Visiting Maggie and Jamal in Costa Rica
November 16, 2015 Made it to Costa Rica
We left this morning at 4am and made it to Costa Rica without a problem. We were worried about finding the AirBnB place but the instructions that we were given were good. There was a lady here to meet us and she took us to the local supermarket for provisions.
We were talking to the cab driver on the way in and he was impressed with our smart phone’s GPS app. Maggie pointed us to a Wired Magazine article that had a list of GPS apps with offline maps. They suggested NavMii with it’s offline maps. We downloaded the Costa Rica, Cuba, and Canadian maps. We used it for our trip from Oromocto to Sussex just to try it out before we got to Costa Rica. We liked the interface and it was a little off in Sussex but it got pretty close. We were a little more worried about them. It took a little while for the GPS to find itself but once it did it was able to get us to our AirBnB place. So that bodes well. The fact that it works completely offline is good as we have no phone service here. We are thinking about getting a phone card but there is WiFi here and we have been able to get Skype and email to Maggie and Nicole.
The only problem with the place so far is the train tracks are close enough to feel the trains go by. I’m not sure it will bother us as both of us are pretty tired. We have cable TV and Bonnie is going to stay up to watch the Dancing show she likes if she can stay awake for it.
Other than that we bought our supper at the supermarket and had a couple of very authentic dishes from the deli.
We heard the exchange rate should be about 530 Collon for every $1 US dollar. The airport exchange rate was 462 for exchanging $200 US so we decided to try for a bank downtown when we were in San Jose. The grocery store gave us an exchange rate of 528 for the dollar so tomorrow we’ll try for the bank. There are a number of ScotiaBanks we passed on the way in.
November 17 The Museum of Gold
Day one in San Jose
We went to the National Theater for lunch we were running a bit early for lunch but we had a light lunch and enjoyed it as well. The frescoes on the ceiling of the cafeteria were incredible. We asked about a tour but they are rehearsing for a new show and aren’t giving tours. We were allowed to go to the bathroom because we had lunch there and the fresco we could see from the entrance was very cool. Next time maybe we’ll do a tour
From there we went to the Museum of Jade and it was almost triple the cost of the museum of gold and worth less than half. Unless you have a real hankering to see Jade, I wouldn’t bother. It was almost empty. So was the Museum of Gold.
November 18th Exploring San Jose
Once you get a lay of the land San Jose’s downtown is fairly easy. When we started looking at the trip we didn’t bother looking too much into the Barrio Amon it was too far away. We were at Calle(street) 25, Ave 2, a long away from Central, and Amon was something like almost as far from Central on the other side. It took walking on the streets for us to notice that all of the odd numbered streets were east of Central and the even numbered streets were west of central, all the odd numbered Aves were north and the even numbered streets were south of Ave Central. Walking 50 blocks one way to get to the Amon district was too far. 25 not so much, and the blocks here are smaller than at home.
We hit the Restaurant 1930 at the Grand Hotel and had one of their appetizers as a morning snack/lunch. It was a Octopus, sea bass, tuna, and salmon sliced very thinly and served on a huge plate with melba toast. Very tasty and the coffee was wonderful!
From lunch we walked up to the Scotia Bank and tried to get cash we tried at the teller, Different system in CR and it costs 10% if we don’t use the ATMs so we used the ATMs and it cost us about 1500 collon ($3 usd). Our ScotiaBank daily transaction limit is so low it is a pain in the butt. The only time I remember it and actually need it is when I’m out of country and can’t do a thing about it. (Hint hint, note to self when I’m updating the log at home, call Bev!)
We are going to stick $1500 CDN on our Emergency Visa card (that we never use) so that if we have to we can do a $1000 USD or a 526,000 colons withdrawal at an ATM and not get the fees of a Cash advance. We can transfer the money off the card when we get home.
We walked back to the National Museum and walked around. It is divided into a bunch of different sections including three temporary exhibits, all seemed to be locked up, one was in the process of being set up the other was supposed to be open, but it was locked for some reason. The exhibit we liked the most was the butterfly conservatory. We saw lots of pretty butterflies. They had a bunch of Chrysalis on display and a few were out drying their wings. Bonnie was watching one and it took it’s first flight, right onto her. The wings weren’t quite working well. The butterfly walked up to her neck and then onto my finger and I took it over to a plant. It flew away rather than walk onto that plant.
Other areas talked about the Precolumbian era and the immigration of the aboriginal peoples to the north american continent. There was a “art display” of modern middens (ok, the cynic in me wants to know how much they got paid to display piles of trash!). They also had smaller versions of the Gold Museum and Jade Museum displays. There is a large component of music in the displays on aboriginal people one of the neat things they had on exhibit was a nose flute. They had exhibits on petroglyphs and stone spheres. As we were going through, there were a number of art students sitting down and drawing different objects, obviously a class project of some kind.
From there we walked up to the Train staion and it was a nice little walk and the station was nice. We walked over to Kuwi Restaurant (looking for La Cafetecha ) the coffee shop is a corner of the restaurant so we decided to have “A formula” a coffee, entree, and a mini dessert combo. The passionfruit cheesecake was tiny but definitely the win! Excellent restaurant and a great place to wait out two hours of torrential rain. We barely got damp going home.
November 19, Off to Maggie and Jamal’s
We were supposed to be picked up at the AirBnB place at 1pm so we had all morning to kill. We walked over to the Amon District looking for a Gallery and didn’t find it. But we did find a lot of neat buildings, street art and nice places. From there we went to China town and through the gate and into the square in front of the Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, another beautiful church. We went to La Cafeteria, a place listed in Trip Advisor as being a very good authentic Costa Rican place to eat. Since we had to be back at the apartment at noon to pack up and get ready for the car, we were eating early so breakfast was still on the menu. We had Gallo Pinto and the fruit plate. The fruit plate ended up being watermellon and cantalope. The Gallo Pinto was the win by far.
We went from there to our apartment and waited for the car. He was early arriving about 12:30. So we were all ready to go and on the road by 1. We were pleased.
Traffic was about 10 km per hour for the first 30 minutes or so but once we cleared the construction we made very good time. The nav app got us to Maggie’s driveway without a hitch so that was great. The driveway is a tad steep so I sent Bonnie down to check to make sure that it was the right place. It is an EXTREMELY steep driveway that I had no desire to have to back up out of. Bonnie reappeared a little while later and confirmed we were in the right place!!
We had to drive out to get groceries and with the four of us the car couldn’t make it up the hill. Before we stalled out I’d push in the clutch, hold it in position with the emergency brake, floor it and pop the clutch. We laid significant rubber in a couple of places to get up the hill.
Maggie didn’t know about the washout that the we had driven through on the way in. It had been a few days since she had been out last.
They are surrounded by coffee farms and on our way back we had to ease our way past the farmers loading sacks of coffee beans into the back of a truck. Really good coffee in the local store and pretty cheap too.
My typical sense of days did it again, in my head we would be at Maggies for a few days and then go to Manuel Antonio for the weekend and then back to Maggie’s. We arrived on Thursday and our first job was to figure out where we were going to go the next day! Opps brain fart. We got on AirBnB and tried to find a place that had a couple of rooms available. Casa Buena Vista was available and for a pretty good price, less than $100cdn for two rooms for a night. We booked two rooms for two nights and Maggie talked to a friend about doing a guided tour for the four of us. Manuel Antonio National Park only allows something like 800 people a day into the park and once those 800 are in the park closes. At peak times the park can close at 7am as it is at capacity.
We did a little bit of route planning to get from Maggies to the Casa Buena Vista and there were a couple routes one was showing on the maps as a dirt road so we said we would pass on that one and do the paved road the same as we came in to Maggies on.
November 20 Off to Casa Buena Vista
The day started out well with Maggie’s and Jamal’s emailbox being very light. All of their work comes in via email so they were able to leave early (10ish). So we started up the GPS and it had two routes one was via the dirt road and one was via the paved road. So I selected the paved road and we were off. The car puffed and sputtered a couple of times but knowing the driveway a little better I was able to maintain speed up the hill and got to the top without a black mark anywhere. We crossed the washout no problem and then followed our GPS route and had good roads for a long way. We crossed a little construction zone and then onto a dirt road. We drove a way on the dirt road but it started getting better again so we thought it was just the construction zone, 20 km on the dirt road, it got a lot worse. 60 kms of very rough dirt road later (I got into third gear once!) we made it to the main highway and on to Casa Buena Vista. Maggie was able to contact the tour guide and the park closed up at 8am this morning, would we be willing to go at 7:20.
NO Problem! He’s going to meet us there at 720. We didn’t stop for lunch so we were very hungry getting here at 3pm so we walked up to La Mariposa. La Mariposa is listed in “The 1000 places you have to see before you die” Check off another one. The view is spectacular.
One of our all time favorite seafood dishes is Mahi-Mahi. And they had a Mahi-Mahi burger! Bonnie ordered it so I had to order something else. I had the tuna steak burger, medium rare. Since the rest of the meal was the same I took a slice off my tuna steak and Bonnie gave me one of her slabs of Mahi-Mahi. The tuna steak was better than the Mahi-Mahi and it was awesome!
On our way back we saw a monkey walking along a roof and then it jumped onto the cable wires and walked along with us as we walked down the street. Only he was 20 feet up and on the other side of the street.
We came back and sat in the common room and visited. At one point the were bangs and tapping on the metal roof over our heads. We weren’t sure what it was but the owner came in at this point and asked if we had seen the troup of monkeys go over. No, but we heard them. She is from Hamilton and has been here for 41 years. She was interesting to talk to she is trying to sell the business and now owns a place in St Augustine Florida. We talked with her for quite a while and then Bonnie was crashing.
Bonnie and I are still suffering from our body clocks being caca. We were crashing at dark and by 6:30 we were on our way to the room to wind down. Maggie and Jamal went for supper but we were still full from our late lunch.
Bonnie is down for the count. It is raining hard, so it’s time for me to die too.
November 21 Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio park has a limit of 800 visitors at a time. So when the first 800 go in the next person has to wait until one of the people in the park leaves. Our guided tour lasted over an hour and after the guide left we did a couple of more hours at least. We didn’t leave until 1pm. So we were in the park for about 5 and a bit hours. When we came out there were quite a few people waiting to go in. As we were arriving a bus load of Chinese tourists arrived. They were dressed in a way that made me wonder if they really understood where they were going. Fancy shoes and dresses as well as long pants and dress shirts, for a hike in a tropical rain forest. A couple of people had the ‘I want to be anywhere else on earth’ look. Dennis told us that there is a definite demand for Mandarin speaking guides.
Our guide Dennis brought us a small breakfast with a watermelon and a cantaloupe and water to fruit juice to drink that was great as we didn’t have time for a breakfast other than a coffee at the common kitchen at the teak house.
Here is a tripadvisor link to Reviews on Dennis email is email@example.com if you want him to do a tour for you. Please tell him Maggie sent you so he knows to be nice to Maggie.
We saw a couple of blue morpho butterflies just flying by. There were also colorful grasshoppers, crabs, other butterflies. We also saw three different kinds of monkeys, a two toed and three toed sloth, and a bunch of raccoon. A bag left on the beach is ripe pickings for the raccoon and if they don’t get it the monkey’s will. We brought our swim suits and I changed into mine but Bonnie passed. When we came back to the beach Maggie and Jamal were swimming and they had left their bags hanging in a tree. We walked over in their direction and they ran over to chase away one of the local bandits in the form of a monkey. We got there and took a look at the tree. It was a Manchineel. We have been seeing them since our first trip to the Caribbean in the very early 90s. If you are standing under a Manchineel and it rains you could get chemical burns. So we moved them along. Its name comes from the Spanish Conquistador’s name for it “manzanilla de la muerte” in English “The little apple of death.”
We swam in the water of the pacific and it was so warm that there was no hesitation about going in, no ‘belly button freeze’ at all. The surf was coming in pretty good and every once in a while we would get a big swell and it was a great ride until it plunked you into the bottom. I enjoyed the swimming. Bonnie got her feet wet and walked the beach, all she found was a couple of small shells. We walked a few more trails and then changed back into the regular outfit and headed back to the car. More animals on the way out of the park, three kinds of monkeys, at least a couple of sloths, and lots of B and Bs (Birds and Butterflies).
Not a problem for Bonnie and I. We managed to get home and have a shower and a siesta.
We went to the Falalfel house for supper (good) and then across the street to the Cafe Milagro for drinks, their claim to fame is one of the original people to pay a fair wage to the coffee growers and starting to sell good Costa Rican Coffee in Costa Rica, as opposed to shipping it all offshore and leaving grunge for the locals.
We met a one of the Mary, one of the other people from our casa at the Cafe and talked to her for a long time (until there was a break in the rain). The break in the rain never came so we decided to hail a cab for the few hundred yards rather than soak us (and our cell phones). It was coming down in buckets for over an hour while we talked and it hasn’t stopped yet.
November 22 Back to Maggie and Jamal’s
We had a reasonable breakfast at the casa and then packed up to leave. As we were leaving we noticed we had a flat tire. After Asking for Tire insurance several times I will not be pleased if this costs me a ton of money. We changed the tire, and showed Maggie how to change a tire. That wasn’t a long delay. We went up to Hotel Gaia to where Shawn Bauer our Sobeys chef worked when he was in Costa Rica. They are trying to reintroduce Macaws back into this area and are releasing them at the resort. (They also stick around for the guests to see)
November 23 A walk to Barbacoas
We heard that my step-sister Diane Campbell died. She was suffering from Brain Cancer and was not doing well when we left, still it was a shock that she was gone that quickly.
We walked up the hill to Barbacoas and went to the fruiteria and got some spicy peppers, cilantro, and a large pineapple for 1500 colon (about $3 USD) from there we walked all of 15 feet to Soda Rositas before it started to rain. We had a cream banana smoothie while we waited (1600 colon) and then the rain stopped so we went to the local butcher shop and got some chicken for supper that Jamal suggested.
Going to bed we found an ant’s nest in the closet in our room and there were a few hundred ants to deal with. By the time we took care of most of them the room was smelling enough of chemical that Bonnie and I slept on the couch downstairs.
November 24 Turu Ba Ri Park with a Zip Line!
We decided to try for the Turu Ba Ri Park that Maggie suggested. It had a nature walk and a zip line. We were a little late leaving so we didn’t get there until about 11. The zip line takes an hour and the Nature walk takes 3 hours. We figured the zipline, then lunch and then the nature walk was the best order do we were off. We got asked if we would wait for another person she was just finishing up the horseback riding. We didn’t mind there were only two of us on the zip line.
We had a really nice lunch but the win was the pork ribs and the plantain. The sour-sop juice was very good too. We just finished our lunch and was wondering how to get to, and when the next Nature walk was. When we arrive we purchased the Nature walk, zip line, and lunch as one item. So they gave us three wrist bands a blue one for the zip line, a white one for lunch and a green one for the Nature walk. As you complete the “experience” they remove the wrist band. So after lunch the girl from cashier desk caught my eye and I pointed to my wrist band. She looked over at the guides at the table and he came over immediately. He was ready to go when we were. They are NOT busy.
He asked if we were ready for a three hour hike and we said we were. He wasn’t too sure about ME. But I did ok. We trimmed it a bit short (we passed on the sugar cane
We got to the car and it was reading 98 degrees. It was definitely hot. We left the park and started up into the hills. The temperature dropped rapidly as we climbed into the hilly up and down section through the mountains it was down to 88 degrees when we came upon a group of people on a bicycle tour through the mountains. The temperature was about the same as the age of the group. There were more than a couple of them that looked like they were ready for a stroke. I was tempted to roll down the window and offer encouragement “There’s only another 10 miles to the park!” Some of them probably wouldn’t have taken it as encouragement.
We got home and all things were good here. We made a cupboard special from the leftovers in the fridge, so a grocery store run is on deck for tomorrow.
November 25 Tucans, Santiago de Puriscal, a walk to Cortezal and a sunset
Our nav software is a little confused by one way streets, there are a lot of them it doesn’t seem to know about a lot of them and wants to send us the wrong way on the streets. We survived and got back to Maggie and Jamal’s without a problem.
We decided to go for another walk and instead of turning right to Barbacoas we turned left to the little community of Cortezal. It is a dead end road with a school, and two corner stores, Mario Lopez owns one of them and Maggie’s emergency address is 300 meters east of Mario Lopez’s. There doesn’t seem to be any civic addresses just addresses relative to other “well known” places. Our AirBnB place was 75 meters west of the KFC in Barrio La California in San Jose.
We saw lots of pretty flowers, lots of coffee plants, and what looked like a weigh station/grain elevator style coffee bean place where the locals were bringing all of their coffee beans to be weighted. The locals were definitely not used to seeing a couple of gringos walking around their part of the world.
We came back to the house and had to do a emergency run to the grocery store as Alturo and his wife, Liz, were coming to supper and we had a change of menu. Hamburger for a meatloaf runs about 2000 colon a pound ($4USD).
There was an absolutely beautiful sunset in the clouds, where we are we have no horizon. Still the clouds were very pretty.
November 26 Tire repairs
We took the car back to Maggie and Jamal’s and changed the tire back onto the car so we knew we had a good tire in the trunk. We changed into our swimsuits and headed to the pool. There are two streams that run on either side of the property. The pool is filled by running a hose from above the level of the pool, water runs down the hose and fills the pool, it drains out of the pool and down another hose back to the stream. Nice simple system for keeping the water flowing and not getting a problem with stagnant water. On the down side, COLD! Definitely not up to the temperature at Manuel Antonio’s Pacific Ocean.
We booked ourselves into a Monteverde Hostal and Maggie is going to book us into a night walk at the park. We are quickly running out of time in Costa Rica We have Friday night in Monteverde, Saturday here at Maggie’s and then Sunday in San Jose and we leave Monday.
November 27 Monteverde, a Day of Insects!
Maggie and Jamal were ready to go by early afternoon. So rather than have lunch here we left and got as far as the Autopista before we stopped for lunch. The tire was holding up well. The car has an unnerving habit of loosing power going up hills. It isn’t consistent but every once in a while I start going up a hill and it won’t hold power. I’m down to second gear or even first before it picks up enough power to get going again. It did it a few times on the way to the Autopista. There was a bit of debate as to the state of the road. The map says the bottom is dirt and the top is paved. The system that Jamal and Maggie are using says it is fine. There was a lot of traffic up to Route 606, which is the main drag up to Monteverde. We were pleasantly surprised by very little traffic and nice paved roads for the first half of the run. It degraded quickly after that. It was a rutted washboard road for about 20-30 kms almost all of which were uphill. The village itself was actually paved which was a nice bonus. Monteverde is the continental divide. So it is quite high.
We got to Monteverde and checked in at the Hostel Sloth Backpackers and got into our rooms ok. We got there about an hour before the tour bus was supposed to get there to pick us up to take us on the night tour. We walked to the tour office to settle up with the bill on the tour and the tourist agency that Jamal and Maggie work for had settled the bill already.
I didn’t sleep particularly well for some reason. The room was ok but nothing special.
November 28 Monteverde Day tour and Maggie and Jamal’s Again
Monteverde is a cloud forest reserve, the moisture comes across from the Caribbean, rises up and condenses as it rises. The forest can be completely enclosed in fog/cloud most of the time. One of the trails we were on advertised that it was between 5000 and 5100 feet elevation, just shy of a mile high. The cloud forest is a unique ecosystem.
The guide Victor, was very good and very skilled at spotting birds. We saw a few Resplendent Quetzals. It is uncommon to see any but we saw a few. We also saw hummingbirds and a few stick insects. We also saw a raid of army ants. Army ants don’t have a permanent nest and are almost always on the move. They also eat everything. Leaf cutter ants were common as well. An interesting thing is that leaf cutters don’t eat the leaves. They take the leaves to an underground chamber where a fungus grows on the leaves and they eat the fungus. As far as exciting animal life Manuel Antonio is hard to beat.
Next to the entrance is a “Free” hummingbird view area, read this as a coffee/patisserie shop with a whole lot of hummingbird feeders around to gather the tourists and have coffee. It was amazing to watch that number of species of hummingbirds.
We drove down the hill and had lunch at Stella’s Bakery. We had a Gallo Pinto and a coffee, Jamal and Maggie has a bagel sandwich. Bagels are rare here and Maggie was excited.
We drove down the hill and made it all the way without a problem I did a time lapse movie of the drive down but it was too long between images for it to make a decent movie.
We are leaving in the morning so Maggie asked if they could go to Puriscal to get a provisioning run. So rather than going straight home we went to grocery store and they were able to get some bulky things that it is hard for them to get on their own. We came back and relaxed for a while before supper.
November 29 Back to San Jose
We slept good and were pretty well all packed the night before. So that in the morning we didn’t have a lot to do besides make breakfast and go. The car took a couple trys to get moving. It barely had enough energy to get moving on the level let along moving on the vertical out of the driveway. We got out and we stopped to get gas in Santiago de Puriscal. We were down to 3/8s of a tank and didn’t want to chance having a problem and the gas station guy was very good to us getting the tire fixed. The gas station was packed and we were fourth in line to get gas and their were at least 12 guys pumping gas. It was a mad house. But we got gas ok. We confused the nav software going in circles. (We missed the turn the first time and had to do another full loop to get to the gas station.) I knew the basic way to San Jose so after a moment’s recalculation the nav software was fine again.
We got to San Jose and the nav software was bringing us in onto the same route we came in from the airport. And that was on Ave 2. Problem was Ave 2 was having a parade something with a lot of oxen and carts was happening. The cars were blocked up everywhere. We tried to get out of it but in doing so ended up on the highway back to Puriscal. So rather than hit the toll booth we took the first exit and headed back in the general direction of the casa with the hope that the nav software would recalculate and take us on a good route back. It got us back to downtown and almost to Ave 2 before we realized it. We were able to loop around and head back along the streets that we walked down two weeks ago. We finally found enough landmarks that we found our way without the aid of the GPS. We arrived about 11:00 and the lady that was supposed to meet us was late getting here. I can’t complain if she came the same way we did being late was understandable. We got into the place and rather than 1A we were in 1B. One B is a much nicer apartment. But one thing that we have noticed is that this is the first place we have been where ceiling fans are uncommon. Jamal’s place, 1A or 1B, not a fan. Zulma was able to arrange a taxi for us to the airport in the morning so that is done. The next thing that had to get done was the car drop off. They were supposed to pick up the car at 1pm so that is good. But they didn’t show up. At 1:30 we were hungry and wondering if they forgot us completely so we called using Skype on our phone. They were 300 meters away. Yeah right, but at least they hadn’t forgot us.
We were hungry and headed over to La Esquina de Buenos Aires and saw a dance troop practicing in the park we stopped and watched for a few minutes but were hungry so we continued on to the restaurant. We had the ½ grilled sampler, for two persons. We could hardly put a dent in it. We should have asked for a ¼ sampler. We walked over to Gallery Niru but the were closed. I think we actually drove by them earlier but we had a green light so I didn’t look and Bonnie was buried in a map.
We walked back to one of the supermarkets and got a few bags of coffee beans for home and then down to a street vendor for 4 large bananas and three patisseries. Bananas were about 10 cents each and the patisseries were about a dollar. We are probably going to have one of the patisseries tonight and maybe a banana but that sounds like too much food right now.
A coffee is about the only thing I want at the moment.
November 30 Home Again!