Goodbye Costa Rica

From the courtyard of the National Museum

After two months in Costa Rica it is time to say goodbye. I had a great time here and have seen a lot of wonderful things. I managed to see everything that I wanted to except for the beaches in northwest Costa Rica. The country is absolutely beautiful and has so much to offer. It is amazing that such a small country has so many different climates, jungles, forests, and beaches.

My Spanish teacher Nidia and I

I was fortunate to also find a great language school. I like the Costa Rican Language School because it offers much more than just language classes. There are plenty of common areas where you can easily meet people, they offer free cooking, dancing, and conversation classes, and arrange tours for the students. It’s nice that every weekend you can easily find someone with whom to go on an excursion.

I enjoyed living in the heart of the city much more than in Sabanilla where I lived my first month here. It was much easier to get around and believe it or not it seemed to be quieter than where I lived in the suburbs where every 15 minutes a car alarm would go off. I also found a great dive to grab lunch where for about $2-3 you get a typical casado with chicken, rice, beans, and platanos which I recently became addicted to.

A typical street in San Jose

There are also quite a few things that I don’t like about Costa Rica. Other than the wonderful temperature in San Jose I could find little else redeeming about the city. It is ugly, difficult to get around since the streets seem to have pot holes every few feet, the sidewalks are tiny or just missing, there is a fair bit of crime, and the city virtually empties out after six at night. The taxi drivers are terrible and will avoid turning the meter on or even lie about what the meter says; although if you speak decent Spanish, it doesn’t seem to happen that often. Despite the perfect temperature in San Jose the Ticos have yet to discover the concept of outdoor seating. I like the cheaper restaurants called sodas that serve casados but if you tire of rice and beans and want try something a little more cosmopolitan most of restaurants lack ambiance, taste and originality. In general the beef and surprisingly the seafood in San Jose are best to be avoided.

The other downside is that it’s not the best place to learn Spanish because you’re going to want to leave the city each weekend and unfortunately the majority of the areas you go to cater to just foreigners. Your Tico friends are not going to have time or money to accompany you on the weekends since most sites are at least three hours from San Jose and the prices are significantly higher than the city. So you basically end up hanging out with foreigners most of the time.

Regardless I have to admit I still had a great time in the city because of the people I met. I made so many friends from so many different countries and had a great time traveling with them around Costa Rica. The country is absolutely beautiful and definitely worth visiting.

My friend Angela and I in dance class The National Theater

The Monteverde Cloud Forest

The Monteverde Cloud Forest

The ride to Monteverde from Arenal via the Jeep/Boat/Jeep transport was very scenic and passed very quickly. I made friends with an Israeli on board named Roy and we ended up splitting a room at hotel in Santa Elena called Atardecer (Sunset). For $8 a night we stayed at one of the cleanest and well maintained places I’ve been in so far in Costa Rica. I highly recommend it if you’re not looking for the hostal atmosphere.

Santa Elena is a town that resides about 20 minutes from the rain forests and is where almost everybody stays. The town is very small and has a very large number of expats. I like the town a lot except that there was very little to do in the afternoons before the nightlife starts up at around nine or ten. Roy and I ended up signing up for a zipline tour early the next morning and just checking the town out the first night.

The next morning the tour company picked us up and took us to a private area of the cloud forest for the zipline tour. The zipline tour is a series of cables strewn throughout the forest that your slide down with pulleys. The tours are very common in almost all parts of Costa Rica and after hearing so much about it I figured I had to try it out. We were also placed in a group of volunteers from the States that were teaching children English in remote parts of Costa Rica. They were a fun group and definitely added a lot to the tour. The best part of the whole tour was the Tarzan Swing where the take you about 30ft, tie a rope to you and let you drop. Since there is plenty of slack in the rope you end up dropping straight down and then getting shot out as the rope becomes taught. If you’re an adrenaline junkie you may find the tour a little slow but it still is a nice diversion from hiking.

Our zip-line group

After the tour we headed back to Santa Elena for lunch and then went on to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. The forest is beautiful and is definitely worth a visit. We didn’t see that many animals but I did get a shot of the famous Queztal, which apparently is very sought after by bird lovers and difficult to find. I personally enjoyed the hikes in Manuel Antonio and Cuhaita better because there were a lot more animals and the trails along beaches seemed much more picturesque to me.

The next day we signed up for the SkyWalk which is a series of suspension bridges that make a circular trail in the cloud forest. The paths were very well done and there were some beautiful views from a different cloud forest that lies next to the Santa Elena Reserve. After the tour we went back to Santa Elena, grabbed lunch and then packed up for our trip back to San Jose.

The trip back was one of the worse bus rides I have ever been on. It took about four and a half hours to get back and two of the hours were on unpaved roads with enough holes to make it impossible to read or sleep and since the bus was only moving about five miles an hour it was very hot without any ventilation. I’m definitely glad I only had to make the ride one way since I arrived in Monteverde from Arenal.

A view during the ride to Monteverde Another view during the ride to Monteverde Preparing to get on the zip-line Riding down the zip line Swing from the Tarzan Swing A group shot at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Another group shot at the Monteverde Cloud Forest The elusive Quetzal A suspension bridge at SkyTrek

Arenal and La Fortuna

The Arenal Volcano from the city of Fortuna

I arrived in the city of Fortuna in the early afternoon after about a three and a half hour bus drive from San Jose. I was accompanied by my friend Andrienne who I met through the language academy in San Jose. We decided before arriving that we were going to try to stay in a hostel named Gringo Pete’s if they had space. Fortunately they did which was a relief because we were greeted by rain as soon as we got of the bus. After settling in and deciding on our plans for the weekend we set off for the Tabacón Hot Springs resort were we actually lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a few explosions at the top of the Arenal volcano.

The two main attractions in Fortuna are the Arenal volcano and the hot spring resorts. There are two hot spring resorts in Fortuna, Tabacón which is sort of the five star resort that costs about $40 for entry including dinner, and Baldi which if I recall correctly cost about $16 without dinner and seemed more geared to families and budget travelers. We enjoyed the hot springs at Tabacón so much the first night that we went to Baldi the following night. I think Tabacón was worth the extra money but if you have two days you should check both out.

Andrienne and I having dinner at the Tabacón Hot Springs Resort

The second day we rented a scooter and after making a few test runs around the city we headed off to the Fortuna Waterfall. I’m definitely glad we rented the scooter because it would have been a very long and rather boring walk from Fortuna. I felt bad as we passed by all the people walking but was also glad that we arrived before everybody else. After paying the entrance fee and walking down about a thousand steeply inclined steps we arrived at a beautiful waterfall and a small watering hole which you can swim in. I took a quick refreshing dip and shortly thereafter we left hopefully to make it in time to see the Arenal Volcano National Park. Unfortunately it started raining and scooters and rain don’t mix too well. After riding for about 15 minutes in the rain and getting completely drenched we decided to head back, turn the scooter in, and go to the Baldi resort where we spent the rest of the day.

The Fortuna Waterfall (La catarata de la fortuna) Andrienne and I completely drenched after a fun scooter ride in the rain A view of one of the many pools at Baldi Thermae Hot Springs

On our final day in Fortuna we went headed out early to the Arenal Volcano National Park. The park has some great views of the Volcano and a few decent hiking trails. We caught a few glimpses of the volcano erupting but all we could you see were rocks rolling down the volcano because you can’t make out the red lava in the day time from a distance.

Later we went back to Gringo Pete’s to pack up and unfortunately end our stay in Fortuna. I made reservations to travel from Fortuna to Monteverde using the Jeep-Boat-Jeep transport which should have been more accurately called the Van-Boat-Van transport. And after saying goodbye to Andrienne, who unfortunately had to go to San Jose for classes on Monday, I jumped in my jeep/van and headed off to Montevede.

A view of the Arenal Lake from the National Park A view of Arenal from one of the paths in the National Park Another view from the National Park My boat ride onto Monteverde Last view of Arenal from the boat to Monteverde

The Four-in-One Tour

 

My Belgian friend Emmanuale and I at the Poáz Volcano

At the last minute on one Friday with much pressure from me my friend Emmanuel and I decided to sign up for a the Four-in-One tour. It’s actually a rather interesting tour where you can see a coffee plantation, the Poáz Volcano, the Paz Waterfall which also includes access to a buttery fly garden and hummingbird sanctuary, and finally a boat tour down the Sarapiquí River.

I thought everything was great except for the last boat tour which was rather boring. The rafting trip I took a few weeks ago was on the same river but further upstream where there were more rapids. I saw about the same amount of wildlife but it was actually fun. They actually sell a package without the boat tour for a little less which I definitely recommend if you’ve already gone rafting.

 

Coffee plantation just outside the city

 

The Poáz Volcano

 

The butterfly garden

 

A brain sucking butterfly

 

One of hundreds of hummingbirds in the Humingbird Sanctuary.

 

The Hummingbird Sanctuary

 

A view from behind a waterfall leading up to the Paz Waterfall

 

The waterfall from the front

 

The Paz Waterfall

 

A little house as seen from the boat

 

Scene from some of the mountains on the way back home

More pictures at Ofoto

In Search of Apartments

I could have moved back into my old apartment but decided not to because I didn’t like the location and it was quite expensive for Costa Rica. The apartment was also very inconvenient because it was in a suburb and I always needed to take taxis or spend about 45 minutes walking, waiting, and then finally riding to my destination. Sabanilla, which is like a suburb except noisier, has only a few stores and very few restaurants. It’s great if you live with a homestay family but it wasn’t cutting it for me since I almost always eat out.

Unfortunately there isn’t much of a rental market in San Jose because most people live with their families until getting married. The best resources I found for finding apartments in San Jose are The Tico Times, and A.M. Costa Rica. The print version of the La Nacion (the website always seemed to be out of date) had a decent number of listings but there were very few with furniture and I didn’t see any listed with Internet connections.

I managed to find a house with a room for rent with the essential high speed Internet connection in barrio Amón which is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. The house is rented out by an American named Tomas from California who has been living in Costa Rica for close to 20 years.

I also have two other American roommates both essentially retired. One that has been living here for quite a few years and the other one that was just visiting and would actually be leaving for the States in a week. At $350 it was sufficient enough for me.

I love the location. It’s a lot easier to get around by bus, I’m close to many restaurants, and there is actually a park a few blocks from me. And best of all are the transvestites that work just down the street from me and the numerous brothels just past them. Ok so it’s not without its problems but its good enough to call home

 

Living room in my new house

 

Parque Morazán three blocks from my apartment