Day 2: King’s Canyon National Park

Day 2: King’s Canyon National Park

If you missed the Day 1: Sequoia National Park blog, you can read it here.

Woke up actually feeling good for having hiked almost 10 miles yesterday!! Today was another big day. This time we’d be visiting King’s Canyon National Park, which adjoins Sequoia National Park. Two parks, but a WORLD of difference! The change in the ecosystems and scenery is nothing short of amazing.

The drive from Three Rivers to the bottom of King’s Canyon is about 80 miles. But the roads are so winding and narrow that it takes a good 2.5-3 hours to get there. Of course, that’s if you don’t stop along the way and of course we’re going to stop along the way! We had to drive back through the areas we visited yesterday, but now we would pass out of Giant’s Forest and into the Lodgepole area. There was road construction, which slowed us down even more. I wanted to take the cut through to Hume Lake, so we turned off. There aren’t any sequoias in this part of the park- but there are MASSIVE pine forests with MASSIVE mountains for backdrops! The Hume Lake area had an entire village in it- tons of people, little shops, etc… It is apparently a Christian camp. The lake is stunning! We saw a guy during one of our stops who had a whole net full of big trout!

After the lake, the road changed from being a road through a forest to a road hanging on to the side of the mountains! STUN. NING. Just like the camera couldn’t capture the majesty of the sequoia trees yesterday, it couldn’t capture the beauty and rugged wildness of this scenery. It was so vast, that it was difficult for your own eyes to even comprehend.

We’re heading down into the canyons on those roads faaaaar below!

As we wound down the roads, we went from Sequoia National Park into the Sequoia National Forest, and finally entered Kings Canyon National Park!

Kings Canyon is a glacier carved canyon, surrounded by stark rock mountain peaks, many of which soar to 14,000 feet! I used to come to these parks every summer with the ex and my kids. We’ve hiked so many trails and even back packed up into Paradise Valley. I haven’t been here since 2005- 15 years ago- and I know this is most likely my last ever visit….so I savored every vista. When we reached the bottom, we were greeted by the rushing King’s River. Mid-June is still pretty early in the season, and the water was swift with snowmelt. This is one of the most magical drives in the United States…..

We stopped off for our first short “hike” of the day. Really, just a quick walk up a paved trail to Roaring River Falls. Brilliant white water falling into clear green pools that swirled around boulders….magnificent!! The original plan was to hike from here, along the river to Zumwalt Meadows, do the Zumwalt loop, and hike back. That was thwarted because the forest service has done a controlled burn in the area and closed the trail. Grrrr. Oh well, we can drive to Zumwalt. Total “hike”- .32 miles. Best reward for the shortest hike ever!

So off we headed down the road to Zumwalt Meadows- probably my most favorite hike in both parks because it is a GORGEOUS loop trail AND a place where I’ve watched a momma bear and her 2 cubs play before!! I was hoping for bear luck! We parked and the Stellar Jays immediately descended on us and demanded their toll- a tasty snack treat! We gave them some cracker crumbs and they were pleased. One followed Brian around like a puppy begging for more! And the brilliant yellow Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies were hanging out on the nearby shore getting a drink from the wet sand.

The little newspaper we had been given said that the Zumwalt trail was closed due to flooding that had destroyed the boardwalk. The sign at the trailhead didn’t say anything about it, so we took off, hoping for the best. We crossed the foot bridge over the King’s River and emerged into a forest on the other side. The trail to the right (back toward Roaring River Falls) was blocked off (because of the fire). We turned left toward Zumwalt. Walked for not very far until we reached the lush meadow!! And….the washed out boardwalk that was taped off and closed, as was the other side of the loop. This was as far as we were going to get. Not going to lie, I was pretty disappointed…. But it was hard to stay disappointed too long with the amazing scenery. We returned to the car. This hike was .91 miles, giving us a total of 1.23 for the day.

Got in the car, drove down to Road’s End just to have done it, and then headed back out of the canyon. The little gas station that has been there FOREVER was open and advertising ice cream!! We saw it on the way down and made an executive decision to stop on the way back out! The gas pumps are the oldest working double gravity pumps in the United States, having been installed in 1928!! We ordered our ice creams and sat down at the little picnic benches. The owner came over and talked to us. He repeated the same concern as the guy at the deli- no international tourism, just the locals, and he wasn’t sure they would be enough to sustain business. He had bought the place after everything burned down in 2015- 80 acres. The historic lodge had burned to the ground, and most of the cabins. The last time I was here in 2005 we had stayed at the little cabin across the road. It had been spared. He said that trying to build the business back up after that was really tough, and corona might be the nail in the coffin. This is the unspoken “death toll” across the world, and I promise it’s far, FAR higher than any actual death from the virus. Some would argue but death is forever. I would argue that losing everything you have can be just as destructive….

We left the canyon behind, but were still in Kings Canyon National Park. Next stop was Grant’s Grove to go see the Grant Tree. As this is the 2nd largest tree in the park and on an easily accessible trail, it was fairly crowded like the Sherman Tree was yesterday- but not quite as many people. We did the paved walk around it, going through a really cool tunnel through a fallen log, and then tilting our heads all the way back to see the 267 foot top of the Grant Tree. This tree is the Nation’s Christmas Tree as well.

From the Grant Tree Trail, we decided to extend our hike and do the North Grove Loop Trail. A fire had come through here and consuming many of the lodgepole pines, leaving blackening sticks pointing toward the impossibly blue skies. This loop was more of a talking hike than an “ooo” “ahh” scenery hike. We discussed our plans for Panama and tried to prioritize all of our ideas (and we came up with some new ones) to make this move and the work that has to be done as efficient as possible. Soon, we were back to the parking lot. Total for this hike, 3.02 miles, bringing today’s total to 4.25 miles. Not even half of yesterday’s total, but our legs were definitely started to feel fatigued!

It was getting late in the afternoon. I had two more hikes planned- Big Stump Trail and Tokopah Falls. But there was only going to be time for one (our legs were thrilled). We decided to do the Big Stump Trail as it was shorter and we could get down to TRI TIP sooner (yes, we were going to have tri tip again!). This is one of the saddest trails in the park, as it’s where you can see the destruction from the logging of the sequoias in the late 1800s. How anyone in their right mind could cut down one of these trees……jesus. Especially considering that the trees were so huge and so brittle that the impact of them falling would cause them to shatter- leaving about 75% of the wood unusable! Eee. Gads. It would take 2 men about 2 weeks to cut down one tree. What a waste of a living organism that had been on this earth for upwards of 2,000 years. Man- the most destructive and worthless species on the planet. This hike, our last for the day, clocked in at 1.28 miles, giving us a daily total of 5.53 miles, and a 2 day total of 15.27 miles!! Woo!! Not bad for a couch potato woman!! I will say, that all of the hikes we did were fairly flat. There are literally HUNDREDS of miles of trails in both parks. A lot of them have some serious elevation gain. At my age and level of fitness (-3), elevation gain is not in my wheelhouse anymore… But there is SO MUCH BEAUTY to be seen without taxing yourself.

Brian inside of the Shattered Giant. To me, it looks like a Gothic Cathedral….

It was time to head out of the park and get TRI TIP!!! We had a 2 hour drive out, and I felt a lot of emotions as we left the park for what I’m pretty darned sure will be my last visit ever to one of my favorite parts of the country. I have a lot of memories in this parks- both from my “old life” and now with my new one. We saw some deer on the side of the road on the way out. We never saw a bear, but we saw so many things we BEARly noticed (you didn’t think you’d get off of this blog with at least one bad pun, did ya?!). 😜

Day 1: Sequoia National Park

Day 1: Sequoia National Park

It’s mid-June 2020. Normally I would be in some awesome international location, exploring the world. Thanks to coronavirus, I’m not going anywhere that requires a passport. So Brian and I decided to head up to Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. They’re only about a 3.5 hour drive from our house, Brian has never been, and I really wanted him to see it before we head out of the US for our new life in Panama. So we found an inexpensive hotel to rent (Sierra Lodge, $59 a night), jumped in the car, and headed up there for a few days.

So….we’re in the middle of trying to sell our house, and of course the day we had planned to leave is the day we get an offer! We dealt with all of that paperwork, got the housesitter setlled in, left in the early afternoon, stopped in Visalia to get stock up on munchies (mainly chips, crackers, jerky, sodas, and water) and then finished the drive to Three Rivers to our hotel. We prefer to stay in Airbnbs, but they were SO expensive!! The hotel was ok. Definitely not a place I would choose to stay again. Kinda run down, our little dorm fridge was leaking some kind of coolant stuff that STUNK and got all over everything….but for $59 I wasn’t complaining too hard. We had snacks for dinner and went to bed early (as always), expecting a long, full day of adventure ahead of us!

Up bright and early (as always)! Had some of our snacks for breakfast, loaded up our snacks and water (all park facilities for food and drink are closed and you had to be 100% self sufficient), jumped in the car, and headed out on the short drive to the park. Along the way we saw a sign in front of a building that said BBQ Tri-Tip, and immediately knew what was for dinner! Got to the entrance and there was a ranger who handed us a map and little newspaper guide. There was no entrance fee! It’s supposed to be $35 for a 7 day pass. She said there was no charge. Honestly, I felt bad about that. I hate giving the government any damn dime, but I do support our national parks. Anyway, we were in! We pulled over at the entrance sign and lined out the hikes we wanted to do for the day.

First stop was the auto log. This is a tree that fell in 1917, and had a little flat area carved on top so people could drive on and get a picture of their car on the trunk of a sequoia tree! See an old picture of that here. Now, the trunk is too weakened to be safely driven on, but here’s a view of the top of it, and of the roots that are sticking out of the ground. Note- sequoias, even though they are the largest tree in the world, have a very shallow root system.

We continued along the road toward our first hiking destination of the day, Crescent Meadows. Along the way, you could drive through the Tunnel Log! Here’s my little Veloster, named Pinball (because it’s small, silver, and I bounce it off of everything!), out for an adventure (normally it just sits in the driveway because I never drive anymore!).

Soon we were at the parking lot for Crescent Meadow. There were several cars parked. Bathrooms were OPEN! Thank god, because I have the urinary retention and control of a 75 year old man…. They had little portable hand sanitizing stations which was nice- not because I give 2 flips about coronavirus out here, but there are no sinks so it’s nice to at least be able to clean your hands before you go digging around in the jerky bag. πŸ˜‰ Found the trail head and headed off toward Crescent Meadow, with plans to visit Tharp’s Log and make a loop back around.

Our goal was to find a bear!! I’ve seen them in Sequoia once and King’s Canyon once. We scanned the meadow for signs of one, but nothing. We continued to Tharp’s Log. This true meaning of a log cabin was built by one Hale Tharp back in the late 1850s. He is supposedly the first white man to have explored this area (being guided here by native people). This giant sequoia had already fallen next to a meadow upon his arrival, and Tharp used fire to burn and hollow out the inside of the log to create a shelter. Since then, many settlers used it during their travels through the area, and John Muir even stayed here in the late 1870s!

We continued hiking around. Not a person in site. Just the sounds and the smells (oh, the smells!!) of this wonderful Giant Forest!

We completed the loop and our first hike of the day- 1.99 miles. A nice start. Back in the car to our next stop- the Big Trees Trail. This is a short loop, which was made longer because the parking lot was closed and we had to park a little ways up the road. Here’s a good place to mention the weather. It was PERFECT. I mean PERFECT!! High 60s/low 70s, sunny, gorgeous. Wow. Anyway, the Big Trees Trail is an interpretive trail with signs. I ADORE signs!! And I learned quite a bit along this short trail. The ravens up here are huge and noisy. Doth quoth this Raven, “No Covids here…just Corvids”! God, I crack myself up! πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

This trail is paved and handicap accessible, which is great!

So at this spot I learned a lot!! The trail is around a huge, gorgeous meadow, that has massive sequoias growing all around the perimeter. See, sequoias require the exact combination of proper temperature, sunlight, and moisture to grow. The edge of meadows (which are usually very damp and marshy) is the perfect place! So check this out- the fallen one that you can see the root system? Well, when it fell, it left open a perfect place for a new one to grow in the hole it left behind, and one did- just across the trail. So cool!

We continued hiking around and saw this super huge boulder with the sequoia growing right into it!

And then, we saw it!! Bear Poop!!! And there was LOTS of it everywhere, and it looked pretty fresh. Unfortunately, if a bear shits in the woods it doesn’t mean he hangs around for long. No sign of the owner. He had already SCATdaddled!! Me and my puns…I’m on a roll! πŸ˜‚

Got back to the car after having encountered a total number of 4 people in a family doing the same loop. Total mileage for this hike 1.3 miles. So we’re at 3.29 miles for the morning and were just getting started! How do I know how far? I have a cool app called Caynax Sport Tracker. It’s free, and does a great job. Off to one of the most iconic spots in the park- the Sherman Tree. Got there and the lot was probably 1/2 full. A lot of cars and people, but nothing like it would be on a normal summer day. There were warning signs on the way down about how steep the climb back up would be. Well, there was like a 100 year old guy that weighed 300 lbs and had a cane huffing and puffing his way up. I figured if he could do it, my couch potato ass could manage. Another note- elevation everywhere we were hiking was like 7000-8000 feet. Not a lot of oxygen for a sea level girl like me! We headed down the paved path, following the masses.

It was a steady, but manageable descent down to an area where you could get your first glimpse of the Sherman Tree. This is Brian standing in the footprint of the tree. A circumference of 109 feet (33m). Wowza!

Brian used his phone to take a panorama shot of the tree. Still, you can’t even imagine how big it is!Before I introduce you to the Sherman Tree, let’s learn about it! This is the biggest tree in the world by volume. There are taller trees. There are trees with a larger circumference. But none have this height AND this circumference. The tree is 275 feet (84m) tall. The diameter of the trunk at the base is 36.5 feet (11m). The largest branch has a “trunk” that is 6.8 feet (2m) in diameter- bigger than most normal trees! It weighs about 1,385 tons. Just….wow…. The top of the tree is dead and no longer growing, however the rest of the tree is alive and the trunk is increasing in size. In fact, the trunk adds enough wood to its volume each year to equal the size of a normal full grown tree! The tree is about 2,200 years old. And since it’s the largest tree in the world, you might expect it to be the oldest. Nope!! It’s not even the oldest sequoia tree in this park! It’s not age that allowed it to reach this massive size, it’s location. All of the conditions in this area of what is called Giant Forest are perfect for sequoias, so they grow quickly. Before I show you the pictures, let me just say that there is no way any picture I, or any other person on earth, could take to truly capture the majesty of this (and the other giant sequoia) trees. There are no words to describe them. Just go and see them!!

This is the picture I took with Brian in the shot for perspective. I can’t even get the entire tree in the frame! I’m literally like halfway up!

Brian took this panorama shot with his camera. You can see the whole tree, but you still can not grasp the enormity of it!

We wanted to get out of the crowded Sherman Tree area, and had decided to do the Congress Trail loop. Awesome decision!! The masses just wanted to get to the base of the Sherman Tree and then back to the parking lot. We basically had the Congress Trail to ourselves for the next hour plus!

Everywhere in the park you see fire scars on the sequoias. This is not a cause for alarm! These trees have evolved to not only be able to effectively survive forest fires, but they require them for their life cycle! The bark of the tree is extremely thick and fibrous- sometimes 2 feet thick! This protects the inner parts of the tree. So while they may sustain damage, it takes an extremely hot and extremely prolonged fire to kill them. When the tree drops its cones, it’s usually in a bunch of undergrowth, which would choke out the sunlight of the seedlings. Evolution fixed that! The fires not only completely clear out the underbrush, but they are the “key” to unlock the cones and release the seedlings! Fire is what causes them to pop open! Plus, the burned earth is now fertile ground for the new seedlings to take root in. Cool, huh? Some of the scars are like artwork- it’s amazing!

Of course, I’m always on the lookout for wildlife with my jungle eye! I found 2 chipmunks and a millipede. πŸ™‚ Still no bears….

There were a few named trees along this trail. First up, The President’s Tree. This is the 3rd largest tree in the world. Out of respect for the tree, and the tree alone, I will refrain from making any obvious political jokes at this juncture. Give me a minute though- one’s coming. πŸ˜‰

So why is this named the Congress Trail? Not because it’s worthless and filled with a bunch of lazy, incompetents who use taxpayer money to attain power and wealth of their own. (Warned ya…) It’s because there are two dense (pun intended) stands of sequoia here- one named the Senate and one named the House. Poor trees….having to go through life with those monikers. You just know they were bullied on the sequoia school playground! Regardless of their names, they are gorgeous and tall and strong and proud and serve a role in their ecosystem! And are younger than most real members of Congress (ba dum bum)!

Continuing along the winding paths through this Giant Forest, that we basically had all to ourselves, we came upon the McKinley tree. By now, you should get the theme here- it’s named after President McKinley. Frankly, I can think of a lot of people who these trees would rather be associated with rather than those in Washington, DC… Anyway, it’s huge and beautiful! You can see measly Brian standing there at the bottom if you look close enough!

The trail continued to wind around to the other side, where we were treated to a beautiful view of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and a few other treats! Those roots- I swear they look like sculpted art!

We finished the Congress Trail loop, met up with the Sherman Trail again, and began our ascent back to the parking lot. Fortunately, there was some guy that was in love with Brian’s tattoos, and they talked about them for half the walk up. That allowed me to focus on something other than my pounding heart, insufficient lung capacity, and complaining! Honestly, it really wasn’t bad at all and I surprised myself by how quickly we got up to the top with only a couple of short stops. This hike was 3.45 miles, bringing our day’s total so far to 6.74 miles. And there was enough daylight for one more hike!! On the way, we munched on snacks and enjoyed the scenery. Soon, we arrived at the Wolverton picnic area where the trailhead was for the Long Meadow Loop. This was described on our little newspaper has having a lot of wildflowers and occasional wildlife feeding! Maybe we’d see a bear afterall!! Let me preface this with some information. There is no cell signal here. I have GPS for my app, but no signal to look up a trail map or anything. The maps the park hands out are basically worthless for figuring out where you’re going. In fact, they tell you to buy trail maps at the visitor center if you’re going to hike. Well, those are all closed (thanks, ‘rona). Everything we had done so far were well marked, easy to follow, trails. Then….there was Long Meadow Loop….

Just finding the trailhead proved to be an adventure. We thought it was in the picnic area, but come to find out it was in the parking lot above the picnic area. And the signs didn’t even say anything about Long Meadow. Just pointing the way to different lakes. Brian had taken a picture of the map that was on the display down in the picnic area, and it looked like we needed to go up, take the first right, then the next right. Easily found the first right. Would have COMPLETELY missed the barely visible second right if I didn’t have jungle eye! There was a small sign that’s back was to us that said “Long Meadow Loop —>” If I hadn’t of seen that, lord knows where we would have ended up…. We headed down it and it looked like no one had been on this trail since it snowed last year. Very hard to see the trail in places, but we kept on! We passed some kind of large building, and then had to cross a creek. I didn’t trust the rickety log, so I took my shoes off and waded across. My toes were numb in the 20 seconds it took me to cross!

Brian- fording the creek, tempting fate to break his hip #oldage

This. Hike. Is. AMAZING!!! There aren’t any sequoias up here, mainly lodgepole pines, but oh my god the views! And not another soul…in fact, we didn’t encounter another single person on this entire hike!

There were gorgeous wildflowers as well! But no wildlife. πŸ˜•

I can not even describe the vividness of the pink and yellow in these tiny flowers!

 


This one reminded me of some kind of sea creature (Phylum Cnidaria)

And then things got sketch…the entire loop was like 3 miles. We were right at 1.5 miles in and still hadn’t come to the turn off to round the other side of the meadow. It was after 4 o’clock. We had planned to leave the parking lot by 4:30 so we could be back down to Three Rivers around 6 for dinner (and out of the park before it got dark).Β  I told Brian to pull up the picture he took of the map on his phone so we could compare it to the app. And gee, guess what? He had everything in frame EXCEPT this part of the trail!! So we literally had no idea where we were, where we were going, how long it would take, nothing. I pulled up the park app that showed where other people were that had the app on. NO ONE. ANYWHERE. We had to decide- continue on and hope for the best, or go backtrack to the car. Let me just say this- I HATE backtracking. However, with summer clothes on and knowing it would get to freezing when the sun set, sun set only being a few hours away, us not having ANYTHING that would allow us to survive out here for more than 10 minutes, not having a cell signal, and no adequate map, the decision was already made for us. Err on the side of safety and backtrack. Sigh. Made it back to the parking lot a little after 5 and checked the map to see where we had turned around- sure enough, had we gone just a little further we would have been on the turn for the loop. Brian has been fired from taking pictures of maps that our survival depends on. Total distance for this hike, exactly 3 miles, bringing our total for the day to 4 hikes and 9.74 miles!!

Super hungry and tired, we headed back down the windy roads toward Three Rivers with one thing on our minds….TRI TIP!! It was fun watching the ecosystem change and the temperature increase as we went from 7000 feet to 6000 to 5000 to 4000….. Soon we exited the park and made our way to Totem Market & Deli. Went to the counter, ready for TRI TIP!!! He said he had just taken it off the pit and it needed to rest for like 30 minutes. We were STARVING and expressed some disappointment. Finally, he said he would go ahead and cut it for us. I told him that was a great decision, because I was going to get tri tip one way or another and the easy way or the hard way was his choice!! 😜 We talked a bit while he got everything together. He said that if the park hadn’t opened when it had that they would have gone out of business for good. And now, the international tourists that make up so much of their summer business wouldn’t be coming, but the “weekend warriors” as he called them were really showing up! Those are localΒ  Californians (like us) exploring our own backyards to get out of Covid lockdown hell…. I hope they survive. The people were so friendly and the tri-tip…….oh my god delicious!! We took it to go, ate in our room, showered, and crashed- exhausted from such a busy day!

CONTINUE TO DAY 2: KING’S CANYON!

 

 

Days 1-2: Arrival and Visiting the Bri Bri Indigenous Village

Days 1-2: Arrival and Visiting the Bri Bri Indigenous Village

Dec 13- Last day of Fall Semester for my live classes, which means I’M FREE!! My last class ended at 5:30pm. Brian and I were on a flight out to Costa Rica at 12am.

I had lived on the Pacific side of Costa Rica in Ojochal for 2 months during the summer of 2016. In fact, that was my very first housesit! Then, Brian and I went to Panama in March of 2017 (like an idiot, I didn’t blog it πŸ™„), and we both REALLY loved Bocas del Toro- a collection of islands on the northern Caribbean coast. So much so, that we started looking at the possibility of buying property there. Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica ended up on our radar, as it’s on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, and I figured that being so close to Bocas that the wildlife would be fairly similar (especially poison dart frogs!!). It was high on our “to do” list.

Christmas 2015, I was in England. 2016, France. 2017, South Africa. This year, I really didn’t want to do a long haul flight, especially since I spent almost 3 months flying all over Europe this summer. So we decided on a nice, easy 5 hour direct flight to San Jose, Costa Rica, where we’d rent a car and drive to Puerto Viejo for a week, then drive to the La Fortuna/Arenal area for a few days before returning home.

We aren’t going to talk about how Delta is the crappiest airline I’ve flown on in a LONG time. Ok, I lied. We are going to talk about it. I have flown what I call “chicken buses in the sky”- Romanian and Hungarian super budget airlines- and they run 10 times smoother than stupid Delta. The seats we were assigned were both middle seats- in the same row but across the aisle from each other. No worries, we expect that from buying the cheap tickets. We get to LAX, get to our gate, and not a single one of the multiple plugs/usb ports worked. Ok, whatever. Then, we get an announcement that our gate is changing. Not just the gate, but the terminal. So then we have to get on a bus to go to the other terminal- where, not a single outlet worked. I look at my online boarding pass again and oh my gosh! They changed our seats to row 26 A and B!! Next to each other!! Woo-hoo!! Finally they start calling for boarding. I pull up the boarding passes again so we can give them to the lady, and our seats and bar codes have vanished. What the hell? I restarted the app. Same thing. Went up to the desk and the lady said we had never checked in, were no shows, so they gave our seats away. I explained we HAD to have checked in, otherwise we couldn’t get through security without a boarding pass (duh). She wasn’t having any of it, and swore up and down that she called our names. She never did, because both Brian and I had listened every time they were calling names. Anyway, she was able to seat us together further back on the plane. Come to find out, the seats that “disappeared” were coveted exit row seats and no one was in the other seat. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Sit down, and find out that they had double assigned Brian’s seat to a lady. I mean holy crap- the entire thing was a disorganized, chaotic, mess. Jesus.

I slept ok on the 5 hour plane ride. Landed in San Jose at a little before 8am. Went and got our car. We had pre-booked with Budget online through the Costa Rican office’s website and got a SCREAMING deal on a 4×4 SUV for….hold on…..$55 including taxes for 10 days!! That’s not $55 PER day. That’s $55 for TEN days!!!!!!! They tried to sell us their supplemental insurance for $20 a day. We declined because we have coverage through our credit card. That means that if we wreck, we have to deal with American Express and their rental coverage department instead of it just being taken care of by Budget. To save $200, we decided to risk the potential aggravation. This required a $3000 hold on the credit card. We took a ton of pictures and video before we left to prove the condition of the car, noting every single scratch and dent and making sure it was on the paperwork as well. Headed off through town!

Found a Wal Mart. We had heard the guy at the rental desk with another customer saying it’s easy to go there, buy what you need, pay in US dollars and get Colones back, so we did that. Bought a few groceries, including a case of my beloved Dr. Pepper (woo-hoo!!!), and got back on the road.

Apparently this is normally a 2.5 hour drive. It took us almost 6 hours. There was SO MUCH construction on the road. Oh my god. We were at dead stand stills for what seemed like every 20 miles at least. Plus a couple of big trucks that had gone off the side in different places, causing even more of a slow down. A 4 lane road through here, considering the amount of traffic (especially large trucks) would sure be handy… We were STARVING by noon and in desperate need of protein, so we stopped at a little roadside restaurant. We both got “Platos Tipicos”- choice of meat (pork, beef, or chicken) with rice and beans, potatoes, and steamed veggies. DELICIOUS!

Continued down the road. The mountains turned to flat coastal plains. I shouted “STOP!!”. Me and my jungle eyes had spied a SLOTH!!!!!! He was on the power lines. We parked and took a few pics. Poor guy- totally exposed and so tired from the exertion that he had to take a nap half way across. I worried about him for a long time, wondering if he was going to make it across.

Finally made it to the turn off in Limon and headed south toward Puerto Viejo. Not long after, the road met the coastline, and we were met with an awesome view of the Caribbean!! No pics, but there will be some on the coastline. Went straight to our home away from home for the next 6 nights- a gorgeous jungle home in Playa Cocles that we found on AirBNB! I’ll post pics of it in a few days (don’t like people knowing exactly where we are!). Suffice to say, this is quite possibly my most favoritest AirBNB EVER!!!! It is just PERFECT!! We got checked in, and decided to head down and find dinner out. We knew we wanted ceviche for sure! Found a little restaurant and ordered one order of ceviche with plantains (my fav, Brian hates ’em, which means I get to always eat them all1) and one order of jumbo shrimp in a Caribbean sauce with salad and French Fries. The ceviche was to. die. for!!! OMG, perfection! The jumbo shrimp were MASSIVE and good, but the ceviche beat them. Oh! And we ordered two fruit smoothies which instantly made me feel healthier than I have in the last 4 months….

Speaking of the last 4 months, it’s been insane. Between working my ass off keeping my online school running smoothly, and teaching 7 live classes on Wednesdays in Los Angeles, my sanity and health level have been on the steady decline. I can’t keep up the pace. I have been seriously exhausted, and I mean absolute fatigue, from the moment I wake up until I stumble into bed. 10-12 hour workdays 6 days a week are the norm. It’s not healthy, I feel like CRAP constantly, and I have no life outside of work. It’s killing me. Between the sheer exhaustion of my normal work schedule, on top of the fact that I taught 7 classes the same day we left, and we had a red eye flight at midnight followed by a 6 hour drive…yeah, I was beat. I took 2 zzzquils, and hit the sack at 7:30pm (that’s 5:30pm home time). I heard a rooster and figured it must be about 5:30am (sunrise). I fell back asleep (something I NEVER do at home). I heard howler monkeys, checked the time, 6:30am. Talked to Brian for a few minutes, said I felt like I could go back to sleep, and did for 45 more minutes. Basically, I slept 12 hours straight!!!! God, my body and mind needed that so bad. Woke up at 7:18, got Brian up, and we had to rush around so we could get out the door at 8am for our tour! I can’t believe we almost overslept. We were both just beat. Oh, Brian said two super loud roars woke him up in the middle of the night and he couldn’t believe I didn’t hear them. Probably jaguars…..

Headed off to meet our guide for the day, Able Bustamante. Due to the fact that a) I work constantly and b) I am so exhausted from working constantly that I don’t even have the mental capacity to plan a trip, Brian put our itinerary together. I’m just along for the ride! Able comes highly recommended by TripAdvisor. We’re taking two tours with him…a hike through the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge later in the week, and today’s tour to one of my favorite things to do in other countries- visit indigenous people!! First, we had to drive to Puerto Viejo (about 10 min away) to meet Able. We encountered a traffic jam along the way…

We met Able at the bank. He got into our car and we headed off toward the BriBri territory. We made a stop in BriBri town for some wildlife spotting. Can you see what we saw? It’s in the middle of this picture.

Yeah, you can’t. Neither could we until Able pointed them out! A HUGE pair of iguanas high up in the trees! They hang out here because they’re safe- across from the police station so no one will shoot them for dinner! I so love my camera with what I call “jungle zoom”….

A few more miles down the road and we arrived to Catato’s home. He’s a BriBri man who does indigenous chocolate and medicinal plant tours on his farm. When I was in Costa Rica a couple of years ago, I visited the indigenous people just on the other side of these mountains- the Boruca. I had a wonderful time in their village, without a guide, just figuring out how to get there myself, praying someone spoke English, and using my toddler Spanish to get me through an amazing private demonstration of how to make dyes from plants and dye handspun yarn. That said, if you speak Spanish (or Bribri- these people are one of the few who have actually held on to their native language and keep it alive), you could manage this tour yourself. If you only speak English, you need a guide.

First up, chocolate making. Brian and I have done two other cacao tours- one in Panama and one in El Salvador. They’re always a little different! Here, we worked with Catato’s wife- only women are allowed to prepare cacao in Bribri society (which interestingly enough is a matriarchal society). First, we took dried cacao beans that had been harvested right here on the farm, and stirred them over an open fire. After about 5 minutes of stirring, they started to pop- some popping right out of the pan!

After they were roasted (under the watchful eye of Catato’s wife!), she poured them into a bowl and kind of tossed/shook them to remove the large hulls. From there, we learned how to grind the beans into powder the old fashioned way…rocks! Brian and I took turns at this. That rock was so heavy I couldn’t even pick it up! Fortunately, you don’t have to pick it up to grind the beans- you just kind of rock it back and forth over them.


Think we’re done making chocolate! There’s a lot of work involved in this…. Next up, Catato’s wife did another toss/shake to remove the fine hulls. Then, we put them into a quite modern hand-crank operated grinder. I let Brian have the honors of doing that one alone. He had to turn the crank really fast, and it was so cool to see wet, dark chocolate emerge from our dry power! Press grinding like this causes the cocoa butter (fat) to come out. We tasted it and ewwwwwwwwwww. Too strong for me! 100% pure dark chocolate. I’m strictly a milk chocolate girl, but Brian loved it! Able added some sweet condensed milk to the mixture. Still too bitter for me, but Brian was pleased- so he put his on some pineapple and started eating. Able just gave me the milk so I could add as I pleased. I added a lot.Β πŸ˜€Β And even though the color was still almost black, it was sweet and perfect!! And on a piece of pineapple? To. Die. For.

So we were done making the chocolate and eating it, but not quite finished yet! There was a huge pot of cinnamon water boiling over the fire where we roasted our beans. That, mixed with some of our chocolate and some sugar and milk made the BEST HOT CHOCOLATE EVER!!

Now it was time to continue the tour with Catato. First, he made me a beautiful necklace with different types of seeds, that were strung on a string he made from palm leaves (we watched him do that process, but I got it on video, not pics. Trust me, it was super cool to see him scrape the top layer of the leaf off to reveal the stringy fibers inside!). Then, we learned how to blow a whistle made from a large sea pod. Then, how to blow a conch shell (those things are LOUD- watch the video!). We also learned about the different types of spears the Bribri use for different things- hunting different animals like deer or birds, fishing, farming, etc….

In the garden, Catato painted my fingernails yellow with tumeric root, and then used some red plant to put dye on my finger. I used it as lipstick (and seriously, it’s MY color!!). Brian painted stripes on his face. We ate nutmeg right from the tree! We learned about which wood was best for spears, best for houses, best for roofs… I took a ton of videos for class, but not really any pics. Sorry. It was really interesting though, and I wish I spoke better Spanish. Sigh.
And then we went into a little structure covered over with green mesh. I figured it was a greenhouse of sorts to keep the animals out. Um, wrong! This was the Holy of Holies…..the reason why I love the Caribbean coast more than the Pacific coast. This was A POISON DART FROG HOUSE!!!!!!!! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!!!!!!! (That is literally the sound I make every time I see one. Ask Brian.) Oh my god. There were red ones and green and black ones (that were pretty shy) and a yellow and black one. Able put his phone on video and played the sound of a dart frog. The yellow and black one came hopping over immediately, ready to defend his territory against the intruder! It was awwwwwwwwwwwwesome!! I seriously could have stayed in there for.ev.er.
It was time to go. Honestly, I wish there had been more information about the Bribri people themselves. Their traditional ways and stories. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot online about them. We bought some chocolate, cocoa butter, and a water container decorated and made out of a gourd.

Next up, a waterfall. It was right off the road on the way back from the Bribri territory- really easy to get to. You can park on the man’s farm (there’s a sign on the road for La Cascada) and pay him like $10 or something to go down to the falls. There’s a place to change and snacks for sell. We hiked down. Saw a howler monkey all alone above our heads (Congratulations! It’s a boy!). Brian and Able swam in the falls and talked, while I wandered around looking at fish, studying the ecosystem, and generally being my nerdy scientist self. I’d always rather look at fish than pretend to be one.
We had a nice long talk with Able about living in this area. We’re both really digging it… Dropped Able off, grabbed a few groceries at Mega Super in Puerto Viejo. I couldn’t remember everything I needed for Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican beans and rice), and I didn’t have a cell signal, so we came home and walked down to Super Cocles. The road is just gorgeous, and we even saw white faced Capuchin monkeys in the trees just a few yards from the driveway!! Brian made dinner of chicken, rice, and green beans while I worked and blogged. Internet here is super slow and rather painful… But other than that, it’s Pura Vida!!