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Whitewater Rafting in Costa Rica… Are you brave enough?
Well I certainly didn’t think I was brave enough, but then I was told by my family that we were going whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River and that was it: No discussion.
Okay, I admit it — I was scared. I had visions of me falling out of the boat within seconds and disappearing off down the rapids, never to be seen again. For 10 years I had avoided whitewater rafting like the plague.

No Way Back.
And now the day had come… at the very least I thought my breakfast would feed the fish and was wondering where on my body I could safely put my health insurance card. It was sure to be needed…
Our rafting guides came to meet us looking so professional it made me even more nervous. I was going to let the whole team down, for sure. Then began the safety briefing and the phrases we had to learn to follow the guides instructions once we were on the river.
We got our kit on: life-jacket, helmet (eek!) and were handed our paddles. I didn’t like to mention that I was no dab hand with a paddle.
And then we were in the raft, floating down the Pacuare River. No way back now.

The Adventure begins…

At first it was all very gentle and I wondered why I really needed to wear a life-jacket.
I was about to find out.
Suddenly ahead of us I could see big boulders and white water rushing between them. We were about to take on our first rapid. My heart was in my mouth.
The guide shouted ‘Lean In’and I remembered the briefing and so leaned in impressively — my head was almost touching the bottom of the raft.

Leaning IN!

I will never forget the phrase ‘Lean In!’ as long as I live.
And then we were in it — swirling water, a rush of adrenaline and we were out the other side… and I was still in the raft: Brilliant.

I’m still in the raft!

The relief was quickly followed by euphoria: I could do this. (Well I have to admit that the guides are SO good that almost anyone can do it — they are such experts.)
I wasn’t scared. I was exhilarated.
One rapid followed another until we were almost blase about the Class II to Class III rapids but more excitement was just a few metres on: our first Class IV rapid.

Here we go! Class IV Rapid

Ooffff…. So we went head into the Class IV rapid and I leaned in with everything I had, paddling like mad when instructed. It was SO exciting!
I really never thought I would say that.

A high five after our most impressive rapid: What a Team!

There are plenty of blogs and websites on whitewater rafting in Costa Rica but this blog is especially for those of you like me who think they are just not brave enough. You are.
My only regret was that I waited so long to go whitewater rafting: it was one of the most exciting days of my life so far.

I did it! Cooling off afterwards was sublime

And just as an added plus: whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River is also incredibly beautiful.

Floating in the canyon on the Pacuare River.

So now that you know you’re brave enough, what are you waiting for?
Take a look below at some of the superb companies that offer Whitewater rafting in Costa Rica. My favourite is Exploradoresoutdoors.com where you can also stay overnight at their lodge and raft 2 days. Highly recommended: Even for scaredy cats like me.

Rafting

Pacuare River Rafting – 1-Day

http://www.centralamerica.com/cr/raft/aventuras.htm

 

It’s Pejivalles season and all over Costa Rica the air is scented with them as people boil these palm fruits. Whether you know them as Pejivalles or Pejibayes or Peach Palm Fruit, these fruits can be found all over Central and South America and the palm is also famous for the popular heart of palm (delicious in salads).

Pejibayes or Pejivalles or Peach Palm Fruit. Geckoes Lodge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Pejibayes with skin after harvesting

The fruit hangs in large clusters around the top of a particular palm tree. Read more about it here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bactris_gasipaes

Pejibayes or Pejivalles or Peach Palm Fruit Clusters on Palm tree. Geckoes Lodge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Pejibayes hanging from a palm

Pejibayes or Pejivalles or Peach Palm Fruit Tree. Geckoes Lodge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

The tall spiny palms mean that harvesting requires some skill!

Pejibaye skin ranges from yellow through to red and the fruit needs considerable boiling before eating. People usually boil them in their skins for a few hours, peel them, remove the stone and then eat them with mayonnaise or salt and lemon.

Pejibayes or Pejivalles or Peach Palm Fruit with mayonnaise. Geckoes Lodge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Cooked Pejibayes are often eaten with mayonnaise or sour cream

So what do they taste like? Well, imagine a cross between a chestnut, a cashew nut and a buttery potato and you’re coming close. You can find them on market stalls, supermarkets and the local farmers market and per kilo they cost about 2 US$.

Even though they’re not the most attractive fruit in the world they have their fans and in Costa Rica they even have their own festival, near Cartago. And if you become a fan of pejibaye / pejivalle / peach palm fruits, there are plenty of recipes to experiment with: how about a pejibaye cake, biscuits, tacos, stew, salad, soup or even liqueur for starters?

Pejibaye cake

Pejibaye cake

 

Pejibaye Soup

Pejibaye Soup

People are not the only fans of pejibayes… a highly nutritious source of food for many rainforest animals, Agnes the Agouti at Geckoes Lodge seriously enjoys Palm fruit season and can be seen nibbling on pejibayes all around the garden.

Agnes the Agouti eating Pejibayes or Pejivalles or Peach Palm Fruit at Geckoes Lodge.

Agnes the Agouti eating Pejibayes or Pejivalles or Peach Palm Fruit at Geckoes Lodge.

So give your taste buds a sensation in Pejibaye season and taste these buttery, nutty numbers, although remember you need to cook them well, unlike Agnes the Agouti.

 

 

 

If you love fruit, this is the country for you! Fruit in Costa Rica is everywhere… walk down a street and there will be someone selling piles of sweet smelling pineapples, bananas hanging from trees and mangoes dripping from a branch.

Just a few of the fruits available in Costa Rica

Just a few of the fruits available in Costa Rica

Fruit in Costa Rica is not an addition to the everyday diet but an integral part of it. People grow it in their gardens, pick it from trees on the roadsides, knock coconuts from palms on the beach and eat fruit on a daily basis.

Banana stall on the way to Puerto Viejo

Banana stall on the way to Puerto Viejo

The differing climates of Costa Rica are perfect for growing a huge variety of fruit. The more temperate regions are bursting with apples, strawberries, oranges, plums and peaches. The tropical regions are full of mangoes, guavas, water-apples, water melon, limes, pineapples, star fruit, lychees, papayas, mangosteens and of course the famous banana.

Fruit stall

Fruit stall

Since there are more than 200 varieties of Banana they constitute some of the most common fruit in Costa Rica and along with pineapples are extensively farmed and exported.

Bananas being transported for washing and sorting

Bananas being transported for washing and sorting

Here on the Caribbean coast bananas are not only eaten raw but certain varieties are fried and eaten as plantains alongside rice and beans or added to fish or meat casseroles. But let’s not forget the banana crisps (chips) that are sold everywhere, sometimes seasoned with lime and salt but always a super accompaniment to a cold beer — or a fruity batido.

Fried plantains or 'Patacones'

Fried plantains or ‘Patacones’

Plantain crisps

Plantain crisps

Yes, let’s talk about Batidos, which are fruit shakes made of fresh fruit liquidised with either milk or water. One of my absolute favourites is a lime and ginger batido: fantastically fragrant and refreshing. The variety of batidos available is impressive and can be made from any fruit you can name. And there is so much fruit in Costa Rica that the fruits named here are just the tip of a big fruit-berg!

Fresh lime and ginger batido at the beach

Fresh lime and ginger batido at the beach

With such profusion it is no wonder that fruit in Costa Rica is such an important element in the country’s economy and indeed in the national diet.

Papaya Batido -- delicious with a squeeze of lime

Papaya Batido — delicious with a squeeze of lime

So take a look at the next pineapple or bunch of bananas you buy — it’s pretty likely you’ll be holding fruit from Costa Rica. But to taste it at its absolute best you’ll just have to come here, pick some yourself and sample the cornucopia of fruit in Costa Rica. Pura Vida indeed!

Fruit at the Saturday market in Puerto Viejo

Fruit at the Saturday market in Puerto Viejo

 

So it’s September and one of the best things to do this month is Snorkeling in Puerto Viejo. In September, the seas are calm, the weather is dry and it’s the perfect time to strap on that snorkel and glide over those coral reefs!

Put yourself in another world!

Put yourself in another world!

Puerto Viejo and Cahuita have some great snorkeling spots and whether you choose to take a boat trip to an outer reef or simply snorkel from the beach, in the calm ocean of September you’ll be rewarded with good visibility and plenty to look at.

Snorkeling at Cahuita National Park

Snorkeling at Cahuita National Park

You don’t need to bring your own snorkel, mask or fins as they are readily available for rent right here in Puerto Viejo. Plenty of the tour agencies offer great tours and even if you’ve never snorkeled before, don’t worry, they’ll have you snorkeling like a professional within minutes! Have a look at the end of this post to see a list of places that offer snorkeling tours.

Snorkeling in Puerto Viejo is usually pretty and often really exciting because who knows when you’re going to spot a great big starfish, a lion fish or see a turtle glide past?

Gorgeous Starfish

Gorgeous Starfish

The spectacular Lionfish

The spectacular Lionfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to get a little practice in first and just snorkel off the beach, head down to Arrecife beach in Punta Uva, which apart from having a good reef not far offshore is also one of the most beautiful beaches on this coast.

Snorkeling off Arrecife Beach

Snorkeling off Arrecife Beach

So if you’re around this coast in September or October and thinking of things to do, snorkeling in Puerto Viejo should be high on your list!

Snorkel gear for rent: Things to Do: Snorkeling in Puerto Viejo

Snorkel Tours:
http://www.puertoviejosatellite.com/tour-detail.php?tid=expcahhttp://www.wahoofishingtours.com/our-tours/dolphin-snorkeling-sightseeing-tours/
http://geckotrail.com/en/tours/dolphin-watching-and-snorkeling/
http://www.spanishatlocations.com/spanish-school-locations/costa-rica/our-spanish-school-in-puerto-viejo/excursions/  (Learn Spanish too!)
http://tourspuertoviejo.com/snorkeling_tour_cahuita_national_park.html
http://terraventuras.com/tours/
http://www.exploradoresoutdoors.com/caribean-tours.html
http://www.reefrunnerdivers.com/dolphintours.htm

 

So, here you are in Puerto Viejo and for a change it’s a cloudy day… you feel like getting out and about… but where’s an interesting and scenic place to go? One of my favourite things to do is to take a drive into the Talamancan mountains.

A creek in the Talamancan mountains

A creek in the Talamancan mountains

Suddenly you are in a different world. Towering tracts of rainforest with waterfalls tumbling between the greenery, rivers flowing over massive stones, indigenous Costa Ricans tending their fincas, children playing with a balloon and stacks of bananas along the road awaiting collection.

The pleasure of a red balloon: Children in Talamancan mountain village

The pleasure of a red balloon: Children in Talamancan mountain village

Bananas awaiting collection, Talamancan Mountains.

Bananas awaiting collection, Talamancan Mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Depending on the route you take (don’t worry, we’ll make sure you don’t get lost: Tom is an ace map maker!) you may follow the road along the Sixaola river and see the mountains of Panama on the other bank.

Sixaola River bordering Panama.

Sixaola River bordering Panama.

The Talamancan Mountain range is the highest and wildest mountain range in the whole of Central America. It extends along the border between Panama and Costa Rica and is one of the region’s most important conservation areas. It’s of global significance apart from being beautiful! Read more about it here: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/205 Things to Do: Drive into the Talamancan Mountains

On your way along the Sixaola river you’re sure to see the banana transport before you climb into the foothills of the Talamancan mountain range. If you’re lucky you may happen on a fair taking place in one of the indigenous settlements.

Transporting Bananas

Transporting Bananas

 

 

On their way to your supermarkets!

On their way to your supermarkets!

Local Fair in Suretka in the Talamancan mountains.

Local Fair in Suretka in the Talamancan mountains.

But whatever day it is you can be assured of beautiful views, wonderful photographic opportunities and of course the fun adventure of getting off the beaten track.

Small Finca in the Talamancan Mountains

Small Finca in the Talamancan Mountains

On the way to Bribri

On the way to Bribri

When I’m travelling I am often just as fascinated by all the daily activities going on around me as by the ‘must see’ famous sights. If you also enjoy the simple pleasure of experiencing a culture completely different from your own, then don’t miss a trip to Bribri when you’re next in this area.

Bribri Children

Bribri Children

Bribri is the name of an important indigenous tribe of Talamanca (one of the six counties of Limon province) and also the name of a town. Although Bribri is officially a city due to it’s status as a municipality, complete with Mayor, when you visit you’ll feel as if you’re in a small village.

Traditional House on the way to Bribri

Traditional House on the way to Bribri

So what’s so special about Bribri? Well to me, it’s fascinating because it is the complete opposite of Puerto Viejo. Completely lacking in any ‘touristy feel’ Bribri is always humming with lots of indigenous people doing their weekly shopping, going to computer classes, getting things done at the municipality, having a haircut, meeting up with friends and perhaps buying a dress for a special occasion.

Barber Shop in Bribri

Barber Shop in Bribri

Fruit Snack Stall, Bribri

Fruit Snack Stall, Bribri

 

 

Computer School, Bribri

Computer School, Bribri

 

 

Farmer shopping in Bribri

Farmer shopping in Bribri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Party Dresses in Bribri

Party Dresses in Bribri

To get to Bribri you can take the bus from Puerto Viejo (takes about 30 minutes) or, if you’re driving choose the more scenic route along the Sixaola river which borders Panama. So pretty! Whichever route you take, along the way you’ll see traditional houses and Bribri children playing. It’s off the beaten track certainly and that’s something I always find interesting. It is the other face of Talamanca and as much a part of life in Caribbean Costa Rica as Puerto Viejo and the entire coast.

Shop front in Bribri

Shop front in Bribri

 

Football kit wash day on the way to Bribri

Football kit wash day on the way to Bribri

So when you’re on the Caribbean coast, if you want to see the other side of life here, take a trip to Bribri for the morning or afternoon, eat a great lunch of fried chicken at El Refugio, wander around and watch daily Talamancan life unfolding. It’s not on everyone’s Things to Do list —¬† maybe that’s why a Trip to Bribri has a charm of its own.

The place to buy your Alka Seltzer, on the way to Bribri.

The place to buy your Alka Seltzer, on the way to Bribri.

 

 

OK, you’re right — maybe I cannot really title such a blog Things to Do: Swimming with Pelicans. But then actually why not? It’s free, no organisation needed but fun and wonder guaranteed.

Of course there is no guarantee that you will find a pelican or two to swim with — but you might. Over our years here I’ve often found myself in very close proximity with these gorgeous and impressive birds. Usually I don’t have a camera with me… but the close up shots I got below were taken standing knee deep in the sea and yes you guessed it: swimming with pelicans.

Swimming with Pelicans at Punta Uva beach

Swimming with Pelicans at Punta Uva beach

They are not very scared of people and after fishing they land with a splash in the sea close to shore where they relax, bobbing up and down. When I see that, I take my chance and slowly swim or wade towards them. They eye me up a little suspiciously but stay put in their bobbing position and only if I get within a metre of them do they take off and land a few metres further away.

Pelican resting after fishing

Pelican resting after fishing

Have you seen pelicans fishing? When I’m not swimming with them I sit on the beach and watch them swooping and diving: they are so elegant! They can skim a wave with only millimetres between them and the breaking wave: ace flyers they certainly are. Look at these two doing just that:

Skimming the waves

Skimming the waves

Pelicans fishing at Gandoca

Pelicans fishing at Gandoca

I know there are loads of ‘official’ things to do on this coast and you could fill several weeks of being engrossed with one activity or another on daily basis without finishing ‘the list’ but some of my favourite things to do here are those rather more unorthodox fun things… and swimming with pelicans is a thrill.

Pelican Flyover at Playa Grande

Pelican Flyover at Playa Grande

So when you’re thinking of Things to Do in this area don’t forget to go down to Punta Uva, one of the best beaches for swimming with pelicans. If like me, you enjoy some of the simpler and more unorthodox things in life, you may find getting up close and personal with a pelican may be just as thrilling as I think it is!

Apart from enjoying the spectacular beaches and ravishing rainforest and all the wildlife, did you know there are loads of Things to Do on this coast?

Sized ziplining 1 Geckoes Lodge, Cocles, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Ziplining is the number 1 activity / Trip / Tour in Puerto Viejo — so don’t miss it!

Terraventuras run this successful tour in Puerto Viejo with a good deal of professionalism and a whole lot of fun. Just call them or drop into their office in Puerto Viejo and you could be ziplining through the canopy the following day.

Take a look here:

Is it for You?

If, like me, you don’t really enjoy heights and feel drawn to the edge of anything elevated, you might be thinking ‘well that’s one activity that’s really not for me’. But don’t decide against it just yet…

Sized Ziplining 2 Geckoes Lodge, Cocles, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

The Terraventuras¬† team ( www.terraventuras.com ) are not only very good at what they do, they’re reassuring too! If you are initially scared (because after a zipline or two you’ll be having a great time) one of the team will zipline with you until you feel confident enough to go it alone.

The first time I went with my nieces and nephew I had a LOT of misgivings. Standing on the first platform after the instructions and safety briefing, I thought to myself ?I must be crazy — what the hell am I doing here?’ By the end of the tour I wanted to go and do it all over again — it was such a thrill.

Sized Ziplining 3 Geckoes Lodge, Cocles, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

So what’s it like?

Apart from being fun and more thrilling than the best fairground ride, I thought Ziplining was also incredibly beautiful. To be high up in the canopy is to have a birds-eye view and that is simply gorgeous. Suddenly you have a different perspective and see the rainforest up close and from above. It’s stunning.

Also you never know what bird or animal life you’re going to see from either the platform or as you zip along the wire. Sightings of sloths, monkeys, toucans, iguanas and agoutis are not unusual.

Sized Ziplining 5 Geckoes Lodge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Walking between the platforms is also lovely and something that is rarely mentioned in reviews or articles about ziplining. Those brief walks between platforms are a great plus because there you are, immersed in the rainforest — it’s a botanical treat.

So if you want to get up close and personal with the rainforest try it : Go Ziplining!

Sized Ziplining 6 Geckoes Lodge, Cocles, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica geckoeslodge.com

On my Things to Do list in Puerto Viejo ziplining would certainly be very close to the top.

Pura Vida!

Apart from enjoying spectacular beaches and gorgeous rainforest, there are plenty of other Things to Do on this coast, such as visiting The Ara Project in Manzanillo.

Great Green Macaw having a little wash before Tea Time.

Great Green Macaw having a little wash before Tea Time.

The Ara Project is an organization dedicated to the reproduction and release of the Great Green Macaw. The Great Green Macaw is classified as a species in danger if extinction. Without help, these magnificent birds will disappear.

A breeding pair of Great Green Macaws

A breeding pair of Great Green Macaws

Currently there are less than 300 Green Macaws in Costa Rica and less than 1000 in the world. The Ara Project, Manzanillo is the only such project in the world!
So if you want to see these beautiful birds and you’re here on holiday, don’t miss this on your Things to Do list!

So what are these wonderful birds like? Well, Great Green Macaws are the second biggest bird of the family of parrots, with incredibly strong beaks that can crack the hardest nuts. You would need a hammer to crack a wild almond nut (their main food source) but they crack it just like that! Great Green Macaws are not just green — in flight they are spectacular and show their rainbow colours. They live in humid rainforest and so Manzanillo is their perfect habitat.

Macaws showing their rainbow plumage at The Ara Project.

Macaws showing their rainbow plumage at The Ara Project.

We decided to go and visit them the other day and what a thrill it was! We pulled into the little car park, which incidentally must be one of the more beautiful car parks ever, with views of great tracts of rainforest. Getting out of the car, we were met with raucous screeching and calling — the Great Green Macaws were announcing our arrival.

Tea Time at The Ara Project

Tea Time at The Ara Project

Immediately 7 or 8 Macaws came swooping overhead, alighting on nearby branches and curiously checking us out — as we checked them out.

A volunteer arrived with nuts and pieces of coconut which she put on a wooden tray and then hoisted up into a tree. It was Tea time for the Macaws.

Nuts and Coconut pieces for the Great Green Macaws at The Ara Project.

Nuts and Coconut pieces for the Great Green Macaws at The Ara Project.

We climbed a small hill and listened to volunteer Heike explain about the project, their work, their fun with the birds and all about the birds themselves.

At the same time as hearing about The Ara Project we were treated to stunning flights by the Macaws against a ‘Lost Eden’ backdrop of rainforest.

Not easy to capture Green Macaws in flight! But they look like flying rainbows.

Not easy to capture Green Macaws in flight! But they look like flying rainbows.

Several Macaws came to listen to Heike too and perched on branches within a few feet of us we could admire their gorgeous plumage close up.

Thrilling to see them on the branch right next to us.

Thrilling to see them on the branch right next to us.

It was one of those afternoons when you simply feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to see such natural beauty.

Beautiful Macaws in their natural setting.

Beautiful Macaws in their natural setting.

If you would like to know more about The Ara Project, Manzanillo, take a look at their website:

http://thearaproject.org

And when you visit this coast, go there — You will not forget the Great Green Macaws!

Two Green Macaws at The Ara Project, Manzanillo, Costa Rica