Costa Rica: Puntarenas

The only thing keeping my eyes open as we descend below the cloud deck was the site of San Jose nestled in a deep green valley.

Arriving in Puntarenas

The only thing keeping my eyes open as we descend below the cloud deck was the site of San Jose nestled in a deep green valley. Theresa and I had been up for over 30 hours having left Seattle the day before. And we still have a couple of hours to go before we arrive at our final destination, Puntarenas on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

I had researched every aspect in regards to traveling to Costa Rica; shots, visas, car rentals, customs, etc. What I wasn’t prepared for as we cleared customs and looked for our rental agency was the number and aggression of competitors trying to lure us away. Luckily, that was our only brush with such aggression.

Rental car secured we headed west towards our first objective, finding Villa Guarias. It quickly became evident that driving in Costa Rica was going to take a little getting used to. Passing on the left or right, passing despite double yellow all seemed to be the norm. Did I mention the toll stations? Well, they there…and there…and everywhere. Best be prepared with some local currency.

iNaturist

The hope had been to work with La Tortuga Feliz and their conservation effort with the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. Apparently Mother Nature had other plans as our turtles were on a different schedule this year.

I had somewhat anticipated this and had decided that I would use the application iNaturist to document as many different species while in the Puntarenas area. By the end of the trip, I had logged over 138 different species. You may have noted that I’m already posting short bios of the more interesting ones under featured animals. Obviously, I won’t post all 138 but more like 30 or so.

For those of you who might not be familiar with iNaturalist here’s a short description from their website;

One of the world’s most popular nature apps, iNaturalist helps you identify the plants and animals around you. Get connected with a community of over 750,000 scientists and naturalists who can help you learn more about nature! What’s more, by recording and sharing your observations, you’ll create research quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature. iNaturalist is a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.

What appeals to me is the fact that you can post your findings straight from your phone while in the field. Of course, this is assuming you have connectivity. Often in Costa Rica, I was out of range of any cellular coverage so I’m having to go back and manually enter my data on some of the findings.

timber tracking

The Timber Tracking Project, was originally all set to go forward this spring, but we all know what happened instead; collecting was suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, permits have been cleared for this summer and we’ll be out sampling practicing the best kind of social distancing. Now it’s all about looking at topo maps and choosing collection zones. Follow our updates from the field on twitter.

Puntarenas Past Glory

First known as Bruselas, in colonial times it linked Costa Rican commerce with Panama and South America. A royal order of 1814 initiated improvement of the harbor facilities; and a cart road from San José, the national capital, was opened in the 1840s. Puntarenas was the shipping center for most of the Costa Rican coffee that went to Europe around Cape Horn. Later connected with San José by the Pacific Railway, Puntarenas became an increasingly important port for the export of bananas and coffee and for imports from the West Coast of the United States.

This city is home to over 100,000 residences and sits a peninsula, the width of the town is less than four miles long and a quarter-mile wide, with views of the ocean on either side. Apparently, at one time Puntarenas was quite the tourist attraction. However, it seems that’s no longer the case. Many of the attractions I had read about were closed and in a state of disrepair but the architect is still wonderful to look open and imagine when this port city was the most important commercial port in Costa Rica.

It seems it’s biggest draw is the ferry which will take travelers across the Gulf of Nicoya to the white beaches and parks on the Nicoya Peninsula. The ferry ticket booth was packed with travelers with the line extending around the block.

The only thing keeping my eyes open as we descend below the cloud deck was the site of San Jose nestled in a deep green valley.

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Puntarenas Present Appeal

Things might have been a bit tarnished from days of past glory, but that hardly means Puntarenas isn’t without its charms. What Theresa and I found most appealing was the very fact that it didn’t feel touristy.

True there was a bit of a language barrier since our Spanish is limited, but it wasn’t insurmountable. We both felt it was well worth the trade-off to get this unvarnished version of Costa Rica. It’s also worth pointing out that the people were every bit as helpful and friendly as those areas we visited that were more geared towards an international mix of tourists.

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For all we have in common Theresa and I couldn’t have more different backgrounds. She was riding a horse long before she had a drivers license where I was soloing sailboats offshore. Our first multi-day paddle together she complained that her, “utter wasn’t working”; our first horseback ride I complained I needed a ‘mainsheet and rudder’ to control this beast.

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