My action-packed journey- from the goodbye in Hawaii, to a brief stop back in Washington, to nine days in beautiful Costa Rica, to a wedding weekend in Minneapolis- had just come to a crash landing. The "Sunday Brunch" after the wedding had turned into a Polish drinking festival lasting late into the night. Our new friends from Poland took their vodka seriously and wanted to see if a few American boys could hang with them. We proved ourselves worthy. I missed my flight.
In the end, I made it back to Washington just fine. When I stepped out of my parents' car and looked up at Mount Si, it hit me that I was finally home.
In Costa Rica, pura vida is the motto and my good friend Andrew Engel and I experienced it firsthand. On any trip, there are plenty of defining experiences that you will remember forever. Still, the heart and soul of these adventures can be found in the more subtle things- the jokes, the conversations, the music you listen to along the way. These things aren't always easy to put into words. We did some amazing things in Costa Rica like scuba diving, ziplining, and exploring remote beaches. But one of my favorite memories from this trip happened one evening when we were sitting on the porch of our bungalow drinking beers and listening to my iPod on shuffle. An old Dashboard Confessional song from back in high school came on. At first I was embarrassed, but then I realized that I still knew every single lyric. We played the rest of the album, laughing at every song. The sappy, heartbreak-laden lyrics became a humorous soundtrack for the rest of our journey. This trip was so special because we laughed a lot. I kept a running journal of other highlights from the trip. Read it below if you have the time.
Tuesday Morning, July 8
"Donde estan los monos?"
I slept like an absolute rock last night. Had we not set an alarm, I could have very easily snoozed all the way through my first full day in Costa Rica.
Andrew and I rendezvoused at the Miami airport around 5 a.m. EST. My time zone is pretty messed up right now. We slept a couple couple hours on the floor of the terminal and then flew to Costa Rica. Our rental car is a yellow Fiat- The Yellow Fellow. We got a little lost trying to find the highway to Manuel Antonio due to lack of a map and GPS, but we made it.
It was a 3-4 hour drive to M.A., but the scenery was beautiful. There's a speed limit, but the drivers are very aggressive. Imagine the Coconut Grove level in Mario Cart. About 1.5 hours from our destination, we stopped at our first "Soda," and despite a language barrier, we were able to eat our first Costa Rican plate. It was delicious- a fresh salad loaded with diced veggies and cilantro, deep fried plantains, rice and beans, and tender carne asada.
It took a while to find the hotel. Manuel Antonio is packed with little hotels that overlook the ocean. We finally made it. Hotel Verde Mar is right on the beach and the lady working the desk was very friendly. We dropped our stuff in our room, cleaned up, and headed down the beach to a restaurant to drink our first Imperials. Then we bought some food in a small shop.
Today we plan to hike around Manuel Antonio's jungles and then watch the World Cup. Kind of like my summer life in Hawaii, just with some Latin flavor added. And hopefully some monkeys. I really want to see some monkeys.
Tuesday Night, July 8
"We found them"
I'll skip the suspense and just tell you now that we saw monkeys. Howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and white-faced monkeys. It was awesome. But more importantly, what happened to Brazil? They got absolutely demolished by Germany. Originally I wanted to be in Brazil for the World Cup, but I'm not sure it would be the safest place right now.
Today we woke up early and walked down the road to Manuel Antonio National Park. We avoided all the tour guides offering their services, bought tickets to get in, and hiked the wide trail to Punta Catedral. Almost immediately we spotted a herd of white-faced monkeys making their way through the canopy. Honestly, if nothing else happened on this trip, I would still be good to go.
But the rest of the day was pretty awesome as well. We hiked the Punta Catedral loop, which took us deep into the jungle and to a beautiful beach that we swam in for at least 45 minutes. It was hot. The humidity here really hits you. We did some more hiking with lots of stairs, sweat, beautiful views, and more monkeys. As I expected, the coastline is pristine and lush with vegetation.
We returned to our ice cold hotel room, cooled off, and headed to the beachside restaurant to watch the World Cup game. After eating a delicious fish casado, it became clear that the TV would not be showing the game. It turns out the local channels were instead broadcasting the welcoming parade for the returning Costa Rican team. So we quickly scampered to a larger bar that was showing both the parade and the game. At that point it was already 1-0...and before I even got my first Imperial the game was basically over. Most people at the bar were cheering not for the game but for each Tico player the TV showed getting off the plane. A lot of pride for "El Sele" here.
It finally started raining tonight. We'll see if it keeps up. Tomorrow we're headed north up the coast towards Tamarindo. Lots of driving...hope it goes smoothly!
Wednesday Night, July 9
Timing worked out perfectly today as we journeyed up the coast from Manuel Antonio to Montezuma. The trek included a spectacular drive and a ferry boat ride into what looks like a pretty remote part of the country. We hit the road by 7:30 a.m., only stopping for gas and to look down this river at a bunch of crocodiles. We reached Puntarena with time to spare before the 11:00 ferry departed across the Gulf of Nicoya to Tambor.
The ferry ride was awesome. It was a lot like the ones in Puget Sound, and we killed time drinking some Imperials and viewing the scenery. Our destination reminded me a little of the San Juans if you replaced the coniferous forests with a lush jungle. As we looked down the coastline, there weren't nearly as many houses and hotels as Manuel Antonio.
After departing the ferry, we drove about another hour. I'm not going to lie- the prospect of driving these crazy roads isn't my favorite, but today I had fun driving. The country road winded up and down through rainforest and countryside. About five miles outside of Montezuma, it turned into gravel. It was definitely an adventure navigating the tiny yellow Fiat around potholes. We finally drove through Montezuma, a tiny jungle town wedged between green mountains and a rocky sea. We stopped at a small restaurant just in time to catch the Argentina-Holland game. As outrageous as yesterday's game was, this one was equally as mundane. Even the shootout lacked drama. I'm hoping the final on Saturday is more memorable.
We're staying at Hotel Amor de Mar, another great find right on the ocean. I didn't expect to be staying in air conditioned rooms with my own bed on this trip, but I'll take it. We hit up a beach nearby, walked through the one-street town, and then went back to the hotel. The evening light was pretty stunning- a building storm out at sea shaded the sunset in a thick orange. We sat out on the hotel lawn on hammocks and were treated to a show of flashing lights. Lightning shot off in the distance, waves caught the glimmer of the moon, and even fireflies joined in.
I've enjoyed being able to reminisce with my buddy Andrew about all our experiences in our year abroad in Florence. Now we'll be able to add these new experiences to the mix. Tomorrow we're going to hike Montezuma Falls. I'm hoping to add toucan to my growing list of wildlife spotted on this trip.
Thursday Night, July 10
Today was packed with tons of adventures that included a hike to a waterfall and a five hour beach walk excursion. We decided to stay in Montezuma another night because we like it so much.
This morning we hit the trail bright and early for Montezuma Falls (Cascada Montezuma). It was an easy 20 minutes upstream to a pretty cool waterfall. There was a rock face parallel to the falls that led up to more pools and trails, but I gave up climbing about 70 feet up. It was a little too dicey and the descent wasn't going to be easy. I guess I'll never know what lies beyond that waterfall.
We got back and learned that our planned route to Tamarindo along the coast required a nine our trek up a gravel road. The Fiat couldn't handle it. We checked out of Hotel Mar Del Amor and walked down the street to Hotel Los Mangos. They had cheap bungalows available, so we snagged one and dropped our luggage off. Then we walked through town to our next hiking trail. Our destination this time: Chorro Falls, a waterfall that cascaded down a sea cliff into the ocean below. First we'd have to walk for two hours through remote beaches and jungle.
The whole hike, though hot and draining, was breathtaking. IT seemed we were the only ones for miles along these untouched beaches that were lined with palms and thick rainforest. The tragedy, though, was that these beaches were loaded with trash that had washed up from the open sea. Shoes, cartons, containers, etc. Thousands upon thousands of plastic bottles. I feel awful for every single bottled water I've ever purchased and failed to recycle. The whole time during this hike, half of me was taken aback by the world's beauty, and the other half was wondering what the hell we were doing to it.
After what seemed like endless walking through sand and driftwood (and rubbish), we saw Choro Falls gently pouring down into an untamed beach surrounded by cliffs. We had to take a side trail that led us into a beautiful forest where we spotted a Cotimundi, a cousin of the raccoon that looked like a cross between a cat and a monkey. We finally reached the pool above the falls, which was low and stagnant. That was a big disappointment since both of us were tying to bathe in some cool, fresh water. All was well, however, because we sat alongside the waterfall overlooking the ocean and enjoyed some stale tortilla chips and a juicy mango. It's funny- some of the best meals I've ever had aren't even meals: some bread and salami under the stars in Cinqueterre, a turkey sandwich out at Ka'ena Point during sunset, and now a mango and chips on a sea cliff in Costa Rica.
Despite aching feet and a depleted supply of water, we made it back to town with a couple dips in the ocean along the way. We immediately hit up the mini-market and reloaded on water, beer, fruit, and snacks. After that we headed back to Hotel Los Mangos and enjoyed a couple Imperials out on our porch. The bungalows are situated under a huge forest of mango trees, so we had a good time watching monkeys climb through the branches in search of fruit.
It's pretty balmy tonight, and once again there's periodic lightning flashing off the coast. I kind of hope it will roll in so we can sit on this deck and enjoy a thunder storm. Tomorrow the road trip continues as we head back down and around to Tamarindo.
We woke up around 5 a.m. this morning to the sound of howler monkeys in the distance. I tried to doze off for another hour but the eerie noises combined with the long drive ahead made it tough. So we hit the road by 6:45. This drive wasn't as fun as the last one- we spent a lot of it winding up and down hills on a bumpy gravel road. The scenery was spectacular, but I was too scared of getting a flat to enjoy it. I still can't believe the little Fiat, with its narrow tires and lack of power, was able to survive all the offroading we had to do. We made it to Tamarindo by eleven and found another cheap hotel right across the street from the beach.
We walked through the busy town and then I hit a wall. The driving, coupled with some remaining jetlag, really took it out of me. I took a one hour nap- short by my standards- and then Andrew and I made our way to Playa Langosta, a beach outside of town. We wove through some nice neighborhoods, took some side streets, and ended up on an empty beach. Large rocks formed several small coves and we swam for a long time. We decided to grab some beers from a nearby shop and then headed back to catch the sunset. We were told that the sunsets here are amazing and we were not disappointed. There were no clouds on the horizon to block it, so we watched the sun descend like a big orange ball. The afterglow was something I had never seen before- bright blue sky returned and was joined by shades of purple, orange, and pink. It was such a wide spectrum of colors that I decided to rank it in my top three sunsets of all time. I'm hoping it's equally spectacular tomorrow evening.
On the way back, Andrew signed up for a scuba diving trip. The guide was from Milan and it was fun to speak some Italian with him. He offered for me to join tomorrow for the refresher course and I couldn't say no. So tomorrow I'll get some training, and Sunday we'll do a dive. I hadn't planned on this, but it should be a great adventure.