On to Sydney

Tomorrow we’re heading the app. 2.000 km. down to Sydney. It’s almost cool down there, only 19-20 degrees at night! I’ll probably need a cardigan…

I’ve neglected to tell you that we live right next to a huge colony of fruit bats or flying foxes, as they are also known. They are incredibly fascinating creatures! They are really large compared to the bats we’ve seen in Europe, US and Costa Rica. And their faces are furry and look just like a fox. But in flight – well, when you look up and see them all flying off just after sunset, it’s like Batman multiplied!

See you in Sydney!


Our time in Tropical North Queensland is running out

But we made it further north to a national park called Daintree. So tropical! We visited more rainforests – both a “normal” one and a mangrove. Even if we’re “old hands” by now when it comes to rainforests, we’re still totally dazed and amazed by their greenness, their diversity, their density!

On a short cruise on the river, we saw our first croc in the wild. He was just a baby, the captain informed us…

Oh, did I mention it rained practically all day? 340 mm in 24 hours. And the temperature never dropped under 28 degrees (82F)…

At the end of our visit in Daintree we visited Daintree Icecream company. A great concept! They make icecream with all the fruits that can be found in the rainforest (and there are SO many!) and serve a cup with four scoops, so you can get a taste of the fruit that’s in season. Of the four tastes we had, we only knew of the Macadamia nut. The other three we’d never even heard of, much less tasted.

Pictures from the icecream company’s garden/plantation.

Today we went snorkelling again. This time at the outer reef (some 30 nautical miles (ca. 55 km) from shore) on a somewhat larger boat called Wavelength. We visited three different sites out there, Opal Reefs and Turtle Bay, and saw numerous fish. Some of the others saw both turtles and sharks, but we “only” saw hundreds of colourful fish and incredible corals. A marine biologist was part of the crew – who were all very knowledgeable – so we heard a lot about the environmental threats to The Great Barrier Reef. Very much like our visits to habitats and rainforests, this sparks further environmental-consciousness. So beware friends and family: I’ll be even more organic and environmentalistic (such a word exists?) than ever.

Pictures taken by David with instamatic underwater camera.

Dane snorkelled along with me all day, some times on his own, sometimes holding hands, but most of the time hanging on my back. So, honestly, I was/am totally wasted!


2 Fish & Sailaway

Uh, we’ve been so busy since my last post, I don’t even know where to begin.

The Rainforest Habitat is a 10 minutes walk from our dwellings, so we thought that would be a good place to start. And this place was even better than the Koala sanctuary we visited outside Brisbane. Not as many koalas, but many more cute kangaroos and hundreds of birds, many of them quite tame. It was yet another encounter with the incredible diversity of our planet and again, it made a huge impact on us. Dane is contemplating becoming a vegetarian – he just can’t bear the thought of us killing all those cute animals and fish just to eat them, now that he’s seen so many of them up close and personal.

It being Valentine’s Day and all (just another excuse for some exclusive dining), we decided to try out one of the better restaurants in Port Douglas. 2 Fish. That turned out to be an excellent choice. Lovely food, nice service. The fish was fantastic, the desserts to die for. The evening became even more exotic, because it rained the tropical way, in buckets with lots of thunder and lightning. And we sat outside, just under a tarpaulin, so we could hardly hear oneanother speak.

The next morning we went on our much anticipated boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef. We’d chosen a brand new katamaran, the Sailaway IV, that does a family-friendly trip to a place called the Low Isles. Sort of like in Castaway, but with a return ticket. There were only 7 other passengers and they were all very civilised (=middle aged ;-) ). The trip out to the reef (by motor) took a little over an hour and then we were sailed in to the island on a small glass-bottomed boat. From there on it was just to snorkle away from the beach. It was only a few strokes, then you were on the reef and there were thousands of fish in all shapes and colours. Just marvellous! Dane wasn’t too keen on snorkling on his own, so he got a ride on mommy’s back and we found Nemo in his anemone.

Because of the imminent danger of marine stingers, everybody has to wear a so-called stinger-suit, which covers you from head to toe. The stingers are not to be taken lightly – if the tentacles (two metres long) touch you around the chest area, it’s almost certain death. Everywhere else it’s “just” excruciating pain, lifelong scars and a couple of days in hospital…

A nice lunch was served on board the katamaran and we had much fun feeding the shrimp shells to the abundance of fish around the boat. Even a shark came along for the party. And then we sailed back home (by sail), happy and with an even deeper tan…

Today we went on a different kind of rain forest tour – we went with an indigenous guide, an aboriginee from the Kuku Yalanji tribe. He told us about the way the ancestors had perused the rainforest and we tasted some very nice bread, baked with flour made out of the nuts from a tree in the forest. Interestingly, the nuts has to be cleansed in the river for 7 days, because otherwise they are poisonous. At the end of the tour, he played us a couple of tunes on his didgeridoo. He was very good at it and had Dane mesmerized.

Then we went for a much needed swim in the Mossman Gorge, a lively river with very cool water. No crocs, no stingers = lots of locals! The afternoon was spent driving up along the coast and stopping every 10 minutes for yet another photo opportunity!

Quite a few more photos here.


The Quetzal and Costa Rican hospitality

We had heard and read about the rare resplendent Quetzal before we took our tour of the cloud forest. And as they estimate that only 50 pairs are breeding in Monte Verde’s cloud forest, we hadn’t imagined seing more than a fleeting glimpse of this incredibly beautiful bird. But again we were so lucky – our guide spotted a beautiful male perched on a branch no more than 20 meters away, maybe less (I’m no good at estimating weight and lenght and that sort of thing). Anyway, we could see it clearly with the naked eye and close up with our binoculars and with the guide’s telescope, through which the above photograph was taken.

On the three hour trip we also saw a number of different colourful hummingbirds (very noisy birds! I’d never have imagined), a rather large tarantula (asleep in its hole, luckily) and a number of other birds and dozens of different orchids and other exotic greenery.

In the afternoon it was time for our visit with the Monte Verde fair trade spokesperson Guillermo and his family. His beautiful, charming 14-year old oldest daughter Maria showed us the way – in 100% perfect English, since Guillermo and his wife Ana have their children in the Quaker school, where they are taught a number of classes in English. We share many values with the Quakers, catholic Guillermo and Ana told us. Well, we do too!

Ana is a gifted artist, who paints, does ceramics and mosaics and has left no part of their intriguingly beautiful home untouched by her magic. There are no pictures – you must imagine it. We were treated to home baked bread and – of course – coffee. We had a lovely time and probably overstayed our welcome…

The next day we followed the bumpy road down to the Guanacaste peninsula towards our next destination: Tamarindo. The town of Tamarindo, sitting on the most beautiful stretch of beach, a surfer’s dream, is on the brink of over-development. It’s brimming with American tourists and surfer bums and on every street corner, somebody is trying to sell you a time share apartment.

The hotel our travel agent had provided turned out to be quite awful, which was a surprise, since the other two hotels had been so nice and we hadn’t been warned that this one was below standard. Not only was it practically ON the extremely dusty and noisy road, the rooms were tiny, had no space for clothes, let alone empty suitcases. There were around 10 worn-out plastic chairs scattered around the minuscule swimming pool and the so-called children’s pool was the size of a large bathtub. But that was the least of it – the room was filthy and it was full of very large ants. They were everywhere, litterally. So we checked out. And are now at the lovely Capitan Suizo where we were lucky to get their smallest room (considerably larger than the other one, though) at a very good price. And that includes impeccable service, a beautiful garden full of exotic animals, a huge swimming pool and breakfast. And very, very friendly and competent staff.

As Tamarindo isn’t really our kind of place, we spend the most of our time by the pool or walking along the beach in the surf. Which isn’t at all bad… Both Dane and we enjoy the fantastic wildlife in the hotel’s garden.

A howler monkey. A flock of them are always around the hotel and have the kindness to wake up the guests around 6:30 in the morning with their unmistakable howling. But they are such fun to watch.

The iguanas are all over the garden and after a day or two you stop getting near heart attacks every time one of them comes hobbling down the path. They climb the trees but aren’t that good at it, so regularly you hear a big thump and it’s one of the iguanas, which has fallen out of a tree! A couple of raccoons can be seen every evening and they are practically tame, as are many of the birds here. It really is heaven for children!

A couple of howler monkeys silhouetted against the evening sky.

More pictures here – as usual.


With our heads in the clouds

Monte Verde is so high up and so inaccessible that it’s a miracle anybody ever thought of bringing tourists up there. But luckily somebody did.

On the way there, we stopped at a tiny restaurant perched high up on a hill. The menu consisted of fried trout with yucca fries, pinto (the local mixture of beans and rice) and sugar cane juice. The owner had the trout in a dam behind the house and went out and caught a couple for our lunch. His wife cooked them and peeled and cut the fries while we watched. We also got to make our own sugar cane juice on his machine, which he’d inherited from his dad and granddad; he proudly announced (via dictionary) that it was more than a hundred years old. The restaurant is called Florida (Flo’rida) and we warmly recommend it, if you ever take the trip from Arenal to Monte Verde.

Monte Verde is famous world wide for its cloud forest. A cloud forest is a rainforest high up in the mountains, which is almost constantly covered by clouds. Because of its very special climate it is the place on the earth with the biggest bio-diversity. You’ll never have seen so many ornithologists (elderly men in safari outfits with huge binoculars, cameras and heavy bird books).

The road up there is beyond description. We’ve tried to document it, but you can’t really. Try to imagine the worst gravel road you’ve ever travelled. Then imagine that it’s filled with rocks of all sizes. Finally imagine 2-3 hours of driving like that…

Getting there, we were most pleasantly surprised by our hotel, which was quite lovely and where exotic birds and animals let themselves be seen and photographed in the garden.

On our first day we went on a so-called coffee tour. Dane and David weren’t overly exited, but most of you know what I’m like when it’s something with coffee, organic, fair trade… So I insisted. Our guide was a soft-spoken, quiet man with a mission. Guillermo is the spokes-person for the Monte Verde coffee Coop and has travelled as fair trade ambassador to UK, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. So obviously his English was excellent.

It was just us and Guillermo and we began by driving to an overlook, where we could see the entire area and all the way to the Nicoya peninsula (jutting out into the Pacific). Up here Guillermo told us about the history of Monte Verde, which was “colonised” in the 50ties by a couple of handfuls of American Quakers, fleeing the Korean war. Read the interesting story about the opening of this remote nature’s wonderland to people from outside here.

Then we drove to Juan’s organic coffee plantation. It was quite small and didn’t provide much of a livelihood for Juan, his Quaker wife and their two daughters, but with the eco-tourism on top, he could make a decent living. As you can see, Dane was an avid coffee picker. However, he was stunned to hear that a coffee picker only gets around 2$ per bushel coffee beans. It’s a bushel you see in the picture.

Everybody in Monte Verde has a “kitchen garden” with some banana palms, Papaya trees, pineapple, avocado, guava, watermelon etc. and we got to admire Juan’s. By the way, did you know that a banana palm, which can grow to around 4 meters, only lives one year? It shoots out of the earth, spouts around 100 bananas and then drops dead, within one year. My jaw dropped, hearing this while standing among Juan’s banana palms. After the tour Juan treated us to a cup of coffee and a home baked cake on his porch.

Then we drove on and saw the place where the coffee “cherries” as they are called, are transformed into lovely-smelling coffee beans. And finally we drove down to the co-op café and tasted the coffee, light roast, dark roast and natural.

1) Dane is turning the beans over. They dry for ten days in the sun and must be turned over 4-6 times a day. 2) The coffee cherries are poured in here with water from the river. 3) this machine sorts the beans in sizes. 4) Here’s where the coffee is roasted.

More pictures here.


Living under the volcano

Everything revolves around the volcano Arenal in the entire area. Which really isn’t strange, since it

1) looks like a volcano from a child’s drawing.
2) is covered by clouds 75% of the time and makes you say “WAUW” when it occasionally makes an appearance from behind the clouds.
3) Rumbles frequently (several times a day) so it can be heard over most of the area.
4) Spews lava that is white and smoking by day and orange-red by night. We didn’t see it at night though.

Check the facts about the volcano and it’s outburst in 1968 here.

On our first day we went on the previously mentioned Canopy tour. It was SO MUCH FUN! We’d definitely do it again if it weren’t so relatively costly. Dane is going on about it every day – how he flew over the tree tops, about the howler monkey and it’s little baby and about crossing a river 30 meters above ground.

On the following day we went on a three hour tour of the so-called hanging bridges. Hanging bridges are widely used in rainforests here to be able to show off the fantastic nature to us tourists without totally ruining the eco-system in the forest. So a good deal of the time, you’re walking among the treetops. As 40% of all plants in the rainforest are epiphytes (plants that live on and off other plants), there really is a lot to see up there.

In between our adventures we spent time in the lovely hot springs at the hotel, heated by the volcano. David and I agree that a so-called wet bar really is the height of decadence!

More and larger pictures here.