Costa Rica

Costa Rica

March 23 – San Jose

I got picked up at 5:30 for a 9:30 flight. Our flight had just finished loading passengers when we had an emergency delay. An 8-year old boy in the back of the plane had a seizure. Paramedics were arrived and escorted the family off the plane. It took a while for them to do paperwork, plus they loaded on some stand-by passengers and had to get their luggage on board. We ended up taking off about an hour late.

I arrived ain Dallas-Ft.Worth with only 20 minutes to get to my gate, which was on the other side of the airport. So much for lunch! I walked as quickly as I could, only to arrive at my gate, which should have already been boarding, and finding out it was delayed due to crew that hadn’t shown up yet. So, I rushed for nothing and was able to go to the bathroom and pick up a snack.

In spite of the 30 minute delay, we arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, right on time.

Clearing customs was a breeze and I met my Monograms contact, boarded a van, and headed to my hotel.

I was able to get to my hotel in enough time to check in and grab some dinner before their restaurant closed at 10pm. I had one of the traditional meals that consisted of rice, black beans, plantains, fried egg small sale, and some beef with tomatoes on top. I usually don’t like fried eggs, but I was starving and devoured everything!

A quick shower followed dinner, but blissful sleep. I think I was out before my head hit the pillow!

March 24 – Tortuguero

After an early 6am pickup, I was on a long, bumpy bus ride to Caño Blanco, near Limón, to board a boat to the Tortuguero National Park. My accommodations, the Evergreen Lodge, was right in the park and only accessible by boat. Along the way, we stopped for breakfast in Guapiles at the Restaurante Las Tilapias. Beans, rice, and…hotdogs? Yes, they gave us cut up hot dogs for breakfast. This would be repeated at several hotels in their breakfast buffet.

On the road to the boats, we passed vast plantations of banana trees, palm trees and papaya trees. There was also a large Chiquita plant where workers would harvest the bananas, transport them by a hanging conveyor, sort them, wash them and tag them for shipment.

It was organized chaos as we were dropped off by the bus (along with a dozen other buses from other locations) and waiting to board the boats (after our luggage was put on them). It took another hour to travel up the canels to my lodge.

On arrival at the lodge, we were given a refreshing drink of Agua de Sapo, which translates to toad water. It’s basically cane sugar, ginger, cinnamon, lime juice and water and tastes so yummy!

One thing about being in the jungle, it’s very humid. So humid, my tile floor in my room at the lodge was always wet and slippery. Even the pebbled walkway outside was slipperly from being damp all the time. Also, forget about drying a bathing suit…it’s just not going to happen and you’ll end up packing it wet when it’s time to move on!

Costa Rica boasts about being very ecological aware, which is great, but there’s one disgusting thing you have to put up with for all that beauty. Their septic systems can’t handle toilet tissue, so whether you pee or poop, you have to wipe and put the soiled tissue in the trash bin. It’s just plain gross to me and really stinks after sitting until the next morning when the maid cleans the room. We sure are spoiled in the U.S.!

After lunch, we were taken by boat along various canals in the park. There was so much wildlife present! Too many to name right now, but I promise to make a complete list at the end of my vacation.

When the boat tour was finished, I had some time to kill before dinner, so I popped up to the bar and had a pina colada (I think they were stingy on the rum).

On the way back to my room after dinner, spider monkeys were hurling nut shells down at some people from England (whom I sat with at dinner).

That night, I had trouble sleeping, because there was so much creature noise! I can sleep with highway noise from I-5 and my window open, but the frogs and crickets in the jungle were so loud, I wish I had ear plugs! Shortly after I did fall asleep, it started to pour down rain. That didn’t seem to effect the noise level at all!

March 25 – Tortuguero

After breakfast (at our leisure between 6-8am), we hopped back on the boat to go to a different lodge which had a great nature walk. There, I saw various toucans, snakes, and lizards, plus so many different types of beautiful flowers.

I had the afternoon free after lunch since I didn’t want to go to the village (which turned out to be the right choice after hearing how bad it was from others who went). Instead, I spent hours watching the capuchin monkeys getting into shenanigans. One started tearing a small hole in the window screen of the reception office. The lady inside would holler at it and it would dart up to the roof. After a moment, it would peek its head over the roof to see if she was looking. When she wasn’t it went back to tearing the hole. It eventually made it big enough to climb through….right when I was inside talking to the woman. I saw it first and hollered. Little bugger! Back outside, I saw another monkey grab a plastic cup that still had some pineapple and coconut in the bottom from a cocktail. Monkeys walking upright on two feet are really comical! It saw me look at it and quickly darted up a palm tree with the cup. It saw up there using it’s finger to dig out the goodies before tossing the cup to the ground.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, we would have rain storms, even though it was supposed to be the dry season.

After dinner, I relaxed in my room and watched a movie that I had downloaded, looked through my photos on my camera and eventually went to sleep. It rained all night and was again noisy. The windows were just screen, so there was no closing anything and tuning the noise out.

March 26 – Arenal

I left the Evergreen Lodge around 9am, after breakfast, got back on the boat for the ride to Caño Blanco, transferring to a bus back to Guapiles for lunch. Lunch was very late (around 3pm) since it took about two hours longer to get there. It was a week day, so the roads were busy with large trucks and other traffic. I admit to getting very hangry!

After lunch, I transferred to a private van with just me and two other people (the same English couple I had been hanging with so far). Our hotels in La Fortuna were right beside each other. I barely got checked in to my hotel before I was picked up by another van to take me to the Tabacon Hot Springs.

At the hot springs, I changed into my bathing suit and soaked for about 30 minutes, then walked around taking photos as the sun set. Once dried off and changed, I had a dinner reservation for 7pm, which was included in my package. The dinner was a buffet of international foods and I have to say it was the best meal I had over my entire trip!

March 27 – Arenal

I really wasn’t hungry for breakfast, but knew I had to eat something due to my diabetes. So, I had eggs over easy (that were perfectly done) with plenty of liquid yolk to sop up with toast. Once the sopping was done, I didn’t bother with the rest of the egg. I’m funny like that.

At 7:15am, I was picked up and off to the Mistico Hanging Bridges Park. I was pleased to see my British friends picked up for the same tour.

At the park, it started to rain. Throughout the tour, it would alternate between a drizzle and a full-on downpour. I had my raincoat on, but it was too humid and felt like I was wearing a sauna. I ditched the jacket, thankful for the hat I had bought to keep the rain off my glasses, and loved the feel of the rain, even though I got soaking wet. The humidity also made me get winded easily when we walked up some elevation. It wasn’t that much and I can easily do this here at home, but throw in that humidity and I’m out of breath easily. I didn’t see very many animals or birds due to the rain and our guide seemed to be walking a race, so I was constantly lagging behind. It was cool seeing some long-nosed bats hanging onto the trunk of a big tree. Towards the end, she had gone so fast, she totally missed the coati that came up on the path in front of me. Sometimes it pays to be slow!

Back at the hotel, I went in search of lunch. The hotel was too far to walk to a restaurant, especially since there was no shoulder to walk on and traffic was fast and heavy. The hotel boasted about their sushi poolside, so I thought I’d give it a try. OMG, it was the worst sushi ever! There was very little inside the roll of rice (which was very dry). I couldn’t eat it and wasted quite a bit.

After lunch, I played chicken with the cars and crossed the street to a souvenir shop, where I spent way too much. It was mainly gifts for family and friends and I wanted to get them something from a place they may never get to visit.

I had no plans the rest of the day, so I hung out by the pool until it decided to rain (again). Back in my room, I sat on my balcony, which faced the pool and the Arenal volcano. I was feeling really lazy and ordered room service for dinner. The French onion soup and shrimp cocktail were just the ticket!

March 28 – Monteverde

Another breakfast that included beans and rice (I really got tired of it), then a pickup at 7:30 by a van and dropped off at Lake Arenal.

Another breakfast that included beans and rice (I really got tired of it), then a pickup at 7:30 by a van and dropped off at Lake Arenal.

The boat ride across the lake was really nice. The captain kept the boat along the lake edge and would stop when wildlife was spotted.

On the other side of the lake, another van picked me up. This one had nothing to be desired….the fan belt kept slipping and it had no AC. Windows had to be rolled up due to the dust that was kicked up by vehicles (the road wasn’t paved). It was the only uncomfortable transfer I had on the trip.

After driving about an hour, we stopped at a small restaurant for a bathroom break and quick snack. I bought a pineabpple popsicle that was pretty much just frozen pineapple juice and chunks. It tasted so good after that hot ride!

It took another hour to get to Monteverde. The Country Lodge where I was booked wasn’t anything like the photos and description. My room was like a dark cave! Even with all the lights on, it still seemed dark. And, there was no ventilation and windows couldn’t be opened. The worst thing, though, was the paper thing walls. I could hear every noise…toilets flushing, water running, people walking, complete conversations…it was noisier than the jungle at night! The only saving grace for this hotel was that the staff were really nice and the hotel food was quite good.

For lunch, I tried the Olla de Carne, which is a soup with a beef broth, beef short ribs, chayote (Mexican squash that looks like a green pear), camote (sweet potato), yucca root, and potato. It was so good, that I recently made it for dinner now that I’m back home.

I took a short nap before getting picked up around 5:20pm for a night walk at the Monteverde Cloud Frest Biological Reserve. It gets dark around 5:30-6:00 year round in Costa Rica.

I was dubious about the night walk, but I really enjoyed it! Our guide, Felix, really knew his stuff and were to look for creatures. One of the first things we saw was bioluminescence mushrooms. So cool! It would have been cooler if the unruly kids wouldn’t have kept turning on their flashlights after repeatedly being told not to (their parents acted oblivious).

We saw birds sleeping in trees, tarantulas, a baby pit viper and a very large one about head level right next to the path we were on. I mainly used my cellphone to take photos since we couldn’t use any flash.

March 29 – Monteverde

After breakfast, I was picked up and taken to Sky Adventures where I was to take a tram to the top and make my way back down via eight ziplines. I had never done this before and was quite nervous. I did ok on the first three ziplines, but number 4 was a tandem and the longest one. I was in the back and closed my eyes for most of it, praying my arms wouldn’t tire and I hanged on.

After the 4th zipline, I took a break at a snack bar. I was the only one there other than the snack bar worker. As I sat there drinking water, a coati walked right up to me, apparently looking for a food handout. I stomped my feet and yelled to make it go away. It sure wasn’t going to get food from me! But, I did get some good photos with just my cellphone.

After completing the ziplines (which will be my last, thank you), I walked along the sky bridges and paths where I saw so many animals and birds, many of them very close, enabling me to capture great images with just a 200mm lens!

Back at the hotel, I found another restaurant across the street (if you can call it that). It tried hard to be high end with it’s menu, but the prices were very reasonable. I had a huge buger for lunch (I couldn’t even finish it, it was that big) and some lemonade.

Shortly after lunch, I was off on another tour. This one was a combination coffee, chocolate and sugar cane tour. I wasn’t that interested, but didn’t want to sit in my room, so that’s why I booked it last minute.

The tour was better than expected. The guide was passionate about his topic (and was very pleasing to look at). There’s a lot of work to take coffee and cacao beans to make the finished products.

Dinner that evening was sea bass from the fancy restaurant, along with a glass of sangria (good, but not nearly as good as the sangria in Spain).

I had just fallen asleep around 10pm when it sounded like a herd of buffalo above me. There was a rather large group of 20-somethings having a party (at least a dozen of them). They kept waking me up and I finally called the office at 1am. The night manager was just getting ready to knock on their door and tell them to cool it when the lady in the room next to mine ran up the stairs and yelled, “Jesus f*ing Christ, shut the fk up!” Wow….I thought of doing that, but didn’t want the confrontation! It was quiet as a mouse the rest of the night.

March 30 – San Jose

On the drive back to San Jose (by private van), I was surprised that we were actually along the Pacific coast. I knew I’d see the Caribbean side, but this was a surprise. It had a lot of beaches and people were out there really enjoying them!

The drive took a couple of hours to get to San Jose, with a break in between for bathrooms and refreshment.

I was back at the hotel where I started this adventure.

I had both lunch and dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. I thought about getting in the pool, but I really didn’t want to pack a web bathing suit to take home.

March 31 – San Jose & Escazu

I had opted to add on a day to my tour, because I wanted a day to explore San Jose instead of it just being a place to sleep. I had signed up for a walking tour before I left home that was completely independent of my tour with Monograms.

First, I had to get from my hotel near the airport to downtown. I asked the hotel staff about what it might cost me to take a taxi. They said $25 each way. Wow, that was a bit much. On a whim, I checked my Uber app and sure enough, they had Uber drivers in San Jose! And, it was only going to cost me a little over $6 each way! What a difference in price!

I caught my Uber and got dropped off early (my tour didn’t start until 11:30am) at the National Theater. They had a lovely cafe inside where I had really good French press coffee and some carrot cake. After I ate & drank, I walked around the plaze, practicing my street photography. Some people were selling corn to feed the pigeons. I loved seeing the pure joy on the small children’s faces as they fed the birds!

Ernesto was my guide for the walking tour. There was a mom and son from Wisconsin and a couple from Germany on the tour, too.

We started off walking to a cathedral and went inside. Mass was going on and there was beautiful singing as people took communion. Even though I’m an atheist, I got a bit emotional hearing the lovely singing and from the energy in the place.

We did a bit of walking, seeing statues, etc., before boarding a public bus and traveling to the neighborhood of Escazu. There, we had lunch at a restaurant that was 100 years old. I got stuff from eating two smashed & fried plantains topped with really smooth black beans (it was like a sauce), pico de gallo, and guacamole.

After lunch, we took a taxi to visit a mask maker, named Gerardo. His grandfather was very famous for his mask and passed it on to Gerardo. Gerardo didn’t speak English, so Ernesto translated. He was very passionate about his craft and I thoroughly enjoyed his stories about his creations.

A taxi and bus ride back to the National Theater, then an Uber back to the hotel, where I spent a quiet evening. I got about three hours of sleep before I was picked up (3am, April 1) and taken to the airport for my trip home.

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