Inukjuak River – Part 1

This summer we embarked on our longest canoe trip to date – a 53 day journey through northern Quebec, culminating with a run from source to sea on the Inukjuak River. We covered just over 1000km with 115 portages.

This year we switched up our starting point by flying into the community of Kuujjuarapik and beginning with 100km on Hudson Bay before heading inland. A friend was also heading up the coast, so we figured we’d stick together for as long as it worked out (foreshadowing: not very long).

We caught the plane in Chisasibi, at the end of the James Bay Hwy. Although very isolated, this highway has nice, free campsites en route.

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Once we and all our gear arrived in Kuujjuarapik, we headed to a put-in a few km north of town.

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It was our latest starting time ever – almost 9pm! However, days were long and we had only a few km to go, as we were meeting a group at a cabin just up the coast. So we weren’t exactly roughing it on our first night!

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The next day there was a bit of a headwind, but nothing that would keep us on shore. We landed on a point in the early evening, on which there were cabins a few hundred metres back. We opted to just set up our tents – it was a nice spot, getting to the cabins required walking through snowbanks (!), and there didn’t seem to be a need to crash someone else’s place.

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The wind really picked up overnight, and it was clear we were not travelling anywhere in the morning. We lounged in the tents, watching the walls move in the wind, but not overly concerned because we had made it through a very windy night. Not long after lunch things seemed to shift, and all of a sudden the wind felt a lot more intense… as we decided that we should pivot our tent to face more into the wind (we were getting hit side on), our friend called out from his tent that his tent pole had just snapped.

We scurried out of our tent – Conor headed over to help while I unpegged the guy lines to rotate ours. Big mistake, we had waited too long – the second I untied the lines the tent flattened completely in the wind. Instead of rotating the tent, we ended up gathering all our stuff in our arms and beating a hasty retreat to the cabins.

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It was so windy that the cabin itself was blowing in the breeze – it felt like being on a sailboat! Much as I love boats, it’s not as comforting a feeling when it’s a building that is swaying back and forth.

After tossing our stuff in the cabin we rushed back to move our canoe. It was a two person job – there was no way that it could be lifted and properly portaged in wind like that. As we were getting it settled behind a small cliff that offered some protection we heard a couple of loud THUNKS.

I climbed onto the rocks where I could see better…and there was our buddy, standing next to his canoe, which lay half in and half out of the water. The wind had scooped it up and somersaulted it through the air for a couple of hundred metres, bouncing a couple of times and finally come to rest at the water’s edge. Although bruised and battered, it was lucky it hadn’t blown any farther or it would have landed in the water and been long gone!

We got that canoe with ours, took shelter in the cabin, and spent the following day (also too windy to paddle) repairing the canoe.

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It was hideously windy, but it was also beautiful.

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And there were some interesting fossils to check out.

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On day 3 at this site we woke to perfect paddling conditions. Conor and I were up very early, antsy to move, and headed north, leaving our friend undecided as to what he was going to do (ended up heading back to town and restarting a little while later).

That’s all for now! Stay tuned!

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.

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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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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.

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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  РCongo 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!