12/28-31 Manuel Antonio

Got in late 12/27.  Alamo did not have our reservation for a 4x4... Or to be more exact, they had it plus at least 50 others that they overbooked and were claiming they just didn't have cars for.  We decided o the fly to jump ion the one car dollar had - a two wheel drive Suzuki celerio with barely a trunk.  Better than no carro for the trip.  Got to the hotel about 11, ate a kind bar and ordered early room service.


room service called early which was welcome.  Typical Costa Rican breakfast with gallo pinto (beans and rice), eggs, sausage, plantains, sour cream.   About a half hour drive winding around San Jose barrios then up a steep dirt road to the wedding location.  Beautiful spot way up the hill overlooking San Jose.   We were early enough to say hits jimmy ( turns out he was the car in front of us open the hill) and meet some of his relatives.  Ceremony was in a beautiful spot and they did a great job translating between English and Spanish.   I thought it was especially sweet how Cata and jimmy spoke in their non-native languages for their vows.  The reception included more gallo pinto and plantains - very yummy.  We were sat with some of their friends from the missionary, and were surprised to find out what big football fan they were.  Most of them spoke very good English.

We took off for Dominical around noon or 1, and followed the GPS down to the interamericana highway.  It took longer than I thought to twist through the mountains to the highway, and then I was surprised to just find the highway was another twisting road (albeit in good shape) along the ridge of the mountains.  We topped out around 9000 feet at cerro de la muerte or diablo or something.   I hd not realized we would travel so high to get to the beach!  Unbelievable jungly mountain view through the clouds (how does such rich vegetation grow higher the winter park?).  We got to Dominical 5ish, checked in, and drove down to the beach to see sunset.   Got some drinks and guacamole at tortilla flats (which we would visit more).  The back to the villas rio mar for ceviche and drinks before bed. 


We woke early because we had an early night.  Got coffee and watched birds on the porch waiting for breakfast to start at 7.  Nice relaxing morning with another typical breakfast of gallo pinto and sausage and scrambled eggs (no plantains down here for some reason).  Back in the room, idly checking on excursion possiblities for tomorrow, I happen to read in lonely planet that Manuel Antonio is closed on Mondays and only accepts limited entrance.  Uh oh.. Our only other day here tomorrow is Monday so we jump in the car and drive to quepos.  

We ignore the first few people asking to pay to park' but closer to the entrance it seems to be necessary so we pay 6 bucks to leave the car in a grassy field.  Wayne asks the parking guys about guides And they Give a generic quip.  we dont really know whats going on so we skip the guide.  There's a line right away and another further up.  We don't really know what's going on so a nice guy explains we have to buy tickets then wait in line for the park.  Then he says his guide is at the front of the line, so we agree to pay another 20 bucks each (plus 10 park admission) for him to magically hand us tickets, skip 40 minutes in line, and cut in with the guide group.  The guide, Ricky, was well worth the money.  He found tiny lizards,spiders,ground crabs,bats, etc. that we would have never seen with the naked eye, and had a high power scope to look through and take photos through.   I was under the impression monkeys were prominent but sloths were rare.  Sure enough wayne spotted white faced capuchins at the park entrance, but not too far up the trail we saw our first sloth!  A three toed sloth way up the tree.  Ten he started to move rather quickly down the tree!  Another sleeping in a tree further up.  There was a baby in a very nearby tree not much futher, then a very lazy one up near the top (butt hanging out).   We were very happy with the guide experience.  At the end there was a crocodile in the main beach so no one could swim there, which made  the second beach very crowded.  We did the hike around the peninsula (technically island since its a tombolo connecting it).   This was a good stair master through jungle with occasional picturesque windows to the water.  Hking back out the "shortcut" (hiking path the wading through the estuary next to the crocodile warning sign), a 10 yr old of says "hey, look up".  Something about his tone had both of us thinking he was pulling our legs, but I replied something snarky and he said "there's a sloth".  Sure enough it was our first 2 toes sloth sighting and the most photo-worthy.

We ate lunch at el avion.   I had la cuezela de mariscos ( seafood curry) and Wayne had butterfly shrimp - both great.  We were exhausted driving back to Dominical and figured that would be all for the day.  We happened to be passing hacienda baru which had the flight of the toucans zip line, so we thought we would stop in for pricing and time (for tomorrow's!).   Of course as luck would have it there was a tour leaving right then.  Quite an uphill hike to get there, but saw another 2 toed sloth and our first toucans along the way.  And very hyper agouti!  The zip lining was very safe and not at all scary.  Leaning back you went a bit fast but not as fast as any roller coaster.  They did not have you break yourself and instead either caught you at the end or controlled the break rope for you.  The last line you went down backwards with a laRge break line at the end.   Great day but we were exhausted after.   Watched a bit of the broncos game at the bar then Hopped in the pool then decided to go out to dinner.  First choice down the road porqueno was reservation only that night.  Second choice maracapu seemed oddly dead and the bartender didn't seem to care to serve us so  left (fund out later this is maybe more late night/music venue). Third choice Jolly Roger we thought was near town but twisting and turning on every road we could not find it.   Ended up at San Clemente Mexican food for mahi chipotle tacos and a chimichanga.  I was very happy With the place.  


Need to take it slow.  Breakfast at the resort then down to the beach for the morning.  A small rocky bar on the beach but otherwise soft sand to play in the ocean and set our stuff.   A couple bloody Marie's/micheladas at tortilla flats and back to the water.  Suddenly there are river rock everywhere and it's painfuli to walk round.  The tide came in and spread rocks everywhere! Back to the pool for lounging and a couple cocktails, then to Jolly Roger for sunset.  The wings are floured so I didn't have any, but salad and fries and wing sauce were all fresh made and the location was great (took 2 tries up the hill because the person in front was slow and we were in the 2wheel drive celerio). As we watched the sunset, we hate pleasant surprise of Bella, the local gate, sharing the table with us, and at least 6 toucans playing n the trees at sunset.   2 classic green parrots even flew by.  After dark we had a coupe touches (and ceviche!) at tortilla flats and spoke with some friendly expats.  I can definitely see why people would move to this town.

31-1/3. Nicoya


it took longer to drive to tamarindo than expected.    We decided to take a gamble on the puentarenas ferry, but got there 3 hours before the next one left.   It was hot and muggy and there wasn't much going on there.   Maybe one kinda sad looking sit down restaurants and a couple knickknack stores.  It took us awhile to figure out what was going on and in the end we left by car for the trip around the bay.  Probably lost about an hour on that gamble - oh well.  We ate a nice lunch at 3 Hermanas BBQ on the road of patacones (fried flattened green plantains with refried beans) and a steak skewer.  By the time we rolled into playa tamarindo it had been nearly 8 hours on the road, but we did see a couple monkeys and iguanas along the way as well as home vaqueros rounding up their Brahman cattle.

Le jardin del Eden is a nice hotel on the hill with a quick walk to the beach.  The "partial ocean view" was actually less partial than we thought since it was mostly palms in the way.   We were a bit tired but when down and played in the water some and explored town.  It is a very busy beach and hard to leave stuff around, although plenty of room to get in the water ( and a super wide beach when the tide it out).  We went to dinner at Patagonia which was a really good argentenian place (skirt steak and shrimp provenzal, a pitcher of sangria, flan with dulce de leche) and then wandered the beach watching people send off paper lanterns into the sea.  It was neat to see them lift and be swept straight out in the wind.  The beach got very crowded with fireworks and picnics and people wandering.  We retired to our room right before midnight where we drank rum punch and watched the fireworks and bats. 


Woke this morning and wandered to the beach thinking we would rent a surfboard or stand up paddleboard or both.  Juan at the surf shop (motos?) told us Stand up was best in a town twenty minutes away called playa danta.  We decided to give it a try.  It was a beautiful peaceful cove without too many people in the morning.  Supposedly Eric was an expert, but we never met him.  The owner was a expat that used to manage Spyder in Boulder. We took lessons from Remy who was super friendly and patient.    We did pretty well staying on (although Wayne fell a few times trying to take pictures and I fell once at the end).  We were worn out after an hour though since there was a decent offshore breeze that would kick up, so we ended the lesson before we had to to go in for drinks and lunch.  Shared spring rolls next door and some banana daquaris.

Pool in afternoon

Surfing while Wayne went to breakfast.
 Instructor Eric was originally from Missouri and learned to surf in Hawaii.   I think I did fairly well and was catching waved more or less on my own at the end, though I would have a hard time with timing on my own,   Sme of the waves were huge and crushed me when I fell!   Getting back out after falling was exhausting.

-  board position to keep weight balanced
- always want about2 inches of nose above water when surfing the wave
- push nears ribs and land feet on center line for pop up.  Ideally centering wait around hands but maybe not that important at beginner level.
-  timing:  if wave is vertical you are too late unless very talented.  Want to hit it with just starting to turn up a few inches then paddle like mad

.  Lunch at wok and roll was surprisingly good.   Tico roll with tuna and warm plantains and gal bi (Korean short ribs).

Relaxed by pool.  Pangas for dinner included house smoked fish appetizer and I had octopus while Wayne had steak served rare with a hot lava rock to finish cooking it to order,  cool place.   Passion fruit flan for dessert.

Ater dinner we walked up the hill to see about a bar the surf instructors band would be playing at, but it seemed awkwardly dead.  Onstead we had several at Donna lees which only had a few people it they turned out to be la lively crowd.

1/3-6 arenal


Got up early to go down to the beach to play in the waves one last time,   Had some smoothies from a shop in town and packed up and left for arenal.   The drive was about 4 hours, with the first hour to get off Nicoya, an hour or so on highway 1 which was under construction but didn't slow us down too much, and almost half the time driving around the lake.   Beautiful drive around the lake where we had our first taste of sudden rain onsets.  We stopped at the cervezario, possibly called cost rica brewing company, but also making/selling the beer at witches rock in tamarindo.  Anyways, they claim to be the oldest and only brewery in the country, and it seems plausibLe.  They were definitely doing cool things on sight, including a 2 week college seminar on sustainable energy (wind and hydro and geothermal all seemed to be around).   We had a great (huge!) trio of tacos with some crazy hot hot sauce made from a blend of their peppers grown on sight.  Finished the drive around the lake to the volcano (tip shrouded in clouds of course) but some great photos on the bridge and almost instantly a coati Mundi.

The observatory si definitely in an awesome location righ tup the side of the volcano.  The have a big viewing deck and put out fruit to attract birds (& coatis).  The room was a hike away so more driving down, but had a decent lake view and lots of birds.   Great forest noises for at night.  The road up is definitely not 4x4 although it is dirt with a lot of washboard and pot holes.  Maybe worse in wet season?

Dinner at Benedictus which was awesome.  Way up a winding dirt road in a converted gorgeous house, the restaurant serves meat raised on sight and vegetables from either their farm or a partner farm nearby.  We had mixed ceviche which had a nice ginger broth, and then shared the combinacion for 2 that had lamb, pork, steak, and chicken with some roasted veggies,  it was all excellent, but my favorite may have been e dark meat chicken of all things.  Flambé plantains for dessert and back to the hotel for r&r.



Hiked old lava flow trail.  Tail went steeply downhill from the observatory to the river, where we promptly lost the trail.  Lots of noises in the jungle but trouble seeing the sources.   Finally found some cairns down stream and followed them up the remains of the pyro clastic flow that killed a hiker and a guide in 2000.   We startled a peccary into the jungle as we climbed up the hill.   The trail then turned steeply uphill and ended at what we assume was the old lava field - a boulder field (1-3 ft diameter) of black lava rocks.   We had breakfast of dried pineapples and pork rinds (pinas y chicharrones.. Yumm) while watching the clouds occasionally part to show the full volcano, then started back.  Following a different train back led us along a different ridge, where we were able to locate at least 3 toucans that seemed caught up in a mating ritual (making loud clicker sounds).

After went to lunch at the observatory - my arroz con pollo was surprising good although I'm not suer why it came its fries) and hit the pool, which had a great volcano view but turned out to be a bit frigid.  Great cloudless volcano views all morning though.

We decided to try a hot spring to make up for the cold pool.  The nearby one, tabacon, sounded nice but was $80+!  The only way to go was to get a lunch package or something.  Instead we opted for the natural ones immediately downstream of tabacon.  It was awesome!  You just park on e road and there's even a concrete trail down to the creek across from the tabacon entrance.  There were several groups of local families and tourist couples already there, but it was not hard to find our own little pool. Possibly the most relaxed I've been all trip!

Dined at don rubinos was good - the mixed seafood entree was shrimp and tiny scallops in the most delicious passion fruit broth and mango cubes.  My squash risotto was so cheesy it was more like a fancy broccoli rice casserole, but it was yummy.  Wayne got a wild mushroom and carmelized onion lasagna which he liked.  The entrees were huge though so we definitely could have split one.





Nature hike in morning at ziplining location.  Not much wildlife but lots of plants and the guide really knew a lot about biology.

Ziplining – huge half mile lines a thousand feet in the air




Travel to Panama




Large church in the main square.  Got a map at the police station with a walking tour.

Museo de arte religioso colonial

Drinks at finca del Mar

Plaza Bolivar and tried to see the presidential palace but it was guarded off

Tantalo -  lulo margarita, some passionfruit-like fruit blended.  Smoked salmon salad.  Cubano with patacones served with ketchup.

Over to the museo del canal interoceanico, which was all in Spanish (we refused the headphones which might have been interesting in hindsight).  The museum had everything from scale models of Columbus' ships and coins at the time to dredge information for building the canal and the political treaties and arguments of the last century ( apparently Carter was heavily involved and was there to turn the canal back to panama in 2000).  Some of the old books of the survey of the land and flora would have been interesting to buy a replica of, but the gift store didn't have anything that interesting.


Mercado de  mariscos -  busy and loud and a bit smelly (lots of construction in this area cinta costera), but we bought ceviche (combinacion of octopus shrimp fish) and a beer for $3.50 - cant be beat.


Then we hailed a cab over to calzada (causeway) and got off where the restaurants seemed to start.  We walked all the way to the last island where we had Martinis and beer at Linos y carbon watching the sunset and people feed the seagulls.


Dinner at Manchu picchu included grilled octopus, squid ink seafood rice, and steak stuffed with shrimp.  A few drinks at ismoths and back to the hotel.




Shuttle to the excursion was late picking us up but not too bad.  We went on the jungle land panama, which turned out to be awesome.   Our boat had a newer guide, Ryan, who did an excellent job, and captain Carl was in a nearby boat.   Barely out on the water there was a bare tree with a 3 toed sloth chilling out in it!  We then went out into the canal and saw some large container ships and crossed over to some islands along the canals.  The first one had a solitary monkey Pablo, who had been confined to the island because of problems in his family dynamics.   We weren't allowed to get too close since Peale didn't always like to leave the boat once he was on it.   At a later island we fed the white faced capuchins by holding out peanuts and they walked around carefully collecting an armful and then ate them on the roof of the boat.  We also saw a couple groups of howlers - one with a baby that was barely wandering off on his own! Across the canal lake and back through some jungle tunnels we came into a code with the "lodge".  This consisted of two house boats bridged together.  We didn't realize. You could pay a bit extra to spend the nit on the boats which would have been cool.  Before we docked there was a rufous naped tamarin in the next island that we fed some banana to. Lunch was rice, Tamal, chicken, beef, coleslaw, pineapple, with bottled water and juice and soda and $1 for beer or wine.  Very good. N after lunch they took us kayaking .. Not too far, had to go through one super tight section where you paddled on the shore, and then we arrived at a hidden waterfall where you could swim in the cool water.   Back at the boat there was a platform to jump off the second story (I somehow stubbed my toe jumping so wayne had to continue a few more jumps for me). Boa constrictor ("fluffy" after the first cat he ate), parrot, toucan, and baby croc were all also on board as pets.   There were hammocks and just relaxing.


Long shuttle ride home showed just how awesome Panamanian gridlock can be.   Dinner at martin fierro's had excelled steak ( I juts got the normal strip despite imported and prime options and it was still awesom) and una jarra de sangria.




Early morning.  Shuttle picked up at 620 for the partial transit.  Only three couples total on the shuttle though so was ride.  We joined a large group at the end of the CauseWay where we only had to wait 20 minutes or so to board the boat .. 3 levels with the top being an open deck and about 200 passengers I think.  We had to wait around Awhile At the cAnal side of the bridge of the America's for our partner boat.  The boat was so small that it had to hitchhike through the locks with a larger ship (some kind of chemical ship in our case) and a sailboat joined us as well.  Htchhike is probably a strong word since the ferry pays 40,000 each transit regardless of how many people are on board.   The first lock is miraflores which is a 2 stage lock.   The first stage took 8 minutes to fill with after check the boats were in place.  We tied to the large ship's canal escort ( a tugboat to help align it with the locks and channels), and the sailboat tied to us.  After miraflores we passed About a mile of lake miraflores at which time they served us lunch of rice, plantains, chicken - all pretty good though chicken was a bit dry.  Along the west side you could see all of the work for the new locks which will eventually increase the max size of the ships that can travel through here ( "Panamax").  The last lock before  lake gatun is Pedro Miguel which is single stage.  Then through the culebra cut which was the hardest section to cut through the continental divide , and caused the original French companies bankruptcy.  It was called gold hill because they later lured stock buyers with promises of gold form the digging which never materialized.  We disembarked at Gamboa for a quick bus ride back to the causeway where our shuttle driver found us.


We decided to get a appetizer at the nearby wine bar that had high accolades,  we were told there was no wine outside and went inside and were served the wine in paper cups.   The waiter gave a lengthy description in Spanish that we didn't understand.  We later found out no one was allowed to serve alcohol on the holiday of January 9th (this was the 50th anniversary of some high school students who decided to rise a Panamanian flag over the Canal Zone, which was ripped down by US national guard and stepped on and ripped.  Locals rallied when they heard about it and the US gunned down 20 people.  This did eventually fuel the Carter treaty negotiations which resulted in the canal being handed back to panama at the end of the millineum.). Anyways, we ere aBle to get a cheese platter and prosciutto which seemed good quality and a novelty in the area, along with a couple good paper cups of carmenere.