Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Costa Rica - Sightseeing

Everything works out in Costa Rica. At least it seems that way after a fantastic week in paradise with good friends and great adventures.

Costa Rica sunset - near La Fortuna

My friend Josh travels to Costa Rica each year to surf and relax, and this year he invited me to join him. I'm not a surfer, but I'm definitely a big fan of sunshine and warmth. Especially in January! Josh arrived a few days before me so that gave him a chance to get some surfing in before I joined him. In typical Josh fashion, my instructions for meeting up with him were vague and lacking much detail or backup plans. I stressed about this on my flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. I really wanted to meet up with him, but I wasn't holding my breath. Something about Charley's place in Alajuela when I arrived, and a van to Montezuma. I wondered who Charley was and whether a van would actually appear the next morning.

I made it to Charley's Place around midnight - an acceptable and basic hostel not far from the airport. It's always disorienting arriving in a foreign country, especially at night. I had to ring the doorbell to get let in to the hostel, but apparently I was expected. I got a few hours of sleep and woke up just before 6am, hoping a van would appear. It did - right at 6am! It always seems like the United States is one of the few places on the planet where schedules actually mean anything, so I was a bit surprised at the timely van. I was glad Josh had done such a good job arranging things for me ... no more stress...

The trip to Montezuma involved taking a ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula where another van was supposed to be waiting to complete the trip to Montezuma. A ferry strike put an end to this plan, but between my weak Spanish skills and a helpful fellow traveler, I figured out I was supposed to take another ferry to Playa Naranjo and hope for a van to Montezuma. A big delay and a side trip through more of Costa Rica than I had planned .. I was hoping Josh didn't think I got lost.

I met an awesome guy on the ferry who packed up his stuff in Israel and headed to Costa Rica with no plan, except to live and surf there. We talked about the violence in his country and the peaceful beauty of Costa Rica, his fear of moving halfway around the world alone, and how easy it is to get sucked into a life without adventure. He was as passionate about the ocean as I am about the desert.

There was actually a van waiting for me in Playa Naranjo, and eventually I made it to Montezuma on a very rough road a few hours later than planned. I was relieved to see how small the town was - it would make finding Josh easier. Within seconds of hopping off the van, I heard a familiar voice calling my name. Josh had been waiting at the local bar, on the lookout for the van. He introduced me to his new friend, Sherry from Maine, who had surfed with him earlier in the week at Mal Pais. After two days of traveling I was excited to actually start enjoying Costa Rica.

We spent the rest of the day hiking to the Montezuma Waterfalls, walking on the beach, and later enjoying beers on the beach while looking at the stars.

Montezuma Beach

Me on Montezuma Beach

Montezuma Waterfall

Montezuma Beach

Montezuma Beach

I really enjoyed our time in Montezuma. In addition to Josh and Sherry, a guy named Patrick joined us as well. He was also surfing with Josh in Mal Pais and was spending the next few weeks in Costa Rica. Sherry and Patrick were a ton of fun - it was nice to have a group of people to adventure with. We spent time swimming in the waterfalls, walking on the beach, and enjoying the lively atmosphere of Montezuma.

Sunrise in Montezuma

A monkey!

On our last full day in Montezuma, we hitched a ride in the back of a truck to the tiny town of Cabuya at the end of the Nicoya Peninsula. We became friends with some interesting characters at the Howler Monkey Inn, scored some snorkeling gear, and swam out to Cemetery Island through some strangely hot ocean water. I really hate swimming in the ocean (creepy things live in it!) so this felt like a major accomplishment for me to swim to an island. We didn't want to spend lots of money on a snorkeling tour and we couldn't find any gear in Montezuma .. but everything worked out in the end!

Hitching a ride to Cabuya


Having a beer with Patrick at bar near Cabuya

Tim loves colones and cocktails

Sherry, Josh, pocket Nicaraguan, me, Patrick

Josh and I parted ways with Patrick in Montezuma and headed to a town called La Fortuna, near the famous Arenal Volcano. A day later we were joined by Sherry at our swanky backpacker hostel. The town was much more hectic and touristy than Montezuma, but the views of the volcano were amazing!

La Fortuna and Volcan Arenal

Josh and I spent one day hiking to Cerro Chato, and extinct volcanic crater filled with water. The hike was intense, mostly due to the heat and humidity. Everything dripped with water in the rain forest and the flowers looked like something out of a botanical garden.

Hiking to Cerro Chato

Beautiful flowers

Rain forest

Hiking to Cerro Chato

Cerro Chato

Sherry and Josh really enjoyed playing on a rope swing at a local swimming hole. I was content to watch.

Sherry on the rope swing

Josh and Sherry at the swimming hole near La Fortuna

We spent another day visiting Arenal Volcano and were fortunate enough to have some clear weather for some incredible views of the peak. The volcano shot off a few minor eruptions during the day and we even saw a bit of lava after dark. We spent the evening soaking in the volcanic-heated waters of Baldi Hot Springs. The place was over the top. Unbelievable! I am a huge fan of hot springs .. this place was heaven with dozens of hot spring pools of varying temperatures, giant hot spring waterfalls, and even a scorching hot pool at 150 degrees! I could have stayed there forever!

Arenal Volcano giving us a show

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

Baldi Hot Springs

Josh, Sherry, and I spent our last day in La Fortuna doing some bird watching. The birds and other wildlife were cool, but the best part was our guide. He spends his life saving as much wilderness as possible, planting rare trees, and sharing his knowledge of plants an animals with anyone who joins him. A true environmental hero, and one of the many people working to preserve and promote the natural paradise that is Costa Rica.

Preserved area near La Fortuna


A little bird watching to end our trip

Thank you Josh for sharing Costa Rica with me, and thank you Sherry and Patrick for sharing the fun. This was the type of trip that refocuses my priorities and keeps me craving new adventures.