Archive for the ‘Costa Rica 2006/7’ Category

Costa Rica – Holiday Season 2006/2007

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

We spent the last 20 days on “vacation” in Costa Rica, a central American paradise of eco-tourism, beautiful beaches and friendly people. Please understand that “Vacation” is not the best term for a multi-destination, do it yourself trip to a 3rd world country with 3 very young children. We did manage to make the best of it, although at times it was challenging. For example – how do you fit 3 car seats, 2 infant beds, a twin stroller, and 6 pieces of luggage into a Nissan Xterra? How do you keep 3 kiddos happy while driving for 5 hours at 30Km per hour? We diligently prepared for the challenges of traveling with kids in advance ;with practice, by the end of our vacation, we had the system down to a pat.

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It’s hard to describe every little detail of our trip, so we’ll suffice with some highlights.

Getting there – 2 flights from SFO, through Houston, each 3.5 hours long. A day that began at 4:30am in California, and ended at 10:30pm (2 hours ahead) in our little bungalow room at Playa Tamarindo on Costa Rica’s hot and humid north western shore. This also included a 90 minute drive from the airport on the “less than perfect” Costa Rica highways. We spent the next 2 days acclimating to the heat and on the beach and in the swimming pool, but since the town is experiencing a construction boom, including all 4 sides surrounding our hotel, we cut the 3rd day and headed to one of the country’s nature capitals – Monte Verde.

Cloud Forest – Monte Verde is a cloud forest and much chillier than the coast. Getting there included using all 5 of our 4*4 wheels. Roads are not paved, slopes are steep, and the narrow winding trails are very challenging. A fun challenge to drive, not so much for the passengers. We stayed in a nice town called Santa Elena for 3 nights. During the days we walked through the cloud forest with a local guide who showed us various wildlife and explained about the gentle balance between people and the environment here. Costa Rica is one of the most advanced countries in the world with respect to environmental protection. They don’t have an army, they invest heavily in national parks. Too bad they did not get to investing in roads yet. We visited a frog pond museum where most of the frogs where hiding. We went to a great butterfly farm where Shir Orr and Ron flipped out trying to catch the Blue Morpho, Costa Rica’s national symbol and a very pretty butterfly. We saw many different types of hummingbirds. We drove around, admiring the beautiful scenery. Everything is green green green. We never knew that there could be so many different shades of green.

Volcanoes – From Monteverde we continued to the area of Volcan Arenal (Arenal Volcano) which is an active volcano, still bleeding lava, over 30 years after its last eruption. The drive took almost an entire day, over very bad roads, with beautiful scenery along the way, including Arenal Lake, a manmade body of water resulting from a dam set up a few years ago. In order to relax from the long hard day, we went to Tabacon Hot Springs, a day spa with 18 thermal pools heated by and overlooking the Arenal Volcano. They had pools in varying temperatures and depths, including a great pool for the kids. We arrived at 3pm and stayed there as it got dark. Sitting in a warm pool, surrounded by tropical greenery and watching the red lava flow on Arenal as the night enveloped us, was a definite highlight of our trip. Too bad the included buffet dinner wasn’t as spectacular.

We stayed in the Arenal area for a few days and did a spectacular short hike to a nice waterfall, which included descending 600 stairs and then climbing them all back. Our journey continued through another beautiful nature park that included more waterfalls, butterflies, frogs, snakes, and other exhibits. We tried to reach another volcano, but it was a cloudy day and there was nothing to see.

Pacific Beach – As you can imagine after so much activity, we were ready to relax in a nice beach for a few days. Manuel Anotnio is a small beach area connected to a beautiful natural park. We stayed there for 4 days, relaxing, visiting the park, on the beach, or in the pool. The daily highlight was around 4pm, when a gang of 30 monkeys would make their way from the nature park through the trees in our hotel to a hostel nearby, where the proprietor would give them a few bananas.

Great Views – we continued to the mountainous Cerro Chirripo area for 2 days of cooler weather. We stayed at a really nice B&B overlooking a river, owned by an expat who has not been living in the US for 20 years. From there we drove through a mountainous highway to Costa Rica’s central valley area and spent a few days in Orosi Valley. The pictures could not capture the beauty of this place. Surrounded by mountains, with many streams and rivers flowing across, green everywhere, banana and coffee plantations all around. Simply gorgeous. The hotel/resort we stayed at had a thermal heated swimming pool, which was great fun for the kids, although we had to be careful not to get too close to the source of the hot water.

Caribbean Coast – our finale was on the eastern side of the country, distinctly different from the rest. A large African-Latino community, people walking around with rastas and listening to reggae music. We stayed at Playa Chiquita, in a smallish B&B operated by a former leftist lawyer who left Germany to help Nicaragua’s revolt in the late 1970’s. He is married to an African, and their children are the most beautiful exotic blend of chocolate skin, light curly hair, and big blue eyes. Once again we had fun at the beach, Shir and Orr still like to eat sand, but much less than 6 months ago. One evening in town we purchased flip flops for Ron, and it was funny to watch him get used to walking with them.

Food – We focused on the tasty tropical parts which were the many fruits and fish. The kids, especially Shir, ate with a great appetite. Every morning would begin with a plate of pineapple, papaya, bananas, and sometimes additions. During other meals we would drink delicious fruit shakes. I tried to order wherever I could the fried plantains, which are oversized, starchy bananas that are sliced an fried till they are a golden yellow, sweet and warm.

To summarize, this was a great adventure, we had lots of fun, and now we need a few weeks to recharge our batteries before going on the next outing. We did already get however, several books on Alaska. It’s never too early to start planning our summer vacation 🙂