Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tortuga Island

Sunday morning, bright and early, we boarded a bus to the Pacific coastal edge of Costa Rica. From there, we caught a catamaran to the Nicoya Peninsula to a small natural island called Tortuga Island. It was a beautiful place, with little disruption to the natural state of the island. There weren't even permanent bathrooms or shelters there. The sand was warm and the waves were frothy as we basked in a bit of time just enjoying the sun. The kids swam, we shelled hunted, and we even rented a kayak for a while. It was nice to enjoy a simple day of relaxation in the Costa Rican sun.














Friday, July 4, 2014

Manuel Antonio National Park

Bright and early this morning, we headed out for the long drive from our hotel to Manuel Antonio National Park. Unfortunately, only 4 of us were able to make the trip. Paul had to stay back at the hotel with Philip because he was having tummy troubles this morning. We were sad to leave them behind, and I was more than a little apprehensive about taking 3 kids + 2 bags full of stuff on a tour that I knew would require at least 2 miles of hiking to the beach and back. I frequently tell the kids that we sometimes have to do something less than pleasant (ride a long way, trek in hot weather, etc) before we can experience something wonderful. I was meditating on my own words with this adventure! 

We stopped about halfway into the trip for a mid-morning breakfast and a visit with this brave iguana.


Following breakfast, we trekked across the Tárcoles River bridge to spot many of its famous crocodile inhabitants. (Another thing I am not comfortable with: walking on an 18-inch wide path over hundreds of 7-foot long crocodiles while traffic flies by mere inches away beside me.)


Fortunately, we made it across unharmed and caught our bus again for the park.


Once we arrived at the coast, we parked and readied ourselves for the hike to the beach. The first thing I noticed was another iguana sitting on a spray-painted wall like he was an art installation. Iguanas must be plentiful in this area. We saw quite a few of them.


Just outside the park's entrance, you can find several vendors selling coconut water from green coconuts. We waited until our hike back to buy one, but it was delicious!



Once we hit the trail, our guide pointed out the local flora and fauna, in addition the animals that are popularly spotted in the area.


The first mammal we saw was the squirrel monkey. He, unlike many that we saw later, seemed to be posing for our photos.


Random spider. "Non-poisonous. You can touch." says the guide. Um...not hardly.


We saw a sloth early on in our walk to the beach. I took a few shots but he was hard to see tucked behind branches and leaves. Fortunately, this sloth was on the closest tree to the trail and was easily spotted and photographed.


Almost as soon as I started snapping, he turned toward us and flashed his famous smile. The kids were thrilled to see this 3-toed sloth, not only moving but easily spotted.


Our guide also pointed out this sleeping frog on a leaf along the path. He was adorably tucked up and completely zonked out.


We ended up seeing a total of 25-30 monkeys while we were in the park. This white-faced capuchin was the other variety we spotted. The guide warned us several times that these monkeys were famous for stealing tourist's food from their bags on the beach.



At last we were on the beach. The water, beaches, and natural areas were just as lovely as all of the photos I've seen. This first photo is looking right from the trailhead on the main beach.


The following photos is looking left from the trailhead. The park forms a horseshoe shape here at the main beach. Its really so beautiful and lush, and the water is the prettiest green color.




The kids, of course, didn't care as much about the beauty of the beach. They just wanted to play.




We were warned that the water was a little "strong" today. The guide wasn't kidding. The waves were strong, and the pull of the receding water, even in just knee-deep water was crazy strong. The waves would crash and splash 10-15 feet in the air when they hit the rocks further out in the water.



I didn't let the kids go out very deep, but they seemed to have plenty of fun in the shallow water too.


When they warned us about food-stealing animals, they should've told us about this fellow! I watched him walk right up to a couple's bag and steal wrapped food out of it with them sitting right there! He tried the same with our bag. I swung it at him a few times, and he wandered off to find easier pickings.



One of our favorite parts of the day was walking over to the right to the rockier side of the beach.


The sand changed quickly to rocks, and what beautiful rocks they were. We each kept a small handful of pretty colored rocks and wave beaten coral.


This area of the beach attracted many hermit crabs. They were skittering all over the sand and rocks.



The kids found a "pool of warm bath water" as Finn aptly named it.


And then we saw the tiniest little conch shell with its little conch feeling its way around the beach.


After about 45 minutes of rock hunting, the kids decided to return to their beach play. The rock hunting was probably my favorite part of the day. "I found another treasure!" Finn kept shouting.


After another 30 minutes of water play, it was time to head back out of the park, among the coconut palms and yet more monkeys. I'm so glad that we were able to make this trip, despite how tiring it was. I'm also sad that Paul and Philip missed it. I think they would've had a fabulous time here. Thankfully, Philip appears to be on the mend, and hopefully he won't miss out on any other adventures.



Thursday, July 3, 2014

downtown San Jose

Today we spent the morning through early afternoon wandering around downtown San Jose. The hotel staff arranged for a friendly taxi driver to shuttle us back and forth to downtown (about 20 minutes from where we are staying). He dropped us off at the Costa Rican parliament building, and we wandered west from there.



Directly across the street from the parliament building is the side of the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica building. We decided not to venture into that museum because we had limited time. I just love the bright colors of many of the buildings here.


As we wandered toward the Parque Nacional, we found an entire block full of street art.


After wandering through the national park, we headed west toward the general direction of central park.



At the central park, we found a group of museums, with one admission price. We were predominantly interested in the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, although we did enjoy the walk through the art museum and bank museum.


The art exhibition currently on display is by José Miguel Rojas. His Macabre Feast, pictured below, was one of the largest and most interesting pieces.


And the kids enjoyed checking the interactive board to see who each figure represented.



After walking through the art exhibition, we headed into the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum. This museum is very well developed and all of the family enjoyed it immensely. The early gold figures were fascinating. How did they melt and form gold into figures like that in the 1500s?!



There was an intriguing display of a recreation of the archeology site where some 80 pieces of gold were found.


The kids were enthralled with the miniature recreation of Pre-Colombian Costa Rican life. They spent a great deal of time examining and commenting on the various depictions.






Toward the end, there was another interactive set of boards with imitation gold figures, and when you press the buttons for them, a stuffed figure of that animal would light up in the habitat scenery. I love it when museums engage kids in this manner.



Just outside the entrance of the bank museum, we spied a Heidelberg press. The kids had no idea what that could possibly be used for!



Upon leaving the museums, we meandered the rest of the way down to Mercado Central (central market). We shopped for a few souvenirs, had a delicious local lunch, then drifted through a few more of the stalls before the tight quarters and dank air forced us back outside again.



Before we had to meet our ride back to the hotel, we managed to hit the famous POPS ice cream shop. A friend recommended POPS to us, and we were happy to take the suggestion.



A perfect ending to our day roaming through downtown San Jose.