Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jugando por el oído (Part one)

My friend Tim started talking about wanting to take a trip to Central or South America about a year ago. Then at our weekly poker game, a friend of ours returned from the region with many stories and photos. I expressed interest in going down there as well. A month or so later, my sudden departure form the 9 to 5 acted as a catalyst to put the wheels into motion. Based on our available time and funds, we decided to keep the trip confined to the country of Costa Rica. We hit the interwebz, booked airfare, and counted the days until departure. We booked a place to stay on the first and last few days of the trip, but decided to wing it for everything in between. I am really glad we chose to travel this way. It made everything a bit more of an adventure, and allowed us to stay longer in certain places if we wanted to.

We arrived in San Jose in the evening, and grabbed a cab to Vida Tropical, to crash for the night. Although were weren't quite sure at first, the cabbie knew exactly where he was going and got us there pretty fast. We walked a few blocks to a restaurant owned by the same guy as the Bed and breakfast, had dinner and beer, and got to bed. In the morning, over a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, and pinto gallo, we talked about where to go. The other owner, Isabella, helped us arrange for a rental car company to pick us up and bring us to their office. A few signatures later we were on the road in our Suzuki Jimny 4x4. Costa Rica recommendation #1: Get a 4x4 if you are going to drive. You never know when you might need it. Costa Rica recommendation #2: Bring or rent a GPS. Most of the streets have no names... literally. Because of that, there really is no numerical address system either. Directions are given in relation to landmarks. So if you were to stop and ask directions you would get an answer like, "Ok... drive for about 5 minutes, then turn left at the big palm tree... not the little one, but the big tall one with coconuts. If you see a bunch of white cows then you went too far. After the turn go about 10 minutes up a bumpy dirt road. You'll pass 2 soccer fields and 3 churches. Turn right at the big green house, and then you're there." Right so.... get a GPS.

The first place we punched into ours was the town of La Fortuna... home of the Arenal volcano. About three hours and a fantastic drive through the mountains later, we arrived in La Fortuna and stopped for lunch. We randomly chose a restaurant off the main road. The food was fantastic. "Lucky us," we thought. Well that would be a common theme throughout the trip. Nearly everywhere we ate (no exaggeration) was fantastic. Most restaurants prepared and served the food with a gourmet presentation for Applebee's prices. I can think of maybe 1 meal that was just "meh". ONce we had our lunch we started looking for a place to stay. Most of the places we read about didn;t have their own hot springs. They all said they would shuttle us to Baldi Hot Springs. We figured we would check out the accommodations there rather than have to take a shuttle. Turns out their prices were good and the hotel room was very nice... offering a really great view of the Arenal Volcano... well the bottom of it at least. The top is often obscured by a cloud of water vapor, as it was for the duration of our stay in the area. So we checked in, threw our bags on the bed and immediately headed out to see the Hanging Bridges before the place shut down for the evening. When we got there the guy at the front informed us that we were too late and it would be getting dark soon. We asked him to please let us go and eventually he said "Ok, but you are on your own you know... there will be nobody here." He also gave us the "local hook-up" price since he had already shut down the credit card machine. So off we went and saw the hanging bridges. I'm pretty sure we probably did it faster than anyone else ever has. I was basically jogging the entire time...up cobblestone paths... around the random tourist... making the bridges themselves sway from back and forth. I scared the hell out of some poor old Peruvian woman. Its not to say we went through so fast that we didn't enjoy it. It was cool. We got some great pictures of the jungle, the volcano and an awesome sunset over Lake Arenal on the drive back to Baldi. We ate at the restaurant at the hotel for dinner before heading off to get, what for me, was the most intense full body massage I've ever experienced. Are your shoulders actually supposed to hurt for the next two days afterwards? Maybe I should have asked her to lighten up... but I thought maybe the pain was therapeutic somehow? After the massage we soaked in the hot springs before heading off to bed. We hung out in the hot springs again the next morning, while they were still filling up. Some of them were ridiculously high as 152 Farenheit! I dipped my toe in just to see what the heck that was like. Yep, pretty much like you would hurt. We found our way down to the much tamer 103-104 pool, and would soak for 5 minutes then jump into the cold dunk, then back into the hot pool. They also had water slides. I don't think Costa Rica has an OSHA in the same way that we do, because these water slides were effing fast. I literally hit the roof of the thing each time I went down it. Here's a video of me flying out the front of it.

We hit the road shortly after. Next stop, Monteverde.

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