I’m back from ten days in Costa Rica and a couple more in Florida recovering (long enough to at least take mom out to a day-before-Mother’s-Day dinner).
Was it a good trip? Of course—although it wasn’t entirely what I expected. See, I knew this was a group tour thing, and I knew that it was organized by a friend that my mom had met through the Florida Native Plant Society who was also a member of Audobon. So it would have a lot of Audobon people, but it wasn’t an Audobon trip. What I didn’t really fully understand was that this was a birding trip. What these people wanted to do was traipse around through the rainforest trying to snap photographs of elusive birds through telephoto lenses bigger than my first car.
So there was a lot of rainforest traipsing. This was a lot of fun, and not a lot of hard exercise—a bird-walk is not at all the same as a hike. The downside for me was that I’d shown up with a Canon G9 compact camera rather than an SLR, perfectly suited for taking touristy pictures in and around towns but not so good for zooming in bird-sized objects a football field length away. We didn’t get to see much of the towns except when the bus was driving through them unless we broke away from the group, and that only when we were in areas of Costa Rica that, well, actually had towns nearby.
And one other minor downside for me: a preplanned tour that includes all meals pretty much just includes all meals at the hotels. This is great if you don’t want to think about food, but anyone who knows me knows that I want to think about food. I’d have been wandering into little dives trying to find good meals and impressing locals with the three words I know in Spanish (“cerveza,” “tequila,” and “baños”).
The first night of the trip was spent in San José, Costa Rica’s biggest city and only real metropolis. From there we went to Villa Lapas, a hotel near the Carara wildlife refuge, close (but not on) the Pacific Coast, that’s apparently famous for its (surprise) birdwatching. Two nights there, then onto Monteverde and the “cloudforests” there (i.e., high altitude rainforests) for three days, then finally another three days at the Selva Verde Lodge in the Sarapiqui Rainforest in northeast Costa Rica.
So. Did I take pictures? Funny story (ahem): technically, I took just over six hundred of them. When I started trying to organize and edit them, though, my laptop fritzed out its GPU. This is apparently a Known Issue™ with the NVidia 8600M that the MacBook Pro I have uses; Aperture, my photo editing/cataloging software, is very GPU-intensive, and mom doesn’t use air conditioning until absolutely forced. My suspicion is that being pushed up to sustained hard use in a pretty warm environment tipped it over. It’s working now, but I’m a little paranoid about restarting Aperture. When I do manage to get a selection of pictures up somewhere, though, I’ll put up a link.
And, naturally, we did break away from the group and explore Monteverde a little. We found a chocolate shop and café run by American expatriates, several little art shops, and—yes—a gourmet restaurant we had dinner at, a marvelous tiny place called Chimera that has a tiny kitchen with two women in it turning out dishes that look like they’re being plated for Food Network specials. My mom became slightly obsessed with the chicken tortilla soup they made (their version has chipotle, bacon and roasted tomato in it); I think I liked the heart of palm and spiced cashew salad at least as much, and was pleasantly shocked by the “firecracker apple cake,” a rich cake served with a side of chile-infused caramel and locally made vanilla ice cream.
Out of all the places we stayed, Monteverde had the nicest town, but Selva Verde was the nicest hotel. No, call it a lodge: the rooms were in bungalows, most of them off the forest floor and connected by wooden walkways. You weren’t near the rainforest, you were in it there. It was hot and humid but was surprisingly mosquito-free (although we did discover a bullet ant in the room, which was a bit adventurous). Even though we were essentially trapped there for food, the food was good and the bar was well-stocked (the other places mostly just had a cursory selection of bottom-shelf liquor, treating you like the captive audience they assumed you to be). I learned a new drink there (a “Tropical Tico,” with cachaça and mango), had my first real Pisco Sour, and taught the bartenders how to make an El Floridita.
Now, it’s time to get back to work, and have some more coffee. Yes, I did pick up a bit from a coffee roaster in Monteverde, too. I wasn’t sure what to expect—was it stale stuff packed for tourists who can’t tell the difference?—but it turns out to be fine quality.