Well, sadly, I have returned. I had an absolutely AMAZING trip to Costa Rica. I got back late on the 25th, then left the next night for Memorial Day weekend in the Outer Banks. Now I'm back in the swing again. I so don't want to be here... lol. As if that's any kind of surprise! I want to be back in Costa Rica, eating beans and rice and enjoying the amazing beauty of the country and the people. But, since that's not going to happen any time soon, I'll just have to suck it up and start making plans to go back again. I think next year... Luís said he'll take me to Nicaragua next time :D But I'm getting ahead... for those who have asked, here's my recap. I'll try to be brief, but I'm sure I'll fail, so I apologize in advance. LOL.
Day 1 - we flew in on Wed. 5/17, landing around noon. The views from the plane were enough to tell us we were in for a treat. Just stunning. This is actually the Atlantic side... we flew across and over to the other side of the country and landed in Liberia, in the Guanacaste region; most of the surfing beaches are in the vicinity. In fact, we had a professional snowboarder on our flight who was heading out for surfing (he was one of many excited surfers, in fact). His sister won a silver in the olympics. Too bad I didn't know anything about snowboarding. I digress. We got our rental car and drove into Playas del Coco where we found Señor Pizza and went in to find out where to get a key to the villa where we were staying. See, Costa Rica is fun this way. At least this part of it. I'm sure it's probably different in San Jose, but in the more remote regions, they don't have addresses. Eventually, the owners sent their electrician (who apparently also drives a cab) to find us and lead us to the house. We would never have found it. And it's a good thing we rented an SUV. There was some serious climbing and some very bad roads involved. Actually, the bad roads part never changed. That was just something you learned to accept and deal with. So we made it there, and it was stunning. To the left is a view of Casa Linda from the back (I'm standing next to the pool ;D ). Nicole and I each got our own room, and it was just amazing. To the right is the view from the balcony door in my room. Talk about a room with a view! Waking up to that every morning was incredible. We got situated, got directions into town and found a grocery store and a restaurant. Although it was pretty Americanized, The Rooster (as Dean called it) was right on the beach. Beautiful atmosphere and good food.
We ate - Pat and Nile (my aunt and uncle) wanted to go back to the Rooster to taste the nachos Nicole had been talking about. So that was lunch. Their sour cream is a specialty in the region, along with the beef (from their Brama cattle), and it's wonderful. Then, of course, we shopped. LOL. Playas del Coco has a whole strip of little tourist trap shops, and they were effective. What else can I say? I mentioned to some friends at the beach that my condo has now been redecorated in "Early Modern Costa Rican Tourist." This is where it began. Maybe sometime I'll snap a few pictures of my updated decor and post them. I'm loving it all. Anyway, we bought giant wooden geckos, masks, statues, and I got a fabulous sarong. After that, we went back to the villa and played show and tell, and then Alejandro, who runs a local tour operation, made a house call to give us a presentation on the tours they offer and help us get set up with whatever we wanted. He was totally cool, and it was the start of the best thing that happened to us. We immediately signed up for a river tour and an all-day tour out to the Arenal volcano and the Tabacón hot springs.
Day 3: Tempiske River Tour
Our first tour. Luís and our driver, Renaldo, picked us up at about 9:15am. My family is not shy, so it was pretty quick and easy to move beyond the standard tour mentality, especially since it was just the 6 of us in the group. Renaldo drove us through the countryside to the river, while Luís filled us in on history, culture, and all of the wildlife factoids we could have asked for. He's an awesome guide. As we were driving, they actually managed to spot some howler monkeys in the trees, so we pulled over to get out and see them (left). Their call is unmistakeable, and Luís got out and called to them to get them going. They're loud. Very loud. After that, we got to the river where we met up with another small tour group - a husband and wife from Arizona, with their guide, Marco. We were off. We saw birds like you wouldn't believe - I bought a small guide to Costa Rican birds so that I can identify all the ones I took pictures of. They're gorgeous. Egrets, Orioles, and lots more that I can't remember. We also saw tons of iguanas. My favorite was this bad boy to the right: he must have been 3 feet long. My favorite, of course, were the crocodiles. They have one of the highest concentrations of crocodiles in the world along the Tempiske river, and we were able to see lots of them. Here's one of my favorite pics - we got the boat in really close and the captain called me out to come up and crawl out so I could snap a shot of this one.
After the cruise, they took us to a great, authentic place where we had our first, real Costa Rican food. It was totally delicious. I bought a little cook book so I can try some of this at home. The homemade tortillas were the bomb. And I'm a beans and rice convert, now. After lunch, Renaldo drove us to Guaytíl, where the locals make the pottery that was the legacy of the Chortega indians who were native to that area. We went to Willie's, and he gave us a demonstration. It's unbelievable to see how they make that stuff! Of course, it's also brilliant. As they bring you in, sit you down, and serve you fresh, cold Tamarindo juice to sip during the demonstration, you begin to feel obligated to purchase from them. Then, you see how much work goes into the pottery and how incredibly talented these people are, and you can't resist. So, after the demonstration, they let us loose in the shop. Mmm... Shopping. I'm now a pottery addict as well.
Day 4: More shopping, hanging out... I made beans and rice for lunch. LOL. We drove to Liberia to find the local LDS chapel since the lack of any addresses made it so we knew we'd have a challenge if we tried to wait until Sunday. Finally, a call to the mission home in San Jose told us that we should go to the main square, find the Musmanni, and then go 125 meters to the north and we couldn't miss it. We found it, and they were having a mutual activity. The branch president's wife came out, my Spanish got a little more practice, and we got meeting times. That taken care of, we want back to the villa. Reading a book on the veranda overlooking the gulf of Papagayo, enjoying the breeze and listening to the crash of the waves on the beach... it was beautiful.
Day 5: Church in Spanish. What a beautiful group of people. I know everyone says it, but it's because it's true. It's so humbling to be there in those circumstances and see the happiness that surrounds them.
After church, we found another, larger supermarket, and then they actually had a Subway where my dad decided to stop for lunch. I think he was lured by the A/C. I went in and realized that they were listening to Selena, and I was transported back to my Junior year of college. Remember how many times we listened to that CD in our room, Mel? Seriously nostalgic. lol.
Day 6: Renaldo and Luís showed up at 10:15 sharp to take us out to Arenal. This is actually an active volcano, with the Tabacón hot springs at the base. It was a 4 hour drive to get there, mainly because of the bad roads and the fact that we had to circle the gigantic Lake Arenal to get there. But it was gorgeous. When we got to the point overlooking the lake, we stopped so I could take pictures. Of course, as I was snapping tons of panoramic shots, my foot started to itch, then sting, then when shaking it didn't make it go away, I looked down to realize that I must have stepped in an ant hill. Luís rushed over to help de-ant my foot, and fortunately mom had some anti-sting stuff for bites in her purse. But, the view was worth it. Stunning.
After that, we drove part-way around the lake and stopped for lunch (restaurant, with Luís showing us a cool flower, below). Then we started off again and we were going through what was undeniably rainforest. Ferns and leaves bigger than I am, Birds of Paradise lining the side of the road. It was totally gorgeous. All of the lectures on the importance of the rainforest that Dr. Cox gave during Biology class came rushing back. I think he forgot to mention that it's just too beautiful to let it be destroyed! Finally, we got to Tabacón. Luís took us in, got our passes, and introduced us into what my mom very appropriately called, Shangrila. Or however you spell it. LOL. Either way, it was paradise. Steaming pools of mineral water, waterfalls, unbelievable flowers and foliage, and it smelled amazing. We got a brief intro, then changed into our swimming suits for a few hours of total bliss. After soaking away in the various pools for a while, we changed and went in for dinner. Luís pulled a few strings and got us moved to the best table they had - right at the edge of the dinning area, with a perfect view of the volcano. It got dark as we were eating, and we were able to see the red glow at the rim and a few rocks coming out. Later, we could see the rocks start to some down the side. We didn't have a side view, so we ran out to the van and they drove us around where we could see the side of the volcano and watch the eruption better. It was so cool. Then, back into the van with our pillows as we drove the 4 hours through paradise and back to Casa Linda.
Day 7: Shopping. Again. LOL. This time we went back to Santa Cruz where we went to a restaurant that Dean (the owner of Casa Linda) recommended - comida típica, he said. Mmm... beans and rice. Love it! When we got there, we weren't sure if we could go in - it was kind of like a warehouse. But they beckoned us in and we sat at the vinyl covered picnic tables. There was an altar on one bench, and a stone bench with heated indentations where they cooked their own tortillas. Then was the "stovetop" covered with pots and blazing flames. There was no menu, and my Spanish came in quite handy again. Chicken, pork or beef? I took a count. We ordered and waited to see what was going to come. Mom was nervous, the atmosphere didn't inspire confidence in any sanitary measures that would usually be taken. But the woman brought a large plate of homemade tortillas along with 6 heaping plates of food. I loved it. I might have been alone in that, but it just felt real. There were no other tourists within probably a mile of that place, and I couldn't have been happier. After lunch, and with some help from friendly and convenient locals, we found our way back to Guaytíl so that we could visit the houses of the other pottery makers besides the one we visited on our first tour. We were glad we had, there were lots more treasures to be found. The cute little man who trusted me to help him with his math while we were paying, another man who carried a small green parrot on his finger and brought it out for us to see and pet. And Susan, who proudly displayed her marks on the bottom of her pots. As my mom bought several platters and I was chatting with her in Spanish, she took a plate off the wall, wrapped it, and stuck it in the bag. "Un pequeño regalo de Susan," she said.
Day 8: Adventure day
By this point, Luís and Renaldo have become friends. We chat companionably (although not so much with Renaldo, since he didn't really speak English and my Spanish is somewhat limited). Luís talked me into overcoming my terror of heights and go on this tour. He promised he'd be with me the entire time. So there I was. Renaldo picked us up again (just Nicole and I this time), and drove us to get some others who would be joining us. We all met up at a souvenir shop on the road to Liberia, where we picked up Luís and switched to a larger coach that included 3 girls from Manhatten and a family from Georgia. We drove to Rincon de la Vieja, a nearby dormant volcano, for a day of adventure. We started out with a horseback ride through the rainforest (and down a mountain and across a stream that switched back and forth several times). It was trail riding, but definitely not for beginners. I loved every minute of it, aside from the near continual stream of swear words and uncertainty from those who hadn't really ridden before. I had a beautiful white horse, La Chela. And the views during the ride were stunning. It's hard to get pictures from a moving horse, but this turned out pretty well.
To the left is me, on La Chela. We rode down to the hot springs and then changed into our suits. We went into the steam room, then came out and applied volcanic mud, everywhere, for a full body mud mask. It was really fun, actually. (Although, I think Luís had the most fun of all, since he had the hose with warmer water than the showers and was very "helpful" in getting the mud off. LOL.) Once we were all muddy, dried, and then showered off, we headed for the hot springs. Although more rustic than Tabacón, they were still beautiful and amazingly relaxing. After the mudslide, we hiked up the hill and got into a tractor that took us to the main area, where we collected a helmet and an inner tube and hiked, barefoot, 1/4 mile up the hill through the rainforest for the country's longest water slide. The sound of the rainforest is amazing. I totally want one of those CDs now. Cheesy, yes, but I love it. Anyway, we got to the top. I told the guy that I didn't want to go too fast. Okay, he says, get in. I sit down at the top of the slide and he opens the sluice gate enough to get me going to a good start. I'm loving it. Then, of course, he opens the gate again, all the way, this time, and lets out a flood of water that very quickly gave me a ton of momentum. Heels banging on the concrete as I tried to keep them up, I shot down that slide like a bat out of hades. As I landed in the pool at the bottom with a giant splash, Luís just started laughing. So much for going slow, huh? LOL. We changed, then, into dry clothes. I was privelged to share my changing room with a very nice frog and an enormous beetle. We then ate lunch, where I discovered how much I adore plantain chips. Delicious! Then, finally, came the part I had been dreading. The zip line through the rainforest canopy. It was actually 11 platforms - 10 ziplines and a suspension bridge. So we got ready to go, then hiked up the hill to the first platform. José (quien tiene pistoles... lol) taught us what we needed to know to control ourselves. Fortunately, I was going with Luís, who was going to help me take care of the hard parts. Yes, kind of cheating, but given how petrified I was, I needed it. So, Nicole went before us, taking off along the wire. She had done it before at Hemlock, so she didn't have my nerves. When we got up, I looked down at the tops of the trees below me and had to do some serious gulping when Luís told me to just step off. Let's just say that I now have a great story to tell in church the next time anyone wants me to talk about anything relating to taking a leap of faith. LOL. But I did it. It was scary, and it was exhilerating, and it was amazing. One of the longest ziplines was quite long indeed. Looking out across the chasm that we were about to zip across was mildly disquieting, to say the least. The sign said that you would get up to 30 MPH on that run. I preferred not to think about it. Of course, once I stepped off the platform and we took off, it all went away and it was just fun. So cool to just fly across the tops of the trees like that. I'm so glad I went, and I'm so glad that I had a friend to help me do it! I wouldn't have missed it for the world!
Finally, we all got on the bus for the gorgeous ride home. Renaldo dropped us off and we came in to a giant meal of, what else... arroz con pollo y frijoles negros. We had tres leches for dessert, and enjoyed our last night in paradise.
Day 9: Shopping. LOL. Well, mostly just a few little things, like a duffle bag to pack the extra treasures I managed to acquire. I went to Ocotal to walk the beach, since I realized that I had spent 8 days in Costa Rica and no time on the beach. Ocotal is a black beach, and it's gorgeous. Must go back. Soon. This was an amazing trip. I'm relaxed once again, and I returned with yet another love in my life. LOL. Anyway, I took about 550 pictures, and I posted about 150 favorites here.
Maybe tomorrow I'll blog about Duck... and my new condo decorations ;)