Thursday, April 28, 2016

Costa Rica

In 2014 winter, I was planning for the trip to Costa Rica with my family and finally we made it in 2015 summer.
In 2014, I was about to book the ticket in Orbitz, for some reason I felt like checking my passport and I realized that my passport was WP_20150719_04_27_08_Progoing to expire in 3 months. Good that I didn’t book the ticket, otherwise I would have wasted my money. Unfortunately lots of Asian and African countries are required to have 6 plus months validity period, otherwise no one knows which point of time our travel will be blocked, so better to make sure that we are not in that grey period. Still I am not sure, what we can do with that 6 months period and for what that passport will be used during that period? Let us not worry about the restrictions that they are having on Asian and African countries.
In 2015, in the month of April we revived the planning. This trip was completely organized by my wife. She took lots of time to discuss with multiple travel agents and travel sites. Finally she chose 2 places in Costa Rica i.e Guanacaste and La Fortuna.
WP_20150718_06_50_49_ProOn July, 18th early morning we boarded the flight from Houston(IAH). On 17th, moment we came from office, we loaded all the bags in our minivan and hit the road by 7PM. We reached Houston at night 2’o clock and parked our vehicle at Park 'N Fly for a week. Park ‘N Fly provided shuttle to go to IAH and stayed at Airport for 2 hours till we checked in our luggage. The duration of the flight is 3 hours, for me, it was only 10 minutes because rest of the time I slept away. In American Airlines, we don’t have anything to miss much.
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18th of July - Day 1 – Travelling from San Jose to La Fortuna – Rain Forest & Arenal Volcano.
At San Jose airport, converted some USD to local currency. I thought $100 was enough for the complete local expenditure, but with in few hours, I realized that converted currency was not sufficient for a day also. From Monroe, LA itself we booked a car at the Enterprise rentals. After reaching at the Enterprise office only we learnt that local insurance is mandatory. Car rental is something around $20 per day, but insurance per day is $24. It was completely surprising to us. Few travelers throughout the trip used only a shuttle service. We were arm twisted to pay for that insurance also, because we didn’t have any other alternative plan to say NO to that. In fact, every tourist who rent a car ought to pay that expensive insurance, it was not something for us alone, in that way I was happy. I heard from other traveler that American Express card holders can get away from that costly insurance if they are planning in advance. This car insurance made me to feel that there was some dent in our plan, but actually it was not.
Just 3 hours flying distance from Houston, I felt like I came to some remote place on the other side of the earth. Not even a pinch of resemblance of the western touch, such a drastic difference. Nothing to do much in San Jose. After we got a rental car, immediately we started to La Fortuna. Another surprise was, our American Garmin GPS didn’t catch any addresses in Costa Rica. Luckily I took my Nokia Mobile, which has its built in GPS capability. Through out my trip, we made sure Nokia is fully charged, like how Captain James Cook used to look after his ship, because Captain cook didn’t know swimming, likewise we also don’t know any route in Costa Rica and also not even a single word in Spanish. In Costa Rica addresses were not well defined or not so structured. Roads are also not in good condition. If you managed to go by 50KM/hour, either you are an excellent driver or you are driving in a nice road. Now itself you would have got some idea about the challenges we underwent during our stay.
This country is close to the equator, but our peak summer time is their mild winter time.
Is there anything called peak winter in Costa Rica?
No, nothing called peak winter or summer. On the average,  temperatures spans between 70oF to 80oF.
Especially for the Indians, you will feel like passing through our local villages. People also looks like Indians only. In all the local grocery shops, at least I got the feeling of our Marriappan store or Apana Bazar. In any trip, no point in just visiting only the tourist spots or resorts. To get a feel of the location, we have to drive by our self, we have to taste the local food and without fails visiting local market is more advisable. Then only the purpose of the trip will be completed.
According to Google, from San Jose to La Fortuna was only 3 hours, but road conditions and road signs will make the trip more time consuming and adventurous. The good thing in this country is, every where we could see the people. Nothing called remote or no man land. During this 5 hours trip, we passed through so many small towns. When ever you feel like drinking coffee or like to eat, in every 5 minutes you can find some restaurants. None of the restaurants are air conditioned. Everything is open, at the entrance itself you can check the menu and you can decide whether to order the food or not.
IMAG2313At least if you know little bit of Spanish, you can make sure, you are ordering what you want to eat. Very first day, we struggled to convey what we would like to eat. First day to order a Chicken Pinto Rice, I made a sound like chicken and for Fish, moved my hand like a fish. Finally that restaurant guy, took me to his kitchen and asked me to show him, what I want to eat. In their menu, wide varieties of fruits juice are available.  Without fails, we have to taste Cost Rican coffee, Pinto rice and Plantain fruit pan fry. No one can escape from the pinto rice, because all 3 times in a day, it is part of their menu. Then the guy who is in restaurant taught me two words.
chicken->pollo; Fish=> Pescado
In a week stay what I have observed is, except few business owners, no one is rich or not in dire poverty. People are leading simple and contended life. Cost of living is very high for Americans too. Sky rocketing house rents and meager salary, very high essential commodity prices, locals are just ekes in a big city with the big dreams of shortly escaping from that life style to near by bigger countries. Every where we can find road side shops and retails. Though it looks very simple, every shop is having Wi-Fi facility and use of iPhones are also prevalent. In all the restaurant, we use their Wi-Fi to connect to the online English-Spanish translator and we used to tell the item we would like to order. After the Costa Rica visit, I realized happiness is nothing to do with the money and knowledge is nothing to do with English language. Where ever I enquire someone either for a food or small help or route, finally I decided to say Thank you in Spanish and learnt that word.
Thank you=>Gracias
In the restaurants also non vegetarian foods are very expensive and it is not at all affordable to Costa Ricans. For short term visits, tourists don’t mind much about costs, but in long term costs can't be taken lightly. Costa Rica is having abundant water resource, consistently warm weather and fertile land, even then the local produce is not sufficient enough.
There was a heavy rain, when we were going to La Fortuna. In La Fortuna, we stayed in Las Lagos resort and it is close to the Arenal volcano. Mostly every resort is having water from the natural Geyser. When we check in to the resort, they will provide a pass and all the time it needs to be on our wrist. In the evening time we can have fun in the warm water pool and bar. Every drink we buy, just we need to show our wrist pass and it will be charged to our room. Cash transaction is not that much entertained and tips are also not expected.
When I was travelling through a small town, saw one medium shopping mall. Really I am so surprised to see Sharuk Khan and Katrina Kaif banner in front of that mall. As it was raining I didn’t have time to stop and take a photo.
In another motel, I stopped to take a coffee, but don’t know how to ask them coffee with milk and sugar. The server lady also didn’t know how to ask what kind of coffee I want. Actually she wanted to ask black coffee or coffee with milk. What a coincidence, both of us trying to ask the same, but couldn’t ask. Finally that lady, said coffee and touched her skin to convey white coffee, showed my skin to covey black coffee. Now I learnt 2 new words.
Milk => leche; Black => negro;
Coffee was not hot enough, by gesture I made her to understand like steam coming out of coffee. She taught me 2 more new words
hot => caliente; cold => frío
Small town or big town, kids or adults, everywhere, everyone is playing soccer like how Indians are interested in Cricket.
19th of July - Day2: La Fortuna Water Fall & Arenal Hanging Bridges
Cafeteria and reception desk is next to each other. Inside the resort, we can’t use our car. Anywhere we would like to go inside the resort, either we have use the local shuttle service or we have to go by walk.  Morning break fast and local shuttle service inside the resort is included as part of the resort booking. Wi-Fi facility is also available close to the reception and Cafeteria only. We went to La Fortuna Water Fall, we need to hike down for around 30 minutes. I heard that local non profit association is administering the water fall area and are collecting entrance fee of $8 to their conservation effort.
In the afternoon, we went to Arenal hanging brides. It is a very huge forest reserve. We booked guide to walk through 2 miles trail includes multiple hanging bridges and fixed bridges. Our guide showed us, unique plants and snakes which can be seen only in Cost Rica. Walking through such a dense forest and seeing such a huge natural reserve, was such a pleasant experience. The smell of the forest itself will give you very healthy feeling. Most of the people don’t know English and during their conversation in Spanish, they are not using a single English word, so it was very difficult for us to understand their context of discussion. Obviously no need to understand everything around us, in fact we will feel more relaxed.
20th of July - Day 3: Canopy Tour and Arenal Volcano National Park
WP_20150719_20_16_48_ProAs it was Monday, resort was not that crowded as last 2 days. Daily we used to go to front desk to plan our trip for the day either by browsing in the tablet or discussing with the concierge service.
We went for zip lining. It goes inside the dense rain forest for 2km with around 11 cable laps. In every lap, we will be reaching the deck arranged on the thick tree branch or between 2 tree branches. To the next lap with the help of guide, we need to change our hook to the next cable. For safety reasons we are advised to hook to the new cable then unhook from the old cable and one person is allowed to go at a time so as not to clash or overweigh in a cable. In hand we will be given leather glove to control the speed, so all the time one hand will be on the cable. Some people will hold it too tight to reduce the speed and in the middle of cable if it stops, then it is so painful to pull our self to the next deck. When we are reaching close to the deck, we have to reduce the speed. It is really adventurous and a good experience to see a forest from the top and travel through it. At the end we are served fruits and snacks. It was a 2 hours tours, $80 per person.
Then we started driving to the volcano national park. To get into the park, we need to drive 30 minutes away from city. On the way, suddenly we got a doubt about the route that we were going. To confirm the direction, we enquired one girl who was going by walk and came to know she is also going to the same place. Then we gave her a ride to the park. When talking to her we leant that she is a Canadian with Chinese ethnicity. She is travelling for last 2 years and lived in multiple places from Australia, France and Italy. She was doing some daily work to live and also she pointed out that her parents are so concerned about her. Obviously she might be so confident but such kids are a big headache to parents. During this 15 minutes discussion, we understood that her aim is to learn and gain the worldly experience, but for some indefinable reason I didn’t believe what she said, so I was not at all comfortable and decided not see her again in the volcano trekking. In the entrance, they collected $30 for four of us and we walked for 2 hours close the dormant volcano view and directions were not clearly given in the woods. With the help of water steam sound, we walked down from the hill for another one and half hours. In the near by village, we had our lunch. On the way back to our hotel, we saw lots of people were going under the bridge with swimming suite. We enquired few tourists and came to know that there is a natural hot water geyser is open for public. First we went for public one. Few local Costa Rican kids joined with my kids and gave them a good company. In anyway Costa Ricans are not looking different from us. Public access is not so convenient and bit rocky, so we went to the same hot water stream provide by paid hotel access. We were not able to spend too much time in the hot water stream.
21st of July - Day 4: Horseback Ride to Arenal countryside and Allegro Papagayo Liberia
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After 3 hours of horseback ride, atleast I realized appropriate attire is mandatory for horse ride. Immediately my wife and kids learnt to control their horses. If they wanted to go fast, gently they were tapping with their legs on its stomach. The horse given to me would follow the group and in other way to say I could not control my horse. If their horse runs, my horse also runs. I also tried twice to tap with my legs, but it responded to me by neighing, not by running. I was not dare enough to try third time. This was my first long horse ride on a rough mountainous terrain. Comfortably it was walking up through the woods, muds, and rocks. I felt like I was sitting in some high moving chair. After 10 minutes, I gained some confidence on the horse that it will not tumble or slipped down. I was so concerned about the horse that I am going on because I was sitting on top of it. On the way back from the hill, we took a different route and we came through some big lake. All together it was a really fun filled ride through the fresh lake with mountain breeze.
caballos=> Horse; Caballeriza=> Stable
After returned from horse back ride, quickly we packed up our stuff and settled the resort bill and we were driving towards Liberia. Liberia is the nearest biggest city close to our next resort called Occidental Allegro Papagayo.
Occidental => Western; Allegro => Brisk; Papagayo => Parrot.
This resort is the all-inclusive resort with unlimited food and drinks. By evening we reached the resort and dipped into the pool. Everywhere Wi-Fi is accessible only at the food court.
22nd of July - Day 5:
In the morning, we went for Jet Skiing. Our kids were riding and we were sitting behind them. Rest of the time, we were relaxing at the beach and took a Costa Rican massage. Kids enjoyed playing at the beach and pool.
23rd of July - Day 6:
We went by boat to the nearby place owned by the same resort. In the morning water was calm with no tides, so snorkeling was very interesting to watch fish swimming under us. After 1’o clock, when tides got high, we were unable to do snorkeling. After returned to resort, we went to other nearby beach called Playa Del Coco. When we are going out of the resort, the working maid at the resort was waiting at the security booth to go home. We offered her a ride, she came with us till we reach Liberia. We could not talk anything, when ever we look at each other, I used to say “Playa Del Coco” and smile. 5 minutes before we reach our destination, she asked us to stop our car near the bus stop. It seems from there she will catch the bus to go home.
Playa => Beach; Del=> of the; Coco=> Coconut.
Due to its volcanic black soil and muddy water we didn’t like to get into that water. Simply we walked in the beach and back to our resort. In the beach, I was so surprised to see the 2 wheel Ice cream cart which was completely out of practice in India and 20 years ago such carts were quite prevalent.
24th of July - Day 7:
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After breakfast, we packed our stuff and driving back to San Jose.  We passed through lots of small towns and took sufficient breaks in between. Around 1’O clock, when we are passing an another small town, another car hit our car from the back, then both of us pulled over to the sides. Due to language barrier, neither of us could convey each other. I showed him my insurance paper, then he also gave me his insurance paper and using his phone only I asked him to call a traffic cop. They took 1hr to reach the spot and amicably things got settled down. Finally, cop told me few words, “you are good and free to go out of country”. There is no place in the country called no man land, everywhere there are some shops or motels or house or someone going by walk or cycle. We came across around 6 or 7 hairpin bends. For lunch, we stopped at some motel. When we were getting close to San Jose, we could see the transformation that 2 lane roads are broadened to 4 lane roads with safe divider. At evening 7’O clock, we reached San Jose and checked in the hotel Irazu. This hotel is 30 minutes away from our car rental place. We didn’t see any place in San Jose and also I heard that San Jose is just a another city so we are not going to miss anything.
25th of July - Day 8:
Morning we drove to car rental place. After returning the car, rental car company took us to Airport. In the airport there is an exit tax of $29/head. With this receipt only we have to show our passport to get a boarding pass. In the airport, we met one Italian lady and now she is in Atlanta. She said that she came to Costa Rica to sell her inherited property through her biological mom and planning to start a yoga class in Atlanta. Though I was not clear, I didn’t get too much into her biology and step theory. She shared that managing the property in Costa Rica is not that easy and understood that property management companies were not that reliable. She told that she sold her property at a good price, obviously everything is a profit for her because she didn’t pay even a single penny to acquire that property. Before we board the flight, flight authorities told us, my elder son was selected for a check. Initially, I didn’t understand what they mean by that. Later I realized, he had to undergo the security check. On that specific day, same age group boys and girls were asked to undergo the special security checks. As usual no one can understand TSA. In 3 hours, safely we returned to Houston airport. Long-term parking company picked us from the airport.The moment we came out of the airport, we went to some Indian restaurant and had a good Indian food after 9 days. We reached Monroe, LA on 26th of July.
All together we enjoyed the trip and had a pleasant experience in a well-diversified landscape.