Costa Rica!

Monday, March 27, 2017. Playa Conchal, Costa Rica…

Hola a todos! Estoy en Costa Rica! I’ve barely had to speak any Spanish because everyone I’ve talked to here speaks English. Still, it’s been fun reading road signs and what not.

We embarked on our adventure Friday, when I woke up and Aaron said, “Our first flight is delayed.” SFO strikes again! Indeed, our first flight was scheduled to take off from SFO right around when our second flight was scheduled to take off from LAX, so I got on the phone with Ellen from Southwest, who got us booked on a flight out of OAK instead. I got to go on my first AirBART ride. It’s spacey looking but slooow.

Once at OAK, I came across a cute little robot who wanted to chat. Actually, it wanted me to visit its restaurant, except it was super buggy and never quite managed to do what it said it was going to. But still, cute! See:

Got to our gate, where the incoming flight was delayed deplaning due to a medical emergency. Then we had to switch aircraft because of a broken windshield wiper. Then we had to hold at OAK before take off. When we landed at LAX, we had to hold again for a gate. Finally when we pulled up to the gate, another medical emergency! Thankfully, they held the flight to LIR for the 5 of us coming in from OAK. Sorry, 160 other passengers!

5 1/2 hours later, touchdown! We descended a set of stairs onto the tarmac. Tarmac is how I know I’m not in Kansas anymore.

Got to rent a manual transmission vehicle for the first time ever. I kept lurching the car on start because I’m not used to manual transmission rentals and the starters here aren’t dummy proof like they are in in the US. We also had some fun figuring out whether the 4×4 button meant on or off. The manual was in Spanish, and the button description translated to “interrupter of the blocker of the central differential“. Double negatives much?

Woke up Saturday to chirpy birds and tank top weather. It’s tank top weather at all hours here on the Pacific coast. Just like when I was in Hawaii. I love it. Wandered around looking for food, came across the first of many iguanas in the road, then wound up at the local grocery store. Picked up some kiwi drinkable yogurt. It’s a common flavor here, and not too sweet.

Made our way to the club house and beach. (We’re here for a wedding and staying at a resort with the rest of the guests.) Wandered up the beach, back along a local access road, then had a leisurely-whether-we-wanted-leisurely-or-not lunch. Everything here runs on Tico Time.

This included the wedding ceremony, which was advertised as a 4:30 start so everyone could get there for the 5:30 start. Brilliant strategy.

Wedding partied into the night. Unfortunately, we pooped out before the 10 foot tall mascaradas (human paper mache dancers) arrived.

Late brunched Sunday with the wedding crew. I’ve never had gazpacho at brunch. Me gusta.

Went for another walk down the other end of the beach. Turns out I enjoy long walks on the beach. Just not the ones in the Bay Area. Too cold!

Headed over to Tamarindo, which is way more touristy and happening than our secluded resort. The beach there is fantastic; a gentle slope with fine sand. Walked some more. It’s hot here but it’s nice and breezy by the ocean.

Drank way too many sweet things: frosty coffee, virgin mojito, two virgin piña coladas. Apparently “2-for-1” means for each person in the party who who orders a drink, 2 drinks arrive.

We came across some sort of fresh shaved mango cart. Mango threads con sal y limón y chile. I’m starting to understand where the mangonada flavor profile comes from.

Enjoyed a beautiful, albeit touristy sunset on the beach.

We passed by few supermarkets on the way to Tamarindo. There’s a chain called Super Compro, and another called Megasuper. MEGASUPER!!! Naturally, I needed to stop at the MEGASUPER.

A couple things about grocery store food here:

Thing 1: The chicharrones are amazing. 4505 you have been dethroned.

Thing 2: It seems they have to label artificial flavoring as such, as opposed to “natural” being a feature in the US. This has saved me from purchasing many candies. I much prefer this system to ours.

On the way to and from Tamarindo, there were signs for car washes all along the roads. In Spanish, they read “LAVA CAR”. I love this so much.

Aaron had a scuba excursion planned for Monday morning, so I booked myself a massage at the spa. I’ve generally only gotten massages to fix achy parts; this was my first relaxing massage. You know what relaxing massages are good for? Highlighting all the parts that need work. My body needs work.

When Aaron returned, we headed back toward Playa Flamingo to track down the shoes he left on the dive boat. After that, a SIM card procurement adventure with a lady who didn’t speak English. After the SIM card, we picked up a couple more bags of chicharrones, had ice cream in Huacas, and picked up some galletas at the local panaderia.

Chilled by the pool for a bit, then headed out for dinner. Spotted our first coati along on the way! It was cute and fuzzy, nothing like its apatosaurus warning sign.

Encountered what I initially thought was a moth migration on the sidewalk after dinner. Turns out it was a stream of leaf cutter ants at work. I’d never seen anything like that before, so I made a video.

So many animals here in Costa Rica. Earlier in the day I tried to identify all the birds by our condo. More shapes and sizes and chirps than I can count!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Back in California…

On Tuesday morning, we headed inland for the cloud forest in Monteverde. I have neglected to describe our rental car beyond the transmission. It was a Daihatsu Terios, a tiny SUV, like if you took an early 2000’s Mini Cooper platform but made it look like a baby CRV. It handled the bumpy hilly curvy dirt roads really well. It was a little less useful on fast open roads, but there wasn’t much of that from what we saw.

I should talk about driving in Costa Rica in general. Most of the roads were single lane in each direction. People go the speed that works for them, and others who want to go faster pass when there’s a chance. There’s no ego about it like in the US. At one point, we passed a guy on a small motorcycle towing an open wagon… with a goat in it. Oh how I wish I had a picture. Pura vida!

Along the roads, we came across lots more car washes, various kinds of repair shops, and schools. Many many schools. We learned from some tourist T-shirts that Costa Rica has no army, and it turns out they abolished the army in 1948 after a civil war, putting the money into education instead. I can totally get behind that.

Aaron wanted me to mention the gas prices in Costa Rica. We paid $35 for half a tank. He was horrified. I think we’re just gas price spoiled in the US. One of the benefits of having an army. :-|

We arrived at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve around 1. “Arron!” said the check-in guy, “We waited for you this morning at 7:30.” Turns out that was the tour we had booked. But, pura vida, we can put you on the 1:30 tour! No one else was signed up, so we effectively got a private tour with Sergio.

The cloud forest was unlike any place I’ve ever been. There’s growth everywhere, on every surface. Epiphytes of all kinds on every tree. Sergio tracked the wildlife by sound, then located them for us to view on his scope. He showed us all sorts of birds, a Cordyceps-infected zombie beetle, talked about strangler figs (they grow from the top down), and even located a newborn sloth with its mom.

Fun fact: Sloths are so sedentary that they will sometimes grow a layer of green algae on their fur.

A thing about birds and sloths: They may look like they’re being really still, but through a scope you can see all their micro movements. It’s immensely fascinating.

Crossed paths with a couple black milk snakes. The fact that we saw two probably means there were far more than that all around us.

We also saw more coati in the parking lot pre-tour. After observing them up close, I’ve decided they’re the Costa Rican equivalent of raccoons.

On Wednesday, we did the Don Juan coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tour. I finally got to see the entire process from coffee sprout to roasted bean. It was interesting to hear about Costa Rica’s relationship with migrant pickers from Nicaragua and Panama. Not that different from what we debate here in the US.

Even more interesting than coffee was seeing how chocolate is made. The cacao fruit is crazy looking on the inside. Even crazier is the vinegary fermentation before it even starts to look or smell like the chocolate we know.

Bonus: We got to meet Don Juan.

We took a different route back to the coast, down a much more gentle dirt road. As we approached a corner, a vaquero waved at us to slow. Next, a herd of cows came around the bend, accompanied by a second vaquero.

On our way to the mountain the day before, we passed by many roadside stands with signs for pipa fría and vino de coyol. On this return trip, curiosity won and we pulled over to try them, whatever they were.

Pipa fría turned out to be a chilled green coconut with a straw in it. So refreshing! And only a dollar each.

Vino de coyol is basically moonshine in a reused plastic bottle. It’s a little tart, a little sweet, a little cloudy, a little fizzy. Goes down really easy. Also cheap, although I don’t remember how much it cost.

After a pit stop to eat and meet Sabra’s cousin, we continued toward the coast. Aaron tried to route us a different way back, and we drove down a side street in a residential neighborhood right smack into a stream crossing. A large pickup came through, but since I wasn’t willing to risk the rental on an unfamiliar water crossing we turned back. That was a long final stretch to the hotel.

Finally got to use my Spanish when we ventured into Huacas looking for ceviche. Success!

Thursday morning, to the airport. Costa Rica, you’ve been beautiful. I hope to return one day to visit your volcanoes, rainforests, and Caribbean coast. Oh, and to eat plantains at every meal. Plantains prepared every which way. Plátanos todos los días.

Photo album here.


  1. Sounds like an awesome trip! I remember seeing leaf cutter ants in Peru, they were covering about a 20 foot wide section of the “trail” we were walking on. Our guide didn’t even slow down, but we gringos were a bit concerned that the jungle floor was moving. Pretty much had to look anywhere but down and walk quickly :-) And amazingly awesome you saw vaqueros! (most people have no idea they were the first “cowboys” and where we get the word buckaroo) This experience is exactly why I say all Americans should be forced to spend a year outside the US between 18 and 19. Would open some eyes for the better.

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