This is a photographic record of walks I have taken in the five boroughs -- posted in rough chronological order.

I'll skip around from borough to borough as the mood strikes me. I'll add captions and occasionally a brief
commentary but, for the most part, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves


Our trip to Costa Rica

April 16-28

On April 16 Jen and I are scheduled to depart for San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, on Continental flight 1796 from Newark at 5:15 PM.

Everyone we've spoken to who has visited Costa Rica tells of its loveliness. I've done a little bit of research: Costa Rica has the reputation.  It's the ecological and economic jewel of Central America.  Having abolished its army in 1948 it has been able to allocate the savings to education, health care and human welfare. It also boasts of a stable democracy. Thus, it has wisely moved ahead of its neighbors, with the highest standard of living in the region. Its citizens float blissfully upward economically, largely on a tide of "ecotourism": each year hoards of Americans and Europeans fill its tour buses and vans to view its abundant wildlife still thriving in this subtropical paradise. Tourism is its number one industry. We are also told that its number two industry is the production of microchips and that it exports large quantities of bananas and pineapples.

We arrive at Newark Airport at 2:30 PM and proceed uneventfully through the metal detectors and other symbolic acts of security: removing our shoes and belts while being checked out for the magical more-than-3.4-ounces-of-liquids on our persons or carry on luggage and being bombarded every few minutes with the recorded message not to leave our luggage unattended at the risk of its confiscation and likely destruction should we do so. "Security" is well on its way to becoming one of America's top industries.

We check the arrival/departure board. Once again we have arrived too early. Our flight is delayed until 6:00 PM. We read, we fidget, we eat. Soon the board shows that our flight is now delayed until 7:00 PM. No one is at our gate to explain, but it is rumored that it's the weather out West. Soon thereafter the board shows a further delay until 9:00 PM and that our gate has been moved. There are no Continental employees in sight until about 7:30 PM and no explanation until about an hour later: our plane is being delayed in Pittsburgh due to the weather. It's raining outside. Some flights are landing. Some flights are leaving for places like Daytona Beach and London, but we are stranded. And so it goes for eight hours until our plane finally departs at 1:30 AM on April 17.  It lands in San Jose roughly five hours later at around 4:30 AM, local time. Our first tour is scheduled for 10 AM that morning.

April 18

I will spare you, for now, the tales of our ensuing sleep deprivation following our disastrous start. Nor will I describe in words or photos the extremely boring tour to the old church ruins in Cartago and the orchids "garden" on the day of our arrival. (And I will not tell you of the many miracles performed by the Virgin at the shrine in Cartago, evidenced by the hundreds of little tokens left by the grateful recipients of divine intervention). Instead I jump ahead to a picture taken at the rim of the active volcano in Poas National Park.

Unfortunately this particular tour required some moderate hiking up to the rim of the volcano at a sufficiently high altitude to make one breathless, as well as the descending of some four hundred steps and the ascending of another 90 after that to reach the La Paz Waterfall.  This was not a tour designed for Jen. She sent me out to take pictures, while she rested at the charming Hotel Don Carlos back in San Jose.

On the short bus trip from San Jose to Poas I struck up a conversation with Bill, a young man from Liverpool. He was taking a year off from work to tour Central and South America. When we were hiking up to the Poas crater I asked him to pose near some of the remarkable flora on the trail so as to give a sense of the size of some of the plants and their leaves.

 Poas, volcano crater

 Flora in Poas National Park

 Bill and big leaves

 Hotel Don Carlos

The seamy side of Costa Rica

The guidebooks dismiss San Jose as uninteresting, a jumping off point for more exciting tourist destinations.  But, unfortunately, San Jose is the first place one sees before taking a tour or renting a car to the more picturesque places. About one tenth of the four and half million Costa Ricans live within the capital's boundaries and  twice as many reside within the greater metropolitan area. "What a dump" is the uncensored phrase that came to the my sleep deprived mind as we traveled the twenty kilometers from the Juan Santamaria International Airport to downtown San Jose. A half dozen trips in and out of San Jose from our base hotel, the Don Carlos, to our various destination in the central valley and the Caribbean shore, confirmed this first impression.  When one of the hotel doormen advised us not to walk on our own outside the hotel after 8:00 PM we inferred that the look of the place was not the only problem.   I am grateful that later in the trip we spent eight hours with a tour guide who was remarkably candid in explaining the serious crime problem that now challenges Costa Rica. On line searches validated his basic outline.   See, for example:


Costa Rica is now part of the land bridge for narcotics making their way up from Colombia through Nicaragua to the US markets; it is also now in the midst of a crack cocaine epidemic. Costa Rica has no army. The border with Nicaragua is unguarded and porous. The country has a large and growing addict population, overrepresented by its poorest inhabitants, the Nicaraguan and other Central American immigrants drawn here by the many jobs at the bottom of the ladder that the Ticos no longer wants. Property crime is rampant. It  is evident that, for the most part that we and the other million and half yearly tourists are traveling in a protective bubble, a parallel universe, created by the tourist industry. Tourist hotels and resorts are secluded and secured, often gated. Police and uniformed security guards can be seen everywhere. Houses and places of business are secured with high metal fences often capped with barbed wire. 

My desire to do a little street photography in downtown San Jose was easily reined in by my fear of getting mugged and having my Nikon D300 stolen. But I had seen some interesting street murals and graffiti on our trips to the volcano and to Cartago.  So one morning, before our tour bus arrived, I found myself a taxi driver who understood a little English three blocks from the hotel and asked him to take me there and wait a few minutes until I took some pictures and then bring me back to the hotel.

So far I have not been able to make much sense of these and the dozens of other street murals that can be found in downtown San Jose, except for the Wizard of Oz panels. These three photographs offer, a small sample of the many murals that are clustered in a one block area near the bus depot and a "night club" that, according to my taxi driver attracts the druggies and other "hip" people.

A sample of street murals in downtown San Jose

Transit to Tortuguero and Laguna Lodge

April 19

We are picked up at 7:30 AM by the Laguna Lodge bus, heading to Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast for our two night stay at Laguna Lodge. We board a large nearly full and comfortable tour bus -- with good shock absorbers suitable for the rough roads ahead. Jen and I are the last two passengers and we have to take seats apart. I sit next to Leon, a native Tico, whose English is good enough for us to have a decent conversation. I soon learn that his family is originally from Barcelona and that his sister now lives there, training to be an opera singer.  He is traveling with his fiancee, chaperoned by her father. (She is sitting in front of us with her father).  Leon has an MBA and is stepping into his father's construction business.  He is clearly upper middle-class.  Most of the people on the bus seem to be Ticos, or at least Spanish speaking. This is "holy week," the week before Easter, when a good part of the local population is off from work. Heading for the Caribbean coast seems to be a popular destination for Ticos  this time of year. Later, as we mingle at lunch and at pit stops, we learn that among the non-Hispanics we are traveling with one Israeli couple in their sixties and a young French couple with nine year old boy.  Our guide, Maria, is bilingual and translates most of her commentary into good English for the benefit of this small minority.  She also has a degree in tropical biology, which will come in handy when when she guides us on tomorrow's wildlife sighting boat ride.

After leaving the ugly San Jose metropolitan area we travel East through lovely countryside. Once one leaves the cities Costa Rica is indeed a tropical paradise. We are still in the dry season. The weather has been almost ideal for touring, albeit a little hotter and more muggy than one would like. With hats and plenty of sunscreen lotion to protect us it's great to walk outside to take in the lush vegetation and bright flowers everywhere along the route. We make one of several stops at a banana plantation and processing plant: banana trees as far as the eye can see, each bunch of growing bananas wrapped in a blue plastic bag to protect its content from insects. All the bananas are picked green, at least at this Dole plantation, and ripen in transit to the USA and other destinations. (This probably explains why these bananas will never taste as good as the African bananas we ate in Lyon, France, which were tree ripened.)  However, the main attraction during this rest stop turns out to be an "insect", not the bananas, a Hercules beetle kept as a pet and tourist magnet by one of the venders selling drinks and snacks. Clearly it is wise to cover the bananas while they grow.

At the end of our four hour drive we all climb into a boat  for our one hour boat ride to Tortuguero.

Scenic view

 Banana trees as far as the eye can see

 Processing green bananas for shipment

 Tourist with Hercules Beetle

Closeup of Hercules Beetle

Looking for Wildlife at Tortuguero,  April 20

Hotel Laguna Lodge, our next destination, sits on a narrow strip of land in the Tortuguero National Park, bordered on the East by Caribbean Sea and on the West by the Tortuguero River.  (See attached map). It can only be reached by boat. Its location make it theoretically an ideal base for seeing an abundance of wildlife: reptiles, birds and mammals. Indeed on two boat trips available on the morning after we arrived we had the opportunity to see a dozen or so species of birds, seven or eight monkeys and lots of reptiles, including caimans and lizards, on the shores of the canals that traverse the Tortuguero wetlands. Maria, our guide, was very good at spotting them. But most of them were even better at remaining hidden or at scurrying or flying away. Photographing them from a swaying boat, with twenty or so other eager tourists jostling for better positions with the same idea of getting that perfect shot, was not an easy task. I took many pictures, but only a few are sharp enough to present.

Laguna Lodge at Tortuguero

 Camouflaged basilisk



 Tiger Heron

 Black Crown Night Heron

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