Today I got home from Costa Rica, which should be renamed Costa Roja, since that's what color you are after a day on the costa. In my case it's a poisonous shade of red, almost purple really, that stops complete strangers in their tracks in the airport restroom where I lifted up my shirt several times for a better look at my stomach.
Costa Rica was Splendid! I saw two volcanos (Poas and Arenal), dozens of waterfalls, a million butterflies, a hundred hummingbirds, 14 howler monkeys, 26 crocodiles, 4 foot-long lizards, three five-inch millipedes, 2 wild turkeys, a giant black and red frog and a toucan and luckily no tarantulas nor snakes.
We stayed at the five star San Jose Palacio for the first couple of days, which was surprisingly affordable, immensely comfortable, and has the most amazing breakfast buffet ever, and a hip drinking establishment, Bar Bosque, attached to the lobby.
The first day was all business, exploring the capital city of San Jose. We checked out the Teatro Nacional, Plaza de la Cultura, Plaza de la Democracia, the Mexican Embassy, and the Ministerio de la Cultura. Day two we booked a trip through our hotel to visit the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and the Doka Estate Coffee Plantation. We also booked tours for the week to visit the Arenal Volcano and the Monteverde Cloud Forest.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
One of my favorite parts was sitting at the swim up bar at the Baldi Hot Springs at the base of the Arenal volcano (that normally erupts, but was silent that night, unfortunately) and meeting people from all over the world. I think my exact words were: "I would come all the way back to Costa Rica just to sit in these hot springs again!"
My least favorite part was a strenuous three hour horseback ride through the rainforest, which, ironically, was everyone else's most favorite part.
I think I was okay for the first hour and a half; I have to admit I couldn't wipe the smile off my face every time my horse decided to trot in front of the others (the "trailblazer," I called him) and it felt like it was just me, my horse, and the wild forest. But after getting soaked in the third river, and after plodding treacherously up steep inclines in splashing mud, only to realize that I'd better hold on tight because we had to go down the same thing on the other side, I was getting tired, sopping, and filthy. Some of my friends have commented on my "illusion of height." Although I'm only 5'4," my legs are as long as someone several inches taller than me. Picture me then, on the shortest horse. I couldn't keep my lower half out of the muck if I tried.
Baldi Hot Springs
The result was that I was the most caked horserider; I looked like I'd taken a bath in the organic smelling wet dirt. Actually, I have nothing against getting a little messy in some composting earth. The real problem was that I'm such a wimp my body couldn't take it (hey, they don't call me "Flaca" for nothing). I don't know much about horseriding, but I know that my stirrups did not fit my and my legs were aching. My knees felt like they had gotten run over by a train, and my arms were hollow. The last 45 minutes were murder on my bony rear end. I didn't realize I was groaning aloud until the guide asked me, "Estas bien?" The final straw was when we reached other horses in a clearing.
..I was so weak I couldn't control mine, and he wouldn't stop until he had rammed my knee into another horse's bum, effectively turning my nylon travel pants into horsey toilet paper; I now had crap all over my knee. I was so glad to slide off my animal that I don't know whether I was laughing or crying. Everyone else was like "Oh have you ever been on a more marvelous horseback ride?" as if it had been some quick, easy jaunt through the English countryside.
Hey, this water's kind of high! Next time I'm going to ask for a taller horse.
We arrived at our hotel, Cabinas al Atardecer, to find out our backpacks hadn't caught up to us yet. No clean clothes, and I was wearing decomposing sludge and horse excrement. We recruited an Argentine lawyer from our horsebackriding trip named German (say "Herman") to go to town with us and have lunch.
He was surprised that we would consider going into a restaurant in our piggy state, but he was starving too, so he went along. I was very self concious about my pants, and I kept saying to Stacy "Do you smell something?" Maybe everyone was just being nice because they said no.
Cabinas el Atardecer in Monteverde...very cozy and friendly!
Later, I had the best shower of my life, then I had a very therapeutic clothes washing ceremony in the shower with some detergent I got at the local grocery store. It's so humid there that when we left two days later, my clothes were still damp!
Okay, enough about that. Let's move on to my VERY FAVORITE part, the CANOPY TOUR!!!! Well, in the morning we had the less exciting part, a private guided tour through the suspension bridges in the Selvatura Monteverde Biological Reserve Cloud Forest canopy.
We were looking at hummingbirds and I told our guide, Vicelino, how one flew into my dad's chest a few weeks ago because he was standing too close to their feeder. Vicelino shook his head and said that a hummingbird would never attack a human. I told him, I'm not asking you if it's possible, I'm telling you! Stupid Costa Rican Rainforest Biodiversity majors, they think they know everything. Maybe hummingbirds don’t attack humans, but what he doesn’t know is that my dad has a propensity for wearing Hawaiian print shirts.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Suspension Bridge tour
Anyway, after spying some lovely jungle birds through his superpowered telescope, we finished the suspension bridges and returned to the park building for the ZIP LINE! If you get the travel channel at home, you, like everyone in my family, might know what this is already without ever even getting off your couch.
I however just get basic channels, and I had no idea what a zip line was until I got to Costa Rica, so I will explain for those of you who are like I was...you wear a helmet and a harness around your torso, then you climb a very tall tree which is connected to another very tall tree on the other side of the forest by a loooooooooonnnng cable. You actually in most cases cannot see the other tree, you just have to trust that it's there. When I was at the top of the first platform, I almost backed out. But before you can protest, the guides have hooked your harness to the cable with one caribeaner and have given you a little shove. ZIP! Through the forest canopy you go, as high as the treetops! Looking down is not for the faint of heart.
There goes Amy!
The helmet is to protect your head from being sliced in half if you should touch it to the cable as you're whizzing by. I'm going to guess that we were going about 40 miles an hour? There were 19 cables. The guides would tell you to brake when you were "about 20 meters from the end." Who the heck knows how long a meter is? Not me! The first time I braked too soon, so there I was, a couple meters from the next tree, suspended from a very high cable at a dead stop. At that point you have to turn around backwards and pull yourself hand over hand toward the tree, so that the next person doesn't slam into you. The guide rescued me just in time, because the person behind me was a blue-eyed Spaniard, who was mistaken for an English speaker during the oration in the imperialistic language on "how to brake.
I'm coming in for a landing
" He was too shy to ask for instructions in Spanish, and as a result he didn't know how to brake (squeeze the cable with a leather-gloved hand). He went slamming into the guide and the tree so hard, I think I heard his kneecap shatter. There was some blood, but we all trooped on.
Ask us how we liked the zip line?
To make it all even better, we experienced, for the first time during our rainy season trip, a TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR. Never in my prissy little life did I expect to find myself clinging to a metal platform high on a tree, soaked to the bone with mascara running down my face and wearing equipment that stank like someone else's body odor, with a smile stretching from ear to ear as I prepared for the next cable. At that point, 19 cables didn't seem like enough! I decided I could do the zip line every morning, right after breakfast and a Costa Rican coffee.
The circular object in the water is a car tire, just to give you a sense of how long these crocs are!
It was raining so hard that the guides began to fear that we would electrocute ourselves on the cables, since we were zipping so fast in the rain that they gave off sparks, so they cut us off at 13 cables...darn!
We treated ourselves to a nice dinner at Morphos (lomito con salsa de hongos and the best patatas you've ever had...mmmmh!) before calling it a day.
Our last couple days were spent at the beach in Manuel Antonio National Park. There were no buses headed our way that day, so we hired a driver to take us there for $125usd...we got our money's worth, as he kept pulling over to show us monkeys in trees, or crocodiles in the river. The beach was typical of the Pacific Ocean, and the sand was full of critters.
There were abundant chaise lounges and it sure was a nice, relaxing end to a fabulous vacation.
Playa Espadilla, Manuel Antonio Natl. Park
We were lucky enough to sit in first class on the way home, even though I was in my pj pants. I used to see people traveling in their pajamas in the airport and think to myself: "What a slob! Just rolled out of bed and onto my flight! Can't even put on normal clothes to go out in public! Must be on drugs!" But this experience has taught me some compassion. Could be that pobrecito was sunbathing too close to the equator and can't get their jeans on over their burn.
FYI, Costa Ricans in the tourism industry speak excellent English, and American dollars are accepted everywhere. For non-Spanish/English-only speakers, or for those wary of foreign country travel, this is a place you can travel with very little hassle.
I was actually annoyed by all the English speakers because Dios sabe I did not go to Central America to practice my English. I felt extremely safe at all times. Tourism is such a big economic boon in that country that you will even find the Costa Ricans looking out for you, (warning about parts of the city to stay away from, how to spot a possible pickpocket and even letting you know that your skin might be burning) and you can withdrawal American dollars at their ATM's (deeming unecessary the knowledge imparted to us by a man in the grocery store on how to recognize a counterfeit Costa Rican bill). They really make it easy for you enjoy yourself. Every tour guide we had thanked us profusely for visiting Costa Rica.
They love their country, they love their jobs, they love tourists, and they love your dinero.
Well, I've got about ten loads of laundry to do. Adios!