Category Archives: Landscapes

Monkey See! (Costa Rica)

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Tourism is Costa Rica’s biggest industry, and much of that tourism focuses on the country’s natural wonders.  Even so, it seems that each of the country’s national parks is manned only by three or four teenagers, and the main roads in and out can be less than inviting.   A couple of friends and I visited two parks last week – one trip involved paying off a guy who had blocked the road, and whose private property you have to cross to get to the national park.  In the other park, the main road had a sign saying that the roads were in such bad condition they suggest you not drive on them at all.  But of course we did.

The rough trips are worth it.  The white-faced monkeys (capuchins) and the waterfalls were in the Rincon de la Viaja National Park in Northwest Costa Rica.  The park is built around a volcano, which is sufficiently active to cause them to prohibit hikers up near the rim.  The “smoke” you see behind that red tree is stinky sulfur-smelling geothermal steam coming out of the ground.

The beach pics here are mostly at Playa Naranjo, which is waaaay down a terrriibbllle dirt road/trail inside Santa Rosa National Park.   The beach is a couple of miles long, and there were maybe a dozen people on it at most on a Saturday afternoon.  We even picked up a hitchhiker there and took him back to town.  He spoke only Spanish so we tried out our espanol on him, with modest success.  The area is also a mecca for hard-core surfers, a dozen or more of whom were sleeping in a little tent camp near the beach.

The dark-faced (howler) monkey was just chilling roadside when I was driving back from a mountain bike trip a few days back.  Though both monkey pictures are of just one monkey, each time they were in a group of 10 or so.

The nice couple in a few of the pictures (together, and separate) are Peter and Jana Thomsen, of Santa Cruz, California, who I met at the language school here.  Peter is a forty-something mountainbiking photographer who came to Costa Rica from the States to try to learn Spanish, so we were able to find a few things to talk about as the three of us drove into the depths of Costa Rica’s priceless national parks.  Peter’s actually a professional photographer (go to www.peterthomsen.com if you want some fabulous wedding photography), but I was able to convince him to push the button on my camera free of charge to get that one purple-shirted picture of me.

Shooting Las Brisas

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December through May is “summer” in Costa Rica.  Though the country is in the northern hemisphere and any good astronomer will point to the solstices and equinoxes to tell you it’s clearly winter, December is when the rain stops and the sun comes out.  So it’s “summer.”  One drawback of being here in summer is that the typically cloudless skies actually make for less-lovely sunsets, so when there were at least a few good clouds in the sky, I set out for nearby Playa Portrero with camera in hand in the late afternoon.  The western sky delivered – right on cue.

I soon found myself knee-deep in the surf, annoying a couple of young fishermen as I tried to get the perfect picture of them casting their lines with the sunset as a backdrop.  Most of the local pescadores here don’t use a pole – they wrap the line around something like a coffee can and throw the lure lasso style (swinging, then flinging).  The “flinging” gets pretty animated, as some of the pictures suggest.  The perfect photo of all this is still “the one that got away,” but I got a few decent shots.

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At the end of Playa Portrero is a local restaurant/bar/pool hall/honky tonk named “Las Brisas” (the breezes), so I ducked in there for a beachside twilight snack.  Las Brisas is the kind of restaurant built with concrete blocks, open air on the sea-facing side, and a floor that’s part concrete and part dirt.  A friendly cross between a pitbull and a bloodhound wandered in and out of the kitchen and seemed to be the in-house “mascota.”  At one table sat a gray-haired man with a green parrot on his shoulder; both man and bird seemed oblivious to the other.   A threesome nearby had a cute beagle pup sleeping on their table.

We’ve all made the wisecrack during a long wait at a restaurant that “they must have had to go kill the cow,” or pick the corn, or the like.  I think that really happened to me at Las Brisas.  I ordered ceviche (a fish dish that usually involves an overnight soak in lime or lemon juice).  As I waited, some fishermen walked up from the beach to the kitchen door with fresh catch in hand.  Minutes later my dish arrived, but it clearly hadn’t soaked overnight (or at all) and was nothing but very-fresh sushi with a little lime juice on it.  It wasn’t ceviche, but it was pretty darn good.

I’d been to Las Brisas once before – Wednesday night is “Ladies’ Night,” which really just means everybody (gringo and tico alike) goes to Las Brisas for a loud, live latin DJ and a packed house.  But this visit was on a Sunday, and the place was muy tranquilo.  As I sat down, the sound system was playing Willie Nelson (“Georgia”), which prompted me to think of (and send an “I’m-still-alive” email to) my mother.  Then came some Dave Matthews Band and some old George Michael.  Then a long concert video from the “Whiffenpoofs” (a men’s a capella singing group from Yale University).  Not what I was expecting to hear.  As I left, they were doing that now-famous Hawaiian/reggae-style medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World.”  Perfect.

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Do You Know the Way [from] San Jose?

 

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One good thing about traveling alone, with no particular schedule and flexible destinations, is that the whole concept of being “lost” or “late” is mostly a non sequitur.  What might look to others like a wrong turn can be quickly rationalized as a spontaneous, exciting alternative route.

Costa Rican roads rarely have Highway numbers (at least none visible on any signs or maps).  At best, there’ll be a small sign with an arrow that points to the next town down the way, which probably is NOT a town shown on your crappy rental-car company map.  I can now speak just enough Spanish to clumsily ASK for directions — but not enough to understand the answers.

Procrastinated planning on my part caused me to fly into San Jose, Costa Rica, rather than Liberia (which is much closer to my destination).  I decided to embrace the experience and spent a full day in San Jose, then a full 12-hour day sightseeing my way up to Playa Flamingo.   The city shots are San Jose.  The church behind the toddler is their National Cathedral in nearby Cartago.  The volcano-looking mountain IS a huge volcano – “Arenal” – in central Costa Rica, but those are just clouds you see (not a current eruption).  Sunday afternoons are apparently the time to stop your car pretty much in the middle of the main highway over the dam of Lago (Lake) Arenal and have a little fiesta, which is what this nice couple (and a few hundred others) were up to when I interrupted.  There’s a lesson in the cow picture:  Sometimes the grass actually is greener.

About the title:  “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” was a big hit for Dionne Warwick in 1968; music/words by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  I’m pretty sure it was not about Costa Rica’s capital city.  But no, I am not really old enough to remember anything about 1968. 

What’s Good for the Goose . . .

Just south of my hometown of Vian, Oklahoma, is Sequoyah Wildlife Refuge.  Each fall (and spring) the wheatfields of the refuge are swarmed by tens of thousands of wild geese, migrating toward friendlier climates.  My dad drove me through the Refuge while I was home for Thanksgiving.

There is a two-lane road through the middle of the Refuge.  On the west side, hunting (geese) is legal and popular; on the east side hunting is not allowed.  When you drive down that road, you can see thousands of geese on the east side — often just 40 yards or so from the road — but none on the west side.  Even the flight patterns of the huge swarms that come in and out carefully stay on the safe side.  Like me, the geese are not as dumb as they look.

The www.stevecreek.com website (a photographer from the area) often has pictures (better than mine!) from the Refuge.

 
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Costa Rica November 2011

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I spent two weeks in November attending a Spanish language school in Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica.  DON’T ask or expect me to bust out any espanol — YET.  I’ll need another dose.

Here are a few pictures of some of my friends and classmates surfing at Tamarindo Beach (and some random beach bum types.  It may be difficult to discern which are which.)

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There’s a town in Costa Rica that’s famous for its pottery (ceramicas).  The story is that these families have been making it there for 500 years or so, using pretty much the same materials, designs and methods.  I met a guy named (disappointingly) “Willy,” who demonstrated his craft.  I wound up flying home with seven pieces of pottery in my luggage.  Amusingly, I also wound up giving a multimedia show-and-tell presentation (in Spanish, of course) to the entire school, describing my visit to Guaitil .

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Here are some random Costa Rican sunsets from the trip.

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