Pura Vida in Costa Rica – San Jose

We took a shared cab to San Jose.

The road is again through picturesque mountain side, lush and green and gradually descends in to the plains below. As the drive progresses, weather becomes warmer, traffic increases and you find yourself in the midst of a typical city. Blaring horns, traffic, street hawkers, the general hustle – bustle which brings you back to the realities of life.

I was a bit sick by the time we reached San Jose and we decided to check-in and chill.

We got a sub, fries and watched some Spanish television.

The next morning, we went to downtown San Jose to see the Gold Museum. Of course, there are several other places of interest – National Theater, Central Park, National Museum etc. But I wanted to see the gold museum with his pre-Columbian era artifacts and models of how people lived, hunted, fished etc. in those days.

I was feeling sick again, so ventured out to find some place to drink something and sit down. There were beautiful Christmas decorations on the street.

After a quick lunch, I was still queasy.Suspecting something amiss, we went to a pharmacy and bought a pregnancy test kit. It was hilarious trying to ask the lady behind the counter for the kit. She didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak enough Spanish to ask for this. Guide books and phrase books don’t come quipped with this, well because, not all tourists go looking for this.

Finally we got the kit and came back to the hotel. We were so elated when both lines turned blue.

It was the best news of our lives ūüôā

Then suddenly I worried about the food, drinks and all the fall during white water rafting. In hindsight, everything turned¬† out to be alright. We joke that Varun’s first trip was to Central America with all these adventures. No wonder he loves to travel!

Costa Rica is very family friendly. We saw tons of large families travelling together. It’s easy to¬†book a van and get a driver for the entire stay. There are plenty of options for everyone – from zoo’s, serpentoriums, animals and insects museums to adventure sports. Its cheap and the dollar stretches further if you can avoid the Thanksgiving to Christmas peak season. Hike, bike, ride, snorkel – its guaranteed to keep you asking for more.

Its one of those places that I¬† know Varun will have a lot to¬†do and love. Cant wait for him to grow up and go zipline with him ūüôā

Pura Vida in Costa Rica – Monteverde

Monteverde is a cloud forest about four hours from La Fortuna.

It is a bit hard to get to. You have to first cross the Lake Arenal and then go up the mountain range in a bus or a 4 X 4 jeep. More adventurous people go up there on horse back or even cycle.

We did a boat ride – horse back ride – jeep trip to the top. The views all along are spectacular and totally worth the sore bums that the horse ride gives you.

Again, next morning we had an opportunity¬† to wake up early and see the magnificent Queztal¬†in the Cloud forest – but we didn’t budge. Instead we went on a coffee plantation tour. Costa Rican coffee is mild and I simply loved the flavor. We saw the whole process from picking the berries to roasting them and then grinding them for a fresh brew. Fresh tamales with hot coffee amidst coffee plantation is a perfect way to spend a Christmas morning.

As we savored the tamales and coffee, we quietly pondered over the hard lives of the farm hands. They barely make enough picking beans/ tending to farm chores. Finding reliable workers is hard. Most international brands have stringent requirements and sometimes don’t think the yield is up to their quality standards. And even with so many farms around local farmers cannot afford the coffee they grow. They mostly drink the coffee that is really substandard. Such is the way of life for all farmers and agriculturists around the world – be it Bali, India or Costa Rica.

We wished to linger on, but we had to get going Рpack our bags and catch a shared cab to San Juan Рthe last stop on our Central American adventure.

Pura Vida in Costa Rica – Arenal

After Manuel Antonio, we took a cab to La Fortuna, the town closes to Mt. Arenal.

Arenal is the home to an active volcano. You see the volcano from a distance so its safe. The only catch the mountain being so tall generates its own weather. Similar to Mount Rainier. So its hard to predict if you will actually see it or not.

When we reached La Fortuna after 3-4 hour drive, the upper half of the mountain was covered in clouds. It was breezy and it looked like the clouds were clearing. We met several folks who told us that they had camped around in the region with the hope to see the volcano but it has rained and was covered for last ten days or so. Bummer.

We didn’t have high hopes.

Instead we went on a hike around the base of the volcano to burn off some of the most delicious arroz con pollo (rice and chicken) of the trip.

The hike was through thick forest and we saw dead snake, owl butterflies etc

After the hike, we went to the viewpoint to view the lava coming from the top of the mountain and roll down the sides. It had cleared up by then and there was quiet a crowd at the view-point. We were thrilled to see the smoking peak.

But as it was around dusk, there was still a lot of light to be able to see the red rocks clearly. So, we planned to grab dinner, go to some hot springs and then come back later at night.

Arenal being volcanic country, every resort will have their own hot springs and pools. But, there are 2 resorts that have extensive pools – Baldi and Tabacon. They are open to public even if you don’t stay there for a fee. We went there in the evening and enjoyed it. Highly highly recommended.

Later that night we took a cab back to see the volcano and it was amazing sight. The crowd was still strong and people had come quipped with flashlights, food, drinks, snacks and blankets.

We stayed for about an hour and headed back to our resort.

Arenal has a lot of activities РWhite water rafting, horse back riding, rappelling, hiking, ziplining etc. The next morning, we had signed up for a Rappelling tour. I have never rappelled before. I was sore from the previous white water rafting and hiking trip, had a broken toe nail that throbbed but was excited to go down the waterfall.

After gearing us up and the safety drills, we rappelled down a series of waterfalls, the last being 200 ft tall. It was fun though short. I actually had begun to get a hang of it only by the last fall.

Post lunch, the outfitters dropped us back to our resort and we chilled there till evening. We went into town for a nice Italian dinner and came back fairly tipsy and happy!

Next day, we checked out and went on a horse back riding trip to Monteverde.

…to be continued.

Pura Vida in Costa Rica – Manuel Antonio

Why Costa Rica?

Costa Rica was never on our travel list. An Indian family on a prior trip to Cancun told us about their adventures there and we couldn’t¬†wait to visit Costa Rica. Friendly folks, rainforest , volcanoes, clean beaches, adventure sports ( ziplining, rappelling, white water rafting, horse back riding, you name it) ¬†and modern world amenities beckoned to this small adventure filled land in Central America.¬†Rappell down a waterfall. Check. White water rafting. Check. Snorkel. Check.

First stop – Manuel Antonio

An overnight flight from Seattle, via Dallas, found us in San Jose. We had pre-booked a private transfer to Manuel Antonio, a semi-circular¬†beach sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and rainforest. The drive to Manuel Antonio is lined with coffee plantations and we stopped en route¬†for a quick ‘tipical’ lunch admist the coffee plantations. Awesome lunch, fresh coffee¬†and¬†relaxing atmosphere – what a great way to start a vacation!

We reached the hotel late in the evening , and rested in the balcony on leather rockers soaking in the views of Manuel Anotonio National Forest and the ocean below.

Manuel Antonio National Park

The next morning woke us up to wonderful Pacific Ocean views, costa rican coffee and howler monkeys. We had hooked up with a naturalist for a walk through the regions most famous Natural Park. Post breakfast, we walked down from the hotel to the park entrance and had an awesome time viewing animals, birds and insects and then spent some time on the beach.

We viewed most of the wildlife via telescope as they are camouflaged very well. Photos below were all taken through the telescope by the naturalist.

Sailing into Sunset

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel and then went on a sunset snorkel and sail trip. The water was a bit murky and I was not thrilled to snorkel. Vipul happily snorkelled and later we gorged on BBQ fish while watching the sunset.

White Water Rafting

The following morning, we went for a White water rafting trip. Initially¬†we had booked¬†a class V trip , complete with a ride down a 14 ft waterfall. I chickened¬†out at the last-minute¬†and we downgraded to a class IV. Our raft guide was from Wenatchee (near Seattle) and we bonded over familiar rivers and raft trips in a distant country. The river was high due to recent rains and over a particularly nasty rock formation, I was thrown off the raft, while we attempted to ‘butt’ the other raft and dislodge them as they were stuck in the rocks.

I found myself floating away from the raft – terrified and sure that I was going to die or be horribly injured. I went over couple of class II rapids. Vipul attempted to throw the rope and the oar but I couldn’t¬†grasp either, due to wet slippery hands. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, and just before we hit a larger class III rapid, a raft instructor on a kayak reached me and I held on to his kayak with dear life – a bit reluctant to let go even after we were in shallow water – bumping my rear on more rocks than necessary.

I mentally thanked all the thousand Indian gods for saving my life and for not going with a class V rapid ;).

Luckily, we were almost done with the trip soon and I was happy to be back on my two feet.

Later that evening, we relaxed by the pool and enjoyed the views of the setting sun.

Next up – Arenal

The following morning, we checked out and drove to Arenal, in Central region, via a shared cab, to experience the live volcano and hot springs.

…to be continued.