Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Terrfying Road, Frogs, Butterflies and Hummingbirds: Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Third Port on the 15 Day Celebrity Millennium Cruise:

Puntarenas, Costa Rica
Monteverde Cloud Forest, Frog Haven, Butterfly Garden & Hummingbirds

When I originally read the description in the Celebrity brochure I was unsure whether or not I truly wanted to book this excursion, bouncing back and forth between other moderately more interesting choices I ended up going with this one. Part of me is glad that I chose this one in the end, but there's another part of me that wished I would've picked a different excursion.

Our trip started with a drive through Puntarenas with an interesting and entertaining talk with Maria our tour guide, then our ascent up into the cloud forest began. Maria informed us that the road had recently been paved just four years ago, but she neglected to mention that not the entire road was paved until we began our journey up the mountain road to Monteverde. I'm guessing that she chose to do so, because if we knew what was in store, some of would've chosen to grab some blind folds or stay back altogether. You see, as we got to the level of the clouds and above, the road narrows and expands with no rhyme or reason and turns into dirt and gravel, and where there used to be a guard rail now just sits a sheer drop off in which the tires of the bus glide precariously close.

Thankfully after the road turned into pavement once again and we were sure that we were out of certain death until our return drive to Puntarenas, we arrive at the frog haven and butterfly garden.

I'm still not entirely sure I was happy with what I chose, but I learned something new and got to see some of the beautiful sites that Costa Rica has to offer. As seen from the Ranario picture above with the giant plaster frog sitting out front, this was not quite what I expected to arrive and see, the building looks small and run down from the outside and the rain (we were there during the rainy season for Central America) just added to the overall effect. Once entering we were turned over to another tour guide whose name sadly eludes me who showed us around the facility, and this was where I was slightly disappointed. The frogs were kept in large terrariums that were set into the wall and many were small small frogs some no bigger than your pinky finger and all were hiding deep within their habitat. It was like a game of Where's Waldo and something I probably could've done myself by going to the Bronx Zoo.

Next our guide took us through a short walk in the rainforest to get to the butterfly's who were in a sort of white tented green house. I was impressed by the amount that they had and certainly by seeing the Blue Morpho and Owl butterflies, something I've never seen before in person and they were quite beautiful, somehow though I still felt a little cheated.

Soon enough it was time to board the bus and go further up the mountain to stop off at a local coffee shop, enjoy a fresh cup of Costa Rican coffee or a cappuccino and a pastry and see some hummingbirds. This is where my opinion on the excursion abruptly changed, once you got of the bus and walked a short path up to the coffee shop, hummingbirds whizzed by you at dizzying speeds and fluttered by the bird feeders, sometimes fighting with one another and rarely sitting still for more than just a few seconds. I could have stayed there for hours just watching and taking pictures, but then my stomach reminded me that I couldn't. I dipped inside and had a freshly made and decorated Costa Rican cappuccino and a yumtastic cinnamon roll that I paid a bit extra for opting to pass on the free corn based pastry offered, as I am not a fan of corn.

Sadly before we knew it, it was time to get back on the bus heading to the, as I like to call it, Oh My God We're Going to Die Road, Maria had the bus pull over where we enjoyed some freshly churned ice cream with milk that came from the local cows that grazed along in the pastures of Monteverde. Then just like happy kids after a long day at the park, we all piled back into our mini bus with ice cream cones in hand and made our way back to the ship.

Fun Fact: The number one source of income for Costa Rica is surprisingly no longer coffee, instead it's eco-tourism.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Monkey's, Iguana's and Crocodiles- Oh My!: Colon, Panama

Second Port on the 15 Day Celebrity Millennium Cruise:

Colon, Panama
Monkey Watch on Gatun Lake

One of my favorite excursions from our cruise has to be the Monkey Watch on Gatun Lake and although it wasn't quite what was described in the original excursion brochure, it was still an excellent adventure.

I have to admit though, I was a bit apprehensive in choosing it at first in fear of having a Jurassic Park moment, you know the part where they drive by the inclosures and see nothing - not the being chased by man eating dinosaur bits. Instead we were greeted by a lush environment that was filled with beautiful flora and fauna and plenty of wildlife to capture with the click of a shutter.

Our first animal to spot was a rather miffed Capuchin Monkey who wasn't entirely thrilled with us encroaching on his turf, he came out shook branches and showed his bravado, then hid back into the trees carefully watching to make sure we retreated. Our next encounter was smoother as two to three monkey's cautiously approached our small grouping of boats and eventually jumped on the canopy to quickly grab some fruit which some fellow tourists had brought with them. It was definitely a cool and unique experience coming so close a wild animal without a layer of fence or netting between each other.

Eventually we left our then well fed monkey friends and cruised along spotting various other animals such as Howler Monkeys high up in the tree tops, Iguanas sunning themselves on lower laying branches (apparently they taste just like chicken according to our excellent and very knowledgeable guide) and a group of baby crocodiles.

Cruising along the lake you also get to see some snippets of the expansion project that is taking place throughout the canal, including the vessel Titan, a mammoth floating crane (before leaving for our trip I watched a program where Titan was used to lift a gate in one of the locks for some maintenance work). Although this was just a mere tiny preview to the grandeur and impressive fete that Panama Canal truly was and still is.

I should also add that our bus ride to and from Gamboa, where we launched our boats onto the Chagres River and crossed over on to Lake Gatun was incredibly informative and interesting. The amount of information learned in such a relative short amount of time is impressive and incredibly interesting, ranging from the history of Panama and the canal to wildlife and present day information concerning Panama.

A couple of interesting bits that I can remember foremost is that the first and only man to ever swim the Panama Canal (something that isn't really a popular sport due to the large amount of crocodiles that reside all along the canal) was Richard Halliburton in 1928 and was made to pay a total of 38 cents in tolls which was based on his body weight.  The amount that a ship pays in tolls on the other hand varies by the type of ship which is passing through and the type of cargo it has, a container ship pays per container, which also varies in amount by the size of the container, whereas a private schooner would pay by tonnage and cruise ship by the amount of staterooms. Another interesting fact was that Panama does not have its own army and in the case that something should happen to the canal, the American Army would be called in to defend it. 

Overall I definitely enjoyed myself and learned a lot both about the animals we saw, the canal, as well as, about the country of Panama itself.

Fun Fact: Panama pays the same price for gas as the US does, as Panama gets its gas from there.