After a four hour bus trip I'm back in San Jose. It's late and dark so walking to the hotel does not seem such a good idea. I decide to take a taxi. The driver laughs when I say that I need to go hotel `Grano Oro`. Apparently I'm the first person he ever picked up from the bus terminal that comes to this hotel. I chuckle when we arrive and the employee stares amazed at my backpack when he opens the trunk of the taxi. I’m sure it’s something different from the usual luggage trolleys he needs to bring to the reception. Behind the counter is the same staff as when I left to Uvita (see my blog `On the road again`). "Good evening miss. de Groot, how was your stay at Flutterby?" I tell them stories and that I like it so much to sleep in a place which is completely the opposite of where I spent my last couple of days. I get a key from reception and the porter carries my luggage to the room. The moment we walk in the room, I can`t help but laugh. The porter asks if anything is wrong. "ON THE CONTRARY" I say “Could not be better." I flop on one of the king size beds, made with silk linen. Still giggling like a little girl, I jump in the shower, a clean, hot shower! With a sink to lay out my clothes and toiletry stuff and when I step out of the shower, my clothes are not splashed because the shower is too small. I put on clean clothes and not much later Jean Sebastien knocks on the door. We catch up on my days at Flutterby and his flight from Paris. "Shall we order room service?" he asks "The company pays," he says with a wink. After four days of condiment-free rice with vegetables, I can’t refuse this offer. We eat on the balcony and talk about Costa Rica. This will be a fun 12 days!
We drive off to Arenal, a volcano, which is no longer active since 2010. The area is supposed to be great for hiking, horseback riding and the famous hot springs providing the necessary relaxation after a long day of outdoor. The first night we immediately kick off with one of the many hot springs. We jump in our swimwear and park our butts in one of the baths. The spa features several pools, which are warmer the further you go up. The waterfalls provide the necessary foot, neck and leg massages. Once our hands and feet reached an unacceptable stage of wrinkles, we concluded that it is now really time to go back.
Fortunately we had two more nights at this lovely place. We move to another resort which lies at the foot of the volcano in the middle of the woods and stunning view over a lake. Since we, as journalists, can make good advertising for the hotel, we get the best room. Our balcony overlooks the volcano, the forest and the beautiful lake, where every evening the sun creates a spectacular sunset. From the hotel depart several routes through the park and the days we spend mainly with hikes (eg a non-active volcano whose summit with every step turned out to be even further away than the step before). We see beautiful birds, monkeys, all kinds of amazing wildlife. At night the forest is filled with fireflies. In short, a true paradise.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and so did our stay at `Arenal Observatory Lodge`. We choose a route around the lake so we can stop for a picnic and photos on the way. Slowly but surely, we would make our way towards Puntarenas and make a stop in Monteverde or Santa Lucia, one of the largest and most famous parks Costa Rica. We did not have a 4x4, so we decided to stay on the main roads. Everything went according to plan, until we came towards Monteverde on the 'highway'. This proved to be no more than a winding gravel path which let us through the mountains. The car chugged bravely and every truck driver we encountered, confirmed that this is really the 'main road' to Monterverde / Santa Lucia. We are both not a mathematician, but it did definitely was going to take us longer than the GPS and the locals were explaining to us. Luckily the landscape was stunning and it was not hard to make the most out of it. Luckily Sebastien used his flight certificate skills and as a true pilot he firmly steered us around all the holes and deep ravines bringing us to Puntarenas safe and sound before sunset.
We arrive at nice resort. It feels like a time machine took me out of the green fields of the fertile volcano grounds and dropped me off at the yellow grass savannas in South Africa. A deserted area with the nearest village a 15 minute drive away. The pastures of the resort were filled with herds of cows and horses forming a peaceful scenery with the patches of trees. The small cabins all had a veranda with hammock and if you walked towards the dock, you can enjoy great views over the sea and across the peninsula of Costa Rica.
Sebastien is an avid horseback rider and this resort had to be one of the best places to go for trail rides in the whole of Costa Rica. The next morning we rose early to beat the hottest part of the day. We have a quick breakfast and pull on our uncomfortable, hot, long pants. The guide, Lucardo, is already waiting for us with three saddled horses. We put our foot in the stirrup and swing the other one over the back of the horse till our bum softly lands in the saddle. It feels like a home coming, only now I realized how much I had missed horseback riding. Lucardo talks about the resort, the cattle ranch which is still running and of course about all the reptiles, birds and mammals that we encounter along the way. We reach an open field and Lucardo proposes to put the horses in canter. He didn’t need to make that offer a second time, as soon as Sebastien had his telescopic camera securely attached to his back, we give the horses a small kick to the side and away we go. They were definitely looking forward to this sprint. With one hand I hold the reins and with the other my baseball cap which was threatening to fly from my head. We arrive at the top of a hill and enjoy the views over the sea and the peninsula. Lucardo explains all about the sea, the fish, the islands in the middle and the people who live there. We gallop a few more times, spot a young pair of owls with their chicklets and return after a three hour ride back to the hotel. We put the horses in the shade where they can drink the cold and refreshing water they so well deserved.
This place was definitely worth a visit.
After an hour-long drive from the west to the east coast we arrive at the port of Tortuguero. A 31,000 hectare mangrove and rain forest which adjoins the northeast coast of Costa Rica. The boat to our hotel proved to have left already, but the parking attendant still had a boat that he provide to us as a means of transport The boat was filled with other locals, our bags were loaded and the local dog appeared to be in a need of a hitchhike too, of course. The boat driver deftly steered the boat through all the twists and turns of the river and floating logs that bobbed up in our way. On the riverbeds were crocodiles and iguanas warming themselves in the sun. Birds fly back and forth and the river is bordered on both sides of the dense rain forest. Our lodge appears to be the last of all the lodges that are in and around Torteguero. It is quiet, spacious and the rooms are beautiful! There are several possibilities to explore the park by boat or canoe, or take a walk in the private reserve behind the hotel. However, rubber boots were a must to keep your feet dry from mud and protect against passing snakes. We make a small tour through the reserve and are quickly greeted by a family of howler monkeys. It's great to see how the men guard the group, the mothers carry their babies around and the young jump from branch to branch, pushing the limits of the adults in the group. We see so much wildlife, many animals, sloths, birds, monkeys, etc. The area is beautiful and reminds me of the Amazon (which I've seen only on TV. I have not yet had the honor to visit).
The last morning we have to leave early. A long trip to Puerto Viejo in southeastern Costa Rica was waiting for us. We spend our last days on the beach (a break from the ‘busy’ schedule), enjoying a delightful Caribbean cuisine, even having time to visit an animal shelter.
Time flies and before we know it's time to go back to San Jose. Sebastien, is flying back to Paris and I need to grab the bus to Panama. Our last hotel appears to be a combination of hotel, spa and health center. They offered to open the spa for us, which we find a nice/convenient. What exactly is relaxing about a 40-degree steaming hot room, I still do not know, but it was an experience, especially after a cold shower.
We return our trusty little car back to the car rental and get a taxi to the airport. Sebastien and I say goodbye and thank each other for the nice two weeks. One last wave and then I grab my backpack and leave for the bus terminal. “Back to basics now Sanne” I murmur to myself as I leave for Panama.
After a burn-out it was time for a change. I quit my job, sold my stuff and bought a one-way ticket to the Dominican Republic. What was supposed to be a 4 month adventure turned into 2,5 years and counting......
Photo by: Vanessa Marques Barreto