Daniele and I left for Costa Rica on Tuesday, January 25th. We flew five hours from Newark to San Jose. In the San Jose airport I got a prepaid SIM card from the local phone company ICE and a rental car from Thrifty. The phone was mostly to use for Google Maps, since there are no maps to load onto Tom Tom or anything. It turned out not to be too hard; most of the time there was only one road. We drove to the city of Puntarenas where we waited for a ferry to Paquera. From there we drove to the “large” city of Cobano where they have a gas station and bank (watch out!), and then finally to Montezuma. Pretty much a full day of travel.
Our first beach day we went to Playa de la Manchas, which turned out to be my favorite beach. Not very crowded, the water was nice, there were tide pools, and lots of shade in dry sandy places.
The next day we went to Cabo Blanco National Park, a nature reserve near Montezuma. We took the longer hike that ended at a pretty white sand beach. On the way we saw howler monkeys (who make a pretty scary howl), white faced monkeys, and an iguana.
We continued to go to new beaches in Montezuma. Our third day we went to Playa Los Cederos. This beach has a pond behind the sand with a rope swing, but we avoided it since we suspected the water was not very clean. The locals liked it though. Along with the local families, we had a picnic in the shade by this pool. In the afternoon we went back to Playa de la Manchas.
Our forth day we went to either Playa Montezuna or Playa Grande. They are the two beaches right by Montezuna center. One is more of a boat port and we were never sure which was which. Montezuma’s beaches tend to be sandy coves with rocks closing them in on the sides and forest behind them. We walked down this beach along the water, then onto a forest path, then along the beach, then over some rocks, more beach, and so on looking for the perfect beach. We found a cute waterfall along the way, too. We ended at a spot pretty far down (possible not Playa Montezuma/Grande anymore). It had long rolling waves and lots of surfers. In the afternoon we headed back and went to see the “Cascades de Montezuma” AKA the Montezuma Waterfalls.
Our last day in Montezuma we drove down the peninsula to Mal Pias. This town was isolated for ages without roads going to it. Now it is knows for beautiful beaches and surfing schools. I was surprised when we got there that it was more built up than Montezuma (though that is not saying much). All that we had to do to get to Montezuma, you have to go farther to get to Mal Pias. We went to a few different places there.
The next morning we left at 3:45 AM from Montezuma to make the first ferry. Once back on the main land we drove South down the coast; went through Jaco but did not stop. It is the biggest city we had seen since we left the airport. We went through Quepos right before we arrived in Manuel Antonio. Quepos is the Cobano to Manuel Antonio. More locals, less tourists. I wasn’t very big on leaving so early in the morning, but it worked out nice as we got to watch sunrise on the ferry and made it to the beach in time to still enjoy the day. We took some sun at the beach right in Manuel Antonio, Playa Espadrillas. For dinner we went to Quepos. We ended up at an Italian owned restaurant called “Pure Vida”, which is also the Costa Rican mantra. The owner, Marco made friends with Daniele and shared his life story. The pizza was really good. It had that Italian taste that is hard to describe, probably just fresh ingredients.
The next day we went to the Manuel Antonio National Park. This is something I was really looking forward to because it was a real rain forest and the paths go along beaches only accessible through the park. This is where I was finally able to see a sloth! They are hard to spot since they don’t move around enough to make noise, but other people who had hired guides pointed them out or I would just look where they were looking. There were also tons of white faces monkeys. We saw them along the path. A family of them was practically putting on a show by the first beach, running back a forth and up the trees. One chased Daniele back the path; he seemed a little less friendly than the beach monkeys. We also saw a few iguanas, a raccoon, howler monkeys, more than I can remember. We packed a lunch that day and came back to the first beach where there were picnic tables in the shade to eat. While we were putting everything down and settling in to eat, a raccoon sneaked up and grabbed our lunch bag before we even saw it. He was too fast and got away before we even knew what happened. A minute later, someone saw him and chased him and kindly handed me back the raccoon-ripped plastic bag. I threw it out and we just had dinner early.
The next day we had a late start because we had to wait for the Thrifty man to fix a problem with our rental. There was a problem with a sensor and the break lights were stuck on, killing the battery. We had previously decided to go to Marino Ballene National Park in Uvita, where there is whale watching and nice beaches. Also Daniele had been saying how he wished we had time to go farther south. But with the late start we decided to go somewhere closer. Then on the drive I fell asleep and Daniele drove there anyway. I hadn’t brought binoculars, thinking we were not going, so we didn’t see any whales. I had crazy heat exhaustion and when I went to the shade saw a scorpion. I have a feeling we both though this was something the other wanted to do.
The next day we drove to Volcano Arenal. We did not leave crazy early this time, knowing already that we would do the volcano hike the next day. The drive was long and on bad roads with traffic. Worse yet, as we left the clear blue beaches for the mountains it was cloudy and rainy. Daniele was already against giving up even these two days at the beach to see a volcano. So this was not a very pleasant drive. He made it very clear that he did not understand why anyone would want to go to a volcano. That there are volcanoes in Italy. That we should probably just turn back because of the weather. That he didn’t like doing this terrible drive to a place he didn’t want to be. But we did eventually get there. The bad weather turned out to be a morning thing; it cleared up in the afternoon and did the same the next day. The little town next to the volcano, La Fortuna, was filled with tourists, which fascinated Daniele. He really thought only I was crazy and wanted to see this silly volcano. We walked around the town that afternoon and did the hike at Arenal the next day. In the morning it was too foggy, so we drove around the lake to see that and kill some time. Then once it started to clear up we went to the National Park. It was clear and warm while we were there. We did all the hikes to the two view points. The path goes over the lava flows and we had our lunch on big lava rocks at the second view point. Unfortunately we were there during the day so we couldn’t see any of the red lava flows this volcano is famous for.
Our last day we fit in a little everything. Daniele really wanted to see the beach one last time and I wanted to see the capital city of San Jose. So we left very early and stopped at one of the beaches right where the highway reaches the pacific coast. We took the sun for a few hours, then drove back to Alajuela. Alajuela is next to San Jose and where the airport is. We dropped off our rental car and checked into a bed and breakfast near the airport. Then we took a bus to San Jose.
The big thing I wanted to do was the central market. There were lots of food and spices and all sorts of things there. We ate at this strange sort of dinner inside. There were a few similar to it. The place was circular and people sat along the bar outside of it while the waitresses ran everything inside. The food came from a dumbwaiter that led overhead where they had built a second floor and I suppose the kitchen was. We sat by the overflowing sink and when I asked for silverware one of the ladies took some from the dirty pile, wiped it with a towel, and handed it to me. When I gave her a face and did not take it she wiped it some more, surpassing the amount of time and effort it would have taken to just wash it. When I still did not look pleased she gave my a cup of hot water put the fork and knife in and handed me the set up with an “aqua calda” and a smile. The food was actually good, but that really spoiled it for me. Like my dad says, you get to see how clean your silverware is, you don’t even get to see how they prepare your food.
After the market we walked around the city a bit. We saw a few churches, a souvenir market, Plaza de Cultura, Teatro National, and some more I can’t remember. At Plaza de Democrazia there was a free metal concert so the area was full of Costa Rican kids dressed in all black or holding their skateboards.
Our flight was at 7 AM, so we left nice and early to come back to the US. I asked some women who worked for Continental if I could bring Daniele in the “US Citizens” line at border control. I was all excited I could take him in the short and fast Americans-only line; show him how nice it is. Unfortunately I think the passengers on out flight got through faster on the non-citizens side, it was so slow. The worker distributing people to lines was doing a terrible job. And the line kept coming to a stop with people with problems, not that we can talk. We went to the agent together, since we were traveling together and that was what I thought we were supposed to do based on what the Continental staff told me. The man flipped out. Seriously lost his head. After saying one of us had to go back in line, he got out of his booth to go yell at the whole line and say no one else better come up together if they are not married. When he came back to look at my passport I said I was sorry he was having a bad day, to which he replied I was the only reason for his bad day, me and people like me coming up in pairs when we should not be. He had no way to hold me, so I went on and waited for Daniele. He wouldn’t let Daniele through because he did not have a print out of his itinerary; not the ‘boarding pass’ with the same information, the ‘flight itinerary’ which apparently it would have said when I bought our tickets that I needed to print for non-citizens to re-enter the country. Daniele had a million other papers, more than he needed, but not this. The border control agent called me over to ask if I had it since I bought our tickets. He repeated how I should have known better to print it out well past when I started crying. I had it on my computer, but he wouldn’t look at it, “his job is just stamp and go”. So Daniele had to go on his own to wherever they take people who require more than “stamp and go” and I was not allowed to come even though I had the document in question with me on my computer. I barely got to yell out a “where can I find him after?” as they were forcing me out of border control to baggage claim and him god knows where. It turned out to be fine. Whoever he dealt with in there wasn’t a complete asshole on a power trip, unlike the first agent, and let him through immediately. He actually stayed and translated for some girl– while I was downstairs freaking out. We were probably the third group to require this extra attention in our line, and it was similar in the line next to us (we jumped over but it made no difference), and that is just the lots of short lines in front on the windows after the one long winding line.
[Edit] Link to pictures from this trip: