La Pura Vida!

[flickrvideo]http://www.flickr.com/photos/foodiereflections/3523008460/[/flickrvideo]

I’m back home but still not quite settled in after a wonderful eight day vacation in Costa Rica. And I know I should be tackling the “fun” chores of unpacking and doing laundry (and getting actual work done), but I’d rather rehash the rest of this fabulous trip.

White Water Rafting on the Rio Toro

Yes, I know I promised to update my blog more from the road but I never had reliable Internet after that first post. Oh well, pura vida, as they say in CR.

Monteverde

The next stop after Arenal was Monteverde and the cloud forest. Here we stayed at Fonda Vela which reminded me of summer camp with cabin-like common areas and dirt paths. The best way to describe the area was “green and brown” – it was very lush from all the rain (it is the rain forest after all) but also brown from all the unpaved roads.

Monteverde Clouds

And I got to know one of those roads very well through a steep hike to the park entrance that was meant to be a leisurely jaunt; the hotel “claims” it’s a quick walk to the park, but 45 minutes later and a major glute workout told me otherwise.

Monteverde Sign

So now you’re probably thinking we got to the entrance, paid the fee, and hiked the trails for a bit. Sorry, but no. We took a picture in front of the sign and headed back the way we came. Good thing, too, as we made it to the hotel just before it started to pour.

Dinner that night was… wait for it… a granola bar! Yes, we were utterly pathetic and didn’t want to go out in the rain so we ate granola bars and watched Bridget Jone’s Diary on TV.

Luckily I was well-rested for the next morning and the canopy tour, which was actually pretty tame once you got the hang of it. The best part was the Tarzan swing where you literally jump (or in my case get a strong nudge) from a platform a few stories in the air. It’s totally safe – I was harnessed in to the point where it nearly hurt – but still thrilling! See the video at the top of the post, it’s of me on the Tarzan swing. And note how my screams change from ones of complete terror to excitement.

Jackie on a zip line

That afternoon we drove to Manuel Antonio where we stayed at Arenas del Mar for three nights, a beautiful and hilly hotel with pools, a private beach, golf carts, monkeys, sloths and iguanas. This was by far the most tropical of the destinations with incredibly hot, humid, thick air, strong sun and no breeze whatsoever.

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My only complaint about this hotel was the food, which was acceptably priced but always a little dry or salty. None of my food was horrible, and in fact I was inspired by the zucchini rolls with macadamia nut and pineapple pate, but still not amazing.

Zucchini Rolls, Arenas del Mar

The following morning began with another hike, this one about one and a half miles along the beach to the national park entrance. But this time we actually went in the park and walked around for a few hours, ending at Playa Tres where we encountered scores of monkeys. These were actually pretty cute, although I had my fill after 10 minutes or so when I became intrigued by a crab wandering along the sand. So much so that I completely missed the deer that suddenly appeared next to my friend, Lori.

Deer on the beach in Manuel Antonio

Iguana in Manuel Antonio Halloween Crab in Arenas del Mar

Monkey in Manuel Antonio

Getting out of the park turned into a bit of an adventure: we decided to leave at the exit near the beaches, but it turned out that area was completely flooded. Luckily, there was a nice man in a row boat who offered to take us across the “pond” (I think he was hired or recruited from the park to ferry visitors). It was nice until halfway across the man tells us the water is infested with crocodiles. Not sure if he was joking or not, but I was happy to touch land again and didn’t even mind the hike back to the hotel.

Arenas del Mar Beach

The next morning was the jet ski tour in the salty ocean, although I have to mention that the water was really warm. And, damn, those machines can really move! I got up to 48 mph which may not seem like a lot but I felt like I was soaring. And I think at some points I was as one of the people in our group told me “I got some nice air.” I also got a little sun burnt thanks to the sun which was stronger than the SPF 70 sunscreen I’d been applying religiously.

Jet Skiing in Manuel Antonio

Friday, our final morning in Manuel Antonio, was spent at Villa Vanilla for a spice plantation tour. This was an interesting foodie experience, perfect for someone like me. I learned how vanilla and cocoa grow and are harvested, and got to taste a ripe green peppercorn (what all pepper comes from), among other herbs and spices.

Cinnamon bark Cocoa pods

Dried vanilla beans White and black peppercorns

Vanilla beans on the vine Green peppercorns

That afternoon we were off to San Jose in preparation of our Saturday departure. This was the only time we experienced traffic and there was a lot of it. It took nearly five hours to reach San Jose, two more than expected. But we did stop in the middle for lunch at a traditional Costa Rican “soda” for casado, something no trip to the country would be complete without.

Chicken casado from soda Traditional Soda

Saturday morning we got up early and walked from the hotel, Grano de Oro, to the central market. I didn’t buy anything there but I so badly wanted to. There were bins of brightly colored spices along with raw and prepared meats, fruits and vegetables. It was an interesting sight.

Spices at San Jose market

Produce stand in San Jose

I did stop for a snack on the way back to the hotel. It was some type of ground meat (I’ve decided not to worry about what type) and potatoes inside a corn tortilla. Not overly filling but still tasty. Luckily there was time for breakfast at the hotel before heading to the airport so I filled up on pancakes with pineapple and papaya.

Corn tortilla with potatoes and ground meat Fruit Pancakes

I don’t travel as much as I’d like and therefore don’t like to go to the same place twice, but in this case I’ll make an exception. I’d LOVE to go back to Costa Rica. It’s a beautiful country with welcoming citizens, not to mention activities and food galore. A must-visit in my book.

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  • Chris posted: 17 Sep at 10:14 pm

    Looks like you had a great trip! I was in Arenal and Manuel Antonio this past February and just loved it. We had great food in MA (I HIGHLY recommend Kapi Kapi) and loved seeing the monkeys everywhere. I somehow managed to miss the spice tour. Shoot…I guess I’ll have to go back!

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