NICOYA - robmellors


We bid a fond farewell to our hosts at Santa Elena Lodge and headed south bound for Nicoya. The Nicoya Peninsula hangs like an appendage (I won't say which one - look it up on Google maps) from the North-West of Costa Rica. There has been a lot of beach development in this part of the country due to the fact that it is within easy reach of San Jose for the week-ending Josefino and of the new International airport at Liberia (direct flights from the UK rumoured to start this year). We had been told that it's all partying and discos at some of the coastal villages, especially at weekends. Not our cup of tea at all.

So, we booked a two bedroom villa midway between Nicoya town and the beach resort of Samara and within easy reach of both. We met the owner, Gary, at a Burger King place on the outside of Nicoya. There was a kid's birthday party going on there at the same time and, what with the blaring TV and the barn like quality of the place it was impossible to talk with one another let alone think. How do people eat a meal in such a place?

Anyway, Gary, who runs a Spanish language school in Nicoya, led us away from the mayhem and into the utter tranquility of Nosarito - a small settlement set in the hills in a very rural part of the peninsula. Now this is just our cup of tea. We have a lovely two bed villa with all the facilities you could want, a wonderful patio area, surrounded by trees and this morning we had 6 Trogons, 2 Mot-Mots and a Parrot in the tree not 10 feet away, more or less at the same time. This evening the Howler Monkeys were giving voice just 100 ft away and the frogs down by the river will probably start up any time now. There's little light pollution here so the stars are glorious and last night we saw loads of shooting stars. Are we happy? What do you think?! And all this for $75 a night.

The nearby beach resort of Samara is actually rather more charming that we had thought it might be. Admittedly, we visited on a Monday when all the week-enders have gone back to work but it has a lovely long sandy beach and the water looked very inviting. But, with the temperature at 10 am in the morning well into the mid 30s C, we decided against either a sunbathe or a dip and contented ourselves with a wander around, a bit of shopping for the days ahead and a retreat to our villa to look at the birds passing by and to relax for a change rather than dashing about. To be honest, in this heat you don't feel like doing too much.

The following morning the howlers started chattering to one another about 6 am only this time they chose to forage in the trees in our garden so we spent a happy time watching our cousins and smiling at the antics of the baby ones It's a great way to start the day. We decide on an easy day visiting some beach resorts along the coastline. The roads around here are pretty bad, mostly unpaved so you don't get anywhere fast but that's perhaps the point. Time to relax and enjoy being out and about, watching the waves pounding onto some glorious beaches. Costa Rica is blessed with many wonderful sandy beaches which are, for the most part, not overdeveloped, at least in this part of Nicoya. The most built up resort we came across was Guiones with its great surfing bay but it was a very far cry from the likes of Newquay. We even braved the warnings about rip currents and went for a swim at Guiones. For a couple who claim not to really like beaches we certainly seem to be dipping our toes rather a lot this holiday.

Returning 'home' we sit in the garden and still manage to see a few more species of bird we haven't seen before. I don't know why we don't just sit here all day and let the birds come to us rather than go chasing them. Still, where's the challenge in that.

For our final day in Nicoya we make an early start and go for a boat trip on the Rio Tempisque which runs through the Palo Verde National Park. Unfortunately, this was not a birding boat trip and it wasn't anywhere near as succesZful as the one we did in Cano Negro. However, we did see a large troop of White-faced Capuchin monkeys running along the river bank and through the trees. I managed some good action shots as they all had to leap from one high branch to another at one point and our boat captain skillfully snuck the boat into position before any other tour boats could get in on the action. He earned a tip for that! So, with the temperature hitting 37C it was back to Nosarito for a siesta.

We rounded off our excursion to Northern Costa Rica with a day tour to Monteverde Cloud Forest which is more than 4,500 ft above sea level atop the spine of Costa Rica's continental divide. We first visited Monteverde in the 1990s by public bus. In the three days that we were there it rained more or less continuously. Well, it is called a cloud forest, after all.

This time round we marveled at the views on the way up to the reserve and there was not a cloud in sight. The road was still as rough as it ever was, though. Rolling up at the reserve we were surprised at the vast number of cars parked there - 20 years ago hardly anyone brought their hired car up here. Other than this not a great deal had changed - the trails were still muddy and wet and the birds difficult to spot. But we spent a happy few hours high up in the hills before taking a different route back down to the Pan-American highway. It was a very challenging route down the steep hillside but, again, the views were magnificent.

We arrived back at Andy and Ana's house in the late afternoon. We were tired but very happy from our tour of the north. We'd revisited some favourite spots and and discovered new places. Met some lovely people and stayed in some great places. We'd seen over 100 species of bird, lots of monkeys and other animals, reptiles, even a small snake in Monteverde. And best of all we were back with our friends ready to celebrate Ana's birthday - she's a leap year baby so is 13.75 years old tomorrow so perhaps we'll have a teen party!

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