Friday, June 08, 2007

On The Way To Monteverde

Monteverde, is a small town in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Monteverde was founded in 1950 by Quakers. Costa Rica abolished their army in 1948 and Quakers, being pacifists, decided that this would be a good place to settle. Monteverde means "green cheese" and gets its name from a variation of Monterey Jack cheese that the Quakers make but which quickly turns green in the moist climate.

Hah, fooled you didn't I. It actually does mean "green cheese" but that is because the Quakers moved to Costa Rica from Wisconsin, famous for both its cheese and their football team, The Packers, who wear green uniforms. The Quakers, being big football fans, would often wear Packer shirts and cheese on their heads so the locals took to calling them Monteverdes.

A Cheesehead

Okay, so I lied again. Monteverde really means Green Mountain and, given the location of the town, it is easy to see why. The part about it being founded by Quakers in 1950 was true though, and they do make and sell cheese there. It is also true that Costa Rica has had no army since 1948 and, by and large, the Quakers moved there for that reason as well as to avoid the draft for the Korean war. How many of them came from Wisconsin I do not know.

The night before we headed to Monteverde I did make it into a little town to have a beer and to provide a requisite picture of me drinking in a bar.

Don Fernando Bar & Restaurant

There wasn't much going on in this town but this place was packed. There were stools on the street where you could get a drink but they were full so I had to go inside. The bar was packed in there as well, but I did manage to jam myself in and have a beer.

Jam and Beer

I couldn't stay long because the next day we had an early start and a long ride, both boat and bus.

We set our bags out early to be picked up and put on the bus. The bus would drive around Lake Arenal and pick us up on the other side after we took a boat.

Heading To The Boat

Getting On The Boat

On The Boat

Lake Arenal has been enlarged to about three times its original size to form a basin for a hydroelectric project that now produces about 70% of Costa Rica's electricity. A couple of towns were flooded for this project so it was kind of like a mini-TVA project.

The bus trip around the lake takes much longer than the boat ride and the roads are kind of thrilling. Not much room for error and plenty muddy as well.

No Shoulders

Along the way I saw a sight that gladdened my heart.

Cold Beer

Luckily this was where we would stop for lunch.

A Little Luncheonette

Not only did they serve really good local fare (rice and beans, chicken, fish, pork, and vegetables) they also had a nice little bar area.

Bar Man Doing What He Does Best

Be forewarned, however, if you don't have the money to pay for your meal they have something much worse than washing dishes in store for you.

Working Off My Meal

We really were crushing sugar cane to extract the juice so we could all take a taste. Images from White Zombie, a great movie staring Bela Lugosi, kept flashing through my mind.

Tomorrow I shall post a bit more about Monteverde and the Cloud Forest.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Top Of The World, Ma!!!

Well, not exactly the top of the world, just closer to the top of the volcano. Still the image of James Cagney burning at the end of White Heat did cross my mind.

I guess this view of the volcano from the hotel wasn't good enough, we had to get closer.


The journey started out ominously enough when we came across this eyelash viper (Phylum - Chordata, Class - Reptilia, Order - Squamata, Suborder - Ophidia, Family - Crotalidae). Bar Man tries to educate.

Eyelash Viper

He was lurking in a stone wall not far from the path we would take. If he wasn't enough of a warning, there were more to come.

Looks Promising

I Get The Point

Enough Already

This was starting to remind me of some bars I have visited.

We did finally get underway and began our somewhat arduous climb.

Rocky Mountain High, Kind Of

And who do you suppose that was bringing up the rear?

Who Else

As you can see, it wasn't exactly a walk in the park. Well, yes it was, but not a park park. You know what I mean.

Walk In The Park

On the other hand, after clambering over piles of rocks the view was spectacular, more rocks.

Rock On

If I hadn't made the climb I would have missed seeing the wildlife though.

Wildlife At The Top

But, I am being a bit cynical. The view was really nice. You got a good look at Lake Arenal, which we would be crossing the next day on our way to Monteverde and a cloud forest.

The Mysterious Chinese Woman's sister joined us on the trip and here we are posing for pictures at the top. That is Lake Arenal in the background, but you probably guessed that already.

Postcard Perfect

Turning the other way we did get a nice look at the volcano though.

Arenal Volcano

It was well worth the climb because the view was so much better than the one from my hotel room.

View From My Room

It really was a fun climb. You could hear the rocks booming as they were being blown out of the top. This thing erupts all of the time and has been since 7:20 A.M. on July 29, 1968 when the west side blew off and destroyed two villages, Pueblo Nuevo and Tabacon, killing 78 people in the process.

One night we went to the side facing away from the hotel and saw a bit of the lava that periodically spews out of the three openings. Not too long ago the lava flowed down the side facing the hotel. That would have been a spectacular view on a clear night. The lava flows down in different spots at different times, not unlike the way melted wax flows down different sides of a candle as it burns.

Tomorrow we head to Monteverde, founded by Quakers in 1950. Stay tuned and I will tell you why they settled there.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Under The Volcano

Well, we will have more about the volcano tomorrow, but today we did head to it. The volcano's name is Arenal and it is still very active, spewing lava and shooting out rocks all day every day.

On the way to Arenal from San Jose we did observe some "wildlife" along the way. Our first spotting was of a white-nosed coati, a relative of the raccoon. The males tend to travel alone and hang out by the road looking for handouts or, in this case, the possibility of a honey-flake in a discarded bag of them.

White-Tailed Coati


A bit further on we saw a whole herd of Iguanas basking in the sun. I guess you could say the Iguanas was a bit sluggish today (this is a joke only New Yorkers will get and has to do with the traffic on the Gowanus Expressway).

Sluggish Iquanas

These weren't really too wild either. They hung out on a little triangle of land across from a restaurant and gift shop where they were kept well fed.

Chowing Down

And, of course, the most prevalent wildlife of all, TOURISTS. They can be spotted along the road everywhere.

Roadside Tourists

You have to be sharp-eyed to spot them sometimes as they forage for their favorite food, coffee beans. Little do they know that these cannot be eaten straight from the tree.

Coffee Beans (pre-Starbucks)

Much like the United States has to deal with Mexicans crossing the border to pick crops so we won't starve to death because nobody in the United States would actually work in the fields for twelve hours a day, Nicaraguans cross the border into Costa Rica to pick coffee beans. They get two dollars a basket and a top picker can can pick about twenty baskets a day. Get the whole family working and it isn't bad pay for this neck of the woods.

After the bus ride I checked into our hotel and relaxed in the Jacuzzi with a beer.

Bar Man Relaxing

You can just see the volcano through the window. But, as promised, more on that tomorrow. After my beer I had to take a whiz and, uncharacteristically, I actually got out of the Jacuzzi to do it. You will never guess what I found waiting for me when I returned.

The Seductive Mysterious Chinese Woman

Life just doesn't get any better than this.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Costa Rica, No Ifs or Ands, but Butts

Nothing like getting up at 3:00 A.M. to catch a plane. The fact that I was going on vacation helped quite a bit though. We arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica at a reasonably early hour so I had a chance to explore the city a bit. Can't say I was overly impressed though. It was a bit like Guadalajara in that it is largely a commercial center. Not too many people actually live there and after about 8:00 P.M. it is pretty empty. During the day it is bustling though.

As you can imagine, I did find a place for a beer.

Bar With Unknown Name

The street entrance, which you see above, attracted my attention so in I went. Absolutely everyone in the place (all five people) were drinking Imperial Beer, the Costa Rican Budweiser. I, of course, joined right in.

The back entrance to the bar was inside a large market where you could buy everything from an octopus to a refrigerator magnate. There were also a lot of little stands where you could get a bite to eat.

Early the next day after a pleasant evening in our hotel we hit the road for our big adventure. And we didn't have long before it started.

The Adventure Begins

The tire was quickly fixed though and soon we were on our way and taking in the view.

The View

Well, that about sums up the trip.

Not really. It was a great trip and tomorrow I shall post more about my travels. And you can never guess who showed up. Well, you probably can.

The Magical Mystery Bus and Chinese Woman

Stay tuned as the adventure continues.