Pura vida, Part Six

posted in: Costa Rica 2018 | 1

I got home three days ago.

I was unable to blog from Drake Bay, so I’m going to have to provide a quick retrospective of the last leg of my journey.

Wednesday, December 26

We made a mid‐morning departure by car to Sierpe. Linda and Michael got up at the crack of dawn to go surfing before we left, and that gave me time to get packed and relax by the pool. I enjoyed watching the many birds that came for a visit.

In case I have failed to express this so far, the real thrill of being in Costa Rica is to experience wildlife in its natural habitat. The colorful birds, insects, reptiles, and amphibians enchanted me. And I especially loved watching the monkeys, whose close relationship to us is easy to see. It was impossible to go more than a few minutes without pointing the camera at something. The frustration of not always being able to get a good shot actually diminished the pleasure some of the time. I had to keep reminding myself to put the camera down and just enjoy the animals with my eyes. (And sometimes a pair of binoculars was helpful.)

We got to Sierpe with about a half hour to spare, and we waited in scant shady spots. Then we, along with about 20 other travelers, piled into an open boat with a canvas top, cramming the luggage into a compartment in the bow. We headed down the twisty Sierpe River toward the Pacific Ocean. Our speed: very fast. The ride: very choppy, especially when we got into the ocean. I would not describe this as pleasant sailing. There was some nice scenery, but mostly it was about 90 minutes of wishing the seats (or our butts) had more cushioning.

When we got to Drake Bay, we approached a small cruise ship anchored off shore. It seems that one of the passengers was being delivered there. But because of the choppy water, our captain decided he was unwilling to approach the ship. Finally, after a while of shouting back and forth, we proceeded to the beach. The ship’s crew would send a small boat out to pick up their passenger.

There was no dock at the beach, so we had to remove our shoes and socks and take everything out of our pockets to wade ashore. The crew (with the help of some of the passengers) unloaded the luggage and carried it overhead. And here’s a lesson I learned: luggage with wheels doesn’t work really well on the sand.

Our hotel sent a taxi to pick us up. We drove about a mile up the road, past the “downtown” (two small groceries and a few restaurants and hostels). The dirt road turned back toward the beach before we arrived at Casa el Tortugo. It’s a charming place run by three siblings, Raquel, Teresa, and Josue.

After getting settled in, we took a walk along the beach and along a pleasant hiking trail. We could have walked quite a distance (the trail went to several beaches quite a ways south of Drake Bay), but given the heat and our unwillingness to commit to a lengthy hike, we turned back before too long.

After dinner at the hotel restaurant, we made it an early night. Because…

Thursday, December 27

Our next morning started with a 6:00 departure.

We reported to breakfast (included) at 5:20. They gave us the option of traditional or American. Having already tried rice and beans for breakfast, I went with American.

Our boat to Corcovado National Park picked us up at the beach by our hotel. It made several other stops along the bay. Similar to the boat that we took from Sierpe to Drake Bay, this was fast and uncushioned. We did have the thrill of seeing humpback whales and spotted dolphins.

Once we got to Sirena Ranger Station at Corcovado, about an hour later and another wading‐ashore landing, our guide, Alberto, took us to a spot where there was a little creek to rinse off our feet and put on our hiking shoes and socks.

Then we spent several hours hiking through this corner of the park, and the flora and fauna did not disappoint. Watching monkeys is always especially fun, and on this day I completed my quest to see all four of Costa Rica’s monkey species: howler monkeys, white‐headed capuchins, squirrel monkeys, and spider monkeys. The prize of the day, though, was getting to see a tapir. For the rest, I created a dedicated photo album for Corcovado.

After our hike we got back on the boat and headed to San Josecito beach. There our guides prepared a picnic lunch for us. (Every other day tour in the area was also having picnic lunches at San Josecito.)

By the time we got back to Drake Bay, it was almost 3 pm, and we were hot, sweaty, and covered with bug spray and sunblock. How fortuitous that a dip in the ocean was available just a few hundred feet from our hotel!

That night we had the best dinner of my entire trip at Claudio’s Grill. I had tuna tataki that was perfectly prepared and super tasty. And we enjoyed several tropical cocktails. My favorite was a smoothie of pineapple, papaya, and passionfruit with a shot of vodka (center in the image below).

Friday, December 28

We had the luxury of sleeping much later this morning. Our snorkeling excursion had a 7 am departure, so we didn’t have to be at breakfast until 6:20.

The hotel didn’t have hot water. Instead, a special showerhead heated the water as it flowed, and it worked pretty well as long as I didn’t run the water too fast.

Just as I was finishing my shower this morning (and thankfully not any sooner), the hot water shut off. So at breakfast I mentioned this to Josue, and he laughed and laughed at the thought of taking a shower in the morning. Fair enough: I was about to spend the morning swimming in the ocean. Still, I like my morning shower!

Our boat picked us up at the beach and we headed to Caño Island, about 20 km offshore. The snorkeling was really special. I’ve only snorkeled once before, in Hawaii, and there we weren’t at a great location, so we didn’t see a whole lot of fish. The ocean here wasn’t crystal clear, but it was just stunning to observe the range of tropical fish and their brilliant colors.

Yesterday we met a young Dutch fellow on the boat to Corcovado, and he was also on our snorkeling excursion. He had a GoPro with him and took a few videos underwater which he was kind enough to send me.

We also got to spend some time on the beach on the island. This was a really gorgeous beach. Little hermit crabs shared the beach with us.

After snorkeling we headed to San Josecito for another picnic lunch. Today we got a bonus: a big group of white‐headed capuchins playing in the trees nearby. Sadly, I hadn’t brought my camera, just my phone, and I wasn’t able to get any good pictures. At least I got some good pictures of one of these eating watermelon at the feeder in Monteverde.

And tonight we had another fun dinner at Bahía Azul. More adult tropical beverages were consumed!

Saturday, December 29

This was going to be the travel day from hell.

Michael and Linda departed on a boat back to Sierpe at 7:30, so I woke up to bid them farewell and then went back to my room to get organized and packed for my trip home. I had to be out of the room by 10:00, although my flight from Drake Bay to San Jose wasn’t until 1:15. So I sat at the restaurant for two hours and watched birds visiting the feeder.

At noon my car came and delivered me to the Drake Bay “airport.” A small tent adjacent to the runway was used as a check‐in counter and waiting area, though there was a modern terminal right there.

The flight to San Jose took about 40 minutes. I sat directly behind the pilot.

Coming in for landing at SJO

My next flight, to Houston, had a 2:05 am departure time. Fortunately, two of my coworkers at POP’s office in San Jose (Cindy and Aaron) offered to pick me up and show me around. We drove up to Las Eólicas de Santa Ana, a hill on the western side of San Jose with an array of windmills, a view of the city to the east, and a fantastic view of the sunset to the west.

After the sun went down we drove to the POP office, and Cindy and Aaron gave me a tour. I have to say, their office is nicer than ours in Seattle! Then we went to dinner at Ravi Gastropub, a fun vegetarian restaurant in Barrio Escalante, where they were out of my first two choices but still had chile rellenos that was delicious. And they had craft beer, so I didn’t have to drink the piss water they call “Imperial.”

After dinner we went for ice cream and met up with two other coworkers, Melissa and Tatiana. And it was actually kind of cold! I didn’t mind after a week of being hot and uncomfortable.

Thanks to Cindy and Aaron, the travel day from hell had moments of heaven!

After they dropped me at the airport, I had a few hours to kill and try not to fall asleep and miss my flight. It was hard, and as soon as I sat down in my seat on the plane, I conked out. Next thing I knew we were getting ready to land in Houston. Of course, it was now…

Sunday, December 30

… and after one last flight from IAH to SEA, and an airport pickup courtesy of my friend Margot, I made it home by about 2 pm. Time to unpack and do laundry and try to stay up past dinnertime.

This was such a great trip. It exceeded all my expectations. And I think that’s the best thing you can hope for when traveling.

I took about a thousand photos (no exaggeration). So I still have some work to do getting them all organized and, in a lot of cases, figuring out what they are!

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