Costa Rica Trip Part 3

 

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Before we went on this trip to Costa Rica, I looked into the money situation – what the local currency is like, the USD exchange rate, where can I get money while in country, etc. Costa Rica uses the Colon. When we left home the exchange was around 518 Colones to the dollar. While we were there the rate went up to something around 580.

Everything I read said that there was no need to change your money; everyone would be happy to take American dollars. This turned out to be mostly true, but personally I always like to use local currency whenever I can when traveling. It eliminates the hassles of doing math in my head to make conversions when items aren’t priced in dollars like when I’m buying a Copo (a concoction of shaved ice, fruit flavoring, and condensed and powdered milk) from a guy with push cart on the street. It also makes me feel a little more “immersed” in the country rather than just staying in my own little American bubble looking out the window as things pass by. I think too that it is appreciated by the locals – I made an effort to meet them on their own terms something along the lines of making an effort to speak the language.

I tried to get Colones before we left – no dice. We contacted several banks in the area and only one could even lay their hands on Colones, but we needed an account there or else forget about it. So we went with a small amount of USD and an ATM card. The idea being that once in country, ATMs are everywhere and you can get both USD and Colones out of them; don’t carry a lot of cash, just get it as you need it.

This was good advice in general. The ATMs worked well and by waiting to exchange money we were able to take advantage of the changes in the exchange rate albeit by accident. The only problem was that ATMs are not always easy to find. Things may be different in more urban areas, but I never saw an ATM that wasn’t inside a bank building – none in businesses and none in the lobbies of the two resorts where we stayed. This meant we needed to get to a bank to get money and without a rental car (if you ever go to Arenal be sure to get a car) that meant we needed a taxi to take us there.

So we got into the country late at night after a long day of travelling and after buying food at airports and tipping drivers and stuff we are down to about $50. The first thing we wanted to do was go to the rain forest so we talked to the guy at the lobby about getting a taxi to the Arenal Volcano National Park. He said it would cost $40 USD for a guy to take us there and then return later in the day to pick us up. No problem, we had $50 so we get the guy to take a detour into town on the way back where we will get more money. Problem, we got to the park entrance and found out that it will cost us $30 to get in. We ended up borrowing the entrance fee off of Roberto, our taxi driver! Sheesh.

The rain forest was fantastic. If you have ever been to one of those butterfly house things where they have a big glass room filled with butterflies and tropical plants (there is a nice one in Ontario near Niagara Falls) then you know sort of what it was like only this was better. Butterflies were everywhere – big ones, small ones, blue ones, green ones, even clear ones. There were lizards and snakes and bright colored grasshoppers. We spotted one brilliant yellow snake curled up on a big leaf and took some close up pictures. When we looked it up it turned out to be an eyelash pit viper – very venomous – fortunately not very aggressive.

The vegetation was very dense. As is my wont, I tried to get off the trail and wander around a bit, but without a machete it was almost impossible so we stuck to the trail. We walked to an old lava flow. I had hoped to see some still flowing lava, but nothing was happening at the moment and they have closed off trails that lead to more active areas higher up since some tourists got killed a few years back.

It is a rain forest so it rained. We got soaked. You just need to understand that is the way it is and not worry about it. It was warm and the sun came out once in a while so it wasn’t all that bad. It is all part of the experience.

We took a side trail that turned out to be longer than we expected so we got back to the parking lot about 40 minutes later than we agreed, but Roberto was there waiting for us. Hey, we owed him money. He drove us into the town of Fortuna to find an ATM. I took out 100,000 Colones – it was difficult to make myself enter such a large number on the key pad. It came out in 5000 Colon bills which at the time was equivalent to a bit over $8 US.

We went back to the resort and hit the pool for what remained of the afternoon. The women caught some sun in between clouds and my son and I played in the pool while hummingbirds whizzed around us. I spotted some monkeys in the trees nearby and we went over to watch them for a while. By six-ish the sun was setting so we headed back to the room to clean up for dinner. We hung all our wet hiking clothes and bathing suits out on the porch to dry – they were still just as wet in the morning because of the incredible humidity. We eventually had to pay for laundry service to get them dry.

If we had known the lay of the land ahead of time – everything is miles away from everything else – we would have rented a car and driven out to a local restaurant, but the resort food wasn’t bad and spending an evening sitting in the open air overlooking the forest wasn’t exactly torture.

After another night of torrential rain we woke up to a grey misty day. We decided it would be a good day to go to a hot springs. We took a taxi over to Baldi Hot Springs. There is another one nearby called Tabacon that is a bit more upscale, but maybe not as “fun”. We bought our day pass at our resort and got a discount. Baldi is a whole hotel/spa/hot springs complex with bunches of pools at various temperatures (anywhere from 96 to 152 F) scattered over the landscaped grounds, swim up bars, and even some very fast water slides. We spent an entire afternoon just sort of lounging about.

On our third day it was time to pack up and head out for a few days on the beach along Golfo de Papagayo on the pacific side. It is a about a six hour drive from Arenal to the Allegro Papagayo resort. Another car ride and another weird travel experience. Our driver this time was Estaban who, like Roberto, spoke very little English, but was happy to shoot the breeze with me anyway using lots of hand waving and what little Spanish I could muster. About 40 minutes into the ride we realized that Calvin had left his backpack containing all his toys and games back at the hotel. So it was “regreso” for us – Estaban didn’t seem to mind.

Bag in hand we headed back out onto the road. We made it all the way through the town of Liberia and were getting close to our destination when Estaban realized that he did not know how to get to our hotel. We stopped at a couple resorts and they directed us to some other resorts; none the right one, I broke out the maps that I had brought with me and started adding my two cents, and Estaban took to stopping anytime we saw anyone near the road and asked for directions. Eventually we found our way to the right place after a nice scenic tour of the area.

We stayed at the Allegro Papagayo, an all inclusive resort on the coast – more pools, swim up bars, and open air dining along with a black sand beach right outside our room and plenty of hot sunshine. The rain forest was great, but it was nice to dry out a bit.

More about that when I wrap things up in the next post and I will tell the sad tale of what happened to all my nice photos.

MDW

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3 Responses to “Costa Rica Trip Part 3”

  1. fencer Says:

    Hi forestrat,

    I’ve never had the opportunity to go to Costa Rico, or anywheres south in this hemisphere for that matter… always end up going west to China or east to Europe. It sounds… exotic. Not sure if I’m crazy about constant rain though, get enough of that in Vancouver in the fall and winter.

    Wondering what happened to your photos!

    Regards

  2. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Glad to have you back and posting. It sounds like you had quite an adventure.
    I’ve been to jungle rain forest but in Borneo and Malaysia. It was a bit more like Camelot. It poured a deluge every night, but in the morning, things dried out and the sun came out. It was always humid.
    One thing I was disappointed about – there weren’t many exotic flowers! All the wonderful displays of flowers that we saw were ones that were planted around hotels.
    I’d be interested in seeing your butterfly pictures, if you took some. I too am curious as to what happened to your photos. I hope you didn’t lose them all.
    K

  3. Cutthroat Stalker (Scott C) Says:

    Man, that sounds fun! Makes me a bit homesick–when I was a kid my dad was in the navy and we moved to Guam. Tropical island paradise (maybe not paradise, but definitely tropical). I’ve been getting myself pumped up for these killer photos I just knew you were going to deliver, then this terrible announcement at the end. Oh boy!

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