Costa Rica Trip Part 4


We left off on the last post having arrived at Allegro Papagayo our beach side home for the last three days of our trip. We spent the remains of that afternoon playing with Calvin in the pool and catching some rays. The sun was a welcome change from the clouds and rain of Arenal.

The next morning I was on the beach before sunrise to see what I could see. I walked a mile or more down the beach. The only other people around were a couple of local guys casting nets for fish while their dog chased the small crabs that ran everywhere above the tide.

I photographed some interesting shells. The black sand beach made a perfect background to set off the strange shapes and colors. At one point the beach changed from flat smooth black sand to tumbled sharp black volcanic rocks. For some reason it was at this point that I started to see sea urchins washing in and out with the shifting water. I’m not sure why they were just here and no where else. They rolled and tumbled and slowly waved their spines. I’m no marine biologist so I can’t say anything too specific about them. These were mostly a maroon color with long spines that looked like porcupine quills. The underside had rows of bright blue spots. I could not find a decent photo of one in the internet. Too bad I don’t have my shots to show you.

I headed back toward the hotel and was shooting some flowering trees nearby when I heard someone running up behind me. It turned out to be my son. When I told him about the sea urchins, he of course wanted to see them. The tide was coming in so I was worried that they would be gone by the time we hiked all the way down there again, but we found a few that had not yet been sucked back out to the ocean.

After breakfast, we hit the pool again (my son would have stayed in the pool 24 hours a day if he could have). We found out that the resort offers a day trip where they take you by boat to a local town for some touristy type shopping and what not. Unfortunately it only ran one day a week and this was not that day. I was hankering to see something of the local area – all we had really seen so far were resorts and tourist attractions. So I got the bright idea to rent a car for the day (the rental place is at the hotel). So after lunch we took off for Playas del Coco.

We knew the area pretty well after yesterday’s experience so we had no trouble finding our way around. We rolled into town and parked at the beach. It was a weekend so the place was busy with locals and tourists. There was a soccer game across the street (just to liven things up a bit, a fight broke out among the players toward the end of the game). We played in the water a while (although the beach was not that great). We bought a couple of Copos from a guy with a push cart. Then we decided to walk up the street to hit some shops.

This is where things go bad for my photos. Normally on a family vacation I only take a point and shoot camera to take travel snaps, but this time I brought my SLR and lenses and filters and all that jazz – figuring I needed it in the rain forest and what not. Although I had told myself that I was never to let my camera bag out of my sight, without thinking I threw the bag into the car with our towels and beach bags and stuff, locked the car, and away we went.

When we came back, the car was still locked, but my camera bag with all my equipment in it and my tripod were gone. This was in broad daylight along a public beach in plain view of hundreds of people and within a hundred yards of a police station. I’m figuring someone had been watching us all along and had keys to the car so as not to look like they were breaking in and hit us as soon as we turned the corner of the street. So goodbye all my equipment (both the SLR and the point and shoot were in the bag) and it was the second to last day of our trip so goodbye to just about all the photos of our trip.

Demara stayed with Calvin at the car while Heather and I went over to the police station to make a report. This turned out to be like a scene from an old Bogart movie. It’s hot humid and toward the end of the afternoon. The police station is basically an empty room except for a desk along the back wall. The doors stand open to let in some air and a huge fan sets up a steady breeze across the room. The policeman is dressed in blue shirt and pants with his shirt unbuttoned to expose his white T-shirt. He speaks no English. We try to explain the situation to him. He is not impressed.

He gets up and we follow him out to the street where he spots someone he knows. They talk a while and then the new guy heads off around the corner. We stand around silent for a while. Then the policeman asks about our passports which of course we have left back at the hotel. He’s not happy about that. Soon a new guy shows up who can speak English and is going to act as our interpreter. The policeman starts asking questions (he likes to come back to that passport thing pretty often). His investigation consists of looking up and down the street and then telling us that there really isn’t anything he can do. We refuse to go away so with a sigh he brings us inside to fill out a report. I figure I’m going to need something if I have any hope of getting insurance to cover this loss.

Reluctantly the policeman takes my driver’s license in lieu of a passport and starts to get some papers out of his desk. He has to use carbon paper (actual carbon paper!) to get two copies. The fan threatens to blow the papers off his desk so he staples the sheets together. He methodically fills out the papers with the answers we give to occasional questions. In the meantime our interpreter keeps up a running conversation that eventually leads to a pitch for a time share resort. No wonder he speaks English.

Satisfied that everything is in order, the policeman bangs a couple of official looking stamps onto the forms, hands us one, and waves us out of his office. We hit the street just as dusk is falling. We stand around for a few minutes saying goodbye to our interpreter. He hands us a brochure for his resort before he leaves. So it is back to the hotel.

We pull into the hotel parking lot and realize that we have forgotten to refill the rental’s tank with gas. The nearest gas station is a half hour away back toward town. My wife and son go down to the pool while Heather and I head back out in the dark to get gas. I had heard horror stories about how bad the driving is in Costa Rica, but I didn’t seem to have any trouble. To be sure strict adherence to traffic laws like stopping at stop signs and passing only when safe is not practiced much, but everybody seem to take it in stride without any of the road rage type stuff you see around here. People are easy going down here.

One thing to look out for at night is people walking or riding bicycles along the road. This is how a lot of the population gets around. You must be constantly on the look out for people suddenly appearing in your headlights. Heather became the lookout for this sort of thing while I navigated the roadways – Bike! Swerve. People! Swerve. Dog! Swerve.

The gas station was pretty busy with lines on both sides of the pumps (full service of course). While we waited, I noticed a guy by the door of the station holding a large machine gun. I probably shouldn’t have, but I said something to Heather like “Hey look, a guy with a machine gun!” She made me roll up my window and lock my door.

Now during this whole excursion I had been trying to calculate in my head how much gas was going to cost us. It is sold in litres of course and valued in Colones. I was trying to convert this to how many gallons of gas I thought we would need compared to the few thousand I had left in my wallet. I was afraid we would not have enough to pay for the gas. I really did not want to have them fill up the tank and then not have the money to pay for it thus possibly upsetting machine gun man. So it was time to hunker down with the pump guy. To Heather’s chagrin I happily jumped out of the car and started babbling to the pump guy. I took out my wallet and showed him all my money and bringing to bear my vast knowledge of Spanish, amazingly we came to an understanding – fill it up but don’t go over what I’ve got in my hand. Fortunately the car was very fuel efficient and we got out of there with a few bucks to spare and the guys at the station had a good laugh over the crazy American tourist.

On our last free day, we took a boat ride over to a beach owned by the resort. It might seem odd to go to another beach when one was right outside our room, but this beach had white sand (real or trucked in?) and a snack bar for drinks and lunch. Being a Monday, there were only about eight guests versus three staff so we were waited on hand and foot. The staff brought drinks and fresh fruit to us while we lounged on the beach. We paddled kayaks around and floated in the surf on noodles. We built sand castles and watched monkeys in the trees. We spent most of the day just taking it easy and having fun. That night we shot pool in the club til they turned the lights off on us. Not bad.

Early the next morning we met a new driver to take us to the airport in the town of Liberia to go home. It was a short half hour ride, but another cab ride; another search for an ATM. We were out of cash and since the car rental agreement with our credit card information on it was in the stolen camera bag, we had canceled our one and only credit card. Among other things we needed to be able to pay a $26 per person “leaving the country” fee at the airport.

The airport at Liberia consists of a huge runway that can handle large planes and an assortment of metal buildings that pass for a terminal. There was the fee to be paid, customs forms to fill out, bags to check, etc. Get there way early. Again asking around is the only way to figure out where to go for all these things and even where to get on the plane. There are no ramps to the planes – passengers walk out onto the runway to board. You need to go through the security check point to reach the “gates” (there are only two) in a big open room filled with chairs that opens onto the tarmac. At least there is food and drink available here while you wait.

Our trip home was relatively uneventful except that my car keys were also in the stolen camera bag which meant that when we got back to the Rochester airport, we would not be able to drive home. Sooooo, while in Atlanta we called my cousin who oddly enough was visiting NY from her home in North Carolina and staying at our house. She and her son got our spare keys and met us at the airport at midnight. Hokey smokes.

Anyway, we had a wonderful time and would go back again in a minute if we could afford it (as long as I hang on to my camera bag). Six days were not enough to see even a fraction of all the cool stuff there. Do go if you ever get a chance. Just remember to be flexible.



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6 Responses to “Costa Rica Trip Part 4”

  1. Cutthroat Stalker (Scott) Says:

    Wow, some trip! I know it’s no consolation now, but I’m sure the stolen camera bag with the police routine will be a favorite story to tell in years to come. Lots of great tips and advice you’ve given.

    -scott c

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi forestrat,

    Sorry to hear about the misadventures with the camera gear… hope the insurance claim worked out. Enjoyed your description of the police.

    Travelling is so complicated sometimes!


  3. flandrumhill Says:

    I don’t know if I would be as keen to return if I were you. But perhaps I am underestimating how truly beautiful it is in that part of the world.

    Could those sea urchins possibly have been Astropyga magnifica – Magnificent Urchins?

    Your images of shells on a beach of black sand would have been stunning. I’m guessing that the photos you took will end up in a new brochure for the time-share!

  4. forestrat Says:

    Thanks for commenting everybody. Sorry I have been remiss in replying and visiting your sites – will this summer ever slow down?

    I’m still not sure if the sea urchins were Astropyga magnifica. I googled for some images, but it didn’t help me. Marine life is like fungi – the same species can vary greatly in size, shape, and color. It takes someone that really knows their stuff to make positive identifications sometimes.


  5. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Aside from the camera loss, your trip sounded excellent but too short!
    I’m so sorry that all that stuff got lost.

  6. lookingforbeauty Says:

    I read this through again today. You paint the holiday in such vivid words that I felt like I was following not far behind you, seeing it all. It was a trip to remember.
    I’m glad you got out of the resort area. Resorts sure give you a safe and clean environment to operate from but they don’t give you much feel for what the country is like. It’s a whole world away from the day to day reality of most of the folks living in the country.

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