Monday 20 March 2023 – As I said yesterday, all good things must come to an end, and so it was with our stay at the delightful Tranquilo Lodge. We had a relaxed schedule (nice change!) so could have a leisurely breakfast before saying our goodbyes.
The Lodge also had some last-minute wildlife for us. All the time we were there, Scarlet Macaws were flying to and from a tree in the far distance, in preparation, Sebastien told us, for mating. This was, sadly, the only chance to see them and we couldn’t get close enough for a decent photo.
A Broad-winged Hawk was a little more obliging.
But we had a couple of gigantic insects on our veranda: a couple of Giant Katydids – each about 4 inches long not counting antennae
and, most impressively, a Dead Leaf Moth, one of the Giant Silk Moth family.
Here it is with a light switch for scale – it was the size of my hand.
So we said goodbye to Sumi and Raj, and Matthew and Jean-Pierre (lovely guys, but expensive acquaintances, these two – discussions with them have simply increased the length of the list of places we now want to visit) and, of course, Sebastien and Christophe.
Our four days at the Lodge were a superb, relaxed, comfortable, enjoyable and good-humoured counterbalance to the intense days that preceded them. Sad as it was to leave, our next destination, the Finca Rosa Blanca in Heredia, beckoned.
Heredia is, like Alajuela, where we stayed on arriving into Costa Rica, a suburb just north of San José, not too far from the airport. Since Drake Bay has its own airport, a flight from one to the other is the logical way to travel between the two. But first we had to endure the road from the Lodge to the airport, which was quite as bad as anything we’d encountered when we were driving ourselves around, But we made it OK, to a very tiny aerodrome,
where we checked in and were given our boarding passes.
There was no air conditioning in the building, but a very hot and humid day was somewhat mitigated by the giant fans in the roof – three of them in total.
We were amused by the manufacturer’s name, which had a distinct Ronseal overtone it it.
Our aeroplane, we discovered, was a Cessna Caravan (C208B for the aeroplane afficionados among you), which flew in and was swiftly loaded with the passengers’ bags.
and we rather informally wandered out to it
and boarded – 12 passengers and the plane was full.
Jane made an inspired choice of window seat, so I brutally dragged her out of it so I could take photos as we went along the 40-minute journey.
Starting along the coast
Over the Quetzal Cloud Forest
A nice view of ridge valleys
Approaching San José
We had to wait a few minutes in San José airport to make contact with the driver who was to take us onwards, but Jane eventually found her and off we went, past an example of a sign I had been wanting, childishly, to take a photo of ever since we’d arrived.
Get your ferrets here! 😉
Yes, I know it’s an ironmongery. It still makes me chortle because I haven’t grown up properly yet.
San José’s main roads are fine, but as soon as you get away from them the surfaces deteriorate alarmingly and we did a fair bit of crater and pothole slaloming as we went along. But we made it OK to Finca Rosa Blanca, which will be our final resting place in Costa Rica; we have two nights here. We were welcomed and checked in in a very smooth and professional fashion and whisked along to our room to settle in.
Thursday 16 to Sunday 19 March 2023 – I’ve been pretty quiet on these pages for a couple of days now. But all good things must come to an end. We have been at the exquisite Tranquilo Lodge for four days and it’s exactly the break from relentless tourism that we required. We have been so lazy we have been getting fan mail from sloths.
Well, there were a couple of exceptions. Principally, we went snorkelling a couple of days ago.
Caño Island is a nature reserve quite close to Drake Bay, and is a very popular snorkelling destination because of its coral reefs and sea life. Jane had made sure that this was included in the schedule that Pura Aventura had put together for us.
I have strong reservations about going snorkelling. I’m not a strong swimmer, and my previous (limited) experience doesn’t enable me to look forward to doing it again with anything other than grave suspicion,
Anyway, we set off. Early, of course. After all, we’re on holiday travelling. Sebastien had arranged a breakfast box for us, so at least we had a pretty decent stab at a meal having got up at 5am. At the appointed hour – 0645 – we walked down to the Lodge’s office, where a juvenile hawk of some sort watched us with some bafflement.
Sebastien appeared, provided us with towels and led us (a couple of chaps also staying at the Lodge, Jean-Pierre and Matthew, were part of this excursion as well as Jane and me) down the road to Pirate Cove where we were joined by a German gentleman, Rainer, and spent a little time waiting for the guy who was going to lead the snorkelling, Federico, to marshal his forces. Once things were ready we walked across the beach to where we were to board the boat. Well, everyone else did. I managed to slip and fall into a stream which ran across the beach, and of course the towels went in as well as me. So they were going to be no use for the rest of the day.
Same like me, really.
Federico was clearly an experienced guide and snorkelling leader, as he gave us clear instructions as to how we were going to get on board and where we were to sit. He made sure we put on life jackets and off we went, via another beach to pick up a French Canadian family who were also part of the activity.
Off we went, on a 45-minute ride to the island. We got to the first of the two snorkelling stops, and once again Federico gave us clear instructions about how he would lead the group, and what to do in the water, such as how to signal that you were drowning or whatever. And into the water we went, in my case bearing an Olympus Tough camera with which to photograph the bewildering plethora of wildlife that I was sure would be there for me to see.
I discovered, as I had feared, that the normal laws of physics which enable people to enjoy bobbing around in the water with masks, tubes and flippers on simply don’t apply anywhere near me. The idea is that everyone should stay as a group, and Federico would tell us what we could see. I find that I can either stay with the group or take a look at what’s going on under the water. But not both at the same time.
The nadir of the experience came when Federico told me that there was a turtle to my right, but I had great difficulty knowing where to look. In fact the bloody thing bumped into me to try to attract my attention, I think. I managed to get a shot of it as it buggered off
but that was enough for me. I realised that I couldn’t stay with the group, I was having great difficulty seeing anything, so my best place would be on board rather than slowing things down for everyone else. So I used one of the gestures that Federico had taught us meant I needed retrieving and the boat came over to get me. Even that was embarrassing, as I couldn’t get my fucking flippers off and they had to help me with that.
After about 45 minutes, the swimmers came back on board and we went to the island’s beach, where there’s a Rangers’ Station
and a short trail
which leads past convenient conveniences up to a viewing platform. It was actually a pretty decent view.
Sea Leopard is the farthermost boat
After a few minutes, it was time to board again, but there were lots of boats with groups of punters and so it was a bit chaotic as everyone juggled for a place in the queue to come in.
but then we were off to board the boat (that’s Federico leading the charge).
I (obvs) decided not to participate in the second snorkelling session, but Federico got everyone else organised with his usual clarity and humour.
I will let Jane take up the narrative at this point…
OK so first off, I should have thought to take Steve’s camera on the second session; but I didn’t so I can’t show you what I saw. I have included stock pictures of the main fish we encountered, though, to give you an idea…
My main problem with snorkelling is keeping my mask from fogging up (I have my own mask with prescription lenses, to allow me to actually see without risking my normal contact lenses). There are as many proposed solutions to this problem as there are snorkellers: specific anti-fog sprays, baby shampoo, dish soap, spit… Federico proffered “Monkey Spit” – a bright green biodegradable soap solution of some kind, which actually worked pretty well, and then it was off into the water.
I enjoy the peacefulness of snorkelling, the sensation of flying, the sound of my own breathing; it has to be said that keeping in a group with other snorkellers, including a couple of charming but excitable kids liable to suddenly kick off in any direction, is maybe not quite as peaceful as I’d like, but anyway… We followed Federico over the coral and rocks, about 2m deep on the first session; tbh the visibility was not perfect but the second session, after the stopover on the Island, was much better (and a little deeper).
We were swimming through shoals of Sergeant Major fish, their gold stripes flashing and shining in the sun, and Scissortail Damselfish curious enough to get close to check us out.
Panamic Sergeant Major Fish
Hiding in the coral were shy Guineafowl puffers, black spotted, yellow and half-and half; and blue Parrotfish gnawing away at the coral with their sharp beaks at one end, and excreting a stream of fine coral sand at the other.
Guineafowl Puffer (yellow morph)
Guineafowl Puffer (black morph)
Garden eels, lobsters, starfish… a grazing sea turtle… From time to time Federico free-dived very elegantly down to show us things of interest on the bottom.
Juvenile Rainbow Wrasse
Despite a few minor stings from jellyfish it was all entirely delightful – but the best sight of all came towards the end. We came upon a massive shoal of Bigeye Crevalle Jack; these are fairly large fish, maybe 50cms long; in the stock picture I’ve included below they are silver when seen from the side, but when seen from above, as we were seeing them, they were an almost translucent pale dove-grey-blue. There were thousands of them, it was a living blue-grey river, flowing, branching, recombining, swirling – a mesmerising and magical sight.
Bigeye Crevalle Jack
And now back to Steve…
The return journey was, unsurprisingly, the reverse of the way out, a 45-minute (more bumpy) ride back to Drake Bay through occasional rain showers. (I took note of the skipper putting his rain jacket on and so followed suit – well, jacket – with alacrity.)
And that was our snorkelling expedition. We relapsed back into total relaxation with only one other brief flurry of activity, when we took a short boat ride out into the bay to see a phenomenon that neither of us had witnessed before – bioluminescence. The conditions, remarkably, were right – low tide and new moon. Our guide was called Abraham (a cousin of our barman Gonzalo (qv) as it turns out) and he took Jane and me and one other couple who were staying at the hotel, Sumi and Raj away from the shore and the lights of the village. Jane and Raj went into the water (I know my limitations, so steered well clear of that prospect) and had a close-up view of the blue pinpricks of light emitted by the plankton as they moved arms and legs in the water. The plankton emit light when stressed, Sumi and I splashed our hands in the water and were rewarded by seeing the light emitted by individual plankton swirling around our hands. I of course tried to photograph it, but there was not enough light and so all I have for it is a series of black frames. It was intriguing to see the phenomenon at work, though.
Those two activities aside, our time here has been spent in blissful idleness with more than a hint of overindulgence. Tranquilo Lodge is good at that.
Sebastien and Christophe sold their very successful catering business in San Francisco and have come to Drake Bay to create an absolute jewel – modest in scale currently but with some plans for future expansion. There are nine villas, each with rooms that are large, comfortable and very well thought-out. The attention to detail is impressive, the service is impeccable (in a relaxed and approachable kind of way) and the food is Michelin-star quality, courtesy of head chef Danny. Much of the food is home produced – they make their own bread, take fruits and vegetables from the gardens and get fish from local sources. They even make their own honey – here is Sebastien proudly showing the latest batch.
Behind the bar is Gonzalo, who does a great job of making the sort of cocktails that Jane loves,
there’s a cat which appears to have adopted the place as his home
and there are many comforting conformations that the place simply oozes class.
I only have one complaint. The route from our villa to the bar is really quite steep.
The restaurant and bar area is at the top of steep hill
but in extremis (e.g. with luggage) there’s a lovely new golf buggy, of which Sebastien is justly proud.
We have to leave tomorrow, which is a bit sad, but which will be good for our waistlines: we normally tend to eat just two meals a day, but Sebastien and Christophe do a good line in selling us on a third. Given the quality of the food, it’s difficult – OK, thus far, almost impossible – to resist.
We have one more destination on our schedule, Heredia, back in the centre of the country near San José. We fly there tomorrow, so please come back and find out how that all went, won’t you?