Monday, October 29, 2012

Costa Rica: Day Ten

Monday, October 29, 2012

This morning we woke up sad and disappointed to be beginning our journey home. We really had no reason to be so sad, we did everything we hoped to do, ate amazing food, meet wonderful people, saw exotic animals and had the trip of a lifetime. But as with all endings, it was bittersweet. We were looking forward to not living out a suitcase anymore, cooking for ourselves, the lack of humidity in Seattle, and for the comfort of our own home and bed!

We were picked up from our hotel at about 2:00am in order to make our 5:00am flight to Houston, Texas. Our hotel provided a boxed breakfast option when we checked in, which we decided might be a good idea. It was so much food, that I gave away most of the contents of my box, but I appreciated having something to munch on as I woke up during the ride to the airport. After a three hour flight to Houston, going through customs, a  four and a half hour flight to Seattle, and a thirty minute car ride, we finally made it back home.

Jack Rabbit was so excited to see us, he was jumping all over the place. Julie said he was moody and lazy for the first three days we were gone. He didn't want to come out of his cage and when he did, he just sat in one spot. It was nice to know that he missed us. I was so thankful I had taken the next day off work, so I had time to do all the laundry, go grocery shopping and slowly get into the swing of things. Joel had a lot to get caught up on, so he went right back to work.

It was a wonderful trip and we had the best time. We wouldn't have changed a thing, except Joel would have like to actually ride a bike someplace instead of the "glicying" tour we had. All in all, a perfect trip!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Costa Rica: Day Nine

Sunday, October 28, 2012

This morning felt like the beginning of the end. We ate our breakfast and took a cab back to the Quepos airport to catch our flight to San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. We had a very early flight on Monday back to the states, so we decided to stay one night in San Jose. Our flight was shorter this time and in about twenty minutes after taking off, we were landing in the middle of the city. It was surprising to see the vast differences in some of the neighborhoods, even from the air. Some were made of scrap metal and with dirt roads, while others were stone and stucco houses with pools in the back yard. It was very interesting to see the neighborhoods change as we approached the airport.

Costa Rica coastline from the air
The beautiful mountains and countryside of Costa Rica
Various neighborhoods as we approached San Jose
San Jose was actually a pretty large city - this is only a small part of it
Once we were off the plane, we had to collect our luggage and stand in a line on a small patch of grass while dogs sniffed our persons and luggage for drugs or other contraband. It was a bit of a different experience because no one spoke English and they just pointed and grunted, so I wasn't sure what was going on. I have no idea if they do this to every flight or just suspicious ones, but the good news is that no one on our flight had anything bad, so we were released. From the airport, we hired a cab driver to take us to our hotel.

Driving in San Jose was a real eye opener! There were people EVERYWHERE! It didn't matter how many lanes the road was or the speed of the cars, people of all ages just walked where ever they wanted, whenever they wanted. I was terrified that we were going to hit someone, but I guess you get used to these kinds of things, because our driver skillfully navigated us to our hotel.

Hotel Grano De Oro was converted from a Tropical Victorian Mansion into a 40-room hotel. The hallways were lined with period photographs, original art and tropical flower arrangements. The hotel felt so luxurious with exposed wood beans, sweeping staircases and elegant furniture. I felt like such a scrub in my hiking pants and keen sandals, that I was eager to shower and change my clothes. We were tired and ready for a nap, but considering how early in the morning our flight was and the fact is was already 3:00pm, we decided to eat a late lunch in the hotel restaurant before calling it a day.

Our room with a view out onto our veranda
Our wonderfully white bathroom, I loved the all white!
The lunch menu was so appetizing that I wanted to order everything! I finally settled on a starter of sopa negra (a black bean soup) and a sandwich pollo clasico (a grilled chicken sandwich with marinated roasted tomatoes, goat cheese, spinach, grainy mustard mayonnaise served with root vegetable chips). My meal was so good that I couldn't help but say "ooohhh, yyyuuummm" as I took bite after bite! We decided to order desert, I mean why stop now! I finally settled on the Pavlova (meringue, passion fruit mousse and fresh fruits) which was amazing! It just melted in my mouth, leaving me wanting more.

Sopa Negra with a hard boiled egg
Sandwich Pollo Clasico

Joel's tres leches, also very, very good!
After our amazing lunch we retreated to our separate rooms to relax and get some sleep before our early wake up call. I spent my time dozing, reading my book and watching some TV with Joel.  Our rooms here were smaller than our rooms in the other two hotels, but equally welcoming and comfortable. Joel and I even had a private veranda. For once on this trip, Joel and I ended up in the better room, but the differences were so minor and our stay so short, that it didn't seem like much of a consolation. Jackie and Chris claimed that when you are repeat world travelers you get secret perks and upgrades that are not given to beginners. I can't wait until Joel and I become upgrade to this secret VIP status!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Costa Rica: Day Eight

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Today was our last full day in Manuel Antonio so we decided not to schedule any activities and just lay by the pool all day. It was perfect! The sun came out, the boys swam to their hearts content and Jackie and I got to read our books. I ordered fruity drinks and delicious appetizers while I worked on my tan. It was a beautiful day and we had a wonderful time relaxing and enjoying our selves.

Joel spent most of the day in the pool
We found this tiny, tiny lizard hiding under the pool deck.
Jackie enjoying the sunshine and her book.
Me, working on my tan while reading and drinking - the best way to vacation!
One of my favorite things to eat was the Lemon Pie. It was so delicious that I ordered it for dessert after every dinner and a few times even after lunch. Once night, I just could not choose, so I ordered the chocolate cake and the lemon pie! Our server was so surprised that I was ordering two deserts! But I figured, I'm on vacation and what the heck! My waist line is currently regretting that decision, but at the time I was in heaven.

Just a few of the many delicious items we had to eat during our stay at Issimo Suites

After dinner, we spend the night getting packed up because tomorrow we would fly from Quepos to San Jose where we would catch our early flight back to the States.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Costa Rica: Day Seven

Friday, October 26, 2012

After a lazy morning of sleeping in, for the first time on this trip, and we headed up to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Our hotel featured a complementary breakfast of a buffet and menu items. The buffet included fresh fruit, pastry's, coffee, and teas. In addition to these items you could order a variety of omelets, the traditional Costa Rican breakfast and a few other delicious items from the menu. It was the perfect way to start the day; if you were in a rush to get off on adventures you could stick to the buffet, or if you were more relaxed you could order off the menu. Or, you could be like me and do both! Seriously, every morning we were in Manuel Antonio, I loaded up my plate with fresh fruit to munch on while I waited for the item I ordered from the menu to arrive. To the chagrin of Joel, Chris, and Jackie, I would often take all the pineapple, except for three pieces. I'm not sure why they needed more than one piece each, but I clearly needed all of the fresh pineapple i could get. I LOVE fresh pineapple, I could eat it for days.

We spent most of our day lounging around the pool and our rooms, just relaxing. We took a short cab ride into the city of Quepos, to see what there was to see. It was a very small town with several touristy stores and a bank, which is where we went to get some smaller currency. It was a very different experience than visiting a bank in the States. The doors are opened for you by armed guards, then more armed guards pat you down, check your bags, and scan you with a metal detector. Then you take a number, much like at our DMV, and then you wait for your number to be called. The tellers are behind a glass wall with a tiny slot to pass back your monies. They must get a lot of robberies or something for this kind of security to be necessary!

The small town of Quepos
After walking around the town, we decided to find a grocery store to buy some Salsa de Lizano. This stuff is amazing and they eat like we eat ketchup. There is always a jar on the table and it goes with everything! I put it on my rice and beans, on my various proteins, and even on my eggs! We couldn't get enough of the stuff, so we were desperate to bring a bottle home. We found a grocery store and started to wander around it looking for our special sauce. We eventually found it and Joel picked up the biggest bottle. He was worried that we wouldn't be able to find it at home so we were going to buy the biggest bottle they had.  (Lucky for us, you can buy it from Amazon! You should give it a try, this stuff is magic! Lizano Salsa via Amazon)

We decided to take a short nap before our main event of the day, a Night Walk! I was pretty nervous about this activity because I DO NOT like creepy-crawlies. Not one bit. We booked the tour through our hotel, who highly recommend the walk.. We took a short cab ride from our hotel to the Fincas Naturales Wildlife Refuge. We arrived a bit early and we had to wait for a few more tourists who were joining the tour. We didn't mind the wait because there was a big group of monkeys in the trees above the parking lot. It was fun to see the monkeys jumping from branch to branch and calling out to each other. The tour guide told us they come through the area at about the same time every day on their way to where they sleep for the night.

Monkeys were everywhere, running along the fence like it was a tree branch.
There were a couple monkeys running around on top of this building.
Once the other tour guests arrived, Kenneth, our guide, handed out personal flash lights and told us to follow him, down the trail as night settled in. Kenneth was amazing! He could make sounds that would get the frogs to croak and he could find frogs in the strangest posts in the dark! There was one frog that sounded exactly like a goat! We saw all kinds of frogs and lizards. There were even turtles, crocodiles, and caimans; they were in cages as a part of the day attractions, but it was neat to see these animals in the dark when they are out and about.

Kenneth was able to catch a big toad and was showing us something about the toad. So I leaned in close to get a better look and the frog peed! I was so surprised that I accidentally stepped all over this lady from Kansas in my efforts to not get frog pee on me. Apparently that is a defensive mechanism of frog. Gross! Luckily I didn't get anything on my clothes, but from that point on, I kept my distance. Thankfully the only creepy-crawlies I saw was one spider that was pretty big and two cockroaches which was enough to make my skin crawl.

The frog that tried to pee on me...

The one spider I saw, it was about an inch in diameter!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Costa Rica: Day Six

Thursday, October 25, 2012

One of the reasons why we chose Manuel Antonio for the second leg of our trip was the Manuel Antonio Nature Park and Wildlife Refuge. The Nature Park is part of a 25-acre private wildlife refuge and protected corridor with three primary nature exhibits, including turtle ponds and several user-friendly nature interpretive trails. The park was established in 1972 and even though it is the smallest national park in Costa Rica, it was named among the world's 12 most beautiful national parks by Forbes. It most certainly lived up this title!

As we were planning our trip, we all four were determined to see lots of wildlife, so we figured what better way to accomplish this goal, than to take a guided walking tour of the park. We were picked up from our hotel again and driven down to the entrance to the park.  Our guide was very entertaining and very good at spotting the tinniest animal from far way. We were so glad that we decided on a tour of the park, because our guide carried a telescope that he would use to focus in on the animals so we could see them up close. It was hard for me to share with the other guests on the tour, including Joel, Chris and Jackie, because I wanted to watch the animals and didn't want to miss anything!

Howler Monkeys
This was actually a pretty cool lizard
How our guide spotted this tiny bug, I will never know!
This little guy wanted to be found, so he made it easy!
We saw so many different kinds of animals at the park. We saw white-headed capuchins, mantled howlers, and Geoffroy’s spider monkeys and Central American squirrel monkeys, three-toed and two-toed sloths, leaf cutter ants, a couple Green Basilisk Lizard (aka the Jesus Christ Lizard that can walk on water), so many iguanas and lizards I lost count, toucans (which always travel in pairs!), so many butterflies, including the Blue Morpho Butterfly, vampire bats, a crab-eating raccoon, a small ghost crab, and all kinds of strange looking bugs.

Leaf cutter ants
The only snake I saw was this one, and it was gone before I could take another picture, a rat snake

Green Basilisk Lizard (aka the Jesus Christ Lizard)
Crab eating Raccoon
Crazy little crabs!
more leaf cutter ants
a two or three toed sloth (I can't remember which)
Another howler monkey
Because we were visiting the park outside of the high tourism times of the year, the monkeys were not down on the beach, but instead were deeper into the jungle. Our guide took us on a short hike up the mountain to find the monkeys. Even thought the hike was short and we hike a bunch at home, we got super sweaty in no time. The humidity combined with the heat, made for a very sweaty afternoon. But I didn't mind because we saw amazing views of the coast lines, got a bit of exercise and got to see the elusive mantled howler monkeys.

The amazing view from our hike to find more monkeys
Joel and I, pretty sweaty from our hike, but loving it!
Me, Joel, Chris and Jackie enjoying our hike.

Joel and I enjoying the beach

One of the several beautiful beaches in the park

Chris and Jackie - so cute!
After returning to our hotel, we lounged around the hotel, eating and drinking to our hearts content, watching the trees for more monkeys, and enjoying our lazy afternoon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Costa Rica: Day Five

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

This morning Joel and I woke up a bit sad. Today were leaving La Fortuna and traveling by plane to Quepos. We were sad to be moving on after all the fun we had been having, but we were also looking forward to the beach and the Manuel Antonio National Park located just outside of Quepos.

The infrastructure in Costa Rica is what you might expect in a third world country, so there is not an easy or fast way to travel by car, so we decided to fly to our next destination. We took a cab from our hotel to the small airport in La Fortuna. When I say small, I mean small. The airport used to be a barn which was converted into a small bar and sitting area which is called the airport. As we "checked into" our flight, we were told we had to pay a small fee to the field owner who allowed the airline to pave a runway through the middle of the their field. Yes, the runway was a paved lane down the middle of a farmer's field.  We entertained ourselves the short time we had between our arrival at the airport and our departure by playing scrabble on my Kindle.

The airport in La Fortuna
This is the runway, a paved road between fields
We've got our tickets and our passports - ready to travel!
While we were waiting for our plane, we experienced a Costa Rican monsoon. It in literally seconds, it went from a pretty sunny day to a downpour with small rivers forming! The noise of the rain on the tin roof of the airport was so loud! I tried to take some pictures of the heavy rain, but they just don't do it justice!
A poor attempt to document the monsoon!
Our plane!
From the time our plane arrived to when we boarded, it was only 15 minutes. They unloaded the arriving passengers, their luggage and loaded the boarding passengers and our luggage in no time at all! The flight from central Costa Rica to the pacific coast was only thirty minutes. Because we were flying in such a small plane, we didn't have to fly at a very high altitude, which I enjoyed because I was able to see so much of the ground. We passed rolling hills covered in lush rain forests with rivers curving their way toward the sea. Costa Rica is a beautiful country! We landed at the Quepos airport which was very similar to the one left behind in La Fortuna. We then took a cab the short ten minute ride from the airport to our hotel in Manuel Antonio.

Joel is excited to get this trip started.
Jackie and Chris are ready for take off!
We stayed at Issimo Suites and were once again met by the hotel staff with drinks, making us feel very welcomed! Our rooms were amazing. We had floor to ceiling windows which featured sweeping views of the jungle and the beach. Our room included a king size bed, a "L" shaped sofa which could be moved around to make two twins or another king sized bed, a jacuzzi bathtub, satellite TV, a bathroom with a bidet and a shared balcony with Jackie and Chris. It worked out nicely that our two rooms were the only two rooms in this wing of the hotel, so we had a lot of privacy. Once again, Jackie and Chris had a slightly bigger room but Joel and I were not complaining! We couldn't have been happier with our decision to stay at Issimo.

Chris is enjoying his welcome beverage
Me and Jackie enjoying our yummy drinks.
Jackie, Chris, and I checking out the view from our shared balcony.
Our first monkey sighting, right on the deck near the pool!
A momma and baby white-headed capuchin monkey
Joel was ready to jump into the pool!
We decided to walk down the road to Biesanz Beach, a small beach about ten minutes from our hotel. Even though the day was overcast with a bit of rain, we enjoyed walking along the beach. After our stroll, we headed back up to the hotel for an early dinner where we learned everything on the menu was half off, all day, every day! It was like happy hour all the time. I am pretty sure I ordered an appetizer, an entree, and dessert at every meal, every day. We ate like kings!

Biesanz Beach
Joel and Chris enjoying the beach

We spent the rest of the night, playing cards on our shared balcony, listening to the sounds of the jungle and the beach, while watching tiny lizards fight for space on the wall, all while enjoying our first night in Manuel Antonio.

Another animal sighting - a lizard!
Joel just had to try out the pool.
Seriously, another booze picture - what are we 21 year-olds?
They made swans for us! I loved it!