Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Costa Rica Day 1: Monkeys, Fruits, and Hummingbirds

I like Costa Rica a whole lot and I haven't even seen anything yet. The country has a solid level of economic development that makes life here as a tourist much easier. The water is potable and I don't have to worry about getting AIDS from every fruit or vegetable that I eat. The crime and hobo situation is barely noticeable. Someone quipped that they felt safer here than in St. Louis and I completely agree.




We're staying at the Aloft San Jose Hotel. It's a nice new place and the rooms are exactly like the one we stayed at in Brussels. It is like a half an hour's drive from downtown but this week is full of day trips to Costa Rica's natural wonders so I don't think it even matters.

Not only does the country have Uber but Stuart has an international phone plan so I've been spoiled on the transportation front as well.

The four of us have the very fortunate opportunity to witness the effects of Hurricane Otto, what the New York Times is calling the "southernmost hurricane on record to hit Central America". Yay for us. Despite being a relatively small country Costa Rica is quite mountainous and so my impression is that the storm is mostly a problem for the people on the coast.

We arrived last night but it was late enough that we didn't get anything accomplished. There's a McDonald's across the street from the hotel and we each took turns trying to order in our crappy Spanish. Zoe tried to order apples slices and somehow ended up with an apple pie and onion rings.


Free refills are a privilege not a right.





Well our guide Willy picked us up early in morning for our first adventurous day-trip. Another nice part of Costa Rica is the roads are fairly decent. They do love their speed bumps though which made napping difficult.


Not only does Costa Rica have Walmart but it looks like they have Black Friday too.






Our guide made a stop at a touristy fruit stand which was a big win for me. We tried multiple fruits that I've not had before, which is saying something because I've been around and usually go out of my way to sample the local plants.














We got talked into buying this odd mango ceviche.




I got these corn cracker things that tasted just like Corn Flakes.


Highlights included mango, passion fruit, coconut, and these weird brown things that I referred to as potato eggs due to their outer texture and shape. The flesh inside was orange and sort tasted like a candied yam. My guess was that they were mamey sapote but I can't be sure.

Next was a stop at a lady's house who I guess just feeds capuchin monkeys. In Spanish they say capuchino which then dawned on me that both the monkey and the coffee are brown with white tops so surely one is named after the other. Turns out both are named after the brown robed Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.

As we approached several monkeys popped out of their trees and sauntered over. Clearly they're used to being fed by attractive tourists. Once we'd handed the hairy little munchkins a few slices of bananas word got out and soon we had ~15 of them on the ground, on the roof, and in the trees.








A bigger alpha looking one got up on the metal roof of the woman's house and jumped and screamed making quite a racket. I threw a slice up to him and was impressed how well he caught it.


















One ramped Lydia on its way to a tree, quickly scaling her body then jumping on her noggin to reach a tree branch. She screamed and then was done handing out fruit. We decided she must be scared of bananas. It's pretty bad news for Lydia because she recently went to the doctor and the doctor said, "no more monkeys jumping on your head".






There seemed to be a clear delineation in behavior between the people who have seen 1995 medical disaster film Outbreak and those who have not. 






Zoe kept touching the monkeys and I was off to the side looking like:




As we drove to lunch it began raining. We stopped at Restaurante Sabor Tico ("tico" is like a slang adjective for Costa Rican, my favorite is Costarricense). The place was so Costa Rican that I thought maybe it was just for tourists but it filled up with locals as our lunch progressed. The typical lunch is "casado" which is a plate with rice, beans, a meat, sweet plantains, and some vegetables or a salad. Lunch is the main meal of the day and the plates were giant.












They even have Movember in Costa Rica. How cool is that?


The news was on and people were understandably watching it with the attention of people getting hit by an abnormal hurricane.




By the time we reached the Monteverde Cloud Forest the rain had turned up to full blast. We were prepared for the most part though so it was more of an annoyance than an emergency. I think maybe the "cloud forest" effect was pretty much negated by the rain. The hummingbirds certainly didn't seem to mind.


As we got closer to our destination the roads got way worse.




Several brightly colored varieties of them were buzzing around and slurping up sugar water from the feeders. Surreally this raccoon-looking animal waddled in from the jungle, licked some sugar water off the ground under the feeder, and then wandered right back into the woods.












If you put your hands around the feeder the hummingbirds would sit on your hand while they ate. Their tiny little claws were a funny feeling.




Other than that there wasn't a whole lot going on. Most of the birds were holed up trying to stay dry. Our guide did his best to point out what there was to see though: a few birds, a couple howler monkeys.

My favorite part of our hike was just the view above the forest provided by the 8 little suspension bridges we walked across. I did my best to shake it as I walked to add a sense of drama. They'll thank me later.






















When our guide spotted some owls I learned that you can just put your phone up against a telescope and take pictures.


The ride home was brutal. Despite our earlier preparations our clothes were wet and the van's cold air seemed to be stuck on. We were also trying to return to the country's capital city during rush hour, and traffic was real nasty.


I had to take some drastic measures to entertain myself.



When we got home we were so tired we strongly considered eating dinner at that same McDonald's again. We pushed through and made the walk to the nearby little mall and had some mall food court food instead.


I'm not super proud of my choices there but what happened happened.


Everyone slept well that night I can tell you that.