Costa Rica Part Three

…or sloths, sloths, sloths, and monkeys.

Day Six started with a drive down the mountain on its unpaved road and a trek to Manuel Antonio National Park. The hotel we booked was the nicest of our trip. The Costa Verde Hotel. They are the place with the 727 that’s been converted into a hotel casita. No, we didn’t stay in it, although that would have been interesting. It sure was pretty.

There was one event on the way to Manuel Antonio that I have to mention. Years ago, while doing the college tours, we took an airboat ride on the Louisiana bayou and had a close encounter with an alligator. It was about ten feet long and very frightening. I mention this because in Costa Rica, the crocodiles made that beast look puny. There is a bridge over a river just outside of Jaco, where crocs sun themselves on the banks. There was a monster there that must have been 16 feet long (the picture doesn’t do it justice) and there were at least 25 large crocs just hanging out. One of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen.

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The big guy
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This wasn’t all of them

Anyway, back to Manuel Antonio. This place was amazing. When we parked at the hotel the trees were full of squirrel monkeys, the cutest little golden creatures with cute little whistles. Our hike through the national park showed us three sloths, three bats, two raccoons, two coati, lots of capuchin monkeys, an agouti, and a fer de lance. It was amazing. The beaches within the park were beautiful. They were open that day. Sometimes they are closed because crocs sometimes swim in the waters there. The monkeys, raccoons and one coati came onto the beach to steal food. We watched a raccoon steal an entire bag of chips despite the human playing tug of war with the tote that held the snack and using a slipper to discourage the theft. The monkeys came begging for food too.

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Yes, it was that close.

The afternoon, as we swam in the pool, an agouti casually took a stroll right by, and then later the most amazing thunderstorm and torrential downpour cooled us off(Hey, it is a rain forest). The next morning, we saw the sloth that makes the hotel its home. Just hanging around, right by the rooms.DSCN4830

All in all Costa Rica wasn’t a relaxing vacation, but we chose not to do the resort thing. We went for the jungles and the wildlife. Okay, so we didn’t see as much as a Nature special, nor did we rough it like true wilderness experts—hey, there is a limit to how many comforts I’m willing to forgo—but it was great. No tan, a few mosquito bites, wonderful people, and an experience unlike anything I’ve done before. The jungle is almost a cliché, but it was wonderful to experience it outside of Disneyland (“This is the rarely seen other side of water.”). I must say the humidity made me appreciate our dry New Mexico weather.

I’ve always said that adventure is overrated. Adventure usually means something’s gone wrong and you have to deal with it. So this was a perfect trip, the kind of adventure that means everything goes smoothly, the kind that gives you the chance to learn new things about the world and yourself.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

 

Costa Rica Part Two

…or a feat of determination that still amazes me.

DSCN4707Our tour of Tortuguero (see part one) over, we flew back into San Jose on Sansa Airlines, picked up a rental car (after receiving a long lecture on everything that might go wrong on Costa Rican highways and byways and making all of us nervous as butterflies), we hopped in the car and made the interesting drive up to Monteverde. Why interesting? Because the last 20km or so of winding road up the mountain isn’t paved. It’s gravel, and we saw evidence of several small landslides (very small—not blocking the road…okay maybe half the road in one place only) because of the rainstorms in the area.

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The cloudy view from our cottage

We had rented a rustic (very rustic) cottage a couple of kilometers outside of Monteverde proper, settled in after the long drive (see paved road above plus a stop at a local sustainability and conservation center from which we were renting the cottage) and enjoyed another torrential downpour. But coming from New Mexico, we love the rain. It was downright chilly, but felt so cozy.

The next morning, sunshine. We hopped into our rental car (four-wheel drive Nissan Pathfinder), and then promptly jumped out again as Robot Guy had a little trouble navigating the steep, steep driveway, and, frankly, I was terrified (We’ll get back to terrified later). The three sprouts also abandoned the vehicle, but we were able to find a better path for the wheels and successfully left the cottage.

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Monteverde National Park (and yes, I took this picture)

We drove to the entrance of the national park, and joined an early morning tour. Monteverde has become a major tourist destination in Costa Rica (yet they haven’t paved the roads), and the early morning tour allowed us to enjoy the park with fewer tourists. But that wasn’t the highlight. We hadn’t hiked more than a couple dozen steps into the park, when our guide stopped, set up his scope and said, “Quetzal.” That’s right. The pinnacle of any birdwatcher’s list is the quetzal, and I’ve seen one in the wild. It doesn’t look real. Bright red and green, with white, it’s part of the reason Monteverde has become a tourist mecca. We hiked several of the trails in this beautiful cloud forest. And the number and variety of hummingbirds we saw was breathtaking.

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Haven’t identified this guy yet, but I don’t think it’s a violet sabrewing. I might be wrong.

Back to the terrifying part. Youngest daughter was a trooper and never complained once, but we knew she wanted a different kind of experience. We found Sky Adventures, a local, well, not amusement park, but extreme activity center. Zip lining. But this wasn’t your glide over the canopy at a decent height zipping. Oh, no. These were eight zip lines, the longest of which was over half a mile long and the highest was 328 ft. (http://skyadventures.travel/skytrek/  ; Apparently they have an even longer and higher one at Arenal, but we didn’t go there, thank God. If you want to watch someone else’s video of the zip lines here you go. Yes, it was that loud, and it was a lot windier when we went. At 5:35 is where you really get a sense of the height.  My daughter filmed her rides, but I don’t have that footage yet.)  I closed my eyes for the first two lines that crisscrossed the canyon we flew over. I did peek for the third. When I finished the hour and a quarter session, I distinctly felt that I had accomplished something and was downright proud of myself. Youngest patted me on the back and said, “You conquered your fears. Good job.” She, by the way, had a blast.

Day six started with the drive down the mountain and onto our next adventure, which is the next blog.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

 

Costa Rica . . .

…or how I spent eight days in the jungle and lived to make you jealous of my adventures.

How do you write about an adventure of a lifetime? I just returned from a week in Costa Rica, a place so different from where I live it’s hard to take it all in, so I’m going to take it day by day.

Day one: actually day two because a pulled fire alarm in Dallas and weather prevented us from leaving Houston until the following evening. We were however able to spend time with family in Houston. Don’t get me wrong: I love them, but they weren’t worth missing a day in Costa Rica.

So Day Two and Three: We finally get to Costa Rica, and it’s warm. And humid. Something I’m not used to in New Mexico. We arrived late to San Jose, slept for a couple of hours at a hotel near the airport so we could catch a puddle jumper to Tortuguero National Park. You can’t get there by car, and plane was faster. DSCN4682It was my first experience in a small plane, and I have to admit, nerves aside, it fascinating. Half an hour in the air and we landed in the jungle. A large tortoise or turtle of some sort was greeting us at the end of the runway. Seriously. We get off the plane and there’s a turtle. Unfortunately we weren’t there in sea turtle season, the reason the place is called Tortuguero, but they do a lot of conservation work there for the turtles. The hotel was amazing (The Tortuga Lodge) but if you happen to stay there, don’t expect insect or critter proof rooms. We had two geckos in our room that we couldn’t catch. After several futile attempts, we figured they’d eat the insects for us.

A two hour hike through the jungle left me covered with mosquito bites, but not as many as I thought. Thank goodness for Deet. Nearly every five feet I saw a tiny strawberry poison dart frog. We saw macaws flying, and the biggest golden orb spiders. And at the end of the hike a group of howler monkeys called greetings to us from the trees. When we returned to the hotel, massive iguanas were waiting for us.DSCN4686

In the afternoon we took a boat tour through some of the waterways of the park. On the water we saw a sloth (more about them at day six and seven), a couple of caimans, a ringed kingfisher, a green kingfisher, great green macaws, and a group of spider monkeys.DSCN4694

What an amazing intro to the jungle. Tortuguero was the place I wanted to see most, but ultimately, I was more excited by the other places I visited (coming up in future posts). The rain delayed our flight into Costa Rica here in the states, then delayed our flight to Tortuguero, and despite rain, we were able to take off to return to San Jose and the rental car.

By the way, we ate everything and drank the water without a problem.

Next time, day four and five and Monteverde. Stay tuned.

—Gabi

 

Books I’m reading now:

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

But What Does it Mean?

In which I look at the desperate neediness of authors, reviews, and status.

I get it. To hear from a reader who loves your book is a wonderful boost to the ego. But I don’t trust the system any more. I’ve seen too many ads for buying five-star reviews. I’ve heard author talk about paying for reviews. I’ve read too many articles on how to game the system. The worst part is that I completely understand why authors, including me, are so desperate for them.

Authors live or die by reviews—both self-pubbed and traditionally published authors. Some of Amazon’s algorithms, whatever magical and arcane formula they have, kick in after X number of reviews. Some major movers in the advertising biz won’t accept your ad until you have X number of reviews. Oh, and they must be five star (okay, we’ll accept four, but we don’t like it). Yes, I can personally testify to being told to review a book honestly, but if I can’t give it five stars (Okay, we’ll accept four stars), then don’t review it. When I read a novel (and I know the author has spent poured herself into it) that is amateurish, I can give concrete reasons why the book doesn’t resonate: character building, world building, dialogue, even grammar. I can point out where story structure has broken down, where they’ve used a deus ex machina to solve the conflict, where their logic has failed. Yet their reviews glitter with stars.

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My stars

And even if you try to have your book reviewed, many reviewers won’t respond to your request. They’re probably overwhelmed with requests because reviews drive the business. And it’s not just bloggers. The second book in my Wish series somehow never made it into the premiere review magazine for my genre. My editor swore it was sent, but they had no control over which books get reviews and which don’t. The first and third books were reviewed (very nicely), but the second never was. It made a difference in the success of the series. (It also speaks to my luck in this business). Since self-pubbing a few of my novels, I’ve tried to get reviews, but my efforts have been met with lukewarm success. Only half of the free books I’ve given out result in a review, and that’s with the stipulation I give you a free book in exchange for a review. I don’t even ask for five-stars. I want an honest one.

The “bestseller” achievement means little too. It’s too easy these days to hit the myriad lists. (Full disclosure, I haven’t.) You can find a lot of articles on how the NYT bestseller list is manipulated. And when someone isn’t happy about the list, they change it. Other authors got fed up with JK Rowling owning the list for years so they created a “new” category so they didn’t have to compete with her. Hit the top 100 on an Amazon list, however rare the category might be, the author slaps “bestselling author” on the cover of their novel. It’s certainly legitimate, but it doesn’t really mean anything any more. I’ve even seen an author use the title after their (plural pronoun used on purpose) book was the bestseller in a local bookstore. Their bookstore. The one they live near. The one their friends visit.

“Award-winning” is another designation that is tossed about so much it’s lost its meaning. (Full disclosure: I’ve used this one. I’ve won many awards for my writing.) If you’re savvy, you can find a contest to enter and win. Heck, there are some you can buy a win in. Some of these contests have more than a hundred different categories and charge a large sum to enter. Some give true bragging rights. In any case awards may simply reflect the opinion of one person.

So I’ve changed my mind. Go ahead and review if you want to, but don’t if you don’t want to. In the latest Time magazine, Kristin van Ogtrop’s essay, “The Amateur,” decries the need to review everything she purchases on the Internet (I’d link to the article, but it’s not available on line yet). The subtitle is “Don’t make me rate you: a plea to every business that has my credit-card number.” I feel the same way, including about books. I won’t review it. First, because I’m an author and I don’t think I should review another author’s books, and second, because no one wants honesty any longer.

I get it. It’s about business and the numbers. Am I whining? I don’t mean to. Am I grousing? Quite possibly.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson