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Costa Rica via Las Vegas
November 09, 2007

The plan was simple, fly into Las Vegas for Halloween weekend, party hard, and then head off to Costa Rica for 10 days, back to Las Vegas, and then back home. Start with perhaps the most artificial destination in the world, and then *bam*, go to the complete opposite of the spectrum, and visit one of the most natural.

Day 1: Las Vegas
- Woke up very early for our flight to Vegas

- Landed and checked into our deluxe accomodations at the Super 8 Las Vegas. Hey, it's a decent location and you can't beat the price.

- Headed to the strip, but we were starving, so had the buffet at Treasure Island.

- Started receiving text messages from Ry and Euge: "Booze is bad". "We're done." Sure enough, when we met up with them, they were drunk and broke. Vegas is a marathon, but these boys like to sprint out of the gate.

- Ry and Euge were passed out by lunch time, so I went to play craps for a few hours. I suck at gambling. I don't mean I'm a bad gambler, I mean I just can't stand giving my money away. Thanks to the Wizard of Odds I learned that one of the best ways to lose money slowly is to play the pass/don't pass line in craps, so that's what I did.

- For dinner I had the $6.99 steak sirloin at Ellis Island. It was alright, a little bland. Their microbrewery has apparently won awards, but I thought the beer was terrible.

- Later that night we went and got our costumes on, lady luck & high roller slash 50's gangster hit the Vegas strip. We were a little disappointed in the Halloween spirit in Vegas. We thought everyone would be dressed up, but that definitely wasn't the case, and our costumes attracted quite a bit of attention.

- We met up with a hungover Hunter S. Thompson and his 300 pound Samoan attorney on the Brooklyn Bridge in front of New York, New York.

- We proceeded to the Empire Ball Room which was having a Halloween party with The Crystal Method as the headliners. Some guy with a big devil suit won the costume contest. The rest is a blur, as my Octane 190 from Fat Tuesday's started to kick in. I do remember walking home on the strip in my socks however.

Day 2: Las Vegas
- Recovered from the previous night.

- Spent the day wandering around Vegas. Ate lunch at hotel Paris, a pretty nice restaurant. I wondered if the waiter's accent was fake, like so many other things in this city.

- That night we boarded our plane, and we were off to Costa Rica!

Day 3: San Jose
- Our flight went from Las Vegas to Miami, and then Miami to San Jose, Costa Rica. Upon landing, we were surprised it wasn't raining. Before leaving we were hearing all sorts of nasty weather reports from Costa Rica, including floods, mudslides, highway closures, etc.

- The shuttle from the Tri-Color rental car agency picked us up, and took us to our Suzuki Jimny. If you think renting a car in North America can take a while, try it in Costa Rica, allow yourself two hours.

- Starting out our journey in the Jimny, we got our first glimpse of Costa Rican drivers. It's an experience in itself, believe me. They love to stop in the middle of the road, even highways, pulling off to the side just isn't customary. It's all very chaotic, but it's an organized chaos, and after a while you get used to it, even enjoy it. You definitely need to be a defensive driver in this country.

- We headed on to the #1 highway, the Pan American highway, and proceeded north towards La Fortuna, stopping for the night at the Tree Houses Hotel. This place has 4 tree houses available to sleep in, but these treehouses are fully equipped with a bathroom, shower, electricity, etc. Definitely a nice way to start.

- Had our first Costa Rican dinner at a local restaurant that night, and practiced our first words of Spanish. Jo quiero cerveza por favor. Costa Ricans love their chicken and rice, and that's exactly what we had, two huge portions of it!

Day 4: La Fortuna
- Drove north into La Fortuna and checked into Linda Vista del Norte. Linda Vista is up a really bumpy dirt road, but well worth the drive, because they have some great views of the Arenal Volcano. The lava moves around from time to time, so we picked Linda Vista based on being able to see the lava flow at night, which was cool.

- Our room had an awesome view of the volcano, and so did the really nice heated pool. This was probably one of the nicest places we stayed at during our trip.

- We drove down to the Arenal observatory lodge, and, well, observed. Then we took a short hike to a waterfall (La Catarata). No snakes. No bugs. This surprised us, we were picturing the Costa Rican forests being chock full of mosquitos and other annoying pests, but I don't think I saw a single mosquito on our entire trip.

- That night we had dinner at our hotel and watched the lava trickle down the side of the volcano. Arenal volcano is often covered in clouds, so you have to wait a while for a clear view.

Day 5: Cano Negro
- Woke up really early for our trip to the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge with Canoa Ventura. I'd read that they were one of only a few companies that take you to see the real Cano Negro. Most of them skimp on the time, gas money and refuge entrance fees by driving to Los Chiles and taking tourists on a boat ride on the Rio Frio - nowhere near the refuge itself.

- On the bus ride to Cano Negro we stopped to see iguanas, sloths, a toucan, and even a few howler monkeys. We had a small breakfast wrap (elephant ears?) and jumped into our boat to cruise down the river.

- From our boat we spotted a lot of birds, and trees full of howler monkeys and spider monkeys. In the water there were Jesus Christ lizards (they walk on water) and caymans.

- At lunch Chris almost sat on a poisonous snake, which was coiled up on the chair.

- After Cano Negro, we headed back to La Fortuna and went for a dip in the Eco Thermales hot springs. They're not nearly as famous as the renowned Tabacon hot springs, but we'd heard that Tabacon was overpriced and crowded. Eco Thermales is run by a family, and it's a lot more intimate. You can bring your daquiris into the pools, and just relax. Some of the pools are hot, some are cold, we tried 'em all! Definitely a nice way to end your day.

- Went for pizza at Pizza Vagabondo, pretty decent!

Day 6: La Fortuna to Monteverde
- Woke up early and ate our free tipico traditional breakfast at the hotel, and departed for Monteverde.

- Everything was going smoothly (yet bumpily) until we encountered some construction of a pipeline, blocking the road. We sat around and waited for 5 hours, while the backhoe worked it's magic. (And all the tourists watched and took pics)

- After that we had to put the Jimny into 4x4 and drive the rest of the 21km up to Monteverde. Longest 21km ever.

- Checked into the Arco Iris Eco Lodge

- Went to the Frog Pond at night and saw all sorts of frogs. Poisonous, translucent, red-eye, tiger, bullfrog, you name it.

- Had our first experience of the Costa Rican rain, as it poured down on us tonight.

- Dinner at Morphos. Found ourselves going to bed early, as the sun goes down so early, and there isn't much nightlife.

- Worried we may have gotten fleas, or some other weird little bugs from our last hotel, or possibly the hot springs. (Rash on our hands)

Day 7: Santa Elena / Monteverde
- Woke up early for breakfast at the hotel, no scrambled eggs as advertised :(

- Went for a guided hike with Adrian to the Monteverde Cloud Forest and saw lots of trees + orchids, not too many animals.

- Had lunch at Flor de Vida . Awesome restaurant, amazing pumpkin soup, and the best fruit shake yet!

- Attempted to go zip-lining at Aventura Canopy Tours but were rained out, so we booked it for the following morning.

- Had dinner at O Mar y Ticra, it was ok, but not great.

- Saw our first Costa Rican hooker, or possibly just a sluttily dressed teenager, weren't quite sure.

- The town of Santa Elena isn't very peaceful, trucks with megaphones pass by blaring out things in Spanish, fireworks shooting off, and barking dogs.

- Had a night cap in our room, drinking vodka and some sort of fruit beverage, played some crib. Got level (11) in Arkanoid on my phone (NEW RECORD!!). Told you there wasn't much nightlife here!

Day 8: Monteverde to Manual Antonio
- Woke up early again for breakfast at hotel - this time we had scrambled eggs :)

- We were picked up at 7:30 to go zip-lining, nice and sunny today!

- Had lots of fun zip lining through the cloud forest, and also did the Tarzan swing. I was given quite a shock during the "rapell" which was more of a surprise freefall.

- Ziplining made the drive up to Monteverde seem a lot more worthwhile.

- Next we drove from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio and stayed at Hotel Manuel Antonio

- The town itself of Manuel Antonio is quite touristy, full of people trying to sell junk (bongos, painted coconuts, etc)

- Had dinner at Hotel Plinio while the rain came down, as usual!

Day 9: Manuel Antonio to Turrialba
- Woke up early again and went to check out Manuel Antonio National Park.

- Hiked around the park and saw lots of white faced monkeys, agoutis (large jungle rats), some spider monkeys, coatis, birds, iguanas, and a sleeping sloth. Now this is a park for wildlife!

- One monkey was eyeing up my backpack, you have to watch your wallet around here.

- Had a good lunch at El Patio in the town of Quepos, and then hit the road towards Turrialba (not Turribla!)

- Took quite a detour in San Jose (to say the least) and finally made it out of San Jose only to get lost in the next two towns. All of a sudden nobody can speak English and our Spanish certainly wasn't helping!

- We finally got on the right track, only to have night, fog and rain descend upon us as we navigate what has to be the twistiest mountain road in all of Costa Rica. However, none of this seemed to be a deterrent to the local Costa Ricans wandering down the road at night.

- Passed some cyclists who were easily going 40km/h themselves (night, mountain road, fog, rain, let's go for a ride!) as well as several large families out for a walk.

- Finally made it to Turriabla and checked into Hotel Americano. We're not exactly picky, but we've definitely stayed in nicer! (cities + hotels).

- Got to eat a $3 meal, a goal of mine.

Day 10: Siquirres to Cahuita
- Woke up early in Turrialba. Shocked to find the jeep outside. Headed to Siquirres, where we would be doing some white-water rafting.

- Drove around frantically looking for Exploradores Outdoors

- Headed to the Pacuare River to put our raft in the water. I was made one of the captains, and we had some useless French ladies in the rear.

- Pacuare River is full of some great Class III and IV rapids, waterfalls, and other great scenery. A few times we purposely fell out of the raft to just float down it.

- We stopped for lunch a little more than half way down. All in all it was a great day, nobody fell out of our boat (on purpose).

- Next we drove east, and then south, to the town of Cahuita.

- We tried to stay at the Alby Lodge but it was full, so we ended up at Bungalows Ache instead, where we relaxed in the hammock.

- Had a lot of pizza in town and came home, stuffed and exhausted from a day of rafting and driving.

Day 11: Cahuita and Puerto Viejo
- Slept in late, all the way until 7:30! (trust me, this is late in Costa Rica)

- Had breakfast at Bridgets.

- Got lost looking for our next hotel, El Yue.

El Yue was our effort to support the local eco tourism / organic banana growers network. It was definitely simple, rustic accomodations, and in a garden setting.

- Had a great lunch at Miss Edith's, a Cahuita institution. She serves up delicious Caribbean style food.

- Relaxed in our room and then checked out Puerto Viejo.

- The place we wanted to go for dinner didn't exist anymore, so we grabbed some ice cream and watched a sloth in a tree, trying to get some sleep with all the Puerto Viejo noise around him.

- Some crazy magician on a bike offered us some hash. That's Puerto Viejo.

General Things I Learned About Costa Rica By This Point
- Street signs are a luxury.

- The east side of Costa Rica is very Caribbean.

- People aren't afraid of cars in Costa Rica.

- There are a lot of dogs, especially on the roads.

- Sometimes shower heads have electrical wires running from them. Don't worry, that's normal.

Day 12: Cahuita to Alajuela
- Drove back to Alajuela. On the way we encountered a very chatty police patrolman, he even invited us to pull over to continue talking with him, but we were on a tight schedule, trying to get to a zoo before it closed.

- It's true in Costa Rica that you need to allow twice as long as you think to get anywhere.

- Came across a road closure for a cycling race (see above).

- Took a minor detour when we took a wrong turn, and subsuquently circled around Alajuela endlessly trying to find our hotel. No street signs, combined with the our lack of Spanish, make this *very* difficult indeed.

- Evenually found our hotel after asking a taxi, ala Amazing Race, and following him there (turns out we were only 2 blocks away).

- Checked into Villa Bonita B&B.

- Quickly checked in and then hopped back in our car to attempt to find the zoo. Drove in a few more circles, and then just when we were about to give up we were able to get back on the right track.

- It was rainy when we got there, and I think we were perhaps the only people in the entire zoo.

- At this zoo, called Zoo Ave we saw the animals we missed out seeing in the wild. All of the animals here are ones that were confiscated through the illegal pet trade, former pets, or animals that were injured in the wild.

- Saw lots of birds: toucans, parrots, parakeets, including one that spoke "Ola!" over and over. Also saw birds of prey, an ocelot, cougars (pumas), coatis, squirrel monkeys, peccaries, deer, turtles, boat constrictors, and a howler monkey that appeared to be on the loose!

- Overall we were surprised at the lack of fencing keeping the animals enclosed, I think we also spotted an agouti running loose. Had a great time though!

- Made it back to our hotel without getting lost and went for dinner at Casa en Coma near our hotel.

- Went back to our hotel to relax and watch TV after a long day of driving and getting lost in Alajuela!

Day 13: The Journey Home
- Had breakfast at our B&B and then drove to return our rental car, and made it without getting lost, amazing! (Took a while to get it returned, in typical Costa Rican fashion)

- Went to the airport and bought some cheap duty free vodka ($5/bottle) and hopped on our flight home.

- Connected through Dallas, what a nightmare! Barely made our place after lining up to get through customs, bag check, bag drop off, and a train ride to another terminal. If we hadn't of snuck into first class security check there's no way we would have made our flight.

- Costa Rica is an amazing country, and I really hope they don't try to make things easier on us North Americans (street signs, etc). Stay the way you are Costa Rica!