Triplog: Costa Rica (Part 2)

I am writing now from La Fortuna, several hours inland by car from our previous location on the western coast. To get here, we traveled over major (paved, two-lane) highways and smaller (packed dirt, one- and two-lane) roads. We frequently had to cross what one local called “oh my God” bridges: narrow, single-lane water crossings with no side rails. Traffic lights are very rare, “stop,” “caution,” and “yield” signs are frequent.

In Guanacasta we did our first major tourist thing, which was a package that the tour company called the “Mega Combo.” After a two hour drive to Rincon de la Vieja we took a treacherous trail on horseback down to a secluded hot spring. One of our number found the experience a bit too exciting and left his horse behind. He quickly discovered that the journey on foot was far more treacherous and had to meet up with a tractor along the way.

The forest and the springs were beautiful, although I chose to forego the mud bath. After an hour, though, we were ready to move on to the next mega destination, a quarter-mile long water slide. Which was a blast. Everyone went twice.

Next up, ziplining. There were eleven platforms suspended in trees high above the floor with great views of the forest canopy. We saw a few monkeys, but not much else, unfortunately. We were each outfitted with a climbing harness, rope and pulley, and a safety rope. At each platform a guide would attach our safety rope to a secondary airplane cable and then we would do a pull-up so that the could hook us to our pulley on the primary cable. One hand rests on the line attached to the harness, one on the zip line behind the pulley. Cross your legs, lean back, and use your back hand (with a thick leather glove) to slow your descent. Very fun, great views, and easy to do. Despite what the picture implies, we were actually quite high off the ground.

Ziplining really is a blast, and with any luck we might do a bit more of it before this trip is done. And that wraps up the “Mega Combo.” It was super typical! (As they say on the signs for their markets here).

Tuesday was an in day at the hotel: pool, kayaks, cooking class, and the like. In the evening we rented a car and headed down to Playa Grande to sit around for several hours waiting for wormsign turtles.

The huge leatherback turtles (measuring 1-1.5m in length) return to the beaches on which they were hatched in order to lay their eggs. In the early 90s a thousand turtles a year would come to Playa Grande to make their nests, now that number is far lower. We were not allowed to bring lights, cameras, or cell phones and had to keep quiet. When a turtle was spotted we were led to the beach and allowed to stand within half a meter of the huge mother turtle as she slowly dug her nest with her back legs and then dropped over sixty eggs into it, before burying them in the sand. We were not allowed to stay to watch the turtle return to the water (nor were we allowed to take any pictures, and I almost got a “ticket” for bringing my camera along). Still, it was a pretty neat experience. I can only hope when I bring *my* children to Costa Rica some day there will still be turtles left to visit.

Next time: Germans! Rafting! Volcanoes! Mosquitos!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Triplog: Costa Rica (Part 1)

Although this is the dry season in Guanacaste province, which is in the north of the country, we were delayed getting from Liberia airport to our hotel due to recent flooding that had damaged a bridge. While enjoying daredevil driving, I had a chance to acclimate from the snowstorm I had just left in Boston to the hot and humid Central American weather.

The primary artery from the airport to the coast is a two lane road. Much of the country is like this, with critical infrastructure in need of repair and major transportation arteries seriously undersized. While Costa Rica, a highly progressive and environmentally-friendly nation, hopes to become carbon-neutral within the next 20 years, problems of infrastructure threaten to hamper those goals. Idling cars do not make reducing emissions any easier.

That said, Costa Rica’s energy generation is nearly 99% renewable, with a substantial majority of it coming from hydroelectric and geothermal sources — dams and volcanoes, to put it simply. Now, dams aren’t always entirely environmentally friendly, but geothermal energy has a pretty good track record, and CR even exports electricity to Panama and other neighboring countries.

Speaking of neighbors, we learned that the country has a bit of an immigration problem. Nicaraguan laborers from the north come to CR en masse during harvest season. Nicaraguan mango pickers work long days in the groves, looking up into trees and using a blade and basket assembly on a pole to pick ripe mangoes and pack them into crates. One basket usually holds 30-40 mangoes (depending on size) and they are paid about 200 colones (40 cents) per basket.

Mirroring the American immigration problem, dueling forcers are at work: the need for cheap, abundant labor to perform jobs that the general population is not willing or able to perform for the wages offered, and concern about rising crime and the cost of social services, both problems that can be pinned, justified or not, on the migrant community. There are differences, though. For one, Ticos and Nicas share a language and similar cultural traditions. Less than a quarter century ago Nicaragua was a more prosperous land than its neighbor to the South, but years of war and internal strife led Nicaragua to its present economic situation.

When we asked a guide about his feelings on the immigration wave, he said that while others may think badly of he Nicaraguan community, he is a supporter of their plight, has Nicaraguan friends, and has a Nicaraguan flag hanging in his house. So far we have not encountered any Nicaraguan xenophobes, but then we haven’t exactly been looking.

All around our hotel are condominium units built or under construction for rich American (and sometimes European) ex-pats. The top industry in Costa Rica is tourism, bringing in $1.7 billion annually and making the nation the most visited in the region. Next up is high technology, thanks to a concerted push in the last decade to bring in outside technology investment through major tax incentives. Intel is here, and a tour guide told us with evident pride that it was Costa Rican scientists who developed and a Costa Rican fab that is producing Intel’s newest Penryn processor. Fitting, as the Penryn uses a new low-power, high-performance design.

The third major industry in CR is agriculture. Fruit, cattle, and sugarcane are major crops.

I’ve run out of internet time (frittered away fact checking!), so next time I’ll talk bout our first adventure tour (the “Mega Combo” package!) and post some pictures. Until then.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


Went down to the Cape yesterday and discovered that there is a place in New England where you can do things like wake board and water ski. I had no idea. The rules there doesn’t seem well defined or enforced — at Arrowhead or Havasu there were some straightforward rules and some enforcement — when a skier is in the water, the red flag goes up, for instance. And you acknowledge other downed skiers with a hand signal. And you always have a spotter in the boat whose job is to keep their eyes on the skier.

I was also told a story of jet skis run amok, which is never a good sign, but perhaps somewhat inevitable these days.

But in the end I felt perfectly safe — my hosts followed the cardinal rule, which is protect your skier: keep them away from other boats and snap right back around when they fall to shield them from possible hazards. And they had some fun wide parabolic skis that were stable and easy to get up on. It was a blast.

The only problem was being reminded yet again that, once you get up, skiing can be a bit, well, boring! Maybe I need to learn some tricks, like how to catch some more air, spin around in place, or, err, something. Or maybe I just need to learn to ski on one. Plus I woke up this morning and everything was sore. 🙂

The official end of mono: skiing at Pats Peak!

Pats PeakOn Tuesday I went with Adam, Dave, Amy, Tzalli, Audrey, and Saara to Pats Peak in southern New Hampshire. I hadn’t been skiing in a while and wanted to see how much I remember of it. We left early in the morning and Adam and I came back in the evening, the rest of ’em stayed for the night and skiied some more the next day. We got what Jeremy tells me is a great deal — $54 for a full day of skiing including rentals. My skis and I did not get along, but that was only a problem the few times I fell out of them, which did not happen until after lunch.

Amy went off to ski school to be humiliated by five year olds (poor Amy!) while the rest of us took a few runs. Ski runs are classified in difficulty with a color and shape. I guess color because its memorable and shape in case you’re color blind. Dunno. Anyway, at Pats Peak (and I think most places) green circle was easiest, followed by blue square (“intermediate”), followed by black diamond (“expert”) which for some reason here was a purple diamond, followed by double black diamond (“deadly,” or something to that effect). We started with green circle.

It was boring.

It quickly became apparent that:

  1. I’m not a bad skiier, at least compared to the competition
  2. Pats Peak’s trails are kinda wimpy.

Adam and I at the hotel room.  He does not seem amusedAfter a bit of hesitation I took on a black diamond, and by the second run I felt completely comfortable. The double blacks were another story. The one Adam and I went on was a simple trail with a bunch of jumps, a few of which I was silly enough to go over, one of which I was going fast enough that I actually jumped over, and promptly fell down the other side and flat on my face. And it took a good ten minute to get my boots back into the stupid ski bindings. Did I mention how my skis and I fought? The other double black we looked at was a 70 degree vertical drop consisting of lumpy ice covered by a light layer of very powerdery powder. We saw some employees (instructors?) take that one on, but didn’t see them finish, as we were down the mountain and going up a lift and they were still nowhere in sight.

The best trail of the day came about as a fluke. I noticed that one of the greens went all the way around and looked to be the longest trail. Adam and I, having done the rest of ’em several times and getting a bit bored, decided to give it a shot. It was pretty easy, but then Adam discovered a small trail, unmarked, leading off into the woods. Because we’re daring, or perhaps stupid, we followed it. And followed it. And followed it. Between trees, in a stream bed, around curves and past branches, and we ended up out behind some houses, a bit off the mountain. We had to hike back up, in ski boots. It was a blast. The second time we did it it was a bit less exciting and we made an early exit, to avoid leaving the moutain again. But it was pretty cool.

At the end of the day Adam and I drove back and then had dinner with Kelli. It was a fun experience, and I want to go skiing again. And again! And again! Hey, if I keep this up, I might finally have something to put on my birthday wish list! 😉