Saturday, July 21, 2012

Travel home

Monday, June 11, 2012

Wake up in the dark to the first of several alarms going off. Very tired; don't want to get up. But yes, I do! I get to go home to my wife today. I make coffee and watch CNN on the TV. Drag my bags up to the lobby at 4 am, for my taxi. It isn't there. The night guard is puzzled to see me. I check the time on the clock in the lobby. 3 am. Oops. I set my alarms an hour earlier than needed. They must have been on daylight savings time, as is Oklahoma, while Costa Rica sensibly stays on central standard time. I leave my bags there and go back to my room for an hour and drink more coffee.

Back to the lobby at 4 am and this time my taxi is there. I requested the front desk call the same driver who took me to Haras del Mar on friday for horse riding as he was nice, punctual and had a great car. He was here on time at 4 am. Helped me load the bags and away we went through the dark.

On the way we heard a howler monkey calling. Nice sound. And as an aside, I have neglected the mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata) in this travelogue. I saw a family group in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and another at the Selvatura forest. Very exciting to see them deep in high forest, moving through the canopy. Impossible to photograph so I didn't try. Just enjoyed them. When backlit, I could see the colors of their coat which distinguish them from the howler monkeys in Belize (Alouatta pigra) which are a uniform black.

But the most dramatic sighting was at a restaurant in Coco a few days previously. I was eating at Coconutz Sports Bar when I heard the familiar growling from above. A group were in the large guancaste tree above the open-air restaurant. I watched. A subadult male was on the fringe of a family group. The adult male seemed to be putting on a display to warn the subadult male from approaching. It was successful, with no direct violence, but very dramatic for me and every other patron.

As this account suggests, I was using my time in the cab that dark morning to reflect on the trip. One of the best of many trips I have ever taken. I felt like I did good and important work and made contact with many people who care about sustainability in Central America. I know I learned a lot, and hope I helped others learn, too. Most of all, I want to come back soon--but this time with my wife.

We arrived at the airport in Liberia early, before all but a few people. A porter helped me with my bags and brought me to the window where passengers must pay their departure tax (US$26, if I remember correctly). I used my credit card. I then went to check my bag. No line at this hour! The security checkpoint was not yet open so I walked around. This terminal building is new, having opened in January, 2012, to accommodate the increased flights directly to this Northwest corner of Costa Rica.

Shuttle buses from the all-inclusive resorts began arriving and I was glad I got here before them. The security checkpoint arrived and I was in the first few through. I went up the escalator and to my gate. The shops aren't open yet so I sit down by my gate:
DSCN0873 That white thing on the chair next to my green backpack is the hammock for my wife.

I doze as more people arrive. The shops open but I am too tired to even get one last cup of Costa Rican coffee in Costa Rica. Soon we board and the flight departs on time. I sleep most of the way to Houston. Immigration and customs is not problem as I have nothing to declare. Recheck bag to Tulsa. Get some Texas BBQ for lunch. That is sort of a tradition my wife and I have for our return to the U.S. from Belize.

Flight to Tulsa takes off on time and goes smoothly. Land in Tulsa. Collect my bag, look for wife. No luck. Go outside. Wait. Soon she strolls up from the other terminal, looking fabulous in a new outfit. Big hug, long kiss.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Last day in Coco

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Let myself sleep in after the late night, and knowing I'd not be getting much sleep tonight. Missed breakfast in the lobby, even. Made coffee in my room.

This photo was taken a few days earlier, but it shows my room: DSCN0694

Cable TV on the flatscreen. Left of that you can see the coffee maker and refrigerator (on floor). Safe there in the closet, just to left of the "kitchen." The whole place felt safe and secure. A fine place to relax.

I lounged by the pool, swimming and dozing in the deck chairs. Very relaxing. Perfect temperature. For a while, I got out my tablet computer and have a video chat using Skype with my son. Works perfectly even out by the pool. It is fun to switch to the rear camera and show him birds and palms, then back to the front camera so he sees me. Wish I could do this in Belize.

I walk around town and shop for souvenirs. Here is a street scene in Coco: DSCN0859

This is the main road from the inland to the beach and has all the traffic. There are side streets running north and south from this, with very little traffic. My hotel is on a parallel street to the north a couple of blocks and is quiet with a very different feel:

I buy a t-shirt for my son and a hammock for my wife from a souvenir shop on the main street in town. Several stores seemed to have a large selection and fair prices on a variety of souvenirs. I am not much of a souvenir shopper and so take a "get it done" attitude vs. lingering and enjoying the hunt.

It is local custom to take the family to the beach on Sunday afternoons. It is a delightful scene with children running and playing and food grilling. Smoke and good smells fill the air in the beach-front park:

As the sun goes down, I am joined by many others in enjoying the view:

I eat dinner at a favorite restaurant there on the beach, Beach Bums. Buy my wife a souvenir tank-top, as modeled by the waitresses. My favorite, Caroline, poses with me:

Back at my room, I pack. Try to reach my wife by chat, email and Facebook to remind her to meet me in Tulsa the next morning, but no luck. Figure she got called in to work for the night. Oh, well. Probably too busy to miss me, anyway.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Last dive day

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Yes, I know I am writing this on July 19--40 days later. But I am still on the Pacific coast, just a little further up the coast. At 45oN, to be precise (in Oregon). But I need to finish the travelogue before I forget the last trip in the excitement of the current.
I wake up and make coffee in my room. Eat a little something in my room and check email and Facebook. Gather my mask, but leave my camera behind. I figure I've taken the photos I can from the deck of the boat on previous dive days. Walk down to the beach.

The familiar boat meets me but with a new divemaster. Also, a new diver. He is French and new to diving. We head north a bit to a new dive site, for me. It is in a cove half-way to Monkey Head. I am comfortable and gear up and go in while the divemaster helps the new diver. This dive site has terrible visibility--maybe 5 meters. Maybe less. Still, any dive is good and we see a few fish.

For the second dive, we go back to the Tortugas dive site right out front of Coco. Better visibility, by far. Nice dive. Highlight was a sea turtle that let us watch him for several minutes, and a pair of white-tipped reef sharks that also tolerated our watching them for many minutes. I really wanted my underwater camera! I could have taken some good shots of each. Visibility was good, and they were shallow enough for natural light.

We went back to the beach. I walked back up the block and a half to the hotel and showered. I checked email and Facebook, then walked to the dive shop in town to pay my dive bill with a credit card. I walked about town a little, then took a nap back at the hotel.

I walk down to the beach to take photos of the sunset and to eat dinner. I find I am craving company and so go wherever there are people. Especially female people.


I chat with retired men from the U.S. who live in Coco. They like it, and find it affordable. One man, from Colorado, says he lives on US$1800/month. He paid cash for a condo he bought after selling his home in Denver (pre-real estate crash). No car. Rarely travels back to the U.S. Basically happy, and has made friends in Coco. He budgets for three visits with a prostitute per week.

About 10 pm, I went out on the town. Saturday night is the big party night in Coco. The previous Saturday, I had just arrived after a long day of travel and so turned in early. This was my last Saturday night and I wanted to see and experience it all.

I went to one packed night club and met a very, very friendly lady. She made me an offer to do amazing things for just US$100. Mind you, the world's oldest profession is legal and regulated in Costa Rica. Arguably, I should have taken her up on the proposition and chalked it up to "research" on an economically important part of the tourism industry.

Instead I fled in terror to the nightclub across the street. Where I promptly ran into a pair (two!) ladies offering a package deal. Wow! I said, uh, lets just dance. So, I danced with the ladies. Then the lady from the nightclub across the street saw me (remember, I am very tall and so literally stand, or rather dance, a head above everybody else on the floor) and joined our threesome. So now I'm dancing with three well-dressed ladies. There is a pole in the center of the dance floor and soon I have dance partners above me, next to me, and below me. I am not much of a dancer but am having a rather jolly time.

So, do I continue the research? No! I run fleeing into the night. I'm sure the long-suffering wife back home is relieved that I sleep alone, yet again.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Horse ride

Friday, June 8

If you know me, you know I love horses and their women. I am recovering from a back injury last year (incurred, naturally enough, caring for horses) and worried I'd never ride again. I am regaining my strength and really wanted to go on at least one trail ride in Costa Rica. I rode my gelding, Cote', a few times before the trip to get my skills and confidence back up:
From 2012-05-13 (by Eye-Fi)

Today was the day I would finally get to ride in Costa Rica!

Juan Carlos the taxi driver picked me up at the hotel at 7:30 am, after my usual breakfast. He has one of those nice, new Toyota Corolla diesels I like so much. We drove east out of town, then south. Juan regaled me with stories of how the tourist industry has grown over the past decade. Most recently, the Hotel Riu has opened with (he said) 800 rooms! I cannot imagine.

Fortunately we do not go there. We go to a residential community, Lomas del Mar ( They have an equestrian facility and my hotel made arrangements for me to ride their private trails. The facility is named Haras del Mar, and here is their sign: DSCN0824

Their blog is at; they are also on Facebook.

The barn looked amazing: DSCN0822

as did the boarder's horses: DSCN0823

With barn manager and head wrangler, we headed up the trails: DSCN0794

Enjoying the forest views on our way up: DSCN0796

Eventually we got high enough to look down to Coco and my dive sites of yesterday: DSCN0798

I loved the view from the summit! Erik on Luna at summit with Coco in background CROP

Luna, the mare I rode, was pretty amazing as well. I really like these horses of Spanish ancestry....

In this photo, you can see the Tortuga islands where I dove with sharks the previous day, here appearing just above the horizon of the infinity pool: DSCN0810

The homes are pretty nice. Here is where the developer lives: DSCN0814

and here is another home in the subdivision: DSCN0809

That one has a view south along the coast and so reminded me of my parent's Oregon coast home. (Sort of.)

One more view north, to Coco where I have been staying and diving: DSCN0813

Back down at the barn I admire the pastures: DSCN0817

and the owner's paint foal: DSCN0816

I know Luna had a good ride, but she was also happy to be back to the barn and untacked: DSCN0818

Taxi driver took me back to the hotel. He wanted to talk as he was bored from waiting for me at the barn but I was tired and so not good company. Showered and changed at the hotel and worked some more. Went down to the beach for the sunset again: DSCN0825

Yes, a great day.

Monkey Head

Thursday, June 7


Great diving day. I woke up having slept well, presumably after the hard workout on the bicycle the previous day pedalling down the coast line to Playa Ocotal and Bahia Pez Vella. I wanted to see the beautiful coast from the shore which I had seen from the dive boat on Tuesday. Those hills were killer. I walked the bike up most hills and coasted down, my foot on the brake all the way. Hard work.

After breakfast at the hotel (scrambled eggs and fresh fruit was now my staple), I gathered my gear and walked down the block and a half to the beach. The Deep Blue dive boat, Marisol, was there with the same crew as the previous day: Antonio the captain and Owen the divemaster. We waited for another couple. Owen called, using his cell phone, the dive shop and they tried the couple's hotel. No luck. At 8:30 am we left without them.

Our destination: Monkey Head, one of the more famous dive sites in this area. The source of the name is obvious from my photo, above. From the east (shore-side), it looks like a colossal gorilla head rising from the sea. The cacti give it a spike hair style. It is located right off the Papagoya Peninsula where the Four Seasons resort is located. This was significant to me as we learned about tourism development on the Papagoya Peninsula on the first day of our Sustainability seminar in Monteverde. Now I got to see it from sea level.

First dive site was (I think) Viadora, a low island between Monkey Head and the Papagoya tip:

Basically we descended ~10 meters on the east (shore, shallow) side and circled around counter-clockwise. Dive boat met us where we ascended ~20 meters on the outside. Decent visibility (10-12 m?). Fish, moray eels, rays. Mostly fish.

Surface interval was devoted to--fishing. I also enjoyed the views and took pity (really) on how the 1% live:

I knew I was having more fun!

Second dive was Monkey Head itself. We descended on the east (shallow) side again, and again made out way counter-clockwise. Same good visibility and fish life. Highlight was a couple of sea turtles. First was a large green resting on the bottom in about 20 meters of water. Let us get fairly close to watch. Minutes later we came upon a Hawksbill turtle and watched as he slowly ascended to take a breathe at the surface. Fun to see them from below, backlit by the sunny surface above.

More fishing on the second surface interval, starting off Papagoya: DSCN0736

I kept my eyes out for bird action from the bow: DSCN0740

Notice how flat the sea surface was. I grew up fishing the Pacific Ocean, in the 1970s off the coast of Oregon. I don't remember ever seeing the sea up there this flat. Owen agreed that this was unusually calm. Surfers, take note: Costa Rica does not always have great surf.

Eventually we saw some good bird action and headed the boat right through it on several passes. bird action CROP Not one strike! Owen said it was good he was a diver as he'd starve as a fisherman.

Third and final dive site of the day was Tortuga: DSCN0772

as these islands are right off the shore in front of Playas del Coco. Did not see sea turtles here, but did see some nice white-tipped sharks. An over-all great dive, and great day of diving. I loved having the boat to myself! At the last dive site there were two other dive boats from Coco but underwater it still felt like we were alone.

We then headed back to El Coco: DSCN0773

Headed back up the road to the hotel. Arranged for horse riding for Friday. Showered and worked. Walked back to the beach for dinner. Was too tired from diving to join in the volleyball game but was tempted: beach volleyball CROP

Watched another sunset at what is becoming my favourite beach anywhere: DSCN0790

Friday, June 8, 2012


Wednesday, June 6

I've been neglecting my phyto-friends, especially the palmophiles. I am notorious for subjecting my family to my search for interesting plants, as seen in this Spring Break trip to Dallas:
From Dallas Spring Break 2012

This entry is for my fellow plant lovers. As a re-cap, I flew to Belize and spent a few days on my favourite little Caribbean island, Caye Caulker. I've been to Caulker a dozen times or more and shared many pictures from La Isla Carinosa over the years:
From Caye Caulker Dec 2010

From Caye Caulker, I went inland to the Maya Mountains. Photographed wildlife endangered by poachers. The poachers are Xateros. Xateros sneak into Belize to harvest, illegally, the leaves of the beautiful Chameadorea spp. palms, or Xate' in Mayan. You can read a short xate' primer here:

While in the forests to steal Chameadorea spp. fronds for the international florist trade, the xateros also steal macaw fledglings and shoot jaguars, tapirs and other precious wildlife to satisfy the international trade in wildlife resources. Yes, really: my passion for palms and for wildlife is connected in the forests of western Belize.

From the mountains of Belize, I flew to Costa Rica and ascended up steep roads to the famous cloud forests of Monteverde. There I had the opportunity to spend a week hiking the beautiful cloud forest with Willow, author and illustrator of Tropical Plants of Costa Rica (book descrition here:

From Monteverde, I travelled to the Pacific coast province of Guancaste to spend time in the tropical dry forest. While here the past week I have enjoyed the landscape plantings and using Willow's book as my guide.

Today (Wednesday, June 6) I rented a bicycle to explore. Cost was US$10 from the hotel. Basic beach cruiser: 1 speed, pedal breaks. Nice basket up front for water and my camera. Off to explore!

I'll start with the familiar: Bizzie. Bismarckia palms are well-suited to tropical dry forests and are used to good landscape effect here. None terribly large, so this must be a relatively new plant choice here: DSCN0695

Here is another to show how Bizzie are used in a street planting in front of a house: DSCN0696

Commonly used palms also include Manilla palm, Adonidia or Veithchia. Here is one in a planter to block beach access on a side road: DSCN0697

By far the most commonly used landscape palm is Areca (Dypsis lutescens). No photos as I am now taking them for granted, like queen palms in the southern U.S. (there are also a few Queens here). Lovely palms, but I appreciate some creativity.

Other commonly used landscape palms are the Royal Palm (Roystonea) and triangle palms (also in Dypsis): DSCN0698

While the Royals have clearly been around a while, as evidenced by their stature, the triangles seem newer. Here is one of only a few I saw in flower: DSCN0699

Here is a typical resort scene to show the landscape style used locally: DSCN0723

Yes, those are Areca palms. So ubiquitous I don't even notice them any more.

I took these photos while riding the bicycle up and down the steep hills south of Coco, to Playa Ocotal and Bahia Pez Vella. Steep! I use the time spent walking the heavy bike up the steep hills to get inspriation for my own next lanscape project, my parent's beach house on the Oregon coast. Steep like these resorts. Wonderful view of sunsets over the Pacific ocean. Hours for ideas to run through my seat-soaked cranium....

I also take into mind the natural vegetation: DSCN0722

I love the volcanic black-sand beaches below cliffs with cacti and tropical dry forest trees! So cool, in a hot way.

While on the beaches, I also take in the tide pools: DSCN0721



Splashed by waves: DSCN0711

And having their own special plants and animals: DSCN0709

The marine life reminds me not to get too tired as I have diving to do the next day.
This unique piece of yard art also puts me in mind of that: DSCN0724

So I ride my bike back to the hotel, where the cat is waiting on me: DSCN0725

I devote the rest of the day to my online classes.