Travel Tech Review: Seagate Hard Drives

The Trans-Americas Journey may look like fun and games but it’s also a working road trip and we generate a lot of data in order to manage our nomadic careers as freelance travel journalists and to keep our website and travel blog going.  Just like someone working in a traditional office we also need to keep our data backed up. Unlike someone in a traditional office we have to carry those back up hard drives with us wherever we go. That means they must be the toughest, smallest, highest capacity hard drives we can find. In 2011 we made the switch to Seagate hard drives and after 24 months of use here’s how these key pieces of travel tech have performed as part of our mobile office.

Our growing hard drive needs

It’s hard to believe that when we set out on our Journey seven years ago a 500GB desktop external drive and a 100GB portable drive were the largest capacity drives average consumers like us could afford. Luckily, drives just keep getting smaller in size and higher in capacity. Still, we carry nine external drives (both desktop and portable) in our truck in varying sizes from 500GB to 3TB, totaling a data capacity of 15TB.

We have an extraordinary amount of music and movies on our drives but it’s the vital documents, programs and nearly 100,000 photos (about 1.3TB of data) Eric has taken since the Trans-Americas Journey began that we’re most concerned about backing up.

Our collection of Seagate External Hard Drives

Doing more with less with Seagate hard drives

In 2011 we consolidated our data onto two Seagate GoFlex 3TB desktop drives which each doubled the capacity of our previous largest drives which only held 1.5TB. However, these are large drives which are not convenient for toting around so we use them as our double and triple backups.

The real game changers for us were the totally portable Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex drives which hold 1.5TB of data each. Before getting these drives Eric had to split his photo library between two 500MB drives—not exactly convenient or organized. For the moment, his entire library fits on just one of these 1.5TB Seagate drives.

Seagate hard drive performance after 2 years on the road

Our Seagate GoFlex drives have also proven to be more durable than any other portable drives we’ve owned. Yes, even awesome Seagate drives can fail–especially in the hot, dusty, humid, bumpy conditions on the road which have proven too much for previously owned drives from LaCie, Western Digital and Maxtor. So far, so good with our Seagates (where’s some wood to knock on???).

The GoFlex line, as the name implies, is also very flexible and offers a range of accessories that allow you to use the drive with any of the standard interfaces – USB 2 or 3, Firewire and eSATA. This means you can take advantage of the improved transfer speeds of the newer interfaces like USB 3 if your computer has those interfaces available.

Seagate drives also come in a Mac version. We’re  PC users so why does Mac compatibility matter to us? Because drives formatted for PCs generally don’t work easily on Macs and vice-versa. However, the Mac version of Seagate drives have a utility that allows the drive to be used on a PC as well. This means we can share data with a Mac directly from our drive and this can be handy on the road.

Hard drives keep evolving and so does our data

Seagate just updated and renamed their line of portable drives which is now called BackupPlus. These new drives are even smaller and lighter than our GoFlex drives. The new line of drives also has a new easy backup features that allows you to automatically back up your content. Though they seem to have done away with the eSATA interface in the new line, they’ve added Mac’s new Thunderbolt high-speed interface.

Since we just keep traveling and Eric just keeps shooting it’s clear that we will need to upgrade to the new Seagate BackupPlus 1.5TB portable drives soon and we’re looking forward to checking out their new features. However we’re still hoping they will come out with a 2TB version since Eric’s photo library will soon be surpassing the 1.5TB capacity of Seagate’s portable external hard drives.

 

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Whale Watching – Pacific Coast, Costa Rica

Within the first 25 minutes of our whale watching cruise on board the Tom Cat 1 Catamaran out of Quepos on the southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica we saw a full fluke and a full breach. Over the next three hours we saw at least two dozen humpback whales including mothers, calves and males in equally dramatic displays. We’d seen a few whales while hiking the newly opened Cathedral Point Trail in Manuel Antonio National Park, but nothing compared to the experience of being on the water with these huge animals.

Here are some humpback highlights.

Humpback Whale breach Costa Rica

This full breach of a humpback whale was an awesome way to kick off our whale watching trip in Costa Rica.

Humpback Whale breach splash Costa Rica

Humpback whales pretty much win every belly flop contest.

Humpback Whales Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica

It wasn’t uncommon for us to see groups of humpbacks, not just individual whales, during our whale watching trip in Costa Rica.

Humpback Whale fluke Costa Rica whale watching

An impressive full fluke.

Humpback Whale watching Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National Park

This humpback cruised past us not far from the catamaran we were on during a whale watching trip in Costa Rica.

Humpback Whales Breach & Fluke Costa Rica Whale watching

Either this is two humpbacks or we’ve got photographic evidence of a humpback version of the Loch Ness monster.

Humpback whale breach - Costa Rica whale watching tour

They make it look so easy and so fun.

Humpback Whale Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

A humpback checking us out as we checked it out.

Humpback Whale flippers - whale watching Costa Rica

Spouting and showing off those powerful flippers.

Humpback Whale spout Costa Rica whale watching

A humpback spouting and relaxing in a small cove off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.

Humpback Whale tail fluke Manuel Antonio whale watching

Yeah, this fluke display got a round of applause from passengers on the boat.

Humpback Whale fin Manuel Antonio whale watching Costa Rica

A tiny bit of a massive humpback breaks the water as it travels by our whale watching boat in Costa Rica.

Humpback Whale fluke tail - Costa Rica

Our guide told us that the fluke displays and tail slapping that we saw were probably a way for male humpbacks to communicate and show off for the females.

We could practically see whales right from our room at the Parador Resort & Spa in Quepos. Built along an undulating ridge line, the 129 rooms at the Parador take advantage of some of the most spectacular coastal vistas in an area known for spectacular coastal vistas.

Parador Hotel Quepos Costa Rica Manuel Antonio

The Parador Resort & Spa in Quepos, Costa Rica has one of the most spectacular views on the Pacific Coast, including parts of Manuel Antonio National Park and passing whales.

Opened in 1995 by the Schans family, the Parador is one of the largest and most resort-like accommodation in Quepos. Set on 12 ares, the Parador includes three pools, a petite but full-service spa, walking trails and beach access. You wouldn’t think a resort of this size could be very green but the Parador is consistently recognized for its eco efforts including composting, water and energy conservation, collection and use of rainwater and support of local reforestation and beach clean up programs.

Pool Parador Hotel Quepos Costa Rica

One of the three pools at the Parador Resort & Spa in Quepos, Costa Rica.

With 129 rooms there are a lot of categories to choose from but our advice is to go big. The most spectacular rooms at the Parador are the premium plus rooms and the suites which earn every penny with spectacular ocean and coastal views, including portions of Manuel Antonio National Park. Want to do some whale watching right from bed? Book room #5532, which made our Best Hotels of 2012 list as “best bed with a view.”

 

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Get a Glimpse of it All – Manuel Antonio National Park, Quepos, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica has both feet squarely on the beaten path. Tens of thousands of locals and foreigners travel to this park on the Pacific Coast above the town of Quepos every year. There’s almost always a line to get in. Why? Part of the park’s popularity is its easy-to-reach location. It’s also home to one of the best beaches in Costa Rica and visitors are pretty much guaranteed to see both types of sloths, monkeys, frogs, migrating whales (in season) and more. Are there more peaceful, less trampled parks in Costa Rica? Absolutely. However, if your time is limited Manuel Antonio is a good place to get a glimpse of it all. Just don’t expect peace and quiet.

Baby Capuchin monkey Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

We are shamelessly luring you into this post with this adorable baby white-faced capuchin monkey spotted in Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica.

Howler monkey Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica

We have no idea why this howler monkey was sticking its tongue out.

Three toed sloth Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica

A male three-toed sloth. All males have that black racing stripe down their backs.

 

The animals of Manuel Antonio National Park

The animal sightings start within minutes of entering Manuel Antonio National Park (US$10 per person, closed Mondays). As you walk in along the wide dirt access road keep your eyes on the trees and bushes on either side.

We saw a green tree frog almost perfectly camouflaged on the green leaf of a banana tree. A three-toed sloth was climbing up the trunk of a guaruma tree, hand over hand rope climb style. We spotted a nocturnal two-toed sloth sitting out the day in a tree a bit further along.

Three toed sloth Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

A three-toed sloth works its way up a guaruma tree in Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica. It may still be at it…

White-faced capuchin monkeys hang out in large groups near this road too, sometime even scampering across on the ground. And don’t even get us started about the insects.

Capuchin monkey Manuel Antonio National Park

A young white-faced capuchin monkey swings over to check out Eric’s camera in Manuel Antonio National Park.

Capuchin monkey Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

A white-faced capuchin monkey finds the perfect perch for some people watching in busy Manuel Antonio National Park.

Three toed sloth Costa Rica Central America

Sloths are often covered in mold and infested with insects and they spend much of the day carefully scratching with their impressive claws.

Warning: We’ve heard stories of visitors who didn’t hire a guide (like us) being accused of “eaves dropping” as guides with spotting scopes working with paying customers spot and explain wildlife along the roadway into the park.  But there’s only one way in and the road can get crowded and it’s often inevitable that you will end up in close proximity of a guide whether you hired him or not.

The trails of Manuel Antonio National Park

Only five percent of the three square miles (6.8 square km) that are protected within Costa Rica’s smallest national park are accessible via trails. Sadly, many of those trails have been closed for maintenance for more than a year, much to the frustration of Manuel Antonio rangers. When we asked park rangers what the problem was one simply responded “the government.” This made us grumble that for US$10 from every foreigner who visits you’d think they could find the funds to keep the small network of trails open. Sheesh. But we digress.

When we were in the park for the first time in January we were able to hike the Serruchu Point Trail up to a view point over Escondido bay.. However, this trail was muddy, slippery and in poor condition. It would not surprise us if this trail was closed for “maintenance” soon.

In January we were also able to hike the Gemelas Trail, which splits off near the base of the Serruchu Point Trail, to reach Gemelas Beach with its two small “twin” coves and dramatic rocky cliffs. However, when we returned to Manuel Antonio in September this trail was closed.

Playa Gemelas Manuel Antonio National Costa rica

The trail to Gemelas Beach in Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica may or may not be open to hikers.

The looping, climbing coastal Cathedral Point Trail, easily the highlight trail in this park, was closed during our first visit in January but when we returned to the park in September the Cathedral Trail had re-opened thanks to private investment from a local car rental company called Europcar.

Yes, it’s sad that a Costa Rican national park had to seek a private sector partner to get this trail upgraded but at least, in this instance, the partnership worked. Cathedral Point Trail is now a delight with numerous miradors (view points) looking out over the Pacific Ocean with a prime views of migrating humpback whales in season. Want more whales? Check out the humpback highlights in this photo essay from the whale watching boat trip we did while we were in Quepos.

Humpback whale watching Manuel Antonio Quepos Costa Rica

We saw migrating humpback whales, including this mother and calf, from one of the view points on the newly upgraded and re-opened Cathedral Point Trail in Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica.

The mostly-shaded trail which climbs up and over the headland is well-built and there are only a few discretely placed Europcar signs along the way. In this case we felt this was a fair and reasonable tradeoff: we get a killer new trail and Europcar gets a couple of tasteful, small ads.

One of the best beaches in Costa Rica

The hiking is good (especially now that Cathedral Point Trail is back online) and the animal sightings are fun but the real gem of Manuel Antonio National Park is its namesake beach, Playa Manuel Antonio.

You will see park visitors rushing right past loitering sloths and beckoning trail heads to make a beeline to the calm, protected waters, perfectly arcing expanse of white sand and shaded high water line of this beach. There are even nearby showers and toilets.

Playa Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica

Playa Manuel Antonio, one of the best beaches in Costa Rica and one of the busiest.

This really is one of the best beaches in Costa Rica, as the expanse of bodies in the sun and shade will attest. Many of those people bring picnics and snacks with them, a fact that’s not lost on the park’s population of monkeys, racoons and coatis which have been turned into clever, lazy, fat and furry beggars over the years thanks to visitors who choose to ignore the park’s regulations against feeding wild animals.

Two toed sloth Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

A nocturnal two-toed sloth naps away the day in a tree just a few steps behind Playa Manuel Antonio.

White Face Capuchin monkey Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

The family that picks nits together…

Some of these animals have also become thieves, making off with unattended grocery bags and even entire backpacks. You really can’t turn your back on your belongings even for a second.

If you want to lose some of the crowd head a few hundred yards down the trail to Playa Espalda. Just be aware that the furry thieves are on this beach too.

Playa Espalda Manuel Antonio National Quepos

Playa Espalda, behind Playa Manuel Antonio via a trail that bisects the narrow spit, is nearly as beautiful and often far less crowded than its more famous neighbor.

Hotels around Manuel Antonio National Park

The area around the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park is a jumble of mid-range accommodations and a few budget places as well. There’s also a scary resort literally right at the entrance. 

For a wider range of hotel and restaurant options and a more relaxed atmosphere head downhill away from the park entrance. Before you get all the way down to the town of Quepos (where you don’t want to stay unless you’re really, really, really on a budget) you’ll find hotels and restaurants lining the road.

For example, we handled sleeping and eating by staying at Hotel Makanda by the Sea. This place has six villas with full kitchens, three smaller studios with kitchenettes and two deluxe rooms plus one massive, sexy, four bedroom house with a huge living room, gourmet kitchen, private pool, outdoor grill an

Makonda-by-the-sea-Hotel-Costa-Rica

Karen enjoying the infinity-edge pool at Hotel Makanda By the Sea near Manuel Antonio National Park.

There’s also an awesome infinity-edge pool with Pacific Ocean veiws and a steep trail leads from Makanda down to a small, rocky beach which disappears at high tide

We had great wildlife encounters all over the hotel’s 12 acre (5 hectare) grounds including endangered titi (aka squirrel) monkeys swinging through the branches above the walkway to our room.

Titi monkey Squirrel Monkey Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

An endangered titi (squirrel) monkey in the trees above the balcony off our room at Hotel Makanda by the Sea near Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica.

One evening we pulled into the Hotel Makanda parking lot and discovered that a big stand of bamboo fallen over the driveway. Imagine our surprise when our headlights illuminated a sloth in the jumble of leaves and branches. The poor thing was clearly uncomfortable on the ground where it’s vulnerable to predators and was doing its slothy best to “hurry” to safety up a nearby tree.

Beach Makonda Hotel Quepos Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Us watching the tide roll in on the small, rocky beach below Hotel Makanda by the Sea. Photo courtesy of Dos.

Manuel Antonio National Park Travel Tips

Your US$10 entrance fee to Manuel Antonio National Park allows for multiple entries in the same day just in case you want to take photos during morning and afternoon light or you didn’t see all the animals you wanted to see during your first visit.

If you arrive at the park in your own vehicle you will likely be accosted by parking touts on the side of the road who will claim that their lot is the very, very, absolutely last available place to park. They may even be wearing official-looking uniforms, but that doesn’t make them right. Some of these touts are located a mile (2 km) or more away from the actual park entrance. Just continue driving all the way to the park entrance and check on availability for yourself. We were able to park our very large truck mere steps from the entrance both times we visited.

And if you know who Manuel Antonio was, share the knowledge in the comments section below.

 

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Beach Bargain Travel Guide – Playa Jacó & Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

When we traveled to Costa Rica for the first time back in 2000 Playa Jacó was a beach village populated by fishermen, surfers and in-the-know backpackers. Not long before that the area was so remote that old-timer fishermen can remember seeing jaguars on the beach. Recently we found a very different Jacó full of bungee jumping towers, sports bars and lots and lots of gringos. The streets were paved and backpacker prices were hard to come by, even if you move on to neighboring Playa Hermosa. Neither beach ranks as the best in Costa Rica but they are among the most accessible at just over 60 miles (100 km) from San Jose. With that in mind, here’s our beach bargain travel guide to these two popular Pacific Coast destinations.

Beach bargain hotels in Playa Hermosa and Jacó

We were looking for a more mellow vibe (and, perhaps, nicer prices) so we hightailed it out of Jacó and drove five miles (eight km) south to Playa Hermosa where we chose to stay at the clean and charming five room Costanera B&B. The surf is a few steps away, the Italian owners were welcoming and the mid-range price (from US$35 double) includes an awesome breakfast.

Though descent truly budget accommodation was hard to find in Jacó we did spend a night at the perfectly acceptable Jaco Inn Hostel in a private room with a shared bathroom for US$25 including use of a shared kitchen. Bring insect repellent.

Playa Hermosa Puntarenas Costa Rica

A rare shot of the two of us together as we wander down Playa Hermosa. Photo courtesy of Dos.

Beach bargain food in Playa Hermosa and Jacó

You can’t miss the signs for Taco Bar along the highway near Jacó and you shouldn’t miss a meal (or three) there either. It’s not a bargain at around US$10 for a plate with two big fish tacos and unlimited access to a delicious and varied salad, sauce and condiments bar. But it is a delicious, fresh splurge that satisfies.

We learned too late that from 4-10 they’ll sell you a two taco plate for the price of a one taco plate but you need to present a flyer (available at some hostels and hotels including the Jacó Inn Hostel) to get that special price. Do not confuse Taco Bar with Jacó Taco. They are not the same.

If you have access to a kitchen at your hostel or hotel you should know that the Auto Mercado in Playa Herradura, four miles (six km) north of Jacó, is the best-stocked supermarket on the Pacific Coast, though there are decent supermarkets in Jacó as well.

What to see and do in Playa Hermosa and Jacó

Endangered scarlet macaws are slowly making a comeback along the Costanera Highway around Jacó . They’re often spotted in the trees on the hillside near a large dusty turn out off the highway just south of Jacó. We saw scarlet macaws there on numerous occasions and it’s worth a shot to try your luck, especially in the morning or late afternoon. Plus, it’s free.

Scarlet Macaws Playa Hermosa Costa Rica

Endangered scarlet macaws are slowly making a comeback near Playa Jacó and we know where you’ve got a good chance of spotting them.

Scarlet Macaws flying Jaco Costa Rica

Endangered scarlet macaws are slowly making a comeback near Playa Jacó and we know where you’ve got a good chance of spotting them.

Scarlet Macaws Costa Rica

Endangered scarlet macaws are slowly making a comeback near Playa Jacó and we know where you’ve got a good chance of spotting them.

To see more macaws and other tropical birds visit Carara National Park (US$10 per person) 14 miles (22 km) north of Jaco. Notably, in May of 2013 Carara unveiled a .75 mile (1.2 km) handicapped accessible walkway, a rarity in Central American parks.

Near the entrance of Carara the Costanera highway crosses the Rio Tarcoles. You will always see vehicles parked by the bridge and people on the bridge looking down at the river. Why? A large group of very large crocodiles lives beneath the bridge.

Lagartos Crocodiles Rio Tarcoles River bridge

On your way to Playa Jacó and Playa Hermosa park and walk onto the bridge over the Rio Tarcoles for safe-distance views of the enormous crocs that live in the river.

We also enjoyed watching our friend Dos take surfing lessons in Jacó where there’s no shortage of surf schools and instructors to choose from.

Learn to surf lessons Jaco Beach, Costa Rica

Our friend Dos making the most of the surf on Playa Jacó.

 

Jacó Travel Tips

Chifrijo Costa RicaA few miles after you exit the pay highway from San Jose and enter the Costanera Highway headed to Jacó you will see a handful of roadside stands on your right. Look for one with a handwritten sign that says “Hoy Chifrijo.” Pull into the dusty parking area and be prepared for the best example we had of San Jose’s signature dish. Chifrijo (left) is a big bowl filled with white rice and red beans topped with chopped tender pork then chopped chicharon (fried pork skin) then doused with pico de gallo and a squeeze of lime. The chifrijo they make here (US$5 including a soda) is so good it made our Best Food & Beverages of 2012 list.

 

 

Oh, and learn to pronounce Jacó correctly: it’s Ha-COE with the emphasis on the final syllable.

These two beaches are so popular that we suspect some of you have been here too. Share your own Playa Jacó and Playa Hermosa beach bargain travel tips by leaving a comment, below.

Sunset Jaco Beach Puntarenas Costa Rica

Sunset from Jacó in Costa Rica.

 

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