Category Archives: Tours

A Busy End To Summer Break…

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I know for most of you North Americanos there’s alot of head scratching goin on with the title of this blog. The summer school break here in Costa Rica begins around the third week of November and ends next week. The time off of babysitting has flown by. I’ll be able to extend it, though, by connecting with friends who are visiting, and I’ll actually be acting as a tourist myself.

My first visit will be with friends from my last job in North America. They’re staying at the Los Suenos Marriot, located on the central pacific…

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As you can see, they won’t be suffering too much. It’s one of the premier 5 star resorts in the country.

Then, a couple of days later a friend arrives and we have a week of scheduled touristy delights to savor.. first stop: double decker bus tour of downtown San Jose…

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I’m really looking forward to jumping on and off the bus during the day to see sights I haven’t gotten to yet, plus share those that I love… here’s one I haven’t been to: The Jade Museum, which is supposed to have the world’s largest collection of jade objects.

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The next day is devoted to the LaPaz Waterfall Gardens, where we’ll see seven different large waterfalls, butterfly gardens, hold toucans and hummingbirds, and get alot of strenuous hill climbing back up the hill.

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Third day we’ll take a 4-hour bus trip to Manuel Antonio where the beaches in the park are supposed to be the most beautiful and clean in the country:

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The park is located at a particular geographic area called The Whales Tail:

Manuel-Antonio-Park

Fourth day we’ll begin our trek back home, stopping in Jaco for one night so my friend can go out and listen to live music and hang with the locals:

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I can hardly wait to finally begin my time as a tourist in this beautiful country. So much of these past (almost) three years have been spent settling in, really. Every three months until I get my residency I’ve been on Visa Runs (leaving the country for Panama or Nicaragua) in order to receive another 3 month stamp. So, these Runs have been my opportunity to see a little bit of the country up until now…. and to get acquainted a bit with those two other countries as well (my fave is Nica land). If it weren’t for my familia here

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and the opportunity to babysit my lovely granddaughters, I wouldn’t be as grounded as I’ve become… grounded enough to allow myself to be a tourist!

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Incredible April: Granada, Granny Nanny & Great New House

Astrologically, April was supposed to be a b___ buster, and for me that turned out to be totally true even tho I’m not the correct gender. First, I had to find and move to a new home; Second, I had to go on my second Visa Run to Granada Nicaragua; and Third, I learned what being a granny nanny really means… not actually in that order, but suffice it to say, the month was one helluva ride…

Here’s a coupla pics of my new home:

View from my new front door

View from my new front door

View to the left of my front door

View to the left of my front door

View to the right of my front door

View to the right of my front door

Beautiful, isn’t it? Situated above what is now a roaring river with the recent rains, it’s a pristine, private casita… all I would ever ask for. There are birds galore, the sounds of the river, and I’ve been adopted by one of the property’s dogs who comes and goes, occasionally dropping by for a hug and a scratch. A mot-mot nest is just over the embankment from the front door and there are now baby squirrels tumbling about the trees in front of the computer window. Paradise found. This being the second move for me within six weeks, has cemented my decision never to move again.

I recently enjoyed my second Visa Run to Granada Nicaragua where I went on two jaunts – one around the Isletas in Lake Nicaragua (of which there are 136 from a volcanic eruption), and the other on land in a horse drawn carriage around the town itself. I stayed at a new place for me – Hotel Patio del Malinche – http://www.patiodelmalinche.com/

This Hotel is the bomb! I’ve written a review in Trip Advisor about my experience there. Short story: the place is a beautifully restored colonial home that I can’t even begin to imagine living in as a family because of its size. The facilities are clean and inviting; the staff incredibly accommodating and friendly; it’s one block off the tourist drag; the price is great and the pool just the right size. It’s now my go-to hotel in Granada.

The trip to Granada was on Ticabus and I’ll never travel another way there because they take care of most of the immigration/customs process and it’s as quick and painless as it can get for a border crossing. Seven hours on a bus is grueling, especially when the overhead booming tv’s are trying to show movies that aren’t interesting to me…. although I will say that seeing Jurassic Park while traveling through the same type of landscape was a little bit weird.

This was the second time in Granada and the second time I used Tierra Tours for jaunts around Granada. (Another Travel Advisor review) The Isleta Tour was incredible, not only for the views, but for the history of Granada and Nicaragua. Evidently 136 islands were created as a result of a volcanic eruption; must have been one heckofa boom! These individual islands are either inhabited by individuals or are for sale. The price of each varies but the mean is around $300k… not much for your private island, and that includes a house already built if you’re lucky. I guess the only drawback is the need to drain the septic tank regularly as they’re particularly small. Electricity and dish reception for cable and internet are already installed on most of them as well. It’s seen as a way to make money by the government and the places I saw in this teensy tour were a mix of magnificent mansions and/or very nice homes, or the tico-type…. course, most of them have to put up with these tours passing by regularly all day long… just sayin. Here’s some photos from the tour:

View from atop the Pirate Fort to one of the small islands on the Isleta Tour

View from atop the Pirate Fort to one of the small islands on the Isleta Tour

Oropenda nests

Oropenda nests

Kingfisher

And then we went on a horse-drawn carriage tour through the urban areas of Granada. Let me tell ya, if you ever want to know more about William Walker and his imperious/egoic challenge to the countries of Latin America, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Walker_%28filibuster%29

He was an absolute creep who burned down Granada en total. We saw many burned churches that have been restored, with the surrounding stairs or gates still showing the charring.

We also saw the original train station that ran from the port of Lake Nicaragua in Granada to other primary locations in the country carrying fruits, tobacco, vegetables, etc. When the only female President of Nicaragua created the national roads system in the country, which coincided with the train system breaking down for the last time, the station was mothballed until it’s current President decided to restore the building and create an Art Institute that could be utilized by high school aged students.

Original train station, currently converted into an Art Institute/School for high schoolers

Original train station, currently converted into an Art Institute/School for high schoolers

Quite fancy wooden train carriage for the politicos and rich

Quite fancy wooden train carriage for the politicos and rich

Steel train carriages for the poor

Steel train carriages for the poor

While touring, the driver/guide also showed us these little burial containers for the ashes of family members who died during the Sandinista uprising. They were aligned along a main arterial of the city away from the touristy avenue. We were also shown a huge, and I mean gigantic, area where the original hospital was located. It had been destroyed in an earthquake. Current plans for the location include restoring the reception areas and utilizing the remainder of the area for a University for Art, the City Hall, plus outdoor areas for vendors/ferias and indigenous art markets.

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I thought this was a wonderful coincidence when taking a picture of a family playing in Lake Nicaragua

I thought this was a wonderful coincidence when taking a picture of a family playing in Lake Nicaragua

You can barely see the heron trolling on Lake Nicaragua's shoreline

You can barely see the heron trolling on Lake Nicaragua’s shoreline

 

Aside from all this frivolity, my son’s father and my ex-husband died unexpectedly mid-April. Thus my nanny granny note in the header. The day I moved into my new place my son left for the US for ten or so days. Two days in my new casita and I was off to Granada for one full day, returning to do the nanny stuff… an incredible spate of time in which the connection with the family overall was strengthened and I learned to let go of the children when parents returned. That was surprisingly difficult to do. Mostly all mine during the day, when the parent/s returned, it was time to let go and step aside. I’ve read so many books with nannys who get possessive… now I understand that fine balance between granny and nanny that I’d objectified for decades. Long live healthy successful nannies, is what I say! They deserve special grace for their ability to meet and understand this very specific challenge. So my son is now returned, and I’ve now the wonderful opportunity to simply chill in my new place. I’m in earth heaven here.

 

 

Tortuguera, Costa Rica…

My second trip this month was with family to the Atlantic side of the country, into Tortuguera country… where you would expect a dinosaur to jump out from the jungle or a snake to fall from a tree at any moment.

It's wild Jurassic Park territory!

It’s wild Jurassic Park territory!

The weather is humid and hot, beautiful and wild. The Lodge we stayed at – Mawamba Lodge – (grupomawamba.com) offers round-trip bus transport to and from San Jose barrios and hotels, the last leg of which is by boat through the canals to the Lodge which is only accessible by boat or plane.

Boat that transports passengers from bus dock to lodge and back again.

Boat that transports passengers from bus dock to lodge and back again.

But let me introduce you to our guide, Frank. He met us on the bus as it left downtown San Jose and stayed with us the entire trip which lasted three days and two nights.

Frank Simms, our tour guide in Tortuguera. Find him at frank-simms.com, or call 506.8826.3305. Fully fluent English/Spanish, Costa Rican, heckofa nice guy.

Frank Simms, our tour guide in Tortuguera. Find him at frank-simms.com, or call 506.8826.3305. Fully fluent English/Spanish, Costa Rican, heckofa nice guy.

Known by all the locals, positive and totally fluent in English. He’s a Costa Rican tico with exemplary English skills and knows the country of Costa Rica inside and out. Frank’s available for private tours of all types and can hook you up for a tremendously comfortable tour of all or parts of the beauty found throughout the country (frank-simms.com) … but back to our trip…

Places to stay in Tortuguera. The little town is at the bottom.

Places to stay in Tortuguera. The little town is at the bottom.

Here you can see all the lodges located on this wonderful bank of land located between the ocean and the main canals of Tortuguera. Here’s an aerial picture of the Lodge:

Between the canal and the ocean.

Between the canal and the ocean.

It’s a large place and extremely well kept. Our itinerary on the first day included stopping for breakfast after pickup in San Jose; a look at banana plantations along the way; arrival at the dock where our boat delivered us to the Lodge after a 20-minute or so trip on the water; a get-acquainted with the property chat from the Lodge General Manager, lunch (way yummy food!); swimming in the huge pool; a boat ride to the little burg of Tortuguera with a walk back to the Lodge; and dinner.

Our second day included an early morning (optional) 5:30am tour of the local canals where lots of nature was seen and experienced in an open boat; an afternoon tour of the gardens, the turtle enclosure, butterfly enclosure and frog enclosure; and another open boat tour in the afternoon (included) of the canals…. where sunburn instead of the cold air during the morning tour was heartily enjoyed by all participants! Swimming, breakfast, lunch and dinner were included as well. Along the way during all of these activities, even in the restaurant, Frank was very busy answering questions, taking photos (of which you’ll see some of his work on his website), spoofing with the locals and other guides, and generally making everyone feel very comfortable. Here’s a picture of the kids enjoying one of the boat tours:

5:30am tour Tortuguera canals - Kids trying to stay warm in front, Frank the tour guide in back.

5:30am tour Tortuguera canals – Kids trying to stay warm in front, Frank the tour guide in back.

Interestingly, there were only those in our group who were actually Costa Rican… the Lodge was full of Europeans, people from Denmark, Germany, the US to name a few. So… Very popular international destination.

The ocean is wild, fierce and strong on this side of the country and particularly along this stretch of coastline. There are four types of huge turtles who come here to lay their eggs, so there are ecological outposts here to protect the turtles predators (including humans) and hatchlings as they make their way to the water after leaving the nest. Females return every four years to lay eggs and the males never return. We were told not to swim in the ocean as the undertows were particularly strong here.

The little village of Tortuguera is about five blocks long and two, maybe three, wide. Teensy, caribbean-like in the colors of people and buildings. You can find all kinds of souvenirs here, including fine jewelry and art. There are sodas and a couple of restaurants and a local school that serves all ages.  It’s provincial and the poverty is evident, and I hoped in my heart that the money spent in the little town helped those who looked less fortunate.

Our last day included breakfast (If I could have bought the bread back home, believe me, I would have…. I seriously considered stuffing my purse with it!) As it was I had two pieces of toast and then two pieces of french toast for breakfast… my syanara (sp!) to bread for a while – with memories I’ll cherish… After breakfast we gathered our luggage, got back on the boat, arrived at the dock to meet our bus, then stopped for lunch before arriving back in San Jose.

What a trip. What an incredible geographic and biological education. It was all busy and interesting enough to keep all of us entertained. Not expensive at all for the value received. Highly recommended. I’ll leave you with this last happy picture:

Fantastic Fun at Tortuguera!

Fantastic Fun at Tortuguera!

A Quick Tour of Beaches…

Jaco beyond the rocky shore

Jaco beyond the rocky shore

Last weekend I went to the beach and the weather cooperated in the midst of the rainy season…. which is actually a misnomer because during the rainy or green season the world is lush and breathtaking and it usually only rains for an hour or two in the afternoons, so the mornings and late afternoons are brilliant, sparkling and not to be missed.

I’d booked a tour with my friend Roberto, who does tours all over the country. He’s a gentleman with a fantastic sense of humor and gracious sensibiilty. If you need help creating an itinerary, or a pickup from the airport and/or transfers throughout the country, you couldn’t do better. And he speaks English fluently!

Tour Captain Roberto (roberto76543@yahoo.com)

Tour Captain Roberto (roberto76543@yahoo.com)

We were supposed to meet up early and go to Quepos, but my bus connections were slower than usual so I missed the first bus, the second bus was sold out standing room only and packed to the gills, so I waited for the third bus, which got me into Jaco too late to go as far as Quepos from Jaco within the time we had. So we went to Esterillos instead…

Esterillos beach - miles of beach and no one there

Esterillos beach – miles of beach and no one there

I took the pictures in this post and if you don’t agree this is a wonderful vision, then you’re not a tropical person… Esterillos comes in three different locations, actually and this place was the first we visited. It’s MILES of beach… deserted beach. It gets really busy during countrywide vacations when Tico families arrive to camp along the beachfront, and during surfing competitions. This is a pretty good place to surf if you know what you’re doing. The breaks are long here.

Esterillos beach, looking the other way

Esterillos beach, looking the other way

With a gleam in his eyes Roberto told me he wanted to show me The Mermaid of Esterillos, a very prestigious sight as it was only second to the mermaid found in one of the Netherland countries. He was very excited to show it to me. So, we drove for about a half hour or so, taking turns onto dirt roads and climbing and descending potholed sections with chickens in the way and macaws flying overhead, parrots screeching and the smell of salt air wafting around us, and ended up here:

My first introduction to the mermaid in Osterillos

My first introduction to the mermaid in Esterillos

Roberto had gone on and on about this mermaid and how excited he was to show it to me. How important it was to the community and a sight to behold and remember forever…. and this was IT? I have to admit that my first impulse was to hit the guy for tricking me into this seeming ridiculousness, but he just didn’t get it, he was so proud of the mermaid that I just couldn’t say ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, right?’  Well…. actually I did clowningly hit him on the arm and let him know I got the joke. ‘Since we’re here, let’s take a look at the beach,’ he said, so we parked and got out of the car and turned to the beach…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd there she was.

Evidently there was a sculptor who lived with his family here in town. He sculpted out of natural rock in the location in which it was found. He was working on a huge sculpture further down the beach when one day his daughter, who was around 16 or so, died in an accident. His way of grieving and honoring her was to create this sculpture of her. Her face is distinctive as it’s a true rendition of her beauty in life. Originally it was plated in brass and filled with concrete. Very impressive and poignant.

Me with the mermaid in Esterillos.

Me with the mermaid in Esterillos .Last look at Esterillos before going back up north to Herradura and Los Suenos Resort:

Where's the pilot?

Where’s the pilot?

Although the beach had lots of beautiful white sand, it was pocked with tidepools and rocky outcroppings easily walked along. Many hermit crabs and plant life and little fishes in the tide pools. There was even one large enough to accommodate a family who was using it like a swimming pool… which it was. The beauty of this part of the coast was incredible. The little burgs adjacent to the ocean were very very low key. But remember, these two spots were rural compared to the third Esterillos that had many hotels, bars and restaurants. We were in Esterillos West (I think… might have been East) and Esterillos Center.

Next we went to Los Suenos Resort and let me tell ya, it was a resort you could find almost anywhere in the world. It was put together like a village and was on rolling hills that went right into the bay. Very picturesque, very populated with wealthy people. Everything was top notch looking, including the harbor which catered to many many largish boats with on-board captains who saw their owners a couple of times a year… what a life, huh?

Los Suenos Harbor

Los Suenos Harbor

And then to Herradura Beach, which is on the other side of the bay from Los Suenos. Herradura is populated mainly by Ticos who work at resorts or hotels in Jaco and Los Suenos, or those who prefer the less glitzy access to the beauty of the area. We had lunch at a soda immediately across from the local beach lined with palm trees. It’s a safe place to swim, no undertow, no surfing; the bus stop is right there, and the food was delicious and very reasonably priced.

Herradura Beach

Herradura Beach

Another look at the beach before heading back to Jaco..

Herradura beach with Los Suenos across the bay

Herradura beach with Los Suenos across the bay

I’d built a blog for Roberto to advertise his tours of the country (robertoscostaricatours.wordpress.com) and invited him to come over to Hotel Catalina to review how to utilize it the next day. After meeting and shopping for lunch items we arrived back at the hotel and were told he couldn’t stay because the hotel didn’t allow guests or visitors on the property (!) Alas, that ends my enchantment with this hotel which is a real shame cuz I loved staying there, but as I’m making friends and wanting to share time with them there in Jaco, it’s just not a fit that works for management or for me… so, I must discover another wonderful place in Jaco to enjoy relaxing, and rejoicing, in paradise.

Early, early morning in Jaco... saying goodbye to Hotel Catalino

Early, early morning in Jaco… saying goodbye to Hotel Catalina