Costa Rica, man. I'll tell you one thing, the place lives up to all the hype. In fact, I was so blown away with it at first that I didn't get my big camera out for a few days. I feel like sometimes when I'm experiencing something incredible, the moment is ruined when I start taking pictures because I'm not really experiencing it authentically. And besides that, my pictures will never do this place justice. They just won't. But by day three I started kicking myself for not getting my camera out sooner. Oy!
Robert and I flew into San Jose and decided to rent a car and cruise through a bit of the northern part of the country. Robert had had his heart set on visiting a panaderia in a suburb of San Jose, right near the airport, as soon as we arrived. It was one of the areas he'd served in during his mission and he was relatively confident he could find his way to it once we hit the streets. Unfortunately, nothing really came right back to him once we started driving around the area...I mean, it has been 10 years since he's been there. We really gave it our all to find that little place with the sweet bread with cream cheese in the middle, but alas, we had to give up after an hour because we were starving and barely able to keep our eyes open after our red eye (which neither of us were able to sleep on because it was literally 50 degrees the entire flight and I couldn't stop shivering). We started driving toward Grecia, which is where we planned to hike to a waterfall after a little something to eat. We finally settled on a restaurant in a little town near the hike and there I was introduced to gallo pinto, which is pretty much just rice and beans mixed with lots of yummy spices. Robert is obsessed with the stuff, and I like it too, but for some reason I will always find it hard to eat rice and beans for breakfast. It hit the spot that morning though, because both of us were famished.
Like I said, I didn't get my real camera out for a few days so I wasn't able to document our first waterfall hike very well, but it was a good first taste of Costa Rica. We literally walked down a mountain for about 7 minutes and there it was, this secret, enormous waterfall with hardly a soul there. Pretty incredible. I won't go into too many more details about all of our trip because this post could become a major novel, but I'll try to paint a picture so I can at least look back in a few years and remember.
We continued on from Grecia to La Fortuna where Arenal, a recently active volcano is. The drive that direction was beautiful. I loved driving for the fact that I got a sense of how people lived and what the country looked like. Most of the houses are very small with tin roofs. The area we were driving through was full of the greenest of green everywhere and the most unreal flowers just sprouting up wildly. The houses, no matter their size, are all painted the most vibrant colors. I couldn't help but wish we could bring a little more of that to the U.S. Because the Arenal area is so tropical, the chances of showers was high and the chance of actually seeing the top of the volcano was very low. Unfortunately it was pretty much pouring the whole day and a half we were there so most of our plans were foiled. Wah wah! But we still got to stay in a cute little bungalow in the mountains and enjoy the sound of rain on the tin roof at night. The next morning the people who own the bungalows have a breakfast on their front porch and it was delicious! In Costa Rica there are these fruit drinks they call frescos, which are pretty much just fruit, a bit of sugar and water and milk blended up. They are delish! They also had gallo pinto, but this time around I felt like I liked it better for some reason.
We left La Fortuna and headed for the beach. As far as mileage goes, it probably shouldn't have taken us more than 2 hours to get to the coast but with those tiny little two-lane roads, all the pot holes and the mountains it took us about 4. The scenery, however, was totally worth it and we almost saw the top of Arenal as we rounded a few bends. Lucky for us, we also got some reception in Costa Rica and were able to use GoogleMaps which saved our little tooshies. It did, however, lead us down some pretty interesting "short cuts" that had us almost bottoming out in our little Corolla. Two lessons: first, always stick to the paved roads in Costa Rica and second, if you rent a car in Costa Rica it should probably be an SUV. We stopped at another waterfall hike about an hour from the coast and this one was an even shorter hike but unlike the other, there were quite a few people there that day. I think what made this one so cool was that it seemed a bit more desert-like, so when we came upon the waterfall, it kind of felt like an oasis or something. It was beautiful! After way too much deliberation, Robert and I shimmied up some rocks near the waterfall itself and away fro the crowds and put our bags out where we could see them. From there we were able to actually climb behind the waterfall, which was awesome. The water was quite warm and we were able to swim for a bit which was so nice.
We reached the bed and breakfast we'd booked around 5:30 pm and the place was a breath of fresh air. It was in Guanecaste next to Flamingo Beach and it had the most incredible view overlooking the ocean. The cute family who owns it is from Belgium and built it about 15 years ago. The other couples we met who were also staying there were from Italy (they were on their honeymoon and were adorable) and France. It was so quiet and peaceful there and it was a nice change of pace after driving around so much. The mother of the family, Kathi, is actually a yoga instructor and we were able to do a yoga class one morning which was then followed by a massage for me. Talk about the day of my dreams! We spent most of our time there checking out different beaches and eating lots of good food. I love the beaches there because there are trees just up the sand so you can lay out on the beach and have shade at the same time. The best of both worlds in my book.
My number one goal while in Costa Rica was to see a monkey. On our way to church in Liberia on Sunday I was on the hunt big time. As we were cruising along I looked up and swore I saw one monkey in the tree above the road. Robert immediately pulled over and we climbed up this little side hill toward where I thought it was. And lo and behold, there were about 15 monkeys, including a few little babies, all gathered in about 2 trees. And we were about 15 feet from them! It was insanely surreal and such a stroke of luck! Once that was checked off my trip bucket list, we could pretty much do anything and I would be satisfied.
We went to church in Liberia, which was an area Robert had also served in. He wasn't sure he'd recognize many people, but he did! Flor and Florencio are the most darling couple, and Florencio remembered Robert because of the scar on the back of Robert's head. I about died when he told us that's how he remembered him. Robert fell out of a truck when he was three and there is a big scar on the back of this head, but you can only really see it when his hair is short, which it was his entire mission. When he showed Florencio the scar we all started laughing. After church we gave them both a ride home and were able to talk to one of their sons for a bit, who seemed to remember Robert even better than they did. They were so gracious and sweet. Florencio sells wooden plates and bowls and we bought a few to take home with us. I love them. I think this may have been one of my favorite experiences of the trip because it felt like home for a minute. I could hardly understand a word, but I could just feel their goodness and kindness and I could sense how much Robert had loved them and they him. He actually was able to baptize Flor's mother while he was a missionary, and she was there with them as well. Just the cutest little lady!
Our last day we spent traveling back to San Jose and then after returning our rental car and checking into our hotel, we took a taxi and then a bus into the city for a few hours. I didn't take my big camera because Robert didn't think it was a good idea, so I'll have to share pictures of the city from my phone later. It's just so funny going from the quiet coast into a busy, busy city. Two totally different worlds. I was craving American food (I'm a wuss) so we ended up at McDonald's for a late lunch and a gentleman named Dave from Missouri in a wheelchair came up and started talking to us while we were in line (because we obviously weren't Costa Rican) and then we ended up sitting with him for an hour as he told us his story as we ate our Big Macs. He has a rare disease that started deteriorating his muscles a few years ago but he loves Costa Rica and comes back here all the time, and says he will until he can't anymore. Brave guy. He was so so sweet and I was grateful we were able to spend some time with him that day. We didn't really get to do much in San Jose, but the guy was lonely and both of us felt like that was probably more important in the scheme of things. It began pouring rain while we were eating and our soaked run back to the bus station was only alleviated briefly by walking through a few beautiful churches. We were drenched by the time we finally got to our bus but the ride back was warm.
Oof, I knew this would be long but not this long. All in all, the trip was a dream. Yes, I missed the girls more than you can believe, but I'm not sure they missed us half as much. They were having the time of their life with my parents and pretty much only talked to us while on Skype for about 2 minutes and then they were off doing something else (which was good). It was so good to just have some one-on-one time with Robert for a week. An entire week! This will never happen again until he's retired, I'm pretty sure. It was so good to just be the two of us for a minute, to hold hands, relax and be adventurous. I'm so grateful for these last five years we've spent together and grateful for many more to come. My life is so good because of him.