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SOLO TRIP – MAY 2012


Iguana (female)

Iguana (female)

Preparing to take a trip away from home is always a burden as I have three dogs and two cats. It’s difficult for someone to come over daily to check on the critters, especially in Houston since the traffic is frequently lousy. But I have a friend who offered to take charge and make daily visits to the house. The dogs have a doggy door to go in-and-out whenever they need, I just needed someone to ensure they were okay. So with that burden relieved, I was once again set to make what was my third trip to Costa Rica—but this time I would go alone.

There was a great amount of fear inside of me planning this trip. I am not all that adventurous alone. And with the driving fiasco the kids and I ran into on the previous trip, I was mortified, to say the least. But it would turn out to be a really wonderful trip.

View of the cabins

Hotel Arenal Green

The first worrisome hurdle to jump over was finding a hotel, one where I could feel comfortable, safe and was affordable. I wanted something close to town but yet out in the country where it was quiet and I could soak up the nature. (La Fortuna only has a couple thousand people, so I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s huge metropolis.) Searching endlessly on the internet, I stumbled upon the Hotel Arenal Green. It’s located on the road leading to the cataratas, about one mile outside of La Fortuna coming from San Jose.

The rates at that time for May 2012 were $40 for a single cabin. I COULD AFFORD THAT! I didn’t know what to expect for that rate, but it said it had air conditioning and that was my main requirement. And since I already knew where the cataratas was located, I felt reasonably comfortable.

And so I was off for a week of solo adventure.

The goal for this trip was to do everything I had not done before. What were those things? I had no idea. Last time Miles and I visited the butterfly conservatory and serpentarium in El Castillo (Arenal Ecozoo), La Paz, La Fortuna cataratas, our usual hangout – Lava Lounge and Proyecto Asis wildlife refuge. So I was going to wing it.

The drive to La Fortuna was totally uneventful. In fact, the drive took me only a little over two hours (it can be anywhere between two-and-a-half to three hours). When I arrived at the Arenal Green I was greeted by Monica Lopez, daughter to the owner, and Anna, the activities director. They were most welcoming, and I started to feel at home pretty quick.

Since I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do other than visit the usual previous butterfly farms, etc., I turned to Anna to make suggestions. She told me about a boat ride at the Canon Negro Wildlife Refuge bordering Nicaragua. She said you could possibly see the Capuchin, Howler and Black-handed monkeys, birds, Caiman and other wildlife. An all-day event that included transportation and lunch would be $65. It seemed to be a little more than what I really wanted to spend, but hey, I was here to see what I hadn’t seen before. “So make me that reservation, Anna!”

The next morning the tour group Canoa Aventura picked me up at 7:30. There were six other people in the van, and we set off for a couple hour drive to Canon Negro Wildlife Refuge.

Canon Negro Wildlife Refuge

Canon Negro Wildlife Refuge

The tour guide was so informative. She spent the entire trip talking about the wildlife, educating us about birds, sloths, etc. We were toodling down the road when the driver stopped. He had spied a sloth in a tree (unfortunately it was too far away so we couldn’t see if it was a two- or three-toed). We all got to gawk and take photos. We also spotted Bare-throated Tiger Herons,

Bare-throated Tiger Heron

Bare-throated Tiger Heron

various marsh birds, and then the biggest surprise ever! We pulled into a little soda that was situated at a bridge at the top of the river’s bank. In the tree that reached from the bank up to the top of the building were dozens of the largest Iguanas you have ever seen! Totally unbelievable. I never imagined that Iguanas would live in the top of trees.

Iguana (female)

Iguana (female)

It turns out that the females had it all figured out. They basked in the sun while the males stayed on the ground protecting the eggs. And all they did was sleep. Until recently, the people ate the Iguanas; it was a major meat source. They say it tastes like chicken (but then, so does alligator). Hence the term, “Chicken of the Trees.” But since the country has become very aware of preservation and sustainablility, it is now illegal to kill an Iguanas. Good move, dudes.

Howler Monkey at Canon Negro

Howler Monkey at Canon Negro

 

Cindi at Cano Negro

Cindi at Cano Negro

Arriving at the boat dock, we were treated to brunch: pastries, juice and coffee. We were all pawing at the trough to board the boat, so off we went. We didn’t get two minutes away from the dock when someone spotted a monkey on the bank in the trees. It turned out to be a Howler monkey family. Costa Rican Howlers are black with a little brown spotting of hair on the belly.

 

Baby Howler Monkey at Canon Negro

Baby Howler Monkey at Canon Negro

Included with this family was a baby that was orange (appeared to be less than one-year-old, according to the tour guide).(PHOTO The guide informed us that due to in-breeding their babies can be this color. If this monkey were to breed, it did not necessarily affect the coloring of its offspring. And the reason for so much in-breeding is due to the fact that the monkeys cannot cross the river to get to the other monkeys. “Monkey see, monkey do.”

 

 

 

Anhinga-Anhinga (male) at Canon Negro

Anhinga-Anhinga (male) at Canon Negro

Floating along we saw Anhingas, various small birds,

Long-nosed bat at Canon Negro

Long-nosed bat at Canon Negro

Long-nosed Bats and plenty of Caiman.

Caiman at Canon Negro

Caiman at Canon Negro

There really weren’t a lot of any one particular species of animal. Unfortunately we did not see the Capuchin or Black-handed Spider monkeys. It was May and a fair amount of birds had migrated north for the summer and the river was very low as the rainy season had not yet started. Migration and rain had a lot to do with the park’s population of wildlife. The sightings were sparse, to say the least. But, hey, at least I got to see a Sloth and Howler monkey on this trip. You can’t have everything all the time. Guess this means I’ll have to start planning another trip for next year, huh? Yup, good excuse. We got back to the dock in time for lunch. And then the drive back. It was a good day, and everyone was tired and ready to grab an Imperial back at the camp.

The Canon Negro Wildlife Refuge trip is a MUST SEE.

A visit to the Arenal Adventura Park that is located towards the volcano was recommended. At this time it was newly opened and was still being stocked with exotics and the habitats were under construction. I felt the entrance fee of $30 was rather steep. Although I enjoyed the personal tour through the small serpetarium and frog habitat, it did not make a marked impression on me. The interesting items were the Red-eyed Tree Frog eggs and the Leaf Cutter Ants.

The Leaf Cutter Ants are amazing. They carry large amounts of leaves to their nest making 1,000 cuts per seconds with their jaws. The largest nest recorded spans one-quarter acre.

Brown Siporeta Butterfly

Brown Siporeta Butterfly

A return visit to Arenal Ecozoo in El Castillo beckoned me. I must absolutely take that horrid road that turns off from the main road leading to the volcano, directly across from the little Police station. No trip to Costa Rica would be complete without at least one jaw-jarring road trip. It couldn’t be more than two miles from the cut-off to the next turn to get to El Castillo, but it takes about 20 minutes as you cannot drive any faster than 5kmh. The road is …. what they call “gravel,” but what I call “boulders.” (Grin) The rocks are not tiny by any means; they are good-sized rocks. If a rock becomes displaced, a rather gaping hole is left. And, of course, with the rock protruding up several inches, it makes for the most bumpy road you have ever driven. I had a water bottle setting in the glove compartment. By the time I got there, the bottle had jumped out onto the seat, busted open and drenched my iPhone. So much for that.

But in any event, I made my way to the Ecozoo Butterfly Conservatory. This is one amazing place. They have four butterfly exhibits, each housing a different species. The most intriguing was the Glasswing Butterfly.

Greta - Glasswing Butterfly

Greta – Glasswing Butterfly

When I first entered the enclosure, I thought it was empty. But then I saw something fly by. Upon a closer look I saw this magnificent small butterfly that was translucent. Never had I heard of such a thing. (PHOTO) The four hours I spent snapping photo after photo was the best event yet. For only $11 I felt I had hit gold. This place is an absolute MUST SEE. (Remember, this trip happened in May which is butterfly season. So be sure to check the calendar before going.)

On the way back to the Hotel Arenal Green I spotted a butterfly farm right before entering La Fortuna (located just past the Mega Super, on your way to the volcano, on the left, next to the Sky Trek office). Entrance fee was $6 and it, too, had four enclosures. The varieties were, again, amazing. You walk in and just about got hit in the face by the butterflies. For $6 it was a true value. And it’s located so close! They also had a habitat for frogs, but I only saw one Blue Jean Frog. Again, make sure it’s butterfly season as this place will not tell you they have no butterflies, and they will take your money anyhow.

Waterfall Cataratas 5421

La Fortuna Cataratas

After thinking about it quite awhile, the decision to get more than just a little exercise by descending and climbing the steps to the La Fortuna Cataratas turned out to be a true experience. (Entrance fee is $6.) Going down the steps was a little more digestible this time. Not only was I better prepared mentally, I figured out that I needed to rest occasionally. So getting to the bottom was more pleasant. (PHOTO) After spending about one-half-hour sitting at the waterfall’s edge, it was time to get back to the top. It looked like rain. Up I go. All of a sudden the sky opened up its over-abundant supply of water and drenched me in a matter of seconds. I quickly grabbed a cheap plastic poncho I had in my backpack and wrapped it around my camera. There was no way I could afford to lose yet another expensive part of my happiness. Losing the cell phone was enough disaster for one day. Making my way back to the top, the rain just wouldn’t quit. I finally dashed to the car and drove the 1km back to the Hotel Arenal Green. It rained the rest of the day into the night with winds gusting severely. It hit the roof of my cabin so hard I literally could not hear the TV. I later found out they had a tropical storm. It sure did make for great sleeping!

Parrot at Cataratas Cabins in La Fortuna

Parrot at Cataratas Cabins in La Fortuna

The next morning came the sunshine, 5:30 a.m., as usual. “Up and at ‘em!” The birds were chirping and there was motion all about. It’s a great place to be for early risers. If you like to sleep in, I suggest you simply go to bed early as it’s dark by 5:30 p.m. That, in itself, will get you 12 hours of sleep.

TIME TO HIKE! Yes! I read about a hiking trail that would take you to view the Arenal Volcano slide that happened in the 1960s. (It’s located on the road that takes you past the Arenal National Park. Go to the end of the road where you would turn right to enter Arenal Observatory Lodge. On the left is a place to park.) For the entrance fee of $10 you get a little hand-drawn map showing the two trails. The lady said the self-guided round trip hike was about one-and-one-half-hours. Right off the bat you have to cross this dilapidated bridge. (Maybe they’re saving up the entrance fee to replace the bridge? Ummm…the ladies collecting the fee could possibly just simply be sitting there to collect money for themselves. An answer I would never know.) That should have been my first clue as to we what lay ahead. Within a few minutes I was faced with these steps leading up the hill that were knee-high. Man! I’d have to literally lift my legs with my hands, placing one foot on the stop while grabbing for something to pull myself up. How many of these steps are there? Looking up I could see maybe six steps. Okay, no problem. Hi Ho! Well! What I did NOT see was that the steps turned a corner and there, in front of me, was another set of steps. I ascended this next set of steps only to turn yet another corner. At this point I thought maybe I should throw in the towel. I looked down and realized that to descend would mean I’d have to sit down, kinda jump to the next step and hopefully not fall forward on my face. Lord. It cannot be that much further up, can it? And so I continue, hiking my ass up step after step. I had no idea how high up I was, but it certainly was a long way up. I actually tried to count the steps. After 33 I wasn’t sure that I was counting correctly—I had lost count due to my exhaustion and frustration. Finally I reached the top and sat on the bench with a sign that educated you about the lava flow. I look out across the way and stared; I squinted. Exactly where are these large boulders they spoke of that came from the bowels of this famous volcano? I couldn’t see anything. It was all grown over from the last 40 years. Okay. Well, that was a disappointment. Let’s go home. I’m tired and I need to pee.

While the trek up the hill was an adventure, coming down was another story. I was so relieved to see the exit sign pointing in another direction other than that of the entrance. It was smooth sailing. Along the way I spotted a family of Howlers and a Great Curassow. That made my day even though it was way too dark to photograph.

And then I turned the dreaded corner. The trail ended. In front of me was dense forest; to the right was the same; to the left was a steep climb down—no “steps”—but boulders. Large boulders stacked on top of each other. How in the world are you supposed to descend this? Oh, man, I freaked out. Was I going the right way? Should I turn around and go back the way I came? This one-and-one-half-hour hike had already hit over two hours. I packed my camera equipment on my back, secured the laces on my shoes, and started the descent—the descent from hell. Sitting on my butt, I reached my legs out a far as I could to position my foot on the next rock so I wouldn’t fall into the crevice. I dare say my pants were worn thin by the end of the descent. It must have taken me a good half hour to get to the bottom—it was a LONG way down. Once I got to the bottom I spotted the dilapidated bridge and breathed the biggest sigh of relief ever. This is a wonderful adventure if you like to hike a new area. But there is literally no view to be had.

I love to eat at various restaurants with my favorite being the “Just Good Food” soda that serves absolutely amazing hamburgers (try the Texas burger—it’s the best!) The soda was purchased by a New Jersey tourist earlier in the year. The original owner was ready to retire, and Mike’s inquiry was a deal waiting to be consummated. To find this quaint place, as you are coming into town on the road from San Jose, cross the bridge through the first intersection. In that first block of buildings, near the next corner at the main street, on the right is “Just Good Food.” I ate there several times during my visits over the next two years. (UPDATE: As of 2014 the restaurant is closed. I understand they had a fire and it’s under renovation.)

Another great restaurant is located across the street, on the corner from the bank, directly across from the park. This full-service restaurant  serves an excellent chicken breast in a cream sauce, topped with sliced avacado. It is to die for! The food is a little more pricy but well worth it.

As a side note: be sure to check the bottom of your restaurant tab. Some of the restaurants incorporate the tip into the total. I was unaware I was tipping a total of 30%! Yikes!!!

After a week of adventures, I was ready to head home. I’ll be back next year!

 

Cindi at Cano Negro

Cindi at Cano Negro

All photos are copy righted by Cindi L Rogers

 


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