Saturday, November 16, 2013

Summary - Time to answer the question

The end of most of my trip reports ends with a summary of our travel day back and our thoughts about whatever place we happened to be coming back from.
This trip was a little different because it had more of a purpose to it. We were really interested in seeing if Costa Rica could be a possibility for a place for us to someday retire.
Hence the question "Could this be THE place?"
The answer is not as clear cut as one may think. During our trip we visited many different areas since I had read how diverse CR is and that a visit to one area would not adequately give a full idea of everything that this little country has to offer. And boy, is this true.
From this one vacation I feel like we have traveled to at least 4 different places, each with its own pluses and minuses that could tip the scales in either answering "yes" or "no" to the question before us.

Our first stop to the Caribbean side of the country was funky and laid back but as Dave said, it had a little "rougher"feel to it mostly referring to overall security. It was not that we felt unsafe at any time but of all the places that we stayed it almost felt like they were hiding any issues - not entirely sure how to say it and it would not keep us from visiting again but it was just a sense that we got.

Lake Arenal, particularly Nuevo Arenal is a mixture of lake, farm and small towns on one side and a more touristy atmosphere on the other. I envisioned NH lake areas when I thought of how this place may be but it was quite opposite because they do not allow building right on the lake's front. Things seemed a little more spread out here but maybe that was just because of the things we did in this area.

Monteverde is a beautiful cloud forest with so many friendly people and so peaceful too. If it weren't for the terrible non-paved roads to get to this area it could almost be a consideration for a great place to live. But honestly, the condition of the road is not something that we would want to deal with on a regular basis but we would easily visit this area again.

The Pacific Coast - first of all I"ll start by saying that the Pacific Coast is huge and we only visited a small area of it so there certainly could be other areas here to explore as well. But, for the area we visited which was Samara, we were very pleased with it. This was a really great beach town. There was an even mix of locals and ex-pats and the ex-pats that are here did not seem to want to make this area a "little America" by bringing their ideas and politics and such along. They truly came here to be in Costa Rica and I really liked that about this area. We felt very safe here even though there were many signs and reminders to watch your things, don't leave things in your car, etc. Maybe that was the difference between this area and the Caribbean - here they were honest and forthcoming about it but on the other side it felt hush-hush...maybe just me but...
The one thing that was lacking on either coast was the snorkeling - there were not many areas to snorkel and on the pacific side it was a bit too choppy and murky for us.

Overall within the country we found areas in which things were not overpriced if you stayed away from the tourists and we feel that we could live here cheaper than in the states although more homework would be required to make sure that we utilize the local methods to save money.

So, can I answer the question definitively.....No, I can't.
I have always assumed that there is a place out there that Dave and I will discover that we will just immediately know that is where we are meant to be, our little "Ahhh, this is it" moment. We didn't get that in the areas we visited in Costa Rica but we do agree that possibly Samara or another area on the Pacific coast could fit the bill if necessary so we will keep our notes and continue on to search other areas.

Now, where to try next???

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Day 15 & 16 - The Last Two Days

For our last  two full days in Costa Rica we are headed to San Ramon, a town just outside Alejuela where the airport is. The drive from the Pacific coast is just about four hours and we stop along the way for some lunch and a decent view of the mountains. As we near our destination we can feel the difference in elevation from the coast as well as the increased traffic especially the big trucks, some trying to keep up, others passing us...scary!
San Ramon is a bustling little town that offers much in culture, history and merchants. It appears to have a good balance of things in a fairly compact area.
We are staying at the Casa Amanecer bed and breakfast which is a cute little place on a hill with views of the mountains and the valley below. It is just outside of town so it is quiet of all the town noises but there are dogs everywhere. The family in the house next door has recently had a baby and whenever she cries (which is not often) their rottie mix dog cries too....not barks, but cries - it is so cute but I am glad that the baby does not cry often because as cute as it is, it could get annoying.
After our arrival we just hang out as we are both pretty wiped out from doing nothing on the coast for three days and for dinner we try a place in town called Rincon Poeta which was recommended by our host. They have a wide selection and Dave tries the pollo BBQ which he said was just OK and I had the sopa mariscos which was awesome. It is a huge seafood soup that has fish, clams, shrimp and crab in a nice broth and I really enjoyed it and it was pretty cheap as well.
Our second day starts with a huge breakfast of fruit, eggs, toast and coffee and then we set out for Sarchi which is an area that has handcrafted wooden furniture that is so beautiful. If we were to move to CR, this would be a p!ace that I would come to buy some furniture because the prices were very reasonable as well, not so much if I wanted to buy and ship back home but to have here would be great.
We also spend some time in San Ramon walking around seeing all their different shops and eateries. After a lunch that was way too much food, we head back to Casa Amanecer and hang out outside watching the hummingbirds, butterflies and other birds come around the garden....ahhhhh!
For dinner we split a pizza which is about all that we can handle and then we head back to begin our packing for our trip home tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Days 12-14 - Nothing Much to Say

As I indicated in my previous post, I probably won't have much to say about the next couple of days since we are in Samara, directly across from the beach, and won't do too much except act like beach bums. While that is mostly true, there are few things to touch upon.
Our first full day we pretty much spent at the beach at Samara and at Lo Que Hay, the local watering hole which has cold beers, good food and a lot of ex-pats that have a lot of info about the area, what to see, where to eat, etc. We have a fishing trip planned for tomorrow so we head to bed early so we can be up by five-thirty tomorrow morning.
On Tuesday, our second full day we are set to go fishing. Ron, from the Nuevo Arsenal area has hooked us up with Frank who picks up at 6:00am and we go down to his boat and get started. We start off trolling and hope to hook on to something big but it does not seem that there is too much biting. We see a school of tuna feeding in front of us so we cast out a jig and hook a tuna which Dave reels in. It is not huge but it is a start and since it is already 10:00 we take it as a good sign, but that was not to be. Instead we keep trolling, jigging into schools and casting behind the reef but we can't seem to get anything else to bite. Finally we get another tuna on and Frank has me bring it in. This one gets as far as the boat but then puts up one last fight and swims down deep and gets off...damn! Then as we are trolling our last spot before coming in something big takes the line and once again they give me the rod to bring it in. I don't know what it is but it feels good and he keeps taking drag and pulling on the rod. Dave has to help me hold the rod so that I can reel. It's so close now, what can it be? Who knows, because once again, it gets off just before I get it to the boat...shit.

Frank was a great guide and tried really hard to get us on fish, he even stayed out there longer than the agreed upon half day but as usual, it was not meant to be.
Later Dave and I discuss our fishing mishaps and decide that maybe we should not be paying to go fishing because every time we do, we seem to to have a rough go of it...oh well, we will see once the next adventure is here!
Our third and final full day in Samara is spent at the beach(es). First we drive down to Carrillo beach just five minutes down the road. It differs from Samara in that it has no stores, bars or houses/hotels directly on it. It is a huge stretch of nothing but quiet beach and we have it mostly to ourselves. Here we hang for a few hours and then we head back to Samara and spent the remainder of the day on the this beach and once again at Lo Que Hay. We can't enough of this place, it is so convenient, friendly and easy going that we can see why it is a favorite for many locals and visitors alike.
For our last night in this area we went to dinner at El Ancla which was recommended by almost everyone that we spoke to. They serve a lot of good seafood dishes and we were not disappointed. It has a nice vibe and is run by a local family and the only negative was that once they got busy, the service got slower but I guess that is to be expected, and even still, it is a place we would go back to if we were here longer.
A bit of rest tonight and we head to San Ramon tomorrow.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Day 10 & 11 - More Walking and Riding

We only have one full day in Monteverde so I booked a morning walk that is scheduled to take about 3 hours through the Curi-Cancha cloud forest. Our guide is Jorge and he is very knowledgeable although as I said in a previous post, I will never remember half of what he tells us. Our morning is filled with sightings of birds, agoti, butterflies and hummingbirds. We also see our fair share of plants and trees, the most notable is the fig tree that always grows over another tree and eventually takes it over, completely hollowing out the host tree. OK, so I can remember a couple of things but mostly because it was very cool to climb into the bottom of this tree and look straight up through what is now a hollow tree.

The rest of our day is pretty mellow, we eat lunch at Raulito's Pollo which is just awesome roasted chicken and then we hang at our hotel and watch the awesome view from our room and porch.
Even though we didn't spend much time in Monteverde, it is one of my favorite places here because it is so beautiful and the people really want you to see the beauty in every inch of this area, and yes, I know they are selling something but you can tell in how they answer your questions that they really want to share it with you. It is a shame that the roads to this area are horrible as in my opinion it would make it a hard sell to live here when it takes such an effort to get in or out of here.
So our next day is spent "getting out of here" and heading to the pacific coast and the town of Samara. Once again our GPS tells us it will take two and a half hours but we know better and it takes us a good amount of time just getting off the bumpy gravelly road. But not to worry, we still arrive in Samara by mid afternoon and we walk the small town to check things out and hang on the beach a bit. Right across from our hotel is Lo Que Hay which is a great bar and restaurant and they are showing the Patriots game so we drink and eat and watch them win. A little about the food, we had some chorizo quesadillas and some bacon wrapped jalapeƱos....all hot stuff but very good.
This area will probably suit us well for the next couple days as we will likely just hang around on the beach and get to know some people in the area...likely boring to report but we'll see where things take us!!!!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Day 8 & 9 - Chocolate and the Bumps

For our last day in the Nuevo Arenal area we head back towards La Fortuna to find the Rainforest Chocolate Tour but since we can't find it on the GPS we stop at an information booth and Felix helps us out. He shows us on the map where to go and calls ahead to make sure they will be doing the tour. He finds out that the tour is at 10:00 and we can make it there in enough time. Adios to Felix as we head out looking for chocolate. The tour is located at the site of Las Cabinas Catarata (waterfall cabins) and while we wait for our tour, an nice older Spanish gentleman tells us that we can look around the grounds and the garden. He doesn't speak English and Dave is a little leery as he follows us around and then he asks if we want to see one of the cabins so we of course say yes. The one he showed us was a cute little two bedroom cabin with a sitting area and small kitchen. The back opens up to a beautiful view and the sound of the running river below. I ask how much and I think he tells me "cuarenta y cino por dos personas con desayuno" - $45 for 2 people with breakfast???? If that's true, it would have been a steal and I would have stayed there had I known. He then takes us further into the garden because he wants to show us the river but on our way we run into a lady whose renting the last cabin long term who greets us as if we are long lost relatives and begins to talk our faces off...nice lady but luckily the tour is about to begin so we have to go.
Tiziana is our guide and the tour is basic but informative as she explains to us how the cacao tree grows and then eventually how the beans are harvested, dried, ground and used for baking and/or making chocolate bars. It's a hands-on tour in that you can grind up the beans, separate them from their shells, and further grind them into a powder. They also make a chocolate drink that was most notably used only by royalty many years ago that you can experiment with by adding other flavors such as cinnamon, vanilla, chili peppers and even hibiscus and eventually you get what you really came for...some good chocolate to sample. The plantation has only been giving tours since February so for that they are doing a good job but I thought the price was a little steep for a 75 minute tour.
After this we head to the town of LA Fortuna and walk around a bit, we're not too impressed with this but we find a place for a quick sandwich and then head back to our hotel. On our drive back we see coatis in the road and they are even a bit curious and we are also stuck behind a herd of cattle in the road that seemed to broken out of their pen. Luckily some horns beeping quickly get them to retreat and the road is one again open.
For dinner we eat at the hotel and once again the food is very good. Our host Eyal does know how to cook and he loves to feed people. We have to get half portions of our entrees and it is still almost too much to eat but we force ourselves and go back to our room full and happy.
The next morning we have breakfast and then start our trek to Monteverde. Our GPS states that we should get there in 90 minutes but we know better. First of all, a good portion of the road to this area is unpaved and even though we saw the speed limit posted as 40km, there is no way anyone could have gone that fast. Every time we looked at the GPS we were still 30 minutes away from our destination......ten minutes later, still thirty minutes to go....I felt like we were in a Twilight Zone episode.
Finally we are in Monteverde and suddenly the roads are paved and for once our GPS isn't lying about our arrival time.
Here we are staying at the Hotel Belmar and our room is gorgeous, so big and with a huge jacuzzi tub which will be welcome after that long bumpy ride.
Tonight we scheduled a night walk at Santamaria forest and our guide Johnny tries to get us a few good sightings even though at  one point it is raining pretty hard. We are able to see a couple of birds sleeping in the trees, some walking sticks, some leaf impersonators and even a couple of tarantulas. At one point we see what Johnny believes is an olingo but we see him so quickly and briefly that we will take his word for it. As the night walk is ending, Johnny is bummed thinking that his sloth sighting record will be broken tonight but as we emerge from the path onto the dirt road he catches one curled in a tree across the street, then right above us, one is moving down the power lines down the road, and as we follow him, an armadillo comes out onto the road as well.
Who knew we could have just stayed on the road to see the most things?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Day 7 - Monkeys and Hot Water

Today's agenda takes us to the Arenal Hanging Bridges and the Eco Termales hot springs so after a nice huge breakfast including what Dave is calling lasagna eggs, some weird spaghetti sauce fried egg mixture that actually tasted pretty good, we head out for the bridge hike. On the ride over we debate about getting a guide. It's not that I don't want to pay for one and I know that they can often show you things you might not see yourself and tell you some interesting facts but we decide that we are patient enough to look for many things and not just walk by everything and of all the interesting things most guides have told us in the past, I hardly remember any of it. So, without a guide we slowly head into the park which consists of a fairly easy trail with about 10 or so different bridges, some of them hanging as the name indicates. Immediately we are crossing our first bridge and on a nearby tree we see a bright yellow snake which Dave thinks is a viper, that is all bundled up on a limb. It's hard to tell how long he really is but he is thin and his tail wraps around underneath the branch. I'm always fascinated and scared to see snakes but he is quite a distance away that I don't have to worry. Through our walk we also see many interesting plants and trees but not so many flowers so every time I saw a flower it seemed to stand out so much. But back to our animal discoveries, we saw many butterflies including the amazingly beautiful Blue Morpho but they are too fast for me to take a picture so I just enjoy them flying around us. A couple of bird species that we see are the blue-crowned Motmot which has very pretty tail feathers and a Rufous-tailed Jacamar with a beak like a hummingbird. Oh yeah, we also see a couple of centipedes mating?? So, after nearly an hour and a half of walking around and seeing some things we still have not seen any monkeys which is really why we came. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I see some movement. I tell Dave and we look up to see a mommy and baby howler monkey. The baby is sooooo cute and just playing around mama, jumping on her and seeming to have so much fun. Down and to the left we see what must be daddy as he is larger and watching us through the trees. There seem to be a few above us too and then it begins, the barking type noise they make that shakes the jungle with the sounds. It was a good find and without much time to spare as 10 minutes later we were out of the park.
Next we are on to Eco Termales hot springs. This is a small family run place that has about 4 tiered hot spring pools with each one hotter the closer you get to the top waterfall where the water is feeding in. Standing under the main waterfall and getting a water massage is so relaxing and after this and a cold cerveza it seemed time for a nap. Because it is low season and it was in the afternoon (most places are busier at night), we had the place to ourselves for at least an hour, then a crew showed up to do a photo shoot with a bunch of girls in what looked like wedding attire. I wonder how many pictures Dave and I are in...heheee!
Not much more to say here except that after just about four hours we force ourselves to leave.
A quick bite on the way back at Toad Hall (touristy, but decent food) and then we are back in time for some cervezas and a world series win!!!!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Day 5 & 6 - Travel and Fishing

I hadn't planned on making much of a comment about our travel day because other than driving 6 hours from Cahuita on the Caribbean side to the central area of Nuevo Arenal, I didn't think there'd be much to say. This day however was a test in patience. The drive began at 8:00am but the test began about 1 1/2 hours out of Cahuita on route 32 when the traffic was completely stopped. When I say stopped, I mean that on this little one lane each way, main road between central points of the country, cars were turned off, people were out of their cars, and locals were riding by on their bikes selling hielo (pops) and papas fritas (potato chips). Policia drove by, ambulancia drove by, a tow-truck and a flat bed truck drove by and we sat in the same spot for nearly 90 minutes. When we began moving it was ever so slowly over the last 40km of route 32. Aside from just sitting there, I was also concerned as the arrival time of our destination on the GPS getting creeping later and later. The advice in CR is not drive at night as some roads are not too good and potholes seem to come out of nowhere and the road to our hotel was just washed out a week ago so I knew we would not be attempting that in the dark which quickly comes about 5:30. So what started as a 1:30 arrival was soon at 3:00, then 3:30 then 4:00 and we haven't had a bathroom or food break yet...yikes! Finally off the 32, there is a break from gridlock and we start to move smoother. We never did see a point indicating where there was an accident but we did see the tow-truck and the flat-bed on the side of the road, not assisting any vehicle??? For convenience sake, we spot a Burger King, which doesn't sell burgers but only chicken items and we get something to go, use the bathroom and get back on the road. Our arrival time is now about 4:20 and we feel good about that, until that is, we find ourselves behind the damn slow pineapple truck!!!! While you can pass, you have to pick your spots because the road is curvey and the pass areas are not always frequent. Finally we are past him, smooth sailing for awhile and our destination time is 4:45.........but it is not over yet, there is one more pineapple truck to conquer and then we master the curvey road around Lake Arenal to the Gingerbread Boutique just about 5:00....whew.
We do drive into town which is just a few minutes down the road and have a pizza at Moya's which is very good and just enough. We head back to our room, relax and watch the Sox win game 5.
The next day we wake up just after 5:00 to go fishing on the lake with Captain Ron. The day is nice, there is a cool breeze most of the morning and while it rains slightly in the morning, it is not cold at all. Fishing is a bit tough but I do get a couple of machaca to the boat and one guapote ties me up around a tree stump and we eventually have to cut the line and let him go...damn, he felt like a good one too. Dave has a much tougher time. He has several fish hit at his bait but none of them seem to really take it and hang on so for most of the morning he is playing hit and run with the fish. I do get one small guapote in the boat and I think it is the only picture we got all morning too. Just towards the end Dave gets a couple of really good hits and actually brings in a couple of machaca, one that gets off just at the boat and one that jumps in the boat. While not a ton of fish, it was a great morning to be on the water and Captain Ron is a great guide and person, it was great getting to know him and we loved the banana bread that his neighbor made...yummy.
For lunch we go to Tom's German Bakery and get sandwiches that are as big as our heads and filled with everything from lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrots, red peppers and corn. Dave's is ham and cheese while I get the bratwurst, all on freshly baked bread. Good thing it is early or we wouldn't have any room for dinner later!
This afternoon we walked around the small town, went in some stores to see what type of things they have and what the costs are. Trying to get a comparison when I realize that I don't know how much a spigot would cost me at home so how do I know if 5,000 colones is too much? Still, we can tell that some things are comparable, some a bit more and many more are less expensive so one could,d probably get by much cheaper here. Besides, it is obvious that people here are not yet possession obsessed as we are in the states. I wonder if I will be able to change my habits?
Dinner was at our hotel and our host Eyal is known for his cuisine and we are not disappointed. We start with the blackened tuna salad and the mussels appetizers and both were more than enough to sufficiently fill us so we opt to share a dessert and we are done. The salad is a mound of freshness with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, peppers, onions, yucca all topped with the blackened tuna, sesame seeds and an amazing light dressing. I have never had a salad that tasted so good or left me more satisfied. Maybe next time we'll actually get to the entrees which looked amazing as well.
For tonight we need to get some sleep as tomorrow we have a big day planned at he hanging bridges and the hot springs!!!!