Vehicles

Sweet ride. Nice wheels. Shiny wings. Enjoy the flight.   Bon voyage. Road trip! She’s a beauty. A credit to the seven seas. Been down one too many roads. Fasten your seat belts. All aboard. Tickets, please. One track mind. Giddy up. Coming through. Full steam ahead. Prepare for rough seas. Rough road ahead. We may experience intermittent turbulence. Park it here. Dock it here. Land it there.

All photos and artwork included in this Web site are copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

© Eric Schickler Photography

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Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 2 – Our Exotic Adventure

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Eric Schickler’s full-length travelogue,Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula”

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Exotic Adventure on the Osa Peninsula

Our Costa Rican fun started with a rather turbulent, attention-getting flight on a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin-Engine Otter (capacity: 19 people). We flew out of the capital city of San Jose at mid-morning, up and over the Talamanca Range (Cordillera de Talamanca).

Even with turbulence, the 45-minute, 236-mile flight was visually rewarding, thanks to the special over-sized viewing windows Nature Air installs on its planes. The final leg took us over Corcovado National Park, one of Costa Rica’s largest, and the crown jewel of the Osa Peninsula.

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The second half of the flight was along the Pacific coast, southward to the small port town of Puerto Jimenez, home to just 1,780 people, but the largest town on the peninsula.

It is best known for its gold mining and logging that started in the 1960s and, as late as the 1980s, was considered a frontier cowboy town bustling with commercial activity and gun-toting miners. Even today, with some gold mining still occurring (much of it illegal), rough-and-tumble gold diggers add a wild west feel to the bars at night.

The mining and logging decades caused considerable damage to the natural beauty of the area. When the government designated the peninsula’s lands as protected nature reserves, the influx of conservationists and adventurers caused a revitalization of the town as a staging grounds for area eco-tourism.

The airstrip in Puerto Jimenez was more like some farm’s back cornfield than an aviation center. I thought the pilot was confused about our landing, as we came in so fast and dropped so quickly into a narrow gap in the treed costal area, onto a hidden strip of pavement on “the farm.” I learned that our plane was a STOL aircraft (Short Take Off & Landing). It was aptly named.

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The terminal was nothing more than an open-air lean-to with a corrugated tin roof, tucked snugly under some trees—built for shade and that’s it.

Children on bikes and clueless animals intermittently cruised along or crossed the very small runway.

The airstrip was adjacent to the town’s cemetery, leading me to wonder if its close proximity is related to occasional mishaps between aircraft and runway inhabitants.

Even more interesting, the Century 21 Real Estate office is next to the cemetery. Yet another coincidence?

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The puritan architecture of the lean-to terminal left me confused about where to get our luggage.  No problem, there’s the pilot himself getting them out of the storage compartment for us. What service.  What multi-talent.

Wait, isn’t he the same guy who had the judge-and-jury attitude back at San Jose International Airport? The man who eyed the luggage scale so scrupulously as my bag’s reading hovered near the 27-lb. limit? What a champ. What a transformation of character.

“Your bags, sir. Enjoy your stay on the Osa Peninsula. Pura Vida.”

The Osa Peninsula is one of just a handful of ocean-piercing peninsulas found in all of Central America. There are also just four or five gulfs. The rest of the continent’s shoreline is fairly smooth and consistent. The peninsula is far away from civilization and very close to the border of Panama to the south.

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Remote, sparsely populated and almost entirely protected as forest preserves, the Osa has but a few small towns, which are accessed only by air, sea or primitive, dangerous roads. Some mountain roads get little or no maintenance, and can be impassable during the rainy season (May-November), when they turn to mud and nearby rivers over-run their banks.

The Osa is described as pristine, peaceful, beautiful, rustic and adventurous.

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Don’t expect huge five-star hotels with modern-day accoutrements. Located in the south portion of the Puntarenas Province, it is bordered on the Pacific side by Drake Bay and by an inlet known as Golfo Dulce.

Drake Bay, discovered by Sir Francis Drake of England when he circled the globe in the late 1500s, is at the northwestern end of the peninsula and the expansive Corcovado Park, which covers one-third of the peninsula.

The tiny town of Drake offers a few places to eat, a scattering of small stores and tour-business shops. But most importantly, it has an airport and several luxury resorts and lodges nearby.

IMG_8265.JPGBeach lovers will feel as if they have escaped civilization on Playas San Josecito and Cocalito. Walks in the rain forest nearby will take you up close to kinkajous, sloths and monkeys, to name a few.

Cano Island, just 12 miles off shore, boasts outstanding snorkeling and diving, and is a biological reserve. Its waters are almost always crystal clear. Look for white-tip reef sharks, needle fish, sea turtles, dolphins and whales.

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Golfo Dulce (“Sweet Gulf”) runs along the southeastern coast of the Osa Peninsula, and is the tenth deepest gulf in the world (600 feet in the middle).

It captured the attention and passion of marine conservationist and explorer Jacque Cousteau decades ago for its pristine beauty, biodiversity and abundant animal and marine life. He believed it was a close runner-up to the Norwegian Fjords, and called it a “tropical fjord,” one of only three such “fjords” in the world. Although technically, fjords are carved by glaciers.

It is one of the most humid and wettest parts of Costa Rica, receiving 200+ inches of rain annually. The entire gulf shoreline (27 miles long and five miles across) is virtually uninhabited by people and development, but rich in flora and fauna.

The Osa Peninsula is home to the largest concentration of Scarlet Macaws in the world. Locals call them lapas.

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They are the largest member of the parrot family, are monogamous and pair for life, 35-45 years. If one mate dies, often times the other dies shortly thereafter. Their appeal as pets and the impact of deforestation have kept them on the endangered species list.

The gulf is a calving area for the north and south Pacific humpback whale groups and attracts schools of whale sharks from April to May. Bottlenose and spinner dolphins are also abundant.

Swimming is very popular, as the gulf is very calm and smooth and contains a great amount of fresh water from nearby rivers. Thus the name Dolce, meaning “Sweet” or “Fresh.”

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It didn’t take long to get a feel for the area, and a feel for tropical relaxation.

Our Toyota touring truck moved slowly through the small town, and we instantly noticed the slow pace and friendliness of the people. Children smiled and waved. Automobiles were few and far between. Horses, motorcycles, bicycles and feet were the main modes of transport.

We were beyond the town in mere minutes and suddenly out in wide-open plantation country. All we saw were a dozen dwellings over the entire three-mile ride.

The truck had an open rear bed with two long, cushioned sightseeing benches.  We loved the great views, but there was a risk of getting clipped by overhanging roadside tree branches. Better pay attention, stay close to the middle of the truck, and look ahead!

Weather on the Osa is fairly predictable.  The nicest months (the “dry season”) are December through April. The May through November “green season” has higher rainfall totals, especially August through September.

The May through November “green season” has higher rainfall totals, especially August through September.

 

To continue the travelogue, click here to go to Part 3:  http://ericschickler.com/2011/06/20/costa-ricas-osa-peninsula-part-3-iguana-lodge/

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© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photography, text and artwork seen here is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

 

 

Denver’s Union Station and the Colorado Ski Train

 Union Station:  the Alpha and The Omega

After a harrowing slide down the mountain in my trusted Mazda MX-6, I lugged my ski gear across the frozen parking lot, slipping on the fresh snow. (Better to slip on my feet, I thought, than off a mountain road in my car).


Sunrise over Denver from the Evergreen foothills.
Photo: Eric Schickler

 

The fallen snow had created a scenic white cityscape, unusual in Denver even in the middle of winter, and made Union Station look more prominent and historic than ever, its monstrous white-stoned bulk lurking in the foggy haze. Its juxtaposition in a relatively open area of Lower Downtown allows it to be seen like a statue in the center of a courtyard, from a greater distance and more perspectives than is usually afforded in tight city street grids. Its classic 1914 architecture makes it stand out in a downtown district that sees a new building pop up almost monthly.

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The large lighted red letters that crown the building boldly announce where you are, and in a circus-attraction manner, promote a specific mode of transportation as if it were the latest fad worthy of curious exploration — “UNION STATION — TRAVEL by TRAIN.”  It reminded me of the entrance to Disneyland or the inviting allure of the lettering over an  amusement park. It was definitely a throwback to the past.  But that was part of the charm.

The station is indeed a testament to Denver’s colorful, historic past, when train travel was the fastest and most comfortable way to get around. And as we are learning, the station will again become a bustling transportation hub and social center for Denver. Will it become the giant it once was, or become even more magnificent, as its history and crucial location are blended with new commercial and residential development, travel technology and a myriad of visitors from even more distant lands? The dark quiet morning gave way to the glow of warm lights and activity in and around the terminal. The massive arched windows above the entrance beckoned me inside, as did the warmth of its cavernous hollow. I slipped into its massive hull, inhaled, swallowed up — like a wandering fish by a giant whale.

My lonely drive from the foothills into the deserted city streets gave way to an instant feeling of connection as I let the doors close behind me. Connection to the city, connection to people wide awake at 6:30 a.m., to the rail tracks that ran along the rear of the building, and to faraway destinations at the other end of the tracks. I was thankful for the activity and my senses were awakened. A wave of warm air met my frozen forehead, condensation formed on my eyeglasses, then my friends approached with a hot cup of coffee and warm greetings. Conversations quickly shifted to the nature of the approaching voyage we would make together.

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Footstep echoes flittered across the grand atrium, mingling with muted, yet excited voices. Bundled-up children sat restlessly in the long wooden pews, as if they were about to witness a church service. But the facial expressions were not those you’d see as old Father Murphy marched past them to the alter. They were more like those you’d see on Christmas morning. The eager hum among the children grew with each passing minute. Even grown adults exuded child-like anticipation and excitement.

Everyone readied themselves and their baggage for boarding the quarter-mile-long train for the 7 a.m. departure for the mountains. Most city rail stations would see a 7 a.m. train screech to a halt, fill up quickly, depart, only to be followed within minutes by the same ritual, another train. With short visits from only two Amtrack trains per day, however, the activity around Denver’s Union Station today is like the flickering flame on the wick of a near-empty oil lamp. It’s akin to life in a western ghost town, where a smattering of weekend tourists provide enough commerce for seclusion-hungry locals to cling to a bare-bones existence.

The stark, expansive room seemed haunted with its early 1900’s decor and rich ambient history. In the few minutes I had before boarding, I imagined what it was like to be a child lost in the middle of a bustling throng of Depression-era travelers, filing in and out if the station during its heydays when nearly 80 trains a day pulled in and out. What a contrast to life at Union Station at the very end of the 20th century. Union Station stood as a static relic, an anomaly in Denver’s revitalized and vibrant Lower Downtown district. An unprecedented surge in LoDo’s economic activity was ignited by the 1995 opening of Coors Field. It was followed by widespread residential and commercial development, new businesses, sports, entertainment and cultural attractions, restaurants, galleries and shops. But the decline in rail travel and train commerce had relegated Union Station to a shadow of the activity center it once was.

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 On this day, as the snow continued to fall, Union Station was as busy as it ever gets. It was a weekend in the winter, so the two daily Amtrack trains would be complemented by the Rio Grande Ski Train, which carries passengers to Winter Park Resort for a day of downhill fun or sightseeing, as it has for 60 years. People rave about the Ski Train. It’s a must for every Coloradan.

I had driven from Evergreen to Denver before dawn, and would go back up the hill later that evening.  Was all that effort worth a train ride? I was joining a group of friends for the excursion, my first ever on the Ski Train. I was just as excited as any of the children making their first trip. And I was just going for the ride — I had a broken heel at the time and could not ski. That made no difference. The best parts of the day are the train rides.

On the train, I delighted in the fact that I and 749 others were sitting back enjoying the passing countryside, instead of clinging white-knuckled to my steering wheel as I maneuvered snow-packed I-70, U.S. 40 and Berthoud Pass. For two hours, we rode 56 comfortable miles, climbing 4,000 feet in elevation, passing through 28 tunnels. Then we approached the final mountain underpass, the 6.2-mile-long Moffat Tunnel, the highest railroad tunnel in the U.S.

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But for some reason, the visit to historic Union Station was the most memorable part of my day. That building was the first and last impression of my trip, and it dawned on me that it’s the place where you say goodbye and hello, where you cry, smile and hug loved ones. Union Station is like the old worn leather cover of a great novel. The start and the finish, with so many memories in between. And you always end up sharing it with someone you love.

The last time I traveled any great distance by train was 1987 in New York State. After visiting Union Station and taking that ride on the Ski Train, I now think differently. I’ll look for an excuse to ride the train, and take my friends. Recent security concerns in airline travel have forced people to think again about rail travel. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I first walked into Union Station on that wintry morning.

Oh, getting back to my question…. Was it worth all that effort just to ride a train?  Oh yes. To ride a train and visit Union Station. When it comes to trains, the journey is the reason you ride, but I just love going through that station.

* All photos in this article (except sunrise image) courtesy of Denver’s Union Station and The Ski Train.

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© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design