Thursday, 6 June 2013

Waiting in Paradise

The "green season" is beautiful here in Costa Rica... everything is so lush, well... so green!  We've been on the road touring through Costa Rica for the last week and I'm constantly saying "look how beautiful that is!" pointing to this view or the next.  The Guanacaste region (Costa Rica's northwest) is dominated by huge haciendas - ranch lands populated by Brahma cows - and now, during the green season, the open, expansive, green fields doted with tall, broad Guanacaste trees are magnificent. Highlighted by other trees with beautiful red blossoms (I have to research what they are called) that add a sparkle of orange-red to the palette it feels like spring here.  Really, Costa Rica is a nature paradise!

Our first stop on our road tour was the volcano of Rincon de la Vieja.  We found a lovely pension to stay at in a village on slopes of the volcano.  We sat with our morning coffee and enjoyed the activities of hummingbirds and blue crowned mot-mots and vistas of green as far as your eye could see.  We hiked in Rincon de la Vieja National Park and saw bubbling mud pits, open steam vents, boiling ponds and funky looking trees.  That hike was beautiful (highly recommended) and it was amazing to stand amid all the energy coming from the ground (when I say boiling pond, I mean large ponds in full rolling boil... going all day and all night for years and years)!   The park has another hike, to the summit of the volcano where you can look into the crater, but it was closed due to "volcanic activity"!

The Costa Ricans have started to harness all this power and built a geothermal plant in the area a few years ago. The owner of our lodge told us that the first time they had a go at starting the plant they underestimated the power coming from the thermal vents and blew all the valves in the piping system.  Now the geothermal plant is much bigger, running smoothly and expanding.  It's best not to underestimate the power of mother nature.

There is also a big Hacienda operating on the side of the volcano which is still a working ranch but has also taped into the tourist industry.  They run a lodge and operate adventure tours including one of the best ziplining trips in the country, so... at Liam's request away we went.  This ziplining tour runs through a canyon with rumbling water below and lush green vegetation spilling out of all the cracks and crevices of the canyon walls... amazing!  I almost wish we could have gone in slow motion instead of zipping along with the quick, adrenaline filtered, glance.  There were several moments when I wasn't sure if taking the kids on this experience was very smart of us at all... there were times when it felt like we could bash into the side of the canyon.  And then, for some reason, I decided to do the optional rappel/rock climbing (which Eric and the boys did!) but... I get vertigo!  What was I thinking..?   During the climb back up I froze up about 2/3 the way up the sheer canyon wall... just stopped... couldn't move... just gripped to the side of the rock wall... frozen!  Then somehow I managed to push through but my heart was pounding and my mind had stopped thinking straight!  We had just a few more zip line stages to do and I don't think I was all there for those but I did make it to the end intact! And then Liam casually says "well... that was fun"!

After Rincon de la Vieja we drove south to Arenal Volcano which was another beautiful trip (still lots of "oh look at that").  This time through Haciendas, rolling hills sprinkled with little villages perched on the hill tops and then opening up to beautiful views of the Arenal Lake.  We drove by little cafes and restaurants that seemed so perfect for a leisurely drink or meal overlooking the green hills and open lake but we pushed on to the base of Arenal Volcano and the town of Fortuna.  We found a lodge on the "green side" of the Volcano (the other side has been subjected to the active spurts of lava, rock slides and gas emissions over the last decades and is grey and volcanic like).  The rains came just as we were pulling into our accommodations so we waited in the car for the rains to lighten up a bit and then made the dash to the room with all our gear (we have since bought umbrellas).  This area of Costa Rica - the Arenal Volcano-Fortuna - is full of hot spring resorts and hotels with "volcano views" so for us, as we enjoyed the beautiful drive around the lake then arrived at the base of the volcano, "tourism" started to scream at us instead of the lovely natural surroundings.  And with that the prices for everything gets crazy, especially for the hot springs.  The famous one - Tabacon - charges $60US (per/person) for a day pass!  But we found a spot that was free - you just watch where the Costa Ricans park and follow the little trails (right next to the $60 spot!) - and enjoyed a natural hot spring experience, amidst the lush greenery and devoid of all the tourism contraptions - out of sight and out of mind - it was awesome.  It was especially great because earlier in the day we went for a hike at Arenal National Park (hiking on an old lava flow and through secondary forest) - so the natural hot
spring was a great way to cap off the day's outing.  Well, actually... chilling at our lodge with the view of the volcano and watching a pair of toucans hop from branch to branch and flutter between trees was really an awesome way to cap off the day (plus rum & cokes with lime and hammocks to swing in and space to the kids to run around and explore)!  It was all great!

Now we are on the Caribbean coast in the little town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.  The drive here took us through more haciendas (ranching is a huge, huge part of Costa Rican life/economy) and then river crossings, and then large pineapple fields (full of the greeny/blue spikey plants) and closer to the coast, the huge banana plantations... with expanses of bright green leafy fields, then the freight container stock yards and then the coast... the port of Limon with large freighters anchored out in the Caribbean torquoise/blue waters.  It was great for the kids to see the banana plantations, then the containers, then the freighters so they can connect where our bananas at home come from (well, hopefully they got that connection!)  We were guessing which of the hundreds of containers were slotted for Canada.  (The same day we were making those connections about international economy/trade, I read an article about a container shipment of bananas that arrived in Spain (from Costa Rica) that was discovered with a large shipment of cocaine in it!  My idyllic view of Costa Rica got crushed a little).

Puerto Viejo is a little town with more low key budget-type tourism.   It's more our style (and budget) with hostels, little "posadas", cabina style hotels, fruit smoothy shops, pescador (fish) restaurants, hand made jewelry & beachware vendors lining the street and rustic/basic style beach bars featuring live music with the patrons spread out beyond the bar enjoying their beers on the beach and in the water. We are liking the vibe here!  We came this way to check out a sloth sanctuary, which we did.  It was very cool to see the two toed and three toed sloths up close... though we didn't dole out the $150 (each!) required for the "get to hold a baby sloth" tour (Liam didn't  understand why we wouldn't pay for that tour).  Part of the sloth sanctuary tour is a little canoe ride through the backwaters right next to the facilities.  That was really cool because we saw two wild Sloths up in the trees, Howler Monkeys lounging on a large stand of bamboo, a baby Caiman - so hidden in the bank of the river that we were all staring at it without being able to see it!, and really, really cool for us - we saw the male Emerald Basilik Lizard lounging in the sun on a branch by the river - I'm not sure if the pictures really capture just how green, how exotic looking that creature is.  Our pace has slowed a bit as this little place we found  is pretty comfy - front porch with hammock, big pool, and really cool for the kids (and us) are the crabs in the garden beds and free roaming little tropical tree frogs!  The boys head out each morning and evening to check if they can find frogs... we've gotten pretty lucky a few times.  And the boys  are almost done with terrorizing the crabs (they have figured out that the really big claw is "the shield" and the little claw is like the "sword").  We are really liking it here, so we may not rush out and  the weather is great here.. blue skies and no rain.

And in between beach time at Samara and our road trip, Eric and I have been getting ourselves organized for our return home.  That means scheduling the kids' summer activities (it's so easy with on-line registration for almost everything!) and organizing our first few days back (family visits, get our van out of storage, insurance for vehicles, house etc...).  We don't get our house back until July 1st but our flight home is June 25th, so we'll also be couch surfing for a few days.  I think I've gotten past that anxiety of seeing the days on the calendar chopped up into little increments of activities (though I'm sure I'll glance at it again and have that feeling of constriction hit me again).  I much prefer an open calendar that encourages the freedom to think of possibilities.  But when I think of how much Liam will enjoy playing soccer and how adamant Sean was about wanting cooking classes... it all seems okay.  I've put my private career counselling practice on hold this whole year and have started scheduling clients that have been patiently waiting for my return and I find that I'm really looking forward to returning to my trade (especially since I get to ease into it... full time work doesn't start until August).  So, as much as I don't like looking at the scheduled calendar, I'm looking forward to what all those scheduled activities mean.  We are still travelling, exploring, enjoying the paradise that is in front of us, and at the same time there is an undercurrent of waiting to go home to resume our life there.

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