The first trip with our travel company (that is yet to be named) was to Costa Rica! My partner and I have traveled there extensively; I’ve spent over seven months there throughout my life. We have come to enjoy and appreciate the country and its people immensely, and so were overjoyed at the opportunity to brings clients there.
Anyone who has flown into Juan Santamaria Airport knows that outside the exit can be a little chaotic. I love the chaos of that place. I have spent a fair bit of time there waiting on clients or students to arrive. We left Maleku Hostel in Alajuela early to wait for our clients as they arrived (By the by, Maleku is an excellent budget choice if you have to spend the night in Alajuela). The following are some of the photos I sniped while standing around waiting.
We arrived in La Tigra de San Carlos well after dark. As I paid the shuttle driver, one of our clients flipped the light switch. The lights didn’t come on. Woody, the house dog, came screeching around the corner, squealing in delight and wagging his whole body when he saw Kim and I again. Woody lives at Casa Northwoods, the Eco-Lodge owned by the boarding school I work for, where we stayed.
Once Woody calmed down enough, I fumbled through the dark and found the keys to the house. After letting everyone in we grabbed our headlamps and cleaned up. Unfortunately, the house flashlights were dead and there was one measly candle. We cruised down the hill to dinner. La Parroquilla, the wood-fired open-air diner, serves comida tipica and is operated by the women of the church. My friend Hugo saw we were there eating and popped in with his son to meet everyone.
After searching in vain at both grocery stores for candles but finding batteries we crept back up the rocky road to our house on the hill. The purchase of new batteries was fruitless; the flashlights were officially broken.
Suddenly, Woody began barking ferociously and tore off down the road to chase the vehicle coming up. Mind you, Casa Northwoods is on about 100 acres and butts up against the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, which encompasses about 50,000 acres of land. Seldom do we have traffic, and definitely not at night. This vehicle comes plodding slowly up the hill with an enormous floodlight shining into the jungle. Then it hits me: it’s the power company. They’re shining the light on each and every electricity post to see if a transistor blew.
Within thirty minutes, the power was back on. Our clients decided they wanted a hot shower, and boy did that sound nice. So, I explained to them how the on-demand hot water works. Shortly, we realized that the heating elements inside the shower heads were totally dead.
I explained to them that sometimes this happens and we would get it fixed tomorrow. So, it was a cold shower. I myself took one; they’re not bad under the right circumstances, but after a long day of travel, it sure is a nice treat to rinse off under hot water.
We woke up and soaked up the sights from the patio.
I called Hugo, with whom I also work, to see what we could do about the hot water. Apparently, the heating elements had just been changed. He suggested I check the fuses.
A tree had fallen onto a power line near Hugo’s house, causing a power surge which blew the fuses in our place. Hugo was our hero; he had called the power company last night and arranged for them to come out and fix the power. Anyway, I flipped the switches and badda-bing! Hot water! Our clients were overjoyed, even though one of them had already showered with cold water.
My next responsibility was to pick up our teacher for our cooking class! When I got back to the house, Hortencia, our teacher began preparing the chicken. I asked Hortencia if the chicken came from the store.
She replied, “No, es de mi casa. Lo maté esta mañana./No, it’s from my house. I killed it this morning.”
Jessica, one of our clients made a sad face and said, “What was its name?”
Hortencia looked me in the eyes, cracked a smile, and said, “Fredy!”
The humor in this lies in the fact that Fredy is her soon-to-be ex-husband. With aplomb that is particular to Ticos, Hortencia continues to make the best of a wretched situation.
I relayed this factoid to everyone and we all had a good laugh.
Lunch in an of itself was absolutely incredible, as was to be expected.
After lunch, we made our way Arenal Paraíso for a Canopy Zip-Line tour. I didn’t bring my camera, but it was a blast! I highly, highly, highly recommend booking with this company when you go. I had done this before (which didn’t make it any less exciting), but the higlight of the tour for me was seeing a Golden Eyelash Pit Viper less than six feet from one of the platforms we zipped onto!
Our canopy tour was followed by a delicious dinner at the Lava Lounge, an American-Tico fusion restaurant that has a great atmosphere, cute pups running around the place, and a great, reasonable menu.
Following our delicious dinner, we went to Termales los Laureles, a hot springs resort off the beaten path outside of La Fortuna. While most tourists choose to (or are goaded into going) go to Tabacon or Baldi, this is where the locals go. As you might expect, it is less-expensive than the other tourist-targeted resorts, but it is exactly the same water! I have never seen another tourist there when I go, and I have been three or four times. It is a wonderful place to get into the local culture and make friends with people you might not otherwise get to.
The next day, we had big plans to hike all over the place and swim at the swimming hole outside of Fortuna, and enjoy all of the natural wonders around. Well, it was kinda rainy, and everyone was kinda tired still. So, instead, we had a lazy breakfast and morning. Once we finally motivated, we made our way to the rope swing. This is one of my favorite places in this country. It is totally awesome, totally free, and unbelievably fun.
Without really thinking, I hopped onto the rope, swung out and dismounted with a signature back flip. Everything went according to plan until I was in the water and didn’t just pop up to the surface! There was so much water because of rain flowing down from the mountains that it quite literally pinned me under. I had to kick, and hard, to surface. I swam powerfully to the shore, caught unawares of how strong the current was. I got out unscathed, but told my clients they couldn’t go in. They responded something like, “We weren’t planning to with all that water. You’re crazy.”
Well. Just as we were standing there admiring the beauty, we were delivered this wonderful sight.
Mind you, this is a secondary highway in this country. And dudes are just driving a herd of horses down the highway across a bridge. I love Costa Rica.
That night we had dinner at Casa Mendez, a bed and breakfast that some friends of mine operate.
I cannot recommend highly enough giving these people your money. Even if it just for one night. Otto Mendez is a fascinating, charismatic, and gregarious host. Mary is one of the best cooks I know. Their property is unbelievable. Thirty years ago, Otto began planting and cultivating the property into what it is today. Otto is a Landscape Architect by trade, but he is more than that. He is an Earth-Keeper. The vision that he began with thirty years ago is coming to fruition and continues to grow with each passing day. On their property, they grow an enormous amount of food. Yucca, black pepper, papaya, coffee, chickens, tilapia, vanilla, tomatoes, and a whole host of other edibles. The apartment where guests stay is in and of itself incredible.
Otto took us on a three-hour-tour of their property during which we saw all of the above, a pair of toucans, and one of the most incredible trees I have ever seen. This tree is nearly unfathomable. Not because of its size nor because of its ago, but because of its size and age. The tree featured in the photo in the link above is just 33 years old. It is a Guanacaste tree. Generally, these trees grow at lower elevations where there are significant dry seasons. Because of the dry seasons, they grow very slowly, and to immense proportions.
Otto’s father germinated this tree and Otto planted it, 33 years ago. I was unbelieving at until Otto explained how it has so quickly grown to such immense proportions. You see, where he lives, there is little dry season. But for a few weeks a year, it rains, drizzles, storms, or is overcast. The tree never stops growing. This to me, begs the question (only as I write this, I didn’t pose it to Otto) if it means the tree will die sooner because it has never stopped growing.
A recent article in National Geographic about Giant Redwoods claims that new studies have shown that these trees never stop growing. While I don’t know if that information can be applied to all trees, it presents a fascinating future for that particular Guanacaste. I digress.
So, with our brains full of arboreal and floral information (Did you know that there is a vine in the jungle of Costa Rica that chooses where it grows? As in, if it is not getting enough light in a certain location, it will collapse its leaves and retreat to find a better home.), we left Casa Mendez and went for our Canyoning Tour.
We cruised up to the house, got our gear together, and hopped in the car to go waterfall rappelling with Desafio! Less than ten minutes from the turn-off to our destination, we came to a full stop behind a line of vehicles.
I leaned out my window, shrugged my shoulders, and curled my lip, questioning a driver who had just turned around.
“No hay paso. Hay un choque.” He bumped his fists together to indicate a car crash.
We flipped the car around. I got on the phone with Desafio letting them know that we were going to be late because of an accident and could we still make the tour and we could drive directly to wherever we needed to because we have four-wheel drive.
Their response was yes, yes, and I don’t know, stop by the office in Fortuna and we’ll find out.
Our circuitous route took us about 25 k out of the way and into Fortuna from the opposite direction. When we arrived, I ran into Desafio’s tour center while one of our clients ran to the phone store to get a charger for his iPhone (which was also his camera). The awesome guy at Desafio told us no problem, gave me his phone number and told us to hurry to up to the canyoning base in the mountains.
Within about five minutes we got to the turn off for the base and came up behind a pick-up truck load of turistas heading up for the canyoning tour. The guide in the back motioned for us to pass him. I got out and told him we are headed up to do the tour with him, so we would just follow. We got there in plenty of time, used the baños, and got geared up. We were standing around commenting on how silly we all looked when the head guide came by with a list and asked me my name.
We were not on the list.
I looked him in the eye and said, “No, I just talked with the guy at the office in Fortuna. I’m sure we’re on the list.”
“Our office? In Fortuna? Our office isn’t in Fortuna.”
“Of course it is, I was just there. Aren’t you guys Desafio?”
“No man! You passed Desafio on the way up here. You better hurry down there!”
So we stripped all of our gear off and arrived at the Desafio Base to see our guides sitting on the steps, bored of waiting for us. But when they saw three girls (and two dudes) hop out of the truck, they were all smiles. They got us geared up and we headed out into the canyon for one hell of a ride.
Next time: La Fortuna and the trip Across the Golfo de Nicoya