Costa Rica – Part 2 (In which our blogger apologises for being way overdue on this blog post)

The first rule about blogging is not to apologise when you haven’t blogged for a while. Because the only person who is annoyed by the absence of posts, is the blogger. As you’re reading this, you might think “What? She hasn’t blogged for a while? I didn’t even notice it!” So now, I just made you aware that I’ve become very lazy and would rather drink a beer with the Bearded Wonder, than blog.

Excuses and ramblings aside, here’s why I think every person on earth should visit Costa Rica:

You will experience the ultimate in jelly legs after hiking a volcano
Our first stop after San Jose was La Fortuna. Our hostel was a bit crap (and smelled like it too), but we took to this tourist town’s main attractions with guns blazing. And with guns, I mean biceps and other important muscles. La Fortuna is popular for three things – the volcano, hot springs and hordes of people offering expensive tours to busloads of tourists.

Not wanting to partake in the third tourist activity mentioned, we decided to navigate our own way to the hot springs. Now, you can visit one of the hot spring resorts for $50 a pop, or just go where the locals go – for free. Not wanting to pay for a taxi (big mistake), we rented two bicycles and cycled there. It was a steady uphill a la Tour de France for 11km, under the blistering Costa Rican sun. With jelly legs and pools of sweat to rival the hot springs itself, we discovered a hidden little oasis of fresh volcano water – warm, inviting and surrounded by forest. Thank goodness it was downhill back home, because our lukewarm jelly muscles were really good for nothing after a couple of hours hot springing.

Our next adventure was hiking Cerro Chato – the volcano crater right next to Volcán Arenal (the main attraction at La Fortuna). After 400 years of dormancy, Arenal violently erupted in 1968 and until 2010, showed off its ash clouds and steamy molten rock, making it quite the tourist attraction.

Our hike produced very similar post-eruption byproducts. Ash clouds erupted from our lazy and dormant muscles as we huffed and puffed our way up. Covered in mud and insect residue, we finally made it to the crater lake, where the husband had a good swim. I had a banana, which suited me just fine. First of all, I can’t swim. And crater lakes are deep and ominous. >gulp<

The best part of the whole excursion was watching the birds returning to their nests after a busy day of being a bird. We saw the most amazing feathered creatures, like parakeets, loads of hummingbirds and swallow-tailed kites. Without any binoculars or bird-watching know-how (and a good dose of involuntary leg wobbles), we just took it for what it was. And it was magical.

You’ll hear a song in your head that will cure traveler’s fatigue
En route to our next Costa Rican destination, we had a 2-hour stopover in Tilarán – a windy town with squeaking shop signs. We had been traveling (in the pouring rain) since 5.30 that morning, so when we got to Tilarán, the husband and I were both grumpy at life. Until we walked past a couple of sabaneros* having a beer at a bar with crochet curtains. And then this song started to play in my head. With a good song, one can travel for miles and miles.

You’ll see a sloth just hanging about
Yes! This is the coolest story ever. After a looooooong bus ride from La Fortuna, we finally got to Monteverde – a little town made out of hilltops and cheese (see, I told you it’s a good story). We stayed at a really nice hostel (on Santa Elena’s side) with banana-bread breakfasts and good coffee. On our first night, while chomping away on hostel-made bruschetta and tomatoes, the manager told us there’s a sloth in the tree right next to the hostel. I love bruschetta, but I love sloths even more, so we ran outside and saw Misses Sloth just hanging out. But it gets better – she had a little sloth baby clinging to her for dear life, and they gave each other sloth kisses! I squealed and tugged at the husband’s arm until it almost broke off. Today, which is almost a month later, my eyes still glaze over when I think of that moment.

Before I get too glazy-eyed, let’s talk about cheese. Monteverde’s cheese heritage kicked off in the 1950’s, when eleven Quaker** families settled in the area. After buying a big chunk of land to cultivate, they allocated a wedge of the land to opening a cheese farm. We were way overdue on a good mouthful of cheese, so it made perfect sense to hike to the cheese farm instead of the cloud forest the area is most famous for. A stray dog joined us for the hike and life was good. The cheese was also good. Their Parmesan is nutty and sweet and they have a Baby Swiss that tastes exactly like you think a Baby Swiss should taste like.

Moving swiftly along, we also had adventures of the sporty kind. The husband went zip lining and finally realised his childhood dream of gliding through the fresh forest air like a bearded Superman in cargo shorts. I wanted to see a toucan, so I went for a suspension bridge walk through the cloud forest. The husband had an awesome time. I, on the other hand, only saw a wild turkey. I however had a really nice conversation with a fellow traveler called Vicky.

The next day we did the Cerro Amigos hike. You basically walk vertically for a good hour or so, and the view is (according to the Lonely Planet) amazing. Our luck had us hiking for what felt like hours, just to discover that it is overcast and you can’t see a thing. So we had bananas in the mist, and went back down in the rain.

The thing about nature is that it doesn’t really care about two hikers sliding down a vertical mountain pass. Or hiding its toucans when you pay $25 to see them. Nope. Nature shows what she wants, when she wants to. I guess it keeps things exciting. Like the day I stumbled upon the world’s biggest spider nest in Honduras. But that my dear friends, is a story for another day.

Photo time!

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The Husband, a volcano and a guy on a bike selling tacos – La Fortuna.

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One of many volcano selfies. Seeing that all our adventures involve just the two of us, we don’t have other people to include in our photos. So I included a flamboyant bird we spotted to break the monotony of our selfie faces.

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The lesser spotted Bearded Cratergator – Cerro Chato crater lake.

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Hot springing in the rain – La Fortuna.

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The stray dog and a happy Husband in Monteverde. He loves dogs, so we decided to give it a name. We called him Perro.

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Cheese!

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Things I saw during my Cloud Forest hike: a wild turkey, loads of suspension bridges and a wormy fellow.

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We watched the Costa Rica – Italy game in Santa Elena. Oh what fun we had! We had beer at 10 in the morning, and high-fived strangers when Costa Rica won.

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There’s always that one photo that doesn’t make sense, but that I love. That’s why I included the top photo. We were at the pharmacy trying to figure out whether we should chew, dissolve or swallow the Vit C tablets we bought. I got bored so I took photos through the pharmacy’s window of Santa Elena’s main street.

*Costa Rican cowboy

**Coming from South Africa, I had no idea who the Quakers were. Here’s a nifty article about them.

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#lostintranslation

Feeling stupid in another language is much, much worse than in your mother tongue. Herewith some frustrated examples of not getting what you want (or going where you want to).

Me: “Tienes cajetas?” (Do you have those fruit sweets that I read about in the Lonely Planet? You know, the ones that are unique to Diriomo?)
Girl behind the counter: “?…Ahh! Cajetas! Sí! Con queso?” (She gives me a packet of cheese flavoured crackers).

Me (trying another vendor): “Tienes cajetas?”
Old lady behind the counter: “>smiles<”

Me: “Dónde está la oficina de correos?” (Where is the post office?)
Guy on bike: “Turn right when you get to aunt Mildred’s shop – while you’re there you should really buy a couple empanadas, it’s amazing. I think she got the recipe from her great-grandmother, the one who was married to the dentist with the lazy eye. What a fellow! When he used to play the harmonica, the three legged dog from down the road used to howl for hours. Go straight for three blocks, tap your ankles twice, and turn right at the tree next to the house that’s been on the market for months now. It’s such a sunny property, I can’t imagine why nobody wants to buy it. But they say it’s not a buyers’ market now, but that’s just a story, I think. Go straight for two more blocks, then you’ll see the post office on the left.”*
Me: “Ah! Sí! Gracias!”

Me: “Qué es esto?” (What do you call the filling in the bread roll I just ordered?)
Girl behind the counter: “Queso a chiquito.” (Cheese and a young child**)

The people here are super friendly, always willing to help or stop for a chat. And that’s why it’s so frustrating being lost in translation the whole time. When we get to Honduras, I’m going to go on a language course. Sometimes, an app is just not (h)appening.***

*That wasn’t what he said, but to my untrained Spanish ear it might as well have been.

**The roll did contain cheese, but no children. I blame my Spanish translator app for not getting it right.

***Horrible pun alert! Quelle horreur!

Hey everybody! Let’s play a game of Chicken Bus Tetris!

Getting on a chicken bus means signing yourself up (involuntarily) for a grand game of human Tetris. Here’s how it works:

The gamer:
The Bus Wrangler – a fast talking, door swinging amigo whose sole responsibility is to get the bus as full as possible.

Elements* of the game:
Humans, chickens – alive and lunch (to the horror of the live chickens) – big plastics buckets filled with, but not limited to, coleslaw, cheese or cement, bicycles, bags of rice, bags filled with buttery soft avos (YUM), big pieces of wood, Deuter backpacks and boxes with things in it.

How it works:
The Bus Wrangler swings out of the door and calls out the destination of the bus to bystanders and relieved-looking tourists at the side of the road. As you get onto the bus, the Wrangler, with a well-trained eye for the width of people, buckets and chickens, orchestrates the placement of said objects in a manner that will put Swiss precision to shame. Once the bus is full, the Wrangler fills it with 50 more people. This is where all the humans assume the Lego man position – you either stand (or sit) with your arms up or down.

A game of Chicken Bus Tetris takes about 2hours for every 20km traveled. And we (usually) love every second of it.

*We had a discussion whether the word ‘elements’ is indeed the correct gaming description to use – the last time I played a game was 20 years ago. And I sucked at it. But I’m sure you know what I mean.

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A shot of a bus taken from the little window in our bus.

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The Snack Man making his rounds as the bus fills up. Now this is usually the most interesting part of the trip. The bus aisle becomes a shopping district as vendors sell a myriad of things, like underpants, pills and medicines, watches, radios, lunch-in-a-bag, cool drinks-in-a-bag, remote controls, shampoo & conditioners, creams, more glorious food and the sweetest sweets. Love it.

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Don’t worry. If things go a bit left of centre, there’s an emergency exit through the roof.

Costa Rica – Part 1 (In which our travelers learn how to cross a road)

En route to our Central American adventure, we took a very pleasant detour via Vienna (as one does). Our Viennese days were filled with happy banter, little cups of coffee and a good dollop of fear of being caught crossing the road while the light is red for pedestrians. See, if you get caught by the polizei, the fine for this random act of anarchy is a cool €50. In Central America however, if you wait for the light to turn green, you are going to stay put at the side of the road until your pension fund kicks in, because there are no pedestrian crossings. As the Lonely Planet eloquently puts it, you need to ‘look left, look right and run like hell’.

Seeing that most of the traffic we’ve encountered prior San Jose was rickety cruiser bikes, San Jose’s traffic was a fresh breath of beautiful mayhem. We are big city people and there’s nothing like cars and buses and bikes and dogs and things swooshing past when you first arrive at a place. It just feels like home.

So in between all the running around, we really had a good look at San Jose. And we liked it. We didn’t love it, but we liked it. Whenever you hear other travelers talking about San Jose, they would usually say ‘ja it ‘s okay, but I won’t stay there for the night’. We stayed for two.

Except for being really expensive, San Jose is also very grubby. But you are sure to find some sweet bits between all the grub. I’m a big fan of lists, so herewith a list of San Jose’s Sweet Bits:

1. Los Yoses – the neighborhood we stayed at – reminds me of Tamboerskloof in Cape Town. It’s hilly, green and filled to the brim with Sixties Modernism, International Style and Spanish Hacienda building styles. “Why,” you’d probably think right now, “this doesn’t sound like Tamboerskloof at all!”. And that’s exactly what the Bearded Wonder said, but this is my blog and I think it looks like Tamboerskloof. And I really like Tamboerskloof (hence it being on my sweet list).

2. We didn’t have money for dinner on our first night, because our crossing-border-travel-days are always super expensive. Eventually, after walking in and out of every supermarket and realising we can’t afford anything, we discovered a bulk shop that is basically the mothership of all things processed, tinned and packaged. So we had a lovely dinner of nacho chips, tinned corn and tomato in a can. But here’s the sweet part – we were able to buy 3 cheap beers at the expensive supermarket with our change. But it turned out we were short on cash. The cashier took one look at our cheap bulk shopping bag, the Bearded Wonder’s unruly beard and my mosquito legs, and gave us the beer for the money we had. Score!

3. The Museo de Arte Costarricense gives a nice overview of Costa Rican art from the Republican period to contemporary art. Entry is free, and the museum is located in the woody flight control centre of the old San Jose airport. It’s a nice spot just to break away from the city’s hullaballoo and hooters.

4. To the untrained eye, San Jose’s streets resemble a game of pick-up-sticks as seen from above. And just like the famous tune by the awesome Irish foursome, the streets in the city have no name. But to the people of San Jose, this beautiful mess makes total sense. Isn’t that something? However, in 2012 the city disclosed its plans to put up its first street names. In fact, the lack of proper signage caused a loss of an estimated $720 million due to undelivered, returned or lost mail, according to this Wiki article. A traveler we met along the way told us that most people open a PO Box in Miami, and would collect their mail and Amazon purchases when they go on holiday. Amazing.

5. We had a broken English conversation with a really friendly old lady at the World Cup fan park, and she was quite startled by the fact that we are two South Africans very far away from home and our families. So she said if we have any issues, we should just go to their embassy, and they will help. How nice? But that’s the sweetest part of our whole trip – the people here as just so nice and willing to help. Even if we have no idea what they are saying.

And now for some photos! Whoot!

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The street art really makes up for the lack of street names. So while you’re getting lost, you can at least look at pretty murals.

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I realised just now that I don’t really have any photos of San Jose (after I devoted a whole blog to the city). Anyway, here’s a hilly shot of Los Yoses and another mural with hooting taxis in front of it.

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Another odd detail shot.

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The Museo de Arte with some of my favourite works.