Category: Costa Rica – Spring 2011

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Costa Rica and read them in order! ***

So here we are on the final day of our trip, saying farewell to this sometimes frustrating, sometimes terrifying, but always amazing country of Costa Rica. We’ve enjoyed our time here, but like most good things in life, this one too must come to an end.

We woke up at 4:45 and after packing our remaining belongings, checked out of the hotel and took our cab (actually a Turismo van) to the airport. We were unimpressed with our cab driver, who was possibly the slowest cabbie in the world, but he got us to where we were going so all is well. With the exception of some confusion around paying our departure tax ($26 per person for the privilege of leaving the country), our airport process went smoothly.

Costa Rica is interesting in that they don’t allow passengers to carry ANY liquids onboard the aircraft, including items purchased in the gate area. As a consequence, we had to go through a final security check at the gate before being allowed to board the plane. Rose got through her checker person in 30 seconds or less after a cursory glance through her belongings. Philip, on the other hand, received a full check of his carry-on bags, had to boot up his laptop to show them it wasn’t a bomb, and even got a full body wanding with a metal detector. Fortunately, they let us on the plane and we were on our way back home.

polar bear looking out airplane window

Our polar bear friend was looking out the window while we sat waiting to push back from the least during those few moments when Philip's face wasn't pressed to the glass with excitement.

The plane was fairly empty, though our row still had three people in it. The five hour flight felt like it took seven or eight hours, so we were very happy when we landed in Phoenix. We made it through immigration without a hitch, though our troubles began when Rose’s bag never arrived on the conveyor belt. We waited until the belt stopped moving, and then asked an airline representative for help. Apparently, bags can sometimes get stuck on the conveyor in the bowels of the airport, so she called someone to restart the line and Rose’s bag magically appeared a few minutes later.

polar bear wearing seat belt on airplane

Everyone was buckled up and ready to come home from our trip!

Our cab ride home went well and we were very excited to be back. All in all, we had an amazing honeymoon in Costa Rica and we are happy that we chose it as our destination. We don’t yet know where our next travels will take us, but we are already looking forward to seeing another new area of the world. In the meantime, we will likely do some exploring around Arizona now that the wedding planning is behind us. It is our intention to keep posting to the blog whenever we do some travelling, even if it is just to some local wonder.

Thank you for following with us and we hope you enjoyed sharing a part of our adventures. We welcome your comments, even after the fact, and we wish you the best on your future travels. On that note, we highly recommend the blogging process while travelling (or at least keeping a journal), because we have already had a lot of joy from reading our posts from our trip to Italy. It is a great way to solidify memories and ensure that we won’t forget our experiences, even many years in the future. If you ever do decide to keep a travel blog, please let us know and we would love to follow along with you, just as you have done with us! Buen Viaje!

***As a bonus, we have finally uploaded the video Philip took while ziplining in La Fortuna. He loses control and starts to spin about halfway through, but it’s still some amazing scenery and some shots of his panicked face. Near the beginning, you can see the volcano directly in front and the lake is to his left.***

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Costa Rica and read them in order! ***

Our last day in Costa Rica began early, since we planned on visiting a volcano and wanted to get to the summit before the weather could turn bad. Breakfast consisted of granola bars and plans to find a panadería later in the morning. On our way out of the hotel, we stopped at the front desk to get directions to Cartago, which is the city at the base of Volcan Irazú. We received detailed instructions from the man at the desk, complete with annotations on a map, and set off for a day of exploration!

Our hotel is on the west side of San Jose, but Cartago is located about 25 km to the east. Therefore, we had to traverse across San Jose with morning traffic before making it to the highway. Fortunately, we were a bit later in the day (8:30am) than the worst traffic and there were fewer cars than normal because of Holy Week.

We made it out of town without incident, though Philip’s tension levels were definitely a bit higher after navigating the disaster that is driving through San Jose. On the outskirts of town, we stopped at an ATM and got enough Colones to last us for the rest of our trip and to cover our cab ride to the airport the next day. We made it to Cartago without incident and the directions we had received were excellent.

Our route took us across the north side of Cartago before turning and heading up the slope to the summit of Volcan Irazú, which is over 11,000 feet high at its summit. We stopped at a gas station to fill up our tank and get our windshield cleaned, since it was absolutely filthy from all of our driving. Furthermore, we had been unable to clean the windshield on our own due to our missing wiper blade (read the post of our drive from San Jose to La Fortuna if you missed that story). We spent over 10 minutes at the gas station, but it was a fun experience and the attendant even directed us to an auto parts store (think Checkers) across the street where we could purchase a new wiper blade to replace our missing one.

landscape in Costa Rica

The landscape near Volcan Irazu.

Rather than deal with the wiper blade at the time, we decided to press on to the volcano and we followed the surprisingly plentiful signs pointing us on our way. The drive up was beautiful, though a bit hazy, with workers tending extremely steep fields by hand and the air temperature dropping every minute. The summit of Volcan Irazú is typically above the cloud level, so we had some harrowing moments of near white out as we drove through a cloud on our way up.

fog on the road on Volcan Irazu in Costa Rica

As we climbed higher up the volcano, we drove straight into a cloud and visibilty was only a few feet.

We stopped at a small restaurant and tourist information place on the way to use the restrooms. Inside, we saw our first fireplace since coming to Costa Rica and the warmth from the crackling fire was actually really nice. After thanking the two ladies inside, we walked back out and Rose spotted two bright green hummingbirds flitting about on a nearby tree. She took several pictures of the beautiful birds and we then returned to the car to complete the journey to the top of the volcano.

green hummingbird in Costa Rica

A green hummingbird that Rose spotted when we stopped halfway up Volcan Irazu.

There is a ticket booth at the entrance to the national park and we arrived at it to find a line of 6 cars and a tour bus in front of us. The process of them getting tickets was painfully slow and we were starting to get frustrated with the inefficiency by the time we pulled up to the ticket window. The lady inside spoke excellent English and spent a few minutes showing us a map of the park and explaining where to go. She also warned us that upon leaving the park, we should not deviate from the main road until we had reached the large Jesus Christ statue, which was pretty low on the mountain. However, her exact words were the “white Jesus Christ”, and thankfully Rose had seen the statue on our way up and so knew what she was talking about. The lady warned us that if we took other roads, it was possible that we would be robbed, so not wanting to tempt fate, we planned on following her instructions when we left the park.

We drove a few hundred meters and parked near the small cafeteria and restrooms in the parking area. The walk to see the crater took about 30 minutes round trip, though mostly because we walked slowly as we looked around. The volcano has two main craters that we could see, and our path took us along the side of a large ash plain that was probably created when the volcano last erupted in the 1960s.  The second crater is by far the coolest, because it contains a green lake in the center. Unfortunately, it was difficult to find a very good view of the lake and we had to climb up on the first rail of the safety fence in order to get any pictures at all.

crater of Volcan Irazu in Costa Rica

The scars on the earth in and around the crater reveal the power that lies within Volcan Irazu.

green lake in crater of Volcan Irazu in Costa Rica

The eerily beautiful green lake in the main crater of Volcan Irazu.

Seeing so many volcanoes has been a neat experience and they really demonstrate how much power and energy is stored in the Earth. The desolate environments, billowing steam, and scarred earth is quite eye-opening. It also makes one wonder why people live so close to the volcano despite its history. That said, volcanic soil is supposedly very fertile so perhaps living with the danger of an eruption is just the way it goes in regions like this.

polar bear on Volcan Irazu

The ash plain adjacent to the craters on Volcan Irazu. Also, this is possibly the highest altitude ever achieved by a polar bear in Costa Rica!

After looping back around to the parking area, we went inside the cafeteria to see if we could get a quick snack to tide us over until we could find a true panadería. We expected the prices to be exorbitant, but were pleasantly surprised when we had two large empanadas (one with chicken and one with beef) for fewer than four dollars. We ate while sitting at a picnic table out front and then returned to our car.

We drove up the volcano a bit further to an overlook that we hoped would give better views of the crater (it really didn’t). The road is not maintained by the park (according to a posted sign), and the potholes are absolutely ridiculous. We drove slowly and made it to the top, where a large antenna tower is located. There is also an interesting structure at the top that we think was supposed to be a restaurant or something similar, but now just sits there. A sign indicated that it was restored by L.L. Bean. Although we couldn’t get any better pictures of the green lake, we were able to see across the tops of some of the clouds, which is a unique experience when your feet are on solid ground instead of in an airplane.

dirt road with potholes on Volcan Irazu

The treacherous road leading to a high vantage point above the crater on Volcan Irazu.

cloud tops seen from Volcan Irazu

It was a cool feeling looking across the tops of the clouds while standing on top of the volcano.

The return trip down the volcano was mostly uneventful, though it got scary when we had to again pass through a layer of cloud and visibility decreased to essentially nil. We passed the Jesus statue and Rose got us back to our earlier gas station. We decided that now was a good time to replace the windshield wiper and so we stopped at the auto parts store across the street.

statue of Jesus in Cartago, Costa Rica

The "white Jesus Christ" statue that served as our landmark when descending Volcan Irazu.

We quickly learned that none of the workers spoke English, so Philip did his best to explain what we needed in Spanish. Through pointing at wiper blades on the wall, we got the point across and the man came out to measure our windshield so as to get the proper blade.  We paid a shockingly low 1000 Colones (roughly two dollars) for our new wiper blade and went out to the car to install it. After watching us two engineers struggle to put on the wiper blade for a few minutes, the man came out from the store and put it in place in less than 30 seconds (to the untrained person, wiper blade installation is a tricky process!). We thanked him profusely for his help and drove down into the city of Cartago to find some food and check out two of the city’s churches.

Cartago is the former capital of Costa Rica, and is still the religious center of the country. San Jose only became the national capital recently (we think in 1974), after Cartago began to wane from a series of earthquakes and the eruption of Volcan Irazú. We had no map of the city, so we just drove towards what we thought was the center of town until we spotted a panadería that looked promising. We pulled into a parking lot, but realized that it was bank parking only. An attendant pointed us across the street to a public parking area, so we went there instead.

This was the first time we had to park in the Costa Rican equivalent of a pay-to-park garage, and it was a fun experience. The worker helped direct us as we backed into a narrow parking spot. We figured out that we would pay when we returned and took our parking card with hand-written time of arrival with us for our walk around town.

From the panadería, we got two small pizzas (ham and cheese of course), a chile cheese churro-looking thing, and a loaf of bread with sweet cream cheese inside and sugar crystals on top. We sat on the steps of a nearby church to eat our meal, but didn’t actually go inside since it was fairly simple and not on our list of places to see. Due to Rose’s amazing navigation abilities, we were actually only one block from the town’s center square, and we walked there after finishing our pizzas.

Our guidebook describes Cartago’s central square as “stark”, which is very accurate. At the very center, though, are the ruins of a church that was built in the 1500s. It was destroyed five times by earthquakes before they finally gave up on rebuilding it. We walked around the building and took many pictures of it. It was odd looking inside the walls, where rather than marble floors and pews, we found a nicely cared for flower garden instead.

ruined church at the center of Cartago, Costa Rica

The church ruins in the center of the stark central square in Cartago.

ruined church in Cartago

The back and sides of the church ruins are surrounded by nice grassy areas.

Once content with our time at the ruined church, we set off for the main cathedral of Cartago, which Rose had fortunately spotted in the distance. It took a while to walk the many blocks to Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, but we were not disappointed by its beauty when we arrived. Rather than the typical cross shape of most Roman-influenced churches, this one has a more Greek or Byzantine influence and has the cupola at the center of the building rather than over the altar. The inside is covered with lots of beautiful wood paneling and the effect is very nice.

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles

The Basilica di Nuestra Senora de los Angeles has the most beautiful facade of any of the churches we have seen in Costa Rica.

While inside the church, we saw several men painting some of the columns. We aren’t sure if this was the first time they had been painted or if this was restoration work (in Italy, it was safe to assume that any church work was restoration but the churches in Costa Rica tend to be much newer). We also witnessed a few people get down on their knees at the entrance to the church and crawl on them all the way to the altar. Two little girls were there with what we assume are their mother and grandmother, and we could tell that they really didn’t understand why they were doing it as they kept shuffling ahead and then turning around and coming back to their family with huge smiles on their faces.

wood paneling inside the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles in Cartago, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is renowned for its woodwork, as evidenced by the wood paneling gracing the interior of the basilica.

stained glass window inside the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles in Cartago, Costa Rica

A stained glass window inside the basilica. We particularly like how the art does not cover the entire window, thus allowing more light into the church and helping to set the art apart with a border of light.

When we left the church, we walked around the side and followed signs to the “Piedra de Helzgada” although we didn’t know what that actually meant. The path led us around the back of the building where we found a small museum area displaying many medallions and pins, as well as a cutaway section showing the concrete and rock from different years of cathedral construction. The highlight of the area, though, is a painting/full-scale diorama depicting the story of the church’s founding (statue of the Virgin repeatedly disappearing from locked areas and reappearing on a stone in the forest…the cathedral is built on that spot).

Next to the museum area is a natural spring that is supposed to have healing properties. Many people were there filling up jugs or bottles with the water, and a nearby vendor even sold bottles (though they were closed). We elected not to partake of the water since we couldn’t be sure of its purity and had no desire to get sick on the last day of our vacation.

spring beneath the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles in Cartago, Costa Rica

People filling up bottles of water at the natural spring beneath the basilica. The water is said to have healing properties.

We made the trip back to our car and paid the 950 Colones for our hour and a half or so of parking. Our next destination was the Orosi valley, an area outside of Cartago that is supposed to have stunning views and quaint little towns. Unfortunately, we really could have used a map of the city, and we quickly found ourselves driving on the wrong road heading into the hills.

We stopped at a bar a few kilometers down the road and Philip went inside to ask for directions. The bartended explained, though only in Spanish, that we needed to go back to the center of Cartago and go further east. “Always turn right”, he said, which turned out to be generally true but not in a way that was useful enough for navigating the ridiculously convoluted city. We came back into town and spent the next hour or so driving around trying to find the proper exit from Cartago to take us to our destination.

After becoming extremely frustrated and driving through smoke (burning the ditches next to the road), potholes, and some not-so-great-looking neighborhoods, we thought we had finally found the right road to take us east out of the city and to the Orosi valley. As we drove, it felt better and better…at least until we reached the rock quarry with enormous piping and equipment spanning the road. We drove past, but the road quickly turned to dirt and we knew that we were not where we need to be.

We turned around and asked the security guard at the quarry for directions to Paraiso, the first city in the valley. He explained in rapid Spanish that we had to go back to the center of town and go even further east. We thanked him, but by this point we were ready to give up and go back to our hotel. We navigated back through Cartago traffic and made it easily to the highway to take us back to San Jose. Apparently, we were not supposed to see the Orosi valley. Alternately, perhaps it does not actually exist and is merely a legend to delay and frustrate eager travelers. We may never know.

We returned to the hotel and cleaned out the car since we would have to return it soon. After dropping our stuff in our room and recovering for a few minutes, we went down to the front desk to ask for help with calling the rental car company to come pick up the vehicle (we would have to go to the airport before they opened the next day so, when we picked up the rental car, they offered to come get it for us instead). We also printed our boarding passes for the flight and had the lady schedule us a cab to help ease our time in the morning. After one last check of the car, we gave the keys to the lady at the desk and set off into town to find one last panadería, since we wouldn’t be able to get breakfast in the morning.

Our original thought was to go to a panadería just down the road from the hotel, but after looking at their offerings and remembering their indifference last time we were there, we decided to walk a bit further in search of another one. After a few blocks, we came to another panadería and had a fantastic time conversing with the storekeeper about the various options and selecting our breakfast for the next day (a ham and cheese loaf, of course, along with a loaf containing sweet cheese and pineapple) . We then stopped by a nearby market and picked up another carbonated pineapple beverage like we had in Tamarindo.

Feeling much more relaxed and prepared for our trip home, we returned to the hotel and found our rental car missing! It was ok, though, since the rental company had picked it up and as far as we know, everything is good. We will be sure to check our bill when we get home and make sure that no extra charges were added. We got changed and went out to the hot tub, but returned after only about 10 minutes because the temperature didn’t seem to go above 94 degrees.

We hung out for a while writing and reading, and at around 7pm, we had the front desk call us a cab to take us to our last dinner in Costa Rica. In honor of our first night in San Jose, we decided to return to Soda Tapia, which is a local diner down the street from the hotel. It was really cool going back there and feeling so much more comfortable with everything compared to our first night in Costa Rica. We knew how to order and were even able to do it in Spanish. Rather than the wide-eyed and overwhelmed pair we had been, we were now cool, calm, and collected and fit right in with the locals (well, kinda, our white skin and Rose’s red hair are a pretty big give away that we aren’t from San Jose).

Rose ordered the same thing she had before, but Philip decided to try a hamburger in the Costa Rican style (with black bean spread and a layer of ham). The food was delicious, but the best part was the French fries, which tasted like they had been deep fried not once, but two or even three times. We also shared a pineapple milkshake and after dinner, had two scoops of ice cream to complete our meal.

We paid and had the parking lot attendant hail us a cab for the trip back to the hotel. On the way back, our driver got a bit lost and got stuck playing the one-way street game while our fare racked up. Fortunately, he reduced it to just 1000 Colones (it should have only been 530 Colones), which is how much we were planning to give him anyway with the tip. Once we made it back to our room, we spent some time packing our belongings and went to bed.

Philip and Rose in front of the basilica

Here we are standing in front of the basilica after a long walk through Cartago.

Today was one of the more frustrating days, at least during the time driving around Cartago. While we are sad to leave Costa Rica, we are definitely ready for some of the comfort and familiarity of the United States such as street signs, English, and people we know. Our plane leaves early tomorrow and our wakeup call is set for 4:45am (bleh). We’ll probably post one more quick entry after the flight as a wrap up to our time spent in Costa Rica.

Helado count: 1

Mora: Blackberry
Fresa: Strawberry

April 19 Synopsis

  • Our first time driving through San Jose…twice!
  • A volcano and a green lake above the clouds
  • The wiper blade experience
  • The ruins of a church and yet another panadería
  • The wood-paneled cathedral
  • The drive from Hades…oh, how we dislike Cartago
  • Logistics at the hotel
  • A final walk for pan (that’s bread, not cooking dish)
  • Back to where it all began for our last dinner

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Costa Rica and read them in order! ***

We woke up early after our first truly good night of sleep in Tamarindo. Well, to be fair, Rose woke up early and Philip wrapped his arms around her while she read for a while, but nevertheless we were awake and out of bed before 7am. We quickly got dressed and went down for our awesome buffet breakfast, ignoring the pending nightmare of packing all of our scattered belongings until after we had some food in our stomachs.

Yet again, breakfast was fantastic, and we each had scrambled eggs along with rice, beans, fruit, and other tasty stuff. When the chef tried to plate our eggs, Philip asked the chef to cook them longer. The chef seemed a bit confused, but she obliged and we both enjoyed very tasty and less runny eggs than the day before. We each had some strawberry juice to drink, and Rose also tried the locally-named “Tamarindo juice”, which was the color of dirty dish water but actually tasted pretty good (perhaps and apple juice base with other fruits mixed in).

After breakfast, we took a quick walk towards the beach to say farewell to the Pacific Ocean and then returned to our room to pack up our belongings and assess our clothing situation for the rest of the trip. It turns out that we have enough clean (ish) clothes to wear, though no extras. It took a little while to pack up everything, but we eventually managed and after two trips to the car, we had everything loaded and ready to go. Before setting off for San Jose, we walked across the street to the front desk to check out, return our beach towels, and possibly verify our directions for our day of driving.

The checkout process went smoothly and we did not have to contest any charges on our bill, since we hadn’t accumulated any during our stay. This is significant because on multiple occasions we have seen people arguing over charges during the checkout process. While we were at the front desk this time, a lady was questioning the $8.00 or so charge she had been assessed for taking a $2.75 toothbrush out of the minibar. Many of the online reviews also complained of interesting charges from the hotel so we were relieved when checkout went so quickly for us.

Unfortunately, the lady at the front desk could not help us with directions and she pointed us to the hotel’s tour information desk for assistance. We were next in line, behind a man who was arguing with the information lady about a price he had been quoted by a different lady the day before for some tour package. We stood patiently for over five minutes, but with no end to the conversation in sight, we decided to wing it on our own and go with the directions we already had.

We realized then that we had forgotten to return the room key cards and so we quickly dropped those at the front desk. As we turned around, we saw the conversation at the tour desk between the information lady and the agitated guy wrap up, but a line had formed in the 30 seconds since we left. A bit frustrated and amused all at once, we walked to our car and said farewell to the Tamarindo Diria Beach and Golf Resort.

Our drive to San Jose took us back to Santa Cruz, though we continued on further south before heading east towards the capital. The first half of the drive was uneventful, except for passing a few iguanas and crossing a really cool bridge that spans the large river feeding into the Golfo de Nicoya. Since we both needed a break from driving, we pulled into a Pops along the highway, which is a decent chain of heladerías in Costa Rica. Philip ordered a medium cone with two scoops of nieve (Pops has two types of ice cream: helado, which is similar to American creamy ice cream; and nieve, which is a lot more like Italian gelato). Before leaving, Rose used the restroom, which was less than lovely but at least cleaner than the one at the church in Santa Cruz a few days earlier.

suspension bridge in Costa Rica

We came around a corner and found this cool bridge there in front of us.

Our real fun began on the second half of the journey. First, Philip almost ran over an iguana and it is possible that his accidentally hitting the gas instead of the brake is the reason the iguana is still alive (it scampered away miraculously). Second, we began to hit a lot of slow traffic as we drove up and down hills on the Pan American Highway.

Just outside Barranca, we had the option to stay with the Pan American Highway or to cut south a little ways and travel on the “new road”. We decided to take the newer route, though Philip missed the turn and so we quickly settled on sticking with the old one after all. However, after a few kilometers, we saw a huge line of traffic and 3-5 trucks slowly going uphill. With no desire to fight through that mess of vehicles, we turned around and found the turn to the city of Barranca and the new road.

We arrived in Barranca just after noon and quickly found ourselves engulfed in lunch hour traffic. Moreover, Barranca seems to be the bicycle capital of the country and we saw dozens of bikes riding around in many directions and greatly increasing the tension in the already tense driving environment. We finally made it through Barranca and found Highway 23 and soon after, Highway 27, which would take us towards San Jose.

trees over the road in Costa Rica

On this section of the drive, the trees arched over the road creating a beautiful, green tunnel.

Highway 27, the new road, is very different than any other road we have seen thus far in Costa Rica. For one thing, it is nicely paved and contains no potholes. For another, the road has more than one lane per direction! When we saw the width of the road, we almost didn’t know what to do and it took Philip a few minutes to remember what it is like being able to pass slower vehicles without risking death in the face of oncoming cars.

That said, our drive on the highway from Barranca to San Jose was not without its woes. First, the road was not always two lanes wide in our direction, but rather would expand to two lanes at various points to enable passing for a short time. A few drivers could not figure out that the passing zones were a precious commodity, and rather than speeding up to pass the even slower trucks, they just hung out in the passing lane making it impossible for anyone else to efficiently get where they were going. Second, the road was actually a toll road and we had to stop several times along the way to pay the tolls (usually about a dollar each).

Costa Rica

Just another of the lovely views as we drove across the country.

The driving experience was fun, though stressful, and we were quite happy to make it back to San Jose around 1:30pm. We navigated the city easily, with the exception of Philip accidentally cutting off a Turismo van, and receiving an angry look and gesture that said, “use your eyes”! Having been to our hotel before, we found it without trouble and parked the car in the nearly deserted parking area. After we checked in, the bellhop took us and our bags to our new room.

Unlike the last time we were at the hotel, our new room is on one of the courtyard gardens. It is smaller than our previous room and not quite as ornate, but still very lovely in a cottage-like way. We dropped our bags and spent a few minutes relaxing while Philip rubbed Rose’s neck to help relieve her headache (neither of us felt particularly good during the drive, and we were grateful to be on solid ground).

After a few minutes, we went back out into San Jose, though this time on foot, and walked to a restaurant we had visited the last time we were here. Although our waiter from the first time was not working, we were waited on by a young Costa Rican guy who was really nice. We ended up ordering the exact same meals as before, and shared our dishes with each other. While we ate, the little TV in the restaurant was showing some sort of travel channel that was highlighting snowboarding in Peru, which was fun to watch. With food in our stomachs, we both felt much better, and so we paid our bill and walked back out into the city.

Iglesia la Merced in San Jose

An interesting shot of Iglesia la Merced hiding behind a tree.

Our plan was to return to Plaza de la Cultura so we could finally see the inside of Teatro Nacional, which was closed when we visited a week earlier. We walked along Paseo Colon and then the pedestrian-only street of Avenida Central. It was somewhat comforting walking in areas that we had seen before and within about 20 minutes, we reached the plaza. Much to our dismay, the Teatro appeared to be closed yet again, despite supposedly being open on Mondays. We stepped inside the tourist information office to ask why it was closed, and a lady inside was as confused as we were that it was not open (a different lady than the unhelpful one we encountered a week ago, though that lady was also in the office). The best explanation was that it was closed because of Holy Week (Palm Sunday to Easter), and thus we were disappointed that we could not see the theater despite multiple attempts.

Philip and Rose in front of Teatro Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica

Here we are standing in front of Teatro Nacional, which was yet again inexplicably closed.

However, we did see a sign that made us laugh out loud right there in the square. A tall billboard in front of the tourist office had a large sign advertising Tamarindo Diria Beach and Golf Resort. We mentioned earlier seeing direction signs for the hotel in La Fortuna and it was the icing on the cake finding such a large advertisement for the hotel hundreds of kilometers away. This is quite possibly the best advertised, non-chain hotel in the entire world (at least within Costa Rica).

advertisement for Tamarindo Diria in Plaza de la Cultura in San Jose, Costa Rica

No matter where we are, we can't seem to get away from Tamarindo Diria Hotel.

We sat for a few minutes and looked at a tourist map that the lady in the tourist office had given us to figure out our next move and watch people feed the many pigeons in the plaza. The scene was reminiscent of Piazza San Marco in Venice, though people here were feeding the birds what looked to be rice. As far as we know, rice is not an acceptable treat for birds (hence the bubbles at our wedding), so we are hoping that it was merely bird feed in rice-sized pellets.

people feeding pigeons in Plaza de la Cultura in San Jose, Costa Rica

People were feeding the pigeons all around Plaza de la Cultura.

We eventually decided to walk a bit further east in order to investigate a third large church that we had missed during our earlier visit to San Jose. Rather than heading straight to the church, we walked along the remainder of Avenida Central (further than we had gone before) and then looped back around to Iglesia la Soledad. The inside was simple, though with intricate stained glass. However, the church was not well lit and had a bit of a gloomy feel. Sadly, a few of the stained glass windows were dark because another building had been built adjacent to the church and the effect is not the uplifting of emotions that the designers surely intended.

Iglesia de la Soledad in San Jose

The facade of Iglesia de la Soledad in San Jose.

Across from the church, there is a small park with an odd piece of modern art (San Jose has a ridiculous amount of odd “park art”). This one looks a bit like a roller coaster or a vortex, and is actually one of the simpler ones we have seen. We took a few pictures of it, before walking back towards our hotel.

taxis at the park in front of Iglesia la Soledad

Taxis waiting in front of the modern art sculpture near Iglesia la Soledad.

Our return route was along Avenida 4, which we had not walked on before. Like Avenida Central, Avenida 4 is a pedestrian-only area with many shops along the way and people selling fruit and other more random stuff along the street (we saw one guy several times while in San Jose who just sold scissors…not a variety of scissors, mind you, but just one type of small scissors from a bag he was holding…we never saw him make a sale but he apparently can survive ok). Throughout our time in San Jose, we’ve also run into dozens of people selling what appear to be raffle tickets or perhaps lottery tickets. We have not been able to figure out what it is they are selling, but the fact that they are so prolific seems to indicate that whatever it is sells really well.

For some reason, Avenida 4 was extremely crowded with people walking every which way. Also, as we walked past the Catedral Metropolitano, we saw a long line of people wrapping around the building and going in a door on the side of the church. We never figured out why so many people were waiting in line, but our assumption is that a bishop or cardinal was in town in honor of Holy Week and the people had come out to get a blessing or something along those lines.

people on Avenida 4 in San Jose

Walking down the very crowded Avenida 4.

Also while walking along Avenida 4, we stopped to cross many streets and we noticed some very unique crosswalk signals. Rather than the standard American white person, flashing orange hand, solid orange hand setup, or the multiple colored (green, yellow, red) people we saw in Italy, these crosswalk signals are far more imaginative. In essence, the lights depict a person walking slowly, and as the timer counts down, the legs begin moving faster and faster. Just before the no-walk signal arrives, the person looks he is sprinting. We stopped and watched a couple of them because it was so amusing, and while the signal is effective and gets the point across, we can’t help but think some engineer or programmer just had too much time on their hands and thought it would be cool.

We returned to our hotel after our journey into San Jose and Rose took a small nap before dinner. Philip woke her around 7pm and we got ready to go out for a nice-ish dinner in San Jose. After a bit of searching online, we had found a barbecue restaurant that was supposed to be very good and had great reviews. They also specialize in seafood, which is something Philip really wanted at least once while in Costa Rica. After verifying the restaurant’s location with a lady at the hotel’s front desk, we set off in the car for what should have been a 5 minute drive to the restaurant.

20 minutes later, we finally arrived at our destination, after driving a few kilometers out of our way because we couldn’t make a left turn onto our desired road and got stuck heading out of town on the highway to the airport. Fortunately, our spirits were high enough that we found the slight detour to be amusing, rather than frustrating.

The restaurant was open, but deserted of patrons. It was also far fancier than we expected and we felt underdressed in our jeans and t-shirts since the waiter was in a tuxedo (so much for “casual dress” that we saw online during our restaurant search). An elderly man, who we later learned was from Columbia, seated us at a table in the back corner of the restaurant. The walls behind us and on our sides were covered with wine racks holding wine bottles and the restaurant had a distinctly European feel (Spanish origins). That is, of course, except for the flat screen TV that was showing the news near the front of the restaurant.

We spent several minutes looking at the expansive menu and feeling quite overwhelmed. Eventually, we gave up and asked the waiter for his recommendation for chicken and fish, which he gladly provided. Once our order was placed, various little appetizers began to trickle out and arrive at our table. First, we had some very good bread and homemade tortillas with butter. Next came several bowls of various things: pickled vegetables (cauliflower and carrots); green chiles; a mixture of garlic, parsley, and olive oil; and a sweet chile sauce that we had no idea what to do with. A few minutes later, the waiter arrived with plates of a shredded cabbage and carrot salad (at least we think that’s what it was). He spooned the chile sauce on top for us and the taste was fantastic. We plan on trying to make it at home since it seems so simple and was very tasty and refreshing.

Finally, our main course arrived and we began to eat our delicious dinner. Rose had simple grilled chicken breast, but It was possibly the juiciest either of us has ever tasted. Philip had sea bass with avocado sauce, which was a creamy combination of fish and chunks of avocado. We each had sides of a baked potato and steamed vegetables, and we ate until we were full and then some.

Dinner was great and we’re pretty sure the waiter found us amusing. He was really nice, though, and definitely willing to help us learn some dinner-related words in Spanish. We paid our bill and left him a nice tip before returning to our car. During our entire meal, we only saw two other people come in for dinner. We are used to eating in nearly empty restaurants because we typically eat long before others are hungry. This time, though, we didn’t finish our meal until almost 9pm so we were shocked that the restaurant was so empty (must have been a fluke because they have been successful enough to be celebrating their 50 year anniversary).

The drive back to the hotel was quick, though we couldn’t park in our normal area because it was full of hotel restaurant guest’s cars. It took us a few circlings of the block to get to the gated parking area adjacent (one-way streets are really frustrating sometimes), and we made it back to our room just after 9pm.

We quickly changed into our bathing suits and went up to the hot tub to enjoy some relaxation before bed. We heard voices coming from the hot tub area as we walked, so we knew we wouldn’t be alone, but we looked forward to the chance to meet some new people. We joined a Californian couple and sat for almost an hour talking with them and relaxing in the lukewarm water (for some reason, the hot tub could not get the temperature above 94 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about ten degrees colder than we wanted). The couple was very nice and talkative (perhaps a few drinks helped with that), and we shared our experiences of Costa Rica with each other.

Just before 10pm, we decided to return to the room to warm up after our hot tub time (ironic, we know), and call it a night. Tomorrow, we spend our last day in Costa Rica and our excited to explore the area surrounding San Jose a bit more. We definitely feel the trip wrapping up, which is quite bittersweet. We’re excited to go back home, but still not ready for our vacation to be over. As the guy in the hot tub said, though, “that’s the cost you pay for paradise.” We couldn’t agree more!

Helado count: 1

Piña: Pineapple

April 18 Synopsis

  • Another amazing breakfast
  • Farewell Pacific Ocean
  • One lucky iguana
  • The restoring powers of helado
  • Two lanes in one direction are amazing…
  • …Incompetent drivers are not
  • Lunch and a walk
  • Of course the Teatro is still closed
  • The coolest crosswalks we’ve ever seen
  • Naptime for Rosa
  • Finally, our nice dinner
  • Hot tubbing with Californians

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Costa Rica and read them in order! ***

For our last day in Tamarindo, we had only two goals: to surf and to relax. We started our day around 7am so that we could go out and catch some waves before it got too hot or sunny. Having finally remembered that our hotel reservation included a free breakfast, we walked across the street to the hotel restaurant and stared in amazement at the wondrous buffet set out for us. In addition to several juices, cereals, breads, and a large collection of fruit, we were also able to choose from several covered dishes of French toast, rice and beans, and fried bananas. On top of all that, the restaurant also has a made-to-order egg station with two chefs cooking up eggs and omelets. All in all, we (well, Philip at least) were in breakfast heaven and the food was all quite tasty.

With a hearty breakfast inside of us, we returned to the hotel room to put on sunscreen and get ready for our first surfing session of the day. We then went back to Iguana Surf Shop to rent surfboards and rash guards. Cristian was not there, but a quiet and somewhat disinterested guy helped us out and after signing away our lives in damage waivers, we took our two boards across the street and onto the beach.

High tide was supposed to occur around 2pm, so we definitely attempted our first surfing session sans instructor at a less than optimal time (the waves are best around high tide). Nevertheless, we strapped on our boards and paddled out into the water looking for our first waves. We ended up surfing for about 45 minutes or so, though the waves just were not very good. Philip managed to get up on two or three of them, but Rose had some difficulty. We eventually gave up on the weak waves since we knew we could come back later in the day when the conditions were better to surf some more.

surfing in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Philip riding a wave like a pro!

We stored the surfboards at the surf shop throughout the day, which worked out really well. After dropping them off, we returned to our hotel to grab the laptop and Kindle, and then headed to the hotel pool area to find a nice seat in the shade to read, write, and watch the waves crash on the beach. At around 10am, Philip got up to go get some gelato and came back without his treat and nearly in tears. Rose finally worked out that the gelatería did not open until 11am, and managed to calm Philip down.

Our time at the pool was not without danger, despite us sitting in the shade and never venturing near the water. The tree above our chairs had huge bunches of mango-looking fruit (though a bit smaller) hanging from its branches. Every once in a while, one of these fruits would mysteriously plummet to the ground and bounce around. Fortunately, Philip was not sitting in his chair when one of the fruits landed in the approximate area where his crotch had been just a few minutes earlier. We eventually figured out that a squirrel was up in the tree and appeared to be shaking some of the fruit loose (we still aren’t sure if the squirrel had bad intentions or was just hungry). Later in the day, an older lady told us that she was hit in the head by one of the fruits the day before, so all in all we count ourselves lucky to have avoided injury.

fruit in a tree in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

The fruit that kept falling around us thanks to a pesky squirrel while we sat relaxing at the hotel.

While we sat, we also people-watched, which is something we enjoy doing. To our left, we spotted two college-aged girls, who we also saw at breakfast, sitting by the pool. One had on a large white hat to match her bikini and her friend appeared to be taking glamour photographs of her. In the grass in front of us, a family speaking Spanish had set up camp and was enjoying coconuts they had purchased from a wandering salesman. After they had drunk the milk, a hotel worker came over with a large machete and sliced the coconuts for them so they could eat the fruit itself. Closer to the ocean, people were getting massages and at one point a lady came over and handed us a flyer with the prices. We were shocked that a full hour only cost $40 and we actually considered getting massages but never actually got around to doing it. It was very relaxing sitting there watching people and enjoying the cool ocean breeze and the sounds of the surf.

ocean view from pool area at Tamarindo Diria Hotel

The view from our chairs as we relaxed by the pool at our hotel.

Around 11:30, we were beginning to get hungry and so Philip set off to find some lunch while Rose remained to protect our prime location in the shade. Rather than settle for something touristy, Philip set off searching for the perfect lunch and walked away from the Tamarindo Strip. Along the way, he spotted a sign proclaiming barbecue on Sundays, though after stopping to ask, he learned that it wasn’t until 6pm. He walked about a kilometer away from the beach, stopping at a few places to check the prices and food options. He finally settled on a small Soda that was tucked away behind an awning and easy to miss. He ordered traditional meals (one with steak and other with fish) and waited for the food to be prepared.

Since he had a few minutes, Philip wandered next door into a tiny market and purchased a pineapple pop (amazingly fantastic!) for he and Rose to share. The storekeeper was a young mom who had an adorable little boy in her arms. She wandered outside with him and the child proceeded to drop his toy car several times (Philip handed it back to her the first time). A cleaning lady, who was cleaning the stairs of a hotel on the other side of the Soda got really excited when she saw the baby and her eyes lit up as she came over. A man who was also cleaning the hotel became equally excited when he saw the baby and this seems to be a pretty common occurrence here in Costa Rica. It’s nice to see a culture that is so family-oriented and it is very different from what we have in much of America.

Once the food was ready, Philip paid and returned to his wife who was happily reading her book. We ate our meals, which were quite tasty, and then returned to the hotel so Philip could change for another session of surfing. Rose planned to stay out of the water this time so as to avoid sunburn and to take some pictures of Philip as he surfed. It was much closer to high tide by now, and the waves were definitely easier to ride. Philip managed to catch several waves and rode them all the way in to the beach, but only after Rose gave him some pointers on his stance.

After watching for a while, Rose decided that she wanted to have a try so Philip gave her his surfboard and took the camera to get some pictures of her. She only surfed for a few minutes, but managed to catch a wave and ride it all the way in, which made her very happy. Our surfing desires fulfilled for the moment, we returned the board to the surf shop once again and walked towards the gelatería for a post-surfing gelato treat. Philip’s tears returned as the gelatería was still closed, despite it being around 1:30pm. Fortunately, we remembered that Buon Appetito, the restaurant where we found our breakfast the day before also sold gelato.

The Italian lady was just as cheery as we remembered her, and we got a cone to share. We sat outside to enjoy it, but left before finishing because the group of European girls at the table next to us all pulled out cigarettes and started to smoke. We then returned to the hotel to grab the laptop, now fully charged, and went once more to the pool for more relaxation.

Our previous spot was both occupied and in the sun, so we positioned some new chairs in a shady area closer to the kiddie pool. We sat there for a few hours, again reading, writing, and watching the people around us. In particular, an English family with two adorable little girls was in the pool and the chairs next to us. We had a great time listening to the little girls talking to each other and their parents in fantastic English accents. It was also really cool to see the dad in the pool playing with both of them, rather than sitting on the side doing his own thing. They seemed to have a great time, and it was just a moment that made us smile as we observed.

pool area at Tamarindo Diria Hotel

The pool area at our hotel...those are monkeys (statues) spitting water into the pool from the roof of the restaurant.

Around 3:30pm, we were getting hungry again (surfing really seems to enlarge the appetite), so Philip set off once more for some food. This time, we settled for the Subway (shameful, we know) across the street, since it was close and we knew what to expect. He had an interesting time ordering in Spanish, particularly because he knew none of the names of the vegetables. It ultimately worked out, though, and he returned with a foot long sub for us to share.

We ate our food and then returned once again to our hotel room to drop off the laptop and other belongings before going for our last surf session of the day. After picking up the boards at the surf shop, we walked to the beach and set off looking for good, surfable waves. Rose surfed for a little while, but eventually was just too tired and went to sit on the beach and watch Philip ride some waves. Unfortunately for her, he wasn’t particularly successful at this endeavor and only managed to ride a few of them well before calling it quits. We both need to work on our pop-up technique a bit, but we are very pleased with our surfing experience and can’t wait to go out again in some other place around the world.

Rose holding surfboard at Playa Tamarindo in Costa Rica

Rose with her surfboard before setting off into the surf.

We carried the boards back to the surf shop and returned them for good this time. Then, more or less exhausted, we returned to our hotel to shower and freshen up. Feeling better, we walked down to our original gelatería, which was now finally open, and ordered their biggest concoction (three scoops of gelato in a waffle bowl with chocolate sprinkles and crushed nuts on top). Unfortunately, we did not stop them in time before putting nuts on the gelato, and could not communicate clearly enough to understand if it was just peanuts, which Rose can eat, or other nuts as well. The man behind the counter, who we think is the owner of the store (though he didn’t appear Italian), was extremely apologetic and gave Rose a free scoop of gelato. We ate at the tables in front of the shop and Rose was fortunately able to eat some of the gelato sundae after scraping off the nuts. While there, an American family came up and ordered gelato and had some confusion with the prices. Philip got up to try and help with translation since the language barrier seemed to be part of the problem, but before he made it to the counter, the issue was resolved and everyone was happy (it ended up that the Americans were confused on the exchange rate from Dollars to Colones).

polar bear on a gelato cone in Costa Rica

Roses and Philips favorite things: polar bears and gelato, respectively.

By this point, the sun had just barely disappeared over the horizon, so we walked over to the beach to see the colors fade over the Pacific Ocean. We walked along the beach for a little while, spotting two people twirling fire in the distance. However, by the time we reached them, their show was over and no fire was to be found. So we returned to the hotel pool area to use the internet for a while and post a blog entry, and then went to our hotel room for our last night at Tamarindo Diria.

sunset reflecting off beach in Costa Rica

The sunset reflecting off the sand at Playa Tamarindo.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our time at the beach and today was especially fun and relaxing. Philip, in particular, is not very good at relaxation and so much time spent just sitting near the ocean was good for both of us. Tomorrow, we leave Tamarindo and return to San Jose for the final few days of our lunamiele (honeymoon in Spanish – literally “moon honey”). We’re sad to say goodbye to the ocean, because we both love it so much, but we know we will see it many more times in our lives.

Gelato count: 2

Fresa (aka Fragola): Strawberry)

Piña (aka Ánanas): Pineapple

April 17 Synopsis

  • A fantastic breakfast buffet
  • Early morning surfing…well, kind of
  • Lounging by the pool and people watching
  • The lunch adventure
  • Surfing, Part II
  • More lounging and a lovely English family
  • We gave in and ate Subway
  • Surfing, the Final Chapter
  • We’re nuts about GELATO!
  • A final beach walk

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Costa Rica and read them in order! ***

We woke up way too early in the morning to the sound of hammering outside of our hotel room. To be honest, it sounded like a little kid had gotten a hold of a hammer and was just banging on a piece of wood over and over again. There is no way that the construction worker who was using it was making contact with a nail every time he swung the hammer because there just aren’t that many nails in the world (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but it really was ridiculous).

Having forgotten that our hotel includes a free breakfast, we set off around 8am to find a panadería or someplace with similar offerings to get something to eat before our 11am surfing lesson. After a bit of walking and disappointment that the “Panadería de Paris” appears to be out of business, we found “Buon Appetito”, an Italian place that the guy from Addy’s Cuban Subs recommended the night before. We decided to stop in and see if they had some small sandwiches or other inexpensive items for breakfast.

We were greeted by the owner, an Italian lady from Sicily who is quite bubbly and talkative. Rather than Spanish, we spoke mostly in Italian with a little bit of English as necessary, which made Philip quite happy. We ordered our breakfasts as well as some delicious fruit smoothies. The food was quite tasty, though a bit pricy and it gave us the energy we needed for our upcoming surf lesson.

Just outside the restaurant, we saw an iguana lying on the sidewalk. We find these creatures to be really interesting and took a few pictures while we had the chance. We have always thought of iguanas as luxury pets that live in terrariums, and it is very different seeing them everywhere like we see squirrels in the United States.

iguana on sidewalk in Costa Rica

We spotted this iguana just outside the restaurant after eating breakfast.

On the way back to our hotel, we ran into the newlywed couple we met while zip lining in La Fortuna. We chatted on the sidewalk for a few minutes, and then returned to our hotel to grab the laptop so we could sit by the pool and post some blog entries using the hotel internet. While Philip worked on those, Rose enjoyed some Kindle reading time and at around 10am, she went back to the room to begin the sunscreen application process and get ready for the surf lessons. Philip followed 15 minutes later, after finishing up a blog post.

Our surf lesson was with two young boys (teenagers) from Massachusetts and one instructor whose name we never actually heard. We put on our rash guards (long sleeve shirts) and carried the boards across the road and down the beach. The instructor then spent about 15 minutes explaining the basics of surfing and letting us practice the “popping up” maneuver a couple of times on the beach. We all got the pop up, though Rose had a bit of trouble doing it to the instructor’s satisfaction. After that, we each strapped on our ankle straps (to keep the boards from getting away) and set off into the waves.

The instructor helped each of us by picking out waves, giving an extra push to get us going with the wave, and calling out when to pop up. While Philip struggled for a few waves and wiped out several times, Rose caught her very first one and rode it all the way into the beach. Philip eventually figured out how to pop up and stay balanced on the board, and we enjoyed the remainder of our lesson with each of us catching several waves and riding them in. It was very exciting every time we were able to catch a wave and ride it in, especially if that ride was on two feet rather than clinging to the board on one’s knees or even lying down. It was also extremely exhausting and after only an hour and a half in the surf, we were both beat. Without a doubt, Rose was the surfing queen of the group and did better than any of the three guys who were there.

Rose’s surfing dominance didn’t come without a cost, though; her knees and thighs suffered some serious board burn from rubbing against the surf board. We also both got more sun than we should have, particularly on the back of the hands, despite nearly bathing in sunscreen before going out to surf.

At the end of our lesson, we carried the boards back to the surf shop and went back to the hotel room to shower and perhaps take a nap. However, after the shower, we decided to drive to a town about 30 kilometers away to do some shopping and exploring of less touristy areas. Thus began our memorable journey to the city of Santa Cruz.

There are two ways to get from Tamarindo to Santa Cruz, a more paved way and a less paved way. Due to some confusion at an intersection just outside of Tamarindo, we embarked upon the less paved route to Santa Cruz. We bumped along for a quite a while on a rough dirt road and eventually noticed a screeching noise coming from our vehicle (just to clarify, the noise began during the drive…it wasn’t that we were just oblivious as it screeched away for a while). We stopped to try and understand what the noise was and it disappeared. When we started driving again, the noise kept coming in and out depending upon the rotation of the steering wheel and God only knows what other parameters.

horse on road in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Just one of the many concerns while driving in Costa Rica.

The noise finally disappeared after we left the dirt road and drove on pavement for a while. Our best guess is that something in the steering or braking mechanisms had a rock or excess dirt stuck inside that was grinding against some piece of metal. All we know is that we are very grateful for the full insurance on the rental car and we sincerely hope that the car makes it all the way back to San Jose.

Santa Cruz is smaller than we expected, though definitely larger than Tamarindo. We stopped on the outskirts of town at an Ekono, which is the Costa Rican equivalent of a Ross Dress for Less or something similar. They sold clothing for men, women, and children, as well as camping gear and even ceiling fans. The humorous part is that the store was ungodly hot because there was no A/C or ceiling fans on the ceiling. Philip joked that they should stop celling ceiling fans and mount them on their own ceiling for the benefit of the patrons.

The purpose of our visit was to find replacement sunglasses for Philip and some board shorts for Rose to help protect her knees and thighs when we surfed the next day. The sunglasses we found easily, an almost identical pair as the ones he lost at an even cheaper price (600 Colones or about $1.30). We did not manage to find shorts for Rose, though, so we drove further into town and parked the car near another similar clothing store.

While we browsed the racks for the shorts, one of the workers came up and wanted to help us find what we needed. With much difficulty, since she spoke no English, Philip tried to explain why we wanted boy’s shorts for Rose (the lady kept trying to direct us over to the girl’s shorts section, which were far too short for Rose’s needs). Eventually, we got the point across (we think…or she just gave up trying to understand) and Rose tried on a few pairs of shorts until she found the right ones. While she did that, Philip talked a bit with the lady and explained that we are on our honeymoon. For some reason, every time we tell a Costa Rican that we are on our honeymoon they get really excited and happy. It is cool seeing people’s faces light up about it, even though they don’t know us at all.

We paid for the shorts with a credit card since we were more or less out of cash, and asked for directions to a panadería and a bank. We walked to the bank first, but were unable to get any cash because the ATMs at the Banco de Costa Rica do not like Rose’s ATM card (this happened also in La Fortuna). So we set off in the direction of the panadería hoping to find another bank along the way.

We never managed to find the panadería we were looking for, but we did find a different one that is actually the same brand as the one in La Fortuna. We were super excited when we walked inside and recognized many of the pastries that were available, but our excitement waned when we realized we had literally no cash. So with dejected faces, we left the panadería and began anew the search for a bank so that we could buy our lunch.

We then entered the adjacent main square of the town, and saw the ruined bell tower that seems to be Santa Cruz’s lone archeological or architectural landmark. We took a bunch of pictures of it and then Rose spotted a bank on the other side of the square. We passed by the town’s main Catholic Church (relatively new by our standards) and heard the sounds of singing as parishioners attended Saturday afternoon mass.

ruined bell tower in Santa Cruz, Costa Rica

The ruined bell tower one week before Easter in Santa Cruz.

When we arrived at the bank, we saw a line of about ten people waiting to use the ATM, which is something we have yet to see in Costa Rica. We got in line at the end, but fortunately it only took about five minutes until we could get our much needed Colones. Before returning to the panadería, we stopped by the church so Rose could use its outdoor restroom (far from the cleanest in the country). On the door to the men’s bathroom was a sign saying that a donation of 200 Colones was requested for use of the sanitary services. Since they weren’t that sanitary, we decided not to pay…just kidding, we actually could not find a donation box or any place to give our money and we did not want to step inside the church itself and potentially interrupt mass. We will donate our 200 Colones to the next Catholic cathedral we visit, which may not truly justify our actions but we figure it’s better than nothing.

Philip and Rose in line at the ATM in Santa Cruz

Standing in line while waiting to use the ATM in Santa Cruz.

We finally returned to the panadería and selected many treats for our lunch. The store was really just a covered area with an open front, and an elderly lady was sitting at a table near the street begging for money. We wanted to do something for her but didn’t feel comfortable giving money (one of our maps of Costa Rica has several helpful tips listed along the bottom…one of them says in reference to giving to beggars, “you think you are helping but you really are not.”). So Philip went up to her and asked if we could buy something for her to eat. She was really sweet and pointed to the cheapest thing in the case, which was essentially a dinner roll. We then asked if she wanted just one or would like two instead and she replied by holding up two fingers. We purchased our bread items and the cashier smiled at us knowingly (we think she witnessed the whole thing). The elderly lady was very grateful when we handed her the two rolls and we were very glad to do something for her. It’s hard seeing people all over the place begging for money and it was nice to be able to tangibly affect for the better this woman’s day.

pavilion in the central park in Santa Cruz, Costa Rica

The oddly shaped pavilion at the center of a park in Santa Cruz.

Our pastries in hand, we began the walk back to the car after taking a few pictures of a park across from the church. We reached the car without incident and headed out of town, being sure not to take the way that required us travelling the bumpy dirt road. Our next destination was Playa Conchal (shell beach), which lies a few kilometers north of Tamarindo. Along the way, we ate most of our pastries, though we did save two of the dessert ones to enjoy on the beach. We made it to Playa Conchal without too much trouble by following the signs along the road and parked along the street next to the beach.

Playa Conchal (Shell Beach) in Costa Rica

The waves leave interesting impressions on the sand at Playa Conchal.

Without a doubt, Playa Conchal is beautiful with stunning views and gorgeous sand. However, we cannot figure out why it has the name, Shell Beach. Our best guess is that the beach is full of lots of little snail-like creatures that get washed up by the surf and then crawl around the sand leaving little trails behind them before burying down in. However, these creatures are not unique to this beach so it seems doubtful they are responsible for the name. Other than that, we saw no real shells anywhere.

small snails at Playa Conchal in Costa Rica

We think these creatures are what gives Playa Conchal (Shell Beach) its name.

We enjoyed our pastries while walking up and down the beach as the sun descended towards the horizon. At one point, Philip realized that the sunset would probably not be very good since the orientation of the beach meant the sun would set behind a rocky outcrop at one end of the beach. So, with daylight waning, we hurried back to the car and set off a few kilometers north to another beach, Playa Flamingo.

one way road in Costa Rica

The picture does not do justice just how narrow or steep this road actually is.

As we drove, we saw a sign pointing left that said “Flamingo” so we decided to take it. Oh, what an interesting decision that turned out to be. The road quickly turned to dirt and began a steep climb up the hill that we later learned separates Playa Conchal and Playa Flamingo. Before too long, we passed a hotel on the left and the road then narrowed to one, tight lane. We went around tight curves with steep up and down inclines, always terrified of seeing an oncoming car. Fortunately, we never saw another vehicle and after a harrowing descent down the hill, we arrived on a wide road directly alongside Playa Flamingo.

polar bear and sunset at Playa Flamingo in Costa Rica

A beautiful sunset at Playa Flamingo.

After we parked along the road, Rose pried Philip’s fingers from the steering wheel, and we set off to walk along the beach and enjoy the sunset. As the sun descended, it appeared larger and larger on the horizon and we could clearly see different shades of red across its disk due to the atmosphere. We were surprised that the colors didn’t extend further into the sky, especially since the air was so hazy, but the sunset was beautiful nonetheless.

waves crashing at sunset in Costa Rica

Waves crashing in front of the setting sun. Different bands of colors are clearly visible on the disk of the sun.

As soon as the sun was gone, we returned to the car to head back to Tamarindo. Rather than taking the terrifying trip back over the hill, we drove the other way along the road and passed a beach wedding that was just moving from ceremony to reception. After driving slowly through pedestrians, we saw the bridal party taking pictures with no less than seven bridesmaids and groomsmen! We assume that the wedding was for locals since we can’t imagine that many people coming to a destination wedding (it also helped that everyone was fairly dark skinned with dark hair and looked like Costa Ricans).

At any rate (well, 40 kilometers per hour to be exact), the road left the beach and winded back around towards Tamarindo. At one point, we saw the turnoff we had taken to take us over the hill and realized that we could have avoided the drama had we just stayed on the road. The drive back to Tamarindo was a bit scary, but only because we passed several bicyclists who were not wearing reflective vests and had no lights on their bicycles (one even had two surfboards lying across his handlebars).

When we returned to town, we stopped at a supermarket on the outskirts to find some food for dinner. After walking every aisle (we both enjoy supermarkets in foreign countries), we ended up purchasing a small block of cheese, some chips, and some pineapple pastries (yes, not the healthiest meal, we know). Our purchases in hand, we drove the rest of the way into town and parked at the hotel.

We spent some time relaxing in our room and ate our lovely meal. Rose wasn’t a fan of the cheese (a semi-hard white cheese) because “she could hear it squeaking on her teeth”, but Philip didn’t mind the sensation. After eating, we got ready for bed and looked forward to some sleep to recover from our long day.

We really enjoyed the surf lessons and look forward to surfing more tomorrow. We only have one more day at the beach and we plan on making the most of it before heading back across the country to San Jose. Sadly, we did not get any gelato today, but we will be sure to make up for that with two before we leave Tamarindo and our first taste of Italy since, well, Italy.

Gelato count: 0

April 16 Synopsis

  • Hammering away in the morning
  • An Italian breakfast
  • Riding the waves like a pro…Rose was at least
  • Traveling inland to explore and shop
  • How do you explain that a girl wants to buy boy’s shorts?
  • Our old friend, the panadería
  • Two beaches, a terrifying drive, and a sunset

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Costa Rica and read them in order! ***

The morning began early, at 7am, since we wanted to get on the road to our next destination, Tamarindo. We were told that the drive would take about 5 hours and we had no desire to arrive into a new city at night, like we had already done twice. We spent some time getting ready for the day and packing up our scattered belongings. Rose took more pictures of our lovely casita, which we will miss very much, and we decided to walk over to the pool area to use the internet for a while before leaving on our journey across northern Costa Rica.

balcony of casita at Arenal Nayara Hotel in Costa Rica

Our lovely balcony with hammock and lounge chairs (both uncomfortable), and our private hot tub (AMAZING!).

While sitting next to the pool, we posted a blog entry (it’s ridiculous how long it can take to post one of these things, with uploading and adding the pictures over not so great internet connections). At one point, Rose pointed out some interesting things written on a nearby sign that explained the pool rules and information. First, the sign said that the pool was open from dusk to dawn, but yet here we were at 8am and the bartender was there ready to serve drinks for the day (we assume they actually meant dawn to dusk). Second, and far more humorous, the sign said that people should not use the pool under the influence of alcohol. Note the sentence above, where we referenced the bartender at the swim up pool bar. In fact, the entire swimming pool is designed with benches and the swimming pool equivalent of cocktail tables. How one is supposed to enjoy the pool bar and still follow the posted rules will forever be a mystery to us.

swimming pool with swim-up bar at Arenal Nayara Hotel in Costa Rica

Notice the "cocktail" style of this swimming pool at our hotel. Notice also the pool bar in the background. Now rectify this with the pool rules that say not to swim under the influence of alcohol!

Anyways, after spending about an hour posting a blog entry, we returned one last time tour casita to get our bags and take them to the car. On our way out of the hotel, we stopped at the front desk to check out and get directions to Tamarindo. Our time at Hotel Arenal Nayara was fantastic and we are very glad that we splurged a little bit because it was definitely worth it! Before setting off to Tamarindo, we went the wrong way back into La Fortuna to make a final stop at our panadería for some breakfast. We purchased a large assortment of bread-based items, which made Rose smile, and then returned on the road past our hotel and off to a new destination.

The initial part of the drive was very hilly with a lot of curves, and consequently was not Rose’s favorite part of the trip so far. At one point, we stopped along the side of the road for her to get some Dramamine (motion sickness medication) out of her bag in the trunk. While we were stopped, an American family pulled up behind us and asked how to get to the volcano. We explained that they were going the wrong direction and needed to go back the way they came and across the dam. They seemed confused that they had gone so far (25 kilometers or so) in the wrong direction, but were grateful and thanked us before pulling a U-turn and heading back towards La Fortuna.

It took a good two hours to get halfway around the lake where we intersected the road that would take us to Las Cañas (Lago de Arenal is the largest lake in Costa Rica and the electricity from its dam apparently supplies 35% of the country’s energy). We were amused that 1/3 or less of the distance took half the driving time, but such is the way it goes in Costa Rica. It was cool getting to see the volcano from the far side of the lake and at more distance than before. The far side of Lago de Arenal is also home to a few dozen wind turbines, which never fail to make us smile!

Lago de Arenal in Costa Rica

Looking back across Lago de Arenal towards La Fortuna. The volcano is just off the left side of the picture.

After Las Cañas, we drove 40 kilometers to Liberia, where we stopped for gas. The attendants at the gas station were great and gave us directions for how to get on the correct road to Filadelfia, our last city before reaching Tamarindo. With the exception of the tourist information lady on our first day in San Jose, every person we have come in contact with has been very helpful. In general, the people are all very nice and one of Philip’s favorite parts of the trip has been interacting with and trying to hold conversation with the locals.

windmills near Lago de Arenal in Costa Rica

Windmills spinning on the far side of Lago de Arenal.

We wrote earlier about the difficulties we had finding our hotel in La Fortuna. What we didn’t mention at the time was that we saw signs for the “Hotel Tamarindo Diria”. This concerned us a bit because that is the name for our hotel on the beach in Tamarindo, which is supposedly 5 hours by car away from La Fortuna. Our assumption was that it was the name of a chain of hotels that had started in Tamarindo or something along those lines. However, as we drove from La Fortuna west towards the Pacific Ocean, we kept seeing signs occasionally for the Hotel Tamarindo Diria. Naturally, these signs were never located at key intersections or places where there was confusion about which direction to go. In fact, one of the signs pointed straight ahead, despite the fact that just 25 meters ahead, the road reached a T-intersection. Nor did most of the signs give any distance measurement showing a traveler how far they had to go until they reached the hotel. Instead, these signs seemed randomly located on strait stretches of road between La Fortuna and Tamarindo. We don’t know if someone accidentally ordered too many signs, or if the hotel is just big on getting their name out, but at least we had confidence that we were heading in the right direction.

At one point during the drive, we came upon a very large iguana sunbathing on the road. From head to tail, he took up nearly a third of the width of our two lane road, which make him the biggest iguana we have ever seen. Fortunately, he moved off the road before getting run over, which is not something many of his brethren can say. Iguana is the most common roadkill we have seen thus far in Costa Rica.

The environment is very different near Tamarindo than what we were used to around Volcan Arenal. Rather than the lush foliage and an overwhelming sense of green, the fields became browner as we traveled west. The trees are much scrubbier and we even began to see cacti as we got closer to Tamarindo. It actually feels a lot like eastern Colorado, except much less flat. That is except for the fact that the Pacific Ocean is just over the next hill.

countryside in north west Costa Rica

The terrain became more desolate as we drove west from La Fortuna to Tamarindo.

 We began to see the ocean in glimpses as we came into Tamarindo. The city is a lot smaller than we realized and seems to be populated almost exclusively with restaurants and surf shops. It is the surfing capital of this area of Costa Rica, which is why we decided to stay there. We made it into town around 2pm and easily found our hotel. However, we had no idea where to park and so drove past it and had to turn around and try again. We saw a little driveway that seemed as good as any other option and so pulled into an area near the front desk.

We checked in and were given wrist bands that signified our status as guests of the hotel. The intent is to ensure only guests are using the pool areas and the restaurant, though we soon realized that they are not removable. This did not make Philip very happy because they make him feel like a giant neon sign screaming “TOURIST” is hanging from his wrist. We also learned that our room was actually in a different area of the hotel across the street from the front desk. We realized after checking in, that a large “Turismo” van had blocked a car into the narrow driveway. We waited for a few minutes and they eventually picked up their passengers and left, giving us room to leave. After parking the car in the appropriate parking area, we went up to our room for the first time. It isn’t as amazing as having a private casita in the rainforest, but the room is still nice and definitely sufficient for our needs here at the beach.

swimming pool at Tamarindo Diria Hotel

One of the two swimming pools at our hotel in Tamarindo. The statues spouting water into the pool seem to be personified monkeys.

Our first order of business, after applying lots and lots of sunscreen, was to head out into town and find some lunch. Along the way, we stopped at three different surf shops to get quotes on surf lessons for the following day. We settled for lunch at “Eat at Joe’s”, which was a bit touristy, but not any more so than most of the other options in town (Tamarindo is a very touristy place, which we usually try and avoid, but it was the best option for this segment of our trip). We shared an order of chicken nachos (healthy, we know), and then went for a walk on the beach to take pictures and collect some sea shells.

Playa Tamarindo in Costa Rica

The beach is so flat that there is an enormous difference in land area between low and high tides. In some places, it must be at least 50 yards wide!

After we were sufficiently warmed up from the sun, we returned to the second of the three surf shops and booked a lesson for 11am the following day. Cristian, the guy at the desk, was really nice and even let us book the lesson without a deposit since we hadn’t brought a credit card or much cash with us. After that, we swung by the hotel to grab some beach towels ($20 each if we lose them!) and then headed to the water for some body surfing and playtime in the waves. Sadly, Philip was silly enough to wear his sunglasses (2 Euros in Florence in 2009) in the water and one giant wave knocked them off his face and they were lost forever.

We had left our flip-flops and towels on the beach, along with the camera, which was a bit unnerving but we didn’t have too many other options. After a while, Philip ran out to move them further down the beach and closer to where we had ended up playing in the waves (or original spot turned out to be a bit rocky as a bruise on Philip’s knee testifies). Our new location put close to two other people who were also body surfing and we couldn’t help but overhear one of them talking in a thick, Texas accent. We eventually started talking to them, which began a two-hour session of us all talking and surfing the waves together.

The man is indeed from Texas, and is a retired sign-repair man. He was quite humorous and was a lot of fun to talk to (we’re not sure we would let young children hear some of his off-color jokes, though). The other man is his ex-son-in-law, which is not a relationship you see last too often. He is from Columbia and was also interesting to talk to.

All in all, we had a great time playing in the ocean and we stayed in the water to watch the beautiful sunset. Afterwards, we returned to our hotel room, where Rose finally realized how exhausted she was and so she lay down for a while to recover. Neither of us felt great due to the large quantities of salt water we ingested, so Philip went out to find some dinner for us while Rose stayed in the hotel and read.

Philip wanted to get off of the “Tamarindo Strip” (our name for the touristy waterfront area), so he asked the parking lot security guard for a recommendation of a good soda that was not touristy. He indicated there was one about four kilometers away, so Philip set off in the car looking for the restaurant. Though he was unable to find the soda, he eventually stopped at a place called “Addy’s”, which sold Cuban sub sandwiches among many other things.

The restaurant was empty except for a guy who looked like a surfer who was just leaving, and the worker who was clearly not Costa Rican. Philip ordered some food (traditional chicken, rice, and beans for Rose, and fish tacos for himself) and talked to the guy while he made our food. He is from Seattle and has been in Costa Rica for the last eight months with his Mexican girlfriend, who also works at the restaurant. It was nice having the chance to talk to someone in English and perhaps Philip brightened his day a bit. He seemed pretty worn down and homesick.

Philip returned with the food and we ate out on our patio since our room has no real table or place to sit other than the bed. The food was actually quite tasty and well worth the little drive to get it. After dinner, we went for a brief walk around town, and looked in a few of the souvenir shops though didn’t buy anything. More importantly, we stopped at the “Heladería Italiana” and got a cone of true, Italian GELATO!!!! Although the lady who worked there that night is not Italian, the owner must be because the gelato is legit. Much, much happier (Philip at least), we returned to our hotel room and called it a night.

Rose and Phil on Playa Tamarindo in Costa Rica

Here we are standing on the beach in Tamarindo after our long drive.

We had a lot of fun on our first day in Tamarindo and look forward to some more time at the beach. It’s definitely very different than where we have been so far, but we are excited for some true relaxation time and the chance to do some surfing. We’re also a bit sad that our trip is officially half over and we are in no way ready to go back home and return to work and everything else that is waiting for us. Such is the curse of vacations, we suppose, and we still have a few more days to enjoy before that dreaded day approaches.

GELATO count (yes, you read that correctly): 1

Piña (aka Ánanas): Pineapple

April 15 Synopsis

  • Farewell to our casita
  • Oh, how we love the bread
  • Nobody likes being motion sick
  • Windmills!
  • Gasolina in Liberia
  • 5 hours of driving without getting lost!
  • A new city, a new hotel
  • Choosing a surf shop
  • The Texan and the Columbian
  • Sunset in the water
  • A man from Seattle making Costa Rican food
  • GELATO!!!!!

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Costa Rica and read them in order! ***

After our day of adventures yesterday, we were able to take this morning quite leisurely. We got up without a hurry and spent a while getting ready for the day, finishing up the blog post from yesterday, and preparing our supplies for some spelunking. Before journeying to the caves, though, we went into La Fortuna to fill up the gas tank and find a more satisfying breakfast than a granola bar.

We found a gas station at the center of town and pulled up to the pump. Since gas stations in Costa Rica are full service, Philip took advantage of the situation and asked the attendant if he knew how to get to the Cavernas de Venado, which we have had difficulty in locating. Like the guy at the hotel, the gas station attendant knew the general direction of the caves, but couldn’t give much in the way of specific instructions. What he did know, however, was the answer to Philip’s question of where we could buy bread for breakfast. As it turns out, the gas station was only a block away from a panaderia, and we headed there as soon as our tank was full (and we had paid, of course).

smoke billowing from Volcan Arenal in Costa Rica

Another picture of Volcan Arenal. If you look closely, you can see smoke billowing from the top of the crater.

The panaderia had several display cases containing various bread-based delicacies. After some perusing, we left the shop with three different items (pastry stuffed with chicken, bread with cream cheese filling, and bread with cheese sprinkled on top) and a big smile on Rose’s face. We ate some of our food as we drove out of town following the gas station attendant’s directions. After 7 km, we spotted a left turn right where he had indicated, so we felt pretty good despite having no further idea of how to get to our destination.

tractor crossing a one-way bridge in Costa Rica

A tractor crossing a one-way bridge is just one of the many hazards we faced while driving in Costa Rica.

Eventually, we came to a fork in the road and so we stopped at a hotel for directions. Philip had a brief conversation with a lady who explained that the city of Venado was just a few kilometers past Jicarito, which had many signs showing the way. For the second time today, we received excellent directions and we began to see signs for Venado as we drove through the countryside. On that note, this area of Costa Rica is quite pastoral and is very beautiful. The hillsides are all a lush green with cows grazing and small houses scattered around. Even the pasture fences are beautiful; rather than the American-style metal posts, the Costa Ricans stick limbs or trunks from trees around the perimeter of their fields. They then run barbed wire along the trunks to make a fence. Over time, these trees seem to take root and it is common to see fields with blossoming trees serving as the fence posts.

cow on road in Costa Rica

We also had to watch out for stray cattle. This one stared us down for a few second before meandering slowly off the road.

When we reached the town of Venado, we drove through it in about 30 seconds (it’s a really small town) and saw that the pavement stopped at a dirt road. We drove down it for a few hundred meters but then decided to turn around and get directions at the local supermarket. As it turns out, we were going the right way all along and the caves are located about two kilometers from town along that road. There are absolutely no signs for the caves, which we found odd, but we found the entrance to the Cavernas de Venado about two kilometers down that dirt road.

When we arrived, we saw three cars parked along a hillside and a few people sitting at a table in front of a long building. A younger man was washing his hands at an outdoor sink so we asked him if this was the Cavernas de Venado. He spoke very little English, but we got across that we wanted to see the caves. It turns out that he would be our tour guide and so, after paying for our ticket, we changed into our old shoes, got our helmets and flashlights, and set off with him down a hill toward the cave entrance.

We had expected that the cave tour operation would be more like what we experienced in Italy with large tour groups, safety railings, English guides, etc. We were amazed to find out that we had a private guide for the two of us, though he spoke little English, and that the caves were truly ours to explore. We entered into the first cavern and our tour began.

Throughout the tour, our guide was very talkative and explained a lot about the various animals, rock formations, and even talked about other unrelated things (languages, roller disco, etc.). Philip did his best to translate to English for Rose and all in all, we all communicated very well. There were several times when we asked him to repeat something or explain it differently so Philip could understand and Rupert (we think that’s our guide’s name – could be Robert) was very willing to oblige.

The caves apparently have four different species of bats, though we only saw two of the four. The crickets are enormous, as are the scorpion spiders that eat them. Our guide spent a good ten minutes holding one of the spiders and showing us all of its different “features”. When he showed us some catfish (Pesgatos in Spanish), we had a lengthy conversation of how the Spanish word for fish changes depending on if its alive and swimming or if it is on your plate for dinner.

We wandered slowly through the different caves, sometimes having to crouch and one time having to scale a small rock face. There was one formation where a stalactite and stalagmite had joined that sounded like a musical instrument when he hit it with his knuckles. Another formation is called “La Papaya” because it looks like an apple…just kidding, it actually looks like a papaya! At one point, there was an optional side excursion that involved both military crawling and lots of water. Philip decided to check it out while Rose stayed behind where it was a bit drier. Philip and the guide returned in less than ten minutes, and we continued through a few more caverns.

Rather than exit the same way we entered, we chose the “salida secondaria” option, which involved an exhilarating climb up out of the cave and back into the sunlight. Our guide explained that a reality show would be filmed in the caves in a few weeks, but we couldn’t figure out how to ask for more details about what the show would involve. We walked back to the lodge after our more than two hours in the caves and thanked our guide profusely. Honestly, the Cavernas de Venado is one of the coolest places we have ever seen. We were able to not only see and smell, but also touch, climb, and crawl through the caves in a way that would be unheard of in the U.S. or even Italy.

We said farewell after changing into drier and cleaner clothes and headed back towards La Fortuna. As we drove, we talked about our spelunking adventure and came to the conclusion that they could charge significantly more for the experience if only they had a website, a credit card machine, and some road signs for directions and advertising. We are so grateful that we had such an amazing guide who was so willing to share his excitement for the caves with us, even with the language barrier.

Our trip back to the city was uneventful, except for eating our last loaf of bread from the panaderia. This one was an interesting combo of sweet bread with a sweet cream in the middle and a salty cheese (perhaps asiago) on top. However, for some reason, the taste that came to mind upon biting into the bread was pepperoni, which really doesn’t mesh too well with sweet cream. Rose wasn’t a fan, but Philip was intrigued enough that he ate the whole loaf while trying to figure out the flavor profile.

natural fences in Costa Rica

These fences on the hillside are made of trees with barbed wire strung between them. Almost all of the fences we saw in this area of the country are made in this manner.

We returned to our hotel and Rose settled in for her afternoon nap (only her second of the trip). At around 5pm, she woke up and we set off into town to find dinner. As has become habit, we drove around for a while in search of a good place for dinner, and were leaning towards a pizzeria. However, we couldn’t find on that we liked the feel of so we headed south of town to a soda (typical food joint, often serving fast or fried food) along the main road outside of town.

intersting flower in Costa Rica

These flowers were common at our hotel but we have no idea what they are.

The soda was empty except for the lady behind the counter and a taxi driver. We sat down at the bar and asked for a menu. After checking with someone in the kitchen, the lady informed us that they did not have menus. Through a brief conversation, we learned that they served mostly fried food (chicken, French fries, etc.) and so we somewhat awkwardly excused ourselves and set off for a different soda we had passed on the way to this one.

The other soda is located next to the one way bridge at the edge of town and it was also devoid of customers when we arrived. It does, however, utilize menus so we were feeling pretty good as we perused the options. They offer a wide variety of Costa Rican food as well as some other international options like chicken parmesan. We ordered our meals and sat down at one of the four really cool tree trunk tables while we waited for it to be cooked. The lady brought us juice to drink (mango and pineapple) and our food was out within a few minutes. Our meals, which were different versions of chicken and rice) were tasty, though not as good as our dinner the second night in San Jose. The feel of the restaurant was great, however, and it was clear that not many tourists ever ventured to it. We try and make it a point to stay away from the touristy restaurants and we doubt that most non-Costa Ricans make it across the bridge when they are searching for food.

After dinner, we stopped at a bank to get some more Colones from the ATM and then returned to our hotel. We spent a while going through our pictures from the last several days and then headed once again for our last time using our private Jacuzzi. We stayed there until Rose fell asleep accidentally, which signified that it was time for bed. It was a fantastic and relaxing day, though we are a bit sad that we have to leave this area tomorrow. That said, we are very excited to see more of Costa Rica as we venture west across the country eventually ending at the Pacific Ocean. Our time in La Fortuna has been amazing and we are really enjoying Costa Rica so far. The beach is calling and our true time of relaxation awaits.

One other thing: every day the cleaning staff comes in and refreshes our casita. As part of this process, Rosa, our cleaning lady, makes the bed and arrange some towels in animal shapes at the foot of the bed. When we arrived on the first night, we had two small puppy dogs. On the second day, we were greeted by two swans touching beaks with dogs next to them. Today, we laughed when we came into the casita and saw an armadillo lying on our bed. We may never stay in a hotel this nice again, but we would consider it if we know there will be towel animals involved! Pictures are below…

towel art at Arenal Nayara Hotel in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Puppy dogs madee out of towels on our bed for our first night at Arenal Nayara Hotel in La Fortuna.When we returned from zip lining on our second day in La Fortuna, we discovered some kissing swans and more puppies.

towel art on bed at Arenal Nayara Hotel in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

When we returned from zip lining on our second day in La Fortuna, we discovered some kissing swans and more puppies.

Towel art armadillo at Arenal Nayara Hotel in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

When Rose tried to climb into bed for her nap after visiting the Cavernas de Venado, she had to watch out for the armadillo that had settled into our bed!

Helado count: 0 (perhaps this isn’t the best thing to track)

April 14 Synopsis

  • Gasolina and a panaderia
  • Finally some good directions!
  • Bats, spiders, and some really cool caves
  • Philip’s Spanish is actually getting pretty good
  • Nap time for Rose
  • What restaurant doesn’t have a menu?
  • The other side of the bridge
  • We have Colones
  • Dogs, swans, and an armadillo

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Costa Rica and read them in order! ***

After a restful night of sleep in our casita, we got ready for the day and then went to the hotel lobby to use the internet so we could figure out our plans. Through talking to the concierge at the front desk about the various attractions and how long each would take, we decided to go first to the Arenal Hanging Bridges, which is a rainforest preserve with an almost two kilometer long hiking trail that traverses several suspension bridges over giant ravines and through the rainforest canopy. After we did that, our plan was to drive about an hour to the east of La Fortuna to see the Cavernas de Venado, which we understood to be a really cool set of caves that we could explore. We were a bit concerned that nobody could give us a better plan than just the general direction of the caves, but we figured we would just ask numerous people for directions and slowly work our way to our destination. After returning to the room to drop off the laptop and grab our stuff, we set off for our adventure filled day!

As soon as we left the hotel, we couldn’t help but see Volcan Arenal, the volcano that dominates the skyline in the area. The top was covered in clouds, but the ¾ that we could see was still an impressive sight. Before heading to the hanging bridges, we decided to drive into the town of La Fortuna (which is the opposite direction of our destination) to find a quick breakfast. The existence of a relatively random one-way section of the otherwise two-way main thoroughfare through town required us to make a small loop through town, which led us past several supermarkets but no panaderia (bread store). We decided to stop at the first of the supermarkets, but soon learned that the bread and other breakfast options were just a bit sad. So we drove 200 meters to the other supermarket and were met with a slightly better situation, though not by much. We ultimately decided on a pack of cookies and two small sandwiches that appeared to have ham, cream cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Our food in hand, we returned to our car and drove back past our hotel and towards the hanging bridges.

 Our path took us west around the north side of the volcano and towards the north-east side of the Lago de Arenal (Lake Arenal). We crossed the dam, stopping midway to take a few pictures (yes, people do stop and even park randomly on roads in Costa Rica…at least we made sure no traffic was behind us). Just beyond the other side of the dam, we saw a sign for the hanging bridges and enjoyed a drive up and down a bumpy dirt road until we reached a parking lot and a few buildings at the top of a hill. We bought our tickets, but before heading on our walk, we went out onto the restaurant patio to take pictures. Just like the advertisements state, the Arenal Hanging Bridges has some of the most breathtaking views of the volcano.

Volcan Arenal in Costa Rica

One of the hundred pictures we took of Volcan Arenal.

Finally, we set off on a walk through the forest and across the hanging bridges. Immediately upon setting out, we came to the first hanging bridge, which is almost a hundred meters long. The bridge is also mostly eye level with some of the upper branches of the trees that start in the valley below. We saw more than a half dozen Howler monkeys climbing around the branches (and sleeping), which was a really cool sight. One monkey in particular was quite photogenic and seemed to almost be ready to pounce from his branch and onto our heads. We’re not sure if the monkeys are fed by the park staff to keep them congregated in that region along the trail, but they seemed to be fairly tame and did not have much fear of humans.

monkey in Costa Rica

This monkey was definitely not camera shy.

We entered the bridge behind a large tour group, so we got stuck in the middle of the bridge for a while as they talked and looked at the monkeys. Once we cleared the bridge, we passed them so we could set our own pace and then set off on the trail with our eyes mostly looking upwards in search of more monkeys and other wildlife.

hanging bridge in Costa Rica

The hanging bridges are safe, though they can be a bit wobbly if several people are on one at the same time.

At one point, we came up behind a Canadian family with two adorable kids as they were looking at something on a distant tree. They explained that a small yellow snake was on it, though we had to take their word for it since all we could see was a small yellow line (naturally, we left the binoculars in the hotel room just like in Italy). We let them get ahead of us but caught up again when they were trying to take a family photo on one of the hanging bridges. Rose offered to take it for them so they could all be in it, and they were very grateful.

We eventually caught up to another tour group, but we were able to eventually pass them. We weren’t a huge fan of the tour groups since they tended to talk loudly (both people and guides), which was discouraged at the beginning of the hike so as not to scare off the wildlife. We made our move to pass the tour group at the one waterfall along the trail. This waterfall was different than the ones we saw at La Paz Waterfall Gardens because it does not fall straight down. Rather, it twists and curves down the rock face, looking somewhat serpentine. We took a few pictures, and a friend from yesterday even made an appearance!

A waterfall curving down a rock face

A waterfall curving its way down a rock face.

polar bear in front of a waterfall in Costa Rica

This polar bear really seems to like waterfalls!

As we crossed one suspension bridge a bit before the halfway point of the hike, we looked to our left and saw another bridge significantly higher than ours. We were really excited to go across that one, though the hike to get there was definitely tiring. The bridges feel safe, though they are definitely a bit shaky when several people are on them. In particular, some people seem to walk with their wait shifting from side to side, which starts a nice swaying motion. Others find it fun to sway the bridge on purpose, though we can’t say that we are fans of this behavior.

hanging bridge in Costa Rica

While crossing one bridge, we looked up and saw another one high above our heads.

The second half of the hike was peaceful once we passed our third tour group. We were able to just walk along and listen to the sounds of nature. It is a bit unnerving hearing so many animals and insects but being able to see so few of them. Along the way we saw several lizards, most with beautiful tails that are bright blue at the tip and follow the spectrum to orange further up the body. We also saw a different species of lizard that had just caught a cricket and we watched it devour the insect in less than 30 seconds. It was really cool to see “nature in action”. We also saw birds, butterflies, and a few more monkeys, though not as many as we would have liked.

lizard in Costa Rica

We spotted several lizards while walking through the forest, though this was the only one that sat still long enough for us to get a good picture.

We caught up to the Canadian family once again near the very end of the trail, and the little boy excitedly told us about everything he had seen. The mom laughed and explained that they hadn’t seen too much wildlife, which she attributes at least partly to the boy talking loudly in excitement through much of the walk. They were a cool family and really nice, and another random little encounter on our travels that makes us smile.

After finishing our walk, we sat down for a few minutes on the restaurant patio and took numerous more pictures of the volcano (we shudder to think how many pictures of this volcano we will have by the time we leave La Fortuna). Then it was time for another bouncy drive down the dirt road and back across the dam. The hanging bridges had taken longer than we anticipated, so we decided a change of plans was in order. On the way to the hanging bridges, Rose saw a sign for the zip line tour company that we were planning to visit. Since it was only a few kilometers away and they required a reservation, we thought it would be best to drive over there and get a time slot reserved. The best case would be to do the zip lines in the afternoon and save the caverns for the next day. If not, we would do the zip lines early the next day and then drive to the caverns later that afternoon.

Along the way to the zip lines (on a dirt road, of course), we passed the Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal, so we stopped by the entrance gate to see if it was worth coming back for hiking. After a brief conversation with the gate guard, we learned that we could not hike very high up on the volcano and that it had been seven months since the volcano had experienced any worthwhile activity. As a result, we decided that this particular park was not for us and we would continue to enjoy the volcano, but only from a distance.

We found the zip lines with relative ease, though the final two roads to get there were each uniquely challenging. One of them was dirt with almost more potholes and rocks than actual dirt. The other was paved with bricks, but had hills with inclines and declines that had to be around 40 degrees. Fortunately, we did not have too much traffic to deal with to further complicate the driving, and we finally arrived at the top where we parked the car and went to talk to the ticket lady. After some conversation, we learned that we could take a zip line tour the very same day, though not until 3pm which was just under two hours away. After a brief discussion, we decided to buy tickets for the tour, but then had to figure out what to do with ourselves. Option one was to grab a leisurely lunch at the zip line restaurant and wait out our two hours there with gorgeous views and relaxation. Option two, which we naturally chose, was two try and drive all the way back towards La Fortuna to find some more authentic (and cheaper) local food and then drive all the way back to the zip lines in time for our tour. So, tickets in hand, we set off back across the hills and dirt roads in search of some lunch and more adventure.

As many may well know, Philip is not the best with directions and general knowledge of his whereabouts, and we had yet another reminder of that on the way back to town. He believed that we could essentially complete a circle around the volcano and return to La Fortuna by heading east across the south side of the volcano. Rose was adamant that this was not the case and that we were in fact heading north along the west side and then would be turning to the east. Philip refused to believe she was right…at least until he finally conceded that the volcano was on the wrong side of the car for his theory to be valid. After blaming nature for moving the volcano, he finally accepted that Rose was once again right and she gave him a kiss to soothe his troubles.

After a forty minute drive, we found a small café just north of town and went inside. Rose wasn’t hungry but Philip ordered some taquitos and French fries. We also shared a Fresca beverage in the name of science (comparing international vs. United States versions…it was nearly identical). After 15 minutes or so, we paid for our food and took it with us in the car for our trip back to the zip lines. While we drove, Rose picked the tomato out of Philip’s guacamole (she’s so sweet!) and we snacked on the French fries. We made the return journey in about 30 minutes and Philip was able to eat his taquitos in the car when they arrived (three of them anyway, Rose decided she was in fact a bit hungry).

gondolas for zip lining in Costa Rica

Looking down on the gondolas as they approach the top platform.

We sat inside for a while waiting for our tour to begin. At around 3pm, a young man called all of the zip liners together and we were suited up with harnesses, helmets, gloves, and pulleys. Then we set off for the gondola to ride up to the top of the zip lines. We shared a gondola with a young newlywed couple from Seattle and an older man and woman who we think were a bus driver and tour guide, respectively. The trip was peaceful and we stood for most of it looking for birds and other wildlife. As we got higher, the views of the lake behind us were stunning. The tour guide lady, as we later learned, was leading an over-50 Costa Rica expedition for British people. She was really nice but also easily excitable and shouted out many times as she saw various birds along the way.

Lago de Arenal in Costa Rica

Here we are standing at the top of the gondola before ziplining. The Lago de Arenal is behind us.

We had a few minutes to wait when we reached the top as another group and the rest of the staff came up in the gondolas. The views from the platform were spectacular with the volcano on one side and the lake on another. As a staff member explained, the air was so clear that we could see several volcanoes in the distance, including one that sits near the border with Nicaragua. We could also see a line of windmills across the lake about 50 kilometers away. We thought this was really cool, especially since it is usually too humid in Costa Rica to see that far. It reminded us of our time on the west coast of Sicily when a guidebook told us that we could see Africa (we could barely see the half a mile to our own coast line because of the humidity, let alone all the way to the African coast).

lago de arenal in Costa Rica

A beautiful view of the Lago de Arenal on a very clear day. We could almost see all the way to Nicaragua!

Once the second group arrived, one of the staff members gathered the zip liners to give instructions (there were other people as well who rode the gondola up for the views and would ride back down on it as well). He explained the general process for traversing the zip line and then spent several minutes explaining the proper body arrangement for traveling. In his words, we needed to be in the “sexy position”, which essentially means leaning back with your legs crossed in the air and your hindquarters presented to the world. He went on to describe a second position to assume at the end of each line, which was similar to the first but with the legs spread wide open. This one was called the “even sexier position” and the intent was to prevent us from swinging up into the zip line when they stopped us at the end. It was a very humorous time and no one in the group could keep from laughing as he explained and demonstrated each pose. He also explained what to do if we didn’t make it all the way to the platform, which turned out to be very important information.

After the instruction time, there are two small zip lines that serve as a test to make sure people are comfortable before committing to the rest. From the end of the second, it is possible to take the “chicken walk” back up to the gondola, but everybody decided to continue on. Once we started on zip line number three, the only way out of the forest was to ride the rest of the lines back to the lodge. We all completed the two test zip lines and they began sending people off down number three.

Philip zip lining in Costa Rica

Philip smiles for the camera before plummeting across the rainforest canopy...actually, this was just a short "test" zip line.

While we were waiting for our turn, we watched the other riders take the plunge off the platform, many of them screaming as they went. Unfortunately, one girl made it to within a few feet of the final platform but failed to follow the directions for coming up short. Rather than wait for the pulley to stop moving forward and then grab the cable, she just hung from her pulley and drifted backwards out to the middle of the line. One of the staff members had to go out from the end platform and pull her in hand over hand. While this happened, the rest of us that had yet to go received a “refresher course” on the proper positioning and what to do if we didn’t make it all the way.

Finally, it was our turn to go and Rose stepped up to the line. She was very nervous, not because of the height, but of coming up short and needing to be rescued like the earlier girl. Her worries were for naught, though, as she enjoyed an incredible ride across the rainforest and made it with plenty of speed to the other side. After Rose, the newlywed from Seattle went and Philip and her husband could hear her screaming over halfway down the line. Rose, who by this point was starting off on zip line number four, also heard her screaming but she had thought it was the noise of her own pulley. Philip was the last to go and he hung the camera from his wrist as he went in an attempt to take video. The video is sickening to watch as it spins around and around, but Philip had an amazing ride.

The braking at the end is an elegant system of a rope tied around the cable with the other end wound through a series of pulleys to serve as a damper. A staff member holds that end as well to slow down the rider. The first time we rode, though, we had no idea how we would stop at the end and all Philip saw was a giant knot rushing towards him with thoughts going through his head of how he hoped it wasn’t stationary.

We zigzagged back and forth from platform to platform, enjoying the beautiful views and incredible rides. Philip managed to take a slightly better video on a different zip line, or at least half of it. During his ride, he managed to spin not one, but two 360 degree turns, though he still made it to the end with enough speed. According to some people on the platform, the look on his face was a priceless image of sheer panic.

When we finally reached the final platform, we were quite sad that the fun was over but it was definitely worth the cost. Zip lining is not a replacement for the canopy tour we did earlier in the day, because it is difficult to see much wildlife when traveling 30+ miles an hour through the air, but it is an amazing experience. The sky in the late afternoon was crystal clear and the views were therefore incredible. After returning our gear and letting the adrenaline subside, we returned to our car and drove back towards La Fortuna.

Philip and Rose after zip lining in Costa Rica

Here we are after surviving our zip line adventure. We highly recommend the experience!

It was around 6pm by the time we reached La Fortuna and we were both hungry. After driving around for a while trying to find a restaurant that actually had guests in it, we finally gave up on that plan and went to an Italian place we had passed on the way. By talking to the waiter in our otherwise empty restaurant, we learned that our method of choosing a place based on its patronage really only works if you don’t eat early like we do. Apparently, most people don’t eat dinner until at least 7pm, which just boggles our mind since that’s less than three hours from bed time!

We ordered our pasta dishes (penne with rosa sauce for Rose and fettuccine alfredo with chicken and broccoli for Philip) and enjoyed some garlic bread while the pasta was made. While we sat there, a man came in and sat down at a table by himself. We thought about inviting him to join us so he wouldn’t have to eat alone, but we never gathered the courage to do so before our meals arrived. Our pasta was very tasty and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal after an adventurous day. While waiting for our check, the waiter asked us if we wanted to see something cool, to which of course we replied yes. We walked over to the side of the restaurant and he pointed to an enormous beetle that was clinging to the base of a plant. It must have been at least three inches long and an inch and a half wide! He poked it for a little while as we watched and it was probably the biggest bug either us has ever seen. After that, we paid our bill and returned to our hotel.

We spent a little bit of time looking at our pictures from San Jose and posting a blog entry. However, the internet in the lobby was acting up so we eventually gave up in frustration and returned to our room to enjoy our private Jacuzzi yet again. We laid in the hot water on our balcony with the trees just inches away and enjoyed the many sounds of the rainforest at night. We’re pretty sure that some animals keep landing on our casita roof, actually, because we frequently hear what sounds like little feet landing and then walking across it. We have yet to see anything to verify this, but the noises sound a bit too heavy to be sticks or leaves.

Our day of exploring the rainforest was incredible and we finally feel like we are in the Costa Rica we expected. The day was a bit touristy, but it was so much fun that it was worth it. We highly recommend both the hanging bridges and zip lining to anyone who comes to Costa Rica and we will probably do both again if we ever return. Tomorrow, we will go see the caverns that we skipped today, which should be a really cool way to end our time in this area of the country. We did not consume any helado today, though our supply of Laffy Taffy is dwindling quickly and the jelly beans we brought with us are long gone.

Helado count: 0

April 13 Synopsis

  • The supermarket scramble
  • Spectacular views of Volcan Arenal
  • Hanging bridges and Canadians
  • Monkeys!
  • Bumpy dirt roads
  • 60 km for lunch
  • The directionally-impaired husband
  • These aren’t your tree house zip lines, wheeeeee!
  • An Italian dinner in Costa Rica
  • Private Jacuzzis are really nice

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Costa Rica and read them in order! ***

Our second full day in Costa Rica began early at 7:30 am since we knew we had a full day of travel and attractions ahead of us. Last night, we hopped on Google to get directions for the many places we intended to go. We spent a good bit of time putting together the directions. Unfortunately, within 10 minutes of driving they were absolutely useless! 

Philip and Rose in front of a waterfall

Standing in front of a watefall later in the day.

We made it out of San Jose without too much trouble, though Philip quickly experienced trial by fire as we had to head further into the city before leaving it due to the nature of one way streets (and streets that are one way ONLY at the time of day when we need them to run the opposite direction). Our problems began in the first town outside of San Jose, Heredia. Our Google directions just didn’t seem to mesh with reality and we exited the highway thinking it would put us onto a different highway…it didn’t. We drove around for a while, sometimes seeing the same landmark more than once, before finding a hotel where we could ask directions. A really nice parking lot attendant directed us to the hotel lobby where we could ask the bellhop, who spoke English, how to get to our destination, Parque Nacional Volcan Poas. After many minutes of attempted communication, we departed with a nice (and incredibly useful) annotated map of how to get on the proper highway to our destination. We only made on wrong turn out of the necessary four, and before too long, we were back on our way.

ox and cart in Costa Rica

Just one of the many sights along the road as we drove through Costa Rica.

We were now heading in the correct general direction, but we still had no real idea of how to get to our destination. Every once in a while we would see a sign pointing to the volcano, but they were not as often or as clear with their directions as we would have liked. Just to clarify, as we drove through towns on the way to the volcano, it was not as if we entered and exited each town on the same road. Rather, we needed to zigzag through each one, hoping to find signs telling us where to go. More often than not, we just tried to stay on the busiest roads hoping they would take us to another sign. In addition, the road conditions were less than stellar and potholes and broken pavement seem to be the norm in Costa Rica. After an agonizing drive, we finally arrived at the volcano and purchased our tickets to enter. We arrived a bit after 10 am, which was about an hour and a half longer than Google’s “39 minutes” anticipated driving time! 

We parked the car and set off up a short trail to the crater of Volcan Poas. The view when we arrived seemed to be from another world. Steam billowed out of an eerily desolate crater and mixed with the fog that tends to move in after 10am (we had planned on arriving much earlier). There was a viewing platform that allowed for better views and we took several pictures of the crater before heading on another path to see a nearby lake.

crater of Volcan Poas in Costa Rica

Steam billowing from the desolate crater of Volcan Poas

This path was significantly more arduous than the first, though thankfully it was not too long. When we arrived at the lake we were quite disappointed…it was so foggy that we had no idea where the lake even was! Fortunately, we did not turn around and leave immediately, because after a minute or two, the fog slowly began to clear as a breeze picked up and the image of a pristine lake materialized in front of us. It was one of those moments that just kept getting better and better as more and more of the fog cleared and revealed the lake. We took pictures for a while and then set out to complete the looping trail back to the parking lot. We had hoped for a nice gradual descent back from the lake, since the walk to the lake had been a mix of very steep climbs followed by some flatter sections. However, our return journey began with climbing higher before a steep descent back to the parking lot (that’s just how it goes when the paths have to follow the terrain, we guess).

fog covering a lake on Volcan Poas

When we arrived at the lake, it was so foggy we couldnt even see it!

lake on Volcan Poas

Once the fog cleared, the view of the lake was breathtaking.

The hike was tiring but yet still refreshing and we were ready to go see our next destination when we returned to the car. On our way to the volcano, we saw the turnoff that would take us to La Paz Waterfall Gardens so we felt more comfortable about this leg of the journey than the last. Nevertheless, what Google had assumed would take 10 minutes, actually took more like an hour due to slow vehicles, dirt roads, and what feels like a time multiplication factor required for driving in Costa Rica. In particular, the last few kilometers of the trip were on a broken pavement/dirt road with many potholes that would bend an axle or break the suspension.

path through woods

On our way from the crater to the nearby lake on Volcan Poas.

We made it to the Waterfall Gardens without incident and purchased our tickets after parking the car. Despite the name, this place contained far more than just waterfalls; it also had a small zoo, a restaurant, bar, and even a hotel. We were pretty hungry, so before setting off through the park, we decided to wander over to the pool bar to see if we could find some food that would be quicker than the full restaurant buffet the lady at the front desk had suggested (we were concerned about time since the drive to the volcano had taken longer than anticipated and we still had a lot more driving to go).

The bar was deserted of customers and we ordered a chicken quesadilla with salad to share. While we waited, we wandered around the lavish pool and waterfall (fake ones, the real ones are later) areas. We also talked with the bar manager who spoke very good English. Apparently, Americans make up 90% or more of the Waterfall Garden’s visitors and it was easy to see that the place catered to them. If someone really wanted, they could stay there for the entire trip and still feel like they had seen much of what Costa Rica offers. We, however, expect a bit more realism and adventure when we travel. We also asked him about directions to our next destination (thinking ahead, of course), and he gave us an alternate and shorter route than what we were planning. We ended up not taking his route because we wanted to see some of the cities along the way of the other one, but he assured us that even the longer route was achievable in the time we had remaining in the day.

Our food was actually quite tasty and it gave us the energy to go explore the various animal habitats. We wandered through an aviary with toucans, parrots, and many other types of birds. Next came a butterfly area followed by a few monkey habitats and then an open-air hummingbird garden. Further along, we saw some jungle cats, including a jaguar, which Philip thought was really neat. Finally, we walked through an indoor area with many snakes on display and then two rooms with frogs. The frogs were an interesting experience because at first glance, the room appeared to be empty. Only upon closer inspection did we realize that the lump on the bottom of some of the leaves were actually frogs hanging there with their legs tucked underneath their bodies. In the second frog area, we finally spotted some very tiny frogs that were bright green and bright red. It’s amazing how much easier it is to find something when you know what it is you are looking for!

tropical bird in Costa Rica

Inside the aviary at La Paz Waterfall Gardens. The bird turned its head and looked at us when Philip whistled.

green frog on a leaf in Costa Rica

The frogs were easy to find...once we knew what we were looking for. Otherwise, they just look like green lumps on a green leaf.

Having seen all the animals, we were quite excited for the waterfalls that give the La Paz Waterfall Gardens its name. We were not disappointed by what we saw and the water falls were well worth the entrance fee. We were able to walk along bridges and walkways that gave amazing views of three of the five waterfalls (the other two had a viewing area but it was closed). The two largest we saw were 26 meters and 37 meters, respectively, which is an impressive sight from up close. We even brought along a friend who got his picture taken in front of one of the waterfalls 🙂

polar bear in front of a waterfall in Costa Rica

Our Arctic friend on vacation in the tropics!The first of the five waterfalls at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

At the end of the walkways, we waited a few minutes for the shuttle to arrive to take us back up the hill to the parking area and main lodge. We were very grateful for the shuttle because the nature of waterfalls is such that much elevation loss usually accompanies them. After our long yesterday and a good bit of walking today, we had no desire to traipse back up the hill to the car. After verifying directions with the front desk, we returned to our car and bounced back along the dirt road towards our next destination, Grecia.

We had a shockingly easy time (initially, that is) of making it back to the main road, stopping for gasoline, and heading off in the right direction. We were even able to find some signs pointing us towards Grecia, which is always a reassuring event. However, the signs quickly stopped, even when there were forks in the road or, as once occurred, a T in the road. Fortunately, when we reached the T, we were able to ask a man standing there for some directions and he pointed us on the proper course. That said, because our Spanish is not very good, we never had much confidence that we fully understood people’s directions. The best we could hope for was going in the correct general direction and fixing our course along the way as the opportunity arose.

Along these lines, were pretty sure that we had missed an important turn and were nowhere near Grecia, so we stopped at a parking lot with a security booth to ask for help. When we explained that we wanted to go to Grecia, the security guard laughed and pointed in the direction we had been travelling. Apparently, Grecia was just down the road from where we were, and while we felt a bit stupid for stopping to ask when we had it correct, we would have felt stupider had we ended up back in San Jose or some other place that was not our destination.

Costa Rica countryside

The scenery in Costa Rica is stunning!

Somewhere along the way, we noticed that the passenger side windshield wiper was no longer attached to its arm but was rather lying in the trough at the base of the windshield. We thought about pulling over to fix it or bring it inside the car, but before we made up our minds to do that, we rounded a tight curve and there it went! Our car now has only one windshield wiper, which is fine assuming our gorgeous weather without rain continues. We suppose that if it rains, we may have to stop at a store and purchase a replacement windshield wiper but we have no plans to do that until it’s necessary (full insurance on the rental car, baby).

We arrived in Grecia to find the city thriving with a lot of traffic. We quickly found the cathedral (the reason for our going there), and were very fortunate to find a parking spot along the otherwise packed street right there. Feeling energized by our good fortune, we walked through the park that sat in front of the church, and took many pictures of the red building. According to our guidebook, Grecia was named as Costa Rica’s “cleanest city”, which we suppose might be true though it is still in Costa Rica standards which are a far cry from what you would find in say, Switzerland or Singapore.

Nevertheless, the cathedral was beautiful and we took many pictures of the façade and the simple, but elegant interior. Afterwards, we walked down the street to a Panaderia Rose had spotted earlier and purchased some ham and cheese pastries for lunch. The employee there was one of the coolest people we’ve met so far and it was just very obvious that he enjoyed his job. We made it a hundred feet up the street before realizing that we should have bought some water as well. So we returned to the shop and we all laughed as we said hello again and explained that we needed some bottled water. Our transaction finished, we returned to the car and set off for our next destination, Sarchi.

the cathedral in Grecia, Costa Rica

The beautiful red cathedral at the center of Grecia.

Again, somewhat fortunately, we had seen signs for Sarchi as we entered Grecia and thus had a general idea of where to go. However, the signs pointed down a road that was blocked due to construction so we set off on a parallel road hoping for the best. Since nothing in life is that easy, we drove a few kilometers before getting cold feet and turning around to head back into town to find signs for Sarchi. It is a good thing that we chose to turn around because the signs we found for Sarchi indicated that we had been driving in the completely wrong direction (welcome to the wonderful world of Costa Rica driving). 

We actually found Sarchi without too many problems, though throughout the day traffic was a nightmare as trucks would get backed up on the many hills and death was always just inches away as cars whizzed past as they weaved and passed and avoided potholes. Philip found it to be a fun experience, though definitely not one that anyone would call relaxing. We both just stared in amazement when we saw one large 18-wheeler pass another large 18-wheeler on what was essentially a blind curve. Fortunately, no carnage ensued but we aren’t joking when we say the driving in this country is ridiculous.

After seeing Grecia, we expected that Sarchi would be somewhat similar. We soon realized that we were mistaken because the center of town was quiet except for some teenagers hanging out and skateboarding in front of the cathedral. The same area in Grecia was a hubbub of activity, but for some reason Sarchi seemed almost deserted. Parking the car was easy and we went to check out the church. Like the church in Grecia, the interior was very simple, but still elegant. In particular, Sarchi’s church has several chandeliers along the main aisle that add a nice touch. After sitting for a few minutes, we decided to go outside and find some helado and hopefully directions to our next town.

cathedral in Sarchi, Costa Rica

The center of Sarchi was a lot quieter than Grecia. It was just us, a cathedral, and some skateboarders.

We walked all around the square before finding a little helado shop. Philip got a double cone of some of the worst ice cream he’s ever had (though it was still refreshing), but the true benefit of going there were the hand drawn maps to Zarcero offered by the shopkeeper. Fortunately, Rose was able to follow the conversation better than Philip (at least the map piece of it) and she had a decent idea of how to get us to the next place. We were both confused about a word the man kept using that sounded like the Spanish word for “orange”, but we realized that there couldn’t be that many orange houses for us to turn at so we just let it go and hoped for the best.

It turns out that the word the man was saying was “Naranjo”, which does not mean orange at all but is rather the name of a city between Sarchi and Zarcero. We have to give the man credit: his maps were spot on once we figured out exactly where we were and how to read them. We took a quick detour through Naranjo to see the front of the cathedral but never got out of the car due to busy traffic. Since our detour took us off of our original path, we drove back to our starting point to rejoin our directions. We then proceeded to follow the directions around exactly the same path through the city we had just taken, before turning onto another road and heading out of the city. All in all, we could have done it more efficiently, but we knew we were on the right path to Zarcero, which was the most important thing after getting turned around so much earlier in the day. 

As we rounded a bend about half of the way from Naranjo to Zarcero, we saw several police officers up ahead and one stepped into the road and flagged us over to the side. We have read over and over again how Costa Rican police are handy with a radar gun and we assumed that we had been caught speeding and are hearts started to race. An officer came over and Philip asked if he spoke English. In response to this, he asked in English if we were driving a rental car and where we were headed. We explained that we were going to Zarcero and he told us that this was just a car registration checkpoint and that we were free to go. Apparently, in Costa Rica it is valid to stop every car on a road just to check if they are properly registered. Regardless, the officer was really nice and we were on our way to Zarcero after just a minute’s delay.

Just as we were wondering how we would ever find the cathedral in Zarcero since the town seemed bigger than our previous handful, we looked to the right and it was right there! Even better than that, there was a single parking space on our side of the road just a hundred feet away which we quickly swooped into. Despite all of the craziness, our fortune for parking was unbelievable! In front of the cathedral in Zarcero is a very unique park with a large collection of topiaries. These include arches, hedges with faces sculpted in, and other random shapes. The foliage offered some unique photo opportunities of the park with the cathedral behind. The church itself is an impressive sight and we were very excited to see the inside.

plaza and cathedral in Zarcero, Costa Rica

Zarceros topiaries with its cathedral in the background.

When we walked inside, we noticed that the painting detail was quite beautiful, though was unfinished and appeared to be going through a repainting. Our major clue to this was very tall scaffolding set up in the middle of the church and a paper stencil taped to the ceiling to create some of the detail. While we sat there, a man began to climb this scaffolding multiple stories up into the air without a safety harness. As he climbed, the entire scaffolding shook and twisted in a way that made our hearts stop momentarily. When he finally reached the top, we realized that he only had a railing on one side of the scaffolding and he was also leaning out a bit to remove the stencil. As part of this process, he would use a screwdriver or some similar tool to pop tacks out of the ceiling that would plummet 50 feet or so down to the floor. The entire thing would have made an OSHA agent faint several times and we left the church so we wouldn’t have to witness if something went wrong.

scaffolding inside the cathedral in Zarcero, Costa Rica

Oh, how OSHA would cringe if they saw this in America!

As an aside, it has been interesting to see the differences in safety between America and Costa Rica. We take for granted just how safe our everyday lives have become due to government regulations and regular maintenance. Here in Costa Rica, roads and sidewalks don’t seem to matter too much and it’s up to the pedestrian or driver to protect themself rather than relying on the roads, signals, or any other agreed upon system. We crossed no fewer than 10 one-way bridges during the day, often with Mack trucks barreling down on us. All in all, we are thankful we live in America where the craziness is at least somewhat controlled.

Returning to Zarcero, when we left the church, we exited by a side door and were able to see the outside of the building up close. At this point, we realized that what looked like stone was actually carefully painted metal. By tapping our knuckles on the building, we heard the hollow sound of sheet metal and it reminded us of the plastic pillars in Grecia. While the church looked amazing, it was another reminder that Italy is a special place and not every country in the world can have dozens of marble cathedrals.

From Zarcero, we were finally ready to go to our final destination of the day, La Fortuna. We knew that this would be the longest leg of our day’s drive, but we did not know that it would be increased by the ridiculous traffic we encountered in the process of leaving the city. When we add in getting stuck behind multiple trucks at various times, the drive was beautiful but stressful. After a bit of time, we finally hit the open road and enjoyed a dusk drive through a relatively flat valley toward a volcano that was growing larger as we approached. We knew we were going the right direction, since we kept seeing signs for La Fortuna, but they often failed to give a distance measurement so we had no real idea of how far we had left to go.

By the time we reached La Fortuna, darkness had arrived and our only directions for finding the hotel at this point were to follow the signs for the hotel. Unfortunately, the only sign we ever saw for the hotel was miles before we ever reached La Fortuna, so we just stayed on the main road and hoped for the best. Fortunately, after several kilometers of using high beams whenever cars were not approaching so we could read the many signs along the road, we spotted the Volcano Lodge, which our directions mentioned. We turned on the dirt road as instructed and kept seeing signs for a hotel that was not our own. When we passed the instructed distance on said dirt road, we became even more confused, but held to the belief that the hotel had recently changed its name and the signs had not yet been updated (if you think this is an unreasonable assumption, read our post from Otranto, Italy to hear our lovely tale of finding our hotel).

After about a kilometer, we came to a hotel and Philip stopped to ask for directions. After a few minutes of conversation, we realized that the dirt road we took was not the correct dirt road and we had to drive a bone-rattling kilometer back to the main road and then immediately turn onto the proper dirt road and then drive another 500 meters. Finally, 50 minutes later than we had hoped we made it to our hotel and pulled into the covered drop-off zone. Philip went in to check us in while Rose stayed in the car and cleaned up our mess from a day spent driving (she may have also fantasized about navigable countries).

The hotel staff was very nice and we made it to our unbelievable room after our long day. Rather than go down to the hotel restaurant for dinner, we decided to each eat a granola bar and then order a room service meal to share for dinner. Yes, we know we are frugal, but it actually worked out to be the perfect amount of food and was very tasty. Afterwards, we went out onto our private balcony and used our private Jacuzzi tub (not quite a full hot tub but still very nice) and got ready to go to bed. We had hoped to plan out our next day, but we learned that the wireless internet does not extend all the way to our casita so we will do it in the morning instead.

Today was a ridiculously long day, though we saw many amazing things. We only walked about 15,000 steps today, though much of it was uphill, so we really have no idea on the mileage (walking that is, we put a ton of miles on the car today). One of the best parts was just driving through so much of the countryside and seeing how real Costa Ricans live outside of San Jose. The lush fields and rolling hills are an amazing change from Arizona desert and we are really beginning to feel like we are seeing the real Costa Rica. We’re excited for this next leg of our trip, which will include some adventurous activities of zip lining, canopy tours, and even some spelunking.

Helado count: 1

Sugary lime, raspberry, orange sherbet

April 12 Synopsis

  • Got lost…a lot
  • An eerie volcanic crater billowing steam
  • A hidden lake slowly revealed
  • Birds, frogs, and a few waterfalls
  • Beautiful Costa Rica countryside
  • Stopping for gas for the first time
  • The city of Grecia
  • The city of Sarchi
  • Pulled over by the Police
  • The city of Zarcero and lots of topiaries
  • Traffic jams and night driving
  • A beautiful hotel…just not ours
  • Our even more beautiful hotel with private Jacuzzi

*** Check out the first post of our trip to Costa Rica and read them in order! ***

So after all the build-up, we realized that we forgot the synopsis for our first entry…Que Horror! We have corrected our mistake and we apologize for anyone who was not able to track with us due to our error. In other news, we have officially decided to track our ice cream intake at the end of each post. Rather than the “gelato count” of Italy, we offer you the “helado count” instead. Enjoy!

The first full day of our honeymoon began at around 8:30 am after an amazing night of sleep. We were ready to get out and see the city of San Jose, though we really didn’t know what to expect. Guidebooks can only show you so much and nothing replaces actually being there amidst the noise, people, and of course the smells.

We set out on foot east across the city down the main thoroughfare, Paseo Colon. We had a good 15-20 blocks to walk until we hit the site of our first destination, Plaza de la Cultura. Along the way, we wandered somewhat unintentionally through the city’s main street market, which has many clothing and shoe shops, among other things. It was an interesting experience walking through the market because we really did not see any other tourists…just us and hundreds of Costa Ricans going about their day.

When we finally arrived at Plaza de la Cultura, we saw the beautiful Teatro Nacional (National Theater) in front of us with its stone façade and red metal dome-like roof. Some workers were on the roof replacing sections of the dome with the help of a crane. Unfortunately, we quickly learned that the theater was closed, though we couldn’t be sure why since it was supposed to be open.

Teatro Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica

The Teatro Nacional in San Jose.

We spied a tourist information office on one side of the Plaza and headed there to ask directions to a bank and to figure out why the theater was closed. The lady inside was very sweet and nice…and somehow managed to give no definitive information to any questions we asked (except about the bank, which she pointed to across the plaza). When we asked about the theater being closed, she responded that today was a national holiday and she gave the name of it. Most tourist information people would elaborate a bit further and explain what the holiday was about, but she did not. When we then asked for a good place to eat lunch, she merely explained that many places existed around the plaza without directing us any specific direction or to a definitive restaurant.

Nevertheless, her information about the bank was accurate and we soon had some Costa Rican colones in our pockets. The Plaza de la Cultura was an interesting place with many concrete levels and a fountain in the middle. After stopping at the bank, we realized that the area beneath the plaza actually contains the National Museum of Pre-Columbian Gold, which we had not planned on visiting since we are still museumed-out from our trip to Italy. It wouldn’t have mattered if we had wanted to go anyway, since a guard came to the gate of the museum while we were sitting about a hundred feet from it on some stairs and gave us a wagging finger while saying the museum was closed (perhaps he thought we were staring longingly at the museum gate or something like that).

Around the corner from Plaza de la Cultura is Parque Central (Central Park) and the adjacent Catedral Metropolitano (equivalent to an Italian Duomo, the primary Catholic church in the city). The park has an interesting pavilion structure in the middle and we went inside of it to try and get a good photo opportunity of the church. We failed in this matter due to an abundance of foliage between us and the cathedral, but it was fun to have a 360 degree view of the square and see locals both relaxing and bustling about.

The interior of the cathedral is simple but nice, and it contains a cupola which is something we will always approve. However, as we exited the building after sitting for a while, we realized that the columns that looked like marble are really made of painted plastic. While it was impossible to tell just by looking at it, one touch quickly revealed the difference in material. We know it should not matter since the look is the same, which is the ultimate goal, but something just doesn’t feel right about a plastic façade on steel columns after spending months seeing an abundance of churches with real marble.

a bird in Parque Espana in San Jose

Our first wildlife experience in Costa Rica...we really hope this is just the beginning!

After leaving the cathedral, we were getting hungry so we found a Panaderia (bread shop) and got a large ham and cheese filled loaf of bread to share for lunch. We took our repast to another park (San Jose likes its parks!), this one called Parque de la Democracia. We had no clue what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised when we saw the sloping park and the beautiful building at the top which houses the Museo Nacional (National Museum of Costa Rica).

We ate our lunch in the shade at one edge of the park and then went to explore what appeared to be some artwork in front of the museum. Our first impression of the large metal and glass structure was of a hamster wheel or perhaps an Atlas Sphere for you American Gladiator fans. We took several pictures while discussing what purpose it might serve before settling on “art” as the answer.

Museo Nacional in San Jose

The Museo Nacional with its interesting "hamster ball" art.

After our lunch, we spent a while walking in a loop around the east section of the city, hopping from park to park and seeing the different buildings along the way. In Parque Nacional, we found an interesting, though no longer traversable, bridge made entirely out of milk crates. We took a bunch of pictures of it, which seemed to amuse a Costa Rican man sitting at a nearby picnic table doing what appeared to be university homework. The park actually contained several groups of college-age people doing homework so we assume that a major university in Costa Rica lies somewhere nearby.

Milk crate bridge in Parque Nacional in San Jose

A colorful bridge made out of milk crates in Parque Nacional.

Heading back west from Parque Nacional, we saw many interesting buildings until we reached Parque Espana and the adjacent Edificio Metallico (Metal Building). This is a really neat school building with a façade made of pre-fabricated metal panels. The guidebook made the building look tan or off-white, but in person the building is a lovely shade of pastel pink. We sat in the park and ate a bit more of our lunch, took some pictures of birds, and then continued through Parque Morazan to the Edificio Correos (Post Office).This is a beautiful building that would have fit in perfectly in a city like Florence.

Edificio Metallico in San Jose with a facade of metal panels

Edificio Metallico in San Jose with its facade of pink metal panels.

Edificio Correos, a post office in San Jose

The San Jose post office, which is called Edificio Correos.

By this point, we were almost back to the center of the city, where Paseo Colon, which had turned into Avenida Central, intersects Calle 0. This is also the center of a large street market with fruit vendors every couple of feet yelling loudly what they have to sell and how much it costs. It takes a good set of lungs to make a living as a fruit merchant in San Jose; unfortunately, many people smoke so we aren’t sure how long people can keep up the loud voices day in and day out. We also entered into an indoor market, with tightly cramped walkways and stalls of everything from meat to leather goods all around us. We didn’t buy anything, but it was a fun experience seeing everything that was for sale.

A street market in San Jose

The hustle and bustle of a San Jose street market at the center of the city.

It was now approaching nap time so we decided to head in the general direction of our hotel, hoping we would make it back there before too long. However, while on our way, we saw an open plaza to the south and decided to go investigate. When we arrived, our jaws dropped open as we had stumbled upon an incredibly beautiful and unique church. Rather than a dome, Iglesia la Merced has a very tall spire which gives it an impressive, if not menacing, look. The inside of the church is beautiful as well, with wood paneled ceilings and nice tile floors. The columns are made of nicely painted wood, which is not marble but which feels far better than plastic.

Iglesia la Merced in San Jose

The impressive Iglesia la Merced was a pleasant surprise hiding around a corner.

After exploring the church for a few minutes, we walked the rest of the way back to our hotel and Rose laid down for her afternoon nap (something she has missed dearly since Italy). After a few hours, around 3:30 pm, she woke up and we decided to walk west from our hotel towards a park on the west end of the city that we had passed on our way into town the night before. Parque Metropolitano La Sabana, as it is known, has to be the largest, coolest, and most awesomest park known to mankind. It is everything you could ever want from a park and so much more: several soccer pitches; basketball courts; sand volleyball courts; a running track; a banked roller skating track; a flat roller skating rink; an enormous lake stocked with fish and surrounded by walking paths, modern art statues, and lots of trees; and lots more. The park also contains the brand new national soccer stadium, which is a gorgeous building with some really cool architectural features. We spent over an hour and a half walking around mingling with the locals (we were the only tourists there). The park was very alive with people as the weather was cool with a nice breeze and it was definitely the place to be in the evening.

soccer stadium in San Jose

San Jose's brand new soccer stadium, which is located in Parque Metropolitano La Sabana

outdoor roller skating rink in San Jose

Parque Metropolitano La Sabana has the coolest outdoor skating rink!

As night was setting in, we headed back towards the hotel in search of dinner. Rather than eating at the somewhat expensive, though highly rated, hotel restaurant, we hoped to find a local establishment that would satisfy us more affordably. We remembered passing one place on our way to the park and returned there to check it out. However, upon arriving, it just felt too American so we decided to backtrack a few hundred feet to another restaurant. This one seemed to be perfect: small and friendly, with an authentic feel and a few people inside eating. We got a table and the fun of ordering dinner began!

Our waiter was incredible, though we overestimated the amount of English he could speak. Also, we think he overestimated the amount of Spanish Philip knew, which led to a humorous time of trying to order dinner and verify that it would not trigger Rose’s food allergies. After many failed attempts to ask about nuts (we also tried cashews, peanuts, and almonds with no success), we finally just ordered what looked good (and one thing he suggested) and hoped for the best. The waiter brought us some complimentary blackberry juice, which was tasty though we aren’t sure we should have drunk it since it contained ice (questionable water quality in some areas of the country). We seem to have gotten away with it as of a day later when we are writing this so all is well that ends well, or so they say.

The food was incredible and we shared our dishes: one of chicken and rice in a creamy sauce, and the other of a huge portion of thinly cut steak with a very tasty citrusy sauce. We were honestly shocked at how good our food was and the entire meal with a tip came out to under US$20.00. Our hunger sated, we returned to the hotel a bit after the sun had set, though we felt safe since it was only a few blocks and plenty of people were still out in the city.


Together in Parque Metropolitano La Sabana.

Our day concluded with hitting the Jacuzzi again to ease our tired and sore muscles. While we were there, another couple came up the stairs but stopped short when they saw us. We tried to be obvious about making room for them, but after a hushed conversation, they decided that they did not wish to share the hot tub and they returned back down the stairs. We didn’t take it personally, though it would have been nice to talk to more people in good American English for a few minutes. After the hot tub, we spent time prepping for the following day, when our travels would take us out of San Jose and through many stops on our way to La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. Our first day in San Jose was a lot of fun and quite tiring. We walked around 30,000 steps each (hooray for pedometers), and we think traveled around 10-12 miles by foot. This is about what we did on some of our heavier walking days in Italy, but at least we had some warm-up time before those days. Our bodies are sore but the effort is definitely worth the reward of seeing this amazing country.

Helado count: 1


Mora (Blackberry)

April 11 Synopsis

  • Lots and lots of walking
  • Plaza de la Cultura and theater repairs
  • Il Duomo (though they don’t call it that here)
  • A tour of San Jose parks
  • A metal building and a post office
  • Several street markets
  • Our favorite church
  • Nap time for Rose
  • The coolest park in the world
  • Amazing dinner
  • Jacuzzi rejection