If you want to see spectacular jungle and beach scenery, meet local people, learn about herbal remedies, see lots of wildlife, shop, kick back and relax and don't mind some long van rides on rough roads then this trip IS for you.
Uvi Jenkins was our guide, interpreter, historical, environmental Costa Rican lecturer and baby sitter from Conexiones the local company for Hidden Trails. Uvi said her ancestry goes back to a crewmember on Captain Morgan's pirate ship I felt an immediate connection to her forthright, straight talking manner. Her co-worker was Brian, our driver. He managed to get our luggage and us from the Caribbean to Pacific sides of this Central American country. No small feat given the volcanic mountains that define this country's character. Uvi by the way was the best, most personable riding guide that we have had to date. Extremely organized and very patient with her charges, not to mention her English was excellent.
Our group consisted of Maggie and Al from California, Tom and Franzis from Chicago and Stephie who arrived from Germany. Maggie, Tom and Franzis are all professors. Stephie was a computer nerd like myself. Al has held various jobs from Peace Corp Volunteer, to chef, to most recently ranch-hand on their new property in Texas. He was also our chief storyteller. He made our van rides much more enjoyable recounting the days' activities with hilarious fabrications that left me in stitches.
Our first stay was at the Termales de Bosque hotel, spa and ranch. We spent three nights at this lovely getaway. We rode the ranch horses that were saddled and ready for us each day. The horses were well fed and well mannered. What we found interesting was the Costa Rican custom of trimming the horses' manes and tails down to nothing. A Buckskin, that I got to ride twice, had Pasafino blood lines with wonderful gaits. He could canter almost standing still. He was only 4 years old but wonderfully trained though a little skittish. He didn't like it when I had to lead him across a suspension bridge with the wooden slats just far enough apart so that you could look straight down to the river below. He kept looking down and then looking at me, as if to say "are you crazy?" I was sad to part with him at the end of our stay at Termales.
Our longest riding days were the three from Termales de Bosque. Our Christmas day ride, however, was cut short due to an unseasonable down pour that left us all soaked to the skin and knee deep in mud. One of the guides' horses sunk up to his hocks in mud but was able to get out safely. Franzis entertained us with trick riding. She vaulted onto her horse's neck when it jumped up a muddy ditch. She managed to stay on and get herself back in the saddle! Her other riding trick was galloping up a hill with her girth completely undone, it's ends dragging on the ground. Quite good balance I'd say.
The Christmas rainstorm didn't put a real "damper" on our day, however, since when we got back to the hotel we opted to spend the rest of the day at the natural Hot Springs. The owners of the hotel enlarged the natural pools that form where water, warmed by the Platanar volcano, is forced up from the ground. The pools were beautifully enlarged using the natural stones from the area. Stone paths wind there way through the different pools each with their own temperature. We relaxed our sore muscles, while the rain fell through the lush jungle growth over our heads. There was even a guy to get us drinks. How much better can things get? I tried a local drink made from sugar cane alcohol, lime juice, ginger ale and a pinch of salt. Quite refreshing.
During our rides we saw lots of wildlife. Mostly of the avian sort such as toucans, parrots, hawks, humming birds and lots of other unidentified but beautifully plumed birds. We also saw a couple of sloth in the trees. They move deceptively quickly for an animal that has a reputation for sluggishness. You look away for a minute and they are suddenly much further down a branch than before. We also got to see a 6-foot whip snake fairly up close and personal. Uvi spotted the snake as we rode by. The snake had a brown/black body with a yellow belly. It was amazing because she was in the branches of a downed tree. She reared up her head as we passed as a warning to leave her alone. It made me nervous riding through the woods after that.
We also saw spider monkey's on one day as we rode through the forest. They were rather small and shy with white markings on their faces. They were curious enough, however, to stop and look at us as we passed. I was excited to see a Frigate bird and a horde of gray pelicans while we watched the sunset on the pacific side near the Manuel Antonio National Forest. Add in crocodiles, cormorants, a great patoo (owl), howler monkey's, poison dart frogs and the deadly Ferdilance snake that was killed by the plantation workers where we were riding and you have quite an incredible place to visit.
Probably the most memorable riding day was our beach day. We drove to a plantation on the pacific side. The family owns 600 hectares, or 1500 acres, of land along the coast. They raise cattle, palm oil trees and rice. There are 4 boys in the family and they are currently running thefarm. We met two of the brothers Diago and Adrian. Diago has a degree in finance and works for the government in San Jose making social policy. He was home on "vacation" to help take the tourists out for a ride on the plantation. His brother Adrian was quieter and works solely on the farm.
The brothers tried to get us across a river that was deep, muddy and to my chagrin also home to crocodiles. Maggie was the first to try to follow Adrian down the steep muddy slope. Her horse's legs got stuck in the mud and went down, throwing Maggie head over heals into the water. We all watched horrified since it looked like she was under her horse. Amazingly, she was unhurt just very wet. After that Uvi decided that we should take another route and skip the crocodile infested waters. I was happy with that decision!
We rode through the plantations' Palm Oil trees and down to the beach. We got to gallop to our hearts content on the wide-open, almost deserted beach. We had a light lunch under a thatched roof hut owned by Diago and Adrian's family. After lunch we walked along a dirt road that paralleled the beach. People were living or camping along the road. It was unclear to me if they were migrant workers for the plantation living there, or if they were there on "holiday". The people were obviously very poor by our standards but most were friendly, waving hello and greeting us in Spanish. The most "exciting" part of the ride that day for me was when we had to pass through the pasture that contained a stallion. I was on a half-neutered male horse and the stallion didn't take well to his intrusion on his territory or his mares. I rode circles around Al to keep distance between me and the stallion, much to Al's discomfort I'm sure! Diago finally chased off the stallion so we could make our get-away.
Another day we rode through the jungle with a stop at a waterfall for snacks and a swim. Our guide, who owned the horses, would only let us walk. On a short hike through the jungle, he told us about how to boil everything to make tea to cure anything. I would not be able to identify any of the plants he told us about they all looked the same to me. Some of the plants were poisonous so I think I'll leave the tea making to the experts. Though we were only allowed to walk, it was still a spectacular ride. We spent much of the ride following the course of a shallow river through the jungle and along dirt roads.
On our last day we drove along the Pacific coast and back up over the mountains to San Jose. We were sad to say our farewells to Uvi and the gang. But with luck we will all meet again on another ride, Ecuador perhaps?
Trip Report by Chrissa Pedersen
Dec 23 to 31 2001
Internet Website: http://hiddentrails.com