The Canadian Rockies, 2018

The long awaited holiday was finally here! My sister Birgit and my brother-in-law Gerard flew to Calgary where I was going to meet them. From there we were ready to tackle the Rockies, mosquito spray in one hand, a camera in the other.

On June 17 I drove -solo- from Maple Ridge to Sicamous, a distance of about 452 km.
The weather was beautiful, the traffic easy going. Much earlier than I had calculated I arrived at the simple but convenient Super 8 Motel in Sicamous. I was very happy to discover it was just minutes walking from the waterfront, where I watched houseboats and other watercraft, people enjoying the hot sun on the piers, on patios. A vacation atmosphere for sure!
I was given a very spacious room and after a good night’s sleep and a “breakfast on the house” I was ready for leg 2 of my drive to Calgary.

June 18 (489 km)
The Sicamous to Calgary route took me through 4 national parks: Revelstoke, Glacier, Yoho and Banff National Parks. A beautiful drive under sunny skies. I lost an hour due to time difference, getting near Alberta. At the BC/Alberta border I met a group of cyclists. They were pedaling from Vancouver to Newfoundland, a journey they anticipated would take 10 weeks. They were now on day 10.
I went for a short walk on a skunk cabbage boardwalk. Nice and peaceful.
By the way, for the next 2 weeks we saw everywhere strategically placed red chairs
I safely arrived in Calgary, found the hotel we were all staying at, settled in and waited for B&G to come back from their day in downtown Calgary.
Happy reunion late that afternoon. Dinner in a nearby restaurant, walking back to the hotel over freshly asphalted (!) roads.

June 19. Calgary to Rundle Mountain Lodge in Canmore.
We had opted for beautiful road #40 (Kananaskis Trail) rather than the much shorter highway from Calgary to Canmore. A portion of Alberta Hwy 40 is closed until June 15 so we were very, very lucky!
We left Calgary, went south through some small villages like Okotoks and Black Diamond and turned north again at Longview, at hwy 40 which took us through Peter Lougheed Provincial Park with its highest paved pass in Canada, the Highwood Pass.
We had a picnic at one of the rest stops and were surrounded by ground squirrels, a tiny marmot, whistling to warn each other of danger (us).
There are no touristy stops (food/gas) along this road and we were so ready for a cup of coffee by late afternoon. We found one place, closed! But the giftshop was open and the lady with a huge cowboy hat behind the counter, directed us to Kananaskis Village. We expected a tiny First Nations reserve but found a huge, modern resort with all ammenities. A cup of coffee and for B&G a delicious dessert later, we continued north, and then west on the 1A, to Rundle Mountain Lodge in Canmore. After checking in we walked to a nearby restaurant where we had a late dinner on an outside patio. A perfect ending of a perfect day.

June 20
We decided to take the Banff Gondola up to Sulphur Mountain. A short drive from our hotel, parked, and got in line for our tickets. They give you a fairly short allotted time on the mountain but that could easily be changed. We gave ourselves several hours!
The ride up was scary, the view from above absolutely breathtaking. We walked the long stairway path up to Sanson Peak, the highest point on Sulphur Mountain, a hike/climb that was well justified! Several benches (and red chairs) placed at convenient intervals lend rest to tired feet. And it was hot! The little inquisitive ground squirrels on Sulphur Mountain were not shy at all! Feeding is prohibited but they surely are fast and steal the food out of your hands if you are not careful. They climbed on our legs, checking to see what we had in our hands! As a result we ended up on many tourist’s photographs as they thought it was “so cute”!
At 3 pm we took the gondola down. Definitely not as scary as up.
Next we drove to Lake Minnewanka where we had a late picnic lunch and a leisurely stroll around part of the lake. Lake Minnewanka apparently is a very popular spot for locals and tourists alike.
Another dinner at an outside patio, right by the railroad tracks….
Just one train passed by.

June 21
Rain in the forecast but the sky looked very promising after breakfast so we decided to go for a walk along Bow River. We drove into town (Canmore) and ended up in the middle of their weekly market (I love markets). We were directed to a good parking spot to start our walk. The temperature increased by the minute (at least, that’s how it felt) and the walk was beautiful. We saw the “Three Sisters“, mountains I know from a painting by Max Jacquiard (I worked for his publisher for several years). Amazing to see them in reality. We also spotted some female elk with babies. We watched people getting kayaking lessons on the river and admired some of the gorgeous houses along a stretch of the river. We walked about 11 km that day. Later the clouds started covering the blue sky and we heard thunder. We made it back into town before the rain fell. After a cup of coffee and some “goodies” we headed back to the hotel. Evening time we drove into town and found a great restaurant. The outside did not look like much. Stairs (colourful) led us up to the dining area. It was great. View over the mountains (partially covered because of the rain clouds),  from huge, open windows,  Great atmosphere. Very good food.
Back in the hotel the power went out for about 1 1/2 hours. It was late anyway so it didn’t matter at all 🙂

June 22
We left Canmore and drove towards Num-Ti-Jah Lodge at the edge of Bow Lake, north of Lake Louise. Somewhere on the way we saw a grizzly bear. Too bad he refused to raise his head but I got at least some pictures of his huge body.
On the way we stopped at Johnston Canyon and hiked up to the waterfalls. Definitely worthwhile.
From the Johnston Canyon we turned west towards Field, to the viewpoints of the Spiral Tunnels, an engineering miracle. Too bad it was pouring rain, the tracks seemed to be under construction at one point and it was hard to see anything. No trains passing by while we were there. But good to see and check out anyway.
We arrived in the pouring rain at our next destination: Num-Ti-Jah Lodge at Bow Lake.
No cell phone service, limited WiFi, old, beautiful log building. Great dining room!


To be continued

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Costa Rica. December 4-23 2017

Late night flight on the 3rd of December: Vancouver to Toronto. A fairly short lay-over and on we went to Liberia, Costa Rica. Our down jackets were now stowed away for this stretch of the travel. Arriving in Liberia, top of the afternoon, another layer came off. A long, slow line for immigration. Nobody seemed to be too anxious about it. We had a car booked to Nosara and were just hoping they would wait for us. The scheduled 2:45 pm departure time became more unrealistic by the minute. Around 4:00 pm we had cleared immigration and customs and found our driver waiting for us. One more passenger, also going to Nosara, had cleared the line just before us.
We had been warned about very bad roads but the first hour or so went smoothly. After the turnoff to Nosara things became definitely more bumpy. And by that time it was dark so we had no clue where we were.  After dropping off our fellow passenger at her destination we continued on to ours: Paseo del Sol. How wonderful it was to be so enthusiastically greeted by our granddaughters, son and daughter-in-law. The girls had to show us everything: the house, the pool, the grasshoppers, the gusanos (millipedes) and more. Dinner was waiting, outside. The temperature tropical (of course).
Off to bed early as the morning starts early. School for the girls starts at 8:00 am.
That first day, awoken very early, we walked the girls to school after breakfast. It is only 600 m. A dirt road which I can imagine is a total mud puddle during the rainy season, which had just finished. We were treated to lush greenery.
After dropping off the kids at school we drove to Playa Guiones, where the “big kids” went surfing and Hari and I enjoyed the beach and view. This was followed by coffee at Café de Paris and a visit to the small “Tuesday organic market”.
It was definitely hot: 30 degrees C or more.

December 6 started very early because it was “Sinterklaas morning”. The girls were extremely excited about the gifts in Sinterklaas’ sack. “Pannenkoeken” breakfast followed and then it was school time again. Imagine, all that we did before 7:40 am!!
We went with Raj and Ailish into Nosara. They had a Spanish lesson and we wandered around the village. As it was still very early not very much was open. Nosara is a tiny village. A large, unfinished building (unfinished for a long time) occupies a big chunk of the main street. We found a nice little restaurant where we had coffee. Most restaurants are totally open, meaning: no walls. I popped into a tiny church. So small, it didn’t even have a nativity set, even though it was a Catholic church by the looks of it.
Nosara also has a very tiny airport. One runway and a terminal as small as a residential 1-car garage. It is very rural. Nosara has a gas station (one) and a bank (one) and a few stores in a strip mall setting. Somewhere else is a supermarket. There is another one (Chinese) elsewhere. Oh, and a couple of “convenience stores”. All this scattered throughout the Nosara area. We also visited Henry’s organic greenhouses. You can’t find fresher greens anywhere else. A wonderful place.

On December 7 we took Neve to art class after school. We had an hour so we walked to Playa Pelada. Earlier that day Ailish pointed out a howler monkey in a tree near their house.
The sound of a howler monkey. They woke me up around 4 am, followed by the birds, followed by 2 girls jumping on the bed. (How I miss those wake-up calls!)

December 8 we enjoyed the pool, were totally lazy. After picking up the kids from school we dropped Priya off at art class and while she was creating another masterpiece, we enjoyed an ice cream. In the evening the school had their annual Christmas production. All the class groups did their thing with a lot of enthusiasm even though Neve thought it was so embarrassing to sing and dance for all the parents.
The next day the girls were going to show us their boogie boarding skills at Playa Guiones. So much fun. They frolicked in the waves while birds dove into the water to catch fish, right in front of their nose. Boogie boarding was followed by dinner at El Chivo. It had gotten a little late to watch the Nosara Christmas parade but we managed to see the tail end of it. Fun!

Sunday, December the 10th the roads were closed for construction/maintenance. By the way, the infamous potholes on the road to Nosara had been filled the day before we arrived! Just washboard like bumps for us, not tire-deep potholes. Lucky us.
This Sunday we also had no power for a big chunk of the day and we had very powerful winds. Lots of laundry flew down the little street that day 🙂
The kids made Christmas cookies and when the power came back on they were baked.
Next day we went shopping with Ailish. No power part of the day, still strong winds. The advantage was, that it seemed to blow the humidity down to bearable levels. We had lunch at the Harmony Juice bar, which has its own generator. A popular place for people to hang out with their electronics. We also peeked in the Nosara Beach Hotel, a hotel, for some reason or the other, not open. It apparently belongs to the same person who owns the unfinished “apartment” building in Nosara. From the large, round patio one can enjoy a beautiful view. Its kind of hideous tower can be seen from the beach.
When the girls  came home from school we made Christmas decorations and decorated the house.
In the evening the large grasshoppers (saltamontes) fly towards the light. Usually they cling to the screen door, unless you get in the way and they hold on to your shirt, or hair…I was fascinated by them: they look almost royal in their fancy “outfit”.
Tuesday was market day. Produce can (and had been) be pre-ordered. All fresh and organic food, not available at Henry’s. If you’d like you could get a tika massage there as well.
Back home it was time to cool off in the pool.

December 13 Ailish drove us out to Playa Garza where we were supposed to have lunch, but the place was closed. So back to Café de Paris, by now well known to us. Good pastries, good coffee and tea and freshly squeezed juices.
An interesting thing we found out: molasses are spread out over the sandy roads to keep the dust from flying. It does stick to your shoes though and the smell is strong.

A lazy day, December 14. Found an iguana on the school grounds while waiting for the girls. Not all lizards/iguanas are large. We found a very small one, trying to get into Neve’s backpack.

December 15 was the day I visited Nosara Refuge for Wildlife, an amazing, educative place where lots of good work is being done. Hats off for Brenda and her crew. I would not have missed this visit for the world.
In the evening we went for dinner at La Luna, located on Playa Pelada. Watching the sunset, eating great food! A perfect ending of a perfect day.

While at the Refuge, I heard about the baby turtles, making their way to the water, being out in abundance. When I told Raj and Ailish a very quick decision was made to head for Playa Ostional, THE place for turtles, early next morning. Up at 4 am (yes, with the howlers) and out of the house 45 minutes later. Still pitch black I finally experienced potholes in the roads and the drive through 2 (small) rivers. We arrived at Playa Ostional in the dark, taking our shoes off so we would not crush a baby turtle if we accidentally stepped on one. We made our way very, very carefully, spotting little heads popping out of the sand, one after the other. As the the day started to break we saw more and more. There must have been thousands of them, trying to make their long track along the beach to the water. What an amazing sight! Locals walked the beach, making noise, to keep the vultures away as well as the dogs. One has to avoid picking the turtles up and placing them closer to the water as they have to remember this track for the future, when they return as mature turtles, laying their eggs in the sand. We were told that only 1 out of 100 baby turtles makes it to maturity. So many dangers lurking around.
This was yet another experience that was in my eyes one in a lifetime. Absolutely amazing and unforgettable.
After a while we made our way to San Juanillo, where we found an empty stretch of beach. A few fishermen on their boats and a couple of others cleaning and sorting the catch in a shack along the path. Vultures hovering nearby to catch any waste.
When after a while our stomachs started rumbling we hit the road again and found a small roadside restaurant. Wonderful food and very friendly people (like everywhere).
Back to Nosara via the 2 river crossings.
In the afternoon I went with Raj and Priya for a jungle walk at Marcel Schaerer Bio Parque, just around the corner from where they live. Priya pointed out rubber trees. The white sap was very sticky. The path was somewhere blocked by a fallen tree but we found a way around it and continued our adventure. Always watchful for snakes (which we did not encounter), we saw spiders, birds, butterflies etc.
It is amazing to see how branches wind themselves into knots or braids.
Back home I of course spotted another grasshopper.

Sunday the 17th I walked down the dusty road to photograph some of the flowers I had spotted from the car coming from or going to the house.
And we went to Nosara’s Mala Noche waterfall, a place not easy to find. Parking the car along the side of a narrow road, walking through a meadow, through dry and wet river beds, maneuvering a steep, very narrow path and finally ending up at the catarata as the waterfall is known. Kids diving into  the deep pool from the rocks (a scary sight, specially when you think of the name of the falls: “bad night”…..), others climbing up and checking to see what was hidden beyond the waterfall. More pools, as we were told. A very nice outing to the local beautiful “watering hole”. Coffee, tea, juice and treats at Café de Paris finished the day.

December 18 was a lazy day: pool, reading on the patio, wandering around the house, discovering termite nests in trees and bats along the side of the house.
And we found out what the stone “thing” in the backyard was!
And the girls got a treat: pre-Christmas gifts,  followed by packing our suitcases for the road trip, starting next morning.

Last minute packing, the morning of December 19. Last few photos of our view from our bedroom window at Paseo del Sol. Raj packed up the car and after saying good-bye to the neighbours we were off on our trip. Our first stop was going to be Hacienda la Pacifica in Cañas. a visit to Los Pumas centro de rescato as well as a trip to Catarata (waterfall) Llanos de Cortés in Bagaces. A stopover at an icecream shop to cool off while the car was fed a tankful of gasoline. We checked into the Hacienda la Pacifica. Deer wandered around the cottages, iguanas crossed the roads, howler monkeys howled from the trees.
We drove the short distance to Las Pumas, an animal rescue center. Quite a few animals were in cages. Las Pumas Rescue Center (Centro Rescate Las Pumas) provides a temporary, or sometimes permanent, home for wild cats and other animals that have been injured, rescued, orphaned, or confiscated in the illegal pet trade.Not the same idea as the refuge center in Nosara but hopefully with the same goal: returning animals to the wild, whenever possible. Besides the caged animals we spotted quite a few wild howlers, one with a baby. (All photographs of the howler monkeys are of wild (uncaptured) ones). We were careful not to get too close because if they attack, they go for the face! And human contact would be disastrous for them anyway. After the visit to Las Pumas we had lunch and with satisfied stomachs we drove to Bagaces to visit the waterfalls there. It was a 20 minute hot walk to the catarata Llanos de Cortés but definitely worth it. The only negative thing was that, returning to the car and sipping fresh coconut water, we were attacked by mosquitoes. At least, I think they were mosquitoes. Maybe other bugs, who knows.
Back at the Hacienda we had dinner at the restaurant there. Afterwards we walked back to our rooms. They were situated a short distance away from each other so Raj and Priya walked us to our abode as they had a flashlight. Priya shone the light on the keyhole so I could open the door. Then…a scream: snake! Priya spotted a snake slithering over my foot! I never felt it! But thank goodness I had not stepped on him. Raj pulled me away and the snake crawled between crevices in the rock wall. Quite an experience. I really do not like snakes but surprisingly enough, this encounter did not freak me out at all.
Anyway, Hari checked our room very carefully for snakes or other “creepy crawlies” before we went to bed. I didn’t even dream of snakes that night!
Raj googled the snake and determined it was a Lyre snake. Good to know it would not have killed me…..;-)

Next morning we had time for a swim in the gorgeous pool and breakfast before packing up and loading the car for day 2 of our road trip.
While having breakfast we spotted an agouti (the locals call it ‘guatusa’).
Our first stop was Liberia where Raj and Ailish needed to get some paperwork done for their trip into Nicaragua at Christmas time.
While they were doing that, we kept ourselves busy watching people from the car, drinking juice, eating snacks, playing games. One more stop for yet another paper somewhere else in town and then on to…Walmart! Time for a few groceries, wine and lunch. After a tail gate lunch party on the parking lot we were ready to continue our drive to Blue River Resort at Rincòn de la Vieja.  A drive through very tiny villages, narrow roads, some dust, some mud. On the way we spotted several wind towers. Once we arrived at the gate to the resort it was like entering a jungle paradise! Swimming pool, 3 hot pools, a botanical garden as well as a butterfly and hummingbird garden. Restaurant, bar, spacious rooms. Did I mention the horses/ponies/donkeys? The birds? The caiman? We settled here for 2 nights and enjoyed every minute of it. We had some tropical downpours which lowered the temperature a bit. I was just wandering through the gardens during one of the sudden rainfalls and took shelter with the hummingbirds. Another one found me under a tree, trying to stay relatively dry. So much fun!
Soaking in the hot pools, lazy meals, watching the girls on the water slide, playing games, spotting butterflies, enjoying a hot sauna followed by a “volcanic mud bath treatment”.
This place is a feast for the eyes and a heaven for the soul. Relaxing, beautiful, peaceful, flowers in abundance, watching the antics of the hummingbirds and having your family right there with you. Could there be anything more special?

Day 2 at Blue River Resort, Rincòn de la Vieja.