2014 Costa Rican Eco-Trekking Blog (March – April)

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Day 22         Homeward Bound!    The End

Lots of stern, shifty eyes on the go at Customs (we left for the airport at 4:30am) – we offered up some steely glazes in return. They felt steely, but maybe they looked more bloodshot, glazed… lack of sleep. The guards opened up and searched our backpacks, talking Spanish fervently. Talking quickly in Spanish sounds ominous.

Coming down, it was a blender and almond butter. Now, they confiscated a jar of solid coconut oil and our plastic vegetable peeler. The Culinary Terrorists were foiled again. Death by peeling – agonizingly slow (maybe hours b/4 the last breath) but excruciatingly painful. That’s how we were hoping things would go down on our deathly flight-of-horrors.


(Sailing up the coast toward Nicaragua)

And then there was the connection in Houston. We only had 45 minutes so we raced between terminals and gates, trying to clear Customs quickly. Traveling Tip: do not declare snacky fruits (we had 3 apples) if you need to clear customs quickly! They took our family aside for a lengthy second search – for the fruits – sending our bags through the x-rays again. Gone went the apples. Irritated to the core…

In the aftermath of the whole hullabaloo, we misplaced Ryan’s knapsack which was still sitting on the floor on the other side of security. Only a few minutes remained before the boarding was fini! We raced back and found a security guard willing to walk over to the other side and put the knapsack on the x-ray conveyor belt (geez – he huffed as if the world was going to implode). Then we ran like the wind to our gate! We got there just in time… I was sweating beads and my shirt was damp (apologies to the woman sitting next to me on the flight! The smell…)

Otherwise, the journey home was uneventful. Began reading “1984” by Orwell, kids zoned out with Frozen and Catharine sunk herself into “The Art of Learning” – book club fav by author, Tim Ferriss.

Suffice to say, I achieved 0 workouts/runs during our holiday – the spare tire inflated with vigor. But Catharine managed a few yoga sessions…

My last few observations:

  1. We drank about 7 litres of bottled water a day
  2. You can’t beat Costa Ricans when it comes to washing car windshields. They hose it with water first, then they apply some type of lubricant… then they scrub… then it’s a good ol’ fashion hose-down again… then the squeegee. The glass sparkles like there’s no tomorrow!
  3. Tons of “white” squirrels… just something I never thought I’d see
  4. Roosters do not just cockadoddledo at sunrise… we heard them at 3-freaking-30 in the morning sometimes. When do they sleep?
  5. No shortage of Costa Ricans hanging around parking lots saying they’ll watch your car – expecting tips upon your return
  6. Although most people might think Costa Rica is full of beaches, jungles and all-round lushness, there are parts in the NW that are dry as a bone and look like the African savannah… very cool landscape

Overall, it was a wonderful trip. The crème de la crème… and the people so friendly – 2 BIG thumbs up! We recommend it to anyone. And we want to come back at some point… buuuuuuuuuut – after returning to the Planet of Hoth, I’m thankful for many things: beautifully straight/paved highways (even riding the Deerfoot or the 401 would be heaven now); quiet forests (… I enjoyed hearing the jungle noises, but just not at 4:30am in the morning); drinking water out of a spout; chocolate Cherry Blossoms; the Blush Lane Organic Store; Keith’s beer!

The End… until Vietnam? To be continued… J

Day 20 and 21           Hermosa and Liberia

Day 20 – The Culinary Terrorists would be back in action soon! More on that for Day 22…

A sleep-walker was in our midst this morning – the previous evening began with Catharine, Ryan and Jenna in one room while I slept with Andrew in the other. About 4:30am, Jenna got up and sleep-walk’d into the door. Some serious cries but there were no broken bones and she fell back asleep soon enough… kids are durable.


(Living in a treehouse in the rain forest)

We’ve all been hitting the wall at 8pm consistently each night – and I don’t think we’ve slept past 4:30am either: A) b/c the jungle noises break out around that time (howler monkeys, especially); B) generators sound off around that time (lol); C) the light of the day begins to crack the horizon around that time (sunset is 6pm… people here seem to go to sleep and get up with the sun – maybe it’s the heat too); D) Sleep-walkers

No matter – we’re still getting a solid 8ish hrs’ sleep. And today we rented a 47-ft ketch-rigged sailboat for a ride up the coast in the direction of Nicaragua. It started off in choppy waters – windy! And then things calmed down and we were all catching some rays at the bow, watching dolphins, stingrays and turtles… Costa Rica is like living in a zoo 24/7.

Shutterbug time! I jumped up to grab the camera but fell on the slippery deck and almost took Catharine and Jenna overboard… my full weight came down on Catharine leg before I pretty much clotheslined Jenna. A few scrapes. Jenna bounced back up well enough and was fine but Catharine thought she (Catharine) had broken a bone in one of her toes… after awhile, the pain subsided and everything was groovy.

At one point, the captain took us into a picturesque cove/beach (not accessible by roads) where we snorkeled and saw lots of reef fish (puffer-fish, moray eels, etc.)… then some cave-exploring before heading back onto the boat via the zodiac.

Sailing was so relaxing and there were so many beautiful coastlines. A feast for the eyes, but all good things must come to an end. Once we got our land-legs under us, it was back to the pool for some R&R late in the day.

Day 21 – Andrew absolutely hates taking showers and this morning was no different. “Why does life have to be so hard?” he bellowed. A little chat on perspectives ensued…

We packed up yet again and left the coast, heading inland toward the south of Liberia to the Cortez waterfalls. Stunning! We took some pics although we had to negotiate 2 cookies for a pic of just the 2 boys in front of the falls… Ryan said, “For 3, we’ll put our arms around each other’s waists.” (he’s 8 going on 25) Ahhh, brotherly love. But they’re good mates most of the time. Just one of those days.

After taking a dip at the falls, we backtracked to Liberia and checked into our hotel – our time in C.R. was winding down (our last night). But not before one last helter-skelter moment on the road. I was turning left into the hotel parking lot when a maniac in a blue car passed me (on double solids, no less), almost t-boning us. And he hammered on the horn at us! He did the same thing to another driver a few 100 meters up the road a few seconds later. Close call…

Catharine took the kids to the pool and I headed down to the core of Liberia to pick up some snacks for the plane and fill up the rental car for the drop-off (luckily I didn’t return it riding on just the wheel, holding the steering wheel. It was in good shape – but there can’t be much suspension left). I sat outside on a bench, watching the crazy rush-hour traffic with people, bikes and cars swirling about… a reflective moment when you feel like you’re in the eye of a hurricane, all calm, but everything around you is madly off in all directions.

Day 18 and 19       Hermosa and Coco Beach

Very low-maintenance days… I’ll change gears a bit and offer up a smattering of tips and tidbits to any “would be” travellers to Costa Rica – you’ll love it here: (I’ll have many more specifics/info in a forthcoming book…)


(Watching hundreds of Ridley turtles come ashore to lay eggs)

  1. Getting There – All you need are passports to get to C.R.! (about an 8-hr flight from Calgary)
  2. Budget – Our budget was $15K for a family of 5 during the high season for 3 weeks. Although we aren’t done yet, actuals should come in around $14,000… this included a lot of activities, return airfare, a rental SUV for the full 21 days, and accommodations averaging around $250 Cdn / night (although the treehouse came in around $140/night). Note – $250 in Canada will get you a decent Best Western double-queen + sofa pullout room (and in some cases/places, an adjoining room/kitchenette). Here, $250/night gets you a nice full-sized cabin or house – But a family can certainly live higher or lower on the $$ scale than what we spent
  3. Taxes/Tips/Currency – Be aware of a few monetary items: the Cdn dollar currency exchange (we paid an extra 11% on this trip b/c of the dip of the looney in recent months), 13% sales tax, 10% service tax (at restaurants mainly), tips (10-15% on services), a “mandatory” $20/day gov’t insurance fee (if renting a vehicle), and an “exit” tax of $29/person (must be paid b/4 checking-in at airport)
  4. Danger – At no point did our family feel we were in danger (one exception: some of the districts in the city of San Jose we drove through to get out of the city). Happy people! Most of them are just about as happy and pleasant as Maritimers… mind you, there are lots of dangerous drivers on the roads. You have to be very aware at all times b/c very few follow the rules of the roads. And violence is not an issue for tourists down here, from what we’ve read and experienced. But thefts can be – never keep expensive items in your car and always lock the doors
  5. Gas – slightly more expensive than in Canada
  6. Drinking Water – Drink bottled water at all times (even in restaurants), just to be on the safe side
  7. Needles – We didn’t get Hepatitis A or Typhoid needles. The CDC website (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) suggests getting them, mainly for high-risk people… all the people/families I had talked to prior to our trip had said they really aren’t necessary, as long as you drink bottled water. Whatever is comfortable for people
  8. Mosquitoes/Malaria – I only saw a few mosquitoes the whole time we were here – even during all our treks through the rain forests/mangroves… hardly an issue in the places we were at, but take precautions, nonetheless (you never know)
  9. GPS – bring one! The signage in most areas are horrendous – you won’t find many locations without GPS (otherwise, you’ll eat up hours being lost)
  10. Travel Planner – here’s a helpful contact for a trip to C.R. – Marina (www.travelexperta.com… she lives in Central America and had lived in Costa Rica). She’ll set you up with bookings in all areas! We only used her for the rental vehicle and a few of the accommodations, but she’s prompt with her email responses, very pleasant to deal with and will have an answer on most Costa Rican travel topics
  11. Renting a vehicle – If renting a vehicle, and if you’re planning on hitting the areas beyond the main arteries (the main arteries being 2-lane roads), get an SUV. We paid about $1260 for ours for 3 weeks… plus the $20 / day mandatory gov’t insurance… seemed like an avg price based on our research. The roads can be horrendous here – steep, winding, dirt, potholes, narrow… and we only experienced them in the dry season. They would be a nightmare in the rainy season in the fall
  12. Grocery stores – you won’t find any “Superstore”-sized joints down here (outside of San Jose) but there are lots of small grocery stores dotting the rural areas. Not much in specialty foods, though… just the basics
  13. Organic Stores – not many and not large, but they are available in certain spots. In some cases it’ll be people who can deliver organics to you (they’re expensive, just as they are in Canada). They can be located via a Google search or just by asking around in the specific areas you’re in
  14. Roads – not like Canada! In most areas there are hairpins, hills, constant lefts/rights and animals on the shoulders or on the road (cows, lizards, chickens, goats, horses, etc.). In most parts, average speeds are 40-60 kms per hour… (travel times can be deceiving when looking at a map). Not to mention, lots of dirt-roads and potholes, when off the beaten paths. But the scenery is gorgeous! You just need nerves of steel to handle the driving
  15. Jungle Noises – nice on the ears when listening to the diversity of insects/animals… but the forests come alive at 5:30am! If you’re a light sleeper, bring ear plugs if you want to sleep in
  16. Food – most fruits are inexpensive… but other types of food can be more expensive (chocolate, for example) or just as expensive as in Canada. Not much of a difference
  17. Restaurants – when off the beaten paths, eateries can serve up fairly inexpensive and yummy meals. But in the resorts or touristy areas, the prices in decent places seem to be comparable to Canada
  18. Massages / Yoga – lots of it to go around! For massages, can be as cheap as $30-60 / hr for basic body (thorough job, too) – for Yoga, around $15-17 / hour
  19. Police – the “Policia” are all about. Not uncommon for them to pull tourists over to check for passports (keep your passports or copy of passports with you at all times)

Day 16 and 17     Nosara to Hermosa

Day 16 – Another morning, another “bang!” to start off the day! Our cabin shuddered around 4:30am and then the constant droning sound kept us awake ‘til dawn.

The night started off fine – we were sleeping deeply at the L’Acqua Viva Resort at Nosara Beach when the power suddenly cut out to the whole place… but within a few seconds the massive generator, right next to our cabin, kicked to life. That was the “bang”. I almost fell out of bed – it was like a jet engine. Sleepy time was over! (Funny enough, Jenna slept through the whole thing… an explosion couldn’t wake her up) Otherwise, our stay at L’Acqua Viva was so relaxing…

After a hearty breakfast (tons of pineapple… my new indulgence), Catharine took off to the nearby Nasara Yoga Institute for a session. The institute is world-class! Beautiful… many international retreats are held there.


(Relaxing at the thermal spa with the Arenal Volcano in the background)

After yoga, the day itself was lethargic… pool, break, beach… repeat. The day ended in a restaurant – we weren’t there for more than 5 minutes when our kids got all bent out of shape over turns on a hammock… “Grab your water bottles! We’re moving out!” Another hallmark moment where the staff watched on, as we marched the kids out of there with drama flying all over the place. We sat in our vehicle – reviewed our manners and rules and then returned to the scene. The staff went a bit quiet when we re-entered… lol But everything turned out fine… stuffed and tired. Snore…

Footnote: We’ve been bumping into many couples from the U.S. and Canada who are living permanently (or just a year or two) in these parts… lots of stories and email addresses exchanged. We enjoy hearing how people unplug from their normal life back home and put a stake to the ground somewhere else.

Day 17 – Big day… we awoke at 4:30am and headed 10 kms up the coast to watch the Ridley turtles lay eggs on Ostianol Beach before returning to the ocean. There were hundreds of them (pics coming)…! This experience was incredible for all of us. Almost spiritual in a way – watching the circle of life unfold right before our eyes, in conjunction with the life-and-death struggle (vultures were constantly hovering overhead, eager to fly down and steal some eggs if they could get their beak on one).

Afterward, it was off-roading time on the ATVs…! This was Andrew’s big request down here so we finally caved. Just the boys and it was fun! Riding through rivers and the rain forest – we were all caked in dust afterward but a highlight, for sure. (it’s a bit of a dustbowl near the main dirt roads in this part of the Peninsula during the dry season)

And then it was time for another departure – leaving Nosara and heading up the coast, closer to the border with Nicaragua where we’re, now, renting within a villa at Hermosa. A little more secluded than the other places we’ve been at. All our accommodations, so far, have had their pros and cons – but each has been wonderful in their own unique way.

We did get lost during the first hour – trying to get out of Nosara. I didn’t quite trust “Tommy” (GPS) as our paper map showed a road that ol’ Tommy said wasn’t there. We covered a lot of dirt roads (it’s all dirt roads around Nosara) trying to find the mystery road until my ego finally gave up. Catharine wanted Tommy back. (the love triangle continues….) He took over and got us back into civilization (jealous). Speaking of the dirt roads – pot holes everywhere…! There can’t be much left of our suspension. I can’t count how many seriously big dingers we’ve hit…

Day 14 and 15     Nasara

Day 14 – Serious surfer community here in Nasara. My new surfer name is “Cuda”… bestowed on me by my new mentor, Mick (aka “Bonta” – pic coming soon) – the ultimate beach surfer Dude. Cuda means “white one from the north”. I surfed today and on the 28th try, I managed to stay on the board and ride out a wave. Andrew nailed one on his first attempt! To be young again…


(Trekking through the jungle…)

The surfers asked me about Canada – I said we’ve got the best sports team in the world and gave them my Leafs’ keychain as a good-luck charm (I haven’t been plugged in to Canadian news much since we left – most likely the Leafs are rippin’ up the league and the flowers are blossoming… except for the Maritimes).

Unfortunately, I forgot I had one of Catharine’s favorite pair of sunglasses on my head while surfing. Gone! Fortunately, on the ride home, Robert Plant’s Sea of Love came on the radio and I utilized it effectively to mend the fence (more of a comedic interlude… my horrendous singing voice can make her forget any recent irritations… yeah!). Thank you 99.5 FM…

Day 15 – Lots of lounging today by the pool. I’ve enrolled myself in lazy immersion 101: I’ve noticed many Spanish words similar to the corresponding English words. The only difference – they have an “o” at the end (ie – correcto, rancho, tourismo, etc.). I’ve now begun putting an “o” at the end of many words when talking to the locals – not sure of the success rate in translation.

We came across a most wonderful restaurant – La Luna. Couches are right on the beach where the food is served. And the sunset was so beautiful.

Continues to be the Planet of the Apes down here… monkeys everywhere! So much fun to watch them… the kids love ‘em!

Some more observations:

  1. As far as commercial buildings go (grocery stores, gas stations, etc.), hardly any have AC in them. Can be sweltering hot in them but you start to get used to it after awhile. It seems rather ludicrous now, having AC in our house in Calgary’s mountain climate… haha
  2. Costa Ricans are trigger happy on the horn… sometimes they beep to say hello – other times they are impatient. But the horns always seem to be going off
  3. Just as there are hockey rinks everywhere in Canada, there are soccer fields everywhere down here. You could be driving down a dusty dirt road in the middle of nowhere, and then a clearing opens up within the rain forest and there’s a soccer field. It’s sacred down here

Day 12 and 13               Arenal to Nosara

Day 12 – Who would have thought you could injure yourself while bird-watching… I fell into a door-window and ripped off part of my big-toe nail today (and buggered up the toe as well). Some background on this: My brother and one of my sisters are into bird-watching somewhat, and sometimes I’ve made fun of their hobby, thinking bird-watching should only happen during the last phase of life… when we’re wearing pampers again, and drinking soup through a straw at an old folk’s home.


(On the move in Costa Rica!)

But today I saw a Toucan on a tree in front of our rental home in the mountains – and the Toucan is VERY rare to spot. Hardly happens for most visitors to Costa Rica, so we’ve been told. When I saw it, I turned around excitedly to run back into the house and grab our camera and tell Catharine/kids… that’s when I tripped over the stone step, ripping off the nail in the process and crashed into the front door. Chris / Lynne – I take it all back! Bird-watching is interesting (… just slightly dangerous).

We spent the day at a self-sustaining, organic eco-farm today (Rancho Margo) deep within the rain forest next to the Arenal volcano… very cool. Catharine did an outdoor yoga session there and then she took Jenna and Andrew out horseback riding. Lots of interesting individuals at the place! Pretty laid-back people there and with neat backgrounds – virtually all of them fed up with the rat-race lifestyle and choosing a more simplistic, natural lifestyle on the farm. Maybe that’ll be us one of these days! We’d certainly consider it… even if only temporary. And the kids really got attached with Ginger, the golden Lab. So many fun bonding experiences so far.

Speaking of which – more bonding happened with our temporary Costa Rican neighbor up on the mountain-side… so poor, yet their two girls (about 8 and 6) wore such bright smiles and came over to our house to play with our kids this morning. Cute… their names were Fiona and Daire (and here I thought there was only one Daire in the world…! In reference to an old bone from my hometown, Antigonish)

Some observations:

  1. You don’t have to clean the dishes/kitchen here in Costa Rica. Just leave the dishes on the counter overnight and by morning, the ants will have picked everything clean, with everything looking spotless (the piranhas of the kitchen)… on the flipside, if you don’t want ants, you have to absolutely scrub your counters/dishes b/4 going to bed (more creepy crawleys than you can shake a stick at)
  2. Most of the locals wear jeans/pants in the hot, hot weather. Not sure how they can stand it
  3. We’ve developed a pattern of going to bed around 8pm and waking up around 5am every day. Maybe it’s the heat. All of Costa Rica seem to be early-risers… grocery stores et al opening up at 6am – kids lining up for school buses at 6am, etc.

Day 13 – we’ve packed up once again and moved on… to the surfer culture on the coast near Nosara. I now question whether I should dreadlock my hair, wear a Marley t-shirt and buy a pair of drums – be one with a surfboard… that wouldn’t fly with the other half, though. The lifestyle here on the coast is just so different from the crazy rat-race of the city.

Andrew, unfortunately, was bitten by some red ants while standing on their nest (unknowingly), taking pictures of some howler monkeys in a tree. He’s doing okay – nothing serious aside from some temporary pain.

Speaking of pain, I’ve heard Achy Breaky Heart twice now, on the Costa Rican radio stations.

We’ve been juggling 3 different currencies down here – was trying to get rid of some Canadian money and I also have U.S. and Costa Rican (Colones) currencies on the go. Getting a wee bit mixed up at times during purchases… re: Spent $30 on a dozen eggs today – luckily Catharine noticed it on the bill and got our money back.

Day 10 and 11           Arenal Volcano Area (mountain-side village)

Day 10 – I hit a human today with our vehicle. I had many birds served up in our van’s grill during our cross-Canada adventure in 2013, but never thought I’d graduate to people. Luckily he’s okay – he came darting out behind the pumps at a gas station… I had no chance. He rolled over the left headlight but he bounced back up and gave me a smile and a thumbs up… these Costa Ricans, man – quality people (… and made of rubber, it seems).

Speaking of gas stations – we limped into the one above on fumes. Thank God we didn’t run out of gas… when am I gonna learn!

Big day today – we zip-lined all morning over stunning gorges and rain forests with some families from Michigan and New York. A blast and the kids loved it! Although Jenna opted out at the last moment. No big deal – these things happen and you just gotta roll with it.

In the afternoon, we visited an animal sanctuary housing injured and abandoned animals (monkeys, caimans, sloths, parrots, etc.) – people volunteer there too, which is nice. Really enjoyed it… one interesting note: we couldn’t find our bug-repellent there. Turned out it was at the corner of our windshield, wedged slightly under our wiper – it didn’t fall off during our 40-min drive through the mountains between the zip-line and the sanctuary!

We’ve now moved into a gorgeous mountain-side home via vrbo.com… the surrounding area looks like the Gorillas in the Mist movie – minus the gorillas. It’s right next to the Arenal volcano – the most famous “active” volcano in Costa Rica… the last time it blew its top was in the 1960s, wiping out a nearby village and killing about 68 people. This home is very modern (as well as a few others dotting the area… owned by foreigners) but it’s embedded within a poor mountain village. And to get to this rural village requires 4-wheel drive… dirt, muddy, single-lane paths really, at 60% angles in some parts, right up the sides of mountains. Hard to believe people live in these area. But beautiful! Cows are herded up and down these paths all the time. Very surreal. As in other areas, the locals are such a happy, nice lot.

Day 11 –We hit the R&R mother lode! Tobocan (tobocan.com) is the world-class ultimate in spas: about 2 dozen outdoor hot thermal tubs/pools (feeding from the Arenal volcano nearby) immersed within gorgeous gardens and waterfalls, some of which you can relax under as they cascade onto you, offering a natural massage… Fantasy Island! Shangri-la, big time… we were in them for the whole day – looked like fish after we left – skin all scaly. But we’ve never felt so clean… ended off the day with an all-you-can-eat buffet. Starving! We put on an awesome, voracious display of gluttony, for better or worse.

I should mention, one of our goals on this trip was diversity: we didn’t want to just fly down and relax at a resort the whole time. We get too restless and curious for that – hence, the various accommodations in different parts to enjoy many experiences: jungle bungalow in Antonio, rain forest treehouse in Arenal, canopy home in mountain-side village… and in upcoming days, it’ll be a cabin in the yoga resort mecca of Nosara/Montezuma, and then a condo-rental up in the northern eco-system near the Santa Rosa National Park.

Day 8 and 9        Antonio to Quesada (Treehouse in rain forest)

Day 8 – the morning started with a bang… Jenna fell out of the bed onto the hardwood floor. She’s a tough nut, tho… she was back asleep in minutes.

On Day 2 I mentioned I needed nerves of steel (re: driving through the narrow city streets of San Jose). Today, whatever nerves I had left were obliterated. Driving from Antonio to Quesada (rain forest / volcano territory) was a test of sanity and survival. Gorgeous countryside, yes – unbelievable. It had gorges, cliffs, volcanoes, rain forests, waterfalls, etc., etc. Nice on the eyes, but driving through it was nuts – I was either shifting up, shifting down, turning left, turning right, going up, going down, avoiding cows (a herd was ambling along the middle line at one point), anteaters, chickens, lizards – at one point, we were inches from hitting a 3-ft iguana… looked like a piece of wood from afar… I hammered on the brakes at the last minute as it stood, unperturbed, in our lane. We tried coaxing it across the road, much to the amusement of a local trucker stopped behind us.

And then there were the cliffs on the side of the roads (no room for error!)… the crazy Costa Rican drivers weaving in and out… the 18-wheelers hogging the roads… the one-lane bridges… hairpin turns all over the place… and the monsoon that hit us with mist and fog so thick you could stick a knife through it. 7 hrs driving today… 284 kms driven… equaling 41 kms / hr (if you get behind a transport truck, you’re stuck at a snail’s pace. Hardly anyplace to pass).

When we get back to The Great White North, I’m gonna get on my knees and kiss the wonderfully straight TransCanada Highway of the Prairies. Nonetheless, the drive along the northern Costa Rican roads was an adrenaline-filled experience! And all the little villages we cut a path through – they really gave us a reality-check on life b/c there were so many poor and destitute areas. But happy people!

We did take a break and trek up the Poas Volcano during the day – okay, it was a 10-km drive winding upward and then the walk during the last 500 meters from the parking lot to the crater 9000 feet up… it felt like a long trek, tho. Lots of steam and geysers kicking about! Nice…

We landed at our treehouse near La Fortuna around 6pm… none too soon as we were bushed.

Day 9 – During the middle of the night, I actually woke up with one of my arms moving about, as if shifting gears. Later, the howler monkeys woke us at sunrise – it was a very cool experience living 40 feet up in the rain forest canopy. It felt like we were part of the Swiss Family Robinsons (remember that Sat morning show in the 80s?). Beautiful and surreal…! We were one with the trees as the forest sounds surrounded us. If there is one thing a person should do on their Bucket List before they pass on – live in a Costa Rican treehouse. And get a massage outside, on the front deck of it too…! Marianna, the masseuse, came by our tree around 11am and got the kinks out… so relaxing.

Another Bucket List item – visit a chocolate (cocoa) plantation. That was our afternoon adventure. Wow… the meaning of life is so clear to me now and it begins and ends with cocoa. I can’t count how much chocolate our family sampled but we were all delirious by the end of it… Catharine was looking like a chocolate bunny at times. Caffeine high. And we, now, know how to make chocolate from cocoa beans. A new grow-op is coming to Calgary!

And then there was the shotgun incident – we were in the local village grocery store getting our “internet” fix (no internet at the treehouse) when all of a sudden, two men show up with shotguns at the ready. Big ones! They walked up right beside us and held the guns on their hips as their comrade withdrew bags of money from the ATM (re: Costa Rican “Brinks” guards). I had to get a pic… I grabbed Catharine’s iPhone and walked up to them, asking if I could take a pic using the motion of my hands. “Click, click,” I said. They were stone-faced and getting a bit antsy. I could have grabbed my ear and said “sounds like…” (re: charades) but didn’t… they weren’t into humour. Regardless, I used a few more hand signals and finally one of them cracked a smile – more amused at my hand signals than anything. The time was ripe – I quickly clicked a shot with the serious guard giving me the evil eye, telling me to stop, so I walked away. Couldn’t resist such a shot, though.

We ended off the day on a rain forest nocturnal night tour… we saw so much (pics coming) – the dreaded poison-dart frog (one lick of the skin and it’s game over), J.C. himself (re: Jesus Christ lizard – the one that runs on water) tarantulas, the carnivorous frog, the “National Geographic” frog (The one with the red eyes… beautiful), armadillos, leaf-cutter ants, etc.

We all crashed hard into our beds that night…. zzzzzzz

Day 6 and Day 7    Manuel Antonio

Day 6 – Woke up this morning and fed the crocs in the nearby river… I’m starting to feel a kindred bond with Keith Richards. Sure, he loves a good death-roll and has a powerful chomp, but I bet he’s got a gentle soul once you build up some trust. He probably just feels misunderstood…

After the crocs, we came back and fed the children (my priorities are getting all messed up). Later on at the beach, we saw “jumping crabs” – dozens of them jumping from rock to rock… such bizarre and fascinating creatures down here. In addition – a bug we saw at night had blue eyes that lit up like headlights! Not sure what type of insect that was…

Unfortunately there were huge meltdowns today (the extreme heat can wear a person down) – just one of those days!  They came at us from all sides… Andrew wanted to fly back to Canada on his own b/c he didn’t want to go to the beach today – he’s not much for the heat and he absolutely hates having showers to get the sunscreen/salt off… must have been a cat in a previous life. Ryan imploded b/c he was hungry and he couldn’t wait any longer for lunch. Then Jenna sprawled out at a village bakery b/c we wouldn’t let her have a sugar-infested donut (she’s got such a sweet-tooth… just like her dad). I wish I could say it stopped there – I had a melt-down b/c I couldn’t focus on the driving through the freakishly narrow streets with the kids acting up in the back (turned into a “pull over and negotiate” hallmark moment for some of the locals to witness). But, soon enough, love found a way back into our family (“… iPods will go!” are powerful words)

Unfortunately, some Costa Ricans were a bit miffed at me in an ATM lineup under a sweltering sun – took me forever to get the money out b/c I couldn’t figure out the Spanish on the screen. One of them, irritated, became a bit verbal – the only Spanish word I recognized was “Gringo…” Finally got it sorted out when another local came along and helped me withdraw $250,000…!! Colones, that is. Can’t retire yet as that’s about $500 Cdn.

We’ve banned the TV on this trip – hasn’t been on yet which is nice (we do allow the kids some time on their iPods though, once in a while). And we’ve got the kids journaling / drawing pics most days – they’ll present them to their teachers/classes when they get back. We’ve also been learning a new Spanish word each day (and we have to use them! That’s part of the deal) – the kids are enjoying that!

Ended the day off at a wonderful Mexican restaurant – Sancho’s. The owner is from Lake Tahoe and moved down here with his family a few years ago (half the fun in travelling is bumping into different people and hearing their travel stories). The food was awesome! Best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten. I’m pretty sure I ate 5 lbs of nachos and quesadillas with all the toppings. They had to roll us out of there.

Day 7Last day in Antonio in the south… another “veg” day by the pool (although Catharine took in a 90-min yoga class) b/c we’ll be doing a lot of travelling over the next few days. Tomorrow we head north into volcano territory – moving into a treehouse within the “cloud forest” sanctuary of Monteverde. Going to be awesome!

Day 4 and 5      Manuel Antonio

Day 4 – It was time to shift things into a slower gear after a fun-filled few days… a “veg” and get-caught-up day. Got groceries in the nearby village (no organic stores here unfortunately!!)… visited the nearby outdoor market put on by the locales (so gregarious and friendly!) where we drank our first coconuts (the guy machete’s off the top inch, then you stick your straw in and drink away! Yum)… lounged by the pool for a few hours where we chatted with a few other families (mainly Canadian and American). A few observations:

1. Don’t speed – the “policia” are everywhere and they’ll nail ya

2. Need car-booster chairs for kids up to 12 yrs old (ooops! None for Andrew) – different than Canada

3. We drink bottled water at all times (don’t need Hepatitis A or Typhoid in our lives)

4. Wear earplugs at night b/c the monkeys are up and at ‘em at 5:30am, howling away

5. 95.9 FM station in Costa Rica plays the best Rock n’ Roll…!! Better than any station I’ve heard in Canada (they love the Crash-Test Dummies… lol). On a separate note – the Costa Rican music is wonderfully infectious

6. Costa Ricans love their Cokes (drink, that is)… they’re everywhere

7. Same time zone as Calgary (doesn’t mess up the kids’ bio-rhythms)

Day 5 – Okay, our workouts have really nosedived. We had such high expectations with the running, yoga, etc… but nil, so far. Vaca-mode has really hit us hard. Why work out when the beach beckons, I suppose.

A freakish smorgasbord of animals today… we trekked into the jungles in the early morning hours and saw sloths, anteaters (a 2-ft anteater actually climbed up a tree right next to our rental home by our patio this morning! Pics coming), bats, monkeys (3 species), colorful frogs, huge lizards… even a racoon. It whizzed by my feet as I was gulping down some water – a monkey was chasing it.

Special mention for the crocodiles – right next to our beach is an estuary. You walk over to the river’s edge, shake a palm leaf in the water for a few minutes and lo’ and behold, a few 15-foot American crocs slowly make their way toward you (at which point you back away and give them space). Crazy – I looked one right in the eye, 10 ft away (pics coming on that one). We named the old fella Keith Richards…

Afterward, we went to a restaurant made out of a U.S. Bomber (too cool)… the bomber itself was involved in the whole Iran-Contra affair back in the ‘80s (re: Ollie North). The Costa Ricans bought the plane for $3K and turned it into a restaurant.

Oh yes, and I got bitten by an ant – yeow. The little devil got into my sneaker. And we lost two kid-hats and a pair of sunglasses. There are so many distractions for the kids, you pretty-much have to chain things to them (it had crossed our minds for a moment… lol).

And, sure, we’ve had some blowouts and tantrums… we’ve been at each other’s throats at times (where are our Abba CDs when you need ‘em! They came in so handy for our X-Canada trip. Lost ‘em). That’s all apart of being a family – especially when on the road and everyone’s normal routines are out the window! We resolve the issues, learn and move on…

Day 3    Manuel Antonio

It was the Day of the Monkey! The big catch-phrase at Antonio is: “There are more monkeys here than people!” During our first day there (Day 2), we didn’t see any so we were a bit bummed, thinking this was gonna be par for the course. But, different story on Day 3! First off, we spent half the day in the jungle mangroves, boat-touring about the watery canals (you could easily get lost in them!). Eerie at first, but so beautiful and peaceful. A different world.

At one point, about a dozen monkeys came out of nowhere (our first monkey encounter) and swung to the water’s edge, hopping on to our boat and jumping about, playful, as they grabbed grasshoppers and leaves right out of our hands… quite an experience! Atela, our guide (we called him “Attila”… but he was no Hun), was excellent… voracious with the facts on the eco-systems and as happy-go-lucky and humorous as they come. There were numerous species of birds (I was thinking of you Lynne!), beautifully-colored crabs (hard to believe until you see them), lizards, etc. Even when we were all eating at a restaurant afterward, a lizard sauntered into the place and strutted about, checking us out. Cameras were clicking… lizards everywhere! We relaxed in the pool after the tour and, sure enough, a whole family of monkeys came by and spent the better part of an hour jumping about the jungle foliage surrounding the pool. The kids were beyond themselves… and to end it off, we were on our rental house patio getting ready to head out for supper when another group of monkeys swung by, hanging about only a few feet in front of us. Ryan wants to buy one to handle the house chores back in Calgary…

We did fit in an hour of beach-time… but you gotta run the gauntlet of peddlers who are on ya like glue for the first hundred meters. It was an eye-opener for the kids – but after that, it’s nothing but sand and surf… paradise. And regarding pina-coladas – mother of… where have you been all my life? I’ve never tasted them b/4. Yum… we enjoyed a bunch for dinner (Happy Monkey Hour). Oh yeah – a local with a guitar and some charm certainly put a glow on Catharine’s face during the dinner. Sure, he can play well and sing a nice ballad but can he spin a basketball on all fingers? I don’t think so…

Day 2     San Jose to Manuel Antonio

We needed nerves of steel today… more on that later.  For now, I must say – we want to buy real estate and move here! So incredibly beautiful… We started the day off with a delicious breakfast at the Moon Glow restaurant in San Jose (city pop. = 1.5 million people) before relaxing in a pool under some mango trees. +30 and sunny… yeah!

Before long, tho, we received our rental (… an SUV. We’d need 4-wheel drive for some of the back-roadin’ deep within the rain forests) and were heading out to the Pacific Coast (destination: Manuel Antonio, 165 kms and 3 hrs from San Jose… average speed limit would be 60-70 kmd/hr b/c of the twisty, hilly roads).

We were anxious to leave the city but unfortunately our new Garmin GPS (Tommy Boy II… the original Tommy from our X-Canada trip suffered an untimely demise) had us zig-zapping for an hour in San Jose through very impoverished districts. All around there were bars on windows and razor-sharp coil fencing surrounding tons of housing compounds; not to mention the many shanties and shacks with people eyeing us up along the back-streets as we drove on through. Our doors were locked (I had my hand on a mango just in case – it was the only heavy thing within arm’s length) as we stopped at endless lights with motorcyclists zipping in and out of traffic everywhere (they love their bikes)! Quebec drivers on steroids… that’s what it felt like, anyway. Very few CRs follow the rules of the road.

And narrow roads, at that! My God, it’s inches on either side. When Gerry (the smiley car agent) had dropped our vehicle off that morning, he had said, “You remember video game, Frogger? Roads here like that, my friend. Be careful,” (he had a lot of charm… good guy!). He wasn’t kidding. And did I mention I hadn’t worked a stick-shift in over 15 yrs? Of course, our SUV was a stick-shift and I had to re-learn on the fly. After stalling the beast a few times (with CR’s hammering on the horn… they wait for no one), I had it somewhat tamed.

Once out of the city and after I got my fingernails out of the dash, it was slightly more relaxing. The only major issue to watch out for – cars passing (two-lane road) at ANY time. Be it solid lines, blind corners – doesn’t matter. Cars zip in and out at any time. Wonderful people, but maniacs behind the wheels. Lucky there are literally hundreds of fruit stands dotting the way… takes the edge off. The pineapples – delicious! 1.5 hrs into the drive, we hit Turcoles and took a break to watch the 17-ft American crocs below a bridge. Very cool…! There were two dozen of them lounging about and it didn’t take long for the locales to shimmy up to us. “You lika chickens? You buy, you throw,” (… to the crocs). The locales had names for the reptiles too – Mike Tyson, ol’ Salty, Tommy Lee, etc. Buying isn’t really encouraged for ethical reasons so we declined. We eventually reached Antonio – gorgeous! Our bungalow looks out over the ocean with the jungle canopy all around… nirvana.

Day 1     Landing in San Jose, Costa Rica
Well, the wakeups in Calgary began around 5:30am yesterday – excitement was in the air! Our flight took off for Costa Rica at noon (via a Houston stopover)… but not before U.S. securities yanked out Catharine’s brand new blender (the compact type that fit in her backpack… excellent for making healthy smoothies and grinding nuts, flax, et al for travelling). I guess our family of five fit the terrorist …mold… lol. I mean, it would have taken me at least two hours to take apart the whole blender with tools – to use that teeny weenie 2 cm blade as a deadly weapon. And they took away our organic almond butter – armed and dangerous with a blender and almond butter… damn you United Airlines!
Aside from that, it was a rather nice trip… I managed to watch Gravity on the plane (now that our kids are old enough to entertain themselves) although we were delayed an hour in Houston… it was fun to people-watch at the airport. Tough to out-proud Texans! But there was no snow or frigid weather there so all was good!  I reiterate – smell ya later, winter!
As we flew over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, we were a witness to the most beautiful sunset from 30,000 feet up. And as darkness covered the land, you could see the lights from the cities below as we hit Central America… the lights were in various configurations – one city was in the shape of a guitar, another a horse. Daydreaming mode! The office is already far from my brain…
We landed in San Jose around 10pm – everyone was bushed but the hustle and bustle of the airport with Spanish flying off in all directions made me wish I had done better in languages back in grade school… lol I know zero Spanish – it’s all Greek to me. But luckily Catharine knows a bit of the language to get by. And as we walked outside into 25 degrees and palm trees, Jenna said, “Ryan! There’s no winter here!!” We hunkered down in a hotel not far from the airport and we hit the beds like a bag of bricks. Bushed! But not before getting a guy in to repair the AC – and we needed some bottled water so the manager brought 5 bottles up to us. “25 dolla,” he said with a smile. $5 a bottle (250 ml – small bottles too)? I was too tired and too thirsty to debate.
Nonetheless, these Costa Ricans are such nice people…. Off to the coast today to live amongst the other monkeys for a few days (aside from the 3 in our room)

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