Thursday, April 30, 2009

Chirripo "Land of the Eternal Waters"

With only a few days left in Costa Rica, I wanted to fill you in on what I did last weekend. Over the past few weeks I've been considering everything I've done here and I came to the conclusion that I still really wanted to climb the highest peak in Costa Rica. This is the type of hike that requires some planning. For starters, you have to have a reservation at the Summit Lodge for at least one night and since it's dry season the reservations were full. So, we had to arrive in San Gerardo a day early to wait in line at the ranger station for the 10 spots they keep open for people like us who just show up ready to make the trek to the summit.

We stayed right next to the ranger station, so we were the first in line bright and early Saturday morning before the ranger station opened. After making the reservation and paying the park entrance fee, we had the rest of the day in San Gerardo where there is not much going besides the beautiful views of the mountains.

Sunday morning we started on the trailhead right after 5 am. From the trailhead, it's a 14 kilometer hike to the Summit Lodge and then another 6 kilometers to the summit. The trail is very well maintained compared to other trails I've seen in Central America and there is even a lodge at 7 kilometers where you can refill water bottles, which makes a difference when you are carrying all the food and clothes you need for two days. Despite many stops for food, water and photos, we made it to the Summit Lodge in 7.5 hours and spent the rest of the afternoon resting and trying to stay warm.

After getting plenty of sleep Sunday night, we left the lodge around 4:30 am to start the last 6 kilometers to the summit. It was a really good day for climbing to the summit; it wasn't too cold (around 40 F) and it wasn't windy. We reached the summit (3820 m or about 12,500 feet) in about two hours and we only saw one other group who was on their way back down.

We spent some time at the summit taking pictures and enjoying the amazing view before starting the 20 kilometer hike back to San Gerardo. The hike back down was enjoyable until the last 7 kilometers or so. At that point, the sun was feeling quite strong and so was the pain radiating from my knees. Regardless, we made it back safe and sound and even found energy to walk 2 more kilometers to catch the bus instead of taking a cab.

So, it's off to the beach this weekend and back in the states next Tuesday. See you soon!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Semana Santa in Panama

So, I'm back in the office after a tranquilo week in Panama, and with only three weeks of teaching to go I'm trying to wrap things up (read: organizing, writing tests, etc.). However, there's no need to go into detail about work when I can tell you about the time I spent in beautiful Bocas del Toro and Boquete.

I left on Saturday the 4th, which was also my 90th day in CR. After 2 bus rides, walking across the border, losing an hour to the time change, one car taxi and one boat taxi, we made it to Isla Colon in Bocas sometime between 7 and 8 pm. It took us longer to get there than anticipated; then again, we had to spend an hour in Puerto Viejo waiting for the next bus to the border and then another hour waiting for the boat taxi to Isla Colon. At a first glance, Colon seemed a little more developed than I had imagined, but that could be because Subway was one of the first restaurants that I saw.

We got an early start on Sunday (anxious to see Bocas in daylight) and after strolling around the town and finding some delicious cinnamon rolls (which became my version of pana breakfast for the week), we decided to do a catamaran sailing and snorkeling day trip around the islands. We were able to snorkel in a couple different spots and see starfish, schools of sardines, bright purple coral and many other things that I don't know the name of. In short, it was a great way to spend the first full day in Bocas; I even learned a few things about sailing.

The next day, after cinnamon roll breakfast of course, we went to the other side of Isla Colon to a beach called Boca del Drago and spent the day lounging around in the shade of the palm trees that lined the water. Everything on that side of the island is muy tranquilo, which was a nice change in scenery from the main part of town where we stayed. In search of continuing the "muy tranquilo" theme, that night we took a boat taxi to Isla Bastimentos.

We didn't really know where we were going or where we were going to stay on Bastimentos, but as soon as we walked off the boat dock we were greeted by a bar owner, [crazy] Andrew, telling us that most places on the main road were full, but his friend Big John had a few cabinas at the end of the street on "the point." Luckily, "crazy Andrew" was right and "Big John" had a place to offer us right on the water. After seeing the rest of the island, I'm convinced that "The Point" is the nicest place to stay.

We had one full day on Bastimentos and used it to walk across the island to Playa Wizard. It was a nice walk, but by the end of the day we decided to skip the muddy trail and take a boat taxi back. We left Bastimentos Wednesday morning to start our "travel day" to Boquete, which is a town in the mountains of western Panama. Despite the fact that I had to stand [on a bus built for people shorter than me] for roughly three hours on one leg of the trip, it was an easy journey and we made it to Boquete by late afternoon.

The plan was to hike Volcan Baru the following day, but after the long day of travel we decided to save the hike for Friday. Thursday we wandered around the town, visited some beautiful gardens and enjoyed the famous coffee of Panama. Then, the next morning we took a taxi to the park entrance and started the trail a little after 7 am. From the entrance to the summit at 3,474 m (11,398 ft) is about 14 km and it took us almost 5 hours on the way up and about 4 hours to get back down. The weather was great, but not quite clear enough to get a good view of both oceans. We were only able to see the Pacific.

The return trip to San Jose was uneventful, although I did see my Italian neighbors and an Australian couple, both English teachers that I know from CR. Anyway, we were able to get a direct bus from David, Panama to San Jose, which saved the trouble of trying to find a bus leaving from the border, and I was home late Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Visitors and "unfriendly" Dominical

Hey all, I just wanted to write to tell you a little about Hank and Vanessa's trip to visit me and my trip to Dominical last weekend. First things first, I had a great time with Hank and Vanessa. It was a very "pura vida" week; we started in La Fortuna which is a one of the most visited places in CR due to the active Arenal Volcano. We stayed at a hostel called "Gringo Pete's" and even though Pete isn't friendly (just ask Hank) it was worth dealing with him for the cheapest and cleanest place I've found in CR.

Friday, we went on a tour of the volcano with a local guide who was full of interesting facts about the last big eruption in 1968, the surrounding wildlife, etc. Although it was cloudy, we were able to see some lava. We also visited a hot springs on the way back to the town. Then, Saturday morning I got up early, trekked the 7 km to the Cerro Chato park entrance and tried to find someone to join for the hike to the lagoon at the top. After waiting for 30 minutes or so without seeing anyone starting the hike, I decided to go to the waterfall close by. I spent some time swimming at the waterfall and realized that I didn't want Hank and Vanessa to miss out. So, I started the 7 km back down to La Fortuna and fortuitously met Hank and Vanessa as they were on their way up to the waterfall. After misleading them that we were close to the entrance and there were only a few more hills to go (haha) we forged on.

I really liked La Fortuna and wanted to stay a day longer than planned (I finally found someone to do the hike with); however, Hank and Vanessa were anxious to get to the beach, which I completely understood. So, we left Sunday morning for Tamarindo, which was our original "plan" and (considering the amount of Flor de CaƱa I consumed Saturday night) it was probably best that I didn't do any hiking on Sunday. The travel time to get to Tamarindo was roughly 8 hours, 3 different buses and 1 taxi. It was a long day, but well worth it.

Once we were settled into Tamarindo, we decided to just stay there for the rest of the week and rent a car for the last 3 days of their trip. We had Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday just hanging out in Tamarindo. Then, Thursday we picked up the car (a 2 door compact 4x4, manual of course) and drove to Playa Brasilito, where we pretty much had the whole beach to ourselves. Friday we went to my favorite spot, Playa Avellana, and even though the waves weren't good and Vanessa was afraid of the schools of small fish we had a great time and even stayed for the sunset. Saturday was their last day, so we visited a "shell" beach (Playa Conchal) about 30 minutes from Tamarindo. I think it was Hank and Vanessa's favorite beach of the trip.

We made it back to my apartment in San Jose around 11 pm that night and I made sure they were in a cab headed for the airport Sunday morning. I was supposed to move out of my apartment that day as well, but last minute I decided to stay at least for one more month.

My work week after they left went by really fast (this week it's the opposite), and last weekend I went to a small surf spot called Dominical. It's fairly underdeveloped as far as Costa Rica goes, but there's still a happening surf scene, and plenty of places to stay and eat. I stayed at a nice place attached to one of the only bars in town, and of course every night is reggae night which was funny at first and annoying by the third night. I would definitely go back to Dominical for the waves, but the beach isn't the prettiest I've seen and the town/people weren't that friendly.

Well, I guess that sums up the last few weeks. Next week I'll be in Panama enjoying the Holy Week holiday and renewing my tourist visa! Keep in touch.