Family Vacation with Pat and Bill in Costa Rica

map of fam vac costa rica

We have been away from home for 8.5 months. It is the longest that we have been away from home for both of us. Camped out in the jungle by the beach as we were in Puerto Viejo , taking bucket showers in the middle of nature and counting the dozens of lizards bobbing their heads and waving their tails from the vines around us, it is paradise but I do find myself dreaming of home sometimes – the land of delicious sushi in Vancouver, hot showers and a cooler climate where hot showers would adquately appreciated. However, what you really miss from home is the people. Home is where the heart’s at. Getting a little laptop in Guadalajara, Mexico has been amazing because now we can Skype home whenever we have wifi but nothing compares to a visit. Pat and Bill, Bryan’s parents, is joining us for two weeks and we have been exploring Costa Rica with them… by bus…

 

The happy Kinshellas at the National Theatre, San Jose

The happy Kinshellas at the National Theatre, San Jose

We met them in San Jose, the capital city, early in the morning of May 8. Though they had an overnight flight with many cranky children, they were excited to explore the city. Bill kept saying, “Let’s go out and do things!” and “What are we doing today?” After tea and coffee, Christmas in May unpacking all the gear they brought for us from home, and the hostel breakfast, we walked downtown. San Jose is a city of parks, leafy and peaceful refuges from the concrete jungle. We went to the National Theatre, perhaps the most important historic building in Costa Rica. I think that really says something about Costa Rica that their most important historic building is not a cathedral or a government building but a theatre. We walked to the Metropolitian Cathedral and watched a orchestral performance in the nearby Central Plaza where loud parts would send all the pigeons flying around the gazebo and park. We owent t old central market to have a bite of lunch. It is a little mindblowing to think that people have been selling and buying at this market since 1880! We then walked back along the pedestrian freeway Avendia Central – a long completely pedestrian street lined with shops, bars and restaurants. It reminded me of if Robson street collided with a souk in Cairo. There were American and local stores lining the side of the street and local vendors set up in the middle hawking everything from grapes and apples and cilantro to spandex leggings with Native American designs to pirated copies of DVDs of movies still in theatre to remote controls. I found that San Jose is very pedestrian friendly with many roads just for people and shops and many people using them! We finished the day eating ice cream at Plaza Cultural, which we have nicknamed Pigeon Park since people go there to feed huge flocks of pigeons! Apparently, people also feed parrots there but they tend to be a little more shy and come down after people have left. However, looking at the number…and plumpness…of pigeons there, the parrots may have a problem!

 

The smoking crater of Volcan Poas

The smoking crater of Volcan Poas

The next day, we took a daytrip to active Volcan Poas where we hiked through the lush cloudforests with trees covered with hanging plants and the huge broad leaves of “poor man’s umbrella” plants lining the trails. There were clouds around on the mountainside but the maw of the crater was clear except for the fuming sulphurous gases spewing from the mouth of the volcano itself. I was really cold the whole hike since we’re quite high in elevation but I was warmed up by the volcano itself standing on the viewing platform on the rim. From the rim of the crater, I could see an inner ring of jagged rock and inside that was a lake of opaque pale turquoise from all of the sulphur and other minerals in the wath er. It was a colour that seemed so bright and unreal in a natural setting. The full size of the lake that whisped in and out of view like a belly dance with gauzy veils of smoke. The sulphurous gases would fume into the crater filling the bowl but clear as a stronger wind came by. We then hiked up to Botos Laguna, a beautiful translucent deep turquoise coloured lake in the old, dormant main crater of the volcano and on the trail back, we saw a black turkey in the brush, a yellow and black flycatcher who flew back to its nest right beside the trail, many different beautiful plants and flowers, fern trees and a big green hummingbird. Hummingbirds rather than bees are the main pollinators in cloud forests.

On the following day, we bused up to La Fortuna where we spent a couple nights. For Mother’s day, we went to the Baldi Hotsprings, which is an incredible experience. You are transported into another world with 25 beautifully sculpted pools with different styles and different water temperatures. Hot mineral waters flowed over sculpted rock cascading into a variety of different pools from swim up bars, “Roman baths”, a giant jacuzzi, and even some wickedly fast waterslides. At the end of the relaxing day, there was an amazing buffet dinner there where Bryan and I stuffed ourselves. Cyclist appetites versus buffet equals about six or seven plates each!

Father and son at Baldi Hotsprings

Father and son at Baldi Hotsprings

We then spent a few nights in the cool cloud forests of Monteverde. Getting to Santa Elena was a bit of an adventure, first taking a minibus on the paved section around Volcan Arenal then a boat across the calm waters of Lake Arenal and then the gravel road climb though the idyllic countrysides of little farmhouses and ranches and green pasturelands carved into the hills. We passed by people on horseback and on the bumpy dirt road, it kind of felt like we were riding horses too!

Bryan and Bill went on a night hike where they walk through dark forested trails with flashlights with periodic bursts of exciting dashes. Bryan really wanted to see an armadillo and their guide was great. Another guide that night radioed Bryan’s guide that one had been spotted and the guide rushed to get Bryan there. “Hurry up, hurry up! ….Oh, we’ll leave them, just RUN!” said the guide. Bryan made it there in time to see the armadillo eating in the bush before running back into the hole. “This is amazing! This is unbelievable!” said the guide, as apparently he said for everything. 80% of mammals in Costa Rica are nocturnal and they got to see slothes, including a cute baby sloth, a porcupine, and a kinkajou, described to me as a highly endangered cat-monkey creature that only eats fruit. “This is amazing! This is unbelievable!” said the guide when they spotted the kinkajou. They also saw many other critters including palm pit vipers and an eyelash viper, tarantulas and banana spiders, big black scorpions – one of them over six inches long!- and a hercules beatle bigger than the size of Bryan’s palm.

A bird? A plane? No it's Bill zipping through the forest canopy!

A bird? A plane? No it’s Bill zipping through the forest canopy!

The next day, we had a different type of forest adventure flying through the canopy like a monkey with a jetpack strapped to its back. Even Pat, who is not a friend of heights, went zip-lining on a few lines, flying through the green blur of the forest canopy. Bravo Pat!! There were 12 ziplines in total including Latin America’s longest at 1590m, hanging bridges, rapelling, a bit of a jungle hike and the optional Tarzan Swing at the end. For Bryan and I’s first Valentines together, eight years ago now, we went bungee jumping naked for charity on Vancouver Island. While it was a good experience, we both agreed that we didn’t have to go bungee jumping every again. Well, they kinda tricked us by calling the Tarzan Swing a “swing”. You walk out on a wobbly suspension bridge seeing the ground drop out from under you and then the bridge abruptly ends in midair. There is a gate and the staff attaches two ropes to your harness. As the gate opens, you’re pulled forward off the bridge and down, down, down. It is a freefall of over 100ft and then you swing for a bit, then it’s freefall again until you’re lifted up the other side and repeat. When I was finally on the ground, I was gittery with all the adrenaline pumping through my body.

Speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil

Speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil

 

Scarlet macaws

Scarlet macaws

Finally, we head to Tamarindo Beach on Nicoya Pennisula and the Pacific is so much drier than the Caribbean side – in lower frequency of rain and overall humidity! We knew this before going over the Caribbean side but it was still amazing to experience it. Now it’s beach and relaxation until returning back to San Jose for the last night before we split ways again. It has been a great time – especially because of the great company.

Tamarindo beach

Tamarindo beach

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