Jesse and I came back to Liberia a few hours early to find our hotel and wait for the Boles to get into town. We decided to check out AirBnB. It's where people rent out either their home, condo, apartment, or just a room in their home. Tons of people who own vacation homes put them up on AirBnB to generate a little cash while they're not using them. It's pretty secure. You have to contact the owner first to say you're interested and tell them a little about yourselves before they will even open the reservation. Most of the time none of the addresses are listed until after you've paid for your reservation [which could sound sketch to the person making the reservation, but AirBnB is a respected network and they validate all of the locations, etc.] Plus there are reviews you can read of course. The home owners can actually write a review about you as a renter! Which is awesome, in my opinion, because then you'll get owners to open the reservations faster if they know they can trust you. Anyways, it's a cool system and it's WAY cheaper if you're splitting with another couple/family. More on that when we get to Manuel Antonio. So we found a great place in Liberia that was a little out of town [safer] and the family who owned the home sounded super friendly. We'd be renting two of their rooms, not the whole place.
Jesse and I found it [which was actually a little difficult. long story that i don't feel like writing]. It was a really nice two story home with a gated fence and rooftop terrace at the end of this long dirt road next to a mango plant. Just as we approached it, the first real rain in Costa Rica started. And it poured! We ran next door under someone else's covered porch and started yelling Upe! Hello!? Yes, we'd knocked on the big front gate but no one heard. Finally we saw Rema [the wife] up on the terrace and called out to her! She let us in, showed us around, gave us fresh passionfruit juice and set up the hammocks for us after the rain. She was awesome! And the place was really nice and clean. She and her husband had lived in the US for a while but before her daughter was born decided to move back to Costa Rica.
They spent several years being managers of some eco-friendly farm[???] or something out in the middle of NO WHERE Costa Rica. Like, you traveled on a dirt road, and when that ended you hiked 2-3 hours through the jungle to reach this place! When she found out we were mormon she, in a respectful way, told us that they joked all the time how "there's no way the mormons will find us out here!" She laughed and said, "but they DID!"
Her husband, Jorge, was at the beach and her daughter spending the night at a friend's house. We had a few hours to kill so she just spent time giving us TONS of information on what to do in the area, cool volcano's that aren't as discovered worth checking out, hikes, waterfalls, etc. We decided it would be near impossible for the Boles to find this place so Jesse and I decided to head back into town to wait for them. Rema told us which of the two bus stops they'd be rolling into and we left to go meet them.
We knew they were getting in at 2:00 to San Jose so we figured they'd come in around 5 or 6. Bus after bus from San Jose came but we never saw two gringos get off. Around 7 we were sitting there in the bus station watching all of the street vendors pack up for the night. All of the locals and workers there had assessed the situation and would look at us every time a new bus came through. All of the sudden a guy [who we'd NEVER seen before] ran up to us from behind and said, "hey! I think that's the bus you're friends might be on!". For whatever reason it was the only bus that didn't come through the terminal but just parked out around the side of the station?! We ran over and Jesse spotted Milla! Turns out Obama decided to fly in this same day and pretty much all of San Jose froze which delayed their time. It was dark by now so we were glad we could meet up with them and just let them relax and not have to find our place.
We get back to Rema and Jorge's just as Jorge pulls up with his two friends from Argentina who were also going to be staying there. Two cousins. Super nice. We walk through the door and Rema says "you guys, we're having the 'something something ant' infestation!" I look around and realize they are EVERYWHERE. Covering every light turned on and the tops of the window drapes, dead on the floor, etc. And they could FLY! Apparently, when the seasons change from dry to rainy and you get that first initial down poor [the one we were caught in earlier] it sets off this huge movement of ants. They infest every house for a night but are usually gone by the next day. They're harmless just, you know, ANTS! We made our way to the outside terrace and hung out as long as we could catching up. Luckily they didn't really crawl on or around the bed but we still all slept that night feeling like we had things crawling all over us! We did turn the fan on HIGH and put it right at the foot of our bed. It felt like we had a hurricane in our room but hopefully it kept the ants away too. And just like Rema had said, they were GONE in the morning. Completely! So weird! I'd still give Rema & Jorge a good review, we just happened to choose the ONE night where the ants make their pilgrimage.
They fixed us a delicious breakfast in the morning [traditional gallo pinto & fruit] and we headed on our way to Lake Ometepe in Nicaragua!
The border crossing in Nicaragua was an experience. Not as crazy as the border between Thailand and Cambodia but still just unorganized and chaotic. We laughed about it all, especially the guys trying to sell us the entrance forms that you get for free at the desk. Nice try guys.
We split a taxi to the port city. The countryside was beautiful plains/rolling hills with tons of huge wind turbines. At the port we found the quickest ferry and boarded. The ferry sitting next to us was a piece of WORK. Our's wasn't much better but I felt slightly better stepping onto the boat that wasn't TOTALLY falling apart. Now that I think about it, this was a foreshadowing of our whole experience there in a way!
[the ferry we took]
[the one we opted out of...]
[these two are going to sail around the world one day! just watch!]
Lake Ometepe is HUGE. You can't really see the island with the two volcanos from the mainland. They only started to emerge about halfway through the 1 hour journey.
[Nicaragua made our 14th country each and 21st collectively! And neither of us have been on a cruise. This is a big deal to us. obviously.]
I joke about the foreshadowing because we rented scooters that were FALLING APART [brakes and all.........] and the electricity kept going out during the night which cut power to the fan - the only source of relief! It's more of a joke than anything because Nicaragua was actually awesome.
Jesse had probably spent the most time researching and planning Ometepe out of every place we were going on this trip. But when we got to the island we realized it was a little harder to get to and we were running out of time. Once again, our plans changed but everything worked out. After a fun drive around the island, avoiding wild hogs crossing the road, we stopped at the budget hotel find. Then Austin and Milla happened upon a nicer place next door so we switched over to a shared room in a cute cabin right on the lakefront. It had an actual restaurant attached and real locks instead of pad locks on the doors! :)
[looks like an ocean doesn't it?!]
[milla & austin]
[see that little wooden table in the water? it's where the locals do the laundry. little wooden tables lined the coast]
[cool ipad editing skills jesse!]
Whether or not to hike one of the volcanos, and which volcano, was a topic of great discussion! We got SO many different answers on how long it would take, how difficult it was, which one was cooler, etc. The hours ranged anywhere from 6-10 so it was kind of a big deal that we figure out what the deal was.
We finally decided on Maderas and braced our selves for a 7 hour 4,000 foot climb in the morning. It is the smaller of the two but is more jungly and full of wildlife. So we hear. Our hotel set it up. Oh my gosh, the restaurant waiter at that hotel was SO great. He hooked us up with an awesome room, a good rate for the volcano hike, and convinced the scooter rental guys to come to US to pick up the scooters so we didn't have to go all the way back to the port in the morning! He started a tab for everything which is hilarious because we were paying cash...Nicaragua is just CHILL like that.
Early in the morning we met our guide, Wilmer, and his girlfriend [who was pregnant mind you, still in her first trimester] at the restaurant along with a couple other people who were joining us; the Dutch and German boys we'd briefly met the night before and a Canadian kid who kept talking about politics. A few times the Canadian lit up. How smoking weed and hiking go together is beyond me. But what made my heart ache was seeing our guides girlfriend ask to share "the sweet stuff." Regardless, Wilmer was A-WESOME. He knew SO MUCH about that island and the volcanos. He'd hiked them over a thousand times. No exaggeration. He kept us at a good pace which was great because it did end up taking us about 7 hours, even at his quick pace.
We saw tons of monkeys and heard the howler monkeys off in the distance making their presence known. A review we read of the hike said how she had to "hoist her self up over big roots and uneven ground." I thought it was just some inexperienced person whining a little. But she wasn't kidding. We were literally going straight up, having to hoist ourselves up and over big roots and uneven terrain. The path was narrow with walls of dirt touching our shoulders at times. The trees created the perfect canopy above us. It was absolutely beautiful. But the top third of the hike was the BEST part because we entered the cloud forrest portion. That meant muddy trails, moss covering EVERYTHING, and more shades of green than you can imagine!
The hike got that much more cool!
[what the trail looked like most of the way]
[hahaha every time i see this picture i think 'adam & eve']
We finally reached the highest point that we could then hiked down into this crater. The clouds were super crazy. I think that tip is the actual highest point of the volcano, only 40 feet higher then where we had hiked?
This wild dog that followed another group up was hangin' out at the top. The dogs in Nicaragua were WAY more malnourished and dirty. It was so sad! Still, this wild dog kept barking and pointing! We ventured over and saw what he'd found. A HUGE Mexican Porcupine. On our way down we'd hear a bunch of rustling and that dog would just suddenly appear out of the dense jungle. He knew that mountain!
On the way down we stopped at the perfect lookout spot for the other volcano. It's just hard to capture how pretty it was. It was one of those moments that you realize where you are! On a volcano, in the middle of an ISLAND, in the middle of a LAKE, in NICARAGUA.
On the way up to the volcano we'd seen a sign advertising a rodeo! So on the way back Wilmer was like, "hey man! [he said 'man' a lot] want to stop at the rodeo?!" Uh yeah! Between the creaky stands, the Canadian/politic buff's dumb friend getting in the ring with the bull, the drunk guy simply falling flat on his back off the gate wall, or the band of boys playing every other note wrong, it was a total experience! We loved it!
[wilmer had the driver just pull the van up so we could sit up top]
[thanks for the pics austin!]
[watching these fisherman early in the a.m.]
[our digs! after a long hot night. pretty sure it was this same morning that a gecko lost his grip on the ceiling above our bed and fell just inches from jesse's head. i freaked out enough for the both of us]
[the other volcano we didn't hike in the background. thanks for grabbing these photos milla!]
We're so glad we hiked Maderas! It was such an awesome experience, EVEN if we could hardly bend our legs for the next 4 days. I'm not kidding. Stepping off a curb hurt. so. bad.
>>> I realize these blog posts have TONS of details you don't care about. But they're meaningful to us. So bare with me, please!
This day was mostly just travel.
It was going to be a tricky one too:
20 min taxi to port - 1 hr ferry to other port - 1 hr taxi to border - 1.5 hr bus to Liberia - 3.5 hr bus ride to Puntarenas - 3.5 hr bus ride to Quepos/Maneul Antonio. Jesse had prepped me before going to Costra Rica that you may do a lot of waiting for buses since they're not always on time or only come ever so often. Some how, we were ALWAYS in the right place at the right time this day and made every connection within minutes.
Again, I mostly just stared out the window but that last 3.5 hour bus ride was BEAUTIFUL. The countryside became even more tropical and we passed through some of the cutest towns and saw some of the most gorgeous ocean views as the sun set!
[we transferred buses in puntarenas - an area where jesse was branch president]
We stayed in the Wide Mouth Frog hostel in Quepos just for a night then checked out AirBnB once again. And SCORED. Since the place had two bedrooms we could split the rate which made it MUCH closer to our budget and totally worth it. This private villa was available which can sleep 16 [two separate apartments], has it's own pool, and a ton of other great amenities, in a great location. We asked to rent out the bottom apartment with two bedrooms, kitchen, and gorgeous bathroom. We get there and find a total fortress. Like completely gated with a lookout turret. Yeah. Nadja, the manager who stays on-site while guests was there was so sweet and kept the place looking perfect 24/7. Lucky for us, no one was renting the upstairs apartment so we had the entire [outdoor] space to ourselves. Ah. It was really the PERFECT set up.
[a huge outdoor living space with grill, table that seats like 20, hammocks, fridge, and a menu for EVERY restaurant in town so we could choose before going]
[right outside our front door]
[view from up top. you can actually see the water. just not in this pic]
The beach and National Park were just a quick $.80 bus ride away.
[ok we weren't really that tan. i wish. the lighting just played a mean joke on us]
[these restaurant planes were everywhere]
The Tamarindo sunsets won but the Manuel Antonio beaches were cleaner and nicer. If I had to choose between the two, I'd probably go back to Manuel Antonio!
[the boys played in the waves]
[the boles climbed big rocks]
We went into the park and the beach inside was gorgeouuussss. Costa Rica is truly where the jungle meets the sand. It's nuts!
[accidental matching. we just cant't help it!]
We decided to not do a guide in the park. Judged on what we saw, we think they actually do rip you off. Lucky for us Austin has a trained eye and spotted several sloths, cool birds, and other random creatures walking around those parts.
These capuchin monkey's about killed me! They're so dang CUTE! Austin let Jesse use his nice zoom lens to grab a few shots.
[eeeek! we came to one point on the trail where there were probably a dozen of them jumping from limb to limb, some close enough to touch. i was in heaven!!!!]
On our last day we went on a sailing excursion. We saw dolphins, flying fish [SO weird], and snorkeled a little. It was cool to see the park from that view and take a dip in the open water. Ok it was actually really scary for me. I'm terrified of the ocean. But I sucked it up and jumped in.
[my favorite spot]
[the boat was rocking. i'm sure it would be hard for me to focus too. oh well. group shot!]
We made our way back to the airport and caught both flights home with ease! It was a GREAT trip. We adventured, we relaxed, we ate all of the gallo pinto, salsa lizano, fresh pineapple [woah it was good], and banana smoothies we could consume. What else is there?
Jesse did an AWESOME job being our translator/navigator/negotiator. I'll brag for a second because I know he never would but he had at least 4 people tell him his accent was so good they thought he might even be Costa Rican. He worked hard on the language while he was there and it's still paying off 5 years later.
I loved having those two weeks of Jesse all to myself! Having him at work and school so much are great sacrifices but it can get pretty lonely sometimes! I treasured every second we were together to last me til our next adventure. :)
We're back to reality and into the swing of things now. By the end of this semester, Jesse will be halfway through his MBA. Can't believe it.
All I have left to say is...