Some pictures from our recent trip – blog posts are up on this site as well, if you’re curious.
Month: July 2014
Down the mountain
Saturday morning, we woke up to the possibility of birding, but the wind was very strong. Instead we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at Casa Batsu and laid in the hammocks for a few hours.
Eventually it was time to check out. Janelle and Natalia picked us up and took us into town. We went to the farmers market, just wrapping up, for a few supplies. Then, Janelle and Natalia left and we had an indirect walk back to the house. By way of food. All the food. We wandered out of town a bit and found a new bakery which had a delicious corn spiral thing. Next, we found a tiny toy store for some gifts for the kids.
Then we went to a food trailer and had a taco of the house. Which meant a chicken taco, fried, then covered in cabbage, mayo and ketchup. We had different opinions about the overall delightfulness of this food. Luckily, an amazing chocolate banana milkshake was procured shortly, and pre-marital bliss was restored. Then, another shredded chicken corn thing (Mmm) and a stroll back to the house by way of some more souvenirs.
By early afternoon, it was time to head for San Jose. First stop was a visit to a local jeweler, Marie, tucked up near Curi Cancha. She’s French Canadian and makes very cool pieces in her little cabin. She was in the process of setting some Australian opals in some beautiful silver settings (up to $2000). Natalia had given janelle some small opals and they were planning for some earrings, and Natalia was planning for a pendant of her own, using a stone They bought in the states. Like in Italy, it’s always fun to see familiar tools in an unfamiliar space, and to imagine the possibilities.
The drive to San Jose was very quiet, as the world cup game started right as we left. The views were glorious and the road was bouncy. We made it to San Jose just in time to see the shooting. Margarita, the hotel owner, is from the Netherlands, so she was ready to celebrate regardless. We enjoyed a celebratory glass of wine. Our rooms included loaner dogs and cats, always a bonus.
We went out for a basic pizza before heading to bed very early. At 3:30 we were up and headed to the the airport for the trip home, making it back safe and sound.
Coffee snobs of the world unite
We got up extra early this morning to enjoy the blue sky (and wind) for a bit. Carlos came through with another amazing breakfast. After our delicious omelettes, we thought we were done, so we got up to go swing in the hammocks. Carlos yelled “you’re not done yet!” – we forgot about the third course of breakfast, a fruity pancake.
Janelle picked us up around ten to take us to Santa Maria for a coffee tour at the monte verde coffee lab. On our way, we stopped in to Dev and Harriet’s house where we toured the garden, drank some lemonade and picked some arugula for dinner that night. After a quick visit, we headed down the hill for our tour.
The tour was very informal – normally it includes a hike through the plantation and then some tasting, but today the normal fellow was in San Jose so the owner met us. Instead of doing the typical tour, he really focused on the process and the different things that give give coffee character. We learned about the different ways to process the beans – from fully mechanized to more natural – and the different ways to roast. We learned about the cupping processing, and got to experience some of the steps. And we had some really tasty coffee. It was awesome to taste the difference between different preparation techniques (washed honey, natural) and roasts, including freshly roasted beans. We brought back plenty of coffee as well.
The coffee roaster had some very low-tech solutions for roasting – a hacked popcorn popper, lots of homemade parts, and a lot of intuition. Very different from the computer controlled, spreadsheet driven roasters we’ve seen here. Kat tried the beans at Each step and found they don’t really have flavor until the end. Right as the tour ended the guide Mel, that we’d run into the day before at Curi Cancha, wandered in. Small town.
After the tour, we went back to Janelle’s, so we could prep for dinner. Karen arrived to give massages. I went off for a walk into town – the order of the day was the purchase of snacks. Left to my own devices, I went a bit overboard, and sampled lots of local food. And brought back plenty more for tastings. Not all of it was a win. The local donuts disappoint, but the shredded chicken wrapped in corn was awesome. Kat, meanwhile napped on the couch, took pictures of flowers and helped in the kitchen. By the time she had her massage, the sun was setting and guests had already arrived.
Friday evening, lots of folks joined us for dinner. Guests included Robert Dean, the illustrator of the bird guide, Dev and Harriet, and Jim, a nature photographer and his wife Marta. The house was full and the food was good. We drank wine and threw sticks into the fire as the locals discussed the goings on around town and the local politics. Rick was certainly missed, but Monteverde is a warm and welcoming place. After video chatting with Natalia’s aunt and granny, we finally headed back to Casa Batsu.
Today, we awoke well rested, and had a lazy morning. We had another delicious breakfast – fruit with a breakfast burrito. Today was gloriously sunny, with an amazing sky. We lingered on the patio and did some work, before heading out for a hike.
We wandered through town, poking into shops, and getting some delicious coffee drinks at Don Juan’s. We poked around the Herpatarium to look at snakes and frogs, and then headed for Curi Cancha wildlife refuge.
On our walk, we passed Rafa on his motorbike, and our Brandies friends from last night. Then Genelle drove past with Natalia. Finally, we saw the chocolate maker. We’ve only been here a few nights, but feel like we know everyone!
Along our way, we stopped in a craft gallery and a great art store (just opened) called Foresta. We bought many treasures. Next, we bought a bag at Natalia’s favorite store (Luna Azul).
We had lunch at Stella’s bakery (tortilla soup, carrot cake), which has a great bird watching patio in the bag.
Eventually, we arrive at Curi Cancha. The quetzal had been seen that morning, and we had a map to tell us where to look. The forest was full of great trees and interesting landscape. We saw baby coatamundis and white-faced capuchins, but no quetzal. We saw some great hummingbirds, and heard the bell bird, and saw second hand evidence of a quetzal and a bell bird (iphone photos from minutes before). Given that we’re definitely not birders, that seemed pretty close.
We went for ice cream at the dairy, and then set out for home. Genelle drove past again, and told us they’d just spied a sloth. We detoured to find it, and saw our very first sloth! It was a furry lump. A very cute furry lump.
We headed for home in a rain shower, but made it home relatively drive. Carlos had offered to send us on a night hike (his treat) to increase our chances of seeing cool animals.
The hike was fantastic – they sent multiple groups into the forest, with radios, so when one group sees something cool, they can tell the rest. We saw a two toed sloth, a side-striped palm pit viper, kinkajous and olingos (in the same tree), along with an orange bellied trogon, blue crowned motmot and three golden browed chloriphonias, as well as bugs galore.
After the tour, we returned home to a delicious dinner form Carlos – tuna, soup and chocolate cake.
Where the chocolate comes from
We awoke in San Gerardo to a beautiful sky, with the volcano lit up in gorgeous colors. Our guide was already birding around the lodge. We met up with him for a short bird walk down towards the stream crossing.
On our walk, we saw bi-colored antbird. We came back to a delicious breakfast of pancakes and empanadas. After breakfast, we hung out and birded from the deck, while Natalia shot some great photographs, including a speckle-cheeked tanager.
Our guide, Rafa, went for a birding walk and ended up going a bit further than we expected – we were a bit concerned he’d gotten lost. Luckily, he returned just a few minutes after our self-imposed deadline.
Around 10, we packed up and hit the trail for the hike out. It was a good slog – very vertical, but thankfully not nearly as muddy as the descent. We got out around noon and had a coffee in the cafe.
Janelle picked us up and took us to their home where we had some homemade chicken soup and salad, with greens from the garden. The house is gorgeous! We picked up our laundry and some orange bananas (weird!) and headed back to Casa Batsu. After a quick shower and some work time, we headed out to the chocolate tour.
Our chocolate tour was actually a tour of the chocolate making process, from bean to bar. The chocolate maker is very passionate about his craft, and makes very small batches. He walked us through the history of chocolate, and then went step by step through the process from toasting to conching to tempering. We tried different batches – different ages, different beans – and got to try tempered versus untempered chocolates.
There was a couple with two children in the tour with us – vegans from Santa Clara – but we were the ones with all the good questions. We lingered for quite a while, before we headed to the attached restaurant for a killer dinner. We ran into some friends of Natalia’s – a professor of ecology from Brandeis, along with his family. We had a great time chatting. Dinner included some hot chocolate, curried fish, chicken mole, and an amazing argentinian brownie dessert.
We bought a lot of chocolate to bring home, and enjoyed lingering on their patio.
Finally, we headed back to the lodge for a really good night’s sleep.
We awoke to a delightful morning and sat on the deck, drinking coffee and watching cows. Our breakfast was amazing – a giant fruit plate, blackberry watermelon juice, strawberry yogurt drink, huevos rancheros, and an amazing pineapple coconut pancake drizzled in passion fruit sauce.
After a short downpour, Natalia’s mom picked us up, offered to do our laundry, and drove us to the trailhead of San Gerardo. San Gerardo is a biological station in the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest, one of the largest forest preserves in the area. After a wet and muddy hike down, we were greeted by a delicious lunch and a relaxing lounge in the hammocks. Drinking coffee and watching the wildlife 🙂
While hanging out on the porch we saw a few green toucanets and an entire troupe of female coatis with their kits. Our guide Rafa pointed out many new birds for us as we waited for the wind to clear away the clouds and give us a beautiful view of arenal.
When we went downstairs for dinner, the sky lit up with a brilliant sunset and double rainbow over Arenal. Then we were treated to spectacular lightning shows while we ate.
After a delicious dinner dinner, we headed out for the night hike. Lots of frogs, stick bugs and crickets – even a land crab. Turned out on the road and saw a giant moth. Kinkajou and possums. The forest is alive at night!
Tired and happy, we went to bed.
The Rio is not Celeste
We woke up this morning fully intending to go birding bright and early.. Torrential downpours meant we instead slept. We got up, had breakfast and said goodbye to Dev and Harriet.
After checking out, we took the car to Rio Celeste. Rio Celeste is a river that glows a vibrant blue, due to two rivers coming together carrying different minerals which combine in a brilliant fashion. However, when we got there, the ranger told us that due to all the rain, the Rio was just a Rio, not a Rio Celeste. Sad. But we went for the hike to the waterfall anyways.
On the way to the waterfall, Kat spotted two crescent owls in a tree – a male and female pair. While Natalia was photographing the owls, Kat found a baby coatimundi with its mother. They foraged towards us, and then scurried off.
They’ve recently finished a nice set of stairs down to the waterfall. It was flowing intensely, and was very water colored.
On the ascent, Kat found a baby praying mantis, which resulted in much squee’ing.
In spite of the words of warning from the ranger, we decided to head down the trail a bit further. It was slow going – very muddy and wet. We made it to the viewing platform, which gave us a great view of the valley.
On the return walk, the rain came back, but the trees kept us mostly dry. We had a quick (but delicious) lunch at the soda near the ranger station.
Next, we got in the car to head for Monteverde. The drive was slow going – lots of dirt / rock roads, with great scenery. As we climbed towards Monteverde, the number of farms increased – dairy, coffee, chocolate, corn, and everything else.
We checked in at our B&B, Casa Batsu and the lovely host got us some drinks and encouraged us to relax. Carlos, the host, went through his proposed menu for the evening – tortilla soup with chicken and avocado, beef with sweet potatoes and shrimp, and banana flambée. It was amazing.
Now, we’re settling in for an early night’s sleep before tomorrow’s outing to San Gerardo.
Exotic Bird Bingo
We woke up at 5:30am for our day of birding, as apparently one does. We had a quick cup of coffee and met up with Jorge, our guide for the day.
The first outing today was on the same hanging bridge trail we took yesterday, though in the opposite direction. The pace was markedly slower.
It took us a while to adjust to using the binoculars. The real birders (read: everyone else) thought our little toy binocs were rather humorous. A sign our binocs are a bit old – they proudly state that they’re made in West Germany. Watching the rest of them get so excited as they spotted each new bird was a lot of fun.
Jorge, our guide, was amazing. We was able to call in a specific bird, instantly identify others, and keep us constantly informed. He also had a tripod-mounted scope, with variable zoom, which was great for those of us who aren’t as tuned into to the birdly-surroundings. He was able to set it up, aim it at our target, and then let us take turns viewing.
Our first sighting was an owl. Probably some sort of specific owl. But, you know. owl.
We also saw some white-faced capuchin monkeys, and later some brown spider monkeys.
Jorge spent half an hour calling a bird that only lives in this part of the forest. We knew the bird was coming closer, but couldn’t spot him among the trees. Finally, we gave up and carried on, only to run right smack into the bird. Much excitement.
The best bird viewing came from the tree in the middle of one of the hanging bridges. It’s a 360-degree view of the birds around you, flitting from branch to branch.
A few hours in, it was time for some breakfast. We made our way back to the lodge for breakfast (rice, beans, eggs). After breakfast, we did a bit more wandering around the lodge and then got in the cars for a new destination.
We saw a lot of amazing birds, and got to enjoy being outside in a different setting. The highlights were the King Vulture, tucans, parakeets, and the lovely cotinga. Which, we must agree, is a rather boastful name.
We headed back to the pizza restaurant from last night (not a lot of restaurants in town) for lunch and, more importantly, for world cup. Costa Rica versus Greece.
After Greece tied the score, we wandered down to the grocery for some snack food and ice cream. We got caught in a big downpour, but that’s inevitable. We made it back to the restaurant in time for the end of regulation time. All tied up, they went into overtime. We decided to walk back to the lodge (everyone else drove).
Our walk was gorgeous – the sun came out and we got to see birds, friendly dogs, and happy locals. As we walked, we could get a good sense of how the game (and later, the shootout) was going. The cheers told us when Costa Rica scored in the shootout. And the massive cheers told us when they’d won. Much celebrating!
We made it back to the lodge, happy and sweaty. A cup of coffee, a shower, and now it’s time for happy hour. Time to update the bird book!
Costa Rica, a retrospective
Kat and I recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica. Due to limited bandwidth and an overabundance of hammocks, we didn’t blog while we were there, but we did keep track of what we were doing. Because of its dramatic historical importance, I’m posting our blog, retroactively. Let us begin!
We Arrived in San Jose very early Saturday morning, and Natalia’s mother Jenelle picked us up to take us to Margarita’s, her hotel from the previous night. Along the way, we stopped at a nursery to pick up a pot for one of her orchids back in Monteverde. Apparently plant nurseries are an important part of the economy around San Jose. We arrived at Margarita’s and were greeted warmly by a large pack of dogs. Not feral, but rather rescues. After showers, breakfast, and a lot of animal snorgling, we piled into the car and headed north west toward Rio Celeste.
We passed a few coastal towns and stopped a at a roadside cafe for milkshakes and macaw watching. The cafe also boasted a small zoo with birds, iguanas and deer. We spent a great deal of time in the car napping or discussing the economy and social services available in Costa Rica. It’s an interesting place – very middle of the road and indistinct in a lot of ways.
Eventually, we arrived at Heliconias lodge, near Rio Celeste. Actually, we’d planned to stay at another lodge, but a mix of confused reservations and confused itineraries meant this is what work out. Going with the flow!
The lodge has a private forest reserve, apparently well regarded by birders. It’s fairly high up on a dormant volcano, with impressive views of the valley below. After a lunch in the lodge’s restaurant (do you want rice and beans, or beans and rice?), we went for a hike. Knowing that tomorrow would be a slow-paced birding day, the aim was to tire ourselves out. We picked the “difficult” trail, up the volcano, which ostensibly ends at a lake.
Normally, we read “difficult” as “difficult for other people.” In this case, it was “no, seriously guys – difficult.” It was a 2.5 kilometer hike. After 2 hours, with another 200 meters to go, we decided to turn back rather than risk losing the daylight. The rain soaked volcanic ash towards the top was incredibly slippery, make the going slow. As we got to the top, we came across a very large pile of what we believe to be tapir poop. And a sign encouraging people not to shoot tapirs. Both of us were under the impression that tapirs were cute little dog-sized creatures. Turns out they’re more “small hippopotamus” sized. So, glad we saw proof of their existence, but also glad we didn’t run into one unexpectedly. The wind, as we approached the top, was glorious, and had we had just a few minutes more, we could have pressed on. Next time.
On the plus side, the descent as rapid! We arrived back down with plenty of time for another short walk – this time on a trail that includes three hanging bridges. These are an acrophobic’s nightmare (but, conversely, an acrobat’s delight). 100 feet above the forest floor, two boards wide, and swinging rather dramatically back and forth. The longest one was over 300 feet. They’d be more fun without the hand rope though (Kat disagrees).
After returning and de-mudifying, we went down to town for a quick pizza. Then it was off to bed for a long night’s sleep.