Costa Rica – The Welge Report

 

 

Welcome Fellow Travelers:

 

Welcome to our world of business information, museums, adventure, birding, botanical gardens, dining and fine wines.  This newsletter provides you with “The Welge Report for Costa Rica.

Please share it with your friends, customers and associates.  You can also access more than 100 cities on our website plus lots of other helpful travel tips at:  thewelgereport.com/

Recognition:  We extend special thanks to the people who manage and/or own the institutions, museums and restaurants featured in our guides.  In some instances we have relied on their descriptions and photos.

 

In 1502 Christopher Columbus visited the area and named it “rich coast” or Costa Rica.  Coffee was introduced in 1808.  In 1838 Costa Rica became fully independent.  Bananas and the United Fruit Company arrived in 1874.

In 1949 Costa Rica adopted a new constitution that abolished their armed forces and began an ambitious socialist program that included a social security system and potable water –important for tourism.  Like politics everywhere there have been clinkers along the way.

Oscar Arias has been a central figure in recent Costa Rican development.  He served as President of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990 and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end the Central American crisis.  He also served as President from 2006 to 2010.

He is credited with the transformation of Costa Rica’s economy from coffee and bananas to flowers, fruits and tourism.

Our journey provides you with an overview of Costa Rica plus useful information about cultural activities and, of course, dining.

Visiting Costa Rica was a lifelong ambition for us for one primary reason.  We have become intrigued and involved with flora and fauna.

Specifically, Dee’s involvement with the Narberth Garden Tour, her garden club and lastly our joint involvement with the Philadelphia Horticultural Society via the Philadelphia Flower Show have served as impetuses.

 

Birding Opps:  Info for our birding friends.  Costa Rica is a birders’ paradise. Here you can see Montezuma Oropendola, Wood Storks, Toucans, Northern Jacanas and many other birds including several endangered species.

Business Info:  Here’s a good place to start your Costa Rica business education (costarica.net/features/business.htm)

Exchange Rates (http://www.x-rates.com/)

Transportation: This site provides a complete listing of all schedules for public buses, ferries, and international transfers from Costa Rica – (anywherecostarica.com/transportation/bus).

For your trip through Costa Rica we suggest using a tour company, or hiring a guide and driver.

 

After arriving in San Jose and checking in to our hotel, we headed out for dinner at La Esquina de Buenos Aires – B,L,D: Daily, Calle 11 esquina Av 4, Tel: 506 2223 1909

This was definitely our kind of place.  We started with an order of shrimp ajillo (garlic), bread and a bottle of Portillo Malbec.

Then Dee had the papperadelle with a veal sauce, and I had the lomito al Malbec – tenderloin beef in a Malbec wine and rosemary sauce with au gratin potatoes.

 

Our waitress was a good sport and very efficient.  Our taxi driver gave us an overview of San Jose going to and from the restaurant.

In San Jose we enjoyed a walk through the National Park where we visited the National Theater – Tu-Su: 9-4, Second Ave. and Fifth St, 506 221 1329.

The building’s interior is quite spectacular—the marble staircases, golden ceilings, and patterned wood floors alone are worth the visit.

 

Below our guide Liza is giving us background information.  The scaffolding on the left is a part of the preparation for the next show.

Below is the room where dignitaries are welcomed.  While visiting we were treated to a rehearsal by 2 musicians that are barely visible in the rear of the room.

On our drive through the Central Valley to Alajuela we stopped to see the La Paz Waterfall.

Almost across the highway in Sinchona was a secluded area where we saw hundreds of humming birds at Elizabeth’s Hummingbird soda, as well as many other bird varieties.  Cousin Jackie contributed this photogenic violet-sabre wing.

 

At the Doka Estate – Alajuela, Poas & the Airport Area, 506 2449 5152, a 100 year old coffee finca, we learned how the bean from the coffee plant becomes a fabulous cup of coffee (very labor intensive).

We walked through the plantations and the roasting factory where we enjoyed the aroma of 8 different roasts of coffee.

Our coffee guide explained the roasting process which was followed by a tasting and lots of purchases.

We enjoyed a Costa Rican lunch at their restaurant “La Cajuela” – B & L: Daily.

We traveled on to Ara Ambigua, where our eco-friendly lodgings were alongside the Tirimbina Biological Reserve, a lush tropical rain forest teeming with native fauna.

The land varies in altitude from 112 to 9,500 feet, which is a big reason so many migratory birds are here – more than 300 species of them.

 

After breakfast we drove to the Rio Sarapiqui that flows into the San Juan River and the Lake of Nicaragua.  Here we enjoyed a 2 hour rafting trip (class 2) that was beautiful and fun.

 

After lunch Liza took most of us on a tour of an organic pineapple finca, Corsicana in Sarapiqui,  where we learned about pineapple cultivation and how the regions fertile volcanic soil nurtures the “Fruit of Kings”.  The pineapple was delicious.

Our guide Michael, who called himself Michael Rockefeller, was very entertaining.

His continual reference to Michael Rockefeller was strange.  Michael Rockefeller, the son of Nelson, was dismembered and cannibalized at age 23 in 1961 by the Asmat in what was then the Dutch West Indies.  You can read the full story in the March, 2014 Edition of the Smithsonian.

At any rate Michael Pineapple taught us how to select the perfect pineapple – green top, good shape, big uniform eyes and a golden bottom, sounds and was delicious.  At the end of the tour we enjoyed a Pina Colada.

 

After dinner at our hotel we were treated to an enlighting presentation on Costa Rica’s bats, which represent more than 50% of the country’s mammal population.  There are 113 species.

The next day after breakfast we boarded our bus and Olman, our driver, drove us to the Tirimbina Biological Reserve.  Here we saw many varieties of birds such as the Montezuma Oropendola.

 

An exciting part of our visit was walking across the 860 foot suspension bridge high above the Rio Sarapiqui.  Cousin Bonnie of Estes Park provided this photo.

We enjoyed a wonderful exhibition of pottery making by Johnny Sanchez who made a bowl while explaining his process.  Johnny’s ancestors were the Chorotegas, a group who migrated from Southern Mexico.

 

Their women were known for their beautifully crafted ceramic vessels.  Johnny is re-introducing this craft.   Again thanks to Cousin Bonnie for this photo.

 

Our next lodging was at the Bosques de Chachaqua – San Rafael de Penas Blancas, San Ramon, Alajuela, 011 506 2468 1010.

This is a spectacular setting.  Each couple had their own cottage, really good wifi, fans, bathroom with rain shower, etc.  The road to the lodge was long and rocky providing its own protection.

 

After breakfast we visited an entrepreneurial woman, Rocio,  and her 5 children.  Here our group participated in making empanadas with materials that she provided.   Dee is helping one of the children to prepare the empanada mixture.

Everybody prepared his own empanada which was cooked on the wood-fired grill shown below.  It was very successful event.

On the way back into town we dropped our hostess off at her empanada stand where her son was on duty.

Her stand (Antojitos de Gail, shown above) was financed by an OAT traveler and locals on her promise of repayment.  Chachagua is a town of 3000 people.

 

Then we visited the San Antonio School where GCT is supportive.  We met lots of the children who took us on individual tours of their school.  We all joined in local dancing and sang our national anthems.  Here they are resting.

 

Our home hosted lunch included fruit juice, black beans and rice, chicken, tortillas and a hearts of palm salad at the home of one of the students.

Their house was attractively furnished with local woodwork.  The oldest boy had been born in the US and also attended high school there.  Although communication is sometimes difficult this home visit personalizes the journey.

 

Later Liza had 4 different hors d’ oeuvres (bocas) that she and Olman prepared.

We all had a drink while learning about the next day’s activities.

 

After breakfast we were off to visit the organic farm of Don Juan Battista, a retired school principal.

The farm is an idyllic model of sustainability, where they grow the foods of Costa Rica – coffee, sugar cane, peppers, spices, etc.   They also had methane gas as a byproduct of their cow.

A highlight was the extraction of sugar cane juice by our guide whose nickname was “Jack Daniels”.  Jack provided Costa Rican moonshine to go with the cane juice.   We enjoyed lunch on their terrace, dining on many of their farm products.

 

The next stop was the town of La Fortuna, the front yard of the Arenal Volcano.  This photo from Bonnie was taken from their hotel room.

After checking into the Hotel Los Lagos, we were off on a chocolate tour that included a hike in the rain forest to see where the cacao beans used to make chocolate are grown, harvested and processed.

 

We tasted the cacao bean in different stages as it moved through the process of becoming chocolate.

Above we see the stages of the cacao bean as it goes through the chocolate making process.  This tour was presented by the Amazilia del Caribe Women’s Association operated to benefit the local community.

 

After breakfast we enjoyed a short nature walk. Onward to Rio Frio where we boarded a small boat that is also used by National Geographic to photograph wildlife on the river. Our pilot was a real river and nature man.

 

 

We saw Turtles, Butterflys, Howler Monkees including a baby albino, Caimans, Wood Storks, Toucans, Northern Jacanas and many other birds including several endangered species.

We had lunch in a small town next to the river of arroz con pollo and sides.

 

We had dinner with our fellow travelers Bonnie and Chris at Don Rufino – La Fortuna, 506 2479 9997.  Dee and I started with chorizo and scallops.

Dee had the grilled grouper and I had the lasagna with roasted mushrooms that had been suggested by Liza.  Our wine was Terra Andina Carmenere.

 

On our journey to Guanacaste Liza had a lovely surprise for us.  We stopped at the Restaurante el Establo Arenal – for the usual drill.

This turned out to be a personal experience with a long time friend of Liza’s family, Alexander Cravajal,  who is a horse whisperer.  His daughter, Alexandra,  provided freshly brewed coffee for us and wonderful biscotti.

After visiting for a while we moved to his horse ring where his 3 year old grand-daughter mounted a white Costa Rican walking horse and gave us a show.  She was a great entertainer.  Thanks to Jackie for this photo.

Grandpa then explained how he got this horse and rehabbed it.  In the process the horse bit his arm (48 stitches) and kicked him, breaking his leg.  His message to the horse and to us was: “Love conquers all!”

 

On to Guanacaste Province where the Buena Vista Lodge is in the primary forest of Rincon de la Vieja National Park.  This area has a dry tropical climate and it is famous for its thermal pools.

On our orientation walk we saw Peccaries, Armadillos, Motmots, Capuchin and Howler Monkeys, White-fronted Amazon Parrots, Speckled Owls and much more.

 

Next we were in for a great adventure, a thrilling Forest Canopy Ride.

After a strenuous up-the-mountain walk, we were strapped into harnesses, donned thick leather gloves and soared above the tree tops on a zip-line where we could enjoy fantastic panoramic views.  The survivors are shown above.

And that’s not all.

Next we were introduced to our horses, climbed aboard and rode through the jungle to a thermal bath area that had a fumarola, a thermal vent in the earth’s crust.

There were seven different pools with varying temperatures and the prerequisite mud bath.  They even had a bar.

 

The next we day we trekked south to the Pacific Coast and the province of Puntarenas where we checked in to the Terrazas del Pacifico.

This was a long journey so Dee and I enjoyed the Pacific view, the swimming pool, wifi and a bottle of Malbec followed by dinner at the hotel.

 

Our jungle adventure was at the Manuel Antonio National Park.  It was very popular for good reasons.

It has four beaches, island bird sanctuaries, coral reefs and a rain forest.  The trails are hilly but other than that they are easy to walk.

Manuel Antonio is one of two habitats for the endangered Squirrel Monkey.  We saw Sloths, Squirrel Monkeys, Raccoons, Toucans, Capuchin Monkeys and many other species.

 

After some water activity we boarded the bus to go to Ronny’s for lunch and excellent rum and tonics featuring Bacardi Anejo, lime and Inverness tonic.

Ronny’s had a great view of the Pacific.  Dee and Bonnie are enjoying it.

 

After returning to our hotel, we relaxed and then went to Juco Beach for dinner at El Hicaco – L & D: Daily, Calle Hicaco, 506 2643 3226

El Hicaco is in a beautiful setting with a great view and live music.

Dee and I shared the ceviche with fish, shrimp and fried plantains.  Dee had a curried shrimp dish, and I enjoyed the whole fried red snapper with plantains and a mango sauce.

We shared a bottle of the ’00 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia.

 

Our last jungle adventure was on a small boat drifting down the Rio Tarcoles, a partial tidal estuary and Costa Rica’s largest habitat for crocodiles.

Bird watching is prime and we saw Scarlet Macaws, Osprey, Frigate Birds, Roseate Spoonbills and White Ibises.

 

We continued on toward San Jose stopping for lunch at a local wood shop and factory (Senor y Senora ESE in Alajuela) where we made some purchases.

 

Our next shopping activity was at the home/factory (Marroquinerias Yenory) of a woman who created one-of-a-kind handbags.

She told a great personal story about courage and perseverance.  She did very well with our group.  Michele Obama has several of her bags.

We had a farewell dinner at a local restaurant that included fortified punch and a glass of tempranillo.  This is the chef/owner.

After dinner we had our goodbyes.

We had returned to the Tryp Sabana which is an excellent hotel.

Costa Rica was an unusual journey for us but one that we will never forget.  If you have the slightest interest in flora and fauna we highly recommend that you place Costa Rica on your bucket list.

 

Until next time, best wishes and happy travels,

Dick & Dee Wele 

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