Ellen's Journal

January 14, 2009 Wednesday

We left our house about 7:15 p.m. last night with neighbor and fellow naturalist, Gerry, picked up Trace, and drove to DIA. After checking in, we arrived at the gate about 9:30, the first ones of the group to sit and wait until departure at 12:10 a.m. this morning. The rest of the group trickled in and we chatted and shared other travel stories, books we’re reading, and excitement about the trip. Once on the plane and underway, few of us had a restful night, as the plane was full, sometimes noisy, sometimes rocking from turbulence, and always uncomfortable.

We landed on time, went through customs and met our Costa Rica Sun Tours bus, with Chicken, our driver, and Alex, our guide, and began the long journey to the Arenal Observatory Lodge (Room 15).

The first step outside the airport recalled the first step I took outside after we landed in New Zealand in 2006—sunny skies, cool breezes (it was 7:00 am), palm trees swaying. As we drove out of San Jose, we were surrounded by mountains, steep hills, volcanic evidence, terraced agricultural lands—coffee, sugar cane, peppers and tomatoes. The towns we passed through were crowded, colorful and somewhat shabby, with some new and painted buildings. We stopped to examine coffee plants and Alex explained how the outer coating of the bean was removed and the beans soaked to dissolve a gelatinous, sweet layer. The beans that sink are better than those that float and this accounts for the difference in the price of coffee beans.

We stopped at the town park in Zarcero which is filled with cypress trees that have been cut and shaped into animals and arches. Alex introduced us to it by saying “this is the town of Edward Scissorhands.” Alas, Johnny Depp does not live there, but the trees are magical. Apparently, they are the work of one man and are not being kept up as well as they should and some are losing their shape. A magnificent church sits on a rise above the park—beautiful painted floors and walls (possible quilt designs?) and carved wood. There were colorful columns that looked painted, but were actually the trunks of eucalyptus trees which were brought in for electrical poles (the poles are now made of concrete) and have now colonized around the country.

I forgot to mention the food. We stopped for a breakfast of traditional pinto gallo (rice and beans) with eggs, topped with Lizano sauce. Yum! Lunch was a choice of many things. Doug and I had a salad with shrimp, chicken, and ham, appetizer size and just right.

We were treated to the sight of many birds. Most notable were the toucans, caracara, mango hummingbird, blue and gray tanager, magpie jay, cattle egrets and others. Almost at the start, we got to see a three-toed sloth, moving and eating. And on the dirt road to the Lodge, three howler monkeys. Whew! This is just the first day.

Our room looks out at Arenal Volcano, which at the moment is shrouded in mist and steam. The setting sun gives some color. Hopefully, we will have a clear view during our stay here and see the glow from the output that has been continual since the 1968 eruption. Every room in the lodge has a view of the volcano.

Our guide, Alex, is funny, intelligent, knowledgeable, and very charming. He is about David’s age and I can imagine David and he having a great time chatting away in Spanish. There hasn’t been anything he hasn’t been able to answer for us, both in the natural realm or the cultural arena.

Oh, the flowers and the trees! Such vibrancy! The poro tree is covered in orange blossoms, the bougainvillea, the impatiens, and a beautiful little white campanula called Little Milk Star.

Dinner is a 7 and we have an early start in the morning.

January 15, 2009 Thursday

We rose early this morning (it was raining, but it didn’t dampen our spirits) and were able to see many birds that come to the deck of the lodge restaurant to gorge on the fresh fruit which is provided for them. The blue-gray tanagers were numerous as were the Montezuma orapendolas that are deep chocolate brown with a yellow tail. There were clay-colored robins and brown jays and the amazing red-legged honeycreeper, a small bird with a variety of electric and florescent blues and bright red legs. The feast was also visited by a coatimundi that walks to door of the restaurant but not in, and a strange member of the raccoon family, the kinkajou, which managed to bypass the baffle on the pole meant to keep it from the fruit.

After a delicious buffet breakfast with a variety of fresh fruit—passion fruit (you puncture the thin rind with your thumb and scoop out the gelatinous covered seeds—very tasty and sweet—Alex calls it “monkey brains”), papaya, pineapple and banana, pancakes, eggs, beans and rice, plantains, sausage, fresh juices and coffee, we boarded the bus for a 2 hour ride to the Rio Frio for a boat ride to observe the wildlife. We stopped only once along the road and that was to look at two-toed sloths—father and offspring. Amazing! The rain stopped, but the clouds remained which was a good thing since it would have been too hot on the river had the skies been clear.

The boat ride was amazing as well. We traveled about 10 kilometers (6 miles) upstream and saw an array of bird and monkey and reptile life. Neotropic cormorant, great and little blue herons, green herons, cattle and great egrets, anhingas, white ibis, roseate spoonbill, black and turkey vultures (they are ubiquitous), bat falcon, squirrel cuckoo, common paraque, black-headed and slaty-tailed trogons, ring, belted, Amazon and green kingfishers, mangrove swallow, a patoo, spider, howler, and white-faced capuchin monkeys, basilisks (Jesus Christ lizards—they walk on water), iguanas, spectacled caimans, a black river turtle and a row of fruit-eating bats lined up on the trunk of a tree. One of the howler monkeys was a reddish-blond color (a mutation or color separation) either called Blondie or Sophia, depending on which guide you spoke to. The lush vegetation and the current of the water added to the gentle nature of the boat trip.

We were in the boat for over 3 hours, so when we got back to land, we ate heartily, family style, at a nearby restaurant which also had a store that sold locally crafted wood products.

On the ride back to the lodge, we stopped along the way to look at more iguanas, up close, outside an ice cream shop. They were all over the trees. We also had some ice cream saw a gray hawk, and took in the countryside.

Back at the lodge, we were treated to some hot red lava rocks falling down the mountainside as clouds and mists floated over the summit of Arenal before dark descended. Doug was able to get some pictures of the sunset over Lake Arenal.

Two days down and it seems as if we’ve done and seen so much. And there is so much more to come!

9:00 pm: In bed and reading. It is very windy. An insect is peeping loudly. Occasionally we hear the rumble and tumble of rocks coming from Arenal, but no color show. Probably too many clouds.

January 16, 2009 Friday

It began raining again around 5 this morning and when the sky lightened, Arenal was again enshrouded. She was quite active during the night and early morning, though we only heard, rather than saw, the activity.

Part of the group met Alex for an early morning bird walk, but Doug and I opted for a slow start to the morning. We made coffee in the room and sat on our patio, listening to the dawn chorus—such a variety of bird songs coupled with the wind—and watching the clouds. It was chilly, but refreshing. The rain had stopped by 6 or so, but it remained overcast.

We bid farewell to Arenal Observatory Lodge and went to the lava trail that took us up a ridge that was part of the 1968 eruption and lava flow. It was a hike that featured orchids and other flowers. The were four different types of orchids ranging from the LARGE one day orchid which have a short bloom life and can be pink, white or lavender, to the small orange and pink orchids and the medium-sized, dull, greenish lady slipper. There were small pink flowers, the fruit of which are large blueberry colored balls. The trail was steep and went over many loose lava rocks, the views spectacular, and thankfully was a loop, which meant not having to climb down the lava.

Lunch was at a nearby steak house. Doug and I had a traditional Costa Rican dish called casado, which means marriage. Alex said that women make great meals before they get married and afterwards, it’s rice and beans and a protein. And that is exactly what the meal was. Included with the main ingredients were a hard-boiled egg, some French fries, and some salad.

Many of the restaurants are open air—tables under a roof, short walls and columns holding up the roof. Very comfortable and practical, given the climate. Many of the buildings (those with walls) have a row of small louvered windows at the top which open to let the air flow. I think those windows would be a welcome addition to buildings at home!

After lunch we went to the Arenal Hanging Bridges, a two mile trail which crosses 15 suspension bridges, ranging from sort and not too high to over 300 feet and very high, the last of which was above the treetops. Again, the plants were the main attraction. We were able to see, up close, the bromeliads and other epiphytes, the vines and the variety of the flowering tools the trees and shrubs of the rainforest have to assure reproduction. One tree can have as many as 500 species living on it!

There were tiny flowers and huge ones, those similar to known flowers--a beautiful red penstemon-like flower; and the surprising—a huge begonia that I was sure was an orchid. One palm tree had huge red pods, looking like bananas which, when opened, became long strings of flowers which looked like dreadlocks. Each flower along the string became a large green fruit. The dreadlocks became beaded necklaces! The Costa Rican Walking Palm is so named because it sets out new roots from its trunk, a foot or more above the ground, in all directions to stabilize itself and thus seems to be walking. The roots emerge looking quite penile as they grow and extend to take hold. We had great fun at the expense of this ingenious tree which had found a unique way to secure itself to the forest floor.

We observed an army of leaf cutter ants, each individual carrying a piece of a leaf in its mouth moving vast distances from harvesting plant to nest and back again for another load. They actually create paths that are easily seen by us humans.

After a long day on our feet, we got back in our bus and had a two-hour ride to Canas and La Pacifica Hotel (Room 22), our home for 2 nights. It pales in comparison to the Lodge, but will do. The ride took us to the Pacific side of the mountains, warmer, drier, more open. We witnessed a most spectacular sunset as we drove along the shore of the 33 square mile Lake Arenal.

January 17, 2009 Saturday

We were awakened this morning at 5:30 by a loud noise which sounded like a sick dog. Alex informed us that the noise came from howler monkeys. It never occurred to me to consider monkeys because they are so outside my frame of reference, despite the fact we have seen three different species so far.

After breakfast, we boarded the bus and headed north to Santa Rosa National Park, the site of resistance to an attempt to invade and subjugate the country. The Ticos held firm and gained their independence. We walked the roads and paths to look for birds. While we didn’t see many, we were rewarded by being able to observe a pale-billed woodpecker as she gathered insects to feed her young who were in a hole in a dead palm. We also saw a magpie jay up close and a fabulous iguana that ran away and up a tree.

The park is in a dry forest and reminded us of the Bosque along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque. There were many flowers to look at: an exotic-looking yellow morning glory and a smaller pink on which looked like a classy bindweed. There was a pink puccoon-looking flower, a deep purple spike with a square stem, many hibiscus (small deep red ones) and cortez flowers (yellow with many stamens). The grasses were interesting and at least one was brought in for cattle and has become a nuisance like our cheatgrass. Composite flowers were around as well—a small sunflower type and a very strange plant on a tall stalk with large leaves half way up, above which was a branching display of pink flowers.

We watched a parade of leaf cutter ants as they made their way up and down a tree trunk and across the forest floor. These ants had bigger pieces than the ones we observed at Arenal and one macho individual was carrying two pieces. Fascinating!

We had some snacks at the campground in the park—watermelon from a roadside stand, dried bananas, cookies, nuts and plantain chips, which are addictive. On our way home we stopped for some more sustenance and/or drink. We had some time to ourselves to wander the grounds of La Pacifica, nap, relax, or whatever.

We have all been bitten by no-see-ums that leave a bull’s-eye and sometimes draw blood. Alex says that in Spanish they are called something which translates to “BIG MOUTH!”

Chicken is our driver. His real name is Marvin and we have no idea where his nickname came from. On the first day, he started to pass a truck and then held back. Alex called out, “Chicken!” but I have a feeling there is more to the story. Chicken doesn’t speak much English, but appears to understand a lot. He has a wonderful sense of humor, managing to capitalize on something one of us said or did. He is fond of saying, as we board the bus, “Vamanos a la playa!” (Let’s go to the beach!) More often than not, it is Chicken who first sees an animal or bird and stops the bus for us.

Driving is an aggressive activity here and there doesn’t appear to be many traffic rules or lights. There are stop signs (ALTO), but Chicken doesn’t always stop. Passing happens often and anywhere, with or without the lines permitting it. We also stop on the road to look at an animal or bird or drive in the wrong lane to avoid bad spots. Fortunately, most of the time there has been little traffic. I could never live here because I hate to pass and it would take me forever to get anywhere.

January 18, 2009 Sunday

We left La Pacifica before 8 this morning and went to Solimar, a working ranch and guesthouse. There, we picked up a guide who directed us around the vast property, looking for birds. And birds we did see! Alex was most excited by the Jabiru on a nest with young that we saw during the course of the morning. He thinks the ranch will become known for this bird. Others we saw include roseate spoonbill, many wood storks, egrets (cattle and great), herons (blue, green, and tiger), a scissortail flycatcher, several Harris hawks, thick knees, small kites and northern jicanas. And a walk through the woods rewarded us with a fabulous spectacled owl. Before we had arrived at the ranch, we stopped along the road to see a ferruginous pygmy owl and a turquoise-browed motmot.

The walk through the woods was so different than other habitats we have hiked in. Since this is the dry season, it was dusty and crunchy. The trees are quite tall and the undergrowth, sparse. I imagine the wet season bring more life and color. Especially interesting were the many vines twining up and around the trees.

Unfortunately, toward the end of the walk, I fell into a stinging nettle plant, the very plant that Alex was telling us all to avoid. I was running from some bees that were attacking my back and arms. While I was running from the bees, my foot got tangled in a vine and that’s what tripped me and caused me to fall into the nettle. Alex rescued me from the plant and we both have a nettle rash that really stings. He assured me that it would go away. Doug was in front of me and got bit a few times, as did some of the others in the group, but none as much as me. It felt like a bunch of needles puncturing me. I was quite frightened at first, but it seems okay now. The welts and stinging have subsided and there’s no adverse reaction from the nettle. There are numerous red welts from the bites and it itches, but I have not blown up as I have in the past from bee bites. I was the center of attention for a while, but I wish I didn’t have that honor.

We returned to the main house and were served a wonderful lunch—fresh vegetables (grown there?), beef, rice and beans, of course, and lemonade. We relaxed on the porch. What a beautiful and restful place. The ranch is owned by a corporation and has just opened to the public for birding, dude ranching, etc. There was a group staying there for 3 days of birding. Perhaps, if our group had been smaller, we might have stayed there. There are 7 rooms and we would have needed 8 plus a room for Alex and Chicken.

We drove to Monteverde and the Hotel Fonda Vela (Room 38). We are in the mountains again, about 5000’. The drive was on mostly unpaved, narrow, curvy roads, through small towns, until we reached Santa Elena which is a center of tourism for the region, a low-key Estes Park. The main attractions are the Cloud Forest walks, the cheese and ice cream factories and the view.

From this elegant place, you can see the Gulf of Nicoya which flows into the Pacific. We gathered on the deck and watched the sun set into the sea. The hotel serves a drink called the sunset—orange juice, grenadine and golden rum, if you like (their take on the tequila sunrise). The colors of the drink mimics the sunset, without the blue, of course. The blue was unlike any blue sky I have ever seen. Along with the drinks, we had an array of delicious appetizers.

The rooms are huge and luxurious—heavy, ornate wooden furniture, wooden floors and ceiling, a sitting area, and windows overlooking the garden.

January 19, 2009 Monday

We spent today in the clouds—the Monteverde Cloud Forest, to be exact. In the morning we went to a private preserve that was started by Quakers who began settling there in the 1950s. One object of our hike was to see the resplendent quetzal. Alex called and called, but got not response. There is a type of small avocado the birds favor and so we had a running start in looking for it, but no real success. We were able to glimpse the female, but never got a good look.

I had left my binoculars on the bus and felt the freedom on not having to scan the trees for our fine feathered friends, but rather spent the time taking in the shapes and textures, the smells and sounds and feel of the cloud forest. Clouds move in and out. Sun peeks through. It rains briefly. A misty, magical forest.

Near the gift shop, there are a host of hummingbird feeders. We were able to watch 9 different kinds from the tiny, magenta-throated wood star to the large, purple sabrewinged. At first it was hard to focus amid the flurry of wings, but once I sat down and just looked at a couple of feeders, I could discern the individuals.

After lunch in a local sandwich shop, we went to the Selvatura Tree Top Walkways. There are many hanging bridges across which we walk above the treetops, in the clouds. The place also has zip lines, so the beginning of the walk was punctuated by screams of delight and the noise of the lines. It certainly detracted from the beauty of the place. Fortunately, we got beyond the lines fairly quickly.

I concentrated on the flowers and leaves, taking many pictures that I hope to use in future quilts. The vein patterns fascinate me and I’d like to explore them in a series of small projects.

January 20, 2009 Tuesday

We left Monteverde early for the almost 4 hour drive to San Jose and the airport and our plane ride to Tiskita Jungle Lodge which is located on the southwest coast of Costa Rica at the edge of the Golfo Dulce on the Pacific. The bus ride was long, windy and plagued by truck traffic. The scenery was beautiful until we approached San Jose which is a bustling city filled with people, cars, and motorcycles. It is a colorful place.

Once at the airport, we were able to witness the swearing in of President Barack Obama when CR television interrupted a soap opera for the occasion. We took a group picture as a document of what we were doing at the moment he took office.

The group was divided up and put on 4 planes. Two of the planes went directly to Tiskita and two, including the one we were on, went to Jimenez where we waited for the planes that went directly to come pick us up. The one we were on was a two-engine plane and only single engines can land at Tiskita.

The flight was spectacular. We left the hodge-podge of roads and buildings in San Jose and flew over hills and valleys of trees and more trees, into and out of the clouds, and then, over water. As we approached our final destination, we couldn’t see the landing area and suddenly, it was there—a grass runway.

The Lodge is up the hill from the landing strip amid a lush forest of trees, flowers and vines. The cabins or bungalows are scattered across the property. Ours is #4, a room with 2 beds (a double and a twin). The windows are screens with plantation shutters, so there is lots of air moving when there’s a breeze. The bathroom is off the bedroom. There is another room attached where the Cass’s are staying and we share a large porch with 2 hammocks and chairs and tables and a view of the ocean over the trees. Other bungalows have open-air bathrooms, accessed through a door from the bedroom, with low walls covered by the roof that extends over the porch.

We met Lisbeth and Peter, the owners, were given an overview of the place and then had lunch. After settling in, we met for a walk to the town of Punto Blanco where we bought ice cream and then walked back along the beach, in and out of the waves, looking at the hermit crabs scurrying about, checking out the tide pools which are not as interesting as ones in the Northwest or Alaska.

On our walk back to the Lodge from the beach, Alex carried me across a grassy area where there are chiggers. I told him I did not want to get bitten by anything else on this trip! We saw squirrel monkeys with young in the trees along the path. Now we have seen all the species of monkeys in CR.

January 21, 2009 Monday

It actually cooled down a bit during the night, but even with that relief and the ocean roar as white noise, I didn’t sleep well. There were too many strange sounds and the clamminess of the tropical air was a bit much. The howlers began their calls around 5:15 as the sky began to lighten. Little by little, birds woke and greeted the morning. These sounds lulled me back to sleep for about an hour. It was like listening to a relaxation tape which generates alpha brain waves.

Some of the group met Alex at 6:30 for some birding and when we joined them outside the Lodge, we were able to see some new birds, too, because they are everywhere. Gold-crowned tanager, blue dances, and magnificent frigate birds soaring ever higher overhead.

Breakfast is at 7:30. Fresh mango and papaya, eggs and beans and rice. At 8:30 we met for a hike along the trails with Lisbeth. She explained the evolution of Tiskita, which means osprey in one of the Indian languages of CR. Peter bought the property 30 years ago when the forest above the lodge was there, but just fields, down to the ocean. Over the years, Peter has planted the area, often going to great lengths to get the seeds of native varieties. The airstrip was built because his mother is a pilot and the first cabins were for family members. The one we are in was built for the grandparents.

Along the trail we saw a variety of trees and flowers and lots of evidence of birds and animals foraging—seed remnants and casings litter the path. We tasted the strings of the spaghetti plant, a pod that opens to reveal a tight mass of spaghetti-like threads, which Lisbeth adds to salads. When the threads are gone, a corn-like ear is left which attracts bugs that pollinate it. Amazing!

Lisbeth knows every inch of the property, where to find birds and animals and also when the plants are in bloom or fruit. We aw pineapples in various stages of maturity, rubber trees, and many others. We saw animals as well—a 3-toed sloth with a baby, an agouti, and a tayra, which is a weasel-like animal that preys on sloths, killing them and eating only their brain. We saw a chestnut-mandibled toucan, a redheaded manikin, and a slaty-tailed trogon.

I have a blister on the big toe of my left foot, which is probably due to the dampness. I will forgo the tour of Peter’s orchard this afternoon. The hammock on the porch is inviting and I won’t mind hanging out, listening to the ocean and being cooled by the breezes.

It began raining during lunch and an interesting phenomenon occurred: the birds, both big and small, began flitting around and perching on trees. Our birds disappear during a rainstorm.

It’s about 2:00 as I write this and the rain has stopped. It is still cloudy, but since I know nothing about the weather patterns here, I don’t know if there is more to come or it will clear. The clouds appear to be moving north.

There is a tree in our “yard” and on the property called Ylang Ylang that has large, delicate blossoms—creamy or yellowish green—and the most intoxicating smell. It is the scent of Channel #5 and is used in other perfumes as well.

I spent the afternoon dozing in the hammock, reading or watching the ocean through the palms in front of our bungalow. Most of the group accompanied Peter to his fruit orchard where he gave out samples of exotic fruit, talked about the history of his property and all that he has done over the 30 years, and also, Costa Rican history. Doug was quite enthralled and said Peter is quite the storyteller.

The sunset over the ocean was deep orange, but once it set, there was little color or “bounce” in the sky.

January 22, 2009 Thursday

Today everyone chose to lay back and relax. Some went to the beach; some a hike on their own, and others with Alex. We joined him for about an hour and then wandered on our own with Beth and Tim. I dropped out at the Lodge and looked up some of the plants and talked with Alex who had returned and set up his scope. They went to the waterfall and pools. Then we all went into the swimming pool to cool off before lunch.

I’m back in my hammock for the afternoon. Doug, Beth and Tim and some others will be going to the beach about 3 and I will join them later to take in the sunset there. The only thing missing is a nice margarita!

We saw a black mangrove hawk, a yellow-headed caracara, a gray hawk and 2 scarlet macaws (this pair was released here to help them resettle the area). Beth counted my bee bites— 34! —which no longer itch, except sporadically.

January 23, 2009 Friday

It was with much sadness that we left Tiskita at 7:00 am this morning. We took the single engine plane to Jimenez and got into a twin-engine for the flight to San Jose. The plane ride was again spectacular! However, during the last 20 minutes or so it was extremely turbulent. It was quite windy on the ground when we landed.

When we were all reunited in San Jose and sorted through our bags for what Alex told us we needed for the day, Chicken tied everything down on top and we were off to Sarapique and the Caribbean side of CR. Up into the mountains and away from the city traffic. Just as we should have been seeing lush rainforest, the clouds opened up and the rain came. No views, but lots of water cascading down the hillsides along the road. We passed one small mudslide that blocked a lane. As we approached a park at which Alex planned to lead a hike, we decided we’d rather not hike in the wet and the mud and opted for an early lunch after which we came directly to Sarapiquis Rainforest Lodge (Room 9).

The grounds are beautiful with a museum (not open), botanical garden and rainforest walk with chocolate tour which we may take tomorrow afternoon. We settled in and walked the grounds. The path through the gardens was delightful with interesting plants and many birds, some of which we could identify and others we couldn’t. The buildings here are round with thatched roofs and supposedly replicas of what was here in the 1500s. There are eight rooms in each, all of which open in the center.

Doug went to the pool and I sat outside our room listening to the birds and, unfortunately, the traffic on the road just outside the grounds. Tiskita was a haven and this place bustles in comparison. A small dose of what we will feel when we return home.

January 24, 2009 Saturday

It rained almost steadily during the night, but the skies cleared and we had a beautiful day. We went to La Selva OTS (Organization of Tropical Studies) which is a research station dedicated to rainforest research and education. A young woman led 8 of us and a young man led the other 8. Alex was with our group. We walked a paved path along which we saw peccaries, the incredible hanging nests of the Montezuma oropendolas, blue jeans poison dart frogs, and a spider whose silk is so strong its web can catch small lizards.

At one point along the trail, we detoured to go around a fallen tree and Alex was bitten, on his back just above his waist, by a bullet ant. It is a huge (1-1/2 “) black ant that both bites and stings. It is very painful, like being hit by a bullet. Alex said he could not feel his leg for most of the rest of the day.

Just past the fallen tree, we were honored with the sight of a group of endangered great green macaws. They eat a certain variety of almonds, the trees of which are being cut down. There has been an effort to plant these trees now, even paying farmers to have them on their land. This is the same kind of story being played out around the world to the detriment of too many species of plants and animals and, ultimately, us.

We ate at the cafeteria at La Selva. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped in Puerto Viejo and wandered a bit. We bought some very tasty plantain chips. They are quite wonderful and I hope I can find them when we get home.

Some of us took the chocolate tour in the Tirimbina Rainforest Preserve which borders the hotel grounds. We walked for about a half hour over a path and a 900-foot long suspension bridge which crossed the swollen and muddy Sarapiqui River, a result of the earthquake from a week and a half ago. We visited an area of the forest that has the theobroma (drink of the Gods) cacao trees. In the 1960s, an American started a cacao forest which he soon abandoned and then set up a foundation to preserve the land. The trees are kept to demonstrate how the native people made chocolate.

The trees flower along the trunk. The flowers are quite small and are pollinated by midges so the success rate is quite low. Only about 60 actually fruit per tree. The pods are huge in elation to the size of the flower. The pod is broken open, the seeds collected and left to ferment with the help of bees, then dried, roasted and ground. The powder is mixed with sugar and cinnamon and other spices and added to water for the drink. Delicious! We were also shown how chocolate bars are made, but I’ve forgotten the details. Of course, we were given samples and it was the best chocolate I have ever eaten. It was a wonderful two and a half hours!

At dinner tonight, when Alex came to tell us about the plans for tomorrow, there was a mini-rebellion, as the majority of us don’t really want another hike. We will make the final decision tomorrow.

It began raining about 8:30 this evening, a replay of last night.

January 25, 2009 Sunday

It was still raining this morning and so we went straight to San Jose, the hike dilemma solved for us. We stopped at Alex’s office where he is an IT desk guy so we could use the rest rooms and then had a driving tour of the city. We went to the National Museum which was interesting, but unfortunately, the pre-Columbian wing was closed and that would have been the most interesting to us.

After a wonderful lunch—Calypso Sea Bass, we were dropped off at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica (Room 236) in the heart of the city. A trip to the grocery store for Lizano, coffee, plantain and yucca chips gave us a chance to see some more. There was a lot of activity for a Sunday: young people singing and dancing, children playing and chasing pigeons, street vendors a la NYC, people shopping, talking, walking.

I think we are all a little worn our and glad for the opportunity to kick back a bit. Though, personally, I ‘d rather be in a hammock in Tiskita, listening to the ocean roar instead of the roar of traffic and the chirping of the crosswalk signal outside the hotel.

Tonight we have a farewell dinner with Alex and John Aspinall who owns and runs Costa Rica Connection which planned our trip. We have a 4:30 am pickup so that we can get to the airport the required 3 hours before an international flight.

We will leave the beautiful, green country of Costa Rica where we have been hot, sticky from humidity, and immersed in a landscape so very different from our own to return home where it is winter, dry, and very familiar and comfortable. But, as Lisbeth wished for us as we were leaving Tiskita, I will take a piece of this place and keep it in my heart forever.

January 26, 2009

We arrived in Denver to temperatures in the single digits, a rude awakening. It took quite a while for me to get back to “normal” and even now, a month later as I finish typing this journal, I find myself day dreaming of the 12 marvelous days we spent in CR. The nettle rash reappeared on the Sunday before we left CR and it took a couple of weeks for it to go away. I have some discoloration where the rash was and wonder if it is permanent. I can still see where I was stung and these spots might also be permanent. A visual reminder of this amazing trip!


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