Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cambodia - 2014


Thank you for visiting my blog.  The Observation and Summary  section of the blog will list some of the helpful information as well as some suggestions if you plan to visit.  The next section Our Journey will make you go through the experience that I had in this wonderful country with me.

Observations And Suggestions

Visa andHotels

The Visa On Arrival is easy but remember to bring the passport size pictures.  Also good crisp dollar bills.  If the bill is little bit torn, dirty or something written on them, no one will accept it.
Palace @ Phnom Penh
If you have a chance to book a tour guide, my suggestion is to book a guide for the whole day (approx. $30).
The US Dollar is accepted everywhere but have some Riel for smaller changes.
Not all of the hotels in this part of the world has elevators, so if you are physically challenged to climb the stairs, check with your hotel before you cough up the money.

Tuk Tuk 101

Tuk Tuk’s are the best mode of transportation where you can enjoy the local scenes.
Tuk Tuk’s are pretty inexpensive so don’t pay big bucks to stay in the city center, you can stay closer to the place also.  From here, you can take a nice walk to the center and ride the Tuk Tuk back for a few bucks.
You can negotiate the price of the Tuk Tuk price.  Do your research or ask your hotel, how much certain rides will cost before head out.
The poles at the side of the road carry a lot of cables and not sure how they figure out the problem ones to fix.
If you are tight on time, get a Tuk Tuk and don’t rely on the bicycle.

Other Info

You can get your bus tickets or mini-bus tickets in your hotel or in restaurants.  You can ask them how much the mark up is and you ask around before committing to buy the ticket.  Also, make sure that the bus company picks you up from your hotel for free.
Angkor Sunset
Siem Reap Sunset
If you live in a place where there’s a beautiful sunset or you don’t care for a sun set, my suggestion is not spend time going for the sun set in Siem Reap because there’s no nice background or anything.  It is like climbing a hill to see a sun set.  Don’t take me wrong, it is beautiful.  But I would rather spend time visiting temples than climbing up the hill to see the sun set.  There is no temple or Angkor background for the sunset.
If you are white guy, you will be getting a lot of attention from the local ladies…not sure whether they are serious or joking around with the white guys asking them to take to America.  Nothing vulgar or indecent, fun to watch them joking around.
The road trip between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is not as bad as I feared or depicted in the forums.  It is a decent road for the developing country.
Food near the temples are decent but expensive.
Cambodians have found very innovative ways to use their motor cycles.  They anything and everything to their two wheelers and I was hoping to see the Airplane being towed by a two wheeler but it didn’t happen…other than this different type of carts and attachments were hitched to their motor cycles.

You have to pay for the rest rooms in the Angkor War temple as well as in other temple areas.  So have some Cambodian Riel handy.

Strange things

All of the check-in counters for the international travel open just two hours before the flight.  While waiting in the line to drop in the bag, one of my friends from WalMart days (25 years back) recognized me and started talking to me.  I still can’t remember him:-(. 
The immigration official at the departure counter was yelling at a Chinese guy for not having the departure card and when I presented my stuff, he was asking for tips so I paid a couple of dollars as tips for the kick of tipping an immigration officer…:-)

Our Journey

Arriving at Phnom Penh

The VOA is quick and easy.  You fill out the visa (available on the side desks or on the counter that states “Visa Applications” - the left most counter), attach a passport size picture and drop off with your passport.  A bunch of guys sitting behind the counter go through your application and the officer at the right most area will call out your name.  You go there to pay the visa fee and collect your passport.  It all takes about 15-20 minutes.
We were hungry and tired, so didn’t want to haggle with the taxi guys, so got the taxi in the airport.  The going price to the city is $12, since we are 5 people we had to pay $3 more.  It is better than taking two taxis for two Tuk Tuks.  You may be able to save a bit if you could walk out of the airport and get a taxi from the road (not sure how much but we didn’t do it).  Took about 45 minutes to get to the hotel.  The first thing that I notices was that there’re not horn or honking sounds even though there’re a lot of chaotic traffic and the second thing is that the
Cambodian made use of their two wheelers for a lot of different purposes (from Tuk Tuk to mobile stalls). 

Walking Around Phnom Penh

Walked around the Royal Palace area while trying to figure out where to get the mini-bus tickets for the next day to go to Siem Reap.  Even though the google map didn’t take us the place to buy the ticket (may be the place is closed now), we walked around some interesting areas where a lot of monks were staying and around the local market.
The food in Cambodia is relatively inexpensive and we were able to buy the tickets for our trip in a stand near the restaurant.  So don’t hunt for the particular bus company office to buy the ticket, you could find the ticket booth in most of the shops and you could get the ticket in the bus company that you are interested (it is cheaper than what you could get from your hotel).
Walked to the night market along the Mekong river and enjoyed the very lively atmosphere there - about 20 people were dancing on the sidewalk with music blasting with some tourist joining them.  Visited the night market where someone was playing music on the stage and a bunch of T-shirt & typical night market shops around.  Took a Tuk Tuk back to the hotel for $2.

Visiting the Killing Fields

Prison S21 - School Converted to Prison
Locks for the Legs in the Prison
We took a Tuk Tuk to the Killing Fields museum and we paid about $17 for more than half a day trip.  The museum is very basic and none of the original buildings survived but being in the same place where thousands of the Cambodians executed was eerie.  I think that everyone should visit this place to understand what happened in this place which is right in the middle of the farmlands.  The thought of “it is better to kill dozens than let one criminal get out in case of doubt” is very dangerous and we all think that it’s reasonable to think that way but it led to killings of thousands just in one prison cell.  The S21 was a school but this school was converted into a prison where each class room is made into smaller cells and walls broken to connect each room.  Couldn’t believe that this went on for more than 3 years.  Only 7 people out of this prison walked out alive and all others were executed.  Must see place in SR.

The Bus Trip to Siem Reap

The mini-bus has a free pick up from the hotel and the mini-bus left on time.  The trip was not bad at all given that we were sitting on the very last row in the bus.  The roads are reasonably maintained and because of the new road construction, it was bumpy part of the way.  We arrived within 6 hours and the hotel, Gold Temple Villa, sent a car to picks up.  The hotel ambience at the check out area is really good but the rooms are basic.  Cambodians are really friendly people.  We made arrangements for a Tuk Tuk and a bicycle to go to Angor Wat for the Sun Rise to Sun Set.  But forgot to book a guide for the day.

Bike ride to Angkor Wat

Tough riding the bike early at 430am and keeping up with the Tuk Tuk in which my family was riding with the old basic bicycle (no gears). Whenever I braked, the bike was making a huge noise and whenever the bike started to speed, the back wheel started to wobble.  When you are entering the temple, choose the left side entrance and stay there to see the view of the temple at sun rise.  Our luck, it was cloudy and there’s no beautiful view we saw in the pictures.  

Angkor Wat 

Looked for the guide and hired someone to guide us in the Ankor Temple for $20, and the tour lasted for 90 minutes.  The guide is decent but not great, so please get a guide from your hotel if you can.  It was interesting to see a room where clapping the hands or any other noise generate echo but only if you beat your chest and that noise makes echo.  Also, the sound of “Om” echoes but no other word makes the echoing noise.  There is a belief about the center of the universe that exist inside the Angkor Wat.    
The reason for the steps are are steep in Angkor Wat and in another temples in this area is that the devotees need to go up to pray to the god by touching the ground and they shouldn’t walk standing straight up.  Walked around the temple and enjoyed the sculptures beautifully done and one interesting thing is that the Hindu epic Ramayan is everywhere but no sign of Mahabharatha.  The Ramayan war scene statues are every wall.
The Tuk Tuk driver agreed to take me in the vehicle for additional $2, so we parked the bicycle nearby.  The Angkor South gate is very impressive and the Bayon temple has a number of similar faces in its temple.  Whose faces are those is a question for which no one knows the answer.  After touring a few more temples in the South Gate area, we headed to the Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset.  There are a few cops there who asked us whether we needed my parents to go in the motor bike to the top of hill.  We decided to walk and it’s a good 30 minute walk up hill.  Phnom Bakheng  was very crowded and hardly any place to sit but the view from there is average and the sunset is nothing great.  If I go there again, I won’t make the trip for the sunset.
Arch walkway just with stones
After collecting the bike, rode the bike back to the hotel.  Not bad riding back because the Tuk Tuk couldn’t go faster because of the traffic so I was able to cope up with the speed.  If you are getting a bike from your hotel, check the locks before leaving the hotel.  The lock in my bike didn’t work.  Made a deal with the driver to pick us up to go to the floating villages the next day.

Trip to the Floating Villages

There’re a lot of marriage pandals on the way to the floating village.  The Tuk Tuk driver was punctual and we made arrangement to meet him away from the hotel because we didn’t want him to get into trouble with the hotel for making separate arrangement with us.  When we stopped to take the picture of the marriage pandal, we were invited for the wedding.  The country side roads are decent and it’s beautiful greenery.  To go to the floating villages, there is mud road detour where there’s a guy sitting in a check post kind of a setup to collect the money for the boat and was issuing tickets.  Initially, he asked for $15 per person and at the end we bargained for $35 for all of us five people.  
Commuting to School
Our Tuk Tuk got stuck in a couple of places on the way to the boating dock, the boats are pretty basic and we got in the boat thinking that the may get stuck somewhere.  There were a bunch of guys standing in the water to fish and didn’t find a lot of fishing boats in that area.  We told the boat person not to stop in any shops and when he stopped, we didn’t get down so that’s the first and last shopping stop.  Saw very small children rowing the boat by themselves to go to the school.  In that remote corner n the floating village, there’s a huge pagoda.  After going for the ride for about 90 minutes, we came back to the dock to see our Tuk Tuk driver missing but the Tuk Tuk was there.  There’re a number of local guys in the dock area were looking for our driver and he was in the river fishing.

Remember Where Your Vehicle is

On the way back to the town, i struck another deal with the driver to extend the Tuk Tuk rental to take
around the big circle of the temples in Angkor for additional $14.  After having lunch, we spent the afternoon visiting the temples in the big loop area.  We visited Preah Khan temple at the end and our driver wanted us to remember the gate where we are entering from because a number of people forget where their vehicle is parked and spend a lot of time.  I was thinking that he’s kidding but he was not because we found a girl in the temple trying to figure out where she parked her bicycle.  We visited this huge temple at the end and after 5pm, so there’s no one there. Being in the 1000 year temple, where trees are grown over the structures, was strange.  All tired when we headed back to the hotel.
We were trying to eat in the hotel but the restaurant was closed because someone working in the restaurant was getting married, so everyone left for the wedding party.  Since everyone was tired, I picked up food for everyone before heading out to the night market.  The night market is filled with massage places and every other shop was a massaging shop.  The lanes are zig zag and I completely lost my orientation and had to ask someone for direction to get back to my hotel.

Bye Bye Cambodia

Woke up pretty late in the morning and relaxed in the hotel room before getting the complimentary massage from hotel.  The late lunch at Maharaja Indian restaurant was very good.  Walked around the tourist market as well as the local market where they sell the fruits/vegetables/spices.  People watched for sometime in the Night Market area where a number of local come and hang around before got back to the hotel.  The same Tuk Tuk guy showed up with his friend to take us to the airport.


Cambodia is a country literally screwed by the western nations for a period 15 years when there's no external aid or support provided for the country that lost 25% of the population because of the brutal Khmer Rouge rule.  And on top of it, USA and China were working together to bring back the Pol Pot rule because they both didn't like Vietnam, the country that liberated Cambodia from Pol Pot (Khmer Rouge).  Even with all of the sufferings Cambodians went through, they treated all of the tourist with pleasure and very nice people.  Also, the roads and tourist infrastructure was decent for a country that's trying to develop.

Relatively it is a safe country and we walked around the back alleys in Phnom Penh without the fear of being mugged.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Visit to God's Own Country and Spa of South India

Three Day Trip to Kerala and Thenkasi


  • Trip to India is not complete if you don't travel in the train.  Safest mode of transportation in India.
  • Always carry a blankets (light weight) or sleeping bags when you travel by train.
  • Kerala is the most beautiful place I have been.  You don't have to take the expensive house boat to enjoy, you can stay in one of the backwater villages and take day trips.
  • Road trip is long and tiring, so plan accordingly.  
  • Thenkasi is a very beautiful place with a lot of greenery, go with the flow and enjoy the waterfalls.
  • Visiting temples in Kerala or closer to Kerala border is a pain.  Always be prepared to deal with BS.

Alleppey Village Docking
This trip doesn't have any exciting stories but logs about my planning process and the trip.  This is a family trip with my parents, kids and their friends (Nikhila and Tejas) to Kerala and Courtallam in the first week August 2013.  It was almost end of the monsoon season in Kerala, we were little concerned about making the trip there and getting stuck in the rain.  Decided to get the train tickets to Alleppey and paid Rs.1000 advance for the house boat - a friend of mine recently told me of the difference between house boat and boat house ;-).  The plan was to monitor the weather, if it became terribly bad, we could cancel the trip and all we would lose was about Rs.2000 for the family of it didn't sound like a bad plan.  But we were very lucky that the weather in Alleppey was better and not much rain, we were all set to go.

Security @Central Station, Chennai

From the train
The Chennai Central Train station was easily manageable with their electronic train/platform information.  Not sure what the purpose of having metal detectors in the train station because the police who was sitting there never bother to monitor the alarm the detectors made - may be they would do random checks.  I am not sure whether they could do individual checks with the number of people traveling by train.  One thing with the train station was that after certain section, the platform was not well lit but with the number of people there, there is no worry about security.

The Train

Even though the outside of the train look dirty, the inside was reasonably clean in the II Class compartment and the train left on time. As soon as my kids joined, Tejas got his energy and started singing at 11 pm that made the other guy in our compartment get irritated with Tejas singing at that time but it didn't bother Tejas at all...;-)
Kerala is truly a God's country - it's very beautiful with a lot of backwater, green farmlands, coconut and green trees.  The view from the train is very beautiful and couldn't find a lot high story buildings and got the feel that most parts of Kerala are untouched by the stupidity going around in Tamil Nadu of converting form lands into housing flats.

The House Boat

Alleppey train station as well as the town are small and the owner of the house boat was there to take me to the boat.  The house boat had 4 bed rooms with good size and a nice dining/hangout area.  Two guys were working in the kitchen and one guy was maneuvering the boat.  The quality of the furniture and overall deco of the house boat was really good, but I could see that it's not being maintained properly when we started lifting the cushions and looking under the furniture for the ear ring that Shabina had dropped.

My mother wanted to maneuver the boat, so she was allowed to do it and she found out within 5 minutes that it's not an easy task.  We were sitting around reading books, taking pictures and talking while Tejas was busy playing the video games in his game controller.  There're small stretches of land in the backwaters where they were having the paddy fields and a lot of coconut trees. The lunch was typical Kerala food with the choice of rice, sambar, dhal, beans and avial.

The Ride to Tiruvandrum

It was cloudy most of the time and it rained about 30 minutes in evening and immediately after that it's sunny.  The back waters was a large area and felt like we're in the sea, we were able to see Kumarakkam and other town in the afternoon from the house boat before anchoring the boat in a village.  I was told that there're more 15,000 house boats in that area.  On the way to the village we noticed people washing cloths and vessels, kids swimming, etc. in the backwater. The coconut trees in that village were short and we could easily pluck coconuts without climbing the tree.

Morning scenery: Vegetables being transported
The morning scenery in the village was very beautiful with a number of small boats ferrying vegetables and people in the village.  It's very nice to sit and look around the village waking up slowly and getting into the daily routine.  After having breakfast, we headed back to Alleppey where I had arranged for another car to pick us up to go to Tiruvandrum before heading out to Curtlalum.

We had so much difficulty finding a vegetarian place to eat our lunch before reaching Tiruvandrum and finally we were able to eat in a place just an hour from Tiruvandrum.  The whole drive took about 5 hours and we were thinking that we could make it in 3 hours, it was a very tiring drive.  The museum, private museum, outside the temple has a lot of nice things those are more than 300+ years old but both not displayed and maintained nicely - so sad to see that.

Pain In Tiruvandrum Temple

Getting into the temple was a major headache because of the rules about what you can wear and what you can't.  I understand that the men have to wear dhoti but the rule about not to have pants under the dhoti seems to be strange.  When I was wearing pants under my dhoti, I was asked to removed my pants and leave it outside.  Also, the girls are not allowed to wear salwar into the temple only allowed to wear sari or skirt, looks like that the gods have not kept with the changing times..;-)  The way the guys at the entrance of the temple behaved made us pissed off with the whole experience.

After waiting in the queue for more than an hour, we were able to get into the main room of the temple to get the dharsan, there was a priest throwing holy ash to the devotees and I was totally pissed off with the way he was treating the people as well as the holy ash.  My daughters were pissed off with the whole experience of going to the hindu temple with this experience ;-( and I don't blame them.

Ride to Thenkasi

Tiring Ride from Alleppey to Thenkasi
After the temple visit, we started our journey the Thenkasi and literally it was hell of a trip with a bumpy, windy road and bunch of people with travel sickness.  The plan was to stop to eat paratha (layered bread) in one of the famous places and go to the waterfalls in the night but with the condition of everyone in the car, we decided to just sleep and call it a night.

By the time we reached Thenkasi, it was about 10 pm and after having a cup of coffee, we made plans to wake up and leave around 9 am for the waterfalls.

Myth and Reality

The crowd at the main waterfalls was not bad and there may not be more than 200 people trying to take the bath in the falls but the way they were getting closer to the falls was really bad...lack of better words, it was stupid.  Luckily, there're different sections for men and women, otherwise the way the men were behaving to get to the falls would have created some nasty situation there :-0  There used to be a myth about the falls that after putting oil in your head (South Indians put oil in the head once a week before washing it off) and take bath in the falls, with the force of the water all of the oil would have gone without applying any special soap.  But what happened to me was that I went to take bath in the water falls without oil on my body but came out with a lot of oil after taking the bath ;-) It is because of the crowd and how they were pushing each other and screaming.
South Indian hospitality & lunch

On the way down, we bought some mango slices and sweet toddi on the roadside to enjoy.  The sweet toddi (padhaneer) was cooling and really tasted good.  Came back home to have lunch with our friend's (Vikki) family and after that we went to the close by temple in the hill.  It's funny that Tejas got scolding from the priest for not concentrating while praying and playing around.  The view from the hill was good and the whole area around Thenkasi is very beautiful and green, as good as the places in Kerala.


  1. Train travel in India is awesome.  You can have very comfortable and safe journey in the second class (reserved) compartments that costs almost nothing.
  2. Kerala is really the God's Country and if I visit next time, I would love to stay in the country side rather in the house boat because after sometime it gets boring in the boat.  The cost of the house boat experience is very expensive and it is a good experience that you should experience once.  We were trying to do too many things in three days and I would love to spend more time in Kerala and Thenkasi enjoying the great climate and natural beauty.
  3. The turn-off in this trip is how the politicians robbed the natural resources in Tamil Nadu and how people are indifferent to those horrible actions.  There was a river (Cheyyar) that goes near my home town Polur and now no one will know that there's a river flowing there in the future because they completely removed the sand and there are plants growing in the river bed.  I had read about the sand scandal but didn't expect to see the river bed disappear and returned from India with heavy feeling about this.  Still pissed about this.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Costa Rica - 2014

Summary Version

  • Costa Rica is NOT a cheaper place to travel.  The prices are high.  It is like almost travelling in USA.
  • Going from one place to the other takes a long time by public transport.  Domestic flights are expensive too.
  • Very nice beaches and awesome sunset.
  • Spent time in Corcovado National Park.  Don't expect anything like African safari but the nature is very beautiful and spotting the animals is difficult.
  • You can experience non-touristy cloud forest for less money near San Jose (less than 2 hrs by bus) - San Gerrado.  Bird watchers paradise.
You can travel with us in Costa Rica by reading the following sections.

Why and Where

Costa Rica was part of the two week Central American trip that included Nicaragua and Panama City.  I decided to spend more time in the Corcovado National Park which is the densest bio-diverse place in the world to enjoy the remote corner that's hard to get to and a few days in a cloud forest.  We took the beach out of our itinerary and also decided not to go to Arenal because the volcano is not active.

Getting Ready for the Remoteness

After checking into our hotel that is very close to the San Jose International Airport, I repacked the bags into three sets - 1. bags to carry on the 7 hour hike to the Corcovado NP, 2. bags to leave with hotel in Puerto Jimenez and 3. things that we don't need & can be left with the hotel in San Jose. By the time I repacked the bags and left a few bags with the concierge, it was about mid-night and we had to wake up at 430 am to catch our 6 am flight to Puerto Jimenez.

Almost a Personal Flight

The flight from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez was in a very small 12 seater flight and we all got weighed with our luggage before getting our boarding passes.  The view from the flight was good, after a brief stop in Golfito, we landed in Puerto Jimenez @ 730 am and the flight trip comfortable except when the flight was landing.  There is no airport except grass fields for the flight to land in Golfito and Puerto Jimenez.  Enrique, our guide for the hike to Corcovado, picked us up from the airport then we picked up Patty, who was hiking with us, from her hotel.

Hike to Sirena

After picking up the groceries for the camping, we forgot about getting the breakfast in the hurry to start the hike ;-(  but we were able to get some cheese empanadas in Carate and started the hike in the hot-humid weather @9 am.  On the way to our first stop at the La Leona Ranger Station, we saw a number of vultures eating a huge turtle on the beach and macaws on the trees.  Walking on the beach with a lot of weight is not fun and we needed to cross a section of the beach before 1230 pm to avoid the high tide, so we took a brief break at the La Leona ranger station.

We hiked in the forest crossing some streams for the next two hours before reaching the section of beach to find out it's already high tide.  Enrique was asking our opinion whether to walk across the water or not instead of giving us the guidance.  Patty didn't feel comfortable crossing the water and also we were thinking what the heck we were going to do after reaching the park, so decided to relax in the beach 'til 2pm with the hope that the tide lowers.  After having lunch in the beach and sleeping, we were ready to cross the beach at 2 pm but the tide was still high but we didn't have an option.  Everyone crossed the section of the beach without getting wet except me.

Reaching the Campsite

Reached the entrance of the Sirena ranger station, where we were camping for the next three nights, at about 530 pm after walking in the long beach section of the hike that was horrible because there was no shade and it was hot.  We were all tired and seeing the entrance to the ranger station just before it started to get dark was a relief.  Five minutes after we reached at the ranger station, there's another group of local guys, who are from San Jose, arrived from the other longer and strenuous hiking trail and they were hiking without the guide but with the GPS.  They lost their way at one section of the trail because there's no view of the satellite and they were panicked a bit.  So it is possible to hike to the Sirena ranger station without the guide but risky.

Remoteness Disappointment (in a funny way)

The Sirena ranger station does not allow the campers to cook food there so we had to carry food for the next three days that could be consumed without cooking.  Also, to get to this place you have hike at least 7 hours or take a boat and then hike for 30 minutes or come by a small plane that lands in the grass fields.  We were thinking that it was very remote, even though it is very remote, you believe it or not, there is WiFi, electricity (by solar panels) for charging your phone/cameras available 24 hrs a day and lights powered from 6pm-8pm. ;-)

Camping Food

We didn't reserve the meals in the ranger station well advance, so we couldn't eat in their dining facilities (each breakfast is $20 and lunch/dinner is $25).  The whole area is maintained very clean and we were surprised to learn that the whole ranger station is maintained by just two people.  Since people were not allowed to cook in the ranger station, the place was very clean and nothing stinking in that area.

Enrique had an electric water heater that we used to heat the water to make coffee and to heat up the tasty bites Indian pre-cooked food (originally we were planning to eat it without heating them up).  In addition to the Indian food, we had fajitas, re-fried beans in a packet that we got from Nicaragua, avocados, tomatoes and cereal (that we were eating without milk/hot water).  We were using the fajita
s for the Indian food as well as to make the burritos.  A number of people were buying the water bottles from the ranger station but we decided to test our guts by drinking the tap water and survived ;-)

After dinner, I was having conversation with the Costa Ricans who arrived late about their hike and what they do.  There're a lot of call center jobs moving to Costa Rica now instead of going to India or to any other Asian countries because of the cost.  Couple of guys in that group were working for the call center based out of San Jose.

Encounter with Tapir

We reached the Sirena river head at 5 am, waiting with the other hikers for some excitement but that day we could see only a couple of crocodiles in the water and a lot of birds.  We waited for an hour for the sightings of puma or Tapir in that area before started to walking back to the ranger station for the breakfast.  Enrique took a detour into a trail and there we spotted a tapir resting in the mud not worried about the people.  There's another tour group joined us watching the tapir and a lady in that group got closer to the tapir to take pictures but their tour guide didn't stop from getting close by until Enrique asked him to get that lady back.  Within two minutes after that lady got back to high grounds, the tapir woke up, started charging towards us before stopping just 20 feet away, it was where that lady was.  Then the tapir just gave a look at us and went back to lie down.  The lady who was trying to take the closeup shot was in a shock and I made her feel even worse by asking whether she wants to get closer to take pictures again ;-)

Monkey Defense

We saw tapirs, family of raccoons, birds, mountain chicken and howler monkeys on the way to the Sirena station to have breakfast, after that we planned to go to a river to swim and have lunch.  On the way to the river we saw a large group of spider monkeys having fun in the tree and one of the monkeys in the gang peed on a guy who was standing right under the monkey.  Enrique mentioned that it is the common defensive mechanism for these monkeys to pee and push dry branches on the people.  After swimming in the river for an hour, we had burrito lunch before returning back to the camp.

Solo Walk

I decided to go for a solo walk to the beach that is 800 meters from the ranger station and asked Enrique about it, he mentioned that the animals won't attack but asked me to be careful of snakes.  If bitten by poisonous snakes in the day time, after the first aid, th
ey will bring the plane to take you to the hospital but if bitten after dark, there's nothing much can be done because the planes won't be able to land at night.  So while going for the walk, I was little worried about pumas and snakes but I was safe there all the time.  While sitting in the beach enjoying the sunset, there's no human being in the half mile radius and the feel of being alone in the forest was an amazing feeling.

Meeting People

While having dinner, we were talking to a guide,Michael Dublin - according to him he's the only foreign guide in the Puerto Jimenez and he moved from Ireland to Costa Rica about 18 years back.  His story is interesting one:  he was born in Pakistan, studied Chemistry and then studied to be a biologist in Ireland.  After working in Africa for a few years, he moved to Argentina first and then to Costa Rica as a biologist for a lodge.  Now he's running his own tour operations with his friend.  He never gone back to Ireland in the last 18 years.

We went to the same river head again in the morning to watch the animals but we didn't find anything interesting and returned for breakfast.  After breakfast we met a German couple (Martina&Janek) who arrived by the plane from Puerto Jimenez for one day visit to the park and they wanted to come with us for the hikes because they didn't have a guide.  This couple spent a couple of weeks in Southern Panama, traveling north and Janek makes documentary film, one of the filmss that he produced related to "Egyptian Street Music".  Martina's family speaks Aramaic language (Jesus language) and it was cool to meet with someone who could understand Jesus ;-)  They kept the whole trip interesting by exchanging their travel stories and cultural differences, etc.

Naked Indian

The "Naked Indian" tree
We were waiting in the Sirena river head in the afternoon after the hike through the primary forest learning a lot about the plants like "naked Indian," that sheds its bark all the time to avoid other plans living on them and looks reddish color, "ficus tree" that have roots like walls and watching small insects like cool dragon fly that looked like a helicopter.  We saw the tide rising in the Sirena river head slowly while waiting for the sharks to show up but only a couple of crocodiles and rain showed up ;-(  But we were lucky enough to see a couple of tapirs, raccoons and tasted some termites.  Also, Enrique split two coconuts, sliced the inner shell into nice pieces for us to eat and the delicious coconut served as a good lunch that day.

Where is the Puma ?

While we were having lunch, we heard the howler monkeys making huge noise which was different from the regular howling they make and all of the guides were rushing towards the trails stating that there's a puma around.  But after running around for about 15 minutes, no one could spot a puma and came back to take rest.  One of the couples mentioned that their guide tracked a mother sloth killed by a puma in the nearby area where we were looking for the puma.

Snoring People

We went for a short hike in the evening in which we spotted a family of white faced monkeys and took it easy to save our energy to hike back to Carate the next day.  But the plan to have a good night sleep was spoiled by a couple of guys from Israel - I never thought that someone could snore that loud, and having ear plugs couldn't stop their snoring noise.  I didn't have any problem sleeping with the horrible snoring noise but Patty couldn't handle them because her tent was right next to them.

Getting back to Civilization

We woke up at 4 am to pack our tents, had our breakfast and ready by 5 am but Enrique was no where found and finally he showed up at 530 am for the hike back to the civilization.   Walking in the long beach at the start of the trail which was horrible when we were getting to Sirena was easy now with no sun and no weight.  We spotted the puma foot prints on the trail that we followed for some time in the trail but no spotting of the puma, and we also spotted the foot prints of tapir on the beach.

We spotted a lot of white faced monkeys near the La Leona ranger station and after that the walk on the beach to Carate was quick.  Alex picked us up in Carate to take us to our Backpackers hostel, Patty was staying outside the town (she tried to change her accommodation to stay in town but no availability), Janek and we decided to meet up for dinner.

Puerto Jimenez

Backpackers Hostel, is in the main part of the city very close to the restaurants and the bus station.  The town, Puerto Jimenez, is small town with some good places to eat but the public beach in town is very small and no waves.  It is a good place to soak in the water and the sunset is awesome .  After the dinner with the Janek and Martina, we walked around the town at night for about a kilometer without any worries.

The next day, we slept late before going for the breakfast and after that came back to the room to sleep some more instead of going to Uvita for a day.  We left to the beach around 3 pm to swim and then enjoyed the most beautiful sunset we had seen in the Central America.  Collected the laundry and had dinner in the Pizza place, which was really good.

Standing Only Bus

Our final destination was a cabin near San Gerrado, to reach this place we had to take the bus to San Isdro General first, then get off at the KM80 in the bus to San Jose and then walk/taxi 4KM to a restaurant to collect the keys for our cabin.  We were thinking that the bus would stop in the bus stop at 5 am but I noticed a bunch of people little further in the street, I was glad that I checked them because there's a bus stand not in the view.  When we asked for the ticket to San Isdro General at the bus stand, the guy at the counter mentioned that the bus is full and we could get the tickets in the next bus at 9 am without giving any options.  But we didn't want to hang around in the bus stand or in our room for another four hours, he sold us the tickets after I asked him whether we could travel standing in the bus.

Fifteen Year Old Detective

We got in the bus and occupied a few empty seats for the next 30 minutes before someone with the seat assignment kicked out my kids but I was lucky to have to seat for the whole trip.  My kids were sitting on the empty space on the bus, allocated for the wheel chair, and having conversation with a fifteen year boy.  The boy is a local kid traveling to San Jose who got attracted to Shabina, trying to impress her by lending his PS3 for her to play and trying to have non-stop conversation..;-)  He told me that my daughters were good kids and Shabina was beautiful.  After sometime, my daughters wanted to escape him and they got a perfect opportunity when the bus stopped in a rest area.

When the journey continued after twenty minute break, I sacrificed my seat for my kids and I sat down with the kid.  The assistant to bus driver came looking for me and asking the person who was sitting next to me in the seat where I was, because he didn't find me in my seat he was concerned.  I was so happy that the bus operators cared for me :-)  Now the kid started to converse with me, his English was decent enough for me to follow and he was using the translator in his phone to communicate with me (his English is much better than my Spanish).  He mentioned that he wanted to be in CIA, currently he was working as a detective for the Costa Rican government informing on the drugs, thugs and helping tourists to travel safely.  Because his dad was working in this field for a long time, he was able to join the force when he's ten years old ;-)  I was not sure whether he was trying to impress me but there was no bad intentions so I didn't care.  As we got closer to San Isdro General, he shared his email and invited us to visit his home.

Road to See Quetzal

We had to change a bus in San Isdro General to take another bus to San Jose, which pretty easy and
everyone was helpful.  We got dropped off at the KM-80 after an hour of going up in the mountains at the speed of not more than 30 miles an hour.  Luckily, there was Carlos, the only taxi guy in the San Gerrado area, waiting to take us to go to the Miriam Cafe, where we had to pick up the keys to our cabin.  The road from KM-80 to San Gerrado is a steep very windy unpaved road and there's only private vehicles go in this road.  Lilian took us to the cabin (which is about 400 meters from the Miriams restaurant) which located at above the 8000 ft level.

The view from the restaurant was great and also a number of birds visit their back porches of their place.  Lilian mentioned that there'd be quetzals that visit the avocado tree in the private trail at 6 am and 3 pm and sure enough, we spotted a beautiful quetzal when we hiked down their private trail.  What I was told that people come from all over the place to see this bird and sometimes it is hard to spot them.  But we were able to see the quetzal within an hour of arriving at the cloud forest ;-)


We met Peter, who owns the Quetzal Valley Cabin, and his wife Maria in the private trail.  They are very nice couple who live in San Jose and initially bought this property for their private use but later built the cabins that are simple and rustic.  Maria was telling us the stories about her visits to USA and scary motorcycle ride to the Yosemite park.  We spent the evening talking to Maria, watching the quetzal (my kids were least bothered about quetzals) and hiked down the trail to the stream.

Hitchhiking to Hike

We had the option of walking down 8 kilometers or hiring a taxi to go down the hill to the San Gerado valley to hike the beautiful trails.  While having the breakfast at Miriams, Lilian mentioned that we could walk down easily while enjoying the scenery and could get a taxi to come back, but I decided to hitchhike the very first vehicle that we saw on the road and it was success.  The couple, who gave us ride from our cabin area to the San Gerado de Dota, was visiting this place from San Jose for the weekend and we talked about their kids who are studying & working in USA.  The drive was very beautiful and I was not looking forward to walking up the mountain to our cabin on our return trip.

It is a well maintained trail with the very beautiful views of the streams and the mountains.  After spending about two hours in the trail, we were started to walk uphill, I requested for the ride from the first car that I saw on the road after walking about a kilometer and it was Carlos, the taxi driver who was driving the car.  He gave us the ride to our cabin and no money asked or paid ;-)

Back to San Jose

There are only few buses stop at KM-80 to pick up the people to go to San Jose and we took the early morning bus @630 and arriving at San Jose around 9 am.  After spending a couple of hours in the central market, we took the bus to the airport and walked to the hotel from the airport.  When we asked the cops at the airport how to get to the hotel from the airport, they advised us to take the taxi but the taxi guys told us not to waste money on them and asked us to walk.  It took us less than 10 minutes to the hotel by foot and nothing complicated other than running across the busy road..;-)  On the way to the hotel, we stopped over in the Wal*Mart and ended up not buying anything because everything is expensive there.


  1. The public bus system is good but not frequent.  Takes forever to go from one place to other.  You should buy tickets in advance for long distance travel to get a comfortable seat.
  2. Most people speak English but speaking Spanish helps you a lot
  3. Corcovado National Park is good but spending 3 nights was too much.  If I had to do all over again, I would go into from Drake Bay and get out to Carate staying maximum of two nights.
  4. Get a guide if you are planning to go to Corcovado.