El Volcán Arenal

This past week we visited the Arenal Volcano and the rain forest around it with our good friends, the Andersons. Their girls were on spring break and so we decided Aidan and Vie should also get one!

It was a refreshingly cool trip to a gorgeous part of the country. We had some fun adventures, saw some amazing wildlife and tropical plants. and we returned with an understanding of how special, and increasingly rare, these places are. Now that tourist season is pretty much over, we hope to take a lot more of these trips as part of our new adventure.

I took a ton of photos on this trip, so this blog will be more of a photo blog. It is pretty amazing what you see here. Oftentimes, it is “up close and personal.”

We’ll start with the volcano itself. It stunning beauty situated on a large, beautiful lake. This Volcano was pretty stealthy until 1968 when it brought itself to the attention of the Ticos with a huge eruption. It is now one of the most active volcanos in the world. It is on several of the “Top 10” active volcano lists I found on the internet.

El Volcán Arenal

El Volcán Arenal

lake arenal

Lake Arenal from a zip line

The area is populated by hot springs and a huge area of dense rain forest. There are also a number of spas and adventuring areas. We stayed in a wonderful little house designed by an artist in the town of La Fortuna. His dog, a Doberman named “Choco”, became a good buddy of mine. His paw was severely injured by a car but he hopped around with a huge love of life. He was a big puppy still and needed a lot more love than he seemed to be getting.

choco

Choco

La Fortuna is close to the volcano and “main street” goes one way through the length of the town because it lines up with a stunning, close-up view of the volcano. There’s really no reason to want to go the other way.

As part of our trip, we took a rain forest hike, explored some caves, and went zip-lining at the largest facility in Costa Rica. The rain forest trek was my favorite. It was located in a picturesque valley which was dense with vegetation.

rain forest valley

The rain forest valley

While the tour advertised hanging bridges, and indeed there were many, the main attraction was really the flora and fauna of the rain forest itself. We went in the late afternoon/dusk, which I recommend; it is far less crowded and noisy. The animals like that and were coming out. Take a look at some of the incredible things we saw:

A spider monkey travelling with is group

A spider monkey travelling with is group

A coati looking for dinner

A coati looking for dinner

A very tall, odd tree

A very tall, odd tree – zoom in to see some detail

A “well-camouflaged” pit viper

A “well-camouflaged” pit viper

A “well-camouflaged” pit viper

A “dart” from a particular palm tree used for poison darts by the indigenous people

And the poison dart tree frog

And the poison dart tree frog from which those folks made their poison darts (Note: these fellas are only about the size of the end of your pinky)

There were several gorgeous types of flowers, none of which I got the names for:

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Rain forest flowers

Can you see the bat hiding?

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It bites the under part of the leaf so it creases and makes an overhang. Here’s one with a flash where you can see the bat:

 

 

 

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One of the hanging bridges

One of the hanging bridges

A “rain barrel” tree

A “rain barrel” tree – the roots are hollow and hold water

Leaf-cutter ants

Leaf-cutter ants

A "monkey ladder" tree

A “monkey ladder” tree

A tunnel through our trek

A tunnel through our trek

A tree sloth

A tree sloth

The second day of our trip, many of us went to visit the Venada Caves (while some who will not be mentioned spa’d it. It is a “living cave” – one that is still forming. There was a small stream running through it and the cave system supported a number of bats, spiders, centipedes, frogs and other critters that can often terrorize spa-goers!

The Venada Caves entrance

The Venada Caves entrance

A “meat-grinder” type passage

A “meat-grinder” type passage

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A few areas of the cave

A “meat-grinder” type passage

A waterfall which we got to by crawling through a water-filled tunnel

Aidan tried to eat, at the guide’s urging’ a rather large and nasty cave spider with a pretty ferocious bite. It was large but thing and the photo does not do it justice. Use your imagination J

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An elusive cave spider

For the record, we spotted the tree sloth on the road to the caves, and I found the tree frog outside the cave entrance as we were coming out.

Our final day in Arenal we all went zip-lining. Deb and I had been zip-lining in Costa Rica before on our vacation trip two years ago, but the Sky Trek zip lines are the largest in Costa Rica. The rides were long and provided some stunning views.

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Our intrepid zip-liners

The rain forest valley of the zip line area as seen from the zip line

The rain forest valley of the zip line area as seen from the zip line

The longest stretch of zip line

The longest stretch of zip line – 1500 meters (or almost a mile)

Deb, the master zip liner

Deb, the master zip liner

We all had a wonderful time and it ended all too soon. We could have spent several more days in the Arenal area. There is a lot to do and see. Fortunately, we didn’t have to contend with a ton of tourists; most of the outings involved just us and no other folks. We expect other visitors (!) and so we’ll have a chance to try out some of the other things the Arenal region offers. We will definitely have to do the river/white water tour next time. Maybe I’ll get to see my bud Choco again.

Pura vida

The Elusive Motmot and the Noni Fruit

After 5 months now in Costa Rica on our new adventurewe have seen many things that we haven’t seen elsewhere. Some are amazing. Some are strange. Some are mysterious. Some are, well, hard to describe. I thought I’d share the good, the odd, and the silly.

In fairness, these things may exist outside of Costa Rica. Indeed, several do. In all my travels though, I haven’t seen these before…so take them for what they are.

Of course, I could start here with some of the amazing things Costa Rica has to offer that many people know already, such as the incredible surfing, particularly in Tamarindo. The coffee here is obviously wonderful – and we are from Seattle, so we can appreciate it. We hear the diving here is also incredible. One of our plans is the get certified when most of the tourists leave. We also heard that the rain forests are amazing. That’s another upcoming trip. And there is yoga here almost everywhere, at least where we are. We love it and spend a lot of time with Sattva Yoga by the beach. My “yoga spreadsheet” tells me I’ve done about 337 poses out of the 1051 I’ve collected so far. I need to pick up my pace!

The following are things that you may have not heard about. By the end of this maybe you will be afraid you have J

The Elusive Motmot

The motmot is a bird that Deb discovered. This bird is found throughout the forests of Central America but are evidently very hard to find. We won’t tell the pretty poison dart frogs here that motmots eats them. Of course, the poison dart frogs also seem to be elusive.

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The elusive Motmot outside our window

The Noni Fruit

The noni fruit, or Morinda citrifolia, is not unique to Costa Rica. You can find it in other places such as Australia and Southeast Asia. It seems to favor tropical places like where we are. The noni fruit tree is in the coffee family, but you’d never know it. The fruit neither looks like, nor tastes like, coffee. It does provide a range of health benefits. Evidently, its juice runs $50-100 in parts of the US. We have a tree next to our new (rental) house that sits all alone in an empty lot next to our wall. I tried it. The fruit is bitter and the smell is, well, there is a reason that it is also known as the “vomit fruit” (an oxymoron if ever there was one). The smell is associated with the fruit ripening. I guess I haven’t found a ripe one. Despite the smell, the fruit is rather cute and we would never have learned about it if we hadn’t come here.

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The noni fruit

Bag Driers

I hadn’t seen nor heard of bag driers before coming here. Our friend Sherry makes these and they are not only beautiful, but useful. You basically use them to dry out your Zip-Loc (or other) bags. We try to be green, but we never reused Zip-Loc bags in Seattle – though we did reuse grocery bags as “poop” bags J Here, gallon Zip-Loc bags tend to be harder to find and more expensive when you do find them. Many plastic things here are expensive. We started reusing them before we knew about bag driers. We learned about them at yoga and they’ve now made our list of different things you find here. In writing this, I did see that you can find these on Etsy.

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A bag drier by Sheri Creamer

Motorcycle “Vests”

Here’s one of the stranger things we’ve seen here. There are a lot of motorcycles in Costa Rica. It’s not surprising given the price of cars. Now, you can evidently ride your motorcycle without a helmet. At least, the vast majority of riders do and seem to get away with it. It is pretty hot here. We’ve also seen 2, 3, even 4 people – whole families – on a single motorcycle. None were wearing helmets. But, every rider I’ve seen wears an “X” shaped reflective harness. Every one. I wonder what the fine is for not wearing one.

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The motorcycle reflective harness

Evidently, ATV and scooter riders don’t have to wear the reflective thingy. Maybe it’s because they are not as cool 🙂

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Look, mom, no harness

Strange Tubes on SUVs

Many SUVs here have these long tubes tied to their top racks. We haven’t seen any on cars. We don’t know what’s in them. They have curved ends so they don’t carry long poles. We are thinking that they are for the rain. You see, when it rains here in the “green season”, it really rains. A lot. There are major ponds and rivers to drive through we hear. We’ve seen a number of newer SUVs with those exhaust pipes that stick up like snorkels. Given those and the rain, we think these strange tubes may be retrofit or home-made versions of the snorkels – to deploy when you hit those deep rivers. Of course, they could just be decorations.

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Update! I got a photo of one.

Side Slung Fanny Packs

Most of us know that fanny packs are now uncool. If you didn’t, pretend you did; it’s not worth the embarrassment. For the record, I don’t have a fanny pack. I have a waterproof wallet with a belt strap for surfing so I can carry money, ID, keys, etc. This allows me to wear it as a belt (hidden in my trunks). It’s not a fanny pack.

However, we’ve seen many men here wear what you would call a “fanny” pack across their shoulder, with the pack sitting in the middle of their back. It’s pretty fashionable and doesn’t look at all like a fanny pack strapped around your shoulder. They make a nice addition when worn with the Motorcycle straps. I might be wrong though; they could be “shoulder belt packs” and not actual “fanny” packs.

I would have tried to get a photograph of this, but, well, how do you walk up to a large, tough-looking dude and ask if you can grab a picture of him with his “not-a-fanny-pack”?

Leatherback Sea Turtles Laying Eggs

One of the more amazing things we’ve seen here already is leatherback sea turtles nesting. Leatherback turtles are the largest of turtles and are endangered. 5 of the 7 worldwide species of these noble creatures choose to lay their eggs along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Costa Rica. They must like it here. Marine turtles have been doing it for more than 100 million years.

We had the chance to check this out during their nesting season – roughly November-February across the many species. We all went to Playa Minas late at night during a full moon at high tide with our friends Eri and Adam. It’s when you have the best chance to spot them. There was one tour and a number of other folks there. You can’t bring white flashlights; it confuses them since they think it’s the moon and get disoriented. Most of us had red lights – well, except the idiot who set his car alarm, which of course went off and started making horrible noises and started blinking its bright white high-beams.

We had the great opportunity to see one come in from the surf and “hoof it” up past where the water line was. We couldn’t see much and we didn’t take photos. About 10 minutes later, we saw it crawling back to the sea, and at a much faster clip than you would imagine a turtle is capable of. This one was fairly small; typically they are bigger than people.

leatherback sea turtle

CC-BYLeatherback Sea Turtle Hiding its Eggs captured by RustinPC

Volcanoes

We’re from Seattle and so we like volcanoes as our natural-disaster-inducing-entity-of-choice. I came from California and gave up earthquakes and Deb came from Kansas, famous for their tornadoes. Volcanoes clearly are not unique to Costa Rica. However, Costa Rica has 112 volcanoes. With only about 50,000 square km (that’s 20,000 square miles for our US friends), this has to be a pretty unique spot in terms of volcanoes per square kilometer.

One of the prettiest is Volcán Arenal. Folks thought it was just a mountain until it erupted in 1968 and it’s been very active since then. It sits next to a lake and has been a pretty big attraction here, complete with hot springs, rain forest and caves – all of which we will be visiting next week. Stay tuned for some (hopefully) amazing photos.

Stone Spheres

This one has intrigued me since we arrived and it is definitely unique in the world to Costa Rica. To this day it remains a mystery of antiquity.

While Cost Rica does not have the incredible Incan, Mayan, and Aztec ruins other Central American countries have, we have stone balls, known as Las Bolas locally. They are basically large spheres made of granite or basalt that measure from a few hundred centimeters to 2 meters (6.6 feet). You find them only in the Diquis Delta area, near Golfito in southern Costa Rica. They are all man-made.

They range from 600 to 1600 years old in most reports and tend to be associated with the Diquis culture. Reports vary pretty widely but most folks agree that there are about 200-300 of them. Some reports say that they are within a few millimeters of roundness. Most have been moved from their original location and many have been damaged by machinery, treasure hunters or others. It’s hard to say what their original characteristics truly were. Nonetheless, they are pretty amazing feats of craftsmanship. And no one knows what their purpose was.

Some experts have noted that the few spheres that remain in their original positions resemble constellations. The Finca 6 site in Corcovado National Park has many spheres in their original spots, or rough diagrams of where they were. Many have a north-south orientation. I don’t provide any links here. It seems there are as many people out debunk the mystery as there are claiming everything from associations with Atlantis, extraterrestrials, etc. I, for one, love it that there is still an unexplained mystery that truly has no good hypotheses. We will definitely be going there to see them ourselves.

stone spheres

CC-BYStone Spheres from the National Museum Inner Garden by Mario André Cordero

Video Jugadores

Continuing with the theme of mysteries, here is one:

video jugadores

What do you notice? Of course, it is three boys playing a video game. What struck me was that it isn’t just three boys playing. One, JJ, the son of our landlord is 6. Aidan, our son, is 11. And Jairo, our caretaker’s son, is 17. JJ and Jairo live next door. When was the last time you saw three boys, unrelated, with this span of ages playing together and having fun in the US? It’s not just video games. They have a great time every day.

Things may be different in the schools here. They may have all of the problems with clics, bullies, getting along, etc. that we have in the US. I’ve just never seen that diversity of ages in “dudes having fun” in the US. Call me odd, but perhaps even the kids young adults here practice pura vida.

Pura Vida

I’ll end with the 11th – because we all know “11 is better than 10.” I’d put pura vida on the list here. I know I’ve written about it before, and referenced it several times. It remains something purely Costa Rican. Bing tells me it originated in interactions between surfers and the local Ticos in the 1950s.

In doing some research for this blog, I found another fairly unique thing about Costa Rica that’s related. The people here, particularly in the coastal region where we live, are among the most long-lived people in the world. In fact, the area around us has been declared one of the few “blue zones” in the world, which according to Wikipedia is “…a demographic and/or geographic area of the world where people live measurably longer lives, as described in Dan Buettner’s book, ‘The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from people who lived the longest.’”

Why? In addition to diet, water, and physical activity, the ideal lifestyle characteristics cited by the Blue Zone research included close inter-generational relationships. Hmmm. I think we saw an example of that in #10. The thing is that things like this happen pretty easily, pretty genuinely, and pretty quickly here. Maybe pura vida has been here all along, but the surfers and Ticos gave it a name.

Bertrand Russel said “To understand a name you must be acquainted with the particular of which it is a name.

If you truly want to understand what pura vida means, you’ll just have to come and experience it. We have a guest room now. Pura vida.