Last weekend our friend Paul came out for the long weekend. We both work 4-10's so the combo of not working Fridays and having Monday as a holiday made for a great 4 day weekend. Matthew on the other hand, had to work friday and his company doesn't celebrate MLK day, so didn't get the nice break we did. I guess there are some benefits to working for the government.
Paul and I went for an afternoon of skiing at Sundance on Friday. It was a beautiful warm "spring" skiing day which was a great day of skiing, but makes me a little concerned for what will happen come spring if we keep this cycle up. We hadn't had any fresh snow for about 2 weeks (and is raining this weekend) and there's been a terrible inversion in the Wasatch leading to a thick blanket of smog in the valley. When we got to the top of the lift where there is normally a nice view of the valley below, all we could see was the smog trapped down in the valley. Another benefit to living in the mountains.
Saturday we took a quick trip out to the desert to show Paul the San Rafael swell overlook and some pictographs. Although it was a quick trip, going out to the red rock desert especially in the snow is alway a pretty magical experience.
We spent the rest of the weekend skiing at Brighton and cross country skiing up our road. It was the opening weekend for the Sundance Film festival as well. Most of this goes on in Park City, but they do have screenings here at Sundance. I did have my first Robert Redford citing on the chairlift on Friday and the film festival here always just means a few more people wandering around in furs and big furry boots or heels, none of the Park city craziness. Paul and I went to see a movie called Taking Chance which was based on a true story about returning the body of a solider killed in Iraq home to his familiy in Wyoming. It was very well done, touching and very sad. We've come to expect this from the sundance films though. Ususally even the comidies are dark.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Now that we've been back at work and in the snow for a week, it's almost hard to believe we were just sitting on sunny beaches, seeing monkeys, tropical fish, and crazy lush vegetation just a short time ago. We took a red eye flight, got our rental car and quickly got out of the craziness of San Jose. We spent the first day driving and in a bit of a jet lag fog which added to the unreal feeling of the area. We headed up to Monteverde cloud forest first. Driving in Costa Rica is very different than in the US. We headed out of San Jose on the main Central America highway, in the US you'd expect a huge multi-lane freeway in Costa Rica, this is mostly a 2 lane road, usually no center line marked, running through towns and very mountainous. Since it is the main highway there is pretty heavy truck traffic, lots of buses and small dirt bikes. this leads to people passing in all kind of crazy places that we normally wouldn't think to. Somehow it all seems to work though and once we got out of the city and somewhat adjusted to it, we got into the grove of driving.
Looking at our map of Costa Rica, it looked like it would be an all day drive to Monteverde, but the scale of the map in Costa Rica is a bit different than in the US. Throughout our trip, it kept surprising us how much closer things were than we thought from the map. After a few hours on the highway, we turned off onto a steep gravel road leading up to Monteverde. Fortunately we had a small SUV, so we could negotiate the small car sized potholes on the way. The drive up to Monteverde was beautiful, the vegetation rapidly changed and there were small Tico villages and houses along the way. The area is mostly agricultural, lots of cleared forests with coffee plantations or cows on very steep hillsides. People still do much of the work by hand. We saw people clearing thick vegetation with machetes, a kid hearding a bunch of bulls up the road and men carrying milk on horses. (Monteverde was originally a Quaker settlement where they started making cheese to provide a sustainable income). The Quaker settlers also saw the rapid forest clearing that was occurring and started working to preserve some of the forest. The monteverde cloud forest is now a pretty popular tourist destination, the cloud forest zip lines are quite popular here.
We stayed at a little cabina near Monteverde for 2 nights. The first day (still in our jet lag fog) we went to a couple frog and snake exhibits. I will admit I wasn't too excited about these at first since I'd rather the animals be in the wild than in captivity and would rather see them there, but they were very good exhibits. Costa Rica has a great number and diversity of snakes and frogs. There are a number of poisonous vipers, huge boas and green vine snakes that blend right into the vegetation. The frogs range from something larger than a bullfrog that they call the chicken frog since it will eat baby chicken to colorful poison dart frogs which are about the size of your fingernail. We actually didn't see any in the wild, so it was good to see the exhibit.
The next day after we took a bus into the cloud forest and spent the day hiking. It did what it was supposed to in the rain forest and rained all day on us (even though December is the start of the dry season). We actually didn't see much wildlife in the forest, you could hear birds and monkeys, but the vegetation was so thick, it was hard to see anything. Even though I am used to the green and wetness of Oregon, it doesn't compare at all with the rainforest. Trees had multiple levels of ferns, vines, moss, and epiphytes growing all over them.
We hiked to a viewpoint where on a clear day you can see both the Pacific and the Caribbean. We could see about 5 feet with winds blasting us backwards on the Caribbean, but could see the Pacific side a bit. On the way out, we walked over a suspension bridge which was a bit freaky, but really cool since you were at treetop level and could see all the orchids and plants that grow up in the canopy. At the visitors center, there were probably 30 humming bird feeders with hundreds of hummingbirds feeding and diving about. There were at least 6 different species which were fascinating to watch.
The next day we decided to head down to the Nicoya peninsula. The first half of the drive out, through the coffee plantations and mountains was beautiful with lush green vegetation and a mix of rain and sun making a new rainbow around every corner. As we made it down into the lowlands and towards the beach, we entered an interesting mix of Tico houses and villages with huge gated off hotels and condos many of which appeared to have been started and then just left. We learned through the owner of the cabina we stayed at in Playa Hermosa, that there has been very rapid development in the Nicoya peninsula (and most coastal areas) with little planning. Those with money seem to be able to get there way out of some of the regulations meant to protect the environment. A combination of push by some to better regulate some of the development and the downturn in the US economy seems to have lead to the building of many of these hotels and condos being halted halfway through.
At Playa Hermosa we found another great cabina to stay at. Very rustic, a big old wooden house, we paid for a room upstairs with shared kitchen and bathroom and a huge deck, but were the only ones there and had the whole place to ourselves. The place was right on the beach and owned by a French-Canadian Mark who is trying to conserve the area and fighting against much of the unregulated development I was talking about. We stayed at Playa Hermosa for 3 nights and spent our time lazing on the deck in hammocks watching the iguanas in the trees, waking up to the weird noises of howler monkeys, swimming, laying on the beach, snorkeling and scuba diving. Mark provided snorkeling gear with the room. The snorkel had some nasty looking funk growing in it and the masks leaked pretty bad, but free is good. Both ends of the beach had some rocky areas and was in a fairly protected bay which made for great snorkeling. We saw all kinds of beautiful colorful tropical fish including rays and this crazy needlefish. We spent hours for a few days snorkeling and getting our backs good and sunburned. We also went scuba diving out of Playa Hermosa. I was certified to scuba dive 10 years ago in the Puget sound and hadn't done it since. While I remember seeing some interesting things in the Puget sound, mostly I remember it being really cold, a bit murky and people getting stung by jelly fish, not the most fabulous experience ever. While it had been even longer since Matt went scuba diving, his first experience was much more enjoyable (Florida keys) and he was really looking forward to going again. I was a bit nervous about going, but once I got comfortable with it, thanks to much patience by Matt and the dive master, it was really amazing. It was warm, good visibility and we got to see lots of corals, a couple reef sharks, a glance at a turtle, more rays, sea horses and all kinds of other crazy fish.
After 3 days in Playa Hermosa, it was time to make our way down to Dominical to meet up with Zsa and Bruce. We drove through the Nicoya Peninsula, took a ferry to Puntarenas on the mainland and drove south to another Playa Hermosa where we stayed the night. This was more of surfing beach and is a sea turtle nesting site which I would have loved to have seen, but it was the wrong season. From there we drove down to Dominical, stopping at a national park, Manuel Antonio. This is one of the smallest and most visited parks in Costa Rica. It has some of the most beautiful beaches I've seen and thick forest which was home to a few different types of monkey and sloths. While the forest wasn't as lush and thick as monteverde, it was better for seeing wildlife. We got to see quite a few monkeys and three towed sloths. One of the sloths even had a baby with it and were quite fascinating to watch them slowly move about the trees. Even though there were signs not to feed the monkeys, unfortunately people do and the little white faced monkeys have become quite used to people. Made for some great photographs, but not quite monkeys in their natural habitat.
We arrived in Dominical on Christmas and were quite surprised at how crowded the town was. Domincal is a popular surfing beach with beautiful mountains around and many gringos have bought land and retired in this area. It was quite busy for the Christmas and New Years holiday with vacationing Ticos, surfing bumbs and lots of gringos. Zsa and Bruce had rented a house for the rest of our stay. We found Mike, the owner of the place who had moved to Domincal from Colorado. He now sells real estate, banana bread and jerky from a hammock and table under the trees between the restaurants and the beach. His place was up in the hills with a bit of a few of the ocean, a great porch which you could relax on watching toucans and parrots fly about. Mike also has worked to spay and neuter many of the dogs in town (how dogs are seen and treated in Costa Rica is quite different) as well as rescue abandoned dogs and injured wildlife. One animal he rescued and can't release back to the wild was a pezote which is sort of like a large raccoon with really sharp claws. While Mike had raised Bubba since he was a baby, Bubba was still quite wild. Bubba had a large cage in the back, but Mike told us if we wanted, we could meet Bubba for the full experience. Matt was the only one of us brave enough to do this which he can tell you more about.
We met up with Zsa and Bruce the day after Christmas. It was great to see them again and get to spend some time with Matt's family. Bruce owns a couple properties around Dominical and they have plans to spend more time in Costa Rica in their retirement. We spent one day visiting Bruce's properties. One of Bruce's friends Matt lives just below one of his properties, so we met him as well. Matt has collected a number of Costa Rican artifacts which he plans to put in a museum for the children of the area to know more about their heritage. One of these was a pre-Columbia carving of a frog carrying a bag of skulls which was supposed to be quite rare. I don't know much about these pieces, but they were really interesting to see and good to know they will be given back to the people rather than sold or taken away as many artifacts are. Matt and Bruce took us to a couple huge and beautiful waterfalls on the property which were nice to dunk our heads in after a sweaty hike up.
We spent the next day relaxing on the beach in Dominical. We rented boggie boards and even got Matt's mom boggy boarding and catching some waves. We wanted to go scuba diving again and found Isla de Cano which is a national park and was supposed to have amazing snorkeling and scuba diving. We took a boat out there, Bruce and Zsa went snorkeling and hung out on the island looking at tide pools while Matt and I went scuba diving. The water at the island was even more clear than our first dive. The corals were even more spectacular and even more crazy tropical fish. On this dive, I was able to relax a bit more and actual enjoy seeing all the fish and sharks and plan to make this more than a once in 10 years hobby.
Much of what we did in Dominical was sleep, relax, drink Bruce's lattes, eat lots of fresh fruit, and make good food like fresh Tuna and shrimp. Tico time is definitely a little different pace than what we are on in the US. All too soon, it was time to head back to the US. We had to drive back to San Jose where we got terribly lost in the city. We didn't have any problems getting around anywhere else in Costa Rica, but San Jose was a mess. We are not city people! Despite the stressful end, the trip was amazing and we can't wait to go back!
check out our flickr site for more pictures
Posted by Matthew and Cassie at 9:44 AM