Thursday, December 11, 2008

Random Travel Update 34

Last Location: Costa Rica
Arrival Date: November 7, 2008
Departure Date: December 9, 2008

Current location: Tucson, AZ
Arrival Date: December 9, 2008
Departure Date: December 26, 2008

Next location: Banff, Canada
Arrival Date: December 26, 2008
Departure Date: January 4, 2009

Photos at:

Costa Rica is an amazing country. I should have written more from the beach, but I think the photos speak for themselves. If Samara is any indication, then there is no understatement about the quality of beaches in Costa Rica. While in Samara, I explored tide pools and isolated beaches, walked along (and once by accident through) horse fields and river deltas, photographed monkeys and iguanas, was followed and befriended by several local dogs, took Spanish, dance, yoga, aerobics and jewelry making classes on the beach, tried the local firewater (, went on a canopy tour ( of the rarest type of forest in the world-dry tropical, and experienced several dozen turtles all laying their eggs at night on a nearby unoccupied stretch of sand.

After returning to Heredia via a five hour standing-room-only bus trip from Samara, I packed my last week in Costa Rica with a historical music concert by the 10-time Grammy winner Juan Luis Guerra and his band 4 40 (cuatro cuarenta) from The Dominican Republic; a trip to the discotheque for some salsa con mis amigos; a tour of the local Café Britt Coffee Plantation in Barva and a tour of the Rainforest in Nacional Parque Braulio Carillo, in addition to my 20hr/week Spanish lessons.

All of the above activities were outstandingly wonderful and mind tingling. The Juan Luis Guerra ( concert was of pure luck. The show was scheduled for Sunday but was rescheduled due to rain. My teacher told us about it in class on Monday and when I asked the school receptionist about getting tickets, a friendly English student offered to give me and two of my amigas a ride. Getting tickets was another effort since their advertised price was 22,000 colones each (US$40). Way out of budget. After more effort, we discovered that 2 for 1 tickets were being sold for only 18,000 colones at the bank. After going to the bank, we discovered that the deal only applied to those holding a specific credit card which none of us had.

After pondering a bit more and almost giving up, our salsa instructor offered to call his friend who had the requisite card and ask him to pick up some discounted tickets at the bank for us. Since there were three of us, we were going to have to buy an extra ticket, but upon arriving at the bank we found a person selling her ticket for 8,000 colones. So, in all, we ended up with three tickets for a total of 26,000 colones ($16 each) just in time to drop off our books at home, eat a snack and head out to the show which, turned out to be nothing short of magnificent despite the six-inch deep mud trenches we had to trek through on the way there that nearly destroyed all of our shoes.

I spent the rest of the week studying and making the best of my last week at the school. On Friday, I met up with two friends from dance class and their two friends for a night out at the discotheques. Of course, I was terrified about the cigarette situation, but I figured that it was my last weekend and if I got sick, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. I really wanted to experience Salsa in its correct content.

After driving to our preferred club, we found that it was reserved out for a private party so we proceeded to drive to three more discotheques, all booked out by private parties. I didn't mind being driven around since two of the friends we were with were locals and we were able to exchange useful language tips with each other. We ended up at a sort of discotheque mall with over a dozen bars and clubs all in one main area. We found a dance club with a cheap cover that turned out to be perfect. They played salsa and meringue and cumbia and socca and hip hop and even I think a moment of techno. The best part is that it was big and airy with no active smokers in sight. So I was able to stay out late without getting sick.

The next morning I woke up naturally for breakfast at 7am, studied some, and then headed out for my walk to the nearby town of Barva for a tour of the Café Britt coffee factory. It was a sunny blue day and my walk was delightful. The tour too was delightful, if a little bit cheesy, and the tour guides let me demonstrate the proper coffee sampling technique for the audience, which was fun and won me a prize. I can demonstrate later if anyone is interested. Before heading home, I walked to the city of Barva town center and strolled around the central park where they just happened to be having a festival.

On Sunday, I woke up early again to catch a bus from Heredia to the capital city of San Jose in order to catch another bus from San Jose to Guapiles via the Parque Braulio Carillo about an hour north. There I took a delightful tour of the rainforest by Aerial Tram, which you can find info about at It was pouring when I arrived, but I figured that it was likely going to be a lucky day for me since I had just seen the biggest rainbow of my life a few moments earlier on the bus ride up. So, despite being assured by the park staff that it had been raining all week and that it would continue to rain all day, I decided to wait in the giftshop just in case it stopped raining, which it did 15 minutes later.

There were no other tourists around so I had a tram and guide to myself, which meant that I could ask all the questions I wanted, practice my Spanish and have the binoculars all to myself when wildlife emerged. The tram tour was perfect because it traversed all layers of the forest from almost ground level to above the canopy. Did anyone else have the Reading Rainbow when they were kids? Being on the tram felt like being in a scene out of The Reading Rainbow, like I was suddenly transported by rainbow into this densely interesting and educational environment in a far away place.

After the hour and fifteen minute tram ride, my guide took me on a hike through the park pointing out significant or interesting plants along the way. We came across a tiny red and blue poison dart frog and a larger non-poison cute frog taking a nap on the orchid display, a coati, a very cute red oversized rodent-like animal, a huge ant, and a bunch of toucans, including rainbow-billed ones, which are especially pretty looking. Photos are at: Though, the nature of being in the wild and not at a zoo was that the animals ran away pretty quickly in general and so it was not possible for me to get photos of most of them. I was lucky to get an up close shot of the toucans. There are a few more quality-looking photos of wildlife in Costa Rica posted at

After spending a few more minutes writing postcards and sampling the Café Britt chocolates at the gift shop, I returned to Heredia, checked out a dance performance by the local UNA university and ate dinner at my favorite Lebanese joint in Costa Rica, aptly named Comida Lebanesa. At 8pm, I hopped on a bus to Alajuela to catch up with a group to go white water rafting the next morning. Unfortunately, rafting was cancelled due to an overabundance of water on the river so I spent Monday hiking the coffee farm outside the hostel, socializing with the other hotel residents, checking out Alajuela proper and documenting the ant behavior on my bedsheets.

Tuesday saw my return home on a long series of short flights from Alajuela to Houston to Los Angeles to Tucson. Though sad to have left Costa Rica, I am thrilled to be back at home with my mom, dad, hot shower and bug-free bedroom.

Thanks to everyone for your travel tips and Costa Rica advice. It looks like I will have to return to Costa Rica someday to see everything that I missed out on this time.

Now to all my Canada peeps: let me know what's up in Alberta for New Years!