235

May 26, 2004

I’ve been hanging out in the central and the northern parts of Costa Rica, and so I thought it was time to find out what it might be like along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast.  I’ve been reading good things about a place on the coast called Manuel Antonio: this is the name of Costa Rica’s most famous and popular national park, as well as the small town that is located at the entrance to the park.

I left most of my things at the hotel in San Jose this morning, because there were very strict limits on the number of bags and their weight on the flight from San Jose to Quepos.  And when I saw how small the single propellor plane was, I understood why.  It only seated 12 people, and we were fairly cramped.  We more or less popped a wheelie during our dramatic take off down San Jose’s tarmac.

It is only a 20 minute flight from San Jose to Quepos on the west coast, but we saw some incredible scenery along the way.  Costa Rica is absolutely full of natural beauty: it’s quite amazing.  It is also world famous for the huge biodiversity of its plants and animals.  I found out later that almost 25% of Costa Rica is made up of protected forests.

It is a short ride from the tiny Quepos airport to the town of Manuel Antonio.  The road meanders through the mountains above the Pacific Ocean until it descends and finally brings you to Manuel Antonio and the national park.  There are some more eye-popping views during this brief ride, especially out through the trees towards the ocean.

I was happy to find that the “Hotel Manuel Antonio” is only a stone’s throw from the beach and from the entrance to the national park.  It’s nothing fancy, but then I wasn’t expecting a five star hotel in this little town that is full of surfers, hikers, and bird watchers.  The rooms are simple and clean, and there’s a small restaurant that is attached to the hotel.

After checking in, I did a little work, ate dinner, and then went to bed.

234

May 25, 2004

I’m still based in San Jose, but I took a two day trip to Fortuna.  It’s a six hour drive from San Jose, so I left on Monday, yesterday; stayed overnight; and then came back to San Jose today.

Fortuna is a small town in northern Costa Rica.  The full name of the town is La Fortuna de San Carlos.  I had enjoyed the volcano trek up Pacaya Volcano outside of Antigua, Guatemala, and then the Poas Volcano the other day here in Costa Rica.  So it seemed natural to continue my “Volcanos of Central America” tour.

Visiting Fortuna was recommended because of another volcano, this one called Arenal Volcano, as well as Lake Arenal and Fortuna Waterfall.

I left San Jose early in the morning, because the tours of the Arenal Volcano start in the early afternoon.  At the beginning of the tour we hiked for about an hour over lava rocks until we reached a place called, “El Mirador.”  This is supposed to be the best place to see the lava flows from this active volcano, and they are best seen in the evening after the sun goes down.

We were told that clouds often move in and hide the lava flows, but we were in luck last evening.  The bright lava against the black volcano and black sky made for some fantastic photos.  It was quite cold, so I’m glad I had been told to bring a jacket.

The next morning I took a cab to the Fortuna Waterfall.  It’s just a ten minute walk down from the road, and there’s a nice pool for swimming at the bottom of the waterfall.

I didn’t stay long at the waterfall, because I wanted to take a boat trip on Lake Arenal.  There is a fishing boat called the “Rain Goddess.”  You go out on the boat with other tourists and you can fish.  I went mostly for the scenery, because there were spectacular views from the boat.

But everyone did some fishing, and if you caught anything, there’s a chef on the boat who cooks the fish.  You can’t eat fish any fresher than what’s just been pulled out of the lake.

I returned to San Jose in the afternoon and had some time this evening to do a little work and to finish writing about my day.

233

May 23, 2004

I’m enjoying Costa Rica a lot: I’m starting to understand why there are so many foreigners living here, and why so many people retire here.

Ronald had shown me Heredia: he suggested I visit Alajuela, but he wasn’t able to take me there.  It’s a small town not far from San Jose, so I just took a taxi to get there.

Continue Reading

232

May 22, 2004

I have been talking every evening with the bartender at the bar in the hotel where I’m staying.  His name is Ronald, and he’s studying to be a physical education teacher, because he loves sports so much.  He has a wife and a daughter and somehow is able to support them with this job, and go to school at the same time.

He said that he’s from Heredia, a small city just 12 km north of San Jose.  I was curious to see what this small town was like, so he volunteered to be my tour guide on his day off.

I took a taxi to the Parque Central in Heredia: this is where we had agreed to meet.  I got there early, and walked around and took some photos.  There was a church, of course, on one side of the park, and there was also a curious sculpture garden with all kinds of animal sculptures.

Ronald arrived: he had borrowed his uncle’s car so he was able to drive me around a bit.  He showed me the Heredia Fortress and the Heredia Castle, as well as examples of local mud and brick construction.

Along the way we passed a curious sign for the “Inst. Parauniversitario Richard Nixon.”  Richard Nixon?  I found this most bizarre.

We left Heredia and went into the Braulio Carrillo National Park where we saw a waterfall.  We didn’t go much farther because it was very foggy: low clouds had moved in.  So we headed back to Heredia and went to the INBioparque.

This is part botanical garden part zoological park.  We saw some of the strangest plants here, like several different kinds of giant orchids, and a flower that looked vaguely like an albino ear of corn.

There was a lake in the middle of the park, as well as a small waterfall, and here we saw turtles and iguanas around its perimeter.

There was also a garden with lots of plants that a attracted a huge number of butterflies and it was enclosed with netting to keep them inside.

We saw a tarantula and other insects in the insect house, and a rather large boa constrictor in the reptile house.

When we were finished, Ronald kindly drove me back to the hotel in San Jose.

231

May 14, 2004

Another hop, skip, and jump, and I now find myself in Costa Rica: San Jose, the capital, to be exact.

I got here on Monday and, after taking a taxi from the airport, we arrived in the city and I checked into my hotel.

Continue Reading

230

May 7, 2004

It seems to make sense to continue in a southerly direction from one Central American country to the next, which is why I’m now in Managua, Nicaragua.

I had read about the high crime rate in this city, so it was reassuring to be met by a representative of the hotel on exiting the airport.  Nice to see your name on a sign being held by someone as you come out of baggage claim.  Especially at night.

Continue Reading

229

May 1, 2004

There’s an old film called, “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.”  I’m hopping around Central America, kind of hitting the highlights, so it’s almost like “If It’s Tuesday, This Must be El Salvador.”

But there is method to the madness: I’m trying to hit the things I am most interested in seeing, most of which are World Heritage Sites.

Continue Reading

228

Apr 24, 2004

I’m now staying in Copan, Honduras.  It’s really easy to get from Guatemala to Copan, which is just across the border from Guatemala.

The main attraction here is Copan Ruinas, which means, obviously, Copan Ruins.  These impressive ruins are just one km from the little city of Copan, so, as the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and a light breeze made the air comfortable, off I headed, camera in hand.

Continue Reading

227

Apr 16, 2004

One of the reasons I wanted to stay in Antigua, other than that it’s a really cool city, is that I wanted to climb to the top of a nearby volcano called Pacaya Volcano.

There’s a travel agency just a couple of doors from the hotel, and I noticed a sign in the window that mentioned this volcano tour.  I signed up and, bright and early on Tuesday morning, we were on our way to Pacaya.

Continue Reading

226

Apr 10, 2004

Now I’m in Guatemala, in the historic old city of Antigua to be exact.  I left Belize on Sunday and went first to the capital, Guatemala City, and then by bus to Antigua.

I chose Antigua because it, along with its cobblestones streets and old historic houses, is a World Heritage Site: the whole city!  It was the Spanish capital of all of Central America during colonial times.

Continue Reading