Winter Vacation Part I: Costa Rica

We’ve been on vacation the last nine days. Two days longer than we had intended, and we still have two more days to go. We’ve been caught up in one of the worst airline travel debacles in recent memory, as a winter cold spell wrecked havoc across most of the north and northeastern United States.

We left on the nineteenth to fly to Costa Rica. We had a layover in Houston then got on our flight to Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. We were surprised to find ourselves in what I can only describe as the most luxurious flight experience I’ve ever had: first class seating that was spacious and reclined into a bed. It was fantastic. We had TV screens and got served a hot meal. I’ve never had anything like it, it was wonderful.

I had already booked a shuttle to take us from the SJO airport to the Fiesta Resort in Puntarenas, which was about an hour and half drive. I was dumbstruck by the beauty of the mountains, which we saw off in the distance as we wound our way down the highway.

One thing that struck me was the anti-landslide measures that had been put in place. High cliffs bounded the road, and miles of the cliffs were covered either by chain-link fences which were bolted into the granite. In other places, concrete had been sprayed on the cliffs, with small pipes drilled into the wall to let water escape. There were drainage ditches dug into some of them as well, pulling water down gentle slopes, instead of over the sheer drops. It was fascinating.

Our resort was nice, but not the best. We’d budgeted for a more modest stay instead of something like a Sandals or Beaches resort. Most of the guests were Costa Rican, one of the managers told me only a few guests were from out of the country. I ran into a handful of Americans over the week, and a European couple.

We had a beach-front view, we could spy across the bay to Tortuga island, but the actual beach itself was meh. The sand was black, and driftwood washed up everywhere. Younger enjoyed it but we wound up spending most of our time at the pool.

We took an excursion the second day, our only one of the trip. It was an all day trip to the Poas volcano. We had a 90-minute drive where we stopped at a coffee field, where we had a few cups and bought some trinkets. After refreshing ourselves it was on to the volcano.

Costa Rica has microclimates, little islands of weather that change as you climb the mountains. Poas was very cold, rainy and cloudy that day. The 300-meter walk to the overlook was miserable. We were very underdressed for the weather. I basically had to drag Elder, who was practically crying because of the cold and wetness. It was a bust, we couldn’t even see the caldera through the clouds. So we packed it up quickly and head out to the last stop on our day trip, to the waterfall gardens of La Paz.

This was much more fun, the park had a butterfly garden, which the kids really enjoyed, as well as a hummingbird garden. We stopped for lunch, which included a buffet. It was here that we lost our guide, Guillermo. He was a very nice gentleman, in his seventies. We had taken a table on the opposite side of the cafeteria from him, and when we finished eating he was no where to be found. I sent a message to the travel company via Whatsapp while we went for a walk on the nature trail.

The trail was a hike through the woods, following a river. It was beautiful. The path was marked off with stone slabs up and down the wandering hills. It was amazing really. By the time we got out I had gotten a call from the travel manager, he said Guillermo was out looking for us, and we managed to catch up with him a few minutes later. He was distraught about losing us, but I told him it was alright.

We explored the rest of the park, which included large cats, a replica of a traditional cabin, and a snake exhibit. Guillermo showed us the pit viper, the most poisonous snake in Latin America, and told us his brother had been killed by one. Then we went on to the actual waterfalls.

This was my favorite part of the park. Steel steps had been driven into the cliffs, offering observation posts at several points along several deep waterfalls along the river. It was gorgeous. We climbed down to the river bank and then back up and down as we followed the drops along the falls. After a short break back at the gift shop, we made our way back to the van and resumed our long ride back, which was almost three hours.

We didn’t go on any more excursions the whole trip, instead just lounging around the resort. I felt like the resort’s excursions were probably overpriced, but I didn’t have it in me to deal with the firm that waited right outside the resort on the beach. I really wanted to check out the adventure park down in Monteverde, but wasn’t sure that Younger would have been able to do the fun stuff that I wanted to do.

Food at the resort was not that great, with a few exceptions. There was a cafeteria that served various fare, every meal had rice and beans, plantains, a white cheese that resembled mozzarella, and tortillas. There were several stations that had chefs preparing various foods like omelets for breakfast, or fish and chicken dishes. It was traditional Costa Rican fare, but it seemed pretty bland for the most part. The girls didn’t eat much of it, despite wanting to eat there every day. There was a nice selection of desserts and sugary cereals that they liked, of course.

There were several other places to get food there, including a couple of grill stations where one could get hamburgers, pizza, or chorizo, and a two additional sit down restaurants with a la carte menus. As ‘exclusive’ level guests we were able to eat breakfast and lunch here without reservations, but we needed to reserve seats for dinner. This is where I preferred to eat. My best meal was when they transformed the fancier restaurant to a steak house, and I had a wonderful plate that included a trio of meats, including a bacon-wrapped chicken breast, and a pork chop and beef tenderloin.

Of course the alcohol was included. There was a swim up bar in the exclusive pool near our room, serving the local brewed lager, as well as a number of mixed drinks. You could get beer anywhere, and I probably woke up every morning with a hangover, except the day after we went on our trip.

At night there were tons of entertainment options. The entertainment started with a movie — League of Superpets was on the two nights that we saw — followed by an act for the kids to bring them up on stage and interact. After that was a dance and comedy show, with a troupe of four or five couples dancing to Disney songs or whatever, interspersed with a clown slash jesters that juggled and joked and did unicycles and other physical humor. Everything was in Spanish, of course, save for the emcee who repeated everything in Spanish and English — he was a Canadian expat who had lived in CR for twenty five years.

I felt bad about not making any attempt to learn Spanish before our trip. I started doing Duolingo one or two days into the trip, and after a few days was able to make simple requests en Espanol. It wasn’t quite enough though. Despite everything I’d heard about ‘everyone’ in CR speaking English, it wasn’t quite the case. Many of the guides and staff were able to talk to us, but most of the random staff that I talked to didn’t know any. I was able to bridge the gap by using the translate app on my iPhone, it actually worked pretty well despite the app’s clunkiness.

The weather was great the entire trip. There was one or two days where it got so hot around that we had to hide out in our room for a siesta, but we wound up spending mornings and evenings out in the pool.

Missus and I didn’t really spend too much alone time together. We put the girls in the resort’s kids’ club a few times, but they didn’t really enjoy it so we only left them there a few hours. In hindsight, we should have just left the girls in the room by themselves to sneak off and eat.

In all we spent seven days at the resort, which in hindsight, again, was a bit too much. Four days would have been ideal, and we could have spent a couple of days wandering around the country, adventuring. Maybe next year.

We enjoyed a bit of schadenfreude while we were enjoying the tropical weather. A massive cold front had swept through the US, bringing temperatures at home down into the teens. Two days before Christmas the temperature at the house didn’t get above twenty degrees. Our hubris, however, was about hit us upon our return to the United States.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *