Friday, February 24, 2012

Costa Rica Day 5: Travel Day

Today we woke up, packed, played a few games then got in a large van and hit the road. We had to travel from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio. Again, the drive should have been much shorter but due to the roads it took something like 5 or 6 hours. Not the way you want to spend a vacation day but it was well worth it to be able to visit Manuel Antonio. We stopped and got lunch at one of the roadside restaurants. It was hot and muggy as we got closer to the coast... I will admit I was a little grumpy again. Traveling (well motion sickness really) and being hot does that to me. I need to work on that if I want to travel through Europe this summer.

When we got to the town our hotel was in we past a small, cheap looking hotel that has the same name as ours. I was glad when the bus driver passed it, glad we dodged that bullet. Then he told us he had accidentally passed our hotel and we had to turn around. I was really nervous as I have heard about hotel scams with fake pictures and reviews...

Luckily, It turned out to be beautiful. Better even that the last one. We even had a King size bed! YAY! There was some sort of mix up with Mikes parents room so they ended up in a 3 bedroom condo with a kitchen and huge living/dining room area. It was the perfect place for all 10 of us to get together and play games and visit. I wish we would have been able to stay at this place longer. It was really the perfect set up for our traveling situation. Plus the best was a 5 minute bus ride away and the bus cost $2 round trip. Not shabby. We got unpacked and outside

We got unpacked and outside just in time to see the sun set over the ocean. We went to dinner at the hotel that evening then started the pinocle tournament that had been talked up since we started planning the trip back in June of 2011. Mike and I started the tournament playing against his parents. Didn't seem fair - seasoned veterans verses the newbies (we only learned how to play in July.) Our game was pretty long. We finally had to call it a night after both of us had gone into the negative -800 range and then back into the low positives. As always it was a lot of fun to spend time with the whole family.

Costa Rica Day 4: White Water Adventure

I have to admit that out of all the things we had planned for our trip this was the one thing I was DREADING! Before this I had never been white water rafting before and I was terrified. Looking back I am glad I went and glad I didn't put up the fight I wanted to about doing the class III and IV rapids.

I was glad that it worked out that we were with Mike's parents. Sterling has a lot of experience rafting and I knew that would come in handy. Although moments before we got in the raft he was telling us all stories of the times he fell off a raft and was dragged by the current and several other scary experiences he has had while rafting. I was basically planning my trip to the ICU at that point. I was almost in tears as we got our instructions from our guide and did a few practice drills. Then we set off. The very first rapid was a class IV. Talk about initiation by fire!

This picture sums up the first 30 minutes of my trip down the river. Curled up, hanging on for dear life. I was glad to have my mother in law in the back with me, every time we ducked she would put her around around me to protect me. This river had very little "float time" we were constantly paddling.
After a while I got the hang of it and I started having more fun as my fear turned into adrenaline. I was glad there was a photographer who could capture some of these moments. Mike and Dad crack me up in almost all of this pictures. One moment that wasn't captured is when our raft got stuck. The water was really low and there were a lot of rocks to get through, our guide warned us it would get dicey. We got stuck and our raft started filling with water. Our guide had us all jump up and down to try to relieve the weight on the raft so that it could rise off the rocks enough to move a little. However, that didn't work. Our guide finally had to get out of the raft and pull us down from our "perch" and back into the water.

A little over half way through our trip we stopped for a snack of fresh fruit and to rest. All the guides took a raft and flipped it bottom side up. Then they cut up the watermelon and pineapple on it. It was pretty cool. We even got to swim in the water a little bit. It was ugly water though, light brown. It is because it is water run off from the Volcano and it has a lot of sulfur in it. That also means that no fish live in it, which is why I was ok with swimming in it for a little while.

After our break was over it was back to business. I was really having fun now and wanting to keep going for longer than just 45 minutes more. As we got close to the part of the river we would be getting out on we thought we were done, no more rapids. We were wrong. We were one raft behind Jeff, Camille, Kayleen and Jessie and were watching them go over what looked like an easy rapid. Then all of a sudden we see Jeff flip out of the boat and Camille fall halfway out, keeping her body is with only the strength of her legs which were still in the boat. We were so mesmerized with what was happening to them we didn't hear our guide yelling at us to paddle was we entered the same rapid. Luckily Jeff and Camille both got back in the raft in time for us to hear our guide and help out. We never flipped over and I never fell out which is what I was praying for.

After we got out of the water and dried off they took us to a restaurant that they own and fed us lunch. I was sooo good. The rice was the best I have ever had, the black beans had a ridiculous amount of flavor, the casada was cooked to perfection and there was this thing that looked like a potato wedge (but much lighter in color and not fried) that was to die for. One of my favorite meals of the whole trip. Mike said it was a more typical Costa Rican dish. I wish we could have gone back for dinner.
When we got back to our hotel the volcano was finally visible for the first (and last) time of the whole trip. It was beautiful! Volcano Arenal is an active volcano although it only spits fire rocks every once in a while and hasn't done even that for over a year. Several year ago there was a major eruption that killed several people but now a days it is pretty quiet.

After a long afternoon of relaxing, uploading pictures, facetiming my mom and games we all headed to dinner at the restaurant at out hotel. I loved having dinner together every night. I always looked forward to it. The only thing I had a small issue with is that all of the restaurants were outdoors with obviously no air condition. This meant I wasn't able to atempt doing my hair in any other style that wet bun or scrunched. Anything else would have turned my head into a lions mane. That night we took one last dip in the hot springs and got drinks from the swim up bar. It was hard to leave the hot springs!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Costa Rica Day 3

Tuesday we woke up, had breakfast and went right over to the spa to have our couples aromatherapy message. It was wonderful. The room we had the message in was picture perfect with the most relaxing scenery and sounds of nature (birds and trickling water) set the perfect mood. After the message we were perfectly relaxed and ready to take a nap on the porch.

When we got back to the room we had a message from our brother-in-law saying that they were there. We were anxious to see our family and went down to the lobby to meet them. Mikes parents, oldest sister Heather, her husband Brandon, sister Camille, her husband Jeff (who organized the whole thing) and two youngest sisters Kayleen and Jessica all joined us in Costa Rica. It was so wonderful to have family there to share the activities and adventure with.

A little later in the afternoon and we all piled into the clown car and headed to the rainforest for our hanging bridges tour. The tour was really cool and I was pretty excited. We were studying the rainforest as our core unit in my class so I was anxious to take some pictures for my students. We had a wonderful guide who was very knowledgeable and taught us a lot about the rainforest. Every once in a while we would walk over a bridge that was suspended over the trees and have a great vantage point of the forest. We saw numerous types of birds (the only name I remember is the mottmot birds who dig nests into the dirt verses building a nest in a trees.) We also saw several poisonous viper snakes, a tarantula hole with a tarantula in it, leaf cutter ants and some howler monkeys. It was really neat to be in the rainforest and see all the different foliage. Very cool tour.

We also saw this cute little parrot after our tour. Apparently he just flew from the forest to the tour center to say hello.

After our tour we headed back to La Fortuna for dinner. We went back to the same restaurant as the night before (Los Brasitos.) It was just as delicious as the night before. And the family enjoyed it was well so we were pleased that out recommendation was well received.

After dinner we walk around town for a little bit. We took them to the grocery store so they could get some oreo wafers of their own :) Then we went back to the hotel and took our nightly dip in the hot springs. Mike, his parents and I played a warm up game of pinocle before going to bed. It was nice that all of our rooms were on the same street. It made it easy to get together in the evening. It was fun to have people to spend time with at night.

Costa Rica Day 1 and 2

Mike and I recently took a trip to Costa Rica and had a fabulous time.

Our plane left at 6am on a Sunday morning. I had agreed to babysit the night before and didn't get home till midnight. Once I got home I had a few last minute things to get together. Our ride picked us up at 3:30am... I got 2 hours of sleep. Not a great way to start a trip. We were at the airport so early that the security check wasn't even running yet and we had to stand there and wait till it opened.

We took a flight from NYC to Atlanta and then from Atlanta to San Jose. Once we go threw customs and picked up our luggage we headed outside to find our transport to out hotel. It was so much different than an American Airport. Tons of people were out there waiting for family/friends who were arriving. They were smashed up against the glass and as soon as we walked out we had people running up to us asking if we needed a taxi. It was a little overwhelming.

Luckily we found our driver quickly and were on our way to La Fortuna near Arenal Volcano. Although it was only 75 miles (125 km) away it took a little over 3 hours. There aren't many highways in Costa Rica which I didn't realize. So we drove on small, one lane, bumpy, twisty roads all the way there. I was already feeling a little motion sick from the plane ride, plus I was getting over a cold, the ride was not pleasant. I thought I was going to loose it. Luckily about half way through the trip we stopped at a little restaurant on the side of the road. I was able to get my body feeling stationary and have a little to eat. It was a good thing we stopped or I don't know if I would have made it all the way there with out ... I can't even think of a lady like way to say it... so I will leave it at that.

We finally made it to the hotel at 6pm. We were greeted with a delicious welcome drink and a go cart that took us to our bungalow. When we got to our room I was a little grumpy from lack of sleep, not feeling well and seeing a few bugs crawl across the hotel floor. Luckily a trip to the beautiful, natural hot springs at the hotel cheered me right up and I was finally in vacation mode.

The next morning we slept in a bit then we went to explore the hotel. It had been dark when we had arrived the day before so we couldn't see how beautiful it was.

We didn't have any activities planned so we asked around to figure out what would be fun. We took a taxi to down town La Fortuna and walked around for a while. Mike LOVED it. All the spanish being spoke and the culture. He was in heaven. I was a little lost since I don't speak spanish. I do however know the spanish words for the fruits (thanks to the listening in on the spanish class at school everyday) so I was able to read the menu and order on my own when we got a smoothie.

We also went into some of the local grocery stores to see what kinds of things they had and what he prices were like. All the American things they had were 2 or 3 times more than they are in the states. The spanish food was pretty cheap though and we stalked up on some treats for the hotel room. Among our favorite food were; oreo wafers, lemon flavored fritos, and avocado flavored chips. So delicious!
After a while we decided to go to a waterfall that everyone was talking about. We took a taxi to the park where it was. Then we had a 15 minute hike down hill. I wasn't planning on a hike so I had flip flops on. Not a smart idea. It was a pretty challenging hike for me and my flip flops. The waterfall was absolutely beautiful. I've seen several waterfalls in the past but this was one of the prettiest. The water was blue and the rocks were covered in greenery. It was pretty amazing.

When we go to the bottom of the waterfall there were people swimming around in the water. They said it was cold so I was nervous to try it. Mike dipped his toes in but didn't really go for a true swim. I however felt a sudden surge of bravery and desire to outdo my husband :) So I got in to water and went for a swim. I didn't get my hair wet (I usually never do) so I fell it counts. I could have stayed in longer but I could tell Mike was ready to go.

We took taxi back to the downtown area. We realised we were in need of 1's and 5's verses 20's. We thought we would just go to the local bank and get some change. Before we could go into the bank we had to pass a security guard then go into a little closed doorway that scanned for weapons. Then the guard on the other side let us in. When we got into the bank we saw that the line was ridiculously long. But we decided we had nothing better to do so we waited... for an hour. After we got our small bill (and mikes wallet was so full (of 1's) that mike couldn't close it) we went looking for a place to eat dinner. We didn't want to spend to much but wanted a nice meal. We walked around for an hour trying to find the perfect place. In the end we ended up back at the first place we looked at. GOOD DECISION!! The food was seriously AMAZING. We gobbled up our naco's, burrito and brownie with ice cream. It was some of the best latin american food I have had. We decided we would try to get the family to go back the next night for dinner.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel and went for our nightly dip in the hot springs. We LOVED having a hot spring at our own hotel. It was a nightly ritual that I looked forward to every night.

(January 15th and 16th)