Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Rocking the Red Rocks

Palya, friends!  Since we last posted we have been enjoying the United States during its pre-election buildup.

We arrived in LA back in early October, picked up a van from the fabulous Lost Campers, and then hit the road.  We spent a fun night with an old Uni friend who has now settled down and got himself a lovely other half and a couple of rugrats.  His parents were visiting and we may have stayed up late with them to put a dent in their son's wine stocks.....which made our setting out for Vegas the next morning a fun drive.

Vegas.  What can you say about it?  It is a pretty artificial place.  No real reason for it to be here but some lines drawn on a map by some people when they were figuring out the state borders.  There is no natural reason for it to be here. No port, no river, no verdant valley.  It is only here for entertainment purposes, and at that they excel.  The gambling, the million different Cirque du Soleil shows, all the bands and comics that play here to halls that may or may not be full, are all part of the modern USA's equivalent of "bread and circuses".  Keep them fed, keep them entertained, keep them happy.  That is Vegas.

We haven't really been "in" that side of Vegas.  We did go to a Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler concert (Dylan was terrible, he has lost his voice, couldn't understand a word, Knopfler was great, but only played one Dire Straits track), and we did stay at the Luxor with a 50 buck internet special (tired rooms but it did have a hot tub!) but apart from that we have been camping outside Vegas rock climbing.  And that IS something natural that Vegas has, because Red Rocks park is awash with moderate to difficult sandstone rock climbs.  And it is almost in town!

As usual when we go climbing we have met awesome people.  People we learn from, people we laugh with, people we share a beer with.  The crew from Fairbanks Alaska, Erika, Vaughn, Erin, Chad, and Brian as an √§lso ran" were top notch, and have pushed us to do some big multipitch climbs we might not have attempted on our own.  Cor has started leading traditional style climbs but having these guys push me to do some longer stuff has been great.  Getting up at 5:45 to hit the wall at dawn and then do a stack of pitches followed by an hour's descent by head torch in the deepening dusk is probably not what I would have elected to do, but it has been really great fun.  I have learned a lot about climbing and myself, and I know that I will be training next year and coming back stronger.

So now my fingers are a bit of a mess and we are going to take the next week off as we travel up to San Francisco for our flight to Honolulu, no doubt listening to American public radio (NPR) all the way.

A big shout out to James from the Okeanos Aggressor - he encouraged me to shoot photos in RAW format and see what I could do with them afterwards, well my photos are really looking great, so stay tuned for the best of our USA pics!

So until we see you, whether it is on the rock, on the road or at the bar, pura vida!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Sorry officer, I'm not from around here.

Well we have now had our first (and hopefully last) run-in with American law-enforcement.  We were looking for a missed turnoff to the local Walmart and I thought I was just "going with the flow".  Apparently not!  This whole miles vs kilometers thing is a little confusing, but really I was just thinking of something else when those lights started flashing in my rear view mirror.

The moment the cop got out of his car I thought, hands on the steering wheel, don't get shot, hands on the steering wheel, don't get shot, hands on the steering wheel, don't get shot etc etc.  It transpired I had been doing 50 in a 35 zone (!!) and when he asked for my licence and registration I feared the worst.  A whopping big fine to go with the cost of a replacement GPS that we soaked with water in Costa Rica (a fun story for another post) would really make our hire car costs this trip very expensive.

But he was great and all my fears were for naught.  When he found out we were in the USA for a month he advised us that all the streets in Vegas running one way were 35, and the others were 45, so to do 44 the whole time and we would be fine as no one would pull us over doing 44 in a 35.  50 on the other hand.....

So all in all a let off and a big sigh of relief.  Plus, no one got shot or appeared on COPS.

Respect my AUTHORITY!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Pura Vida!!

I am sure anyone who has done a blog post about Costa Rica has titled it like this, and there is a reason. Pura Vida means pure life, and is a real echo of our "good life" philosophy. The Costa Ricans hustle, but they know why they are working hard: so that they can enjoy pura vida with their families. It's a bit of a cliche but I think we too often lose sight of this.

Now this will be a pretty long post, contrary to the wishes of a few people who apparently lead busy lives, but there is sex in this post so stick with it and it will be worth it.

We left the dive boat, (PICTURES NOW UP!!) picked up a 4WD hire car and did some travelling around Costa Rica with James (who had been diving with us on the Wind Dancer and found himself at a loose end for a few days).

First stop was La Fortuna in the shadow of the active Arenal volcano, which only appeared in 1968, a reminder of how quickly the planet can change without any help from us. We did some zip-lining (essentially flying-foxes set in and up to 200m above the forest canopy) and on one got up to 70km per hour, and on another travelled the better part of 800m across a massive gorge. Adrenaline pumping stuff. We did some walks on the suspension bridges and we did some wildlife spotting at the Danaus Ecocentre. We saw sloths (with a little help from the people at the centre), poison dart frogs, caiman crocodiles and leaf cutter ants. Sloths were smaller than I was expecting. I was expecting large animals but they grow to weigh 7kg at the absolute maximum, which gives them the edge over their predators in that they can hang out on some pretty small branches. The three finger sloth looks stoned and happy, while the two fingered sloth looks permanently cranky. Upset about missing out on that extra finger maybe! That they could create this paradise Danaus in just 15 years is amazing to me and the effort they are still putting in to making it better yet is fantastic.

It's a sloth!
We also sampled the hot springs of the local ticos after getting wet on a forest walk, and as we soaked our troubles away in the 44 degree water we were treated to a lightning show as the storm that drenched us rolled over the volcano.

Arenal volcano puffing away
That night James put his dive instructor cred on show with one of the girls from Oregon we met at the hostel. Anyone who has met a dive instructor knows what I am talking about. That's right folks, our blog just got raunchy!

After some challenging driving uphill, over some very rough roads for a couple hours, we made our way to Monteverde, home of some of Costa Rica's most pristine cloud forest. We did some excellent bird watching with a local guide and saw toucans and the elusive three wattled bell bird, among oh so many others. The toucan eats eggs and the young of other birds! That's why they have those massive beaks. Freaky stuff eh?

After Monteverde we dropped James off in the crazy San Jose (don't drive here - no street signs and suicidal drivers) and headed to the tourist trap of Jaco on the coast. Most Costa Ricans shrink in horror at this as Jaco is a gaudy tourist trap full of prostitutes, but we were destined for a week at School of the World to learn how to surf (me and Cor) and Spanish classes (Cor). Coreen was inspirational in her work at Spanish and was quickly my go-to translator, while I was learning my way in the waves, with hardly any prostitutes at all. Cor hurt her back so didn't surf after day 2, but thank goodness her back is starting to loosen up now. Not even my mad acupressure massage skills could help at the time.
I'm up!

What I learned surfing: you have to work to put yourself in the right place at the right time (do nothing and you catch 90% fewer waves); fear of getting dumped by a wave puts you towards the back of your board, which only makes it more likely your fears will come true as the wave catches you not the other way round, so man up and get forward; and relax, it's only water. Thank you Riccardo and Alonso!

After our week in Jaco we farewelled our Escuela mates, then we caught a ride, two chicken buses and a boat to swap the Pacific ocean for the Caribbean. We crossed the isthmus in just one day. Remarkable (both that we did it in a day AND that I used the word isthmus)!

Tortuguero wasn't the white sand Caribbean beach town we were expecting, more like a river shanty town with a few touristy afterthoughts scattered about. We did some canoe trips in the river
and saw howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys, caiman crocodiles, Jesus Christ lizards (they run on water? Jesus Christ!!), and oh so many birds. The guide James recommended, Francisco Bonilla, was absolutely tops, and any good photos we have were down to his excellent work in positioning the canoe.
Jesus Christ lizard

But the real reason people come to Tortuguero is for the turtles that give the place its name. Last season it was estimated that 50,000 turtles nested on this 18 mile stretch of beach, mostly greens but
also leatherbacks, loggerheads, hawksbill and olive Ridleys. The black sand beach looks like the woods around Bastogne post World War 2, full of massive holes, and each night new tank-like tracks of turtles emerge from and return to the water. Some turtles will nest up to eight times in a single season, fertilising her eggs as she needs to from a little chamber where she stores the sperm from her last male she shagged. I'm pretty sure there has been a court ruling about this, it's definitely psycho ex-girlfriend behaviour.

And the biggest danger to her eggs once she has buried them in this war zone? Some other dopey turtle digging them up while making their own nest! Egg breakfasts were definitely on the menu for lots of the local wildlife.

One night we were on the beach being pelted with sand from a couple of nesting turtles as they covered their eggs, it was a real privilege to witness it such a special event. And then, on the morning we left for San Jose and our flight, we took a 4:30am (!) stroll down the beach, and were lucky enough to see a nest of green turtle hatchlings boil out of the sand and make a mad haphazard dash for the ocean. As I learned in surf school, sometimes being in the right place at the right time takes work! There were so many we didn't know where to look, and all we could do was give these little dudes the best possible chance by keeping the birds off them until they made the water.


So that is it for now. It has been an amazing few weeks in Costa Rica, and now we are in the USA doing some rock climbing. So until next time, whether it is online, on the rock, beneath the waves or at the bar, Pura Vida baby!