We like to plan. You know that. Planning means we are working towards a goal. We don't know how to function without some sort of goal to work towards. When Jesse was in his last year of undergrad it was simply 'working towards graduation & getting a full-time job' which was ALL CONSUMING. Then those two things happened. Two major blessings, no doubt. Then within weeks of reaching those goals we were completely bewildered at what to do with our lives! There was no goal to work towards! Enter grad school. Gathering referrals, writing entrance essays, interviews, etc. We were busy once again and it felt normal! Fast forward to 5 months into school. Graduation seems CENTURIES away. We need smaller more frequent goals to work towards. Our solution wasn't decided on, but more realized after the fact. Traveling is what keeps us sane. After our funds are allocated into their necessary places, any last "fun penny" goes into the travel jar. Our holey socks would tell you so. [More on this later. A travel tips post is in the works.]
Earlier this year we were getting the itch when a phone call came. Let me back up for a minute. Jesse served his LDS mission in Costa Rica. He'd been back with his family to visit but we'd often talked about making it down there together. Enter our friends, Austin and Milla Boles. Milla was my roommate in college and became one of my closest friends. Austin and Jesse got a long great and the 4 of us had tons of fun camping and adventuring together during our time in Provo. On one said camping trip we joked about how fun it would be to go to Costa Rica together! Fast forward a few years, several moves, MBA and PhD acceptances, and one baby [clearly not ours] to that phone call. Here's how the convo went:
Austin & Milla: Hey guys! We were wondering if...you'd like to go to Costa Rica with us!
Us: Hey guess what? We're already going...in May! Does that work?
Austin & Milla: That's when we were planning on it!
Us: Sounds like a plan.
So it was decided. Costa Rica in May. Jesse would be in between semesters. Austin had a break from his PhD program. Their sweet baby would get to spend that time with his grandma. We were following through on our half joking plans made years ago.
Jesse took his last final, came home to grab his bags, and we were off to the airport! We don't waste a MINUTE. We chose to fly standby on this trip to save money. It's a blessing and a curse. If you're not willing to spend 18 hours in an airport then it may not be for you...
Needless to say, we didn't make it out of SLC that night on the midnight flight. So we decided to sleep in the airport and try for the 6 a.m. A cool kid picking up trash whispered as he walked passed us, "B Terminal has the only benches without arms. They're not too keen on people sleeping overnight here." Did you know there's a website dedicated to rating airports for sleep worthy-ness? Regardless, in our effort to save money we found said benches and made ourselves as indiscrete as possible to catch a few z's.
Well, the 6 a.m. flight came and went and along with several more after that. That's just the way it goes! So we did a lot of this:
The last flight of the day was approaching and it wasn't looking promising! We waited as quietly and patiently as we could watching the availability numbers fluctuate. Then by a sheer MIRACLE two spots opened! I still do not know how! And they were even beside each other! We quickly boarded the plane and held our breath 'til the door closed.
We got to Atlanta, grabbed a cheap motel to catch up on sleep and shower before catching the first flight to Costa Rica in the morning.
A side note: we had planned out A LOT of this trip. Remember, we're planners? But that night in Atlanta we decided to switch up the first few days of our itinerary. This is so not like us to just change everything on a whim but it totally worked out for us.
We landed in San José, grabbed our first meal in country, and headed to the bus terminal to catch a bus to Monteverde. We had planned on going to Limon on the East Coast but decided to just start heading West.
We knew hardly anything about Monteverde but we are glad we went. Jesse had one option for lodging ready but nothing booked nor any other idea of what we were doing there. So VERY unlike us!
That bus ride was a rude awakening for me to Costa Rica. Well, not rude. I'm used to unfamiliar cultures, different forms of transportation, and the like but it was just a crazy 4 hours. These buses are the type you just know haven't had their brakes checked, well, ever. There's no AC and more smells than you can comprehend. I sat by the window and just stared out of it the whole time to not get sick from the winding roads and smells. I loved watching the countryside go by. It really is gorgeous. We saw all types of people get on and off that bus. My favorite was the crowd of total free spirits. Probably in their 20's. Only half of them were wearing shoes. One guy had juggling torches sticking out of his bag. And apparently bras weren't acceptable. One guy had the longest dreads I've EVER seen and since he was standing [there were no seats left] I watched as those dreads hit another passenger in the face every time we hit a bump or turned a corner. That poor passenger! I wondered where in the world we were headed?!
The bus roared on and then we started to climb. The mountains were covered in green and the vistas were beautiful. We climbed and climbed and climbed. Soon the road turned to dirt and we noticed the edge of the road getting closer and the cliffs getting higher. I'm not going to lie, it was unnerving. At one point there were a few potholes in the road to which the driver SOMEHOW knew to expect. He slowly passed over them but the bus still swayed considerably. I stuck my head out the window and was met with a 200 foot cliff and like zero visible road. This lasted for about 45 minutes and I could not imagine how the driver could navigate this road when the sun went down?! Well, he did. And we finally saw a few lights off in the distance. We rolled into town and asked the first person where Cabinas Eddy was. She pointed and we just started walking.
We found it and were so happy to hear they had a room open. Thank you off-season. The family who owned it is AWESOME and a wealth of knowledge. I think it was technically a hostel but we got a room with a private bathroom. I'm passed the days of dorms with bunk beds and shared bathrooms. Way way passed those days. But this place was great. It was clean, modern, and safe. I would definitely stay there again. You do meet some cool people at hostel-type places. The fellow backpackers there humbled us and made us realize we're losing our backpacker edge. This hit me hard in Thailand and was reaffirmed in Costa Rica. We looked [and smelled] like we belonged with our backpacks and unwashed clothes, so we were accepted and made a few friends there.
A note about Monteverde: It's a cloud forrest. Which means it almost always has a layer of clouds that just hang low, making the trees green and the jungles lush. Except there were no clouds while we were there! Which apparently is becoming more frequent [global warming?] and GREATLY affecting the wildlife. It is also the mecca for adventure. They had tons of zip lining ropes courses that flew you over the tops of the trees, horseback riding, hanging bridge tours, nature walks both day and night, and the highest bungee jump in Central America where, I think, you jump out of a suspended cable car?!
Since we had done similar things in Thailand, and we were on a budget, we opted to just do the nature hike. A guide walked us through the forest and let us use his scope when he spotted the rare Quetzal bird. It was gorgeous! The hike was good, and it was fun to ask the guide questions, but it may not have been worth the price. It's hard to say when it comes to these things. There were a few times that we honestly wondered if things were "planted..." just in case we didn't see any other wildlife. Honestly, it's totally possible with the way tourism works these days. Sad really. Regardless, we DID see some amazing things on the hike and loved trying to spot the birds... even though we're not bird people. We met several more friends along the hike, mostly backpackers and tourists, but still fun to swap stories with none the less.
[the caterpillars take over a leaf, eat it til it's gone and move on to the next leaf]
That evening we went into town to grab some groceries, ok cookies and other goods, Jesse wanted me to try! We grabbed some dinner and found our free spirited friends playing guitar and juggling those fire torches for real. I was actually surprised to see them. Monteverde doesn't seem like their jam. You know?
[hammocking and relaxing on the balcony]
We played games with a few of our new friends, saw our first sloth slowly making his way across a telephone wire upside down, swapped stories, and hit the bed ready for our next stop, Tamarindo!
That was a LONG day of traveling. We left Monteverde early. We made it maybe 2 miles and the bus broke down. We all filed off the bus and and waited until another more local [and more ghetto] bus picked us up. Every piece of plastic rattled in that thing as we made our way down the bumpy dirt road. Somehow it wasn't as scary on the way down! Jesse and I sat in the back, which was a total roller coaster, and laughed as everybody's bags tumbled all over the place. It's just what happens. Jesse somehow knew when to stop the bus along the country road where we would catch another one heading to Liberia. We only sat there for mere minutes before the next bus arrived. It was in those moments that I realized how HOT Costa Rica is, a stark contrast from the cloud forrest's of Monteverde.
We stopped and moved on. Stopped and moved on. At one point we stopped in a town that Jesse had served. In fact, we drove right by the apartment they lived in.
We finally made it to Liberia, and faced our next unplanned decision. Which beach to head to? We found a random hotel and just asked the concierge what we should do. He gave us a really comprehensive idea of what to expect on the peninsula [which was really nice of him since we weren't even guests]. We decided on Tamarindo. It seemed like a good hub.
A note about the Nicoyan Peninsula: You can't just drive from beach to beach. They don't all connect. You usually have to drive an hour or two inland to get to another part of the peninsula.
He gave us a book with the bus schedule and we were relieved to see it would only take 1.5 hours to get there! Well, it wasn't a direct bus so that 1.5 hours turned into 2.5. It was a bummer at the time just because we weren't expecting that but, A. What were we expecting? We're in Costa Rica! B. It waaaas a good way to see the real Costa Rica.
We rolled into Tamarindo and found the first smoothie shop that had wi-fi. With our cool banana and mango smoothies in hand we searched for somewhere to stay. Again, we had thought we were headed to Samara but ended up in Tamarindo. Another change [for the better] in our plans. The shop owner gave us several recommendations to check out. Hotel Palapa won. It was ON the beach. A little above what we had planned on spending for hotels but Tamarindo is a hot spot and we realized it was just inevitable. Once again we were glad it was the off-season because we scored such a great place. Our room had a little living space with the bed up in a loft above the living space. They had curtains that covered the wall of windows, except for the top half which totally looked up into the loft. So funny.
[view from the room]
Our original plan had been to beach hop. But when we found out that it wasn't going to be as easy as we thought, and we realized how lively Tamarindo is, we opted to just stay. We realized we're ALWAYS on the move during our trips. Never staying anywhere more than a couple nights. So we changed our plans, again, and forced ourselves to just stay put in one place and enjoy the relaxation. You know what? We loved it. We get why people just go and hang out on the beach for a few days. Once you let yourself calm down, it is amazing!
Our hotel had a restaurant which, ironically, we never ate at. We found the restaurants near all the hostels that were much cheaper and just as good. I actually had an amazing gourmet burger [of all things] at one of those little places.
We totally took advantage of the breakfast though - what a view!
We spent a lot of time just walking along the beach, watching the surfers [it's a big surf hub!] and holding hands. :)
[i loved all the dogs hanging out on the beach! most of them were collared and looked healthy but i still refused to touch them...]
The sunsets in Tamarindo really spoiled us. Every night. I'll never forget those evening walks!
We rented beach cruisers and found a few parts of the coast that were less crowded.
[what a babe.]
[watching the tide come in. it was crazy how far out it went during the day revealing tons of rock!]
We did switch hotels our last night in Tamarindo. We had a free night stay from Hotels.com [if you book with them 10 times you get the 11th free every time. they have a good selection of hotels too so check it out]! We opted for the Captain Suizo. Caaaaaaaptain Suizo! Please tell me you get this reference. Anyone? It was fabulous. And a great place for a family. Super clean, great pool, good beach access, great buffet, and tons of lizards, birds, and monkeys hangin' around the property! Ugh. No pun intended.
[huge room with another wall of windows, canopy bed, sitting area, and ginormous bathroom. it really would be easy to stay there a week with all of the space & storage we had. another trip with a bigger budget for sure!]
[free papaya smoothie after arriving]
[saw lots of these guys and heard my first howler monkey! was not expecting it and it scared me to death! have you ever heard one? google it.]
A note about Tamarindo: Visiting it during the off-season was great. Not too busy but still enough going on that it felt alive. Lot's of restaurants and hotels to choose from, lot's of surf board rentals, lot's of shopping, etc. It's a huge surf and spring-breaker spot which might not be awesome for a family visit during the high-season?
We left Tamarindo relaxed and excited to meet up with the Boles in Liberia for another week in paradise!
To be continued.