Monday, June 23, 2008

Nuestra Luna de Miel en Costa Rica

So we got married, in case you were wondering, and the wedding went off with two hitches. It was great to see all the family and friends who came to town, though it was difficult to spend much time with any of them, since there were always things to be done, places to be, and more people to see. At the reception, Elizabeth and I demonstrated some Lindy Hop for our guests, and we showed off a few moves that we had been practicing, then we had other couples who could swing dance join us for the second half of the song. Costa Rica was beautiful. Elizabeth and I especially liked the Volcanoes. The two that we visited were Poás, which has an acid lake in its crater and Arenal, which is constantly spewing up hot rocks. We spent the night in a room with a window facing Arenal, and we could see red streams of rocks streaming down the side of the mountain, and hear the noise of them as they crashed down and shattered into bursts of red-hot remnants. One reason why we chose Costa Rica is because it's a Spanish-speaking country. Now mind you, the whole country (or at least what we saw of it) seemed to be one big tourist trap, and at all the hotels and stops people spoke English, but Elizabeth is fluent, and I am passably proficient, so we were able to speak to the locals much more freely than most Norteamericanos. As any taxi driver worth his frijoles can tell you, Costa Rica has 7 provinces, four of which are enclosed by mountains, and three of which are coastal. The army was abolished in 1948, and the money that would normally be slated for the military is dedicated to health care, infrastructure, and education. (One of our guides jokingly pointed out leaf cutter ants, and referred to them as "el ejército de Costa Rica.") We also learned from one of our drivers that every town in Costa Rica worth the name has four establishments that are vitally important: the first is a church, the second, a school, the third, a soccer field, and the last (and most important), a bar. We flew into San José airport, which is actually located in the province of Alajuela, and because our travel agent had mixed up our flight times, we ended up hiring a ride to the hotel in the city of San José. The next morning, we set off to Volcán Poás, where we took a short walk to the observation point, and waited for the fog to clear. Eventually, it did, and so we took some pictures and admired the view of the acid lake. The acid was so strong that it bit our noses slightly. Next, we headed to Volcán Arenal. On the way, we stopped at a waterfall that you could walk behind, and saw various animals that our driver spotted and pointed out. We stopped to take pictures of a three-toed sloth, and a cafe with hummingbird feeders, a Goliath beetle, tarantula, and a gold June bug. We decided that day that Costa Rica has the best coffee in the world (Elizabeth, who has traveled to several parts of the globe and sampled the coffee, would know), and also the worst roads, or at least the worst roads that we had ever been on. The main roads were paved and well-maintained, but once you got off the beaten path, it's all clay, rocks, and potholes. We arrived at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, where we had a room that had a wall-sized window to observe the volcano, right from our bed. The road up to the lodge was a twenty-minute bouncy ride over a pothole-ridden dirt road. Thankfully, Elizabeth's constitution held out. We ended up traversing that road a total of four times, since we had to check in in the early evening, and then drive back out to the Tabacón Hot Springs closer to the volcano, back that evening, and then leaving in the morning. In the morning, we endured the aforementioned bumpy ride, and made our way to Lake Arenal, which is an artificial lake that supplies 80% of Costa Rica's power (the other 20% is from wind power). Everywhere in Costa Rica there seemed to be a big push to be "green" and sustainable. We travelled across the lake by boat, and then were driven to Monteverde. On the way, we made a stop at a coffee plantation, and met the owners. We were almost talked into taking a horseback riding tour of the plantation the following day, but in the end our schedule couldn't accommodate it, and so we decided we would have to do that next time we came. Monteverde, interestingly enough, was founded by a group of American Quakers who immigrated there in order to avoid taking part in the Korean War. We decided to get a tandem massage at the hotel spa. Elizabeth was sold on the "healing stones" massage, and so I went along. Ouch. Big mistake. Rubbing hot stones on my legs against the grain of the leg hair turns out not to be such a "healing" therapy after all, and I wound up with rather tender inner thighs and calves. The hairs were almost, but not quite, pulled out of my legs, which was not a pleasurable experience, nor did the effects quickly disappear. The next stop on our journey was Manuel Antonio National Park, which is on the coast near the town of Quepos. Hurricane Alma, (which by now had been down-graded to a tropical storm) was coming on-shore, and so it began to rain harder than before (being from Seattle, we didn't much note the rain previously, but now it was honest-to-God rain). Our river rafting trip was cancelled due to the storm, and so we spent the day exploring the hotel grounds, taking pictures of various plants, which were thoughtfully labeled in English and Spanish. After the storm passed, the weather cleared up, and we woke up to a gorgeous, sunny day. We scheduled a horseback riding tour to make up for our canceled rafting trip, and spent the morning riding up a river to swim in a waterfall. On the way, we saw a 6-foot boa, and Elizabeth encountered a scorpion, which fell out of a tree onto her neck, was brushed off into the saddle bag, scurried across the saddle as she vaulted on her horse making her way toward an island sand bar, and was teased out from underneath the saddle horn by Valentin, our guide. The river was rather high given the previous two days' rain (which was the most rain Costa Rica had had in 102 years), and it had washed away the normal swimming hole, as well as portions of the trail that we followed back. The next day, we went to the beach in the evening, which was very pretty, the water was very warm, and I got to do some body surfing but as soon as the sun went down, the mosquitoes started feasting on us. In the morning, we visited the butterfly garden across the street from the hotel, and then took a taxi to the Regional Airport in Quepos. Our flight ended up being delayed about an hour, so I took some pictures of leaf cutter ant trails in the grass, found a friendly puppy, and wound up knocking down opening coconuts for some kids. They're not that easy to open without tools. The best method, once you split the husk open, is to repeatedly throw it on the ground until it cracks, and then try to save as much of the milk as you can. The kids were only mildly interested in eating the coconuts, but very enthusiastic about breaking them open and having us eat the meat. They would gather the pieces, and bring them to us. When we got on our flight, Sierra (one of the girls--there were cousins: two sisters and two brothers, but one of the boys was a baby) wanted to sit next to us, so I showed her butterfly pictures videos during the half-hour flight. We spent the last night of the trip at the same hotel as the first night, El Grano De Oro in San José. The restaurant in the hotel had excellent food, and featured a beautiful patio (for those of us who weren't afraid of a few drops of rain. They had umbrellas up shortly after the first few drops in the evening.
Elizabeth enjoying fried banana at a restaurant featuring typical Costa Rican cuisine. Aren't we adorable Altogether lovely More pictures