Costa Rica: 3/5-3/11

Santa Elena (Monteverde) >>> Tortuguero >>> Puerto Viejo

3/5
+ Today we got to fulfill the stereotype of fat Americans as we ate 2 breakfasts! 1 was at our Pension hostel before we checked out, and 1 was at our new hotel, Moon House (which is only about 100 yards up the road).
+ After we said goodbye to Pension (the strangest hostel we’ve ever stayed at), we checked into our new hostel and Corey took off on a solo adventure to climb these giant hollowed out strangler ficus trees that were just outside of town. Meanwhile, Liz stayed behind to work on the blog and mayyyybe squeeze in a little nap too!
+ After a 15 minute walk, Corey found the series of trees that were hidden in the cloud forest. There were about 7 total, but only 3 were hollowed out and able to be climbed from the inside. This happens because strangler ficus vines grow around the outside of other giant trees and eventually “strangle” the tree and kill it. After many many (approximately 80) years, that tree inside erodes away and all that’s left are the solid ficus vines on the outside that now have a cool looking tube/tunnel that you are able to climb up inside using the vines as a ladder!
+ There was 1 main one that was better than all the rest and Corey climbed that one first and made it almost all the way to the top, but it got extremely narrow and hard to move so he stopped due to fear of getting stuck or not being able to get back down. He then went and climbed the other 2 as far as he could before he encountered the same problem. When he returned to the first tree, other (much smaller) people had climbed it successfully all the way to the top opening, so now he was determined to conquer it himself, despite the size difference. After waiting in the little line to climb that had now formed, he finally got his second chance.
+ This time, Corey managed to maneuver his body into a slender enough position on his back with his arms outstretched above his head to pull himself past the small opening to the top of the tree! He hung out there for about 5 minutes savoring the view of the town before climbing back down and hiking back out of the forest.
+ Afterwards, Corey walked back to the hotel, woke up Liz and they prepared for their next excursion, rappelling down waterfalls! This is referred to as Canyoneering, or just Canyoning. We would be going down a series of 6 waterfalls using ropes and s harness as thousands of gallons of water poured over our heads and our feet tried to grip to slippery rock.
+ On the shuttle ride to the tour, we met a girl named Laura who we began to talk to about different places in Costa Rica. There were also 4 native Costa Rican girls who were going to rappel and the 3 of us ended up getting separated into 2 different groups. So we spent our whole time rappelling talking with Laura and it turns out we had been in many of the same places at the same time over the past 2 months! All the way back to spending Christmas/New Years in Mexico! Somehow we had managed not to notice/talk to each other all the way until this tour! Crazy! (I.e we were all at the Treehouse hostel the same night and talked with a lot of the same people but somehow not each other! )
+ The waterfall excursion was a lot of fun and Liz did a fantastic job rappelling for her first time ever! Holding onto a rope and leaning backwards over a 40 meter (about 130 feet) cliff is easier said than done, especially when slick rock and water is eschewing your vision. Throughout the 6 waterfalls, Liz got progressively better and by the end of the 6th one, Liz was able to jump little bits at a time down the cliff as opposed to walking. She even had a final jump from about 6 feet above the water all the way down without stopping!
+ When we reached the bottom, the 3 of us hiked back to the top and then talked for a while before the 4 other local girls joined us and we rode the shuttle bus back to town.
+ We met up with Laura and her other German friend, Marius for dinner. Then we went back to Tico Rico where we all talked for a while before grabbing a few beers and heading back to Pension (their hostel now, no longer ours) where we hung out and talked for a good while longer. We were even joined by another guy named Will (nickname was Posh Will due to his very Posh British appearance) we had met a few weeks ago at the Treehouse place near Granada. At the time he had been very intoxicated and kept repeating that he was 37th in line for the British throne! He was very nice though and bought our group a round of drinks (in an attempt to impress/hook up with one of the girls we were talking with). What a small world! (Or at least small tourist travel circuit)
+ We finally called it quits around 11:30 and went back to our room to prepare for another hike in a different part of the cloud forest tomorrow!

3/6
+ This morning we woke up and ate our free breakfast and then caught a ride with our new friends, Laura and Marius (and “Posh Will” too) towards all of the forest reserves. They dropped us off at the Curi Cancha Reserve and they continued towards Monteverde.
+ Liz and I used our FSU student id’s again to buy discounted tickets (like yesterday), but this time the guy gave us a bit of a hard time. He asked when they expired, we said they didn’t, and he said well then we could keep them forever and always use them (Correctamundo!). We played it off that we were still students so he gave in and we saved $20.
+ This forest reserve was much less crowded and we both enjoyed our peaceful and remote hike through the jungle. This reserve was a higher elevation than Monteverde so the trees and plants were all different than yesterday. It also wasn’t as thick so it made bird watching a little easier, which is good because we didn’t hire a guide today.
+ We saw another Gwan bird, more Coatis, some new Quail/Dove birds, a whole bunch of hummingbirds, birds that were a relative of the cardinal, and a bunch more different kinds too.
+ After about 2.5 hours, we finished the park’s trails and walked down the road to the Monteverde Cheese Factory. Although they weren’t offering cheese samples or tours that day, we still enjoyed some of their delicious ice cream!
+ We started walking back to town afterwards, but decided to hitchhike instead to save 45 minutes. Some nice ladies from Vermont stopped and nervously agreed to give us a ride back to town.
+ Back at our hostel, Corey decided to book another excursion for that afternoon. This was something he had wanted to do his whole life – bungee jumping! So after a lunch of leftover pizza, the shuttle from Extremo company picked us up (Liz was coming along just to watch).
+ When we got there and Corey signed all his rights away, he went to the loading platform where they fitted everyone with harnesses. They took 3 people out to jump at one time. While we waited for Corey’s turn, we could watch other people jump and see what was in store for him.
+ Finally it was Corey’s turn to jump! He rode out on the cable suspension system they rigged until the tram was directly over the highest point of the canyon. He was with 2 other people and watched both of them jump first. It was even more intense watching them free fall from directly above. Now they hooked Corey up to the cables and put a go pro on his helmet to capture the moment and all of his horror-filled facial expressions too.
+ When he stepped up to the edge to jump, he had almost no time to even think about it because the staff was already counting down from 4, 3, 2, 1 … When Corey jumped he was determined to keep his eyes open the whole time to capture the moment. Falling over 200 feet for about 5 seconds was definitely an adrenaline rush and made his stomach turn, and then the slingshot back up was crazy too. Then there was a feeling of weightlessness as he was suspended back up for a little while and then had another free fall almost as long. Overall, he bounced up and down for a while until they lowered the cable to clip into his harness and pull him back up. He was trying to find the platform where Liz was standing to wave and pose for a picture, but he had no idea where anything was while hanging upside down. When he was up, the tram went back to the cliffside and he safely stepped back onto solid ground.
+ Back at the office Corey and the other people who jumped got to watch their videos from the helmet cam, which were all pretty funny.
+ It was definitely an awesome experience and as cool as he had hoped it would be for all those years. He would definitely do it again in the future somewhere else!
+ The shuttle took everyone back to town and we spent a few hours relaxing and working on the tablets, as well as talking to family members on Skype.
+ We met up with Marius and Laura for dinner at a restaurant called Bar Amigos and had some good pasta and another dish with pork rinds. While eating we talked about upcoming travel plans and where we were all heading. They said they were headed to Tortuguero the next day and had room in the car Marius had rented so we should come along. We don’t know if it was the excitement of the spontaneity or the few beers we had already drank, but we agreed it would be fun so we said yes!
+ The rest of the evening we hung out at Pension with them and a few other people and drank and had fun. Then it was back to the room to pack up since we were leaving town the next day to head to the other side of the country!

3/7
+ So today would be the first time we traveled to a new city in a car with friends, as opposed to public transportation. After a delicious breakfast again of pancakes and fruit,  our friends picked us up and we rode in the rental  car for 6.5 hours through Costa Rica to our next destination of Tortuguero.
+ Along the way we drove along the Pacific Coast before heading east across the continental divide all the way to the Caribbean coast. We passed through San José and got to see a lot of the city due to the weird route that Google maps sent us. One section we passed through was very hilly and reminded us of San Francisco. Then we looked at the map and realized it said San Francisco on the area we were in. Weird!
+ Around lunch time we were hungry and looking for a place to stop when we saw a sign for Taco Bell in 14 km! We all got super excited for the first Taco Bell we had eaten since we left the states, and the first time they had eaten it since they visited the U.S. years ago. So we stopped in and were greeted by the delicious looking pictures and smells we missed so much! After spending too much and eating what was probably our recommended weekly equivalent of fats and sugars, we hopped back into the car to continue our journey.
+ The last part of our drive was through really pretty scenery and banana fields owned by Chiquita and Dole.  At one point, traffic was stopped as a whole line of bananas were being transported on this interesting pulley system from one field to another. All the banana bunches are covered in what looks like blue plastic bags so these banana fields are definitely a site to see!
+ We arrived to the farthest city we could drive to and then parked the car and bought our tickets for the ferry to Tortuguero.
+ After a short wait at the office we hopped in some long skinny river boats and rode through the jungle canals for about 80 minutes. Along the way, we saw a big crocodile and some monkeys playing in the trees, including 1 with a baby monkey on it’s back! The area we were in its commonly referred to as the mini amazon, and we could definitely see why.
+ When the boat arrived in Tortuguero, the 4 of us got our bags and walked down the road looking for a place to stay since we did not make reservations. We picked a decent looking place called Cabinas Tortuguero and got their last 2 rooms.
+ We dropped off the bags and then went walking around to explore the island. It was pretty small so we saw all of the restaurants and shops pretty quickly and then grabbed a snack of pupusas (el Salvadorian tortilla filled with meat and cheese) and later,  dinner at one of the sodas.
+ Afterwards we walked along the beach with our headlamps set to the red lights looking for turtles. We only walked for about 15 minutes, but didn’t have any luck.
+ Then we headed back to the rooms and played around on the phones and tablets before bed.

3/8
+ In the morning we walked to one of the nearby “Supers” and picked up some bananas and chocolate milk for breakfast. Then we walked around looking for a place to rent kayaks or canoes. We’re not sure why, maybe because it was Tuesday, but none of the places were open so we instead decided to do the hike we were gonna do in the afternoon. We walked north on the island but after 30 minutes decided to turn around because it was just more like a road.
+ It turns out the better trails were in the national park in the south so we headed there, paid the ridiculous $15/person entry fee and then spent about 2 hours walking through the jungle that ran parallel with the beach. The hike was really neat and we saw a few Capuchin monkeys, some new kind of interesting looking birds, and a long green viper snake!
+ Back in town we found a place to rent canoes, then quickly ate lunch at another soda before embarking on our river journey just before the last cutoff time to enter the national park.
+ We canoed down the wide part of the river until we were able to turn off and go down smaller side canals. We were behind a couple of tour boats with motors filled with tourists which at first we weren’t happy about because we were sure they’d scare the wildlife away. But it turned out to be a good thing because the guides from those boats would find wildlife and everyone would stop to view it and take pictures and then we would just paddle up and look at it for free! So the first animal we saw was a sloth! We finally got to see one! And it was moving all around on the tree with a baby sloth on it’s back! So we looked at that for a while and then continued on our way.
+ Because the river was pretty low, both canoes would occasionally get stuck on submerged logs. Each time, we would have to try to shimmy the canoe past the log. This made for some pretty funny balancing acts! Luckily, neither canoe capsized. Phew!
+ We also ended up seeing other really small monkeys (hadn’t seen these before), a bunch more types of birds, a caiman, river turtles, a humongous Iguana, another sloth, and a river otter! Plus we heard a lot of howler monkeys all around us. Overall it was a great canoe trip and we saw way more animals than we expected!
+ Before the sun set, we made it back to the dock area and bought some beers from a bar right on the water and hung out in the canoes watching the light disappear over the jungle.
+ When the canoes were returned, we grabbed more beers and hung out at the park talking for a while before liquid dinner no longer satisfied us and we got some meat kebobs from a street side barbeque stand which was pretty good and cheap.
+ Not wanting the fun night to be over, we went to a bar over the water that had a lifesize Jar Jar Binks statue! How and why did that get over here in the jungle? I swear, the random things we’ve found in Central America never cease to amaze me. After a few rounds of drinks, our wallets were begging us to quit so we went back to our room, got ready to leave the next day, and went to sleep.

3/9
+ After packing up and checking out, we grabbed bananas before hopping on the 9 am boat back to town.
+ The river was even lower today so during our trip we had to switch boats to a different one that could go through shallower water. Fortunately no one (or bags) fell in the brown crocodile water and our new boat made it back safely.
+ We began the 4.5 hour drive to our next destination, Puerto Viejo, which was father down the Pacific coast. After about 2 hours we were pretty hungry so we stopped at … the same Taco Bell again! And yes, it was just as delicious as it was 48 hours earlier.
+ Then we hopped back in the car to continue our journey through Costa Rica. After a few more hours we reached our destination and checked into Hotel Puerto Viejo. It had basic rooms but a unique large hang out area on the bottom floor.
+ After some Internet time, we grabbed our frisbee and headed out to the beach and for a walk around the town. The 4 of us threw the frisbee around for a bit and were even joined by a local guy who was pretty good.
+ We had heard about an all you can eat pizza place on Wednesdays so we headed there for dinner. The pizza was pretty good (no Stevi B’s) and we ate 4 large pizzas total. Afterwards we waddled to a supermarket for some water and beer and then headed back towards the hostel.
+ On the way, we noticed something crawling on the power lines up above. After a little bit of confusion and guessing, we realized it was a kinkajou! It is an animal we had heard about multiple times but hadn’t actually been lucky enough to see. We watched it scamper into a tree and then disappear before we could grab a picture.
+ At the hostel, Liz was excited because we were finally going to get to use the pack of cards we had been carrying around with us this whole time. The 4 of us, along with another guy from the hostel from Israel named Tal, played Spoons, Crazy 8’s, Go Fish, and a German game named Schwimmen. It was a fun night teaching American card games to other people and learning new ones from them.
+ Around midnight we called it a night and retired to our open-air room. We would definitely need our ear plugs and eye masks tonight since the room was right off a side street and there were no curtains either. So while the breeze would keep us cooler at night, morning would be very bright and noisy.

3/10
+ Slept in until 9 today! That’s the first time in a while. We dropped off our laundry and grabbed our bags for the beach trip today. After some Internet time in the common area, we met up with Laura and Marius and went to breakfast/brunch.
+ We went to a place called Bread and Chocolate and although it was expensive, it was tasty and filling.
+ After “brekkie” we all hopped into Marius’ car and drove down south to  Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge. There, we hiked around the park for about an hour and we saw a sloth, some Capuchin monkeys, and really cool scenery with the dense jungle meeting the beach.
+ We brought our snorkeling gear with us and tried to snorkel on the reef offshore, but the water was too choppy to see anything. So we hopped in the car and drove father north, stopping twice more at different beaches to try our luck again with snorkeling, but with no success. At the last beach, after swimming out 200 yards in an attempt to reach the reef, the water was still too cloudy to see anything. So we gave up hope of snorkeling for the day and instead chose to relax and hang out.
+ Marius and I threw around the football and frisbee for about an hour while Liz and Laura relaxed and chatted.
+ We left and headed to a restaurant called Accirefe for some sunset beers and fun live Caribbean music.
+ On the drive back we saw trivia advertised at a different restaurant so after a shower at the hostel we walked over just in time to catch the 8 pm start time. We had a really fun time and came in 2nd place! We even got 5000 Colones taken off of our check!
+ On the walk back, we stopped at what looked to be the most happening spot in town, Lazy Mon. They were having a ladies night with free drinks and so our fun night continued there. We also ran into “Posh” Will again (from the tree house and Santa Elena).
+ After the free drinks stopped we called it a night and left Laura and Marius to continue the party without us.

3/11
+ We all slept in a little later today and by the time we were all ready to go, we decided to skip breakfast and eat lunch 25 Minutes north in a town called Cahuita.
+ We didn’t have a lunch destination in mind and were driving around aimlessly until we saw a sign advertising “Pizza National Park”!!! After ensuring Corey he wasn’t dreaming, we obviously had to go find out what that was. Turns out it was a pizza restaurant at the entrance to the Cahuita National Park, not a National Park made of actual pizza.   😦
+ With crushed dreams, we sat down to eat and had some of the worst customer service we’d had the entire trip, although the food was pretty decent.
+ Stomachs full, we set off on another hike. This time the trail was much flatter than the previous day and made for much easier hiking on a path that ran parallel with the beach, only about 5 meters into the jungle.
+ On the hike we saw tons of animals! More than we had seen on any 1 day previously. Multiple troops of both Howler and Capuchin monkeys (including lots of cute little baby monkeys!), at least 7 or 8 sloths (1 was super close hanging upside down and eating leaves right in front of us!), 3 raccoons (1 baby), a weird type of squirrel, and different kinds of birds. The only animal we hadn’t seen in all of our travels was a toucan (besides the sleeping one on our Monteverde night hike that may or may not have been real). Just when we reached our turn around point to head back, low and behold we saw not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 toucans! They were a unique kind that were smaller than the one you would normally think about (from the fruit loops cereal), but really cool looking! We watched them hop around different trees and eat the fruits and berries. When they flew off, we headed back finally content with our Costa Rican animal sightings.
+ We stopped at one of the beaches in the park and went swimming, but not snorkeling since was weirdly prohibited without a guide.
+ After a while we left to walk back to the car and saw even more animals! Then we drove back to town and grabbed some beers to sit on the beach and watch sunset. Unfortunately the weather had turned awful so we took shelter under a tent on the beach as it poured rain and just hung out there.
+ We grabbed dinner at Hostel Bikini and then went back to our place for a shower and more card games. Knowing that we had to get up early the next day, we made it an earlier night and went to bed around midnight.

Click here for more photos from Costa Rica!

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