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Karen's Perspective on Traveling Alone

Costa Rica: February 2001

I'm writing an account of my recent trip to Costa Rica with my dear friend and traveling companion Greg. We have traveled two previous times to Mexico and enjoy speaking Spanish (his is better than mine), dancing, singing and living it up in a modest kind of way --which means comfortable hotels/cabins and taking mass transport but not turning up our noses at the opportunity to take a tourist bus if it means we get there a lot quicker and with air conditioning!

Arenal Volcano
We began our trip at La Fortuna, a prosperous little town situated at the bottom of the very active Arenal Volcano. Highlights of the area included a visit to the swanky Tabacon Hot Springs at night. They have around 15 springs including one swimming pool size with a swim up bar and water slide. The most beautiful were the ones tucked away in the natural recesses of the stream with the sultry vegetation all around. We did see a little of the volcanic explosion including huge red boulders rumbling down the side of the volcano.

Caņos Negros
I took an amazing day trip from there to Caņos Negros, a national park near the Nicaraguan border. It's a beautiful marshland with the Rio Frio running through it. Our working class guide was one of 19 kids and is an amazing naturalist. From my journal what we saw from the boat:

Jesus Christ lizard (they have an ability to walk on water), caiman (a kind of crocodile), 3-toed sloth, wood storks, one tree full of 50 iguanas (the restaurant owner nearby feeds them), 3 types of monkeys, long-nosed bats (asleep)

birds: (from most spectacular/unusual on down) toucan, great potoo (nocturnal bird that looks like a tree trunk),trogon, anhingas, cormorants, little blue heron, yellow crowned heron, black crowned night heron, great blue heron, boat billed heron, Amazon king fisher, ringed kingfisher, great kiskadee, tropical kingbird and lots more common birds

We took a boat ride across Lake Arenal where a van picked us up to take us to the Monte Verde area, the famous cloud forest reserve started by Quakers. In Santa Elena, a nearby town, we went on a great hike throught the cloud forest where we saw an amazing orange breasted trogon, black guan, wood wren and heard howler monkeys. The greeness and denseness of the vegetation is impossible to relate with its gorgeous flowering bromeliads, heliconia (their national flower?) and an amazing assortment of ferns. In an ecological farm nearby our guide was able to spot two two-toed sloths, a porcupine (they live in trees), a tarantula (in its hole), two flying parrots, 4 nectar bats hanging off a banana tree and a white collared manakin (bird).

I also had an amazing experience seeing the knockout momot which is a large, exotically colored bird outside our cabin, plus a toucanette which I spotted with the trusty binoculars Nancy helped me purchase for the trip.

Playa Tamarindo
After the somewhat cool days in the cloud forest, we were ready for the dry heat of the beaches of Guanacaste (named for a local tree with a gorgeous canopy). Playa Tamarindo was our hang out spot for the next 5 days where we stayed with a Tica (what Costa Ricans call themselves) lesbian who is a friend of Jeanne's. Tamarindo is experiencing a huge boom with lots of Americans and Europeans taking over and building new hotels and restaurants. And one can see why. The beach is wide with rivers flowing in from each side, creating rich estuaries filled with waterlife and mangroves. I took a kayak trip with guide through the mangroves one day where we saw great horned ibis, green herons, howler monkeys and a grasshopper the size of a breadbasket (no kidding!)

The highlight of Tamarindo for most folks is the laying of eggs by the endangered leatherback turtles. We tried to see the turtles laying their eggs at Playa Grande National Park, but after 3 hours of waiting on the beach we had to settle with seeing the baby turtles (who had been in a nest under the sand for 2 months) fiercely make their way back to the water, following the light of the moon. It's amazing that the female babies who survive will make their way back to this same beach in 9-10 years to again their eggs. We know this because microchips are being placed in them. The turtles used to come to Playa Tamarindo but stopped a few years back because of light pollution. The next night after our somewhat disappointing turtle experience Greg spotted a turtle track on Playa Tamarindo and followed it to find baby turtles! We found the nest but the turtles were disoriented, going parallel with the water. Greg (with my encouragement and supervision!) crawled through barbed wire to unscrew a light bulb on the building closest to the nest. The turtles immediately began a more sure shot toward the water and moon and we went to bed happy that we may have made a little difference in a turtle's (who may outlive us) life.

Palo Verde
My last big adventure was a day trip to the national park marsh land of Palo Verde. Highlights included hanging out with an American military doc who I got to educate about some of the atrocities of US imperialism (in Spanish, no less.) We also saw 4 roseate spoonbills, a magnificent, regal rose colored bird.

San Jose
After a long bus ride back, I met up with three of Jeanne's lesbian friends (dentist, psychologist and lawyer--and dressed like BACW types) who took me out for dinner. We had quite a fun conversation, the way most lesbian conversations go. Politics, personal, politics, personal-- with them reminiscing about Jeanne and Julie, Lisa G (Seņor Lopez), San Francisco (when they had visited here).

Flight Home
The flight home was the beginning of the shock of coming back to life in the rest of Central America. First, I sat next to an Argentinian doc from Doctors Without Borders who was going to El Salvador to assess the damage from the earthquake and how to help. Then, from San Salvador, I sat next to a 17 year old girl whose husband had been killed three days ago in Guatemala in a case that sounded like a gang death. I closed my eyes and remembered the beauty and wonder of Costa Rica and tried to bring back its tranquility with me.

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