Author Topic: 10 days between Mount Arenal & Tamarindo  (Read 7579 times)

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Offline Julyme

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10 days between Mount Arenal & Tamarindo
« on: April 20, 2009, 06:13:07 AM »
The husband and I were just on an 11 day jaunt to Costa Rica. Just the 2 of us left out of Detroit and we met up the next day with 13 more from Pennsylvania; none of whom we had ever met before. Talk about a leap of faith!  They say God protects little children and fools (or something like that) and it sure was true for us.  We met up with 13 of the nicest people and had a great time. What follows is our account of the trip.

Day One:

Joe and I arrived at Detroit Metro Airport at 3 AM.  Do you know people actually WORK that damn early?  Anyhow,  Michigan being in the middle of a winter thaw, we were up, up and way on American Airlines headed for Miami International right on time with no de-icing. We landed a little early and had 3 hours to kill before our flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. Had some overpriced scrambled eggs and toast, talked up some folks and before we knew it we were on a plane bound for San Jose.  The first glimpse of Costa Rica was mountains and more mountains. As we were preparing to land we hit strong winds but the pilots did a great job of setting us down.  Immigration and customs were a snap and we exited the airport to find our shuttle to our first hotel.  Now I had been forewarned that the way to the hotel was a little rough, but let me tell you I sure am glad I was warned.  Otherwise it would have been stomach in my throat as to what I had gotten us into. The area was bleak and very slum-like.  The shuttle turned onto a little dirt road and 50 feet later WHAM a huge iron gate was in front of us!  A little old guy in the guard shack opened the gate (by hand) and we pulled into a courtyard of a very pretty little hacienda. Big sigh of relief. We had arrived at the Trapp Family Country Inn.  A couple young girls (turns out they are the daughters of the owners) met us at the van and took charge of our luggage and led us to our room. No checking in or anything. They knew who we were and greeted us by name.  The room was beautifully done with wood fittings all done in teak and a double set of wooden French doors that opened out onto our balcony. Very nice. The resort is a little on the older side but well maintained and absolutely spotless. They brought us some cold drinks and asked when we would like to have dinner. We picked 6:30 PM but a little while later met up with a Canadian couple that were just finishing up their trip and staying at the hotel before catching their plane home the next morning. It turns out that’s mostly the clientele this hotel gets is people spending one night either on their way to their vacation or on the way home. We wound up having a nice leisurely dinner with the Canadian folks at 6 PM, where we heard all about their trip and all the rain they had run into up at Mount Arenal, which was to be our next stop. Since we had been up since 1 AM, we turned in about 10PM looking forward to meeting our new friends.

Day Two:
We had a nice breakfast on the terrace of the hacienda where we met up with another Canadian couple that had come in late the night before and had basically the same travel itinerary as us but different hotels and we never did run into them again.  We settled up our bill and then Costa Rica shuttle picked us up about noon and we headed to the airport to meet the folks from Pennsylvania. I got to hop out of the van and be the greeter holding up the sign that said “Newsy’s Group”.  I now the meaning of the slogan “Let Newsy take you cuz Newsy took us!”  I guess I didn’t do too hot of a job as I only found 2 because the other 11 went out another door. Oh well, no problemo, we found them anyhow with a little help from some other greeters.  Met all our new friends and headed on out.  First stop is for cerveza.  Big surprise there. We bought lots of  cerveza (hey it’s a 2.5 hour drive up to Mount Arenal) along with a cooler and ice. That cooler came in handy throughout the next 3 days!  

Spent the drive time getting acquainted and found that Newsy (our leader so to speak), is quite the character.  The others weren’t slouches either.  Along about the 1.5 hour mark it got extremely quiet in the shuttle. Next stop banos! The place we stopped also had a nice little snack bar and I got some sort of chicken filled pastry that was to die for!  Don’t know what it was called so I named it a Costa Rican Calzone!  Also bought a little bag of plantain chips that were pretty good. I loved just looking out the window as we climbed and climbed and climbed.  We saw several big nurseries where they grow the houseplants we buy at stores like Walmart, Kmart, Home Depot, etc. Plants like dracaena, philodendrons, crotons, - the list goes on and on.  

We finally arrived at our second hotel, Arenal Paraiso Resort and Spa. (Not sure about the spa part other than they had some hot spring pools going up the side of a hill).  Now at this resort, each room is actually an individual bungalow style building made of teak. It has a cute covered and glassed in front porch with 2 leather and wood rockers, one big room and a bathroom. The closets were actually cedar lined armoires with a vanity built in between the two armoires, all hand made.  Very clean and very spacious but the lighting was really bad. Oh well, how much light do you need to brush your teeth?  Each bungalow had a wall mounted satellite TV with lots of English channels. We loved being able to catch Fox news. Up there in the rain forest the vegetation is lush and gorgeous: all kinds of blooming flowers including hibiscus and birds of paradise, palm trees and big groupings of bamboo. Lots of  others plants I couldn’t put names to and have only seen in houseplants here at home. We also had a view of the Mount Arenal volcano but alas the top was covered in clouds.  Seems as if they haven’t seen the top of the volcano in almost a month!  Nuts!  Maybe we’ll get lucky! We went down to the restaurant for dinner with the group and had a good time, but again we turned in early as the next day we were headed out to the Hanging Bridges and the Sky Canopy ziplines.

Now I have to stop for a minute and say the driver of our shuttle, Ricardo, was an absolute gem!  Not only was he fluent in English, but having lived and driven a semi in the US for a couple years, he was also very used to our way of joking around and never took offense as someone else who knew English but not our humor might have. So we decided to keep him!  He was supposed to just drop us off and then come back in 3 days to take us down to the coast, but we had him call his boss and we hired him to be our driver for the entire time we were up in the rain forest!  He was great!  If you ever plan a trip to Costa Rica I have his phone number!

Day Three:
On with the adventure. On the way Ricardo spotted some coatimundis (they call them pizotes) beside the road. They are a sort of raccoon but with pointier noses and are more slender than our raccoons. We had brought bananas and got out to feed them. They about attacked us trying to get the bananas. Got a little creepy.

 We finally got to the Hanging Bridges. Wayyyyyy up the mountain and you walk a patch through the jungle and cross a series of  steel mesh and cable hanging bridges over deep gullies. Yah me! Who is so terrified of heights that I have to go in the next room when my boss gets on the 12 foot step ladder to change light bulbs! The first one was the worst. Joe kept jumping on the bridge so it would swing. He about bought a one way trip to the top of the volcano with that!  But after a while it was just another place to walk – if I didn’t look down that is!  Fortunately they all had nice high sides so I never felt like I was going to fall off.  Walking the jungle path we saw some amazing sights: beautiful huge butterflies (mariposa), and cutter ants busily carrying their bits of green leaves. Do you know they walked single file down a hill and across the pathway?  All very military-like!  Then we saw Howler monkeys in the trees, lots of birds (alas no Toucans though), and lizards crossing the bridges.  I saw quite possibly the largest praying mantis I have ever seen! It was bigger than one of our hummingbirds! There were weird shapes of trees and the most amazing waterfalls hidden amongst the foliage covered hillsides.  Also saw holes in the side of the hills but despite Joe’s urging I was NOT sticking my hand in to see who was at home!  Do you know the trees there never had rings that tell their age like our trees?  It seems because their climate is one continuous growing season , the wood never sets a ring like ours does when fall comes and the trees lose their leaves. Quite amazing.  We kept climbing up and up and up.  Where is this going to end. I had somehow gotten way behind one group and way in front of another and was all by myself. I was getting quite exhausted and wondered if I was going to make it to the end or if they would eventually miss me and send out a search party. But finally the path started going downhill and after a bit I came out in the open field by the staging center. I almost fell and kissed the ground. I had survived!  

After waiting for the others to finish (seems as I was not the only one wondering if the path would ever end), we rested a bit, replenished our water and got back on the shuttle to head for the Sky Canopy zipline.   I have to say it was an adventure just getting there.  Here we are doing down the main road which is paved and all of a sudden around the bend the road is totally washed out and the pavement caved on one side of the road! What do Costa Ricans do?  Everyone uses the other lane!  You have to take turns like on a one way bridge; biggest vehicle goes first!  Then the road going off the main road is nothing more than one dirt pothole next to another. I mean literally!  I don’t know how their vehicles keep from falling apart!

On our way we see wild pigs crossing the road.

Took a wrong turn going to the ziplines and the phrase “WHRDAPHUGARIE” was born. We are all now members of that particular tribe!
We get up to the zipline and I know for sure I’m NOT going on it.  The zipline is over the jungle canopy, is a series of 11 platforms and takes about and hour and 45 minutes to travel. So some of us retire to the snack bar for lunch and a few cervezas while the braver ones get geared up and head off.  Lucky for us while we were waiting, the top of the volcano appeared!  The clouds blew away and for about 15 minutes we had the best view of the top. In my pictures you will still see what appears to be a cloud at the top but its actually steam coming out of the volcano!  

A short geography lesson here. We were told that Mount Arenal is the larges of the 168 ACTIVE volcanoes in Costa Rica, and is the 12th most active volcano in the world.  However, unlike say the volcanoes in Hawaii that erupt with rivers of molten lava, Mount Arenal steams away all the time and now and then belches out boulders and some lava but it only goes down one side of the mountain. The other side is dense rain forest.  The last time Mount Arenal had a major blow was in 1968 and a small lodge at the base of the volcano was buried. Before that they believe the last major blow was somewhere around 1200-1500AD.  That was so strong that it blew black volcanic boulders as far as the coast. As you drive through the countryside on the way to the coast you see these black boulders.  A lot of the beach along this stretch of the Pacific also has black boulders and black volcanic sand. I’m not sure if that’s from Mount Arenal or another volcano though.

Back to the zipline. After a while it seemed whenever you heard the zipline cable “singing” someone would come whizzing down the line out of the trees. Very cool and those of us on the ground would cheer at the brave souls who made it.   Turns out it was quite dicey for the ones who did go as the winds blew them around a bit and sometimes they never zipped all the way to the next platform and would have to haul themselves to the platform by pulling themselves along the cable hand over hand.  A couple of times the guys running the zipline had to go out and help them in.  I will never be sorry I didn’t go on that!  

After the zipliners had time to get a beverage down, we all loaded up in the shuttle and headed in to the nearby town of LaFortuna for dinner. We went to a place called Neme’s. It’s a very happening place but kind of weird since the entry is off what appears to be a dirt alley!  Good old Ricardo goes in and talks to the proprietor to make sure they can accommodate all 16 of us (including Ricardo) and they can. Yippee!  Some had the  steak prepared the Argentinean way, some had whole Tilapia (including the heads) steamed in foil and then lit on fire, and others of us had a chicken entrée. Everyone said what they had was great. Costa Rica is known for its beef, and their chicken is way more whiter and more tender than ours. They say its because their chickens are not given growth hormones and are killed the old fashioned way.  Maybe – maybe not – but it sure was tender and juicy in  stroganoff type sauce!  Quite possibly the best I’ve ever had!

Then it was back to the resort as Joe, Sue, Doug and I had an early wake up for our fishing trip on Lake Arenal the next morning.

Day Four
At 6AM Ricardo delivered us to the dam at Lake Arenal where we met Captain Ron Saunders (an ex-pat originally from Nevada) to go fishing.  Unfortunately the 11 inches of rain they had they day before we got there had raised the lake level about 30 feet and the river runoffs into the lake had clouded the water. While we fished all over the lake and used lots of different lures, Doug was the only one to catch a mahaca (rainbow bass) and I caught a small  guayapote which is sort of a junk fish that is a relative of the piranha!  You should have seen the teeth on that one.  While we were on the lake we once again saw the top of the volcano and got a few good pictures. Unfortunately the batteries in Joe’s camera took the opportunity to crap out so we didn’t get pictures of the fish but Sue has promised to send me copies of the ones she took.  Even though the fishing was lousy we had a great time trying and I learned how to “walk the dog” and “pop” my lures.  
We finally finished up about noon and Ricardo was waiting to take us back to the resort. We cleaned up and headed into town to go shopping. While there we ran into some of the rest of our group who were in town for the same purpose so we all headed back to the resort with Ricardo.

Once again we had dinner at the resort but this one was not as nice as the first. The waiters totally didn’t take Joe’s order and when it became apparent they had not, and I asked, they just shrugged and walked away!  No “I’m sorry. Would you like me to get you something” or nothing!  They just walked away! I couldn’t friggin believe it. This was NOT an All Inclusive and you paid for dinner just like at a regular restaurant. I was flabbergasted. Needless to say, we got up and left and Pedro did not get a tip that night.

From Monday afternoon until Wednesday evening we had been blessed with brilliant sunshine. That night it rained like crazy. The next morning it was still misting as we loaded up for our trip down to the [Pacific] coast and our next stop.  

Day Five:
The trip down to Tamarindo was about 4.5 hours.  It was really quite amazing as we descended from the lush vegetation of the rain forest. We were driving and all of a sudden there are buildings that look like we took a wrong turn and wound up in Germany!  Big German community there. HMMM!  The terrain started flattening out some and kept getting drier and drier with less lush vegetation and more hard desert looking landscapes.  On one hill we say windmill after windmill for about a mile. Power source I’m sure. Turns out down on the coast they haven’t seen rain since October when it was raining and washing  out roads not 40 miles away!  We stopped a couple times for cerveza, banos, lunch, and to shop for Costa Rican coffee and some souvenirs.  We finally arrived at the Barcelo Langosta in Tamarindo about 3 PM and quickly checked in. The Barcelo Langosta is one of the chain’s “Blue” resorts which is the middle of their line of resorts; the Barcelo Maya in Mexico being one of the “Premium” or top of the line resorts. However, it is a high Blue and for my money was almost worthy of Premium status. Size wise it was probably about the size of the BM Beach alone.  We were in room 4112 which was at the very end of the resort in a brand new building. Our room was directly across from the theater, ala carte (which was not included in the All Inclusive) and the indoor disco.  I sat on our balcony to watch the shows – which –for the most part – were terrible.  Only the first night which was Latina night was the show any good. I watched it all that night. Most other nights I just closed the slider and went to sleep despite the racket!

Good things about the resort: at least one of the Barcelo resorts has installed those bar type security locks on their doors. Why can’t the BM do the same?  The mattresses on the beds were thick pillow top mattresses with pillow top toppers on top of that! Verrryyy comfy. Nice size rooms, nice size bathroom, robes in the closet, rooms cleaned and fridge stocked every day. Nice size small resort with personable people. Beautiful manicured grounds but with efforts to maintain an animal preserve and ecological zone within the resort.

Bad things about the resort: No boards in the lobby telling folks what might be in the theater any particular night or even that there was a theater.  Most of the shows were really lame and a couple times there were less than a dozen people in the audience! We never even got a map of the resort to figure out where stuff was.  When I asked where our room was, they said “Follow the bellhop”.  We did.  There is nothing telling you what the day’s activities were. You just had to luck out when stuff was happening.  Worst of all was lousy bartenders. They were nice but couldn’t get a drink right if their life depended on it. You would not believe what I would get when ordering a caipirinha (blank stares mostly) or lemon daiquiri.  They even screwed up a Cuba Libre which was nothing but rum, coke and a bit of lime!  I heard the bloody mary’s and pina coladas were awful and forget trying to get a Bahama Mama. Once in a while you ran into someone in the lobby bar that knew how to make a drink right, but they were few and far between. If you were anything other than a beer drinker, juice drinker or soda drinker, you were at risk!

The Howler monkeys put in a brief appearance this afternoon in the trees around the pool. The males make sort of a howling noise but to me it sounded more like a pack of dogs barking. But now that I know what they sound like I can recognize them again.

Anyhow, the rest of the day was pretty much settling in, discovering where the beach/pool bar was,  walking the amazing beach, cocktail hour and dinner. Then we pretty much crashed after the show.

Day Six:
We hung around the resort playing on the beach, playing in the pool, eating and drinking. That night we hired a van and 9 of us went in to a little town called Basalito for the weekend fiesta and bullfights. I was hesitant to go as I didn’t want to see gory bullfighting, but this turned out not to be that kind. Instead some guy would try to ride the bull and a bunch of drunk college age kids and a couple real old Ticos (natives) would wave capes, wave their arms, wave their beer bottles, or anything to get the bull to chase them around the arena. When the bull got tired or disinterested, they took him out and sent another in. Meanwhile we are sitting up in these bleachers around the arena that were nothing more than a bunch of boards nailed together.  After a while we got nervous with all the people stomping around and got down. Then we got something to eat from one of the food vendors and walked around looking at what the other vendors had to sell. Unfortunately, Newsy, who had been warning us to be extra careful of our belongings, got caught coming off the bleachers in a bump and run and had his camera pickpocketed right out of his camera case on his belt!  He took it in stride and was the butt of jokes for the rest of the trip. We met up with our van driver at a place called the Happy Snapper, after a few cervezas of  course!

Day Seven:
We spent the day walking the beach until the sand got too hot, then hanging by the pool, where cupid showed up it being Valentines Day and all. We have several pictures of him in his white toga shooting his arrows.  Later on we headed in to Tamarindo to shop and catch an amazing sunset on the beach.

I should stop to mention here that Tamarindo is a mecca for surfers.  There are several surfing schools, and evidentially, one of the most infamous surfing schools in the world, Witches Rock Surf School, is here. Now I know nothing about surfing so will have to take the word of others on this. However, we did see lots and lots of surfer types walking around. And in Tamarindo (which is mostly just dirt roads) it was not uncommon to see big delivery trucks, small delivery trucks, tour buses, taxis, pedicabs, pushcart vendors, and even the occasional surfer in board shorts and flip flops riding a horse down the middle of the street!  So many sights and sounds!  We did do some shopping but found the conversion to colones (their unit of currency) difficult to work with and figure out if we were getting a bargain or ripped off. The shopkeepers were not near as willing to bargain as in Mexico.  You might get them down a dollar or two but that was about it.
We did buy a few things for the grandkids and the dog minders but that was about it.
I did buy a small painted mask made out of wood for my collection.

As I said today was Valentines Day and at dinner everyone was greeted with a pink-sugar rimmed flute of champagne with a maraschino cherry in it and all the ladies received a long stemmed red rose!  Very nice!

Just about the time we were heading out after dinner, the raccoons showed up begging for tidbits.  Joe obliged even though there were lots of signs saying don’t feed the animals. Course he wasn’t the only one then or on other nights.

Day Eight:
Today was the beach bar hop. We loaded up 2 vans with 13 of us and headed out. We hit several beaches and their beach bars. The first and most memorable was Lola’s. Turns out Lola is a huge sow – literally!  She lays on the sand in front of the establishment.  In her younger years Lola was known to have gone out swimming with the surfers. But Lola is a little long in the tooth for that now, although she did rouse herself for a ham and cheese sandwich.  After this one we hit several more beach bars, but about 4PM some of us took one of the vans back to the resort while the rest went on to meet a friend of theirs who has a place down there.  The rest of the day was pretty much just loafing around.
We met some people this evening from Georgia, and sat out on the veranda between the restaurant and the pools talking with them for about 2 hours.  I never get over how you meet new folks at the resorts (in Mexico as well)  and its like you have instant best friends.  Seldom have I ever met someone I would want to avoid.  

Day Nine:
Some of the group took off on a half day trip to the Crocodile River to see crocs (what else) and birds and stuff. We didn’t go but I guess it was a very enjoyable trip.  Some of us just hung out at the resort enjoying the time in the sun and the all inclusive atmosphere.  I was having a tough time finding a drink the bartenders could make decently and say a couple of older women with something like a Tequila Sunrise. I introduced myself and asked what they were drinking. It was called a Pura Vida (in Mexico they say La Buena Vida but in Costa Rica is Pura Vida). I asked if it had rum, tequila or vodka in it, and they just laughed and said “Lots”.  The ladies were German and from Toronto. “Ve are vidows you know and ve trafel togeder many times.”  They were absolutely a hoot. When the Pura Vida began to hit they told me the antidote was “the chicken vings at de snack bar”.  So I went and got a couple and did feel better. A little while later I saw the ladies again and told them that the wings worked a little but was still feeling woozy. I was told “half anudder ving” and we all dissolved into peals of laughter.  

This afternoon the monkeys really showed up in the trees down by the pool. We counted at least 18 or 19 and many of them were juveniles or babies being carried on their mothers backs. Took lots of pictures.

Day Ten:
Just kind of hung out again today visiting back and forth with all the folks knowing this was our last day.  Made sure to get lots of last minute pictures. Did go into town for a little more shopping.  

Day Eleven:
Had to be packed and down in the lobby for our 8:50AM pick up for the airport.  Had breakfast, passed out a few more tips and took a few last minute pictures.  It took about an hour to get to the airport in Liberia. What an airport. When you first pull in it looks quite new albeit small. Then once you pay your exit fees, get past the check in and security it is in the old part. Totally open with only high ceiling fans. A small duty free shop, one gift shop and one place to get something to eat. Then rows and rows of hard plastic chairs; the type that makes your butt go numb. There are no doors and the tarmac with the planes pulling up is only feet from the seats. The planes pull up to about 50 feet from the terminal, they roll out some stairs and folks get off and walk across to the terminal. Then they get the plane ready to leave and you leave the terminal, walk across the tarmac, climb the stairs and board the plane. Just like Metro in the olden days – really olden days!  But it works and I was quite surprised at the size of the planes coming and going. Big ones.

So we left Costa Rica about 2 PM and landed in Miami  about 5:30 PM where we cleared immigration and customs.  Then about 8PM we left Miami and arrived in Detroit about 11PM. Finally made it home about 1 AM.

Where’s the warm?
Where’s the buffet?
Where’s the bar?

This place sucks and I’m not tipping Jose in the other room either!

We had a great time, saw lots of neat things and met some great people, some of whom may turn out to be long term friends. Time will tell on that.  However, in all honesty I don’t think I will ever go back there. Its too much like Mexico, but generally dirtier, and the beaches are almost unbearably hot after mid-morning.  But its that way on the Pacific side of Mexico too.  If I want the Mexico feel I can get to Cancun  in 3 +/-  hours, and the Caribbean beaches are the best. I will say that I enjoyed the heat of Costa Rica without the humidity of the Yucatan.

So if you get the chance to go, do so. It’s a great country  with a great variety of things to see and do.  Lots of US and Canadian ex-pats are moving down there instead of Mexico; cheaper I think but they are in gated communities for the most part.

 Any questions, give me a shout

Here is a link to our pictures.


http://picasaweb.google.com/JudyM1024/CostaRica2009?feat=directlink

Offline texaspepper

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Re: 10 days between Mount Arenal & Tamarindo
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2010, 03:34:06 PM »

Wow...what a review. . .a wonderful review.  Thanks :)
Texas Pepper
aka; David
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