A Travellerspoint blog

Madly in Love with Medellin

I'm Part Paisa Now

Springtime in Medellin
The city of Medellin (pronounced Mede-J-ean not Mede-Y-ien) is known as the "City of Eternal Spring" because its unique climate produces year-round spring temperatures. The city is also experiencing another spring-like rebirth after many years of horrific drug cartel violence. Forget everything you think you know about Medellin. All of that is in the past, and the city is much safer than you think. I should have videotaped the reactions I received from people over the past few months when I told them I was headed there. I heard all sorts of stories, and a few almost dissuaded me from going to Medellin. Luckily, I read this article about Medellin in the travel section of the New York Times, and it assured me things had changed for the better: NYT Travel Medellin

I had a long discussion about Medellin’s reputational hangover with my good friend Juan. He is a long-time resident of Medellin. We met 13 years ago on the Semester at Sea program and spent 3 months circumventing the globe on a cruise ship converted to a college campus. My friend Juan lamented how the world still regards Medellin as the way it was many years ago, and not the way it is now. I told him to hang on as the rest of the world will figure it out soon enough. I compared it to our mutual experience in Croatia in 1999. Our Semester at Sea ship pulled into Dubrovnik on the heels of the Balkan War. Back then, people I met thought I was nuts for going to Dubrovnik. Nowadays people barely remember those times. I think the same will happen for Medellin.

In conclusion, I wouldn’t call Medellin “safe,” but I wouldn’t call many parts of Atlanta safe either. A few days after I came back from Colombia my mother drove right by a police shootout next to a suburban bookstore. If you exercise sound judgment in where you go and what you do you should be fine in Medellin (and Atlanta).

Tour of the City
I started out my stay in Medellin with a metro cable (gondola) tour of the city. Medellin runs along a steep valley, and the people on the outer, steep edges have a hard time commuting into the center. With its scenic views the metro cable has become a little bit of a tourist attraction, even though it was built for practical mass transit reasons.

To get to the metro cable, my guide drove me through Comuna 13, proudly demonstrating how safe and well-serviced it was. He stated “several years ago I could not have driven you through here.” In Colombia, the word comuna is used similarly to favela in Brazil, though technically every part of a city in Colombia, rich and poor, is part of one comuna. Comuna 13 used to be the heart of darkness during the bad times in Medellin. My guide explained how the turning point came when the former president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, ordered a military assault to clean out this part of the city in 2002. My guide spoke favorably of Uribe and his efforts, especially of Uribe’s action to imprison 40% of the Senate for corruption.

My guide pointed out multiple construction sites for clean housing, new hospitals which charge only $1USD per visit, cheap day-care services for working mothers, and police stations which respond to complaints in under a minute. My guide claimed some lower-middle class citizens were moving into the comunas because the public services were cheaper and better than in their existing neighborhoods.

There are still some shanty-town areas of Medellin. My guide said the government is good about offering people in these conditions free bricks and tin roofs so they don’t have to live in makeshift houses. Some of these people used to live in the countryside, but the FARC insurgent group ran them off and stole their property.

The next stop was a plaza in downtown Medellin for a viewing of the works of Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous artist. Most of Botero’s sculptures and painting feature plus-sized people as the subject matter.

One of my friends asked me to post pictures of nude women from exotic locales on my travel blog.

The highlight of the day was retracing the footsteps of Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug lord of Medellin. This building was one of Pablo’s hideouts until the rival Cali cartel tried to assassinate him with 600 kilos of explosives in a car bomb. My guide explained how the government keeps the building in its current condition on purpose as a "Crime Doesn’t Pay" message to others in the drug trade.

This is the place where the authorities finally caught up to Pablo Escobar and gunned him down. The building has been modified since then, but there used to be a patio leading out, and Pablo tried to make his escape off of it. The building is in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood, and an eerie vibe still surrounds the place.

Here are two Botero paintings depicting this event.

The final stop was the grave of Pablo Escobar. My guide explained how a substantial number of people still come to visit his grave, and some will pray to him as if he were a saint in the Catholic religion. In some of the poorer neighborhoods Pablo is remembered with nostalgia as a Robin Hood type figure.

Jardin of Coffee Eden
“Jardin” means “garden” in Spanish. I spent my second day touring coffee farms in the countryside around an agricultural town named Jardin.
The scenery in this area is absolutely breathtaking. Steep, green mountains roll on for miles. I quickly understood why so many urban Colombians enjoy escaping to a finca or vacation farm on the weekend.

My guide pointed out this odd-looking mountain. Its name in Spanish roughly means “hill where there should be none.”

My guide took me to a couple farms and we were well received by the residents. They do not receive visitors often in this area, which gave me a window into what life was really like for them on a daily basis. When I am on other organized tourist trips I often get the sense the tour company is just putting on a show for foreigners, but this trip to the coffee farm was a real experience.

“Conchita” is the name of Juan Valdez’s burro. A farmer asked me why I bothered taking a picture of the ugliest animal on the farm. My guide and I joked we were going to tell my friends it was Conchita.

One farmer named Hugo walked us through the fields and explained how coffee beans start off green and turn red when they are ripe. Hugo also explained how different farms specialize in different type of coffee beans. These beans are for standard coffee. Hugo pointed out a neighboring field (far hill pictured below) which specializes in espresso beans.

Another farmer walked us through the coffee bean collection and initial drying process.

Field hands pour the beans into this machine from the outside. The machine removes the shell of the coffee bean and provides an initial cleaning.

The beans pour out here.

Then they go through a sorting process where they are separated by size and are cleaned again.

They end up in this chamber, where a heater below dries them out.

The beans look white at this point. They don’t take on a brown color until they are toasted at the coffee collective.

This is what the coffee collective in Jardin looks like.

They test the beans at the collective using this equipment.

After visiting the farms and the collective, my guide took us into the town café to sample the coffee.

I had a chance to try a new product the Colombians will be marketing worldwide soon: coffee juice. Yes, you read that correctly. A coffee company is making juice out of the coffee bean shells. They claim the juice is higher in antioxidants than other healthy juices like pomegranate. The juice comes in liquid concentrate and is mixed in hot or cold water. The juice does not taste good by itself, so the coffee company adds lemon or raspberry flavoring. I tried it and I think it tastes all right, but I am not crazy about it. It tastes more like tea than coffee or juice. I brought some back and will be sharing it with other coffee lovers I know.

I had lunch from a hilltop with an amazing view of Jardin.

I made a new friend at lunch.

The people in this part of Colombia are very proud of their horse tradition. I saw many people riding or walking their horses through town.

In many parts of Colombia the entrances to colonial buildings are built high enough so a man can ride through on horseback. There is a central patio area in the center of these houses where the horses were kept.

Overall everything looked peaceful and pleasant to me, but my guide explained how the coffee industry in Colombia is in a state of panic. Other countries are subsiding their coffee industries and pushing the world price of coffee below the profit point for Colombian farmers. Many of the farms can’t get by without assistance from the government, and some riots have broken out in coffee areas over the low price of coffee.

Ironically, the coffee served in Colombia is not very good in most places. This is because the coffee export companies send their best coffee to other markets. I saw a few restaurant signs throughout Colombia letting people know they carried "export quality" coffee. Starbucks does not exist here. The Juan Valdez café is Colombia's alternative to Starbucks. They offer coffee flavors specific to key regions of Colombia. I tried many of their flavors and enjoyed them all.

Many street vendors will sell "tinto" a watered down and sugary coffee. I tried a cup in Cartagena and I think the vendor was a little surprised I asked for it.

Jumping off a Cliff
The highlight of my trip was paragliding over the skies of Medellin. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Suiting Up:

Just After Takeoff:

Buzzing the Tower:

Medellin and Me:

Really High Now (Note the tower is now way below)

Other Paragliders:

Flying Over a Green Mountain:

Coming In For Landing:


Worst part of the flight - The End:

I posted a video of the flight on YouTube. I am still having issues with my GoPro Hero 3 camera. The video looks great on my screen, but it breaks down when I upload it. The audio is messy. You may want to turn your speakers down.

Medellin Nightlife
The place to be is the Parque Lleras in the El Poblado neighborhood. Trendy bars and clubs of all types encircle the park, and the place seems to vibrant just about every night until the break of dawn. I found this picture on the internet:

At the recommendation of the New York Times article I stayed the Charlee Hotel. This is a brand-new, ultra-modern hotel. This is the view of my balcony.

The Charlee has an amazing rooftop pool with a lounge club called Envy. Below is a picture of it from the hotel website.

I watched a musical performance one night, and I think I discovered the next Shakira:

Picture by the Pool in my New Colombian Outfit:

My new friend Camilo Uribe of Medellin City Tours was my tour guide for most of my trip. The smartest decision I made was signing up for his nightlife tour on a Saturday night. Camilo knows just about everybody on the scene exactly where to go each night. I barely had a chance to sit down before I was surrounded by these beautiful and classy ladies. I wish I could claim credit for it, but it was all Camilo.


Here is a picture of the maestro:

Check out his website if you are headed his way: Medellin City Tours

The best moment of the evening was when the group dubbed me an honorary Paisa. People from Medellin are known as Paisas, and they take great pride in their regional heritage. One website I read compared the pride Paisas have for Medellin as being similar to the pride Texans have for their state. I am equally proud to be part Paisa now.

Posted by clarkmw78 19:28 Archived in Colombia Tagged paragliding paisa medellin coffee_tour medellin_women go_pro_hero_3 medellin_nightlife Comments (2)

Courting Cartagena

She Captured My Corazon (Heart)


The best places in the world are located in a time warp, and my two weeks in Cartagena passed like a flash. I dragged my feet all the way to the airport. I would highly recommend Cartagena to my fellow travelers. The author of the TripAdvisor guide to Cartagena describes it best:
“It’s one of the prettiest cities around: Imagine Havana with a fraction of the population, San Juan unmodernized, New Orleans without sophomores on spring break. And it’s only a 2 1⁄2-hour flight from Miami.”

I stayed at an apartment in the beachy part of Cartagena known as Boca Grande.

View of the colonial city from the porch:

Yes I did study while I was here!

I found the apartment through Airbnb.com, which is a relatively new service. This was my first time using the service, and it worked well for me. I would have paid a lot more money to get a hotel room like this apartment. The website is set up to connect regular people who have an empty apartment or empty bedroom with someone who is interested in renting on a short-term basis. Airbnb works on trust. The person renting and the tenant rate each other, and this information is saved in a profile for others to use before renting from or to someone else.

Boca Grande compares itself to South Beach in Miami. I think it is a fair comparison given its high-rise condos, boutique stores, and nightlife. The place does attract a jet-set element. One Cartagena website I read advised visitors to leave their yacht in Monaco, because nice yachts are available for rent in Cartagena.

Fried food is a central part of the cuisine in Cartagena. This is what you get when you order a “typical” breakfast:

Arepas are popular in Cartagena and are made of ground corn dough or cooked flour. Empanadas are well represented. Both are often served fried.
I lucked out in that a health food restaurant was located right around the corner from my apartment. It is named Gokela, and it has the number one TripAdvisor restaurant rating for Cartagena. They feature many creative salad dishes, and offer a variety of natural juices. I tried going on a juice detox diet. I was supposed to do it for three days, but I wimped out before dinner on the first day. My stomach knotted up in the morning and I could only lay down for the day. Despite this, I benefitted from drinking fruit and vegetable juices during the rest of my time there. I want to incorporate more of this in my diet. I think I just took the detox too fast for a beginner.

The Meandering Streets of the Colonial City
The colonial city is a place where one wants to get lost. Each street has its own distinctive charm. Residents put a lot of effort into maintaining plants and flowers which drape off their balconies and over their walls.

There are all sorts of neat little plazas tucked away off the beaten path. They are a great place for relaxing and people watching with a beverage and piece of fruit from one of the cart vendors.

I ended up extending my time in Cartagena, and spent my last few days in a boutique hotel in the colonial city named Casa Gloria. If I ever get a swimming pool in my future house I am going to model it after this one in Casa Gloria.

The rooftop patio was amazing as well. Residents put a lot of effort into their rooftop gardens and patios.

Two parrots chattered away right outside my room. They knew how to laugh like a human and I wondered if they were laughing at me.

Fortress walls still surround the colonial city. It is possible to walk along the top of the walls for some amazing views. The towers house cafés now instead of guards. Young couples will snuggle up in the embrasures (window openings in the wall) and gaze over the ocean.

Cartagena has a strong naval tradition, stemming from having to deal with several hundred years of pirate and British attacks. Cartagena had to defend against five major pirate sieges in the 16th century. Sir Francis Drake captured the city in 1586. The residents paid him 10 million pesos not to level the city. Cartagena hosts a museum of naval history, as well as a modern day naval base.

Overall the museum does a good job of depicting life aboard a Spanish galleon, as well as illustrating how Cartagena was tied in with other Spanish possessions in the Caribbean.

I learned the early residents of Cartagena built an underwater wall near the Boca Grande area where I stayed. “Boca Grande” means “big mouth” in Spanish, and the term was used to describe the big mouth of the bay leading up to Cartagena. This gave invading ships easy access, and the wall was built to impede them.

Posted by clarkmw78 22:44 Archived in Colombia Tagged cartagena Comments (5)

Panama City and Sailing the San Blas Islands

Up and Coming
Panama City is another up and coming tourist destination. I saw renovation projects everywhere, particularly along the waterfront and in older neighborhoods. Articles in a local newspaper advised locals on how to interact with tourists. Police were out in force to keep things safe. Prices are considerably less in Panama than Costa Rica, and tourist vendors in Costa Rica think Panama is already siphoning off some of their visitors.

There is nothing special about this building. I just think it looks neat:

Lock and Load
The Panama Canal is based on a series of floodgates which raise and lower ships to meet the elevation of the waterway. I went by the Miraflores locks just as two cargo ships were going through. I was amazed at how tight the squeeze was for these vessels. It looked like they only had an inch to spare on each side.

A guide joked not to light a cigarette when this tanker with natural gas went through.

The tourist center offers a training simulator where anyone can practice maneuvering a cargo ship through the locks. I only crashed a few times.

Deja Vu
On the way back from the Miraflores locks a tingle went up my spine as the neighborhood my taxi was driving through seemed eerily familiar. Then I realized it looked and felt a lot like the housing neighborhoods on U.S. military bases. I asked my cab driver about the neighborhood, and sure enough it had been part of a military installation when it was built.

Panama Canal Museum
The official Panama Canal museum is located in the historical center of the city, and is not near the canal itself. I was really disappointed in the museum because it omits or sanitizes many of the controversial subjects. The museum starts the story with the Americans well into the canal project. It barely references the attempts and tremendous sacrifice of the French beforehand, or the gunboat diplolmacy Teddy Roosevelt used to peel Panama off of Colombia. I have mixed feelings about the room which reviewed the Panamanian movement to bring the canal zone under their sovereign control. On one hand I credit the museum for keeping the rhetoric in check and not demonizing the U.S. (at least in the English audio translation). On the other hand I think they could have explained the U.S. viewpoint and fear about the falling domino spread of communism in the region during the 1960s. I think the museum made a conscious decision just to water down the whole story of the canal.

No Diving Allowed
I tried signing up for a scuba diving trip in Lake Gatun, which forms part of the canal. One article I read in a diving magazine had pictures of submerged earth-moving equipment and an underwater ghost town. Both reputable dive companies I contacted said current canal renovations kept them from taking me on this tour. I spoke to a cab driver about this and he said he had a friend who could do it, ‘No Problem.’ The cab driver was persistent so I spoke to his friend on the phone. It seemed really shady so I declined the do the trip with him. The picture below comes from the Viator Tours website:

Did You Ever Wonder What Happened To That Bus You Rode to School?
Central American bus drivers buy old U.S. school busses and put a lot of artistic creativity into them. Someone should put together an internet meme site of the most creative bus artwork in the region.

Sailing through the San Blas Islands to Cartagena
I took a sailing trip from Colon, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia on a 54ft catamaran boat named The Jacqueline. Many travelers opt for a sailing trip as the land route from Panama to Colombia, known as the Darien Gap, is treacherous and mostly impassable.


I signed up for a no-frills sailboat tour. I received a small bunk as pictured below.

I shared the boat with about ten other backpackers. I was lucky that the group gelled together well. Everyone was cool and I had a lot of interesting conversations with people from all over the world. I have heard horror stories about personality conflicts among other groups. These are no fun to have several hundred miles out at sea in rough conditions. Our captain was a retired Austrian restaurant owner named Fritz. He had a jolly personality but he ran a tight ship.

The sailing trip stopped at several of the San Blas Islands. Most of these islands have a perimeter of only a few hundred meters. The indigenous Kunas live on these islands. They built their houses out of reeds and palm trees. I had a chance to walk through one and take a few pictures.
Several of the islands have long stretches of deserted beach.

Many of the islands offered picture-perfect beaches with few inhabitants.

The coral around these islands is in excellent health and I had a good snorkeling experience. I joined Fritz in a spear-gun lobster hunt, but didn’t have any luck finding one.

The sea gets rough after the San Blas islands. Most of the passengers could do nothing but lay down for two days. I did ok, but there were a few moments when I felt really queasy. I tried comforting two seasick girls from England by telling them how their national hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson, used to get seasick often. I don't think it helped them though.

As we pulled near Colombia, a pod of dolphins swam by to greet us. Dolphins like to swim in front of ships as they like to ride the wave a ship creates at the front. It pushes them along with little effort on their part.

The placid waters of Cartagena bay were a welcome sight.

I liked my fellow passengers a lot and invited them to my apartment in Cartagena for a dinner party. I asked the restaurant next door to prepare several sample platters of typical foods of Cartagena. I ended up with a lot of fried food, but the group seemed to enjoy it.

Posted by clarkmw78 16:11 Archived in Panama Comments (3)

Va Pues!

A Few Days in Granada, Nicaragua

I squeezed in a three-day excursion to Granada, Nicaragua. "Va Pues" is the signature colloquial expression in Nicaragua, and I gather it is similar to the American expression “Git ‘r’ done!”

Granada is a charming, small city on the west coast of Lake Nicaragua. The city has put a lot of work into restoring its Spanish colonial architecture. Granada is an up and coming tourist destination.


The highlight of my trip was a boat tour of a chain of nearby islets.

This is what they look like from the air:

Some of the islands have multi-million dollar mansions on them and house Nicaragua’s elite. Others have tin shacks for fishermen on them. One island contains ruins of an old fort. The pirate Henry Morgan took Granada by surprise in 1655 by inching his way in canoes from the Caribbean to Lake Nicaragua in the San Juan river. He made off with 500,000 lbs. of silver. Unfortunately it took another pirate attack before the Spanish decided to build the fort.


One island is home to several howler and spider monkeys who make a living off of tourists bringing them bananas.
Locals will spend their weekends on the beaches of Lake Nicaragua.


What is left of the Mombacho volcano dominates the skyline in Granada. It blew its top 1,500 years ago, and has remained dormant since then.

Locals like to hang out on the beaches of Lake Nicaragua:

I remember reading about Lake Nicaragua as a kid in a book about sharks. The lake stuck out in my mind as the book stated this was the only place in the world that had freshwater sharks. The book included a vivid illustration of lake fishermen fighting off sharks. Up until recently scientists believed the sharks of Lake Nicaragua were a separate, freshwater species of bull shark. Their theory was these were the descendants of sharks trapped in the lake when geology separated it from the Caribbean. It turns out these are bull sharks are commuting in from the Caribbean using the same San Juan river Henry Morgan used. Their numbers are small these days as lake fishermen hunted them for export to Asian markets in the 1970s. I read on the internet that shark attacks on the lake are unheard of now, but old people will tell stories of attacks in the days of their youth.

From 1902 to 1933 the U.S. Marines conducted several campaigns in Nicaragua as part of a series of “Small Wars” throughout Central America and the Caribbean. During my trip I read up on this time period in history. I have only skimmed the surface, and want to read about it more. I think there are many parallels from this era which are similar to my own experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Small Wars were not without political controversy. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler later spoke out against these wars saying: “I helped in the raping of a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912.”

In December of 2012 I participated in the laying of Christmas wreaths on the headstones of fallen service members at Arlington National Ceremony. One of the headstones I honored belonged to Marine Quartermaster Sergeant John Francis Smith. He fell in 1932, so I assume it was in Nicaragua, since that was an intense year for the Marines there. I am not certain though because Marines saw action in other contingencies across the globe as well during this year.


Finishing up on a lighter note, right around the corner from my hostel was a small museum dedicated to chocolate. The museum is the extension of a local cacao farm. The museum features equipment used to convert cacao into chocolate, and offers several panels detailing the history of chocolate.


I learned the Spanish initially declined Mayan offerings of cacao drinks because the Mayan word for cacao was similar to the Spanish word for feces. The Spanish eventually worked up the courage to give the mysterious drink a try and liked it so much they sent it back to home. Until the industrial revolution only aristocrats in Europe could afford to drink chocolate.

I tried some raw cocoa nibs on top of a pancake. They tasted like black olives at first. After about 20 seconds the aftertaste kicked in and it tasted more like chocolate.


These pictures of a cocoa tree and bean actually come from a farm I visited in Costa Rica. I didn't include them in my previous posts but they fit in nicely here.

Posted by clarkmw78 21:56 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged granada Comments (1)

Pura Vida!

La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

I apologize for being way behind on my travel blog. The misadventures keep happening faster than I can write about them. There is that pesky studying thing I have to do now and then as well. I left off in Tamarindo, Costa Rica in mid-March. From there I went to San Jose, where I met my good friend Chris from Atlanta. For the next two weeks we traveled throughout Costa Rica together.

The Costa Rican people have a famous expression “pura vida.” Translated literally it means “pure life,” but a better translation is “full of life” or “go with the flow” or “groovy.” A guide joked how the phrase pura vida could be used to answer about 50% of questions in Costa Rican conversations. I heard the phrase mostly used in salutations. How are you doing today? Response: Pura Vida! (Everything is good!) Will this work for you? Response: Pura Vida. (I will go with the flow.) Do you want to go out tonight? Response: Pura Vida! (I am full of life!) I also heard it at the end of the conversation as a way of saying goodbye/have a nice day.

Chris and I went to La Fortuna for a few days to check out the Arenal volcano. Yes, it is still active. Our guide provide little comfort in telling us with little emotion how the volcano erupted in the 1960’s without warning and destroyed everything in a 12km radius in a matter of seconds, and it could happen again at any time.

A view of the volcano from our hotel.

The volcano was active as recently as a few years ago. Below is a picture of the volcano I found on Wikipedia from Nov 2006. The lava flows were gentle and steady for much of this time, and tourists would have dinner at a restaurant while gazing at the lava flows.

Chris and I took part in several nature trips in the area. The first was a walk through suspension bridges in a rainforest. Every other forest trail I have walked has been from the ground looking up. This one is unique because it allows the visitor to walk through at tree-top level.

The trail can be a challenger for those afraid of heights, but everyone I saw there did well.

Costa Rica is famous for its frogs. This poisonous frog is known as a "blue-jeans frog," and gets its name because it looks like it is wearing a pair of blue jeans.

I looked up this species after the tour and found it is unique in many ways:
The female lays 3 to 4 eggs, the male fertilizes them, and his mate leaves. The parental care beginning at this stage is unmatched by other amphibians. The male keeps the eggs moist by emptying his bladder on them. He also eats any eggs that are infected with fungi or that do not develop, as well as any eggs left by other males. Tadpoles hatch after one week, when the female returns. One to four tadpoles at a time squirm onto her back, and she carries each one to a different plant or leaf stem that is holding water—bromeliads are often the choice. These carefully chosen nests are sometimes in the canopy, high up from the frog’s otherwise ground-level habitat. Amazingly, the tadpole chooses its spot by vibrating when the mother approaches a desirable spot. Each tadpole is placed in a separate plant, where the mother leaves it with 1 to 5 unfertilized eggs for protein and nutrients. For more than a month, the female returns every few days to feed her young. http://www.anywherecostarica.com/flora-fauna/amphibian/blue-jeans-frog

This macaw was docile and let people get close – until someone put so much as a finger on his rail within ten feet of him. Our guide pointed out that this macaw was not native to Costa Rica. Blue and gold macaws come from South America. This one was probably an escaped/released pet.

Our guide took us to a neat waterfall for a dip in the pool at the bottom. The water was surprisingly ice cold given the hot weather.




Jungle Survival Tip: If you are ever lost in the wilderness look for a termite nest. Termites are an excellent source of protein. Our guide ate a few and then dared someone in the group to give it a try, so I stepped up to the plate. There was a little girl in our tour group and I think I grossed her out.

I also tasted one of the best steaks in my life in La Fortuna. I asked the waiter how they made such a delicious steak. He maintained it was just a normal steak. I read in the menu that the cow was grass-fed. I surmise in Costa Rica they just raise their cattle naturally and don’t pump them full of hormones and corn like they do in the United States. I used to think that grass-fed beef was just a marketing gimmick, but I am a convert to it now. Steak.jpg

Chris and I took a wildlife viewing float down a river near the volcano. We saw a variety of animals, including a few crocodiles.

My favorite animal on the float was a lizard that has the ability to run across the water without sinking. The locals call it the "Jesus Lizard." They were too fast for me to capture on film, but I found this picture of one on the internet:

On the trip we stopped at a traditional Costa Rican farm owned by Don Pedro, who is now 101 years old. Senor Pedro was not feeling well that day and was unable to join us. One of his daughters served us homemade cheese, bread, and coffee. She entertained us with a story of how her parents met. Don Pedro started working on the farm in the early 1930s. The owner at the time wanted to move to Nicaragua and decided to sell the farm for 500 pesos ($1 USD). Don Pedro could only come up with 200 pesos. He made a deal with the owner. Don Pedro would give him 200 pesos then, and the balance a year later when the owner returned for a visit. Don Pedro worked the farm hard for a year to save up the money. After he paid the balance he realized he was the full owner of the farm, and that he needed a wife. So he put on his best attire, rode into town on his horse, and met his soon-to-be wife in a bar. He slung her over the horse and took her back to his farm, and they were married for 50 some years until her passing. I forget the exact numbers, but they had something like 8 kids together. Several of his daughters live on the farm today, and one of his grandsons now runs it. Our guide explained the farm received electricity only a few years ago. Several other travelers have written about their experience of the farm online, so I was able to find this picture of him on the internet:

I think the highlight of my trip in La Fortuna was the All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) ride through some rural roads and trails. Tour operators in Costa Rica don’t have to worry about lawsuits like the ones in the United States. Our ATV guide let us do whatever we wanted on the ATVs. Below are a few picture excerpts from my GoPro camera.

The ATV tour stopped midway for a tour of the Venado cave. I reverted to an eight year old kid and had a great time climbing over rocks, crawling through narrow passages, and wading through streams to reach isolate caverns.

The locals call this column “the Papaya” for its resemblance to the papaya fruit. It is 2 million years old.

I thought Chris was going to strangle me at this point:) I am the one who badgered him into taking the cave tour.

Chris was a lot braver than me when it came to dealing with all of the critters in the cave. Here he is holding some sort of spider. We also came across bats, crabs, and crickets.

The best part of the tour was going through the “birth canal.” This is a very narrow passage which requires cat-like maneuvering to get through.
Going In:

Coming Out:
Our guide didn’t tell us Costa Rica experienced an average of 6 earthquakes a day until after we made our way out of the cave.

La Fortuna has several hot springs thanks to the Arenal volcano. Several resort hotels are built on top of these springs and provide a luxury spa experience. I had a chance to relax at the Baldi resort for an evening. Below are a few photos from their website.

Onward to Southwestern Costa Rica - Quepos/Manuel Antonio

Here is a picture of our plane’s approach into the Quepos airport.

The southwestern coast of Costa Rica is known as the “Costa Verde” or "green coast." I found it lived up to its name and noticed how it was different than its cousinTamarindo in northwestern Costa Rica. The Costa Verde is tropical, green and humid. Tamarindo has a drier climate, and is only green in the rainy season.

The locals claim the beaches around Manuel Antonio are Costa Rica’s best. They certainly are really nice.

We stayed at the Costa Verde hotel. The hotel is featured in many travel shows and magazine for its creative recycling of a 727 jet fuselage into a hotel suite:

I lifted these images from the hotel website:

The hotel converted this C-123 airplane to a restaurant.

The hotel claims the CIA used this plane to supply Contra forces inside Nicaragua in the 1980’s. Here is the story as told on the hotel website:
Our Fairchild C-123 was a part of one of the biggest scandals in the 1980's. The Reagan Administration set up a bizarre network of arms sales to Iran designed to win release of US hostages held in Lebanon and raise money to fund the Nicaraguan, counter-revolutionary guerilla fighters, commonly referred to as the "Contras." By artificially inflating the prices of arms, NSA official Oliver North, was able to reap profits that could be diverted to fund the counter-revolutionaries of the Cuban allied Sandinista government…
...In August 2000, we purchased the abandoned Fairchild and shipped the pieces of the Iran-Contra relic to Quepos. The fuselage was shipped via ocean ferry because it was 10 inches too wide for the antiquated Chiquita Banana railroad bridges! After hauling seven sections up the Manuel Antonio hill, the C-123 finally found its current cliff-side resting-place.

The hotel’s slogan is “Still more monkeys than people!” Pictured here is a capuchin monkey on the property. They look cute but they are mean little things.

I had so much fun on my first zip-line course in Costa Rica that I signed up for another one. The highlight of this course was rappelling down a waterfall. The tour photographer took a few photos and a video from a distance. The close-up photos come from the GoPro camera I was wearing at the time.



The low point of the trip was a day of offshore sailfishing. Quepos has a reputation of being one of the best sailfish and marlin destinations in the world. The charter boat websites made it sound like the fish just lept into the boat on their own, and I read many success stories on TripAdvisor from other tourists. No such luck for us. Our boat broke down and we sat there for two hours in the scorching sun waiting for another boat. The fish just weren't biting that day and we languished in the sun. On top of that we got food poisoning from some bad sandwiches in the cooler.

Some of the best travel experiences involve meeting interesting people. I didn't spend too much time in Costa Rica's capital, San Jose since, there is not much to see there. I did strike up a long conversation with a retired gentleman in a coffee shop. He really opened up about his experiences growing up in San Jose, and showed me a picture of what the main avenue used to look like. He didn't tell me anything earth-shattering, but his insights added a lot of texture to my experiences in Costa Rica. He had lived in the United States for several years and was able to compare life in Costa Rica to life in the United States. From time to time he would trail off in conversation and drift off. At first I just thought he was a little senile. Then I realized it happened every time a beautiful young woman walked by!

Posted by clarkmw78 20:06 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (4)

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