Sunday, February 06, 2022

Costa Rica Trip to Playa Negra and Arenal Volcano (Sloths, Canyoning, and Surfing)

When my father retired from the construction business five years ago, he moved down to Costa Rica to live in Playa Negra, a small village with dirt roads on the Pacific Coast. All his life, he had dreamed of living in a tropical hut near the beach where he could go surfing everyday. He ended up buying a small piece of property near a world-famous surf break that we had surfed together during a previous trip in 2004. After several postponements due to the pandemic, my wife and I finally had a chance to go visit him. On Thursday, January 20, we took Alaska Airline's direct flight down to the Liberia airport with our nephew, Ryder. Customs took over an hour where we had to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a travel insurance policy to enter the country. My dad was waiting outside for us as we picked up our rental car at the nearby Avis and followed him back down the coast to Playa Negra.

The last five kilometers were dirt roads as we arrived at his home, Case de Pacifica, after midnight. My dad had left the door open while he was moving furniture around to prepare for our arrival so our room was full of mosquitos. After a few useless swings with the electric fly swatter, I gave up and slept with the sheet over my head. (While they died off quickly, we always had one or two of the little vampires circling around throughout the entire trip.) We originally planned to wake up at 3:30am to join Ryder and my Dad on a Sea Turtle Expedition but after our alarm woke us up two hours later, Tori and I cancelled and went back to sleep until 8:30am. Sitting outside in the morning, I was able to see his property in the sunlight for the first time and get my bearings. The two connected cabinas of my dad's house used to be rental cabins belonging to Pablo Picasso's hostel next door. After the property was subdivided, my father added on a small kitchen and laundry room to his cabinas as well as a detached garage. His current project is a new outdoor patio.

Hungry for breakfast, Tori and I walked to the nearby Hotel Playa Negra. We saw several horses grazing in the Finca (farmland) surrounding my father's place on our way to the beach. Playa Negra looked exactly the same as it did in 2004, a tree-lined shore with the exposed black rocks of the reef giving the beach its descriptive name. Sitting down at the hotel's cafe, we ordered the traditional Gallo Pinto, a rice and bean dish served with eggs, plantains and a tortilla. I also tried the Pipa Fria, deliciously chilled coconut water served fresh inside it's shell. Walking back, we could see riders preparing for horse jumping competition in the field next to the hotel.

After relaxing for a bit, we walked into the town of Playa Negra to explore. The town's center is only 400 meters long, with the Corazon Surf Cafe at one end and the Jalapeno Eatery at the other with a mix of mini-markets, restaurants, shops and cabina rentals in between. The dirt road through the town's heart was treated with residue of sugar cane ash that keeps down the dust from the cars driving through. Since we were pretty hot during our walk in the ninety degree heat, we stopped at the Corazon Surf Cafe for a smoothie. It was a relaxing shady spot with good WiFi and plenty of seats under their covered deck facing away from the road with a view of the trees and a dried stream bed. Probably even nicer during the rainy season when there would be river flowing through.

Back at the house, we hung out with my Dad and Ryder under the shaded patio looking out into the tree-filled finca behind his backyard. Occasionally, a mango would fall from the nearby tree to land on the metal roof of the patio with a loud bang. Two male toucans made their daily visit to roost awkwardly against the large bay windows of the Casimar house next door to admire their reflection. If I got too close, they would fly up to roost in the nearby trees. I ended up stepping on a piece of barbed wire when I walked over to take their picture. Luckily my sandal was thick enough so that only a tiny bit of the point poked into the sole of my foot. When the large house was still the Pablo Picasso's Hostel, there was a large outdoor bar where the enclosed room with the windows are now. I remember sitting there in 2004, eating one of Pablo's giant burgers for lunch before going surfing at Playa Negra. Pablo sold his cabinas to my dad before he passed away several years ago.

Under the walkway outside the kitchen, the local iguanas had made a home. The large male that my dad calls Sherman, tore open the hole and lived there for awhile but now it was settled by a one of his girlfriends. At most times of the day, you could see her sticking her nose out, only coming all the way out to relax in the sun if we stayed far enough way. That afternoon, we saw Sherman, sitting high in a tree, trying to impress a smaller female nearby. I think it was mating season since we caught him several times wooing all the local ladies with his courting display, bobbing his head up and down, sometimes while standing on his back two feet against a fence post. Since my dad doesn't own a car in Costa Rica, instead hiring Pablo's ex-wife to drive him on important errands, we drove to Paraiso with my rental car so he could order bags of cement to be delivered to his house. On the way back, we stopped at the Mini-Super Las Tecas outside of town for his favorite kombucha. The watermelon flavor was my favorite.

Back in 2004, my favorite beach in Costa Rica was Playa Avellana. It was a quiet sandy beach with a small food stand serving only pizza and smoothies. We spent several days surfing, swimming and relaxing on the carved wooden chairs under the shady trees. The cafe was named after the giant pig, Lola, who hung out on the beach, cooling off in the ocean and wallowing in the sand. I heard the area had changed but I wasn't sure what to expect when we returned at 3pm on this Friday afternoon. The parking lot was crowded, the beach was busy and Lola's was now a two story restaurant serving a full menu. I heard the original pig had passed away years ago, but I didn't spot the new one as we walked down the shoreline and went for a swim. While Tori, my Dad and I hung out on the beach, my nephew Ryder scouted through the treeline, looking for new reptiles to add to his list. Getting hungry, we got a table at Lola's for dinner. Even though the restaurant had expanded, they still had my favorite feature, the wooden lounge chairs and tables under the trees. The food was really good as we watched the sunset before driving back to Playa Negra.

While Tori and I were hanging out with Ryder on the patio before bed, a Red-Legged Grasshopper flew over and landed next to us. Called a Langosta (Spanish for Lobster) in Costa Rica, the giant insect was at least six inches long and they can have a wingspan up to 18 inches. They mostly eat banana leaves and don't bite. Below is the video of the clumsy grasshopper flying into Ryder's head as it circled around the porch. In the slow motion section, you can see my alarmed face in the window's reflection as it flies toward me with buzzing wings.

On Saturday morning, my Dad made us scrambled eggs and corn quesadillas (with Quemango Hot Sauce) before Tori and I drove up to the Arenal Volcano for the weekend. Leaving at 10:30am, we headed back north toward Liberia, stopping at the German bakery, Panaderia Alemana, for an apple turnover before getting back on the road. For fifty kilometers, we drove along Highway 1, the Pan-American Highway that connects North and South America, the word's longest motorable road. At Canas, we left the dry countryside behind and headed up into the green hills with giant wind turbines lining the ridge. A shortcut had us descending the other side toward Lake Arenal on an extremely steep and bumpy road filled with pot holes. (We skipped it on the return journey.) Considered one of the foremost windsurfing and kite surfing areas in the world, it took an hour to circle the lake on the winding roads. At 30 kilometers long, it is the largest lake in Costa Rica and it's dam provides 17% of the country's electricity. On the eastern end we encountered a pack of White-Nosed Coati foraging on the side of the road.

After checking into our room at the Los Lagos Hotel at 3pm, we drove to the nearby Bogarin Sloth Trail. This plot of land just outside of the town of La Fortuna used to be cleared farmland, but the new owner, Giovanni Bogarin, allowed nature to take its course and a secondary forest sprang up to provide an animal sanctuary. Our original plan was to skip the guided tour and just walk around the forest trails looking for the sloths on our own, but I am glad we decided to pay for the more expensive tour. All six of the sloths we saw were extremely high up in the treetops. Without our guide to point them out, I doubt we would have spotted them, camouflaged within the thick vegetation. With our guide's tripod-mounted telescope, we enjoyed a close-up view of the slow moving sloths.

Along the sanctuary trail, we saw both types of Costa Rican sloths, the two-toed and three-toed. The only nocturnal two-toed sloth we saw was asleep while the diurnal three-toed sloths were still awake. Since it was close to sunset, the three-toed were in the favorite sleeping trees. During the day, they move slowly between different tree species for their preferred leaves to eat or the amount of sun or shade provided by the canopy. In the Instagram video below, you can see a baby three-toed sloth hanging out with its mother. Scroll left in the video to also see the male sloth (with the distinctive yellow-black-yellow stripes running down it's back) scratching itself while hanging upside down from the branches.

Ryder told us to keep an out an eye for frogs on our trip up to Arenal and we spotted two types during our tour. The first was the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog (also called a Blue Jeans Frog for it's blue legs). While not lethal to humans, it has few predators due to its toxic skin. The other was the Red-Eyed Tree Frog hanging among the leaves. When we got too close, it closed its colorful eyes and tried to camouflaged itself by pressing its green body tight against the leaf. Our guide also pointed out two Black-and-White Owls, roosting in a nearby tree, named for the horizontal black and white strips on their breasts. Flocks of vultures also began settling in the surrounding trees as we neared the end of the tour. At sunset, our guild led us to a clearing at the edge of the forest where we could see the golden light reflecting off the back of the Arenal Volcano and the nearby Cerro Chato Volcano. While the taller peak of Arenal was hidden by clouds, he pointed out that the profile of Cerro Chato resembles a man lying on his back. If you look closely, you can see that he is quite horny as well. Now I can't look at the mountain without seeing the profile.

Afterwards, we gave Elliot, the Frenchman in our tour, a ride into La Fortuna where we parked and explored the town square. At it's heart is the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo across from the small park and fountain where children were playing soccer. When the sky is clear, the peak of the volcano is visible directly behind the cathedral's steeple. For dinner, we went to Restaurante La Parada and ordered the Tipical Casado, the traditional Costa Rican meal of rice, beans, salad, plantains, veggies and our choice of meat. Back at the Los Lagos Hotel, we went for a swim in the resort's hot springs heated by the geothermic activity of the nearby volcano. They have a swim-up bar and over ten pools, each heated to different levels of enjoyment. While they still have two waterslides into their cold pools, I missed the hot water slide that I enjoyed on my earlier visit back in 2004. That closed slide is still visible as a garden planter, sealed off on both ends. What a bummer!

On Sunday morning, Tori and I woke up extra early for our Pure Trek Canyoning Tour. We were able to eat breakfast at the hotel's buffet before Pure Trek picked us up at 7am. They switched us into a larger 4WD truck to climb the dirt road winding up into the foothills of the volcano. Tori and I sat inside the cab since the truck bed seats filled up before we boarded. When we arrived at Pure Trek's base camp, we were outfitted with rappelling harnesses, helmets and gloves. After an instructional briefing, we followed our guides along the trail into the tropical forest.

Our first rappel was the longest of the tour, a 165 foot descent alongside a roaring waterfall. Even though I had rappelled previously in the Army, it was never this high. It was pretty scary leaning backward off the platform edge for the first time. While lightly holding the rope above, the mental challenge was allowing my lower hand to release the rope pressed tight against my right hip as I leapt backwards into the air over the deep canyon. I grew more confident with each leap as I slowly descended the canyon wall. My favorite part was looking up at the cascading waterfall beside me. The harness was really digging into my inner thighs as I approached the bottom, but I was having a great time and was doused by the falling water as I descended the last ridge. After Tori joined me at the base, we climbed the 30' ladder up a rock wall and hiked the trail to the next station. The Monkey Drop was a crazy fun zipline with a sixty foot drop at the end into a shallow pool of water.

The second waterfall rappel was shorter at 82 feet, but the cascade carved a tricky path through a tight canyon. I enjoyed navigating between the two rock walls, sometimes straddle the waterfall with my legs. We then had our longest hike along the trail until we reached a short 40' rappel down a rock wall before arriving at our last waterfall of the day. Tori made it to the bottom of the 95' drop with one giant leap, but it took me two rappels. Below are the short highlight videos of the three waterfall rappels and the Monkey Drop Zipline. I was wearing my GoPro for the entire experience.

After receiving a Costa Rican lunch at the PureTrek headquarters, we were driven back to our hotel where we walked around, exploring the grounds. The resort has its own Butterfly Garden where we watched the giant butterflies using their proboscises to drink juice from the cut pineapples laid out for them inside the netted enclosure. We also checked out the Frog Habitat but we couldn't spot any hidden among the leaves. Rain was threatening as we arrived at the largest ant farm that I have ever seen. Surrounded by water moats, the colony of Leafcutter Ants (Zompopas in Spanish) harvested the leaves from one side of the enclosure, carrying them on their foraging trail across the long branches of a concrete tree to their underground city on the other side of the room. The ants don't eat the collected leaves themselves, instead processing them to act as fertilizer for their fungus crop. Through the glass, we could see the tunnels connecting their fungus gardens. It was fascinating to watch them work as we sheltered from the downpour of heavy rain outside.

Tori and I wanted to visit the Tabacon Hot Springs, but they were already sold out for the day. Instead we decided to take the Eden Chocolate Tour at an organic cocoa plantation. Our guide, walked us through the farm, showing us cocoa flowers and pods growing from the trees. We also learned how the original Native Americans enjoyed the beans versus the modern way to make chocolate. After the beans are harvested at Eden, they are fermented in wooden boxes and then sun-dried in the Secador greenhouse. After a low roasting and the shells are removed, they finely grind the cocoa nibs and add high pressure to create cocoa powder and cocoa butter. The last step to make Dark Chocolate is to combine the ground cocoa with additional cocoa butter and sugar into a Conche, a rotating aerator that that stirs and smooths the mixture under heat. Milk is added for milk chocolate while white chocolate contains only cocoa butter, milk and sugar. 

We were able to try the delicious melted chocolate directly from the conche with a collection of different toppings. My favorite combination was adding a sprinkle of black pepper and cinnamon. After tempering the chocolaty syrup in the refrigerator, we poured the chocolate into molds to make our own bonbons. While they were hardening, we helped make the God's Drink of the Aztecs. The heated cocoa beans smelled delicious as I crushed them with a stone mortar and pestle while Tori ground them fine with the help of an exercise bike. After adding hot water and sugar, I finished the final preparations of the drink with a wooden Molinillo frother stick as our guide led us all in a chant. Fun Times! Even with the added sugar, the drink had a slight bitterness that tasted good after all the rich chocolate we ate.

Back at the hotel, we relaxed and watched a NFL playoff game in Spanish between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. The 49ers pulled out the win after blocking a punt during a defensive battle in the snow. For dinner, we drove into La Fortuna for pizza at Anch'io. I had my first Imperial, the local Costa Rican lager that is called Aguila (or Eagle) after the logo on the label. Since it was our last night at the hotel, I took advantage of their WiFi to download several movies to my iPad since the internet is not very fast back at my dad's place.

On Monday, our final morning in La Fortuna, the skies were blue for the first time. Except for clouds circling the peak, we had a great view of the Arenal Volcano from our hotel before we left for the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges in the hills above Lake Arenal. We had tickets for 8am to enter the park and hike the two mile trail through the tropical rainforest. The Mistico Park has sixteen bridges crossing the stream-filled ravines and six are hanging suspension bridges over the larger gaps. The first hanging bridge was the Arenal View Bridge, the highest at 180 feet. The clouds had rolled back in so the volcano was mostly obscured at the time we crossed.

The second bridge wasn't as high but it had a beautiful Pilon Tree towering at one end that gave the bridge its name. The suspension bridges would sway and rock as people walked across them so there was a limit of 15 people at one time. The Waterfall Bridge had the best view of the valley but the waterfall below was mostly hidden under the forest canopy. We were able to get a closer look of the Blue Morpho Waterfall (Catarata Morpho Azul) further down the trail. I started to get slightly seasick crossing the next bridges since we caught up to a large group who would step widely as possible on the bridge to feel safe. This caused the bridge to sway violently up and down without stopping until they reached the far side. For a smooth crossing, the trick is to walk close to the center of the narrow bridge. On our last bridge we saw a howler monkey high in the trees over our heads.

The skies cleared again as neared the end of the trail so we had a great view of the Arenal Volcano from the picnic area near the entrance. The hike only took us an hour and a half so we made it back to the hotel to pack up before our noon checkout. On our drive back to Playa Negra, we stopped at the Macadamia Cafe for lunch at the far side of the lake. The food was really good and their covered patio had a great view of the lake. Tori drove the rental car on the last part of the drive back to Playa Negra to get used to the Costa Rican roads in preparation for her drive to the airport on Wednesday.

We arrived back at my dad's house at 5pm, just as he was receiving his shipment of concrete that we had ordered together on Friday. Two grazing horses wandered up to the backyard fence as we unloaded our rental car. To catch the sunset, Tori and I went down to the beach with Ryder and walked north to the rocky point. In sand above the high tide line, Ryder pointed out the sea turtle tracks leading up to several aborted nests. The empty body pits meant that the female turtles had abandoned their nests before laying eggs. These "false crawls" are fairly common and occur naturally, but they can also occur because of too much artificial light or the presence of people on the beach.

For dinner, we walked into town with my father and Ryder to eat at La Vida Buena. The local restaurant had only reopened in the last few months due to the sudden death of the owner in 2021 to Covid. The food was real good! I ordered the Gorgonzola Steak and Tori had the Primavera Pasta with White Sauce that my dad recommended. After our meal, we walked over to Flori's house so my dad could pick up a big pot of black beans she had made for him. Always keeping his eye out for reptiles, Ryder caught a Slender Blindsnake in her front yard. It was the size of a skinny earthworm, but it had tiny scales.

While I would be staying in Costa Rica for another week, Tuesday was Tori and Ryder's last day before flying home on Wednesday. My Dad and Chamalia were already hard at work when we woke up, mixing and pouring cement for a concrete pillar of the new patio. Chamalia is a local Tico who works security at the nearby beach parking lot and occasionally works for my father when he needs construction help. As they filled up the wooden form with wet cement, Tori, Ryder, and I walked over to the Corazon Surf Cafe for breakfast. It was closed despite its posted hours so we headed over to Jalapeno's Eatery on the other side of town instead. We had Banana Pancakes and Avocado Toast before returning to the house for the Covid test appointment. With a negative test needed within one day of arrival in the USA, my dad found a mobile service that drives to Playa Negra for $55 per test. After having their noses swabbed, Ryder and Tori found out they were negative within 15 minutes.

At noon, Tori and I rode the bikes over to Hotel Playa Negra to check out their gift shop and have a few cocktails at the beachside café. Back at the house, we mostly relaxed as Tori did a little packing to get ready for her early flight the next day. (She came outside laughing, saying she accidently drank an ant but she was able to spit it out before swallowing!) At 4pm, Tori and I returned to the beach for a long walk. This time we headed south, passing all the little headlands to reach Playa Callejones. It was only about 4km roundtrip but it was pretty tiring walking on the soft sand as we returned at sunset. For dinner, we picked up pepperoni pizza from La Vida Buena to eat before Ryder left for his second Sea Turtle expedition. Our nephew is an amateur Herpetologist, which is the study of reptiles and amphibians. He has a large collection at home that includes a large iguana named Chewy. Even after he returned from the expedition where he saw hatching sea turtles crawling into the surf, he spent the rest of the night searching for more reptiles in the bushes and trees surrounding the house. At the end of this post is his complete list of all the animals he identified on the trip.

Tori and Ryder left at 5:30am on Wednesday morning, driving off in the rental car to return it to the Hertz near the Liberia Airport. For the rest of my vacation, I did not have a car, just walking and riding bikes around Playa Negra. The farthest I biked on the bumpy dirt roads was through the Teak Tree groves to Playa Callejones. Since my father does not want to deal with owning and registering a car in Costa Rica, he hires Flori instead to drive him around when he has errands to nearby towns or trips to the airport. It was a pretty relaxing week, surfing once a day with my dad and hanging out at the house, watching movies on my iPad and listening to podcasts. Everywhere we went, my dad introduced me to everyone he knows in the small beach community.

On my first day of surfing, my father took me to Sandy Beach, the local shore break just south of Playa Negra. Since it has been at least 15 years since I last surfed, we did not go out very far and I practiced my take-offs in the whitewater waves close to shore. Even though it had been awhile, my pop-ups were still quick and smooth. After each wave, I would run back out and catch another as soon as I recovered my breath. While we were surfing, two swimmers were caught outside in the riptide. Luckily, a young guy spotted them struggling and ran over to borrow my board to paddle out and rescue them. Afterward, my dad told me that quite a few people have died from the dangerous rips here.

After two days of surfing at Sandy Beach, we went out at Playa Negra a couple hours before high tide when most of the rocky reef was submerged.  I was pretty nervous since the last time I surfed here in 2004, I hit a rock after falling off my board and went over the falls on another wave. This time, it ended up being the best surf session of my life with three long overhead right waves. The next day, I wore my GoPro and caught two more long waves. While paddling out, I was caught inside on a big set wave. I turtled under it and was held down for long time. Every time I was about to rise to the surface, the leash connected to my board would pull me back under. Finally, I pushed off the rocks at the bottom with my feet to break the surface and take a big gasp of air. Whew!

It was great to go surfing everyday with my Dad, just hanging out and catching waves. The hardest part of surfing is wave judgement so it was awesome to have my dad's expert opinion on this surf spot. Between his own waves, he would point out the perfect waves for me to catch and the best time to start paddling. While my legs were strong for the pop-ups, my arms hadn't built up the required endurance for long bouts of paddling. On Monday there were bigger waves and a larger crowd out in the water. I only caught one wave that day but it was the best of my trip. It was really long and I was able to maneuver fairly well. Too bad the video was all washed out! I could have caught two other waves but I backed out at the last second to avoid snaking another surfer. 

On Tuesday, I caught two more right waves and a steep left.  After the fun left, I was stuck inside and had four set waves crash down on me, one after another as I paddled back out. I was so weak after the last one, that I was breathing like a bellows. While I had finally felt recovered from COVID just before the trip started, I don’t think my lungs were completely back to normal for this strenuous activity. After I made it back outside, a sea turtle popped up beside me to say hello. The regular waves were smaller but the set waves coming in were much bigger. After paddling far out with everybody to survive the last set and needing to bail under largest one, I called it a day and paddled in. My chest felt sore for hours afterwards from all the heavy breathing. Wednesday was my last day of surfing and the fifth day in a row. I was pretty pooped out there, but I still caught one decent wave. I had a little bit of PTSD from the previous days so I kept a nervous eye outside for the large set waves.

On two different nights, we went out to dinner with my our neighbors. Nancy and her husband work for Sea Turtles Forever, a non-profit organization, that works to conserve the local marine turtles, protect their nesting habitats and educate the local children. It was cool to hear about their mission and see pictures from Ryder's earlier expeditions while eating pizza at Piko Negro. The restaurant has a cool vibe with lots of custom woodwork. On Saturday night, we also went to Cafe Playa Negra to listen to live music. The owners are Peruvian so I had a tasty ceviche with my Lomo Saltado. Nancy brought along Sophie, a visiting marine biologist from UC Santa Cruz who is working on a proposal to tag sea turtles with satellite tracking.

While my dad travels into the city of Santa Cruz about once a month to stock up on food supplies, we would bike into town to shop for perishables at the Mini Súper Los Pargos market. With the hotplate in his small kitchen, he whipped up many meals for just the two of us during my stay. Eating his hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, and spaghetti with meatballs totally reminded me of my early childhood when he would cook all our meals as a single dad. We would also have rice and beans or a tomato-cucumber salad with every meal. The two local restaurants in Playa Negra that I visited several times was the Corazon Surf Cafe and Jalapeno Eatery. It was nice to have breakfast or lunch at Corazon and enjoy the fast internet on their covered outdoor patio. The Gringo Burrito at Jalapeno with their homemade tortillas is the best breakfast burrito that I have ever had, beating out the Boss Burrito, my current favorite at Bird Rock Cafe in San Diego.

Playa Negra in the dry season looks a lot like San Diego's coastal environment but filled with different animals. In the mornings and at twilight, we could hear the hooting of howler monkeys in the distance. At night, I needed to play white noise to cover the loud barking of the tiny geckos clinging to the walls. One gecko ran down my arm while I was opening the gate, jumping from my shoulder to the wall. For three days in the middle of my stay, the sky of Playa Negra filled with swarms of dragonflies. Sherman the Iguana and his harem of females were always roaming the property and the gnawing sounds from the giant Variegated Squirrels in the two mango trees was constant. The mosquitoes had mostly died off in my room, but there was always at least one or two roaming over my bed. A Black Banded Cat Eyed Snake coiled up and struck at my dad as we passed, but it is non-venomous. I removed three Slender Blindsnakes from my room and shook my shoes every morning to check for scorpions. One dark night, I almost stepped on a huge scorpion crossing the road carrying its babies on its back.

My dad is always working on a project, currently a new patio outside the kitchen. After pouring the cement for a new concrete pillar on Tuesday, he removed the wooden form and I helped him rebuild it for the next pillar. On Saturday, Chamalia came over in the morning and helped us carry it over and raise the heavy wooden box into it's new location. Before I returned home, we also trimmed the Almendro trees out front. Since my dad's property only has a small septic tank, instead of using the showers in the bathroom, we used the garden hose outside everyday instead. It was less inconvenient than I expected since the weather was always warm and normally it was right after returning from surfing anyway.

Every afternoon, I would go down to the beach for a walk and to watch the sunset that set around 5:30pm. It was a pleasant way to end the day and watch the surfers catching the last waves of the day. One day I took down my fancy camera with the telephoto lens to capture the atmosphere of the beach and on another I went for happy hour at Hotel Playa Negra. The daily special is two drinks for the price of one so I ended up enjoying two mojitos.

Below are the videos I took of a surfer on the large wave and a rider galloping along the beach at Playa Negra.

On my last full day in Costa Rica, I woke up at super early for an expedition with Sea Turtles Forever. Sea Turtles like to lay their eggs at high tide on dark nights with little to no moon visible. To avoid startling the light-sensitive turtles, I needed to wear dark clothes that covered my arms and legs and bring a flashlight with a red filter. I was picked up by my dad's neighbor, Nancy, at 4am along with Rey, Sophie, and Katie on our way to Playa Lagartillo. To foil the poachers, the organization hires locals to patrol the beaches and keep an eye out for nesting turtles. The beach was pitch black when we found the turtle tracks and followed them up into the trees to find a Pacific Green Turtle using her flippers to cover her nest with sand.

Just before we arrived on the beach, STF had already tagged the turtle and collected her 67 eggs to be reburied in a hidden location where they can hatch unmolested. While we waited for the turtle to finish her routine, we enjoyed the amazingly bright stars on the moonless night and spotted the Southern Cross. Just before dawn, the Green Turtle emerged from under the branches and we watched her slowly crawl back into the ocean, pausing frequently to rest and loudly breath. It was a beautiful sunrise as we headed back to Playa Negra at 6am. After the early morning, my final day was a relaxing one. I ate another delicious Gringo Burrito at Jalapeño Eatery before the technician arrived for my home covid test. After a last sunset swim with my Dad, he cooked steaks and we watched a movie on my iPad. Flori picked me up at 6:30am and we saw two trees full of Howler Monkeys on the drive to the airport. I had an interesting conversation with a musician on my flight home. He lives in Costa Rica but returns to LA frequently to play his Cello for film scores. He had an instrumental solo in the recent movie, Spider Man: No Way Home.

Blog Link to 2023 Costa Rica Trip - Post

Blog Post Links to 2004 Costa Rica Trip

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

P.S. - A few weeks after we left, my Dad told us that Sherman the Iguana had been killed by the neighborhood dogs.  Here is Ryder's Instagram Tribute to our new friend.

Ryder's Herpetology List

Lizards: 70+

7 Spiny Tailed Iguana

1 Green Iguana

20+ Anolis Cupreus (copper/dry forest Anole) 

10 Rose Bellied Swift

4 Race Runner Lizard

30+ Indopacific /Asian House Geckos 

Snakes: 8

3 Black Banded Cat-Eyed Snake

4 Annulated Cat-Eyed Snake 

1 Slender Blindsnake

Turtles: 7+

1 Green Sea Turtle 

6+ Olive Ridley Sea Turtles 

Frogs: 4

3 Brown Foam Frogs

1 White-Lipped Frog


No comments:

Post a Comment