Sunday, July 31, 2011

Turrialba to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

We were the only two at breakfast today – the other couple who was there didn’t want to wait half an hour for breakfast (late because the kitchen and dining room flooded overnight), so it was just the two of us at the kitchen counter, along with Maria the chef and hotel fairy.  Guy, the B&B owner, came along later to help with luggage, settle our bill, etc.

We headed out, and encountered traffic – not car traffic, foot traffic.  We’re now two days from the festival of Our Lady of Los Angeles Cathedral in Cartago – the big pilgrimage and festival based on a small Madonna statue, La Negrita.  People walk from all over the country and attend mass at this cathedral on August 2 – so there were throngs of people walking by the side of the road, heading to Cartago.  We found it kind of funny that some people seemed prepared to camp out, with backpacks, while others might have just an umbrella and a small plastic bag with water.  Plus a few people in wheelchairs being pushed along.  But this is a huge religious ritual here, and it’s just interesting to observe.  (We can’t decide if the pilgrims are called Negrita-ites, or what – we’ll ask around and report back.)

We thought we needed to go through the town of Siquerres to switch from Route 10 to Route 32, but apparently we didn’t – so we ended up getting lost in Siquerres, and Richard had to get directions (and a Coke Light).  We managed our way out of town and onto Route 32, then headed east again, and down out of the hills and highlands.  Into flat flat flat banana country, controlled by Del Monte, Dole, and Chiquita.  Seriously!  They each have factories, huge trucks, field after field of banana trees.  And there are blue plastic bags over the banana fruit – to keep out insects (especially tarantulas), and I’m guessing to keep birds and monkeys from eating the bananas.  We drove past more and more fields, but fortunately the trucks were minimal since today is Sunday.

We found a shortcut that bypassed the town of Limón, and took that, with a break for lunch along the way.  (There was a parrot at the restaurant, who sat right above the gambling machines, and would squawk until someone pet his head.  Then he'd squawk if you didn't keep petting him!)  Then continued south until we reached the coast, a welcome sight.  South past the sloth sanctuary, various wildlife preserves, the Cahuite National Park, and into Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

The small hotel we had hoped to stay at was full, so we went down the road a block and found Cabinas Tropical – we have a two-storey room, which could sleep 5 – apparently the man just wants to fill the rooms, he’s renting the room to us for the normal double rate of $40, and we’re happy to have room to spread out.  We also have upstairs and downstairs terraces, three hammocks, and a hot water bathroom.  (Not all hotels have hot water showers.)  Plus TV, and WIFI.  And a mosquito net for each bed, plus fans.  Very comfortable, and we probably will sleep on one level and use the other for reading, computer time, and TV.  Nice!!!!! 

We walked around town, and found the wonderful artisanal gelato place, run by a nice Italian man – I had half chocolate chili gelato and half caffe; Richard had half choco-cereal and half soursop (guanabana).  As in Italy, the gelato shop is packed by late afternoon, and some of the flavors were sold out – we’ll try to go earlier tomorrow so I can get dark chocolate and Richard can try something new.  The place also had the most fabulous mosaic sink area right outside the bathroom, so of course I took some photos - wouldn't you love a sink like this?

That’s about it.  We’re looking into activity options, but will definitely have some beach time, and we plan to do some hiking, some animal finding, and maybe book something to see manatees.  Plus we’ll go to the chocolate farm nearby.  I mean, how can we NOT?

Eastward ho!

Big excitement in the B&B this morning - a pipe burst in the kitchen during the night, so the kitchen, dining room, and a guest room flooded!  The lady who works here, Maria, breakfast chef as well as cleaning lady (the person my brothers and I call the hotel fairy) was mopping for hours this morning!  I asked if I could help with breakfast (in my not very good Spanish) but she said no thank you.  I felt bad for her, having to all of that first thing in the morning!

We're heading east to the Caribbean - Puerto Limon is about 85 or so km away, so should be there before noon.  Then south to Cahuite, or Puerto Viejo de Talamanco, or even all the way down to Manzanilla (almost at the border with Panama).  We're hoping for sunny weather (so we can dry out the rafting clothes), turtle watching, snorkeling or diving, and there's another chocolate farm to visit.

We also hope for continuing internet service!  If so, we will continue to blog.  If not, well, we'll catch up when we're back in San Jose.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Turrialba, Day 3

We decided that today would be an easy, relaxing, vacation kind of a day - no plans, don't do anything major or strenuous or even very active.  Just have a relaxing walk around town and see what there is to see.  Read.  Nap.  Play on the computer.  Catch up on labelling the photos.  Stuff like that.

One of the first things I noticed about the town of Turrialba is that the buildings are almost all in wonderful bright colors.  Most of the buildings and homes in the rest of Costa Rica are white, beige, pale yellow - very light neutral colors.  In Turrialba, there are wonderful bright contrasting mixes - the yellow building with red trim.  A bright goldenrod church.  This deep iris colored building, next to the bright aqua green.  I love it!  I don't know if it's because we're in among the grey-blue hills and often grey sky and low clouds - or if this a traditional thing, and most towns are going "modern" with the neutrals - or if, like the island of Curacao, someone mandated each building be a different color because they owned an interest in the local paint store.  No idea why, but the results are wonderful!

The municipal building (Palacio Municipal) has wonderful murals of some indigenous (imagined?) people in the natural environment - really makes this building stand out!  Plus I'm always impressed when a community puts public art on or in government buildings - that they used some of the building funds for art.  I think it says a lot about a town or government when they choose to support artists and add artwork to their public buildings - it shows that they value feeding people's spirits and souls.

There's a lovely central park, a block square, with a gazebo in the center, and parrots in the trees.  This is where everyone meets and hangs out.  There are also swing sets, slides, even see-saws for children, so that in the evening there are families around the play area, young people smooching on the unlighted benches, and older people meeting and chatting all around.  This is also where we had our picnic on our first night in town.

Our lovely B&B, in bright colors matching the scheme of the town.  Note the sign (made by our rafting guide Luis, he has a wordworking business) - my favorite part is the little spiral curl of steam over the volcano!

We walked all around our section of town, including the very small central market, and then the open air produce market by the old train station.  (The trains no longer come to Turrialba.)  I love looking at all of the fruit and vegs, and trying to figure out what some of the things are.  Right now, the lychee fruits are available - they're
round and red and almost furry looking, with long curly spikes.  Really weird.  We also saw what looks like the world's biggest mango (booo!  hiss!) - I swear, the thing was like an acorn squash, it was so huge!  But the produce is very colorful and fresh, and looks like a big mosaic of just color!


Mother's Day is coming up in August, and the stores are all advertising items - Feliz Dias de Mama, they all proclaim.

So several department stores have these pre-decorated paper bags, all ready for Mother's Day.  They really are fascinating - the flowers are made by curling and gluing ribbon or paper strips in the designs and patterns - I'm not sure if the store buys and sells kits for this, or if they employ people specifically to make these bags, or if they just ask some of their craftsy employees, or what.  But they just fascinated me, so I took a lot of photos.  Of course, when I'm in a store taking photos of things like decorated gift bags, people walk by and look at me as if I'm a bit crazy.  But really, this is one of those things where we don't have these very cool decorated bags, and I want to save the image and the memory - so I take the photos and ignore people (and Richard, who thinks the whole photo-taking thing is crazy anyway).

We found some warning signs in the supermarket - this first sign is kind of like our Code Red security system, except that this is based on the various volcanoes in the country.  Turrialba is a green - steam and all, but not in imminent danger of eruption.  Arenal is yellow - could erupt again.  Then there is one we never heard of that is orange - it is expected to blow up any time now.  Code Orange volcano!

The other sign said if you feel any of a number of symptoms, see your doctor right away.  We weren't sure if the symptoms were from volcano fumes, or possibly the H1N1 flu - it didn't really say, and our Spanish wasn't that great, and the sign was right under the volcano warning poster.  So we're unsure.

We did visit the pasteleria mentioned in our guidebook - there are panedarias (bakeries) and pastelerias (pastry shops) all over, and this particular one specializes in cream-based desserts.  So I had a fruit and cream tart.  I'm not sure what kind of cream it was, more than a whipped cream - maybe some gelatin or egg white in there.  Very yummy!  (And I checked, no mango!)  That with a cappuccino (which is like our lattes) made for a lovely snack!  (Richard had chocolate covered donuts and coffee negro.)

By the end of the day, it started raining.  The clouds sort of drifted down the mountains, and settled in the foothills above town.  It's a slow and constant rain right now, very Pacific Northwest-ish - although not quite as cold.

Tomorrow we probably head east to the Caribbean coast, where we hope we find the sun again.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Turrialba, Day 2

Let me start by saying that these are NOT my photos - it was pouring rain when we left this morning, and so I put my camera in our room.  These are all photos from online, but they ARE of the Pejibaye River, which is the river we rafted on today.

Okay, that said - we signed up for what we thought would be an easy river float trip, similar to the ones we've done this trip.  Active but not strenuous.  Hah!

 First, the tour guide showed up about 15 minutes early, so Richard and I were still at breakfast.  We rushed through eating, and he explained that we'd be doing a little hiking before rafting - so Richard grabbed his old running shoes - I was ready with my little river rafting shoes.  It was pouring rain, so as I said, I put the camera in our room.  We figured it was a half day trip, so didn't worry about dry clothes, or towels, or anything like that.

We piled into the tourismo bus, apologized for making people wait due to our not knowing things were starting early, and we were off.  We met up with another bus, and we transferred to that.

They were mostly a group of teenagers and their teacher, in country attending an intensive Spanish language school.  But there was also a 40-something mother and her two kids, ages 8 and 10 or so - plus three or four raft guides.  Quite a mixed group.  As Richard said, the two of us were a good 15-20 years older than anyone else in the group.

So - the bus driver drove us out to the Marta Wildlife Refuge, which is out in the foothills around Volcan Turrialba.  And we hiked.  And we hiked.  Up and down trails, in the pouring rain.  We got soaked to the skin.  It was a pretty steep hike, though I have no idea what the change in elevation might be.  But we did about 3 or 4 miles in 2 hours, with the naturalist in front, poking the leaves and brush with a stick before taking a step - slow going, but with good reason.  We had several bridges that were just a few planks across a small river or gulley - and on one, there was a snake.  Un serpenti.  Turns out the serpenti was the fer de lance - one of the deadliest poisonous snakes in the world.  A kind of viper.  Aggressive if cornered.  We all froze as the naturalist pointed out the snake - long and dark, with a thin reddish stripe down the side - and then the snake slithered off the bridge into the rocks and away from us.  I thought it was kind of exciting to see this snake - Richard was happy he was further back in line and missed it.  But we all stayed behind the naturalist with the big stick, and moved slowly.

This was one of those trails with lots of mud, wet mossy rocks, and roots - plus things hanging down overhead.  As I said, not an easy hike.  I was huffing and puffing on the way up - and, being my very graceful self, was very cautious on the hike back down.  Several of the teens fell, as did Richard - fortunately, all the moss and roots and mud made for a fairly soft landing.

But Luis, our guide, took pity on me, and basically walked downhill backwards, holding my hand so I had some stability.  And while in some ways it might make me seem old, well, I also know how totally klutzy I am and that I really do need someone pointing out best spots to put my feet.  Because otherwise I'm likely to fall and tear out my other knee or something equally stupid.  So I was appreciative of the help.  And hey, I figure by age (almost) 57, I've earned getting some assistance down a slick and slippery mountain.

The guides put together a lunch buffet - sandwich fixings, lots of vegs and fruit - and of course, everyone was famished because we had a pretty strenuous 2 hour hike.  Oh, plus there was a loooong hanging bridge, which had a limitation of only 3 people at a time - and of course not only did we cross it going out on the hike, but also on the return.  High up, swinging back and forth, bouncing at the same time.  One of those bridges where Richard and I both hold the sides and don't look anywhere but ahead and go across as fast as we can.  A scary bridge!

By now the rain had lightened, and there were all kinds of butterflies around, including a blue morpho!

Then we piled back into the van (big van) and drove to the river.  Another (shorter) hike down to the river, with helmets and life jackets and paddles.  We piled into the two rafts, and had a short lesson on paddling forward, backward, high five, and then how to duck down into the center of the raft and ride out a big rapid.

Then off we went, down the Pejibaye (Peh-hee-BYE-yay) River - the beginning, where we started, had mostly class II-III rapids, so pretty big and roller-coaster.  This was our first clear river, icy cold and almost blue, instead of looking like cappuccino.  Anyway, GREAT FUN!  I do love river rafting!  We had a lot of excitement, too - there was one point where we somehow went half over a big boulder when we shouldn't have, and the raft tipped all to one side so that we were vertical in the air, and were almost ready to tip over!!!!!!  Seriously, we all were holding on for dear life, with our feet wedged in and hands on ropes - and Richard said it looked like everyone was going to come falling over on him - but then we tipped back down, and settled on the water and rode out the rapids.  Then twice, the mother in the back of the raft somehow bounced right out and into the river - and Luis, our guide, grabbed her lifejacket and hauled her back into the raft almost before anyone realized she'd bounced out!  Then at one point we went through a serious series of rapids, and we were supposed to get down into the bottom of the raft - but between my bad knee and Richard and me being in the same section, I couldn't get far into the bottom, and I felt myself starting to fall out backwards - fortunately Luis had tied his shirt around the cross-piece of the raft, for Richard to hold onto - so I managed to grab that and pull myself back into the raft without really falling out - but it was a close one!

As I said, excitement!!!!!!

We really didn't know it would be such a full day when we booked this - so we sat in our soaking wet and cold clothes for the trip home, sitting on a plastic dry-sack - we felt silly, but what to do.

Back at the B&B, we washed off the mud, and climbed into the hot tub to soak in the warmth and relax a bit - so nice!!!!!!!

So that was today's adventure, and I'm pretty caught up.  We're thinking of maybe another day in Turrialba before we head to the Caribbean - maybe, maybe not.

We'll let you know tomorrow.

The volcano

Okay, I'm catching up.  Thursday Richard woke me up early so I could go up to the sun roof and get some photos of the volcano - same name as the town, Turrialba.

After breakfast, we chatted with our B&B owner, and found out that he and some people were driving up to the Turrialba volcano.  I of course got all excited - and when Richard found out that you could drive almost to the crater, he was equally excited.  So B&B owner, his son, and two friends piled into their car - we got into ours, and this strange little French guy tagged along and sat in back.

We drove along, first through the town of Turrialba and then through some tiny towns, and up the mountain.  The paved road gave way to a partially paved road, which eventually gave way to a dirt and gravel road - all the while, the huge mountain (some 11,000 feet high) towering above, looming closer and closer, with the continuous plume of steam and smoke and whatever coming out of the top.

We eventually reached the gate, which is supposed to be open.  It wasn't.  We looked at climbing over.  We looked at climbing around it.  We looked at picking the padlock.  We were trying to figure out how we could get in, especially since the B&B owner and friends tried this yesterday, and the gate was locked (even though the park sign said the park was open from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM, and it was only about 1 PM or so).

Someone said, well maybe the key is stashed around the gate somewhere.  We looked around, and sure enough, we found the key!  So, being pro-active people, we unlocked the gate and went in!

Turns out that we should have stopped at the ice cream stand down the hill, that's where people buy tickets for entry, receive helmets and gas masks, and the park rangers are called so they meet people at the gate.  There was NO information about this procedure anywhere.

So we just played the stupid Americans - and the nice young park rangers said we should all go back down to the gate (which we said we found open, we didn't know it wasn't supposed to be open) and he collected money from us, then he went to the ice cream stand and bought our tickets and picked up the helmets and masks.

Then we piled into the park vehicles, and went back up the hill to the park entrance - where we transferred to other vehicles, and they drove us up to near the crater.

It was amazing!!!!!!  The downwind side of the mountain has dead trees - the fumes mix with rain and the chemicals from the volcano burn the trees, and most of them are dying.  The crater itself is huge, shooting out plumes of white smoke, some glowing almost gold or copper, some a translucent blue color - a constant smoke and light show!  All accompanied by the roar of the the steam and gases shooting out of the fumeroles, sounding something like a jet engine - just a constant "zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz" kind of sound, loud and rumbling.

It was THRILLING!  We could smell the sulphur in the air, although we didn't need to put on the gas masks, the steam was all going in the other direction.

It was a great view of the surrounding country - the day had cleared, and we were actually above the clouds!

We just all stood there enthralled, watching this phenomenon!  Wow!

Some people hiked over to the other peak - I found that walking from the crater back to the parking lot got me totally breathless!  It was so strange, because I knew it was just a short little walk - and even though I've heard that at high altitudes you breath in less oxygen, and it takes a while to become acclimated, I had never experienced that.  It was almost like walking with very heavy weights on my shoes, or something - just a slow dragging walk that made me totally out of breath and a bit light-headed.  I said something to Richard, and so we both decided to stay at the one lookout and let the others continue on the hike to the other peak.  I'm not sure if it was my asthmatic lungs, or our age, or the fact that while we're both active we aren't exactly athletes - but we, plus the other older woman, were just wiped out moving around at that altitude.

Anyway - the volcano has three major craters, and I think there are photos here of two of them.  From the top we could see for miles and miles - all way to the Caribbean on one side, and possibly to the Pacific on the other.  It was hard to tell, since the ocean kind of blended into the sky and clouds from way up there.

But it was gorgeous, a beautiful day, and just one of the more exciting things I've done.

I confided in Richard and the other woman that there was a part of me that was almost hoping for more volcanic activity, like maybe a little explosion, just to see what it was like, to experience that.  But of course, the other part of me (like my intelligence) realized how completely stupid that was to think that, because the explosion would most likely be the last thing I ever saw.  DUH!

The vehicles did park in the lot at the top, turned around facing forwards - the ranger said this is a safety precaution, so that in the event of some explosion the vehicles are ready to drive like crazy down the hill.

Up until several years ago, the government let people walk through the craters, and the paths were still visible.  They figured out this wasn't such a good idea, so there are now guard rails.  But it was still fun and exciting, to walk around the outside edge of a crater, watching the volcano in action!

So that was our first full day in Turrialba - excitement of something new that neither of us had ever experienced before!

Oh, and if you were wondering about the gate - the rangers were confused that the gate was open, but after our time at the top, when we came back down the mountain, there was a new lock on the chain.

So all was well with the volcano as well as the rangers.