02
Jun

Fly Me To The Moon

By: muttler
atlantis!

atlantis!

 

30/04/2017

Believe it or not, we interrupted our Disney experience just one day in to head to a new destination, one I was super excited about… NASA at Kennedy Space Centre! Time to be an astronaut!

 

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It was about an hour away so we jumped in the car and had a cruisey drive there. In some respects I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that it was what my 8 year old self was looking forward to. So in we went and were immediately greeted with a “Rocket Garden”… a big open space full of used rockets from different parts of the space program. So cool! I even got to jump into a capsule and pretend I was plummeting to Earth.

 

an astronaut!

an astronaut!

 

Early on in the day we got to experience something I had not expected we would be able to do, which was to hear a talk by a former astronaut. A real astronaut! Jerry Ross completed 7 shuttle missions and was there to give us a run down of what it was like to be an astronaut. To be so close (and meet!) someone who had been in space that many times, and completed a number of space walks to go with that, was pretty nuts.

 

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From there, we went off to see one of the coolest things at the centre, the actual Atlantis space shuttle. A REAL space shuttle! This was easily one of the coolest displays I had ever seen (spoilers coming up!). After watching a short film on massive screens, the final shot slowly faded to reveal the real shuttle hiding behind, which you would then walk through where the screen was to find the Atlantis hanging from the ceiling. Damn, it was amazingly spine tingling.

 

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We only had a little time to explore the Atlantis and its story before we needed to be heading to the check in point for our optional tour that we had booked on. We were going to be visiting the NASA mission control centre! So on to a bus we hopped and headed out of the complex toward the rocket launch areas.

 

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spacex!

spacex!

 

Today were very fortunate, as that morning SpaceX was scheduled to launch from one of the actual launch pads we were to see. A “sensor error” meant that it didn’t launch and it was there sitting on the launch pad waiting for us to see it! While we couldn’t get too close, we could indeed see it there, ready for the next mornings launch. Now THAT is cool.

 

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"audio bird deterrent system"

“audio bird deterrent system”?

 

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We then arrived at the main NASA building housing the control centre, which was very tight with security. After going through more checks, in we went and up to the 3rd floor. There we got to enter the mission control centre, in all its 70’s vibe and glory. It was amazing to think that here was the place where countless missions were launched and monitored, and where many dramas had unfolded.

While we couldn’t do too much in there due to security, we did get to spend a bit of time and hear quite a bit more about its place in history. It was fascinating to hear that it is now used mostly by private companies such as SpaceX for their launches. That’s the way of the world these days I guess.

 

old school

old school

 

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From there we were dropped off at the other main display area, home to many other pieces of history such as lunar rovers, capsules and the like. Sadly our day was fast disappearing, and so we just got to have a quick wander and soak it all up.

In no time at all, a full day had disappeared. I didn’t have too much idea of what to expect to be honest, but it was amazing. We could easily have come back to spend another whole day as we didn’t have the time to enjoy every exhibit fully, or even watch any of the many IMAX features that were showing.

 

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So at 6pm it was back in the car and back to Pop Century. As we arrived, I found a surprise waiting for me… Kate had organised a surprise birthday present for me! The door was adorned with Mickey and inside was an amazing gift parcel for me including presents and cake. It totally blindsided me and was a super sweet surprise 馃檪

And then it was time for bed. Every day was proving to be jam packed full and we had to get to bed for another early morning.

02
Jun

Into The Disney Bubble

By: muttler
back at the magic kingdom

back at the magic kingdom

 

29/04/2017

A mere 26 hours of travel and we are officially into the first phase of our trip… into the Disney bubble!

Florida is indeed quite a ways from home. Melbourne to Sydney to San Fransisco to Orlando is no easy feat. But the travel gods smiled down on us, and we had a relatively smooth trip with no dramas, so while a little tired, we would take that.

We grabbed our rental car at the airport and headed to to our digs for the week, which was the Disney Pop Century Resort hotel. Kate and I debated a bit about where to stay near the Disney parks. I wasn’t that sold on staying at a Disney branded hotel, but Kate sold me and it indeed was the wise move for all the perks that it entails (which I will elaborate on later). Checking in at about 10pm, all we could think about was sleep.

Ah sleep. I had only once been to the east side of the States and the jetlag was a killer. With both Kate and I being wide awake at 4am, it looked at though we may be in for a similar experience. But that was cool… we were both just jazzed to be there and were ready for action. So nice and early we were on a complimentary bus to our first park, Magic Kingdom.

 

waiting to hit the park

waiting to hit the park

 

before the crowds arrive

before the crowds arrive

 

Magic Kingdom is your “typical” Disney park, looking and feeling like most others. There is a big castle in the middle, along with Tomorrowland, Frontierland, etc, and is what people usually think of as “Disneyland”. Being there nice and early was in our interest as we had an 8am breakfast scheduled for inside said Disney castle.

 

breakfast with a princess (aawww)

breakfast with a princess (aawww)

 

Kate wanted to celebrate her birthday by having breakfast there and being greeted by the array of princesses, of which we certainly met our share. Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, they all did the rounds. It was fun to watch everyone (especially the kids) losing their minds as they came to their table… a sweet way to start the whole Disney experience.

From here on in, and probably most of the Disney related blog posts, they will be pretty free form. There won’t be the blow by blow descriptions, as you don’t need to hear exactly what we did… rather I will try and give you the highlights!

Magic Kingdom is all about the traditional Disney rides, as are at most other Disney parks. So we enjoyed the relatively small number of people (for a Saturday at the very least) and made our way from ride to ride, with some character meetings in between.

Back to why you stay at a Disney hotel. Believe it or not, that allowed us to be able to book Fast Passes for rides a couple of months in advance, and while the crowds were not huge it still meant saving a lot of time. In fact, the system that looks after your whole Disney experience, the Magic Band, is pretty incredible. Our personalised bands were our hotel key, park tickets, parking passes, our pass to get onto rides more quickly, payment system, you name it. And for the most part it worked pretty flawlessly.

 

haunted mansion! different looking to its californian counterpart

haunted mansion! different looking to its californian counterpart

 

So we used our fast passes and smashed out as many of the big rides as we could. We went on our mutual favourite, Haunted Mansion nice and early, which was ace, as it had been quite a while since I had seen it in it’s proper state (my past visits to this ride had all been Christmas themed). But I wasn’t prepared for the nice Magic Band surprise at the end (spoiler coming!). Assuming the ride recognised us from our Magic Bands, the hitch hiking ghost in our carriage at the end was holding up a sign saying “Australia here we come!” which was a total awesome spinout. A rad touch.

We got on to another fave, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad not long after, as well as the seeming most popular ride, the Seven Dwarves Mine Cart. Not sure why, as while it was fun, Big Thunder is still the mine cart of choice in our opinion.

The day had an extra fun flavour as unbeknownst to us, it was an unofficial fan day called Dapper Day, in which the park was flooded with folks dressed up in their best “dapper” gear, meaning mostly your 50’s costumed, and in some cases heavily tattooed glamour look. The dudes had their beards and moustaches perfectly groomed and it made for a great day of people watching.

 

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But now it was mid afternoon and that meant it was time for the first parade of the day. We were at the centre of the park, so found a bit of pavement, and camped out for a wee bit for the parade to start. The Florida heat was not too bad, although we knew we should pack an umbrella for shade if nothing else. In no time the parade was underway. It was the usual array or floats and characters and dancers and shenanigans. Given it wasn’t too crowded in the park, we had a nice clear view of everything.

 

where to start?

where to start?

 

What other highlights did we have? Well, not waiting long for rides was awesome! But given the nice warm humid Florida weather, we also took a couple of hours off in the afternoon to sneak out of the park and head to nearby Trader Sams bar. We had visited one at California Disney Springs and it was great fun, so why not visit this one too? The idea is that it is Tiki themed and various shenanigans happen when certain drinks are ordered. Sadly, the main bar had a 2 hour wait, so we just took a seat outside and had a sneak mojito and margarita which was going to be some fuel to get us through the rest of the day.

 

mmm... dessert

mmm… dessert

 

We headed back into the park and continued smashing out rides until it was time for another preplanned activity, the Wishes Fireworks Dessert Party. This gave us not only a tasty array of desserts but also a prime position for the nightly fireworks show. So after getting sugared up, we were lead to our spot for a great view of the castle and the show. The Wishes show had only a couple of weeks left, so it seemed lots of people were turning up just for the fireworks. But then after that many seemed to depart leaving Kate and I to run amok in the park for a couple of hours getting on to any ride we liked. The nighttime Jungle Cruise was a highlight with a great boat driver, complete with her deadpan script delivery down pat.

We called it quits at park close, meaning we didn’t get back to our hotel until close to midnight. Yep, 8am – 11pm of Disney. And this was just the start.

20
May

Adi贸s Costa Rica

By: muttler
kate says adi贸s to the hotel iguana

kate says adi贸s to the hotel iguana

 

19/05/2017 – 20/05/2017

Hola everyone! Here is one last post for the Costa Rican adventure. Yep, it is 3 days worth, but unfortunately I don’t have too much to say or pictures to show.

Friday the 19th was a travel day, leaving Manuel Antonio at the positively luxurious time of 10:30am and making our way back to San Jose for farewells. The drive back was fairly uneventful, with paved road all the way (yep!), and then heavy traffic, meaning we arrived in at around 2:30pm.

I was hoping to explore San Jose a little since we had not had a chance to see anything, however it seemed rain would *finally* make an appearance and stop me from doing something. After we checked in and did some repacking, I donned my rain jacket, grabbed a brolly, and was determined to head out (Kate decided resting up and staying dry was a bigger priority). Well, the storm was so bad, with crazy thunder and lightning, that getting downtown was impossible. Even a cab was going to take 30 minutes for a 10 minute walk apparently. So sadly that scuppered those plans and down to the bar it was.

At about 6:30pm the tour group gathered together for one last time, heading out for a farewell dinner. These are always strange moments. It is a dozen people you have spent 2 intense weeks together with, and the likelihood of seeing them again is very low. Obviously you form closer connections to some than others (Dan! Claire! Christiane! Anja!) but the reality is that even those you spent less time with than others are forever etched in all those good times in an amazing place, in this case Costa Rica, and the best thing about a trip like this is that everyone has a bit of a sense of adventure, making them kindred spirits.

So with dusty eyes, it was saying farewells to everyone. Andreas our guide was another amazing G Adventure CEO, and while they do a great many things right, I think G’s聽choice of staff is incredible. Andreas was the perfect host… super organised and super fun. With that, it was off to bed for an early night.

 

my dodgy US immigration snapshot

my shady聽US immigration snapshot

 

The rest of this tale is quite boring. A 5am airport pickup whisked us to San Jose airport for our flight to LA. A bit of a delay and we touched down in LA. It seemed the immigration system聽was in the process of changing, with new kiosks like we have in Melbourne being your first port of call. What was freaky was that it took your photo and printed it out on the slip you needed to present to the officials. Taking snaps of people after hours of plane travel is never a good thing.

We had plans to visit Santa Monica for a few hours, however our slightly delayed flight, some time getting out of the airport, and an apparent gridlocked freeway meant that was decided to spend our 7 hours mostly in a nearby hotel having a swim and a nap.

And that is where I sign off! We will grab some food here at the hotel and then head back to LAX soon, for our 14 hour flight home. Fingers crossed it is totally uneventful and involves some sleep.

Thanks for reading everyone! When I get home I will get all those Florida聽posts up. Disney! NASA! Harry Potter! Yes!

19
May

Chillin’ On The Pacific

By: muttler
one angry monkey

one angry monkey

 

18/05/2017

Another early morning! Yay! To be honest it was fine for me, as the sun was coming up at around 5am each morning meaning rarely was I asleep past 6am. So a 7:30am pick up for our morning activity was no problems.

It was time for our last nature activity, another hike through a national park, this time the Manuel Antonio National Park, located right on the beach. This park is the smallest in Costa Rica, but also the most visited. This seemed to be for two reasons. The first was that it is located in a very tourist heavy part of Costa Rica (who doesn’t like to be at the beach) but also that it packs a lot into a small amount of space.

 

our last costa rican national park

our last costa rican national park

 

So we met our guide at the entrance and away we went. By this time Kate and I were not really looking out for any specific wildlife, as we had checked off most. Two types of sloth? Check. The four different monkeys? Check. Lizards, snakes, birds, you name it. But we were always going to be happy to find another sloth, and being in the park for just a few minutes gave us the opportunity. This one was being a bit shy, but we managed to get not a bad view of him as he sat there all relaxed.

 

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Other highlights of this trek were the squirrel monkeys (madly bouncing around), the many bright red crabs scuttling around the forest floor, the birdlife as usual, and also the quite deadly Brazilian Wandering spider that we found hiding in a leaf.

 

watch your bag!

watch your bag!

 

But the best and cheekiest were undoubtedly the white faced monkeys that we came across as we got close to the beach. The park has a strict no food policy and as we hit the beach it was easy to see why. These folk were not shy in coming right up to you and even opening up your bag if you were not within a few feet of it. When we got to the beach we all set up camp and in no time a trip mates bag had been opened and started to see what it could find. Thankfully the camera was a bit heavy (and not that interesting) to take.

 

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By this time it was getting pretty warm and the beach at the other end of the trail was fantastic, quite a bit better than the public beach we were at yesterday. This was almost lagoon like meaning there were less waves and clearer water. I wasted no time getting out there and having a dip.

It was approaching lunchtime so it was time to head back out of the park. For the afternoon Kate and I were going our separate ways. The opportunity had arisen to spend the afternoon on a boat on the Pacific and I couldn’t resist. Given Kate’s aversion to boats, she, along with many others, opted to relax for the afternoon, but Andreas and 4 others from the tour got whisked down to the marina and on board a trimaran for an afternoon on the water.

 

heading out

heading out

 

on the water!

on the water!

 

With a nice lunch of red snapper and some rum cocktails to start, it was off on the water. Clouds looked ominous in the distance but never really came our way. The water was a little choppy (smart move Kate) but it was glorious to be on the water under bright blue skies. We made our way around some coastline and then headed out. We were looking for whales or dolphins, but alas, they were all hiding today.

 

looking for locals

looking for locals

 

A couple of hours and a few drinks later the boat settled not too far off shore so we could do a bit of snorkelling. We found a spot with a number of schools of fish, so it was great to jump in the water and explore. The water was a bit cloudy so it made seeing things difficult, but the water was warm, and it was just nice to swim about, seeing what we could find. Someone spotted a turtle, but the little fella evaded me.

 

two of our troupe take the plunge

two of our troupe take the plunge

 

Now we were nice and wet it was time for boat shenanigans. There was a roof on the boat… the perfect height for jumping off! It seemed a bit of a ways up when looking but down, but with no hesitation many of us did the jump off. Woooooo! So much fun. There was also a little waterslide on the back for even more thrills.

Alas it was time to head back into shore. I don’t see myself as a beach or ocean person, but it is great to be on the water. In no time we were back on dry land and at the hotel to catch up with the rest of the gang.

 

some of the better airline food i've had

some of the better airline food i’ve had

 

Dinner was at an interesting place just down the road. It was at El Avion, which was a restaurant and bar built using an old Fairchild cargo plane. So we wandered into the restaurant through the plane, and it even housed inside a cool bar. Dinner was more local fare, and we could even get a snap inside the cockpit.

Given we only had one more night together after this, some of us decided to kick on a little. A nearby bar apparently had free salsa lessons, so in no time at all we were on a dancefloor and getting our salsa on. It was no surprise to see that my salsa lessons from Antigua a few years ago had all but deserted me and that my dancing shoes were both left feet. Well, maybe not that bad, but my spins left a bit to be desired.

 

yes, it was taller than the average person

yes, it was聽that tall

 

After getting hot and sweaty, and needing a beer break, we spent the rest of the night with some Foosball (or “Kicker” in Germany as I found out), as well as an amazingly epic game of Jumbo Jenga. The set was huge and with about 9 of us playing, the game went for a LONG time. It got to the point where placing the pieces on top was getting difficult for someone as vertically challenged as myself. It was tense by the end, and unfortunately for Dan, he could remove the piece but not place it on top and down it went. Good times.

Midnight had arrived, and it was time to head back for our last night here in Manuel Antonio. Tomorrow it would be back to San Jose and time to wind things up.

19
May

I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

By: muttler
exploring the mangroves

exploring the mangroves

 

17/05/2017

Another early start greeted our first day in Manuel Antonio. We were at the mercy of the tides this morning, as many of us elected to head out on some kayaking in the nearby mangroves. We needed to go when the tide was high, and for us that was at about 7:30am, so with no chance for brekky, it was off we went.

Our kayaking leaders provided a quick snack and coffee, before we loaded into our kayaks, ready to explore the mangroves and the wildlife amongst them. This was quite different to any of the exploring we had done to this point. While parts would be similar to Tortaguero, much of it was quite different, with the mangroves providing not only a unique environment, but the opportunity for some different animals.

So we set off in glorious sunshine, and started paddling through the somewhat narrow canals amongst the tree roots. On our way we came across some bats, lizards, crabs and quite a few boa constrictors, hiding up there in the trees. Apparently a couple of them were in the order of a couple of metres and we were kayaking underneath. Um, good idea us.

And all of a sudden the clouds rolled in. It didn’t cool down, but the rumble of thunder and then a few minutes later the heavens opened. It poured! The rain came down hard and we had nowhere to run. Ha! It didn’t matter, as the rain was so warm and it was super refreshing to be in it.

 

 

 

We didn’t stop, but kept on paddling, enjoying the warm tropical rain. At one point we entered a small canal that was very tricky to negotiate in our two person kayak, with the nose often getting stuck in the branches, but it was great fun. In amongst it all, our guide gave us a bit more of a rundown of the mangroves themselves before we kept moving on.

 

feisty monkey

feisty monkey

 

what you looking at?

what you looking at?

 

The rain had stopped by now and it seemed the wildlife came back out to say hello, in particular a pack of white faced monkeys. These guys were not shy and were happy to sit on the side of the canal and harass us as we stopped to have a closer look at them. One in particular didn’t seem too impressed that our guide was so close.

 

all dry again

all dry again

 

With that we were back at the dock and it was time for a late brekky. Rice and beans and plantains! With more salsa I was loving it.

From there it was a free afternoon for the most part. A bunch of us elected to head to the Manuel Antonio beach and chill out for a few hours. So Andreas negotiated a good price for some chairs and shade and 7 of us promptly set up camp on the beach.

 

ahhhh

ahhhh

 

so warm

so warm

 

I went straight into the water. So so warm! It was gorgeous. Unfortunately the clarity of the water left quite a bit to be desired, as the dark sand just made it very cloudy and very difficult to see anything really. That was OK as the temperature was nice and warm and it was nice just soaking. It was also a popular spot for surfing and parasailing, so every now and then you had to be looking out for a surfboard coming at you.

 

beach life

beach life

 

The supermarket across the street proved very handy for getting snacks and beers, and in no time 4 hours passed and we were getting ready to leave. Kate and a few others were off for a late afternoon yoga class. I was happy to just catch the local bus back to the hotel to relax by the pool and chill for a bit. It was just on happy hour when Kate and the other arrived back which was nice timing! 2 for 1 drinks meant a few gin and tonics later we were feeling pretty good and also nice and hungry.

Dinner was at the Quepos Marina which was in the process of being developed into one of the largest marinas in Central America. A nice seafood dinner later and it was time to call it a night.

 

17
May

Heading West

By: muttler
here's looking at you kid

here’s looking at you kid

16/05/2017

Today we bid farewell to Monteverde and took the “Costa Rican Massage” road out of town. Just before we left town however, Andreas took us on a small detour. He didn’t really tell us what was going on, but we made our way up another windy road and then all jumped out of the bus.

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After a few minutes walk we arrived in to a part of the forest where we were greeted with a massive tree that was incredible. It was a strangling ficus tree, a tree that had taken over a host tree and had made an amazing hollow tree, where its trunk was winding and almost vine like. We could actually climb inside the tree, and looking up was fascinating. It took everything not to try and climb up inside.

We were heading west, toward the Pacific coast. Much to the happiness of everyone, after about an hour we hit the main highway. Paved road! This was the highway that runs all the way through Central America, and it was nice to get to some smooth road.

Once we hit that we made some good time and late morning we hit our lunch spot. It was an early lunch but for two reasons… firstly we would not be making it to Manuel Antonio for another couple of hours, but secondly, we had some crocodiles to see.

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We were in Tarcoles, and this was a popular spot to stop for most travellers, as at the Tarcoles bridge were dozens of massive crocodiles hanging out in the river. And by massive I mean 4-5 metres long. It was quite a sight to see them sunning themselves in the waters and with everyone on the side of the bridge staring down.

After our lunch break we kept on travelling and made it to Quepos, the small town in the Manuel Antonio region. Manuel Antonio itself is a small village and mostly a beach, with Quepos being the main township. It seemed like a typical latin american beachside town, and on the stretch of road toward Manuel Antonio were many hotels, ranging from backpackers to massive villas. We were staying in a pretty good hotel halfway between Quepos and Manuel Anotnio, and had a scaly bellhop to greet us.

We had a few hours free to soak up the hot weather and the poolside happy hour. At around 5pm, 4 of us had opted to go on an optional night walk. Yep, another night walk, bt being in a different locale meant the chance of seeing some different things. So on nightfall, we met the guide and headed off into the Manuel Antonio forest.

We were hoping to see the famous red-eyed frog here, and were told that would be pretty much a certainty. As we got on the path we were first greeted by a pack of squirrel monkeys, making their way to their favourite night time spot. We never got a clear view, but could see them making their way quite rapidly through the trees.

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Not long after we heard another rustle, this time on the side of the path. Here we found an adult agouti, with two babies in tow. This is a medium sized “forest rat” and while it certainly had some facial features resembling a rat, it was pretty cute to see it running about with the babies.

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hypnotoad

hypnotoad

In no time at all though we had accomplished our mission… red-eyed tree frogs! They were crazy to see, with the bright red eyes staring at us. We were excited to see one haning out watching us, and then as we kept moving found a bunch more. We even found a quite amorous pair doing their thing on a palm leaf. We got to see many of those as well as other species of frogs about, including the big bullfrogs.

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The park that we were in also served as a rescue centre for various creatures, most notable turtles and crocodiles. We walked on small bridges over the crocodile pit and the guide was excited as he believed that some crocodile eggs were getting ready to hatch. The mother crocodile was acting very territorial and he though that there may have even been some babies in its mouth. Alas we couldn’t quite see, but we too could see something was up.

We kept moving, coming across more frogs and the odd lizard. We didn’t really see any other mammals, however we got our fill of frogs so were very happy with our expedition. All done, we wandered down the road to the restaurant where the rest of the group was having dinner. We night time explorers settled in for a late dinner, enjoying some more local food before making our way back to the hotel to catch some rest.

16
May

Flying High

By: muttler
ready to fly

ready to fly

 

15/05/2017

Another day in the clouds, and another day where the weather was much clearer than usual. Andreas was saying that the locals are a little worried, as it is a clear impact of climate change, and while it not being as cloudy doesn’t seem that bad, it could have drastic consequences for the local wildlife. So a mixed bag huh?

But not to dwell on that, we had a day of quite different activities planned. Being on a Nat Geo branded G Adventures tour, we were off to to participate in a local effort to regenerate the forests and help in building a forest corridor toward the Pacific. While Costa Rica now has excellent conservation practices, they have many things in mind to help with the wildlife and to keep tourism eco friendly. So off we went to do our part.

 

helping out

helping out

 

In fact, what we were helping out with at the Monteverde Institute (a local run research and conservation centre) was to help prepare their 1000’s of tree seedlings that are distributed to local farmers for planting. As it was put to us, just helping out for a couple of hours means they get about 30 hours of work done and it contributes greatly. They even say that with the number of trees planted we offset the carbon of our trip! Maybe not quite for us Aussies…

 

kate reuses her tortilla making technique

kate reuses her tortilla making technique

 

not a bad effort

not a bad effort

 

weed free!

weed free!

 

So with the briefest of instructions we got to it! We had a couple of things to do. One was filling bags with soil ready for seedlings. Kate and I started with that, getting that dirt in there nice and compact. In no time my hands were covered in dirt (Kate was a little less messy than me as always). The other job was to do some cleaning up and weeding of seedlings, meaning I got down there on my knees and started doing some gardening. Yep, I was gardening on the other side of the planet.

For a couple of hours we did our bit and then made our way to the small township of Monteverde itself to visit the actual institute. Monteverde is fascinating as it was founded by American Quakers in the 1960’s as they made their way down from the US. It started as dairy farming and while that is now waning, it has established itself as a research hotbed and a centre of eco-tourism.

At the centre we got a great lecture from the director, who filled us in on Monteverde, the wildlife, the forest, and all the efforts in place to protect things. It is some pretty amazing work that they do and they still have a great deal to understand about the area, and what they need to do to protect it from the changing climate.

After providing us with a tasty local lunch, it was back to the hotel for an hour to chill out. What was next? More zip lining!

Andreas has not sold the ziplining at La Fortuna that much, as here apparently we were in for a bit of a treat. You know how we thought the 500m lines at La Fortuna were long? Here we had a couple of lines over 1km, with one at about 2km long. We could combine that with some “Superman” zip lining, as well as another Tarzan Swing. Yes!

 

g adventures crew ready!

g adventures crew ready!

 

A bunch of us from the tour were braving it, and so off we went. This place was buzzing with a lot of visitors so it certainly had a different vibe to our more low key zipping at La Fortuna. This was a much more regimented experience, with a guide at each station who would move you on, rather than a couple of guides going around the whole way with you. But this one was much different to any other one we had done in the past.

The first half dozen lines were fairly short and sharp and actually pretty quick. We had to break on most of them, unlike at La Fortuna. So we actually moved through those at a fair clip. But that is when things changed a bit. We were greeted with an epic line that was over 1km long. Woo! On I hooked and off I went. Like La Fortuna, this was magical, soaring over the forest. The line being so long, and not having to do anything, meant you could just soak it all up. The cloud was settling in in patches meaning you would zip in and out of the mist.

 

getting a tow back in to base

getting a tow back in to base

 

From there we loaded into a small jeep and headed up. We had two to go, and both of these could be done in “Superman” style, meaning you were not sitting cruising along, rather lying horizontal and zooming head first along the cable. The first was one amazing. At close to 2km, it was simply flying through the air, not being able to see the end due to the clouds. The view down below was fantastic, seeing other ziplines along with the forest. I didn’t want it to end. For Kate it ended a little prematurely, with her stopping just before the end, meaning a rescue party needed to be sent! Luckily for both of us, we had one last line that was a Superman as well. Not quite as long but a bit faster, so聽with arms out we聽flew into the final station.

 

tarzan swing!

tarzan swing!

 

tarzan swing?

tarzan swing?

 

stepping off

stepping off

 

There was one last thing left to do though… the Super Tarzan Swing! Kate was not sold on the last one we did (the swing yes, spinning no) so elected to give it a miss, but I stepped up. One hooked up, they opened the gate and with a guiding hand I was off! There was a drop of about 2 seconds before the rope kicked in and it was swinging. Aaaahhhhh! So cool!

 

searching for fruit loops

searching for fruit loops

 

With the adrenaline pumping it was time to head back to the hotel. Kate even managed to see a sneaky toucan while waiting for me. The buss was full of our crew and many other travellers, and we were all buzzing (except for one group member who really wasn’t loving the whole heights thing) and couldn’t stop chatting and laughing about it on the way back.

A fairly low key night was dinner at a local Italian restaurant for a change, before getting ready for another travel day tomorrow.

15
May

Warning… Tarantulas Ahead (But Also Cute Hummingbirds!)

By: muttler
hummingbirds!

hummingbirds!

 

14/05/2017

Today was our first full day in the Monteverde region and it was an early start.聽Our trip included an early morning forest walk for more nature spotting, so at 7:30am it was on the bus to head into the Santa Elena forest for another nature walk. And nope, I wasn’t getting tired of these yet.

 

searching for quetzals

searching for quetzals

 

I don’t need to go into all the details, as it was similar to ones that we had done in the various forests. However we had a big highlight early in the walk. The guide, just as we were taking off lead us quickly down a path where we were able to spot the elusive Quetzal. The national bird of Guatemala, it also spends a little time in Costa Rica, and we were past the window where it is typically able to be found. But we were in luck! Called the Resplendent Quetzal, it is a bright colour, with a long tail. While we didn’t get a super close look at it, we had some nice clear views. Win!

 

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the resplendent quetzal

the resplendent quetzal

 

Throughout the rest of the walk we got to see some other great bird life, including the other hard to spot bird, the bellbird (the male moustachioed one no less!) as well as being very cool to see a nesting hummingbird. But the best was saved for last.

 

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Having still not seen a tarantula yet, our guide took us to a massive hole and got us to get around. With a little prodding, his friend popped out. A big hairy tarantula! This one looked gorgeous, about as big as a large adult hand. She popped out for a bit and then retreated back into her home. Show was over, but that was a buzz to see.

We wound up our walk about lunchtime, so headed straight to our next stop, the local hanging bridges. After a spot of lunch, a few of us decided to visit the reptile collection before heading out onto the bridges.

 

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In their collection were most the snakes that could be found in Costa Rica, including the Boa, and the venomous vipers that we had seen in the flesh in La Fortuna. We also got to see some of the frogs that had eluded us to this point, as well as some more lizards which is always fun.

From there it was in to the forest again, this time in the treetops. We spent a casual 2 hours wandering through the forest an on the bridges. Like the ones in La Fortuna, it is amazing to be so high up over the forest. Our bright sunny day had turned a little rainy, but there was still little evidence of the cloud of the so called cloud forest. But that was OK as it meant we had great views all over the forest.

 

bellbird

bellbird

 

sabrewing hummingbird

sabrewing hummingbird

 

yep, there was a crab in the jungle

yep, there was a crab in the jungle

 

Highlights of this walk were another bellbird, along with the amazing violet sabrewing, the largest of the hummingbirds. We were doing pretty well with our bird spotting now!

Our final stop at this location was to the Hummingbird Garden. And yeah, it was a garden full of hummingbirds! They were not caged in, they were free to come and go, but the artificial planters full of nectar were obviously enough of a draw card to keep them there and keep them coming back.

 

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They seemed nonplussed by us watching so closely, and they loved to give me a fright, zipping past my head. I was even able to have one land on my finger as it fed! Now THAT is cool, having a hummingbird on your finger.

We could have spent hours in the garden watching them, but alas it was time to head back to the hotel. We had time to relax for a couple of hours and catch up with some more Eurovision, before heading out for a group dinner. Andreas had booked us into a quirky local place called the Treehouse Restaurante. that was indeed a real treehouse! It was built around a massive real tree that formed the centrepiece of the 3 storey establishment. It certainly made for a fun setting.

 

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We enjoyed the dinner, with a band playing in the background that played a mix of Spanish language songs that I had no idea what they were, to covers in English of English language songs (like Stand By Me), and then covers in Spanish of English language songs. How confusing!

It ended up being a fairly early night. Apparently there were a few other G Adventures tours in town so Andreas was keen to head out on the town, however most of us were happy enough to have a (relatively) early night to be ready for the adventures tomorrow.

15
May

Heading For The Clouds

By: muttler
night toucan

night toucan

 

13/05/2017

It was time to move on from La Fortuna and head further north, to the cloud city of Costa Rica, Monteverde (well not 聽a city, but I can’t resist a Star Wars reference). So around 8am it was on to the bus for a few hours of travel.

 

arriving at the other side of the lake

arriving at the other side of the lake

 

Like some previous travel days, this was broken up nicely, with a little bus ride, an hour on the lake heading to the other side, and then some more bus on the “Costa Rican Massage Roads” to our new locale of Santa Elena in the Monteverde region. The travel went smoothly, with just a little roadside stop at a service station, where we said hello to one of the local parrots.

Monteverde is known as the cloud forest region, being at an elevation around 1500m. For much of the year, the area is enveloped in a cloudy mist, giving the forest a whole new dimension and meaning there was the chance to see some different wildlife.

 

taco taco!

taco taco!

 

About lunchtime we arrived in Santa Elena, and after dropping off our bags at the hotel, it was straight back downtown to get some lunch. By downtown we mean about 2 streets with some places to eat and buy a souvenir and not much more. Andreas took us straight to Taco Taco, a casual Mexican style eatery for some quick, cheap and apparently delicious Mexican food.

 

a local at taco taco

a local at taco taco

 

the aftermath

the aftermath

 

After seeing the menu I was in trouble… I wanted to eat everything! I struggled deciding and eventually went for the tempura avocado tacos (yep, tempura avocado). When they arrived they looked delicious, and they were! So so tasty! I was definitely going to try and get back there before leaving Santa Elena. I forgot to take a picture of my tacos so you only get a picture of an empty plate 馃檪

The afternoon was a cruisey one, with no real plans up until nightfall. So Kate and I wandered town a little, which didn’t take too long. So we headed back to our hotel room to relax a little and catch up on some Eurovision that we had missed.

 

checking out the nightlife

checking out the nightlife

 

On nightfall it was time to head out, like in our previous places, for a night walk of the forest to see what we could find. This was expected to be similar but a little different, as we were now at a much higher elevation. There was probably going to be less reptiles, but the chance for more sloths and if we were lucky, maybe a tarantula or two (fingers crossed!).

 

night owl

night owl

 

sloth number 4!

sloth number 4!

 

just a little scorpion that kate found by the side of the path

just a little scorpion that kate found by the side of the path

 

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costa rican rhino

 

For the next couple of hours we wandered through the forest with our guide. We came across quite a few animals we had seen in our travels so far, including another sloth (that’s now 4!), a toucan, and owl, but alas no tarantulas, even though our guide tried to coax one out of a big spider hole. We have a few more days in the forest here so maybe we would be lucky later.

 

spirit tree

spirit tree

 

In the middle of the forest was this crazy tree. It is hard to tell from the picture, but it was hollow, with a trunk made of intertwining branches. Our guide got us to turn all our lights off and shone one up through the middle which was amazing.

 

eating like the locals

eating like the locals

 

Our night exploring came to an end so it was off to dinner. Andreas picked a local restaurant that focused on traditional Costa Rican cuisine (and craft beer!), and like most things to this point was pretty tasty. I opted for a chicken dish that was pretty good, but my craft amber ale was very delicious! A nice way to cap off the day.

13
May

Bridges, Sloths and Snakes

By: muttler
this guy could put me in hospital in a split second

this guy could put me in hospital in a split second

 

12/05/2017

Today was our last full day in La Fortuna, and Kate and I were making it count with more action adventure. It was another beautiful sunny day, and we were greeted with a spectacular view of the volcano from our hotel room. They say if you can see the top you should make a wish as it happens so rarely, and we had been lucky to be able to make heaps of wishes so far this trip.

 

the view from our hotel room

the view from our hotel room

 

For the morning though we were going our separate ways… Kate off to kayak and myself off to mountain bike a bit around Lake Arendel with Andreas and some of the crew.

 

my trusty steed

my trusty steed

 

About 8am the bikers were picked up and driven a bit closer to the lake itself. Being about 36km long and 10km wide it was going to be too big to ride all the way around, but our plan was to do a fairly leisurely 15km or so. In no time at all we were at the drop off point with our trusty metal steeds and off we went.

 

andreas leads the way

andreas leads the way

 

like my contemplative pose?

like my contemplative pose?

 

Most the riding was on slightly rocky roads, just off lakeside. So we didn’t get to be too near the water sadly, but did some up and downs as we made our way around. While some of the uphills were a little steep, it wasn’t anything too adventurous. It was good to be by the water, so it was *slighty* cooler, but we still got up a bit of a sweat.

The 15km went by super quickly as we reached part of the road that was completely underwater. The plan was always to stop at this point, however even if we wanted to go further there was no way we were going to be able to as it was completely flooded from the previous nights rain, complete with strong current.

 

um, good luck with that

um, good luck with that

 

Over on the other side of the river we saw two cyclists who clearly had arrived to that point only to find they could (for the time being anyway) go no further. While they waited it out, our group enjoyed some drinks (9:30am isn’t too early for a beer is it?) and juicy pineapple.

Eventually some (presumably) locals complete with motorbike decided to cross the river and this clearly gave the cyclists the confidence to try and cross. The locals gave some help, as did some horse riders that happened to be riding through as well. When the cyclists made it to our side I noticed they had an Aussie flag on their bike and so I had a quick chat to them and found out they were in fact from Torquay and had started cycling in Alaska and were heading to the bottom of Argentina! Amazing.

Anyway, it was time to head back, so the bikes went on to the roof of our support vehicle and back we went. It was not a bad morning, although we didn’t spend nearly enough time on the bikes for my liking. But it gave me a couple of hours to chill before Kate and I were to head off to the next activity.

 

kate has her selfie game on

kate has her selfie game on

 

chilling out on the water

chilling out on the water

 

A side story to give you a quick Kate rundown. She headed off to the lake to do a bit of kayaking, and by all accounts it was a very relaxing paddle about! She had great views of the volcano and deceptively nice weather (so her sunburned legs) told me!

It was time for another tour pickup, and this time Anya from our tour joined us to visit the hanging bridges in the nearby forest. Located on a private property, apparently when the tourism started to grow they decided to to put a series of bridges through their spectacular forest, making for a 4km trek through the tree tops.

 

our guide to the forest

 

With our local guide we started wandering, and we could have spent hours. It was so nice to slowly wander through the forest, keeping an eye out for the wildlife. Quite a few birds around, but we were keen to try and spy more sloths and some more monkeys.

 

hey little guy!

hey little guy!

 

Our first critter was a local venomous snake, a small viper. He was hard to spot, but our guide pointed him out and he was in fact right next to the path. While it will bite you if provoked, they won’t lunge at passers by, luckily for us. I wasn’t going to push my luck, even though it was very cool getting up close.

 

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We then hit our first big bridge. It is spectacular to walk out and just see yourself many meters above the forest floor and the treetops. The first bridge gave us great views of the volcano, and like all these things, pictures don’t do it justice.

 

viper!

viper!

 

sloth!!!

sloth!!!

 

We then continued along, going from bridge to bridge. We came across another small viper, and luckily for us another sloth! We got a great view from one angle as it stirred and woke up briefly. So we had seen both the 2-toed and 3-toed sloth, so we were super lucky.

 

refreshing

refreshing

 

Nearby we also had a cute waterfall nestled in the forest. Ahh, that spray back was nice.

 

a slightly aggressive white faced monkey

a slightly aggressive white faced monkey

 

after it had thrown the fruit at us telling us to bugger off

after it had thrown the fruit at us telling us to bugger off

 

We were not too far from the end of the trail when we could hear BOOM! It had gotten very dark all of a sudden and that was indeed thunder. Oh dear. Coats came out and we stepped up the pace a little. As we got close to the end we could hear some racket up in the trees. We had found the white-faced monkey! This was a great find as while there are many in the forest,聽they are not always easy to spot. These couple were in a particularly boisterous mood and weren’t too keen on our guide making noises to them. While they were grabbing fruit to eat, they also decided it would be in their interest to throw it at us! Not small either!

We watched them for a bit but then the rain started to get the better of us, so we legged it to the end. A beverage in the bus and in no time we were back at the hotel. We had one more activity for the day, although this one was a decidedly slower pace… hot springs! Just up from the hotel was a series of hot springs where we would go to relax, and so most of the group decided to take the opportunity. We visited one called Los Lagos, which was a hotel, restaurant and hot springs complex all in one. And it was huge! Probably 20 different pools of different sizes and temperatures, as well as bar at the main one. Yay!

I took the water slide straight down into the hottest pool with the bar and settled in. Mmmm mojitos. Kate opted for the pina colada. When in Rome. We then spent the next 2 hours just relaxing in the different pools and relaxing those muscles that had been getting a work out. A casual group dinner at the restaurant and that brought a close to our time in La Fortuna.