January 22nd to February 5th, 2012
Sunday, Jan. 22 This was a travel day with a flight from Orlando to San Jose, Costa Rica – complete with the inevitable travel delays (late plane, airport confusion, etc.) We were met at the airport by a travel representative and provided minibus transportation to the InterContinental Hotel where we joined some fellow travelers on a larger bus for our trip to the port. The drive was indirect and extended due to a serious traffic accident on the main road, so it was after 6:30 by the time we did our check-in at Puerto Caldera and took the tender to the ship – our clipper ship home for the next two weeks. We had missed lunch, the snacks at the hotel AND the welcome aboard snacks on the ship and were absolutely famished! After an introduction by Captain Klauss (from Germany) and cruise director Patrick (from Austria) we hurried to change and were the first ones in the dining room when it opened at 7:30. Dinner was tasty – I had soup and “rasta” steak with rice and fried plantains. (Other choices included salmon, lamb, etc. with many optional sides and desserts.) The sail-away was scheduled for 9:30, but we decided to get unpacked and get some sleep since there is a sail-away every day!
Monday, Jan. 23 A relaxing day at sea brought a welcome chance to recover from our travels, meet fellow passengers and eat too much! Both the breakfast and lunch buffets had lots of tempting goodies as well as some healthy options. The required boat drill was the usual fun and games... glad to discover we did not have an Italian captain. In the afternoon, Steffi (the “naturalist” on the crew) gave an excellent talk on an overview of Costa Rica. Here are some highlights:
Costa Rica, which means “Rich Coast”, has just under 20,000 square miles (about the size of West Virginia , Nova Scotia, or Austria) and only 4.6 million people. It is bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. It is a presidential republic and currently has its first woman president. Currency is the Costa Rica Colon (CRC), and 500 CRC= $1.00
The mountain ranges run from north to south through the country and there are many volcanoes. The country boasts 26 national parks, and nature highlights include the Tempisque River (144 km to the Pacific Ocean), Lake Arenal (85 sq. km near the Arenal Volcano), La Fortuna Waterfall (Catarata Fortuna”), and Cocos Island (an uninhabited national park).
The seven provinces are Alajuela (north central plains – “City of Mangoes”), Cartago (central – potato farms), Guanacaste (north Pacific coast with 7 national parks & many beaches), Heredia (north central – waterfalls), Limon (covers the entire Caribbean coast for 336 km), Puntarenas (largest – Pacific coast, incl. Cocos Island, national parks and the cloud forest), and San Jose (central).
Weather is tropical year-round, with dry season from Dec.-May and rainy season May-Nov.
Population is 94% white and mestizos, 3% black, 1.5% indigenous, and 1.5% other
Exports (11%) include coffee, bananas, pineapples & beef. Industry includes pharmaceuticals (12%), technology mfg, e.g. Intel (30%) and ecotourism.
The military was abolished in 1948 (all weapons were burned) and those dollars are now spent on education and the environment.
At 6:15 our cruise director explained the upcoming excursions and we decided to sign up for at least two in this first week. At 7:00 we had a reception with other returning Clipper passengers and the captain entertained us with bagpipes, of all things! (He spent 13 years in Scotland and speaks English with a Scottish accent!) Dinner service started at 7:30 (and continues until 10!) and was once again tasty with pleasant company and conversation, including the navigator “Bo” (from Finland) and the entertained “Josef” (from Hungary). This crew of ~ 70 comes from over 20 countries. Sleep came easily.
Tuesday, Jan. 24th. This morning we arrived at Isla Gamez, Panama for a “day of fun” on the beach. Because it was quite hot, we waited to take the 10:00 tender and do some snorkeling before our beach barbeque lunch. The snorkeling was a huge disappointment – only one person we ran across saw any fish. After deciding we were too old to chance the waterskiing option and declining the long wait for the one sunfish – we just took a hike around the island. Lunch was great. I had delicious grilled fish, chicken & pineapple and a large green salad. (Paul enjoyed a “yummy” burger.) We then headed back to the ship for more relaxing, but we’re looking forward to some adventure on this trip – hopefully soon!
Later this afternoon, following the daily 4:30 cocktail hour (with more good snacks!) we had another nature talk and power point by Steffi. This was about the flora of Costa Rica and it was interesting to learn that most of the flowers here are the same as we enjoy in Florida, but there are many more species (including over 2000 different orchids!) and they grow much larger. The trees, however, are much different and quite interesting. The national tree is the Guanacaste (“Ear Tree” because the fruits are shaped like ears, and it has high quality wood used for furniture). The almond tree is only located in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. The breadfruit tree has 3 harvests/year (50 fruits each time). Also found here are teak, tamarind, ficus, balsa, cecropia, many palms, the pochote tree, trumpet tree, etc.
Dinner was again delicious. I chose the snail ragout (in tiny puff pastry shells), cream of mushroom soup, sorbet and the chef’s spicy pork special. Paul had the mahi mahi (“cooked perfectly!”). We enjoyed our tablemates and talked for a long time. The evening “entertainment” was pretty silly – “Frog Racing” wooden frogs on string…. Hard to explain…. I imagine it’s a challenge for the young crew to entertain 141 passengers that probably had an average age of 70 – much older than we expected on this trip – but they seem to take it in stride. I must say, though, that the passengers were mainly very seasoned travelers that were young at heart.
Wednesday, Jan. 25th. We arrived in Golfito this morning before breakfast. It is a lovely spot, which scenery that is typical of Costa Rica’s western coast. The town used to be owned by a fruit company and when they closed down, their major source of income was lost. Now they rely on tourism and fishing. We didn’t choose either of today’s excursions (Canopy Tour or Wildlife Refuge) since we’re doing a canopy tour Friday (if it isn’t cancelled!) and we had mixed reviews about the refuge hike. One of the tour groups aboard (“Road Scholars” – formerly “elderhostel”) has their own excursions and the rescue center excursion was cancelled because they didn’t get their minimum.
After a leisurely breakfast buffet we took the tender to shore and landed at a lovely marina. We took a much-needed walk through the little town and a quick tour of the only small store (groceries on the first floor, clothes on the second). When we returned to the marina we enjoyed a rare opportunity to have free internet access and a delicious lunch of local fish. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing on ship (we’ve done a LOT of that so far!!) and enjoying Steffi’s talk on some of the fauna of Costa Rica. Although this small country is less than 0.001% of the world’s area, it boasts more than 5% of the world’s flora and fauna. That explains the recent interest in ecological research and tourism here. The samples of fauna that she shared in the limited time included white faced capuchin monkeys, mantled howler monkeys, jaguar, puma, coati, raccoon, zebu (humped cattle), sloth, humpback whale, dolphin, tree frog, boa constrictor, scarlet king snake, coral snake, sea turtle, green iguana, black iguana, brown caiman, American crocodile, morphoazul (+1400 species of butterflies!), scarlet macaw, pelican, orange-fronted parrot, boat-billed heron, colibri (hummingbird), rainbow-billed toucan and fiery-billed arocari.
Josef, our multitalented musician, performed a fabulous one-hour piano concert before dinner, ending with a standing ovation. The evening meal was once more outstanding. I had the vegetable waffle with seafood ragout, tomato bisque and fabulous roast duck. The rest of the evening was spent with pleasant shipmates.
Thursday, Jan. 26th. Today we arrived at Drake Bay. Breakfast was at 7:30 since our excursion departure was at 8:20. Our first real adventure – horseback riding on the beach and through the woods – was highly anticipated! The 12 of us took a 15-minute boat ride to another beach location where the lovely saddled horses awaited. After signing the obligatory waivers and donning the mandatory helmets, we were off on a 2-hour trek through woods, across a small stream, across the beach, and up a steep hill – then a return trip highlighted by a brisk canter across the beach by our horses that were obviously eager to run! Wildlife we saw on the way included a crocodile, iguana, lizard, many birds and a variety of interesting trees and flowers. Unfortunately, the one camera we took ran out of space midway (due to videos, we think), so we didn’t get the beautiful view! After we returned to the starting point and dismounted, we enjoyed pineapple, watermelon, juices and cookies. Many took advantage of the chance to take a swim, but instead I joined a group taking a short hike where we saw Coati mundi and a host of white-faced capuchin monkeys – very curious and entertaining.
We returned to the ship eager for the lunch buffet (Italian theme today) and a chance to relax. The weather has been beautiful, but much warmer than we expected (not realizing that it was so much hotter on the coasts than in elevated San Jose). At 5:30 Patrick reviewed the next two days’ excursions and we were relieved to learn that tomorrow’s “zip line” canopy tour was not cancelled. After a much-needed shower and change, it was time for the “Captain’s Dinner” – quite an elaborate affair with choices including foie gras, risotto with scallops, mustard soup, calamari sorbet, Chateaubriand, lobster tail, etc. The pate was delicious, but the filet, though flavorful, was a bit tough. It seems the lobster was the better choice. Dessert, of course, was flaming baked Alaska. At 10:00 they had the talent show in the Tropical Bar. Many of the crew and several passengers showcased excellent voices, the native Phillipine dance was wonderful, and, of course, there were some crazy skits.