Sunday, July 10, 2011

Christmas and New Year in Costa Rica

In May 2002 I lost my mother...I was now officially an "orphan". Its tough even when you are nearly 50 years old. I decided it would be nice to spend Christmas and New Year with what family I had left - being the executor of the will I thought perhaps my sister and niece would like to take a trip with some of the money left...they were all for it so that's what we did....


Saturday December 21st: Up at 4 a.m. to get a taxi to the airport. The line-ups were long and it was lucky that we had gotten there the recommended two hours ahead as it took all of that to get checked in, clear US customs and get to our gate. Once in Atlanta we grabbed something to eat (nothing was offered on the Toronto-Atlanta flight) and we were the last on the plane to San Jose. That was a first for me!!! (and one I don’t care to repeat) Both flights were uneventful and we landed in San Jose on time. We had pre-booked a taxi through the hotel which was waiting for us and off we went. Our hotel - the Don Carlos - was a converted private mansion and fun to explore. Every room is unique and there were fountains, statues and tiles all over the public areas. . I would stay there again for sure. We had our free welcome drink - a rum punch - then off we went to explore the city. Walked over to the market area which was very busy. We walked and walked and I was getting dizzier and dizzier as I had barely slept the night before. Finally after much debate (Erin wanted to try one of the small “local” places but Colleen and I would look in and say NO! we don’t want to get sick so soon!!!) we had Chinese food. There was way too much but the price was right - with a coke it came to less than $5 each. Back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

Sunday December 22nd: I couldn’t figure out how the shower worked (another mostly sleepless night - did not sleep well on this trip at all for some reason) and so crouched underneath the lower taps to wash myself!!! I am sure it was quite a picture but luckily no one else saw it!!! (Erin showed me how to use it later and it was quite easy - but when you are operating on very little sleep….my excuse and I will stick to it!! J ) We had a typical Don Carlos breakfast - fresh pineapple & papaya, a banana, toast, juice (not fresh alas) and coffee. We headed out to the Coca Cola bus terminal to buy our ticket to Quepos the following Friday - this area of San Jose is notorious for crime. We had to step around a man who was sprawled across the sidewalk (passed out I assume) and found more of this sad situation as we explored the area. We walked around the market area again and bought ourselves sun hats. You have to watch how you walk as the sidewalks are high off the ground and if you fell you could do yourself a real injury. This is the San Jose of the working class and it was really interesting. We stopped at MacDonalds of all places for a sundae and some air conditioning and then wandered back to the hotel. We had a siesta - or tried to in my case. We headed out again heading north to a ritzier area of the city. The houses here were heavily gated and some of the buildings had security guards. A big difference between the haves and have-nots. We then stopped at an absolutely gorgeous church and the choir was rehearsing for a Christmas concert - enchanting!! We found a huge grocery store nearby so bought some fresh juice, bread and cheese and had a picnic at a nearby park. Back to the hotel for a rest (the heat was getting to us but we did get used to it) and then we went out for our evening meal. We found a place that had been recommended in the Lonely Planet Guide - chicken roasted over a wood stove, tortillas, french fries, vegetables and another coke - all for less than $3 US. It was delicious! Back to the hotel to pack up for our journey the next day.

Monday December 23rd: We stored our big suitcases at the hotel (we did this on all our excursions out of San Jose). Around 7:30 a.m. we were picked up for our journey to Almonds and Corals Jungle Lodge. ( We drove out to the Marriot Hotel by the airport to pick up an American family of 11 from New York City. (rich daddy with wifie, kids and grandkids - rich daddy talked nonstop about all the places they had been…yeah one of those…L and kiddies acted like they wanted to be anywhere but where they were) Despite their noisy obnoxious presence we enjoyed the beautiful drive through a cloud forest, banana and coffee plantations and interesting towns and villages. The journey took approximately five hours. We arrived at the tent camp and were assigned our tent. It was actually a wooden structure on a platform with a tent for sleeping in (three single beds) , a hammock, a couch - we even had our toilet and shower. With screening all around. Quite civilized!!! We had lunch which was fantastic - chicken, carrots and sweet potatoes in a wonderful sauce. At 3:30 p.m. the three of us went on a nature walk with a guide which was very interesting. Saw tiny little poisonous frogs, woodpeckers and other bird life. At the end we viewed an indigenous Indian village - where a family still lives. We rested until dinner time - a buffet of lentils, rice, mashed potatoes, beef stroganoff, heart of palm (yum!) with custard for dessert. We learned quickly to keep our glasses covered with napkins otherwise the flies would dive in and die slowly but happily in the sticky juice or cola. Also we met the unofficial resident dog - called Paco by one of the staff even though no one owned her. A delightful little girl who soon got spoiled by us, the American family (their one saving grace) and other guests. Back to our tent for some shut-eye which came slowly - the female teenage members of the American family were in the tent next to us and were watching “Four Weddings and a Funeral” on their portable DVD player. Now I am a lady who appreciates Hugh Grant but not in the middle of the jungle - when there are all sorts of other delightful sound taking place that you don’t hear when you live in the city - frogs, insects and who knows what else - but like I said earlier they were the rich spoiled brat type who did not appreciate the fact that they were in a Costa Rican jungle and enjoy it for what it was…luckily for them they turned it down or I think Erin was going to go over and break the machine over their heads!!!

Tuesday December 24th: I guess I slept…according to Colleen and Erin I snored like a trooper!!! Colleen had to keep hitting me so I wouldn’t wake up our teenage neighbours (or scare the local wildlife?) Breakfast was a buffet of gallo pinto (beans and rice), scrambled eggs, sausage, pancakes with fresh juice and coffee. It was then time for our canopy tour - known as the “Crazy Monkey” ride!!! We almost ended up going on a snorkelling tour (I couldn’t figure out why we were taking a van to go to the nearby canopy tour) but we jumped out and raced back to the camp. (long story…that I won’t go into…let’s just say it was rather embarassing for a savy traveller like myself) We got fitted into our harnesses and off we went - luckily it was just Erin and myself. As their English was limited they had to demonstrate a lot to us and we did a trial run on a low cable before heading over to the first platform. They were very safety conscious and we were hitched up to cables all the time while climbing ladders or just standing on the platform. Erin was first to go but just could not take that final plunge. So I volunteered and after a few false starts…”okay I am ready…well just a minute…okay now….um just let me take a deep breath” off I went. You literally step off the platform and trust your life to the cables and hope that the guides hooked you up properly. We wore thick gloves and you are supposed to wear helmets but ours were missing the snaps so we did without. If you fell from six stories up I don’t think a helmet would help you anyway!! You put one hand on the pulley below and one very loosely around the cable (not touching it) to keep you on course and off you go!! It was a thrill and you go very quickly - I almost got to the first platform but had to be pulled in a couple of yards. Erin went with a guide - called a “taxi”. She did this for four platforms and then was fine on her own. “Auntie Laurie you rock” she said when old Auntie Laurie did it on her own. By the third one I was feeling good and yelled “I’m the Queen of the World” as I jumped off the platform - well I spoke too soon as somehow I touched the cable (which slows you down) and found myself stopped half way across. Of course I looked down but due to the lush vegetation I could not see the jungle floor. (thank goodness) One of the guides had to come out and haul me back in!! Rather humilating that was! “For the last five cables I managed quite well and it was so much fun. I wanted to do it again!!! We kept going higher and higher (which involved climbing up ladders at each platform before jumping off) and then the last couple of cables were going down. The last platform was right by the beach. So much fun and a great memory. Erin and I went into the ocean (Caribbean) - to the recommended part of the beach. The waves were really wild and we did get caught up in a bit of a riptide which was frightening. So close to the shore in water up to your knees but so easy to drown when it keeps pulling you over and you cannot get out of it. Then we had lunch which was sweet and sour pork, rice and fried plantains. (my favourite) Colleen and Erin decided to walk to the nearest town which was about 8 km (they thought) away. It was mid-day and I did not want to walk in the heat so opted to sit under one of the grass canopies by the beach and write in my diary and read. Then I wandered around the grounds taking video and photos and saw a sloth and her baby. There are wooden pathways all around the resort but you are truly in the jungle. Then back to the tent for a shower and a read in the hammock - listening to the teenagers next door gossip about their school chums. (riveting stuff!) It had turned dark and I was starting to get concerned about Colleen and Erin when they showed up. After a round trip which took an hour and a half each way and resulted in them only having 15 minutes in the town I was glad I hadn’t accompanied them. Especially when I heard their adventures of walking back on the road in the pitch dark!!! Both had blisters and were sore the next day while yours truly was perfectly relaxed!!! Ironic that the avid walker stayed behind and rested !!! Our Xmas Eve meal was steak, vegetables and pasta in carbonara sauce (to die for). Little Paco got most of my steak and then I went back to the buffet just to get her another piece!!! The bugs were really bad tonight and were getting on our food as well - the restaurant had a roof but no sides so it was a free for all.

Wednesday December 25th - Merry Christmas!!! - Woke up to the usual sound of howler monkeys and to find Erin sleeping on our little couch. It turns out she woke up with a cockroach on her face and another in bed with her. I admired her restraint - if that had been me I would have woken both Colleen and Erin and the tent next door if not the whole flipping place. (indeed one of the teenagers next door discovered a cockroach on her pillow so that kept us entertained for a while the night before) We opened the little Xmas stockings that Colleen had given us and Colleen and Erin opened the gifts I had brought along for them. We then had another buffet breakfast before heading back in the van (with the same family and another movie) to San Jose. We dropped the family off at a remote resort on the way to San Jose. Once back checked into our hotel Erin sat and wrote in her journal while Colleen and I walked to the supermarket and bought ourselves the fixings for a Christmas picnic in our room: a roast chicken, bread, cheese, carrots, cake and juice.

Thursday December 26th: Up early at 6 a.m. as we were being picked up to go to Tortuguero National Park. Off we went once again through the cloud forest and stopped to have a huge buffet breakfast at a resort. Our bus broke down shortly after we left the resort but was fixed within half an hour. While it was being fixed the guide took those of us who were interested for a little “wildlife hike” and we were able to see another sloth in the trees. Off to the port where we caught a boat which would take us to Pachira Lodge - a two hour boat trip. There are no roads into Tortuguero. Full speed ahead! It was interesting seeing the homes along the banks. Pachira Lodge ( was lovely with howler monkeys all over the grounds in the trees, running along the roof of the bar. Right away we knew we wanted to stay more than one night but alas it wasn’t possible. We were greeted with a frosty drink and then explored the grounds and our room. At 4 p.m. we took a launch over to Tortuguero village where we visited the Tortuguero turtle rescue centre and watched a video. Between July and November every year green turtles nest along the beach at Tortuguero - which is on the Caribbean ocean. We visited the beach which has darker volcanic sand. We then walked to Tortuguero village but were only allowed a 20 minute village and by this time it was getting dark so no chance for photos. Back to the lodge for a buffet meal. Then I decided to go swimming in the pool. I lay on my back in the warm water and looked at the palm trees surrounding the pool forming a circle with the black sky and twinkling stars in the middle. Pure bliss!!! Back to the room for bed as we had an early morning.

Friday December 27th: - Up early to go for a 5:30 a.m. boat ride through the canals of the park. We saw white faced capuchin monkeys high in the trees, white ibis, wood storks, cattle egrets, bare throated tiger herons, green herons, and camans (small crocodiles) It rained on and off but the lodge provided us with huge yellow ponchos. It was wonderful knowing you were in a true rainforest. Back for a hot buffet breakfast and to pack up for the trip back to San Jose. Far too short and definitely worth a return visit someday! It was a long trip back - we stopped at the same resort for a buffet lunch. We switched vans at a further point along and arrived back at our little home in San Jose at around 4 p.m. We were all tired so had supper at the hotel.

Saturday December 28th: - Woke up with a tummy upset so had a quiet morning. Colleen brought me some dry toast. Colleen had sat on her glasses the night before and broken them so off she went to get them fixed - ended up costing her 30 cents!!! We then took a taxi to the Coca Cola bus terminal and got on our bus to Quepos at noon. All very modern with assigned seating. The driver played some Latin music nonstop the whole way but other than that the trip was fine. There was what I thought was a short bathroom stop as the driver and several passengers got off to use the facilities. So off I went and was in the (disgusting) bathroom when I heard the bus motor rev - I ran out doing up my slacks as I ran and had to bang on the bus door as he started driving away!!! Erin assures me she would have yelled at him to stop but I guess that was the most exciting part of the journey. We asked the driver to drop us at La Colina, our bed and breakfast which was south of Quepos. We checked in and it was a lovely little room with a pretty view of the sea off the balcony. I would not call it a suite by any means - it was advertised as an “oceanview suite”. However we enjoyed our stay there. Erin and I immediately changed into our swimsuits and ran down to the bar - you could sit in bar stools right in the pool which we did. Chatted to the bartender who was from Toronto. That evening we splurged and ate in the B & B restaurant which was called the Sunset Grill and is a popular restaurant in the area. We all had wine and Erin had lobster, Colleen had tuna and I had shrimp - all very nice!!!

Sunday December 29th - Erin started her surfing lessons this morning so was up early. We arranged to meet her in Quepos later in the day. Colleen and I had a leisurely breakfast and a relaxing morning on the balcony. We then took a taxi into Quepos only to find that most of the shops were closed. We had lunch then sat in the shade by the beach people watching. Quepos is not an attractive town at all so that was disappointing - I had expected something totally different. We saw Erin on the street and waited for her while she spent an hour at the Internet café. Afterwards we went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. Back to the hotel by taxi for a quiet evening in.

Monday December 30th - Erin had another surfing lesson and Colleen and I took a taxi up to the Manual Antonio area to check out the shops. We each got a cute sundress , t-shirts and some cheap jewelry from a local vendor. Back to the hotel where we met up with Erin. We had arranged to go snorkeling and dolphin watching on a sailboat - the bartender had booked it for us through a friend. Well we got there and the ‘friend” was nowhere to be found. Turns out he had cut his foot the night before. He had no way of reaching us. As it turned out we had been given a bum steer as we were told dinner and snorkeling and the sailboat had none of those. (according to one of the guides at the harbour) The boat going out only had room for two people - Erin had been sunburned that morning so was not keen anyway so she and Colleen went into Quepos for some shopping and lunch. Another dusty day in Quepos was the last thing I wanted so I jumped on the boat at the very last minute. We were taken around the coast and then the anchor dropped for some snorkeling. I enjoyed the snorkeling a lot (third time the charm?) and was able to see some gorgeous little fish and snap them with my disposable waterproof camera. Back on board we enjoyed fresh pineapple, pasta salad and the soft drinks of our choice. We then went looking for dolphins and did see some but not very close - after my dolphin experience in Cape Cod this was a non event!!! It was an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon capped with a gorgeous sunset. Much better than walking around Quepos!!! I hadn’t eaten so Colleen came down to the B & B’s restaurant with me and had dessert while I had a nice chicken & mushroom dish.

Tuesday December 31st - woke up at 4:30 a.m. once again to the racket of the roosters crowing in the nearby farm. We all took a taxi up to Manual Antonio Park. No guides were available so we headed off on our own. We walked around Punta Cathedral and saw some gorgeous views of the sea - the trail was quite rough and it was hot so we were all quite a sight by the end of it. All the wildlife we saw was a rabbit! It is a pretty park though and the beaches were fabulous. We left the park and looked at the market stalls so Erin could shop and then had lunch together. Erin headed off for her surfing lesson promising to meet us between 7:30 and 8 that evening at a certain spot. (she wanted to spend New Years’s Eve on the beach whereas Colleen and I would have preferred a quiet glass of wine on our balcony) Colleen and I headed back into the park and went to the beach. She read while I frolicked in the water One of the best beaches I’ve ever been to. The water was like bath water and very calm. Wonderful!!! Spent a relaxing afternoon there. As we packed up our bags to go Colleen said “look”! and there was an anteater in the trees behind us. Amazing!! We then walked around a bit and I bought a sarong for Moira. Then sat by the beach bored out of our minds - I did get some wonderful sunset photos. We both felt stinky and filthy and could not bear the thought of being like that all evening. By this time it was nearly 7 p.m. so we hailed a cab and once at the B & B had quick showers and changed. Rushed back to the beach area and waited and waited. Erin never showed up and Colleen was sick with worry. Just after 8:30 we took a taxi back to the B & B all the time watching the other side of the road in case Erin was taking a taxi to meet us. We got to the B & B and there she was - waiting to get the room key. She had no intention of meeting us - was going to go to the room and would have left us waiting there all night if need be. She had been out partying with her surfer buddies which was fine - I am glad she had a good time. But no apology for not showing up - it was our problem and we were ‘adults that could take care of ourselves’ Needless to say the rest of the evening was tense. I ended up going to bed hungry as the restaurant was fully booked for a special New Year’s meal and there were no other restaurants nearby. Not the best New Years I have ever had that is for sure!!!

Wednesday January 1st - After a relaxing morning we took the noon bus back to San Jose. No music this time - and no bathroom stops. (I swore even if I was desperate I would not leave the bus! J) Once back at the hotel I went into the hotel gift shop and bought some gifts as well as souvenirs for myself such as a wooden mobile, earrings, banana paper stationery, necklaces, coffee beans, etc. Everything was so cheap! The gift shop in our hotel was known as one of the best in San Jose and I can believe it. We all ate at the hotel once again. It was my turn to have the single room which at that point I really enjoyed.

Thursday January 2nd - Today we were taking a day trip to the Arenal Volcano. What a long day. We left the hotel at 9:30 a.m. Our first stop was at Sarchi to visit the handicraft store. Things in this store were more expensive than at the gift shop in our hotel so Colleen and I didn’t indulge but Erin bought herself a hammock. Next stop was a gorgeous church surrounded by hedge sculptures that had to be seen to be believed. Then a lunch stop where the tour guide told us was a “family style” meal where we all passed the food around. Steak, rice, veggies and my beloved fried plantains. We drove past the Arenal Volcano which was unfortunately covered in cloud - snap snap quickly as they did not stop. It seemed that the main destination was the Tabacon Hot Springs resort which was nice but I had wanted to visit the volcano area and see more nature. Anyway Colleen read her book (she does not like water) while Erin and I tried out the different hot pools. Around 6 we indulged in a huge wonderful buffet and then it was back to San Jose by just after 10 p.m.

Friday January 3rd - Time to bid farewell to Costa Rica. I will be back!!! The airport in San Jose had tight security - no one without a ticket was even allowed in the airport. The flights back were uneventful - the plane between Atlanta and Toronto was tiny. We arrived back to lots of snow in Toronto. The holiday was over.

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