Back from trip #2 to CR

Dec 29th, 2007, 06:03 PM
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Back from trip #2 to CR

Hello everyone and Happy Holidays to all!

I am recently returned from my second trip to beautiful Costa Rica and ready to start spilling the details!

I'd like to give a special shout out to shillmac, tully, volcanogirl, hipvirgochick, susie2, Pat Hewitt, and MRand. I owe you guys a good report! I'm just starting to organize my photos and will let everyone know when they are online.

This trip included the same cast of characters as last year; my brother and I (both 40-ish) and our mother (69). Our itinerary included 4 nights in Alajuela, and 4 nights at the famed Bosque del Cabo on the Osa Peninsula.

I know the BdC addicts will be clamoring for those details, but I'm going to torture you all with a chronological account so you'll just have exercise some patience! ;-)

I'll also warn everyone that I'm a wordy writer, so this will not be a particularly short account. Sorry!! I'll try to make it entertaining!

So sit back, relax, and enjoy...

Chapter 1:

December 4th, 2007.

I was rudely awakened by my alarm clock at 4:00 a.m. I curse myself every time I book one of those early flights because I invariably get to bed late the night before a trip and am totally exhausted the next morning. I always vow to be better organized with the packing and last minute errands 'next time', but reaching that goal has eluded me to date. I stumbled out of bed, bleary eyed and not particularly refreshed after about 2 hours of sleep. It was all okay though, because I was going to Costa Rica that day!

We ended up flying Spirit Airlines this time around. For those of you unfamiliar with Spirit, they are a 'no frills' carrier. They fly mainly in the Eastern U.S., the Carribean, and Central America. They tack on extra charges for things like beverages, snacks and checked luggage, but you can sometimes get really incredible airfare deals through them (I paid 63$ round trip earlier this year to fly from Ft. Lauderdale to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands!). Our airfare from Orlando to San Jose was around 300$ pp, which was the cheaper than anyone else was offering at the time we purchased our tickets.

Our flight departed on time and aside from the couple sitting behind us who loudly complained the entire time about the fact that Spirit had charged them 10$ to check their luggage, was uneventful.

We arrived at SJO around 1:30 p.m. and caught a taxi over to the Payless car rental office. FYI: Elegante and Payless are the same company. Our pre-paid voucher listed Elegante as the rental agency, which caused quite a bit of confusion at the airport taxi stand. Once they figured out it was Payless, we were good to go...

Shortly before my trip, I had read a recent post here by someone who's tire had been punctured somewhere in San Jose. The poster and his girlfriend were blatantly pursued by the thugs for several minutes until they pulled into an car dealership that was open. This same poster had also reported on some grim happenings that a friend of a friend had encountered while driving in CR.

The post freaked me out a bit about driving (even though we drove without incident last year). Shillmac talked me down after I expressed concern here on the forum (thanks, shillmac!) and the Payless/Elegante staff were also very reassuring; even as they handed me the required document warning of the 'flat tire scam'. :-s

I know that these unfortunate incidents can and do happen, but fortune was smiling in our general direction that day. The only driving challenge we encountered on the trip was successfully finding our way to the Orquideas Inn.

I was the designated driver and aside from some mild crankiness due to my 2 hour 'nap' the night before, managed to navigate my way through the bustling streets of Alajuela reasonably well. I think I only took us down 2 one-way streets the wrong way that afternoon!

cmerrell is offline  
Dec 29th, 2007, 08:48 PM
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The site is acting flaky this evening. I had several more paragraphs typed and it would not let me preview them. Aaargh!

So to continue the saga...

As per usual, we ended up convinced we were lost and turned back to retrace our steps only to eventually realize we had been headed in the right direction all along. Its all part of the adventure I like to call 'driving in Costa Rica' and I wouldn't really want to trade it away!

We presently reached Orquideas and were quite pleased with the accommodations. Last year, we spent our first night at the Peace Lodge and Orquideas can't quite compare to that, but its a pleasant place with pretty grounds, a very nice staff, good food, and affordable, comfortable rooms. I would definitely stay there again and echo all the positive recommendations others have posted here.

We got settled into our room and wandered around the grounds for a little while before meandering over to the Marilyn Monroe bar. It was pretty early and we were the only ones there, but we thoroughly enjoyed sitting out on the patio, lingering over a tasty dinner. We were back at the room around 7:00 p.m. and I don't think any of us even lasted awake until 9:00 that night. Yeah, the Merrell clan is known for our wild partying ways! Right...

So Chapter 1 has been fairly uneventful, but Chapter 2 will start getting into the meat of the trip. Thanks for reading thus far! I'm happy to answer any questions anyone has.
cmerrell is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 05:53 AM
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Looking forward to the rest!
Suzie2 is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 06:05 AM
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Cmerrell,
Great start, looking forward for more. And donít worry, wordy and lots of details is exactly what we like, so keep the details coming.
Also, looking forward to see the pictures.
xyz99 is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 10:10 AM
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Hi cm! Looking forward to the rest of your report! Way to brave the roads and I'm sure you ended up being glad you opted for the rental car. We are staying our last night at Orchideas upcoming trip, so glad to hear you liked it. I also hope BDC was everything you'd thought it would be. Can't wait for pics!
hipvirgochick is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 02:45 PM
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Hi Suzie, xyz and hip. Thanks for checking in!

Chapter 2:

December 5th, 2007.

We got up fairly early, much more lively and energetic than we had been the night before and headed over to Orquideas' breakfast buffet. I love the fact that so many hotels in Costa Rica offer a full breakfast spread that's included in the price of the room. At Orquideas, you sit out on the patio adjacent to the Marilyn Monroe bar. The patio is fringed all around with beautiful tropical landscaping and a small fountain trickles in the corner. The food is plentiful and tasty; fresh fruit, gallo pinto, sausage, potatos, eggs. Not a bad way to start the day!

Our game plan for the day was to do the Grecia, Sarchi, Zarcero loop with a side trip to Los Chorros waterfall (if we could find it). It was a beautiful morning as we set out. Within about 20 minutes we had reached the town of Tacares and actually spotted a sign for Los Chorros. Of course in true CR fashion, the sign vaguely pointed us in a direction that could technically have either meant we were to continue straight on the road we were currently on, or it could have intended us to turn to the right. In true Merrell fashion, we picked the wrong choice and had to back track a bit.

The route took us up a narrow side street through town and beyond. We weren't sure where in the heck we were supposed to go, but just kept driving along. Eventually we saw a sign for the Los Chorros recreational area which pointed us up a steep, narrow dirt track. The track soon forked and we once again took the wrong turn, ending up in someone's coffee field with a group of workers looking on. We got ourselves turned around and wended our way down the steep, bumpy road that eventually dumped us out at the entrance to the recreational area. Entrance fees were 4$ a person and you take a steep, reasonably short hike down to the river.

The trail offers one partially obstructed view of the falls on the hike down, but they remain largely concealed from view until you near the end of the trail. The falls are very pretty and place was not crowded at all. There is one large waterfall with some smaller cascades of water on either side. There were 2 other North American tourists there and a group of Ticos. The kids were wading and swimming in the river and appeared to having a lovely time! I dipped my foot in the river and it was quite cold, although not un-refreshing after the steep hike down.

The place is definitely a bit off the beaten path, but worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood. There were a few picnic tables set up on the river bank, so it would be a good place to pack in a lunch and cool off in the water for a few hours.

Our visit was fairly short because we wanted to fit other stuff in that day. The only downside to this little side trip was the fact that we were all rather hot and sweaty by the time we hiked back up to the car. Oh, well...

Our next stop was Grecia's town square to admire the red metal church. It's quite the striking edifice and pretty inside as well. We strolled around the little park in the square and stopped for chocolate milkshakes at an icecream parlor across the street. Then it was on to Sarchi to appease my mother's undying passion for shopping! I didn't realize that Sarchi is basically perched on a fairly steep hillside. I had expected sort of a sprawling large town with tons of shops, but it was actually smaller and more compact than I had anticipated. We picked a large-ish shop that had a variety of offerings and spent a pleasant hour or so browsing.
cmerrell is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 04:36 PM
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Excellent start cmerrell to your long anticipated report. How did Los Chorros compare to the waterfall at La Fortuna (can't remember whether you've been there before)? Did you consider using a GPS?
MRand is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 04:39 PM
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Does anyone else have issues with the site basically cutting off your posts? I happily type away and then hit preview only to discover that my last several paragraphs are missing! A sign that I'm way too long winded, perhaps?? Nah...


Anyhoo...

The store we visited in Sarchi had a workshop out back so we watched one of the artisans painting a wooden piece for a few minutes. It was pretty cool to see the variety of painted oxcarts on display, so I'm glad we visited Sarchi. The more I travel, the less I worry about trying to fit lots of shopping in. I have quite enough 'stuff' at home and would rather spend the time sight-seeing, or even just vegging. I usually try to pick up just a couple of items to remind me of the trip, and if I see something small that I know a friend or relative would love, I pick that up as well. So Sarchi wasn't really a 'must visit' place for me, but I'm glad we went, and my mom enjoyed the chance to shop. My brother also picked up a few trinkets for himself but was probably more excited about the large stash of coffee he accumulated throughout the week!

Our last stop of the day was the church in Zarcero to see the whimsical topiary sculptures. It was fun to wander amongst them and the pastel colored church was a fitting center piece. It was fairly chilly in Zarcero! We all had to put on jackets (which we had actually somehow had the foresight to throw in the car). We hadn't eaten anything since our chocolate milkshakes, so we raided the little grocery store across the street from the church for the drive home.

We seem to have a knack for timing our driving experiences in Costa Rica so that we don't reach our final destination before the sun goes down. Such was our plight on this day. Luckily, the roads were in pretty decent condition. We made it about 2/3 of the way back before it got completely dark, and I surprisingly didn't miss the turn off for Orquideas.

That night, we had dinner in the hotel's restaurant which is upstairs from the Marilyn Monroe bar. The menu offerings are basically the same between the 2. We had a very nice dinner and retired around 10:00 p.m. after a very enjoyable day.
cmerrell is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 05:25 PM
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Hi MRand,

Nice to hear from you!

We didn't make it to the La Fortuna falls last year, so I can't offer you a good comparison. Los Chorros was very pretty. I can't remember if you visited La Paz? I'm thinking not, but for those who have been, I would probably characterize those waterfalls as more breathtaking; maybe its the fact that there are 5 of them in close succession. Los Chorros was certainly no slacker in the looks department though! It definitely felt more remote; a nice hidden gem tucked away off the beaten track.

Regarding the GPS, I had toyed with the idea of using one but once we were physically at the rental counter, the thought of asking about it just never entered my head! I attribute it to lack of sleep the night before. We only had the car for a couple of days, so it wasn't a big deal, but I would like trying one out at some point.

I hope you'll stay posted for my BdC section. I bet you would really appreciate that place...
cmerrell is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 04:19 AM
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I'm enjoying reading about you trip! The falls sound great...looking forward to hearing about the rest!!
ShellD is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 05:03 AM
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About time Of course I'm waiting most for the BdC part of course! Glad you found Orquideas reasonably easily. It is pretty cool to see them paint the ox-carts, all freehand too. Do you remember what the drive time was from Zaecero back to Orquideas?
tully is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 08:40 AM
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Welcome back, c! It sounds like a wonderful trip - looking forward to more details!
volcanogirl is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 10:03 AM
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Orquideas does have a really good buffet breakfast mmmmmmmm
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Jan 1st, 2008, 09:23 AM
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Hi all,

Hope everyone is having a nice New Year's Day!

I am indeed a trip report slacker, tully! BTW, did you ever post a full Nicaragua account (or are you a fellow slacker )?

As I recall, drive time back from Zarcero was probably around an hour and a half. Orquideas was nicely situated for the excursions we planned around the Central Valley area.

Greetings also to ShellD, VG and Sean420. Thanks for reading, guys!
cmerrell is offline  
Jan 1st, 2008, 09:52 AM
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Chapter 3:

December 6th, 2007.

After another filling, delicious breakfast, we set out for Poas with high hopes of catching a glimpse of the crater. Arenal had thwarted our attempts to see the lava flow last year, and I felt that the volcanos of Costa Rica owed us a little special consideration on this trip! ;-)

As mentioned in my previous post, Orquideas turned out to be a great location to venture out from (at least for the places we wanted to visit). It's located right on the northern fringe of Alajuela so there was no need to navigate the bustly, poorly marked streets of the town center in order to head out into the countryside. To get to Poas, you basically make a right hand turn out of the Orquideas drive way, and you are directly on a fairly straightforward route to Poas. You curve up a winding hillside to the town of San Pedro de Poas, and then its mainly gentle rolling terrain to Poasito where you turn left to head up the side of Poas, or right to head towards the Peace Lodge and La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

I thought the drive up to the national park entrance was beautiful; very pastoral, dotted with a few small farms and grazing livestock. The sky had grown overcast which can serve to intensify the green hues of vegetation when lighting conditions are right.

The air temperature perceptibly grew cooler as we climbed to the top of the mountain. When we reached the entrance gate, we were told that we would have about a 50% chance of seeing the crater, as the typical daily cloud cover had begun rolling in.

We made the short quarter mile trek up the pathway to the crater overlook. There were lots of swirling wispy clouds in sight as we approached the viewing area and I feared the crater would be obscured, but as we approached the fenced barrier and looked down, Poas was there to behold in all its splendor!

The crater is an impressive sight. Even though I've seen lots of photos of it, I couldn't get the feel of scale until I saw it for myself. It was really cool!

We spent several minutes watching the clouds swirl in and out, made a quick pit stop at the park's gift shop (to satisfy my mom!), and started to make our way back down the mountainside.


cmerrell is offline  
Jan 1st, 2008, 11:52 AM
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Good for you on seeing Poas, guess CR 'paid you back'! Forgot to add, I do the same thing with booking my flights - I just see arrival 10am or so and think ah lovely - forgetting that means I have to be at the darn airport at around 4:30am! Ah well, guess you have to give up decent sleep to get there early! Looking forward to the rest!
tully is offline  
Jan 1st, 2008, 11:53 AM
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oops forgot to add, yes I did a Nicaragua trip report, with pics too! - it's around here somewhere, maybe click my name?
tully is offline  
Jan 1st, 2008, 12:52 PM
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Hey Cam, just checked in after "being off" for a few days. So glad to be reading your report--I've been patient long enough!

I've practically been sitting next to you (in retrospect) as I've read. Orquideas, Zarcero, Sarchi, Grecia. . .all of it!

Looking forward to the rest. Happy New Year!
shillmac is offline  
Jan 1st, 2008, 03:50 PM
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Hi Jill,

Welcome to the report! Hope you had a nice Christmas!

Tully,

I'll be looking for your Nicaragua report. Philip at BdC mentioned he had met up with you for dinner one night (in Granada if I remember correctly). That's terrific!

Chapter 3 cont'd:

As we started winding back down the slopes of Poas, the skies darkened and eventually opened up. As if that were not enough, some nice, thick fog rolled in to completely envelop us. We crept down the hillside, barely able to make out the shapes of the little farm houses we had admired on the drive up. I was hoping the rain and fog would lighten up once we got back down to a lower elevation and it did slightly. We arrived in Poasito and turned towards the Peace Lodge as our plans for the day included a visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

The drive would have been beautiful on a nice day, but seemed a bit interminable in the drizzly fog that stayed with us the entire way.

We eventually got to the gas station in Varablanca where you turn off for the Peace Lodge. I was excited to recognize it from our trip last year. Driving in Costa Rica is all about the landmarks!

We made it to La Paz without incident and donned our rain jackets for what would be a perenially damp excursion through the gardens. The La Paz gardens were the only repeat visit for us on this trip. Last year, we spent our first night in CR at the Peace Lodge and toured the gardens the following day before heading up to Arenal. The aviary had been under construction then. I was excited to see how it had turned out.

Our first stop was the lunch buffet, as we were quite hungry and it was raining very steadily at that point. The buffet line was really crowded when we arrived and it took a long time to fill up our plates. We got trapped behind a large group of loud, rather obnoxious North Americans who we kept running into as we explored the grounds. The seemed more intent on listening to themselves talk than in admiring the scenery and exhibits. I wonder why they even bothered to pay the rather hefty entrance fee? To each his/her own, I suppose...

We visited our favorite locations from last year; the butterfly house, serpentarium, ranarium, hummingbird garden, and checked out the aviary where I fed one of the toucans. I tried to get a photo of those spastic little marmoset monkeys they have in the aviary, but my camera kept focusing on the enclosure's wire fence, so I stuck my camera lens right up against the wire. The gaps in the fencing material were just wide enough to fit my camera lens through. I was focusing in on one of the marmosets when another one of the little suckers noticed my camera lens protruding into his home and came lunging over at it. I think he actually hit the lens with his body. I was in the act of shooting his buddy and of course ended up with a gray blur for my picture. I kind up gave up on the marmosets after that because everytime I tried to approach the enclosure fence again, I could see at least one of them eyeballing me suspiciously.

It was interesting to see La Paz again. Last year we were there on an overcast, drizzly day. This year we were there on an overcast, rainy day. I want to see that place in the sunshine sometime! I actually got much better photos of the place last year. This year, the birds (including the hummers) were more skittish for some reason, and most of my waterfall photos had blotchy water droplets in them. Luckily, I did get some really good shots last year, so I didn't sweat it too much this year...

Inclement weather notwithstanding, La Paz (and the Peace Lodge) is just a gorgeous place and eminently worth a visit.

The only other bummer that day was that my mom just couldn't hack the entire trail of falls; just too many stairs for her 69 year old knees. She turned back part way along and we met up with her later at the main gift shop.




cmerrell is offline  
Jan 1st, 2008, 04:02 PM
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Happy New Year guys and gals!

cm -- I'm patiently awaiting your BDC portion...tap-tap-tap. Tee-hee!

But seriously, I'm enjoying the rest too... Sounds like a great trip!
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