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. 😩

…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 dĂ­as: huevos, gallo pinto, plĂĄtanos 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, Parte Tres: Livin’ La Vida Lowlands

Costa Rica, I’ve learned, is the size of West Virginia. But with such diversity, it’s really better to imagine all of California scrunched into the Almost Heaven state. Which is why, just a few hours after leaving the mountains with down vests on, we were sweating in our tank tops down on the beach.

Luckily for us, Son One’s company, Liana Travels, is all about lesser-known spots, so instead of parking us on the obvious stretches of sand we were driving along, he guided his rental car down a very iffy road, crossed a stream, and introduced us to Windows Beach, Playa Las Ventanas, where we could splash, but then rest in the shade.

One of the “windows”–a tunnel through the cliff to the open sea.

Our overnight was Hacienda BarĂș, a wonderful private preserve, reclaimed from cattle pastures and rice fields by an American, starting in the 1970s. (Ahead of his time, that guy.) He planted a ton of trees preferred by wildlife, and slowly, over the decades, lured the monkeys and sloths and coatis back.

2-toed sloth in a mango tree–very unusual to see it AWAKE and MOVING during the day!

Some of the trees were just plain pretty…

Arboreal fireworks

…and some, like this spiky monster, I learned were a sloth favorite.

I hear the fruit is delicious.

Seems the mama sloths, when they want to wean their babies, go into the spiky forest and leave their babies. The babies take much longer to work their way out of the spiny trees, and by the time they get home–all done, no more nursing!

The cabins themselves were worth the stay…

…but the best thing about Hacienda BarĂș was its trail system.

Wonderful to have Son One along, but these trails were pretty self-guide-worthy.

I went out for a solo walk the morning of our departure, and just dug the heck out of the quintessential jungliness.

Look at this lil’ guy trying to dig its roots right into the middle of the trail!

Our last lowland stop, before disappearing into the REAL jungle, was the town of Sierpe. Son One booked us a kayak tour down the Sierpe River.

Not pictured: the baby crocodile we saw, nor the juvenile caiman, nor any of the three species of monkey who came to greet us. It’s hard to paddle and take pictures!

Since rivers aren’t necessarily his thing (yet), Son One booked us a guide, Henry, who also happened to be a member of the Boruca People, indigenous Costa Ricans especially famous for their mask-making and weaving. From Henry, we learned subtle differences in the habits of herons, and Boruca legends.

Thanks, Henry!

By the time we returned to Sierpe, I was thrilled with all the wildlife, but ready to get out of the sun.

Approaching Sierpe from upriver.

After a cool drink, it was time to condense our stuff into smaller bags. Leave the iPad in the rental car; no wifi where we were heading. But maybe…just maybe…one of these guys?

…wha…???

Tune in next time for Parte Cuatro, o, el fĂ­n emocionante.

O Canada: a Letter of Gratitude

Dear Canada,

I know you’ve had it a bit rough this last week, re-discovering your own racism and all. Welcome to the club. Gotta tell you, though–I still need to thank you for the ten days I just spent with The Mate, introducing my parents to your Rocky splendor. You may not be perfect, Canada (big surprise), but you’re still pretty stellar in my book.

Thank you for your waterfalls.

Like this classic: Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park

Or this one, coming right out of a cliff face! (Jasper)

Another classic, joining the Maligne River in Jasper

Can you ever have too many waterfall pictures?

Thank you for your canyons.

Athabasca

Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park. (Even though it was so crowded there I stopped taking pictures.)

Even your dry canyons are awesome!

Thank you for waterfalls IN canyons!

Maligne Canyon. Got pretty crowded there too…but can you blame us?

Thank you for the colors of your lakes.

The famous Lake Louise. 

Lake Agnes in Banff.

The Inkpots, Banff.

Hard to tell where sky ends and water begins. (Jasper)

Can’t…stop..photographing…water!

Thank you for your glaciers, even though their shrinkage scares the shit out of us.

Athabasca Glacier, coming off the Columbia Icefield, is still making its own weather…

…but look how far the poor glacier has receded since we first visited in the early 80s!

Thank you for your wildlife, even when it’s right beside the damn road.

Jasper traffic jam.

Big guy. I was hoping to see him fight another big guy, but he was too busy guarding his harem.

Moose are my FAVORITES. We saw four along just this one stretch of Maligne Road.

My second bear on this trip had me wishing for a zoom lens for my phone. Gotta work on that.

After the disappointment of seeing NO bighorn sheep in any of the parks, we met a giant herd on the very edge of the city of Kamloops! This is only some of them.

Thank you for the reassurance that, even when all your pine-beetle-ravaged forests do eventually burn, which they must…

(Yeah, pretty horrible to see–trees weakened by drought)

…Nature WILL know what to do.

Thank you for your mountains, which are not like any other mountains I’ve known.

Maligne Range…rock from 600 million years ago, uplifted

But on second thought–thank you, too, Washington. Your mountains are no slouch either.

The Mate at Washington Pass Overlook

And for that matter…thanks for the reminder, Lopez Island, that I don’t NEED to go to Canada to worship beauty. (But thank the gods I can! And I wish some of it for everyone.)

Welcome home.

ÂĄPura Vida! This Mind-Broadening Brought to You By Costa Rica

Here’s what Son One says about Pura Vida, after 9 months in Costa Rica:

Pura vida. Literally: pure life. But don’t bother with a direct translation. In Costa Rica, it’s a greeting, a goodbye, a thank-you, a you’re welcome, a slogan, an exclamation, and an explanation. It’s a proud toast to your country’s victorious soccer team. It’s an energetic call as you land a dorado in the Carribean. It’s a gracious refusal of payment from a local farmer who gives the stranded backpacker a ride to town. And it’s the humble answer to any tourist’s question of “how can it be so pretty here?” “Pura vida.”

Nearly two weeks of livin’ la vida pura has given me plenty to think about. Actually, as you might guess, my experience was mostly visual, so I’ll share more pictures than words this time.

#1. I never really understood the term “biodiversity” until I realized that I almost never saw more than one of the same kind of tree, flower, or fungus in the same spot. Everything’s competing madly with everything else.

"Poor Man's Umbrella."

“Poor Man’s Umbrella.”

Passion Flower. Thought these only came in purple!

Passion Flower. Thought these only came in purple!

Biodiversity ain't always pretty. (Beach Nut)

Biodiversity ain’t always pretty. (Beach Nut)

Plants upon plants upon plants...See any two alike? Right.

Plants upon plants upon plants…See any two alike? Right.

Who cares what it's called? It's so PRETTY!

Who cares what it’s called? It’s so PRETTY!

#2. Costa Rica ought to be a Mecca for gluten-free folks. Rice and beans are eaten at LITERALLY every meal: gallo pinto for breakfast (rice & black beans stir-fried with onions and red bell peppers), beans or bean soup with rice for lunch, and for dinner–you guessed it. Nary a slice of bread, nor did I see any butter for that matter. As for dessert, who needs it when you have the best fruit on the planet? This might be the healthiest travel-eating I’ve ever done.

Note: I don’t generally take pictures of food. So you’ll just have to imagine.

#3. Sometimes other countries’ wild animals don’t quite match your expectations. We happened on some capuchin monkeys harassing an iguana. “Why are they doing that?” we asked our biologist son. His scientific answer: “Monkeys are little shits.”

People think these guys are cute, huh? Yikes.

People think these guys are cute, huh? Yikes.

OK, this olinga's cute. But it's also supposed to be nocturnal, and shy, and hard to spot. Someone should tell it.

OK, this olinga’s cute. But it’s also supposed to be nocturnal, and shy, and hard to spot. Someone should tell it.

And the elusive tapir? This one was LYING IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR PATH and could hardly be bothered to get up.

And the elusive tapir? This one was LYING IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR PATH and could hardly be bothered to get up.

#4. Idea for next blockbuster horror movie: “Strangler Fig.” Seriously, these things are terrifying! They strangle whole trees from the top down, until…shudder…they BECOME the tree.

Tree, or nightmare?

Tree, or nightmare?

This would be beautiful if it weren't so gruesome.

This would be beautiful if it weren’t so gruesome.

#5. Just because a country is “developed” doesn’t mean it matches up to our wealthy, take-everything-for-granted standards. Example: many places we stayed at could not handle toilet paper in their septic systems. And even when we were zipping along on an American-style freeway, we could see that one little dead-engine incident in the opposite lanes had created a miles-long backup, because there was no shoulder, nor any “Rapid Response” state trooper just minutes from the scene. Reminder: appreciate.

No, I did not take pictures of the plumbing or the highways either.

#6. I am far too poor a photographer to capture the color-diversity of Costa Rican birds. The rarest bird of all, the Resplendent Quetzal, I only got to peek at through a scope: look, it’s a Christmas bird! But here are some of my attempts:

J/K. We never saw a real toucan, but I loved the way the Ticos made 'em out of used tires.

J/K. We never saw a real toucan, but I loved the way the Ticos made ’em out of used tires.

This big, gorgeous hummingbird's called a Violet Sabrewing. I want that as my Roller Derby name.

This big, gorgeous hummingbird’s called a Violet Sabrewing. I want that as my Roller Derby name.

Even prettier than its picture in all that tourist schlock: Scarlet Macaw (hey, another great name!)

Even prettier than its picture in all that tourist schlock: Scarlet Macaw (hey, another great name!)

#7. When you’re with a competent guide, the scary creatures are just as exciting as the pretty ones…maybe more so.

Son One's finger--I'm surprised he didn't try to pat the tarantula.

Son One’s finger–I’m surprised he didn’t try to pat the tarantula.

The deadly fer-de-lance. No fingers near this guy.

The deadly fer-de-lance. No fingers near this guy.

Why we didn't swim in the Rio Sierpe.

Why we didn’t swim in the Rio Sierpe.

#8. Beauty is universal. Every Tico we met let us know that yes, they KNEW they were living in Paradise.

Pura Vida...

Pura Vida…

Thanks, Ticos. Thank you for taking so much better care of your incredible land than most countries do. You are providing a very much-needed example. And who needs to flush toilet paper anyway?

...y Pura Vida otra vez...

…y Pura Vida otra vez…

 

Road Trip V, Days 29-31, Dallas to Flagstaff: News Flash, Scenic Texas NOT An Oxymoron!

Texas, I owe you an apology. You know you’re my favorite love-to-hate state. You’ve heard me say that someone must have picked you up and shook you so that all your scenery ran down into one corner, down at Big Bend. Oh, you pretend you don’t give a gosh durn, Texas, but I know I’ve hurt your feelings.

No scenery in Texas? I stand corrected. The Mate and I have discovered Capstone Canyon. It’s a lil’ ol’ state park about 90 miles south of Amarillo. For hikers and bikers and campers like us, it’s a lil’ ol’ slice of joy.

Crumbly red rock striated like glittery bacon with stripes of quartz:

imagePeople-imitating red hoodoos like something you’d see in Arches National Park:

image

Slickrock a la 127 Hours:

image

Balancing white capstones fallen from the canyon rim like giant clamshells dropped by giant seagulls:

image

And…bison?!

image

Yes, bison. Wandering around free. Capstone is apparently home to the Official Texas State Bison Herd. (Note to other western states: do YOU have a bison herd? Why not? Talking to YOU, Colorado!)

Now add to these images a perfect blue sky, 75 degrees with a cooling breeze, the honey scent of blooming mesquite and the buzz of happy bees, and…scene. Bucolic western scene. Within a stone’s throw of Amarillo! Texas, please accept my apology.

How The Mate and I wished we had planned to camp in Capstone Canyon! But we had only paid a day fee, and changing our minds would have meant driving all the way back to the entrance. Plus we wanted to make some miles that night to get us closer to Grand Canyon. Plus there were, ahem…some basketball games we wanted to watch. But we will be back to spend a couple of nights, weather permitting, and I can’t wait.

Leaving the scenic area, Red Rover climbed up out of the rolling redness and suddenly–boom, there we were back on the North Texas plains, and let me tell you, they are PLAIN. As in plain ugly. But now The Mate and I know their pretty little secret: beneath that flat brownness lies a curvy red heart.

If only more Texans knew about it! No one we know has ever heard of Capstone, or its more famous cousin Palo Duro Canyon. On the other hand…maybe it’s better this way. Bison don’t really enjoy company.