Friday, May 18, 2012

Us vs. the Volcano

Having decided that the 3.5 hour drive each way to Arenal to see the volcano was a bit much, the plan for today was to visit the closer, if smaller, volcano in Rincon National Park, about an hour outside of Liberia.

My mom elected to skip the hiking portion of the day in favor of hanging poolside so the 4 of us set out for another adventure.  After only one wrong turn and subsequent turnaround- some sort of record for us- and a 14 (fourteen!) mile ride down the bumpiest dirt road in the universe, we arrived in one, overly jostled, piece.

At the ranger station we got the lowdown- the trail to the volcano crater was closed due to activity and they were out of maps, but invited us to take a photo of theirs.  So we didn't see a volcano, but we did see many other interesting things, despite the lack of a map.

Hanging bridges


Mud Pots

Water Pots

Mineral deposits

Giant trees

Interesting Foliage


Two hours later, the "easy hike" left us looking as though we had completed some sort of survivalist training and we piled our sweaty selves back into the car.  As we bumped on out of the park, we saw a sign for a $10 spa at a geothermal spring and decided to stop.

The woman running the show at Symbiosis escorted us to the changing room and after we emerged, scantily clad in our tiny blue towels, she led us to the sauna.  It was highly enjoyable for about 7 minutes, then the fact that I had eaten a coconut cookie for breakfast and then gone on the ironman nature walk took effect and I had to remove myself from the area and sit with my head between my legs, turning six shades of pale and trying not to pass out while our nice hostess fetched me a glass of ice water.

After I revived, sauna time was declared over and we moved on to the next area.  Here there was a giant pot of hot volcanic mud and 4 large paintbrushes.  You really haven't lived until you and three of your closest family members have spent a semi nude afternoon painting yourselves (and occasionally each other, for those hard to reach spots) with mud.

Next it was drying time & we were instructed to lie on the provided wooden lounge chairs and bake in the sun.  This was semi-relaxing, it probably would have been more so if we weren't so worried about keeping our legs crossed so we didn't have to charge the nice couple getting a tour of the facility for a free show.

Next it was time for the geothermal pool rinse.  There wasn't much getting around it- the towels were coming off.  After a little eye averting soak to remove our mud, followed by a cool shower, it was time to return to the towels.  Two more quick dips in the mini pools where we elected to just go knee deep, except for aunt dawn who opted to just wear her towel into the pool, and we were ready to go- only slightly scarred.

Well past the point of hunger we continued down the road and stopped at the Canopy Bar at Hacienda G.  We ordered some Tico Tacos and out came an interesting dish-

Chicken rolled in a flour tortilla and fried, covered with fresh cabbage and topped with mayonnaise and ketchup (though I would be hard pressed to identify it as ketchup in any taste test).  Our waiter also brought us a little ceramic jar with hot pickled vegetables to put on top.  He warned us it was hot but this stuff was no joke and my lips burned for about an hour after we finished.  This combination of items sounds pretty gross as I write it, but it actually tasted quite good.

We arrived back at the house in time to catch the sunset which was really spectacular and the resort next door had a live band playing so it made for a nice final trip to the beach.

After a much needed shower (funny how I didn't feel clean after a muddy splash about in the volcanic waters & putting back on my hiking clothes that didn't need to be washed, so much as burned) it was off to try and have dinner at Picante again.  Our persistence was rewarded and we had a very enjoyable meal of plantains with bean dip, fish and shrimp casados, fish tacos, coconut shrimp and pork with spicy blackberry sauce.  The hotel was really nice with connecting infinity pools overlooking the beach & if I ever get to come back I would definitely invest some time in day drinking here.

Back at the house it was a craaazy last night of packing and finishing our books.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cumpleanos, Costa Rican Style

Since today was my mother's birthday, we let her choose the itinerary for the day.  Our morning was spent lounging by the pool, as per usual until it was adventure time.

Obviously the first stop was Java Cafe for smoothies

After that I opted to vacate my role as chauffeur and once I finished my smoothie, dozed in the backseat as we drove to Llena de Cortez, or tried to anyway.  The problem being that the driving directions we found online go a little something like this:

"The turnoff is not well marked coming from Liberia (Look for a little store on your right at the turnoff).  The turnoff is about 3km (1 3/4 miles) north of the crossroads for Bagaces. From the turnoff, you must drive a rough dirt road.  About half a kilometer along the dirt road you'll see on your right a large rock with Cataratas scrawled on it. Follow this bumpy road about 1.3 km (.8 mi) to its end at a parking area above the waterfall.  Clamber down a steep path of about 50 yards to the pool at the bottom of this spectacular 50-foot waterfall. Admission is negotiable, $5/vehicle should get you past the caretaker."

So while looking for this alleged "little store on your right," we drove about 20 minutes down an incorrect dirt road, and then 20 minutes back down the same incorrect dirt road.  When I asked someone on the return trip down this dirt road where the waterfall was he said "oh just down the highway there"- super helpful.  We finally found a helpful girl at a fruit stand and in retrospect I feel guilty that I was too hot, nauseous and annoyed to buy a mango or something from her as a gesture of thanks.

Finally on the right path, literally, we made it to the waterfall with only two people scamming us for donations on the way.  From there it was a 50 meter jaunt down some interesting terrain, during which my mother deeply regretted her birthday choice but managed to push through.

We were rewarded at the bottom with a beautiful 40 foot waterfall and surrounding pool, with two additional smaller waterfalls behind us.  There was a couple with a toddler there when we arrived but they left soon after and we had the whole place to ourselves for most of the afternoon.  We did some swimming, sunning and enjoyed a fancy birthday picnic of PB&J, pineapple and watermelon.

Deciding we should hike back up before it got dark, we headed for home and got cleaned up for dinner.  Father Rooster was event free, though not mosquito free and I took another bath in the management provided OFF, the official perfume of Costa Rica.  Despite the touristy/kitschy feel to the restaurant (nothing says class like a placemat with a cartoon rooster in a Hawaiian shirt) the food was excellent and there were a lot of locals there.

We had gigantic cocktails, beef tenderloin with chimmichuri, grilled mahi-mahi and shrimp all with sides of rice, black beans and fried plantains- our first legitimate Spanish cuisine of the trip!

At the end of the meal they brought out a plate of brownies and little coconut custard cookies (that were delicious!) with a candle for mom's birthday.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Costa Rica: Playa Tamarindo

Since sleeping in seems to constitute getting up at 8, we had plenty of time for breakfast and pool lounging before the appointed hour of noon when we would pile in the car for another adventure.  We saw a sundog while we were swimming which was something new for me.

Surfing was on the itinerary for the day so we headed for Playa Tamarindo.  Unfortunately, we did not opt for a GPS, and the signage here is piss poor so we ended up taking a surprise detour to Playa Grande- a move that tacked an additional half hour onto our hour and 15 minute trip.  Between the intermittent rain, intermittent farm animal crossings, and consistently bad driving, I could have really benefited from a xanax by the time we arrived but had to settle for some yogic breathing.

I know Tamarindo is a tourist trap and probably a legit surfer's nightmare but it was perfect for us- we took one spin down the main street to check out all the surf shops and then parked the car next to the beach.  The mothers were as happy as clams, culling the beach for shells to put in a ziplock bag and stick in a drawer back home so Emily and I headed to the Witch's Rock Surf School shop and rented some boards from their super nice employees.

This was our first time surfing and after being straight up abused by the Pacific on our first couple of attempts, we started to get the hang of things. I'm not saying I wouldn't have benefited from a lesson but by the end I was standing on the surfboard and left the ocean conscious- two giant successes if you ask me.

Our surf fest was interrupted at one point because a guy nearby had gotten pulled out in the riptide and his girlfriend was frantically trying to get people to go get him.  Two people surfing next to us went out to help him but their Baywatch rescue fantasies were quickly dashed when they got pulled out too.  I could see this was going nowhere fast and girlfriend was about to have a panic attack so I ran up to the surf shop to ask if perhaps there was a beach patrol or someone who might come assist before every novice surfer on the beach was sucked out into the ocean trying to help this dude.  She said they didn't have a lifeguard or anything but she would go send one of the instructors down.  I ran back down to the beach where girlfriend had found another group of people walking on the beach and was asking them to swim out and get him.  These guys actually knew how to surf and seemed to have a clue so two of them borrowed our boards and out they went.  The surf instructor came running on in too & eventually all 6 of them got back to shore.  Girlfriend then proceeded to pummel the shit out of her boyfriend and I thought we might have to get someone to rescue him again.

After the sideshow cleared out we took our boards back in the water and Aunt Dawn joined us.  And because our crew can't go anywhere without some sort of slip, trip or injury- on her second attempt, she jammed her fingers with the board.  With that she closed the chapter on her surfing career and bought us a trip to la farmacia for un Ace bandage.

So all in all it was quite an exciting experience!  Even though I am definitely going to be black and blue tomorrow, I thought surfing was awesome and something I'd like to do more of.  I was so happy from the thrill of something new and the half a corona I drank (I plead ignorance to the vehicular open container laws of Costa Rica) that I wasn't even upset to be back in the car again.

Since clearly it isn't safe to take us anywhere, we decided to just pick up pizza and beer (still waiting on that authentic Spanish food) and have a quiet night in.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Costa Rican Mother's Day

Since we went to bed around 7:30 last night it wasn't much of a challenge getting up.  That said, I woke up at 6, realized nobody else was up and about and went back to bed for an hour until Emily and Aunt Dawn returned from their walk on the beach.

We kicked off the day with a pot of Costa Rican coffee that put the ol Keurig at work to shame and assembled  a random little mother's day breakfast with the eggs, toast and fruit the previous guests had left in the kitchen- as our expedition to the supermercado did not actually result in the purchase of any food.

After breakfast and quiet reading time were over, we headed for Playas del Coco- 2 blocks away.  I'd never been on a black sand beach before and it was an interesting contrast of looking filthy but being clean.  The water was super clear & you could see your feet but it looked like you were standing in mud and the sand actually had sort of a clay like feeling to it higher up on the beach where it was damp from the waves.  April is the end of the high season so there was hardly anyone else around- it was kind if like having our own private beach.  We did see a leathery looking dude, whistling by in a green mankini but judging by his "tan mom" hue, I'd guess he's a local.


Much to the delight of my mother who has been spoiled by owning a pool and thus refused to go in further than shin deep, we retreated to the condo to take refuge from the blazing noon sun. We lounged by the pool until hunger forced Emily and I to venture back to the supermercado- with a list.  And not a moment too soon, as I had already reached my granola bar quota for the trip and it was only day 2.

We parked on the strip to steal some wifi and double check that all was right with our mothers day surprise.  And since nothing is ever simple, I opened my email to find that since the woman had sent us an invoice but we didn't have the Internet to know & pay it (despite having already given her our credit card info), they assumed we didn't want to go & would not be sending anyone to meet us at the beach.  Since that email had been sent just 5 minutes before we checked- I frantically emailed her back explaining that it was sort of a special occasion & was it possible to still go.  Long story short, emails were exchanges, invoices were paid and crises were averted.

After a quick jaunt through the grocery store (props to costa rica for selling booze in the supermercado though apparently the sale of Reisling is not allowed) we hurried back to the house to get ready.

Lest anyone guess our surprise or think we might be doing something enjoyable we told the moms, among other things, that we were going on an 8 mile hike through a bat cave and that we were going to drop them off somewhere and see who could find their way back first. My mom in particular just loves all of those things so when we drove them down to the beach I think she was relieved.  That lasted about 5 minutes until the tiny rubber boat that takes you out to the sailboat pulled up & I was pretty sure when she and Aunt Darlene sailed off in it- because we couldn't all fit at once- she was probably asking him to drop her back off at our condo.

Once we were all safely aboard the Seabird, we settled in for a private 3.5 hour sunset cruise with an open bar and snacks- how's about that for good daughters??

The crew was phenomenal, bringing us drinks, keeping us from falling overboard, even letting us take control of the iPod.  Since the quality of my Spanish is directly correlated with my consumption of alcohol, by my second sangria I was chattering away with them in EspaƱol, learning about which famous people have houses on which beaches & what time Ladies night starts at the lizard lounge.  I will have much to report in my weight training and celebrity gossip class with Trudog next Wednesday.

The sail was very relaxing, with the exception of one minor incident when someone's mother fell down on the boat trying to switch sides to see the sunset (the identity of the uninjured party shall remain nameless to protect what is left of their dignity).

Despite the consumption of sangria and "surprise me" drinks, everyone managed to disembark in one piece and a happy mother's day was had by all.

After the sail we headed into town for dinner.  Emily had seen a sign yesterday above a restaurant boasting that it was voted 2011's Best Pizza in Costa Rica by Lonely Planet and being the marketer's dream that she is, hadn't stopped talking about how we should go there.  We ignored her. as we are apt to do, walked up the street browsing restaurants, saw a guy on his bike get hit by a car (though from the chaos on the main street I can't believe it took as long as it did to see someone get taken out), walked back down the street and ended up at Lonely Planet's Best Pizza in Costa Rica 2011.  I do have to give it to them, it was damn good- I'm just a little confused as to why the only Spanish food I have had so far was guacamole- that we made ourselves.

Back at the house we played a couple hair raising rounds of Yahtzee and called it a night, a full 2.5 hours later than our previous nights bedtime.