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Costa Rica -  Feb 2010

Dar El Salaam Airport
Wed 17 Feb to Tue 24 Feb, 2010

We both needed a winter break from work and the reconstruction of the house at Union St. So we took off on a whim to Costa Rica for a week.

First night was in Alajuela near the San Jose International Airport, second near Moin on the Caribbean coast, third at Turrialba in the central mountains, fourth and fifth at Playa Matapalo, and the sixth back at Alajuela prior to our departure on day seven.

Weather was warm and wet (of course) but the Pacific Ocean was also as warm as bath water and it was lovely to get a bit of body surfing in.

More pictures at: Picassa Web
<<< Back to index page. Thur Feb 19: Baby sloth and Vanessa (co-manager) at Paradero Eco Tours and animal Rescue center, Moin
Wed Feb 18:

Following the advice of the Lonely Planets guide book we stayed the first night near the town of Alajuela, close to the International Airport. I just did a Google search and came up with the Martino Resort Hotel that would take Email bookings and grabbed a room there for the first night. Lovely place - a bit more than we usually spend at $125.00 for the night (cash price vs. $135 by credit card). But it was a lovely room, great swimming pool, and we ended up going back to it for the last night also which is very rare for us! We never used to back-track. Must be getting old.

Like KenD in his 2003, Lonely planets, Thorntree Costa Rica trip report, we just rented a car and went for it. One thing we did do though, was pay the extra $8.50 a day for the GPS system that Avis offered. Turned out to be really worth it as we spent a lot of time driving in rain and fog at night on unmarked roads, and the GPS made it much more relaxed. "In .2. miles, turn left."; "Turn left now"; "When safe to do so, make a U turn".

It was so polite, I started to think of marketing a family option for it ("Are we there yet?"-"Daddy, he's touching me!";"I said turn LEFT you idiot - why won't you ever ask directions!"), in case its politeness started weirding anybody out.

We had the hotel shuttle drop us at the plaza in Alajeula and visited the cathedral and market and had a lovely lunch and promptly lost our Lonely Planets guide book somewehere. Now we really had to wing it. Caught a taxi to the Avis office at the airport who shuttled us to their lot and provided us with a nice new Nissan Atiid - not a model we have in the U.S.

Allowed the GPS lady to guide us back to the hotel to collect our luggage, then leaving sunny Alajuela, guide us through San Jose (which was great since we rarely saw a signpost and our National Geographic adventure map did not give anywhere near the details we would have needed), and on the road to Limon on the Caribbean Coast.

Spent the afternoon following slow trucks up AND down the spine of the country in thick fog and/or heavy rain. Totally dark by the time we got near Limon and remembering that Lonely Planets called Limon "gritty" and didn't make it sound like a great place to be looking for accomodation in the dark during a tropical rainstorm, told the GPS to take us to the butterfly farm (Paradero Eco Tours) at Mion just north along the beach as we also remembered that Lonely Planet recommend the third set of bungalows somewhere north of Limon. Not sure if we found their recommended place, but did find Turtle Relax which does not seem to have its own web site. Checked into a room ($25 per night - more our usual price!) had an O.K. dinner, read and went to sleep to the sound of heavy rain on tin roofs, and the crash of waves of the Caribbean sea on the unseen beach on the other side of the road.

Thur Feb 19: Woke up - had an O.K. breakfast - (not included in the price of the room), then waded the car north along the mostly flooded dirt track half a mile to Paradero Eco Tours and animal rescue center. A groundsman let us in, and we met Enrico and Vanessa. As the only visitors we got a special tour of their labor of love. There are possibly places that are much more spectacular and slick for tourists but not with the love that Vanessa and Enrico bring to their little operation. Spend an hour or two with them, left a hopefully, decent contribution to their work, and swam the car back to the recommended hotel over looking Playa Bonita between Limon and Moin for lunch. Then drove through Limon and saw that it really did look gritty! It's a real working town - not a tourist trap as much as they are trying to make it one.

Set the GPS lady for Turrialba in the mountains. She guides us to road 10 which with less traffic was a much more pleasant road. Got to Turrialba around 4 pm, stopped for Sherna to buy some stuff at a "Farmacia", where, by the way, the pharmicist, recommended the Waglia Hotel just up the street. Checked in there and took one of their two last rooms. ($65 per night breakfast included). Went for a walk around town trying to find a place that might sell us a Lonely Planets guide book - no luck - not much in English. Had dinner of sorts with bits and pieces from different places, then back to the hotel to read and sleep to the sound of the water cascading down the creek next to our room.

Fri Feb 20: After breakfast we headed out for Volcán Taurrialba with the GPS lady guiding us. Got to the start of the six km hiking trail in fog, which suddenly cleared for a few seconds showing the steep climb up the cinder cone but not long enough to get the camera out. Fog closed in again, so we decided to move on to Volcán Irazú. I overode the GPS lady and followed the 4wd only tracks on the map for a much more interesting drive cutting some 30 miles off the trip, but taking probably twice as long - but did I say "MUCH MORE INTERESTING". Just don't tell Avis - although the Nissan handled it really well and did not bottom out ever on any rocks or get stuck in any mud holes. Reached the top and spent a little time there. Since it's a dead volcano it was not terribly interesting, (to one who spend some years living on Tanna in Vanuatu with the world's most accessible, and least developed, live volcano). After an hour or so headed down the hills and south to the Pacific Coast. Made pretty good time, even with the fog and the slow truck along the Carretera Interamericana, (which on our map was identified as a freeway, but is really only a 24ft wide, one lane each way, country road). Arrived at Domincal and headed north reaching Playa Matapalo (thanks to KenD for his trip report which we followed) just as the sun set in a typical blaze of tropical glory. At the third guest house we tried, we found a room at "Slice of Paradise" one of two above their garage - a full unit with kitchen for $85 per night, run by Ron Amundsen and Roberta Tierney. While Roberta cleaned the just vacated room, we went to the resturant at Hotel El Coquito which turns out to be the same bungalows that Ken and his family stayed at. It has gone through some 4 managent changes since Ken's trip in 2003, with the latest one being Charlie Berghammer, who used to run the Jungle House just up the road. Charlie has put upgraded it, and brought in a great new cook.

Expect big changes to the area with the completion of the well made, paved, Costaner Sur Highway. If we go back in a year or two we expect it to look like Miami, which will be a real shame.

Sat/Sun. Feb 21/22: Went to the beach for a swim and some body surfing, then back to El Coquito for breakfast followed by another swim. Back at Slice of Paradise asked to stay another night which was fine. Then Sunday headed south to Uvita for lunch and a visit to a waterfall where we just lazed away the afternoon with the locals, splashing in the water. Dropped in on Playa Ventanas on the way home - very picturesque, with interesting wave cut tunnels through the protecting, rocky, jungle covered headlands to the outer water. Back to Slice of Paradise for a dinner of cheese and crackers, then read and slept.

Mon. Feb 23: Swam again, then back to El Coquito for breakfast before packing up and heading north to Puntarenas - one strange town at the end of a 6 mile long sand spit backed by mangrove swamps. Much more humid there, yet the hills and vegetation are sparse and dry, except for the mangrove swamp. Got there as a huge carnival along the shore front was being torn down and packed up. Just missed the 3 pm ferry to somewhere - didn't plan to go, but may have been fun to see where it ended up and come back on it. Had a large, late, fried fish lunch, then started thinking about finding a place to stay. The area didn't look too appealing, so decided to head back to the Martino Resort Hotel at Alajuela. Got onto the nice new tollway #27, paid our toll, but got shunted off 3 miles up the road due to a landslide and had to rely on the GPS lady to guide us along the winding hwy 3 behind a slow moving John Deer front end loader for an hour or so through rain and thick fog. Arrived back at the Martino Resort Hotel and had dinner, read and slept.

Tue. Feb 24: Went for a swim in the lovely hotel pool, then took the car back to Avis, completed the paper work, thanked them for selling us on the GPS, and shuttled to the airport for an uneventful Continental Airlines trip home (terrible food!).

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