Monday, March 26, 2012

Decompressing!

Most of the time it takes a while to transition back into reality after traveling.  It's like decompressing in scuba diving.  Come up to fast and the senses get overloaded.   The poorer the country, the longer it takes, to decompress.   It's a reverse culture shock.

Arriving into Atlanta airport, I found myself at first glued to the news channel. Trying to catch up on what the top stories are.    Then after ten minutes, I found myself next to people reading books, where I couldn't hear or see the television.   American news channels are way too dramatic and overkill for someone coming from a slower paced lifestyle.  It totally kills the zen and travel high.

Stepping off the plane in Alaska, put my body into another type of shock.  In Panama it was hot, humid, and tropical.  In Anchorage it was 10 degrees and five feet of snow.   Since being back, everyone has been telling me how we are 3 inches short of breaking the all time record for snow fall where I live.   So people are in this false high about snow.  Just because they want to experience a record year. Four more inches and struggling through a tough winter will be worth it to them.   Give them something they can brag about later.

When I return from a trip, you will find me glued to my chair at my computer, going through  my photos and working on the best ones to add to my website.   Once I upload them, I get my final decompression. I can finally relax not having to worry about losing my memory card, having it stolen, or broken.

Besides traveling,  looking through my photos is my favorite time.  It's always great to relive your trip.  It's one of the reason I love photography.  Capturing memories that last forever.    

At the moment I have added my favorite pics of my trip.   I hope you take a chance to look at my Central America Album on my website.   Hopefully it motivates you to book your own adventure.  Or better yet, purchase a print or two ;)    Click on this link.     http://www.brianmontalbo.com/p102134216 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

End of the Road

I haven't posted any blogs in a long time.  One, I hit the home stretch of my trip and have been so busy, trying to see everying.   Two,  I have been so exhausted at night to stay awake long enough to write anything. I would start then start nodding off.

 I'm heading home in one day and will catch up on some of the stunning places I visited, Corcovado, Bora del Torro, Panama,  and  my adventurous trip out to photograph the Kuna Indians, which took me past protests and blockades against the governement. 

I am also looking forward to adding photos from my trip to my blogs.  Bring some justice to the amazing places you can travel to in Central America. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Recalculating! Heading down the Coast of Nicoya Peninsula.







            Montezuma

 Ferry from Paquera to Puntarenas
Having a rental car gives you ultimate freedom.   Having a GPS device in your rental car gives you peace of mind.  With the both I was locked in on seeing as much of Costa Rica  as possible, in the little time I was going to be in the country.   

  I started most days  punching a location into the GPS, then deciding on route to change directions and head another way.   My GPS was busy announcing that it was "recalculating."   "Travel 200 yards and then make a U turn."

For a small country, Costa Rica is surprisingly easy to get disoriented in, even with a GPS.     The roads meander about.  When you come to an intersection, non of the roads are labeled.  A few signs here and there, let you know you are heading in the right direction, but for the most part you have to rely on your own navigation and driving skills.



Peninsula Nicoya is located on the northwestern section of Costa Rica.    It's dry and flat, and has amazing beaches that stretch it's entire length.    If you want to get away from resorts and tours, head along the Pacific coast to  Montezuma  and you are guaranteed a fun adventure.  

I hit the Pacific Ocean at Playa Grande near Santa Rosa.   Walking out on the beach there were more turtle tracks than people.  The entire west coast is nesting grounds for the hard shelled sea animals.  

To give females privacy to lay their eggs, it was posted not to walk along the beaches at night.   Harassing them will cause them to abandon laying their eggs.    Though I'm not sure how much these rules are enforced.   The locals dig up the eggs and make a soup with them. they believe it makes them better in bed. 

 If you are a surfer,  the road south along the coast is lined with surf breaks.   The roads are mostly dirt, there are few towns,  you need 4WD to cross rivers, so it's the place to be if you love road trips and camping on the beach.   It doesn't feel like Costa Rica at all. 

When you do come across a beach that is stunning you just pull off the road, drive your car up to the waters edge,  get out and dive into the surf.  This kind of travel is more enjoyable then for me than, racing around in big cities. 

For the  majority of my life, I was traveling in a preset destination.  Just like riding chicken buses, through most of Central America.   I had no choice in which direction I could go, just packed in with everyone else and all heading like farm animals to a set destination.

 Sea turtle tracks

Driving my own car through Costa Rica is how I'd rather live life.   I get to choose my path and choose how long I want to take to get here.   If  I had a GPS with me at all times, it would constantly be saying, "recalculating."

Friday, March 9, 2012

Exploring the Cloud Forest of Costa Rica.












I've only been in Costa Rica about 3 days, but I'm already getting the sense that I'm 15-20 years too late.   I'm having a blast racing around in my rental car.  But I would give that up in a second, and walk to these places,  if I could see them before they were overcrowded, overpriced, and overdeveloped.

But in today's world, beauty means big bucks.   And like the exotic animals that live within the forests, foreign investors are spending lots of money to capture a slice of heaven for themselves.

Don't get me wrong the cloud forest of Costa Rica, is a beautiful beautiful place.  The moss growing on the trees, the clouds rolling through the canopy, and the amazing biodiversity of the place is mind boggeling. 

Thanks goodness the Quakers who bought the land, were graceous enough to turn it into a reserve and not cut down the forests  like the lower hillsides.  Biologists are still discovering new species and learning more and more about the place every year.    Nights can be a bit nippy, so dress warm. 

Since people will visit Monteverde, no matter how crowded it will get, I recommend one place you can't miss, besides hiking in the forests.   While in the town of Monteverde head to the The Bat Jungle. www.batjungle.com

If you want to learn something about an animal that most people don't care about. Pay the price of a tour and spend about and hour being completely blown away with facts and info about bats and their importance in our world. Our ignorance as a civilization, will someday be our down fall.  Plus toucans like to land in the trees across the street from the place. 

I would love to have spent more time exploring the forest around Monteverde and Santa Elena, but after two days in the area, all the billboards, buses,  shops, and expensive tours,  were starting to kill my travel buzz. and eat at my travel budget. Since, there was no place for me to escape the crowds.  I needed to leave the place, to the cruise line mentality, and make my own tracks somewhere.  

Looking at my map,  my sights were set on the endless beaches and dirt roads of Nicoya Peninsula.  I am heading back to the blue Pacifc Ocean. 




Monday, March 5, 2012

Photographing Volcano Poas

video
Not far from San Jose lies an active crater, called Volcano Poas, that is so cool to look at that it doesn't seem real.  It's a huge crater,  with a jade colored crater lake, and white puffy steam rising from it.  Surrounding the destruction from recent lava flows, is a lush rain forest.

Similar to Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua, you can walk right up to the crater edge and look down into a smoking fuse.  But that's where the similarities end.   Masaya really looks like the gates of hell,  with it's polychrome ash, dry surroundings with no vegetation,  and belting gases, that burn your eyes and throat.  Poas looks more like a open mine gravel pit, with a colorful lake, dug into a lush rain forest. 

Just getting to Poas National Park, is worth the journey.  The view along the drive is amazing.   If you have a rental car, then it's even more fun, speeding along the windy road, in a manual.   As the crow flies, it's not very far from the metropolis of San Jose, Costa Rica, but you feel far away, since the road seems to keep climbing into the clouds and takes you along a million s turns.   Along the way passing beautiful houses,  farms, and coffee plantations.    

As I drove my rental car up from San Jose, I could see a cloud layer at the top.  But not having to hike to the top like I did on Conception, I was going to wait all day at the top, if I had to, to see it clear.  I had seen pictures of  Poas and wasn't going to leave Costa Rica till I photographed it.  

After parking my car,  I  hiked up the short path to what looked a viewpoint of the crater.  But it was more like looking at a white curtain.  I was a little disappointed.  The clouds were so thick I wasn't sure if it would ever clear. You couldn't see ten feet in front of you. But I was determined to photograph this volcanic crater, so I found a nice place to sit and I just waited. 

 I learned from my mistake on Conception that patience gets rewarded.  And so there I was, tripod and camera ready, waiting for the crater to clear,  like some paparazzi, waiting for Brad and Angelina to show up. 

Tourists came,  mumbled in frustration and then left, most didn't wait more then 5 minutes.   I am used to sitting and waiting for a photo.   I've sat and waiting many of times, waiting for a photo.  If it's for a sunset,  animals, or weather.    If I was in a city people would probably ask if I needed some help or looking for a place to stay.  

Finally, I was watching a lone German standing at the edge,  looking out at the clouds. He walked back and forth with a frustrated, "this can't happen. I must see this crater." Look to his face.  The volcano gods must have felt more sorry for him then me, because I could tell by the sounds he started to make that his wish was granted.   Ah..... aaahhahhhh...... ahhhhhhhhhhhh...... I couldn't tell what he was saying, but by his little dance, I knew the crater must be clearing. Either that or he had ants in his pants. 

So I got up from seat  and walked to the edge.  Sure enough, you could now just make out the crater lake at the bottom.  Even that much was exciting, since up till then I might as well sat close to a TV and stared at the static snow on the screen.

It took less than five seconds, and the whole crater was clear, as if curtains were pulled back from a show.   The German yelled to his friends who were walking slowly up the path, but now were in a full out run.   I snapped a few pics, seeing the next clouds blowing in.   Those who managed to see left happy, those to slow to make it were  disappointed.

Once again, all you could see was a blank canvas.  I sat and waited, and watch the same rhythm.   A crowd showed up looked around disappointed and then left.  I told a few people that it was just clear, so they hung around. 

This time it took about 20 minutes, before the crater started to take shape again.   The more clear it got, the louder people yelled.  It was entertaining.   It was no different than  a sporting event.  As the clouds cleared people cheered and  exhaled in pure euphoria. Some practically clapping in joy.   The build in drama made the view so much more interesting

For every clear crater came the incoming clouds. And the show was over.  At one point a person yelled as the clouds were closing in, "Quick, add some more quarters to the machine," Everyone laughed.

I hung around the crater for a good two hours.   Waiting for my moment to get the photograph. It's the reason I travel alone most of the time.  It allows me to take my time.    When I do capture, a great photo of something,  it's always more fun, if I had to earn it.

Finally, I got what I was hoping for and the roof lifted from the surrounding area.   Blue sky was everywhere,  and I got my photograph of the Poas Crater.   It was worth the wait.


Friday, March 2, 2012

Hiking Nicaragua's Volcano Concepcion.

video
As soon as I arrived on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, the two towering volcanoes that form the island, fueled my sense for adventure. I had three days on the island, and wasn't going to leave till I hiked at least one. As soon as I looked up at Concepcion, still smoking at the very top, I had already made up my mind which one I would hike.

I've always enjoyed hiking volcanoes. For some reason, it's a bit more exciting than hiking a normal mountain. So when ever I get a chance to hike one, I jump at it. Especially if they are still active.

I've hiked a good amount of volcanoes, during my travels and love spending time exploring them. From Kilimanjaro 19,320 ft, Mt. Cameroon, 13,500 feet, Novarupta in Alaska, Kilauea on the big Island of Hawaii. My Mom tells me about a time, when I was young ,where I threw a huge temper tantrum because my parents wouldn't let me climb some volcano, we passed while sailing off the coast of Hawaii. So I guess I never have grown up.

I did some reading about hiking the two volcanoes. Maderas is the smaller more accessible volcano to hike. Traveling along muddy trails, it takes about 8 hours to get to the beautiful crater lake and back.

Concepcion is a more "serious" 10-12 hour hike, up step volcanic rocks. The way up would be hot, the top would be cold, and the decent dangerous enough to claim hikers lives. Conception is also still steaming, the last eruption happened only years ago.   


I've always loved pushing the envelope when traveling. I've always maximized my experiences, so there was no way I wasn't going to attempt Concepcion.

Morning came fast, I was picked up at 5:30 am at my hotel, by my guide, which was mantatory, and taxi. The horizon was just getting light.

The hotel I stayed at, had no food I could buy,  to take with me on the hike, so we had to wake up some poor woman who owned a street market, with chickens running all over. It didn't have much of an option. So my only choice was to buy 10 bread rolls and two small packages of cookies. It would have to do.

The first mile of the hike is a flat walk through farms, getting my legs warmed up. The closer to the volcano I got, the more adrenaline started pumping. I started sizing the volcano up like some big guy in a bar, that I was about to fight. Trying to figure out if you can take him down.

Howler monkeys were everywhere in the trees. More than I have seen anywhere else. They were howling away, like a crowd cheering on a fight.

By the time we reached the volcano's base, the very top of Concepcion was clear, teasing us. Looking up at the top seemed so far away, a tiny part of me, deep down in my brain wanted to tuck my tail between my legs and turn around. But the adventurous side said,  "fuck it, bring it on."

The first part is pretty gradual. You walk through tall trees and lush rain forest. You enjoy the bit of shade you get, since it doesn't last long. Once you get above the 400 meter mark, the intense heat from the sun, beats down on you. You have nowhere to hide.

The hike only gets harder. There is no switch backs up Conception, rather you just climb your way straight up the volcano, like stairs on a Mayan temple. At times you almost have to rock climb.

Half way up we stopped to soak in the view, catch our breath. In the distance, Maderas's top was blanketed in clouds, so I knew there was no hope in the top of Concepcion being clear anymore. I didn't care, I was actually looking forward to reaching the cooler cloud layer.

About 4,500 feet we reached the blowing cold cloud layer, it felt great. At this point the clouds coming in from across Lake Nicaragua, smash into the tall volcano and thrust up and over the top.

Just before the top we stopped, at the last little flat section, where we could hide from the wind. We waited for about an hour, hoping the clouds would lift and let us enjoy the amazing view.   I pulled out by bread rolls and began eating. A fat rat soon appeared, his face cute like a mouse. We shared lunch together.   

I would have loved to have just hung out on the top till the clouds cleard, which they had been doing in the afternoon, but my guide was starting to get cold.  I gave him my rain jacket to keep him warm, but it wasn't helping much.  He looked at me like I was crazy,  having my shirt off, he didn't understand what cold really was. 

It didn't take long to make it to the top, once we continued.  There isn't much room at the top to celebrate.  It dead ends right into the drop off into the crater.   I could only picture the hellish looking scenery below me.  The rocks were very hot to the touch and even with the strong winds, I could smell sulphu. In reality we were standing on a ticking time bomb. At any minute this thing could blow, with the power of a nuclear bomb. We didn't stay at the top any longer than to take a few photos.


The loose ash made it easy to slip on the volcanic rocks. It would have been nice if the side was just a sandy ash, then you could run down it like a sand dune. But it wasn't it was hard lava rocks, scattered about, which made you have to focus on where you stepped. Most accidents and deaths, in mountaineering, happen on the way down.

Just a few years ago, a guy slipped and fell to his death, while decending from Concepcion.  So I was very careful on the way down.

By the time I got to the bottom my quads were turning into jelly. I was glad to be down.  As soon as I arrived to the bus stop on the main road,  I turned around and looked back up from where I came.   The clouds began to lift before my eyes. And then the top became clear.  I laughed and said outloud, you little bitch.  The guide laughed as well.   The volcano gods were messing with us.

I arrived back to the hotel, my legs covered in volcanic ash. The bartender asked me if I turned back half way because I was back so soon. I said, hell no.   I had already gone to the top and back.  Three hours to go up waited for an hour, to see if it would clear, then took  two to come down.  "Oh, muy rapido"