The Turtle Trauma of an Arribada – Playa Ostinal, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

Turtle nesting is brutal. First, an enormous female turtle–compelled by an overpowering maternal instinct–hauls her massive self out of the water and lumbers up a sandy beach to the high water line. There she digs a hole using appendages designed for swimming, not shoveling.  Then, if she’s lucky, she’s left in peace to squeeze out dozens of probably doomed turtle eggs. No wonder female sea turtles actually appear to be crying through the whole ordeal. However, normal sea turtle nesting is nothing compared to the turtle trauma that occurs during a turtle arribada like the one we witnessed when we traveled to Playa Ostinal on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.

Turtle coming out of the sea - Arribada Ostinal Beach Costa Rica

A female olive ridley turtle comes ashore on Playa Ostinal in Costa Rica as part of a massive turtle arribada.

Turtle arriving on the beach -Arribada Ostinal Beach Costa Rica

A female olive ridley turtle comes ashore on Playa Ostinal in Costa Rica as part of a massive turtle arribada.

A sea turtle nesting orgy

Every year hundreds of thousands of olive ridley sea turtles swarm the black sand of Playa Ostinal over the course of a week or so. The event, which occurs four times a year near shortly before the new moon and can last up to eight days, is called an arribada.

Turtle Arribada Ostinal Beach Costa Rica

Two way traffic: Female olive ridley turtles coming and going during a nesting orgy known as an arribada.

The arribadas in Costa Rica are so important to the species that a 33 square mile (85 square kilometer) area around Playa Ostinal was turned into the Ostinal Wildlife Refuge in 1982. The event is also important for local tourism and a cottage industry of turtle guides has sprung up in the area’s otherwise lazy fishing villages.

You can see the spectacle for yourself in our video, below, showing olive ridley turtles emerging from the sea during the arribada on Playa Ostinal.

Turtle coming to lay eggs -Arribada Ostinal Beach Costa Rica

Massive turtle nesting events in Costa Rica are a crucial part of the survival of the olive ridely sea turtle species.

Turtle on the beach - Arribada Ostinal Beach Costa Rica

Tired, but still trying.

Just our luck

Through no planning on our part we happened to be on the Nicoya Peninsula near the start of the arribada.  The first days of an arribada seem to bring the highest density of turtles but we couldn’t reach the beach until day four of the invasion.

The Globetrotter Girls had posted photos from the first days of the arribada when the beach was swarming with turtles and that’s what we were hoping to see. But when we reached Playa Ostinal on day four we were disappointed to see only several dozen turtles emerging from the gentle surf, laboring up the beach, digging holes or returning to the sea.

Turtles Ostinal  Arribada Nicoya Peninsula Costa Rica

Most of the thousands of olive ridely turtles that take part in the annual arribada nesting frenzy arrive in the first few days. After that, numbers thin out.

Turtle tracks - Turtle Arribada Ostinal Beach Costa Rica

Turtle nesting neighbors on Playa Ostinal in Costa Rica.

Still, that was more sea turtles than we’d ever seen in one place before and it allowed us to really observe all stages of the nesting process. For example, when we arrived one female was in the midst of laying her eggs. From a distance we watched her finish and carefully bury the eggs before turning tail and moving slowly back to the water. But, sadly, that’s not where the process ended.

Turtle laying eggs - Arribada Ostinal Beach Costa Rica

A female olive ridley turtle in the process of digging a nest in which to lay her eggs on Playa Ostinal in Costa Rica.

Carnage on the beach

The mother turtle wasn’t even five feet away from her newly-made mound before a pack of local stray dogs was digging it up and devouring her just-laid eggs. A gang of vultures soon joined in the feast. It was carnage on the beach.

Bits of white turtle egg shell specks in the black sand all along the high water line was evidence that this feeding frenzy was not an isolated incident. The trees along the beach were heavy with stuffed and smug vultures. Fat-bellied dogs sniffed around half-heartedly.

Turtle eggs - Turtle Arribada Ostinal Beach Costa Rica

The white bits in the sand above the water line on Playa Ostinal in Costa Rica are bits of turtle egg shell left behind by feasting vultures and dogs.

We were horrified and we scanned the beach looking for some sort of ranger or Ostinal Wildlife Refuge employee who was in charge of patrolling and protecting the turtles. There was no such person.

We were told later that so many turtles lay so many eggs on this beach during an arribada that locals are allowed to collect a limited number and sell them to a handful of authorized bars which then sell the eggs to customers as snacks (yes, that’s code for “aphrodisiacs”) and the dogs and vultures are allowed to eat what they can.

This was in complete contrast to the almost ridiculously sheltered nesting we’d witnessed on other beaches where concerned biologists and locals carefully dig up nests and re-bury turtle eggs in protected and monitored mounds before hand-releasing the hatchlings.

Olive Ridley Turtle laying eggs -Arribada Ostinal Beach Costa Rica

A turtle mom hard at work, just one of thousands who nest on Playa Ostinal during an arribada.

Turtle timing is everything

During an hour or so on Playa Ostinal we saw several dozen turtles come and go. At least five of them never even dug a nest or laid even a single egg before sort of shrugging and returning to the water. We saw two dead turtles on the beach as well, more food for the scavengers though the vultures seemed stuffed and the dogs were roaming without enthusiasm.

We later learned that the strongest, smartest and most experienced turtles usually arrive early in the arribada with younger, weaker and less mature females arriving later.

We left our first arribada with mixed feelings. We were grateful to have seen the spectacle but disturbed by the carnage and the ineptitude of some of the turtles. How in the world has this species lasted this long? Thankfully, we could retreat to the peace and, yes, harmony of The Harmony Hotel about seven miles (11.5 kilometers) away on Playa Guiones.

Olive Ridley Turtle Ostinal Turtle Arribada Nicoya Costa Rica

Her work is done here.

Arribada Travel Tips

The dirt road to Playa Ostinal can be rough and if you drive there during the rainy season (like we did) be prepared to cross some swollen rivers. During one crossing the water came up to the doors of our truck.

When you arrive in Playa Ostinal you will probably be accosted by many local “guides” who will claim you have to hire one in order to get access to the beach during the arribada. However, we simply parked our truck and wandered the beach on our own so don’t feel compelled to pay for a guide unless you want one.


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Some Parks Have it All – Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

We spent time in dozens of national parks as we traveled through the United States so we can say with some degree of expertise that all of them are amazing in their own unique ways—Yellowstone has geothermal marvels, Denali delivers epic peaks, Crater Lake shows off the power of volcanoes. Then there are national parks that have it all, like Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, which was founded on August 9, 1916 and celebrates its 97th birthday today.

Lassen Peak Helen Lake Reflection California

Lassen Peak seen from Helen Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.

Within its 106,452 acre (43,080 ha) domain Lassen packs in geothermals and summits plus all four types of volcanoes. Over three days of utterly perfect temperatures we manage to explore most of this diverse park from our base in the Summit Lake North Campground.

Meadow view Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Peak seen from a bucolic meadow in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.

Warming up on the Cinder Cone Trail

As a warm up before tackling 10,457 foot (3,187 meter) Lassen Peak, we decided to climb up Cinder Cone. During the drive to the trailhead we spotted a honey colored black bear a few hundred feet off the road. It was busy ripping apart dead tree trunks in search of a snack and hardly notices us as we passed by.

Brown colored California Black Bear - Lassen Volcanic National Park

This bear was hunting for food inside rotting logs near the road that leads to Cinder Cone in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.

The Cinder Cone trail starts off pleasantly enough (except for the disturbing signs warning visitors about river otter attacks in the area), however, the route becomes very steep and very exposed at the base of the Cinder Cone itself.

Climbing Cinder Cone volcanic Crater - Lassen National Park, California

Karen on the Cinder Cone trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.

To make matters tougher, the trail runs through deep black cinders, which makes it feel like you’re walking through sand as you inch our way up the side of the dormant cone (two steps forward, one sliding step back, etc.). As usual, the harder the walk the greater the reward and at the top Cinder Cone lies a classic deep crater with a trail right down into it and a lovely path around the rim.

Cinder Cone volcanic Crater - Lassen National Park

Reach the top of Cinder Cone trail and your hike still isn’t through. This loop trail takes you around and into the crater itself.

Cinder Cone Panorama - Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Panoramic view from the top of the Cinder Cone trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California. See a larger version of this photo.

Ready for Lassen Peak?

The next morning it was time for Lassen Peak. The five mile (eight kilometer) round trip trail was busy but not packed–we saw maybe 40 other hikers—and, it must be said, it was an easier walk than we’d anticipated, perhaps because Cinder Cone was so much tougher than we’d expected.

Climbing Lassen Peak - Lassen National Park California

A stretch of trail about half way up Lassen Peak.

At the top we found a couple of flat rocks, the perfect place to break out our gourmet picnic of bbq pork sandwiches on onion rolls, grilled corn on the cob and boiled then grilled red potatoes leftover from our campsite dinner the night before.

Summit of Lassen Peak - Lassen National Park California

The summit of Lassen Peak.

As we ate, thousands of butterflies appeared all of them flying around the peak in the same clockwise direction. It was something we’d never seen before and it reminded us of what it feels like when we’re SCUBA diving in a swirling school of barracuda—lucky and bewildered. Less surprising were the swarms of chipmunk beggars who had clearly been spoiled by far too many human handouts.

View from Lassen Peak - Lassen National Park California

A view from the trail up Lassen Peak.

On the way down the Lassen Peak trail a doe and two frisky fawns crossed the trail right behind us before scampering off into a small meadow with mom in perpetual pursuit of her two energetic wanderers.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Peak dominating the skyline in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.

Welcome to Bumpass Hell

Our final day in Lassen was reserved for the Bumpass Hell trail where we learned that there really was a Mr. Bumpass (we presume he pronounced it Bum Pass) who used to guide visitors among the area’s sprawling fumaroles and boiling pots until he broke through the crust one day and fell into a scalding thermal feature burning his leg so badly that they had to cut it off, hence, the “Hell” part of the trail name.

Before we even reached the geothermal area we could hear the action—a kind of airport runway jet engine roar and hiss that seemed to be coming from all directions at once. After a few minutes of stupidly looking up at the sky trying to spot the planes that must be making all that racket we finally figure it out: we should be looking down.

Bumpass Hell Lassen Volcanic National Park California

The trail network through the geothermal areas of Bumpass Hell.

The Bumpass Hell area is made up of an array of steam vents and patches of bright yellow sulphur and boiling pools full of colorful water and putty-colored mud. It’s every bit as impressive as what we’ve seen in Yellowstone National Park (minus the bison and the elk, of course). Plentiful and blunt warning signs made it clear that if we didn’t watch our step and stay on the trail we could end up just like Mr. Bumpass.

Bumpass Hell geothermal area - Lassen National Park

Fumaroles in the geothermal Bumpass Hell area of Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Bumpass Hell geothermal Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Boiling mud pots in the Bumpass Hell area of Lassen Volcanic National Park.


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Vehicle Upgrade: PPE Performance Transmission Cooler for Chevy Silverado

As any overlander or road tripper knows, it’s important to keep unnecessary wear and tear to your hard working vehicle to a minimum. We’ve been noticing that the transmission temperature in our truck was sometimes creeping above 270° F (132° C), particularly when climbing long grades. We were concerned since these temperatures are approaching levels that could damage the transmission. It was time for a vehicle upgrade since replacing our Allison transmission in our Chevy Silverado would be extremely difficult and absurdly expensive here in Latin America.

After researching this issue on various Chevrolet Silverado Duramax diesel forums it became clear that we needed a larger transmission fluid cooler and from everything we read one choice stood head and shoulders above the rest: the “Mike L” cooler, now known as the Performance Transmission Cooler sold by Pacific Performance Engineering (PPE).

The cooler is larger than the factory installed version and the increased surface area allows for better cooling. The company kindly sent us a kit, which is basically plug and play. Just remove the OEM cooler and, using the included hardware, swap in the new larger cooler.  It took less than 30 minutes for a mechanic to install it and it was so easy that Eric probably could have done it himself.

Pacific Performance Engineering Transmission cooler Chevy Silverado

Simple as that: our new Pacific Performance Engineering Transmission Cooler installed in our Chevy Silverado where it’s keeping our transmission fluid up to 30 degrees cooler.

The PPE cooler looks simple but it instantly delivered noticeable transmission temperature reductions in daily driving. Without the PPE cooler our temperatures in standard driving were around 180° F (82° C). Now our standard driving temperatures are usually around 150° F (65° C).

On Saturday we put our new PPE Performance Transmission Cooler to the real test when we traveled from near sea level steeply up to more than 9,000 feet (3,000 meters) along a very slow and windy road. Over the course of three hours in steep, slow conditions our transmission stayed at least 20-30° F (11-17° C) cooler than it has been on similar climbs before installing the PPE cooler. This is well within its comfort zone which is a relief for us and for our truck.

Another way to lower our transmission fluid temps even more is to install PPE’s Heavy Duty DEEP Aluminum Transmission Pan. This larger transmission fluid pan increases the transmission fluid capacity by four quarts: more fluid equals lower temperatures.

However, this pan is more than four inches deeper than the standard pan which means it would hang down about three inches below the chassis frame, reducing our road clearance. Since some of the roads we drive on require all nine plus inches of clearance that we currently have on our truck, we were afraid that this deep pan could lead to potentially catastrophic damage if we were to smash the unprotected pan on something in the middle of nowhere.

PPE does, however, make a standard profile transmission pan that’s better than the OEM pan and we will be making this vehicle upgrade as soon as visiting friends or family can bring it down to us from the US. Hint, hint.

PPE Pacific Performance Engineering logo


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Surf & Chic – Tamarindo, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

Tamarindo, on the Nicoya Peninsula, started out as Costa Rica’s down and dirty surfer travel secret but the ensuing years have brought a remarkable amount of chic to to this surf town as well. The result is a kind of seaside schizophrenia to suit all travel budgets playing out on one of the most gorgeous, sweeping, inviting beaches in Costa Rica.

Tamarindo Beach, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

Any way you look at it Tamarindo Beach, on the Nicoya Peninsula, is one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica.

The surf side of Tamarindo

Joe Walsh, owner of Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, still pretty much looks like the 20-year-old Cali surfer that he was when he arrived in Tamarindo in a school bus in 2000. It’s fair to call Joe an early adopter, but Tamarindo wasn’t exactly undiscovered when he arrived. Some of the footage for the 1966 surf classic “The Endless Summer” was shot in Tamarindo.

Joe Walsh Witch's Rock Surf Camp & Volcano Brewing Company

Joe Walsh arrived in Tamarindo 20 years ago in a converted school bus. Now he runs Witch’s Rock Surf Camp and recently started Volcano Brewing Company as well.

Even Witch’s Rock has chiced up over the years. Today, it’s a pretty swank (in a sandy kind of way) 18 room guest house with numerous boats, boards and instructor plus a lively restaurant and bar.

Speaking of the bar…Did we mention the craft brewed beer? In 2011 Joe opened Volcano Brewing Company on the shores of Lake Arenal. The microbrewery makes pale ale and a nut brown ale (both delicious) and he sells every drop between the brewpub and restaurant on Lake Arenal and his bar in Tamarindo (US$3 for 12 ounces/30 ml).

Volcano Brewing Company Witch's Rock Pale Ale Tamarindo Costa Rica

Volcano Brewing Company craft-brewed beer for sale at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

Learn more about Volcano Brewing Company and other Central American microbrews in this piece we did for

The chic side of Tamarindo

LIke in many Costa Rican beach towns, condos and timeshares jockey for space among surfer flop houses, international chain hotels and tour bus traveler crash pads in Tamarindo. To reach the real chic you have to go travel to nearby Langosta Beach. There you will find Cala Luna Hotel.

Pool Cala Luna Hotel, Nicoya Peninsula, Tamarindo, Costa Rica

The pool at the chic Cala Luna Hotel near Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

Back in the loving hands of the Pilurzu family which originally built the hotel, a recent renovation has instilled real understated elegance to its 21 rooms and 20 villas (some with private pools). Aesthetics aside, Cala Luna also features a huge new open-air yoga pavilion where free morning classes are offered to guests and an on-site organic garden which gives their new food and beverage manager plenty to work with.

Cala Luna Hotel, Langosta Beach Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Inside the Cala Luna Hotel, one of the chicest offerings near Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

Tamarindo town is also dotted with dining options with stylish (and spendy) cafes and rubbing shoulders with cheap falafel stands (don’t miss a tiny spot called Falafel Bar).

We couldn’t leave Tamarindo without meeting (and eating with) Chef Shlomy, a local culinary institution who now heads up Seasons by Shlomy restaurant. Israeli born Shlomy Koren opened Seasons in 2007 and he now turns out what he calls a “mélange of styles” of cuisine. We call it Med Rica.

Ninety percent of his ingredients are sourced locally and Shlomy, a Cordon Bleau trained chef, turns them into inventive dishes like sautéed octopus on tahini with chick peas,shrimp (14 of them!) and spinach over house-milled polenta that’s sweet and rich and nothing like the Cream-of-Wheat-esque packaged stuff, home made ice cream and sorbet and even homemade bread.

Seasons by Shlomy - Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

This is what’s for dinner at Seasons by Shlomy restaurant in Tamarindo, Costa Rica: shrimp and spinach over sweet, rich house-milled polenta.

“Consistency is the name of the game,” says Chef Shlomy who cooks every entree himself (large appetizers from US$9, entrees from US$18, no credit cards). His US$28 prixe fixe including an entree, main and dessert chosen from any item on the menu is a bargain.

Chef Shlomy Koren - Seasons by Shlomy, Tamarindo

Chef Shlomy at his restaurant in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

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