Pura Vida

Trip Start Sep 26, 2010
Trip End Jun 10, 2011

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Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of San Jose,
Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Itinerary in brief:  San Jose - Rafting on Rio Pacuare - La Fortuna (Arenal volcano) - Monteverde (cloud forests) - Santa Teresa (beach) - Manuel Antonio (park and beaches) - San Jose

Most people already know a few things about Costa Rica, home to cloud forests, ziplining, volcanoes, and great beaches.  I thought I would start this blog entry with a few things you may not know about Costa Rica:

1) Street addresses aren't used.  Instead, they use landmarks to identify locations. Would you like to FedEx us something in the capital San Jose?  You would send that to FedEx, 100 meters east of the statue of Leon Cortes on Paseo Colon, San Jose, Costa Rica.  At least in San Jose they have street names, even if they aren't used often.  In the smaller towns, the streets have no names (feel free to break into the U2 song here).  This system can make finding a location in a new town rather complicated.

2) There is a poisonous tree, much like a giant version of poison ivy.  You're not supposed to touch it or even stand too close to it.  Of course, Jeremy and I spent a good 20 minutes leaning against one before coming across a helpful sign warning tourists to stay away from it.  Thankfully, we didn't suffer any ill effects.

3) If you want to see animals, look up.  Very few animals, even the snakes, will be found on the ground.  This was very comforting when we went on a night hike in Monteverde and were concerned about stepping on something.  Indeed, when we did see a snake, it was 6 feet off the ground and 3 feet from the trail.  Our guide told us that this was a juvenile pit viper and that it was especially dangerous because if it bit you it might be unable to control the amount of venom it injected into you.  She then said, "You stay here with the pit viper while I look for more animals." Jeremy isn't exactly found of snakes, so we declined the invitation to spend more quality time with the snake.

I don't want to leave you with the impression that all the animals we saw in Costa Rica were of the venomous kind.  Indeed, Costa Rica has some of cutest animals I've seen.  We've seen monkeys, sloths, armadillo, bats, huge iradescent blue butterflies, raccoons, porcupine, tree frogs, toucans, and lots of ants.  My favorite animal is the squirrel monkey, which is endangered and could be found swinging and squeaking all over the town of Manuel Antonio.  It is probably not a coincidence that the spanish word for monkey, "mono", also translates into cute.  These little monkeys are only slightly more adorable than a baby sloth.  When I tried to convince Jeremy that a sloth would make a perfect pet (it couldn't run away from home and only urinates once a week), he reminded me that our guide had said they can be territorial and aggressive.  When we asked her how sloths fight, she answered,"Slowly."

The food here is good, although it lacks variety.  In the morning, you can have "gallo pinto" (rice and beans mixed together) with eggs, in the afternoon it's "casado" (rice and beans served separately) with meat and whatever leftovers can be found, and in the evening it's casado again or rice with meat (no beans).  A special treat we found at the central market in San Jose was picadillo, which translates roughly to "diced" and consists of yummy diced vegetables.  Another favorite was mashed yuca (aka cassava - kind of like a potato), stuffed with meat and deep fried.  "Batidos," or fruit smoothies, were also common.  Jeremy had several maracuya (passion fruit) smoothies, which when blended with ice and a little water were deliciously sweet and tart.  While we were rafting the Pacuare River, we asked our guide Ray why the lunchtime meal was called "casado," which translates as "married." He told us that this was the traditional meal that a husband might expect to be prepared by his wife after working a long day in the fields.  Small dining establishments called "sodas" have sprung up everywhere and serve these traditional meals.

We got to spend a lot of time with Ray, who ended up being our own personal tour guide and chef.  We did a two-day, one-night rafting trip on the Pacuare River and, because it is the low season, ended up having the entire Rios Tropicales lodge to ourselves.  We had the best room in the place (third floor overlooking the river) and access to the three surrounding waterfalls, swing bridge, hammocks, and four zip lines.  It was like being a kid in an adventure candy store.  The 100+ person lodge was well stocked with modern amenities despite having no road access.  We were awed by the idea that everything, our king sized bed, the sink and toilet and the art on the wall was all brought in by raft down several large rapids.  The lodge also had a resident dog with unnaturally large ears, Bobby, that was so ugly it was almost cute (Ray summed it up nicely when he said, "That's what happens when a chihuahua mates with a bat.")  

During the day, Ray guided us to one of the waterfalls while pointing out the local trees, animals, and insects (he was very well trained as an ecologist).  He told us that sloths hang out in secropia trees and were easy to see because of the tree's open structure.  Indeed, all of the sloths we saw later in the national parks and forests we visited were in secropia trees.  Ray entertained us with countless stories (the anteater who urinated on a guest, the time he had a bump on his arm that turned out to be a worm, his many encounters with bullet ants) and we helped him make dinner, jungle chicken with rice.  We ate by candlelight outdoors to the sound of the river below and the rain on the tin roof above.   

That night at the lodge it rained A LOT and made the already swollen river even higher.  The Pacuare has almost continuous rapids with many class III and IVs (translation:  big rapids).  Before the start of this particular adventure, another guide had given us the usual safety schpiel and made us sign away our lives.  After describing in great detail how to free ourselves should we become trapped underneath the raft, he commented that we must be a brave bunch considering that we were rafting during the peak of the rainy season when water levels are highest.  Despite the rain and the high water levels, there was only one time when we were rafting that I was certain we were going to die.  The rest of the time was actually incredibly fun and exhilarating.        

We are hoping to couchsurf in each country and we successfully surfed in La Fortuna, the town that borders the usually active volcano Arenal.  Unfortunately, the volcano hadn't erupted for weeks and continued to be silent while we were there.  This led Jeremy to joke that now all we needed to see was a moose running down an active volcano to make our trip complete.  

We surfed with Jose, a very calm, open-minded guy who leads sweat lodge ceremonies at a local resort.  He took us to visit the local hot springs.  There are two very expensive spas that border the hot springs and the hot river, but as a local Jose knew that within 20 meters of where a bridge spans the hot river is public property which could be accessed free of charge.  We took a cab out to the bridge and then followed a trail down to the river below.  It was nighttime and there were only a few people down there.  It was so peaceful to sit and swim in a very warm river in the dark.  My favorite place was a shallow spot where a cold spring joined the river.  You could lie there staring upwards into the trees and starry night with your hands in the cold water and your feet in the hot water and feel the temperature gradient along your body.  I could have stayed there all night.  Afterwards, we had a lovely homemade meal in Jose's cabin where we watched the geckos on the wall hunt bugs and talked music, travel, and life.   

While in Costa Rica, we have had many opportunities to practice our Spanish.  With that comes many opportunities to say incoherent things.  In particular, we frequently say exactly the opposite of what we mean to say.  For instance, upon being shown a pricey room at a hostel, Jeremy inquired if they had anything more expensive.  Likewise, after booking some bus tickets, Jeremy wanted to verify that we had to be at the station 30 minutes after the bus left.  These misspeaks have earned us some confused looks, but at least our Spanish is improving.

Top 3 experiences in Costa Rica:
1) Rafting the Rio Pacuare and having the whole lodge to ourselves
2) Relaxing in the hot springs at night in La Fortuna
3) Spotting wildlife in Manuel Antonio (squirrel monkeys and Morphos butterflies)     
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hollace ellard on

What fun! Great photos, but I hope you will add some narrative soon. Dad and I look forward to your journals.

arcanum on

I met the chief creative director for the Discovery Channel at a party last week. I'm going to share your story and blog with him, K? I've been scavenging for him card in my purse. His name is George and he's British. I'll let you know more when I find the damn card!! xo glad you've left North America! Ca't wait to see the rest. Two French CSers staying this weekend from Tuolouse (sp) I've wriiten 1/2 of chapter 1. Yay!!!!

arcanum on

I just found his card. I lied. His name is James Gilbey, like the gin, only better!

Barto on

This is where you called from, no? Looks fun and a little crazy.

arcanum on

Never heard a word from James Gilbey. So much for the Discovery Channel.
Dare I ask, what exactly is "JUNGLE CHICKEN"? Do I want to know? Hope you guys are reading these comments. Once again, it's December 9. Where ARE you guys? Please promise me you will not eat roasted guinea pigs in Peru. I saw on some cooking show where the host was on a travel hunt for new ideas for his restaurant. Keep it coming! Merry Christmas wherever you are. Nardi

Thad on

Merry Christmas!!!! Lorelei was very happy to learn where "coco rica" was. She just got a large world map for Christmas and is logging you journey now. Have a great Christmas and we look forward to your next entry...

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