and all things wild!
04.17.2009 - 05.01.2009
Hi again! I'm bound and determined to finish telling you about Costa Rica before we move onto Ecuador tomorrow, so here it is.
Although neither Tara nor or I experienced culture shock when we got to Guatemala, it certainly hit us when we landed in Costa Rica! We were totally thrown off by colones; Tara wasn't sure about the exchange rate and I was in the bathroom when she made our first ATM withdrawal of 2,000 colones. That's approximately $3.50. We giggled about that for awhile... It really was a shock, though, to leave Guatemala, such an impoverished, unpredictable country where everything is done "tomorrow" to Costa Rica, where buses leave on time, you can drink the water, and you actually have to sign waivers before embarking on fun adventures. And boy, did we sign some waivers!
We landed in San Jose and checked in to our (now) favorite hotel, Hotel Aranjuez. If you ever have to stay in San Jose, stay here. $25 a night for a comfortable bed, hot shower with great water pressure, cute rooms and the best breakfast buffet ever, including eggs and pancakes. But I digress. We tooled around San Jose for a day before heading out, and stopped to visit the beautiful National Theater where we found Tara's twin as well as the local artists' market where we had our first cheap casado (big plate of food for nada). We loved the lime with the orange pulp!
After lots of discussion about where we'd head first, we decided to go to La Fortuna to see Volcan Arenal, then we got up in the morning and went to Puerto Viejo instead. I had caught a nasty cold and Tara suggested we lay on the beach for a few days instead of trying to climb a volcano right away. I agreed wholeheartedly! Puerto Viejo is a small beach town on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, just north of the Panama border. Instead of seeing the culture clash we saw in Livingston, it was more of a blend of Caribbean and Costa Rican cultures. And it was way mellow. And beautiful! We stayed at a hotel where we got our own little yellow house which was right down the path from the pool. Gotta love a pool, especially one with a mini waterfall! It wasn't ALL fun and games though, we actually studied Spanish too. Kind of.
After some pool time, I was feeling up to a bike ride, so we rented some really rusty bikes and took off to Punta Uva, a beach just south of Puerto Viejo. Tara was anxious to get in the water at first... then she seemed a little hesistant about actually diving in and actually not really sure at all about going in and then really sure about NOT going in. Big seaweed, apparently. In reality, the water looked fine, but felt strong and there was a bit of a rip tide, so no real swimming took place, but it was great to just be there. And who doesn't love a bike ride beach side?
One of the best things about our time in Puerto Viejo, was that we spotted lots of new animals! The hotel grounds were covered in these holes that were homes to our little (and big) blue crab friends. After a big rain, a bunch of frogs and a lizard made their way out to say hello. That last guy is a galliwasp! What a great name!
And of course, we found another canine friend. Really, if we weren't going to be on the road for such a long time, at least one of these cuties would have to suffer quarantine 'cause we'd be bringing one home, even if she did exceed the weight limit!
After Puerto Viejo we headed to up into the mountains on a Thursday to stay in La Fortuna, a town that sits at the base (mas o menos) of an active volcano, Volcan Arenal. We checked the weather and the clouds were supposed to lift on Sunday, so we occupied ourselves with other adventures before we attempted to see "red action" (lava) up at the volcano. We REALLY wanted to see some sloths, so we went to a biological reserve that is basically a path that winds through a mini, protected piece of rain forest. At first, we just saw butterflies , a lizard and two caimans . No sloths... Until we asked! Then the woman at the ticket area (who was really surprised that we didn't see any) walked into the forest and found two right away. To our benefit, they were both sleeping and just looked like fuzzy puffballs stuck in the crook of a branch.
We followed up our jungle hike with some white water rafting the next day on Rio Toro. We ran 4 or 5 class IV rapids, and only lost one of our boat members. Even though he went in in a rough rapid, he was okay in the end. And yes, our boat is basically under water. Fun!!! We also saw two sloths, one of which was awake and climbing, and three monkeys on our way down the river. AND our tour guides had a cooler of beers waiting for us at the end of the trip!
Next, we were onto our volcano tour, which started with a hike through the jungle near the volcano where we saw an eyelash viper (our first snake sighting). Our guide told us that once a human gets bitten by one of these guys, he or she has 3 to 4 hours to get to a hospital to receive an antidote. Crazy! See his eyelashes? We also saw another toucan , a howler monkey, and a spider monkey. And, of course, the requisite giant, prehistoric plant: After our hike, we got closer to the active side of the volcano and sat until it got dark to see if we could catch some lava. Even though our guide told us we would have to be pretty lucky to actually see red action, we did - 4 times! Okay, so it's a little hard to see. Look left. And our tour wasn't over, even after the lava! We then got to spend a couple hours at some hot springs, but these were no ordinary hot springs, oh no. It was like hot springs in Las Vegas, or Disneyland, but for adults. There were 25 different pools scattered about, tons of swim up bars, and best of all - waterslides! I wish we had video of how our bodies skipped across the top of the water as we excited the slides. Seriously, my body has never moved through space at that speed without being strapped into some kind of vehicle. After we told the guys back at our hotel how much fun we had, they told us they don't usually recommend going on them because so many people have gotten hurt. Luckily, we lived to tell the tale!
Our last stop in Costa Rica before heading back to San Jose was in Santa Elena, a town outside of the Monteverde cloud forest. We didn't hesitate to arrange a trip out to the zip lines and were on a shuttle a quick hour after we checked into our hotel. We got all harnessed up and were ready to hit the 14 lines they had waiting for us. We are so tough! The first segments weren't too high or too long, but the third... We think we were about 600 feet above the canyon floor and the line was 550 meters. That's almost half a mile! We got to do this one together - Tara screamed a lot, and I just held my breath.
It was sooooo much fun!
We also went on a tamer version of cloud forest exploration where we walked across bridges strung through out the forest. Not as adrenaline pumping, but beautiful, nonetheless! And Tara spotted three huge caterpillars, or were they centipedes?
And here we are, back in San Jose. We fly down to Ecuador tomorrow to get back into the Spanish school groove and save some energy for the Galapagos at the end of the month! It just keeps going!
Much love to all,
L & T