Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pura Vida... Thanksgiving Style

I was talked into going to Costa Rica over our 4 day Thanksgiving break.  Not that I needed all that much convincing, of course; I think Amy said something to the effect of, “I’m going to Costa Rica.  You should come too.  Here’s the flight I booked.”  It was just more of that peer pressure business from my last post again. 

I don’t have anything against Costa Rica.  Yet given the short nature of our break and my frugal mindset, without the prodding from friends, my first choice for the weekend’s travel plans probably would have included going somewhere that I haven’t been yet in Guatemala. 

But I’m glad I made the decision (and shelled out the cash) to go to Costa Rica.  There ended up being four of us in our group, which is really almost the perfect number to travel with.  Amy, Shannon, Analisa, and I got along well the entire trip and complemented each other’s styles too, I think.  I feel like we packed a lot into our four days, so rather than going into detail about all that we did, I’ll give the highlights.

Day One: I milked my first cow.
Now, you would think that given that I grew up in Wisconsin and frequently visited my uncle’s dairy farm, I would have had the chance to milk a cow before my 27th year.  But though I fed cows (and calves) and hung out in the barn, my uncle had milking machines, so there was really never any reason for me to milk a cow. 

Our first hotel in Costa Rica, near Arenal Volcano, had a small farm of egg-producing chickens and cheese-producing cows.  Every morning and afternoon, they encourage hotel guests to try their hands at milking.  So, on our first afternoon there, we four girls were eagerly waiting as the milking cows were led up to the little barn. 

All four of us tried milking, and Analisa and Amy really started to get the hang of it and enjoy the task.  The cowhand I am sure did not expect us to stick around for almost 45 minutes of giggling and slow milking (he told us it usually takes him about 10 minutes to milk each cow; we were nowhere near as fast as him). 

To top off our experience, he asked if we wanted to try the milk.  We said yes, of course.  Then he surprised us all by dumping a packet of hot chocolate mix into a cup and milking directly into the cup.  The result was warm, frothy, bubbly hot chocolate—delicious! 

Day Two: Amy and I ran to a waterfall.
While Analisa and Shannon embarked on their own zipline adventure, Amy and I looked for cheaper options.  A run sounded good to both of us, so we asked our hotel’s front desk worker whether it would be possible and practical to run to a nearby landmark.  His response?  “Oh, no.  It’s too far.”  Well, after some questioning and information searching, we deduced that it was probably about 6-7 miles to the Catarata (waterfall), which may be too far for most people, but sounded perfectly reasonable to both of us.  The waterfall was deemed to be the best option out of several other tourist landmarks because 1) it was the closest, 2) it had the cheapest entry fee at $10 per person, 3) Amy had never been there before, and 4) It was a cloudy/rainy day, so our hopes were not high of seeing the volcano even if we ran to Arenal National Park. 

So, the front desk guy probably thought we were crazy, but we took off, in the rain, in the direction of the waterfall, on foot. 

We missed one turn, but otherwise made it there without getting lost.  It was a peaceful run (despite one section of the road with no shoulder or sidewalk which made passing cars a little treacherous), with beautiful scenery.  We arrived at the waterfall with just enough time to hike down, take some pictures, slip off our shoes and stand in the calm waters at the base of a secondary falls, hike back up, and call a taxi back to the hotel in time for checkout. 

Our arrival at the park--wet from the rain and very happy! 

Day Three: We went on a sunset catamaran tour.
We all agreed that it would be worth it to spend the money on a sunset catamaran trip at Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  The price included dinner and drinks, and the boat had 2 jacuzzis, 2 waterslides, and snorkeling equipment, as well as plenty of space to dance or sunbathe and the promise of a dolphin sighting. 

Despite a late start to the trip (standing around baking in the sun on the pier for half an hour makes everyone a little grouchy), it was completely worth it.  The views from the boat were fantastic (and our late start ensured we saw sunset from the water, not from the dock at the end of the trip).  We saw our dolphins, and we danced up a storm.

View of the boat from the front

When the boat stopped for an hour of “play time”, we tried out the waterslide, and a crew member took a liking to us and let all four of us go down in a train.  We also jumped off the 2nd level of the boat into the water…repeatedly.  It was past prime snorkeling time by that hour, so the water was murky, but we spent our time playing instead and didn’t mind at all.  I think all four of us would agree the catamaran was a highlight of the entire trip.


Day Four: I saw four sloths and a bunch’a monkeys. 
Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest park in Costa Rica, but also one of the most beautiful, and it is filled with amazing biodiversity.  On our last morning, Analisa and I hired a guide for a tour of the park, and we were consequently treated with views of animals there is no way we would have found on our own.  Our guide, Katia, had a great eye, and she pointed out sloths, monkeys, camouflaged lizards, giant spiders, sleeping bats, and leaf cutter ants.  Using her scope in combination with our digital cameras, we were able to get great pictures of the animals high in the treetops. 

Could this guy get any cuter?!

Our tour ended at the beach, and Analisa and I had only 20 minutes to enjoy the pristine waters before heading back to our hotel to be ready for check-out.  It wasn’t enough time; but even in the few minutes we were in the water, 4 raccoons tried to make off with my backpack (which didn’t even have food in it!).  Thankfully we were alerted by another beachgoer and shooed them away. 

All in all?  A very successful four day weekend.  

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