Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Costa Rica Trip (the first day)

We first visited Costa Rica in November of 2008 with two other couples. We had a great trip and started thinking about another trip, with our kids, before we even got home. Six years later we saved up enough (mostly my wife's income from a seasonal job) to make it happen. The kids are now 13 and 11 and were super excited to go. They did a bunch of research and really learned a lot about the animals in the country.
Sara did most of the planning and rented a couple different houses for the 17 days we were there. She used Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) and found one in Manzanillo, on the Caribbean coast and a second in Cabuya at the end of the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific side. We decided we wanted a rental vehicle for our whole stay and I started looking into it. Going through Hertz and a couple other companies it looked like the cost was going to be pretty high, $1500 or more after getting the mandatory insurance and taxes. After reading a bunch on the forums of TripAdvisor, I tried Vamos (a local agency) and got a much better rate. They also would price match any other company so we ended up spending $735 for the entire 17 day rental including taxes and mandatory insurance. We were able to use our VISA card for the rental and had automatic rental insurance included that saved us a bunch. Vamos rents out vehicles that are a couple years old with low mileage on them which was perfect for us. I didn't want to be the only shiny new vehicle in town screaming out 'Rob us, we have a fancy ride!'
Sara found airline tickets on Spirit Air flying out of Denver at night and arriving in Ft. Lauderdale early the next morning. The tickets were more than $200 cheaper than flying out of Albuquerque so we bit the bullet and bought them. We drove the 5 hours up to Denver, parked at the Holiday Inn ($117 for 18 days) and flew out on an 11:00pm flight. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale at 4:20am and spent about 6 hours in the small airport until our flight to San Jose, Costa Rica left at around 10:30am. Everything went well on both flights but Spirit is definitely a 'budget airline' and you pay for everything. Checked bags, carry-ons, snacks or drinks, everything...... We arrived in San Jose about 11am and after clearing immigration we eventually found our rental car representative, Alex, in front of the sea of taxi cab drivers holding a sign for us. We hauled our bags to the van and drove about 2 miles to the rental car office. After getting checked out with the vehicle, a Mitsubishi Montero with a few preexisting conditions, we hit the road since I really didn't want to drive after dark and we had about a 5 hour drive to the Caribbean coast. Vamos includes a cell phone for emergency use, a softsided cooler (which we didn't get) and we were eligible for a free GPS, which we declined as I had bought a Garmin Nuvi with South American streets loaded on it.
We quickly left the madness of San Jose and headed up over the mountains to the coast. We were barely out of the city when we came to the entrance of Braulio Carrillo National Park. Highway 32 runs right through the park as it climbs up over a high mountain. There was a modest entry fee of about a dollar that you pay at a toll booth type station right on the highway. The park itself was really remarkable in that there were hundreds of plants hanging right over the road and small waterfalls right beside us for much of it. A great 'first view' of what the area outside the city was going to hold.
On the other side of the mountain, as we left the park, was a large fruit stand with about 5 vendors beside the road. We hadn't eaten lunch yet and made a snap decision to pull in and look things over. What a treat! There were more types of fruit than you can imagine. We only recognized about 1/2 of what was there.
 The kids were anxious to spend some money and we ended up buying a lot of fruit. Fresh pineapple, mangos, bananas, etc. Mason bought a small package of what he thought were pieces of sugar cane. After trying a bite in the car he figured out it wasn't. Later we discovered it was Palm hearts and although not sugar cane, it was really good cooked.
The drive to Limon was uneventful and not a terribly interesting road. We'd been told there was some sort of labor protest going on in Limon and we shouldn't spend a lot of time looking around. We heard there were roadblocks and such and not to stop for anything. We hurried through and headed south down the coast to Puerto Viejo and eventually Manzanillo where the house was. We arrived after dark and found the market where Yari, the lady who looked after the property was waiting for us. We followed her bike with her daughter on the top tube back to the house and got settled in. Long day(s) and we were glad to sleep.

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