Travel Blog for Fredrik and Gunnhild

Costa Rica

Tamarindo

We had decided that we wanted to spend Christmas with our friends at Hotel Villa 20141227-1Amarilla in Tamarindo, Costa Rica (as we did two years ago). We had booked a shared shuttle all the way from Granada to Tamarindo, but we were the only passengers. Nice! We arrived at the border earlier than expected, but after crossing on foot we had to wait more than an hour before our Costa Rican shuttle turned up, so it took us 6 hours in total.

When we arrived we got a very warm welcome from TJ, Cinde and their family, guests and dogs. We bought some beer 20141223-1and got ready for a hotel tradition; watching the sunset together by the gate to the beach. Beautiful as always! The hotel itself looked even better than we remembered it; colorful, charming and fun with quite a few upgrades, better furniture, more hammocks, bananas and coconuts growing in the garden and new and beautiful paintings on the walls.

As planned we spent most of our time here in the garden, relaxing in the hammocks, 20141227-1-2talking to other guests, going for a swim or two, watching the surfers, having a massage, playing with the dogs and of course watching the sunset every night. After a week in warm cities this was truly paradise! A micro brewery (Volcano Brewing) had opened since our last visit, and of course we went there a couple of times. We also found a few other craft beers in stores and restaurants.

On Christmas eve we gathered in the garden to watch a couple of Christmas movies. We both called home using Skype, and it was nice to be able to say Merry Christmas to our families “face to face“. It was a very windy Christmas in Tamarindo, so the best surfers had a blast20141224-1 in the big waves. Great fun to watch as well. The Christmas dinner was a bit different from what we’re used to. We ordered pizza for everyone, and gathered around the ping pong table. We brought some Norwegian Aquavit from home, that we shared with everyone, thought them “God jul” and “Skål” and had a great evening. We smoked a couple of cigars bought at the factory in Nicaragua and Cinde had bought some sky lanterns where we all wrote some wishes and later went to the beach to release them in to the sky. Quite beautiful. We ended the evening in a local bar/night club at the beach.

On our last full day in Tamarindo we went on a scuba diving trip to Catalina Island (one of the best sites in the world for manta rays and other large rays). We were 5 people and an Italian instructor driving from Tamarindo to Playa Flamingo (25 minutes) where the boat was located. It turned out that they were renting space on a boat from another company, and there were several other groups joining us as well. Since everyone in our group were certified divers, we even ended up with a guide instead of the instructor. The skill level turned out to vary a lot though, so there was quite a bit of waiting involved. We actually “lost” a diver in both dives (it was rough conditions with wind and strong currents), and had to wait for the guide bringing them back to the group. We were diving in a thin, short wetsuit (not thick, full wetsuit as in the Galapagos), so the amount of weights needed was a guess, and Gunnhild didn’t have enough on the first dive. This was still the best dive of the day with a large group of huge stingrays swimming just below us, and some large eagle rays just above.

No manta rays though, since the season for them was just getting started. Too bad! On the second dive Fredrik and another diver spent most of their air trying to secure the anchor, so we didn’t have much time to explore. The boat trip back to the shore was really rough and the boat was not really built for waves like that, so heavy equipment started to move around. We spent the entire trip back holding scuba sylinders and other stuff in place while constantly getting showered by waves going over the boat. Not our best dives, but our first as certified divers, and a good confirmation that we have been trained well and can handle rough conditions.

20141224-1-2The next morning we packed our bags so that we where ready for our next adventure. The trip to Tamarindo was a small detour, but we were both glad that we went back to Villa Amarilla. It’s still one of the few places where we can truly relax, and the location and the people are still superb. We were picked up at 11 am. It was sad to say goodbye, but we know that we are always welcome back, and of course it helps to have one more month of travelling to look forward to.

Christmas day in San José

We enjoyed our last hours in Tamarindo to the fullest, but at 1130 it was time to say goodbye and leave for the airport. We had such a great time here and met so many great people, so it was sad to go, but we will stay in touch with everyone, and hopefully go back one day. The tiny airport in Tamarindo was only a 5 minute drive from the hotel, and was very basic with two check-in counters and some outdoor benches. Our flight was a bit delayed, so we relaxed with a book in the shadow. We had a direct flight to San Jóse in a small Cessna with 12 seats.

We took a taxi to the hotel, checked in and went down to the restaurant for some lunch. But the restaurant at the hotel was closed and so was pretty much the rest of the city. So we ended up at Sportsmen’s Lounge where we not only got some lunch, but also got to taste two craft beers from Costa Rica. We startet talking to a couple sitting at the bar tasting the same beer, and it turned out they both worked at a brewery in Michigan. Great people! They wanted to go to a place with some more music, people and dancing later, and we agreed to meet at a place suggested by the bartender at 8 pm. In the meantime we went back to change our clothes (it’s a bit colder here than in Tamarindo, only 21 degrees celsius), and went for a walk in the city to try to buy some gifts to bring to Cuba. But we only found a few stores that were open, so we only got a couple of the things on our list. Let’s hope for better luck at the airport tomorrow.

At 8 pm we went to the club as planned, but it was not open yet, so we went back to Sportsmen’s Lounge which was the only place we knew was open. We had some bar snack and another beer, before heading back to the hotel to finish our Costa Rica blog. Tomorrow morning we go to Cuba, and will most likely be completely offline until January 8th.

Christmas in Tamarindo

We had ordered a shuttle to pick us up at the hostel in La Fortuna at 8 am, the morning persons as we are, we grabbed a fast breakfast before leaving. It was a long drive but better roads than the drive from Monteverde. We arrived at Villa Amarilla around 1 pm. Several of the same people were still there, and we got a very warm welcome. So nice :-).

We went out for a quick lunch, we had decided to go to the best sushi in town, but that was closed. We ended up eating in a pizza place. The rest of the day was swimming and total relaxation. In the evening we went to the Lazy Wave, to taste stingray and the best see bass in Costa Rica. We were not disappointed. Later on we sat in the backyard chatting and having fun. We took an early night.

On Christmas eve we had a late breakfast bought at the supermarket and around 12 pm Fredrik went out to rent a beginners surfboard. He came back with a big board with soft edges, so now it was time to start learning. Lisa (another guest at the hotel) showed us the basics at the beach and then we got into the water. Fredrik was able to stand up on the board tree times 🙂 Gunnhild managed 1 time. It was fun but tiring. A group from the hotel had left early that day to go fishing with TJ. They came home with a big Amber Jack and we had a big dinner in the evening where everyone were invited. The best Christmas eve we could imagine on this side of the Atlantic. Perfect! We also got to talk with some family back home using Skype. It was fun to see the snow and the Christmas decorations, but even more fun to show them the beautiful surroundings we had.

 

La Fortuna

Our last day in Monteverde we also woke up early, this time mainly because of heavy rain and wind. So we took our time packing, checking out and chatting with the other guest. When it cleared up we took a hike to a strangler tree the other guests went to before we arrived. The people at the casa were more than willing to take us there for free, but we decided to go on our own. It didn’t look far at all on the map, but since most roads in Monteverde are very, very steep, it was a good hike, especially after hiking all day the day before as well. The host tree that the strangler tree was growing around had died, so it had a hollow core which could be climbed. Sadly it was very slippery after all the rain in the morning so we didn’t dare climbing it all the way to the top, but it was still cool though.

On the way back we stopped for pizza and went back to the casa to say goodbye to everyone before our shuttle at 2 pm. It turned out that 4 other guests had decided to join us in the shuttle, so we got a “private” car the first part of the trip. The road to Lake Arenal was very scenic, but also very bumpy. When we got there we had to wait almost 30 minutes for the boat that would take us to the other side. In this boat we were also joined by people from another big shuttle bus. Some of them were standing outside in the front to take pictures and look at the view, but they all came in when a wave totally soaked all of them. On the other side of the lake we were all crammed into one bus with way to much luggage in the back, so some bags fell down but no one was hurt.

We arrived at Arenal Hostel Resort at 5:30 pm, and we got a nice room with good views towards the volcano (except that it was very cloudy and we couldn’t see anything). We got a free welcome drink in the bar which was very good, and after that ordered our favorite local beer, Bavaria Dark. We went for a walk around the city (which is not very big) and went back to the hotel for a small dinner and a couple of more beers. By this time the bartender had filled up the fridge with Bavaria Dark, hoping that we would stay there all night. Instead we went to bed early, planning to do two tours the next day.

Again we woke up to heavy rain, so we had to change our plans. We had breakfast by the pool, relaxed in the rocking chairs outside our room and finally got up to date on the travel blog. We also got our laundry done and had a great lunch with jumbo shrimps in pineapple sauce and a local dish with rice and chicken. It started to clear up, and we were even able to see the top of the Arenal volcano for a short time.

At 3 pm we went on a canopy / zip line tour to Paraiso. We were the only two people in the tour, and had 3 guides following us around. We started with a short walk through the rain forest before arriving at the first zip line platform. The guides showed us how to do it, checked our gear and sent us off the platform. Fun! In total there were 12 platforms and some of the zip lines were over 350 meters long and 80 meters high. The canopy is located at the canyon of the Arenal River, so we also got great views. We went past two waterfalls, over the river, sometimes over the treetops, other times below or between. On the way we saw two sloths, a snake, a tucan and several other birds. At the bottom we were picked up by a tractor and had a bumpy ride back to the entrance, where a car was waiting and took us back to the hostel. We walked towards the bar, and the bartender remembered us from last night and found two Bavaria Dark before we had time to sit down. At 6 pm they started happy hour, but only on the cheaper beer, but compared to back home the beer is more than cheap enough on full price as well, so that was not a problem. A lot of people gathered around the bar and the pool in the evening, so we stayed there all night, talking to great people from all over the world and giving some recommendations to the people going to Monteverde the next day.

 

Monteverde

Our last day in Tamarindo (for now) started with a morning swim and a breakfast in the garden. Suddenly a howler monkey came climbing over the fence, crossing the lawn and going into the bushes. One of the other guests tried to feed him with bananas, but he backed off pretty quickly after a mean stare and a scary howl from the monkey. We had a lot of fun watching them climbing around in the trees though. We also had a large lizard relaxing on the roof. At 11 am, Zak and Jesse left to go home to Salt Lake City. We had such a great time together and will definitely stay in touch!

We still had a few hours before we were leaving, so we went for a walk in the city and on the beach, found a crocodile in a small pond by the beach and had some ice cream and fruit at one of the beach bars to cool down. At 2 pm we were picked up by our shuttle that we shared with 4 other people. After a few hours we stopped in a small village where two of the passengers were getting off.

We had a break here and noticed that there were quite a bit of wildlife in the trees. We saw three large parrots, monkeys with babies and lots of other birds. The last part of the ride to Monteverde was very bumpy and we were going up and down steep gravel roads with plenty of curves. We finally arrived in Santa Elena around 6.30 pm and got a warm welcome at Casa Traquilo.

The owners were taking most of the other guests on a hike to a hot spring shortly after we arrived, but we needed to unpack, find some warmer clothes and get something to eat, so we did not join them. We had dinner in the Tree House Restaurant which is built around a large tree and stopped by the supermarket on our way back to buy some beers and a bottle of wine. We had some wine and tried to read a bit in our guidebook, but we soon got too tired and went to bed early.

 

The next morning we woke up really early, since our room had ceiling windows with no curtains and it got pretty light in there. Bread, eggs, fresh fruit etc. was available in the kitchen all day so we could make our own breakfast whenever we wanted. We decided to go to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve for a hike, and one of the other guests (Henrik from Sweden) decided to join us. We took a taxi to the entrance, got a map and a suggested itinerary and started walking. In the beginning it was very cloudy, so we didn’t see much from the lookouts. We changed the itinerary to go deeper into the Reserve and on natural paths instead, and we started spotting a lot of birds, butterflies and insects. It was very steep and quite slippery in a few places, but after a lot of relaxing it was quite good with some exercise. We also went over a very high hanging bridge, and stopped at a beautiful waterfall. We walked most of the trails, in total around 8 km.

After leaving the Reserve we stopped at the Hummingbird Gallery where masses of different hummingbirds were flying around, visiting feeding dispensers filled with sugared water. We took loads of pictures before tasting some local coffee. We decided to walk back to the casa as well (around 5 km), and spotted an animal crossing the road. We didn’t have time to take a good picture, but got one from a distance so we can figure out what it was.

Back at the casa we were told that they would have an End-of-the-world-barbecue in the evening, so all the guests went shopping for food and drinks, and we all had a great time preparing everything. We all gathered in the backyard, some brought drums and guitars, and later in the evening we got our travel speakers. Several people from the neighborhood and some tourists from other hotels also joined us at that time. It was very international and very fun, and luckily the world didn’t end after all.

Tamarindo 2

We did not get up very early the next day, and things did not go very fast. We ended up cooking our own breakfast bought at the super marked in the kitchen at the hotel. We had a few swims, laying in the hammock relaxing, reading books, talking to TJ (the other owner of the hotel) and in the afternoon watching the beautiful sunset. In the evening we went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. Later we sat at the patio with Zak, sharing traveling stories and got early to bed.

Another lazy morning, but we got out of the hotel for breakfast at a cozy beach bar. We had booked a sunset snorkeling sail trip (also known as booze cruise) with Zak and Jesse and went out on the boat around 1 pm. When we got there they told us that they had 40 cases of beer and we agreed that we should do what we could to empty their coolers.They also had a special drink that seemed to get stronger and stronger during the trip. When we got to the snorkeling ground we got disappointed because the snorkeling was not very good, but we still had a great time in the net at the front of the catamaran and met a lot of nice people from around the world. The sunset was also a bit disappointing since we were almost on shore when the sun sat, and it actually looked better from the beach by Villa Amarilla.

When we arrived back at the hotel the gate to the beach was closed so we had to climb over, but that was not a problem for four “young” people getting off a booze cruise 🙂 Off course we could have walked around and used the key on the other side of the hotel… We found what we had of beer and tequila to continue the party in the garden. TJ came and joined us with his bottle of tequila and we had a great evening with plenty of laughs. We actually enjoyed it so much that we decided to cancel two nights in La Fortuna and come back to Tamarindo and Villa Amarilla for Christmas instead. Can’t think of a better place to celebrate!

Tamarindo

Tamarindo

In the morning after a significantly smaller breakfast than we got in Bocas, we ordered a private taxi to take us to Tamarindo (one hour drive). We got to Hotel Villa Amarilla around 1pm, and got a tequila shot with one of the owners (Cinde) at arrival :-). We immediately fell in love with this place, it had a big garden with hammocks and sitting areas in the shadow for complete relaxation and in a corner of the garden they have massage. We got a big room with three beds and a small fridge. Amarilla is located on the beach, so to get in the water we had to walk about 5 meters on high tide and 30 meters on low tide. During the day we watched the surfers, walked on the beach and off course had a swim.

At sunset we had a good risotto with lobster dinner on a beach restaurant two minutes walk from the hotel. We had scheduled a turtle watching tour this evening and got picked up by the hotel at time. We were told that there was few leatherbacks, so we couldn’t expect to see any of those, but there should be 95 present chance to see black turtles. They are smaller, but still quite big turtles. We walked to the end of the beach to have the moon shine helping us spot the turtles when they came up of the water. On the walk to the end of the beach we walked by a few big hatching holes (1.5 meter in diameter) one with hatched eggs from yesterday. We ended up seeing 3 black turtles but no hatching 🙁

When we got back to the hotel, we started talking to Zak, Jesse and Sharon. This talk ended up with playing Norwegian music until 3 am with a lot of beer and tequila. Nice!

Liberia

We got up and checked out before 7 am, and it felt way too early for breakfast. But Jack had made us a “small portion” which looked and smelled too good to skip. We said goodbye and took a taxi to the airport. The check-in process was quite chaotic, and we were sent from office to office to pay departure taxes, get boarding passes, go through customs and immigration. In the security check Fredrik were chatting with the security guard about Norway and went straight through. Gunnhild on the other hand had to unpack all electronics and give away 3 lighters. No problem, since Fredrik still had two. 😉

We were 19 people (full plane) in a small Twin Otter to San José, and got some good views of Bocas del Toro after take off. In San José we arrived at a very small terminal with mainly helicopters and private planes in addition to the small Nature Air planes. Immigration, baggage claim, security and customs were all in a small room, but with only 19 people it went pretty smoothly.

After a couple of hours our flight to Liberia was boarding. When we booked it it was only going to Liberia, but now it turned out that it would continue to Tamarindo which was our next main destination. Too late to change the tickets, so we got off in Liberia, picked up our bags by the plane and walked to the terminal. We found an ATM and got 100.000 colones (felt like a lot of money but equals 200 USD). We got a taxi to Liberia Hotel which is in Calle Real, half a block from the main square.

We had read that Liberia was a charming colonial town, but it was only a few buildings and after visiting Cuba last year it was not very impressive. It was nice to be in a more genuine city again though, and we walked around most of the city center. It was very, very hot, but there was a cool breeze all the time which made it bearable. In the evening we had our own little beer tasting session in the back yard of our hotel with all the different local beer we could find in the super market. The winner was without a doubt Bavaria Dark.

Looking forward to Christmas

This Christmas will be celebrated in Central America. We will fly in to Panama City from Amsterdam; from there we will go to Boca del Toro. This should be perfect for watersport.

After Boca we will leave Panama for Costa Rica where we will start with turtle watching :). Then we will travel inland up to the cloud forest and volcanos. After six days we will travel by bus to San Jose and from there we will fly to Cuba.

If we can manage to get a casa particular in Santiago de Cuba we will fly down and celebrate New Year and National Liberation Day (January 1st) there, and from there go to Baracoa which are the oldest city in Cuba. The last days we will go to “Tobacco land”, Pinar del Rio, where we hope to meet up with José and Daniel who we met the last time we visited Cuba.


Destination Arrival
1 Panama City, Panama 8 December, 2012
2 Bocas del Toro, Panama 11 December, 2012
3 Liberia, Costa Rica 15 December, 2012
4 Tamarindo, Costa Rica 16 December, 2012
5 Monteverde, Costa Rica 19 December, 2012
6 La Fortuna, Costa Rica 21 December, 2012
7 San Jose, Costa Rica 25 December, 2012
8 Havana, Cuba 26 December, 2012
9 Santiago de Cuba, Cuba 28 December, 2012
10 Baracoa, Cuba 2 January, 2013
11 Havana, Cuba 4 January, 2013
12 Pinar del Rio, Cuba 5 January, 2013