some sodas – small, local restaurants. The fruit juices available almost everywhere were delicious!

And of course we picked up some street meat to eat on the beach.

And enjoyed a few sweet treats along the way.

So there you go. General itinerary, accommodations, and eats. Next up will be the good stuff like sailing, zip lining and, most importantly, scuba diving!

Into the Woods for March Break

As a teacher, I’m lucky to get a week off every March. Well, really, as a supply teacher I can (and do) take time off pretty much whenever I want…but this is a forced week off where I don’t have to consider the lost income!

We spent the week in a not unusual manner – camping. It was still very much winter here in northern Ontario, so it was a full on winter trip – snowshoes, toboggans, and tent with a wood stove.

Conor drags the longer, heavier toboggan. I drag the shorter, uglier, orange one. I will also point out that, although lighter, it does not glide nearly as well! Obviously this is the sole reason that I’m slower. Obviously.

Jack carried his food in his Jack Pack. He was always really excited to put it on…

We were out from Saturday to Saturday, so 7 nights spent in the tent. I love this tent. Get the fire going and it is incredibly warm and cozy. Yes, the set up is quite involved, but there’s no way I could do winter trips of any length without this haven of warmth.

Cooking happens on the wood stove.

I might like the tent, but Jack adores the tent, and gets inside as soon as possible every afternoon.

He has his own spot, but he likes to encroach in the human zone sometimes for a cuddle. As the trip progresses he gets increasingly tired, and starts to crawl into our laps a bit more to collapse. He’s adorable.

Morning cuddles were a thing too.

We were hoping to do a loop, but got stymied by some non existent portage trails. We took one layover day, on which we went for an unencumbered, exploratory snowshoe wander.

We had great weather for tripping. Temperatures were pretty much perfect. Travel on the lakes wasn’t effortless, but was pretty good. Travel through the woods was actually really tough – the snow was deep, rotting, and baseless. Fortunately we spent most of our time on lakes and waterways, not traveling between them.

My kindle is essential tripping equipment for me. I may not have any impressive physical abilities, but my reading speed and stamina are top notch, and an ereader is the only way I can carry adequate reading material.

I also did at least a few minutes of Spanish review every day!

All in all, it was another great trip. For me, for now at least, it was a nice length. Conor aspires to longer and more challenging winter trips, but I find traveling in the winter a lot more intimidating and challenging than summer expeditions. Jack sides with Conor though.

#Clearthelist March 2018 Language Goals

Having recently picked up Spanish studies again (not that I have gotten very far before), I decided it’s time to join the #clearthelist monthly language goals link up hosted by Eurolinguiste and Lindsay Does Languages. This month will be short and sweet!

Spanish

Apart from working my way independently through a couple of book lessons last summer and doing some Duolingo now and then, I’m pretty much a rank beginner. Goals for this month are:

1. Squeeze in 8 Skype lessons before heading to Costa Rica (!) on March 30, including reviewing the material before and after

2. Complete enough Duolingo to keep up my streak on days I have internet access

3. Bring study and vocab notes on our March Break 9 day camping trip and study a bit each day

4. Listen to at least 4 Spanish podcasts

French

I am a much more advanced French speaker (better be, seeing as I teach it), but there’s always room for improvement. Focusing on Spanish though, so setting the bar low here.

1. Listen to CBC radio en Français

2. Read something

Et c’est tout!

Weekend in the Woods

This past weekend we celebrated the beginning of March with a 2 night winter camping trip. The conditions were awesome – warm, sunny days, and a skiff of snow on crusty lakes.

It was the perfect weekend for our friend Jerry’s introduction to winter camping. We went north of town to Lake Superior Park, where we hauled our stuff about an hour into a small lake.

We set up the hot tent, as per usual.

This time, however, we also set up Jerry’s teepee, or guest house, as it were. We all hung out in the hot tent, but Jerry slept in there while Conor and I took the teepee.

Saturday was mostly spent setting up, with a quick snowshoe and ski tour in the afternoon. We took a pretty relaxed approach to life on Sunday, starting things off with a Pancake Fiesta.

Full of pancakes, we headed off for a tour de lakes. It was a gorgeous day, to the point that we sit in the sun jacket-less and mitt-less, while taking a break for some tea and a snack.

Back in camp, I hung out in the tent while Conor and Jerry played around with ice fishing and paddle carving. Not too shabby!

Monday morning we packed up and retraced our steps back to the car, ready for 4 days of work before heading off again for March Break 🙂