Friday, March 30, 2018

Day 7

Another day on the coast, another beautiful sunrise over the Pacific Ocean.

We got an early start to the day today. We checked out of our hotel in Monteverde at 5:40am (!) to drive to Puntarenas on the west coast. There, we ate breakfast together before boarding our catamaran. 

I feel like it can finally be said - we've had BEAUTIFUL weather this entire week. All week, we've been told that the weather can change quickly in Costa Rica, especially in the mountains. But all week, we haven't had a threat of rain, or even one cloudy day. I haven't mentioned the weather since I didn't want to jinx our good fortune, but the nice weather has helped make our week so much fun.

We boarded the catamaran for a 1.5 hour ride to Tortuga Island, which is a property owned by the catamaran company, Calypso Cruises. During the ride, the ship's crew went out of their way to entertain us. There was Latino dance music, free drinks (water, soft drinks), and breathtaking scenery. Our group was among the 97 total passengers & crew.

As we were just leaving port, we encountered a group of bottle-nosed dolphins. The captain stopped the boat so we could take pictures for a minute or two. Then when the boat started up again, that's when the action began. The playful dolphins swam along with our boat for about 10 minutes, jumping out of the water in full view right next to us.

We enjoyed the ride, but we finally arrived at Tortuga Island.

Dave, Laura, & JoAnn were the first ones off.

Once we disembarked, groups formed to go snorkeling. Here's our group leaving to snorkel.

Here's where we spent our day today :)

After the snorkelers returned, it was time for lunch. The catamaran crew doubles as a cooking crew - they prepared a 4-course lunch for us (ceviche, salad, chicken, dessert), all while a band was playing marimba music. 

The shade was important. This was the hottest day for us this week - it was in the low to mid 90s and very sunny. The crew reminded us several times to drink plenty of water and to apply sunscreen throughout the day. Since we're so close to the equator, the sun is more intense than what we're used to in Illinois.

After lunch, we had the option of going on Banana boat rides. Some went on a ride, some stayed ashore. 

Unfortunately, after 5 hours on Tortuga Island, our day had to come to an end. But our ride home was special. The sun has been setting here at around 5:45pm this week, and it was setting as we returned to our dock in Puntarenas.

Crystal and Grace liked the view.

Once our catamaran tour ended, we were tired from the sun, water activites, and full day of moving around. But I think it was the favorite day of our trip for several in our group.

We drove 2 hours back to our first hotel near the airport for our return flights tomorrow. That drive usually takes a little over an hour, but we hit some traffic along the way. Big news here is that Costa Rica's presidential elections are this Sunday, so a lot of costarricenses are returning to the big cities for Easter and to vote.

Travel day tomorrow! :( 

¡Pura vida!

Day 6

Today was an adventure day. After breakfast at our hotel, we drove to Selvatura for some ziplining. But before we left, here was this morning's sunrise over the Pacific Ocean.

Zip lining was a fun time. We had several first-timers, and a few that have zip lined before. The course consisted of 13 different lines, each differing in length and scenery. What each line had in common is a thrilling ride above the canopy of the cloud forest.

After zip lining, it was time for lunch together.

In the afternoon, we went to another cloud forest for some wildlife observation and hiking. Here we are listening to a brief lecture about the reserved forests in Costa Rica, which makes up 24% of the country.

After this, we hiked. And hiked and hiked. There are beautiful trails, but difficult terrain to cross. A lot of our hiking required teamwork.

After one long hike, we took a second to reach a bridge we had seen from the air during ziplining. It was worth the trip, since we walked up at the forest canopy. Quite a view.

After a long day of walking, we went into town for some free time, then had dinner together. According to Nicole, our official records keeper, we made 14,044 steps today!

Beach day at Tortuga Island tomorrow!

¡Pura vida!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Day 5

Today was a travel day. After breakfast, we packed our suitcases and took all our belongings on the van as we drove from Alajuela northwest to Monteverde. Along the way, we stopped in the small town of Grecia. Here's Grecia's cathedral.

And its main plaza.

From there, we continued to the artisan village of Sarchí. Decorated ox carts have traditionally been used on farms here to collect coffee beans, fire wood, fruit, etc out in the fields. The center of ox cart production in Costa Rica is in Sarchí.

We toured a workshop that makes traditional ox carts, then had lunch at the same location.

From there, we continued northwest to our destination, Monteverde. But along the way, we saw some howler monkeys in the trees along the side of the road. Pablo, our driver, pulled over so we could take some photos. Just like we sometimes see deer along the side of the road in Illinois, howler monkeys can be found in the wild in Costa Rica.

Can you see the monkey up the tree?

Monteverde is up in the cloud forest, which our guide Cristián explained to us well. There are clouds here that remain at 1.500 meters above sea level. Any forest that's above this line is considered to be in the cloud forest, which is where we are now.

The drive up here was adventurous - we took a narrow, winding road with beautiful views of mountains and valleys on both sides.

Once we arrived at our hotel, we checked in to our rooms, which are wonderful. All our rooms face west, and we arrived just in time to watch the sun set over the mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

From there, dinner together out at a restaurant, then we returned home for the night.

Tomorrow is an adventure day - ziplining in the morning, then a visit to a nature reserve to see more wildlife in the afternoon.

¡Pura vida!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Day 4

Today started with breakfast at 7:00am, then we boarded our van to visit the Doka coffee plantation. There, we got a tour of the plantation, learned how coffee is grown and produced, then had lunch on the property. Lots of coffee sampling along the way. It was definitely an educational day, and we'll remember this visit the next time we drink some coffee.

But before our tour, a visit to their on-site butterfly sactuary.

¡Hola, Crystal y Grace!

To start off our tour, a group photo.

Here, our tour guide is explaining the different parts of the coffee fruit and how the different sized coffee beans are sorted.

And then a visit to the drying patio.

Want to know how to dry coffee beans under the sun? Just ask Anna:

Madi ❤️s coffee! (Photo courtesy of Nicole and her really nice phone/camera.)

At the end of the tour, our guide explained the roasting process. In the room to the right are coffee beans being roasted, and they're being bagged behind the glass windows to the left.

After our tour, lunch on the complex grounds. We had a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains, the butterfly sanctuary, and coffee plants as far as the eye could see. This week in Costa Rica, we have yet to eat a meal in a room with windows, including here.

After our visit to the Doka coffee plantation, we returned to our hotel for some free time. Later in the afternoon, we had a cooking demonstration on the hotel grounds. A member of the hotel cooking staff prepared a typical tico dish called patacones for us. But it was up to us to do all the prep work.

We had a surprise visit today. To the left is Marián, our tour guide Cristián's 6-yr old daughter. She had fun playing with us, and we met a new tica friend.

How did the patacones turn out?

Patacones are prepared by frying plantains, then pressing them like tortillas. The fried & pressed patacones are then topped with beans and the fresh salsa that we prepared. Really similar to Mexican tostadas.

After our cooking demonstration, we had some free time to take a siesta (we've had long, busy days), have some pool time, or just hang out with each other on the hotel grounds.

Finally, we finished up with dinner together at our hotel.

The plan for tomorrow is to pack up our things as we head west to Monteverde, a region high up in the mountains to the northwest. Along the way, we'll stop through the artisan town of Sarchí. We'll be in Monteverde for the next 2 days.

¡Pura vida!

Day 7

Another day on the coast, another beautiful sunrise over the Pacific Ocean. We got an early start to the day today. We checked out ...