Monday, November 19, 2007

Costa Rica Adventures!

Wow. Costa Rica was amazing! Doug and I flew in on Nov 10, arriving Saturday afternoon in San Jose. We got our rental car and Doug drove the crazy, hilly, windy, fairly nerve-wracking 3-hour drive out to La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. It was pretty dark by the time we arrived and we were pretty exhausted. Early the next morning, we woke to heavy overcast skies and rushed to meet our tour bus to the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge (north of Arenal near Los Chiles). We saw the refuge (24620 acres) from a boat on the Rio Frio. There were a bazillion critters--three kinds of monkeys (howlers, spider and white-faced), three-toed sloths, cayman crocs, more birds than I can remember (anhingas, little blue herons, green herons, great blues, egrets, mangrove swallows, kingfishers, woodpeckers...), and jesus lizards. Whew! We also got to reach our toes over the living-fence border into Nicaragua.

As we headed back to our hotel, the skies finally started to clear and we got our first view of the Arenal Volcano. Yep, an active volcano. It was considered dormant until 1968, when it erupted explosively and killed 78 people. We found out that the town we were staying near changed its name to "La Fortuna" after the eruption, since it was lucky enough to be on the inactive side of the volcano. :) That evening, Doug and I hopped back in our car and did a little exploring, since we could finally see the volcano. With a little bit of blind luck just as full dark fell, we found ourselves at the viewing area to see lava flowing down the active side! LAVA!

On our last morning in the Arenal area, Doug and I defied death above the rain forest canopy. :) Well, as much death as you can defy while being harnessed and well-clipped onto a cable hundreds of feet high. We did an amazing zipline tour (video). There were 7 cables in all, the longest being nearly a half-mile long, the highest about 660 feet, and highest speed probably about 40 mph. It was WAY fun. At least I thought it was and grinned and hooted like a maniac the whole ride! We could also hear from the volcano as we clipped on and off each cable, puffing away like a steam engine.

Then we defied death once more as we drove back to San Jose. I'm pretty sure that Doug enjoyed the drive back more (as I frantically clutched at the dashboard and closed my eyes). We also managed to stop at one of the roadside stands and satisfy our curiosity about the intriguing signs for "Queso Palmito"! Little palm cheese? Really? Nope. Turns out that although we managed to translate it fairly well, there's no palm in this cheese. Instead, it a long sheet of flat cheese wrapped up into a ball (maybe because it peals away like palm fronds?) Very tasty, kinda like cheese curds.

But really, the driving excitement is all about San Jose. I've never seen anything like the traffic and driving there. Since Ticos don't really seem to post street signs and directions to hotels seem to be non-existent, we blindly managed to find our way to the right side of the city, and got lost (luckily) near our rental car place, so the folks there kindly ferried us to our hotel. Whew! Sadly, for the next three days, I had to work. Blech. :) Actually, work was fine. My Costa Rican colleagues are very nice, and the software installations went as well as they could have. Doug however, got to get lost all over San Jose on foot, visited all sorts of museums, toured another nearby volcano (Irazú, which refused to come out of its cloudy shroud for Doug), botanical gardens, churches, and took a crazy amount of photos.

For the third part of our journey, we took a little 12-seater prop plan to Quepos and Manuel Antonio on the Pacific (southern) side of Costa Rica. A quick twenty minute flight and suddenly we're in sunshine and 80+ degree weather. After a quick dip in the hotel pool to cool off, we hiked about a mile down a long windy hill, and into the Manuel Antonio National Park. Smallest of the 20 national parks Costa Rica, about 1700 acres of land mass and 135,906 acres of marine reserve. Woohoo! The Pacific Ocean! Miles of beautiful white sand beaches and an evergreen forest that grows right up along the high tide line. After lounging in the ocean for a while, we chased some hermit crabs as we hiked along the beach further into the park. Then we ran into some friendly or at least, very bold white-faced monkeys again. It turns out some folks who set up their towels on the sand had fruit in their backpacks. Needless to say, the monkeys managed to get into the bags...or the people managed to get their packs back & gave up the the monkeys were running the show at that part of the beach! We carefully stashed our bag up on a rock surrounded by ocean and took another dip. And got to watch the show as the next set of tourists left their bags on the beach. This set of tourists assumed the monkeys were bilingual and started bellowing "MONKEY! BAD MONKEY!" as they tried to sprint out of the surf and rescue their packs. :) Finally, we got out of the water and started to hike some of the trails through the forest edge. Best was the trail that winds around Punta Catedral, getting some amazing views of the ocean as we climbed up and to the edges of the forest.

On our last full day in Costa Rica, we hopped on an 4x4 bus and drove for nearly two hours on unpaved roads to white water raft on the Rio Savegre. Our trip on this river was going to be about 13 miles through class II, III, and IV rapids. Other than Doug & I, there were 3 other gringos on this trip. There was an amazingly disaffected 20-something year old, her mother & her grandmother--and none of them had ever been paddling at all, much less whitewater rafting. As our guides (one to guide the raft, a rescue-kayaker, and a photographer-kayaker, and one more "ringer" paddler to balance out the raft) got the raft and other equipment ready, we all took a walk out on a bridge over the river to take a look at the first set of rapids. As we did, I think that the "mom" in the rest of our paddling group realized that she had no idea what she'd signed up for. :) We went though our little class on how to paddle, how to stay in the boat, what to do if you fall out of the boat...and then we started the ride! Less than a minute on the river, and we hit the first rapids, and "mom" fell out! She managed to remember what to do in the water, and got through the rest of the rapids and was quickly rescued and returned to the raft. With a fair amount of cursing! After that, everyone managed to stay in the raft for the rest of the trip. And, a wonderful ride it was! Lots of rapids, gorgeous scenery, a few quick dips in the calm pools, and just a beautiful day all around!

We stopped for lunch in a little village called "Silencio", and had a traditional Tico lunch. And then realized we were running behind schedule, since Doug & I were on a 3pm flight back to San Jose, and we hopped in the bus for an amazingly fast and bumpy ride back to Manuel Antonio. With some racing around, we managed to get to the tiny little Quepos airport in time to find out that our flight was delayed. :)

The remainder of the trip was pretty uneventful, flying back to San Jose and then flying back to the US the next morning, tired and a little sunburned, back to the 40 degree Indianapolis weather. Sigh. The travel home did end on a high note, however. Our bottles of guaro, Costa Rica's national liquor made from sugar cane, came through in our checked luggage without breaking. Woohoo!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Yet another reason to love my job

One of my all-time favorite silly activities is dressing up. And as extra icing on the cake, I occasionally can talk my co-workers into dressing up with me! This year for Halloween, our Science department dressed up as the League of Super Invasive Plant Villains. :) Burning Bush, Garlic Mustard, Purple Loosestrife, Canada Thistle and Kudzu were pitted in battle against the valiant super hero, MIPN Man (Midwest Invasive Plant Network Man).

Besides the silly dressing up, working at TNC occasionally allows me to get out into the field. Most recently we had a staff outing to a gorgeous new property along Sugar Creek, near Turkey Run State Park. We did a few hikes on what turned out to be a gorgeous fall day. Took a bazillion pictures hoping to get a few nice shots of the beams of sunlight through the changing colors of leaves. Got a few!

Since I've posted one Halloween shot, here's a link to the Gypsy Moon Ball photo album. Gypsy Moon Ball is the annual Halloween Weekend contra dancing in Indianapolis. It's a wonderfully absurd dance weekend where many dancers come dressed up in some pretty amazing costumes.
And, this year we had a fabulous new (to the Midwest) contra dance band called the Great Bear Trio. Andrew, Noah & Kim VanNorstrand (brothers & mother) were like total contra band rock stars. :) Dance Gypsies should definitely go out of their way to dance to this band