A Travellerspoint blog

Pura Vida Costa Rica

rain 26 °C

Pura Vida meaning 'pure life' is the motto of Costa Rica for a good reason. Due to its policies on sustainable power production and its preservation of natural habitats Costa Rica is consistently placed among the top three greenest countries on earth. Its entire travel industry is based on eco-tourism, although there is no shortage of adrenaline filled rides on ziplines, bungees, white water rafts and tarzan swings, for those who just don't get a big enough thrill out of seeing birds like this beautiful scarlet macaw...
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Macaws are the largest of all parrots. While they are not rare in Central and South America we were lucky to see one so close. The other iconic bird in this part of the world is the toucan...
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This chestnut mandibled toucan was feeding on the seeds of a tree overlooking our hotel in Quepos.
The macaws and toucans are very large colourful birds so are easy to spot above the jungle, but many of the birds rely on dull plumage in order to remain incognito. So, in the interest of fairness, we thought we should include this handsome vulture...
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There are nearly a thousand species of birds in Costa Rica and we haven't scratched the surface. We hear birdsong everywhere but it takes a keen eye, and a fast lens, to catch them out in the open. Luckily, this pretty little yellow fella was quite happy to pose in the evening sun...
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While this guy thought he'd found a good hiding place in the jungle...
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The colourful tropical flowers are far more obliging and here's a couple of big ones...
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Few, if any, of the fantastic flowers that we see are truly wild: most have been propagated at some time. But, we were surprised to learn that even the fabulous macaws were genetically 'improved' by breeding programs a thousand years ago when the indigenous peoples valued their exotic plumage for ceremonial head-dresses.

We left the hot, dry, Pacific coast and drove six hours into the central mountains yesterday. It is still pleasantly warm but we are in an area of tropical cloud forests where rain is almost a daily feature. We are here to see the volcanoes – especially the lofty Arenal volcano. It is here, just behind the church in the touristy town of La Fortuna...
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And, if the rain stops and the clouds clear, we might get a picture of it in a day or so.

Posted by Hawkson 11:12 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (3)

A Slothful Day in Costa Rica

sunny 34 °C

Anyone who has not experienced a truly tropical environment will not appreciate how exhausting it is to move at any speed in the heat and humidity. It's 34 degrees here in the jungles of Costa Rica and this little guy knows how to conserve his energy...
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This is a three-toed sloth. And here he is very, very, slowly climbing down to see us...
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The tropical rainforests of Costa Rica are alive with creatures of all kinds but the dense vegetation makes it very difficult to see many of the animals. This capuchin monkey was as curious of us as we were of him so he came out into the open...
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While most of the creatures hide in the dense undergrowth many of them are masters of disguise. The slender 'stalk' in the middle of this picture is actually a very long green snake...
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The birds of Costa Rica are easier to see when they are in the air but it's a challenge to catch them on camera. We are still working on that, but here's one to whet your appetite...
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While Costa Rica is best known to us in Canada as the source of pineapples, bananas and coffee, most of the country is still covered in forest. Here in the district of Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast the forest ends at the beach with vistas straight out of the travel brochures...
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Mangroves, coconuts and banana palms fringe a soft sand beach around a lagoon of crystal clear water as warm as the air. As we swim in this liquid Nirvana we are in agreement: of all the seas, rivers, lakes and oceans of the world that we have experienced – this is the best...
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After a day in the forests and on the beaches of Manuel Antonio park we returned to our hotel to dine in the poolside restaurant...
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Our dinner: deliciously fresh mahi-mahi that had been caught that morning by another guest, Barry, one of a trio of American fishermen taking part in a fishing competition. This is Barry's mate Derrick with his mahi-mahi...
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Could life be better than this?

Posted by Hawkson 09:08 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (3)

Essential Costa Rica

sunny 33 °C

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Now we have left Panama for Costa Rica we can safely report that, with some exceptions, the Panamanian locals were not particularly friendly. We don't know why – after all we were tourists spending money. But Panama City is one of the most expensive cities in the world and the Panamanians are used to foreigners arriving with boatloads of cash. We didn't go cheap, and stayed at one of the few hotels on the banks of the Canal, but we got the impression that you need to be a real fat cat to get good service here. We hope the Pope gets a better welcome on the 26th. January.
Now here's a teaser:
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This is the view of the sun rising over the Pacific Ocean from our hotel's balcony – but how can that be? Doesn't the sun rise in the east?
We have no such problem here in the small Costa Rican coastal town of Quepos...
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This is the Pacific Ocean and it's definitely in the west as we stand on the town's seaside promenade and watch this fisherman taking home enough supper for an army...
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On the subject of armies: Costa Rica is one of the most peaceful and stable democracies on earth and one of the few countries that doesn't have an army. It is also the most visited Central American country and prides itself on its friendliness to tourists.

Costa Rica is about twice the size of Wales, but it's one of the most ecologically diverse places on the planet. Even though Costa Rica covers less than .03 percent of the earth's total surface, nearly five percent of the planet's plant and animal species live here. Its location on the Darién Isthmus connecting North and South America, with the Pacific to the west and the Atlantic to the east, has enabled flora and fauna from both continents and both oceans to thrive here. We are here for a week and hope to get some pictures of some of the amazing wildlife on the beaches and in the forests and mountains. In the next few days we will be visiting the national parks in search of sloths, macaws and toucans, but we are surrounded by wildlife at our hotel. This dinosaur came to check us out as we ate lunch on our hotel's terrace in Quepos...
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The port town of Quepos isn't beautiful. It doesn't have historic colonial ruins, glamorous marinas full of superyachts or fancy hotels. It's just a bustling little commercial backwater a few hours drive from the capital, San Jose, that is a good place to stay while visiting the nearby Manuel Antonio National Park Here's a snapshot of the main street...
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Stay tuned and we hope to show some of the prettier sights of this tropical land. Here's a start...
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Posted by Hawkson 14:56 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (4)

The Panama Canal

sunny 31 °C

The Panama Canal took just 500 years to become an overnight success.

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The Spanish explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama in 1513 and declared that a canal would be great for shipping tons of looted Aztec gold back to Spain from Peru. “Una buena idea Vasco”, but way ahead of your time. The Scots had a better idea in 1690 when they named the Darién isthmus New Caledonia and thought everyone would be happy if they cut a road through the jungle. “Nae sa fast laddie - the natives are nae pleased.” The Yanks tried in 1826 but Colombian President Simon Bolivar was having none of their imperialistic nonsense, “No hay manero amigos!” And in 1843 the Brits tried, but never got a spade in the ground. “Sorry old chap. Bad luck.” After the Californian gold rush in 1849 the Yanks had another go, but built a railway instead, “Good call Joe– but no cigar.” and then came the French in 1880. “Ce n'est pas un problème. We 'ave dug zhe Suez canal.” But the Suez canal looks nothing like this...
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Digging a canal through a mountain range in a disease ridden, mosquito infested, tropical jungle full of jaguars and crocodiles proved too much for the French. Twenty two thousand men died, and eight hundred thousand French investors lost their shirts in the biggest corruption scandal of the 19th century. They paid a very high price, but made a good start by chopping 320 feet off the top of this mountain...
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The Americans got a fire-sale deal from the French in 1904 and spent $380 million finishing the work. They used more than a hundred thousand tons of explosives to shift 300 million tons of rock, (and the French had already excavated 100 million tons). But it takes a lot to make an enormous hole through mountains this big...
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That was enough rock and earth to fill train wagons stretching all the way around the world four times.
The 51 mile long Panama Canal was officially opened on August 15, 1914, and the 12 locks in use today are the original ones that are lined with solid concrete walls and floors 60 feet thick. That's a ton of cement! And these steel lock gates weigh over 600 tons each...
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As soon as the canal was finished it was realised that the locks should have been wider to accommodate the ever expanding merchant ships, but it wasn't until 2016 that a set of new, supersized, locks were opened. The giant ship in the background is dwarfed by the enormous banks on the new canal. It is carrying upwards of 8,000 containers...
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Container ships pay $99 for each full container to use the canal, ($59 for empties), and some have paid over a million dollars. Cruise liners like this one in the Miraflores lock pay $149 for each berth, (occupied or not)...
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Just one more thing. The Panama canal is the only seaway in the world where the pilot takes full command of every vessel and here's our pilot, Juan, on the bridge with the bo'sun...
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Thanks to Juan, and the nearly thirty thousand men who died creating this magnificent feat of engineering, we sail serenly across the Isthmus of Panama on a canal that links two oceans and we pass the continental divide...
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We started in the Pacific, but from here on it is all downhill to the Atlantic. It only takes a few hours – but what a ride!

Posted by Hawkson 06:42 Archived in Panama Comments (8)

Panama – Not Just a Tax Haven

sunny 30 °C

When British privateer Captain Henry Morgan destroyed the original Spanish city of Panama in 1671, the survivors abandoned the ruins and built a new city in a more defensible place at the estuary of the Chagres River. This is now the place where the Panama Canal meets the Pacific Ocean and from our hotel on its bank we watch the ships entering and leaving the canal...
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We are visiting Panama for one reason – to travel on the Panama Canal. However, some of our fellow travellers may have other, more sinister, motives for coming here. We were surprised leaving Cancun airport when our bags were searched for foreign currency. Then, on arrival, the singular preoccupation of the Panamanian customs seemed to be how much cash we had.

Then we remembered that Panama got a bad rap in 2015 when it was revealed that it held 214,488 shell companies for some fairly dodgy foreigners who, presumably, turned up with suitcases of loot. Ah. If only we had that kind of money! The other reason that the city of Panama, and our hotel, is packed with visitors at present is that the Pope is coming on January 26th and there are thousands of his acolytes already laying the groundwork. We wondered if the upcoming visit was the reason that teams of young people were clearing garbage off the beach...
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Panama's old city has a lot of garbage in certain areas and great strides are being made to tidy the place up. However, the new city, financed largely by foreign investors, is a skyline of gleaming spires and adventurous architecture rivalling Vancouver...
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....Down at street level it is not such a pretty picture. There are squalid tenements and shanties redolent of many third world countries and there are whole areas where we would not venture. But the buildings in the centre of the old city, Casco Viejo, are undergoing a major facelift. This is the Catedral Metropolitana on the central plaza...
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While this is one of the many partly restored surrounding streets that are reminiscent of Old Havana...
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There are also a number of preserved historic sites like the ruins of the 1678 Convent of Santo Domingo...
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The market in the central Plaza Catedral is the place that all tourists are expected to buy a Panama hat...
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But we know from our travels that all true Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador.
One handmade product that is a speciality in Panama is an intricate form of quilting called mola. Many indigenous women from the San Blas Islands off the east coast sell this unique form of reverse applique in the market and wear beautiful clothes made from the same colourful cloths.
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While this artist was painstakingly painting beautiful headgear. We wonder who will be lucky enough to get this one!
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We've booked our passage through the Panama Canal and will be back in a couple of days with tales of this manmade wonder of the world. Hasta luego.

Posted by Hawkson 17:16 Archived in Panama Comments (4)

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