Friday, September 28, 2007

Volcan Arenal with El Castillo Below

It took me two nights of camping and hiking on top of a mountain (El Mirador, courtesy of in the jungle, in the dark with poisonous snakes and lots of moisture to make this shot, one of only a handful that came out. My Costa Rican adventure has almost come to an end. One last trip today up to La Selva Reserve and Rara Avis (Rare Birds) and then flying back to Los Angeles on Sunday. Chau Costa Rica.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rain on the Brain

The overhead light bulb masquerading as a lamp is a total buzz kill but if I keep my head down its barely tolerable. At 9:20pm I come down stairs from my humble quarters here in Samara and find that the bar and restaurant are closed. The night watchman unlocks the kitchen and then the cooler and hands me a cold Imperial beer and puts his finger to his lips. Shhh. I slip him 1,000 Colones and say thanks. It's been a very, very long day.

It all started way back in Liberia, Guanacaste at 5:00AM this morning. The sound of pouring rain pounding on my roof woke me fifteen minutes before my alarm went off. DAMN! It's been over a week of constant rain but low and behold the rain came to a gentle stop just as I was packing up to set out to meet the driver for the trek down south. Pedro and I grab some baked goods and coffee and are on the road before 6:30. First stop is a small (tiny) town called Guatil where they make hand-crafted ceramics. The rain has me in a horrible mood and I can barely get the shots I need before moving on.

Then we swing through Nicoya and it starts raining again as we head up another bad, muddy dirt road towards Barra Honda National Park to attempt to see the caverns, on the shot list. We arrive at noon and they tell us its gonna be about four hours to get to the caverns, down inside and then back. I hesitate and then say OK. Two guides grab a bunch of thick climbing rope and harnesses for Pedro and I. Then we hoof it about an hour and a half straight up a really bad and muddy dirt trail. I slip and nearly fall about every five minutes and the tripod begins to dig into my shoulder as sweat pours down my forehead and into my eyes constantly. The sound of howling mono congos or Howler Monkeys is eerie and a bit monstrous as we finally reach the top where it levels out, still continuing along a very wet and muddy trail.

Finally we arrive at the main cavern - a big black ominous hole in the ground - that you can't see into. They begin to rig up a bunch of ropes from nearby trees and then pull the rusty hatch off the safety ladder that descends into the depths below. First Jose, one of the guides mounts up with his helmet and head lamp and descends. "Hand over foot," is all he tells me as I begin my decent. The small rungs on this ancient ladder are not only slippery from being wet but now super muddy from the bottom of Jose's shoes. At times the ladder is pressed flush up against the rock and I have to hold onto the outside rails in order not to fall, sometimes skipping two even three rungs. The other guide above belays the line as I head down 20 meters and finaly touch bottom with the opening now a tiny skylight hole above.

We spend two hours down there, sheltered from the pouring rain as I try in vain to get an image that shows the other two guys with their lamps and all of the fine stalagtites and finally I call it off and we head back up, once again into the driving tropical rain. The walk back down was even more treacherous and now the trails are like rivers of mud as the jungle dumps its brown murky slush upon us. It was quite a day and actually put me in a better mood as I stripped down of every piece of clothing at the car, completely drenched. When we hit Samara that evening around 7PM we went straight to a small restaurant near the beach and feasted on fresh mussels and fish fillet smothered in a spicy avocado sauce - possibly the best meal so far. And the pics in the cavern could be some of the best thus far also. Pura Vida.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Costa Rican Cowboy Country

September 17, 2007
Liberia, Costa Rica

After a not-too-comfortable five hour bus ride up from San Jose sitting next to a German exchange student who gave me her blog address and then took it back ("It´s in German")with no end to the pouring rain we arrived at the Libeia bus terminal safely. I´m now sitting at Pronto Pizza where the kid in the kitchen goes out back to fire my pizza in the wood burning oven in this historic building built over a hundred years ago. It's muggy, hot and humid and feels exceptionally comfortable. The only things not antique about this place is the big red Coca Cola machine, the brightly lit television showing first league soccer from Europe and the music coming from the neatly hidden new-fangled speakers - Stevie Ray Vaugh, Lou Reed and now Led Zepplin.

I have no more transport and several shots to nail within the next week before departure. I ask the waitress if she knows anyone with a car that might want to run around with a crazy photographer for a few days. She writes down 'Ronny Centeno' on a little white square piece of paper and tells me to call him in the morning.

After a quick break from the rain it starts up again. Can´t belive I don´t even have a rain jacket... somehow I just haven´t needed one thus far. My personal pronto pizza arrives piping hot as Led Zepplin takes over the stero and is and oh so good. Costa Rican pizza beats Argentina hands down. When will the Argentines step into the 21st Culinary Century and get with the modern food program? There´s more to life than parrilla and pasta.

As I finish the pizza thinking how could this possibly be any better, the waitress waltzess up with a huge platter of cheesecake. "Would you like to try some?" Would I... and its not even my birthday!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Short Tales from the Road

There's a cartoonist who is hard of hearing from Spain staying here at the Hotel Diana in San Jose where I've just returned from the jungle to do some more editing before I hit the Pacific Coast. He is constantly smoking a cigar and is now stocking the communal fridge with cans of beer... many cans of beer.

- The road from Rancho Margot to Monte Verde was washed out so I took a van to a boat, crossed Lake Arenal beneath the active volcano and then went on horseback some a long 30kms to a 4x4 jeep that took us back up into the mountains to the town of Santa Helena. My body is now just beginning to recover.

- When I arrived at Villa Verde Mountain Resort Lodge the group I was meeting was just leaving for a night walk into the jungle to see nocturnal animals in the mist which was almost rain. Just as the rain hit hard, one of the girls in our small group started to feel weak, fell to the ground and began to have a seizure. I'd seen this before, took charge and waited for the paramedics. We put her on a backboard and carried her through the dense wet jungle up to the waiting ambulance and I went with her to the doctors office where the seizure wore off. All ended well and she was up and at 'em the next day... a true trooper.

- Stayed three excellent nights at Rancho Margot just below the Arenal Volcano. They are completely 'off the grid', generating all of their power by a hydro turbine sourced from a natural spring and are just beginning to convert more than a ton of waste material into Methane gas using biodigestors. There's a complete garden, cows, horses, true free range chickens and it goes on and on. One of the coolest organic farms I've seen and maybe the very first Eco Dude Ranch.

- Threw myself off an 80 meter (253 feet) bridge with a bungee cord strapped to myself in perfect swan dive fashion. Judges gave me an 8.5, not bad for a man who is almost 40 years of age.

- Storms continue to pound on us here in Central America and as I topped the Continental Divide, the view of both the Atlantic and the Pacific was shrouded in fog. But the Monte Verde Cloud Forrest Reserve really was spectacularly beautiful.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Kickin' It in San Jose, Costa Rica

So I had to hang back in San Jose for a bit and catch up on editing and processing of over 3000 images, not even 50% of the shoot yet. Today I was craving a hamburger right around lunch time and set out away from the computer and drives looking for such. Went through the Hotel Del Rey, where all the rich, older and single Americans hang out and pick up on readily and available woman painted up and lounging around. Muy caro y aburido.

Then I bumped into Oscar who hangs mostly on the street and who showed me around a few nights ago. He needed a dollar for his first beer of the day. Then rounding the corner onto main pedestrian walkway, I see The Burger Factory and know I must go in. Pretty decent Latin American hamburger with fries and a guanaba fruit drink. After an entertainment news briefing on the television mounted up in the corner of the burger joint on the successful transition for Bow Wow from his start with Snoop in the rap world and now getting a big flash in Hollywood, Woody Allen's 'Purple Rose of Cairo' began, which I really enjoy. First time I saw that was when I was 17 and traveling in France with Brad Carpenter before our senior year of high school. I came back to the hotel and watched the rest of the movie and then took a lazy Sunday afternoon nap.

Now, as I continue to edit and process images, no where near close to being finished, having missed the Bunge Jumping tour this morning (was at the hotel lobby at 8:30AM promptly) Hank Williams wafts from the jukebox from the bar across the street called Nashville, a place where retired older American, Canadians and Australians sit around and get sloshed talking about nothing over double Johnny Walker Red label scotches. It is raining warm and steadily as lighting and thunder boom in the background, a typical afternoon during the rainy season in the tropics.

Forgot how dangerous cable TV is... after 'Purple Rose of Cairo' I caught 'Along Came Mary', most of it, which I had only seen parts of before. I found myself laughing even though its soo stupid. Ben Stiller is so good at playing a complete loser!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Jungle... Finally

I'm finishing my very first beer up here in the jungle, the north Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, a place called Tortugeruo where everyone comes to see the big sea turtles lay their eggs, up close on the border with Nicaragua where hurricane Felix is just about to pounce. It's an amazing three hour boat ride up through these narrow and winding canals that weave their way through the dense lush jungle. Saw a couple of big crocs on the way up but they are so hard to shoot as they hit the water as soon as they hear the motorboat roaring up.

So... I'm finishing my second can of the local Imperial beer at the local bar, the only one I can find with locals in it, chow down on two yummy potato and chicken empanadas with tons of hot sauce, pay the bill and turn around and SMACK, I get shot right between the eyes! I quickly look around and then down at the ground and there's this little kid all of six years of age holding a smoking toy gun wearing a shiny silver sheriff's badge. "What the HELL do you think you're doing?" I angrily ask in a raised tone of voice. "Playing," he answers as he quickly reaches for the dart laying at my feet. I promptly stomp on it, doing my best to stay calm while the stinging starts to subside and tell him if that would have hit me in the eye, I would kill him. "Entiendes?!" He just waits for me to lift my foot, pulls the dart out and runs away, screaming like a banshee.

Ahhh.... the Caribbean Coast!

Wide open beach in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

That's me... with proof that I am actually lugging around the monster Bogen tripod in all of these remote parts. If I bring it, gotta use it, right?

Monday, September 03, 2007