Saturday 5 May, 2012. We’re touring one last time in Alajuela, and leaving Costa Rica in the afternoon. We’ll be home Sunday evening.
We were drawn to the square near our hotel, that faces the Alajuela Cathedral.
We spotted a man who looked typical under his bright white hat.
And we crossed the square and there was a little girl with a pink polo shirt and her abuelo who were busy feeding pigeons. Hundreds of pigeons. People were gathering around them and watching. She was so happy and he was so proud. The grand-father poured a few crumbs on the little girl’s head and soon both of them were assailed by birds.
Attracted by the commotion, squirrels crept down a tree nearby. I didn’t think so many squirrels could populate a single tree. They wanted their fair share, of course. And children and adults were happy to deliver.
Vlad was close to one, extended his hand and the squirrel sniffed the empty hand before trying someone else.
Each squirrel would snatch the food and hop back on the tree trunk and climb someplace to eat, wary of other hungry squirrels.
Back to the little girl with the pink polo shirt. She decided the pigeons were more rewarding and got back to them. This is her, holding a plastic bag full or crumbs, proudly leading hundreds of pigeons. Such a happy face.
But we wanted to explore Alajuela again, since it had been raining the day before and there was sun on that fine morning. We walked for two hours and a half, not very fast, and spotted six churches and four soccer fields. And we explored only a fraction of the city!
We followed a man who was pushing his cart on the road. We had seen several of them already. He seemed to sell drinks and snacks. What we had also seen in other places through the country, are people at street lights selling bagged fruit or vegetables that they hold in both hands, and even shrimps in a bucket.
Another thing that striked me compared to where we live, was how prettier their advertising posters and paintings are. Except in San José and Cartago, cities have modest posters and advertising paintings that appeal to me far more than the industrial, gigantic printed ones. Here’s the advertisement, painted on corrugated iron, for a car wash and parking, and much more, it appears.
We got back to our hotel, via a part of town that was more spacious and nearly deserted. Maybe it was that people were eating lunch. I had the feeling we had the streets all to ourselves. Here is a bright blue minivan parked in front of a house where people sold pineapple, 3 for 1000 colones ($2).
And here is the outside of the fruteria Las Delicias.
Soon after, we checked out and hopped in a taxi. The fare was supposed to be around $6, but when I asked the driver, at the airport, what he said in Spanish sounded like 13,000.00 colones. I realized, but too late, that he had probably said 3,000. Ahem… I gave him 11,000.00 and was looking for more when he gestured it was enough. Then he seemed to be looking in his wallet either for change or for a receipt, and we were getting our backpacks. Since he wasn’t handing us anything we said good bye and left. He followed us with his eyes. This is when I realized he had let us give him nearly twice what he wanted. Oh well. He had been a decent and friendly driver.
And before 5 p.m., we left Costa Rica, relaxed although tired, and our heads full of extraordinary memories. We had wanted to visit that country for years and we were not disappointed at all. Vlad did a wonderful job organising the trip, choosing the route, selecting places and lodges. It was such a great vacation.
Friday 4 May, 2012. We’re leaving Lapa Rios lodge in the beautiful and preserved Osa Peninsula. José, who drove us there four days ago, drove us back, as well as two other people from the lodge who needed to be in Puerto Jiménez. José spotted a caiman on the way; we had told them how foolish we had felt the day before, standing only meters away from one and joking we had yet to see a caiman.
We were in Puerto Jiménez at 11 a.m. and had over an hour to spare till we needed to board our flight. It is a small city by the golfo dulce (because the ocean water is “sweetened” by much river water). We walked in streets, few of which were in asphalt concrete, circled towards the waterfront and back to the airfield.
The plane was even smaller than the small one we took four days prior, however, the flight was devoid of any air pocket and I enjoyed it even more. We flew to Golfito where a few passengers got off and a few others boarded, and then we took off for San José. It was all so very lovely from above.
We were going to spend a night, the last one, in Alajuela, which is the closest city next to the San José airport. It was raining but not a lot and we spent our time improvising a tour, taking pictures of what we found beautiful (and I took a lot of pictures).
After sunset, we found ourselves near the Alajuela Cathedral and went inside. It was very pretty. Vivid colours, some parts painted as fake marble, a narrow but long vaulted ceiling with several biblical scenes painted in bright colours, rows of white neon lights. We were intrigued that there was a band inside, tuning their instruments and rehearsing. And there was a steady flow of people, all dressed up, who were coming in. Was it going to be mass or was there going to be a wedding, we wondered. After more than an hour, mass hadn’t started, more people kept coming in, and the band had rehearsed tunes and songs a couple of times. We felt sort of out of place, not dressed up and while we were respectful of the place and people, it had been mostly curiosity that made us stay. So we left. We found a bar and had a drink (Imperial bier for Vlad, tequila sunrise for me). We walked by the cathedral again an hour or so afterwards and mass was taking place. The big cathedral was filled up. I don’t know if they were celebrating something particular of this is their regular Friday mass, but I was impressed. I suspect the former, as there was a crew filming, a master of ceremony with a microphone, one cleric dressed in golden-coloured clothes and a dozen others dressed in white.
Thursday 3 May, 2012. Third day at Lapa Rios in the Osa Peninsula. A day of adventure, like I wrote yesterday as a teaser. The helpful staff at Lapa Rios had asked whether they could help us make arrangements or provide information, so we told them we were keen on a day tour in the Corcovado and had heard there was a bus going to Carate and it would be helpful if they had more information. They said the bus in question was called “colectivo” (or camion) and wasn’t a bus strictly speaking. It is a truck and behind the cab the passengers area is made of wooden planks as floor, two long benches and this is covered with a tarp. I think most of the lodge staff came to us over the two days prior to make sure this is how we really wanted to travel. One of them even said it could be a traumatic experience (sic). We thought we would live through it. We actually enjoyed it, being a one-time experiment.
We woke up at 5.45 a.m. to prepare ourselves, get an early breakfast (again, the staff was kind enough to accommodate us, as the kitchen normally opens at 7), and be by the country road before 7 a.m. with one of the staff members, Eli, who wanted to make sure we were on the right track and find out from the driver when and where we had to be to make it back to the lodge on the same day ;) We paid the flat fare ($8 per person for a single ticket), climbed inside and waved Eli good bye. With us were four or five locals and four other young tourists.
It was a long trip, all in all, 1h30 for something like 20 km. It had been bumpy, some rough patches even hurt our back. The truck passed through water (either rivers, or puddles big as small ponds), climbed steep rocky hills at the speed of the sloth, but the driver was pretty good, I found. We arrived in Carate around 8:30 a.m.
It was already hot outside and the weather was gorgeous on that day, with sun and big white clouds. We needed to walk on the beach forever to reach La Leona, where the entrance of the Corcovado National Park was. The beach was splendid. We wondered why nobody was either sunbathing or swimming. We later heard there were rip currents. And sharks.
After an hour of walk along the beach we reached La Leona, gave our tickets to the guard and mumbled something about high-tide around noon, crossing the river, “walking two hours”. We nodded and took off, it was nearly 10. We entered a forest by the beach but were walking on a trail in the woods. There was something peculiar about the light during the morning. I think it had to do with the very fine mist created by the breaking waves which crept inside the forest and was visible when met by the sun. I saw beautiful sunbeams through the trees. We soon saw capuchin monkeys, at eye level and only a few meters away from us. This appears to be a favourite position:
We found ourselves at the river the guard had mentioned. It wasn’t noon already but the waves met the water of the river. We took off our walking shoes and socks, rolled up our trousers and waded in waters that weren’t too deep (mid-sheen) but reached our knees when a wave was breaking. We met a couple of trekkers who tipped us that there was a Baird’s tapir near the Cementerio Madrigal and they explained how to find the place, not far from where we were. We were looking for a smaller animal than it actually was (my idea of a tapir was that it was as big as a cat, and Vlad thought it was the size of a dog). Then I saw it. Huge. The height of a poney, the bulk of pot-bellied pig, the feet of an elephant and a dinosaur, the ears of a hippo and that snout which is so distinctive.
We came a little too close to the tapir who went away. We followed. Then Vlad spotted an anteater in a tree. This too, was larger, longer, and bigger than we thought. It was really beautiful. Alas, it was pretty active, moved a lot and at some point we couldn’t keep up.
We were near the beach and walked to it. Perfect place to picnic. The Lapa Rios staff prepared sandwiches, crips and cakes.
At 1 p.m. we resolved to turn back and take our time. We had to be in Carate where the colectivo had dropped us by 4 p.m. (or spend the night and catch the next one on the next morning). The light has changed. Less over-exposed. But the mist and sunbeams were gone. We crossed the Rio Madrigal again.
The spider webs in the forest were beautiful, strong, small, tightly woven, and there were many of them. Some bare branches even looked like a whole dream catcher with the amount of spider webs they bore. We saw several golden orb spiders (they’re the length of my index finger):
Vlad spotted a squirrel for the second time on that day. This one was reasonably close to us. It was busy munching wood (isn’t there good acorn in Corcovado, I ask?), checking on us from a distance every now and then.
Then I spotted a black-throated male trogon on a low branch. It was splendid!
We resumed our walk but stopped almost immediately; I had spotted a black and green dart frog:
Again, we resumed walking but soon stopped under a group of capuchin monkeys with their young. One appeared to smile at me. And then I wondered, was it a smile or was it baring its teeth at me. The latter, most likely. I went from “awww, look, it’s smiling at us!” to “wait, this isn’t a pretty smile”. So here’s a non-threatening monkey, looking up at a young one (the baby isn’t in the photo):
We exited the forest (and the boundary of the Corcovado) after 2 p.m. and braced for the long walk along the beach, under the sun. We stopped mid-way next to a pond to watch the Jesus Christ lizards run on the water. What a singular spectacle. The spot was lovely. With no wind, there were palm trees reflected in the water. We took a little break. Vlad joked that the one thing we hadn’t seen was the caiman. The next instant, there was a swift movement and a splash –a caiman was there, not 3 meters away from us! We were so certain there wouldn’t be one (we had inspected the pond edges on the way to the park in the morning), that we didn’t think to check again. Oh, the idiots. On the photo I took of the spot, we can see a dark shape by the water, behind a log, it is the caiman (I have increased the contrast in post-processing to make it a little bit more obvious, but still it is a fraction of the photo, and this made me think of where is Waldo).
We laughed at ourselves for a while, and kept walking back to Carate. At the end of the beach, there was one last beautiful animal in plain view. A yellow-headed caracara was perched on a low bare branch not far from us:
We reached Carate at 3.40 p.m., with ample time for drinks and reflection. What a great day. It was as though every animal we had seen had been planted there for us to admire. The colectivo was a little late and we were back at the Lapa Rios lodge shortly after sunset, 5.45 p.m.
We were greeted, like a couple days prior, with wet hand towels and fruit cocktails. And then it made sense. Both were totally welcome and highly appropriate. The staff asked us how it was, they looked worried but not for long, we looked and were delighted.