MAR 07,2013 - MAR 14,2013 (8 DAYS)
We arrived at Costa Rica on Thursday afternoon, after a short flight and quick stop at Al Salvador. When we went to pick up our jeep (which we ordered in advance), we were happy to discover we were upgraded, and got a specious Toyota Rav4 instead of the Daihatsu Terios we paid for. Since we landed late, we went on a short trip to nearby town called Gercia, half an hour from the airport.
Shahar is taking advantage of our upgraded jeep
On our way to Grecia, the first thing we noticed was how clear the air is. The view was amazing; a beautiful sunset which looked spectacular even from the highway. Grecia turned out to be a small city with almost no tourists at all, a fact that made it very easy for us to find local restaurants - which are called Soda - and sit down with some of the local people.
So, 3 hours after we landed we found ourselves sitting near a table and ordering chicken soup, ceviche and casados – a local dish made of rice, black beans, fried green bananas, chicken and salad. Well fed and happy we went back to our hotel in the center of the city, and were surprised when we woke up the next morning to the sound of some cheerful birds (a sound that became a soundtrack for the trip).
We went outside to the hotel garden, ate a fun breakfast with lots of fruits, and enjoyed the unexpected piece of nature in the middle of an urban area. Afterward, we set out to our first real destination – the volcano Arenal.
A local fruit truck. if it was up to me alone, we would have stopped in each and everyone of them...
Intoxicated from the clear air, we never thought to check the local weather forecast, and just got into the jeep and started to drive. The trip took us about 4 hours, and sky seemed darker by the minute… when we arrived at the local town of Baldi it was pouring cats and dogs and we realized that we’ll have to pass on visiting the volcano for the day.
A bridge on the way to Arenal volcano
We decided to visit the local hot springs, and we spent 5 hour in the different pools, waterfalls, Jacuzzi and pools, and of course, the buffet restaurant. Not a full day has passed since we landed, and we already felt in heaven (except for the lack of apples, but no worries, the mango and pineapple took their place).
After leaving the hot springs, it was totally dark and we drove 30 km (on a dirt road no less) to the place we planned to spent the night in. we drove in a thick fog, seeing only a few meters ahead, and we got to the place we had to feel our way to our tent. It was not till the morning light that we saw the amazing view of the wild jungle, right there outside our big window. Arenal volcano managed to slip from our sight yet again, hiding behind the clouds. Since it hasn’t stopped raining for a few days, we decided to head on down to the pacific coast, where, so it was told, its dry and warm.
The View from our tent window
As we moved to the west, we saw the sky become clearer and the temperature rising and rising. When we stopped for lunch, it was summer all the way, and heat fell on us like a warm thick blanket. 5 hours later we were in Samara, a small sleepy beach town by the pacific, which attracts mainly local tourists. We took a room a walking distance from the beach and went down to see the sunset. For dinner we had fried red snapper, and drank pineapple shake and beer on the long sandy strip.
Great dinner in Samara
A secluded beach, which a local woman recommended
From Samara we planned to continue to another beach town called Monezumma, on the far end of Nicoya peninsula; but when we talked to a nice waiter in the coffee shop where we started the day, she said the town was full of tourists and recommended us to visit a less traveled volcano – Rincon de la Vieja. She told us you can climb up to the pick, and on the way pass through all the different climate systems which are found in Costa Rica. Her vivid descriptions convinced us, and we headed on to the Volcano, only this time, learning from past mistakes, we made sure to check the weather forecast first.
On the way we stopped in another beach town called Tamarindo, a popular resort among American tourists, and picked up 2 American hitchhiker girls, which for some reason got excited from the sound of the name “Shahar”’ and demanded to hear more Israeli names. They burst into laughter when they heard them… After we dropped them off we continued to the place where we planned to spend the night, near the entrance to the national park Rincon. We planned to visit the park and the volcano the next day, but the nice man at the check in informed us that the park was closed on Mondays, and since it was a Sunday that day… we were disappointed, but understood the massage: somewhere, someone doesn’t want us to visit a volcano on our trip in Costa Rica. Well, there was not much to do about that.
We had only 4 days left in Costa Rica, and we planned to spend 2 of them in Monteverde and 2 in Manuel Antonio national park, so we couldn’t stay in Rincon another night – but we did spent the morning, enjoying the calm atmosphere, singing of the birds, a good thriller novel and a relaxing rest on the hammock (quick lesson: never get up from a hammock without letting your partner laying beside you know – if you don’t want her to fall over, that is).
We headed to Monteverde early and for a change arrived early too, so for the first time we found a place to sleep while it was still light outside. After a quick walk around the pleasant town we ordered a night tour in the jungle the very evening. We headed out - a group of 6 people we a local guide – to a nearby rain forest where we were impressed by the thick flora, the bushes which grow on trees, the trees which grow on other trees and so on. We saw a few animals, and I was fascinated by something which look like a mega-firefly. Oh, and we learned some new things about the sex life of tarantulas….
The next day we did a Canopy in the cloud forest, which is a very cool omega line between the tree branches – some of them stretching for a couple of kilometers. There were about 20 people in our group, and Shahar and I were a lot younger than the others… after we were equipped with harnesses, we saw that some of the people had a double harness – one on the chest and one on the waist. I told Shahar that we were not as secured as the others, but then I realized that it was a double protection for the more heavy people among us…
We got a quick explanation on how to accelerate and how not to lose balance, and were told that the more cautious people can do the canopy with one of the guides. And in a minute we were on our way… The first canopy was slow and short, just to get the taste. The second one was fast, really fast, and when I tried to slow down near the end I realized there is no chance I will make it on time. The tree in front of me came closer and closer, but than I discovered something amazing – the canopy also has breaks!! I managed to stop at the last second, with a loud sound of a crash – but without the actual damage… before the last canopy we also did a Tarzan jump from a height of 5 meters. Well, I jumped in the past from 25 meters above a gushing river, and even from an airplane, but what can I tell you – it was still scary… the swinging part, on the other hand, was a lot of fun…
Shahar is Canopying through the trees...
And I'm right behind him
On the last canopy we noticed that the couple in front of us went down together, and so did another American couple who passed us on the way. We thought they were just a bit scared from the last and longest canopy, but when it was my turn our guide asked Shahar to join me. “you don’t want to get stuck out there with the winds blowing right now”, he explained, and so we did our last canopy together, a little romantic touch amidst the tree tops…
Shahar is swinging after jumping like a real Tarzan
The last place we wanted to visit was Manuel Antonio, a small park by the Pacific Ocean. The park is a home to different kinds of trees and a variety of animals, and there are also some amazing beaches there… we hired a very nice guide with a mustache and binoculars, who’s job was to spot for us some of the animals roaming about and to point the binoculars at them. Unfortunately, he did not excel in either of the tasks he took upon himself… but luckily for us, he was very good at asking other guides to let us look in their binoculars, which was already pointing at the right direction…
Sunset over Jaco, a small town on the way to Manuel Antonio
I usually choose my traveling destination by the country’s local cuisine. Central America was different: I did hear a lot about the food in Costa Rica, but what I heard was that it is Not the reason to visit this amazing country… so we came with low expectations, and we were pleasantly surprised. We had some great dishes, so here is a quick list:
Tamale – a local dish made from corn dough (masa), stuffed with chicken or pork, cooked and served with a banana leaf.
Gallo – a typical Costa Rica dish, made out of corn tortilla and served with salchicha, which is a sausage made of ground beef.
A fried tortilla with chopped chicken in tomato sauce, lots of vegetable and even more ketchup and mayonnaise.
The people in Costa Rica are very proud of their coffee. Costa Rica has plenty of coffee plantation, and is the fifth largest exporter of coffee in the world. Naturally, there is a traditional way of making and serving coffee: they place the mixture in a little cloth bag over a wooden device, and pure the hot water only at the table. Shahar, who is our coffee expert, confirmed its quality… along with the coffee you can see an excellent mango pie we ate together.
In the small dish department: Guacamole and Nachos.
Still in the small dishes: Ceviche Platano (which is a banana of some kind). When we asked the waiter how is the dish, he replied “maso o menos”, which means “so so”. I decided to take my chances, and it turned out to be more menos than mas… it had the spicy taste of fish ceviche, and that didn’t go all that good with the fruit.. well, we tried.
Fried fish casados, with rice, fried platano, beans and vegetable
As always, I tried some new fruits – this time the fruit of a cashew nut. The nut comes out of the brown stem, one nut for each stem. The fruit itself was horrible, and I had to spit it out…
Now this was a lot better. The fruit is called Cainito, and it was delicious… Shahar thought it sweet taste is similar to anona.
And this is how it looks inside.