Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Chased by monkeys and ambushed by a racoon

Seeing the turtles was one of the highlights of my trip so far, but after that it was back to La Fortuna for a night before transferring to Monteverde the next morning. I was now travelling for a bit with a Danish girl called Mette who was on the turtle tour who was going in the same direction. Rather than spend five hours catching two buses to get to Monteverde, we did the Jeep-Boat-Jeep option. This unfortunately wasn't jeep in the strictest sense of the word, it was in fact jeep in the minibus sense of the word, so not quite what it said on the tin. But nevertheless the boat ride across Laguna Arenal was pleasant, and it did save some time for not a massive amount of extra expense.

Did some more zip lining again that afternoon - Monetverde was where this craze all began apparently. It was quite a good one as it included a rappel and a tarzan swing as well as some pretty long zip lines. There was one that if you went on your own you'd probably get stuck in the middle about 300m from either end, so Mette had the dubious pleasure of having my legs wrapped round her for the duration of the zip. I'm sure she was honoured. I was also responsible for braking, something she probably would have been less happy about had she ever seen me drive.
Can't help thinking that health and safety on this one wasn't as good as in La Fortuna. Rather than getting a custom made leather mit to brake with using your right hand, we got a gardening glove with a piece of leather glued to it. We weren't clipped onto anything when transferring between platforms either, but I somehow managed not to do anything stupid and everything was fine. That evening met up with Martin from Preston again for some drinks as he was in the same hostel.

Next day did some wildlife viewing. Started by doing a tour round the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This was interesting. Saw monkeys, tarantulas, a hummingbird and loads of different types of plant. We could only see the hummingbird through the guides telescope type thing and he took pictures through it. Unfortunately he changed all the settings on my camera to be able to take them and being a technological idiot, it took me ages to work out what he'd changed.

Interesting facts from the trip were
- hummingbirds use spiders webs in their nests so the nest expands as their young grow
- wasps kill tarantulas and lay their eggs inside, which later burst out Alien style
- epiphyte trees grow from top to bottom, i.e. roots grow down the host tree and then into the ground, only killing the host tree when it has laid its own roots

Anyway David Bellamy routine over. On the way back walked down a pretty steep hill to go look at the San Luis waterfall, but not for the first time with my navigation we didn't find it. It was definitely signposted down there but think the proper good view was the next turn.

Went on some hanging bridges in the afternoon, which are rope bridges over the tops of the trees (the sort of bridges that keep breaking in Indiana Jones films). The bridges held though, nor did they really wobble much which was disappointing (unlike the one over the Thames), and as it was raining we didn't see much wildlife either. But it was ok.

Did a night tour too, and saw more tarantulas and funnelweb spiders amongst other things. It started raining half way through so put my hood up, but when it stopped I took it down. It then rained again but I was less keen to put it up because I wasn't sure what spiders etc might have landed in there in the meantime.

Mette departed next morning as she was off home. I hiked round the Santa Elena Reserve which was a decent few km. It chucked it down with rain the whole time, and the bus that takes you back down every 3 hours helpfully failed to turn up. The waiting time was passed though by watching some pig that was just hanging around - perhaps it was waiting for the bus too. But soaking wet with no dry clothes I was getting pretty cold so started walking the 6km back to the hostel as it was the only way to get warm, but managed to hitch two different lifts to the bottom which was pretty handy. They're friendly these Costa Rican folks.

All wildlifed out it was time to head to the beach, so up at the crack of dawn to get a bus to Puntarenas to then connect to a bus to Quepos. Had lost all circulation in my legs on this bus as there really was no leg room. As usual apparently with Central America, it would be too sensible to have a bus station, so we were dropped in a different part of town to where the next bus went from. Have to own up to a bit of following everyone else as didn't fully understand the directions from the bus driver.

Quepos is the town where lots of people to stay to go to the beaches and national park at Manuel Antonio half an hour down the road. Went down there when I arrived but the afternoon rains came so cut it short.
Next day though set off early to beat the rain and hike round the national park and check out the beaches there. Were some really nice walks there. Was walking a bit behind some couple when we saw some monkeys jumping through the trees. They obviously got spooked by something though because a load of them jumped down onto the path and started snarling at us. Perhaps they didn't like my deodorant. Then a couple of them came for us, so we started running. Fortunately this other couple were between me and the monkeys acting as a kind of human shield. Obviously the monkeys would have caught us had they wanted to! After a brief discussion about the film Outbreak - these were the same white faced monkeys as the film - we decided to backtrack and take an alternative trail. Monkeys 1 Humans 0.

There were some nice beaches there though. Some white faced monkeys did appear on one of the beaches I was on, but I kept a safe distance and naturally made sure I was hiding behind other tourists. The guide book said the monkeys are notorious for stealing food from peoples stuff, and at one point it looked like they were performing a classic flanking manoeuvre on a couple of people: two monkeys play around and pose for photos while a couple more sneak round the back and raid the picnic basket, but I don't think the monkeys had seen enough Yogi bear cartoons and the sandwiches were safe.

Later on I was lying on another beach using my bag as a headrest just chilling reading my book minding my own business when I heard a noise and turned round to find a racoon about a foot from my face. I'd made the mistake of leaving my bag open a couple of inches and it was having a rummage. Being scared of pretty much all animals I was on my feet in a flash, but the racoon just carried on. When I pulled my bag away it even held on for a second or two with its teeth. Realising that it wasn't getting its lunch off me, it casually wandered off to ambush other unsuspecting tourists (most of whom had been watching this little episode with great amusement, seeing the tall guy get bullied by a racoon). Racoon 1 Pete 0. Was pretty funny 'interacting' with the animals though!

Next day I headed back to San Jose and decided I wanted to see a volcano after my failed effort in Fortuna. Would definitely recommend Directo buses if they're available as they don't stop every 100m to pick people up like every other bus I'd taken in Costa Rica so far. Just wondered around San Jose that afternoon. Went to the Museum of Pre-Colombian Gold and went inside the very plush Teatro Nacional. Was going to go to the Museo Nacional to learn about how Costa Rica was colonized but it was closed so the most cultural thing I found to do instead was do a price and menu comparison between the UK and Costa Rica for McDonalds, KFC and Burger King. Brief conclusions are as follows
- its slightly cheaper but not massively
- there don't appear to be any Costa Rica specific burgers (unlike in Oz where you get the imaginatively titled Aussie Burger)
- Costa Ricans don't like spicy food that much as they didn't do the Zinger Tower burger. Disgraceful

For those wondering, I didn't do the triple crown, i.e. have a meal from all three in a single day. Chilled in the hostel in the evening and chatted to an American biologist called Katharine who now lives in Ecuador.

Last day in Costa Rica I did the 4-in-1 tour. Started with a tour of a coffee plantation, then onto Volcan Poas. My record of not seeing volcanoes almost continued but we were lucky enough to see into the crater for about 30 seconds before the clouds rolled in and that was it. You have to get there before 10 or you'll never see it because of the clouds. Also quite lucky because if the wind was blowing in the other direction, you pretty much have to run to the viewpoint, take a quick few photos and run back again as the smell of sulphur is too overpowering.

After Poas we stopped off at a shop where we got plied with numerous samples of alcohol in the hope we'd buy something, all at 10.30am. Somewhat out of character, I bought some nice fresh strawberries instead of booze. It was then onto La Paz waterfall gardens where we saw toucans, parrots, hummingbirds and monkeys amongst other things.

The waterfalls were pretty picturesque. Next time you go to a waterfall, stare at the same spot for 20 seconds, then look at your hand as it looks like your fingers are growing, or look to the side of the waterfall as it appears to be climbing too.

The 4th attraction was a boat trip to spot wildlife. This was much like the trips in Tortuguero, so didn't see much I hadn't seen already....except for an osprey carrying a big fish under its wing.

An observation on Costa Rica: They get hot showers by attaching some contraption to the showers which heats the water as it goes through. It does involve a lot of electric wires in very close proximity to water; can´t help thinking that it might raise a few health and safety eyebrows back in Blighty.

In terms of my Spanish, I have been making an effort, in that I have been using it to buy bus tickets and food etc where I can. I have once or twice slipped into the Steve McClaren method of talking English in a Spanish accent with Spanish mannerisms, but am not yet ready to fully adopt that approach as I think I´m progressing ok albeit pretty slowly with the actual language.

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