Travels with Dick and Karen

Costa Rica, Part 2


costa rica
As we departed Alajuela, the traffic on the Pan American Highway wasn't too bad to start. Costa Rica

But as it neared San Jose:

Costa Rica

This is now Highway 39, the southern ring-road around San Jose.

Typical motorcycle behavior: the dashed line painted on the road is a "lane", right? (and left) -- sometimes there will be one passing on the right as well.

Costa Rica
We stopped at the McDonalds on the east side of Cartago for lunch. The delivery person was just setting off with his food-laden M-emblazoned backpack. Costa Rica
on a motorcycle...into that traffic. Costa Rica
The traffic got better after leaving Cartago. The road the GPS took us down from Paraíso was closed (perhaps a washout), but there were clear signs to get to our first view of Lake Cachí and the distant town of Cachí -- we'll be up the valley to the left where the houses thinned out. Costa Rica
The correct road took us down to the dam that formed Lago de Cachí... Costa Rica
... and then we passed through Cachí itself, over a very narrow bridge, and up this narrow and very pot-holed street through the neighborhood of Peñas Blancas (White Rocks). Costa Rica

...and there we were stopped for about half an hour, about 200 meters short of our goal ...

Costa Rica
The concrete truck had gotten his rear wheels stuck in the mud as he tried to back down a path to the construction site. We waited while they brought up a backhoe from the site to pull the stuck truck further in... Costa Rica

Our goal had been this gravel driveway on the right, just before the pavement turned into dirt and rocks on the left...

Costa Rica
The driveway devolved into a 300-meter-long rough-and-rocky path past several houses and through a gate to Bill's Cabina.
(4-wheel-drive wasn't really needed, but it would've been "interesting" without it)
Costa Rica
The Cabina was light and airy, with elegant woodwork..  Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
The back wall was rough-hewn log sections. The old bases of the branches gave it a fascinating texture.  Costa Rica
A real shower! All of the taps in the house were plumbed with hot water!
(this was the only one of our four homes that had that amenity)
Costa Rica
We spent a lot of time just hanging out on the elevated front porch.
Our airy aerie.
Costa Rica
It was great for watching the weather ... and sometimes "the daily toucan" would cross that gap Costa Rica
Visited by grasshoppers Costa Rica
flycatchers Costa Rica
oropéndolas Costa Rica
vultures Costa Rica
a hawk Costa Rica
lots of brown jays (just as squawky as our local jays) Costa Rica
and miscellanious small birds that don't photograph well (blue dacnis?) Costa Rica

There was a banana grove behind the house but the fruit was still green

Costa Rica
The two Norfolk island pines flanking the drive were covered in epiphytes. Costa Rica
Looking out the way we had come towards the other side of the main valley ... when conditions cooperated, the cloud cap over Volcán Irazú would be visible over the distant ridge. Costa Rica
there was a babbling stream beside the road Costa Rica
Spanky, one of the two resident dogs, returning from the gate after he gave a good barking to a neighboring dog's incursion. Costa Rica
Just up the hill was this Spanish-moss covered tree sheltering... Costa Rica
... one of the municipality's water sources (the overflow feeds the stream by our porch) Costa Rica

Another moss-laden tree was a bit up the hill beyond Bill's house (with the red "mule" in its garage: we got a ride in it later)

Costa Rica
At least once every day we walked up the "road" through Bill's property towards the top of the hill. Just beyond Bill's house there were some storm-fallen trees. Costa Rica
... with lots of epiphytes that were going to die if not placed back in a tree. Costa Rica
Karen rescued some. Costa Rica
Bill's friend Richardo was busy salvaging the wood. Both the cabina and Bill's house were built from wood harvested and milled on site (they brought in a portable mill). Costa Rica
Next up the hill was the small citrus orchard, a remnant of when the property was a more active farm. Costa Rica
Yes, there is fruit under and among all the epiphytes Costa Rica
Fairly frequently, we'd simply turn around and look. Here we're just past the orchard, looking back downhill. Costa Rica
And now looking up and to the left. Costa Rica
To the right is one of many waterfalls ... the road will meet some of them higher up. Costa Rica
This is a landscape shaped by water. A "Bomba de Agua" is when the soil holding onto the slope becomes so full of water it gives way. The gush of water, trees and soil is very destructive. Costa Rica
One of the more recent falls (13 years ago?) Costa Rica
another waterfall along the climb Costa Rica
This is a closer view of the top of the rockfall two images back. Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
Lots of plants along the way: these brown mats near the falls are probably an alga? Costa Rica
Huge Gunerra Costa Rica
string-like ferns Costa Rica
and more familiar shapes like this birds-nest fern Costa Rica
club moss
familiar houseplants in wild array Costa Rica
Peperomias (the gold-ish plants with the brown-ish stalks) climbing on other plants Costa Rica
Gesnarids we're used to seeing in a pot festoon the trees. Costa Rica
plain old begonias are common Costa Rica
as are red bananas, many peeled open by animals or birds. Costa Rica
This species is very seedy so not used for people food. Costa Rica
Blooming bromiliads Costa Rica
some with seeds (unlike at home these have their proper pollinators: most likely hummingbirds, since bees don't see red) Costa Rica
And lots of orchids Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
... would you believe that it frequently took us a half hour to advance 20 feet along the road?  Costa Rica
No, this image isn't sideways -- the orchid is growing out of a vertical wall. Costa Rica
And then there were the plants that I've never seen at Home Depot Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
And even a frog Costa Rica
In the afternoon, back from our walk or adventures further afield, we would sit on the porch and watch the clouds come down the hillsides Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
Our first morning we headed out to Jardín Botánico Lankester in the bigger town of Cartago. This is our local Peñas Blancas neighborhood of the town of Cachí with Lago de Cachí below in the distance.
Yesterday's concrete truck incident was about 3 telephone poles down this slope from the Funeraria.
The hills opposite are the slopes of Volcán Irazú. Cartago is about 10 miles off to the left and outside this, the Orosí valley.
Costa Rica
Lots of vultures enjoying a morning thermal. Costa Rica
After some discussion with the GPS we reached our destination. The Jardín Botánico Lankester is run by the University of Costa Rica. Costa Rica
The initial landscaped grounds are full of exotic plants like this Bird Of Paradise (African). Costa Rica
As well as trees covered with local epiphytes. Costa Rica
The first stop is the orchid house where they start with a display of the showy blooming plants Costa Rica
...flanked by a couple of greenhouses crammed full of tables of less showy or non-blooming plants... Costa Rica
...lots and lots of species. Costa Rica
A portion of the property is given over to a Japanese garden, with water features, bridges, a function room and separate tea ceremony building... Costa Rica
... sculptures ... Costa Rica
and several species of bamboo Costa Rica
Then comes a "wild" area of second growth forest and unlabled plants Costa Rica
With hanging roots from figs and other epiphytes. Costa Rica
Next is a grotto of ferns Costa Rica
tall horsetails (fuzzy stuff in the middle) Costa Rica
And an especially photogenic tree fern Costa Rica
A path lined with traveler's palms and other banana relatives such as Costa Rica
the red banana we've seen before,
several species of Heliconia, Costa Rica
as well as several gingers Costa Rica
Circling back towards the entrance path leads through more houseplants on steroids. Costa Rica
to a very fine cactus and succulent garden. Costa Rica

The garden didn't offer much for food so we went a block away and across the street to a very nice restaurant, Casa Vieja.

The staff worked in creative ways to figure out which dishes could avoid Karen's food allergies.

Costa Rica
Casa Vieja was on a rise about 20 feet above the street level, so our views were unimpeded by traffic or its noise. Note the grey-ish dome centered in the left window. Costa Rica

It looked like a circus was setting up.

(we passed by here a few days later and it was gone...)

Costa Rica
On the way back from Cartago, we came to the adjacent edge of Paraíso and stopped at the ferreteria (hardware store). Bill, our AirBnB host, had advised us that that was where to go to get rainboots. Costa Rica

One "problem" (or "opportunity for adventure") when travelling in foreign lands is trying to figure out where to get common (or uncommon) items. After our La Paz Waterfall soggy experience, Dick had marched through Alajuela looking for boots, without success. With Bill's knowlege, we learned that hardware stores sell boots and animal feed stores sell rain coats.


Costa Rica
back to the Orosí valley. Costa Rica
With a stop at the Agricola (farming) store for rain-proof coats so we won't get so soaked. Costa Rica
Some of the few cats we've seen lounged about the Agricola's parking lot. Costa Rica
Now we're set for wet weather. Costa Rica
How will folks tell us apart?  Costa Rica
In the morning we head into town with Bill for some electrical parts to fix a light fixture. Costa Rica
We pass the site where the stuck cement truck had been (on our arrival in town) to see cattle now enjoying the mud. Costa Rica
past the old bridge (probably a victim of a Bombe de Agua) Costa Rica
across the new bridge Costa Rica Cachí's ferreteria and an interesting time trying to describe electrical parts in broken Spanish.
("Wire nut" just wasn't making it ... a botanical nut is "nuez". My pocket dictionaries simply didn't have "tuerca", which was still wrong).
Costa Rica
Repair completed, we drove to the end of our 300 meter driveway and turned right, instead of the usual left. We crossed a narrow bridge and the pavement became somewhat "occasional".
We bounced up and up the 2 kilometer road that led up into the immediately adjacent valley from "home".
We were seeking lunch ....
Costa Rica
Bill had recommended the restaurant at Hotel Quelitales. It is very good. We ate here 4 times. Costa Rica
We did have to contend with the geese guarding the parking lot. Costa Rica
We tended to dine slightly off the peak times... and always managed to be seated at the window table immediately to the right of this couple.   Costa Rica
They have their own trout pond to provide fish for some of their dishes. Costa Rica
As you wait for your meal the birds entertain you: tanagers, male and female Costa Rica
Clay-coloured robins come in too, attracted by fruit placed on the rail. Costa Rica
The food arrives. Karen loves the trout almandine. Dick has the house sweet-and-sour: Pollo Tropical, presented on a plate-sized slice of roasted pineapple. Costa Rica
We finished with an absolutely wonderful Mousse de Café while watching the hen try, and eventually succeed, in fluttering up to share the fruit with the other birds. Costa Rica
... we mentioned the Mousse de Café ... we ate there four times. Four mousses (meeces?). Forty photos of the room, the food, the fish, the birds, the surrounding terrain. You'd think we'd have gotten at least one of the mousse.
Our cameras simply couldn't respond quickly enough....
Costa Rica
We dropped down into town for groceries and spotted this rainbow on the way back. As can also be seen, Cachí itself has wide, paved, streets. Costa Rica
The clouds (and we) are in for the afternoon Costa Rica
Dick spends the time reading the owners manual for the car. (How many liters of fuel fit in there??)((54)). Costa Rica
With our new raingear in the back we set out the next morning for Tapanti National Park. Bill's property backs onto the park but there is no easy access nearby.
Down through Peñas Blancs...
Costa Rica
But instead of turning right to cross the dam, we turn left to circle around the bottom of the lake. The road takes us past shade-grown coffee Costa Rica
and across narrow bridges
("puente angosto" on the signs.. one end will usually have a "ceda" (yield) sign...)
Costa Rica
into another branch off the main Orosí valley. We've left the paved road for well-packed dirt.
Something we noticed throughout the trip was that tree shadows across the road seemed to collect potholes.
Costa Rica
... another bridge (note the patched wooden roadbed) Costa Rica
Occasional signs tell us we're in the right area. Costa Rica
The landslide looks recent and has moved the river-course. Costa Rica
We enter the park and drive to the furthest end Costa Rica
for the short trail to the viewpoint. Costa Rica
... er, short steep trail. Up the stairs we go. Costa Rica
... which are not quite so well maintained at the top. Given the number of fallen trees, rot, wind and rampant vegetation, we are surprised that the parks can keep the paths as well maintained as they do. Costa Rica
The view of the waterfall is well worth the climb Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
We drive back down a bit to the head of another trail, the Sendero La Catarata. Costa Rica
Although it's listed as a fairly long trail with a lot of altitude loss, we take it just a short way for a view of a different waterfall. Costa Rica
  Costa Rica

Some new plants and some old: (Heisteria, or naranjillo)

(noted while writing these pages... this looks quite a bit like the plastic single-flower hummingbird feeder we met at La Paz Waterfalls)

Costa Rica
Heliconia Costa Rica
? Costa Rica
very fine liverworts around the supports for the stairs Costa Rica
begonia Costa Rica
? Costa Rica
an arum (big heart-shapped leaves and red oblong inflorescence). Costa Rica
and lots of tree ferns. Costa Rica
Further down the road, at the head of Sendero Oropéndola, a loop trail down to the river.

(They didn't translate the sign's first message: don't enter the river and no swimming)
Costa Rica
The trail dropped over 300 feet to the river level...  Costa Rica
...with a quick re-route of the path through a fallen tree Costa Rica
and again Costa Rica
down to the picnic area Costa Rica
and the river Costa Rica
Apparently this is very popular with Ticos on the weekends
(Tico: an affectionate slang term for Costa Ricans)
Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
even flush toilets. Costa Rica

As with so many areas, the park had sections which had previously been farmed. Here's the old sugar cane plantation.

(other hikers said that half of the lower circular path was very muddy so we went back the way we came. Our boots were 300 feet above us in the trunk of the car.)

Costa Rica
We stopped at the small museum on the way out. Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
The rain held off till we were out of the park. It is hard to judge the depth of water-filled potholes. Costa Rica
The far side of the bridge was being worked on so we worried we might be stopped for a while but this stop-and-go was quick. Costa Rica

On the way back we stopped in Cachí at a hotel with restaurant on the lake, La Casona del Cafetal.

The guys on the roof were repairing a whole section.

Costa Rica
The outdoor seating was lovely Costa Rica

For a place set up to cater to busloads of tourists, it was quite good.

Karen's having a crepe, Dick's having chicken in tamarind sauce.

Costa Rica
And they had coffee ice cream (surprisingly difficult to find). Costa Rica
Being close to the shore of Lago Cachí, they had nice views Costa Rica
and a red passion flower in bloom Costa Rica
...and nice grounds to wander   Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
In the parking lot on the way out was a tree with a few oropéndola nests. The birds were being loud.
As they vocalized, they'd hold onto the branch and let their bodies drop from above the branch to swinging underneath it. Again and again.
Costa Rica
We didn't shoot this video, but it shows their behavior very well:
Driving out from La Casona del Cafetal we saw a tree with lots of oropéndola nests. Costa Rica

The Cartago-to-Cachí bus was frequently parked here when we went through Peñas Blancas in the afternoons.

Which brings up a related note on Costa Rican addresses: almost no houses have street numbers, even in cities. The addresses are more descriptive: "100 meters north from the post office on Calle 1", for example.
What brought this to mind at this juncture was a building permit posted at one of the houses near Bill's property. It gave as the address: "600 meters north of the last stop of the Cachí bus".
For that extra dash of confusion, "100 meters" is a colloquialism for "one block"... if there are blocks. The permitted building was 3 blocks, then an additional 300 meters.

Costa Rica
Tonight there was a bit of sunset rather than clouds. Costa Rica
In the morning we decided to try for the summit of Volcán Irazú. Costa Rica
Although most of the route was major wide paved roads, there was one spot where all of our maps (two paper, Google, Waze and the GPS) were vague and partially disagreed on the proper way to get from one highway to another. Unfortunately, we took the GPS (which seemed to agree with Google). This was the easy part of the connecting road. Karen was hanging on too tightly to take photos of the worst part. It had mud-filled potholes wider than the car. With farm equipment to add to the fun. That short (1 km?) road was the only time in the entire trip we switched on the car's locking differential to pull us through the mud holes (and yes, the worst was lurking in the shade of a tree). Costa Rica
Once we were on the tourist road up the volcano the road hazards diminished Costa Rica
... somewhat ... (he was tethered)  Costa Rica
We can tell we're getting high because of the radio towers Costa Rica
and we seem to be level with the tops of some of the clouds. Costa Rica


Parque Nacional Volcán Irazú

The path that starts at the question mark (?) goes along a fenced edge, and looks into the two more dramatic craters. Within that path's "loop" is Playa Hermosa (beautiful beach), a broad pumice plain with an occasional lake.

Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
Irazú is one of the few active volcano craters you can drive into, hopefully still dormant at the moment. Touists come by the bus-load. Costa Rica
Here's Playa Hermosa, the broad pumice-filled older crater: the person along the fence on the right can give a sense of scale. Those are full size trees on the far side. The actual summit of the mountain is just off-screen to the right. Costa Rica
The sky has the high altitude blue. Karen is short of breath at this 11,000-foot level. The radio tower is at the summit. Costa Rica
We all wander over to the "principal" crater: where they had the last eruption. Costa Rica
Over 900 feet deep, over 3400 feet wide.  Costa Rica
The last eruption was in 1994.  Costa Rica
After touring the craters, most people head back to the parking lot. Karen heads over to the plants. Costa Rica
You can drive or walk up to the highest point for a better view.
We drove.
Costa Rica
we're now up at the level of the radio tower in the previous photo (actually standing on the structure you'll see pictured in a bit) Costa Rica
If there were no clouds you might be able to see the Caribbean Sea. Costa Rica
Higher than the tops of the clouds today but very windy and cool.
11,260 feet.
Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
This structure is strange but lets you see a bit more. Costa Rica
It has an even stranger sign in front of it.
(that's "restored", not restaurant)
Costa Rica
Playa Hermosa   Costa Rica
Peaks peeking?  Costa Rica
On the way out we stopped at the gift shop Costa Rica
One of their offerings: an interesting canned beverage. Costa Rica
Back down into the clouds we go. Costa Rica
I think I can see the Lago de Cachí in the far distance (center left just at the start of the deeper green) Costa Rica
Our more familiar view of Cachí
(The climb up and out, and then the drop back down, became our "commute route")
Costa Rica
For lunch we ended up at Quelitales again. The guard geese were napping. Costa Rica
An Asian-themed chicken dish. The chef is also the owner of the hotel.  Costa Rica

We were entertained by an oropéndola


Costa Rica
He would lean forward and give their distinctive gurgling call every few minutes. example Costa Rica

Home again, Dick theatrically pushes the gate open.

(co-author's note: we do try to keep the navigator amused)

Costa Rica
Next morning we do laundry at Bill's house Costa Rica
and look at the scouring one of the recent Bombe de Aguas gave to the stream on the far side of his house. Costa Rica
This one was rated as a "30 year event" and took out the pipes leading from the municipal water supply.  Costa Rica
That afternoon Bill and his friend Rosalie take us on a trip in the mule Costa Rica
accompanied by his older dog, Luna. Costa Rica
The mule puttered up the hill to the pasture that topped the ridge Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
We can see the white cliffs that give Peñas Blancas its name. A friend of Bill's, who has a house in the next valley at the base of the white cliffs, expects the house will be buried in a landslide within 20 years. Costa Rica
The top-of-ridge pasture isn't exactly flat. Nor were its occasional bovine inhabitants in evidence. (Evidence of recent past occupancy dictated watching our steps)
The four of us spent an hour chatting about many aspects of Costa Rican and ex-pat life. 
Costa Rica
Above us were Vultures enjoying the air. Costa Rica
There was sunnier weather across the valley, and Volcán Irazú was in the clear. Costa Rica
After the trip the mule dropped us off at home Costa Rica
and the weather closed in. Costa Rica
The next morning we spent walking around Bill's property, then bounced up the road to Quelitales (again) for lunch. The parking lot attendants were still on duty. Costa Rica
Entertainment was provided by an unknown blue bird and female tanager discussing bananas, Costa Rica
and a nearby male tanager comparison shopping, Costa Rica
with an oropéndola finale. Costa Rica
Then we bumped back down, and took the commute route up to the Mirador Ujarrás (mirador=view point), a free public park. Costa Rica
The Mirador's park included a paved interior square with benches. Costa Rica
The tree at the end of the square was blooming, Karen thinks it looks Australian. Costa Rica
Beyond and below the square was a broad grassy space. This is where the Ticos and families spread out for picnicing. We enjoyed the view too. Costa Rica
With a telescope we could probably almost see the Peñas Blancas bus stop (up to the left and branch to the right at the end). Costa Rica
The Mirador looks down upon the village of Ujarrás. Its claim to fame is this ruined church, the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción. The church was built on the site of a previous shrine built around a found image of the Virgin Mary in 1580. Then the English Pirate Henry Morgan pillaged the area in 1666. The Virgin was credited for a successful replusion of the attack, and this church was built over the next 3 years. In 1833 floods convinced the government to abandon the village and move the inhabitants (and image) up hill to Paraíso. Some guidebooks credit the recently-restored facade as the oldest church building in the country. The town of Orosí, at the other end of the lake, does have the oldest still-operating church in the country, built in 1743. Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
Dick was somewhat impressed by the ornamentation of the property across the street. Costa Rica
But on the Mirador's side, just below the grassy park, these figures flanked their owner's property's gate. Costa Rica
Back down at the dam, we found a weekend farmers' market going on. Costa Rica
So we stopped and shopped...  Costa Rica
... the trucks were soooo tempting.... but Dick bought a hat, instead.  Costa Rica
A broken pipe joint made rainbows at the dam. Costa Rica
On foot we could see more details of the dam's spillways.  Costa Rica
Floating water hyacinths covered the lake's surface at the top Costa Rica
and they're in bloom. So pretty. So invasive. Costa Rica
Looking downriver, we see more rainbows in the outflow spray Costa Rica
  Costa Rica
There were things to see in the traffic flow, too. Someone is getting a new bed. Costa Rica
The usual drive-by view of the dam.
Remember the Bomba de Aguas that scoured our hillside? During the recent storm that did so much damage to Bill's property there were others on the surrounding hillsides. The lake filled with floating trees and bushes. They opened the dam and completely drained to lake so that the flotsam could be taken out.
Then they closed the dam, and it only took two weeks to refill the lake.
Costa Rica
back home, gate duties again.
The bends in the gate's metal are from the same Bomba de Aguas.
Costa Rica
to spend the afternoon reading and watching the birds Costa Rica
not even many clouds in the evening. Costa Rica
Next morning we decided to go to the bigger town of Paraíso to mail our postcards. Here's Paraíso's cathedral, facing the central square. Costa Rica
Some of the very noisy flock parrots in the palm trees by the church Costa Rica
Can you see them now? Costa Rica
We spent an hour or so just walking around the town's central district... in part because we couldn't find the post office. We kept orbiting the block that Google Maps identified as its location, occasionally asking for directions. Finally a helpful person walked us the half-block-and-a-turn and showed us that it was deep inside a small shopping mall.
Given our wanderings, we had a chance to discover many of the smaller features of Paraíso, such as its ornamented sidewalk tiles.
Costa Rica
A pretty manhole cover ... I think that's water in a pipe, not a comet. The inscription translates to roughly "culvert of the municipal river" Costa Rica
Looking up a bit, we saw colorful wares Costa Rica

colorful signs.

Costa Rica
... and what may be the world's tiniest McDonalds...
It was a closet-sized booth facing the street, selling only McCafé drinks and soft-serve ice cream cones. The space behind it was a children's clothing and school uniforms shop.
Costa Rica
Mission accomplished and heading home, we encountered (and had time to photograph) a typical coincidence of pedestrian exactly where you're trying to deal with passing (or wide) traffic. Costa Rica
Another little spot of our neighborhood we had been trying to get a photo of. Costa Rica
once home the weather really closed in
and it started to pour.
We stayed in and packed...





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