Friday, February 17, 2017

San Jose

Our plane ride to San Jose was clear but quite bumpy especially as we neared the city. We followed the coastline for a while before heading over the mountains and into the valley where San Jose sits. We had been told that San Jose was just a big city with not much to offer except that it was dirty and crowded and perhaps not very safe. However, we had read about a couple of places we wanted to visit and have learned that safety is largely something that you make for yourself by not doing stupid things. 
Hotel Courtyard
Our hotel, about a mile from downtown, was off the main road and included a wonderful courtyard/restaurant with a multitude of plants to add to the ambiance. One of the older hotels in town, it has grown a bit over the years, but it still has the feel of an older boutique hotel.
The old airport terminal building

We took a city tour to get the lay of the land. Along the way we saw the original airport which is now an art museum next to a huge park where we saw some guys playing American football. Several lovely parks are spread around town. All were busy. One of the government buildings still has bullet holes from the civil war that led to the dismantling of the military. They are left as a reminder of why this is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t waste its money on weapons and soldiers that are too often only used to suppress the people. 

Main Square

Bullet holes left as a reminder

Another interesting site is their new soccer stadium built by the Chinese. China is working worldwide to increase its influence, often at the expense of the USA. They usually do this by providing infrastructure that the countries don’t have the money or the will to build themselves. This does provide some nice things for these countries, but it provides nothing else, often not even help in maintaining what they build. The worst part is that the things they provide are completely built with Chinese labor and mostly Chinese materials, so the local people get little business and no on-the-job training. It is too bad that these countries feel compelled to accept the Chinese largesse under these conditions. Other nations do often include some requirements about using donor materials, but not to the extent that Chinese do and most of the workers will be local so there is still a lot of benefit to the local economy. Maintenance is always a problem. 

We walked downtown twice, once for dinner and the second time to visit the Gold Museum which was excellent. The city is interesting with a lot of fast food chains in addition to the local restaurants. Street vendors were ubiquitous even though they were provided with one main pedestrian-only street. The most interesting site was what appeared to be a car repair shop located in two parking slots. 
Pop-up Car Repair
Gambling option
The gold museum was amazing. The pre-Columbian gold pieces and other art work are beautifully crafted and the museum does an excellent job of explaining the meaning behind the art and the lives of those who lived in Costa Rica before Columbus. It’s also small enough to be fully explored in a couple of hours which I think is about the limit of what most of us can do while still retaining focus and interest.

We were certainly glad we decided to spend a couple of days in this nice city and get to know the country a little better. And we never felt anything other than safe even as left the populous downtown area to return to our hotel. 

John Lennon

National Theater


Our penultimate stop in Costa Rica was the isolated Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula in the southwestern corner of the country. We arrived at Aguila de Osa Resort after a two hour boat ride down the Sierpe River and across James Bay. While waiting for our boat ride, we had the joy of seeing a Tropical Screech Owl hiding in a tree in the park next to the dock. On the boat ride we had another good sighting when our skipper stopped to show us two Common Potoos. Potoos are not uncommon, but are hard to find and we were fortunate to see these along with the one at Arenal. 

A short walk up from the dock led us to the main lodge where we were served a welcoming drink and given the typical introduction to the resort and its amenities. A little further uphill, and we arrived at our room where our luggage awaited us. I took a walk down to the beach during the afternoon while Linda relaxed and enjoyed the view. Dinner and sunset ended our first day. 

Pelicans enjoying the evening sun

The next day we took a hike through the rain forest. Two hours by skiff took us to a lovely beach. From there we hiked up and down through the rain forest for about three hours enjoying the sights and sounds. After two hours we arrived at a small waterfall where we cooled off with a swim before completing the hike back to the beach. We saw few birds along this walk, but did learn more about the rain forest and were treated to some partial views of a boat-billed heron through the leaves.
See the baby?

We were ready for a swim
Upon our return to the beach we enjoyed lunch and another short walk along the shoreline before heading back to the resort. We had fun watching a family of Golden-naped Woodpeckers frolicking around their nest. Turning toward the rocks on the beach, we had some great views of a Tiger Heron.
Tiger Heron
You can't see the huge bill on this Boat-billed Heron

Day two took us on another boat ride out into the bay to an island where we enjoyed an hour of snorkeling. After snorkeling we were taken to a nice beach for some R&R. There had been talk that perhaps we would skip the landing because the waves were high, but they seemed to be manageable when we arrived. It turned out that we made the wrong choice as the waves were a bit higher than safe. One of them caught Linda from behind and pushed her down into the sand leaving her with a nice beach burn on the knee. Our guide cleaned it with some alcohol, but it would still be bothering her after we returned to Vancouver. It turned out that there really was no good reason to spend time on the beach. On a warm beautiful day, people would enjoy laying on that beach for a while, but there was really nothing else to do. I did try taking a few pictures of the stream flowing into the ocean, but otherwise we just waited around until Linda’s beaach burn was cleaned off and we were ready to head back to the Lodge. On the boat ride back, our skipper found some dolphins who had a great time playing in our wake. That was fun.

We returned early enough to spend some time on the deck of the lodge watching the birds. Several small birds were nesting in the cavities in the trees. Watching them flit in and out of their nest holes. However, the most exciting scene was seeing the mating hawks. It was just a fleeting moment, but I was able to get a couple of pictures fortunately.

Cherrie's Tanager

Red-legged Honeycreeper
Female Cherrie's Tanager
That evening we took another boat ride into the bay to watch the sunset and the frigate birds. Our skipper lured the frigatebirds close so we could watch their techniques. These birds spend days at a time in the air. Most of their feeding is done by stealing food from other birds. While they are capable of catching their own food, their preferred method is to harass other birds until they release their catch which the frigatebird quickly snatches away.

On our last morning began with another boat ride around the corner where we were met by a van for the ride to the Drake Bay airport for a flight to San Jose. We were expecting to land at a dock, so we were not prepared for another beach landing. The waves were gentle, but it was still a hassle taking off shoes and socks and rolling up our pant legs before wading to the beach. The airport consisted of a gravel runway and a small shack. We had about an hour to wait so I explored the area managing to find a nest of fire ants. Standing in the grass in tropical areas can be dangerous. I had the same thing happen in Texas. I walked off the road to get a better view of some birds and also found a nest of ants who wasted no time attacking my legs. By the time I realized what had happened, I already had a dozen bites. I had several more before I managed to remove my shoes and socks to get rid of them. Some lotion help relieve the itching, but it would be a couple of days before those itches completely stopped.
This is the terminal building at Drake Bay Airport
A separate plane for our luggage

We finished our day with a flight to San Jose and a ride to our hotel for our last two days in San Jose before heading back to home in Vancouver.