Thursday, April 23, 2015

Manuel Antonio - San Jose - Atlanta - Milwaukee - Home - April 23

We leave beautiful Costa Rica today.

It was a wonderful 10 days, and now we go back to reality, the weather will definitely be a shock to my system.

We were ready to leave by 7:30 AM, our pickup time.

The drivers name was Alphonso, I am guessing he doesn't speak any English since at the beginning of the trip he said two words, airport and 3 hours and complete silence for the rest of the trip. Very unusual, all our drivers have been very talkative and of course everyone wants to know if we like CR.

All the procedures at the airport were smooth, fast, and hassle free, which is always appreciated.

The first leg of the trip is on a 757 - 200 as was our incoming flight. The flight was mostly smooth and we were served sandwiches and non alcoholic drinks.

The view from the plane was quite nice, with the reefs around Cuba and the view of the Florida Keys.

Landed at Atlanta on time but were told to remain seated until the medical team evacuated an ill passenger.

Didn't have too long an wait though, and we were inside the airport shortly. We needed to clear customs and immigration, claim our checked luggage and then hand it over to the Delta crew to be rebooked to Milwaukee.

Everything went smoothly, the ground staff in Atlanta is really nice and helpful.

The flight left and landed on time in Milwaukee, it was an MD 90 but the ride was smoother than the one going out.

Luggage arrived without delay, found the fast park shuttle waiting outside, got our car and came home at around midnight.

All in all a smooth return home.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Manuel Antonio - April 22

Leisurely day today and we slept in, well until 6:30 which is much better than 5:00 and some days earlier.

Went to breakfast and now trying to decide if we want to go to the butterfly garden and nature park. in the morning when it's cooler or afternoon when there is higher chance of spotting a Toucan but also possibility of rain.

That's probably the biggest decision we have had to make so far.

Okay decision made. Went in the morning and then found out afternoon was recommended, so we will be going again.

Saw varieties of blue morphoes.

Varieties of turtles, lizards, alligators, crocodiles, and caymen.

There were flowers everywhere including the beautiful bird of paradise.

Went back after lunch but did not see anything new. We did see a number of baby crocodiles separated in a small pond and one was already out on the shore.

Time to go home already, vacations are always too short, so guess I need to start packing.

Went down to the Tiki bar for the 2 for 1 happy hour followed by dinner. It's kind of an interesting scenario, the cocktails are all $7.00 individually but for the 2 for 1, it's $8.00. I don't believe I have encountered this anywhere else before.

Our server was Alexandria, she is a very efficient and nice person. She informed me that tomorrow is her day off and she will taking the bus for three hours to visit her family and enjoy her mother's cooking. It reminded me of Martha from the children's book "The Secret Garden", one of my all time favorites.

I deviated from my fish dinners and had the spaghetti and meat sauce followed by coconut ice cream for dessert, all very tasty.

Time to finish packing and go to bed, we have an early pickup of 7:30 tomorrow.

I really enjoyed my vacation, this country is not necessarily for wildlife, but it is very beautiful and the people helpful and friendly.

One of the restaurant staff said "we have more time than life", I have never heard that before but it is a great saying.

Another is "Purė Vida, which is Spanish for "pure life." The expression is used in many forms, from a greeting, to a synonym for "excellent." A synonym of "hakuna matata." Life is wonderful; enjoy it.

Location:Si Como No

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Manuel Antonio NP - April 21

Today we will be going to the Manuel Antonio National Park, which is just 10 minutes down the road from the hotel, so we can start a little later than yesterday.

The howler monkeys must have slept in this morning, I didn't hear them at all.

Got ready and went down to the Tiki Bar to have a buffet breakfast and coffee and waited in the lobby for our pickup.

This is a very beautiful hotel, there is stained glass everywhere and the one in the lobby is truly beautiful.

Pretty soon our ride came and it turned out we had Michael as our guide from yesterday. This was a very pleasant surprise indeed.

Manuel Antonio NP is a very popular destination, so it was quite crowded unlike yesterday. This park is mainly known for lizards and small mammals.

We saw a couple of varieties of sloths and brown version of the Jesus Christ lizard.

The park ends at the beach so that is an added attraction. We rested at the beach for about half an hour and walked back leisurely. There were a total of 8 in our group and two decided to stay back at the beach and come back later.

After we got out of the park, Michael pointed out a street vendor selling green coconut, after leaving India this was my second opportunity to drink from one, the first one was in Bali, almost exactly 5 years ago. It was just right and delicious.

We then walked to a place where they served us fresh fruit and a great frothy pineapple juice. We are the only two returning back to the hotel, the four others were having lunch and going on for their afternoon trip, which I believe was parasailing.

Came back to the hotel, rested up and then went to lunch, We split a pork and cheese sandwich which was a generous sized one.

Not much to do in the middle of the afternoon, no wonder everyone around here takes a siesta.

Went for a walk in the late afternoon/ early evening and took some pictures around the premises.

We went into dinner which was blackened Red Snapper, excellent. The menu seems to have the least amount of choices here but all I have had so far has been very good. The name of our server was Omar, which is an unusual name for here. He said he grew up around here before the hotel was built and hunted iguanas that his mother made a fantastic stew out of. It is now illegal to hunt iguanas

We have a leisurely day tomorrow, our last day in Costa Rica, only two items on the agenda the butterfly garden and packing.

Location:Si Como No

Monday, April 20, 2015

Carara National Park - April 20

The howler monkeys, making a racket woke me up 15 mins before the alarm. It was neat laying in bed listening to them.

I had a restless night, I am guessing due to going to bed too early, around 3 hours before I normally do but I had to get up 3 hours earlier so it evened out.

We were ready too early and waited in the lobby and listened to the birds and monkeys.

Got picked up on time and passed through the town of Quepos, this is where my weather comes from. The town is actually 3 feet under the sea level and until 10 years back flooding was a big problem. Now there are dykes that do help.

Arrived at our destination in an hour and half. This is a serious bird spotters destination so there aren't hoardes of tourists. We had a private tour with guide Michael who was extremely accommodating and allowed us to take all the time we needed to take pictures.

My interest was mostly the Macaws and sure enough we found two flocks and Michael helped me take pictures though hubby's spotting scope.

The Macaws are big, beautiful, and colorful birds, and make a lot of harsh noises. The first flock were eating macadamia nuts and second palm nuts.

It was a typical lush rain forest and we saw many species of birds including:

Buff rumped fly catcher
King fly catcher.

We saw a ghost bats, which does look ghostly and are loners unlike most bats which are in colonies.

We saw the second flock of macaws on our way out and spend quite sometime photographing them.

Also sighted a Toucan in the same area.

Pretty soon it was time to leave, we had walked for nearly 3 hours which flew past very quickly.

Lunch was part of the tour and stopped at a wayside diner Marea Baja (low tide) in the town of Jarco. This was a buffet style as well with 3 different types of rice, 3 types of meat, fried sea bass, vegetable, salad, and desert. Like yesterday, it was no fuss authentic Costa Rican cuisine and very tasty.

Back at the hotel to rest and freshen up and then hopefully go for a walk and eventually end up at two for one cocktails during the happy hour at the Tiki Bar.

An adventurous and great day so far.

Went to the Tiki bar, Sudip didn't want a margarita, so I had two margaritas and Sudip two Piña Coldas.

Decided to go to the seafood restaurant next to the reception area today, it's called Claro Que Seafood Restaurant. We had the steamed red snapper with steamed vegetables and boiled potatoes, even though red snapper is not one of my favorite it was still very good. I am definitely in seafood paradise.

Another early morning bird watching trip tomorrow, this one is to the Manuel Antonio National Park, just 10 mins from our hotel. It is also at the sea level; we should have a good view of the beach.

Location:Hotel Si Como No

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Arenal to Manuel Antonio

Had a leisurely breakfast and checked out in plenty of time for our 9:00 AM pickup.

The driver guide Oscar appears to be friendly, talkative, and helpful. He stopped at scenic places on the way for picture taking.

We drove for about an hour and then made our first pit stop at San Ramone. Even though we didn't need to stop, the view was beautiful and worth stopping.

A section of the road was dedicated to Pacifica Fernandez, the wife of first president. She also designed the Costa Rican flag based on the French flag. Costa Rica got their independence in 1821 and Independence Day is celebrated on September 21

Most of the drive out of Arenal was on the Pan American Highway, and we veered off of it at Esperza

Stopped for lunch at wayside diner called El Harding, which means The garden. They serve local food which consisted of rice, vegetables, chicken, pork, and beef. All cooked without much spices but were good and filling. It was buffet style at $6/person, that's amazing considering how expensive food was in El Silemcio and Arenal. Maybe food is in general less expensive in this part of the country, will find out at dinner tonight.

Arrived at Si Como No, which means "yes why not" around 2:00 PM. The hotel is located high above the Pacific Ocean. We had been upgraded to a deluxe room, nice touch by our local travel agents. The view out of the hotel lobby is phenomenal and so is the one out of our room.

The room is a suite with two balconies, one out the bedroom area, and the other out of the sitting area, both looking out on the ocean, I am glad we are staying here 3 full days

Went down to the Tiki bar and grill around sunset. Although the sun was more to the north it was still a beautiful view.

They have two for one happy hour from 4:00 to 6:00 pm so we ordered two margaritas. I have to admit they were better than Tabacón by being less sweet.

The servers name was Alexandria and she was really nice as was all the serving staff. The food was nothing fancy or served with flourish but good nonetheless.

Tomorrow we might try the seafood restaurant. We have a full day tour at the Carrara national park, so bound to be hungry after all the walking.

It starts real early, so another early night again, hope we get to walk around the butterfly garden tomorrow.

Location:Hotel Si Como No

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Cano Negro Wildlife tour - April 18

Got up very early in the morning and ordered in room service to save time. The service was fast and flawless, they even set the table complete with table mats.

We were picked up on time, for our Cano Negro trip by Oscar our guide and Juan Carlos the driver.

There was another couple already in the van, they happened to be one of the ones that we had met yesterday. We went on to pick up another couple and drove to Le Fotuna to pick up the remaining two.

There was going to be a total of 12 on the boat, and 4 will meet us at the dock.

It took us almost 2 hours to get to the boat dock, these are pontoon boats that hold around 35-40 people. The name of the captain of our boat was "Mango", and the boat was named after him. The starting point was almost at the Nicaraguan border.

We will be on the Rio Frio, which flows into the San Jose and then into the Caribbean.

Both Mango and Oscar were very energetic and eager to please. We motored for 3 hours at a leisurely pace, and saw enough birds to please the birders in the group.

The sightings included:

Herons of many varieties
Social flycatcher
Bare throated lark
Blue ringed kingfishers
Pigmy kingfisher

Also a young cayman, a bunch of baby cayman. tiny Provosis bats clinging to the tree branch. These bats live mostly on mosquitoes and other small insects, so they are liked by all.

A large family of howler monkeys got disturbed by our presence. They were trying to take an after lunch siesta and lived up to their name.

There were also several beautiful emerald lizards, Basilisk lizard. Commonly known as Jesus Christ Lizard.

All in all a very nice trip indeed.

Stopped for lunch on the way back and had a simple but tasty Costa Rican meal of chicken and rice, with fried beans on the side.

Back to the hotel around 3:30. Stopped at the lounge bar for a great margarita, that really hit the spot. Sudip had cold coffee, which he said was excellent.

Rested a bit and went to dinner at our usual 7:00 PM and was offered the Sangria as the welcome drink.

I had the grilled red snapper, it was excellent. I really like how flexible they are and will readily and happily leave all shellfish out of a menu item and cook it special for me at no extra charge.

Sudip had the lamb shank, same as yesterday and said it was excellent as well.

This is our last night here and the weather has been very kind to us. April is the transition month and so can be unpredictable.

I forgot to pick up my sweater and very quickly our server brought it up to our room, even before I realized I left it there. It was nicely folded in a ziplock bag, another nice touch.

Tomorrow we leave for Manuel Antonio which is on the Pacific Coast, hoping too see some macaws on the way and while we are there. Keeping my fingers crossed.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Hanging Bridges - April 17

Today we are visiting the Hanging Bridges and will get picked at 8:10 AM, so another early morning.

Got ready in plenty of time and went to breakfast at the same restaurant where we had dinner last light.

We ordered ala carte, they also had a buffet. Even an egg over easy and two toasts taste great probably because the eggs are farm fresh and the breads baked daily. Then the coffee, Costa Rican coffee is really really good, full bodied and rich.

Pretty soon we were picked up and arrived at the entrance to the trail, a 3km loop. It is located just outside of La Fortuna. La Fortuna is a bustling town 10 km from our Lodge.

There are 16 in total, of which 6 are hanging/suspension bridges. Three non suspension bridges come first, starting with The Tarantula bridge, followed by the crested Guan bridge and then the Olingo bridge). After which comes the first suspension bridge, the fer de lance bridge.

The suspension bridges do sway a bit, but not nearly as much as other ones that I have heard from people about. The lush foliage below was beautiful and definitely worth the trip.

Also managed to see a poisonous tree frog, with a very loud voice compared to its size and all kinds of blooming plants of which the Lily was my favorite

There were 3 English speaking couples on the tour including us and very interestingly the couple from Vermont were the in-laws of our good friend's daughter. What a neat coincidence and what a small world.

The guide was a little problem,even though he was perfectly bilingual, once he started with Spanish, he would sometimes skip the English, one of us had to keep reminding him to explain in English as well. The trip was well worth taking none the less.

We got dropped off at the hotel around 11:30, rested for a bit and went to have lunch at the resort restaurant Ave del Paraiso, like yesterday since the main restaurant at the hotel is not open for lunch.

There is much interesting vegetation on the grounds, in fact too many to take pictures of. All look very healthy and exotic.

We sat outside for lunch, don't want to miss the opportunity of being able to enjoy this , it can never be possible in April in Wisconsin

We have an all day boat trip on the Cano Negro (black channel) tomorrow, it is an wildlife spotting and relaxing trip - really looking forward to it.

Decided on 7:00 PM for dinner today as well and made a reservation at Los Tucanes Restaurant accordingly.

Had the grilled Pacific salmon, it was so good. I am really going miss the fresh seafood when I go back to Wisconsin, and will be envious of people who live on either coast.

Ordered room service breakfast, to make it easier for our early pick up tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM. Will retire for the night as soon as I set my alarm.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

El Silencio to Arenal - April 16

Slept in some since our pickup time was at 10:00 AM.

Ironically it's the clearest morning of the last two days and we could see patches of blue skies on and off, although the weather was generally drizzly and wet.

We had a leisurely breakfast and so was able to enjoy the beautiful view from our table.

Our driver was Jose, he was nice but not as customer service oriented as William was who we came to El Silencio with two days ago.

I was both sad and happy to leave the Cloud Forest. It is a beautiful and well managed resort but the weather was not conducive to taking all the many possible walks and hikes.

We stopped by a riverside, where there were a large group of iguanas, I have never seen one outside of the zoo. These were pretty large 4-6' in length at least.

We arrived at the Tabagon Resort around 12:30 and were told that check in time was 2:00 PM, so we decided to go to the resort and have lunch. The resort is around 200 meters away and there are shuttles running between the hotel and the resort.

The name of the restaurant is Ave del Paraiso, which means the bird of paradise. In this case it is referring to the flower which there are many on the premises. All this from a very helpful server with my asking. It's outdoor dinning and our server recommend the Rigatoni, so that's what we both ordered and it was very good.

They have a Mexican buffet for dinner, we decided to have dinner at the main restaurant in the hotel instead.

Came back to the hotel reception area and was now told that our rooms were not going to be ready before 3:00. As soon as we sat down and made ourselves comfortable, we were informed that the room was indeed ready, it was around 1:45.

I asked if we have a view of the volcano and was told I have view of the garden instead.

These people do not seem to be well trained in the way of the hotel and also are not as warm and friendly as the El Silencio Lodge.

So we walk into our room and the large picture window looks out on the Arenal Volcano, I am not complaining.

Another very pleasant surprise was that there is free wifi in all the rooms not just the common areas. The cell coverage however is kind of iffy.

I made a reservation for 7:00 PM at the Los Tucanes Restaurant.

We were welcomed with white sangria, a very nice touch and the first so far.

Ordered the grilled Mahi Mahi. It was excellent as all fish has been here generally.

Came back to the room and went to bed, have an early morning tomorrow.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cloud Forest - April 15

Left for bird watching hike at 6:00 am after coffee and cookies. Our guide was a very young person named Kenneth.

He was a very earnest and dedicated person and really tried hard. We did see quite a few birds including wrens, humming birds, fly catcher. We also spotted the red Trogon, a beautiful bird.

Kenneth tried very hard to show us Quetzel, we did see it fly in and out but never in a position to see it well let alone take pictures.

Kenneth has a neat system, where he has pre recorded the bird calls from this area on his cell and plays them back through a small amplifier to call the birds. If nothing it was neat to hear the birds calling back, specially the Quetzel which has a loud raucous call incongruous with size of the bird.

It was drizzling on and off but the almost 2 hour walk was very enjoyable.

Came back to the Lodge and went in for breakfast, and was welcomed warmly in the typical fashion that appears to be the norm so far.

The breakfast, included with room was plentiful and tasty and the coffee delicious. We sat outside and quite enjoyed it.

We had bought two fresh mangoes and one papaya on our way here yesterday. We gave it to the kitchen staff, they served us one mango after dinner last light and half of the papaya and the other mango this morning. Everything being fresh tasted so different and so good including the eggs. The eggs are from the chickens they have on site and most of the vegetables are grown here as well. A well thought out and wonderful place for sure.

There is a trout pond on site which is fed by a mountain stream, very neat to watch.

Each table has a small potted herb, alternating between Rosemary and Mint, another nice touch.

The fresh trout for lunch was excellent.

After lunch we walked to the gatehouse to see the nest of a fly catcher. We did see the nest and the bird/s. Both the male and female were feeding the nestling. The horse stables were there as well with half a dozen horses grazing in front. They were mix of Chestnut, Paint, and an absolute white.

Sudip didn't have the right lens; since the weather was quite good we decided go back to our cottage and get it. Unfortunately we didn't take an umbrella and it started raining half way down there. The guard readily loaned us a umbrella and Sudip was able to get good pictures.

We went back and had coffee at the main lodge before going back to our cottage to do some packing and rest.

Soon it was time for dinner, I ordered the salmon trout, which is actually salmon colored trout and a glass of Patagonian Merlot, never had any wine from Patagonia so had to try it. It was quite good similar to the Chilean Merlots.

The presentation was great and the taste excellent.

All in all a good day and tomorrow we leave for Arenal.

Location:El Silencio Lodge

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

San Jose to the Coud Forest - April 14

Got up at 5:30 AM at the sound of the alarm. I was a bit tired but really wanted to get going so didn't hesitate.

The view out of our window was a beautiful scene to be greeted by.

Got ready and went downstairs for breakfast to the Antigua restaurant where we had dinner last night. I ordered my usual a cheese and green onion omelette. They had a good buffet spread also and tea coffee juice etc.

The food here is typical of a U.S. chain restaurant, good but nothing memorable.

Walked around the property and admired the greenery.

We got picked up for the 1/2 day tour including the Poás Volcano and Botos Lagoon, our guide was Jesus (pronounced Yusus), he talk a lot was funny and entertaining. Although I an not quite sure there was much substance in anything he said.

I realized that I had left the charger to my phone still plugged in to the outlet, and had already checked out, wasn't too worried since I could use the iPad charger to charge the phone as well.

The weather was cloudy but dry at the lower level but as we got to the higher elevations it started drizzling and then light rain as we got to our destination.

The Poás glacier was completely covered and we were soaking wet, all we could see was the sign at the entrance.

We decided to bow out of walking further to Botos Lagoon and came back to the car and waited for the others. During the wait, had a nice chat with the driver.

We made a stop at souvenir store and rearranged transportation based on where people were headed to next.

When we got back, I went in to ask at the front door about my charger, the room had not been cleaned yet and the manager and bellboy went with me and we retrieved the charger - lesson learnt for the rest of the trip and other trips.

Our driver and guide from DCR (Destination Costa Rica) was William and he was really very good, knowledgeable, pleasant, energetic, pro active and full of good humor.

We stopped at Sarchi, which is where all the master artisan ar. We stopped and visited and also had lunch at a no nonsense wayside restaurant called La Finca.

This is how great food is supposed to taste like. The grilled sea bass was 10 times better than the one I had at Mariott last night.

Pretty soon we were on our way to be at El Silencio before dark. When we parted company with William, he was extremely happy with the tips, a completely pleasant experience for sure.

The El Silencio Resort and Spa is a beautiful property in just about the middle of no place. These are individual cottage suites, large well appointed and with a gorgeous view. It even has an outside Jacuzzi/spa. Glad we will have time tomorrow to enjoy the property after the morning bird watching program.

To my pleasant surprise they had excellent wifi in the common area, and reasonable cell coverage.

We are quite full from our big late lunch and decided to have a small dinner. I ordered the ravioli and Sudip a mushroom appetizer.

Looking forward to taking some pictures tomorrow, specially the view from our cottage.

Location:El Silencio Lodge

Monday, April 13, 2015

Milwaukee - Atlanta - San Hose - April 13

The day is here, the start of our vacation. The plans are to leave by 9:00 AM, park our car at Fast Park and fly out of Milwaukee.

The flight leaves at 12:17 PM and arrives in Atlanta at 3:08 PM, where we change planes.

All went according to plan, we even had time to grab a sandwich at the Milwaukee airport.

The first leg of the flight was on a MD 90, and there was some light turbulence on the way and typical of the MD 90, it was quite bumpy. Fortunately it didn't last the entire duration of the flight, which was about 2 hours.

The cabin crew was all very pleasant and served complimentary soft drinks with pretzels or cookies. I took the cookies with their Starbucks coffee and have to admit that it was one of the best coffee I have had on an airplane.

We landed in Atlanta, 20 mins ahead of schedule and made it to the international terminal without any problems, thanks to a security guard who gave us some detailed directions.

I caught up with my emails, Facebook etc, during the layover.

The second leg of the trip is on a 757, which is not one my favorites either but smoother than the MD series.

We needed to fill out our customs and immigration form enroute, keep forgetting this is an international flight. The short duration and the lack of meals makes me think it's domestic.

We did get served a decent ham and cheese sandwich and I had a coupon for a glass of wine, so it wasn't too bad.

The flight was reasonably smooth although we landed about 15-20 mins late. Immigration, customs, and luggage was quick and easy and we were met and transferred to the Marriott as promised.

This is a beautiful old world hotel in the middle of a coffee plantation. Decided to stay in for dinner, and ordered the calamari and the sea bass.

There was strong cell reception and free wifi in the common areas, and paid in the rooms.

The calamari breading was a bit saltier than I like but the calamari itself was very good as was the sea bass. The server was very pleasant and it was a good experience.

Went to bed around 11:30 and surprisingly had a hard time falling asleep.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Monday April 13:
Milwaukee - Atlanta - San Jose.
Overnight - Marriott Costa Rica

Tuesday April 14:
Drive to the Poas Volcano.
Then on to El Silencio.
Overnight - Cloud Forest
El Silencio Lodge & Spa

Wednesday April 15:
Guided bird watching and trekking in El Silencio
Overnight - El Silencio Lodge.

Thursday April 16:
Drive to Arenal
Mineral Springs, volcano and other site-seeing on the way.
Overnight - Tabacon Spa Thermal Resort

Friday April 17:
Arenal Hanging Bridges
Overnight - Tabacon Spa Thermal Resort

Saturday April 18
Cano Negro boat tour - all day
Overnight - Tabacon Spa Thermal Resort

Sunday April 19:
Arenal to Manuel Antonio
Overnight - Si Como No Hotel

Monday April 20:
Carara Biological Reserve - all day
Overnight - Si Como No Hotel

Tuesday April 21:
Open - possible whale watching trip
Overnight - Si Como No Hotel

Wednesday April 22
Overnight - Si Como No Hotel

Thursday April 23
Manuel San Antonio to San Jose
San Jose - Atlanta - Milwaukee

A packet of excellent Costa Rican coffee came with our documentation, a very nice touch. I am beginning to like it already, what's there not to like, great coffee and free wifi in a tropical paradise.