Monday, January 26, 2009

Costa Rica Day 1 (ok, and day 2)

The prelude: Day -1. Still in California. Flying out Thursday evening to get into San Jose, Costa Rica early Friday morning... very early. In the mean time, the last step before leaving is to finally sell the car. Unfortunately, since I need to sell the car quickly, I'm resorting to simply taking it to a dealership. The one and only upside to this is that CarMax has offices all over the country, including LA, from where my Costa Rica flight is to originate, so I get to have one last drive up the coast in the convertible. Clearly procrastinating too, making a variety of stops along the way. Finally in LA, it's time to say good bye to the car:

The mini certainly has more style, but I'll miss the bimmer!

And on to more practical concerns such as getting to LAX to catch my flight. After some unforeseen adventures in routing with the LA bus and subway system, I finally arrive at the Frontier airlines ticket counter about 45 minutes before my flight is to take off. There's hardly anyone else in the terminal. There is no line, and exactly one ticket agent at Frontier. She sounds a bit exasperated when I confirm that I am in fact taking a flight that will end up at an international destination and still am showing up this late; goes on to sternly warn me that she cannot guarantee that I will make my flight and sends me on the way as I assure her that I'm quite adept at running through airport terminals. 30 minutes later I'm at my window seat, watching a Lakers game (hooray for 30 channels of free TV on Frontier flights), getting ready to enjoy my sandwich (I had time to pick one of those up prior to boarding too).

After a brief stop over in Denver, we were promptly on the way South arriving in San Jose shortly after 6 in the morning, allowing for Costa Rica Day 1 to commence. San Jose, quite frankly, isn't a particularly interesting or attractive city. It's fairly dirty, packed with traffic trying to squeeze through streets not quite wide enough for the number of cars on them, and doesn't have a whole lot in terms of attractions to see. It does, however, have a Brazilian embassy(!), so after getting my luggage, I was in a cab, watching the driver snake his way through the already heavy traffic (at 7:00AM!). 7:30 came about, and I was at the Pangea hostel, optimistic that I wouldn't actually be staying here, but willing to pay $12 to reserve a bed just to have a base of operations to leave my bags. A Banco de Costa Rica was less than a block away on the way in, so I was at their doorstep right as they were opening at 8AM to deposit my $130 into the Embajado de Brazil bank account. 30 minutes later, I was at the Brazilian embassy, which is supposed to start accepting visa applications at 8:30. Supposed to is a strong word, and the place isn't exactly busy (barren?), so the guy at the front desk (not speaking any English) managed to convey to me (in Spanish) that the consul will be there shortly to deal with me. Shortly took about 45 more minutes, but around 9:15 I handed off my application and my bank deposit receipt and beginning the negotiations as to when I could havve my passport back. The negotiations featured her broken English and my broken Spanish, intermixed with only slightly less broken French. She suggested I pick it up next Tuesday. I asked if I could get it vendredi (that's French for Friday - Spanish for Friday is viernes, so it's, you know, close?). I'm not sure if she understood that I wanted to pick it up a week from today, but she asked me "to sit down please", went off to do stuff, and a mere 30 minutes later, I was handed my passport back, with a fresh new Brazilian visa in it. Valid for 5 years! And to think I'd barely allowed myself to hope to get the passport back in a week...

Costa Rica, so far, is progressing better than I could've ever imagined. The bank was easy to find and didn't give me any trouble about depositing the money. The embassy was within walking distance. And not only did I in fact have all the documents required, they gave me the visa basically on the spot! Can we make this even better and meet up with Lott and company today too? Yes we can! I was willing to pay the $35 to catch a fast tourist shuttle to Monteverde, but they were all booked. So, instead, I waited around the bus station for 3 hours and caught a slow local bus to Monteverde for about $4.50. Had a bit of a contentious discussion with the taxi driver getting to the bus station and ended up paying him almost $20, but all in all, I still came out ahead. And the bus was actually fairly nice:

My home for the next six hours.

By 8 o'clock, I was getting dropped off in Monteverde, with the bus station conveniently situated right across from our hotel. Shortly before 11, a loud commotion outside signaled the arrival of a Landcruiser Prado bearing the other 7 of our party of 8, and, quite frankly, I'm still a little astounded that I'd managed to both get my visa to Brazil and meet my friends in the middle of a Central American country where I didn't even speak the language... all in a period of 24 hours, a period that had started with a lady at the Frontier airlines counter at LAX sternly warning me that I may not even make my flight.

On to Day 2... Day 2 was ziplining and hiking through the cloud forest in Monteverde, which Lott has already described in pretty good detail. But, hey, I have more pictures and videos, so here's a few additions to his post:

Megan, Schwin, Mattson, Lott, Bailey, Tina, myself, and Drew learning how to zipline... safely?

Ziplining really just means riding down a long metal line through the heart of a dense jungle. The cloud forest is what they call it...

Lott getting ready to ride off into action. The rest of us, naturally, have our own thoughts on how he should approach the zipline.

Drew's optimistic, while our guide seems clearly ambivalent

Me, enjoying a long ride that got up above the canopy, offering a nice view of the surrounding forest.

Bailey riding off into the jungle... in video!

Did Lott mention there was also a Tarzan swing here? Schwin flying off.

After a brief lunch break, off onto the natural preserve for a 3 hour hike through the dense green

Megan, clearly excited about this particular vine

Not sure how the bird felt about us. I suspect, he was excited to see us leave mostly...

And, there was the research observation Tower. Closed, officially. We felt it wasn't closed enough to prevent us from climbing up to the top. Bailey making his way up the staircase here.

A nice view of the surrounding jungle from the top of the tower

A beautiful sunset on the way back...

Lott, I will contend these two pictures are better than the one you picked for your post!

Stopped for dinner at a [very!] local restaurant on the way back. They had a band performing, which would've been a lot better if it wasn't so damn loud, but sure seemed like a thoroughly authentic experience... Food was excellent too!

In spite of a few somewhat questionable decisions by Mattson, our designated driver, on the way back (thanks for avoiding that oncoming bus!), we made it to Tamarindo in the evening, just in time to go visit the local night life that evening. The next morning/afternoon, we said good bye to Schwin and Megan, who were flying back to Seattle, then washed away our hangovers by going surfing and watching another beautiful sunset:

It's a rough life here in Tamarindo - every evening, around 5:30, you make it out to the beach to have a drink and marvel at the ruby red sun settling down behind the clouds on the horizon.

The entire sky lights up a brilliant shade of red as the sun gets lower and lower.

And now, just five more days of this rough life to go, before I'm off to cruise Antarctica, while everyone else heads back to Seattle... and the blog stops making sense again as Lott and I will be posting from two completely different locations once more.

No comments: