The Cloud Forest....... - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

The ride to the Cloud Forest area was through the mountainous region around Santa Elena and Monteverde. Our ride was full of bumps as the road is unpaved purposely by the areas founding Quaker residents to keep tourism in check. The town of Santa Elena is the home to two of the last remaining "Cloud Forest" reserves. The two reserves straddle Costa Ricas continental divide, Monteverde facing the Pacific and Santa Elena facing the Caribbean.

Our friend Maria from Austin as well as Jerry (D's Dad) joined us in Santa Elena and our happy to report that we ate like kings, hiked a ton and zipped through the jungle like Tarzan. Here are some details on what we did during our time:

1) Reserva Biologica Monteverde - The 10,500 hectare cloud forest houses 2500 species of plants, over 600 animal species, and thousands of creepy crawly insects..
We decided to hire a guide for a 3 hour tour of the reserve. It turned out to be well worth the money as we were able to spot the elusive quetzal (colorful bird) several times on our hike, many squirmy insects, as well as some other cool creatures. The forest was lush, damp, and dim (not so good for our pics!). We realized that we had no idea why it was called a cloud forest...besides the obvious clouds clustering close over areas of the forest. We found out that the forest is cloaked in clouds most of the time because the warm, moisture-laden air from the Pacific is pushed up the surrounding mountains creating condensation. Because the mountains are ~5000ft tall, the clouds get stuck and trees appear to float in the clouds.

2) Reserva Forestal Bosque Eterno De Los Ninos - We spent a couple of hours at the Children's Eternal Rainforest named for a group of Swedish schoolchildren who started a campaign to save the cloud forest by purchasing up land for preservation. Their 22,000 hectare reserve project (bigger than the well-known Monteverde Reserve) has become a focus of teachers and schoolchildren around the world. It's pretty amazing what a bunch of kids can do!!!

3) Reserva Santa Elena - Another smaller reserve started to ease the pressure on the Monteverde Reserve. It looked pretty much the same. The biggest difference is that this forest faces the Caribbean side of the Continental Divide in Costa Rica (meaning plants grow facing the direction of the ocean).

4) Skytrek - Check out the link to see photos of what we did. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip. We were given a tour of the jungle by dangling from a harness attached to zip lines which gives you a unique view of the area and a huge adrenaline rush at the same time. The longest zip line was 750m and about 40 seconds in length, the tallest was 127m high off the ground! Very fun and crazy as we did a total of 11 zips and some of us conquered fear of heights (Good Job Maria!!). Jerry was a sport and loved it! We don't think that he quite knew what we were getting him into!

5) Lisa and Maria also went on a guided night walk through the jungle one evening. They said it was pretty cool despite the evening downpour and having to walk back to the hotel a few kilometers in the pitch black of a rainy night (no streetlights, flashlights, or kind local drivers).

 Pure Adrenaline - Monday, April 28, 2003

It was nice getting back to our life of travel after lounging in Dallas for a week eating fast food. The flight to Costa Rica was pretty uneventful except for the enormous man sitting next to me on the plane which made my flight VERY uncomfortable!!! They really should make the seats bigger....but then they would have to charge more, right?

After a quick overnight in a small town near the airport (Alajuela), we hopped a 4 hour bus to the popular coastal beach/surf town called Jaco (pronounced HACO). After 24 hours of rain, a last minute gorgeous/cheap hotel find, some great food, we decided to head down to Manuel Antonio National Park for four days of hiking, beach time and fun with our friend Lisa from Austin.

We arrived to our comfy hotel in time for the late afternoon rains (seems to happen every day) and relaxed on the veranda in our hammocks with some cerveza listening to the very loud forest noises, mainly frogs. The next two days were filled with hiking and beach time. AMAZING!! We saw sloths, monkeys, thousands of crabs, some rabbit/anteater looking creature, and lots of beautiful vistas. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Upon recommendation from the hotel, we decided to spend Sunday on an adventure tour of the jungle about an hour away. After a crazy drive in an open-topped, rickety, well-abused Humvee through a teak forest and palm oil plantation, we arrived at the river an hour later.

The Class III River water was crystal clear and cool---perfect for this humid climate. We paddled for an hour or so and banked for big lunch. After a short hike, we found ourselves playing in the spray of a huge waterfall, jumping off another waterfall (15 ft.) into a pond below for a quick swim. (Don't worry, we were well outfitted with mucho safety equipment!)

We then proceeded to hike about 20 minutes into a valley above the waterfalls, where we got our 1st real scare of the day. We geared up and started zip lining from one side of the valley across to a platform suspended in a tree about 125ft. in the air. HELLO!!!! The anticipation the 1st time was scarier than the actual zip lining. SO MUCH FUN! After criss-crossing from tree to tree through the valley several times and rapelling 100ft. to the valley floor, we hiked over to a tight rope suspended over a river and proceeded to cross it. EEK...that was hard!

Our adventure concluded with a challenging rapel down the face of a raging 40ft waterfall.. WOW! Did I mention that it started POURING rain while we were up in the trees zipping back and forth?? This made it all the more fun... we were already wet! After paddling another 1/2 hour, we got back in the humvee and drove through the pouring rain,. grabbed a cold beer, and went home for a nap... GREAT DAY!!!!

Our friends Will & Arabella who we met in Guatemala joined up with us for dinner, as they happen to be in Costa Rica at the same time. It was nice to hear about their continued adventures through Nicaragua and Honduras since we saw them in Guatemala.

We took a 6 hour shuttle north to Santa Elena today and look forward to spending the rest of the week hiking!

 Five Dreadful Hours in Acapulco - Sunday, April 13, 2003

We were quite sad to leave our little paradise of San Augustinillo, but it seemed rather timely since a rainstorm hit and M picked up a case of tourista. We said goodbye to our gracious hosts, newfound people and dog friends, and took the collectivo bus an hour west to Puerto Escondido to catch our late night bus to Acapulco. It was boiling hot in Puerto Escondido even after dark and we waited, and waited, and waited for the bus which showed up about a 1/2 hour late. We were on the road by midnight very surprised that the first-class bus we opted for was standing room only. Poor Dave couldn't stick his enormous legs in the aisle.. We didn't quite understand why anyone would choose to ride 8 hours standing up! After a few brief naps throughout the night, we mysteriously awoke to a clear aisle way..

Did you know that Acapulco has 1.5 million people and feels like a mix between Las Vegas and Miami! We certainly didn't and are experiencing a bit of culture shock when we left the bus station since this is by far the biggest town we've been in for 9 weeks! After finding some food, we secured a ride to the airport, stored our packs at a travel agency and took off for the central mercado. We were looking for something to do to pass the time since we were both too tired and hot to go to the beach.

Some guy approached us on the street when we were just about to hit the mercado offering his services. Apparently he makes his living by guiding people through the mercado (he's got an official tour leader badge). If we buy something, he gets points. If he gets enough points, he gets a big basket of food and house supplies at the end of the month. We were both so zonked out that we couldn´t ditch him! We weren't planning on buying anything, just wandering. Why waste his time?? He asked us our first names and later introduced us to one of the shopkeepers by 1st and last name. We hadn't told him our last name. So now we are really freaking out. Both of our backpack are firmly secured to our backs and nothing was missing. How did he know our last name? We certainly didn't tell him. Nobody here seems to be able to say Haralson on the 1st try either... hmmmm... he didn't seem to have phone on him, so how could the tourist office that we booked our airport shuttle with have called him?? Dave asked how he knew our last name and said it was just a coincidence. NOBODY would guess HARALSON! COME ON! Needless to say, we are still perplexed and somehow ended up buying a useful souvenir.. Never go shopping when your resistance is down!! Maybe the guy was clairvoyant???

Soaking wet from our trip to the mercado and seeing stars, we couldn't find a cafe with air conditioning and found this internet cafe. One hour to go before we go to the airport. Too bad we don't have $200 to spend per night on a a nice hotel on the bay here. I think it might be a nice place to hang for a few days, but then again, why stay here when you can have your own private beach for $20/night in San Augstinillo!!!

The main tourist attraction in Acapulco (aside from the beach) is the infamous cliff divers. The folks are aging Elvis looking types (in his later days) wearing Speedos who dive off cliffs into the bay 4X a day. Unfortunately, the 1st dive is after we leave for the airport. Bummer.

 Sunblock - Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Without sunblock, this week would have been a disaster. Miraculously, we have come through without burning our pasty white selves by slathering up with sunblock every few hours. Also, it is just unbearable outside from 11-3 in the direct sunlight, so we just read/study in the hammocks under the palapas..

We keep putting off leaving the idyllic town of San Augustinillo for our next stop, Puerto Escondido. Pte. E has about 49, 700 people more than the town we are in now. Why go to a more crowded beach in which the currents are too strong for swimming?? No reason at all.

Since we haven't bought any souvenirs from Central America, we decided to splurge on an extremely well-made double hammock from a fisherman turned hammock-maker. Can't wait to actually have a home to hang it!!!

After our big purchase we had to get some more dinero for the rest of the week since NO ONE takes visa. We hopped in a collectivo taxi to the nearest town with a bank, phone, and internet. A collectivo is a truck or taxi that stuffs in as many people as possible and is much, much cheaper than a regular taxi. Anyway, there was a military checkpoint halfway there and we had to peel ourselves off the plastic seats and our neighbors for a car check. They were checking for drugs and contraband since most of the small towns along the coast don't support many jobs....mucho drugs abound.

Our flight from Acapulco leaves Monday, so we have 4 more days on this beach before heading to 2 hours west to Pte. E to catch the 8 hour bus to Acapulco. We've decided to spend zero time in Acapulco since the hotels are 4X what we are paying now and crowded as hell.. We'll just take the overnight bus, go to the beach for a few hours, then hop on our plane all sandy!

 Think Houston, Texas in August - Sunday, April 06, 2003

The worst place to be in the world in August is Houston, Texas - hot as hell and humid. When you walk outside, it's like you are entering a sauna. That's what it feels like here on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. One exception....there are beautiful beaches to keep us cool...

Our all night bus ride from the border of Guatemala/Mexico to the Huatulco area was complete with speed bumps everywhere, random immigration inspections and military checkpoints throughout the night. We arrived in in this growing resort town (think Puerto Vallarta 20 years ago) to spend our belated Valentines Day. Dave found a deal for an All-Inclusive resort for a couple of days of relaxation. Why would two people who have been traveling for 9 months need to relax? Well we really don´t compared to our working days, but..... It sure was nice to know that we didn´t have to drag our packs around and think about where to sleep/eat/drink on the cheap. The food wasn´t that great, but the open bar, clean ocean front room (w/cable TV & AC), refreshing pool, great ocean swimming and free use of kayaks, etc. This was definitely a great treat for two days.

We took a 1 hour chicken bus ride to the small fishing village of Puerto Angel and have been here for a few days at a really cool hotel built by the artist owner (and his family) on the side of the hill overlooking the beach. It has been very quiet and relaxing allowing Dave to study for the GMAT and refresh his knowledge of 8th grade math, algebra and geometry. Hopefully, between the relaxation and studying he will be able to take the exam in May. Also, Marisa was successfully hooked in the toe by a kid using a boogy board to troll for fish back and forth across the beach. We are happy to report that no extensive damage was incurred to M´s toe as Dave managed to both remove the hook and yank the line, pulling the kid off his boogy board, in one swift move to prevent further damage.

Today we are are on our way to an even smaller beach village. San Augustinillo/Manzunte are beautiful beach villages frequented by surfers, budget travelers and people just wanting to get off the beaten track. We´ll be staying in bungalows on the beach for less than $15US a night and expect the diet to consist of guacamole and fish. Can´t beat that for continuing our stretch of relaxation along the coast of Mexico. After these towns we continue up the coast to the larger surfer/fishing town of Puerto Escondido. From there we head to Acapulco for our flight back to Dallas. We aren´t looking forward to our 8-9 hour bus ride in the middle of the day, it´s going to be incredibly hot even with AC going full blast. It is better than going at night because of the possibility of banditos stopping the bus, NO FUN!

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