05.05.2011 - 15.05.2011
Dave and I just got back from an 11 day trip to Costa Rica! It was incredible! Beautiful beaches, beautiful mountains, beautiful birds and flowers, and on and on. We are sooo lucky since Jetblue has a direct flight from Orlando to San Jose, Costa Rica that cost less then our most recent flight to Cleveland, Ohio and only 2 hours and 40 minute flight time. We arrived in San Jose and were picked up by Tony, our van driver, and driven to our first destination 4 hours away. The drive was very curvy and nauseating. By the time we reached the hotel both Dave and I were not feeling so swell. Dave was worse off than me but I had sat in the front seat for the later part of the ride and did NOT have 2 shots of Costa Rican rum on the way there. We stayed at the Arenal Observatory Lodge as close as you can get to the second most active volcano in the world. No worries though, it has been dormant for a bit so we didn't even hear any rumblings or see lava or smoke shooting out the top at night which was actually kind of disappointing as it would have been awesome to see. It was foggy for the majority of the time we were at the lodge so the Arenal volcano was hidden. However, we did luck out one day because the clouds parted so we could at least see a good portion of the volcano. Dave actually saw the top of the volcano on another day but he saw it while on the road in a van headed to the river for our white water rafting trip.
The white water rafting trip was about 2 and half hours in class 3 and 4 rapids. I was debating on going on the wimpier class 2 and 3 rafting trip instead but the hotel clerk who booked it for us told me that I could handle class 4 rapids and Dave was raring to go with the class 4 so that is what we did. I'm sooo glad we went with the higher class rapids as it was an absolute blast. At one point the guide yelled "get down" which means squat all the way down in the raft with your paddle in the air...aka...you are about ready to crash. We crashed hard into a rock wall and everyone flew forward. The girl behind me actually flew out of the raft and was clinging to the side of the raft. We were able to pull her back in. There was no easing into the rapids either. We took off from the shore and immediately were in heavy rapids getting blasted with cold water and trying to paddle hard. Dave almost fell out a few times but we were able to pull him back in before he was all the way out. It was a thrilling experience.
The rest of our time in Arenal was definitely less adventurous. We spent one day just hanging out and Dave painted the scenery. The view from our hotel room was amazing, even with clouds covering the volcano, there were all kinds of birds, flowers and trees. We sat for hours on the porch looking at the beautiful landscape. One day, we took a guided hike into the area around the lodge which included a waterfall.
Here are some of the awesome flowers and plants in the area in front of our hotel room.
In this photo you can see the left flank of the Arenal volcano
A view of Lake Arenal and surrounding area
The beer of choice in Costa Rica
After Arenal we headed to the Monteverde cloud forest region (my favorite area)! For this one, we were picked up by a van from the lodge and taken to a boat which took us across Lake Arenal and then on to another van ride. The Monteverde region was settled by the Quakers which is really unique. They came here from Alabama because they did not believe in war and Costa Rica doesn't have a military. The area was so green and lush they called it Monteverde (Green Mountain) and went about protecting the region that they protect till this day. They fought against getting the roads paved into this region to keep tourism in check. So, to get here is a bumpy ride but worth it. The Monteverde cloud forest is just that, a forest that is in the middle of a cloud. It is packed full of hundreds of species of birds, plants, and creatures of all kinds. The main draw to this area is the Quetzal (rhymes with Pretzel). It was a sacred bird to the Mayans. We had a great guide, a Rastafarian naturalist with a passion for nature and waiting out the animals to show themselves. He spent 5 hours with us instead of the normal 2. We would walk a few feet and just stop and then some bird or animal would show up.
An awesome tree in the Monteverde Cloud Forest
A very mischievous white faced monkey. He threw the chairs around, kicked the table, crapped on the porch, peed on the tree all while we were eating lunch safely inside the restaurant.
We did a night walk and again saw all kinds of creatures including two tarantulas! One really big one! The guide told us that female tarantulas find a place to live and just stay there their whole lives. So they are easy to find for the guides on the hikes because they are always in the same place.
Here is the tarantula picture. The guide stuck Dave's camera down the dirt hole to get this picture.
Here is a little frog we saw on our night walk. The guide said that one drop of human sweat would kill the frog since he can't handle the salt. Also, he can't handle bright light so Dave had to take the picture without the flash.
We stayed in this amazing place in Monteverde called El Sol. Some places you just connect with and this was one of them. We stayed in this cabin that had amazing views of the hills. El Sol is run by a family - a mother and son. The son, Javier, did most of the hosting although we did see his mom a few times. Javier was awesome. He made us feel at home immediately and helped us in any way he could. He was our guide for the night walk. He has been doing the guides since he was 15 years old. The meals at El Sol are prepared by their Costa Rican neighbors so we received home-cooked meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner and it was delicious.
Here is a picture of our cabin at El Sol
Some pictures of the view from the porch of our cabin at El Sol
Here is one from the fresh spring water swimming pool from El Sol
We were blessed with an amazing sunset one night
El Sol offers to their guests a horseback riding trip down to a waterfall. Javier said that we would have a guide so we decided ok, let's do it. Even though I haven't been on a horse since I was a young kid, and Dave had never been on a horse and is pretty uncomfortable around horses. Not sure why he agreed to the horseback riding trip but he did. Our horse riding instruction consisted of the guide showing us right, left, and stop with the reigns and off we went. We couldn't ask for clarification because the guide did not know English except for right, left, and stop which are very important of course but I really wish we were more fluent in Spanish or he new more English before going on a 4 hour horse back riding trip. For the first hour we were both terrified that we were going to do something wrong and our horses would take off running out of control or throw us off. So we were both very tense. It didn't help that we were never on level ground. We were either going down the mountain or up the mountain on rough rocky terrain so it wasn't exactly an easy carefree ride. A couple of times our horses would start going the wrong direction and the guide needed to help us. Sometimes the guide would smack the back of the horses to get them running in order to get up enough momentum to get up the inclines. So out of no where he would smack our horses and they would just start running which freaked us out completely. I can't believe some of the inclines we went up. I would be thinking how in the world are we going to make it up that, and sure enough we would. My horse was the lead horse so there were some times I couldn't see where the trail went next. I eventually realized that the horse I was on knew exactly where to go so I just needed to chill out and let the horse do the work. It was worth it. The waterfall was beautiful and once Dave and I relaxed a bit, we actually looked around and checked out some of the amazing scenery we were so fortunate to witness. The way back from the waterfall was much better. We were familiar with the horses and by the end of the ride were talking about taking horse riding lessons for real back in Orlando. Dave went from muttering to himself about what a bad idea this was the first hour to daydreaming about being a cowboy in the wild west the last hour.
Dave and I connecting with our inner cowboy/girl
The waterfall in the middle of our horse ride. You could swim in the bottom pool. It was cold!!!
I just like this picture of Dave. It was taken in a restaurant that had a huge tree growing in the middle of it. You can see part of the tree behind Dave on the left.
Besides the horse back riding adventure, night walk, and nature walk through the Monteverde Cloud forest we also did a zipline canopy tour while in Monteverde area. The zipline tour we did consisted of around 11 normal ziplines, 1 superman zipline and a tarzan swing for the brave. After being hooked up with the proper equipment and a short safety demonstration off we went with about 8 other people. No one wanted to go first and as I always love to go first because for me anticipation is the worst, I volunteered. The first line was short and easy. The second one a bit longer and then they started to get longer and higher. A lot of the time you didn't realize how high up you were or how long the zipline was because of where you started. The start would be in the middle of the trees and then the trees would clear and you found yourself ziping along over a valley where the tops of trees were way below you. For the longest zipline you had the option of going superman style which meant that they would turn your harness around so it was on your back and then they hook you in so you looked like you were flying through the air like superman. It was pretty awesome and frightening as well. Since you have no way to break with your hands there is an auto break at the end of the zipline. Dave was after me so I saw him come in and he looked like a bullet. If the break wouldn't have stopped him I think he would have flown another 25 feet before hitting the ground. The tarzan swing consisted of getting attached to the end of a rope which had the other end attached to a cable high above. Then you jump off a platform where you free-fell until the rope caught you again and then you swung several times high above the valley. To get to the platform you had to walk on a hanging bridge that you could see through which was scary in itself. We weren't sure if we were going to do this or not. But we both regretted not bungee jumping in New Zealand and so this time decided to have no regrets and go for it. Dave who has a pretty significant fear of heights decided he was going to do it and then actually went through with it and did it! I decided if he could do it then I could do it so I did it as well. All my notions about falling through the air being light and graceful fell by the wayside real quick. When i stepped off the platform I felt like I weighed 5000 pounds. I tried to scream but the breath was knocked right out of me. It was by far the scariest thing I have ever done. But once you do something like that you feel like you can do anything and what an accomplishment to be so afraid of something and do it!
So after all the excitement and adventure of Monteverde we headed to the beach to do some major relaxing. This involved another van ride which was about 3 and half hours long so not too bad and not as curvy as the first trip.
We saw some howler monkeys along the way.
We saw some toucans in the wild in Monteverde but not this close. This was behind a little restaurant we stopped at on our way to Playa Samara.
We spent 3 days in Playa Samara which is a pretty low key beach on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. There were not a lot of people there so we had moments that we were basically the only ones on the beach. We had plans to go kayaking and visit another beach that we were told about but instead we just hung out near the place we were staying. I spent an ample amount of time swinging in a hammock between two coconut trees and Dave painted a bit. When we first arrived in Playa Samara and got out of the van we were immediately taken aback by the heat and the mosquitoes. Then when we got to our cabin, which was deceptively quaint and attractive, we discovered that not only was it not air conditioned but it was open air, meaning it had large openings below the roofline which were completely open to the elements, (and bugs!) There were no screens or anything. Plus there were ants crawling around all over the place, on the floors and walls. It was hard to walk through the room without stepping on one. We had just come from beautiful cool green Monteverde so the shock of the humidity and heat and bugs was something of a challenge. For me being able to sleep at night was key and so I was happy to see that our cabin had a ceiling fan as well as a mosquito net. Dave was so obsessive about making sure the mosquito net was tucked securely around the bed that he told me that if i needed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night to wake him up so he could detach the clips that were holding the mosquito net together at the opening, which was on his side of the bed, so I wouldn't have to untuck the mosquito net from my side of the bed potentially letting in creepy crawlers. It didn't ruin our time there. We realized at night it cooled down a bit and with the ceiling fan we had a breeze to keep us from feeling too hot and thanks to Dave's diligence, the mosquito net kept us pretty mosquito, ant, and moth free at night. One of the big ants would find a way through from time to time but they weren't the biting kind so we managed.
Dave painting on the beach at Playa Samara.
Dave's painting of Playa Samara.
Some views of Playa Samara
Here is our cabin just steps from the ocean
A flower right outside our cabin
We also survived a earthquake while at Playa Samara. Maybe you heard about this? A 5.9 earthquake hit Costa Rica near San Jose last week. It was felt all through the country. I didn't feel a thing because, well, I was hanging in a hammock between two coconut trees but Dave felt his chair jiggle slightly and thought it was me hitting it but come to find out later it was an earthquake! We had some initial tsunami fears and our hosts at the place we were staying told us about their evacuation plan which consisted of running straight up the hill behind us. But, the news indicated pretty quickly that there was no reason to fear a tsunami which we were extremely relieved to hear.
After 3 nights and 50 bug bites later, we left Playa Samara to return to the San Jose area in order to fly back to Orlando. We stayed at another small place near the airport in the town of Alajuela. There was a big soccer match the day we arrived so traffic was backed up and everyone was honking their horns and waving flags and excited for the match. The place we stayed at was a house that an Expat American named George lives and rents out his rooms. He was a very nice southern gentlemen and told us a good place to eat for dinner and talked about Costa Rica. For our transportation back to the San Jose area we used Tony again, the first van driver that picked us up. We thought we were supposed to tip drivers so we tipped liberally. So liberally in fact, that he took us to the airport free of charge the next day! It was a nice way to end the trip.
Costa Rica is an amazing place. It is a small country but it has so many different types of environment to offer. Mountains, rainforests, cloud forests, beaches, central lands, dry forests, and on and on. The food was good and could be cheap if you went with the national dish called a casado which consisted of either chicken, beef, pork, or fish and then rice, beans, salad, vegetable, and fried plantains. I would definitely return here. So many more areas of Costa Rica to see but as always the dilemma, there are so many more places in the world to see!