Monday, July 10, 2017

Costa Rica Pringles

Costa Rica Part One. Costa Rica Part Two. And finally, now, thank God, the doozy of a long finale. 

Part Two left off in the lush and loud rainforest after a horse ride so long, we could not sit comfortably for days. A breather from adventure was needed so we hit up the most expansive hot springs in the La Fortuna area. We didn't just want hot springs; we wanted A LOT of hot springs. 

The entry fee was shockingly expensive. Alex, when told the price we owed for admission, gaped at entrance man and said, "Do we get to take one of the hot springs home for that price?"

The Baldi hot springs flow straight from the Arenal volcano. The higher and closer to the volcano you climb, the hotter the pools get. It's damn hot in the highest pool. You could poach a fish in that water if you happened to bring a fish along in your bag. We did not bring a fish so instead nearly poached ourselves; we didn't much care because the hot water felt so good on our sore muscles and aching butts.

Plus, swim up bars and piña coladas

and a decent view of the Arenal Volcano

The highest pool.
This here's a fish poachin' pool.

Sufficiently restored to life, we moved on from the rainforest to the next region on the itinerary -- the beach at Manuel Antonio National Park. The long drive from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio involved crossing the infamous "crocodile bridge."

Our little girl on a bridge above a gathering of crocodiles.
I was fine.
(Nope, not fine, dragged her off the bridge,
turns out I don't trust bridges?)

We are not beach people so were approaching our next stop with suspicion. Unfortunately for us, we were also approaching it on Costa Rican Spring Break so were most definitely not alone at Manuel Antonio. It was a real mob scene. It took our driver a painfully long time to thread through the moseying hordes in the streets.

Our hotel up high on the hill at Manuel Antonio was made almost entirely of re-purposed shipping containers. The idea of a hotel made solely of re-purposed and recycled materials was exciting until we entered our room. Rooms made of old shipping containers are as narrow and claustrophobic as you think they'd be.


not so cool

nice view, though, we'll deal

We arrived early morning our first day at the beach to beat the crowds and snag a rental tent for sun hiding purposes. I also immediately rented a boogie board to show the kids "how fun they are." I jumped into the water, waited for a big wave, hopped onto my boogie board with a "whooooo!" I was immediately flipped by the wave, pulled under, dragged along the bottom of the sea for awhile and deposited mercilessly on the beach.

I came up spitting sand and saltwater with a giant bleeding abrasion on my knee -- an area that still bears a faint scar nearly three months later. Goddamit, I am not a beach person.

Coco and The Loosh watched my smooth boogie board moves and saw me limping out of the water and quickly decided boogie boards were not for them. Smart kids.

We all got sunburned at Manuel Antonio despite taking every precaution. You're pretty much hovering over the equator in Costa Rica so there's not much to be done besides diving into full shade at every opportunity. Alex even got sunburned through his shirt. It's a "breathable" shirt he often wears to the gym but we soon learned "breathable" means "full of tiny holes so the sun can stealthily attack your skin."

Our guided tour through Manuel Antonio National Park the next day was much more our style. Our guide carried a telescope and was an expert at spotting wildlife all around us, wildlife we never would have seen solo on account of wildlife's excellent blending skills.

Just look at this damn frog

and look at this owl trying to be a branch

look at this sleepy spider monkey with his little dangly legs
trying to hide behind a leaf

and look at this sloth not even remotely trying to blend in,
just being all, "hey, girl."

A family of capuchin monkeys lived in the trees above our hotel. They played games together like taking turns rolling down the hill behind our room and trying to steal guests' bags if left unattended on the balcony. There were warnings posted everywhere about the thieving capuchins. They are super cute but don't get distracted. They are up to no good. Do not, no matter what they say to you, trust them.

Hi lady,
just put your purse down and go back into your room.
I'll watch it for you, I promise.
I am a helpful monkey.

Animals are all over the place in Costa Rica. They run the show. This big guy surprised us when we sat down to lunch one afternoon and he was right beside our table --

What are you looking at?


And this one startled us when it showed up behind me at our dinner table --

Hi, guys. Deer here.

And this little punk was, of course, waiting for us upon return to our room --

I want to steal your iPhone

The kids were each allowed two souvenirs on our Costa Rica trip. Coco chose a cute one at Manuel Antonio -- a pair of stuffed monkeys that wrap their arms around your neck with the aid of velcro. Lucien, on the other hand, chose a can of Pringles. I told him it was a bad choice, that he was never going to remember a can of Pringles and should instead choose something more lasting. He insisted it's what he wanted. Fine, we all have to live with our choices sometimes.

He has ever since made it a point to prove me wrong. Still to this day, nearly three months later, even if he's in the middle of playing one of his video games or doing homework or whatever, he'll suddenly lean back and yell, "Whooooo! Remember those amazing Costa Rica Pringles?"

Our final destination was the wild Osa Peninsula. The Osa Peninsula is not for the faint of heart. It is remote and hard to get to. There aren't many people around. But if you want to experience the unabashed wildness of Costa Rica in all its unpredictable glory, the Osa is the place of dreams.

The Osa

There is no easy way to get to the Osa peninsula but one way, the way we chose, is an hour-long boat taxi from Sierpe through crocodile-infested waters. The boat taxi waiting area was full of people glancing anxiously between the nearby sign that said, "Crocodile area, do not swim" and our boat captains, all of whom seemed to be about fifteen years old.

Before we got moving,
we had no idea what we were in for

The boat taxi traveled at suffocating high speeds down the river through the crocodile laden mangrove forest and made sharply banked turns so severe you could reach down and touch the water without much effort. When we crossed the wakes of other boats, our boat went airborne. It was an intense trip, made more intense when the co-captain suddenly began motioning frantically for all of us to put on our life jackets (they had been casually tossed at our feet before that). Soon thereafter we left the river and hit the open water and the ocean swells. Holy shitballs.

One blessed hour later, the boat beached at Drake Bay, our destination. We smoothed our hair, tried to get our breathing back to normal, then took off our shoes and jumped into the shallow water to walk ashore on shaky legs. Our suitcases were balanced on the backs of the captain and co-captain and carried to the beach beside us.

The captains
trying to get the boat taxi back out to sea
so they can go scare more people

A cherry red 1980 Range Rover was waiting for us on the beach. Cheerful American Patrick jumped out to give us warm handshakes and welcome us to Drake Bay. Patrick stuffed us into the back of the old Range Rover, tossed our suitcases on the rack up top, and drove us up the long driveway to his resort, Drake Bay Getaway, where his co-owner and partner, Yens, awaited us with pineapple orange welcome smoothies. Every moment from that moment on made it evident -- the decision to brave the Osa Peninsula was worth the terror.

Drake Bay Getaway Resort itself is small, only five cabins, but it is immaculate and beautiful and built entirely of sustainable materials. Yens and Patrick built the resort themselves with the help of a small team of locals and have since carved out a very special life for themselves in Costa Rica. They left their high stress jobs in Seattle a few years ago; one used to be an aeronautical engineer and the other a software guy. They don't miss their previous lives at all. That definitely got Alex's wheels turning so don't be surprised if we suddenly up and vanish to some remote exotic corner of the world.

The shining star of the Osa Peninsula is Corcovado National Park, the largest park in Costa Rica, renowned as one of the most biodiverse places on earth. It is remote and pristine and fringed by unspoiled beaches. To protect the park and animals therein, any visitor to Corcovado must be registered and accompanied by a certified guide.

Our guide arrived at Drake Bay just before dawn to pick us up for our Corcovado tour. The first part of the tour was another high speed 45-minute boat ride to the far away ranger station at the edge of the park.

Coco is still very sleepy at this early hour
and does not care she's on a boat

The first thing we saw upon jumping out of the boat at the ranger station was a lizard scooped up by a very large bird right in front of us. Coco and Lucien screamed; the bird had bitten off the lizard's tail during the attack and the tail sat on the ground wiggling around by itself for quite some time after its owner was long gone.

I've never seen my kids that horrified/speechless. Welcome to Corcovado, my darlings!

We hiked with our guide into the dense forest. Our guide soon spotted many more animals for us to look at through her telescope.

look at this damn howler monkey

I've never been in such an isolated place, a place that bears very little if any trace of humans. The thick woods were silent except for the occasional rustling of animals in nearby brush or the call of a tropical bird or the whoosh whoosh whoosh from high in the canopy as howler and spider monkeys swung effortlessly from tree to tree. It was slightly unnerving to be so far away from civilization (I knew I was alone out there with giant snakes and not much backup) but I was also happy to learn places that pure and wild still exist. 

Our guide cracked open several coconuts using a piece of shell and her hands. She fed many pieces to this female coati who was eyeing us from the edge of the woods while we took a breather on the beach. The coati, according to our guide, showed signs of recently giving birth and nursing. She needed a lot of food.

Our guide said it was OK to feed the animals things they would eat in the wild anyway. It's especially OK if you're opening a coconut and there's a new mama coati nearby. Coati adore coconut but they're difficult to open. They'll rarely take the time to do it. It's too risky to be distracted that long in a place crazy as Corcovado.

I told the guide it was OK to feed coconut to the wild Coco, too. She is also a big fan --

Our hike ended at a waterfall where we were able to take a relaxing swim before heading back.

After we'd changed back into dry clothes and started the walk back, our guide pointed at an alligator sunning itself on the banks not far downstream. We were like, "WHY DID YOU LET US GET IN THE WATER" but she assured us the alligator would never get that far upstream because of all the rocks in its way. Plus, it was just a small American alligator, maybe five feet long. It would never do any lethal harm to us, worst it could do was gnaw on a limb a little bit and leave it at that. Well that's comforting.

look at this bastard

My family and our guide. 
We are all alone in this world
and have been for hours

We made it through our hike and relaxed on the gorgeous beach outside the ranger station while waiting for our boat. We said aloud, "What a perfect beach, maybe we should go for a swim while we wait" and our guide said, "Gah! No! Never this beach!" and pointed at the giant crocodile floating not even ten yards offshore, only his eyeballs and part of his snout barely visible above the water. He was lying patiently in wait for a heron or some stupid swimmer.

Do you see that dark shape low in the water, just in front of the cresting wave?
That's the sneaky guy pretending to be a rock.

(Aside: the word for crocodile in Spanish is crocodrilo but Lucien mispronounced it and accidentally said "crocodildo." I can't hear the correct Spanish word in my head anymore thanks to him and inevitably end up saying "crocodildo" whenever the topic of crocodiles comes up. You'd be surprised how often crocodiles are mentioned in Mexico. I gracefully back out of the conversation before I embarrass myself.)

look at this squawky bird

they are gorgeous to see in flight

Our boat ride back to Drake Bay was gentle and sunny and smooth until our captain suddenly banked hard to the left and killed the engine. We were like, "Oh God, what surprise hath Costa Rica for us now? A murderous boat captain?" until we realized he'd spotted a large pod of spinner dolphins, steered us right into them and killed the engine so we could enjoy them swimming around us in silence and not scare them off. It was a gorgeous handful of minutes. Sorry I assumed the worst of you for a second there, Captain, I am suspicious by nature.

The next day Lucien was dehydrated and feeling a bit sick. Yens had given us a bunch of Powerade that morning to get his fluids and electrolytes back up but Lucien was still woozy and wanted only to lie down.

I stayed in the cabin with Lucien, reading a book and enjoying the view, while Alex and Coco went to explore the town of Drake Bay. Not long after Alex and Coco's departure, I heard a knock at our cabin door. It was Yens. He'd brought me a couple beers on ice since he knew I was stuck in the room for awhile. Now that is service. That is also how you win my friendship and loyalty forever.

We loved Drake Bay Getaway (they don't know I'm writing this but they do know I love them). It was our favorite stop of the trip due to its wild location, it's friendliness, its view, plus its three meals a day of gourmet food. We saved the best for last ---- and now Vanessa Williams is in my head and will be for hours.

the view from our cabin

a horse hanging on the beach

Personalized plates for every meal based on our food preferences.
The place is goddamn heaven.

By the end of our seventeen days in Costa Rica, we were all sunburned, abraded, bruised, itchy from strange rashes and unidentifiable bug bites, and exhausted. It was time to go home.

The fastest way back to San Jose to catch our flight back to Mexico City was a tiny propeller plane. Patrick drove us in the cherry red Range Rover one last time to the rinky dink Drake Bay airport. Part of the ride involved driving through a river. The water level was above the tires. I was sure we'd be washed away but Patrick just kept chatting happily as he plowed on through. Jesus, place, stop scaring me when nobody else seems to be scared.

I've got pretty serious plane issues and that damn plane from Drake Bay to San Jose did not much help. The tiny thing bounced all over the place, caught up in wild air currents over the water and mountains of Costa Rica. If our boat captain had been fifteen, I swear our plane pilot was twelve.

Supposedly the flight only lasted 35 minutes. To me it felt like 35 minutes all right.... but all of them underwater. (Reprise of awesome Mario joke from my last post, huzzah.)

what fresh hell is this

 those are the backs of our youngster pilots on either side of that half wall

Never again. Never. Again.

OK! That was hella long but it's over, it's finished.
You will never hear me speak of Costa Rica again
until Alex quits his job and we move there to open an eco-resort.

Those Pringles were truly amazing,

and these guys are definitely NOT trying to steal your stuff.
(yes, they are)


  1. WOW such a cool vacation I will miss Costa Rica via your posts... I dated a Costa Rican guy long long before Costa Rica was a hip and happenin' place I use to tell people he was Italian because I had no idea where costa rica-I was ohly a teenager with no sense then he was dark and handsome - he went every year with his father-it casts a spell over you that is for sure. do not comment but always reading wishing happy transitions back but first happy awesome Mexican vacation road trip-

  2. Wow! you had an amazing trip and experience, I wish I could be there. Thanks for this post, now Costa Rica is on the top of my Bucket list.
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