Costa Rica, Parte Final: Campanario Is Not For Everyone!

You know an ecolodge is pretty hard-core when they tell you that right on their website. Then again, Campanario is not exactly an ecolodge. It’s a “biological station,” catering especially to student groups (middle school through grad school), but they will also take tourists ready for “off-the-grid Rain Forest adventure.” Like this:

Don’t worry–Son One checked it out with his flashlight first.

Since Son One worked as an intern here and brought us to visit six years ago, we knew Campanario would be the centerpiece of our tour once more. We found nothing changed, from the stunningly scenic beach…

Arrival = the boat backs in, and you splash ashore!

…the electricity-free cabins…

No going barefoot in the jungle!
Also, don’t forget your flashlight when you go back down to the main lodge for dinner!

You reach Campanario via an hour-plus boat ride out of the mangrove-filled mouth of the Sierpe River and along the base of the Osa Peninsula. A handful of other establishments connect via a public coastal trail, but essentially Campanario exists in a little bubble of wildness, adjacent to Costa Rica’s largest National Park, Corcovado. The spider monkeys were there to greet us on our arrival…

I really do need a zoom lens. ūüė¶

…a male curassow paraded for his mate behind our cabin…

(about the size of a small turkey)

…and a coati helped itself to palm fruit nearby. (Coatis are kind of the Costa Rican raccoon–except they have raccoons too, lucky them.)

Hey cutie.

Campanario has its own trail system–the place where, in 2015, we saw that tapir featured in my last post. They’re pretty rugged…

So many reasons to watch your step!

…and rubber, snakebite-proof boots are so strongly recommended that they have dozens of pairs to loan to guests.

Hot, but worth it.

It was wonderful to see Son One in his happiest of Happy Places.

After taking this photo, I stuck my head in that waterfall. Ahhhh…

Hiking into Corcovado N.P., visitors are required to have an official guide. Son One doesn’t have that credential (yet), so Campanario provided one of his old friends, former station manager Freiner, to guide us.

Freiner is the BEST.

Not only did Freiner lug a hefty scope on his shoulder during our multi-hour hike, he also let us take pictures through it. (He’s especially fond of trogons, he told me.)

Trogon, courtesy Freiner & his scope.

It was still Son One’s idea to go inside that tree root, though.

totally…safe…

I should pause a moment here, though, to make sure I’m not giving the wrong impression of Campanario. Yes, there’s electricity only in the kitchen of the main lodge. Wifi, are you kidding?! There is plumbing, but showers are…let’s just say refreshing. Dinner is eaten by candlelight. But the food! Campanario also boasts the best meals of any we ate in Costa Rica. “Just” basic Tico dinners, lunches and breakfasts like:

Todos los d√≠as: huevos, gallo pinto, pl√°tanos fritos, tortilla, queso fresco, frutas…

Even for our day hike, Flor (Freiner’s wife) packed us gallo pinto (rice & beans) along with our sandwiches!

I’m a new convert to rice & beans as trail lunch. (Note Freiner’s scope in the background. That thing was heavy!)

At one point in our long Corcovado hike, The Mate and our traveling buddy opted to head back, so Son One guided them, leaving me to realize my goal of chatting in Spanish with Freiner for the rest of the route back.

Cocodrillo gigante
cascada refrescante

I did notice, however, that my verb conjugation went all to hell as the heat & mileage caught up to me. Still, what a huge difference from six years ago, when I could only manage basic niceties! This time I got some of Freiner’s life story. Of course his English was better than my Spanish, but I’m not sure he would have opened up as much in English. Speaking the local tongue makes a statement of comradeship, I think.

Speaking of comradeship, we were especially lucky on this visit to have Campanario to ourselves! No big group of college kids as we’d hung out with last time–just us four, Freiner & his wife & cute little daughter, three other young local staff members, and Nancy, La Directora. Nancy treated us to a special sugar-cane pressing. We “had” to do the work…

crude but effective press

…but our reward was delicious cane juice, mixed with Cacique and served in special bowls with a starfruit garnish .

starfruit from the tree by our cabins

What a special, family feel that afternoon had!

Lodge in the background. Foreground: all the rest of us revelers. (The young lads kept trying to sneak more Cacique.)

When it came time to leave…I didn’t want to. Three days of flashlights at night, rubber boots, warnings about prowling pumas and fer-de-lances on the trails, cold showers, no wifi…and it really felt like Paradise. Son One’s deep affection for the place seeped into me, big-time.

Waiting for the boat to take us back to civilization. Do we hafta?

One more thrilling boat ride, back to Sierpe, and from there our journey just kept going, as Son One drove us all the way back to San Jose for our required COVID test, our scramble to re-book a cancelled flight, our red-eye to JFK and even longer flight back to Seattle…all those delights of modern travel that I refuse to complain about because it was such a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful gift of a trip.

And now I have a new happy place too.

If most of this description leaves you thinking “No thanks!”, I don’t blame you one bit. But if Campanario excites you–as an individual or an educator–I encourage you to be in touch.

Even more, if the thought of tailoring your OWN Costa Rican adventure–maybe without rubber boots?–excites you, please enjoy this shameless plug of Liana Travels!

Costa Rica, Part Dos: Not in Kansas Anymore

This was actually my third time in Costa Rica. The Mate and I visited Son One when he was first working there six years ago. Then there was the time my zoologist dad took me deep into the jungle for an Organization of Tropical States conference when I was sixteen (I was too scared of the rainforest to walk alone–correctly, as it turned out, because the assembled biologists later discovered an extremely venomous fer-de-lance viper on the trail).

But it’s still a shock to realize how DIFFERENT Nature is there. Oh, it looks inviting as all get-out, from above.

Up near the Monteverde Cloud Forest, where usually, Son One told us, you don’t see anything but cloud.

But get in close, and it’s red in tooth and claw–even the plants. Like this ficus, or Strangler Fig, enthusiastically murdering its host tree.

Whatever you do, don’t imagine this process sped up.

In the jungle, it’s everyone for itself. Even a lowly fencepost becomes a host.

Kind of cute, unless you’re the one who has to keep replacing the fenceposts.

And don’t even get me started on the army ants. (Not pictured: army ants. You’re welcome.)

Because Son One is a classic naturalist, which is to say nuts about dangerous critters, he was REALLY hoping for a sighting of either a puma or a fer-de-lance–preferably both. We struck out on both, this trip, although we did score some stunningly large paw prints, and this official Pile o’ Puma Poop on the trail:

…You’re welcome?

Son One did manage to find one fer-de-lance (terciopelo, in Spanish, which means velvet–has anyone actually stroked that snake??), but he hasn’t sent me the photo yet, so here’s one from our last visit:

And this is why we hike in rubber boots.

But of course, of COURSE, Costa Rica is way more than things that want to kill you. It’s also a splendid riot of sound and scent and color. Like this motmot which welcomed us on our first afternoon:

¬°Hola amigo!

And of course, of COURSE…monkeys. Since Son One’s specialty is taking people far from the madding crowd, we had an entire troupe of Capuchins to ourselves. (Here’s where I decided I need to invest in a zoom lens for my phone, but you get the idea.)

Son One, who speaks fluent Capuchin, warned us not to stand underneath. They like to pee on your head.

This thrilling wildlife encounter was somewhat undermined when we stopped for coffee at a place which puts out fruit for the birds…which the monkeys, of course, gorge on.

“Hey, I’m done with my banana. You gonna finish that muffin?”

As we headed back down toward the lowlands on a road whose steepness I couldn’t possibly capture with my phone, this tree caught me eye. The locals call it “Gringo Tree” because it looks like a white person with bad sunburn. But this particular one looked like E.T.

Phone home.

I‘m not saying North American Nature doesn’t have weird stuff. Just not THIS weird. Or wonderful. See you in the lowlands for Part 3!

Costa Rica, Part 1: ¬°Que Sorpresa!

Would you put this in your mouth?

Alien egg? Tree gall? Exotic cocoon?

How ’bout now?

EWWWWW.

If these images gross you out, you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the kind of Costa Rica tour The Mate and I just went on, led by Son One, as a beta-test of his budding ecotour company, Liana Travels. Some of what we did required…let’s just say…trust. But in every way, our trust was repaid. Like putting that weird glop in my mouth, which just happens to be passionfruit, and just happens to taste…

…magnificent.

Tangy, sweet, magical–ok, still a weird mix of gloppy and crunchy, but that flavor! Later, when we saw passionflower vines in bloom, I fell even more in love.

Encantada

So I decided that passionfruit was a pretty good metaphor for Liana Travels. Go ahead, take a bite. First comes the surprise, then the reward.

Some of those surprises, I have to admit, were NOT pleasant, but those had to do with travel during COVID, not with Son One’s planning. Example #1: Upon arrival at San Jose airport, we stood in the Immigration line for 2 and a quarter HOURS, because there were only four clerks processing many airplanes’ worth of travelers. (I was certain we were catching COVID every moment we stood there. We didn’t.) Example #2: While waiting for our required test results to exit the country, our flight was cancelled. But the stress of those surprises was made up for by watching Son One’s calm, competent responses.

Nuestro guia

In upcoming posts, I’ll give a more conventional travelogue. But as an intro, here are two more surprises. #1, have you heard of the famous invasive Cane Toads of Australia? Turns out they were imported from Central America! I hadn’t known that, and found the information as fascinating as the huge toads are ugly.

also nocturnal

And #2, how about this flower? Here it is closed up:

…ohhhhkay…

And here it is open. I asked Son One its name. His answer: “They call it Butthole Flower.”

Well alrighty then.

Watch this space for more on our off-the-beaten-path Costa Rican adventures. ¬°Puravida!

“Plan” is a Four-Letter Word. “Hope” is a Monkey.

It‘s become such a standard answer for The Mate and me, we’ve created our own cliche.

Friend: So, got any travel plans for 2022?

Us: We don’t use that word anymore. We hope to travel to Costa Rica soon…

i.e., this place

Or:

Friend: You guys planning on doing your famous Road Trip again this year?

Us: We don’t use that word. We hope we get to do our road trip, starting in February…

I think you get the point. Since 2020, those of us who still lived under the illusion that we had some control over our destiny discovered just how illusory that idea was. Now it’s hard to believe I ever believed it.

Take Costa Rica. Since Son One kicked off his ecotour company, Liana Travels, The Mate & I, plus a friend, have been signed up to **ahem** help our son “beta test” his touring guide chops.

I mean…somebody’s gotta do it. Those Scarlet Macaws can’t watch themselves, right?

But here we are, two weeks before departure, and it still feels about 50/50 that the trip will be postponed. COVID’s messing with the world in so many ways: threatening illness, threatening flights, threatening quarantine, threatening threatening threatening. For the next 2 weeks, The Mate and I will pack, yes–but we’re going about it like little leaf-cutter ants, nose to the ground, not with our usual pre-trip excitement.

Zoom in on the trail. You’ll see ’em.

I like to think I’m doing a pretty good job of staying even-keel right now. I tell myself, Hey, even if you do get to go to Costa Rica, there’s no guarantee you’ll see a tapir, right? So think of the trip itself as that tapir. Maybe it’s there, maybe it’s not.

Weird example, I know–but I wanted to use my tapir picture.

Plans are tapirs–rare & elusive, bound to break your heart if you expect them. But hope? Hope’s a monkey. As in: if you go to Costa Rica, you will see one…or two…or three…possibly more. So go ahead and hope for monkeys!

Just, no matter what, don’t PLAN for monkeys. If you do, given the way the world’s been working, they’re likely to show up like this:

You called?

So, will the Wings go to Costa Rica? Hope so; still not planning on it. Yes, I’ll pack. But it’s good to know the place will be there, somewhere in this crazy world, even if I’m not there to see it…this time.

Hope so.

From Mystery Trip to Flexericity Trip: The Best-Laid Plans…

[Disclaimer: I fully understand that the storm of November 15, 2021 took an enormous toll on the lives, environment and property of thousands of folks in the Pacific Northwest, on either side of the border. Please know that this tale of plans gone sideways is not meant to lighten that truth.]

That said…here’s my response to “So that Birthday Mystery Trip you planned for your Mate–how’d it go?”

Chapter One: NO Canada!

Our top-secret Mystery Destination was the lovely Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, a place I’d been introduced to by a friend’s travel blog. Having studied the regulations, I knew we’d need a COVID test–the PCR type that requires labwork, not the instant antigen test. That test needed to be taken 72 hours in advance, no more. Since we were leaving on a Monday, I did the math: take test Friday morning, immediately send it off via UPS. The nice person at the company whose test kits I ordered assured me our results should be available online by mid-morning Monday, just in time for us to present at the border.

The Mate met me at the bakery Friday morning, just after our local UPS-ing shop opened. I went on break and we gingerly took our tests on the back deck. We sealed them up and walked over to the shop…where we were informed the UPS driver had already left. “With so few ferries, they just zip in first thing and go,” the woman in the shop told us sympathetically.

Horrified, we raced over the post office, ready to pay whatever it took to get that precious, swab-filled package to the lab next day. No luck: living on an island, “next day” has a whole new meaning. But, the clerk helpfully informed us, “The UPS driver’s probably waiting in the ferry line right now. Maybe you could drive down there and catch him?”

The Mate did just that, while I went back to work. Twenty minutes later he returned, reporting success! Hugs all ’round. Canada, here we come!

Or not. Next day, tracking our package, I found its arrival listed as Monday. I called the test-kit company…and once more a nice person informed me that, even with my package expedited, the best we could hope for would be results…”Maybe Monday evening. Maybe.”

Somehow, hanging around the border until evening, waiting on a “maybe” just didn’t appeal. And that was before I started paying attention to the weather.

Chapter Two: Plan B

So I said goodbye to my Canada plans. I called BC ferries and that cute little motel to cancel reservations. Then I got busy making more.

Some place special! Some place further away than the usual 1-or-2-night trip (we had 3 to play with). Some place with some options for not-too-steep hiking and biking. And some place not too high up; I didn’t want us getting snowed in anywhere.

Got it! The Hoh Rainforest.

I found us a cute cabin near the town of Forks (famous for glittery vampires), on the Soleduc River. Beautiful, remote venue near gorgeous hiking? Check. Beds for us plus surprise guest, Son Two? Check. (Son One couldn’t get away from work.) Small kitchen for me to prepare delicious birthday dinners? Check. Weather report? Uh, yeah…I mean, it’s supposed to be rainy. And pretty windy, come to think.

But hey–rainforest! Where else would we want to be?

Chapter Three: Nope.

So early that dark, wet and windy Monday morning, the Mate & I boarded the earliest ferry, the 6:40. It was already running 30 minutes late. How, we wondered, was that possible? Crew problems? Fog?

Turns out, that wind I’d been ignoring? It was now blowing so hard through Rosario Strait that the boat had to slow to what I texted Son Two (waiting on the mainland) as “a wallowing crawl.” But slowly, rolling and juddering, we made it to Anacortes, by now a full hour late.

This next part? It went exactly according to plan. (I had no idea how special that was.) As agreed with Son Two, I pulled into a convenience store and went in to get a growler filled–and he slipped into the driver’s seat. Surprise!

Happiness all ’round. We let the Mate drive, and I directed him toward the Coupeville ferry, the jumping-off point to the Olympic Peninsula. “Don’t worry,” I told Mate & Son, “that ferry’s running. I just checked.”

Well, it was running, when I checked. But 20 minutes later, when we got there, it wasn’t. “Might the winds die down later?” we asked the guy at the booth. His response: “Actually, they’re going to get worse. I’m sorry.”

Chapter Four: My Family’s Smart

Smarter than me. I was at a complete loss. Backtrack north, then head for the Cascades? Into what was probably a blizzard by now?

“Look, Mom,” Son Two said, consulting his phone. “We can keep going south and get on the other ferry, to the mainland. Then drive just a little and get on the one that goes to the Peninsula.”

“Are they actually running? In this weather?”

They were. I guess those crossings were short and sheltered enough. So here’s the route we took:

Totally, totally worth it. Huge shoutout to Washington State Ferries!

Chapter Five: Not So Fast

Along our happy way, as I congratulated myself on saving Plan B, my phone rang. The connection was spotty, but I managed to discern that it was the owner of the cabins near Forks. Saying something about “It’s pretty much Armageddon here.” I promised we’d bed down in Sequim that night–just fine, after such a long detour–and we’d see her in the morning. (Got a motel with a kitchen–yes!)

Next morning, she texted me this photo of her property.

Oh shit

With sincere wishes for a quick relief from the flooding and a mutually agreed-upon cancellation, I scrambled to find a motel in Forks NOT too close to a river. With a kitchen. Gotta have that kitchen! And I found one. Hooray. Off we go to hike in the rainforest!

“How far a drive is it?” the Mate asked.

“Lemme check the Google.” …. “Oh. Google says we can’t get there.”

Google was right. Highway 101 was closed just outside of Pt. Angeles. (Photo by WSDOT)

Thanks to WSDOT, whose photos I’m using here, I learned that the flooded Elwha River had strained the bridge so hard they couldn’t re-open until after major structural assessments.

Oh shit again (photo by WSDOT)

Chapter Six: Happy Endings

OK. No Forks. No Rainforest. Not even any of the beautiful points west of where we are. What’s left?

Why, everything! We found a trail leading up up up into the heart of Olympic National Park…

OMG, look at that flow!

It was steep enough, the water came pouring directly out of the mountainside…but that steepness kept it from pooling. Safe hiking!

Of course, as we gained elevation, we met up with frost…

…then snow…

…then…y’know what? I’m good with turning around here. You? Alrighty then. Let’s go find a motel, then check out the coastline.

Vancouver Island, from Port Angeles: the closest we got!

A visit to Dungeness Spit reminded us just how hard that wind was still blowing, even after the sun came out.

Returning from this walk, we had to take an alternate route–a tree had fallen over the road.

Thanks to my fixation with cooking dinner (no kitchen luck in Pt. A), I changed our final night’s reservations to the only affordable place I could find in Port Townsend with a kitchen: Fort Worden State Park.

What a joyous find! It had the coolest housing, converted officers’ quarters:

Our house wasn’t QUITE this grand–but close!

…amazing views…

Mt. Baker, looking back toward Whidbey Is. (photo by Son Two)

…bike trails…

Happy Birthday, Mate!

…and even, up among the batteries–huge structures to house huge guns (which I did not photograph)–poetry!

And yes–it had a wonderful kitchen for a wonderful birthday meal for my wonderful family.

“Can we eat now?”

Chapter Seven: Moral of the Story, or, Can We Wrap This Thing Up?

We came home to discover the storm had been much, MUCH worse than we’d imagined.

That road in the video? That’s the road to our house–our only exit. Here’s what the storm did:

Oh shit again, again.

But any “oh shits” for my island PALE in comparison with what the storm did to Vancouver Island and others north of here. They got SLAMMED, not only by rain and wind, but by snow, which then melted. As of this writing, much of the island is still under a state of emergency due to flooding. Ferries have been cancelled. Misery abounds.

O Canada, you’re in my thoughts. But I’m so relieved those COVID tests didn’t allow us to visit you in your time of trial.

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no…

I didn’t manage to put this post out there in time for official Thanksgiving. But my unofficial thanksgiving is this: thanks for the bravery of those who stride straight into the teeth of a storm. Thanks for the cozy love of my family, who made wherever we were be where I wanted to be. And thanks to who or whatever was responsible for getting us all home safely.

“Mystery Managed.”

DIY Travel: Why I Love Lonely Planet

Road Trip IV, Days 26-28: Puerto Rico to Durham, NC

Sometimes you just have to get away. And sometimes you just have to get away from other people who are getting away.

That’s why I am a loyal Lonely Planet-head. For those of you who don’t know, Lonely Planet is a series of travel books (originally) published in the U.K. I haven’t yet been to the country they don’t cover, but I’m sure there is one…at least for now.

Besides offering essential amenities like detailed maps and lengthy snippets (snips?) of history and culture, LP guides feel like they were written for me…that is, for people who prefer

–restaurants where locals eat
–knowing how to get around as cheaply and independently as possible
–accommodations with a certain amount of quirk
–knowing when to eschew, and when to spring for, the services of guides
–staying away from crowds
–finding undiscovered gems to brag about later
–exercise
–understanding how local people feel about us tourists

Being thorough, LP books do describe the 500-pound gorillas of travel, the big resorts and postcard tours. But they do so with a certain amount of tongue in cheek. Here’s what they have to say about the biggest resort in Puerto Rico: “If your idea of a good vacation revolves around golf, tennis, spa pampering, water sports, fine dining and gambling–with lots of company–this could be your bag.”

(In other words, “If you want to go there, bless you…but we really doubt you want to go there if you’re the kind of person who buys our books.”)

LP’s stock in trade are the personal touches within each section that The Mate and I have learned to rely on. The Ceiba Country Inn is described as having “friendly owners and even friendlier pets.” Bingo! Our kinda place. Our room was cheaper than the one we stayed in off the interstate in Van Horn, Texas last month, and believe me, that one did not feature fresh papaya for breakfast.

20140308-135816.jpg

When LP tells us something is a must-do, we believe them. MUST eat at the food kiosks (friquitines) by the beach? Sure. MUST try the local special, fried pork with rice and beans? Well, if you insist… (It cheers my cheap soul when LP’s directives are also inexpensive.) The only MUST for the northeast region that we were unable to follow through on was taking a nighttime kayak tour of a bioluminescent bay, but this was not for lack of trying; we made this trip on the fly, remember, and all the tours were booked. Sorry, LP.

20140308-135956.jpg

When LP sent us to El Yunque, the rainforest mountain that rises 3,500 feet an astounding 40 minutes from San Juan, the writer actually apologized for the limited number of hiking trails, as if knowing, “Oh yeah, it’s the Wings. They’re gonna want to get dirty.”

 

20140308-140148.jpg

For those of you who hate looking at maps and making reservations and dealing with people on the phone, by all means, go with a tour group. It’s way easier for sure. But for those of you who prefer to make your own plans but want a solicitous, well-traveled friend looking over your shoulder, make Lonely Planet your friend. That’s what it feels like.

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Anyone want to second the motion, or weigh in with a bad experience? The lines are open.