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.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Tuesday, June 5

I am still nervous from the first day of classes and so don't sleep well. Wake up repeatedly trying to remember what errors I made. Can't think of any.

Get up with the sun, make coffee and log in to see what happened in my online classes while I was sleeping. Not much, but not nothing. Some students have crazy schedules and so make time for class at the oddest hours. Doesn't matter to me--I'm happy for all of them.

Breakfast of scrambled eggs and fruit, to order. I seem to be the only guest so the breakfast buffet has turned into breakfast to order. Fine by me. After eating, I grab my mask. I bought my dive mask in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize 11 years ago after mine was stolen. It was the only one that fit. Upon use, I loved it. Absolute best mask I have ever tried on. Super low profile makes clearing trivial, and wide range of view. Simple. Cheap. Cannot understand why all dive masks are not built like this one, but I have not found another like it and so carry it with me whenever I might dive.

Walk down the road two blocks to the beach, where Deep Blue has a boat waiting for me in the surf. DSCN0689 Wade out into the gentle waves and hop on board from the stern, by the outboard motor. Nice boat, with a center console and a sun shade. Tanks down the middle between benches. Basic and functional. DSCN0687 We set out across the water. I look back to see the cove out from Playas del Coco: DSCN0644

We head out to sea, then south down the coast to another cove, near Playas Ocotal where there is a colossal resort. We pick up a cute young couple who signed up for their introductory open-water SCUBA lesson. DSCN0651

They did the classroom and swimming-pool portion of their training at home in Buffalo, New York. They do more on board as we head out and then further south: DSCN0660

Our first dive site was around this low island: DSCN0653

The dive instructor has his students to care for so my divemaster and I back-roll off and descend. This is my first-ever dive in the Pacific so I am a little nervous. Water is a little colder than the Caribbean off Belize where I dove two weeks earlier (and for a dozen years prior). but not enough to be a nuisance. Visibility is much lower. About 10 meters or so. not bad, but I am used to 3x that in Belize. Also, the landscape is dominated by the volcanic rocks, not the reef-forming hard corals of the Belize barrier reef, which is justly famous world-wide. and finally, the fish! All are kind of familiar, but not quite. The Panama isthmus formed about 3 million years, which has been enough time for speciation by vicariance. As in, same genus, different species. Repeat over and over. As a zoologist, I loved it!

On the surface interval, the instructor continues his lesson while my divemaster goes fishing: DSCN0657

By dive skills, I'm happy to report, were fine. Good buoyancy, low air useage, stayed calm. We say some sharks (white-tipped; one group of three small ones and another of two medium-sized). Divemaster asked by hand signals if I was OK. Yes, of course--I love sharks! They are cool. I'm not afraid of sharks. I appreciate and respect them.

I took some snapshots of the young couple on their camera and they returned the favour with mine: Erik after diving CROP
if you call that a "favour." Pretty bad case of mask face.

Our second dive site was here: DSCN0661

just explored around the base of these rocks, down to 75 feet or so. There is a bit of a thermocline around 65 feet or so.

After that, we returned the couple to their resort, and then headed back up the coast to Coco. Some some isolated beaches I wanted to see from the land, and would the next day by bicycle. This is one: DSCN0674

Took a few more photographs of the boats in the cove as we approached. This one includes a faux pirate ship for tourist cruises: DSCN0682

As we got closer, I took some snapshots of the brown pelicans: Pelicans on boat at Playas del Coco

All too son, they dropped me off on the beach where they had picked me up in the surf at 8 am. I walked back up the road to my hotel: DSCN0691

I took a shower to get the salt off and then logged in to my online classes and worked until sunset. Actually, missed the sunset.