Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pura Vida - Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

So my last blog was about our mad escape from Boston during a snowstorm. I think any New Englander will understand that I HAD to get away from the snow even if it meant a 10 hour drive with the kids. Even if it meant chewing my fingernails while waiting for the DC-Costa Rica plane to take off through 50 mph wind gusts. And five hours of flying with two not-very-patient-anymore kids. We were going to Costa Rica!!

Costa Rica has been on my visit list for a long time. Not at the top, but always present. And when flights to Miami for winter vacation cost $800 and San Jose, Costa Rica $450, it was pretty obvious. Plus we had the added bonus that Carol, my husband's 20 year old daughter, and her boyfriend Luis could meet us there (it's about an even-duration trip from Boston and from São Paulo--not counting the DC-drive). Not only could they meet us there but their flight arrived 20 minutes before ours, and left an hour ahead of ours on the back end. Perfect.

We rented a house through vrbo.com. It was perfect. Two bedrooms in the main house, and then a separate apartment for Carol and Luis downstairs. It was walking distance (straight uphill, no sidewalks, crazy drivers) from the main strip of Manuel Antonio,  and also from the main beach (straight downhill, no cars, cool howler monkeys, a bitch to climb at the end of the day). 

The beach at the bottom of the hill: Playitas
But I'm jumping ahead. Let's arrive at the airport first. I will say that immigration was terrible at San Jose. Huge line, huge wait. Please make sure you have a yellow fever vaccine if you are coming from Brazil.  Be patient. Smile. You are in paradise.

After meeting up with Carol and Luis outside customs, we were picked up by van from the airport. It would take 2 1/2 hours to get to Manuel Antonio but we had not been willing to rent a car--for six people, that would have cost a bit and road signs are few and far between at the coast. 

The kids were as good as they could be, especially after stopping for some delicious fresh fruit smoothies and to view a river filled with the largest crocodiles I have seen in my entire life. And I've lived in Florida. Holy cow. Later in the trip one of our guides told us a story about a drunk Nicaraguan who attempted to swim across the river and they only found little bits and pieces after that. Hard to tell if that one was true, seems a bit like a joke a Brazilian would tell about an Argentinian. 

View from the pool deck.
 We arrived at sunset (Costa Rica served up non-stop gorgeous sunsets over the Pacific) after stopping at the grocery store for the basics of dinner and breakfast. I was completely exhausted but wonderful BH cooked up some tuna and risotto and we enjoyed being in our own place and not having even a glimmer of white cold stuff to shovel away from the door. We had plans for the next three days, and then plans to do nothing for two days after that. 
Surf lessons from San Diegans
Resident squirrel monkeys (with baby on board)
Our house pool
I won't give you the details of my family vacation though if anyone wants detailed recommendations, send me a note and I'll give you some restaurant, places, guides and other info. Most folks in Manuel Antonio speak at least some English--did you know that Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America? Yes, somewhere around 95%. And they have figured out tourism and the importance of English--unlike many places in Brazil (to say that Brazil is missing the ecotourism boat would be a nice way of putting it). 

On Monday, the kids (all four) took surf lessons with a long-haired "dude" from Costa Rica and a bald "dude" with a massive tattoo on his back from San Diego. Two hours of surf time, so much fun for me to watch and them to do. Highly recommend. 

 Lalo loved it so much he rented a board on a subsequent day and tried again the last day (the boards were all out). Lots of folks take the lessons. You cannot ask for a better beach to learn.

On Tuesday, we went for a guided tour of the national park. Our guide Jason was excellent at spotting birds, tiny frogs, a crab, the Jesus lizard, etc etc. Also two and three toed sloths. It was a wonderful two-hour tour and even the kids were entertained. I will comment that if anyone who is reading this wants to do that tour, you should go before it opens and get in before the heat of the day. Costa Rica does not fool around on humidity and heat. We were sweat balls by the end of the tour, which wound up at a small and gorgeous beach where our guide had just finished saying how sneaky the capuchin monkeys were when one ran up, reached his tiny hand into the garbage bag behind the guide, snatched a pineapple slice and took off. Another swim in the ocean. Paradise.

On Wednesday, we took a 40-minute drive (van) to go ziplining and "repelling". Yes, they said repelling in the guide, and I mentioned that it might be rappelling.  One of my kids is afraid of heights--he screamed as he was clicked into the first zipline and we ended up having to leave him at the base lodge. This worked out great for him as he got to hang out in the butterfly garden and feed a caiman and watch the resident Jesus lizard. He never would have made it. Ziplining is not for the afraid-of-heights. But I had so.much.fun. Not as much fun as Lalo who went upside down on two lines, and wanted to go free fall down the rappelling cord. Next time I must bring more Zanax. For me. 

Thursday we spent at the local beach and at our house's pool. On Friday we explored a hidden beach called Biesanz and the kids collected rocks and shells, then we went back to the big beach. It is rare that I let myself relax as much as I did on this vacation--as one of my friends would put it, I only had about two browser windows open rather than the usual 2,700. I read a Tami Hoag novel. I bird-watched from our deck. I wrote bad poetry. No, not really, it just sounded good there.

Biesanz Beach - deserted at 8 am.

And what about this "pura vida"? Well, the Ticos (people from Costa Rica) use that phrase "pure life" as a greeting, as a goodbye as a "tudo bom" (all is okay) of Brazil. You would greet a friend with "pura vida", talk about whatever was going on in life and then say "pura vida." It's all good. And it is, as far as I can tell in Costa Rica, all good.

Pura vida.

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