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.

More of Day 8

This afternoon we decided to walk around town some, and got an early dinner there.  The food was really good and the plates were huge too.  I got tacos, which are different in Costa Rica than in the United States.  The tacos here are rolled, and then fried.  Chris decided to try the arroz con pollo here (chicken with rice), which is a typical Costa Rican meal.  It's basically just a pile (normally nicely shaped) of rice and chicken with various spices, peppers, and seasoning.  After dinner we walked around town some more and found the Serpentario de Monteverde (a reptile house) which was really awesome.  They had some really cool looking snakes as well as some lizards, turtles, and frogs.  We got some pretty cool pictures of most of the reptiles there, but unfortunately they're on the camera that we didn't bring the cable for, so you'll have to wait until we get home to see those.  We also got a zip lining tour set up for tomorrow, most of the places in town are around the same price, but we found one that gave a small student discount.  The shuttle will pick us up tomorrow at 8am and take us into the Moteverde cloud forest, where the zip lines are.  I've never been zip lining (Chris has) but it sounds pretty awesome.

Day 8 - Monday

Today we left Coco and headed back towards the Volcan Arenal area.  For tonight and tomorrow night we're staying in Santa Elena / Monteverde, some towns up in the mountains.  Our tour book made the roads sound really scary, but they weren't too bad and we didn't even have to use the four wheel drive.  It was nice to have a little bit taller car since the roads were pretty rocky, but there were also some really cool views on the way up into the mountains.  Tomorrow we're probably going to try out zip lining since this area is supposed to have some of the best zip lines and Monteverde was the first town in Costa Rica to have zip lines.  Wednesday morning we'll head out of this area and back towards San Jose, where we'll spend our last night in Costa Rica before heading back to the US.  Also here's a zoomed in version of the sand crab picture, find the crab and win a prize!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 7 - Sunday

We spent today pretty much just hanging out in Coco.  We walked around the beach some, then spent awhile just wandering around town.  We got some lunch earlier this afternoon and then spent awhile just playing cards since it was pretty hot and humid out and we didn't feel like walking around the beach in the hot sun.  We were planning on getting some sodas at the grocery store and heading to the beach to swim, but the rain started up again this afternoon and is super heavy with extremely loud thunder, so right now we're just hanging out outside in the covered area of our hotel.  If the rain dies down we'll probably still try to stop by the grocery store and head to the beach, but we'll have to see what the weather is like.  We had been planning on heading to Nicoya tomorrow, but now we're thinking of heading to Monteverde instead.  Monteverde is on the other side of Volcan Arenal from La Fortuna, and Chris and I both loved that area which is why we're thinking of checking out Monteverde.  Like La Fortuna, there also seems to be a lot to do in Monteverde like ziplines and all, since it's just on the opposite side of the volcano.  We will most likely spend Monday and Tuesday nights in Monteverde before heading back to San Jose for our last night in Costa Rica.  The trip has been awesome so far, and Costa Rica is amazing - I definitely don't want to go back to the US.

More of Day 6

We checked out Playa Hermosa, which was pretty nice, and then went to Playa Ocotal and ate lunch there.  So far Playa Ocotal has been my favorite beach in the area.  After looking around Playa Ocotal we decided we would head to a beach we read about in our guide book, Playa Pan de Azúcar, which the book said was a small beach off a dirt road that's normally pretty empty and perfect for snorkeling.  It wasn't far south of Playa Ocotal, but there aren't any roads that go through so we had to take a much longer route around to the east, then farther south, and then back up north.  We turned on one dirt road (not the rough one that goes to Playa Pan de Azúcar, but another one on the way) and while we were going around a sharp turn there was another car coming the other way, but not really enough room for two cars to pass each other.  Chris couldn't stop and neither could the other car since the roads were getting muddy from rain, and we ended up hitting the side of the other car.  The other family suggested we move off that road since rocks tend to fall from the cliffs above, especially when it starts raining, so we drove to the nearby town and called all the various people that needed to be called.  We had some food and drinks at a restaurant while waiting for insurance to show up.  When the insurance agents from our rental car company finally showed up, they decided that the police needed to be called so they could get the police report for their papers.  Shortly after the insurance agents showed up, it started raining super hard, probably the hardest downpour we've seen, and it lasted for almost the rest of the night.  The police took forever showing up, easily over an hour, so we just stayed inside the restaurant to avoid getting soaked.  When the police finally showed up I helped explain to them what happened, since the officer didn't speak english, and then we had to go get a new rental car.  Fortunately, the family who's car we hit was extremely nice and the guy who was driving even insisted on paying for the food we got at the restaurant.  After we got our new rental car we had a fairly long drive back to Coco, where we grabbed some quick dinner to bring back to our room.  Also here's a picture for fun, find the sand crab!

Also if you want to see a ton more pictures, they're on my facebook page, here's a link:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day 6 - Saturday

This morning we walked around town a little more and walked by the beach that's super close to our hotel. It's pretty cool, but there are a ton of fishing boats right off shore.  While we were walking around town we saw some friendly guys snorting coke who said hi to us, sadly we didn't stop to hang out with them.  We had some quick breakfast, and saw a little iguana while we were eating.  Later today we're going to drive around and see what the other nearby beaches look like, but we'll be staying in Coco for a few nights since it has the cheapest hotels out of any of the beach towns, and is still super close to the other beaches we want to see.  The internet here isn't quite as good, but we'll try to update the blog whenever we get a chance, and more pictures are up on my facebook page.  Also, here's a picture of Coco beach, about 2 blocks from our hotel.

Day 5 - Friday

Friday morning we decided to head out of La Fortuna, and got a giant danish for breakfast on the way out. It was basically a cream cheese danish, a little larger than an average loaf of bread, for a little under $1.50, and it was pretty delicious (check out the picture).  We stopped in Liberia, and considered spending a night there, but it was a really big, crowded town and we decided to keep heading west towards the coast instead.  We did stop for a little while in Liberia to get some lunch, and we also went to the movie theatre there (since there aren't that many and they're fairly spread out around the country).  We saw the new Harry Potter movie in Spanish, which was pretty awesome, even though Chris was kind of confused in parts.  Once the movie was over we went ahead and drove to Coco, a town right on the coast.  We decided to get a hotel for three nights here in Coco since there are several beaches nearby that we can easily drive to during the day.  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

More of Day 4

We got some dinner in town tonight and then tried some chocolate at the chocolatería (chocolate shop).  The chocolate was pretty awesome, we had one with chili pepper and another was white chocolate with lemon.  We didn't head out to the volcano today since it was a super hard downpour most of the afternoon. Sadly we haven't seen any glowing lava, since 2 nights it's been too cloudy, and we're planning on heading out of La Fortuna tomorrow.  In the morning we plan to drive towards Liberia (the town, not the country in Africa) and we'll most likely spend a night there.  I might check out what is playing at the movie theatre in Liberia (since there don't seem to be that many theaters in Costa Rica), it would be pretty awesome to see a movie in Spanish, and tickets are only $4 (technically ¢2000) per person.  After that we plan to head towards the beaches and will probably stay in Coco since it seems to have the cheapest hotels along the coast.  Also, here's a picture of the waterfall we went to earlier today.

Day 4 - Thursday

We went horseback riding this morning and it was pretty awesome, especially since Chris and I were the only ones in the group.  My horse was named Pinta and she was always determined to be in the front, so she would zigzag across the path to cut off the other 2 horses and whenever Chris' horse tried to pass us, Pinta would start trotting or galloping to make sure she stayed ahead.  We rode the horses for awhile, then took a hike down to the waterfall where we spent awhile hanging out.  The waterfall looked really cool and the water we could go in was nice and cool.  Chris spent a long time trying to catch a fish out of the water with his hands, but didn't have any luck.  Then we hiked back to where the horses were tied up, rode them back, and got to see a butterfly garden before heading back to La Fortuna.  We stopped at a small restaurant for lunch that was  really good & also really cheap, and then got some nice cold showers (the only kind available at our hostel).  We're not sure what we're going to do later tonight, we were thinking about driving up to the volcano, but the top of it is still completely covered by clouds so we're not sure if it'd be worth the drive and park entrance fee if we wouldn't really be able to see the volcano.  We're hoping the clouds might clear up later tonight so we can hopefully see some of the glowing lava before we leave La Fortuna tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More of Day 3

We managed to get some horseback riding booked for tomorrow, most of the places in town were a lot cheaper than what was listed in the tour book or online.  We found a small place for $28 a person.  We'll be leaving from a different hotel tomorrow morning at 8:30 and getting a bus to where the tour starts.  From there we'll ride horses to two waterfalls near the volcano, then we can hike around the waterfalls and go swimming, and then we ride the horses back.  Overall the tour should be about 4 hours or so.  After we got the horseback riding set up we made some soup in the kitchen for dinner, then went and got some coffee ice cream and shared a margarita.  Tomorrow should be pretty fun since we'll be horseback riding, and depending on how clear it is, we might drive into the national park by the volcano in the afternoon.  Tomorrow night will be the last night we're staying in La Fortuna, and then we plan to head towards Liberia, to the west, and after that to the coast on the western peninsula.

Day 3 - Wednesday

We had planned to go to the volcano today, but it was really cloudy and we couldn't see the volcano at all most of the day, so we walked around La Fortuna instead.  It was really rainy this morning so we stopped by a little coffee shop and tried some coffee and hot chocolate, they were both pretty delicious.  For lunch we shared a giant plate of nachos, and some apples from the grocery store.  We spent awhile having the drinks and then lunch just hanging out inside while the rain came down.  Later we walked to the very west edge of town (towards the volcano) since it was only drizzling and in general just explored the area.  We also stopped by a few different tour places to see about possibly going horseback riding to some waterfalls near the volcano tomorrow.  One place had pretty good prices, but nobody was around so we are going to try going back there a little later this afternoon to check again.  Tonight we're going to make soup in the little kitchen at our hostel and then maybe try out a bar or club in the town.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

More of Day 2

We went walking around town today (in La Fortuna) and it was pretty awesome.  The fog and clouds cleared and we could see the volcano, which looks huge even from town.  The volcano was awesome, and there was smoke coming out of it most of the time, although we haven't seen any glowing lava flows so far.  We stopped at a little soda (a small food-selling place which can be a little food stand, a little cafe, or a little restaurant) to get dinner tonight.  I finally figured out what gallos are, I wasn't sure since gallo is the word for rooster, but in Costa Rica gallos are little tacos.  I also tried the free water, even though some people say the water here isn't the best, although Chris decided to just stick with our bottled water.  After that we walked around town some more and I overheard some people in their yard talking about us after we turned around a walked past them the second time.  They were wondering where we were from and decided Chris was either from the US or Canada, but I don't know where they thought I was from.  After that we also got some super delicious lime ice cream to eat on the way back to our hotel.  Also while shopping we found out that deodorant here is really hard to find, and really expensive when you do find it.  Tomorrow we will probably head into the national park and check out the volcano up close.

Day 2 - Tuesday

This morning we left San Jose and headed towards La Fortuna, to the northwest.  La Fortuna is right near Volcan Arenal, so we are spending 3 nights here so we have time to check everything out.  We found a small hostel for $20 a night that we're staying at, and they have a shared kitchen so we might try getting some food at the grocery store and cooking for the next few days.  Tomorrow and the day after we plan to spend checking out the national park and the volcano.  Volcan Arenal is still semi-active and supposedly you can see the lava flows pretty well at night.  When we went to the bank to change money they asked if we had felt the earthquake a few minutes before, but apparently it must have been pretty small since we didn't notice it.  Since most of the national parks around here aren't open super late we will probably spend the rest of this afternoon/evening walking around La Fortuna, checking out the grocery store, and maybe stopping by a club.

Day 1 - Monday

We got to Costa Rica and through immigrations and customs with no issues and got our car pretty quickly. We have a little suzuki jimny, which is great since some of the roads aren't the best around here, especially out towards the parks and all.  The main issue we had was trying to find our hotel after we stopped by the store, since street signs are not popular in Costa Rica.  There are signs that say things like "San Jose" with an arrow, but none of the streets have any kind of sign telling you the name, and most of the people who live here don't even know the names.  So the directions to our hotel saying "turn on the J. Orlich Bridge exit" seemed good, until we realized we have no idea what exit that is.

Fortunately we did eventually get my GPS working in Costa Rica and were able to use that to tell us when to turn along with the maps we brought.  Yesterday we went up this really long, steep, winding road towards Volcan Poas, but when we got to the top it was too cloudy to actually see the volcano, so we decided not to pay to go into the national park.  We did stop at a really good restaurant on the way up, and it cost less than $10 for Chris and I to both get pretty big meals.  We also checked out the grocery store that afternoon and got some water and food, and I tried star fruit for the first time, it's pretty good.

We've semi planned out a loop to see more of the country over the next days that we're here.  We plan to stop in La Fortuna next, near another volcano that still have active lava flows and shoots out clouds of ash.  Whenever we have internet we'll try to update this site so you guys can see what we're doing!  

Thank You!

Thanks everyone for coming to our wedding! We hope you had a great time and enjoyed it as much as we did.  Thanks also for all your gifts and help getting us to Costa Rica.  We'll try to update this blog whenever we can so you can see what we're up to down here!