Thursday, 2 October 2014

0111 Mirador de Quetzales, Costa Rica to La Concepcion, Panama

Woke up with the alarm at 5.15 am, and by 6 am were outside and ready to go off with Jason our guide on the Quetzal hunt, that yesterday we didn’t even know we could do !  The rain and cloud of the night before had gone, and the sun was just coming up, giving spectacular views over the mountains. Two little birds were playing in the bushes outside our cabin, and Jason bought us a cup of coffee before we set off.  We had to drive some 8 kms to the National Park to start our hunt, so we had to clear everything out of the back of Troopie so Jason and his big telescope and tripod could fit in.

The little dirt roads we went down into the National Park were even narrower and bumpier than those to our lodging, but we eventually got in and parked in someone’s driveway (Jason seemed to know everyone !), and set off behind Jason sown this steep grass and slippery bank, through the bushes and under trees, wondering where on earth he was leading us.  Janet is not quite as sure-footed as a mountain goat, and was slipping and sliding all over the place –
These quetzales had better be good !!  Jason was warbling away with his quetzal call to try and attract a bird, and we continued to stagger along behind him.  Eventually we came back out onto the road again where we had started, and it was much easier.  And then who spotted the first quetzal but old hawk-eye Giles !  Don’t quite know how, as I had never seen one before, but I did, and even though all I could see was an outline in the shadow of the tree, with Jason’s telescope it came to life and we could see more of the brightly coloured plumage and its long tail feathers.  Exciting.

Moving on round the path a little further, Jason
then spotted another one, and in a sunnier spot, so its colouring was much brighter and clearer, and we managed to get a really good view and some great photos.  After a while we realised he had a big seed in his beak, and he appeared to swallow it for a few minutes, then regurgitate it and hold it in his beak, before swallowing it again. Eventually he spat it out, and shortly afterwards flew away, presumably to search for another one.  After a couple of hours of clambering round, and looking for and watching quetzals, we went home for a good Costa Rican hot breakfast and coffee, happy to have spotted an elusive quetzal.  The money of Guatemala is named the Quetzal, so this is an important bird in Central America.

fter breakfast I spent some time watching and photographing lots of little humming birds that we busy feeding off the sugar feeders hung around outside the restaurant – They really are amazing and colourful little birds.

Then it was time to hit the road – and just as we were taking some last photos our French friends Greg and Estelle came walking down the path !  We had told them we were here, and as they were driving this road as well, when the saw
the signs they came down to find us.  We went up to the restaurant and some coffee before setting off – Luckily Greg had not brought his motorhome all the way down the rough trail, but even so we had some difficulty getting it turned around and up the slippery path !   When he was safely out, we set off just as the clouds descended again, and we were soon driving on this busy mountain road in thick mist.  We were up around 3300 – 3400 metres, so the weather was hardly
surprising, and when the cloud cleared there were some spectacular views over the jungle covered mountains. We then got into a bit of  truck traffic jam caused by a mud slide across the road that had obviously happened overnight, blocking the road, and the workers were still clearing the mud off the road. So we just got there at the right time to get through without too much delay, although the next half hour or so was fun with trucks and cars all trying to overtake each other down the mountain road, playing their local version of Russian Roulette all the way !

As we dropped down the mountain to the sub  tropical plains (we are only 8 degrees off the equator here), we came out into the warm sunshine again, into San Isidro de El General.  We stopped at a local store to pick up some fresh bread and tortillas, before driving through the middle of town to see what was there, as we usually do.  As always, interesting to see the difference between all the towns.  At one point we passed what appeared to be an enormous pile of rubbish and plastic bags beside the road, but as we got closer we realised it was actually a wooden cart absolutely covered in rubber thongs and croc shoes that were for sale !

As we went out of town, Greg and Estelle in their MH suddenly shot down a side street in front of us - They had bypassed the town and caught us up !  We followed them up the hill out of town, and when they pulled over in a nice little comedor (restaurant) for lunch, with a view over the town below, we joined them and had a pleasant half hour break, before continuing our way back into the hills. We had turned off the main TransAmerica highway to make a detour down along the Pacific Coast as we had been told it was really beautiful.  Many expatriates live down here full time, especially Americans, and we wanted to see why.  But once we got down on the coast, it was really just like far northern Queensland – lots of palm trees, development, and higher
prices.  You don’t actually drive along the coast, but some way inland, so you hardly see the sea.  So we drove down to a couple of the beaches, and it was really a bit like Bali – Lots of expats, signs in English, bars offering “cheap beer”, and then when you got to the beach, it was cordoned off and you had to pay to park so you could then walk down to the beach. Hmmmmm.  Still not sure about this place – I can see the attraction for living here if you have never lived overseas before, as it would be a bit of a novelty. I also understand that being a lot cheaper, it has benefits in that regard too.  Maybe for me I can see the benefit of having a holiday place down here or something, although even then I am not someone who likes to go back to the same place every year for a holiday.  So at the moment I will just sit, watch, and think about it for a bit longer. But at the moment it is not really my cup of tea.  I find Costa Rica somewhat over developed and commercialised, and if I was going to spend time in this part of the world, I think I would prefer to do it in less developed Guatemala or Honduras or similar, and really live in a “foreign” place, rather than one that is trying to be the same as the place I have just come from, but warmer.  As I say, just my personal opinion, at this time.  I am still watching and digesting and learning, and reserve the right to change my mind at any time !!

By now we were getting close to the border with Panama, with lots of palm oil plantations of various ages, and trucks piled high with palm oil kernels on the road.  There are a lot of rivers flowing down to the ocean out of the mountains to the north, and we were continually crossing bridges over them.  After discussions with Greg and Estelle, and bearing in mind my supposed two day “curfew” in Costa Rica, we decided to make a run for the border this evening.  It is supposed to be a relatively easy border to cross (Where have I heard that before ??!!), so even though we lose an hour time-zone wise, and it will be dark by the time we get through, with two vehicles we feel a little safer about stopping somewhere beside the road overnight, so we decide to go for it.

As we approached the border, we unwittingly drove straight past the Costa Rican Customs and Immigration point, and ended up down in the Panamanian section in all the traffic.  So we then had to turn around in the middle of it all and drive back up the road 100 yards or so and start again !! Getting out of Costa Rica was pretty easy, although I was glad Greg was there with his relatively good command of Spanish. There were a couple of dodgy requests for payment, but we eventually worked out that they were legit because the bank where we should have paid a small fee was already closed, so we were paying “off duty” people instead !  Then it was down to the Panamanian section for the usual Insurance, fumigation, and customs inspection procedures – They just find a way to make everything more complicated than it needs to be – You queue up at one window where they fill out a form.  Then you have to take that form to another window and pay the amount, after which you go back to the first window, show that you have paid the required amount, so he stamps the form again to prove he has seen you have paid, and then you start the next procedure !  At one point Greg paid one dollar for a stamp to prove that he had enough money to survive in Panama – I never had to do that one !!And when we got to the window to pay for fumigation, he charged Greg $8 and me $1 “because Greg’ vehicle was much bigger than mine” !! We all got a good laugh out of that one, including the officers !!

After that we were off and running.  We got about 30 minutes down the road and in La Concepcion found a big gravel area next to a Texaco gas station where obviously trucks parked, although there was only one there now.  Eventually the guys in the gas station said we could park there, as long as we were prepared to move if a truck came.  So we parked up, and Greg and Estelle invited us into their MH for dinner and a drink, which was very kind of them. A kind of “dinner party in the Texaco parking lot”, you might say !  After a pleasant evening with them, we returned to our van parked next door, and settled down for a good nights sleep even if it was a bit noisy beside the TransAmerica Highway !!  No trucks came in during the night so we didn’t have to move !

More pics are here :-

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