Posts Tagged ‘honeymoon’

Honeymoon: Zip Lining/Surprises/Friends

July 26, 2013

As with every morning at Arenal, Sylvia and I woke up and immediately went out on the balcony to see just how much of the volcano was visible. We were pleasantly surprised to be able to actually see the entire volcano with no clouds in the sky at all.

Kind of hard to think something so pretty was once so destructive

Oddly enough, we did see something at the top, but it didn’t look like a cloud or anything. I zoomed in all the way to see that what we were looking at was actually steam! With that little bit of spectacular morning sunshine and view, we got dressed and headed down for a bit of breakfast before another adventure filled day. Shortly after that, we and a few other guests were herded into a van on toward our biggest thing for the day: sky tram and zip lining. On the ride over we started up a conversation with our new friends Steve and Tracy. We’d met them a couple of days prior on the hanging bridge tour and gotten to know them a bit. They were on their honeymoon as well and had come in from New York. Steve was the big nerd and Tracy was the runner/athlete and they were both all around awesome people. Sylvia had let them know what our schedule was at the end of that tour so they could join us on any of the other tours if sounded interesting to them and the tram/zip line adventure was up their alley. Once we pulled up at the start of the adventure, we got out and got our gear sorted out and the safety lecture which was surprisingly different from the one we’d gotten on our other zip line tour on the Caribbean side. The position we were told to hold was the exact opposite of what we were told on the other excursion. In addition, we were expressly told not to use our hands as any sort of breaking mechanism, which was also completely opposite of what we’d been told the other time. It was a bit unsettling to hear all this considering we assumed that it was going to be pretty similar to our other experience, but we didn’t really have a choice other than to go along with it. At this point, they shuffled us all into the tram carts and sent us on up to the starting point. It was kind of freaky at first because other than the cars and the cable, we were awash in a sea of green. Looking down didn’t give us any idea how far the forest floor was either. Toward the end, it felt like we were travelling nearly vertical, but thankfully my inconsistent fear of heights never really kicked in.

Where does this thing end?

Once at the top, we filed out and had a few minutes to stretch our legs, get our bearings and look back where we’d come from so we could gawk how much higher up we were.

Where’d the bottom go?

We also had just enough time to get photos of each other so we could remember what we looked like in crazy gear and silly helmets.

Steve and Tracy are adorable

We’re just silly though

When it was time to get going, we got a more practical demonstration of the proper zip line procedures and then got started. The very first thing that struck me was just how different this experience was going to be versus the Caribbean zip line tour we’d taken days before. The previous tour was all about hiking and short lines as well as a lot of wild life to explore and observe, but this zip line experience was basically all about fewer, longer, faster lines with no real exploration. It was definitely more intimidating watching Sylvia disappear on the first line at such a high speed.

Sylvia zipping along

Even though the experience was faster and more exciting than our other zip line experience, I almost preferred the hiking and nature of the previous tour to this one. Sure, it was pretty neat to zoom along at crazy speeds with such a gorgeous view, but the experience was definitely over way too fast. The last line was about a mile long, but when you’re done in under a minute, it’s harder to have a lasting impression about it.

Once we’d zipped right through the lines, all of us got our stuff and the bus took us back to the resort. Sylvia was a bit bummed out because I think she thought the zip line was over too quickly as well. I’m not really sure, but she was kind of deflated and there was a small argument as she had been thinking that I’d have planned some sort of surprise on the trip. It’s something we talk about frequently because I always remind her that she never likes surprises even if they’re good surprises. I do understand it too as I’m not usually a big fan of surprises myself, but I don’t also secretly long for them.

It ultimately didn’t matter though as Sylvia wasn’t aware that I’d actually spoken to someone at the resort that morning to have some nice flowers delivered to our cabin because there was at least one thing I knew she wanted even if she didn’t know when she wanted it. Our wedding day was such a busy affair and we both barely got to really do much more than be carried along and we had talked about renewing our vows with just the two of us. When she walked into the cabin and saw the flowers, Sylvia asked me with a worried look what was going on. I told her to put some nice clothes on because we were renewing our vows.


I can’t describe how nice it was to set up the tripod and let the camera do its thing while we renewed our vows just between the two of us. No guests, no staff, just us and the words we’d written months before and we took our time with it. Once we’d finished, I think we both felt reinvigorated both mentally and physically and we decided to head down to the pool bar to relax and get a few drinks. I can’t recall if we ran into Steve and Tracy by chance or if we’d told them to meet us there, but we ran into them at the pool all the same.

We ended up having lunch and drinks with them and just generally relaxing. It was nice really getting to know them better and hearing more about their story. I can’t remember just how long we spent hanging out in the pool together but it was definitely more than a few hours. Eventually it started to rain a bit and that put a damper on the party so we all headed back to our cabins to wait it out. Eventually Sylvia and I decided it was dinner time so we got changed and headed down for one of the nicest dinners we’d had at the resort. I wish I could remember the man’s name, but whomever was on the dessert cart that night was amazing. It was table-side crepe service and he really knew his stuff.

With our waistlines bulging, Sylvia and I headed back to the cabin to turn in. Like every other night, I think it was probably about 9 PM when we both passed out. Even now, months later, I’m still amazed how early everyone falls asleep in Costa Rica.


Honeymoon: Tabacon/La Fortuna

July 10, 2013

Waking up in Arenal, Sylvia and I finally got a chance to see the volcano itself from our room. Day one saw the volcano pretty much covered in clouds, but finally getting to see it as we woke up was pretty neat.

The only time I wouldn’t want this view is if the volcano were erupting in my direction

Additionally, day two in Arenal wasn’t nearly as packed as day one. This was by design as most of the activities Sylvia and I wanted to do were primarily happening on other days. We weren’t as sore as we were expecting considering just how much physical activity we’d been through the day before, but I’m pretty sure a lot of that had to do with us ending our day at the Tabacon hot springs. After finishing up breakfast, we decided to go back since our passes were still good from the night before.

Tabacon was a very different place in the relatively early morning than it was late at night. For starters, it was pretty empty so Sylvia and I pretty much got to play around all over the place and take a few photos before settling in to relax in the wonderful soothing hot springs.

I’m pretty sure this is cliche but I don’t really care. It looks cool.

The nice thing about the hot springs isn’t just the fresh water and the heat, but the movement too. Most of the pools were basically flowing or cascading down to other pools so there was always something moving you around a little bit. There really isn’t much else that will relax you more than that. We pretty much took the whole morning to explore the hot springs the way we couldn’t the night before and had more fun with it than you can imagine. We not only found and dipped in every single one of the isolated hot springs, but once we got to the big hot spring pool with the bar built in, we noticed something else that we weren’t expecting.

One of many times Sylvia enjoyed the slide

That’s right, hot spring water slide! We both definitely had our share of turns heading down the warm water into the pool, but Sylvia was far more insistent on visiting it time and again. The morning was more than worth spending at the hot springs and it was a good way to start the day considering our previous day was so jam packed full of activities and adventure. We did run into another couple from Charlotte of all places so I talked to them about North Carolina for a bit, all while thinking it was really weird and cool to run into someone so close to the area that I grew up.

After however many hours, we finally had our fill of the hot springs and decided to go into La Fortuna itself to grab some lunch and check out the town. The lunch wasn’t worth the time really from a food standpoint, although they did have a pretty good guanabana shake. There was a pretty sad cat that clearly was having some health issues, but there wasn’t really anything we could do about it, so we paid our bill and walked around the town. It’s a pretty small place with a central park area that’s about as big as the shops surrounding it.

La Fortuna’s central park area

Sylvia and I didn’t really find much that we hadn’t seen in other places in Costa Rica so it didn’t take long to wander around. The only two exceptions were a chocolate shop that was way too expensive and a potter’s studio that displayed the works of a number of different artists that all used the space. There was a pretty large and interesting selection of masks, so Sylvia picked one up from the owner. Oddly enough, it broke shortly after we got home, but after repairing it, I kind of liked it a little more. There was another little shop with some paintings that I remember being really floored by, but I convinced myself that I wouldn’t be able to get them home without them being damaged so I ended up passing on them. I don’t exactly regret the decision in retrospect, but I do wish that I’d have actually put a bit more thought into how I could have gotten them home. I still don’t know where I’d have put any of them in our house though.

At this point it was after at least 4 PM, so we decided to grab a cab and head back to the hotel. After getting cleaned up, we went down to the main restaurant for a really nice dinner and settled into a relaxed evening. We did have a moment where we both wanted to explore the little hot tubs that we’d seen when we originally arrived, so we headed down to check it out along with a bottle of champagne that we’d been given, only to find out that they basically shut them down after 8 PM. It was kind of lame looking into the darkness and knowing there was a functioning hot tub, but not knowing how you’d get in, much less enjoy a nice glass of bubbly. We said eff it and found a lantern and dipped in anyway though and it was nice at least for a few minutes before we realized that the champagne and hot water wasn’t a good combination for us and we hopped out and finished off the bottle in our room.

All in all, it wasn’t nearly as productive of a day as our first, at least from an adventure standpoint, but it was really refreshing to have an easy day where we could at least soak in some of the local offerings. Damn that sounds lame when I write it out, but that’s pretty much how it felt at the time. I can’t remember exactly, but I’m sure that we were asleep before 10 PM.

Honeymoon: Bridges/Waterfall/Volcano/Tabacon

June 23, 2013

Waking up our first morning at the Nayara resort was worlds different than waking up on the coast. We did have clouds, but it wasn’t nearly as humid as the coast was and we actually had a bit of a nice breeze. If I hadn’t already known we were already in the same country, I wouldn’t have believed it. I did eventually hear that there are over 100 micro-climates in Costa Rica so it makes sense; but being told that without experiencing it for yourself is something I doubt anyone would ever really believe.

Sylvia and I eventually got settled and headed down to the main restaurant for breakfast. Another nice change from the coast was that we had a nice spread to choose from every morning and there were always staff around in case you wanted juice or coffee. I’m not a coffee snob by any means, but coffee in Costa Rica is amazing. Most coffee I have is either just bad or pretty good, but something about it there really gave me a greater appreciation for the beverage. I ended up having a cup every morning after that.

Once we’d wrapped up breakfast, Sylvia and I headed to the lobby to get ready for a full day. While much of our time on the coast was spent exploring largely on our own time, while we were in Arenal, we were going to see way more than that with a pretty full schedule. The two of us and a few other guests climbed into a van and headed out to our first destination: the Arenal Hanging Bridges. Once we’d made our way there, we all piled out of the van and milled around a bit while waiting for our guide to start the tour.

Required wildlife shot!

Our guide for the day was Julio and he really did stick with us the entire day through all of our excursions. His endless energy and enthusiasm for the area along with his seemingly endless knowledge made for a particularly fun day, at least for me and I only hope I didn’t badger him too much as we started our walk through the forest. One of the first things we happened upon that had everyone giggling like schoolchildren was a kind of walking tree that had another nickname that I doubt I need to point out.

It’s a walking tree. Pervert

The interesting thing about the tour was that the hanging bridges themselves were spaced out pretty far and the total walk itself was at least 2 miles. Most of it was pretty easy and we were walking at a pretty slow pace, so it wasn’t that strenuous. The pace was perfect actually, as it gave Julio more time to talk about the forest and also to allow us to get good photos of wildlife as we happened up on them.

We weren’t expecting to see the howler monkeys but we could hear them pretty frequently

As we walked further and further, we got to taller and longer hanging bridges that started to really give us a sense of just how dense the jungle was. I’m still floored by how much green there can be in one place and just how alive everything can feel. It’s kind of funny when you stop and think about it too, because I’m sure that anyone who would try to spend the night exposed in an area like we were in would not make it more than a couple of nights either due to weather or nocturnal jungle life hungry for something to eat.

As we walked along, we did start to go up a bit of an incline as up is where the best hanging bridges were. It was a bit taxing, but nobody was in any hurry and the higher we got, the more beautiful the scale of it all became. We eventually got high enough that Sylvia started getting nervous on the bridges, which I didn’t expect because she’s normally so fearless about things like heights. I on the other hand was just fine and somehow managed to ignore the fact that we were over 100 feet in the air with a jungle so dense, we couldn’t see the floor.

You can see one of the lower hanging bridges if you look hard enough

Sylvia made a beeline for the end of the bridge after I forced her to stand still for this shot

Interestingly enough, the way the path works is that once you hit the highest point, you’re basically done and after a short walk down, you’re back at the beginning. We all crammed back into the van and headed off to our next destination: the La Fortuna Waterfall. We crossed through the town of La Fortuna on our way and were reminded that we had to walk all the way down to the bottom of the waterfall and back up. I didn’t really think much of it before actually seeing the waterfall, but then realized that we were definitely going to have to take it slow, especially on the way back up.

Hi, I’m about 600 steps deep

The payoff was definitely worth it though. We knew that we’d get a chance to swim in the pool that the waterfall flows into, but we were warned to not to try and swim near the waterfall as it would definitely pull you under. I’m more of a visual person though so I didn’t really understand till I saw and then got in with Sylvia.

It knocks you around more than you’d think

After rolling around and cooling off in the water for a bit, we got out and dried off to start the trek back up to the top again. I didn’t have the easiest time of it and I was in pretty good shape so I know that Sylvia was definitely hurting, especially with some of her foot issues, but we did eventually make it back up to the top. Julio was a really nice guide to have as well as he never tried to hurry any of us along and was more than content to hang out and just talk as we made our way.

Once we were back on flat ground, we took a bit of a break, then got back into the van and headed into town for lunch. We had a bit of time to wander about before our next destination, so we checked it out a bit and made a note that we had to come back to town to wander about a bit more. With that, we got back into our van and headed to the beginning of a trek that would take us closer to the Arenal volcano itself. On the way, Julio gave us a little lesson on how volcanoes work as well as the history of the Arenal volcano itself.

This way to the volcano!

How volcanoes work!

You can’t actually get closer than a couple of miles from the volcano, but we did eventually make it to some of the pyroclastic flows that occurred during the last major eruption. It was kind of fun scrambling over them to try and get a better view of the volcano itself, but the real view ended up being the giant Arenal lake behind us.


At this point, it was starting to get dark, so we had to turn around and start heading back. Costa Rica is definitely a place you don’t want to be out in after dark, especially anywhere near the jungles that we were around. You just never know what will come out and when a guide tells you that, you listen. On the hike back, Julio told us a bit more about himself and it’s fascinating how respected you can be by becoming a tour guide. The tests aren’t exactly easy and the better you are at it, the more tours you get sent on, so there’s a fair amount of competition to be as good as you can be. He told us that there are always stragglers, but you’ll have that in any industry the world over.

Once we’d made it back to the van, we had one last destination to head to and it was definitely good to have been saved for last. Part of our package got us a 24 hour pass to the Tabacon Hot Springs resort to use their facilities and use them we did. I don’t really know how to describe the place other than a series of hot springs fed by the volcanic heat and there were springs everywhere. Sylvia and I spent a good half an hour just trying to find them all before giving up because it was so dark out. We made plans to come back the next morning since our pass would still be good and then settled into dinner at their restaurant. The food was pretty good, but I think that was primarily because of just how starving we were after such a full day.

After gorging ourselves on food, Sylvia and I collected our stuff and called a cab. Who did we end up running into other than Fernando! I guess he was on a driver rotation in the area and just happened to be in the area at the same time as us. Sadly he wasn’t our driver, but it was nice to see him again. After getting dropped off at the resort, we made our way back to our cabin to pass out, but not before seeing what was waiting for us!

Towel pigs!

Honeymoon: Fernando/Arenal

June 16, 2013

Waking up in a bed in San Jose was far different than the Tree House on the coast. For one, there was air conditioning. For another, there weren’t any howler monkeys. That was probably my favorite thing about it, especially since we managed to sleep in a bit more than we would have otherwise. Once we got up and moving, we repacked everything and grabbed some food before heading downstairs to wait for our driver to show up so he could take us to the volcanic Arenal region. When he showed up, he introduced himself as Fernando and we go on our way.

It quickly became clear that Fernando’s English wasn’t as good as we first surmised, but that didn’t stop us from becoming quick friends. He was definitely one of the happiest people we met on the whole trip and wanted nothing more than to practice his English by learning about us and by telling us as much as he could about Costa Rica. Over the course of 4 or 5 hours, we learned about him and his family as well, but I felt it was hard to keep up, not because of any language issues, but because of how much the landscape changed as we drove. In just a few short hours we saw at least twice the variation in countryside as the photos below show.

This is different than…

…this is different than…

…this is different than…

…this. Quite the variation.

Sylvia and Fernando were definitely the closest friends as she managed to (unintentionally) get him to stop every once in a while to show us crazy things like an iguana farm, wild iguanas, teak forests like the one above, as well as a leaf that seems to bleed if you squeeze it. I was so visually stimulated that I only caught half of what was going on. At one point I heard something odd and said to Sylvia, “wait, what’s going on?” only to find out that as we were getting closer to our destination, we were also closer to Fernando’s family and he’d decided to introduce us to his folks.

I’m honestly not quite sure how we got to that point, but I want to think that Sylvia’s obsession with fresh coconuts played a part. Perhaps it was as simple as her mentioning how much she liked them and Fernando said something along the lines of, “oh we have a tree at my parents; I’ll take you and introduce you and you can have a coconut.” At least, I want to imagine that’s exactly how it happened. Just before that destination though, we stopped at a fruit stand on the side of the road to see some iguanas and a sloth.

Just as we pulled up, another car pulled over behind us which was kind of odd. Two women got out and apparently were well acquainted with Fernando so I relaxed a bit. He handed some money over to one of them and we found out later that they were the mother and sister to his baby mama. Interestingly Fernando wasn’t married to her either, which Sylvia and I thought was odd given our assumption that Latin American families would have valued that kind of thing, but it wasn’t really our business either.

Shortly after this is when we pulled up to Fernando’s family home which was a couple of houses next to each other. Most everyone seemed to be pretty busy taking care of house/yard work, but we did meet a few people briefly which was about as interesting as it was odd. Fernando then cut up a coconut for Sylvia which she quickly consumed and then we were on our way again.

When we finally rolled up to the Nayara resort that we were staying at, Sylvia and I were totally floored. We’d spent enough time on the coast in relative isolation, that the sudden exposure to a couple dozen clear tourists was kind of jarring. The resort itself was clearly much more than we were expecting as our open mouths and amazed expressions could convey to everyone around us. The public areas were all gorgeous and fun to walk around and the paths around to each of the individual cabins (no rooms, only cabins) were all lined with tall, vibrant plants. When we got to our cabin, we realized that the balcony was no only private with the plants, but each and every single of the cabins on site were oriented toward the volcano so everyone could get the same view.

Private balcony with view to the volcano? Check.

Giant bed in the middle of the room? Check

After exploring the room, Sylvia and I wandered the grounds a bit and located the spa and put our names in for a chocolate massage that afternoon. We found a little fish pond and some private Jacuzzi tubs hidden in the trees behind the pool bar. We were invited to some free sushi that night offered to the new guests at one of the two restaurants, so Sylvia and I decided that would be our plan that night. We went back to the room to relax a bit before walking back over to the spa to have our couple’s chocolate massage, but there’s not much to say about it. If you’ve had a massage before, then just add some chocolate in there and you have a pretty good idea of what it was like. I have a hard time knowing what constitutes a good massage because I’ve never had a bad one, but I definitely remember the moment they gave Sylvia and I a few minutes to shower the chocolate off and I did not have any idea exactly how much chocolate they’d used at that point because we were both covered. After checking out at the spa, we went back to the room and unpacked/cleaned up before heading to the sushi bar/restaurant. When we got seated and looked around, the decor seemed a little…weird to say the least, but I was there for the food at that moment.

Such a strange combination of colors/themes, at least to me

Sylvia’s not a big fan of seafood at all, so I ended up eating her free sushi in addition to mine for dinner and she ordered something else. Once we’d had our fill there, we wandered around a bit more, but there wasn’t as much to see since the sun had gone down at this point. Going back to the room, we discovered that the staff had given us towels folded up like pigs and we would find different animals each night when we came back. I don’t think that pigs are necessarily animals you’d think of representing love or a honeymoon, but they were sort of brilliantly made so I didn’t read too much into it. Sylvia and I started to get pretty sleepy only to realize that it was like 8 PM. We tried fighting the strange Costa Rican tendency for early bedtimes by watching some TV, but that just put us out quicker and we were definitely asleep by 9.

Honeymoon: Rafting/San Jose

June 2, 2013

We were scheduled to leave the tree house relatively early in the morning, but Sylvia and I got up at least a couple of hours earlier than that. I can’t recall if the howler monkeys got us up again or if it was just the weird nature of how early the sun comes up, but we were definitely up with enough time to pack everything up and relax a bit before our van showed up. Our ultimate destination that day was back to San Jose, but we had planned a rafting excursion that was halfway between Puerto Viejo and San Jose. On our way out, we picked up another couple and spent the next couple of hours in the car just relaxing and hearing all kinds of trivia about Costa Rica from a guide.

We were the first group to roll up to the way station for the rafting trip and there was a nice breakfast spread while we waited for the other groups to arrive. Once they did, we started to get ready with sunscreen and the right shoes before getting on another bus that took us to the beginning of the rafting experience. Along the way, we got our crash course in how to raft, row and the importance of following directions. After at least 45 minutes, we made it to the start and were assigned to a raft and guide. Sylvia and I were paired up with the couple we’d joined up with as we left the tree house area and off we went.

Having never rafted before, the first 2 minutes were a bit terrifying, but after that, it was definitely one of the most fun experiences I’d had in a long time. The rapids themselves were class 3 and 4 if that means anything to you, but for those of you that don’t know what that means, this video can give a bit of an idea of what we went through. It wasn’t rough all the time and weren’t rowing constantly, but it didn’t matter what was going on, there was a lot to see and soak in while we were on the river. We kept seeing cable pulleys stretching above the river and apparently one half of the river was the rest of the world and the other half were isolated indigenous groups that accepted occasional shipments from the rest of the world.

After a couple of hours on the water, we slowly came to the halfway point where everyone piled out of the boats to get some time on their feet and all of the guides from the other rafts started unpacking and making lunch. Not only was the lunch of whatever stuff they brought with them in watertight barrels tasty, but I was also fascinated that we brought all the leftovers with us when we left. It makes sense really; what garbage service would come to the middle of nowhere just to pick up scraps from tourists? Anyway, after resting up a bit, we all piled back into the rafts and went on our way.

It’s really hard to give a sense of the trip as I didn’t have a camera. They told us well in advance that the trip would be wet and not to bring one unless it was waterproof. They weren’t lying either because we definitely got completely soaked a few times. Shortly after lunch, we even hit a slow stretch where we could just hop out of the raft and float in the river for a bit. In retrospect, I wish I’d have had something like a GoPro camera with a waterproof case, but hindsight is always 20/20.

As we came close to the end of the trip, we saw a group of boys jumping off of a train bridge and into the river. The bridge was pretty high up over the water and Sylvia mentioned that she thought they were either showing off or trying to freak us out. They were doing a pretty good job of both considering how high up it was and how little we understood of the river depth at that point. By the time we got over their insanity, we were at the end of the river and the rafting was over. Once we got out of the raft and cleaned up and changed, we got into a different van and headed on toward San Jose.

The only photo depiction of our rafting adventure

Driving through the Costa Rican countryside is always pretty and there are always cool things to look at if you have any interest in nature at all. I’d imagine that’d be the case even if you didn’t have an interest in nature, but I can’t speak to that as much. The country itself isn’t crowded outside of San Jose, so there is always something green to look at and you’re often up in the mountains so you can see pretty far. That is assuming that it isn’t particularly cloudy out, but it was definitely sunny on our way in to civilization.

Because of the nature of time in Costa Rica however, the sun was definitely almost down by the time we arrived at our hotel. Sylvia and I didn’t care though because having a hotel room for the first time in what felt like a while that had air conditioning was amazing. We immediately pulled out all of our damp clothes and hung them all over the place and got the fan going full blast as well as some AC just for the novelty of it. After getting cleaned up and dressed, we decided to wander around a bit to try and find some food in the area, but we quickly realized that there was definitely nothing within walking distance to explore other than the bridge over the highway.

Yup, nothing to see here

After realizing that there wasn’t anywhere to go, we turned around and went back to the hotel. It was kind of strange having only the option of a hotel restaurant, but I guess that’s what happens when you go from a large variety of choices you can walk to to nothing within walking distance at all. Granted, the food was still pretty good, but it wasn’t quite the same. After dinner, we realized that we weren’t anywhere near ready for bed and we changed and hung out down in the hot tub and swimming pool for a little bit. We didn’t spend a lot of time soaking, but it was kind of refreshing in it’s own weird way. Once we’d had our fill there, we pretty much got ready for bed because there wasn’t anything else to really do and then realized, that after all the rafting and physical activity of the day, we were pretty exhausted. It didn’t take long for both of us to pass out after that.

Honeymoon: Biking Adventure/Chocolate Tour

May 28, 2013

I know I’ve mentioned how time is weird and you wake up far earlier in Costa Rica than you’d expect, but on this day, Sylvia and I were woken up by the most ridiculously awful sound ever. I thought the world was ending, but it was apparently a local family of howler monkeys reminding the universe at large that they are indeed ridiculously loud. Imagine this, but loud enough that you think it’s right next to you. I went through a range of emotions from confusion, to annoyance, to fear, to anger, to may as well get up all in about two minutes. I never did end up seeing them, but they were definitely nearby. I’m not quite sure how early it was at this point, but it couldn’t have been too much past 5 or 6. As I was now fully awake, I decided to get up and look over the bathroom counter to see exactly where my toothbrush travel case went so I could go around and get it. Strangely enough, when I leaned over to get an idea of where it was, it was definitely not where I saw it laying the night before. Confused, I decided to hop over our fence and go over and check it out anyway. I got relatively close before seeing the glinting lines from the night before and the web was definitely occupied.


I’m not a fan of spiders at all and definitely not ones several inches long like this guy so I turned around and told Sylvia that half of my toothbrush case was just gone forever. She asked why and I showed her this photo. She definitely understood where I was coming from at that point. We relaxed a bit and had some breakfast before trying to figure out what we were going to do with our day. This was our last full day on the Caribbean side of the country and we’d intentionally left it light in case there was stuff that came up after we’d gotten into town. The one thing we knew we wanted to do was a chocolate tour that we’d found about. The only other thing was we wanted one last tour of town to pick up any food/souvenirs before we were to move on. The tour wasn’t till the afternoon so we got on our crappy bikes and headed toward town.

When I say that our bikes were crappy, I meant that they were single speed jalopies not really meant to go any faster than about 9-10 MPH. As we rode on though, it became apparent that our bikes were much crappier than that. I started to notice some resistance about a mile and a half in, but Sylvia definitely started having a much harder time with her bike. Turns out our tires were kind of crap and started to let air out pretty quickly. They never got all the way flat, but they barely held enough air that it was safe to ride. It was a good thing that I ride as much as I do because I could focus most of my attention on cheering Sylvia on so that we made it into town as opposed to turning back. We’d decided that we were going to make it to town to buy a few last things and we had to just get there because I knew that there would be some bike pumps to help us get home. Turning around before then would have made the journey so much more difficult and we would have had nothing to show for it.

It was quite difficult and there was quite a lot of swearing involved, but we did end up making it into town eventually. Once in town, the first thing we did was find an air pump and then got on with the last bit of shopping. After that, we ended up walking over to the tourist center and scheduled to chocolate tour for that afternoon. It was pretty easy to set up, but we learned later it would have been cheaper/easier to just call directly but I chalked it up as a general learning experience. We picked up a bit of food/snacks at the grocery store and then checked the air in our tires again before heading back.

The ride back wasn’t nearly as stressful as the ride there because the air in the tires held out longer, but it still wasn’t easy and the tired did definitely lose a lot of air along the way. Thankfully the air held out just long enough for us to get to walking distance of the tree house so we could at least take it easy and walk the last little bit of the way. After a bit of rest, we walked over and returned the bikes to the house we rented them from so we could just be done with them. I’m still not sure if they were worth it or not because the tires held air so poorly, but they were exceptionally cheap to rent so it’s hard to say. Once they’d been returned though, we headed back to the house to relax for a bit before our chocolate tour.

We knew that the chocolate tour was pretty close to the tree house, but it turned out that the driveway up to the start was basically across the street from the entrance to the tree house. We made our way up and hung out with a few other people that started to show up before our guide made his way to us. His name was Marcos and he was a fascinating guy. He moved from Switzerland 20 years ago and ended up with a cocoa plantation through a long series of events. He gave us a bit of history as we started on our walk on the history of cocoa and how/where it’s produced today.

Not much to look at but amazing delicious on the inside

Once we’d heard more about the plant and history from him, Marcos cut off a pod from one of the trees and opened it up to show us just what they looked like on the inside. It was kind of gross to look at, but once he told us to try the fresh beans themselves, we were all hooked. I’m not quite sure how to describe the taste, but it was definitely sweet and the fruit around the bean was really chewy.

Marcos with a cocoa pod. Note the Crocs.

Now that we’d seen how cocoa grows and it tasted, it was time to learn more about how they made their chocolate. All of the chocolate produced on the site is processed pretty much entirely by hand with the exception of some assistance from an electric fan. They start the process by letting the beans ferment for a few days before letting them dry out in the sun for another few days. At that point, they’re ready for roasting and then it’s time to break the shells to get to the nibs inside. It was amazing to watch because the two step process for Marcos is to take a round rock and roll it over he beans to break them all and then take the pieces and pour them into a bowl while filtering out the shell pieces with the fan.

Step 1

Step 2

Turns out the fan tends to blow the shell pieces more than the nibs and it was fascinating to watch. After a couple of passes through the fan filter, all that was left were the nibs. Interestingly enough, Marcos said that when chocolate was first introduced to Europe, it wasn’t in a solid form, but in a drink. According to him, after some research and experimentation, he’d been able to reasonably reproduce the drink and had actually whipped up a batch for everyone to try. It was easily one of the most amazing things I’d ever tasted or possibly will ever taste.

Imagine heaven in a cup. This was better than that.

Now that we’d tasted one amazing form of chocolate, it was time for Marcos to show us how to further process the nibs he’d produced earlier. Once you’ve got the nibs, you essentially put them through a hand cranked grinder and that is where the cocoa butter comes from. He let all of us interested take turns at the crank although I apparently was pretty good at it.

I really just wanted more chocolate

Once we’d cranked out all the cocoa butter, that and the remaining nibs were cooked up a bit to basically give us a pretty pure chocolate. Once that was filtered a little bit to get out the bigger chunks, we were left with a pretty smooth chocolate that went amazingly with the bananas they had.

So warm and velvety

After we’d carefully gorged ourselves on fresh chocolate and bananas, the only thing left to the tour was to sell us what they’d produced in rolls. Marcos had everything from mint, to peanut, to pepper and a bunch of other varieties of things that he and his people had combined with the chocolate to give it different tastes and all of them looked pretty amazing. The one thing he did say is that since the chocolate was completely fresh and without any preservatives, they wouldn’t be too good after about 4-6 weeks so Sylvia and I filed that in the back of our heads as we bought a bunch for friends/family back home.

Having had our fill of knowledge/chocolate, Sylvia and I wandered back to the house to clean up a bit before going out for our last night in the region. The area around the tree house had a number of particularly varied restaurants, a lot of which had been started by ex-pats who had nearly all left their respective counties looking for something quieter and slower-paced. Our choice for the night was an Israeli place that looked pretty good. Just before we stepped out, I decided to check over the outside of the bathroom counter in case my toothbrush case had mysteriously shown up. Turns out, I ended up finding the culprit instead.

Thanks for the toothbrush case!

I hadn’t noticed before, but there were a couple of holes in the root of the tree next to the bathroom exterior and I’m assuming this guy made off with the case. I thought it was pretty cool, but it turns out that Sylvia is terrified of crabs because when I showed her, she totally freaked out worse than I do over spiders. Having solved the mystery, I bid a good night to the crab and we went out for our Israeli dinner.

The food was really good as were the drinks and it was fun talking to one of the owners. She was a relatively new mom and was supervising the installation of the Christmas decorations. Apparently most of Costa Rica doesn’t bother with Christmas decorations till December starts. I can’t describe how refreshing of an idea that was to hear. In any case, once, we’d had our fill of delicious food and drink and had said good night to everyone at the restaurant, Sylvia and I headed back to the tree house to unwind and relax for our final night. She settled in with a book and I pulled out my camera to try and get some decent long exposures to capture the last night. I think I finally succeeded although my battery died on me with the last one. Even so, I think it was exactly what I wanted it to be.

Honeymoon: Flying High/Navigating Darkness

May 19, 2013

Waking up for our second full day in Costa Rica, Sylvia and I began to realize that time is kind of weird there. The sun comes up super early, but you don’t really notice because it doesn’t feel early. Maybe it’s the head or humidity. You find yourself waking up at 5 and 6 in the morning and it doesn’t really phase you till you look at a clock and think, “wait, we’re on a honeymoon, why are we waking up this early?” It was nice in a way because we never had tours earlier than 9, so we’d essentially get a few hours to just relax and soak up our surroundings or just do something as simple as read a book.

There aren’t any walls

While Sylvia enjoyed her book, I took a bunch of photos of the house & surrounding area just to make sure that I captured it all.

Good morning!

What do I want for breakfast?

What front door?

Eventually, we got up and moving as this was going to be the day that we were going ziplining! I didn’t really have much of an expectation as I have a general fear of heights and didn’t want to think about it too much beforehand. I knew there would be lines and we’d be zipping across them, but anything outside of that sounded like a bad idea to focus on, so I didn’t. We met our neighbors who were apparently going on the tour with us. Then our driver showed up and he took us into town to be picked up by a different driver and then we headed out. Well, kind of; we ended up picking up a couple more guides along the way before turning off of the main road and on to an increasingly isolated path.

This is about how most of the trip up looked

Once we got to the top of the path, we all unloaded out of our truck and got suited up. Our guide told/showed us how the gear worked and then it was time to get moving.

That first line scared the bejeezus out of me

While I was completely and utterly terrified to begin with, once I got up on the first line and pushed on my way, I was pretty much on board from then on out. It’s hard to be terrified of the height when you’re zooming along at high speed. The way the tour worked was that there were something like 20 lines and there was a big of a hike between a few of them to start. On those little hikes, we got to see leaf cutter ants & even saw a bullet ant!

I’m a scary mofo

I’d been hoping to see one and didn’t realize I’d see one so early into the trip. They’re way bigger than I’d imagined too; a little longer than a quarter. Nobody seemed to be nearly as fascinated as I was till I started explaining what they were. The guides probably thought I was a huge nerd, but it did make the rest of the group quite wary. It didn’t help when the guides told us to not touch any trees as the canopy of the forest had more than bullet ants to worry about. Being the 10 year old boy I was at the moment, I could only think, “cool!” as we continued our trek through the forest.


Eventually, we stopped hiking between lines as there wasn’t anywhere to hike to but straight down. Because we were suddenly in platforms suspended in the trees.

There’s about 100 feet between the platform and the jungle floor below

It was definitely a bit scary considering some of the platforms didn’t feel like they were solid. This was because they were hanging from further up in the tree, so they did actually rotate a bit whenever anyone landed on the platforms. This was about the point that I really started paying attention to not touching anything as well because I did see a couple more bullet ants and there’s always this guy just to the side of one of the platforms:

Oh hai! I’m actually deadly!

While it made me nervous, it really was pretty cool since the guides didn’t seem to be worried. If the locals start to worry, then you should worry but not before. We continued on and eventually found ourselves at a gap that didn’t have a line we could zip across. Apparently it was something called a Tarzan swing which I’d never heard of and definitely wasn’t looking forward toward experiencing. I’m not quite sure how I made it across but Sylvia made it look positively easy.


At that point we were essentially done with the tour. Once we’d ended up back at the beginning, we wordlessly relaxed as some of the adrenaline wore off and we tried to collect ourselves. The hiking took more out of Sylvia than I think she was expecting and I slowly realized that I’d spent more time hanging high above than with my feet on the ground so a bit of rest was in order. The tour brought us back to town where we met our driver and we were pretty much ready to head back to the tree house at least for a bit. After about an hour or so, we were rested up and decided to wander out for some food and to see if there was anywhere we could rent a pair of bikes. We’d seen them in town, but one of our neighbors said there was a place up the road that was pretty cheap so that was where we headed.

We did end up finding a house that had spare bikes to rent, so we picked up a couple and kept heading in the direction we were going before finding a nice Caribbean place that everyone had mentioned at some point or another. The food was amazing and the drinks were definitely wonderful and before long, we realized that it was quite dark outside. Night in Costa Rica falls much earlier than you’d think it should given how warm it is, but it makes sense that sun up at 5 am and sundown at 5 pm for a full 12 hours of daylight. As we started to leave the restaurant, we noticed that something was very wrong with the road. The street lights in the direction of the tree house were completely out.

Most people think they know what darkness is, but when you’re halfway across the world on an empty road with no moon or stars out, that’s darkness. Add in Sylvia and I rolling along with our crappy bikes and it was pretty spooky. We got down the road about a few mintues before another rider with the best technology ever came up on us. She had a lamp and was more than happy to ride with us as apparently the road wasn’t exactly safe at night for people alone. We chatted along the way and when we got to the tree house, we asked if she needed us to follow her back to her place, which she politely declined.

Now back at the house, we noticed that none of the lights of the grounds were on either. We didn’t know what had happened, but something had knocked out the power in our neck of the woods and there wasn’t anything to be done about it. All we could find out is that it might be fixed the next day, but definitely not that night. That made sense in the moment considering how remote we were, but my Chicago-brain kept trying to say, “wait, what do you mean? Power always comes back on within an hour assuming it ever goes out.” We were given a bunch of candles as well as a high powered flashlight and that was about that. At this point, one of us asked the other what time it was. It was 7PM.

What power?

This might have sounded like torture since a usual bedtime during the week is like 11 PM, but Sylvia and I did start to get tired around 9 PM. We thought at the time the lack of any light just made us sleepy, but we found out over the course of the trip that it’s really hard staying up past 9 in Costa Rica, even with powered light. It makes sense if you’re waking up at 5 am every morning, but when you’re on vacation, you can only think how unfair it is to go to bed that early. In the process of trying to brush my teeth before bed, I managed to knock one half of my toothbrush travel case off into the jungle. I took the flashlight and entertained the idea of trying to go around and get it, but after seeing a few glinting lines in the jungle, I thought better of it and decided to just go get it in the morning. I remember drifting off to sleep hoping that we’d have some power in the morning even though I knew it’d be highly unlikely.

Honeymoon: Unfolding/Exploring

May 13, 2013

While I can’t say that we slept that well after the adventures of getting to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, any sleep was far more restorative than you’d think and we were awake and up the next morning by at least 6 AM if not a little bit earlier. It’s hard to be specific because time goes all weird in Costa Rica, but I’ll get into that more later. One of the first orders of business was to get a little bit of food in us and take stock of the tree house and then get a call in to the airport to see what was going on. The lines were still not responsive and I decided to do something that I’d never thought of and used the credit card to make an international call. I’ll never do it again because it was frustrating and ultimately expensive, but the lesson I’ve learned is that you should always have an international calling card when traveling abroad, so there’s that at least.

I was finally able to get in touch with the airline itself and they confirmed that my bag had indeed made it to the airport and that it was going to be on a shuttle that day so I should have it by some time in the afternoon and I just needed to confirm the address of the tree house. I then had the amusing pleasure to explain to the American customer service agent that addresses don’t exist in Costa Rica like they do in most places. There isn’t really such a thing as a street address, everything is province, town name and relation to a common landmark. In the case of the tree house, Limon province, Playa Chiquita, 200 meters east of the local school. Even though her confusion wasn’t reassuring, I told myself there wasn’t any reason worrying about it because the locals would know what it’d mean and I could only trust in them at this point.

Sylvia was still pretty shaken up from the night before, but with the call done we had several hours to kill till our first tour so we decided to explore a bit.

Yep, the living room has no walls

In the light of day, the tree house itself was clearly not a house up in a tree, but more like a house that had been built in/around a tree. However, one of the bedrooms was up in a tree with walkways connecting it to the main floor, so some part of our expectation wasn’t entirely off. It was a little disappointing considering how we’d built it up for ourselves as this vertical space, but it was still certainly something to look at and the overall quality of the space was actually quite nice. There were two or three other houses and beach access, so we decided to wander around and check out the grounds.

Costa Rica being pretty green is a bit of an understatement

The beach looked pretty nice, but wasn’t really much like any beach I’d seen before. Sure, the ocean is the same one I’ve seen on family trips, but the beach at that access point wasn’t terribly open and it was clear there was a lot of rock going on under the surface so trying to swim there wouldn’t have been terribly smart. I ended up getting bored because I was still in my travel clothes comprised of dirty t-shirt, jeans and combat boots. I think I was expecting the boots to come in handy for hiking or something, but I never wore them again after that day.

Make smarter carry on packing decisions than this guy

Heading back to the house, we got ourselves situated a bit more and just generally relaxed until it was time to meet our driver and go on our first tour at the local jaguar rescue center. At least it was labeled as a tour of the jaguar rescue center, but there weren’t any actual jaguars. The place got started as a rescue center for a single jaguar and has since become something of a home for wayward or distressed animals. It definitely exceeded my expectations, especially considering the wide variety of animals they were taking care of.

Hi, I’m a toucan. I’m mostly friendly and only slightly menacing

Sylvia’s highlight was definitely the monkey enclosure. I definitely had no interest as I don’t trust monkeys as a rule and I was still wearing my horribly filthy clothes; the last thing I needed was to add possible monkey urine to the mix. I’m not competitive either and I’m fairly sure that I would have become subservient to the collective and never come home.

Yeah, she’s smiling now, but she’ll soon realize that she’s been urinated on

Once the tour was over and we’d wandered around a bit to see some of the animals a bit more, we got in our van and the driver asked us where we wanted to go. We weren’t prepared for this question as we assumed we’d go back to the house and asked if we could go into town. After a couple of minute drive, we were dropped off in Puerto Viejo and told to just come ask for him at the cab stand and he’d take us home.

This is about half of what there is to see in town

I wasn’t expecting there to be much to do/look at, but Sylvia wanted to check it out and we were getting hungry anyway so we figured we could have a local lunch before heading back. After filling up on wonderfully Caribbean-style food, we hit the shops to check them out. Most of everything was fairly similar but there were bits of art here and there that was definitely unique. I picked up an overpriced bathing suit at a shop since we still weren’t certain when exactly my luggage was going to show up. We picked up a bit of food at the grocery store and then found our driver and headed back to the tree house.

Since we still had daylight and I had a bathing suit, Sylvia and I decided to hit the beach and go for a walk to find somewhere to swim.

Not a lot of sand on the beach, but definitely a lot of life to be seen

We ultimately ended up walking pretty close to a mile before we found a stretch of beach that didn’t appear to have the rocky formations just under the water so we could actually get in and take a dip. I was still pretty nervous considering I still felt like the ocean was pretty restrictive compared to the beaches in North Carolina my dad’s family goes to every year, but I just tried to relax and enjoy it. After we tired ourselves out, we made the trek back to the house as it was past time when my luggage should have shown up. It wasn’t there, which was disheartening and stressful, but at that point, we were exhausted so Sylvia and I started to get a bit cleaned up at least so we could lounge and just relax.

No longer than 5 minutes passed after she got in the shower than I heard the crunch of someone walking up our walk way to the house. I wasn’t sure who it was, but once I saw somebody holding over their head what appeared to be luggage, I was immediately relieved and grateful at the same time. My luggage had finally caught up with me.

Thankfully I hadn’t taken my shower yet, but when I did, it was the most glorious shower ever; almost as glorious as the brand new clean clothes felt on my skin. When you’ve been in the same clothes for a full day, it’s not fun, but when you’ve been in clothes/boots that have traveled hours in the air, hours in a vehicle and then hours on foot in a tropical location, it’s a lot harder than you’d think to continue enjoying the fact that you’re basically in paradise. Sylvia and I were both so ecstatic, we decided to wander down the road to one of the several restaurants and have a nice dinner to commemorate our first full day in Costa Rica. Well that and to celebrate clean clothes for the rest of the trip. It finally felt like we were on a honeymoon.

Honeymoon: Getting There/The Luggage

May 5, 2013

I thought I’d written about all this already, but after being asked by Katy about it, I clearly haven’t. I guess I did get around to uploading photos, which somehow translated to my brain that I had written about it as well. Life after the wedding and then the honeymoon itself have really calmed down in a lot of ways. It’s gotten crazier in other ways, but there’s time for that later.

After the wedding was over and we’d had time to decompress and get ready for our trip to Costa Rica, we finally actually went. The day or two before, Sylvia looked at our tickets and started to freak out a bit because it looked like we had all of a 30 minute layover in Texas prior to the second flight on to Costa Rica itself. I wasn’t really worried because why would an airline take our money if there wasn’t any confidence that our luggage would make it? When we got to the airport, Sylvia asked just to confirmed and the guy behind the counter assured us that our luggage would make it to the second plane before we would; all we would have to do is make it to the gate and we’d be all good.

The first flight was pretty uneventful and when we were in the process of landing in Texas for our connection, we started looking at the map of where we’d be landing and the location of the second gate and that’s when I started to worry a bit if we’d make it. I assumed that with some running, we’d be fine, but Sylvia really can’t run so it was a matter of figuring out how to make it and not miss our connection. We did meet another couple from our first flight that was headed to the same connection, so we got a bit of teamwork going in terms of making sure that all of us were going to get on the flight. Whomever got there first would hold the gate for the rest of us and I think that made everyone calm down a fair amount. The run to the second gate was pretty uneventful and we all made it with about 5 minutes to spare which was just dandy.

I don’t really remember too much about the second flight other than looking down on the mountains/volcanoes of Costa Rica as we were landing. I do remember that it was awesome to see a new part of the world from the sky and know that we were close to being in a vehicle zooming through the countryside on the way to our first stop on the Caribbean coast. After landing and navigating through customs, I went to change money while Sylvia pulled our luggage off the return. I do remember thinking to myself that if any of our luggage didn’t make it, I’d prefer it’d be mine as I knew that I’d be able to get by for a day or two without any other gear. After wandering over to Sylvia to see what was up, she was clearly panicking and apparently that is exactly what happened. Her luggage made it and mine didn’t.

At that point, all I could do was shrug and wander over to one of the desks to try and figure out how to get our luggage and determine when it’d make it to us. The attendant told us that the bag wasn’t lost and that it was going to be on the next flight into Costa Rica and that they should be able to get it to us later that night. They knew where to deliver it and gave us a couple of phone numbers to call in case we needed to get more information. After that there wasn’t much to do other than make our way to our driver and to be chided by Sylvia for not packing any toiletries in my carry on. I’m ashamed to say that I can’t recall our driver’s name because he was a really nice guy and looked like the Central American equivalent to my dad.

Like this, just more Latin American

Once we were in the van, we got on our way to experience some of the worst traffic that I’ve ever seen before finally getting out of San Jose. We didn’t get a lot of daylight as the sun was already on its way out and we got to drive through pretty much either rain or clouds for a while before stopping for some dinner at a little roadside stop. The food was pretty good and it was nice to get a break from constantly being on the move and stretch our legs and fill our bellies. We got back on the road and spent a few more hours in darkness bouncing around the countryside while waiting to get to our little ocean-side tree house. One interesting thing about the long drive was what was apparently the popular song at the moment. We heard this song no less than four times on the drive. It became more amazing every single time it came up on the radio.

When we finally pulled up to our destination, it was a little confusing at first because it was pretty dark and clear that the location itself was isolated and sparsely inhabited. I’m not sure why, but I was confused that the site only had four houses on the grounds when it clearly stated that on the website. Maybe I just assume too much when I travel that there’s a giant hotel within some sort of visual range, but that was definitely not the case here.

Our greeter was a fairly unusual and interesting guy but he didn’t speak a word of English so there wasn’t much we could communicate about at that point and we were pretty beat anyway. Once we figured out some of the lights and got our bearings, our driver headed on his way. Unfortunately, when we tried calling the airport to confirm that our luggage was still going to make it that night because we were pretty remote, none of the numbers they’d given us worked. I actually couldn’t tell if I was getting a proper dial tone at all. Quickly realizing that our greeter/security guy was going to be no help in getting through, we managed to somehow figure out how to get him to call the driver back to help us out since his English was pretty good.

Thankfully he hadn’t gone far, so he was back pretty quickly to help us figure out the phone. As best as we could figure, the airport was closed so no one was answering the phone and there wasn’t a machine to indicate as such. It was after 10 PM at this point so that kind of made sense (especially in retrospect), but it was a little scary in the moment to think that I wasn’t going to get my luggage after I’d been told otherwise. Hell, was I going to get my stuff at all? There wasn’t a way to confirm! In between the stress of not having the luggage, the late night, the language barrier and Sylvia becoming increasingly upset about what was not the greatest start to our trip, it was a little much and my brain melted down enough to make the executive decision that we’d just leave it to the morning and at least get some sleep. Considering we’d been traveling for something like 18 hours or something crazy like that, I still think it was the right call.

We managed to get settled in with few issues due to the exhaustion and drifted off in to some form of sleep, which is amazing to consider that we’d gone from Chicago in winter to a literal jungle in the middle of nowhere all in the span of a day.

%d bloggers like this: