Simons Adventure

On the road, there's adventure waiting every day.

The famous Manuel Antonio National Park… and awesome Falafel!

We woke just before our alarm at 6, and got up to get ready for a day in the national park. As Manja had a quick shower, I prepared Avocado on toast with scrambled eggs. I also tried the provided coffee, and it was so seriously bad that I actually poured it away. As we were about to sit down to enjoy our meal, we had a Monkey jump onto the balcony and make angry faces. He really wanted some too! Turns out the Monkeys came to visit the entire apartment complex this morning!

Fueled up for the day we headed out to catch the bus to Manuel Antonio National Park. This is the national park which is recommended in all of the travel guides, and we got there at opening time. We spent the next few hours at the park walking every trail and checking out every beach. We even had a pre-packed lunch on the main beach!

We took a plethora of pictures, here is an edited set:

The park was nice, but in my opinion not the best I have been to. Although my close encounter with the deer kind right at the end was really special, I personally preferred Carrera. None the less, the chances of seeing a lot of wildlife are, of course, greater in the bigger park. We returned exhausted around 4PM, had a shower and a short break before heading out to “Falafel” for dinner. This dinner was a real highlight, I mean I love Falafel, and these were awesome and home-made.

Ingenious bus drivers and seeing our first sloth

When you sleep early, you usually wake early too, but this morning we slept through to 7am. By the time we got ready and headed to the nearby breakfast place recommended by the hotel, it was nearly 8am – a late breakfast for this trip 😂.

A yummy start to the day!

Today we decided to explore the little town of Quepos, and taking the advice of our Airbnb hostess we decided to take the bus for 330Col each (about €0.50). They really just drive between Quepos and the San Antonio National Park, so there is a bus about every 10 minutes. I say about, because they stop and pickup anyone at the side of the road, and will drop you off anywhere on the route. They are also pretty well organised, having foam rectangles with holes cut into them for each denomination as well as sets of change for the common payment amounts. So it takes seconds to serve each customer, even though the bus driver collects each and every fare personally. It’s surprisingly efficient – many first world bus operators could learn from them I think 🙂

View in the bus

Quepos itself wasn’t all that spectacular, a little seaside town really, and as with all “Cities” we have seen so far the contrast between rich and poor is very obvious, making the athmosphere not entirely welcoming. None the less there was a small farmers market which operates every weekend which we took a look at before strolling along the promenade to some of the nearby parks. Apparently you can also do sports fishing and park your Yacht in the yacht club. I’m guessing it’s almost exclusively used by foreigners and tour businesses.

Farmers Market

Farmers Markets

After the Yacht areas there was a small public park which was our destination. It has a beautiful cove of pacific ocean on one side and a whole bunch of outdoor sports equipment. We didn’t feel the energy to do a work-out, and so watched the waves instead. As we were leaving a local pointed out another visitor: a little sloth was hanging on a tree right at the entrance!

We decided to walk the promenade back again, chatting as we watched the pacific ocean, before stopping at a local pub for a refreshment: One Guava and one Pineapple smoothie. Just what the doctor ordered on a hot and humid day!

Cooled off sufficiently we headed back to the bus terminal and jumped on a bus to San Antonio Beach, going right past our accommodation the other way.

The beach is really wide, and we decided to walk it end-to-end. When we walked onto the beach we were immediately set upon by locals wanting us to settle down with them on their beach chairs for a fee. Seems the most popular business model on the beach, though other people walk around showing off their wares and occasionally approaching people. The nice thing is that they really let you go when you say you are not interested. They may offer you a joint before they go, but they do leave you alone once you say no.

On one end there was a lagoon which ended at the national park. On the national park side, we saw a sign which I thought I recognised, and Manja confirmed by use of her camera: No Swimming, crocodiles. On the beach side of the SAME WATER there was no sign and a tourist or two swimming. Ah, Costa Rica. Pura vida! 😉

The beach sand was a bit black, I assume a remnants of Volcanic activity. It did mean that the beach was unusually hot in some places and I managed to burn my soles just a touch. Walking in the water a bunch helped though 🙂

By the time we got to the other end of the beach we were both exhausted. We headed back to the middle where the bus stop was, and went shopping at the local supermarket. Our accommodation has a kitchen, and we decided to cook tonight – nothing fancy, just some pasta. We caught the bus back and thanks to google maps were even able to stop the driver at the right location. If you do this sort of travel, DEFINITELY get offline maps before you go.

Chef Simon preparing some pasta

Hiking Carara – our first national park walk

We started with a lovely breakfast from our Airbnb host, overlooking a valley of rainforest and rivers. We even spotted a toucan and some other birds, but were not quite quick enough for a photo.

Our host recommended a jungle walk nearby – the Carara National Park. Our next check-in was no earlier than 3pm, and being before 8 when we finished breakfast (yeah, the days somehow always start early here!) we decided to drop by and walk the full length of the park, which was estimated to be around 4 hours.

It took us a fair bit longer… We got there around 8:15 and left around 14:00. This wasn’t because the path was difficult or anything, we just took our time waiting for groups of noisy people to pass us and for nature to show itself. It was totally worth it – we spotted a LOT. As always, here is some of Manja’s amazing photography 😀
Before we get to the photos, though, take a look at these amazing little leaf-cutting ants!

 As we returned to the carpark we got a nice surprise, it was full of iguanas and Colibris!

 

Next we needed to find an ATM to get some more cash reserves, so we dropped by a small shopping center for the ATM and had some Subway for lunch while there. I can’t tell you why, but it tasted different to what we’re used to. Quite good, just different.

During our drive we also drove along a road which goes straight through a palm oil plantation. Which was shocking mostly because you go from rainforest to very obviously farmed (African) palms. A few hectares (at least) of rainforest must have been cleared to make space for it. Doing some research it seems that Palm oil has been a Costa-Rican staple for years, but it still shocked us to see the impact first hand. Some more info from lonely planet here.

Eventually stopped for some fuel, which was an experience. Petrol stations are full service here, and the price is government set. We drove up, got allocated to a pump where an attendant filled the car while cleaning the windscreen. We paid her in cash, the price being visible on the pump, and drove off.

Eventually we arrived in our accomodation in Quepos near Manuel Antonio. We made it at 3:05, and as we rang the doorbell there was no answer. We rang again. And Again. We were just looking up contact details when the shopkeeper of the small convenience store next door took pity on us and called the owner. She came down to the door real quick, apologising. The doorbell runs on wifi and something went wrong so it didn’t ring on her phone. We were just happy that we got in 🙃

Being pretty exhausted from the hike and drive over, we decided to take it easy tonight and use the opportunity of a laundry service to clean some of our things and re-sort our luggage. We also planned the activities for the next few days before heading down to a nearby restaurant for dinner around 17:30. Yeah… early starts and early dinners 😉. Unfortunately the place didn’t open until 18:00, so we had a drink at the bar waiting for the the restaurant to open – which happened as soon as the groceries got delivered. I ordered a typical Costa Rican dinner (Beans, Rice, a meat – fish in this case, salad and some fried banana in a maize flour coating) while Manja ordered some Quesadillas as she was still not that hungry after our late lunch. We spent the next hour chatting as we waited for our food, and we were just about to ask what was happening when I saw the delivery guy return with a bag of cheese… 2 Minutes later our food magically appeared 😂

We got back to the hotel around 8 and dropped into bed, exhausted and slightly eaten by mosquitoes which finally got us as we were waiting for dinner 😵

Grand tour of terrible roads and crossing some crocs

On our last morning at Tifakara we had breakfast and packed up. On our way to our next destination we decided to drop past the coffee plantation once more because they showed us a cool retreating plant, which we wanted to film. One of the guides was nice enough to take us out to the farm once more and find one for us.

After that it was a long drive through winding, sometimes foggy roads. Everything was going quite well until we hit Berlin.

No kidding, it’s a town in Costa Rica too! We were so distracted we made a wrong turn, but google quickly got us on the right path again. Eventually we turned onto Via 713. Now things got adventurous. Massive pot-holes, 45-50 degree inclines and mostly gravel roads wherever the incline was not so big that you would have just slipped. Oh and something like 1.5 lanes wide. We were not on the road for a great distance, but it took a while. I only switched between neutral and first gear the whole time as our pseudo-4wd would not have made it up the inclines in any other gear. The Videos Manja took made it look way easier, just remember that she was leaning all the way forward in most of them where you don’t see the dash 😅

Eventually we hit the next major road and were back onto a great road. To our relief this lasted to almost the end of the trip where there was some almost straight dirt road with a few potholes. Seemed so easy after the earlier experience!

When we arrived at our Airbnb we still had a few hours to kill, so we decided to relax in and by the pool for a couple of hours when Manja saw a Monkey run across the grassy hill behind us. We stormed out of the pool to grab a camera but by the time we got there he was gone. Being out of the pool anyway we decided to head over to Crocodile bridge. This bridge is what it says on the tin: It’s a standard two-lane Costa Rican bridge, over a river which has more than a few crocs in it.

Post croc-bridge we pulled up at a random beach, where we proceeded to do the things we do at a beach: Clean up and photograph the wildlife. I got some good shots of the crabs here, even finding two hermit crabs 🙂

Unfortunately the whole place was full of plastic. Given that Costa Rica is known to be more ecological than average, this was really really disheartening to see. We carted off a good moving-box full of rubbish, and hardly made a dent… People suck sometimes. Why do we have to spoil all the naural wonder around us?!? 🥺

To help us cheer up a bit we hit a restaurant recommended to us by our Airbnb host for its excellent view. We decided on a shared vegetarian plate, which was an interesting combination of deep-fried vegetable things. Probably not healthy, but not bad tasting either :D. We also filmed the sunset a bit, but not to complete darkness because the drive up here was filled with potholes again and we wanted to be able to see and avoid them. By the time we got back to our accommodation (about 15 minutes later) it was pitch-black. I stopped just before our driveway because a Toad was blocking the road. Manja used the opportunity to take a happy snap. When we parked the car we got another magical surprise: there were fireflies all over the property. Being notoriously hard to film or photograph, we tried none-the less with limited succcess. Tonight’s accomodation also happens to be quite open, covered only by flyscreens. From our bed we can hear the sound of the jungle, and occasionally the flicker of a firefly which got lost on our porch.

Neverending rain, coffee and waterfalls

We woke up before our Alarm, but started the day slowly, heading to breakfast around 6:30am. It was pouring with rain, and showed no signs of slowing, so we decided to spend the day relaxing in our very comfortable room. I downloaded a novel on my Kindle while Manja posted her instagram and worked up the first few pictures from our trip.

A short clip of the rain, so you can get a real feel for it 🙂

At around 10 we decided that we would get going regardless of weather. Our original plan was to hit the waterfall and swimming hole “La Fortuna” at 7am to beat the crowds, given that it was a 300m walk to the entry from our hotel. But with the torrential downpour we changed our plan into visiting the North fields coffee plantation. There’s a fair few coffee plantations and tours in Costa Rica, so we decided to trust the reviews and hit one of the smaller ones which was also nearby. They offer a tour about their coffee/cocoa farm and based on our experience at Charlies in Queensland we thought it may be good to do this with a family-run provider. And it totally was! I had forgotten a bunch of the info about cocoa and learned a bunch about coffee.

The following paragraphs are a bit philosophical about coffee, environment and what is ultimately “The right thing to do”. I’ve indented it so that the less politically/environmentally interested of you can just skip right past it all.

Importantly, I was educated about the difficulty of proper organic farming for coffee, and about some of the problems with the fair-trade options. Basically fair-trade is important in countries where exploitation is rife, but it creates a problem in other places where a certification causes large amounts of extra expense with no actual benefit to consumers or suppliers. Given Costa Rica, as many other countries, does not have an issue with exploitation, single origin becomes much more meaningful.

As for organic: it basically is a risk premium. The farmer takes greater risk of having their livelihood destroyed by things like treatable and common fungus, and receives a premium for this effort. This is not, by any means, the same as being sustainable as infection by fungus such as “Rust disease” is almost inevitable in humid countries, which also happen to be the countries where coffee grows.

One other alternative is to grow more hardy crops: entirely possible. There is a type of non-aribica coffee plant which have higher yield and better resistance, which is commonly used in other countries. It happens to be illegal in Costa Rica because it produces terrible quality coffee.

In general there seems to be a great interest by farmers to be more organic, but without the ability to control diseases which can literally wipe out their livelihood in a matter of months, they just can’t afford to take the risk. I mean, if you bought a house and had to choose: Damage the environment or risk it being destroyed every 12 months, would you do it? I doubt I know a single person who would risk actual bankruptcy for the principle of living organically.

But guess who can? That’s right: Big corporations. So if you’re buying fair-trade organic coffee you definitely are paying a premium, but probably not for what you think you are, as you are supporting some large corporation and not smaller farmers. The corporation can afford to hire people to make sure that each certifications stringent check-list is followed. Best case there is no loophole in the certification process, but I personally doubt such a checklist exists.

So how do you make sure you buy coffee which is sustainable, farmed by local farmers, without the use of pesticides or environmentally damaging impacts? The answer is simple: At present you can’t. Best you can do is pick your evil, either support a large corporation which will follow the letters of the law when it comes to things that must be done to be certified (Fair trade and/or Organic) or support local farmers who are still forced to use pesticides to survive (Single Origin)

One of the nice things about the tour was that we got to try freshly made chocolate (including the traditional “Drink of the gods”) as well as freshly roasted coffee. Being there to learn I also asked to taste the absolutely burned coffee beans, just to know what I would taste when a bean tastes burnt.

One massive take-away: Always buy whole beans and grind them yourself. What to look for in terms of quality: Beans of similar size and colour, a recent “Roasted on” date, not many broken beans. Ground coffee is almost always inferior quality. If coffee tastes exactly the same all the time its probably not the best quality either. I assume its the same as any other product I know: If you control for consistency you tend to do this by suppressing high quality rather than by eliminating low quality. (Think about it: if you alway try and hit average quality you eliminate the truly good things to offset the really bad ones. Wouldn’t it be better to just eliminate the bad ones, even if this affects your yield?).

Needless to say, I loved the tour and would highly recommend it!

Being all coffee-d up (I had the shakes, and I very rarely get the shakes), we decided to walk off our energy by visiting the “Las Fortuna Waterfall”. The rain had eased to a very light drizzle, and we could walk it with just our rain jackets to keep the moisture at bay. Usually you can swim at the base, but with the rainfall of the past few weeks, the flow was dangerously strong so swimming was not allowed. The good news, however, was that it wasn’t as busy because of this. We got to enjoy the sight and sound of the waterfall in reasonable peace.