Cruising  ~ The Cat’s Meow Style ~  August, 2008

Pura Vida! Costa Rica


                                                                                                                                                       The Arenal volcano, sunset


Another life-dream was realized, at least for Robin, when we traveled to Costa Rica this summer. Some of those flight miles we have been saving up did the job, getting us from Puerto Vallarta in Mexico to San Jose, Costa Rica and back. After lots of time, energy, and money working on The Cat’s Meow and realizing the dream of being able to cruise again, we decided this would be a great way to do something very different, and, a great way to celebrate Robin’s 60th birthday. YIKES! We have some good friends who have traveled to this beautiful country before, and they were able to give us some pointers for our trip. We were both excited about this next adventure.


Jo Anna Kuruc, a good friend from Arizona, graciously agreed to stay aboard TCM while we were gone. This way, the boat and the kitties would be well taken care of, and worries would be (almost) non-existent. Jo Anna came to the boat a few days prior to our leaving, got her boat-legs, learned all that was necessary regarding the care of the boat and for the cats too. There is actually quite a lot to know and to watch for – especially during the hurricane season – on a boat even when it is at a dock. J Anna did a splendid job, by the by; we just wish the weather had been better during her stay. It was hot and humid, and rained a LOT.


                                                            Squeak, acquainting herself with Jo Anna’s stuff


So, we took off from PV, spent the night in Fort Lauderdale…yes, Ft. Lauderdale, FL….and we arrived mid-afternoon the next day in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. We had reservations for the first two nights in a small town outside of the capital, Alajuela, in a nice hotel with great views. Our first full day in the country, we took a bus to San Jose and spent the day walking about. San Jose is the largest city in the country, and of course includes all the administrative locations & buildings, but it also has a number of parks, some nice museums, and many coffee houses, as Costa Rica is known for their delicious coffee. While walking through the city, we came upon lots and lots of cows. Cows painted in all manner of design and “dress”. These are life-size plastic cows, and they are used as a fund-raiser for a variety of organizations. Some of these guys were pretty cool!



                                                                                A very happy cow in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica                                                             Robin’s favorite: the frow…..or is it a cog??


San Jose is, unfortunately, well-known as a city of pick-pockets. We prepared by holding our bags in front of us, kept nothing in our pockets, and only had items in the backpack that were of little value, such as an umbrella, maps, etc. Still, we were “hit”. A two-some “worked us” at a crosswalk, the woman stalling us while her accomplice opened the backpack. We didn’t realize what had happened for a few minutes, but laughed when we found that the only thing taken was a small EMPTY wallet. We didn’t let that incident effect us much – we enjoyed a really good cup o’ coffee at a little sidewalk café a few minutes later.


In order to get from Alajuela to our next destination, the Arenal Volcano, we had to hire a driver from the hotel. No busses go from point A to point B. It was a very rainy, stormy drive, with lots of twists and turns and mountains. We are glad we were not driving! It was worth it, however, when we saw the volcano in full view. Arenal is an active volcano, located near a lake, up in the mountains of Costa Rica.


Our driver, Leonardo, upon our arrival at the Arenal Lodge


We were at about 6000 feet, so it was chilly up there! This is where Robin celebrated her biiig birthday – a grand way to begin another great year! We spent the special day at the Hanging Bridges attraction, which is a pristine rainforest with a trail that includes 16 bridges, six of which are hanging over the canyons. Our great guide, Julio, actually took us a short distance off the trail at one point and he “called” to some howler monkeys. They moved right over our heads, spoke loudly back to Julio and they even threw things at us! We saw one of the most poisonous snakes, the eyelash palm pitviper, and a pair of toucans, plus a variety of other critters. In the evening, we got all dressed up and had a delicious steak dinner with champagne at the Lodge. What a great day!


The day after her birthday, we went to the other side of the lake and had an exciting day doing the “Sky Trek” zip line! Wowow, what a way for Robin to start the year!! After being fit with hard hats and a harness and all kinds of heavy gear, we rode a tram waaaay up the mountain. Now, there was only one way down, and that was by zipping down the nine lines, which stretched over canyons and the dense rainforest. Hmmm…well, at this point it seemed there was really no choice! The two “zip guys” were great, encouraging, helpful, and funny! We were the “old folks” in a group of nine, but we kept up just fine! One of the lines stretched just barely short of a quarter-mile, and by the time we were at that line, a thunderstorm – complete with lightening – had moved in. Made it even more exciting, especially when rain was stinging our faces during the rides down the zip line. Wow, what a rush!!


                                                                     Robin comin’ in on a zip line


Want to take a virtual zip line ride? Here is a video clip of the long one, during the thunderstorm. One of the zip-line guys took our camera as he zipped across the canyon to the other side…..  This clip is almost a minute long, so it will take a little while to download, but we hope you enjoy the ride!! You can hear the thunder, so have the volume on……




A note here: most of the other travelers/visitors, we saw and met during our trip in Costa Rica were European, with a healthy dose of folks from Argentina thrown in. We heard lots of German and other germanic languages, different versions of Spanish, and of course English because it is the universal language. There were fewer norte americanos, comparatively, and most whom we did see were of the 18-25 year-old set.


At the end of our stay near the volcano, we hired a transportation company called Interbus, which picked us up at the Arenal Lodge and took us up the windy mountain road to Monte Verde, at about 7000 feet altitude. Once again, we were very glad we were not driving. The roads were being worked on, it was raining very hard, and some of the roads were purrrty interesting. We hoped to be able to find lodging from this point forward in the $45-$60US dollar range per night. Robin had called ahead and reserved a room for $45/night in Monte Verde. After killing three spiders, not having any hot water, and being VERY cramped and cold, we decided this was not the way we wanted to go.


Monte Verde is a small village adjacent to Santa Elena, another village, and they both exist mostly for the tourists who visit the Cloud Forest and other small attractions, such as the Frog Pond and various butterfly reserves. Wandering the villages didn’t take any time. This area has become very tourist-oriented, of course, which means that some of the restaurants are over-priced and crowded. We did find a “soda”, which is a small restaurant that serves “real” Costa Rican food for the locals. Now, here we found great, tasty food – some dishes were new to us – and at very reasonable prices. The first day we were in this area, and again that night, we visited the Frog Pond. This is the best way to see a variety of the tropical frogs, since the little guys are REALLY little, and very difficult to see, especially since they mostly come out at night. This tour was quite interesting and informative, and especially fun at night since we had the chance to look into the little aquariums, with flashlights at our leisure, to see the little buggers.


 One of the little tree frogs ~ cute, eh?


The next day we spent at the cloud forest, doing the Sky Walk tour. This is the attraction that is mostly on hanging bridges, up in the tree tops of the rainforest. It was awesome, all misty and cloudy, up in the trees, above the forest floor. Unfortunately, it had been raining for a few days straight, and the rain continued while we were there, so the animals and birds were staying put – wherever they stay put, up in the trees. Our poor guide worked very hard, trying to find anything at all to show us along the trail, but for us it was just grand, being up there in the clouds & tree tops.



                                                Wet but lovin’ being up in the tree tops                                                                              This is why they call it a cloud forest



It was time to get to some warm weather and to dry out a bit! We had been in the mountains, in the cool temps, for long enough! Once again, we hired Interbus service to get us from point A to point B, which this time was to Montezuma. Montezuma is a village kinda off the beaten track, and we were ready for some of that, too. This little – and we mean little – place is a surfer + old hippie hangout on the east coast of the Nicoya peninsula, across the small gulf from Puntarenas.  The Interbus van picked us up at our little hotel, drove for hours down the mountain to Puntarenas, where we all boarded a ferry, and that took us across the Golfito de Nicoya, to Paquera. There, we were met by another Interbus van and driven down the coast to Montezuma. One bad/good thing that occurred: just as Robin settled onto the ferry, she realized her camera was still in the Interbus van. Ninety minutes later, when we met the second Interbus van, she told the driver about her camera. He immediately called the Interbus office (in San Jose) and relayed the problem. More on that later…..


Robin had called ahead and secured lodging in an interesting place called Los Mangos hotel. There are about 15 hexagonal, all wood bungalows built into the grove of huge mango trees, which all back up to the rain forest. Very quiet. Nice pool. Each bungalow has a nice veranda. Right across the street from the rocky beach with loads of tide pools. Here, we saw more wild life than in any one other location during our trip! Monkeys (and lots of them), coatimundis, agutis, huge iguanas and colorful large lizards all made themselves known. Some of the monkeys were too interested in what was inside some of the bungalows, however, and had to be watched carefully. We could walk into the village five minutes down the road, enjoyed walking and doing some beachcombing, waited out some downpours in nice restaurants or bars, and had breakfast in a café where there were monkeys playing in the trees and on a “monkey playground” right in front of the customers.



                                         Our bungalow at the Los Mangos hotel, Montezuma                                                Martin, actually relaxing poolside                                                    Robin doing the beachcombing thing



At the very end of this peninsula, just a few miles from Montezuma, is an “absolute reserve”, a pristine rain forest that is partially recouped from farmland. This is a very interesting place with an interesting history, and hopefully a good future. We saw very few, maybe only four or six, other people on the trail during our morning trek. It was magical. Twice the big blue butterfly, the Blue Morpho, came very near us to let us watch and admire.


Now, back to Robin’s camera, on the Interbus van: when we arrived at the hotel in Montezuma, the Interbus driver called the office again, and Robin was able to speak with Francisco (Frank), who assured her the camera would be kept in their safe at their office in San Jose until we returned to the mainland of Costa Rica. He told her that when we were at our next destination (and we did not know exactly where that might be, at this point), he would have the camera delivered to us. Now, that was great news!!


August 12th was a travel day, from Montezuma back across the Gulfo de Nicoya, through Puntarenas and down the coast to Manuel Antonio, by bus. Manuel Antonio Park is the most visited place in all of Costa Rica. The attraction is a beautiful rain forest that comes down a mountain to the water’s edge. It is a national park, of course, gated and somewhat controlled in terms of number of visitors per day. The road to the park is a dead end, and has become crowded with trinket shops and a few restaurants on both sides of the street. We had lodging in a nice hotel with a pool and on the beach, near the entrance to the park. Our first day in this area, we walked the beach, enjoyed the water and tropical vegetation, and finished the day off with margaritas and calamari at a nearby patio restaurant. Interbus came through – Francisco had my camera dropped at our hotel in the late afternoon, for no charge!!! WOW, now that is great service, and a great day!!


Quepos (KAY-pos) is the nearest village to the park, and is a fairly typical one at that. A marina is being built at Quepos, and that would be fun to see someday. Most of the boats in this area, so far, are big expensive sportfishers and some party boats. This is a big sportfishing area, for bill fish. Quepos has the normal shops, restaurants, a few internet cafes charging $4US/hour (!!), some nice soda restaurants, and the bus station.


We began our trek through the Manuel Antonio park fairly early one morning. There were large groups of visitors, many with hired guides who carried telescopes and who stopped along the trails to view different things. We listened-in on some of these groups and had a chance to see some cool stuff! We saw a number of sloths, both two- and three-toed, some with babies (aawwww….), the great Golden Orb spider, a big snake that (yeeeks!) almost tripped Robin on the trail, and all three types of monkeys. Man, those howlers make a lot of racket!! This was the most crowded of the locations we had been, and there were people all around, but it was not crowded on the trails. We took the trail up to the highest spot that has a beautiful outlook over a cove on the waterside.  After our hike, we went to one of the beaches, found a nice tree to sit under, and relaxed. The water here was the most purrrfect ocean water we have ever seen. It was crystal clear, the purrrfect temperature, and just plain wonderful! There were plenty of other folks on the beach, but it was not uncomfortably crowded.







On the 16th, we hopped a bus for a not-so-often-visited village, Dominical. Dominical is another surfing location, and we could see why when we went to the long, wide beach: BIG WAVES. But, we digress….  The bus was so totally crowded, complete with surfboards (inside the bus), that people stood the entire two-hour trip from Quepos to Dominical. We passed acres and acres….er, hectares….of palms which are harvested for palm oil. Upgrading of this road has been “planned” for some 30 years, and it looks like they might actually be working on it, sometimes… in some places….  We arrived in the tiny village of Dominical, hopped off the bus with our bags, stood in the mud… and about an hour later, we were able to get a taxi to Villa Rio Mar, our next hotel. This was the nicest place yet, a well-hidden tropical paradise, and not the most expensive we had stayed in. Again, we were in a bungalow, quite well-appointed, with a lovely big veranda complete with mosquito netting and lots of privacy. The pool was great, and that is where we spent our first day at this hotel, reading and relaxing. While at this hotel, we saw toucans, and at night, some tico lightening bugs!



                           Robin’s view during ride to Dominical                                             Typical Tico housing along the road, near the palm plantations                                    Villa Rio Mar pool bar,l & restaurant


The 2008 summer Olympics in China were being held, and we were able to see some of the games on a very large screen TV at the bar. The food & drinks at the hotel were fairly expensive, but we were a captive audience since the hotel was a fair distance from anything else. We chose to eat mostly “tico” food –common dishes for the local people, like the “casado”: rice & black beans, potatoes, salad, platanos (a fried banana-like fruit), and your choice of chicken/beef/pork/fish.


Dominical is built along a wide, long, dark-sand beach. This beach was essentially deserted the day we decided to walk it. We can’t seem to walk a beach without finding some treasures in the form of shells and/or driftwood. We saw a whole bunch of red crabs, scurrying sideways, finishing off what was left on a fish skeleton. A rest and a cold beer was in order when we found a little hotel with a little bar. Very relaxing.



                                                                                                             Wide dark sand Dominical beach                                                                           Little beach bar with interesting entry way


It was time to make our way back to Alajuela and eventually to a plane for the US, then to Mexico. Our bus ride from Dominical to the village of San Ysidro was slow and laborious, up a mountain, with a number of big landslides on the road from all of the rain. We had to run into the street to flag down the next bus, which took us into San Jose. Robin was given a seat, but Martin rode standing up for about 80% of the three-hour trip. Once in San Jose, Leonardo, our previous driver, picked us up and took us back to the Orquedias Hotel for our last night in Costa Rica.


The next day, August 20th, we flew from San Jose, Costa Rica back to Fort Lauderdale in the USofA. We were dog-tired when we arrived at our hotel at 11 pm, but we happened to see the winning women’s beach volleyball games as we were checking in!!


Costa Ricans call themselves “Ticos”, and they are proud of their clean, peaceful country. The phrase we heard the most, throughout Costa Rica, was “pura vida” – it was said in all different situations, as a greeting or salutation, during a conversation, from Tico to Tico, or to a visitor. When we asked what “pura vida” really meant, we were told it is used to say “life is good” – a very nice way to look at things.


Each Costa Rican we met has been educated regarding the rainforest, the need to care for the earth, and about recycling.  “Eco-tourism has become the national past-time”, Robin says. Costa Rica is no longer an inexpensive place to visit. Tourism is big business, but the Ticos do it well. Both of us were impressed with the level of care for both the country and for visitors. Before we had left, we were both talking about coming back to Costa Rica! Pura vida ~ life is good!


Thanks so much for coming along with us on this adventure! We hope you enjoyed hearing about our “big trip”, and we do hope you will return for more Cruising ~ The Cat’s Meow Style…….