COSTA RICA AUGUST 2001 - Martin and Family (Click on underlined sections for photos, then hit back to return to story)
Our entire family landed in San Jose, Coast Rica around noon August 9th after an uneventful six-hour flight. We reunited with Randye who had not hesitated a second on taking my free 1st class upgrade. Having been warned (correctly it turned out) we rented a 4 wheel drive and headed straight to the pacific coast on Highway 1. This is Costa Ricaâ€™s main thoroughfare but only a two- lane country road. While waiting at a ferry crossing we watched a troop of monkeys in a tree and already felt like we were in a different world.
Six hours later we were in Samara, our destination for a week. The German run hotel with only 6 rooms and was located on a hill behind the town (the driveway was our first but certainly not last need for the 4 wheel drive). The room's giant balcony had a spectacular view of the town, beach, ocean and local islands. But we also discovered that it was so high up and near to the forest that every morning we got to observe all the forest â€œcanopyâ€� activity in the surrounding trees while we ate breakfast. This was primarily an amazing display of birds including iridescent parrots, flocks of ibis, hummingbirds, song birds of all varieties, an occasional pink flamingo (?), circling vultures and an occasional dive bombing bat. In between we could watch bright butterflies, green tree lizards, and some lemur like animal running up and down a tree. (At least all this was seen by those who got up at a reasonable hour.)
Observing the giant turtles that come on shore to lay their eggs on the Costa Rican beaches was high on our list of planned activities. The problem is this only happens in the area that we were about four times a year for 3-day stretches. The other problem is you have to ford a number of rivers to get to the deserted beach the turtles use as a nesting spot. Fortunate our 1st day was the last day in one of the cycles (10 days after a full moon). Less fortunate was the recent rain that might make the rivers impassable. We were advised to make a 2 p.m. departure for late afternoon viewing but warned if we did make it to the beach to head back fast if it rained as we could easily get trapped behind rapidly rising water. After a morning swim in the 83-degree ocean a torrential downpour (the only one till our last days) delayed our plans. But on clearing at 3 p.m. we figured we would give this unique opportunity a chance and headed off following our proprietors hand drawn map. Ten minutes after leaving we came to our first river, but as it was only knee deep we barreled through. On wading into to test the next river I almost got sweep away as the water level reached my thigh so we sadly abandoned hope. On returning we realized we had taking a wrong fork. Although getting late we realized we would not have a chance again so headed down the right road. Road is being generous as we raced for 1 Â½ hours down the most rutted, pot holed, mud puddled excuse for a public road I can remember (and I have gone on some disasters in my lifetime). We lucked out at the major river crossings to have a jeep ahead of us to show us the â€œlowâ€� points.
Samara is a quiet town on one of the prettiest beaches in Costa Rica. It only has a population of 2500 with two tiny grocery stores and no gas station. Three public phones supported the town (which I could not figure out how to use). Amazingly not all the hotel owners had cell phones; the others shared. The town did have a dozen restaurants (built for high season) where we could all get a good meal for $30 and sometimes found ourselves as the only customers. As Samara is largely a resort town for local Costa Ricanâ €™s it gave us a chance to feel like we really visited the country not just stayed at a resort that could have been anywhere.
Our third day took us to a national park on the Tempisque River. It seems we were the only visitors that day as the boatman (park manager?) took us on a private tour of the river. We saw assorted bird, monkeys, and crocodiles. The most interesting sight were two giant (4 feet) iguanas up in a tree. As it was mating season the male was bright orange. We asked the boatmanâ€™s wife where we could eat and ended up having a â€œhome styleâ€� meal in her kitchen. On driving back we could watch smaller iguanas, many sunning themselves on fence posts. Every second town seemed to have their very serious Sunday afternoon soccer game in full swing. We had noticed that even the smallest villages would have a beautifully manicured soccer field as their town center.
On Monday we had planned to go on an all day family boat trip with Randye and I going scuba diving while the others snorkeled. However, Tamara had a fever so we decided to try to switch to a newly established local scuba dive operation. This switch required finding a hotel with a phone, calling the dive operatorâ€™s girl friend and having her dig up our dive master. He told us he still had an 8-month wait to get his phone. Originally finding the dive master involved wandering the beach and having someone point him out. He bought our diving boat (dinghy) right ups on the beach and loaded all the tanks, other gear and us inside. He then noticed the tide was going out and our boat was now sitting nicely on the sand. We unloaded, recruited some strong help and began pushing the boat to try to catch up to the rapidly receding sea. After a slow and laborious process, which I was not sure would be successful, we did finally launch. As the only scuba divers that day (or perhaps that week) we had the dinghy to ourselves. Entry required rolling backward into rather choppy seas. Being novices we had some difficulty but ultimately had a good dive among schools of tropical fishes. As visibility was poor and conditions tricky so it was good the dive master could totally focus on us. A the tree full of vultures watched us return.
On Tuesday we drove north to Rincon Park which is their version of Yellowstone. A two-hour hike took us through an incredible diversity of Eco systems including jungle, forests, open areas and many bubbling and steaming mud pots. Most interesting was the variety of insect life and bright lizards.
On Wednesday we had a totally unique experience, never before done on any Friedrichs family vacation in our joint memory. We did nothing but walk on the beach, read our books and play in the waves.
On Thursday we took the long way (i.e. horrendous roads) back to San Jose in hopes of seeing the active volcano Mt. Arenal but it was hidden behind a wall of clouds.
The highlight of our vacation was to be a two-day raft trip down the rugged and wild Pacuare River. It is know as one of the best rafting trips anywhere for a combination of jungle terrain, total isolation from civilization, dramatic gorges, and continuous class 3 and 4 rapids. After a long van decent into the gorge we started in relatively high water conditions, as this was rainy season. Our raft included just us and our guide (really hot according to Tamara). We were followed by one other group of 6, a supply raft and an emergency support person in a kayak. The first days raft trip was short to the lodge but still the most intense rafting I have done. We would ride over giant waves, and crash through others. We got constantly soaked from waters breaking over us as it felt like we were riding right on the edge. The jungle lodge was cut off from the rest of the world and run by native Indians. It gave us a foothold into some short hikes into the rainforest with magnificent scenery, colorful plants and insects.
Despite its remoteness, lack of electricity and hot water it was still the most elegant place we stayed this trip. The tiny cabins were beautifully furnished (ours with a king size beds) The kids had their own cabin. That evening the rain started and basically just didnâ €™t stop. By morning the river and rapids had turned into a raging flood racing down the gorge. The rocks and island of the previous day were buried under and extra 5 feet of water going at breakneck speed taking tree limbs and boulders with it. All of this at the tranquil spot where our lodge was situated. What it would be like as the gorge narrowed below was hard to image. One did not need to know anything about rafting to know neither us nor anyone else was going down the river. It would be unrunable for days. Apparently this was a rare event and it was our misfortune to be there when the river turned.
At this point the desolation of this beautiful spot reveled its dark side. It seems â€œplan Bâ€� was to hike up river and see if the cable that the Indians used to cross the river was still above water. Then we would have to hike out of the gorge. The cable was OK, at least according to our guides (again no liability lawyers). We sat on a board hanging from a pulley and shot across the river with our guide riding on top if we got stuck. There was no falling off here as our feet skimmed above the raging swollen torrent of water. All having made it we now had to hike 2000 vertical feet up our ravine. The trail would have been hard enough under any circumstances but we were lugging up our rafting gear (without real packs), hiking in water shoes or sandals, and fighting a driving rain. The trail had turned into a quagmire with the mud varying from ankle to knee deep. One would have to stop occasionally to find your lost footwear. The guides eventually went barefoot. An hour and a half later our soaked, mud caked group staggered into our waiting van.
We headed home the next day (Aug 19). Despite the disappointment of missing most of the rafting we loved the trip, country and people and had a great time.