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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Costa Rica (week one)

Chestnut Billed Toucan
The first morning, we woke early to the sounds of dozens of different bird songs and calls all around the house. We all ended up out on the balcony swinging in the hammock or resting in chairs watching birds of every sort flying around in the tree tops right in front of us. The house(s) were built on the side of a steep hill so the tops of many trees were about even with our balcony. All the activity that was happening at the tree top level was right in front of us. We stared as hummingbirds, green parrots, toucans, and tons of other exotic birds flew around us.
Here's a couple links to videos of how the house was laid out:

Lower House

Upper (main) House


Waves were great!
Sara reading under the palms
We spent a week in this house and went out and did something every single day. We were really glad we had rented a vehicle. It just opened up our options. The house was walking distance to a beach, but with the vehicle we found a couple others that we really liked and went to often. The south end of Playa Cocles was just perfect. We found a little rough dirt road that went through the woods and ended right at the beach. The water was awesome, largish waves and 85ยบ with a soft sandy bottom.
The kids would ask to go back to this beach most of the time, We all liked it!
It was nice because you could see the vehicle from the beach so I didn't worry we were being robbed while swimming.
I'd done a little research before the trip and found a waterfall we could hike through the jungle to reach. We had to drive a ways to get to the town of Bri Bri right on the border with Panama. I didn't realize until later how close we were to another country, we should have waded across the border and checked off another country! To get to the falls, we drove down a long dirt road, drove across a river and into the jungle. We parked at a lady's house, paid her 500 colones ($1.00) and started hiking. We soon met a family sitting on the edge of the river. They asked if we were going to the catarata (falls) and did we need a guide? I was pretty sure I didn't and so we said no. After about 10 minutes of hiking past banana trees hanging with fruit, a band of Capuchin monkeys, and several Blue Morpho butterflies, we realized they had followed us up the mountain into the jungle. About 3 minutes later they started calling out to us, pointing to a small path veering off into the thick jungle. We soon realized that we had walked right by the entrance path to the falls. After another 5 minutes of hiking on a muddy, steep trail, we were looking down onto Volio Falls. It was really cool, falling about 60 feet through fern and moss-lined walls into a waist deep pool.
Volio Falls
We waded up under the falls. It was incredibly powerful, to the point that it felt like it was taking your skin off! There were small fish that would come and eat out of your hand in the pools below. The 'guide' family sat and seemed content to watch us splash around and we shared our lunch with them. Our daughter and their little girl really hit it off and even though there was a massive language barrier they had fun. It really was a cool spot, we saw a couple more Blue Morpho butterflies and also red poison dart frogs hopping around. 
When we packed up and left, the family did too. We thought they were waiting to take a bath in the falls because the mother had a bottle of shampoo with her. Nope, they followed us up the path and down the main trail back to the car. I had given the guy some money when they pointed out the trail to us. We had already walked past it and would have spent a while looking when we finally realized we went too far. Now, when we got back down the mountain, he asked for $20 which I didn't have. I ended up giving him about half that and we both were satisfied.

Volunteer with a baby Howler Monkey
Before the trip, the kids had found out about the Jaguar Rescue Center, just a couple miles from our house. They were pretty convinced we needed to go there as there were supposed to be numerous orphaned or injured animals there that were being raised or rehabilitated for future release back into the wild. A couple days after the hike to the falls, we decided to go to the Center. We were a little surprised with the number of other people there. It seems like a popular destination with the tourist crowd. Our group of about 20 people, mostly German, was led by a young lady from Pennsylvania. She really knew her stuff! The Center was really neat. There was a large variety of snakes in glass cages that we passed by at the entrance. The guide explained that of the 139 species of snakes in the country, 22 were venomous but thanks to anti-venom very few people die as a result of snake bite. It turned out that the snakes we saw in the Center were the only living ones we saw on the whole trip. There were a lot of animals in the Center, birds, cats, monkeys, sloths, deer, frogs, and other mammals. After looking at many of them, we went over to the highlight of the whole place, the orphaned baby monkey room! There was a group ahead of us that were just finishing as we got there. We could see them inside with maybe 10 baby monkeys jumping around, swinging from ropes and climbing on the people! It looked so cool! The kids were just in awe that we would get a chance to go in and experience it for ourselves. After about 10 minutes, the group left and it was our turn.We went into an entry room and removed loose items and all put on hand sanitizer so as to not spread any diseases to the monkeys. We went in and were surrounded by very active little monkeys, climbing, jumping and swinging all over the place! The 10 minutes we spent in with them was amazing! They were mostly Howler monkeys with one Capuchin and one Spider Monkey in the group.
It really was an amazing experience, one of the highlights of the whole trip! It was fun until one pooped on my hand....

Baby Monkey Video

There were also several sloths that had been orphaned and were being raised until they were old enough to be released in the wild again. At the end of our trip we saw an adult crossing the road at night and could understand how so many little ones become orphaned when the mothers are hit by vehicles. They.... move... so... slowly...!
Orphaned sloth
Walking on Punta Manzanillo
Another day we (I) decided we should hike across Punta Manzanillo to an island off the shore named Monkey Island. I mean who wouldn't want to go see an island called that? It only looked like a 3 mile hike so I figured it would be no problem. We started hiking into the jungle at the far end of the beach at Manzanillo. After wading across a river we walked just a short ways before finding a cool little pocket beach with a rope swing out over the water.

We spent some time there and then pressed on into the jungle. The trail became rougher and muddier the further we went. Eventually we came to Manzanillo Rock, a rock spire jutting out of the ocean off the end of the point. The kids tried swimming in the powerful waves on the little beach below it, but the rocky reef made it too painful for long.
Manzanillo Rock
Deeper into the jungle
As we walked further, the trail deteriorated into a muddy path. Some of us just took our sandals off and walked barefoot as the mud was sticking to them so much. This was really thick jungle, the thickest I've ever seen. It seemed like hundreds of different types of plants were growing beside the trail or hanging over it. I was pretty paranoid about stumbling onto a snake so we were walking single file and really watching our step. We saw some incredible creatures flying over us and crawling beside the trail. Butterflies, birds, ants, frogs, crabs, an agouti, and monkeys. It seemed that everywhere you looked there was something new and fascinating to see. It really was an amazing place. After a while, the kids started complaining that they wanted to go back. We said "Just a little bit further and we'll stop".
Not 10 seconds later, our son pushed an overhanging leaf aside and spotted a sleeping Red Eyed Tree Frog clinging to the underside. We were so thrilled! These guys are not terribly uncommon, but are nocturnal and don't really move around during the day so it is unusual to see them when the sun is up. We spent some time looking him over and taking pictures. When we went to move him off the trail and further into the jungle, he woke up, his giant red eyes popped out, and he started climbing up my hand and arm. Sara had always wanted to see one of these in the wild. It really was a treat to see!
The kids wanted to turn back and swim at the beach again but we encouraged them to keep going a little further. Eventually, we stopped to eat some lunch under some tall trees. We heard some thrashing around up high and spotted a couple Howler monkeys a couple trees over. They definitely were aware of us and started climbing closer across the canopy top.
As they got overhead they were knocking a few leaves and small branches down onto the forest floor. One of the kids said that it looked like they were throwing them at us but we figured it was coincidence. One of them began howling and hooting and that set off the whole troop of about 15! The noise was unreal! They were right over our heads at this point and really only about 25 feet up. Two, that looked to be 'teenagers' went over to a large dead limb and began pushing on it until it snapped off and fell to the ground pretty close to us. We decided they were letting us know this was their territory and we should vacate it. We gathered up our stuff and headed back to the beach. We never made it to Monkey Island, we had to leave something for the next trip!  We really liked our time on the Caribbean side. The town of Puerto Viejo, about 15 minutes north of us was larger, more active, and had a lot more tourists. We went there for breakfast one day and ate at Bread and Chocolate, a very popular local bakery and coffee shop. They had WiFi so we were able to upload some pictures, check email, and catch up on the news (Turrialba Volcano had erupted since we had arrived and was only about 80 miles away). We spent days at the beach or hiking in the jungle and nights listening to chirps and calls of birds, insects, monkeys, and geckos after it got dark about 5pm. We saw a lot, but there was still a lot we missed and saved for the next trip. After a week in the house, we packed up, said goodbye to Yari, and headed out to cross the country for another week on the Pacific side.

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