Costa Rica (November 2009)

7 Dec

Brandon and I recently went down to Costa Rica for a week. It was a great trip, great people, and a GORGEOUS country. Not only am I going back one day, but it’s currently number one on my list of countries to move to when I’m tired of everything else. Definitely need to set aside at least a month next time, because one week is almost cruel in its unsatisfying teaser taste.

Here’s a run-down of our activities: The first night we stayed in San Jose. We arrived with a list of ideal hotels to stay in and the comforting knowledge that we were visiting during neither the peak tourist season nor the secondary tourist season. Unfortunately, we had no idea that every hotel in San Jose was completely booked due to the Uruguay v. Costa Rica soccer game going on the following weekend. Every hotel on our list was booked, so we took a tip from our cab driver and stayed at Hotel Helena, which is basically a woman’s house and an adjacent builing. We ended up in a basement room next to a very loud laundry room, but luckily, there was free internet available.

Unfortunately, this learning experience came when we were most tired and in need of rest on our trip. Brandon and I had just run a marathon the day before, and we were looking forward to a relaxing week on the beach. We walked more during the first day than we did the rest of the trip. We healed eventually, and luckily, the headache of that first evening and night didn’t ruin the rest of the trip for us.

After getting settled in at Hotel Helena, we followed the directions of Helena herself to a local bus station so we could buy tickets for the next day’s 6 a.m. bus to our next destination city. Afterwards, we walked around Central San Jose, which is not “nice” but isn’t an eye-sore either. We got our first taste of a soda there – the typical Costa Rican eating establishment. I had my first casado, which is a typical dish that has some meat, beans, rice and other items. It’s a very basic dish; Costa Rica is not known for producing culinary marvels.

Day two took us to Putarenas by bus to catch a ferry to Paquera and then onto another bus to Montezuma, a sleepy, semi-isolated town that’s got a friendly white-Rasta-convert every few feet. This small, T-shaped piece of paradise hidden by jungle that comes right up to the beach was very safe, friendly and low-key. We stayed two nights just out of town (about a mile) in Casas Colibri, a small piece of land with three miniature houses for rent. Our hosts, a young British woman and her Costa Rican boyfriend (whom she only addressed as “mi Amor”), were enlightening, entertaining, and hopelessly in love, which was sweet to witness. We went with them to the Montezuma waterfalls the first day, and the second went with a tour group to Totuga Island, where we snorkled (my first time). Both the island and the waterfall were beautiful and the perfect pictures of paradise.

Our second night we hung out with a pair of young male teenagers, one of whom was still in high school (possibly a dropout). They were staying in the house next to us and made some great conversation around a cheap bottle of vodka and Coke; but they made me feel old for the first time in a while (and I’m only 23!). They had saved up their summer’s earnings for a 4-week trip backpacking around Costa Rica, which was quite admirable (heck, they could’ve spent their money on video games). Their insightful conversation made me wish I’d had some of the thoughts they shared when I myself was only 17 and 19 and not 23.

After Montezuma, we headed – on a 6-hr. bus/ferry/bus ride – to La Fortuna, a sleepy, friendly little tourist town at the base of the Volcan Arenal, which has been actively erupting since 1968. More notably, the volcano is surrounded by lush secondary rainforest. Since we were there during the tail-end of the rainy season, we never did see the peak of the volcano (because it was constantly covered by clouds); thus, we never actually saw any lava, which can normally be seen on clearer nights.

At Arenal, we went on a few tours: a guided hike through the rainforest floor followed by a trip to the hot springs resort Baldi (VERY touristy – I’d recommend trying to see the springs for free), a canopy tour via Ecoglide, better known as ziplining, and a horseback tour to the La Fortuna waterfall, a powerful and deadly couple-hundred-foot drop of water that is awe-inspiring, angry and exquisite all at the same time.

We stayed in La Fortuna until the morning we headed back to the States. We had some delicious food on our trip (I recommend Cocolores – get the red snapper cooked in cognac! – in Montezuma as well as the Italian food place by the Iguana Inn; also try Nene’s – and their sea bass cooked in lemon and butter – in La Fortuna).

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