Costa Rica-Central America “lite”

Green and wet. I mean rich green and soaking wet. I think we saw an old fence post sprouting green leaves along the roadside. It was 8 hours plus of uninterrupted sheets of falling water. The climate was so wet, that the sloth had green mold growing on its supposed drip dry fur.  Luckily, the majority of the rain fell through the night and by morning, while humid, the sun was out and weather allowed various activities ranging from relaxation on the beach to the physically demanding trek through national parks. You quickly learn why the majority of the rental cars are 4 wheel drive SUVs. The roads have more pock marks than the unpopular kid in 8th grades face. We visited Quepos, home of the Manuel Antonio National Park. While the land portion of this park is tiny in comparison to other parks there, this is one of the most visited in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, because of the number of visitors, it sometimes feels that you are tromping through a safari park at Six Flags. There is much to see from sloths and monkeys, to frogs and reptiles. There are over 350 species of birds that have been reported in the park. The forest spills onto a beautiful beach area where humans and monkeys mingle together, my ideal of a coconut-filled paradise. If you are going, arrive early as this is when animals are most active. Get a guide with a spotting scope and take your compact camera for nice close-ups through the scope. Because of the scopes, even tiny compacts can get close to the animals. Sadly, the influx of cruise-shippers that will inevitably follow the completion of the marina in Quepos makes it difficult to be optimistic regarding the future of the park.

2 recommendations from the Upgrade Me For Free Travel staff: Stay at Costa Verde and eat at Kapi Kapi.

From Quepos, it is a fairly easy drive to Carara National Park. This is far off the beaten tourist path and you can literally walk for hours before seeing another human. This reserve is at a crucial meeting point between the dry tropical forest to the north and the wet rain forest to the south. This park is famous for pretty much guaranteed sightings of Scarlet Macaws. We entered the park without a guide and only the vaguest of directions to Scarlet Macaw nests. We wandered in their general direction until we heard the characteristic sound of a scream combined with a rusty door hinge overhead. Seriously, you’ll know them when you hear them. We saw a pair of macaws circling their nest site (a dead tree with many holes in it). While this is not their breeding season, they were preparing their nest for young ones. We waited for more than an hour before getting hungry. We then went to Steve and Lisa’s #1 restaurant for lunch and 9 pair of macaws made their way overhead while we ate. Apparently, Steve and Lisa’s restaurant is on the flight path for the macaws as they make their way from the mangrove swamp to the forest. The flash of color is truly a site to behold. These birds are the movie stars of the animal world, all color, screaming and drama!

We did have a special travel companion on a sailing trip while there. It was a woman from another hotel. The only problem is she did not know what the name of her hotel when it was time to return. But, it is even more bizarre than that. A taxi driver had picked her up from her hotel and dropped her at the sailing ship without even saying hola to her. She paid at the dock and commenced to tell us her life story while sailing in the Pacific. A 50 year old, retired biology teacher, living in Colorado but enjoying a vacation traveling from motel to motel in Costa Rica. Apparently, she was moving frequently enough to forget the name of her motel. It was only later deciphered when she remembered that her motel was near loud noise (that’s an airport) and had zip-lines coming out of it. Oh yes, and a yellow wall!! It says a lot for a country and its mini-van drivers when a person such as this can be safely delivered to her motel in the evening. Tourism is an important industry in Costa Rica and everyone is bending over backwards to make this a special destination.

There are retirement community and real estate ads everywhere. The good news is no civil strife, no army and 12% of the country is devoted to National Parks; not ones typical image of Central America. Judging by the radio programs in Costa Rica, the ex-pat population is caught in a 1980′s time warp. Apparently, their best memories involve a Quiet Riot concert. Where else can you hear John Denver and Twisted Sister on the same radio station. But, just as they came looking for the next Berkley, it’s apparently past time to start looking for the next Costa Rica. Costa Rica has had more than 20 charmed years, but now with so much over-development, it seems to be going the way of so many hidden treasures. High rises sprouting from the dirt like mushrooms after a rain signal the end of an era.

Panama anyone??

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