Pura Vida

Pura Vida translated means pure life. It is the motto and mantra of pretty much every Costa Rican we’ve met. It can be used as hello, goodbye, or thank you – or even as the response to the question ‘how are you?’ with only the inflection used to indicate how the person is actually feeling. It’s a sentiment of freedom and contentment in life.

We didn’t really notice how much the country has taken this mantra to heart though until we left. It is so chill in Costa Rica that as soon as we crossed the border into Panama we felt we were being bombarded by people. Not that Panamanians aren’t nice people, they just have a little less chill than Costa Ricans and we were a bit overwhelmed upon crossing the border.

But I’m getting a head of myself. We spent our last few days in Costa Rica along the southern Caribbean side of the country in Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. In Cahuita we had our first day of rain. May is shoulder season for tourism as the dry season is just ending and the wet season beginning, but we like traveling in shoulder season since there are less people around and things are cheaper. We expected some rain and couldn’t believe it held off as long as it did. Often it will only rain for an hour or so and then clear off again, but it stuck around for the whole day when we were in Cahuita.

image

We’d planned to do an 8 km hike through Cahuita National Park, which is known for its wildlife, but it poured on us so we called it off about 2 kms in. It didn’t hinder our ability to see wildlife though and we still caught a glimpse of two white faced capuchin monkeys playing in the trees and got a close up look at a wild three-fingered sloth!

We decided to cut our loses on the hiking and instead took the bus to a nearby sloth sanctuary to learn all about sloths! The sanctuary does extensive research on sloths and takes in injured sloths, nurses them back to health, and then re-releases them into the wild. There are 4 resident sloths who unfortunately can no longer be returned to the wild due to extensive injury. There is also a sloth nursery for sloth babies that are injured or abandoned and they are just the cutest little guys ever! Everybody loves sloths, so here’s some fun sloth facts we learned at the sanctuary:

image

– There are two types of sloths (which are quite different from each other): two-fingered and three-fingered sloths.
– They’re more often known as ‘two-toed’ and ‘three-toed’ sloths, but the santuary refers to them as ‘fingered’ since both have three toes and are differentiated by the number of fingers.
– Two-fingered sloths are nocturnal while three-fingered sloths are active during the day. Although both sleep for up to 19 hours a day!
– Sloths spend most of their time in the trees and feel very unsafe on the ground. In fact, they can’t even walk on the ground and are forced to drag themselves along by their elbows. A grounded sloth is a vulnerable sloth.
– Sloths cannot use the bathroom in the trees and go to the ground just once a week to use the bathroom for about 20 minutes. The average sloth will then release about a litre of pee and a kilo of poop!
– They have 4 stomachs and eat only leaves. They move so slowly and sleep so much to conserve energy because of how little they eat.
– The most common injury for sloths is getting eletrocuted from climbing on power lines and then falling.

I could continue, but I’ll stop there. I’m sure you get the gist – sloths are awesome!

While in Cahuita we also made a short visit to an Iguana Farm and a Cacao House. Green Iguanas were endangered in Costa Rica, so the iguana farm was started as a conservation project by indigenous people. They breed iguanas and take care of them for 2 years. There are many similar projects around central America and as a result, populations have increased!

image

The Cacao House is also run by the indigenous Bri-Bri people, to whom cacao is a very important part of their culture. They use all parts of the cacao bean in their daily life and we really enjoyed learned about it’s multi-uses. They also make some pure cacao chocolate for tourists, so we stocked up!

It’s the first time I’ve ever tried a cacao bean. The bean is covered in a slimy white gel that looked pretty gross but actually tasted delicious, but the bean is very bitter. The beans are dried and roasted and then grinded into a paste. The paste is then boiled and the cacao oil is separated and used as a lotion or butter. It’s great for your skin so I bought a little pot of that as well! The great thing about the chocolate is that we don’t need to worry about it melting because it is pure cacao.

image

On our last day in Costa Rica the sun came out again and we hit the beaches of Puerto Viejo. I loved Puerto Viejo. They have totally embraced the beach life and I felt so content and relaxed there. I really wish we’d spent less time in Cahuita and more time in Puerto Viejo (although this may have been influenced by weather), but there’s no way to know these things in advance.

We rented some beach cruisers and biked along the coast. We spent the afternoon at beautiful Punta Uva Beach. Having just finished our beach hopping in Panama (that will have to be another post), I can conclude that Punta Uva was our favourite beach! It was miles of golden sand and clear water, so we split the afternoon between cooling off in the water and relaxing on the beach.

image

We were sad to leave so much of Costa Rica unexplored, but pura vida, we’ll just have to come back again some day! Onwards to Panama!

Love Maria

Categories: Central America | 3 Comments

The View From The River

Our adventure continues with a rafting excursion, a wildlife hunt, excessive sunscreen and sunburns, and a whole lot of public transit.

We departed Arenal bright and early for a 5:45am transfer to Pacuare River, where we’d be white water rafting for the day. Pacuare River is the best river for rafting in Costa Rica and is rated #5 in the world for best white water rafting! Along with many class I-IV rapids, the river is incredibly scenic.

image

We had a huge rafting group on the day we went, and true to the rest of the trip, when the guide asked the bus who was from Canada, more than half of the bus raised their hands. So if you’re wondering where all the Canadians have gone recently, it’s Costa Rica. We also met two girls from Newfoundland who are making their way through Costa Rica and Panama as well – making them the first Newfoundlanders we’ve met while traveling!

We had an excellent team on the river and managed to keep everyone in the raft throughout the entire day, even through some of the more challenging rapids. Emily was one of our raft captains in the morning and we switched after lunch. The river is incredibly scenic and is surrounded by rainforest on both sides. We saw tons of birds and got out to swim a few times along the way. It was definitely the warmest rafting water I’ve ever swam in!

My favourite part of the day was near the end when the river narrows and flows through a canyon, with huge rock walls surrounding you on both sides. There’s several waterfalls flowing down into the gorge and it was just the most beautiful setting in which to end the day. The only downside was it was a challenge to reapply sunscreen and we both got some pretty bad sunburns.

image

image

Overall the heat has been unreal in Costa Rica and I feel as if I’m constantly fighting a losing battle with the sun. Between the sunscreen and sweat, I’m always coated in an extra 5 layers of grime, so we’re looking forward to our beach time coming up!

After Pacuare we made our way to remote Tortuguero National Park. This was a logical nightmare that eventually paid off, but involved a lot of hours on uncomfortable transit.

Tortuguero is a National Park on the far north Caribbean Coast. It gains it’s name from the 4 species of turtle that travel there every year to lay their eggs on the same beach from which they were born. As such, it is incredibly remote and involved taking a bus to the middle of nowhere, followed by a long boat ride up the river. The park has a number of canals running through it on the interior and borders the Caribbean Coast. The water was really warm, but the most we could do was dip our feet in due to the dangerous riptides offshore.

image

image

On our first night in Tortuguero we took another night walk in hopes of spotting some frogs and lizards. We would have loved to see a turtle of course, but sadly we visited just before leatherback turtle season and were unable to see any. We did see several lizards though, including the Jesus Christ lizard, named for his ability to run across water, and my favourite, the Emerald Basilisk (see picture), who we managed to avoid eye contact with! We haven’t seen much for frogs yet, but we did see a female Gaudy Leaf Frog who is 7 different colours and has red eyes.

image

We had another early morning in Tortuguero to do a canoe ride through the park. Morning is the best time to see animals and we certainly saw a lot! Mostly we saw birds, including many types of herons and kingfishers, but we also so several iguanas, caimans, spider monkeys, and crocodiles. We both loved the spider monkeys, who were extremely active, jumping around from tree to tree.

We left Tortuguero via a different route, but it still involved another long boat ride followed by bus. It was definitely a pain to get there, but it was very peaceful and serene and we loved seeing so much wildlife.

We’re currently south in Cahuita and l we’ll soon be making our way to Panama!

Love Maria

Categories: Central America | Leave a comment

Hiking Volcanoes

After an eventful visit to Monteverde, we got a transfer to La Fortuna to see Arenal Volcano. The transfer included a 1.5 hour bus ride, followed by a 1 hour boat trip across Lake Arenal. It was an incredibly scenic trip! We quickly left the rolling, forested hills of Monteverde and traveled through valleys and fields on our way to the lake. It was a perfect, clear day, and we were all thrilled when the volcano appeared on the horizon.

image

image

It was a little chilly in Monteverde due to the high altitude, but the heat returned in full force in Arenal. In La Fortuna we stayed in the fanciest hostel of my backpacking experience. It’s called Arenal Backpackers Resort, and it is definitely more resort than hostel. The resort has a huge pool and bar, with tons of hammocks spread out around the property. The pool was glorious after a long hot day in the sun!

image

On our first day in La Fortuna, we visited the National Park for the volcano. Arenal is now a dormant volcano, but it’s only become inactive in recent years and once upon a time tourists flocked to the area to see the sparks regularly flaring at the top of the volcano. Interestingly, the side of the volcano facing the town is still completely forested, it’s only on the far side that you can see the lava flows from previous eruptions.

There were two primary eruptions in 1968 and 1992, both of which you can visit. We decided to do a two hour hike of the 1968 lava flows. The hike goes around a small lagoon that was created in a crater from the eruption. Its quite peaceful now and a huge bird habitat. From there we hiked up through the old lava flows to a viewpoint that looked up at the volcano and out over Lake Arenal. Like Monteverde, the park was surprisingly empty, so we had a great time learning about the volcano and looking out at the beautiful surrounding landscape!

image

image

May is shoulder season in Costa Rica, so there are a lot less tourists around than usual, but I swear half of the travellers here are Canadian! We’ve met a lot of Canadians in our few days here. Our hostel had a board to write where you’re from and Canada made up a huge section, with almost every province represented. We met two girls from Toronto on the bus who were celebrating the completion of their medical degrees and decided to go hiking together on our second day.

The volcano is still too dangerous for hiking, but there is a second, much older volcano right next to Arenal that is popular for hiking. The hike is called Cerro Chato – it goes up the side of the volcano and then descends steeply into the green lagoon that was formed in the center of the crater.

image

There were many warnings that Cerro Chato is a strenuous hike and they were definitely well placed. The hike ascends steeply into the jungle and has many technical sections as the trail navigates around trees and roots. From the top there is an awesome view of Arenal and you’re able to catch a small glimpse of the green waters of the lagoon in the crater. Here the trail drops very steeply into the crater and was definitely the most challenging part of the hike. It’s a near vertical climb down to the lagoon and we were all sufficiently covered in mud by the time we made it to the bottom!

The scenery is incredible though and it was well worth it to finally reach the bottom and swim out into the lagoon to clean off. There’s a little beach area, so we spent an hour at the bottom, enjoying the view and eating lunch before heading back out of the crater and down the volcano.

image

We had a few snake sightings along the way. We were able to identify the first snake as venomous (although I can’t remember the name of it now – it was red, black and yellow). The second snake was a small green snake, but he was poised in the middle of the path with his head raised as if ready to strike something (we don’t think it was us though). He looked pretty foreboding and we decided to wait him out, but after 10 minutes he still hadn’t moved. We tested the water by throwing a few rocks in his vicinity, but with no reaction to this either, we decided to slowly pass him and fortunately we all escaped unscathed! He started to move off after we passed him, so he likely wasn’t much of a threat.

To finish a pretty much perfect day we stopped for beers from an enterprising local halfway down the volcano and then hit up some of the natural hot springs in the area to relax our weary muscles!

image

The area is practically swimming with commercial hot springs, all of which are incredibly fancy and have a pretty large price tag attached. We got a tip about the free public hot springs and decided to save money and visit there instead. I’ve never been to a totally 100% natural hot spring before and I didn’t realize it’s basically just a hot river. There were tons of little pools that had been created and some small falls from the rapids. It was nothing too fancy, but super nice after hiking! At the hot springs we met two more canadians who had just graduated engineering and were surprised to discover we all had mutual connections! So it’s a big country, but a small world!

Categories: Central America | 5 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.