Costa Rica Day 1 – London to San Jose
Time for another trip – this time to Central America, first stop Costa Rica. It’s the first time we’ve travelled with British Airways for many years. And there’s a reason for that. It’s not a great start, with a last minute change from an 11.30 to a 9 am departure. So we decided to travel to Gatwick the night before and stay at the less than celubrious White House Hotel in an executive room, which frankly I can’t imagine any self respecting executive would be seen dead in.
We’re up at 6 am for our taxi to the airport. Once there, it takes an hour to make it to the front of the check in queue to be told the flight is running 30 minutes late. We head through security. Now the delay has gone up to an hour. So we opt for a Wetherspoons breakfast. There’s a surprising number of people drinking beer for so early in the morning. I make do with Diet Coke – it’s going to be a long day…
We finally board the aircraft to be told they’re a crew member down and we must wait for a standby to arrive. Another 30 minutes delay (and we’re pretty much back to the original advertised departure time) before we’re finally ready to take off for the 11.5 hour flight to San Jose. I find a mini series I haven’t watched before (Mare of Easttown; 7 x 1 hour episodes should see me through the bulk of the flight) and settle down for the long journey.
It’s not very well catered and by the time we finally embark at San Jose we have been sitting in the plane for 13 hours and I am tired, hungry and grumpy. Another hour sees us through immigration and customs, then we have to contact our first night’s accommodation – Hotel Your House who, it is claimed, will send a shuttle to collect us in 10 minutes. It actually takes 30 minutes before we are finally collected in a tiny car with a boot somewhat smaller than our suitcase. With some pushing and shoving and a prevailing wind, we manage to get the suitcase in and drive the short distance to the hotel.
The sun set while we were standing outside the airport waiting for our lift, so our first glimpse of Costa Rica is of the highway in the dark. We make it to Hotel your House 18 hours after departing last night’s hotel. The accommodation consists of a row of motel style rooms built in the owner’s garden. She is also the owner of a rather shitty dog. Once we’ve checked in, she leads the way to our room, armed with a dustpan and brush to clear the way.
We had initially planned to go for a wander upon arrival but we should have arrived at 2.30 pm, when it was still light. So, tired from the journey and time difference, we pretty much go straight to bed at 8 pm. The adventures will have to wait until tomorrow…
Costa Rica Day 2 – La Fortuna
This morning is our first full day in Costa Rica. I am awake at 5 am (which is actually 11 am in the UK and also in my stomach). Two hours until breakfast and I’m starving.
At 6 am it gets light and I can brave going outside to sit in the garden without standing in anything produced by the little dog. It’s a pretty garden with a gazebo and plunge pool set among the shrubs. Breakfast is served in a clearing in the garden and is very tasty – fried rice and beans, omelette, sausage and plantain. Although I go off my food a bit when I see quite how often the cook fondles the little dog whilst cooking.
After breakfast, we take a walk to find a shop to stock up on supplies. The accommodation is just off the main airport road so it’s not the most scenic walk, but it’s nice to be somewhere warm and sunny away from the British winter. Once we have found a store and stocked up on essentials (diet coke and crisps), it’s back to the hotel and a little relax in the garden until it’s time to collect our hire car.
Car hire is very expensive in Costa Rica, so we have gone right to the bottom of the budget options with Mex Rent a car. Even that is setting us back $942 for 18 days. We check out of the hotel (the owner gives us a lift to the hire car company) and pick up our car – a Toyota Rush. It’s definitely seen better days (years even) which is fine. Last time we hired a 4WD car was in California. It was pristine with only a few miles on the clock and we were terrified of actually taking it off road. No such problems here. We could probably drive it off a cliff and get away with it!
We set off for today’s destination – La Fortuna. It’s a 73 mile drive, starting on the main Route 1 for 25 miles, then onto a smaller road. It’s a bit pot holey but not as bad as I’d anticipated. The most interesting part of the journey is the rickety rackety bridge over the Rio Peñas Blancas. It looks like it was made from Meccano and you have to queue up to cross, as it can only take one vehicle at a time. Just after the bridge is a viewpoint, so we pull over to take some photos and a walk back across the bridge. It’s a long way down – one of us walks further across the bridge than the other!
Shortly after, we turn a corner and there is Volcán Arenal standing over a mile high with clouds just obscuring its peak – it’s quite a sight. After a brief photo stop, we reach the town at the foot of the volcano; La Fortuna and our hotel for the next three nights; Xilopalo.
The hotel is literally at the end of the road with rows of cabins with verandas set in gardens full of all sorts of wildlife. Before we’ve even finished checking in, we spot a huge iguana walking along a branch outside reception and a hummingbird. We finally complete check in amidst the various wildlife interludes and are shown to our room. It is very pleasant and has a volcano view. Plus the staff attach bananas to the tree directly outside our window which attracts plenty of birds (and squirrels).
After sitting and admiring the view for a while, we take a wander into town, stopping at a bar for a couple of beers, then a bakery for some amazing cream cheese stuffed bread. We eat on the bench outside our room with its volcano backdrop, watching dozens of exotic birds feasting on the bananas, plus a colony of enormous ants busy transporting leaves back and forth along a tree root.
The combination of jetlag, an early start and a long drive (followed by a couple of beer) means we are settled in our room with no desire to move again by 5 pm. To be honest, the view is so cool that moving seems counterproductive. I could happily just sit on my veranda for the next 3 days…
We watch the sun set over the volcano which threatens to be stunning, before clouds descend and obscure everything. Then take an early night before setting off for a more up-close volcano encounter in the morning.
Costa Rica Day 3 – Volcán Arenal National Park
It rained in the night. A lot. We went to bed in a cabin surrounded by gardens and woke up surrounded by a moat. As I get older I find it harder to deal with the change in time zones so I am awake (and hungry) by 5 am. Luckily, there is some leftover pizza bread in the fridge and I sit and watch the visitors on the tree outside our room as the sun rises – so far today there have been squirrels and dozens of different birds, including woodpeckers, hummingbirds and 4 toucans.
We decide to stick with our original plan to go to Volcán Arenal National Park, despite the fact that the volcano is barely visible behind the clouds.
The 10 mile drive to the National Park is uneventful, apart from an emergency stop for a couple of coati in the middle of the road (actually it’s more of an emergency stop for a couple of cyclists who brake suddenly to take photos of the coatis). Then we have to go off road. Very off road. We decide to start with the Sector Península where a mile long trail takes you to a lookout over Lake Arenal. First, we have to reach the entrance, which involves a 1.5 mile drive along a very bumpy track. As we bounce our way over the rocks, we’re suddenly very grateful to Mex Rent a Car for giving us such a decrepit vehicle.
We reach the entrance, fork out the £25 foreigners’ entrance fees and consult the map; Costa Rican national parks are very eco friendly, there are no paper maps or guides available, so it is necessary to consult the map, and preferably take a screen shot before setting off.
We set off along the Sendero los Miradores, which is surprisingly well paved bearing in mind the road we had to drive down to reach it. The trail leads through the rainforest to a platform over the lake, where you can take photos (as long as you watch out for crocodiles). Half way down is an observation tower you can climb for views of the lake and the volcano (in theory, although it’s still shrouded by cloud).
We return to our car via Sendero Tororoi, which returns, via a lot of steps and a bridge, to the car park. We can hear, but not see, howler monkeys in the trees around us.
We return along the bouncy track to the Sector Volcán. Here we follow two more hiking trails; Sendero las Coladas, which takes us to a bridge where we can climb onto a lava flow created when the volcano erupted in 1992.
Then we return via Sendero el Ceibo. I’m not sure what Ceibo means, so look up the translation; Ceiba Tree (helpful) it turns out this one is 400 years old and 30 metres tall. It’s so big you can climb in between its massive roots.
It has rained on and off all day, but as we are almost back at the car, it starts to bucket down. We make a run for it, but still get soaked. We drive to the final lookout, the Mirador Principal, which is supposed to provide the best view of the volcano. By now, we can’t even work out where the volcano is, so we give up and head back into town.
We stop at the bakery for some lunch; today’s choice is bread stuffed with cheese and fried beans. After lunch, a nap and some more bird watching, we head out to a Costa Rican restaurant. The bakery in La Fortuna is amazing but it’s time we ate something other than bread! We go to a nearby restaurant and order the Comida Tipica; a choice of meat with rice, beans, plantain, mashed potato and salad. I choose the vegetarian option which is basically the same but without the meat. All the carbs represented – they’ve even stuck some tortilla chips in the mashed potato for good measure. I should have stuck with the bakery – at least the bread had some cheese in it.
We return for another early night – it’s been a long day with a lot of walking and we are rather weary.
Costa Rica Diary Day 4 – La Fortuna
It’s our last day in La Fortuna and there is no rain forecast for a full 6 hours. However, the volcano remains stubbornly hidden behind the clouds.
I manage to sleep until gone 6 then get up to watch the hotel staff hoist bananas up a flagpole to attract the birds, and watch as group after group of different species turn up for breakfast – things get particularly fractious between the budgies and woodpeckers. My breakfast this morning is (not surprisingly) from the bakery – bread stuffed with cream cheese and pineapple.
This morning’s activity is a trip to La Fortuna waterfall, which is accessed via a flight of 530 steps – a jolly sensible activity for two old codgers with dodgy knees!
We drive to the top of the waterfall, pay the $18 each foreigners’ entry fee and after an armed security guard has taken our temperature, set off down the steps to the waterfall. It’s quite spectacular – presumably aided by all yesterday’s rain – as it thunders 70 metres over the cliff top into a pool below.
After taking some photos (obviously) the old man braves a dip in the pool. It’s very rocky and the current is strong, so I wuss out and opt to swim lower downriver. It’s lovely and refreshing, although the force of the waterfall makes it a bit like swimming in an infinity pool. I happily swim hard towards the waterfall then floating back downstream a few times.
Then we have to climb the 530 steps back to the entrance. It takes less time than I’d anticipated – all those hill training sessions are paying dividends!
At the top, are an orchid trail with no orchids and a butterfly trail with no butterflies, although we do see a very beautiful hummingbird. We return to the hotel, via the bakery – bread of the day – chicken, cheese and beans.
After lunch and a regroup, we decide it’s time to find sloths. We haven’t spotted any in the wild, so head for a sloth trail, where you can pay $15 for the privilege of looking for sloths. This particular place (Bogarin) has been mentioned in blogs as averaging 6 sloth sightings per visit. We walk along the trails, necks aching from constantly looking up, toes hurting from tripping on tree roots because we’re not looking where we’re going. We see plenty of wildlife (birds and agouti) but no sloths.
Eventually we spot two sloths– a mother and baby. To be more accurate, we spot a group of people looking up a tree, rather than actually spotting the sloths. It’s quite exciting, apart from the fact that they don’t really do anything except hang from a tree. They are also hanging very high up in the tree, which makes them difficult to see/photograph. I can think of better ways to spend $30.
We walk around for 90 minutes but don’t find any more, so we follow a sign saying ‘Trail Reception 100 metres’. The old man is adamant that this is not the way we came, but we continue to follow the signs regardless. Unfortunately, it’s the reception for a different sloth trail company to the one we started at. So we end up having to walk down the main road, and round the block to where we parked the car, with the old man harping on about how he told me so. With sloths finally ticked off the ‘to do’ list, our time in La Fortuna is almost at an end.
Costa Rica Diary Day 5 – La Fortuna to Liberia
It’s our final morning in La Fortuna and it rained heavily in the night. The volcano has disappeared completely behind a thick blanket of cloud and our last chance of seeing it in its entirety has gone. Never mind, it’s time to move on to another volcano – Rincon de la Vieja. As accommodation around the volcano itself is expensive, we are staying in the nearby town of Liberia.
Today’s drive is 80 miles, the first half of which skirts the shore of Lake Arenal. So, the plan is to go slow with plenty of photo stops, arriving at our hotel in Liberia around lunch time. By then, the temperature should be 32 degrees. Luckily, it has a pool!
After a breakfast of fruit and gallo pinto (rice & beans) for us, whilst watching the birds eat their breakfast of bananas, we set off. The drive round the lake is somewhat underwhelming; there are very limited opportunities to actually see it due to vegetation and even when we can, the road is too narrow and winding to stop safely.
Once we reach the north west corner of the lake, the road takes three sides of a square to join Route 1; the Inter American Highway. Google Maps sends us along a short cut (the 4th side of the square). It’s unpaved, very bumpy and very steep. It’s significantly shorter but with hindsight, I think we would have gone round. At least we finally get a good view of the lake when we reach the top.
On the hill is enormous wind farm, and then, once over the top, we rejoin the actual paved road. It’s like entering a different world; we leave behind the cool, green rainforest and all of a sudden we’re on the hot, red plains of Guancaste – cattle country.
Soon, we reach the highway and drive the final 25 miles to tonight’s destination – Las Espuelas – a roadside motel in Liberia. We reach the motel 90 minutes before check-in. Although it’s on the side of the motorway, it’s surprisingly quiet and serene inside the hotel itself. The accommodation is in rows of cabins, leading to a very nice pool. There is no chance of an early check in. No matter. The old man has important candy to crush, while I decamp to the pool. 100 laps later, we can finally check in.
After the old man has faffed sufficiently, we head into town for a wander and dinner. By now it’s gone 3 and the combination of no lunch and a long swim are taking their toll. A read of Lonely Planet’s guide to Liberia has left us with low expectations. The first thing we notice about Liberia is that many of the roads are one way, so getting where you want to go isn’t as simple as it sounds. We finally reach the centre of town and park up near Central Park.
After a quick wander around the park (which is really just a plaza) we for the old man’s restaurant of choice. It’s shut. More faffing before we finally settle on a nearby Indian restaurant (Masala). By the time the food comes, I’m ravenous, but it’s worth the wait – Palak Paneer; cheese cooked in a spinach sauce, served with cumin rice.
After we have taken the obligatory photos next to the Liberia sign, we return to the motel for an early night. This travel malarkey can be hard work sometimes.
Costa Rica Day 9 – Playa Hermosa to Monteverde
oday we have a 3 hour drive to Monteverde. First, time for a buffet breakfast at Coco Viquez; pancakes with plantain and pineapple again – yay! With a month of our trip left, I’m already starting to panic about sourcing my plantain habit when we return to Bournemouth. Just time for one one last walk along the beach before checkout. After the chaos of the weekend and hoards of day trippers, it’s quiet today. The only evidence of the weekend crowds are the bags of garbage left behind being picked over by vultures.
Once I have laid out yesterday’s laundry on the drying rack (aka back seat of the car) we set off on the drive from coast to cloud forest. Google has another last minute change of route, resulting in a 78 mile drive which will take (allegedly) just under 3 hours. It’s a pigging hot 3 hours and I’m torn between drinking enough to avoid dehydration and the fact there are no service stations (I’ve already seen two snakes today so I won’t be peeing in a bush).
The first 20 miles is on good roads and the next 31 miles is motorway. That leaves us with 27 miles and an ETA of 85 minutes – that’s an average of 19 MPH. We actually take almost 2 hours – so about 14 MPH. It’s narrow and bumpy and windy and steep, with a lot of bridges with no guard rails, and a lot of cows. Not the best 2 hours of my life. There’s also a lot of ascent and descent – mainly ascent.
After a while, the combination of gradient and terrain mean the old man has to turn the A/C off as the engine can’t cope with both. We are now 1400 metres above sea level and it’s so windy we have to make an emergency stop when the old man’s hat blows off. Finally, as we approach the edge of town, we spot tarmac. I didn’t realise I could get excited about the sight of tarmac!
With great relief, we reach our destination; Hotel Santa Fe. It’s very steep and our first attempt at parking fails when the hand brake can’t cope and the car starts to roll back down the hill.
We check in and go to the supermarket in town for some lunch. It’s been a mega stressful journey and we agree a couple of tins of beer are in order. I choose the regular (red) cans. The old man decides to be adventurous and go for the black cans. We’re half way through lunch, eaten on a bench outside our room, when he realises the black cans are alcohol free!
After a little rest, we take a walk into town. We’re a mile above sea level and there’s a fierce wind. We only progress a few metres before deciding jumpers are in order. The walk into town is down a steep hill. After a look around at the various cafes, bakeries and souvenir shops, we heave ourselves back up the hill again. It’s been a long day. Time for an early night before a trip to the cloud forest reserve in the morning.
Costa Rica Day 10 – Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Not the best night’s sleep as the bed is small and uncomfortable. We get up and have breakfast – which reviews describe as ‘simple but tasty’. They’re half right! It comes with ‘juice’ of some undeterminable fruit (it tastes like flat Vimto). We ask the proprietor what flavour it is. He doesn’t know either, goes and checks the packet and returns to tell us it’s ‘grape’. The old man asks for different juice and a new packet is duly opened – this time it’s ‘pineapple’ and drinking it makes my eyes water. Breakfast is scrambled eggs on toast – no plantain.
After breakfast, we head to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. It’s only two miles away, but a few hundred metres higher in elevation, which brings us up into the clouds.
We have to park a kilometre away in a hotel car park and pay $5, which includes a shuttle bus to the entrance. Then another $25 each to enter the reserve. There are a number of trails, several of which are inaccessible as the hanging bridge has collapsed!
We select the Sendero Nuboso which leads onto the Sendero la Ventana. Here, we are promised a viewpoint across the Continental Divide (water on one side of the line flows into the Pacific Ocean and on the other side, into the Atlantic/Caribbean).
It takes an hour’s walk to reach the viewpoint. When we arrive, all we can actually see is cloud. We return to the entrance via the Sendero Camino. It’s cold and wet and I’m over cloud forest by now, so I sit on a bench eating Oreos while the old man follows another trail to a waterfall; Quebrada Cuecha.
We catch the shuttle bus back to the car and drive back into town. I decide I want to stop to photograph a telegraph pole. The old man parks closer to the edge of the road than I realise. I try to climb out of the car onto the road, but there isn’t any road, so I end up on my arse in the ditch.
Once I have extricated myself and got rid of most of the mud, we stop at Monteverde Cheese Factory. This used to be a locally owned factory which provided tours of the cheese making process. Now it is owned by a multinational company and just the shop remains accessible to the public. The old man has ice cream and I buy some locally produced cheese (Monte Rico) for lunch. After another stop for bread, we return to our hotel for a picnic on the bench outside our room while watching a rainbow emerging from the clouds. We are the only guests at the hotel, so at least it’s quiet – apart from the howling of the wind.
We are staying on the outskirts of town at the top of a hill, so access to restaurants is limited if, like me, you are lazy and don’t like walking up and down hills. In the evening, we head to a local restaurant, check out the menu, decide we’ve had sufficient fried food for one week and return to the supermarket for a bag of salad and some strawberries instead. Then it’s another early night, as it’s dark by 6 and there’s not much to do in Monteverde after dark except eat and/or drink.
Costa Rica Day 11 – Monteverde
After another rubbish night’s sleep in the rubbish bed, we get up and go for breakfast. The toxic pineapple juice makes a return appearance. He also brings a jug. I hear ‘agua para ti’ (water for you) so attempt to dilute my juice. Apparently, he said ‘agua para té’ (water for tea) and it is boiling water, which causes the fluorescent yellow liquid to bubble alarmingly.
This morning is a toss up between another cloud forest reserve and Selvatura for a 3 km treetop walkway consisting of 8 bridges, the longest being almost 200 metres long. I’m terrified of heights and very much prefer to have my feet firmly on the ground, so my choice would be the cloud forest. However, my running club is doing a series of challenges this month, and one requires other runners to select a route for you to walk/run, so I have put it to a vote. My so-called friends have chosen the treetop walkway.
My terror for heights is not helped by the ferocious wind. Why anyone would want to walk across 8 rope bridges at all is beyond me. Let alone when it’s blowing a gale!
Nevertheless, we set off for Selvatura and after we’ve driven several miles down a dirt track, and paid $81 for the privilege of being scared witless, we head along the path to the first of 8 bridges. We start, not surprisingly, with bridge 1; a mere 65 metres long and 17 metres high. It’s going OK until a third of the way across when I suddenly encounter a snake, lying on the bridge with its head reared up towards me. And I thought my fear of heights was the biggest obstacle I had to face today! I’m stuck half way across a bridge with a snake in my path. It’s like something out of a nightmare.
I finally summons up the courage to pass the snake, cross the bridge and move onto the next. This one is 82 metres long and 19 metres high. It’s like they’re gently cranking up the fear factor. At least this one is reptile free. On to the third, which is 115 metres long and 34 metres high. This one has an added obstacle; there is a German couple sitting cross legged in the middle taking artsy selfies of each other. I take a look down – the ground is way too far away – and barge through the photo shoot onto solid ground. On to number 4; 157 metres long! You can’t even see the other end. It must only take a couple of minutes to cross, but it’s like being stuck in a bad dream with the end never seeming to get any closer. The old man says something ridiculous like ‘wow look at the view’. That’s exactly what I’m trying not to do as the view is a very long way down. After that, the bridges start to decrease in length again and we make it to the end of the trail without further incident.
We drive back into town and stop for lunch at the Tree House; a restaurant built around a 100 year old fig tree. It’s a novel dining experience (reflected in the price). We opt to skip dessert and instead pick up some guava strudels from the bakery on the way back to the hotel.
After a break to get over the trauma of our treetop walk, we head out again in the evening to watch the sunset. We noticed a spot just outside town where you can see across the mountains all the way to the ocean, and figure this would be a great spot to watch the sun setting. We are obviously not the only ones with this idea; as we approach our destination, we can see dozens of pedestrians, cars, even tour buses descending on the same spot. Despite the clouds, it’s quite a sunset and a pleasant way to round off our last evening in Monteverde. Tomorrow we head back to the coast.
Costa Rica Day 19 – Uvita to San Jose
We decide to stick with our original plan to drive to San José this morning. There are several reasons for this 1) the hire car is due back; 2) we are 60 miles from the nearest hospital if either of us gets ill and 3) it gives us the opportunity to book a hotel more conducive to self isolating. I’ve only been stuck in this room one day and I’m already going stir crazy!
First, it’s time for breakfast – a bit of a mission when every time I swallow is excruciating. I manage a couple of fork fulls of scrambled egg and a few chunks of pineapple whilst the old man hovers, waiting for any scraps. Then it’s time for the 4 hour drive north to the capital. Instead of our original plan to spend a night at an airport hotel, convenient for tomorrow’s scheduled flights, we drive to our newly booked destination; Casa Conde in a rather rough looking suburb of San José, for 5 nights to see out my period of isolation.
I’m not sure what to expect – all the reviews I’ve read give it either 5 stars or 1 star; it’s a kind of marmite hotel. I fall in love with it immediately. It’s a rambling, colonial style complex like something out of a film set. It’s a bit shabby chic (leaning towards shabby) but it’s set in beautiful gardens, there are murals on the walls (and who doesn’t love a mural) and it has a good size pool in a tranquil courtyard. It’s just what the doctor ordered! The suites have 2 bedrooms, a kitchen and a living/dining area and there’s even, joy of joys, a washing machine.
I take a nap after the journey, while the old man deals with the car, then do 43 tonnes of laundry and try to decide what to eat. The old man wants pizza. The nearest pizzeria; Marinara is 100 metres away and has excellent reviews. I choose a Mexican pizza, which turns out to be the best pizza I’ve ever tasted. The old man returns with burger and chips. I asked him why he changed his mind? Apparently he realised the pizzeria was vegan!
We spend the rest of the evening replanning and rebooking the remaining two weeks of our trip, working out a way to fit in most of what we wanted to do. This is mainly achieved by replacing two long bus trips with flights – extra expense, but freeing up some time to replace what we have lost from having to isolate for the next few days.
Costa Rica Day 20 – San Jose
Today is another fun filled day of isolation. I wanted a room with a private balcony and ended up with a room overlooking the car park and a wall covered with 45 km of barbed wire. On the plus side, after 3 days of feeling absolutely terrible, I have woken up feeling heaps better. As outside appears to be deserted, and it has been a full 5 days since my first symptoms, I decide to don a mask a take a walk round the hotel grounds. It’s my first time outdoors (unless you count getting in and out of the car) since I tested positive 3 days ago. It turns out Casa Conde is a quirky hotel with courtyards and fountains and stained glass windows.
The best news is the pool, which is in a courtyard garden, is completely empty – I can self isolate by the pool – yay! This is an unexpected turn of events and I return to the room and collect a book and towel.
I spend the rest of the morning lazing by the pool. I even manage a couple of short swims, although I’m totally drained after 15 minutes. Eventually, a man turns up and I figure I should go, but he keeps coughing. He sounds more like he has covid than me! So I stay a while longer, until the old man appears and announces he’s bought lunch.
After lunch and a nap, I return to the pool for my own special form of self isolation – this time it’s just me and the birds. I manage a couple more swims, although to be honest I’ve overdone it a bit.
I return to the accommodation completely exhausted, reheat some leftover chips and go to bed.
Costa Rica Day 21 – San Jose
Another day of isolation. The morning is sunny, so I can escape to the pool, which is totally deserted again. A couple of swims, a nap and a couple more swims take up most of the day. The final swim was a bit much, leaving me totally exhausted, despite the fact it was only 10 minutes.
As my step count since I got ill has been pitiably low, I decide to kill two birds with one stone and take a walk around the hotel grounds, photographing some of the stained glass windows en route. Living the Covid dream!
Then, it’s time for tea (with 3 nights left in Costa Rica, the old man has bought a 1.8 kg sack of rice), FaceTime with family and bed. That’s my 7 days of isolation up; tomorrow I am allowed out – hooray!!!
Costa Rica Day 22 – San Jose (La Sabana)
It’s release day and we’re going to the park. After breakfast, I put on my shoes – they feel weird – I haven’t worn shoes in a while! We catch an Uber to La Sabana Park. La Sabana was San José’s original airport, but is now a park and home to the National Stadium. The former terminal building has become an art gallery.
We take a stroll round the park and round off with a visit to the gallery; Museum of Costa Rican Art. Entry is free, if a little fiddly as you have to complete an online questionnaire first, and it takes a while for the wifi to load. I have a slight panic on entering the museum when the security guard produces a thermometer, but I pass. Its official; I’m (a) Covid free and (b) not hot!
In addition to picture galleries, the walls of what was once the VIP lounge (the Golden Room), are covered with a 150 square metre bronze mural depicting the history of Costa Rica. Apparently it was supposed to “offer travellers a private and inviting space whose walls informed them, in an artistic and educational way, of events in the history of Costa Rica”.
Outside is a sculpture garden (who doesn’t love a sculpture garden?) with some interesting pieces.
My overall favourites are the sculptures of Leda Astorga; I’m sure there’s a much more artistic way to interpret her genre, but basically her work depicts fat people having a good time!
When we emerge from the gallery, it’s all kicking off outside with a big political rally, both on the streets and with dozens of cars adorned with flags parading round the roads. We call an Uber, which fails to make it through the rally and cancels. Eventually, a second car comes and takes us back to the hotel.
After lunch, time for a quick swim/sunbathe (working on that Covid tan). After my swim, I exit the pool next to where I thought I’d left my flip flops, but there’s no sign of them. After looking in all sorts of obvious and weird places, I eventually text the old man (back in the room playing candy crush) and ask him to bring my trainers. I’m totally confused. Since I had Covid, I’ve had a bout of brain fog. I feel rather discombobulated, my flip flops have disappeared, despite the fact I have been alone all afternoon. Eventually, we find them floating upside down in the pool; the soles are grey and there are tiles missing from the pool floor exposing grey cement, thus the flip flops were camouflaged. Relieved that I (a) am not going mad and (b) haven’t lost the flip flops (which if we’re honest, I’ve kind of borrowed from my daughter), I return to the room to shower, eat dinner and Google Covid brain fog – apparently it’s not uncommon. Who knew? Obviously not me!
Costa Rica Day 23 – San Jose
It’s our last day in Costa Rica (for now) and as I’m feeling pretty much back to normal, we can take an Uber into town for a wander. We decide to start to the north of the city centre in Barrio Amón, which Lonely Planet informs me is a “pleasant, historical neighbourhood, home to a cluster of 19th-century coffee grower mansions. Recently many of the area’s historical buildings have been converted into hotels, cafes, bars, and offices, making this a popular district for an architectural stroll.”
Our driver pulls up at our chosen location. He looks a little worried and checks that we really do want to be left here! We do, so off we set on our architectural stroll. First, we head in the opposite direction as the old man has spotted a fire station with some fireman sculptures outside. A real fireman sitting outside points north and says; ‘That way is dangerous, go the other way.’
We walk through Barrio Amon taking pictures of buildings and street art, finally reaching the more touristy centre of town without incident, despite the driver and fireman’s misgivings.
There’s not a huge amount to do in San José on a Monday (all the museums etc are shut) other than wander aimlessly through the city. So we wander and take photographs for a couple of hours. In a park, we find a sculpture of a man with a dangly willy holding out a hand. The old man asks me to photograph him high fiving the sculpture. I point out that for the sake of symmetry, he really ought to get his willy out and let it dangle, but he refuses. The old man has no sense of adventure!
I have a challenge for my running club to complete which involves taking as many photos of cafes as possible in one hour, so that keeps me occupied for a while. Then I run out of steam and want to go back to the hotel, but the Uber App is down. So I just sit on a bench feeling sorry for myself for a while until we can finally book a car to pick us up.
After a restorative nap and some restorative chips, I go for one last swim before it’s time to pack for tomorrow morning’s flight. We should have departed four days ago, so I’m excited we’re finally (almost) on our way.
Costa Rica Day 24 – Panama City to San Jose
Today sees the first leg of our journey home. There are no direct flights from Panama to London, so this afternoon we fly back to Costa Rica. After the obligatory trip to the breakfast buffet, I blow the last of the Balboas on fridge magnets before heading for the airport.
A tactical error; I finished my book this morning. An error compounded by the fact that the airport wifi is limited to 30 minutes. An error further compounded by the fact that shortly after boarding commences, it stops again and the passengers who had already boarded reappear. Apparently, a member of crew has fallen ill. They promise to let us know what’s happening in 30 minutes.
And so afternoon drifts into evening with alternating additional delays and gate changes. At one point vouchers are issued and I join the scrum in the food court. Finally, 4 hours and 3 gates later, a new crew member has been flown in from Colombia and we can depart. The moral of the story is; don’t fly a budget Colombian airline (Wingo) between Panama and Costa Rica. Or maybe, just don’t fly a budget Colombian airline…
We are spending our final two nights at Casa Conde – the quasi colonial villa on the outskirts of town where I spent my isolation. We had booked a hotel in the city centre for convenience, but were won over by the fact that Casa Conde provides apartments rather than rooms. I am particularly persuaded by a) the pool and b) the washing machine!
When we finally arrive, 4 hours later than planned, it is too late to use the pool and the washing machine is broken. The latter is easily remedied – reception give us a key for another room and I can wash my pants before I go to bed.
Costa Rica Day 25 – San Jose
Today is the last full day of our trip and we’re going into San José for some culture. We spent a day sightseeing in the city last week, but it was a Monday when everything is closed. So today we plan to visit the museum and art gallery.
We take an Uber into town and find a spot for breakfast; Restaurante el Patio del Balmoral. We order the del Patio breakfast – gallo pinto (fried rice and beans) with fried cheese, fried eggs, fried plantain and fried bread. In case that wasn’t sufficient calories, it comes with a side of sour cream! And a pint of orange juice.
Once we have consumed a zillion calories, we head to the National Museum, which is housed in the former Bellavista Fort, HQ of the Costa Rican army until 1948, when the army was abolished. It is peppered with bullet holes from the Civil War, also in 1948.
After paying the entry fee ($11 each) we enter through a glass atrium which is described as a butterfly house. There aren’t any butterflies flying around, however there is a rack full of chrysalises from which a couple of butterflies are emerging.
The museum details the history of Costa Rica. Some parts (the auditorium, jail cells) remain closed. This leaves the Pre Colombian History room, the History of Costa Rica room and two temporary exhibitions; White, Blue and Red 1821-2021 (which celebrates the bicentenary of Costa Rican independence) and Nests & Eggs (which is a collection of nests and eggs).
My favourite part (because I’m a big kid) is at the end where a series of time lapsed screens allow you, if you run from side to side, to appear on several screens simultaneously. The old man is not impressed…
Once I have finished running up and down the museum like an idiot, we walk to our next destination, the MADC (Museum of Contemporary Art and Design). It’s always risky taking the old man to an art gallery, especially if it contains the word ‘Contemporary’ in the title. He tends to walk round muttering; ‘Call that art?’ a lot. To be honest, this time he has a point. It costs $4 entry – cash only, no change given. So we end up having to pay $10 to get in.
The first exhibit we see upon entering is literally a bowl of rotting fruit. Seriously? We’ve paid $10 for someone to shove some rotten fruit in a recess and call it art? Much of the rest of the space it taken up with chairs hanging from the ceiling. There’s also a map with some stickers on and a room where everything appears to be made of cotton wool, which is somehow indicative of covid! I can think of better ways of spending $10. The best bit about the museum is the building (a 19th century former liquor factory) but when I try to take a peek outside, a security guard is quick to intervene.
After we have paid $10 to look at a rotten pineapple, some hanging chairs and a room covered in cotton wool, we return to the hotel where I get my afternoon sun/pool fix while the old man deals with that pesky candy.
Costa Rica Day 26 – San Jose
Today has gone belly up before we’re even out of bed. We receive an email from British Airways that our flight, which was originally at 6.40 pm will now depart at 7 am tomorrow. So, instead of a leisurely brunch before going to to the airport to check in, we book an airport hotel for our ‘bonus’ night in Costa Rica. We toy with idea of one final sightseeing trip this morning, but rapidly lose interest. The old man settles down to crush candy, while I decamp the pool for one last swim/blast of sunshine.
After brunch (yesterday’s leftover Chinese – who doesn’t love cold sweet & sour prawns for breakfast?) we swap hotels. There is mention in the email from British Airways that if we go to the airport (at an unspecified time, to an unspecified location) a member of staff will assist in booking a hotel. The old man remains unconvinced and makes a reservation at Hampton Inn and Suites as it fits all our requirements; beds to sleep in, an airport shuttle to get to the airport and a pool to entertain me until BA get their act together.
After check in, I relocate to my second pool of the day (this one has other people found it, which is disappointing – I was kind of used to having a pool to myself at Casa Conde).
For dinner, we walk round the corner to a fast food chicken joint, Rostipollo. We buy a sharing platter (a súper piqueo) which consists of fried chicken, plantain, cheese and tortillas with a selection of dips. I’m not sure how many it’s supposed to serve, buts it’s enormous. We manage to finish it with the help of a stray dog who appears under the table just as we are running out of steam. And so, when we should actually be half way across the Atlantic, we are sitting in a diner by the side of a motorway sharing chicken nuggets with a dog.
Then it’s back to our room for a (very) early night before our 5 am check in. The noise as we approach the hotel is deafening; there are hundreds of parrots congregating in the trees outside. It’s quite a sight – I try to take a video, until two parrots poop in my hair and I have to take an impromptu shower before a slightly-later-than-planned early night.
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