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Trip Report Osama Bin Laden is alive and well in Costa Rica! :)

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This was an “easy” Road Scholar tour. Program # 17988 “Natural Wonders of Costa Rica”. We got knowledgeable guides Javier and Tavo and the driver Jorge kept the bus spotless. Any time, anywhere, anybody could not participate in any activities; the bus or waiting space was provided.

Costa Rica is one enchanting country! I don’t think I’ve seen so many unusual plants and different animals and birds in my entire life, not counting the zoos. It was certainly a learning trip that we’d be unable to do on our own.

They do a lot for preservation of the rainforest, really big on recycling – in most places we saw 3 bins for aluminum, plastic, organics instead of just one garbage can. At the same time, they put garbage outside for pick-up in large plastic bags, not in bins.

Anywhere in a restaurant or visiting a plantation, we were offered juices and fruit drinks. Coffee was additional (food was included in our tour) except for breakfast. We thought it’s strange for a country famous for their own coffee. I guess juice is cheaper.

The country looks like everybody is living under the siege with barred doors and windows, spiked and barb-wired fences. Nothing looked dangerous, children playing by themselves outside – probably the theft is rampant, like you go to work or to bed at night, and somebody steals your household items.

Lots of time is spent outside, on patios under the roofs. The floors of the patios and inside the houses are made of the same material – from concrete to tiles, probably depends on the family income.

Costa Rica is in the Central US time zone, but they definitely have their own time! Don’t be surprised if the scheduled activities start ½ hour earlier or later and you didn’t know. Also we got a final itinerary in e-mail, and another final itinerary upon arrival, still didn’t follow it, for example, there was no coffee tour on day 2 as mentioned.

Food waried from good to excellent, but was too salty – and it’s not just me, everybody noticed. We thought, maybe in a hot and humid climate it spoils too fast without salt? The word “Soda” you see everywhere means “restaurant” not a drink.

Don’t know if they charge the entrance fee, but the exit fee is $28 per person, there was no line at the airport when we paid.

Practical advices: bring a flashlight. Not all trails between cabins and restaurants are well lit, and the markers with cabin numbers may be not lit at all. The locals use umbrellas for sun protection, there are no rains, only downpours – bring a rain poncho. An alarm clock may be a good idea. Good walking shoes with closed toes – and make sure the traction is good, as even some hotel rooms’ floors and walkways can be slippery. Rubber slippers for showers will be helpful as the wet tiles get slippery. Hotel locations are in remote areas – medicine, snacks, anything you need better bring from home. If you wear glasses, bring a spare pair – one man in our group lost a lense.

FLIGHTS. American Airlines fly as usual despite the bankruptcy. On the way there, flying out of Texas, we were told there is a mechanical problem. So we were sitting on the tarmac for 1.5 hrs and the moment people from Vancouver plane got on, the plane took off. In Costa Rica the people who met us said, they were told it was a weather delay, so we didn’t know what was the reason.

Flying back, I forgot that in Central and South America there is another security check at the gate – and no water is allowed! I’ve lost the beautiful bottle that I’d planned to bring home. My husband had to take his shoes off and his hands, socks, and our luggage were swabbed – don’t know, for narcotics or explosives. Oh, and don’t worry if you get a pop-up note on computer that you can’t check in – it’s only that you haven’t paid exit tax yet, no issues with the flight.

Other than the above, they offer fewer drinks than Southwest, no snacks, and hardly any food.

HOTELS. The first night after arrival was in Hotel Balmoral in San Jose. There is a coffeemaker, but we couldn’t find any coffee. It’s good to be a coffee addict – I carry packages with me! Nice hotel in a good area. The mistake we made was not shopping – we like to bring souvenirs, and hoped there will be another opportunity. During the day lots of people walking around, and lots of uniformed police, so watch your wallet as there must be a reason for police presence.

The hotel, like all other hotels, had a metal fence and gate with a security guard so nobody can drive in without permission. Later, in other hotels, we got waterproof colored bracelets to be easily identified. They take security seriously.

Selva Verde Lodge – for an “easy” tour there was too much stair walking! All is on the 2nd level, so to go to breakfast you must take the stairs down to the walkway, then up to the restaurant. After breakfast stairs down from the restaurant to the walkway (or shortcut through the pool area) and up to your room. Repeat for every meal. Repeat for every field trip. For some weird reason, the bar was on the ground floor, no steps. Do you think somebody got that drunk, couldn’t make the stairs?

3 nights felt too long, even with what the lodge had to offer – just stop for a moment anywhere on the property, and you will see an exotic bird. If you get up to use the bathroom at night and turn the lights on, you’ll see all kinds of insects running away from the light. I tried to spray insect repellent – it only worked for small ants that stopped coming. Everything else was still there. For breakfast hey have liquid yogurt in small bottles, loved it!

Arenal Paraiso is heaven on earth! Landscaped territory, some hills, but we had a bus to take us from our rooms to the restaurant. We didn’t need the bus, but soon realized, we can take the bus in the morning, leave our bag to reserve better seats, after breakfast walk back to the cabin. And the yogurt that I’ve mentioned above, they have it in dispensers like juice. Heaven!

One day we came back from a field trip to find towel animals on beds and in the shower. I think they got the idea from cruise lines, only there they use spare towels. Our group was divided: some thought it’s cute and loved it, some thought it’s not hygienical to wipe our bare bodies with the towels that were probably touched by the same hands that washed the toilets.

Probably all rooms have the view of the volcano, and we were lucky to see it without clouds. There is a sloth living in the trees, fun to watch him (her?) moving.

Hotel Punta Leona. This is a huge property; our rooms were in one section close to the restaurant, classroom, and pool. About the classroom – when the air conditioner is on, and we needed it badly, it worked too loud. When the man started talking, it was difficult to hear, as the echo is bad. We felt we’d love one more night there (taken off Selva Verde).

The restaurant does not have walls – you eat on a roofed terrace, and one morning a family of cappuccino monkeys came to visit – oh, they were so adorable! One monkey had a baby on her back. It was so difficult not to offer them a slice of fruit – one must never feed wildlife.

Hotel El Rodeo Country Inn – our last night in Costa Rica. The room was nice, but it was difficult to sleep on a rock-hard bed. They have only one public computer, but most of participants got their flight reservations through Holbrook travel that compiled this trip, so this was a non-issue.

ACTIVITIES. The Gold Museum is so worth visiting! I recommend to start with the movie on level 3, helps to understand how the forms were made by hand, and details are amazing. National Theater has a nice décor inside, and they don’t have rows, just continuous chair numbering.

The tour of pineapple plantation and packing factory ended up with snacks and drinks – they cut off pineapple’s top, scooped out the middle, filled with drink (no, not alcohol) put a straw in, and put the top back. Looked lovely! Visiting heart of palms plantation allowed us to taste many local dishes, but eating them raw is the most pleasant, canned that we ate later was not the same. Pepper plantation was about growing black pepper – no, we didn’t sneeze during this visit! Sugar cane mill in the former president’s estate kept as it was 150 years ago – using a pair of oxen to squeeze sugar juice.

Boat ride – we had two in different parts of Tarcoles river; saw lots of birds and a caiman alligator. The second boat ride was mostly about alligators, we saw a pair that lives there, and the locals gave them names – Osama bin Laden and Madonna. Why, nobody explained :) We also had an outrigger trip – unlike a canoe, people sitting on small benches, and you need waterproof shoes there. You get in on land, and they push the outrigger into water.

Arenal volcano: a tiny museum with historic photos. Had to miss the hanging bridges there as I was afraid to get to them – the “waffle” road is not easy to walk for me, I’ve sprained my ankle twice before, and decided to stay away from trouble. Was told, waking on the bridges was not easier. We walked hanging bridges twice before – in Sarapiqui and on the way to lunch at Arenal park the day before, so I know how it feels – yes, bouncy and swaying, and above the ground or over a river.

Sarchi is a nice little town, too bad it was only a drive-through. We went to the factory where they were painting the famous coffee carts by hand – from working size to miniature souvenirs, all for sale in a large souvenir shop. The young man at the cash register tallied up a column of numbers – how much our group spent in that store, I wonder why :) We did stop for a photo op on the way back to take photos of the largest cart in the world that is in the Guinness book of records. Of course it’s kept behind metal bars like everything else in Costa Rica.

Same about Jaco – a nice little town, too bad it was only a drive-through. The schedule had a slow pace to give us free time, why not in those towns?

Same about Grecia – a nice little town, too bad it was only a drive-through with one photo stop to see the church made out of metal. I wonder if it gets hot inside in this weather!

SOUVENIRS. We love to shop not going out of our way, but on this trip this was difficult to do. With one or two exceptions we were taken to a certain souvenir place with no other shops in sight. Of course, inflated prices in US dollars. We have already enough “things” and try to bring only something edible. The free time in La Fortuna was in the dark.

We stopped at one supermarket for a very short time, there we got cookies for my co-workers, rum for our adult boys, and ground coffee. By the way, coffee is mostly, or maybe all, arabica, great taste, so on the flight home I couldn’t drink the brown water they called coffee.

We thought it would be nice for us to come back to spend some time on the Pacific coast in a resort with occasional local tours – one of the dinners was in hotel Balcon del Mar on the Jaco beach, sunset was spectacular. Some day…

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