Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 10 - Wednesday

Today we got up pretty early again and had breakfast at our hotel in Santa Elena while sitting out on the balcony.  After breakfast we finished packing, and headed towards Alajuela/San Jose for our last night in Costa Rica.  The drive took a little bit longer than we expected since there was construction in several places.  Along the way we passed Puntarenas and got to see the Golf of Nicoya, which had some huge cargo ships in it.  We also saw a lot of iguana crossing signs, which were pretty funny, but we didn't see any iguanas along the road.  In the afternoon we spent some time just hanging out in the hotel and went into San Jose before returning our rental car.  We got a shuttle back to our hotel, and might go swimming tonight.  We plan to go to bed pretty early since we will be taking a shuttle to the airport at 4:30am for our flight at 6:25am.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More of Day 9

This afternoon we walked around Santa Elena some more and got dinner at a little restaurant right by our hotel.  The food was pretty good, and mine good had some really good cheese that was made at the cheese factory here in town.  The restaurant also had some really good desserts, and everything was pretty cheap.  After dinner we walked around town some more, checked out some stores, and got some ice cream and flavored beer from the grocery store.  Chris tried the "golden monkey" flavored beer, and I tried lime.  Overall the golden monkey flavor tasted a lot better, even though I'm still not quite sure what kind of flavor that is.  The ice cream I got was orange pineapple and it was pretty delicious; plus it even had chunks of dried pineapple and orange in it.  Tomorrow we will be heading back into San Jose for our last night in Costa Rica, then leaving the country early Thursday morning.

Day 9 - Tuesday

This morning Chris and I got up early and got breakfast at our hotel, then headed out for zip lining.  I was nervous at first, but the zip lining was really awesome and we had a ton of fun.  We got to go on a lot of different zip lines, and some were pretty long.  Two were so long that you had to go two people at a time, because otherwise you wouldn't get up enough speed to make it to the other end.  Overall there were 13 different zip lines that we got to go on and they were all great.  At the end there was also an optional tarzan swing, where you basically just stepped off a platform, and then swung back and forth a few times.  The tarzan swing was probably scarier than the zip lines, at least in my opinion, because you just stepped off and then dropped down a little ways before actually starting to swing.  Overall the zip lining was super fun and definitely worth the money; plus once I got used to it, it wasn't that scary.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Police in Costa Rica

We've seen police several places in Costa Rica, and most of the time they're riding small, dual sport motorcycles.  On the roads here everyone speeds, and not just a few kilometers per hour, but really speeding.  From what we've seen the police don't really care and we've never seen them pull anyone, even if people are driving twice the posted speed limit.  We have seen police along several roads randomly stopping people (cars, trucks, motorcycles, taxis, semis, tour buses, everything) and we have yet to figure out why.  We were stopped one of these times (on the way to Liberia) - the police asked for Chris' license, glanced at it, and then let us drive away.  We also dealt with the police a little when we hit another car on the small, dirt road towards Playa Pan de Azúcar.  The people we hit at first weren't going to call the police since it's not required in Costa Rica, but we had to because the car rental insurance required a police report or they wouldn't cover anything.  After calling the police we found out why the family we hit didn't plan to call them.  It took well over an hour for the police to show up, so we had to just wait around until they got there.  When they finally showed up, they quickly asked what happened and wrote a report.  That took less than 5 minutes, and then we were done dealing with them.  So for the time it took the police to show up, compared to what they actually did when they finally got there, it definitely is not worth it to call the cops unless you have to.

Roads in Costa Rica

If you're going to Costa Rica I would definitely recommend bringing some really good maps, or even better, a GPS.  I haven't seen one road sign with the name of a road the whole time we've been in Costa Rica, and the people here generally don't know the names of the roads either.  That makes it really hard to look up directions, which usually tell you the name of the road you need to turn on.

The good thing is, if you can get headed in the right direction, most of the highways have signs telling you which direction to upcoming towns.  Those signs are also very accurate, and it's best to follow them even if you don't think they quite match up with the map, or if the GPS tells you to go a different way.  Sometimes the GPS or sites like google maps show that roads don't go through and try to tell you to take ridiculously long ways between towns, but if you just follow the signs you should be fine.  In some cases we did find areas where the roads didn't go through and it was necessary to take a really long way around, but the signs still told you which was to go and got you to the right place.

As far as driving around town, it's usually pretty confusing if you're trying to go by street names.  It's much better if you know landmarks you can go by - for example our guide book listed one tour guide office as being across the street from the town church.  If you can, I think it's usually easier to just walk around town because it's easier to look for landmarks and read signs on buildings.  Plus if you walk you also don't have to worry about bad traffic (like in San Jose & Liberia) or unmarked, one-way roads (which were quite numerous in Liberia).

We also heard before heading to Costa Rica that most of the roads aren't in great condition and it's better to have some sort of SUV than a sedan.  I don't think the roads are quite as bad as people made them out to be, but it also really depends on where you want to go.  The highways and roads in big cities like San Jose and Liberia were pretty smooth and well paved for the most part, although in certain areas of the cities or in smaller cities like Coco there are a lot of very large potholes.  Also in the beach towns there were areas of the cities that had unpaved roads, which weren't terrible, but did get some bad ruts and puddles in the heavy rain.  Other parts of Costa Rica, like the road to Monteverde or the road towards Playa Pan de Azúcar (which we didn't make it to), are fairly rough and an SUV is pretty much necessary unless you really want to bang up your car.  The roads aren't too rough, but are very rocky which is why you need something with more clearance than a sedan.  We didn't need four wheel drive on the way to Monteverde, but the roads get really bad in the rain and we did use it to get out of the mud on the road that goes towards Playa Pan de Azúcar.  In general small SUVs seem to be the most popular cars around, but there are still plenty of people in the cities with little sedans.  And motorcycles, especially dual sports, seem to be much more popular than cars in general.

Costa Rican Animals

We've seen various different animals in the different parts of Costa Rica we've been to.  In basically all the towns we've seen a ton of dogs, and a few cats too.  The dogs we've seen generally just wander the street, but a lot of them aren't strays.  Many of them have owners, and sometimes collars, but are left free to wander for the most part.  We were warned at one hotel that most of the dogs wandering the street have fleas and to be careful about petting them, but some of them are so cute when they come looking for attention.

In the mountainous areas of Costa Rica we've seen several different types of cows and there seem to be a lot of cow herds in the hilly regions near La Fortuna, Volcan Arenal, Monteverde, etc.  On the road to Monteverde we even saw some cows being used to pull a small cart.  Horses are also very popular, especially in small towns and areas where the roads aren't in great condition.  We've seen people in various areas riding horses along the roads or highways, and horses tied up at small shops or restaurants.  On the road to Monteverde, which was pretty bumpy and definitely would not be great in any type of sedan, we saw several people riding horses, which we figured would probably be easier than trying to take a car.

By the beach we mostly saw tons and tons of crabs.  The beaches were covered in crabs that dug holes in the sand, and even on the roads towards town and our hotel we saw several fairly large crabs that had dug holes along the side of the road or in planters.  We even got three or four crabs that snuck into our hotel room in Coco, and we took them back outside.  At Playa Hermosa we found a river that ran into the ocean and the treed area around the river was swarming with hermit crabs.  You really had to watch where you were walking to make sure you weren't stepping on any in that area.

Around Coco and on the road to Monteverde we also saw a few iguanas.  The iguanas we've seen are all gray-ish brown and generally fairly small, at least for iguanas.  They blend in really well with the landscape and are really fast when they want to be - too fast for me to get any pictures of them so far.  The iguanas here are pretty different from the ones I saw in Mexico; the iguanas in Mexico were generally quite large (usually bigger than my cat Felix for anyone who's seen him) and they tend to just lay in the sun, even if you walk up to take a picture of them.

Food in Costa Rica

While we've been here in Costa Rica, Chris and I have tried a lot of different types of food.  Arroz con pollo/carne is a very popular, typical Costa Rican dish that we've tried a few times.  It basically is just seasoned rice and meat.  Also carne, the spanish word for meat, usually refers to beef when it's on the menu.  Another typical Costa Rican dish we've tried is a casado.  Casados are usually pretty big plates with rice, meat (usually chicken or beef, sometimes pork), beans, some sort of salad, and either potatoes or plantains.  Casados seem fairly popular, probably because they're really filling and usually only around $4-5 most places.  You can also have a lot of options depending on the place you buy casados such as what kind of meat, seasoned or plain rice, what type of potatoes or plantains, or what type of salad.  Gallos are also popular for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and are basically like soft tacos in the US.  You usually get two or 3 small, corn tortillas with either meat, cheese, potatoes, or whatever else on top.  When I got gallos they had really good seasoned, shredded chicken.  Most restaurants we've been to have all those typical Costa Rican foods, and then usually some american foods like sandwiches or hamburgers, and french fries seem to be pretty popular here as well.  Another Costan Rican food we saw a lot by the beach, but didn't try is called ceviche.  Ceviche is uncooked, marinated fish.  From the menus I've seen it looks almost soup-ish since it generally comes in a bowl with the sauce the fish is marinated in.  As far as restaurants, sodas are really popular in Costa Rica.  A soda is basically a small restaurant, or food stand, which is sometimes combined with a little shop or fruit and vegetable stand.  They are pretty popular with people who live in Costa Rica, although if you don't speak spanish a lot of times the people working don't know english.  Sodas also usually have pretty good deals on food, depending on what part of the country you're in.

For the most part it's easiest to find Costa Rican foods, and maybe some American foods at restaurants.  The occasional restaurant also had Mexican food, but sometimes that could be confusing because Mexican food and Costa Rican food often have the same names, but aren't the same things.  The Mexican food here is basically like the Mexican food you find in the US and the names are all the same. Costa Rica also has things like chalupas and tacos, which we've tried, but they're not like the chalupas or tacos you find in the United States.  The chalupa Chris tried was several tortillas laid out and covered a layer of refried beans, then topped with lettuce, meat, various other vegetables, and sour cream and guacamole on top.  I also tried tacos at two different restaurants and tacos here usually have seasoned meat rolled in a tortilla, which is then fried.

We've also checked out a few cafeterías (coffee shops), heladerías (ice cream shops), chocolaterías (chocolate shops), and panaderías (bakeries).  First of all, the coffee and hot chocolate here are amazing, and Chris really liked the coffee ice cream we tried one night.  Besides the coffee ice cream, they also have some really good fruit flavors like "nieve de lima/limón" which is usually described as a lemon or lime sorbet.  At the chocolatería we tried some lemon chocolate, and some chocolate with chili powder, both of which were delicious.  Also the bakeries here are awesome.  The bread and pastries are usually huge and really cheap.  The first bakery we stopped at, we got a giant cream cheese danish type thing which was bigger than a loaf of bread and cost about $1.50.  In Coco we also found the biggest cinnamon rolls we've ever seen; they were bigger than Chris' spread out hand, and cost 75 cents or so.

As far as grocery stores, they're not the greatest unless you have a good kitchen.  There aren't many things you can just buy to eat in the car or take hiking, and the things they do have are generally fairly expensive.  Fruit and vegetables are really easy to find and usually not too expensive if they're things that grow locally.  If you do have a kitchen it's not too expensive to buy meat, rice, or dried beans.  Although milk is usually pretty expensive here; about $4 a gallon is the best deal we were able to find.  Another food that's really hard to find is peanut butter, I've only seen it at two grocery stores and a tiny jar of it (about a third of the size of a standard jar in the US) generally ran about $5 or $6.  For the most part we stopped at small restaurants since it was generally cheaper than buying food we could eat without a kitchen.