Southern Sky Fiesta 2008

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Up ] Caribbean Coast 1995 ] Central Highlands 1995 ] Pacific Coast 1995 ] Final Leg 1995 ] Victoria to San Jose 2008 ] [ Southern Sky Fiesta 2008 ] Poas & Sarapiqui 2008 ] Arenal Volcano 2008 ] Arenal to San Jose 2008 ] San Jose to Victoria 2008 ] La Ensenada Nature Walks 2008 ] Horseback Riding 2008 ] Mangrove Boat Ride 2008 ] Tractor Ride 2008 ] Carara National Park 2008 ] Likes & Dislikes ] Victoria to San Jose 2009 ] Southern Skies Fiesta in Costa Rica 2009 ] Tamarindo 2009 ] San Jose to Victoria 2009 ]


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Joe's cabana at La Ensenada LodgeFebruary 4, 2008 - Monday - San Jose to La Ensenada "Star" Lodge - Our drive from San Jose to the Lodge was uneventful.  The cabanas at the La Ensenada Lodge are basic but clean.  Most of them are facing south, have nice verandas with a hammock, and are lined up along the edge of a big field which is used for observing. It is very convenient to be able to setup our telescopes and cameras right outside our door, especially for those of us who are astro-photographers.  When we are running long imaging series, we can go back to our cabana and have a Satellite map of area around La Ensenadanap while we wait for things to finish.  All the cabanas are equipped with red lights only, and the rest of the resort is also red lights only except for the bar area, which is setup for those who are not interested in astronomy.  We have the whole Lodge to ourselves, so the staff really cater to our special needs...including having coffee and cookies available all night long!

As you will see by their website, La Ensenada Lodge has a lot going for it: reasonable prices, good facilities, and lots of activities (if you're so inclined).  The staff are very friendly, and willing to do almost anything for their guests.  The owners are very nice people, and occasionally have dinner with their guests.  Overall, La Ensenada Lodge gives me a good feeling, and I'm comfortable staying here.  What more could you ask for?

"La Ensenada" - gate to trail #2 in early morning light Great-tailed Gracle & Horse Lookout hill, pastures
Brahma bulls in the pasture Yellow flower Horses in the pasture
Feburary 5, 2008 - Tuesday - I start our first full day at La Ensenada Lodge by taking an early morning Nature Walk to the local pond.  Along the way we see the Brahma bulls that are raised at La Ensenda ranch, as well as: Screech Owls (in the tree behind the kitchen), Red-lored Parrots, Violaceous Trogans, Clay-coloured Robins (the national bird), Rufous Motmots, Great-tailed Gracles (following the horses in the pasture), several termite nests (in the trees), and a big Spiny-tailed Iguana in the bush.  We see lots of wildlife at the pond: Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, crocodiles, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and lots of small wading birds such as Sandpipers. Group at the pond lookout
I signed up for  a Tractor Ride this afternoon.  I didn't have too many expectations about this activity, however it turned out to be very enjoyable. The owners of La Ensenada are Italians, and their son Giancarlo guided the hour and a half Tractor Ride all over the property. We saw quite a bit of wildlife, thanks to the amazing spotting skills of the Tico tractor driver.  We stop to see how the salt ponds are used to make salt from seawater.  Near the end of the ride, we wound up a narrow and steep road to the top of a hill overlooking the farm property and the Gulf of Nicoya. Going back down the Lookout hill

After dark, I saw the Zodiacal light for the first time since I've been observing. This proves that La Ensenada Lodge has magnitude 6 or better skies, unlike any other locations I have observed from in my lifetime.  One possible exception to this might be while I was sailing from New Zealand to Fiji aboard SV Sequoia in 2004. I tried to take a series of photographs of the Zodiacal light to make into a movie, but the exposures were not right. I tried setting up my Astrotrac tracking mount and my astrophotography gear, but without being able to see Polaris I was getting frustrated by not being able to align the mount properly.  I decided to put the photography gear away for the night and enjoy myself by observing visually.  I hadn't brought a telescope with me,  however I borrowed one of the little Orion StarBlast Dobsonians (4.5" or 113mm aperture) the Sky and Telescope folks had thoughtfully brought along. Despite the small aperture, I managed to view: M48 (a nice open cluster); Saturn (the gap between planetary disk and rings was visible, but little else); IC2994 (a beautiful open cluster); Eta Carina Nebula (a gorgeous emission nebula easily visible with the unaided eye); and NGC2457, NGC2451 and M41 (all nice open clusters). Not a bad observing log considering I was tired! I didn't stay up past midnight.

February 6, 2008 - Wednesday - I took another early morning Nature Walk through the pastures, and later in the day took a Mangrove Boat Ride.

Group walking across pasture

Nature Walk

Fidel, Albin, Diego, Chris Hemstock, Betty & Paul Long

Mangrove Boat Ride

I find out this evening that my cellphone works fine from La Ensenada Lodge, despite my earlier concerns to the contrary, so I call home around 9pm local time and check-in with my family (7pm their time).  Pacific Time is two hours earlier than local Costa Rica time (Central Time zone).  So if you have a GSM cellphone, by all means bring it along with you for casual use in Costa Rica.  Check your cellular provider's roaming capabilities and rates in Costa Rica.  I would also suggest you read the Cell Phones article for tips on how to save on charges if you are staying in Costa Rica for awhile.

Scarlett Macaws, Carara National ParkFebruary 7, 2008 - Thursday - We go to Carara National Park today., which is a day-long bus trip. First stop is to see some 33 big crocodiles under a bridge over the Rio Grande de Taracoles. After we arrived at the start of our little hike, there was some rain from the tree canopy falling on us. Along the trail we saw some Leaf-cutting ants, a pair of Scarlet Macaws in a tree (a thrilling sight), and a Slaty-tailed Trogan. We had a very nice buffet lunch at the nearby Hotel Villa Lapas, which is located in a scenic tropical gully along a river. We  stop for a swim at the beach at Caldera, just south of Puntarenas. Diego and Walter served us watermelon and bottled cold water - again, a nice touch.  We return to the Lodge via Miramar.

I have been incredibly frustrated with my astrophotography efforts while staying at La Ensenada "Star" Lodge. The skies are nice and dark (around magnitude 6.0), but Polaris is very low in the northern sky. This makes polar alignment using Polaris practically impossible. John showed me the basics of drift alignment this evening, and that allowed me to align my Astrotrac much better than before, so I could take some images. As I write this on our third night, it has been quite cloudy - again very frustrating!

Sunrise at La Ensenada, Rigel Kentaurus & Hadar visible in SEFebruary 8, 2008 - Friday - our last full day at La Ensenada "Star" Lodge - Since I went to bed quite early last evening, I go on another early morning Nature Walk - and I do mean early.  I have the photo to prove it, showing Rigel Kentaurus & Hadar visible in southeastern sky as the sun rose at 5:45am.

Horseback Ride - the group with Joe in the lead on ColoradoI signed up for a Horseback Ride this morning. We all had a good time; especially considering none of us appeared to have ridden a horse for many years. The last time I rode a horse was when I was  a teenager. The horses were very well trained, and the ride was interesting.  It took us about two hours to ride all around the property of La Ensenada. We went to the top of a hill overlooking the coastline, and basically rode around the other hill where we had previouslystopped for viewing on the tractor ride.

Our afternoon was free of activities, which was a nice change.  After dinner this afternoon, we had some entertainment by a couple of Xylophone players.

Eta CarinaAfter dinner, I had a nice sleep for a couple of hours. When I woke up around 7:30pm there were beautifully clear skies! This is the opportunity I have been waiting for all week. This evening I don't take any chances, relocating my Astrotrac tracking mount to a spot on the field where I can see Polaris, and get a proper polar alignment.  I  take time lapse images of the southern horizon over a three hour period until midnight.  This sequence shows many of the southern objects in the sky as they rise. I then image the Eta Carina region - now I'm cooking! After Eta Carina I move to the Southern Cross and image the whole region: Crux, the Coalsack, and the large nebula to the east. While the camera is imaging the Southern Cross region, I go back to the cabana and process the Eta Carina images, since I can see they are quite good. Finally, I produce an image I'm happy with! Both John and I are up until 4am imaging, since this is our last chance to do astrophotography from La Ensenada "Star" Lodge.

Costa Rica Southern Skies from Joe Carr on Vimeo

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Costa Rica Southern Skies
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February 9, 2008 - Saturday - La Ensenada "Star" Lodge to San Jose - We spend our last morning at the Lodge comparing observing notes from the night before. Several of the group pulled all-nighters, since the sky was so wonderful. I think last night was perhaps the all-time best observing evening I've ever experienced. It was warm, the magnitude 6 sky was steady and crystal clear, and of course the temperature was very comfortable at about 25C. The bonus was having virtually no mosquitoes. I don't know where they went, but it was a welcome relief. I observed a dozen or more southern sky objects visible from this latitude of 10 North.

Observing from 10 North has driven home the point that I must travel to the southern hemisphere (South Africa, New Zealand or Australia). Observing from those more southerly locations will reveal a whole new sky to me. After my trip to New Zealand and Fiji in 2004, I'm convinced that the southern hemisphere has more than its fair share of superb celestial objects. I must add some of them to my Observing Log within the next few years.

Howler monkey in the trees above our cabanasWe have some resident Howler monkeys who live near the cabanas.  I walk down to the end where their tree is, and take some close-up photos. Before we all climb aboard the bus, we have a group photo taken. Then we leave La Ensenada "Star" Lodge for San Jose. It is a long drive over the mountains. We stop for lunch at Sarchi, and of course the tourist trap stuff is there for us: t-shirts and caps, knickknacks, and those painted ox carts Sarchi artisans are famous for. After we check-in at the Courtyard Marriot, it's nice to have a hot shower and get the dust washed off. It's also wonderful to connect to the Internet to catch up on the news and my email, and post to my JoeTourist blog.

We attend a farewell dinner at the nearby Laguagua Cuban Restaurant this evening. It was very noisy, and it took 1 hours between ordering and receiving our food. Most of the group will be returning home, however some of us are continuing on with the Volcanoes and Rainforest back-to-back tour.  I'm looking forward to traveling with a smaller group.

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