Friday, 27 February 2009

Arrive in Urique



I'm off to Dublin today to meet up with my brothers for the Ireland vs England rugby match on Saturday. After that I shall be travelling to the west coast of ireland, beginning in Killarney. I wont be back until the 12th march.

This Time Last Year

Woke up at 6am after good night's sleep and walked down to the outlook that we were shown yesterday. I took a good few pictures as the sun rose and lit the gorge. Walter came later and we walked back together for a breakfast at about 7am.


The first hour was a very steep descent with plenty of scree. I was ahead when we reached the bottom of this section (though we would spend all day descending) and bathed my feet in a rock pool whilst waiting for the others. Amazingly I saw a salamander in the pool floating in that typical skydiver way.


Our descent continued on the shady side of the gorge on a fine track. Superb views.

Eventually the horses pasted us and we could see that the riders were having a tricky time on the steep descent. I think some of them walked on some sections. The descent continued and we passed some marijuana fields. It's grown a lot in small allotments high in the mountains, but it's not wise to hang about or take photographs.

Our descent continued and we took a break at a metal bridge across a small stream.

Pretty soon we arrived at the small village of Naranjo. We have lunch at a friends of our guide and enjoy the shade.

After that the descent continues only this time we are in the full glare of the sun. I use my umbrella as a sun-shade much to everyone's amusement.

Finally we get down to the road and are met my a truck of our ranch. They will drive us into Urique so we don't have to walk the hot dusty road ourselves.


Start at 8.48 and walked for 6hrs 53mins
Low 849m at 15.41
High 1941m at 9.12
Descent 1299m
Ascent 216m

We stay at a small hotel in town and convene at a local restaurant for dinner later. I manage to upset a farmer from the USA who grows corn locally and then offers it as prize money to the locals for long-distance running. If the local tribes had not been thrown off their land and made to live in the mountains they would still be growing their own corn now. He didn't like my arguments. I didn't ask if he was growing GM varieties!

The dinner was very good and the company around the table fun. Later a bunch of bikers came in and joined us. They were boisterous and friendly.

This Time in 2007

Today we are to paddle the Tres Amigos. But first we must repair the damaged canoe.

We finally get away at about 9am after some hassle involving the credit card. After a two drive down a bumpy road we reach the small town of P. Here we spend an hour doing some shopping for lunch and then go down the ironmongers to get some nuts and bolt to fix the seat on the canoe, We already have some tape to fix the leak.

After everyone is back on board we drive around the maze of dirt roads in the pineapple plantations until we find the put-in for the Tres Amigos. This time we find it quite easily!


This river is a beautiful limpid green colour and runs in dappled shade as the trees lean over the river. Some people take a swim to cool off whilst we fix the canoe.

David and I take the repaired boat, and we take a bailer too. It still leaks in a slow way! We have a very pleasant days paddling on a very pleasant river. David has his first day without falling in! That's not counting the Rio Frio yesterday which has no rapids.


After the take-out we have another long drive to the Laguna del Lagarto which is a beautiful wildlife lodge. Its 7.15pm by the time we arrive so its a quick shower and change for everyone before dinner.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

On the Trail to Batopilas


Birdi Boys

Last Monday I travelled to Brussels to visit Dharminder and his boys. As well as the usual escapades; building Lego, indoor ballon tennis and making camps from blankets and chairs we also took some photographs.

This Time Last Year

Today was the first day of our 11 day trek to Batopilas and Urique and back.


First of all I was up before breakfast to take some shots of the moon over the 'Yogi Bear' rocks.

After breakfast we got all our gear together and separated it into what we were to carry and what was to be carried by carried by our Mules. We were five on our hike, me, Jim, adrian, James and Catherine and we would be joined by our guide, Dave. Three travellers (from Germany) would be doing half the trip on horseback; Erich, Walter and Sonja. They would be accompanied onhorseback by our camp masters Hugo and Indio. Aaron and Beth would also accompany us; sometimes on horseback and sometimes walking with us.


We had a very pleasant days hiking, starting with a walk up through a narrow gorge - called Cajones, and then up through some woods. We took a lunch break in the woods whilst waiting for the horses to catch up. Although we waited an hour they didn't materialise so we continued walking for a couple more hours before we arrived at Huicorachi. We were camped just beyond the village school in someone's backyard!


It was a lovely spot and we walked out to an amazing outlook before dinner. Hugo and Indio did a great job here as they would every night.


Started at 9.30am and walked for 5hrs 21min.
Low point 1610m at 9.36
High point 2042m at 13.13
Descent 291m
Ascent 570m

This Time in 2007

Today we are to paddle on the Rio Frio, which is a slow languid river with almost no current. It usaully takes about 5 hours and can be quite arduous in the heat. To avoid the worst of the sun we try and make an early start.

We are up and packed and ready to leave at 6am. The van will meet us at the take-out later. We walk into the village and have breakfast in a small local cafe. On the way we take a look at the lagoon and see Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks and, quite rare, some Stilts.

Unfortunately the water is quite low so we cannot start in the lagoon but have to carry our canoes a couple of hundred yards to the river itself. We see several large Caiman hanging out in the canoe as we walk by. Today I paddle with Cathy as Brett has decided not to paddle today.

As usual along this river we see many birds, mammals and reptiles. This is easily the best river for wildlife that we paddle. We actually see a Basilisk Lizard running on the water - hence it's other name as the Jesus Christ Lizard!


We see many Caiman sleeping on the banks; we have to approach quietly as they tend to slip into the water when disturbed. We also saw many Howler Monkeys, a few glimpses of White-Faced Capuchins, but no Spider Monkeys at all.

All the usual variety of river birds are on show, but we do see two types of parakeet which are not often seen.

Cathy and I are drifting ahead of the others looking for the lagoon where we will stop for lunch when Carlos shouts to us to wait. Apparently one of the canoes is leaking and we don't have a bailer!

We take David on board our canoe as a passenger and the others swap boats so that Carlos has the sinking one!

When we reach the lagoon we discover that the water is so low that the lagoon has disappeared; only a trickle of s stream remains. This means sadly that there is no host of Roseate Spoonbills and other wading birds to see.

After that it's another 45 minutes paddling to the take-out just beyond the bridge. Carlos and Luis start loading the canoes onto the van and I prepare the lunch on the tables outside the cafe.

I put some fruit out to attract butterflies but am unlucky.

When lunch is over we pile onto the van for our long drive to the Lodge at Escondido. The latter part of this drive is through miles and miles of pineapple plantations.

We arrive in time for our guests to have a swim in the pool before dinner.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Yogi Bear Rocks


This Time Last Year

I was up before breakfast to take photographs of the moon and the sunrise.

Today we have a rest day at the hotel to get our bearings.


However we decided to stretch our legs by doing a walk up to the 'Yogi bear' rocks which overlook the ranch. Their was no trail up through the bush but it was easy enough to find our way to the look out point. Fabulous views. We searched in vain for a way to do a circular walk and bring us down another way, but we couldn't so we returned the same way.

After lunch I went for another walk down the local stream. Not many butterflies or dragonflies about.


I got back at 3pm and found that everyone else had left for a drive to the outlook over Copper Canyon and a preview of where we will hike. Never mind. I spent the afternoon sitting in the sun and chatting to a couple of guests from California.


Dinner in the evening was very pleasant as other guests had arrived on the train that day.

This Time in 2007

Up again at 7.30am for breakfast in the local cafe. Our hotel doesn't do food, but this cafe is great and offers all sorts of fresh fruit, eggs and amazing juices with water or milk.

Today we paddle on the Rio Arenal though this comes in to the Rio San Carlos and we go downstream from there, past where the Rio Penas Blancas enters for our take-out further downstream.


This river flows through agricultural land and has huge banks which are almost 2m cliffs. It also has a lot of fallen trees in it and a couple of places where the river narrows and flows faster. I paddled with May in my bow again and, as usual, we had a couple of capsizes. Donna and Ellen went over and then later Josh and David went over too. They had to swim for a while before we could get them to shore and I had to rescue a paddle too.

We stopped on a beach for lunch. Later at a rather sharp corner Amy and I got around but all the other boats when straight into the bushes. It took a little while to extricate everyone. Because of all the excitement the paddle ended up being longer than usual. It was 3pm before we came to the take-out. At this place you also have to carry the boats a long way to the van.

From here we drove to Cano Negra, the last hour of which is along a bumpy dusty road. It was just getting dark when we arrived. I did the washing up from the picnic in the swimming-pool bar whilst the guest relaxed in the pool.

All the guest had dinner at the hotel but the four of us, me, Luis, Carlos and Florence walked into the village and had a home-cooked dinner at Maria's place. We will be having breakfast here too tomorrow.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

A Train journey on the El Chepe


This Time Last Year

Woke at 5am, got myself packed and was out the door at 6.15am. I jumped a taxi to the Mirador to take some shots. Amazingly James was already there. He'd jogged (or run!). I missed the sunrise but I still got a few shots of the distant mountains.


James jogged back to the hotel and I took the taxi down to the station to wait for the others to walk down

The El Chepe train was only 15 minutes late and we piled on-board to have breakfast in the restaurant car.


We all relax and enjoy the views. It's a spectacular ride. At Divisadero the train stops for 15 minutes so we can get out and enjoy the view over Copper Canyon.

We arrive at Bahuichivo and our hosts at the Rancho del Oso (or Hotel Paraiso del Oso) are their to meet us. It's about a forty minute ride along the bumpy road to the hotel. We checked in and then later had our welcome Margaritas before dinner.

This Time in 2007

We were all up for breakfast at the cafe for 7am. Four of the group are going horseback riding today and will also ride a zip-line through the canopy later. The rest of us are going for a hike through the Arenal National Park.

Our planned through walk had to be abandoned however as some people who own the access have closed the entrance off. Instead we went to the main entrance and hiked in and back, with a loop in the middle. It was a very hot morning and the birdlife was very quiet. We did a toucan and we did hear a Bell Bird though we couldn't locate it. For a change the weather was clear and we had a great view from the lava flows across the lake to the volcano.


We arrived back at the hotel about 1pm and decided to have a picnic lunch in the hotel gardens. The others arrived shortly after.

When lunch was finished we all piled into the bus to return to the Rio Penas Blanca. We would start todays paddle from where we left off yesterday. It wasn;t long after we;d started that Amy and David were once again in the water! We'd even give them special lessons before we started! In fact they came a cropper at exactly the same place where Harry and Cathy wrapped a boat around a tree-stunp on our last trip! Although the boat did sink this time it didn't get pinned. We let the boat go whilst we dealt with them and finally got them to shore at a small beach.

We then got them to sit in 3's in two other boats whilst Carlos and I went to find the lost boat. It was caught under a branch but we were able to empty it and rescue it.

At this point we decided that it would perhasp be best if we split the pair up! I took Amy and Carlos took David and Florence had to try and get on solo - a first for her!

Again the river was very quiet in terms of bird-life. We did however see a couple of troops of Howler Monkeys and an Iguana.

We pulled up on the beach at the confluence of the Rio Penas Blanca and the Rio San Carlos just to stretch our legs before paddling the last few hundred metres to the take-out. It's always a long way to carry the canoes at this take-out.

On the way back ti the hotel we stopped at the Iguana Bridge for an ice-cream.

Back at the hotel we had a very speedy 5 minute turn-around before driving to the Baldi Hot Spings. We stayed here a couple of hours and enjoyed ourselves immensely in the warm waters. I even discovered so more springs higher up the mountain.

Then we jumped back in the bus and shot back to the hotel for another quick turn-around before walking into Fortuna for dinner at a local cantina.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Mirador at Cuauhtemoc


At Home

I visit Brussels today and the Birdi family. Dharminder and I monkey about taking photographs of his boys using off camera flash and a variety of techniques learnt from the Strobist website. Alexandre was 9 years old yesterday. Unbelievable. We also manage to build some Lego, to have a game of balloon doubles tennis and build a tent!

Later on Dhar and I got out for a drink and I get the last train home to Antwerp.

This Time Last Year

Get up for breakfast at 8am and decide to head straight away to Cuauhtemoc. We walk down the street to the bus stop and soon find ourselves on the Rapido bus.

It's a comfortable bus (with TV) bt I read the Guardian newspaper that Jim has brought me from Lndon and look out the window,

The landscape is brown and dry. The weather is warm, very warm and the sky is a bright and clear blue. We pass miles of apple and pear orchards. In the distance are brown and bare mountains.

When we arrive, we find our hotel nd check in. We find the Railway Station but it is empty and we can get no information. We have have a seafood lunch and then walk up to the Mirador which overlooks the town. It has been nicely made and the views are spectacular.


After resting at the hotel we again vist the Railway Station. Again it is empty.

In the evening we have dinner at the Rancho Viejo. Very good. Nice Mexican wine.

This Time in 2007

Up at 6.30am for a breakfast of coffee and French toast. My ride turned up promptly at 8am to start me on my 3 and half hour journey. Apparently it would take 8 hours if I went around Lake Arenal on the bus.

The ordinary mini-van turned up promptly at 8am to pick me up and we scootered around town and picked up another couple. However as we were leaving town on a dirt road we smashed against the road and something underneath broke. We limped back into town and waited for a replacement bus.

I was concerned as it was important for me to get to Fortuna by midday to meet Carlos, Luis and the new canoeing group.

Fortunately another bus arrived by 8.30 and we were on the road again. Another couple had joined us.

The route, instead of going through the forest as I imagined, climbed over hills past vast coffee plantations and through large cattle ranches. The views over towards the Pacific Ocean were superb and the rolling green hills were very picturesque. Although the weather had started out warm and bright by the time we had crossed over to the Caribbean side it was overcast and cooler. It also rained a little.

After about two hours we came down to the lakeside and had to walk the last 200m to a boat that was waiting for us. The lake itself was quite choppy and the views of the volcano were obscured by low cloud. A pity. It was only a half-hour ride across the lake and soon we were clambering into another mini-bus to take us into Fortuna town.

Pretty soon I was at Canoa Aventura - Oscars place. Carlos and Luis didn't get there until 1pm and it took us until 2pm to get all the canoes and everything loaded. It was almost 3pm by the time we picked up our guest from the Hotel. I met Cathy, Josh, Nancy, Ellen and Donna again. I had been with them on a canoeing trip in France. I also met Brett, Amy and David for the first time. Florence was also here and would be joining us for the trip.

We finally got them in the water, but quickly had to rescue two boats as the went over at the first bend! We did a T and an H rescue in mid-river to get ourselves going again! Pretty soon after that we pulled up at a beach for a very late lunch. After lunch one couple went over again and Carlos and I had to rescue them but after that they managed to stay in the boat!

We managed to see a bit of wildlife; some egrets and herons, an iguana and a troop of Howler Monkeys, but the river was surprisingly quiet. We had finished paddling by 5pm and managed to get back to the hotel at 6pm just as night was falling.

We reconvened at 7pm for a short walk into town and a restaurant.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Arenal Volcano


This Time Last Year

A travel day. Up at 7am, taxi at 9am, arrive at airport 10, queue until 11 and find out that I'm allowed to fly on the earlier 2pm flight. Fine. Gives me more time at Houston.

And then the flight was delayed an hour anyway!

At Houston it takes me two hours to get through Homeland Security. Just how many time do you want to take my fingerprints?

Customs make a fuss with a bottle of duty-free I have. They confiscate it and then insist I have to check-it in which means I have to pay $10 to pack it! Great.The bottle only cost me $15 dollars anyway. But it's a gift for the rest of the crew and we'll enjoy this by a camp-fire on top of a mountain somewhere. So I'm determined to go through this whole stupid process. I have to go in and out and back in through customs to do this ... and I'm taking my shoes off all the time too. Complete and utter madness.

I just about make it to the Chihuahua flight and meet Jim, Adriana, James and Catherine at the gate.

It's a short two hour flight on a small plane. Poor Jim has to fold his legs up to fit!

When we arrive at Chihuahua all our luggage comes through except my duty-free. Great. I kick up a fuss and make everyone wait. Eventually someone brings it out. I just get the feeling they were hoping I would say 'don't bother' and they could enjoy it themselves. They must have known what it was!

After a short taxi drive we arrive at our hotel. It's fine enough. We have a couple of beers and crash out.

This Time in 2007

Up at 5.30am in anticipation of an early breakfast before being picked up at 6.30 for my early morning walk in the Cloud Forest. No breakfast was available in the hotel though so I got a coffee and cake at the road-side stall across the street.

The van arrives to drive us out of town on the bumpy dirt road. We are going to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest. We arrive about 7am and have time for a coffee before donning Wellington Boots for the walk. Our guide was Jorge and we were joined by Cecilia and Nicola from France, and by Richard and Mae from Quebec.

Outside the reserve entrance we observed a row of humming-bird feeders and saw four different species here before stepping into the forest. Although the walk through the forest was very enjoyable we didn't, in fact, see very much bid-life. The recent bad weather had apparently forced many of the birds down the mountain. This included the famous Quetzels. The guide also pointed out a sloth but it was way too high in the canopy to appreciate.

Back at the Park Headquarters I had an early lunch before setting off on a walk of my own in an attempt to photograph some butterflies. In this I was quite successful and saw several new species (for me!), although it was not a big return for a walk of three and a half hours. However I was lucky to get some good clear views of the Arenal Volcano which is usually shrouded in cloud.


Back at the Park HQ I had to wait for a group to come out of the forest before catching the bus back to town.

At the hotel I cleaned my boots before having a couple of beers and relaxing.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

First Day in the Garden



At last a day warm enough to work in the garden. Firstly I cleared up the front garden. This always picks up a lot of litter from the road and I had a few leaves to pick up too. It's not looking too bad with plenty of crocus already flowering and the daffodils pushing up too.

In the new back garden - which in fact is a guerilla garden as the land doesn't belong to us - I completed the edging and the pathways. I've planted a small orchard here with 2 plums, 2 apples, 1 pear and 1 peach as well as 2 crab-apples. In-between I've also planted some soft-fruit. That's 6 currants; 2 red , 2 white and 2 black, 4 gooseberries; 2 green and 2 pink. 6 Myrtle bushes and 12 cranberries. These latter are planted at the base of the fruit trees each of which is in it's own small bed. these are also under planted with 100 crocus and 50 daffodils each. These are just coming through.

The ground around the orchard I intend to be a wild meadow. So I rake over the soil and will think about when the time to sow is. I'll look at a book tonight.

Later I put some manure around all the fruit trees. This is dried cow shit pellets, so I watered it in too.

My next door neighbour has been making a lot of noise today, but I can see he is building a greenhouse. This reminds me that I still have to prepare my raised beds. When I saw my neighbour later he told me that he intends to grow tomatoes and stuff. He also told me that he's going to try raising chickens too!

This Time Last Year

Another layover day in San Jose. I did some errands. Posted some stuf to Kristine; coffee and rum! Read in the afternoon and got all my stuff ready for tomorrow.

This Time in 2007

Up fairly early and enjoyed the luxury of a hot shower. Not something I can have in Santa Ana. after an American Breakfast I decided to walk up to the Butterfly Gardens.


First, however, I located the Tourist Information Office. I booked my ride to Fortuna on Friday - the quickest way is to take a 4x4 to the shore of Lake Arenal, then a boat across the lake and then a local bus! Otherwise its a 6 hour ride. I also booked a night walk tonight and a walk in the cloud forest tomorrow morning.


The day turned out hot and dusty and quite blowy as well. Apparently it was the tail end of a hurricane. The days before I had arrived had been characterised by torrential rain.


It was a long walk to the Butterfly Garden but I amused myself by photographing a couple of species along the way. The staff at the Butterfly garden were mostly students from the USA either on sabbatical or on a volunteer holiday. They were very helpful too as I had some photographs of some species to identify. They had DeVries Volume 2, which I don't have, which describes the Metalmarks. My exotic blue turned out to be a skipper though! Amazing. All out skippers at home are small and brown!


I wandered around all four of the Butterfly Houses and spent a good four hours there. They claimed to have about 50 species, but I could only see about half that and managed to photograph 17 and I didn't bother with Siproeta or Hamadryas. Also the Sulphurs were flying too high for me to shoot.


Whilst I was back at reception I got chatting to a couple of students who were just about to leave on a field-trip - to the meadows just across the road. They invited me to join them which I did. The first time I've ever been netting with others!


It was hot out in the field and I didn't have much luck - I caught one small blue. They had more luck capturing a couple of swallowtails. These were P. thoas a black and yellow species.


I then walked back to my hotel for an afternoon siesta. At 5pm I was picked up for my night walk When I arrived it turned out I was on the wrong night-walk and should have gone with another group. Oops. But they didn't seem that bothered and I joined them anyway. I was amazed by what we saw. Some Coatis, a red and black tarantula, some bats and four types of sleeping birds. The guide was interesting too and we had a very enjoyable two hours in the forest.


Friday, 20 February 2009

On the Road to Monteverde


Ordered some mattes from Moonshine today so I can begin to prepare for my show.

Got annoyed at the flickr site as they change they way things work. They are always throwing unilateral changes like this at us. Madness.

Took another look at Facebook and Twitter but can't see the point. Who's going to persuade me?

Chatted to Kristian about Website design and CSS and Joomla. Got to get this going.

This Time Last Year

I get up at 6.30am and wait for Luiz to arrive to take Carolyn to Fortuna. I hitch a ride to the airport. I want to change my flight for an earlier one but the 'computer says no'. They assure me that even though I only have one hour to change flights that this will be OK.

I grab a taxi back to Santa Ana and spend the morning on the internet. I call kristine in the afternnon and then settle down to watch Champions League football. Three games on the trot. Man U get a 1-1 draw with Lyon.

This Timne in 2007

Today was another travel day as I make my way to Monteverde and a small town called Santa Elena. This is close to the National Cloud Forest Reserve.

I spend the morning packing and leave some stuff in the Bodega (store room) which I hope Carlos will pick up next friend and bring to Fortuna as this is where we will rendezvous for the next trip.

At 1pm I take a taxi into San Jose city and find the appropriate bus-station abd join a queue waiting for the ticket-office to open. I spend my time playing cards with a couple of girls from Seattle who claim that they have been travelling for 30hrs so far!

The bus leaves promptly at 2.30pm for the 5hr ride to Santa Elena. Most of the trip (200km) is along the Pacific Highway but the last 35km is up and up a dirt road into the mountains. As we climbed we could se the Pacific Ocean and the Nicoya Peninsular in the distance.

At the turn-off we tiook a 15min break before taking the meandering road upwards as the sunset over the far distant ocean. We arrived in the dark to a slow drizzle.

Fortunately the Tree-House Hotel was just across the street, so I quickly got myself checked-in. Not bad for $30 a night, though other places in town are only $5! After dinner I sit down to watch Real vs Bayern.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Holing out in Santa Ana

At Home

Today I draw up the itinerary for a week long canoe trip down the Dordogne River in France. I'm hoping to take my friend Eddy and his two children on the trip this summer. It is also possible that my Parisian friends Julie and Jean-Marc and their two kids may also want to do the trip.

This Time Last Year

Our last day of this trip. We are up for breakfast at 7.30am and ready to leave by 8.30am.

Everyone has decided to go for one more paddle so we make for the put-in on the Rio Puerto Viejo.

Molly, who still has her arm in a sling, will paddle with Carolyn and I'll paddle bow for her husband John. as we carry the boats down to the river I slip five huge rocks into Manuel's kayak. He doesn't notice all day! brilliant!

This is a very green and picturesque river and we see a sloth and many toucans along the way. Although it rains a lot we still have a very pleasant two hour paddle.

We say farewell to Manuel at Puerto Viejo and pack everything onto the bus for the trip back to San Jose. We stop for lunch at the junction to the Limon road before crossing over the mountains.

Carolyn and I are staying in Santa Ana but in the evening we return to the San Gildar Hotel for our farewell dinner.

This Time in 2007

Nothing much to report as it's a rest day in Santa Ana. This is what I did. Get the fauna lists up-to-date. Clean my boots. Fix my watch strap. Get two butterfly nets sewn. Went out for a pizza in the evening with all the family and Carolyn.

Jim didn't come back from the airport this time.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Pepito the Clown

This Time Last Year

I'm up at 6am to watch the birds. The usual several species of Toucans; Chestnut-mandibled and Keel-billed as well as Collared Aracari (a smaller type of Toucan). We are ready to leave by 7.30am. Today we are to paddle the Rio Sarapiqui which is the river I screwed up big time last year. I lost my glasses and hat and abandoned after an hour and Carlos continued after that and almost three boats. These adventures will feature in the Blog shortly - it's not yet a year ago! The river was big that day so I'm apprehensive about how it will be today.

As luck would have the river is completely different and I can hardly recognise it. The water is much lower and much less violent.

The rapids are still a challenge though and we have to negotiate them with care. This year though we have Carolyn with us and she is a lot more careful and circumspect than Carlos was last year. At several of the rapids we stop to examine them before proceeding - this is standard practise, though not always possible. The rapids turn out to be a lot of fun until on one corner Molly somehow contrives to dislocate her shoulder. Her paddle jarred on a rock I believe.

Her and her husband manage to pull into an eddy and the rest of us stop to assist. It's fortunate that her husband is a doctor and knows the procedure for slipping it in. So do I now. You pull the arm down steadily and strongly and you hang on for however long it takes. Eventually the muscle relaxes and the joint goes back into the socket. This can take up to ten minutes.

Of course her arm is still sore so we make a sling. Carolyn then paddles with her - she can't paddle at all now, and I paddle down with her husband. We almost capsize at the next corner as I cut into the slow water too fast and at the wrong angle and the braking effect almost has us over. Sometime it's tricky to go back to tandem paddling when you've been solo all week.

After a while we decide to explore a side-stream and paddle up there until it becomes too narrow. We do find a pleasant shady spot for lunch.

It takes us about four hours in all to paddle back to our hotel which is on the river bank. This is the first time I've paddled this river so I'm pleased to get it under my belt. Other outfitters offer rafting on this river so you have an idea of what it can be like.

We laze all afternoon reading books and chasing butterflies.

In the early evening Luis and I drive into town to pick up some wine and beer for dinner.

This Time in 2007

I was up at 6am to take photographs of the city from this great vantage point. Couldn't get a coffee out of the hotel until 7.30 though!

After breakfast, Jim, Carolyn and I jumped a taxi down to Santa Ana and checked in with out friends there.

I got my laundry done and caught up with everything down at the Internet Cafe.

Jim left for the airport to go back to the USA but came back later as he was bounced. They gave him $350 for that!

In the afternoon I went with Taty and Pepito to a children's party. Taty does face-painting and Pepito is a professional clown. We drove across San Jose with a fully made-up clown driving like a madman and honking on his horn. Unbelievably he actually had a horn that sounded like a clowns car in the circus ring. I fully expected the doors to fall off. He drove like a lunatic too, even more so than most other people in Costa Rica. He weaved in and out of the traffic often with his head out of the window and laughing. Amazingly he got away with it and everyone else just thought it was funny. No road rage at all. Complete madness, and not something I shall forget in a hurry.

The show was great and I took a lot of shots for them.

Watched Costa Rica beat Panama at football on the TV. Dinner and bed.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

14 Hours on the road (and river)

This time Last year

Everyone in the group decides not to paddle the Rio Toro today but instead to take a boat trip and admire the wildlife from a safe vantage point. The boat will leave Oscar's Mother's place in Boca Tapada and head north down the Rio San Carlos to the Nicaraguan border, then down the Rio San Juan to a place called Trinidad and then upstream on the Rio Sarapiqui to Puerto Viejo where we will stay for a couple of nights.

I, instead, will ride shotgun with Luis and the bus.

We go down to the riverside and wait for the boat to arrive. Once everyone is on board Luis and set off on our four hour drive. It's two hours before we leave the dirt road and it's quite a bumpy ride. We arrive in Puerto Viejo at about 1pm and get evryones luggage unloaded before we have some lunch. We are not at our usual place - apparently it is booked solid with bird-watchers! It'll be a bit cramped as Luis, Manuel, Carolyn and I are all sharing one room!

We pick them up in town at the ice-cream store about 4pm. They tell us they had a splendid lunch with camarones on the river-side somewhere and saw plenty of American Crocodiles. We don't often see these when we are paddling (just the Caymans) as they prefer bigger and slower rivers. These things can grow to about 5m.

We have a pleasant evening and share a bottle of run; Flora de Cana of course!

This Time in 2007

Today would turn out to be a very long travel day indeed.

We were up at 6am for breakfast and the boys arrived at 6.30am to cart our luggage through town to the dock. We me an Irish couple there who said that the 6am boat had failed to materialise. However the 7am boat was on time and we were soon on our way upstream to San Carlos.

We watched the green countryside speed past and looked at the dilapidated buildings that were scattered every now and then along the coast, We saw a huge Tarpon fish leap above the waves. It must have 1.5m long. after three hours or so we arrived in San Carlos and dragged ourselves round to Immigration before piling onto the boat for Costa Rica and Los Chiles.

It took and hour and a half to reach Los Chiles but as usual we were entertained by the birds and Howler Monkeys along the way. It took half and hour to get through the luggage check and then we found that the Immigration Office was closed. We missed the 2pm bus and had to wait for the 3pm Express. Express! It stopped every half an hour but at least we didn't have to change bus at San Carlos (Costa Rica).

Normally this bus ride would take about 5 hours but we got stuck behind a broken down Sugar Cane Truck and it took an hour to squeeze by as it was almost blocking the road. The bus almost became impaled on the truck but finally we got by. It was 8.30pm when we got to the airport in San Jose where we dropped off the public bus and Luis picked us up for the last hour to the San Gildar Hotel in Escazu. Here we dropped off Lee, Florence and Carlos and Luis drove me up to the Pico Blancas Hotel where Jim and Carolyn were staying. We had dinner and a couple of beers. What a long and tedious day. More than 14 hours on the road (and rivers!).

Monday, 16 February 2009

Fer de Lance

This Time Last year

It's a rest day at the Laguna del Lagarto. I watch birds before breakfast and do my laundry after.

I spend the rest of the morning reading on the deck and go for a short butterfly walk in the afternoon. Looked at the caimans in the ponds.

Usual stuff in the evening. Dinner and a couple of drinks.

This Time in 2007

After breakfast we get ready for a paddle up the Rio Bartola. For fun we decide that we will all paddle together in the traditional canoe. I'll take the bow and Carlos will take the stern and Lee and Florence will sit in the middle.

First of all we paddled over to the Ranger Station to see if the Ocelot was there. we;'d heard that they had raised an orphan and it still came out of the forest to visit from time to time. It wasn't there.

At first the river is slow and wide. It's clear too and you can see plenty of fish underneath the boat. Carlos, as usual pointed out the bird-life. The highlight was a Violaceous Trogon. We also saw plenty of Howler Monkeys in the tree-tops. It is very quiet on this river and we saw only one other boat all day. Someone fishing.

The sun beat down, and strangely we saw a Brown Pelican - wouldn't normally expect to see these on a forest river. We saw plenty of Blue Morphos glittering in the air in the dappled light along the forest's edge. At one point we saw a violet butterfly which was also iridescent but it disappeared before we could get too close.

After about an hour we came to our first obstruction as the river turned into a rock field. We pulled up onto a beach and then went exploring on foot to see if we could get any further on the river. The river widened again so Carlos and I pushed and pulled the canoe through the small rapid and everyone hopped back in to continue upstream. We did this three or four times as we continued until finally the river was becoming too narrow to continue.

As Carlos was pushing and I was pulling the canoe, with Lee and Florence still on-board, through our last rapid, I heard Lee say "is that a snake over there?". No more than 2m away was a huge snake lying on the bank. It was about 2.5m long and about as thick as your forearm in the middle. It was also unmistakably a Fer-de-Lance. One of the worlds most deadliest snakes. Apparently you have about 4 hours to live after it's bitten you!

My first reaction was to get a photograph - though I didn't get too close! It was laid out in the sun and didn't move at all whilst we were there. It looked calm, relaxed, confident and unperturbed and possibly full as well. Carlos said they would coil before striking.

Even so Lee said she would feel a lot happier if I got back in the canoe. Surprisingly Lee was quite calm - all holiday she'd been telling us how she loathed and feared snakes.

After turning the canoe around we paddled back past the snake and started our canoe downstream. Somehow we managed to ride through all the rapids that we had walked through on the way up which was quite tricky in a 4-man canoe. We only bumped through once and only ran aground once too. It was here that we saw a troop of Spider Monkeys.

We saw the Brown Pelican again and some more of the violet butterflies as well as a bright green Malachite Butterfly.

When we got to the mouth of the river we again dropped into the Ranger Station and this time the Ocelot Cub was there.

We then got our luggage together and got a ride back to El Castillo on the Park Rangers boat, which towed our canoes back too. We got back to the Victoria Hotel in time for a late lunch.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Steve falls into a creek

This Time Last Year

As usual it was a long drive to get out of Escondido and find our put-in on the Rio Tres Amigos. We never seem to be able to find the same spot and this time we had to slide the canoes down a very steep bank.

This is a very sweet river that runs languid and green. It was very quiet on this day and we had a very pleasant five hour paddle with a stop for lunch on a beach somewhere.

We had to pull through a couple of rapids which were blocked by strainers and Tina and John dumped twice. In the second one Carolyn and I did a mid-stream T-rescue which was unusual as we normally just pull over to a beach to empty the stricken canoe.

At the take-out we had a very long muddy walk back to the bus. When everyone was ready I walked with everyone into the nearby village whilst the bus was loaded.

Then it was another long bumpy ride to Laguna del Lagarto just outside the village of Boca Tapada. We didn't arrive until 7pm and so basically had dinner and went to bed.

This Time in 2007

Today we are to move to the Bartola Lodge at the junction of the Rio San Juan and the Rio Bartola and the entrance to the Indo-Maiz Biological Reserve.

We have a late lunch as our boatman is not arranged until 10am. In fact Lee and I decide to paddle down which is easy as it's downstream. We mostly hug the river left and look at the small-holdings along the way. Each seems to have a pig underneath a house on stilts, a clutch of chickens and the odd cow. We also pass a couple of sweetcorn and plantain plantations before arrived at the Rio Bartola. We pay a visit to the Ranger Station and Army base first just to say hello before crossing back over the Bartola to the lodge.

The staff here were amazingly indifferent. We hadn't been able to contact them before and they seemed uninterested in the fact that we wanted to stay over tonight. I tried to explain that Carlos was arriving later with Florence and that we'd all be staying.

To pass the time we lazed on the hammocks and idly watched the river go by as the colourful birds fluttered about.

Eventually Carlos arrived with Florence and a French couple in tow. Our hosts managed to rustle up some drinks but said it would be two hours until lunch was ready. Carlos discovered that they were going to charge us a hefty price to stay so we decided that one night would be enough and that we'd return to El Castillo and the Victoria on Friday.

Soon we were joined by a young couple from the USA who it transpired were paddling the whole length of the Rio San Juan all the way down to the Caribbean Ocean and a small town called San Juan del Norte. We discovered very quickly that they were seriously un-prepared and were carrying very little food. They thought they could go shopping down river! They also had very little money and almost no idea of what to expect. They couldn't afford the lunch here so we treated them. It was, after all, six dollars! Buying lunch for rich kids sucks, but buying lunch for dorks does show some kindness. The French couple disappeared back upstream before lunch.

The lunch itself was very good though the red-bean soup gave me extra power all afternoon!

After lunch we lazed again on the hammocks and the young couple finally go on their way about 3.30pm.

At 4.30pm Carlos rounded us up for a walk in the forest. The idea is that it is cooler now and the birds are a bit more lively as dusk approaches at about 6.30pm. We took our head-torches.

We didn't need wellies as the forest floor was quite dry and we enjoyed a stroll through the forest until it began to get dark. We managed to see a Rufous Motmot (a bird), a Brilliant Frog and a tiny Leaf Litter Frog.

Unfortunately we popped out the forest too early so we decided to go back in and take another trail loop. Soon we came to a point where the trail crossed a small creek on a dilapidated bridge. Carlos went first and balanced along the right-hand log. I went next and tried to balance across using both logs. Unfortunately the left log broke and I toppled into the creek. Luckily I kept my camera out of the water, though I of course was soaked from by boots to my left shoulder. Fortunately the creek contained no hidden dangers like branches to impale me or snakes to bite me! Of course everyone thought it was hilarious.

Lee and Florence managed to cross as we threw down a bunch of twigs. I pulled myself out of the quagmire and squelched on my way.

The trail was a bit more arduous than the first trail and had quite a few steep and slippery ascents and descents. As it darkened under the canopy the noise level grew and we hurried on our way. We had crossed a number of small streams but eventually we came down to a larger stream - about 6 foot wide. We couldn't see where the trail continued on the other side and even though Carlos leapt across he couldn't find the way.

So we decided to re-trace our steps as we knew at least that this would lead us back to camp. The light was fading fast now and the crepuscular noise level was rising to a crescendo. Eventually we had to put our head-lamps on so that we could at least have a chance of seeing any snakes on the trail.

I took the lead and Carlos took the tail as we toiled back the way we had come. Up and down the slippery trail. Under logs and over logs. Everything looks the same and it seemed longer now that it did on the way out. Eventually we got back to the bridge of my downfall so at least we knew we didn't have that far to go. By this time my batteries were going and it was completely dark. And then finally we stumbled out of the forest and amazingly it was still only 6.30pm. Time seemed to get all compressed in there.

We found out later that a Ranger had gone into the forest to try and find us and that when we turned back we where in fact only 300m from the exit!

Anyway we went and sat down and had a beer to celebrate our safe return before cleaning up and changing for dinner.

Dinner was very pleasant and everyone enjoyed the re-telling and embellishing of my fall. Before going to bed I tried to take some photographs of the night sky. Unbelievable amount of stars in these Nicaraguan nights.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

St. Valentines Ball


Noticed the first crocuses in the garden today. It was actually quite warm in the sun.

This Time Last Year

Woke up at 5.30am to walk down to the lagoon at Cano Negro. The water is so low that we have to carry the boats down to the Rioo Negro; normally we can paddle. We have breakfast at the lodge and are back to get started on the river at 7.50am. The idea is to start early as this paddle can take 5 hours and we want to finish before it gets too hot.

As it turns out it doesn't get too hot today, but it's still hot enough for the caymans to be out sunbathing on the river banks. We see plenty of them, the largest being 3 metres or so.

During the paddle we plenty of iguanas and other lizards as well as many different types of birds. For some reason we don't see many monkeys. sometimes we see three different types along this river.

We stop for lunch at the second lagoon and get caught in a small shower and then continue for another houruntil the take-out at the bridge.

Luis is here to meet us and we get everything loaded for our drive to Escondido at Saint Therese.

This Time in 2007

After breakfast we were ready to paddle. Carlos had arranged a boat to take us and our canoes downstream to a small tributary of the Rio San Carlos. at the mouth of which we switched to our canoes. I went with Lee in the Old Town canoe and Carlos and Florence went in a traditional canoe (though not so traditional that it was a dug-out).

The stream was very narrow and strangely devoid of bird-life. This was probably because it was farmland on either side. The only things of interest were groups of boys paddling downstream in dugouts piled high with firewood. They were on the way to El Castillo to sell it. At one point we had to help push and pull one of these boats as it tried to get around a shallow corner.

Further on we came across a group of small boys swimming in the river who were accompanied by a pig and two piglets!

Eventually we ran out of river and so turned around and paddled downstream back to the Rio San Juan. We were too early for our rendezvous for our tow back upstream to El Castillo so we decided to paddle our way back instead. At first we paddled downstream alongside an island in the river and then turned around at its base to go back upstream. We kept close to the island at first and then ferried over to the far bank before creeping up the shore towards El Castillo.

This went quite well until I had to stop for Lee to get the sweat and suntan lotion out of her eyes and then we had to work quite hard on the last few hundred yards before we reached the hotel. I thought Carlos wasn't going to make it as Florence was hardly paddling at all.

After lunch we had a walk around town, finding the baseball stadium. Then we walked up to the castle and enjoyed the views up and down the river as well as learning something of the history of the place. We walked down the hill and stopped off for a coffee and a piece of cake.Here we met Holly - more about her tomorrow.

In the evening we again had camorones for dinner - this time with jalapeƱo sauce. Me, Carlos and Florence then went to a St. Valentines Dance just outside town. What is Spanish for gooseberry? I stayed for one beer only!

Friday, 13 February 2009


This Time Last year

Today we paddle the Rio Arenal a long four hour canoe. We are up for breakfast at the local cafe at 7.30am and it is lashing with rain. By the time we get to the put-in at 9.30am it is fine.

The river is big and wide with huge crumbling banks. You can see that the rainy season river levels are about two metres above what it is now. The river has a lot of tree debris for us to get around and John and Tina tip over at one point whilst trying to avoid a strainer, but we quickly get them rescued and back on track.

At one point we have to line the canoes around some obstacles and then we continue paddling whilst looking for a suitable lunch spot. We find a shady beach and flip over one of canoes for use as a table.

After lunch we continue downstream until the Rio Arenal spills into the Rio San Carlos and we find our take-out on river right. Once we've loaded the canoes onto the bus and piled everyone inside we hit the road north for Cano Negro (which is a Wildlife Refuge), about a three hour drive. We stop at a supermarket for provisions and ice-cream

The last hour into Cano Negro is along a bumpy dirt road but we eventually arrive a bit shaken and stirred at the Natural Lodge. We get everyone into the hotel which is a series of chalets in a small park and then do the washing up at the bar by the swiiming pool.

After dinner Luis and I stroll into the small village to catch a couple of beers at the only bar in town.

This Time in 2007

Today we are going to El Castillo in the Rio San Juan and we want to catch the fast boat from San Carlos which leaves at about 10am. Jose Ramon is ready for us to leave after breakfast at about 7.30am. Jim is coming with us as far as San Carlos and therefater its just me and Carlos with our guest Lee. We get no coffee thi morning as Daniel and Marie, who run the Albergue, are still in a strop with Jim. This wont be resolved and Jim and Carolyn will eventually move out and leave San Fernando for the island across the water (Mancarron). Island politics - don't go there.

On our way across Lake Nicargua we take a detour around "Bird" Island. We are not allowed to disenbark so the boat idles and drifts as we watch the hige number of birds. Their are plenty of Anhingas and Egrets and Herons, but the real stars are the Wood Storks and the Roseate Spoonbills. The islands are dripping with guano!

At San Carlos Jim and Carlos and Lee disembark whilst Jose Ramon and me shoot around to the Rio San Juan jetty and unload our canoe and kayak onto the freighter which is to carry them down to El Castillo.

I run around to find everyone and see if we have tickets for the 10am boat. We do, but inexplicably Jose Ramon has disappeared without unloading our luggage onto the El Castillo fast boat. More running about. I just love the chaos and noise and confusion! Of course everything comes together just in time and we are on our way. We wave goodbye to Jim and I wont see him for another year.

It takes about two hours to get to El Castillo and we stop at three or four places along the way. Eventually we round the final corner and the castle sitting about the small town of El Castillo is revealed. The place looks simultaneaously spectacular and ramshackle. At the dockside we unload and two boys appear with a handcart to help us move our stuff. This town has no access by road and no vehicles whatsoever. Everything arrives on the river.

We climb some steps to the Hotel Albergue but we reject it has it has no rooms with en-suite bathrooms. more of a backpackers place. carlos runs off to fimd another place and eventaully comes back to lead us to the Victoria Hotel - a new place only recently opened. So we pile evything back onto the handcart and make our way along the river front lane to the hotel which sits on the river bank at the end of town.

After checking in Carlos and I walked back through town to check out a restaurant for the evening. It must have Camarones which are the local, and huge, freshwater shrimps.

In the afternoon we siesta and meet a Swiss girl, Florence, who is staying at the same hotel. It turns out that she well hang out with us for a while ... as you shall see.

Later Carlos and I walked back up to the dock to unload our canoe and kayak which had arrived on the freighter. It was almost dark but instead of carrying the boats through town we decided to paddle them through the Diablo Rapids back to the hotel. This was fun and bouncy as some of the standing waves are 2 metres and it was difficult to see! I thought I'd lost Carlos (who took the kayak) but he was just messing about in the waves.

We were joined at dinner by Florence.