Trip Start Sep 26, 2010
44Trip End Jun 10, 2011
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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)
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
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
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
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)