Beside the Lens #4 by Stephanie White

Monteverde - The Cloud Forest

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If there was one thing Rob and I had really wanted to do in Costa Rica, it was zip line. Last year in Alaska, we passed up the zip lining excursion in the rainforest for financial reasons. We were not going to pass up the opportunity again. Visiting Costa Rica, you'll quickly learn you can zip line just about anywhere.  In researching the country, I'd read so much about this beautiful, majestic, must-visit place called Monteverde -- the cloud forest. So what is a cloud forest? Basically, clouds blow in from the ocean to the mountains, and get caught in the trees. The the water droplets (like the one pictured below) collect on the leaves of the trees in a process called lateral cloud filtering. Believe it or not, lateral cloud filtering accounts for more than half of the annual precipitation in the forest! Interesting huh? 

In reading numerous Trip Advisor reviews about our hotel, I heard about this local tour guide, Herson. He offered private tours to Monteverde, and guaranteed he'd take us to an awesome zip lining tour. Excited and well rested, we were up and at 'em by 6 AM!

 Rob in the hotel, up before 6 AM, and smiling!! 

Rob in the hotel, up before 6 AM, and smiling!! 

We met Herson in the lobby, and got in his car to start our 3+ hour drive to Monteverde. About a half hour into our drive, we stopped for Casado, traditional Costa Rican breakfast, at a Soda outside Liberia. This was probably my favorite breakfast Casado I tasted while in the country. The plaintains were so ripe, so delicious. And Rob said they had the best bacon he'd tasted in the country. Which is a big deal, Rob's a bacon connoisseur!

 Soda outside Libera

Soda outside Libera

Following our tasty breakfast, we experienced Tico driving, firsthand. There are pretty much no rules when it comes to driving in Costa Rica. Even through construction zones! I'd never seen cars go around the orange barriers to pass a car in a construction zone. I'm pretty sure I saw a police car do it too. Herson was zipping past cars, we were practically in their back seat. What the heck did I get myself into now!! Why did I trust this stranger with my life?

The Costa Rican Massage kicked in once we got off the main highway, Route 1. The majority of their roads are un-paved, and make for a rocky ride. About a 2 hour bumpy ride. I should have taken my dramamine!

The drive was beautiful though. Not quite half way, we stopped at a local town, where many Macaw birds have been living for years. Evidently they are well-fed from tourists, though you're instructed not to feed the birds. It was difficult to photograph the birds, as the early morning light, and canopy shaded their magnificent color. Here's what we saw.

 Blue and Gold Macaw

Blue and Gold Macaw

 Scarlet Macaws

Scarlet Macaws

I somehow missed the Toucans, which was really disappointing. If you don't already know, I love cereal. Fruit Loops was one of my childhood favs, I wanted to see Toucan Sam!

 Keel-billed Toucan, one of 42 Toucan species in Latin America.

Keel-billed Toucan, one of 42 Toucan species in Latin America.

The three of us got back in the car and drove. We rarely saw other vehicles on our drive through the small town roads. When we reached Monteverde, our first stop was for a hummingbird and butterfly exhibit. 

 Blue Morpho

Blue Morpho

The Owl Butterfly is the largest butterfly in Costa Rica. These two will mate for 24 hours, then the male will die. 

 Owl Butterflies Mating

Owl Butterflies Mating

Hummingbirds need to eat on average 7 times per hour for about 30-60 seconds.

 Green-crowned Brilliant

Green-crowned Brilliant

A hummingbird's brilliant color is not caused by feather pigmentation, but by iridescence in the arrangement of the feathers and the influence of light level, moisture and other factors. 

 Violet Sabrewing

Violet Sabrewing

We stopped in Monteverde to walk around a bit, and have Casado again. We couldn't get enough of it!

 Casado con bistek

Casado con bistek

Tummy's full, it was time to zip line! We arrived at Monteverde Extremo Canopy Tour. We were greeted by about a dozen tourists, stoked about zip lining or bungee jumping. http://monteverdeextremo.com/ We also met this fellow.

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Strapped in and ready to go, we headed out with about 10 other participants. Luckily, we all spoke English. So instructions weren't too difficult to follow. We had 13 zip lines ahead of us, a Tarzan Swing, and The Superman! Oh yeah!!!

 Ready to Zip Line!

Ready to Zip Line!

The most ridiculous-awesome-terrifying part of this adventure (besides the thunder and lightening on the last 3 zip lines) was the Tarzan Swing. I didn't realize we had signed up for this, but when in Costa Rica, I gotta do it. They basically push you off this platform and you freefall until the rope swing catches you and swings like a pendullum. Well, after doing this, I don't ever have the desire to bungee jump! I'll take the sky diving instead! Waiting for that rope to catch... even though it was for a few split seconds -- was one of the biggest adrenaline rushes I've ever experienced. Rob too I bet - you be the judge - watch this video!

The last zip line was a Superman, where you lay across your stomach. At this point, the rain was pouring down, thunder was booming and lighting in the distance. Every bit of common sense was telling me, not to climb this metal staircase, and fly around on these metal poles. But there was only 1 way back to the car. And we had quite a distance to cover on this last zip line. Not sure how the Go Pro footage looks with the rain and such, but here's what we didn't see because our eyes were closed!

This day was pretty rad. I wasn't sure how it could possibly get any better. When low and behold, a sloth was crossing the street! A SLOTH! Only in Costa Rica! We didn't get any great photos of the darn animal, even though they move so slow. But it was pretty darn cool to see if you ask me!

And after another 3 hour Costa Rican massage, in the freezing cold air conditioning of Herson's car, we made it back to Condovac safe and sound. 

Beside the Lens #3 by Stephanie White

"Costa Rica's For The Birds!"

Sunday, September 7

I've never been a fan of birds. Except for Puffins, they're one of my favorite animals. You see, there was an incident nearly 25 years ago at a pet store in Pittsburgh. A certain large, white cockatoo (like the one pictured below from google) was openly flying around the store and decided my head looked like a pleasant place to land. Screaming and crying, I dropped to the floor in the fetal position. Intimidating looking bird, right?

But my attitude toward birds has since changed after our Costa Rican adventure. It may be, in part, because of the numerous and diverse bird species. They were stunningly beautiful. I was in awe of their vibrant coloring and unique sounds. The complexity of their songs, chip notes and call notes somehow wasn't annoying, like every morning dove outside my window in high school.  I think this is one way you can tell you're getting older. When birds quit annoying you, and instead, you start waking up to see the birds, not caring if they wake you up in the morning. Yup, I'm old. 

Rob had heard from other guests at the hotel there was a hiking trail on site. Eventually, we located said trail on the hotel's property, but it wasn't exactly used for hiking. It was a zip lining trail. But it got us eye-level with many tree-tops. 

We heard a lot of birds, but realized the true difficulty in photographing these swift animals. For one, they're constantly on the move. Secondly, many are very small, and third, the canopy of trees provides tough lighting to shoot. We had hoped to see other animals besides birds, But this particular morning brought only birds and bugs. Here are a few moments Rob was able to capture from that morning. 

The rain came early, just after noon. We were are the pool, and took shelter at the pool bar. The hotel had arranged for a Marimba Band to perform, so it worked out well to be entertained while it poured outside. I had the opportunity to play in the band. I thought my training in piano would come in handy, but it didn't. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity though. 

The night ended with dinner at another beautiful restaurant on the coast, called Roberto's. Again, we were one of only two tables, but this time we were accompanied by a dog. She had just birthed puppies a few weeks earlier, and was pretty hungry for food. The portions at Roberto's were nothing less of American-size portions, so this dog ate well. 

Beside the Lens #2 by Stephanie White

"Learning The Ways of The Tico"

Saturday, September 6

Was it our stomach's rumbling or the birds chirping that woke us up? Regardless, we woke up to a stunning view of a little beach called Playa Hermosa. 

Not knowing the lay of the land yet, we decided to have breakfast at the hotel. The meals on-site were held on this beautiful deck looking out across the water. We were one of maybe 5 tables that morning and we had no shortage of staff to assist us with our breakfast experience, even though we had no idea what anyone was saying. Regardless, the hospitality of the employees at Condovac was nothing short of fabulous. We did have some difficulty paying our check. I'm not sure we ever figured out how to pay our tabs at the timeshare. Every exchange was different. it was either to our credit card or to the room, or both??? It sounds like it should be easy, but there was a process they followed, and we just never quite got it. But alas, this sunny morning, we met our first friend. This adolescent iguana joined us along the deck railing for our first animal sighting con comida tipica. 

Following breakfast, we took a walk along the beach to the "town." It's hard to call Playa Hermosa a town really, they only had a few local businesses. One supermarket and a couple Soda's (local restaurants) is pretty much the offering, besides random strangers asking if you want to go on their boats or buy their trinkets. Also, most places were closed due to it being the rainy season. We found El Supermercado, and bought a few staples for the week: coffee, rice, beans, peanut butter, tortillas, cheese, milk, tang, of course some bacon for Rob, and oh... rum definitely rum.  

$70 down to "El Super" and the local economy, we were on our way, walking back up the hill to Condovac in the hot, humid sun. I walked back cool and collective, however, a wave of fear engulfed me at the same time. When I went to purchase the groceries, I didn't see my debit card. "Why wasn't it in my wallet?" I had it yesterday because I used it to take out cash from the ATM (twice). I normally freak out about the littlest thing "I'm Freaking Out Man, I'm Freaking Out" many of my friends can hear me say aloud. But I remained calm the entire time. I waited till we unpacked the groceries to search my purse, my wallet (nearly a dozen times), my clothes from the previous day... I looked everywhere. My debit card, our only access to cash for the next 10 days... gone!! Great! How do I tell my brand new husband we have no access to cash? It's not like Rob would ever freak out over money, like seriously ever, but our only access to cash in a foreign country on our second day...c 'mon. I know better. 

But being the oh so savvy travelers we are, I immediately called the bank via Rob's internet calling workaround. Nobody had used the card, and the bank cancelled it immediately. This still didn't solve our no liquid fund problem, but at least we weren't robbed within two days of being in country. So we tried to forget our worries by pounding some rum and sea kayaking for a couple hours. 

Since we had a kitchenette in the timeshare, our logic was, "let's save money by cooking breakfast and lunch in the room, and go out for dinner." Well, that reasoning made for a quiet honeymoon. It took us a few days, but we realized Tico's eat a large breakfast (always rice and beans con anything) and a large lunch (mas arroz y frijoles con anything). And for dinner they eat their lunch leftovers. So, more often than not, even though Playa Hermosa had beautiful beachfront restaurants lining the coast, Rob and I were one of only a few other patrons each night. Probably one of our most delicious and favorite meals was at this beachfront restaurant called Aquasport Bar and Restaurant. They had a diverse menu, chicken, fish, casado, but they also had these divine Peruvian dishes, called Causa. If you see one on a menu, order it! Picture a slice of pie, made from potato, with a filling of avocado. It's served chilled, topped with an assortment of options. The one we tried was topped with fried calamari. AMAZING!! Toward the end of dinner, the rains came again. Rob, with his servant heart and ADD, helped carry tables and chairs from outside into the restaurant. I carried one or two chairs in, they were solid! They topped us off with a traditional Costa Rican shot, called Chili-Guara I believe. I'd call it a bloody mary shot!

Then a nice rainy walk back up the hill to our room, and a perfect second day. Pura Vida!

Beside The Lens #1 by Stephanie White

"Pack it up, pack it in. "

Rob and I had the opportunity to spend 10 days in Costa Rica this September. We've been asked by many family and friends the obvious question "How was your trip?" So voila - this blog was born. Rob's always behind the camera, and since I married the guy, I guess that makes me his wife, beside the lens.

So, in this journal I will attempt to:

* Entertain you through pictures depicting our adventures

* Highlight a selection of White Lily's photography

* Enlighten you with what we learned in case you travel to Costa Rica one day (thumbs up!) which we highly recommend

Thursday, September 4, 2014.

Don't be fooled by those packs. Rob and I didn't rough it, or backpack in Costa Rica. Truth be told, I've had this wretched giant purple suitcase which has traveled the United States, Canada, even 3 weeks through Europe. It's been on it's last wheel (literally) since it's first trip through baggage claim, but has seemed to rally through this last decade. So, we registered for super awesome Osprey Packs from REI for travel AND hiking.

Being cheap, I booked 3 indirect flights to get to Costa Rica from Phoenix. We traveled to Denver Thursday evening, took a red eye Friday morning to Ft Lauderdale, then a 10 AM flight to Costa Rica. We arrived in Alajuela at 11 AM Friday morning. If only we knew what the day had in store for us...

We picked up our packs and headed to the ATM to get cash for a cab to downtown San Jose. I thought I was being smart by writing down the exchange rate from dollars to colonnes. I knew what $1 was in colonnes, $5, $10, $20 etc. That was somewhat helpful, but I didn't think through the fact that in the US, I can't take out $92.32 from the ATM because it equals 50,000 colonnes! So here I was, that American traveler, staring at the ATM in distress, trying to figure what even amount would make sense to take out of this ATM. Eventually, I entered a round number, somewhere in the thousands, took the money and ran. 

We then took a taxi to a bus station in San Jose. This was our first experience traveling like the Ticos (locals) do. Costa Ricans drive super fast, zipping around any car traveling slightly slower than you. We got dropped off at Tralapa (one of many bus stations), and purchased a fare to Playa Hermosa. Again, being cheap and wanting an authentic experience to travel like the Ticos do, we were scheduled for a 4:00 PM departure. It cost about 12,000 colonnes ($22). With 4 hours to kill, we meandered through the busy streets, looking for food and another ATM (since I tipped our cab driver nearly double the fare - I really should have spent some time practicing my Spanish). 

We stumbled upon a Nicaraguan "Soda", which is the name for any local restaurant. I ordered something arroz con pollo, and that was the last time I had chicken in Costa Rica. Maybe it was the mint, maybe it was the way I watched this woman cook it from a bucket, I won't ever know. But Nicaraguan chicken, not my thing. Awhile later, we were ready to explore a bit when CRACK - THUNDER - LIGHTNING, our first heavy thunderstorm rolled through. We knew we booked our trip during the rainy season (low season), but living in the desert, we didn't mind the chance to see rain. It poured for hours, so we didn't explore much of anything, except a convenience store for water, rum and soda. FYI, if you purchase soda (pop) in a glass bottle, you must drink it in the convenience store. I don't chug... so plastic it was.  

Fast forward to 4:00 PM, we're walking onto this coach bus with no bathrooms, and it smells like a truck-stop bathroom. So much for our authentic 7 1/2 hour experience. 3 1/2 hours into our trip, the bus stopped to let people use the restroom, stretch their legs and get snacks. Rob of course, utilized this time to take a few photos. We got back on the bus and little did we know in a few hours we had to transfer buses to get to Playa Hermosa because this bus was heading to Tamarindo, a beach two hours south of Playa Hermosa. 

Enter God. Well, He's always with us, but He made his presence known to us on this bus. Mind you, we're holding our breath cause it smells rank, we're sweating through our clothes with this humidity, it's pitch black since 6 PM, and we can't tell from any road sign where we are - oh - and no one announces the names of any bus stop. It's now about 10 PM, the bus stops, we're restless, and we notice a lot of people getting off. The guys ahead of us get off, and by the Grace of God, this Tico comes to sit in the now-empty row ahead of us. He asks Rob, in Spanish, if he speaks Spanish.

"Un Poco", replies Rob.

"Where are you trying to go?" he asks in English.

"Playa Hermosa"

Whistle !! Whistle !!

This complete stranger immediately jumps up, whistling for the bus driver to stop, this was our stop! We had to transfer busses!! Our driver politely slams on the brakes and jams on the horn to alert the other bus.  He's then quickly on his cell phone contacting the other driver to wait for these 2 Gringo's to get on the right bus. Praise God for this Tico who decided to switch seats on the bus, and start a conversation with us. 

Adrenaline pumping, after sprinting our 30lb. packs down the road and apologizing gratefully we're bouncing up and down on this other coach bus for about an hour to Playa Hermosa. The roads are bumpy, not paved, and low-and-behold, "POP!", the bus pops a tire. The driver stops for a bit, a passenger gets off to assess the damage, and within a few minutes, we're moving again, flat tire and all. 

Finally, we make it to Playa Hermosa, and the driver drops us off right outside Condovac, the timeshare we stayed at for a week. Arriving at the gate to check in, we had to walk up a ridiculously steep hill in the pitch black with our heavy packs. The man at the gate gave us directions in Spanish, but of course we mis-understood, and walked the opposite direction up another ridiculously steep hill. But we made it!! We checked into room 218 at midnight, and we finally rested from our 30+ hour day(s) of travel. You never realize how nice a shower can be sometimes.