Saturday, April 6, 2013

Exploring Costa Rica

Our Toyoto RAV4 at Santa Rosa National Park.As I noted in my previous post, not being confined to the extents of our resort by virtue of having a rented car and going out to actually explore some nearby parts of Costa Rica was the most fun part of this vocation for me. We made two such excursions, since it’s still hard for Arosha to spend so much time sitting in the car.

Scenic view stop.Luckily for us two places that we picked out to visit turned out to be vastly different from each other. The whole ecosystem reminded me of our trip to Big Island of Hawaii. On one side of the island there is an eternal summer with very high temperatures and dry climate and only 60 miles away there is an non-stop rain with lush green forests. Costa Rica is very similar in this regard and we got to see both sides of the so-called coin here.

Santa Rosa National Park


Trails of Santa Rosa National Park.In the morning of our second full day in Costa Rica we got into our car, turned on our GPS and headed North in the direction of Santa Rosa National park — the closest destination we could find. Right across the road from Santa Rosa there was another park — Guanacaste National Park, but as we later found out the park was closed to visitors.

Arosha in a hole of a volcanic stone.Soon after we were at the park entrance. It was very easy to find and especially so with GPS’s assistance. At the entrance we were given a map and a nice explanation of what’s worth seeing in the park by a nice and very polite young guy with very good English. The entrance to the park was $10 per person.

Dry tropical forest of Santa Rosa.Soon after we came to appreciate the fact that we rented a 4×4, because there is no way we would’ve gotten through to any of our destinations by the so-called road on any other car. It was not paved and it was covered in rocks and in certain places with deep muddy puddles. The ride that was only 12 kilometers long took us not less than an hour.

Creepy tree at Santa Rosa.We did 3 hikes. One fairly long one — 1.6km each way and two shorter ones. The park was not at all what we expected Costa Rica to look like. It was a dry tropical forest and March being the peak of a dry season made the forest look pretty much dead. The temperature was in the 90s so the hikes themselves were quite exhausting, especially with the fact that Arosha expired very quickly and one of us had to carry him as he didn’t want to walk by himself anymore.

Santa Rosa hiking trail.We did get to see the canyons at the end of the hike and later on — our third hike — even got onto the shores of open Pacific Ocean. And even though it is called Pacific it was anything but. The waves were just humongous. The beach was deserted and nobody wanted to risk getting into that water, but it was beautiful.

Iguana.We also saw a whole lot of iguanas. Arosha even tried to catch one — and hit it on the head with the stick as he claims, but luckily for that iguana it was a lot faster than Arosha was. But now every time we mention an iguana he points out he wanted to hit it on the head with a stick, but was unable.

Open Pacific Ocean. Naranjo Beach.At the end of the day we were quite exhausted. The unpaved road back took a long while, and we were extremely pleased to finally get onto the highway and drive back to our hotel. The only thing is that for some reason our rental car came with no cruise control and it’s really hard to go long distances without it once you get used to such a convenience. My foot was ready to fall off by the time we got back.

Second Excursion Planning


Naranjo Beach.At this point we really wanted to see the Costa Rica that we imagined before the trip — lush green rain forests. However research proved to be very difficult. The information that comes up is often that on various tourist agency sites and lacks any kind of useful information for touring without a guide. There was a number of parks not too far from us, but from what we read they would either be very similar to Santa Rosa and all of them had long hikes that we would need to take to see anything. As we understood it was not really a great option for us with a 2 year old.

Unpaved road at Santa Rosa.One place that was often mentioned was Monteverde cloud forests. But from what I could find online it really is more of an area than a park and the same thing — long hikes. It took us several days to finally come up with a plan for our second, and last trip.

Arenal Volcano National Park


Green forests.A place that we were aware of before we got to Costa Rica was Arenal Volcano which in fact was located inside the national park. And even though we again couldn’t really find any good information we looked at the map of the route there and seeing as it goes along the coast of a large lake we figured it was worth a drive. We were hoping that maybe if we don’t even get to do a hike in the park we’ll catch some good views along the way. And right we were.

Lake Arenal.Remembering Hawaii I advised everyone to take sweaters because the temperature could change dramatically with higher elevation. And as once years ago during our trip to Yosemite Alena took the sweaters for us and my parents decided it was too hot for sweaters. And were they wrong or what. As we were gaining altitude we ended up literally driving into a cloud. The mist started to set down on the windows and when we got out on a first scenic view everyone completely froze.

Monkeys in the trees.The views were magnificent and they were getting better. The fog was hugging everything around, the forest was getting greener and trees were getting taller. Near one such tree we saw a stopped car and a pair of tourists looking up. From our experience in Yellowstone it was a sure sign of wildlife. We pulled over as well and saw a whole bunch of real wild capuchin monkeys sitting in the tree, eating some exotic fruit. We we already excited — even if we don’t get to see anything else the trip was already worth it.

Coatis.We kept driving and suddenly we were surrounded by funny furry animals with long noses — about 30 of them. They were all very wet because of the rain, and they were also very hungry. Sadly Arosha has finally decided to take a nap, which didn’t last long, but he did miss all the fun. As we later learned these animals were called coatis.

Rain forest.We drove a little while longer and the forest just became irresistibly photogenic. We passed a small one lane bridge and I pulled over onto the shoulder. We got out and went back to the bridge. This was probably the most beautiful thing I’ve seen during our trip. Bright brown water of a mountain river under the bridge was surrounded by lush green forest that was in turn covered by fog, or the cloud that we’ve never left after driving into it. Such a serene place.

Dad on the one lane bridge in the middle of a cloud forest.Right while we were walking around a car with some American tourists going in the opposite direction stopped and they informed us that a couple of miles down the road there are 30 lemurs running around. And sure enough, there was another large pack of “lemurs”.

Inside a cloud.Soon after we arrived to the entrance of Arenal Volcano National Park via a relatively short unpaved road. To our surprise the park was closed for some administrative restructuring, but they were letting anyone in anyhow. On the plus side the admission fee was not collected, but on the down side there were no maps or any explanation of what we were supposed to see. However we ran into a couple of tourists and an information board with a map and it turned out that park itself wasn’t very big and all the trails were pretty self explanatory.

More coatis.First we drove all the way down to an observation area and observed a volcano which was absolutely not visible because of the earlier mentioned fog. Not even a hint of it. So we decided to take a hike to the lava fields, which we actually have seen a lot of in Hawaii. It was also lightly raining, but better rain then 90 degree heat. I gave my sweater to my mom, my dad grabbed a towel and I was pretty well covered by my hiking hat.

Trail inside Arenal Volcano National Park.The trail itself was very different from the view that we saw on the bridge along the way. The path was surrounded mostly by tall bamboo sticks which look a lot like oversized grass. I was getting a feeling that I have been shrunk by some magical device and I was walking through grass which now appeared to be gigantic. Arosha was running around trying to find the biggest leaf of fern (paporotnik in Russian) and trying to pronounce this complicated word. He came up with a number of rather funny versions.

On a rainy trail.We kept walking and walking and kept getting wetter and wetter and we suddenly decided that we’ve seen what lava fields look like before and we can live without seeing them today and just turned around. It was still a fun hike, but we didn’t get to our destination. Also all around us were signs saying something along the lines of if you melt because of lava, it’s your own damn fault, and don’t blame us. Although we heard that Arenal was actually not active right now, so there was a little chance of that happening I guess.

Arosha and coatis.We got back into our car and started driving back with numerous stops along the way. We ran into a pack of “lemurs” again on the way back and Arosha got to see them. He liked them so much that he decided to generously donate an orange he was eating at the time. And then asked for some banana and did the same.

On the road.And then we got hungry and after driving and driving decided to stop at a strange German place of all things. Everyone ate some tasty goulash that goes well with cold rainy weather and I ate some bratwurst which tasted pretty well too. Although they do some really funny math when they give you a check, but we decided not to argue too much and pay.

Arenal Volcano National Park.That’s pretty much all the events from this day that I remember. We got back to the hotel after dark, so it was a full day road trip that Arosha handled very well. We’ve seen a lot of unusual things and some amazing beautify that Costa Rica’s nature has to offer.

Conclusion


Papa at Santa Rosa.So all in all, even though we only did two trips I was very glad that we rented a car. We got to see two very different sides of Costa Rica’s natural beauty and it made the vacation much more fun than it would’ve been otherwise. It was a worthy investment without a question. Thus concludes my reporting on yet another one of our great vacations.

Fog.
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Car Trouble and Visiting Tanya

Arosha and Antosha. Arosha is 3 months older, but is taller than all kids of his age.A small update on recent events of our life — two pretty much separate stories. First one is the fact that Tanya — Alena’s friend from university days in Minsk — is in United States again. While the first time she was here for a tourist visit with us, this time she is here for work. We kept planning to visit her for several weeks now, but stuff kept getting in the way. This time around it was our car.

On Monday morning I got into our car to go to work. The car didn’t start from the first try, but did after a second try. When I got to work it did the same thing at a gas station near my office. In the evening I decided to leave earlier, in case it doesn’t start and it had no trouble at all. On Tuesday morning all was good as well. So thinking that it was some one time fluke I stayed late at work on that day and to my dismay the car would not start no matter what I tried at the end of the day.

Usually the most typical problem is a dead battery. But all the electronics seemed to work just fine. Lights were on, sound system played music well, but the engine would not even try to turn over. My dad had to come out and get me. We got home close to midnight. I spoke with Geoff and he very kindly suggested that I should leave my keys on his desk and he’ll try to sort things out in the morning, so I wouldn’t have to come out and not be able to get back again — I couldn’t ask my dad to make so many 140 miles long trips.

Antosha. He was much more willing to pose for me than Arosha was. I was unable to talk Arosha in standing still for 3 seconds.I was dreading having to deal with getting the car towed. But I guess luckily for me the car started in the morning when Geoff tried it, so he dropped it off at a local Chrysler dealership and it started having starting problems there, so at least they could start on troubleshooting the issue. Now here are two things — the car has 83,000 miles on the odometer. This was the very first time that it gave me any kind of trouble at all. When we bought the car we bought an extended warranty that runs out at 85,000 miles. I thought this extra warranty purchase was completely useless and kept thinking that warranty covering something was really a myth. I was glad to have been proven wrong.

So the dealer called me and told me it was a starter and the car would be ready on Thursday morning. My dad drove me to work again and when we got to the dealership we saw a bunch of mechanics hovering over my car with manuals — never a good sign. They replaced the starter, the car didn’t start. The suggested they get me a rental car (also covered by warranty) which I had not choice, but to agree too. It’s never cool to give up your car for a car that’s worth less than half of yours — bare-bone Jeep Compas. You just get too used to little niceties. Anyhow, since I’m not in Norwalk until Monday they agreed to let me keep the car until then.

Long story short, they ended up replacing the starter, the fuse box and some transmission sensors which finally fixed the problem. All that got resolved only at the end of Monday, which caused me a lot of stress. But all in all, I did have a temporary car, the warranty covered it all and I have my car back in a working order. Hopefully it will stay this way.

This way the only way to photograph Arosha -- but capturing him. This didn't last long either.Back to Tanya now. This time we decided not to let this car issue stop us from visiting her. We installed our “Costa-Rica” child seat into our Jeep and using Google Maps on iPhone as navigation successfully arrived to the hotel where Tanya was staying with her mom and her 2 and a half (approximately) year old son.

It was a nice visit. We talked a lot about different topics — work, travel, kids, kids, kids. We went out to a local Outback restaurant for lunch, helped with some grocery shopping — Tanya doesn’t have a driver’s license which makes things very hard for them there, even though the company that hired her would cover a rental.

Aroshka played a lot with Antoshka. With went for a nice walk around a lake and they would run around and picked up all kinds of sticks, cones and other stuff. Arosha kept pulling Antosha by his hand in all different directions and Antosha on one hand wanted to play with Arosha, but on the other hand seemed to be kind of afraid of him. So when Arosha would run away on his own Antosha would say — let’s play together. When Arosha would come back Antosha would run back towards his mom and stick with her. All in all I think they had a good time as did we. We will definitely do this more. Tanya is in US until the end of the year I believe.

This would be me.We are planning to invite Tanya for a weekend to stay with us as they are very much bored in New Jersey with no car. While big cities have robust public transportation systems for the most part, in rural America you can not do anything without a car. So there you go. This concludes my update for the past week.

P.S. Sadly I somehow managed not to take a single sharp picture of Tanya. I was running around with my manual lens and I think I lost some fast focusing skill since I haven’t used it in a couple of months.
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Friday, April 19, 2013

Another Secret

Sonogram.Alena and I have been keeping another secret. After our previous heartbreaking experience we really wanted to make sure everything was good before saying a word to anybody. And as we found out today we’re on course to having a completely healthy baby girl that is due to arrive somewhere around September 20th, 2013.

Alena has done all the tests, we patiently waited for the results and it’s such a relief to know that all the genetic tests confirmed that there are no problems. Without getting into much details I’ll just say that this time was a little bit less stressful than the previous one, because we already knew what to expect, what to do and how long to wait.

One of the first sonograms.Now we just have to hope that it will keep going well for Alena and for the baby. We’re very very happy. We really wanted to have a little sister (or a brother) for Arosha and now we just have to wait. I also opened a post Alena made a while ago just when we found out that we’re pregnant again.
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