Victoria to San Jose 2009

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View of Seattle, Elliott Bay, Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains in the morning lightFebruary 21, 2009 - Saturday - Victoria to San Jose, Costa Rica - I'm up at 3:00am, say goodbye to the family, and I'm out the door at 3:40am. I take a taxi to the Victoria airport since the long term parking is now so expensive. I have to wait around for a few minutes for the Horizon counter to open, and then check in. Just like last year, the security guy asks me about my Astrotrac (tracking mount for my camera), and he swipes it to test for explosives. Our 6am flight on Horizon's Bombardier Q300 (a big twin prop aircraft) to SeaTac is on time, and I get some terrific views of the city, Elliott Bay, Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains in the morning light as we circle and land.  I arrive with plenty of time to find my bags, clear USA customs and border Joe at Tully's in Seataccontrol, and find the gate for my American Airlines flight to Dallas/Ft. Worth airport. In fact, I have time to spare, so I have a cappuccino at a Tully's shop and take advantage of their free wireless Internet - logging onto my facebook account to update my status.

My flight to Dallas-Ft. Worth is overbooked, so American Airlines is offering a $250 travel credit to anyone who wants to reschedule.  Obviously I dont want to do this, since I have a connection to Costa Rica, although I do have a 3.5 hour wait in Dallas/Ft. Worth. American Airlines used an MD80 on this leg a pretty old aircraft. The cabin was fairly new, but there were no services at the seat like Im used to with the more modern aircraft.  They only served beverages nothing to eat, so I broke out a granola bar to tide me over.

My flight to San Jose leaves at 6:20pm - a three hour wait here at Dallas/Ft. Worth.  We board on time, but wait a minutethe captain announces over the intercom that he has left his passport at home.  His wife is driving to the airport, so we will be delayed 45 minutes.  Sure enough we leave 45 minutes late.  We run into some pretty serious turbulence as we cross the Gulf of Mexico coast near Houston.  Of course the flight attendants are serving dinner just as this happens, and have to stop their service until things settle down.  We arrive in San Jose at about 10:50pm.  I quickly clear customs and immigration, find the Swiss Travel rep, and catch the transfer van to the Courtyard Marriott Hotel.  Walter, the bus driver from last years tour is driving!  I think he remembers me, but his English is not good, so we have to keep it simple.

The Courtyard Marriott in San JoseI arrive at the hotel at about 11:30pm, check in, and unpack and have a well-deserved shower.  I have been traveling since 4am when I was picked up by the taxi in Victoria. It is now11:30pm local time, losing 2 hours along the way by going to Central Time, making it about a 17 hour marathon.  Not as bad as my flights to/from Africa, but Im tired. So here I am in Costa Rica one year after my previous trip here.  Im looking forward to the next two weeks the first week similar to last year at La Ensenada Lodge, and the second week will be something new.

Tino our bus driver beside the bus at Caballo Blanco RestauranteFebruary 22, 2009 Sunday - San Jose to La Ensenada Lodge - After a sumptuous breakfast at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel, we board the bus and leave for our journey to the Gulf of Nicoya on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.  Our first stop was a large mall in San Jose, where we had a chance to shop in a local AM/PM market and also exchange money for those who needed some. We then drove through the Central Valley toward the Pacific Ocean, passing through Palmares, San Ramon and Esparza along the way. Unlike last year, the upgrading to this section of the Pan American Highway appears to be finished, so we make good time to our lunch stop at Restaurante Caballo Blanco (the white horse restaurant).  As we experienced last year, the meal at this restaurant introduces everyone to the wholesome food the Costa Ricans typically prepare for their guests at every meal.  Lots of fresh fruit juice, a choice of chicken, beef or fish, vegetables, rice and beans, and a nice dessert to finish.  The only downside to this part of the trip is when we find out that our new bus is hermetically sealed, so the engine must be kept running the whole time we are in the restaurant in order to keep the cabin from overheating.  Some of our group find this a bit environmentally irresponsible.

As we proceed, our guide Jorge tells us a bit about Costa Rica and its people, and what to expect for the next few days. La Ensenada Lodge is as I remember it from last year.  It is a working ranch and farm, raising both cattle and a variety of crops.  It is about 40C in the shade  as we arrive in the hot afternoon. The owners and staff are on hand to greet us and to give us some cold drinks to sip as we are assigned our cabins.  I have a quick dip in the pool and a shower, and then it is time for dinner.  The meal routine for the next few days is: breakfast at 8am, lunch at noon, and dinner at 5pm.  We are eating dinner earlier than normal in Costa Rica so we have time to setup equipment and get out on the observing field before it gets too dark.  As anyone knows who had travelled to the tropics, the sun sets promptly around 6pm, and it gets dark rapidly.

Aerial photo of La Ensenada Lodge property (on the coast), Islands in the Gulf of Nicoya Map - San Jose - La Ensenada
My cabin #3 at La Ensenada Lodge

There are some clouds covering about 50% of the sky this first night. A fellow Canadian from Calgary brought down one of the biggest telescopes ever to appear at this event in Costa Rica - a 15 Obsession Dobsonian telescope.  The views of M42 Orion Nebula through this scope were nothing short of astounding the blue colour was visible in the reflection nebulae, and the whole nebula appears very bright. For those who either stayed up or woke up around 3am, the clouds mostly disappeared by then, giving us some observing opportunities the first night (or morning).

 Gary Seronik is hosting the astronomy activities while we are at the Lodge. Gary is a Contributing Editor for Sky and Telescope magazine. Gary lives in Victoria, and is a member of RASC Victoria Centre.

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