Costa Rica Part 6 – Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

On day 7 of our trip it was time to head inland and upland, i.e, up to the town of Monteverde, located in the mountains at 1440m. The draw here is the Cloud Forest (bosque nuboso), a rare forest type located in tropical or subtropical mountain environments where there is a consistent cloud cover. There are over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and 1200 species of amphibians and reptiles living within the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

There are a number of different parks and reserves in this area, each offering different activities. We spent a day at Selvatura Park, which included a canopy walk, butterfly garden, herptarium and frogs, hummingbird garden, and insect museum. There was also ziplining, but we were there for the wildlife and landscape.

Everything was with a guide, except for the hummingbird garden. We were impressed at how knowledgeable all the guides were! Our first tour was the main event, the canopy tour with the hanging bridges. We saw lots of interesting and beautiful plants and birds…and I can’t remember the names of any of them. But here they are!

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The beginnings of a fern

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Looking at baby birds in a nest

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Even the trees are expressive in the cloud forest.

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Next, we toured the butterfly garden, herptarium and frogs, and the insect museum (i.e., insect collections…not live insects). The butterfly garden was quite large, with a wide variety of butterflies and flowers.

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The frogs and reptiles were really neat, but don’t photograph well in their glass aquariums. Here is one lizard to serve as a representative of the herptarium.

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No pictures of the pinned insects…although that was actually surprisingly interesting!

Our last stop at Selvatura was the hummingbird garden. It was a cozy little garden with a few hummingbird feeders and benches to sit and relax. If you stand still the hummingbirds will use your finger as a perch to drink! Both Mom and Dad served as excellent hummingbird perches. I did not…see, not only were there hummingbirds around the feeders, there were also wasps. I have never liked wasps, and after last summer’s traumatizing wasp experience I really don’t do wasps. So I failed miserably at holding my finger still long enough for a hummingbird to land. I did take some pics though!

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There was also a coati that wandered through! This was exciting…until later we saw one in the garbage can (like, literally climbing in and fully disappeared), and realized that they’re basically the Costa Rican equivalent of Canadian trash pandas (i.e., racoons).

But they’re still cute.

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The other thing we did in Monteverde was a night walk – this was SO cool! We paid for a private tour with a very small company called Johnny Loves Nature Eco-Tours – it is Johnny himself who owns the company and does most of the tours, but hires his brother for a few. He picked us up at our hotel and drove us to a small, nearby reserve. The tour was worth it before we even got there though – en route we stopped to admire some snoozing sloths that he has spotted on the way over!

The tour was awesome. I was expecting mostly creepy crawlies, and we did see one tarantula, but we also had some really good mammal sightings – we had a perfect sighting of an armadillo, a weasel, an olingo, and a weasel! Plus frogs, tree frogs, toads, lizards, and a teeny tiny praying mantis. Johnny was a fantastic guide – he was extremely knowledgeable, and extremely enthusiastic – some of the mammals we saw aren’t that common, and he was really excited to see them and show them to us!

Given the fact that this was after dark, there was no point in trying to take pictures. One of those experiences to just be enjoyed in the moment. But if you’re even visiting the cloud forest, a night walk should be on your to-do list. I highly recommend Johnny’s tour, but even if you go with someone else, make sure you’re with a small group. The animals move quickly, and had we been a larger group only the first 2-3 people would have seen many of them.

Be forewarned, the drive up is not for the faint of heart. I only screamed outwardly once (we were on the outside of a switchback with a precipitous drop when a bus came hurtling around the corner, half in our lane), but I rarely stopped screaming inside. Near the top we weren’t near as many cliffs but the road had some really rough sections. It’s totally doable, tourists do it all the time, but it’s definitely not super fun. If you’re leery, there are lots of tourist buses to shuttle people to Monteverde and back.

 

Costa Rica Part 5 – Scuba Diving!

I loved everything I have described in Costa Rica so far. But…I have been working up to my absolute favourite, and now’s the time!

For a little bit of history, wanting to scuba dive is probably the longest memory I have. It has been a dream since I was a little kid, and it hasn’t wavered. I actually started lessons in Newfoundland in high school, but broke my collarbone after the first class (I had a bad habit of doing that for a couple of years). Anyhow, other great adventures kept knocking scuba back to the sidelines, until I finally made the leap this year, knowing I would regret not doing it.

(Spoiler – it was everything I thought it would be and more. Freakin’ loved every second of it.)

I did my pool sessions and theory exam with Sault Scuba in the Fall, aiming to do my 4 certifying dives in Costa Rica. A bit of research narrowed my Costa Rica choices to 2, and I’m extremely happy with the one I chose, Summer-Salt Dive Center.

My excitement was contagious, and my Dad opted to join the fun with 2 Discovery Dives. This included a pool session the day before diving, to practice a few skills and get used to the equipment. Summer Salt was very accommodating and let me join the pool session too – I welcomed a quick refresher as I had finished my course back in November.

The next morning we hopped into the boat, Voltareta (Spanish for somersault), and headed out to our first dive site.

Dad and I were able to do these dives together, to a 12m limit. Dad was partnered with our instructor, Carlos, I was buddies with Guillermo, a dive master in training, and another DMT was leading our group. On both of our dives I did a few skills with Carlos when we hit the ocean floor, and the rest of the dive was a fun cruise.

Mom came along and snorkelled, so got a few pics of us at the surface.

I didn’t bring a camera until my 4th dive so didn’t get any pictures on these ones, but we saw a bunch of stingray, many types of fish, and a seahorse!!! Technically the following pics are from later dives, but I think we can all accept the mixed up chronological order…

Southern stingray:

Round stingray:

So many pufferfish (I didn’t see a puffy pufferfish until one of my last dives)!

Freckled porcupinefish:

Guineafowl puffer:

And here’s where I give kudos to our instructor and brag about my Dad. Carlos was a fantastic instructor – he had a calm and quiet way of inspiring confidence and success while requiring a high level of competence. As a complete newbie, my Dad was very comfortable cruising around 12m under the surface with Carlos.

And my Dad – on one of our dives he swam too close to the DMT in front, and his mask got kicked and half filled with water. Fortunately not fully, because he was still able to see. Carlos guided him through the mask clearing (he had practiced in the pool), and Dad stayed cool, calm and collected even though it took a few tries.

Meanwhile, I was floating around hoping he was ok and watching the first stingray swim by…as he missed it all. Luckily there were a lot more to come!

The next day my parents stayed ashore while I went out for dives 3 and 4, to a max depth of 18m. Dive 3 included some underwater compass work which was really neat (the compasses are like the marine compasses on our kayaks), and the not-at-all fun skill of complete mask removal, replacement, and clearing. There were lots of other DMTs and past DMTs on the boat this day, so there were a bunch of us cruising around together, and Marine took some photos for me on my third dive, which was appreciated!

Dive 4 was a purely fun dive, so I brought my camera on this one. I don’t actually know which pics were on this dive and which were on a future day, but here a few!

Barberfish – notice how they lose colour at depth

Giant Damselfish:

Cortez Angelfish:

A school of some other type of fish:

King Angelfish:

We saw a spotted eagle ray swooping by on this dive too, but captured only in my memory.

There was nothing I enjoyed more than being on and in the ocean, so I hopped aboard again for a morning of snorkelling before we left town (scuba was off limits because we were heading to altitude). I convinced my Dad to come too (it wasn’t a hard sell).

I thought that was the end of my aquatic adventures for this trip…but no! After a couple of days in Monteverde we decided that we all preferred to come back to the coast for a couple of days before leaving, instead of a few long driving days on potentially (probably) rough (terrifying) roads.

This worked out swimmingly for me, as I was able to fit in one more morning of diving, while leaving a 24 hour window before our flight (I didn’t feel like ending our vacation with a case of the bends).

On the boat this last morning was myself, a woman from Quebec taking a course, and another French couple taking a course. So we ended up talking a lot of French that day, which was fun. Because everyone else was taking a course, it also meant that I had a dive master, Nicolay, as a private guide.

On our first dive we checked out a shipwreck (an old fishing boat).

And saw lots of other cool things too, including this octopus. Can you find it?

Cornetfish:

We saw lots of jewel morays, and one Panamic Green Moray:

And a #scubaselfie

I was feeling pretty comfortable with everything, so asked Nikolay for some advice on better air consumption (it’s normal to use a lot more when you’re new…but I wanted to do better). With his tips I went from a dive of just over 40 minutes on the first dive, to 62 minutes on the second! I was pretty happy about that!

The surface interval on this day was pretty incredible too, because there were tons of devil rays jumping all around us!

A few more pics to represent the last dive…some are actually from this dive, others I have no idea. And apart from the barberfish feeding frenzy I don’t know what the other fish are, so please tell me if you know!

Moral of the story is, if you’ve ever been thinking of scuba diving, do it. And if you’re ever diving in Playa del Coco, dive with Summer Salt Dive Center!

Costa Rica Part 4 – Diamante Animal Sanctuary

In my previous post about zip lining, I mentioned Diamante Adventure Park, and how we chose not to go zip lining there. However, this park has a number of different activities, and we did visit the animal sanctuary, which was well worth it! The sanctuary is the largest in the area, and all of the animals have been rescued by the Costa Rican Ministry of Wildlife. Now, enough with the words, on with the pictures.

There was a variety pack of frogs and pretty flowers. And a bunch of reptiles, but they didn’t photograph well in their tanks.





A howler monkey feeling the heat.

Turtles, iguanas, and large, toothy iguanas (right?).



Sloths! So lazy they wouldn’t even eat at feeding time, when the keeper was hand feeding them (Jack the Dog must be part sloth…).

There were many butterflies. Here are two.


And beautiful toucans.

Rainbow Toucan
Yellow throated toucan
Fiery-billed Aracan

And last but not least, there were 4 types of jungle cats. I was only able to capture two decently, since they were behind glass.

Jaguar cooling off
Ocelot
Cutest little ocelot of all time

Costa Rica Part 3 – Ziplining

One of the things we wanted to try while in Playa del Coco was a zip lining tour. We came across two main options within a reasonable distance of town  – Congo Canopy and Diamante Adventure Park. Both looked great, and by no means am I saying that one is better than the other, but they do seem to be very different experiences, so choose accordingly!

The Diamante zip line tour seems fantastic for those with a need for speed and adrenaline. It includes superman jump, a free fall, really loooooooooong zip lines… cool stuff, but not for us. Instead, we opted for the “family friendly” original zip line canopy tour at Congo Canopy, with 11 cables and 3 hanging bridges, and we were more than happy with our decision.

We were there first thing in the morning, so we were able to go as a group of 3. Private tour!

The classic “before” shot

We had two guides with us, who were super nice, and also hilarious. It only took us a few minutes to get used to their jokes and remain nonchalant when they came flying towards us hollering as though they couldn’t stop. Or offered a high five just as they were about to take off down the zip line…and then held on as though you were to be yanked right off the platform. They were fun!

The guide on the left has zip ties poking out of his helmet like porcupine quills. Before we started he explained that each one was for a client who died, and that he planned to add 3 more today.

We also had a photographer zipping (hahaha) around with us. Since we couldn’t bring cameras we thought it would be worthwhile to pay for their photo service, and with three of us it made a lot more sense to pay for a CD with a bunch of pics instead of just one each. So all of the pics in this post were taken by the Congo Canopy photographer (who was also a super nice guy).


You can see in the above pics that we have one gloved hand resting on the cable behind us as we cruise down the line. One of the things we liked about this particular zip line tour was that, because the cables were not extremely long and fast, we were able to have a bit more control. For example, we controlled our speed by braking with that back hand as we approached each platform.

As I mentioned above, there were also a few hanging bridges to cross.

No zip ties added yet


One of the cables had the option of going upside down!

The only unfortunate thing with this one was that we didn’t know if we had to pull ourselves upright before reaching the end. Not knowing, I started to, but the guides called out not to. Which was fine, except that my parents were watching from the far end and thought that I had tried and failed. Given that, my Dad decided not to go upside down, although he did briefly go hands-free!

We also had the option on one cable of going superman style. This one was with a guide, who took care of the braking.


What happened next is possibly the best memory of the entire trip for my Dad and I. See, my Mom was an enthusiastic participant and was having a great time, and was also completely content to go last every time and to forego the superman flight. Well, on the next cable, our guide motioned to Mom to come over first and started setting up the harness and cable…about halfway through it dawned on her that he was actually setting her up for the superman! But too late now, off she went, and is glad she did (I think)!

Although we went in the morning so it wasn’t AS hot as it could have been, quite frankly it was never not hot. The tour was nicely set up with some water along the way. We took a break for some water and pictures on the highest platform.

Another great thing about this tour was the wildlife that we saw! I could be wrong, but I suspect one wouldn’t have as many interesting sightings on the zip line tours focused more on adrenaline.

Howler monkey howling!

The elusive Costa Rican black and white bird

And finally, the after shot.

Survivors

It was a fantastic morning. The site also offers other activities – horseback riding, a small animal sanctuary, ATV tours, and river float trips. We had a few minutes after zip lining and checked out the animal sanctuary, which was worthwhile as an add-on, but wouldn’t be worth it if that was all you were going to see (it’s neat, just quite small, there is another I’ll recommend later that is a primary destination). Definitely a spot worth checking out if you’re spending time in the area.

Costa Rica Part 2 – Sea Bird Sailing Excursions

We arrived in Playa del Coco on a Friday afternoon, and took that afternoon to wander around and get settled in. For Saturday, we wanted to plan something that didn’t require any driving around and, of course, I wanted to get out on (and in) the water. A trip with Sea Bird Sailing Excursions fit the bill perfectly.

We opted for the morning sail and snorkel tour. After breakfast we strolled down to the meeting spot on the beach, and hopped in a dinghy which took us out to the sailboat.

On the boat with us were two families, the captain, Sabastian, and a couple of crew members. There wasn’t a lot of wind, so we motored along, out of the bay and past some rocky islands. Even with the sails down it was just so nice to be cruising along on the Pacific Ocean with the warm sun and breeze.

Basically, I was ready to move aboard.

We were very well taken care of on the boat, with plenty of water, fresh juices, and sliced watermelon and pineapple. After an hour or so we anchored next to a larger island, got geared up, and hopped in for some snorkelling.

This was the first test of my new YI lite action cam and its underwater case, and I’m pleased to report that it works just fine! That said, many of these underwater pics were taken by a snorkelling crew member and sent to us afterwards.

We swam around for some time (I have little sense of time went snorkelling or diving). We saw lots of brightly coloured fish, sea urchins, and the outline of a ray hiding in the sand (the picture is a lot better than what I actually saw!).

Back on board, the crew hoisted the sails and we sailed back towards the beach. Motoring was nice, but true sailing was spectacular! No pictures of the wildlife seen on the return trip, but we had a small pod of dolphins go leaping by, and then a sea turtle swam right up to the boat and poked its head out to look at us! Incredible.

We moved from the bow to the cockpit after the sea turtle visit to get a bit of shade.

This was our captain. He lives on a sailboat and is sailing to the Galapagos in a few months.

I am exceedingly jealous.

It was the perfect activity for our first full day in Costa Rica, and I would definitely recommend checking out Sea Bird Sailing Excursions is you’re ever visiting the area!

Costa Rica Part 1 – the Overview

As I sit here on the couch, staring at the snow, it seems like a good time to start recapping my recent trip to Costa Rica with my parents. It was a great trip packed with fun things, so will be covered in a series of blog posts. This first post will be a basic overview of where we went, where we stayed, what we ate, etc.

As soon as our flights were booked (maybe even before), I was online googling scuba diving in Costa Rica. I quickly narrowed things down to Playa del Coco (El Coco), on the Papagayo Gulf on the Pacific side, where there are a lot of nearby dive spots and a high concentration of dive shops. So, we set up our trip to start in El Coco for about 6 days, then head to Monteverde in the Cloud Forest, followed by a trip to the Arenal Volcano, and then back to Liberia (near Playa del Coco) to fly home. Now, this plan changed later, but we did start in El Coco and visit Monteverde.

I loved Playa del Coco. LOVED. It was hot, but with the ocean right there, that was fine by me.

We stayed in an Air B&B condo that was a 5 minute walk from the beach.

It was also a 3 minute walk from a daily iced coffee at my favourite little coffee shop.

The nearby beach was great for morning runs, daily swims, and evening strolls.

In Monteverde we enjoyed a small bed and breakfast place overlooking the Cloud Forest.

We ended up back in El Coco at the end of our trip, and stayed in a small hotel with a nice pool and shady hammocks.

I’m by no means a foodie, but did make some effort to document some of our meals.

We enjoyed a few nice dinners at beachfront restaurants, piña coladas and sunsets included.

We also ate at some sodas – small, local restaurants. The fruit juices available almost everywhere were delicious!

And of course we picked up some street meat to eat on the beach.

And enjoyed a few sweet treats along the way.

So there you go. General itinerary, accommodations, and eats. Next up will be the good stuff like sailing, zip lining and, most importantly, scuba diving!

Into the Woods for March Break

As a teacher, I’m lucky to get a week off every March. Well, really, as a supply teacher I can (and do) take time off pretty much whenever I want…but this is a forced week off where I don’t have to consider the lost income!

We spent the week in a not unusual manner – camping. It was still very much winter here in northern Ontario, so it was a full on winter trip – snowshoes, toboggans, and tent with a wood stove.

Conor drags the longer, heavier toboggan. I drag the shorter, uglier, orange one. I will also point out that, although lighter, it does not glide nearly as well! Obviously this is the sole reason that I’m slower. Obviously.

Jack carried his food in his Jack Pack. He was always really excited to put it on…

We were out from Saturday to Saturday, so 7 nights spent in the tent. I love this tent. Get the fire going and it is incredibly warm and cozy. Yes, the set up is quite involved, but there’s no way I could do winter trips of any length without this haven of warmth.

Cooking happens on the wood stove.

I might like the tent, but Jack adores the tent, and gets inside as soon as possible every afternoon.

He has his own spot, but he likes to encroach in the human zone sometimes for a cuddle. As the trip progresses he gets increasingly tired, and starts to crawl into our laps a bit more to collapse. He’s adorable.

Morning cuddles were a thing too.

We were hoping to do a loop, but got stymied by some non existent portage trails. We took one layover day, on which we went for an unencumbered, exploratory snowshoe wander.

We had great weather for tripping. Temperatures were pretty much perfect. Travel on the lakes wasn’t effortless, but was pretty good. Travel through the woods was actually really tough – the snow was deep, rotting, and baseless. Fortunately we spent most of our time on lakes and waterways, not traveling between them.

My kindle is essential tripping equipment for me. I may not have any impressive physical abilities, but my reading speed and stamina are top notch, and an ereader is the only way I can carry adequate reading material.

I also did at least a few minutes of Spanish review every day!

All in all, it was another great trip. For me, for now at least, it was a nice length. Conor aspires to longer and more challenging winter trips, but I find traveling in the winter a lot more intimidating and challenging than summer expeditions. Jack sides with Conor though.