Our Honeymoon in Costa Rica
March 29 -April 4, 1998
Amy and I drove to Fredericksburg following our reception on Fort Lee in Petersburg. Amy only learned about each leg of our journey while we were making it, so everything during the trip came as a complete surprise to her. The following morning we flew out of DC, had a huge layover in Dallas, then landed in San Jose, Costa Rica late that evening. I had pre-arranged our trip over the Internet and someone from the travel agency met us at the airport. He gave us a short tour of the city on the way to our hotel, The Hotel Britanica, which was beautiful.
The next morning we left for the cloud forest at Monteverde. Well, first we had to work out a deposit issue with the rental car company. The credit card I planned on using to secure the deposit was not expired, but would be by the time we returned. I ended up having to leave something close to a thousand American dollars with them. That pretty much drained our emergency funds and then some, but what are you going to do... We stayed positive and made a quick budget that would help us remain as frugal as possible. We drove our rented Sidekick North-West for a couple of hours before leaving the paved road for the infamous "Road to Monteverde". It really would be hard to describe that experience, but it took around 2 1/2 hours to go the 20 or so miles up the mountain. We took the picture on the right on our way back down. We went at the very end of the Summer season and everything was very dry and dusty. We couldn't drive over 5 miles an hour because the bumps would shake you off the road. Since the details of the trip were all a surprise to Amy, she kept saying that "something awfully worthwhile had better be at the end of this road!" She looked up "peligro" in the dictionary because it was written on so many signs. She wasn't thrilled to see that it meant "Danger!". But Amy would be the first to say that the drive was worth it. "Why is the road so bad?" you ask... Having such a poor road discourages day trips from the city, thus reducing pollution and impact on the environment. Making it so hard to get up the mountain, in theory, limits travel to those with an interest in preserving the environment. Or something like that.
As we climbed in elevation the dust and brown grasses gave way to lush, dense, green vegetation as we entered Monteverde. We stayed at the Hotel Fonda Vela and have only great things to say about our hosts there and everywhere else we stayed. We found a small store and stocked up on Cokes, bottled water, and snacks, then set out on the first of our many strolls up the road to the foot of the Monteverde Reserve. Our cabin was great, with a view looking down the mountain. The floors, ceiling, and walls were all hard wood. There was no phone or television and it was extremely relaxing. We ate at a couple of the different hotels, toured the Butterfly Garden, shopped at the Hummingbird Gallery, and of course walked through the Cloud Forest. In the forest, even without a guide, we saw a tarantula the size of my hand, all sorts of birds that we couldn't identify, including one black bird in the top of a tree the size of a turkey, and even the very elusive Quetzal, which we saw more than once. Amy and I walked up to the Continental Divide and listened to the sounds of various species of monkeys as we looked out over the forest canopy. Our only regret for not taking a guided tour was not seeing any monkeys. It was great listening to them, but we both really wanted to spot one. The temperature was fantastic in the mountains and this was probably the most comfortable part of the trip. We didn't have a watch or a clock during the whole trip. We had to walk out to the Sidekick to find out what time it was. We woke one morning and went for a stroll only to discover later that it was 5AM. The people in Monteverde were extremely diverse, a large number were Americans, mostly artists. We even ran into a family from Greensboro, NC. I highly recommend making the effort to make it up the mountain if you are ever in Costa Rica.
From Monteverde, we drove back down to the main road and continued west. We drove through miles and miles of farmland, mostly cattle farms. It was during this part of the trip that I decided to start ordering steaks for dinner. We stopped to wait on the ferry to Tamarindo and ordered lunch at a roadside soda. We were both starved because I drove straight through trying to make the ferry schedule (bad information here, because the ferry just goes back and forth all day). I ordered pintas con juevos ( I could have sworn that juevos meant cheese(queso) and not eggs.) After having to insist that was what I wanted, we waited for our food. We heard a lot of commotion, and when we turned around, we realized everyone was driving onto the ferry. I took off running, tossing Amy a handful of Colones (250:1 was the exchange rate with American dollars), jumped in the Sidekick and started driving for the ferry. As I was about to board, I could see Amy in the rear-view mirror running as fast as she could with two paper plates full of beans and eggs. We will probably laugh over that moment for years to come. Amy jumped into the car while it was still moving just before I drove onto the boat. We were very hot, it was above 100, thirsty, and hungry and those were the best damn beans and eggs I'd ever eaten.
From here we continued driving west, leaving the paved roads for dusty dirt roads cutting through tiny rural villages and a ton of farm land. We took this picture of a sabanero, Costa Rican cowboy, herding his cattle up the road on our drive to the coast. Once again, Amy began to get a little skeptical as the roads turned into paths that cut through tall grass. The last town that we saw was a small village with pigs running through the dirt streets.
Even when we finally reached the end of the road at our hotel, Iquanazul, things didn't look that great. You couldn't see the ocean yet, only tall, dry brown grass, because the hotel is on top of a cliff overlooking the Pacific. But once you walked inside the gate, you were greeted with green irrigated lawns and a breathtaking view of the ocean. With the ocean breeze coming up the cliff, you knew you were right where you wanted to be. I had reserved an air-conditioned room beside the pool, but luckily it was not available. Instead, we got a cabin by itself right on the cliff where a nice breeze blew 24-7. Plus we got comp money everyday for the difference in room rates, which meant the drinks could just keep coming and it was steak for dinner. The bar and restaurant were both open air next to the pool. The temperature stayed around 105 degrees and the heat was the only downside to the coast. But the people were great, the Pilsens were cold, and the pool shaded.
To get to the beach we had to follow a short trail down the cliff-side. We were on the beach for three days and only once did another person show up down there with us (a topless sunbather). The surf was awesome to watch and thanks to the trees growing out of the sand, Amy and I could carry a couple of beers down and lay in the shade listening to the waves. We read a lot and just relaxed our buns off. To get the photo of us together on the beach, I sat the camera in a tree, hit the timer, then ran down next to Amy. Most of the other people at the hotel were fishermen and surfers and we didn't see a lot of them. There was only one other couple there and we didn't see them very much either. This was the definition of secluded. The sunsets were the best part of everyday. Everyone, including the people working at the hotel, would pull a chair to the edge of the cliff and enjoy a cold drink while watching the sunset. After the sun went down, we would eat dinner, then go to bed. Once again we had no phone or television, but it was a honeymoon after all .
When our stay on the Pacific was over we made the cross country drive back to San Jose during the morning and spent the evening walking around the city. Amy doesn't speak Spanish and was thrilled to find a McDonalds where she knew exactly what she was ordering and how to order it. A #3 combo is pretty much a #3 combo all over the world. Do you remember how I had to pay the rental car deposit in cash? Well the guy that showed up to pick up the car didn't have it. My Spanish wasn't working out and his English was even worse, so we finally agreed to ride to the main office together. The details were finally sorted out and I was handed back the deposit, in colones. Okay, the exchange rate, 250:1. I found myself having to carry over two hundred thousand colones back through a foreign city to our hotel. I don't know if I've ever been that nervous in my life. The stack of bills was so high, about eight inches, that my fingers could just barely grip it, but grip it they did. I probably lost circulation in my hands I held on so tight. Yes, if you are in a strange city in a strange country and want to feel as paranoid as possible, try walking around clutching an enormous stack of cash in front of you. But the deposit problem really worked out for us, because it forced us to only spend money on the essentials and there was so much to do and see that didn't cost a dime.
We spent our last night in The Hotel Britannica and then flew back to DC the next day. It was a wonderful trip and hopefully Amy and I will return to Costa Rica one day. Maybe we can take the boys with us.