May 26, 2017

San Jose: Strangeness

Every city has its peculiar features, customs, and parks, and here are our favorite bits of weirdness from San Jose. First off, many stores have a hawker standing outside shouting into a microphone in an attempt to draw people to their store. This was new to us, but not THAT strange. What WAS strange was walking around in the evening and watching two competing butchers shop employees engage in a rap battle about who had the best meat...
 La Sabana park was a nice little green space we walked into one day to stretch our legs and get out of the downtown core. The park itself is very nice with several food vendors, boat rentals, and pony rides. What I found strange was the giant sculpture of a pile of bones in the middle island, without really any signage or context. Luckily, Kathryn was only too willing to have her picture taken in a Hero Pose to commemorate her apparent battle with the beast.
Peculiar to Costa Rica in general (especially in Guanacaste in the north-west) but most apparent to us in San Jose, is their variation of bullfighting. The sport is hugely popular at the end of the year and was literally on the TV of every restaurant we visited and nearly every channel at the hotel.

Now, as you will all know, Kathryn and I are pro-animal in most every way and expected to be appalled by Costa Rican bullfighting, but instead became utterly hypnotized by it. Before you judge, here's rule #1 (and pretty much the only rule):
1) Nobody is allowed to hurt the bull.
In each event, a bull (who is admittedly hungry and has a rope around his midsection to make him grumpy) is ridden into an arena where he inevitably bucks off his rider. Then dozens and dozens of people (who are PAYING to be in there) try to get his attention and somehow earn fame in the process. We saw "winners" being given groceries and whatnot, but many people apparently do it for the thrill. Eventually, when the bull is bored of chasing people around and starts to tire, people on horses lasso and remove it. Bulls that perform well are brought back year after year and generally have a far better life than Canadian beef cattle.

May 24, 2017

San Jose: Sights

 San Jose is home to a number of very pleasing and impressive buildings, we would be remiss if we didn't spend a little bit of time showcasing our favorites. The National Museum of Costa Rica is housed in an old military barracks, which still bears the bullet holes of the civil war in 1948 (as an interesting aside, after the civil war, the victors disbanded the army and Costa Rica has never reinstated a military force since) We tried to visit this museum several times in our stay, but its hours are not posted and it turned out to be closed the entire time we were there, but the grounds are quite striking.
 There are 3 main cathedrals in the downtown core, along with several smaller churches, but the Iglesia Nuestra Senora de la Soledad is my personal pic to share with everyone. Not only is it a beautiful building, but I find the state of Mary standing on an aircraft propeller to be both interesting and confusing. If anyone can find any information about this statue, please let us know.
 The National Theatre is right downtown as well, with an easy opportunity to poke your nose inside and have a look around. Started in 1891, it took 7 years to complete, and adds a touch of European style to the area. All of these buildings are conveniently located in the downtown core and you can easily see them all in a single walk.

May 22, 2017

San Jose: Streets

 When we visited Ecuador in 2011, we both really liked the city of Quito and found we didn't have enough time there. So when going to Costa Rica I thought we should have a few days in San Jose at the end, hoping for a comparably gorgeous city..

It made sense to ask our guides about the city and what to do there, so I was a bit worried when Mario said he couldn't stand San Jose and spent as little time there as possible. Ok, that was fair, he was from the countryside and maybe just didn't like the big city. I was a bit more worried when Nico, who lives in San Jose, said he didn't really like it much....

uh oh.
 San Jose is the capital and main city of Costa Rica, with over a million people commuting in to work daily. This creates a bustling and busy city and a total nightmare for traffic congestion. Fortunately, there are several pedestrian corridors throughout the downtown area, and several covered markets. There are tons of illegal vendors selling DVDs and clothes in the streets while the markets reminded us of the bazaars of Istanbul and were fun to explore (so long as you kept your distance from the butcher shops at the back).
 Several of the downtown plazas are centered on churches and public squares, which offer nice views from the surrounding restaurants. On our last night there, a huge flock of hundreds of small parrots swarmed into the trees of this square and industriously began stripping many of the leaves from the palms.
We have covered some of the museums already, and will give some attention to some of the other attractions in the city, but would advise future travelers to allow a day or two at most for San Jose and spend the rest of your visit in the countryside.

May 17, 2017

Indigenous Stonework

 We recently wrote about the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum and the very otherworldly feeling that the artwork of the indigenous Costa Rican people had, and I wanted to follow that discussion up with a handful of pictures of stone sculpture by the same people to further illustrate how awesome and unique their style and cultures were. First off, nearly all of their standing objects had three legs; both their food jars/pots and the stone benches which were the pride of the warrior class. After a lifetime of four-legged chairs, they just seem the most natural and stable way to build, but these people carved tripods for most of their needs for centuries.
 Next up, this brazer in the form of a crocodile. We saw many pieces with this strange motif on the head design and never REALLY understood why it was so prevalent and popular, other than being an amazing piece of work. One bit of text did elaborate that their artists would obsess on a single defining feature for many animals and reduce the prevalence of most other body features down to next to nothing. In the case of the crocodile, it was the ridges down the back which their artists chose to express at the cost of all else. I don't get it, but I really liked these "chainsaw lizards" whenever I saw them.
 I wanted to end with this piece since its the only one I've shared which is representative of a human being and would indicate how the people saw themselves. Warriors were a common theme of sculptures in human form, so we can assume this might have been a famous warrior or hero. It was very popular in their art to depict warriors with severed heads, which must have been bragging rights and symbols of power, but this piece does not include any.

May 4, 2017

Scarlet Macaws

 We hoped to see quite a few parrots, parakeets, and macaws in Costa Rica, but nothing quite prepared us for how many Scarlet Macaws there were to see in Corcovado. The picture below was taken from the roadside on the drive to our lodge. We had already seen quite a few caracaras, owls, toucans, and other birds on the way up and were all scanning for other neat sightings. I looked out across a field and my brain couldn't really reconcile all the red shapes in the green trees, but was able to process the statement "Are all of those Macaws? Can we stop?" This picture doesn't even capture them all as there were at least 2 dozen in the area.
 They are stunning birds up close, and in Corcovado they are entirely fearless of people so we were able to walk right under some of the trees they were sitting in and take incredible pictures and portraits of their features and feathers. Costa Rica is so lush and green in every direction that a bird this red just leaps out at you and is even more stunning than you would expect. While most of us have seen unfortunate captive birds, nothing can prepare you for how gorgeous they are in the wild.
 Far from being an isolate incident, we saw dozens and dozens of macaws in Corcovado at all times of the day. Frequently when we were hiking along a pair of them would flash overhead in a flurry of all the colours of the rainbow. We never once got tired of seeing them or felt that we had enough pictures...

May 1, 2017

White-Faced Capuchins

 Of the four species of monkey we saw in Costa Rica, the white-faced capuchin were simultaneously the most bold, the most common, and the most expressive. We saw them on both coasts in sizeable troops that are more then eager to test the limits of what they can get away with around humans and hopefully steal a few bananas in the process.
 Being very curious and fearless around people, they would frequently come down to eye level to look for unattended picnics, which made them excellent subjects for portrait photos. At Manuel Antonio beach, where all of these pictures were taken, they were such a problem that our guide Mario spent the entire time we were there just keeping an eye on our bags to make sure we left with everything we had arrived with.
 Like many primates, they have developed some rudimentary tool use, including throwing stones or swinging sticks as weapons against snakes as well as using seasonal plants for medicinal purposes to repel insects and for antiseptic needs. Similar to people, all this thinking can leave them knackered out in the hot Costa Rican sun and in need of a nap like this guy.

April 28, 2017

Costa Rican Crabs

 With its long and varied coasts, I was not surprised to see quite a few crabs in Costa Rica. What did surprise me was the number of crabs we saw out of the water and far from moisture on many of the hot days down there. This hermit crab was clinging to the side of a tree in the Caribbean rainforest quite a distance from any bodies of water.
 Tougher still, there were dozens of these small hermit crabs on the beach in Corcovado looking for open coconuts to eat. Even early in the morning I was sweating up a storm just walking along that beach in the hot sun, but they were quite active in their search for food and eager to provide some fantastic macro photography options.
 We saw this small crab in the trees of Cahuita and I was surprised to learn that it lives only in the brackish waters along the seaside, but if placed in the ocean would likely die. We have seen many crustaceans in and alongside the ocean in our various travels and around Vancouver, but I was very impressed by their assault on the land in Costa Rica.