Thursday, May 03, 2007


Other Travel Blogs

BTW, our other travel blogs are:



On to Guatemala pt.2

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Our next trek is to Guatemala for 3 weeks in June / July 2007

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


On to Guatemala

Well.... we changed plans and now we are off to Guatemala in Summer '07. First Guatemala City then off to Quetzaltenango, (called Xela by locals, and pronounced Shay-lah). We then are deciding what to do next, probably a visit to Lake Atitlan, which I remember as one of the most beautiful places on earth, maybe Antigua and then Rio Dulce and Livingston.

There are a lot of other great places to visit but once again constrained by time we will only see a handful of places and take our time as we go along.

Karen and daughter Colleen are scheduled to arrive first, my work schedule is a bit up in the air so I will be along for only part of this adventure. We may take the "Chicken Bus" a bit more to get around.

Any recommendations on where to stay? We like Hostels and friendly atmosphere.

In Xela we plan on visiting XelaTeco, an eco-engineering workshop that makes solar hot water panels, micro hydro power and bio digesters. Karen and Colleen are going to volunteer at an orphanage.

More later as we make our plans. I may post a link here to a blog devoted to our Guatemala trip.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


La Fortuna

La Fortuna is a mountain town in Costa Rica, near volcanoes, water falls and hotsprings. The town itself is a nice, tropical feeling somewhat touristy place. We hiked to a waterfall one day and walked back in a warm downpour. We also hiked up a volcano to see the lava flows at sunset and we went to the Baldi Hotsprings resort where you can swim in different temperature pools and swim up to a bar for a drink.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Bio Diesel for Costa Rica?

Treehugger Biodiesel Prices

Photo from, Note BioDiesel prices are less than tradition diesel.

I have been in Costa Rica for a few days now. The country has established national priorities in Sustainable Development, but this traveler has found an area where Costa Rica can make a big improvement.

The country travels by bus, and the busses have big diesel engines. In San Jose and to some extent in Santa Elena the pollution from diesel engines is intense. I believe Costa Rica should start a bio fuels program. This would reduce the countries dependence on foreign fuels, clean up the air and at the same time provide work for hundreds or thousands of people.

What is Biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a diesel-equivalent bio-based fuel usually made from vegetable oils.

Biodiesel fuels are biodegradable and non-toxic, and have significantly fewer emissions than petroleum-based diesel when burned. Biodiesel functions in current diesel engines, without any modifications and is a possible candidate to replace fossil fuels as the world’s primary transport energy source.

Environmental benefits (Wikipedia) in comparison to petroleum based fuels include:

* Biodiesel reduces emissions of carbon monoxide (CO) by approximately 50 % and carbon dioxide by 78 % on a net lifecycle basis because the carbon in biodiesel emissions is recycled from carbon that was already in the atmosphere, rather than being new carbon from petroleum that was sequestered in the earth’s crust. (Sheehan, 1998)

* Biodiesel contains fewer aromatic hydrocarbons: benzofluoranthene: 56 % reduction; Benzopyrenes: 71 % reduction.

* It also eliminates sulfur emissions (SO2), because biodiesel does not contain sulfur.

* Biodiesel reduces by as much as 65 % the emission of particulates, small particles of solid combustion products. This reduces cancer risks by up to 94 % according to testing sponsored by the Department of Energy.

* Biodiesel does produce more NOx emissions than petrodiesel, but these emissions can be reduced through the use of catalytic converters. The increase in NOx emissions may also be due to the higher cetane rating of biodiesel. Properly designed and tuned engines may eliminate this increase.

* Biodiesel has higher cetane rating than petrodiesel, and therefore ignites more rapidly when injected into the engine. It also has the highest BTU content of any alternative fuel in its pure form (B100).

* Biodiesel is biodegradable and non-toxic - tests sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture confirm biodiesel is less toxic than table salt and biodegrades as quickly as sugar.

* In the United States, biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to have successfully completed the Health Effects Testing requirements (Tier I and Tier II) of the Clean Air Act (1990).

Costa Rica should also start an Ethanol program similar to the successful program in Brazil. The feedstock for Costa Rican Ethanol can be agricultural waste from the already thriving Costa Rican agricultural industry. By using waste materials in a “cellusosic ethanol” conversion process Costa Rica can create gasoline equivalent fuel without farming a single extra acre.

(see previous post on ethanol)


La Fortuna

Costa Rica 271
Costa Rica 271,
originally uploaded by jsbarrie.
We stayed for sevaral days in La Fortuna which is much more developed than Santa Elena. The small town feels like both a nice place for the locals and a great tourist destination. We found several inexpensive restaurants + purchased food from the market and super mercado.

This was our last stop before heading back to Costa Rica Backpacker's Hostel in San Jose.

Thursday, May 18, 2006



originally uploaded by jsbarrie.

After staying longer than we originally planned in Santa Elena / Monteverde, we traveled our separate routes to La Fortuna.

(We decided that we would return to Costa Rica relatively soon using my frequent flyer miles)

Now have I mentioned that the roads in this part of Costa Rica are terrible? Well, the roads are world class bad here. Let me back up and say that I never get car sick. I'm a pilot and I used to go out with my pilot father and practice flying in ways that would scare the pants off of most anyone. I don't get motion sick. Period. But on the road from Santa Elena to Lake Arenal I felt so bad that I thought I'd loose it at any moment. I started to feel bad about 10 min into a 2 hour drive... It was tough going for awhile. I did manage to hang on to my lunch and my dignity, but it was real close.

I traveled by what they call "jeep, boat, jeep" from Santa Elena to La Fortuna. This is really travelling by "van, boat, van" so don't be fooled. The van was one of the ubiquitous 12 passenger vans, which bumped up and down and from side to side over very rough mountain roads for a few hours till it got to lake Arenal. I rested up and got on the boat for a very calm and soothing 40 min. ride across the lake to the opposite shore, very near La Fortuna. The view of the volcano in the clouds from the lake is spectacular!

Karen (my wife, confidant soul-mate and companion if you havn't been following this narrative) took the "horse, boat, jeep" route which got her into La Fortuna a few hours after I arrived. She was a bit sore having traversed a very long way on horseback. She hadn't been riding for years so it was a bit more sore than she expected.

We stayed at "Hotel Dorothy" in La Fortuna, it is a block off the main track, very nice and the owner, Noel, was a great host. Noel and the staff at the hotel were very nice and took care of all of our travel needs while in La Fortuna.

More later

Thursday, May 04, 2006


More Santa Elena

We stayed for 5 days in Santa Elena. The Pension Santa Elena was very comfortable and the people traveling through were fun and interesting. We visited the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, which is a several kilometers from Santa Elena. The preserve is on the continental divide - you can see the Golf of Nicoya (Pacific) on one side and the Caribean low lands on the other from the trails in the forest. We saw birds, heard howler monkies and experienced being in what feels like the garden of eden.

Karen and I hiked from the Friends school to the preserve and then we took a 10km hike through the many trails. At the end of the day we were pretty bushed so we sat on our little porch and had a bottle of wine while talking with our neighbors.

The weather was very comfortable for our stay in Santa Elena, it rained a few times, but just light showers. We were caught out in the rain one afternoon but dried off by the time we returned "home".

We made a few meals at the Pension but mostly had our meals at "Sodas", which are small restaruants. The native dishes seem a bit bland, with the exception of seafood. We had grilled fish several times and only once was it not excelent. Breakfasts were often eggs, rice and beans, fresh fruit and coffee.

(note, we are back in the US now, but I will update this site when I can find time to document the rest of our trip and our upcomming plans for travel)

Stay tuned


Friday, April 21, 2006


Santa Elena

Continental Divide, Near Santa Elena

We stayed at Pension Santa Elena for 5 nights. We had a double room with bathroom which was very affordable. I would recommend asking for one of the rooms toward the back if noise is a problem for you.

The Pension has a kitchen available for cooking your own meals. There is a supermercado just up and around the corner so most food items are easily available. We cooked several of our meals and also ate at the Marvilla which is a small place just up the street. We splurged and had a nice dinner at the Tree House one night and the food was excelent.

Karen spent Tuesday at the Quaker School, and Wednesday the Quakers had a potluck lunch at a nearby farm. It is hard to describe what a farm looks like up in the cloud forest, but it seems everything imaginable grows here.

We did take in a few of the major tourist activities including a Zip Line tour of the canopy where they fit you into a harness and then attach you to a pulley and push you off of a very high platform attached to nothing but a thin cable. You Zip out over the jungle at breath taking speed which is merciful because if you had time to think you would get the heck down from there and kiss mother earth and promise to never loose your mind again.

Anyway, breathless above the canopy is not a bad place to be, and later we took a walking tour via suspension bridges and walkways through the cloud forest where we could take in the environment at a much saner pace.

more later


Sunday, April 16, 2006


San Jose to Santa Elena

Pension Santa Elena

We stayed for two nights at Costa Rica Backpackers Hostel in San Jose. What a nice place! I really don't know why people would shell out $75.00 - $125.00 per night to stay at a chain hotel, with all the charm of a funeral parlor, when you can stay at a great hostel for $26.00 per night and have much more support for travel within the country, plus an instant network of people who are also travelling and know what places and activities are really good.

The trip to Santa Elena is via roads that gradually become bad and then worse as you approach Santa Elena. The pot holes have (insert joke here --- zip codes, names, their own provences...) and I wasn't up to taking the bus (which is very inexpensive). One reason is that the week before Easter is a national holiday and Saturday is the first day when business as usual commences. This means that the bus would be very crowded, and we might not get a seat. Also the busses have a reputation for thieves taking your luggage from the overhead bins. So the hostel booked us a ride on the "Inter Bus" which was a minivan shuttle service. The cost for the Inter Bus was @29.00 per person and it was very comfortable and it took less time than the bus. The bus driver was very friendly and professional and an excellent driver over treacherous roads.

We arrived at Pension Santa Elena and were greeted by Ran Smith, who is owner "on good days". He gave us a tour of the place and the key to our double room ($20.00 per night).

The Pension Santa Elena has a laid back atmoshpere, lots of free coffee and a kitchen available for communal cooking. This place feels like home. Right now the place is fairly full, with people in the common area on the internet, playing backgammon, chess or cards, talking over the latest adventures in the Cloud Forest canopy and trading information on what to do and where to go.

Ran went out of his way to make us feel at home, he is an encyclopedia of information about the area, what activities people like and where to get a decent bite to eat.

I need to remind blog readers that hostels are less polished than hotels. The hot water may be in name only, and rooms are often very small, but what they lack in commercial polish they make up for in atmosphere. ( I need to add that the water temperature at Pension Santa Elena is first rate and there is pressure enough too.)

If you are traveling to Santa Elena / Monterverde Costa Rica, I recommend you give Pension Santa Elena a look.

more later

Friday, April 14, 2006



We arrived in Costa Rica yesterday. The American Airlines flight was uneventful (a good thing). The counter check in at Flint Biship Airport was very helpful, we had to ¨gate check¨ one of Karen´s bags due to size limitations on the Embraer (small) jet from Flint to Chicago. The rest of the way all bags were carry on.

Our hostel, Costa Rica Backpacker´s sent a car to meet us at the airport. Francisco was waiting just outside customs. A very nice and informative man. He drove us to the hostel and we were secure in our room by 10:00 pm. The hostel is a large place but it feels more like a small village. Lots of things to do at the hostel plus expert advice on travel within CR. This morning I counted at least 6 tour busses that stopped at the hostel. The popular trips are to white water rafting or canopy tours of the nearby mountain forests. Other busses were headed out to other parts of the country.

The food at CR Backpackers is very good. Their restaurant is open from 7 am to 10 pm, and coffee is available 24 hours a day. They also have a kitchen for those who want to make their own meals. Every night there is a free movie on a projector TV, and there is a pool, internet, hamocks and I am sure there is more.

You can get a map of the area at the desk for walking tours of San Jose, which is what we did today.

I will update with photos soon. We are off to Santa Elena in the early morning.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006


MonteVerde Timeline

I discovered an interesting timeline of the MonteVerde region. This timeline focuses on recent developments in the Sustainable Development of the region.

March 24, 1905

Cartago destroyed by earthquake; Poas had greatest eruption.

November 30, 1918

Volcanco Irazu erupts

October 26, 1949

Alabama Quakers told " if you don't like it, you ought to move out…" regarding their resistance to the draft.

April 19, 1951

Quakers purchased land and named it "Monteverde"


Monteverde Friends Meeting/School House
Monteverde Town Meeting
Bosqueterno Forest set aside

July 26, 1952

Jaundice epidemic

May 15, 1953

Papers signed to begin Dairy Plant

April 8, 1954

Opening of the Cheese Factory


Productores de Monteverde - the first major industry


Lindora power plant - supplier of electricity for the local and wider community

October 12, 1955

3 days & 3 nights of rain, 2-3 days of steady rain in afternoon cause landslides, lost bridges, crops, transportation shutdown. Mud was like quicksand.

October 23, 1955

4-5 days of rain


Since 1951 there were a total of 541 visitors to Monteverde. 1956 and 1958 are top years for visitors: 60 per each year.

Spring 1956

National Meteorological Service sets up weather station by Abner & Irna's Pension at 1450 meters.


First high school graduate
During first ten years, 19 babies were born to Monteverde families. First directions were from Childbirth Manual by U.S. Dept. of Labor



The time is near for our trip. We have settled on our itinerary, at least sort of...

First we visit San Jose, stay at Costa Rica Backpackers Hostel. Good reviews on this and we really look forward to our stay. Then on to Santa Elena / Monteverde, stay at Pension Santa Elena. I was on a site visit to a construction site last week and the contractor (Greg Long, first rate) asked where I was staying, it turns out that Greg stayed at Pension Santa Elena several years ago and he had nothing but good things to say. Then we are off to La Fortuna to visit the volcano, stay at Gringo Pete's (no reservation yet).

Now we get to where our plans are open. We may go to Montezuema and take in some sun and surf, or we may stay in the eco wonderland of the Monteverde region. We just don't know at this point and actually I think travel is better if you have some time to decide things on the fly.

So, stay tuned. We will update from the road if the internet connnections are not too slow.

Costa Rica internet is not particularly well developed, which surpized me. When we were in Ecuador, the country was very wired, internet cafes everywhere with good speed and pretty low cost.

Factoid: In 1958 there were 60 visitors to the Monteverde region, and this was a banner year for tourism! I wonder how many tourists visit now?


Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Packing List

We will be travelling with minimal bags. Here is what I plan on taking. (note most of these items are covered in depth on


We are only staying for 10 days and we don’t plan on attending any “formal” functions, nor do we plan on any expensive restaurants, so

No dress jacket

2 pairs trousers, one with zip-off legs

2-4 shirts Loose, (1) shirt of light color, long-sleeved.

1 swimsuit that can double as shorts.

1 dark (cardigan?) sweater A nice cardigan is an excellent layering item, and can also substitute for a jacket when a more formal appearance is required.

rainwear – 1 rain coat, (Karen is taking rain pants for time in Monteverde, I will go with wet legs)

3+ pairs socks

3+ pairs underwear

1 long T-shirt

1 bandana (universal, can be washcloth in a pinch)

1 sun hat

1 pair walking shoes + extra laces

sandals (necessary for shared bathrooms in hostels)

1 belt

1 Carry on Backpack

1 shoulder bag (doubles as day pack)

1 lightweight duffel/laundry bag (doubles as extra bag for junk you take back with you)

Tools (all of our bags will be carry on, so no tools)

alarm clock

flashlight, (LED flashlight has very long battery life

2 pairs prescription glasses

Should your chosen tool not include them, add a pair of compact, folding scissors; you'll be surprised at how often you use these.

Plastic spoon, fork and knife

1 compass (the roads in Costa Rica are notorious for not being labled)

safety pins, rubber bands, cord Nylon parachute cord

sewing kit, including large needle to accommodate dental floss

(Ziploc®) plastic bags, garbage bags

Mini Roll of duct tape

Toiletries -

Toilet paper,

anti microbe hand wipes

toothbrush, toothpaste, floss

razor, blades, shaving cream

comb and/or hairbrush

shampoo Mini Bottle


bar soap & container

nail clippers


Woolite – 2 travel packets

toilet paper, antibacterial wipes

Pain relief - Ibuprofen, naproxen sodium

diarrhea treatment – Cipro and Pepto-Bismol

malaria tablets A must in many parts of the world.

insect repellent,

sunscreen, lip balm

Bandaids, bandages and moleskin

vitamins, + prescription medications in their original containers

plastic water bottle

a couple of good books

sun glasses, + case

lens cleaning cloth/supplies, copy of prescription, (spare glasses?)

pens, small notebook, glue stick

personal address book

maps guidebooks, phrase books, Post-it® notes, restaurant lists, business/calling cards, telephone access numbers

reading material

passport, visas, extra passport photos, vaccination certificates

copies of important documents If you should manage to lose your passport, a photocopy of the main page will make replacing it a lot easier.

driver's license, health insurance information

travel tickets (i.e., airline tickets, rail & bus passes, hotel reservations, etc.)

charge & ATM cards, cash, traveller's cheques

ten one dollar bills

1 security pouch

1 digital camera + charge cord and usb cable (to download to weblog on the fly)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Pension Santa Elena

We have been in touch with a lot of recent Costa Rica Travelers to interview them about where they stayed, what they did and what they would recommend. As for staying in the Santa Elena and MonteVerde region we often hear about La Pension Santa Elena as being a great place to stay.

The staff has been very helpful so far and we havn't yet arrived! They answer our emails and have made some very good recommendations about transportation in the area.

We will have more to report after our stay.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


About Me


When I am not traveling I make my living by being an Architect. I specialize in sustainable design, that is design with a strong environmental focus. I have found that making buildings very energy efficient and with good indoor air quality don't cost more than traditional buildings and, people really like being in good buildings!

Check out SustainableDesignUpdate, my other weblog.


John Barrie

Monday, March 13, 2006


Nicoya Peninsula

THE Nicoya Peninsula projects westward off Costa Rica into the Pacific Ocean. The impression is that it is rugged terrain, due to the very poor condition of most roads. In reality it is not much more rugged than Hawaii. Other than a few large beach resorts in the far north, and a new construction project at the southern tip, Nicoya's coastline is lightly developed, and caters to backpackers and surfers.

We plan on traveling to Montezuma, a small town on the bottom tip of the peninsula. This area was once an active fishing village, but now primarily caters to the backpacking and surfing traveler.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Rancho Mastatal

There is an eco-education environmental education and sustainable living center near the village of Rancho Mastatal. They offer courses in rainforest ecology and sustainable lifestyles (organic gardening, living lightly on the land etc.)

I am interested in visiting the area and would like to know if anyone has experience here.

It seems like a great place to stay and participate in eco studies. A real different experience from just looking at things as a tourist. Check out Rancho Mastatal.


Tuesday, February 28, 2006


How to Pack

From past experience I like to travel lite. When we went to Ecuador last year we planned on staying primarily in one hostel and taking day trips or overnight trips to other places, all the time keeping our space at the main hostel in Quito. This allowed us to take more stuff than we probably should have. I had a small suitcase plus a small backpack.

Our trip in Costa Rica will be a loop from San Jose through Monteverde/Santa Elena, then La Fortuna then Montezuma and back to San Jose. We won't stay more than 4 nights in any one location so I will have to pack everything in a single backpack. An interesting website that covers efficient packing is OneBag. Hard to believe that there would be enough to say about packing that someone could devote an entire website to it, but the WWW is a marvelous place. You should check it out.

I plan on taking a backpack that zips apart to become two carry on bags. This allows me to take everything carry on and have only one bag to take on busses.

Several of the local websites from Costa Rica warn of pick pockets and worse in San Jose, but it seems as though there are fewer problems out in the country side. - with the exception of some of the costal areas. The warnings seem similar to those we heard before going to Ecuador in 2004 - 2005. In Ecuador Karen had her backpack unzipped and spilled all over the street once (the "zipper" was so fast that it just seemed like a small bump in a crowd), and Andrew had his camera taken from his backpack when he stashed it under his bus seat on our way from Banos back to Quito. Other than those two instances everything was very safe.

Monday, February 27, 2006


La Fortuna

We plan on a visit to La Fortuna and Arenal. From what I can tell Gringo Pete's has great buzz about it, but doesn't take reservations online. A good resource for this area is Arenal Volcano Tours.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006



We plan on spending some time in Monteverde and Santa Elena. We will visit the preserve and take a zip line tour of the tree canopy.

I want to spend some time visiting sustainably harvested coffee farms and the Monteverde cheese coop. What are other things to do in this area? Any recommendations on places to stay? We want to stay in hostels not in hotels.



Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Where to Stay in San Jose

After our wonderful time in Ecuador last year we plan on staying in hostels. As blogged earlier, Karen and I are a bit toward the leading edge of the age bell curve (50 ish), and the average age of a hostel-er is 20 ish, but so far we seem to interface pretty well.

For those who havn't had the pleasure of staying at a backpacker's hostel, they typically are filled with young people from all over the world. More popular hostels can feel like an eternal party. If you don't mind the noise of people returning late at night and talking way too loudly, then you may want to check out the Bed and Breakfast scene.

Hostels can cost as little as $10 per night for a private room. Many people stay in shared dorm style rooms for $5 - $7 per night. Many hostels have shared kitchens and/or a restaurant attached. Some have internet connections which seem to be popular.

We have looked at Costa Rica Backpackers, Tranquilo Backpackers and the Quaker hostel, Casa Ridgeway C 15, Av 6/8, Tel +506 221-8288. As part of our trip is to visit a Quaker school in Monteverde, (more on this later) we will certainly stop in at Casa Ridgeway.

Does anyone have experience with these places? Others to recommend? What would you do if you had just a few days in San Jose CR?

Pura Vida

John Barrie

Monday, February 20, 2006


Early on in Quito

Quito Family 2004 004
Quito Family 2004 004,
originally uploaded by jsbarrie.
This is an attempt to verify that my Flickr account can post photos to this weblog.

We were in Ecuador for a little over two weeks in Dec 2004, and departing Jan 1 2005. Most of the days in Quito were partly overcast with a temp. of around 75 F. The clouds were appreciated because the sun can be overpowering at the equator and high in the mountains.


Air Travel

I compared many different airlines and travel websites to find the best price tickets for our trip. First I found that Travelocity didn't find low fares with their fareminder system. (Since ordering tickets Travelocity has contacted me with notification that my price has been met).

I found had the best price by about $85.00 per ticket at the time we purchased our tickets.

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