Costa Rica

December 17, 2016 - January 2 3, 2017

with Andrew Chapman
mru 2017-01-11, 10:47 am

 

Brief

Following two previous Christmas-time vacations with Andrew (Morocco and Sri Lanka), we visited Costa Rica this year.  I'd never been south of Tijuana before, nor had Andrew been to CR.  The weather was miserable back in Boston but hot and sunnny in most of CR.  We toured five cities in the central and central western part:  San Jose, Monteverde, Tamarindo, Montezuma, Jaco.  The first is a dull capital, the second has the cloud forest and is wet and cool, and the rest are surfing towns catering to the young.  We rented a car to make day excursions possible and to avoid uncomfortable, overcrowded inter-city buses.

A lot of foreigners are moving to Costa Rica and it is easy to see why:  friendly people, safe society, some decent roads and infrastructure.  Unlike surrounding countries, you can drink the water.  The power faded for a second once, but never went out (or surged) and internet is everywhere.  And of course the weather is warm and the days are close to 12 hours year-round.  There are two seasons, dry (December-April) and wet (June-November, roughly).  There are pretty flowers at all times of year, but the the rainy season has many more.

I went ziplining high above a valley, bungee-jumped, took a number of nature walks, toured a sustainable farm, enjoyed some good local food, and drove on some awful roads.  Mainly, it was warm and sunny and full of nature.  An excellent vacation.

Everywhere we went the local people were friendly and helpful, supporting a recent study finding CR the happiest country in the world (Time Magazine (2014); The Independent (2016)).

The most elite network of Costa Rican Hotels is called the Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica, of which there are only ten, and somehow we stayed at two (Hotel Belmar And Villa Caletas) and dined at two more (Grano de Oro and FlorBlanca).


Route, less clear but with colors

Route, large-scale

Close-up of Route
 

Traveling Light
 
Teaser:  Andrew on our penultimate day (with a little friend at bottom left)
   


Daily

Day 1: Travel (Boston -> Miami -> San Jose) (Saturday, 12/17)

Up at 5:30 am after little sleep.  Caught Uber at 6:05.  Turns out it was slow to arrive because there was a snow storm!  Got through airport security easily (pre-TSA approved) but the flight sat on the tarmac for 90 minutes due to iced wings.  My Miami layover was only 1 hour!  But the Boston flight somehow gained a half hour, my connection was delayed the same, and the gates were adjacent -- so I got to San Jose.

Failed to get cash from an ATM machine near airport.

We taxied to the Hotel Presidente, where we found massive rooms and not much of a restaurant.  The hotel rises above a popular clothing store on the ground floor.  The location was a few short blocks from the center.  Costa Rican towns and cities are laid out with North-south streets called "calles"  and east-west "avenidas".  (West of Avenida Central are even-numbered calles -- 2, 4, 6... -- and east are the odd-numbered ones -- 1, 3, 5... -- while north of Calle Central are the odd-numbered avenidas and so forth.)

Dinner at a disappointing international restaurant (Magnolia).  Three days was too long to stay in San Jose.  There is little of interest there.

 
De-icing Airplane Wings in Boston
Movie: Teaser of the Tropics (taken near Malpais)
Approaching San Jose
 

Passport Stamp

Hotel Presidente Room  
 
Hotel Presidente Room
 

Downtown San Jose

Ugliest Building in San Jose (Soc. Sec.)
   

Day 2: San Jose: Museums of Gold and Coins;  Jade Museum (Sunday, 12/18)

The Museo de Banco Nacional has two interesting exhibitions near town center:  1) The history of Costan Rican coins, which teaches you a lot about coins in general;  and 2) Pre-Columbian gold and pottery.   I didn't find the latter interesting except the pre-Columbian history was fascinating.

In the afternoon I visited the Jade Museum.  The process of making jade is intriguing, but again the pre-Columbian history was the best part.

We taxied to a grand restaurant to make up for the disappointing one yesterday.  The Grano de Oro was extremely elegant and the food was good.



Shaman Exhibit at Jade Museum
     

Grano de Oro Atrium

Grano de Oro Bar

Grano de Oro Sitting Room
 

Heart of Palm Salad is a Delicacy in CR

Appetizer

Salmon
 
       

Day 3: San Jose:  Central Market & Salsa Lizano (Monday, 12/19)

Walked 3 miles, visiting the San Jose post office, Mercado Central, and tomorrow’s car rental pickup point.   The Mercado Central is a tent-covered square block of densely packed kiosks selling all sorts of food and home goods.

Discovered “Salsa Lizano”, a ubiquitous tableside (and cooking) condiment of Costa Rica.  You would be hard-pressed to guess what is in it, or even why you like it.  The Wikipedia reports it was developed by Mr. Lizano in 1920, and "It is slightly sweet with a hint of spiciness lent by black pepper and cumin.  The ingredients include water, sugar, salt, vegetables (onions, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers), spices, pepper, mustard, and turmeric."  I've ordered a bottle from Amazon.

Dinner at an Argentinean steak house Andrew discovered, Restaurante Tenedor Argentino.  Tasty but a lot of meat.  Great empanadas.

 
Salsa Lizano
 
Salsa Lizano Ingredients
   
 
Restaurante Tenedor

Tenedor Motto

Hunk of Beef
 
       

Day 4: San Jose -> Monteverde;  Night Hike (Tuesday, 12/20)

Taxi & Hotel Belmar

Taxied to car rental.  The Jimmy I'd reserved was damaged so we got a free upgrade to a Daihatsu Terios.  Used Waze to get out of San Jose, but the route was extremely convoluted.  We eventually got onto Highway 1, the Pan-American Highway, a mere a two-lane road, and driving was not difficult.  But then evidently there was a major accident that closed Rt 1, because Waze rerouted us along a long and mountainous detour.

Hotel Belmar in Monteverde is beautiful.  We relaxed, I took a dip in the big communal jacuzzi (Andrew had a private one in his room).


Rental Car
   

Belmar's front yard.  The communal pool is at front left.

Belmar Deck

Belmar Deck

Andrew's room

View from my Balcony (Ocean sometimes visible)

Sunset on deck
Night Hike & Dinner

At 5:15 pm I departed on a "Night Hike" in Curi Cancha, one of the better spots into the cloud forest.  The guide was a passionate naturalist, impressive in the breadth and depth of his knowledge.  It was cold and rainy, such that my light Patagonia windbreaker eventually started letting water in.  Our small group (ca. 6) saw birds and a big mouse sleeping in tree branches.  The animals do not flee, because it is more dangerous to move around in the dark than to suffer a flashlight from the ground.  The highlight was a tarantula.  The guide summoned it out of its ca. 9" hole with a long twig.  The thing emerged ready for battle.  The myriad white spots on its back are her babies.  Things we saw:

o Tarantula in its den, laden w eggs on her back. Guide coaxed her out w a stick.
o Warbler
o Baltimore oriole
o Thrush (Swainson)
o Big mouse on tree branch
o Weevil (beetle)
o Wolf spider, big, on underside of a leaf
o Bats
o (white moths)
o Many strangler fig trees, massive trees that start by growing on the branches of a host tree and dropping roots far down to the earth below. They grow all around the host, which dies and leaves a hollow cylinder in the middle.


Night Hike Party

Wolf Spider under leaf

Looking up the inside of a Strangling Fig Tree
 

Mouse Sleeping on a Branch

Movie:  Costa Rican Red Tarantula emerges from hole
Warning: This is a big file (70 MB)

We were 45 minutes late in returning, shivering cold, but Andrew was waiting patiently.  Belmar may be beautiful but the food is not very good.  ABC said they were trying too hard.

 

Day 5: Monteverde:  Ziplining;  Sustainable Farm Tour (Wednesday, 12/21)

Ziplining

Up at 6:30 am for 7:20 pm departure for ziplining with Andrew.  The site was about 20 miles north, across the Guanacaste county line.  First we had orientation, then there were a couple of short runs to build our confidence, and finally there were two long, high runs between adjacent hills.  (The second served to bring you back to base.)  On these runs you are hundreds of feet above the forest/farm valley floor.  On this occasion it was raining hard.  (I was underdressed, just in t-shirt and shorts.)  On these runs you can take the conventional posture, which is facing perpendicular to the direction of travel, with legs crossed and knees bent, or you can "do superman", which is where you are suspended from your back instead of chest, and you can stick your arms out like an airplane.  Being fearful of heights, it took a lot of gumption to do these runs.


Andrew Shines

Training Run

Training Run
 

Training Run

Long Zipline #1

Zipline Platform
 

Zipline Movie (someone else)
"Superman" Setup Movie    

Returning from the other hill

Returning from the other hill

Returning from the other hill
 
Tarzan Jump

The finale of the ziplining package was the "Mega Tarzan Jump".  It is like a bungee jump except after a period of freefall you swing, experiencing secondary periods of freefall at the apex of each swing.


Tarzan Jump

Tarzan Jump

Tarzan Jump Preparation
 

Movie: The Jump

Mother & son cats groom each other while waiting to leave
   
       
Sustainable Farm Tour

After lunch Andrew and I took the tour of the Hotel Belmar's farm.  Apart from the guide (Frazier), we were the only two on it.  We took a 20 minute ride to the farm in the lowlands.  The tour was created after many guests had inquired where the restaurant's farm-to-table originated.  The farm produces bananas, coffee, sugarcane, milk and chicken eggs.  The animals, including horses and a pig, are considered pets and are not slaughtered.  Grass is grown to feed the animals.

We were greeted by a bevy of various animals -- dogs, cattle, a pig.  The cattle were being driven inside to feed and be milked.

The farm is certified as organic and carbon-netural by a national authority.  Their waste (animal & power) is measured, as is the trees' biomass.  If there are enough trees, the farm is certified.  The owner had to buy some adjacent land to achieve this.  Because no pesticides can be used, pests get a third of the coffee beans. Leafcutter ants are a pest.  They would like to remove the anthill (see below) but it is difficult.

We saw the free-range chickens, the platform on which coffee beans are dried (before they are handed off to a commercial roaster), and we extracted a drink from a staff of sugarcane.  We ran the staff through a simple two-gear press, where the liquid passed through a cloth filter into a bucket.  It tasted sweet, but not intensely, and had interesting flavors.


Parrot seen en route

Barnhouse

Cattle at Trough
 

Movie: Milking Time

Banana Anatomy

Coffee Plants
 

Leafcutter Ant Damage

Leafcutter Anthill

Table for drying coffee beans
 

The stick of sugarcane we pressed

Sugarcane pressed and strained

Freerange chickens
 
       

The finale was making hot cups of fresh coffee.  We were invited to clean up first, when a scorpion was discovered in the sink.  (The guide somehow picked it up and gently placed it outside.)


Movie: Scorpion trapped in sink

Andrew at top of barn stairs
 
     

Day 6: Arenal volcano excursion; Lunch in Tiranal (Thursday, 12/22)

We wanted to see a volcano, having missed the Volcán Irazu, so set off to see Arenal.  5 km into the trip the road turned terrible.  Parts were washboard, others had sharp stones projecting up.  After 25 km of this, fair pavement returned.  We had given up on getting to our goal, but drove around the lake a little.  A good lunch in Tiranal, but otherwise not very interesting.  We returned via Canas and the Pan American Highway (Rt. 1), which was twice the distance and half the time.

 

PHOTOS: 


Drive out (red); Drive back (blue)

Countryside

Countryside
 

"Typical" Lunch: Gallo Pinto, Eggs, Beef in sauce, fried plantains, squash.

Countryside
   
       

 

Day 7:  Monteverde:  Morning Nature Hike;  Drive to Tamarindo;  Dinner at Dragonfly (Friday, 12/23)

Nature / Birdwatching Hike in Cloud Forest

I attended a morning nature/birdwatching hike, in the same area (Curi-Cancha) as the night walk, and led by the same fellow (Frazier) as yesterday's farm tour.  It was fun but not as interesting as the night hike or the farm tour, in part because Frazier was busy finding birds.  We learned that trees in the tropics don't have rings.

 


Tree branches like this fallen one support a great deal of plant and animal life

Branches supporting life

White-Nosed Coati
 


Some common rodent: Kaladi?

Tiniest Orchid

Blue-crowned mot mot
 

Wasp laid eggs on coffee leaf

Beehive

Movie: White-nosed Coati
 

Hummingbird Feeder

Movie: Hummingbirds

Guava Tree
 
       
Drive to Tamarindo, a small surfing town

11:30 am: We hit the road, I driving.  I hadn't eaten, so we stopped at a roadside restaurant ("Jupris") that was surprisingly good.  It was an easy highway drive, with a pretty flat basin valley leading into Tamarindo.  Here are pictures of Tamarindo, our hotel, and my dinner plate at The Dragonfly.


Tamarindo Beach

Beach

One of two small strips
 

Surfboard Rentals

Picturesque Mall (atypical)
   

Hotel Gardenia

Hotel Gardenia

I'd never seen a gutter take the form of an iron chain.
 

Thai Beef Salad at Dragonfly
     

After dinner, while we got cash at an ATM, I noticed by main credit card (CapitalOne Quicksilver) was missing.  Did I leave it at Hotel Belmar?

 

Day 8:  Explored beaches north of Tamarindo:  Dinner at Flying Bull (Saturday, 12/24)

Hotel Belmar called to say they had my credit card; they hadn't returned it to me at checkout.  They will send it by courier, arriving tomorrow at 12:30 pm.

Tamarindo was a small town without interest so we drove north along the coast.  We were disappointed the national park at Playa Grande was marine-only.  There was nothing to do there so we had cool drinks & chips at the attractive Hotel las Tortugas.  We carried onwards up the coast to Puerto Viejo/Playa Conchal.  At this point the road turned into a beach road: rough and occasionally breaking onto lengths of beach.  The novelty of this was nerve-wracking, but it wasn't bad.

The beach road ended at Brasilito, where we had lunch at the Brasilito Hotel.  From there we took main roads back -- longer but much easier and quicker.


Playa Conchal

Harold at Playa Conchal

Movie: Driving the Beachside Road
 

Crossing the Beach

Brasalito

Shrimp, orange & radish atop a thick piece of bread
 
       

We had dinner back in Tamarindo at the Flying Bull.  I was unimpressed, except by the barker Santos, who was ca. 55, energetic as a yoyo, and friendly as a Seventh Day Adventist.  Of course, the dinner was outside like most all dining, which was nice.

 

Day 9:  Best Western Pool;  Dinner at Matapalo (Sunday, 12/25)

The courier delivered my credit card in a timely fashion by Costa Rican standards (12:45 instead of 12:30).  The driver lingered and I thanked him.  ABC shook his head after the driver left and said, "You know he wanted a tip, didn't you?"  I felt terrible.  P.S. I overtipped the maids for several days.

We drove off and followed a van we spotted that might have been the courier.  But they all look alike (white mini-buses with "Turismo" painted on the bottom).  But t'was not he.

Andrew was disappointed by the small and shadowy pool at the Hotel Gardenia.  He had read that the Best Western 10 miles north was offering, for $20, pool access and $15 of food.  I drove us there and it was great.   I'm not much into sun, but I studied Spanish in the shade and got a swim in.


Best Western Pool

BW Pool


More pool!
 

There was various wildlife at the pool, notably these white-winged doves

Lunch at BW
   

Dinner at Matapolo

Matapolo Menu#1

Matapolo Menu#2
 

Andrew's Appetizer

Tuna Carpaccio
   

It was Christmas Day and the restaurants we fancied were full.  I got us a table at Matapolo, one of the fanciest in town, but it was disappointing.  The bushy-tailed young waiter tried to create a rapport with me by asking my name ("Harry") and saying his father had the same name.  (Nope.)  The bottle of wine Andrew ordered was severely corked.  The food did not agree with my stomach.  'Nuf said.  As Andrew has said in other cases, the restaurant was trying too hard;  their menu was fancier than they could deliver.  Though I'd settle for anything that didn't give me diarrhea.

 

Day 10:  From Tamarindo to the lovely Casitas Sollevante in Montezuma; Terrible dinner at a famous restaurant (Monday, 12/26)

On from Tamarindo to Montezuma (which is prounounced "Montesuma").  I liked the pool and landscaping back at Hotel Gardenia, but neither of us got much out of Tamarindo.  We took the coastal road south, having brunch in a little restaurant ("La Sodita") in San Juanillo (a tiny spot that is however on the map).  The menu was global and one of the owners was an Israeli just returned from 18 years in a NYC restaurant.  Good eats.


La Sodita storefront.  (The biker was an American talking loudly about buying property.)


La Sodita

La Sodita Menu
 

Cattle pass La Sodita

Who would have guessed this hole in the wall is rated?
   

The coastal road was dreadful, so my great navigator (Andrew) turned us inland.  We found once again it's better to go large distances on paved roads than short distances on bad roads.

Our hotel, Casitas Sollevante, was beautiful, although a very steep mile above the little town.  It consists of a half dozen bungalows surrounding a beautiful rectangular pool directed at the ocean in the distance.  The owner (Marco) is Italian, and the name makes sense in both Italian and Spanish ("Rising Sun Bungalows").  I loved this place which is why there are redundant photos:

       
 

Casitas Sollavente eating area
 

Casitas Sollevante Swimming Pool

Pool


Pool Area
 

Playing Dominoes

Pool in Stormy weather
   
       

For dinner I took us to the very highly touted Playa de los Artistas on the beach.  It was miserable.  We didn't have a bite to eat for an hour.  Andrew summoned the owner, who explained most of the staff were out with the cold that's going around.  (P.S. That I brought home.)  Andrew wrote up a list of things they did wrong.  For amusement, here it is:

1.  Waiting one hour without any food (even bread) to arrive - and no explanation during the time.

2.  Only three copies of the menu, though two dozen patrons.  Menus are so unintelligible that even the waiter said he didn't understand it, and a social member of staff has to be on hand to personally translate - a luxury that a short-handed restaurant cannot afford!

3.  Not telling customers booking by phone that credit cards are not accepted. 

4.  Not taking credit cards is pretentious - even the smallest hole-in-the=wall establishments accept them nowadays.

5.  My three dishes were all bland to taste.

6.  The restaurant served my companion instead of asking him to leave because of his body odour.  But they did at least move us to an outside table...........

7.  No condiments on table.


Playa de los Artistas: Menu 1

Menu 2

Fish
 

It was very dark

Playa de los Artistas by daylight
   
       


Day 11:  Explored Montezuma (Tuesday, 12/27)

We walked down into Montezuma along the extremely steep 0.8-mile road.  Montezuma is small, consisting of four short blocks of shops, but is a cheerful place.  I walked to the Ylang Ylang resort a half-mile up the beach, where we nearly stayed.  There was a strange and pretty cemetery along the way.


Landscape

Montezuma beach

Montezuma beach
 

Beach-side cemetery near Ylang Ylang

Cemetery
   
       

Andrew taxied back to our hotel while I explored more and walked back.  Then we taxied back in for dinner at the Sano Banano ("Healthy Banana"), where I got to have the curry I craved.  It wasn't very good, though I discovered the wonderful guaro sour.  Guaro is a sugar cane-distilled alcoholic drink from Central America.

 

Day 12:  Excursion to Malpais (Wednesday, 12/28)

Andrew suggested a day trip to Malpais, which Forbes has identified as having one of most beautiful beaches in the world.  (The name means "bad land".)  We could drop off the rental car early, see the sights, and have a good meal at a well regarded restaurant.

I drove us along the coastal route and more bad roads.

Turns out there's almost nothing in Malpais town but a surf rental!  The car rental was actually on Playa Carmen to the north.  It is a hideous town, a long, dusty traffic-clogged strip.  I surveyed Brisas del Mar, a highly regarded restaurant with ocean views.  There was a cute iguana by its pool.  We drove north and lunched at the restauant at Florblanca.  Andrew taught me about tontines.


Pretty but rough road

   

Brisas del Mar

Iguana at Pool

Some hotel next to Brisas
 

Florblanca Rest.
     

We returned the car but the paperwork was strange: the San Jose office had inexplicably closed the contract two days before.  We taxied back to Montezuma.  Shrimp dinner at poolside, cooked by Marco the hotelier.

 

Day 13:  Slow day;  Dinner at Tierra y Fuego (Thursday, 12/29)

I took Andrew downtown to enjoy lunch at the place I liked yesterday, Balcon del Mar.  As with yesterday, I walked to and fro, and felt satisfied from the sweaty exertion.

Andrew heard of Tierra y Fuego, and we took the long taxi ride there.  It was only a short thousand feet away from our hotel, but the roads do not run such, so it was a 20 minute taxi ride each way.  Nice dinner.  The childhood friend of Marco, our hotelier, was there solo, and we invited him to our table.  He's in the movies business.

I regret not having photos of the restaurant.  It's comfortable: outdoors under a scaffold, spacious.


Tierra y Fuego.  You can wish but that's not Maggie Gyllenhal facing us.

My guilty pleasure: Homeade sausages.  Diet starts in 2017.

Andrew's pizza
 

Kitchen

The owner attends the forno
   
       

 

Day 14: Boat ride to Jaco;  The lovely Villa Caseletas (Friday, 12/30)

I was sorry to say goodbye to Casitas Sollevante, but anticipated the best hotel was left for last.  We took the boat from Montezuma to Herradura beach.  It was full: 21 passengers and 3 crew.  The big town thereabouts is Jaco, but fortuitously our hotel was in the Herradura hills.


Loading baggage on Montezuma side

Loading baggage

Leaving Montezuma
 
       

We taxied to the lovely and luxurious Villa Caletas.  Behold:



Approach to VC is a mile of private road lined with planters

Ampitheater
 
Billiards
 

The pool at Villa Caletas 
 
Pool
 
Restaurant
 
 
Exercise Room 
 
Sala Martiguez for Internet
 
My room phone had an IP address
 
 
Cantilever Terrace
 
Cantilever Terrace 
 
Cantilever Terrace
 

View from Andrew's Room
     

I explored and played billiards (a happy return to my youth) until my room was ready.  Had the hotel fix my Wifi, which they did immediately (replaced a repeater under the bed).  (Andrew had the same experience the next day.)  Andrew and I met up for an acceptable dinner at the hotel restaurant.

 

Day 15:  La Noche de la Gran Fiesta (Saturday, 12/31/2016)

A lazy day with an early start:  Wakened at 6:04 am by a small earthquake.  Played more billiards.  Lunch with Andrew (we both had tacos).


Breakfast of gallo pinto etc.

Taco lunch

Taco lunch with View
 
       

Our hotel bookings included a mandatory charge for a New Year's Eve dinner.  Last night Andrew was told it would be at 7.  We showed up on the stroke, but the staff was in a huddle.  We learned it was at 8, and returned accordingly. 


Staff huddle 
 
Dinner table (1 of ~15)
   
       

 We came back after 8 and sat for 75 minutes.  We were offered three select bottles of wine, but upon questioning they were $350, $275 and $150.  We were galled that these were being pushed without revealing the prices.  Indeed, the next day Andrew was in Reception where a guest was complaining over the surprise wine bill.  However, about half the guests looked to be the sort a $350 bottle of wine would not discomfort.  (Andrew said we were the poorest there, riding on the coattails of the others.)  An hour later we were dying of hunger.  Andrew was complaining aggressively, and was responsible for management relenting at 9:15 pm.  There was a truly amazing spread, consisting of a dozen large stations, which these few photos do not do justice to:


Bread table 
 
Mussels, Prawns, Sashimi, Ceviche, Sushi 
 
Desserts
 

Meats area 
 
Roast Suckling Pig
 
 
Roast Beef & Turkeys

Ceviche 

Cooks Pose 
 
 
My first plate (of two)
     

We left well before midnight, but later in my room I heard two discharges.  On my balcony I witnessed an impressive 10-minute fireworks display.

 

Day 16:  Excursion to Jaco (Sunday, 1/1/2017) 

Early lunch with Andrew, who pointed out an iguana a few feet behind me, looking like he was demanding a table.   But he opted to sunbathe on the scaffolding.  It turned out he was hungry and was just headed in a roundabout way to the vegetarian buffet outside.


An Iguana enters a bar... 
 
Iguana prefers sunbathing to a table
 
Like "The Dude", Andrew abides...
 

Our boy is hungry

Feeding...
 
       

We didn't think there would be much of interest in the nearby population center Jaco, but wanted to see it and have dinner there.  I suggested we leave at 3; Andrew thought 3:30 pm.  We taxied at 3:30 pm but should have made it 4:30 pm.  Jaco is a sad place.  The beach is filled with happy people, but the area is poor with some of the accompanying seediness and desperation.  I didn't feel unsafe, just mismatched.   There was a mix of perhaps 2/3 Costa Ricans (local or on holiday) and 1/3 foreigners.  Following drinks by the beach, we bought coffee and chocolate and dined at Andrew's choice, a pizzeria where we could monitor the street life.  I was interested to know what Jaco looked like, but really the luxury hotel was better in all ways.

There was a massive traffic jam going from Jaco to San Jose, and unfortunately our hotel was on the way.  There were about 25 cars broken down (overheated?) along the way, but this was not the cause of the jam.


Jaco beach

I like this better, it's more tropical-looking

Quite-nice Bahama Mama on the Jaco beach
 

Andrew

Return to Hotel:  Badly stuck in traffic.
   
       

Andrew suggested a nightcap for our last night together and it was nice.  I will miss Andrew, guaro sours and warm weather.

 

Day 17:  Ill-Fated Journey Home (1/2/2017)

I bid goodbye to Andrew and took a taxi to San Jose airport.  Scenic drive.  The flight to Miami went smoothly but then ...  The US Customs and Border Protection computers went down for 90 minutes at exactly the wrong time.  (CNN story)  I arrived about 6:20 pm.   The outage was from 5 to 9pm.  I joined literally 5,000 other people in lines trying to clear passport control.   The first line, ca. 70 minutes, led to the "passport receipt" kiosks, where you answer if you're bringing in fruit or lots of cash.  I waited in the next line, even longer, until about 8:40 pm, half an hour after my connection was scheduled to depart.  About then I asked the boy next to me what the "Servicing X" marquis lettering meant, which was in every passport control line.  He said everyone had an "X" on their recipt.  But I didn't.  He said that meant I didn't have to stand in this line.  Damn me!  And so it was.   Discontent #1: The official who moved me into the American re-entry passport line didn't look at my receipt.  I would have been out of there in half the time, and easily made my connection.  (My receipt read "proceed to nearest exit", but from my perspective that was the next line, not leaving the airport.  My stupid.)

On exit from the security zone there were two choices:  Connecting flights and Rebooking.  I thought I'd missed my flight (as supported by FlightView), so went to rebooking, which was just a long walk to American Airlines problem resolution.  Discontent #2:  There was no flight monitor or airline representative at this point.  Turns out my flight was delayed a half hour, and perhaps I might have just made it.  Instead, I waited another 90 minutes in line with other dispirited travelers.  They booked me on an afternoon flight the next day, and suggested trying standby for the 7 am flight.

I was in lines from 6:20 until 10:00 pm.  I couldn't find the shuttle mentioned, so I taxied to the Holiday Inn proferred as offering a "distressed traveller" rate ($99 + ~ $20 taxes).  Ravenous, devoured a most delicious steak in the hotel restaurant.  It was far more satisfying than any food I'd had in Costa Rica.  Set the alarm for 5am and slept.


Leaving Costa Rica
   

The first line

The first line, getting close to the "passport receipt" kiosks
 

The third line, Rebooking.  The news media is there.

News Media

Heavenly steak dinner

 

Day 18:  Journey Home (1/3/17)

I Ubered back to the airport, as the taxi had been $41.65 plus $5 tip.  Uber was $11.70 + $5 tip.  Waited and waited.  None of the standbyers were accepted.  Ubered back to hotel ($13.53 + tip) and rested a few hours (couldn't sleep).

I wanted to hang out in the hotel restaurant for the afternoon, spread out my laptop and work, but they were closed, so I Ubered back to the airport ($13.74 + tip) and found a friendly tex-mex restaurant to plug in my laptop and spread out.  The flight back to Boston was uneventful.  Irfan, a true friend, picked me up and brought me home.


Leaving Miami, Amen

Leaving Miami, Hallelujah

Arrival at rainy, cold Logan
 

Home at last
     

 

 

Animals

Costa Rica claims 6% of the world's biodiversity.   If you live here, iguanas are commonplace and monkeys are annoying close neighbors.  Black vultures were omnipresent, far more common than the hawks I know.  Following are animals I saw that haven't appeared above. 


Great-Tailed Grackle at Spot Brasalito (12/24)  These are common and noisy.

Movie:  Great-tailed Grackle  (Hotel Gardenia 12/25)
2016-12-27 Black birdsong near Ylang Ylang.mov  

Bird deceased near Montezuma beach

White-Throated Magpie-Jay at Florblanca
2016-12-27 IMG_2101 Black bird song near Ylang Ylang.mov  

Variegated Squirrel (Montezuma, 12/29)

Lizards in porch lamp shade (Montezuma)

Blue iguana (Montezuma)
 

Blue iguana at Villa Caletas

White-Throated Magpie-Jay (Tortuguera Hotel)

Bird deceased on my Villas Sollevante porch
 

Movie:  Iguana Feeding at Villa Caletas

Willet (?)

Montezuma Butterfly
 
 
Black Vulture
     

I happened to be waiting for the New Year's Eve feast outside on the hall's balcony.  There was a strange rustling, so I used my flash to get this:


Lizards in the dark 
     
       

 

Glossary

soda Small, family restaurant offering "comida typical"
comida Food
Tico / Tica A Costa Rican person
Pura vida! The national motto, meaning pure life, but indicating the good Costa Rican life.  Sometimes used as a greeting / parting.
colón / colones The national currency.  Divide by a thousand and multiply by two to convert roughly to dollars.  Named after Christopher Columbus, known as Cristóbal Colón in Spanish.
abierto / cerrada Open / closed
puente angosto Narrow bridge.  One side has right of way so look to see which.
interseccione adelante Hidden (blind) intersection
gallo pinto Literally "spotted rooster", is rice & beans, best with herbs.  (Compare to Hoppin' John of the U.S. South.)

 

Impressions

 

Culture & Language

Costa Ricans are generally happy.  They are family-oriented.  English is spoken by many, especially youth, andparticularly in the tourist industry.

 

Food

Don't go to Costa Rica for the food, but the seafood is good and fresh.  Ceviche is everywhere, odd due to the hot climate -- but the fish can be caught fresh.  The two most famous foods are gallo pinto (rice & beans) and salsa Lizano.  Weirdly, pizza is popular.  I'm trying to understand why Mexican food is common, e.g tacos, enchiladas, burritos and quesadillas.

 

Transporation

You must learn the condition of the roads you will take before you drive.  We learned several times that it is not worthwhile taking a direct route if the roads are poor.  There is extensive inter-city bus service, but probably not comfortable.

Camera

For the first time I used a phone camera.  This is the iPhone 7, which has a marvellous camera.  A high-magnification lens would have been useful at times, but there's no beating the convenience of the thing in your pocket.