Wednesday, February 5, 2014

(Under Construction)

I will be building this blog/trip report using the text only blog that I wrote in the Overseas Adventure Travel 'Travel Forum'. I will be adding photos videos and hyperlinks. Hopefully I will complete this by the end or February, to start getting ready for our next OAT trip, Machu Pichu the Galapagos, with a pre-trip to the Amazon.

This starting with the text only blog that I had posted on the Traveler Forum on the OAT website using my Nexus during the trip, typos and all. I will be cleaning it up, enhancing it and adding photo and videos as I go. I am also numbering it from day 0 to day 15, so that it agrees with the numbering convention used for the pictures in Picasa.

The trip: Overseas Adventure Travel's (OAT) Costa Rica: National Parks & Tropical Forests with post-trip extension to Tortuguero National Park.

The Dates: January 16 to January 31, 2013

The People: (15 Travelers plus the Trip Leader and the bus driver

Us Jack and Ann from MA

                   Our friend Susan from MA

Oskar and Francis from TX
Liz from HI

Cathy from AK

Donna from CA

Habib and Rose from CA

Pat from NC

Rich and Caroline from PA
Ron and Betty from KS
 (new pic later)

Our Trip Leader,
Jeffry Sibaja Alvarado
Our bus driver, Walter

Day 0 - Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 USA to San Jose
Flight from Boston to San Jose changing in Miami. OAT flight arrangements and seat assignment as we requested. Miami was easy connect, but double check connecting flight on departure board. Plenty of food options in Miami. No need to go thru security again to make connection. In San Jose make sure that you do not bring in fruit, as it will be confiscated. OAT rep waiting for us and a group going on Real Affordable CR. He put the 2 groups on separate vans for two different hotels. TL Jeffry waiting for us at hotel. Comfortable room with no wi-fi, but, wi-fi was available in the hotel, depending on location. Restaurant in hotel.

Day 1 - Friday, Jan. 17, 2014 - San Jose to Aguas Vargas
Ordinary buffet breakfast with no omelet station. We met rest of group at orientation in the hotel. . 20 passenger bus with 15 of us. 2 seats for carry on luggage, 2 seats marginally useful due to wheel wells. Suitcases were loaded on the roof under tarp. Our first trip was
to a wood working factory/shop, originally scheduled for last day, but Jeffrey thought it would work better this way. Shop does small wood items in a very ecosensitive way. Nice shop with reasonable prices. Many bought small items, including laminated cards with Costa Rican birds. If you are at all interested in recognizing the birds, it would ce a good idea to bring a book or card with you.

 Then we were off to a coffee plantation. They took us through growing and processing of coffee. Gift shop sold coffee an other items. Several bought. Excellent buffet lunch. There was also an excellent butterfly garden that we had time to tour around after  lunch. 
Talking on the phone to another guide, Jeffrey found out that construction had our planned route tied up, extending our driving time by several hours, so he changed the route bypassing the topiary visit. 

Added in waterfall and road side shop with many humming bird feeders. Another waterfall and  a volcano visit, but rain made it impractical. Arrived at El Tucano hotel at about 4:30, very nice hotel with swimming pool and 3 hot pools. 
The only negative is long walk to pools and restaurant from our rooms. Buffet dinner tonight. No WiFi in rooms and spotty in public areas.

For all of today's pictures click HERE.

Day 2 - January 18 2013 - Aguas Vargas

Jeffry had planned an early morning bird walk, but he had to cancel it due to rain. We ha a good buffet breakfast with no omelet station. This was a 'day in the life' day, seeing how the locals live.

We started at the to home of a local town woman for a lesson on making empanadas. Sonya was home with 20 something son and 2 teenaged daughters. It was a small but comfortable home on a 5 acre farm. The yard full of birds and fruit  trees, including a cashew tree.
The cooking lesson on covered back patio. Everyone was successful in making an empanada. The son showed us around farm. It was an excellent friendly visit with Jeffry translating as needed.  Consider bring some type of kitchen gift.

We then went to the school visit, even though school on vacation and Saturday. 10 children were present and 2 teachers and 3 parents. Thus was the most successful school visit we've ever done, in 15 GCT/OAT trips. Friendly out going students and active parents. The parents are taking Grand Circle Foundation donations for materials and supplying all labor. The school has full computer lab, outstanding for a k-5 school, with the instructor funded by GCF. Computer oriented or stationary supplied gift for school would be appreciated.
Then students took us to their homes in 3 groups for home hosted lunch. Friendly lunch despite language gap, very relaxed. Consider kitchen gift.
2 hour ride back to hotel with stop at super market along the way. From supermarket parking lot spotted a 3-toe sloth in a tree. We all spent time taking pictures. Free time at hotel, then buffet dinner
Day 3
Again planned 6AM bird walk cancelled by rain/fog. Excellent buffet breakfast with omelet station. 8am off to boat ride on Rio Frio. Covered boat with capacity of about 40, with just our 15 on board plus Jeffry an captain.. Saw many different species of birds and reptiles, with excelent captain/guide Danny. Between Danny and Jeffry they spotted many that we would have missed. At end of ride went upriver just across Nicaragua border.. On way back had simple CR lunch in a roadside restaurant. Stopped on way mack to hotel to see many huge iguana In trees over river. Free time at hotel and fixed menu dinner.
Day 4
Regular buffet breakfast, but seated on deck overlooking volcanic heard river. On has and moving at at. Short technical stop in Fortuna town. Next stop at dam on Lake Arsenal, to get on boat for more bird watching. Drizzly day. Saw some new ones, but many that we had seen already. After boat ride stopped at El Establo restaurant for lunch. After lunch owner pur on a show with his horse. Excellent surprise addition Now to head for Moteverde. 25 or more miles of one of the roughest roads I have ever been on. Walter did a great job. At end of worst stretch, made a technical stop and shop owner put on a demo of sugar cane processing., another surprise. 
Arrived at El Establo Cloud Forest. huge magnificent hotel climbing the mountain side, with huge rooms and spectacular views. Very good buffet dinner in restaurant.Although Jeffrey said that there was no wifi in the rooms, only in public areas. I was very surprised. I am now able to post from my room.
I should no be able to keep up, at least until I run into a hotel without WiFi. Hopefully I,all see you again tommmorrow
The only problem with this hotel is the size. You need a shuttle bus to get from our rooms to reception, but the service is excellent. I apologize for the typos, but I  am typing this on a tablet. I will go back later to correct the typos. 
Met in building lobby at 7:00 for shuttle to breakfast. Quite crowded, but we all got tables right away. Excellent buffet breakfast. Left at 8:00 for cloud forest walk. About 20 minute ride mostly over unpaved roads. Weather was fog and drizzle. Not many bird sightings, but very educational about environment. 
Walk lasted about 2.5 hours. Excellent lunch at restaurant at cloud forest at 11:30. Back to hotel at about 1, leaving for butterflies and bats optional at about 2. 4 screened butterfly gardens with all native species. Highest density of butterflies we had ever seen. Afterwards, lecture on tarantulas, scorpions and cockroaches with live specimens. Educational session.
Directly to bat house, about 15 minutes. Interesting lecture on bats and viewing of the flying, feeding, etc. Behind glass.
Back to hotel about 4:30. Daily meeting at 5:30. Dinner on own. We skipped, but bus took those that wanted to go. Jeffry had made reservation.
Excellent sunset over mountains on the other side of Gulf of Nicoya. GPS of hotel room N 10 deg 18.971 min W 84 deg W It deg 48,701 min. altb4840 Ft.

Day 5
A little earlier start this morning, 6:45. Yesterdays breakfast was crowded and today promised to be worse, as a 2 bus Collette tour checked in last night. We were able to get tables and into the service line Immediately, although the Collette group was getting there at the same time. This morning's activity was a hike through the cloud forest canopy on high trails and suspension bridges, as long as 774 ft., and as 164 ft. The bridges we very well built and stable. I have some problems with height, but I had no problems with them. The uphill hike to the first bridge was a bit strenuous, but we proceed slowly, enjoying the forest and conserving energy. After the first bridge there were only a few short uphill stretches. The going was a bit wet and slippery, so hiking boots or sneakers with good ttead., as well as walking sticks, would be recommended. A hooded raincoat or windbreaker would also be advised. The loop took about 2 hours. The only animal we saw was a two toed sloth, nesting high in a tree, but only a few feet below our feet.  After the hike are were served a light snack and drove to the nearby town of Santa Elena. We're had about two hours to explore, shop and eat lunch, as lunch was not included today. We all chose to meet at the Tree House restaurant, based on Jeffreys recommendation. It was quite good. We ewent back to the hotel at 1, with a 2 o'cLock departure scheduled for the zip lining. I have a bad shoulder so I chose not to go. My wife went, and I'll pick this up, when she returns.

Ann just returned, thrilled. She had been ambivalent about zip lining. She had booked it, canclled it and then, at the last minute, rebooked it. She did it as a 'taxi' ride, tied to a pilot. There were 10 lines, 1 rappel and walked across 2 ladder bridges, hooked to a safety line. The zip line course is actually on the grounds of the hotel.
Dinner is not included tonight, and we do not plan to eat, as we had a big lunch, but we may go into town any way to get a T-shirt to say she zip lined. Taxis to town only cost $2.00. 

Day 8
Bags out at 7, bus leaves at 8:30, breakfast at your discretion, as long as you are on the bus at 8:30.
Long ride over rough roads, with a technical stop at a small restaurant/convenience store. Pleasant stop.
On the way to lunch we had a flat, limped into service station and were back on the road in less than 15 minutes. Stopped at a bridge over brackish water to see crocodiles in river below. Went to a open air restaurant on the ocean for a good lunch with a marimba duet playing. We had a birthday cake for Ron. After lunch we made a stop along the beach and found at least 2 scarlet macaws. Got some good pictures. Then on to Quespo. Stopped in Quespo for those that wanted to drop off laundry for pickup tomorrow, the up the hill to the Villas Lirio. the place is a bit of a maze. After a little confusion finding our room, we got an amazing room. The hotel inner courtyard is like a tropical juncle. Our room is huge with the front door opening on the inner courtyard on the second floor. It also has a small balcony on the inner courtyard and a huge balcony on the outer courtyard, with a couch, loveseat and chair, and a table with 4 chars, as well as a ceiling fan. The WiFi does not work well on this balcony, but it works great on the small balconey. The room itself has two king sized beds, two ceiling fans and A/C. It also has a huge bathroom with two sinks. There is also a very large flat screen TV that I have yet to turn on.
Day 8 (cont)
After talking to others, although our room may be among the best, others also had excellent rooms. Singles, if on the ground floor had private patios wit 2 settees out the back door and couches and chairs in a covered atrra in front, that was more or less private and under a roof. Our back patio also had an ocean view over the property wall. Some people ha mechanical issues that were resolved
Day 9
Breakfast at 7. Order from menu. Contimental bf and standard CR bf included, others at extra charge. On bus at 8 to  Manuel Antonio NP, about 15 min. About an hour nature walk, stopping as anything was spotted. No major sightings. Arrived at beach were Jeffry mined our gear?
, while we went swimming/snorkling for a coupLe of hours, or exploring on our own. Water was too silty to really see any marine life. Water was warm and relatively calm. After getting out watched raccoons and Capucian monkings trying to raid picnics. We had no problem with our bags, as Jeffrey had insisted that no one bring food. Took a different path to leave the park, as the tide was now low enough to wade across a tidal creek. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the morning. Back to the hotel for a good lunch at 12:30. Free time until we leave to explore Quespos Town at 4:15 and have dinner in town.
Went into quepos town. We spent our time browsing through the farmers market on the beach esplenade) very save feeling city. Afterwards went to Donny's place on the ocean. Fun place, fajitas, tacos, etc. Food and service good.
Day 10
Luggage out at 7, leave at 9. After technical stop, went to cattle ranch. Owner gave history of the ranch through Jeffry. Some milked cow. Very good lunch. Off to next hotel, over there mountains and the highest point in the country. More later....

Down ointo the valley to the Hotel Severge. 1000 ft altitude loss in about 1 mile. Average 20% grade on mostly dirt road. Magnificent scenary and great flowers on ride. Hotel great. Mountain lodge with individual units. Great buffet dinner. Bird watch leaving at 7:00AM.
Day 11(I think)
Six AM met at reception for bird watching with bus. A lecept two went. About a quarter of a mile from the hotel, encountered many parked cars and bird watchers that had spotted a quetzel. Bird was at some distance and in rough terrain and did not stay long, so not everyone got to see it and no one got hgood photos. We tried one more spot with no luck, so we went back to the hotel for a buffet breakfast. At 9 AM we went for what was to be a 2 mile round trip walk to a waterfall with birdwatching along the way.after about a half a mile 
, Ann and I decided that the going was too difficult for us. So we took a break and turned back. Shortly after turning back, we encountered another group that had spotted a resplendent quetzel and invided us to see it through the scope. We had great views of it be some, naked eye and camera, for 35 minutes and over 60 pictures. The qkuetzerl was a male and a female joined it, apparently buiding a nest. Relatives or Jeffrey were in the group, and they called him alert him. , so the whole group got back there as soon as they could.
Back at the hotel, lunch was at noon. To be continued....
I had hoped to download the pictures to my tablet for viewing, but I had forgotten a cord that I need to do it, so this will have to wait until I get home.

 Day 11(cont)
Afternoon was mostly downtime. Jeffry to those that wanted on a garden tour, Ann got an excellent massage and I got caught up on the internet. At 4:30, Jeffry did an orientation for the 10 of us going on the extension. He settled the bills for the uptionals at 5, and there was a birthday party for Carolyn at 5:15. After dinner we turned in early.
Day 12
Jeffry to the 4 that wanted to get a better look at the quetzals that we saw yesterday on a walk at 5:30, luggage out at 7, bus leggy at 7:30. Climbed out of the valley the way we came in 9 km in about 30 min. After one technical stop we visited a woman entrepaneir in San Jose, who made and exported high end pocket books. A couple of people made purchases. From there we went to the National Theater in San Jose, where we had an hour for wandering around and having lunch, before visiting the theater. It was a very impressive theater with outstanding acoustics. We got to the Hotel Autentico at around 2:45 and will be leaving for our farewell dinner at 5:45. Internet was poor in the room, but good by the pool. 
I don't know if there will be any imnternt access on the extension, so I might not be posing again until Thursday, when we get back here.
I was right, the was no internet access on the Tortuguero extension, but we are back in San Jose now for tomorrows return flight now.
Day 13
This was to be a transportation day. We repacked into smaller luggage last night and had our suitcases put into storage in the hotel. Jeffry was not to be our trip leader on the extension, but he showed up at the hotel for the 7:00 departure. When he got home last night he had a message requesting that he do it, and we were quite pleased. We had a good buffet breakfast at the Autentico before leaving. It started with a slow ride through San Jose's rush hour, but once outside the city, we started up the mountains that separate the central valley from the carribean lowlands. There were some great views. We were to meet up with other people and a leader from the hotel for a light breakfast along the way, but a police detour prevented that. Our trip with a technical stop in a small city took us through banana plantations to a dock on the river (translates to luck). There we were met by an 11 passenger boat from the lodge, skippered by Marice, who would be our skipper for boat rides over the next 3 days. It was about 2 and a Half hour boat ride to the lodge, with tops for wildlife and a stop see Tortugureo town. This is a town with no roads and no vehicles other that bicycles and boats. We continued on to the lodge, seeing many birds, titles, iguanas lizards and monkeys. Jeffrey had undersold the lodge. It was quite comfortable. The rooms had only screens and curtains in the window, as it is very tropical, but there were good bathrooms and swowers. The public areas, reception, dining room and bar, were roofed over with times floors. There was a nice pool by the bar. There was also a beautiful beach which was not smimmale due to heavy surf. After a good buffet lunch Ann and Susan went to the pool, while I work red on the blog offline using Android Open Office, AOO. After a while Jeffrey came running up saying that spider monkeysvwere in the area of Susan's room. we went over and found them, also finding a two toed sloth in a treen and howler monkeys. After a good buffet dinner, Jeffry took us on a night walk primarily looking at insect behavior. after that we turned in for the night.
 Day 14
Jeffry offered a canoe exploration of the canal for 6AM. Half the people took it and enjoyed it. I did nor. After breakfast he took us on a hike through the jungle spottinting insects reptiles, birds and monkeys. The most common insects were mosquito's. Have bug spray. Afterblunch , he and Maurice took us on a great cruise through the canals. We saw spider and howler monkeys, river otters, iguangas, turtles, lizards that walk on water, parrots, green macaws, toucans, abird that is a relative of the quetzal, whose name I don't remember, caimans and many other birds. This cruise was a highlight of the trip. Back for dinner and turn in.
Day 16
Early morning (5:00)AM) departure to the airport. Thia was early  enough  that there were no trafic james, a rarity for San Jose. On arrival at the airport we went directly to the departure tax counter to pay $29.00 in cash each. There is an ATM right there. Fill out the form before proceding to the check-in counters. It will save time.  The flight was a little late departing, as the flight cerw was hung up in a traffic jam. it is a modern convenient airport with friendly English speaking staff, although the food court is on th expensive side, $13.75 for a breakfast sandwich, home fires and OJ at Quiznos.
Our connection through Miami was another matter. A friend of mine had warned me about the airport for international arrivals, so we had reserved  a wheelchair for Ann. To process through immigartion, customs and baggage recheck, even early on a Friday morning, involved much walking (for me) long slow lines and 1 train ride.  Our wheelchair attendant basically spoke almost no English, so she could not undersatnd that we wanted to wait for a friend, Susan, so that she could stick with us. The time form exiting the plane to getting to the departure gate, without even a stop for a bathroom, with a wheelchair attendant, going through express lines was over an hour. I would recommend that you make sure that you have an absolute minimum of 2 hours and preferably 3 hours to connect in Miami. Every  other airport that we have had to clear customes and recheck our bags through involved a very short walk with the bags. This one was quite long, with much confusion at recheck. It is a shame. This is a very new international processing area,, and they did not get it right. To compound the aggravation, when we were ready to take off, they discovered a soft  tire on the plane, which took an hour to change.
This did not detract from a wonderful trip to a wonderful friendly country with magnficient scenary and wildlife and the most ecologically sensitive country that I have ever visited.

I will be glad to answer any questions about this trip and any other of our trips, by Email. phone, video call, etc. Please contact me at I love to relive our trips, by writing and talking about them.

For those of you who have not traveled with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) or its sister companies Grand Circle Travel (GCT) and Grand Circle Cruise Line (GCCL), before, they give a $100 discount per person on your  first trip, if you have a referral from a current customer. The person referring you also get cash or credit toward a future trip. If you have a friend or relative who has traveled with them, please feel free to use them. if not, you can use our names and customer number. We are John and Ann Donoghue and our customer number id 532988. The referral must be given at the time of reservation. We have thoroughly enjoyed our 15 trips with them, with another planned for the spring and a potential other trip in the fall.