On and on the rain will fall (Costa Rica)

Trip Start Feb 18, 2004
Trip End Dec 05, 2005

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Friday, September 30, 2005

The visit back home was great and let me relax a bit after the craziness of China. Got to visit Fred Meyer and was reunited with my best pal, George George (aka, George). Just being amongst friends and family and somewhere familiar was comforting. Couldn't let myself become too complacent so off again...

The trip to Costa Rica could be summed up with one word - RAIN. It rained and rained and rained. Guess that's why they call it the rainy season. My Let's Go book says, "even during the rainy season, the sun generally shines for much of the day, and most afternoon rainstorms are furious but fleeting." WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!! The mornings are sometimes just cloudy but once the rain starts in the late morning or early afternoon, it just goes and goes. Plus it's generally a heavy rain. As you can imagine, hiking through rainforest and visiting beaches isn't exactly fun in the rain. I wouldn't go so far as to say the rain ruined my visit, but it did make it disappointing. And thus the story unfolds...

I flew from Seattle to Dallas with many Texans onboard the flight. I liked a comment by one of a trio of large ladies in front of me who said Australians talk funny. Texans talk funny too. American Airlines seems to offer about as much as a discount airline in other parts of the world - they were charging for food, offered no movie and didn't have personal tv screens. Cost-cutting, I s'pose. The Dallas airport is filled with lots of shops and restaurants with cowboy themes. They must like their cowboys down there. Only had about an hour layover there before the flight to San Jose. American Airlines was a bit better on this one in that they gave us food and played a dumb movie (still no personal screen), but still charged for alcohol (it's an international flight!). Quite a few Americans on their way to Costa Rica. In the immigration line I got to listen to the brilliant couple behind me (they were by no means the brightest stars in the sky). At the baggage claim, I met up with my friend, Julie, from Portland. She coordinated her arrival to be around the same time as mine. She came to Costa Rica for a volunteer program but had a little time beforehand for travel (and has a lot of time after). We caught a taxi into town and our hostel. I had pre-booked it online and thought it was in the central area, but it was a bit isolated in the northwest part of the city (San Jose isn't known for its safety). No big deal as we were only there for the night. We went for a short walk and got some dinner then back to the hostel where we played some foosball with the lady running the place. There didn't seem to be anyone else staying there.

Up dang early to catch the public bus to Santa Elena by the Monteverde Cloud Forest. That was a long, bumpy ride. When we got off the bus, all the touts were swarming to get us to go to their hostel. I think we picked a good one - the lady was friendly and helpful and the place was nice. The town is really small so not many choices for food. We tried the cheap place next to the bus stop. Cheap, but not so good. Looked around town a wee bit then caught the bus out to the park. Julie didn't want to go in that day since we'd only have a little bit of time so we just checked out the hummingbird area next door. Lots of pretty hummingbirds. It started raining when we got to the park and continued to the rest of the day. Back in town we were hoping it would let up for our walk back to the hostel but it never did. Had a late nap and got out too late for dinner (the places close a bit early). Had a drink at a locals bar then back to the hostel (w/o dinner).

We were up early again the next day to catch the bus out to the park. Costa Rica and the Monteverde Cloud Rainforest are known for having lots of animals (monkeys, colorful birds, bright colored frogs, etc...). Raining again, as usual. We wandered around quite a while but didn't see much of anything (a squirrel and a couple plain looking birds). Back at the information area, the guy said the animals tend to hide when it's raining. D'oh! We did see a caoti there by the entrance (it resembles an anteater). Had some lunch, hiked to a waterfall then I went for a quick hike around back in the forest. Saw another squirrel but nothing cool. Very disappointed to not even see one monkey. The rainforest itself is pretty though. Back to town and wander a lil' bit. Continues to rain and rain. Naptime back at the hostel but we were good about waking up on time to get dinner. Just went next door 'cuz it's supposed to have good food and it was still raining hard.

I seem to be doing alright with my Spanish. For the most part, I understand what people are telling me and I can get by with what I want to say. Sometimes I don't know the right words for what I'm trying to say but can get my point across. Someone told me Costa Ricans speak Spanish slowly and pronounce things clearly so I'm sure that helps. And it helps that most speak English too. What's crazy is I've been having French pop into my head when I'm trying to say things in Spanish. I hardly know French!

Julie and I didn't fancy another day in the pouring rain so caught a bus-boat-bus combo to La Fortuna (this private transport is much quicker than public). La Fortuna is right at the base of the Arenal Volcano. The volcano became active again in 1968 and has been spewing lava ever since. I wanted to see that! The weather in Fortuna was better - cloudy and humid, but not raining. First thing after checking in at the hotel was to get some lunch. Julie is always safe when eating and avoids vegetables, fruit, some meats and the water (she even brushes with bottled water). I just eat whatever these days. Hope my stomach doesn't suffer. Had a bit of relaxing then went on a tour to the volcano...or so I was led to believe. They actually took us on a hike through rainforest near the volcano, but not very near. Though that hike was good 'cuz we got to see howler monkeys, spider monkeys and a toucan (all from far away). Of course it poured rain on us during the hike too. After the hike, we went to a viewpoint for seeing the lava flow. Unfortunately, the clouds were quite low so we only spotted a lil' bit of lava...and we were really far away so even that was hard to spot. Then it was on to the hot springs for hanging out by a poolside bar with girls in bikinis. Ain't nothing wrong with that!

We had a relaxing couple hours there before heading back to town. Met up with people from the tour for a late night dinner. Julie had a "date" with the tour guide, and took him along to dinner with the rest of us to be safe.

The following morning I bid farewell to Julie as she was heading south for her volunteer program and I was heading west to the beach. Stuck traveling solo again...guess it does allow me to do whatever but lonelier. Took another private bus to Playa Tamarindo so as to save myself countless hours on public buses. Let's Go says this about Tamarindo, "few places offer so much entertainment by day and such a lively nightlife." They obviously weren't there during the rainy season. The town was dead. Because of rain, no one was hanging out on the beach, half the stores were closed and there really wasn't much to do. The hostel I found in Let's Go turned out to be kind of a dive with mostly surfers hanging out there. But the hostel did have tv with lots of channels to waste time in the evening (we watched a couple movies).

A guy at Tamarindo was telling me outside investors are trying to build up Tamarindo to be a resort comparable to the ones in Mexico. Costa Rica is supposed to be about small towns with nice beaches so that would be unfortunate. I've also been told a lot of Americans and other foreigners are coming in setting up diving shops, restaurants, hotels, etc and jacking up prices. This in turn causes the locals to raise their prices. The prices for some of the tours and stuff here are outrageous (e.g., $120 for snorkeling, $100 for a surf lesson). The private buses are up to 5 times more expensive than public buses (though they can save you a lot of time). I heard from several people that Panama is much better and the people aren't so concerned with getting your money. The people in Costa Rica are alright...not overly friendly, but not unfriendly either.

After Tamarindo I caught a bus to Nicoya to get to Samara. I misunderstood the woman at the bus office and thought she said the next bus was at 2pm (dos) when she said 12 (doce). That extra "eh" makes a big difference. So I waited around town a couple more hours than I needed to. It was raining on the bus ride to Samara, but when I got there it was kinda sunny. I went out to the beach to enjoy that little bit of sunshine and hang out. It was already late afternoon though so I didn't get to enjoy it for long (the sun sets around 5:30pm). Had some pasta for dinner and read some of my book as there wasn't much going on in this town either.

It took all day for me to get to Quepos near Manuel Antonio. I caught a 7am bus in Samara to get me to Nicoya. But Nicoya didn't have any buses to Quepos or Puntarenas (that city has buses) so I had to go all the way to San Jose then catch a bus from there. I ended up on buses for 10 hours (ugh!) which kind of wasted the day. By the time I got to Quepos, it was dark out. Got myself a place to stay, had some dinner and i-net before bed.
My body is too used to waking up early 'cuz I find myself feeling awake at like 5am. I want to sleep! Did a couple errands around town then caught the bus out to Manuel Antonio Nat'l Park. The park is lovely with lush rainforest going right to the edge of the beach. Let's Go says, "birds fill the trees with color while armadillos amble along the underbrush." I'm finding my Let's Go book to be filled with inaccurate information, or maybe dry season only information. I did get to see some white-faced monkeys and spotted some deer. After about 20 minutes of walking, the rain started. And it kept raining and kept getting heavier. I was soaked even with my umbrella. That didn't make visiting the park so much fun. Had it not been raining, the park and beaches would have been beautiful to kick back and just hang out at. Back to town in the early afternoon to update this travelogue and check on finding future accomodation. Had a nice tuna steak sandwich for dinner (there's lots of seafood available here).

Morning bus ride to San Jose. I got a direct one (doesn't stop to pick people up) this time so it was quicker. Also had an American chiropractic student to talk to and pass the time. Guess what? It was raining when I arrived in San Jose. No way! Got a cab to the town center and checked out the National Theatre and just wandered 'round. It's not supposed to be safe to go out at night plus I had to be up very early the next day so I just stayed in at the hostel (another wild and crazy night).

Costa Rica really is a beautiful country even with all the rain. If I ever do make it back to Costa Rica, it won't be during the rainy season. It also seemed like each place I was going in Costa Rica someone would tell me another place in Costa Rica I just had to see [but wasn't going to]. So there are plenty of other places for me still to visit in this country. Maybe someday I'll just have to tour all around Central America...
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