Friday, September 7, 2012

Ziplining through the rainforest

I fell short of the platform a couple of times because I was afraid I was going too fast and I didn't want to hit the platform.

 Small celebrations when you arrive well.                                                                 Not sure why Julio took the photos he did. Many are of us smiling and others have horrid grimaces.
 The trees appeared so huge and so close. Worried about hitting them, but didn't, of course.
 The Jaco Canopy tour was great...way better than the one I did with Kristin near Manuel Antonio. The guys were super professional and had a great sense of humor. And my zip lining parter, Kenzie was so supportive and encouraging. Really, a 17 year old going ziplining with her grandma? We laughed so hard and so much.
 Jorge in the orange shirt was telling us the rules and we were a group of four...Kenz, the guy to the right, his lady friend and I. The young couple were great supporters and they laughed and prayed right along with us.
 The guys neglected to tell us we had to climb a million steps which were very uneven...we had taken an ATV up to x height and then, had to climb to the pinnacle so we could launch from the highest part of the area with no roads or paths.

Travelling through the air on a cable...tree tops anyone?

There really is only one cable that we were connected to and which one hangs on hand over hand with gloves padded in leather. We were in a seat stirrup with our legs and waist connected to the cable and  holding us up as we whipped along the cable. The hands grip the cable and you can apply pressure to slow yourself down or move faster. Faster is good because if you don't make it to the platform, you then have to pull yourself across backwards, going hand over hand on the cable OR one of the guys will have to come rescue you.
I have done this before but these were the longest, highest ziplines that I have ever done OR that I will ever do again. I hate heights! Kenz was very adept and handled the zipping very well.

When we would get stuck a smidge short of the landing platforms which were snuggled in the treetops, Julio or Jorge would help us get closer so we could plant our feet and stand up. The platform is a circular landing pad around a tree trunk way high in the air.

Kenz and I on a platform with a million dollar view behind us.

Teresa looking scared to death.

Kenz with perfect sailing posture.

Teresa just leaving a platform and here you can get a sense of the height. Something about picking one's feet up and launching off into nowhere with a handhold and a truss holding you up. often do you think this equipment is checked by the company and the government of Costa Rica? I worried about that...but jumped out anyway. Who is stupid??

 Jorge, or George, pulling me up into a standing position when I fell short of the platform. He kept saying, "let go, I have you."
On the platform and so happy to NOT be sailing along a cable. Though the platform was sturdy, while on it, I had a serious hand grip on the cables. No way to fall but I hung on just in case.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hiking...paths less taken

Lest anyone think that we spent all of our time on well managed paths...think again. With my knee replacement only months before, I was a bit concerned that I make it through our daily adventures. We hiked up rainforest trails, through the San Angeles cloud forest (photos coming) and up Arenal's pathways. When the going got rough, Kenz always took the lead and lent her grandma a hand.

 In Arenal...we rounded a bend and saw this gorgeous waterfall.

Kenz had on her magic toe tennis shoes...each toe fits into a toe hold. These got soooo stinky that even bathing them in the shower didn't work. Stunk up her whole suitcase but they were perfect in that they didn't stay wet like my tennis shoes did.
A pretty steep lava grade. Old lava flow so pretty steady although, in places, the rocks were very slippery. The rain caused fungi and molds to grow upon the rocks...unsteady footing in many places.

 Yes, this was a "path" we walked down. Thankfully we didn't have to go up this overgrown part of Arenal.
 Steep uphill battle above. Kenz led the way and helped me slowly ascend.

Lots and lots of exposed tree roots to step or trip over. Here, Gatsby, our feral dog who accompanied us on one Arenal hike, followed me. He was mostly Kenz' times, he followed me because I had given him some jalapeno sausage stick to eat and he assumed I had more...wrong.


These frogs came out at night and were as large as 8 inches tall. Ugly but fun at the same time. Wonder if you can eat them?
This little lizard was not a problem...this visit, we didn't get to see the much larger lizards running around. Rainy season is NOT the time to see wildlife...guess the animals and reptiles are smart. They hunker down when it is ugly outside. Despite the rain, we had a ball.
The Oropendula is a large black bird with a gorgeous yellow tail. He makes a most obnoxious noise but his nest is very interesting. These hanging sacks in the tree below are their nests. They enter at the top and then, sink to their nest/haven at the bottom. Hard to see but they were quite a ways from where we were standing.

The crocodiles were the best. Huge and this one opened his mouth and said...FOOD!

This guy we think is called a Tayer. Looks kind of like a cross between a jaguarundi and a coatimundi. He was running across the road and the men nearby didn't know his name and we couldn't find his exact look in the animal book. He may be a raccoon relative...saw a raccoon which looks like ours while we were hiking in Manuel Antonio. This guy isn't a normal raccoon either.
We were very fortunate to see some two toed is a momma holding her baby. Very sweet.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Container living...yup, corrugated containers for sleeping!

After the day from hell, when we tried to navigate from La Fortuna to San Isidro...through Cartagena which took us hours, we researched hotels in San Isidro. As we drove into town, tired and cranky, we saw a hotel sign for $30 per night. We stopped and found that this was a hotel built out of container storage units. It was corrugated metal, like hurricane shutters, but the room was clean, had a microwave and a fridge, with bathroom and hot water shower....and all for $30. So, we stayed. The experience was interesting because there was NO insulation between the metal walls. At 11:30 p.m. some men checked into the room next to us and began talking. Talking was followed by TV watching and at 1:00 a.m. they went to bed. Up at 4 a.m. because it is broad daylight...Kenz slept, I didn't. Cool concept, inexpensive but not a good night's sleep. We did get eat at a great Italian restaurant and had the leftovers warmed up in the microwave in the a.m.

We had a great TV and actually watched CNN in English.

 To the left of the stand is a bathroom door. We had to keep it shut because there was a hole in the bathroom window and we didn't want bugs in the room. This container room had a wall air conditioner...quite modern but very noisy. Our kitchen.

Luis at Rainmaker, another friend

Bill suggested we visit Rainmaker, a rain forest experience near Jaco. We met Luis there and while I generally never take a tour, he had no other business. We started off alone but there were lots of "beware of snake" signs and the forest was quite dense so I thought it a good idea to have a guide. There are lots of poisonous snakes resulting in next to immediate death in Costa Rica. Luis was smart and knew where to look and for what. We would have missed so much. Here is a poison dart frog which is only poisonous after eating. Apparently, he would look different than he does here.
 This millipede was extraordinarily UGLY and huge. Again, poisonous but only if ingested.
 There were several suspension bridges, most of which I did not like. Apparently, the owner got rid of a good manager, so sayeth Luis, and hired his son to run the place. Many of the paths and bridges were rickety and had holes in them. Needless to say, these suspension bridges were in the tree tops and I kept imagining us in the ravines far below. Beautiful...but scary.
 Luis asked Kenz if she would like to try on a lizard earring but she declined. I thought I would. Lizard bites down and hangs free. Very fun.
 Another suspension bridge...see me clutching the sides? Kenz just loped worries.
 Not sure if you can see the basilisk lizard atop this rock or not. He is called locally, a Jesus Christ lizard because he "walks on water." The lizard literally races across the water on his hind legs and we saw several running this way. Very fast. Very funny.
I don't have a photo of the blue morph hoping Kenz has one which she can send to me. Beautiful...maybe four inches wide and when they land and close their wings, they are ugly brown and camoflauged. Brilliantly blue while flying.

Yes...more friends!

I have mentioned in an earlier note that Kenz has a habit of naming things. Well, her AP English assignment was to read The Great Gatsby. While hiking in Arenal one day, this fellow began following us. He was clearly hungry and thirsty, though he drank out of every mud puddle we covered. Kenz named him, Gatsby and Gatsby was sooo hungry, he ate the last piece of jalapeno sausage stick that I brought with me on the trip. We worried it might upset him, but he followed us the whole hike which was a few miles. There are dogs everywhere and most are not house pets. This guy was sooo pleasant and if he was lagging behind, Kenz would call out, "Gatsby..." and he would pick up his pace.

You will meet Bill, my friend from Tegucigalpa and Kattia and Frank in an earlier posting. These folks made our trip...we showed up at Bill's house one whole day early because, while in San Isidro, I realized we could not go on to Manuel Antonio, a national park with our suitcases in the car. Had we gotten the car I reserved, it would have had a trunk but this car, one could see right into every space and, while Costa Rica is safe by Central American standards, it would not be good to leave suitcases in plain sight. Bill was generous and we stayed with him and Kattia came and made us the most scrumptious breakfast of beans, rice and a special strain of die for. She took good care of us and we went off to Jaco to check that town out while Bill worked. That first night in Parrita, at Bill's, Frank cranked up the grill and we had BBQ meat on flatbread. Great food and that was the night we had the torrential downpour.

I have never visited Costa Rica during rainy brought a whole new dimension to hiking and sight seeing. Kenz only once used a coat...she enjoyed being misted upon. I had Richard's huge yellow poncho which made me look like a school bus from behind. It did, however, cover my backpack, my body and our cameras. So, it worked well.

Bill suggested a couple of places to go ziplining and another forest adventure called Rainmaker where we met Luis, our guide. More on him....

More friends along the way...

Our rental vehicle, a Hyundai SUV had BeGo on the back door. Kenz referred to our vehicle as BeGo. BeGo had a special lock which we were to use inside. IF someone broke into the vehicle, we had a lock that went around the gear shift so they couldn't move BeGo. BeGo was a good buddy, getting us down lava bumpy roads, up mountain paths, down muddy inclines and across sandy lanes. BeGo gulped gas but served us well. BeGo and I almost had a nervous breakdown together on our last day in San Jose. We were on the highway, clipping along at 90kph when a man in another lane had a tire blow out on his motorcycle and slid in front of us. We stopped about three feet from running over this guy and his bike, while I watched in the rear view mirror as a truck came barrelling right behind me. I knew we would be pushed on top of this man, killing him IF he weren't already dead. We weren't hit and I tried to get out of my vehicle to help the man who wasn't moving. Several men waved at me to stay put, picked up the injured, dead? man and his bike and waved the traffic on. BeGo saved us. I hyperventilated and cried on and off for a couple of hours. Always wondered what happened when a motorcyle had a blow helmet, no long sleeves. Hope he is OK.

We got serioulsy lost in Cartago, a town where Kristin was an exchange student when she was 16. There was a ton of construction/road work going on in the country and roads were diverted, shut down and without signage. So, we were trying to go south to San Isidro and we must have asked at least 20 people how to get to the autopista. Everyone gave us the same directions, regardless of where we were: "turn left, go several blocks and turn right and go straight. You will reach it." I stopped one elderly couple to ask and the old man gave me the same directions but then asked, "are you travelling alone?" I said, "no, I am with my grandaughter." He immediately went over to BeGo's open door and leaned in right up to Kenz who was feeling pretty nervous. A dirty old man??? His wife screamed at him and off we went, talking about what one could do in this situation in the future.

 Whil trying to find out way out of Cartago, we took a picture of a cemetary. In Guatemala, each of these would have been brightly painted in an array of colors. We only saw graves in white in Costa Rica.
In the central park area is Las Ruinas, old ruins of the church with many people feeding pigeons. The young girl in front had just exited the church nearby and note the dog lying in the midst of all of this chaos. Vendors were selling seeds, grains and crackers to feed the birds. Our goal: get outta there without getting pooped on!

I stopped and asked a Taxi driver and we were in front of the old secondary school which is still being used. The taxi guy proudly stated that there is a new school down the road for the high schoolers but there are still too many kids.
Finally, I asked at a gas station and the attendant (yup, they still have attendants who fill up your tank, check your tires and wash your windows) had no clue but a man getting a fillup with a full car of women and kids said to follow him. We did. And even though he said it was no problem and NOT out of his way, when we got on the right road, he veered off and went in the opposite direction. He made us smile with his generosity.

Friends along the way

Part of the grandma trips has been the requirement that the kids and I journal...every day, to document our trip. Usually, along with the Christmas gift of the trip, comes a journal and this year...Kenz' journal was organized with sections which were: friends along the way; foods; experiences and then, just empty journal pages for daily documentation. We enjoyed the "friends along the way" section because it required us to think about the specific people we met each day and how they affected our trip and experiences. So, meet some of the people we met and enjoyed:

Our plane seats were aisle and window on each segment and I wondered why I would have booked something so odd...took me a bit to remember that that middle seat should have been Heidi's, my daughter and Kenz' mom, who could not go because of an accident. But on our first flight from Detroit to Dallas, we met Teri, a woman with a home in LaFortuna, Costa Rica and who referred us to her friend's restaurant. Her friend, Garrapata (which means tick in Spanish) would end up being a great resource. His nickname, tick, came about because of his birthmark on his face. And he used that name as the name of his restaurant where we ate twice.

 Our view from Arenal Palace Hotel and the papaya tree outside of our room.

Garrapata, or Israel, as his parents named him, welcomed us warmly and gave me a complimentary serving of ceviche. We had looked at a couple of hotels earlier before eating lunch at Garrapata's place but I asked him if he had a suggestion of where we might stay. He sent us to his friend, Selim, a Costa Rican named after an Arab friend of his father's. Garrapata called Selim, got us a splendid rate and a wonderful room which we immediately took. Selim treated us like family and introduced us to his family. Our room was splendid...overlooking Arenal Volcano and I would stay again at his place without hesitation.

We went hiking on Arenal and went into town to eat lunch and dinner but, Selim served us our breakfasts, cooking our eggs himself. Fresh fruit...great coffee. One lunch, we ate at Just Good Food, a restaurant owned by an American, Mike Conroy. As it turns out, Mike had recently been bullriding with Garrapata and was surprised to learn that we knew Israel's real name...he did not know it!

Another day, we met Jose, who was trying to drum up business for Punto Fusion, a restaurant owned by a young couple from Medellin, Colombia. We ate there, pictured above, and enjoyed that experience alot. Kenz especially found it distracting that the young owner was breast feeding her child with breast bared.