Sunday, December 30, 2018

Costa Rica - Day 6 - Catamaran Tour

Last day in Costa Rica. We had to check out by 12 pm and then the cruise bus will pick us up at 1 pm. Breakfast was the same. I had scrambled eggs today. 

It was a lazy morning. I packed my stuff so I could rest easy.  All the others packed at the last minute. We kept our luggage in the storage. The tour bus arrived promptly at 1pm and it was full. It took us about an hour to board the catamaran. It was a nice port area and a really nice boat also. The restrooms were neat and clean. They served fruit and crackers first. The drinks were open the whole time. We drank a lot of drinks (all non alcoholic – I don’t know how people drink so much alcohol).

After about an hour of boating the boat stopped near the Manuel park for snorkeling. I was thinking I was going to miss snorkeling, but I could not have done it – they had to swim out a bit and I don’t think I could have swam that comfortably. There was also a place from the boat where people could just jump off the boat into the water.  And there were slides off the boat. Lots of fun for about 40 mins. They set up dinner meanwhile. I was among the first ones to get it! Pasta, rice, some great sauce and salad. It was good food and enough.
The boat turned around to go back. We went around the park – saw some birds, some dolphins. So cool! And finally the sunset. As usual – just beautiful. With the sunset I can feel our trip coming to an end also. I am glad the kids went snorkeling. There was a shower on the boat so they could get the salty water off.
The drive back to the hotel was uneventful. I changed into something more travel sensible and soon our driver came to pick us up to drop us to the airport. There was a lot of traffic going out of Manuel, and since its only a one lane road, it was little slow moving, but we had plenty of time to get to the airport.

This last van was possibly the worst one they sent, but it was still okay.  Check in was easy enough and we had some snacks to eat before going through security.

As soon as we passed security we came to this huge shop! It was about 12 am and the shop was open with customers/tourists shopping. We strolled to our gate, taking pictures on the way of interesting sculptures. Boarding was seamless. We were absolutely at the back of the plane. Little rocky flight, but we got to Fort Lauderdale right on time!

What a nice trip.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Costa Rica - Day 5 - Manuel Park

Got up at 5:30 am to get ready so we could go early to the park.  We were all ready and at breakfast by 7 am. We made some rudimentary sandwiches to take for lunch as we knew there would not be any eating place there.  I knew they would become soggy but we had no choice.  

Took the bus again to the last stop, as that is the shorter route to the park, at about 8 am. The line to get into the park was sooo long! I was under the impression that they allow only a certain number of people in the park, but that is not true. We got the tickets from the bank, the main gate does not sell tickets. It took us about one hour to get in the park.

At the security gate the guards checked our bags. They saw the tomatoes separately and told us to put them in the sandwiches, but that would make the sandwiches so soggy. We did not have much choice. But then they also did not check the bags again. So we could have skipped it. 

The walk inside was all boardwalk. The road parallel to the boardwalk was for maintenance vehicles and anyone who wanted to go on it. Initially we did not see much wildlife, just a lot of trees and bushes. Slowly we started seeing crabs, sloth, iguanas and then came the spider monkey, mafia monkey (steals food!) and many lizards. Sadly we did not see any birds.  The walk was very pretty.
We came to the beach. It was very pretty. Many people come only for the beach. There is showering area also, so convenient to come to the beach. This would have been a better beach to spend time on. There were many mafia monkeys around here. They are kind of cute but really naughty.
We then went to the Watchtower trail. It was a killer trail! Too many steps up. I thought we would never come down. The views were okay on the way but the up and down was just a bit much after doing the volcano hike a day ago. 
We had lunch after the trail ended at the beach. It was a nice beach. The sandwiches were soggy and horrible but it was food. We walked past the mafia monkey and the beach. We took some additional side trails on the way back. We were all hot and sweaty but it was an enjoyable day. We were out by 3:15pm. Bhaiya and all decided for an afternoon catamaran cruise for tomorrow. There was going to be dinner, snorkeling etc in the cruise.

We got back to the hotel by 5 pm. Showered, made some tea , rested while everyone else showered. Went to dinner at the Fallafel place today. It was really good fallafel dinner. Papa called during that time as I had called him earlier from the beach to share the view.  At this time the connection again was poor so we called him when we got back to the hotel.
Had some good desert that Bhaiya had bought at Arenal. Really tasty. Another great day with so much new to see and enjoy.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Costa Rica - Day 4 - Manuel Beach

No rush to get up, so we all slept in. Around 8 am or so, we went for breakfast. Breakfast was not buffet but an order from 3 options. Not that great but still okay. Coffee was not all fresh but what to do. The fruits and juice came with the breakfast. Almost all of us had pancakes.
Breakfast area

Strolled back to our room and rested some more. Around 11:30 am decided to see around town. Not much around the hotel, just a few restaurants and some stores. No major shopping anywhere. Bhaiya had already taken a walk in the morning so we were just following him. At was so hot that we came back soon. We did stop by La Lambretta to see the beautiful view of the ocean. Sent Sarvesh later to buy a cold coke and enjoyed some chilled coke! I had also bought some plantain chips from one of the stores – a small pack for about $1 – good size and yummy!

We had lunch in the room of whatever snacks we had. I could not eat much after eating all the chips. We really got some good time rest until 2 pm and then we decided to go to the beach. I would not be able to get into the water, but still. Gave $5 deposit for each towel at the reception and took the local bus to the beach. It was about a 5 min ride.

Manuel Beach
The beach was quite crowded. It was Friday after all. It was also super sunny. The beach was very wide, but one of the guys there giving out chairs said that the water comes in a lot as evening progresses. I got an umbrella and chair for about $5 for the evening.  All the four went into the water. I took care of belongings. It was nice to just sit and enjoy the beach. (not quite – but still better than being at home). Bhaiya, as usual is the first to come out, and then I went for a walk. It was a nice beach – lots of activities going on – parasailing, boating, tubing etc.

The tide started to come in around 5 pm. We all got up and went for a walk, also to get a good view point for the sunset. There was no place to shower or change there. So we left soon after sunset – took the bus back. It was a good day.
We all took showers and got ready to go out to eat. We walked to the Falafel place to eat but it seemed like they were not seating anyone anymore, so we went further on to Burrito Express. They had good vegetarian choices but their wait was a little too much – over 30 mins. The burrito and quesadillas were very tasty though.
Walked back and relaxed again. Not much to do in the night. So went to sleep early also. Tomorrow we have to go to the Manuel Antonio park a little early.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Costa Rica - Day 3 - to Manuel Park

Got up early again and got ready. Breakfast was the same as yesterday. Lots of fruit and of course rice and beans.  The zip lining tour, goadventure, came promptly at 7:30 am. We drove for 15 mins to a tourist office and waited for the guides. We paid $10 for Viki to get his photos taken. We had to leave all our stuff at the locker so it does not fall off. But we could have taken our phones provided we kept them safe. Oh well.

We went on a tractor to the volcano park. The guides put harness on all of us – we were about 12 of us in the group. The guides went over safety and technique. We were supposed to go one by one and not interfere with other person’s zip lining! It was a well oiled machine. We started going one by one on the platforms. There was one person to send us off and one to receive us. The guides would then go ahead of us to the next one and so on. So went 9 platforms and 14 cable lines. It was so much fun! Going over all the forest, seeing the river and Arenal volcano on the side. There were two kinds of zip lining techniques – one with the hand on the line and one where you just hang -  I liked the one with the hand on the line – little more control. The guides were fantastic in their control and management and safety.

The last thing was rappel. This is going straight down on the rope while using your feet to push against the wall/rock. This was about 45 m in height. The view was fantastic from this height. The river was coming from the falls. I was scared of doing it but after Bhaiya and Sarvesh, I was not going to be left out. I totally enjoyed it! And then I had to take the stairs to the top to the tractor. Oh boy! I can feel the burning in my thighs now from yesterday.

The tour company took us to a small tour of the Maleku Indian tribe. It was a little different one but same deal. I still did not buy anything.

Came back to the tour office. We found out that we could go to the hot pool in the hotel across the street (Randall never told us about this). None of us had our swim gear, but we did go across to the hotel. It turned out be just a swimming pool (artificially heated). The resort was beautiful and landscaping was great. There were cottages with car parking facility. Maybe people stay longer? The view of Arenal volcano was magnificent from there.

We came back and did some grocery shopping from the store next door, some chips, cake and drinks. The tour company found us a van to take us back to our hotel. We just had enough time to check out and eat some mathri etc before our transport arrived to take us  to Manuel Antonio. 

The drive to Manuel was over 5 hrs and Jorge was our driver.  He did not let anyone sit in the front seat, not fair! We three had to sit in the back when we could have been more comfortable had one of us sat in the front.  The van otherwise was very comfortable and also had wifi! We took two stops, one at a nice scenic point and the other at a river with alligators. 

The first half of the drive was very much like when we were driving to Arenal – mountains and farmland.  The first stop at the scenic point was just gorgeous. We stopped for about 15-20 mins there. the restrooms were clean and the gift shop had nice gifts. I bought a key chain and Viki bought a cap.

The next stop was a river that had many many crocodiles. We stopped at a shop and walked over to the river. The road was very busy to cross. The stop was worth it – over 30 crocodiles were lazying around. Very cool! They were a little more muddy that the alligators of Florida. We did not eat or drink there. We did not stay too long, very soon we started to see the ocean. Our third stop turned out to be near the ocean around 5:30 pm at the sunset. It was just gorgeous to watch.

The entire drive was almost all on a one lane highway and because of the mountainous road one cannot drive fast. There was also a lot of traffic. So I think the drive took us an hour more than usual.

Our last stop was at Mandarin hotel at around 6 pm. Check in was easy. Our “apartment” was fantastic! It was literally an apartment – a living room, dining area, kitchen, master bedroom and a bathroom. We could all comfortably sleep in our own beds. It was beautiful. 
We soon left to find a place to eat. It was selected by Sarvesh. A pizza place, of course – La Lambretta. It was supposed to have really good views also, but we got there after dark so we could not see any views (today). It was a 30 min wait, so we went to the grocery store next door, as usual. One thing I noticed is how much alcohol they sell everywhere. 

Came back for the pizza. We ordered 3 large and finished them all! They were very tasty, think crust, so did not seem heavy.  The name La Lambretta brings back memories of our scooter of Dehradun, hence the photo below :-) 
It was a good day. Came back to the hotel and went to bed! No need to get up early tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Costa Rica - Day 2 - Arenal Volano

My silly alarm did not turn on at 5:20 am! And then I realized I set it for Thursday instead of Wed!! So I am silly! But my body clock was set for the alarm, so I got up at 5:18 am. Got ready and went for breakfast by 7 am.

Breakfast was a good spread of rice and beans (Costa Rican traditional), scrambled eggs, toast and fruits. There was some other meat stuff and cheese that I did not understand. Fruits were amazingly sweet! Papaya, pineapple and watermelon. Really good!

Our Red Lava tour company came promptly at 7:40 am. It was a full bus. We reached the volcano park and signed it. It was a full day tour, it included: the nature area, the La Fortuna falls hike, lunch, native Indian visit, hike on the volcano, hot springs (with drink and face mask). We had to be packed for the whole day! Our guides were Eric and Andreas, both brothers. Andreas was the older one and one group stayed with him, us and a Chinese family from Canada. They were a family of four – parents are geology professors at University of Saskatchewan. Really good company. 

We walked in a little garden, saw beautiful flowers, reminded me of Hawaii, ginger and heliconia? Really pretty colors and blooms.

We went into the frog and butterfly area (covered). There was not too much to see there. A couple different kinds of tiny frogs and just 2-3 kinds of butterflies. I think I see more here in Florida on a good day. The frogs were interesting, very small and colorful. I wish they had more there. Our guide explained a bit about the banana being a flower and another one that blooms new every day. Cool!

We took a tractor ride up to the Fortuna Falls hiking point. One has to hike down, no other route.  It was a beautiful falls from far. I could see the zip lining going on there.  The hike down was not bad, maybe about 500 steps. There was one suspended bridge on the way. It was a pretty hike. It is just something else to look at the falls so up close, they are over 800 m high and falling with full force. So much water.

The river was flowing out from there and there were a number of people swimming in the water. I did not want to – none of us did. Viki kind of waded in. The water was a bit cold. After resting a bit and enjoying the falls, I was thinking about my walk up as I knew it would take me a while to get up there. I started my trek about 30 mins before everyone else did. It was nice to walk by myself – the whole path and bridge and steps to myself.  And most of all I did not have to worry about panting loudly or walking at my own pace. I was up in about 30 mins. Sarvesh came next and we got some mango juice ($2/glass). Everyone else was up in about 30 mins. We then took the tractor to see the Malleku Indian tribe area.

After a short walk through beautiful hibiscus garden we got into a big hall. We were all seated and treated to a sample of apple cider drink. It was sweet and sour. The guides translated the Indian dialect to tell us about the masks and the cloth that the indigenous Indians made. Very primitive.  It is very sad for me to see when indigenous people are treated like in a museum. They are the true owners of the land.

I did not buy anything although the masks and everything was really pretty and nicely decorated. I just don’t need anything right now.

We came back down, on the tractor, for lunch, near the park entrance.  They served us juice first. It seemed artificial. Our guide informed us that there was a toucan on a tree close by. It as a yellow bird with a big black beak. It was beautiful.

Lunch was rice and black beans with steamed vegetables, and some salad. Oh, and not to forget fried plantain. I did not really care for the cheese.

Then we were off for the volcano hike. The drive was about 25 mins. We stopped in the middle for a photo op. We then got to the entrance of the park. All the parks have nice clean restrooms. The second hike was not so long, but there were some stairs. My legs were aching a bit. The views were really good of the volcano when we got up to the high point. 
Arenal Volcano
All through the hike there were beautiful flowers and trees, ferns. The Arenal volcano had been active 50 years ago, and it was interesting to see that in 50 years life came back again all around. We were on the top for about 20 mins or so to take pics and admire the view. We walked down a different route which had really bad steps (naturally made), but really uneven. My thighs had started to hurt by now. I had not counted on going through so many steps in one day.
Arenal Flowers
Once in the van again, we stopped near the entrance to change into our swim suits as were going to the hot pool now. We also had a nice coffee and cookie break. About 25 mins later, and seeing a bunch of sloths on the way, we were near the river.  There were many other tourist buses there. After a bit of a walk, we came to the “pool” which turned out to be a hot river! It was flowing quite fast and had rocky bottom just like a natural river. The only problem was that it was getting dark and I did not think about bringing my water shoes as I thought it would be a “pool”. Oh well, we all found our happy spot and sat for a while. Can’t move too much as the water is flowing too fast.

The guides then gave us drinks, sprite + vodka, my favorite! And of course just Sprite for non alcohol drinkers.  They also gave us lava ash masks for our face. So fun! I had never done lava ash mask before. I left it on for about 20 mins and then washed off. The water was quite a consistent temperature. Finally left after about 30 mins of sitting in the hot river.

Reached our hotel around 6pm. Really nice and long tour and tiring! It was definitely worth every penny of the $85. Took a shower and went to find something to eat. Ended up eating pizza. Wonderful taste! It was 9 pm by the time we reached home and got into bed. What a lovely day.

We had also booked a zip lining tour with a company for tomorrow, so Randall, our contact guy, came to get money for it. We paid cash for a better deal. And it was a good deal! But it turns out he booked us for 7:30 am instead of the 9:30 tour. Oh well!! Another early rising tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Costa Rica - Day 1

We reached at 2 am in the morning. CR is on central time, so we gained one hour. Immigration and customs was easy enough. Our luggage came out and we got a taxi to go to our “hotel”. It was not marked and it was in a residential area. It turns out it was a bed and breakfast place. There were people still out, maybe because it was Christmas eve. The rooms were okay. We had three rooms, one for 3 people and 2 for 1 person each. Bhaiya and I took the single rooms.

I could not sleep for the longest time. First I smelled the achaar. I took it out of my bag and there was oil in the whole bag!! I had to pack it in two other bags before I was comfortable keeping it. Luckily my clothes were not ruined. There was also too much noise from the outside, people talking, dogs barking etc. I also needed to go to the bathroom at night and I kept wondering how clean it would be. It was not attached to the room, so I had to go through the dinning area. Anyway, the bathroom was super clean! Thank goodness.

I was up around 6:30 am when I heard Bhabhi (my sister in law) in the morning! I don't know why she got up so early! I tried to go back to bed but did not happen. In another hour or so everyone was up and we were ready for breakfast around 8:30 am. We had a nice breakfast of coffee, scrambled eggs and garlic toast. The coffee was way to strong for me but good! We went out for a walk of about 2 miles. 

The  BandB lady told us there was a mall after the bridge, so we decided to walk towards there. The walk was all up and down as I learned that CR is all mountains and hills. There was not much going on as we walked, people were still waking up. Few shops were open. The city seemed quite clean, no bad smells. We reached the bridge and from there the mall seemed another half a mile away, so we decided to not go. Also, it would not be open anyway.
San Jose walk

Our host was very nice and had cool fresh juice ready was us when we came back. It was pomegranate,  orange and grapes, I think. It was purple in color.

I slept a little bit until our driver came at 10:45 am promptly. He was a nice personable person and really nice of him to work on Christmas day. 

We left around 11 am. The drive to La Fortuna was beautiful. So much greenery, mountains, streams and flowers. CR is big on farming – fruits (papaya, pineapple, mangoes, bananas etc) and flowers (it has a bunch of greenhouses from where it sends all the tropical plants to Home Depot).  The driver was very good in driving and personality. We stopped one time for coke and chips and once for bathroom break. Bathroom was really clean. (They have a strange thing of not flushing down any paper down the toilets).

We reached La Fortuna by 1:30 pm. Check in was smooth, the girls at the counter were really pleasant and helpful. We have two rooms, 2 and 3 people.  Very comfortable rooms with AC and TV (did not use). After lunch of puri aloo, we went to walk around. We had a tour planned for the next day but had no plans for today or the day after (we are supposed to leave for Manuel the 3rd day in the morning). The kids wanted to make chocolate at the chocolate museum, that would be about 1 hr. So we left them there and explored the city.

La Fortuna Hostel
La Fortuna is a very small town, just for the tourists visiting Arenal volcano, so there are plenty of hotels, restaurants, tour companies and coffee places. We looked at the menu also as we were walking and there was not really much for us vegetarians to eat, except pizza. We explored some of the day tours and eventually bought one for 4 hrs for the 3rd day morning for a steal price of $35 each. (It was $50 in the other tour place!)  We walked also to the sister place of our hotel, the La Fortuna Hostel, which has a hot spring. It turns out it is a warm swimming pool (tub!!) – it was so small. Totally not worth it. The massages in the spa are okay priced ($40 for one hour).

Choco Mesueo
We came back to the choco mesueo after the one hour. The kids had us taste the chocolate drinks they made – they were good! and they were to make their own chocolate also. And if they gave a review on TripAdvisor then they would get a free bar, which Sarvesh was all for!! We sat was a bit, had some tea, hot chocolate and etc. and left to walk more for an hour. It will take an hour for their chocolate to set in the fridge.

Outdoors was really nice. Weather was perfect and because it was Christmas, everyone was out and about. The central park was right across from choco meuseo. It has a nice fountain, a wire Christmas tree and lots of flowers around. The church near the city center was open, so we visited it. It was quite simple but nice. It was pretty area. We kept walking around and then came back to pick up the chocolate.  Sat near the fountain till about 7 pm and then came back to the hotel. Got our free complimentary drink (juice) in the bar in the lobby. All lobbies in the hotels were open and so many had open air restaurants – shows warmth and openness. 

Went back to the room and had puri aaloo for dinner also. (I think that is the last of it).

Monday, December 24, 2018

Costa Rica 2018 - The Planning - 1

This trip has been my wish for the longest time. I wanted to spend about 10 days but eventually came down to 7 days. 

After days of planning we, Sameer (Bhaiya) and I, decided on two main locations, Arenal volcano and Manuel Antonio National Park. Monteverde is also supposed to be a good destination but somehow it got lost in the planning.

Our flight is on 24th Dec (Monday) at 11 pm from Ft. Lauderdale. Coming back is also on Monday but 2 am, so we will be back by 6 am. They are both night flights so we will not lose much day time traveling. Flights are on Spirit, which would charge for oxygen if it could, but it does have the cheapest fares. The flight itself is also not very long, 3 hrs only!

I had gotten about $300 worth of colone (CR money – 164,000 to a $). Although CR takes dollars and credit cards, it is still good to have local cash.  (On a side note: I got the money from Bank of America. They have the ability to get you foreign money and they charge $7 for it. But where they really make money is in the exchange rate, so they gave me a 0.0016 rate instead of 0.0017 which left me $22 short! So it was kind of like taking money from an ATM. But since we did not have much choice, it was the cost we pay for convenience).

Bhaiya made the bookings for San Jose hotel and suggested the other two to our tour operator (Pacific Trade Winds) and the rest of the transportation was set by them. We got an okay rate. CR in general is not expensive but for tourists like us, who have short time there, it can be a little expensive. Also, there were five of us, so transportation and hotel would be accordingly.

So with all this planning and packing we are ready to go. I know it's going to be hot there and we definitely need swim suits for there!