Friday, September 1, 2006
Our flight to Dallas and onward to San Francisco was uneventful and we were home by 8:30pm.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Not wanting to go back to the hotel so early we decided to be a little adventurous and took the public bus into Alajuela where we walked around for a while. We wanted to eat at Jalapenos Comida Tex Mex which is owned by Norman from Vida Tropical. I had tried to make a reservation to stay at Vida Tropical but I never got a response from Norman and when checking my email that morning I saw one from Norman saying that he missed us. Obviously, his confirmation email got lost and I wanted to meet him and apologize and explain that I never got his email.
The Moon guide said it was east of the Central Park so we looked all over but couldn’t find it. We then began to look at the other sides of the park and finally found it a few blocks to the east. We had a great taco lunch compete with guacamole, rice and beans ($4.50). Talked with Norman for bit and then headed back to the Central Park to catch a $4 taxi back to Orquideas.
That night we had a good dinner and drank our last Imperials and Pilsens at the hotel bar and went to bead early.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Next we wanted to see the inside of the National Theatre. We got into a line for tickets but it seemed to be taking a really long time for the line to move so we decided to leave and come back later. We then walked up to the pedestrian mall on Avenida Central and made our way to the Mercado Central. This place has something for everybody: knick-nacks, appliances, meats, vegetables, live chickens, DVDs, you name it and you can probably find it there.
From the Mercado Central we walked back east to a park where we could sit and get our bearings. It turned out that we were right near the Jade Museum which we wanted to check out not so much for the jade but the museum is located on the 11th floor and supposedly offers a great view of the city. When we got to the entrance we saw that cameras were not allowed so we decided to skip it and go get some lunch instead.
We walked back south to the Aveneda Central and after consulting the LP guide, we went to the News Café which is located on the ground floor of the Hotel Presidente. It seemed to be a popular place with Americans and Tico business people. The food was very good and surprisingly reasonably priced. We did see one American “knucklehead” type to had a scantly clad women with him and his buddy. Someone from the restaurant brought her a coat so she could cover up. I’m assuming she was a prostitute.
After lunch, we headed to the Museum of Contemporary Art which is located in a 150 year old building that once contained a liquor factory. The museum ($3) was my favorite place in San Jose and had some really great exhibits.
From there we walked to the Plaza de la Democracia where we found an open air crafts market. It was mostly the same stuff we saw in all the souvenir shops around the country but much lower prices.
Our next stop was going to be the criminology museum which was located in one of the court buildings. We got a little lost but eventually found out way to the cour house complex. We weren’t sure which building the museum was located so just as we started to look around it started to rain really hard. Even though we had umbrellas we had to take shelter in a doorway for one of the court buildings with other Ticos. We had fun watching people brave the rain to make the dash across to the other buildings. Whenever someone would make it people would cheer. After waiting about 30 minutes the rain finally let up and we then learned that the museum no longer existed!
We walked back to the National Theatre and found that the slow moving line we were in before was the line to but tickets to performances and not to tour the theatre itself. We got our tickets, went inside and someone from the theatre gave a brief overview and history of the building. We were free to walk around and check out the beautiful rooms and murals. Cameras were allowed but no flash photography.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
As we got to Alajuela we decided to stop at the airport to check on the status of our flight the next day. We learned that our flight had been canceled but they had no more information available for us and said we had to call American airline customer service from a phone to see when we would be able to leave. On the way back to Orquideas we stopped at the Mega Super in Alajuela and stocked up on coffee and salsa chillero (we are able to buy Lizano where we live in San Francisco). The coffee in the supermarket is ½ what they charge in the tourist areas.
We headed back to Orquideas and my wife made the calls and learned that the soonest they would be able to fly us home would be on Friday morning. This worried us as we both had obligations back at home be we decided to put that all behind us and make the best of the two next days we were going to be in Costa Rica. I called Tricolor to come pick up the car and when the guy arrived, he said the car was too dirty and caked with mud to make sure that we hadn’t damaged it in any way. He said that he trusted us and tore up the credit card imprints what would have covered any damage that the insurance did not. He also didn’t charge us for an extra day even though we returned the car 5 hours late. We spent the rest of the evening in the bar hanging out with other travelers who had just arrived in Costa Rica and giving them suggestions on where to go and what to see.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Playa Carillo is about 5km south of Samara and the road there is nicely paved. The beach is crescent shaped and stretches for a few kilometers. We passed the beach and went up[ the hill into the town which consists of only a few hotels, a school, and a small grocery store where we got a few cold drinks and drove back to the eastern end of the beach and laid our towels out under the shade of one of the many palm trees that line the beach. There are also some concrete tables with chairs under the trees if you wanted to have a picnic or something. The beach was mostly deserted with only a few tico families nearby. The beach itself is very nice but the waves were somewhat brutal. The beach has a late break and a mild undertow so swimmers should be careful. On the far eastern portion of the beach are some tide pools that were quite hot as they were heated by the sun. After a few hours we headed back to Samara, took a dip in the pool and had a pretty good pizza at the hotel’s Italian restaurant (Pizza-a-go-go). My wife took a nap while I went back to Las Olas for a few beers. I ended up talking to a few newly arrived American and Canadian girls who were going to be studding Spanish at the intercultural school. It was their first time in Costa Rica and they were all doing home stays and would be learning Spanish.
After a while I headed back to the hotel and got the wife up so we could go have dinner somewhere. We walked around town but nothing looked too good so we ended up going back to the hotel restaurant and I had some pretty good raviolis for dinner. Afterwards we went to the La Gondola bar for a drink. La Gondola is a cool place with a pool table, ping pong, and a dart board. After a few drinks we then headed to Shake Joe’s for a last beer and then went to bed.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Since we didn’t eat breakfast we were pretty hungry so we headed down to Shake Joe’s for sandwiches and some awesome blended icy fruit shakes (they are good with a shot of added tequila!). We saw a topless woman wearing only a thong at the beach who was getting a good share on gawkers. Personally I have nothing against nude sunbathing (and was enjoying the view myself) but I think it’s disrespectful to the townspeople to do it blatantly in the open. After lunch the beach was looking pretty inviting so we went back to the Gadia to change into our swimwear. As soon as we got to the beach it started to rain. So we walked back to the hotel to relax in our room and watch some TV.
After a few hours the rain stopped so we took a dip in the pool and then headed out to walk around and scout out a good place for dinner. Someone had recommended El Lagarto which is a few hundred yards west of where the main street dead ends at the beach. They didn’t open until 6pm so we had some time to kill. We ended up nearby at Las Olas just down the beach. Las Olas is a pretty big Tico bar with a few pool tables. I think they also serve food but the kitchen was closed while we were there. There are also some big tall benches outside that face the beach and is a perfect place to sit and people watch while having a few beers which is exactly what we did for the next hour or so.
At 6pm we headed over to El Lagarto and ordered drinks. Seeing that the menu was a little pricey, I ran back to the hotel to get some more $$ out of the room safe. The restaurant has a giant BBQ along the side and specializes in chicken and steaks. We split a salad and both had big steaks with a large potato and vegetables. Our bill with tax and tip came to $56 but was well worth it. I saw someone being served the chicken which looked pretty good and was only $9.50. After dinner we were full and tired so we headed back to the hotel, watched some TV and then crashed out for the night.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
After waking up we headed to Gardino Tropical for dinner but found it closed so we headed back to Gilded Iguana and had a really good grilled chicken casaso for dinner. Kat went to bed and I stayed up with the hotel owner and watched part of an NFL game on TV and then went to bed myself.
Friday, August 25, 2006
After returning to Gilded Iguana Dave and Phadera were up and invited me to come to breakfast with them at Soda Tica with is located near Café de Paris and Marlin Bills. We walked up there and I had a really good $3 breakfast of gallo pinto, eggs, and coffee. We then walked to Coconut Harry’s so Dave could rent a surf board. We then walked back along the beach back to Gilded Iguana. The wife had finally woken up and was hungry for breakfast so we decided to head to Harbor Reef lodge. Harbor Reef looked like a really nice place to stay. Beautiful pool with swim up bar and wonderfully landscaped grounds.
After my wife ordered a huevos rancheros breakfast (excellent by the way) we discovered that her hand purse was missing (along with our passports inside) from my backpack. I went back to the hotel and couldn’t find it so I retraced our steps back to Blew Dogs where we had dinner the night before. Fortunately, the bartender from the night before found it and turned it in. Seeing that everything was still inside (some cash included) I offered a reward but was politely refused.
Since it was a beautiful day we got some drinks at the mini super and headed down to the beach for a few hours. The beach has a pretty good rip tide so swimmers need to be careful, especially at high hide.
After a dip in the pool at Gilded Iguana, we then took a drive up to Playa Pelada and had a late lunch/early dinner at Olga’s which is located right on the beach (the only bar/restaurant on the beach). Afterwards we hooked up with Dave and Phadera and went to have some really good ice cream at Robin’s located near Café de Paris. After a late night dip in the pool we hit the sack.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Driving around I saw how while there were a lot of houses, they were very unobtrusive with many of them hidden amongst the trees. I am assuming that the Nosara Civic Association keeps a tight reign on development and on what can be built. There is a 200 meter exclusion area along the beaches where no development is allowed. There are a few buildings in the exclusion area in Playa Pelada that were grandfathered in since they were there before the exclusion zone was put into place.
I made my way into the town of Nosara and found it to be a typical Tico town with a few stores, bars, and restaurants. Nothing special there. They are building a new modern gas station just off the road into town. It looked to be 90% complete. The nearest gas station is back 45 minutes south on the road to Samara so this will be good for the locals and tourists.
Other things of note - there is a Banko Popular (no ATM though) next to Café de Paris and a mini super with internet café just down the street from Blew Dog’s and Gilded Iguana
After driving back to the Gilded Iguana I ate breakfast at their restaurant. I had the typico breakfast and it was very plain and uninspiring (in contrast to their lunch and dinners. More on that later).
My wife finally woke up and we decided to take a walk up to Café de Paris which was maybe 1km away. It started to sprinkle so we took umbrellas with us. When we were almost half way there it really started to rain really hard so we were forced to turn back and get the car. Once at Café de Paris my wife had a really good chicken sandwich on freshly baked bread (I saw the bread come out of the oven). I was still full from breakfast so I just had a coke. We played some cards to pass the time. I saw a Tico kid park his quad by the bakery entrance and he forgot to set the brake and it started to roll downhill towards our rental car! Fortunately it hit a rock that stopped it before it crashed into anything. Café de Paris has a fast (but expensive $10/hr) satellite internet connection so we decided to take advantage and check email.
It looked like it was going to rain all day so we decided to take a drive to Samara. It’s about 45 minutes over bad road to Samara back the way we came into Nosara. During the dry season there is a shortcut but when it rains the Rio Buenavista crosses the road and you need to take the long way around to get there.
Once in Samara, it had mostly stopped raining so we parked the car and had lunch at Shake Joes which is located right on the beach. It’s a funky place with giant chairs with mattresses on them and tables with thatched covering. Unfortunately, due to the rain they had to take all the mattresses off of the chairs so we had to sit on normal chairs under the awning of the restaurant. I had a really good tuna sandwich with a few beers. After staying in Nosara we had originally planned on heading to Montezuma or Mal Pais but since we had already been to those places last year and I wasn’t looking forward to the long drive we decided to walk around the town and check out a few different places that were recommended in the Moon and LP guides if we decided to spend a few days there after leaving Nosara.
After walking around we drove back to Nosara and stopped at Marlin Bill’s to check out their dinner menu. The choices looked good but expensive. The cheapest thing on the menu was $16. We then took a walk on the beach and watched the sunset. We returned to Gilded Iguana for a dip in the pool and then headed to Blew Dogs where new friends Dave and Phadera and another couple joined us for a yummy dinner where I had chicken enchiladas and my wife had spaghetti.
When we were going to bed we found one of the hotel’s cat hanging outside our door. We invited her in and she spend the night in our room with us (she was very well behaved). We finally hit the sack at around 11pm
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
I had been in contact through email with an American veterinarian who lived part time in Nosara. He wasn’t going to be there when we visited but he told me to stop by a veterinary clinic in Nicoya and the doctor there would show me around. I forget to bring the directions with me to the clinic but remembered it was near the central park. We drove up and down every street looking for it. We then stopped at the police station where nobody spoke any English but were very eager to help. They showed me a map of the city and pointed at a few areas but I don’t think they really knew what I was looking for. I finally stopped at a human medical clinic and fond someone who spoke English who knew where the veterinarian was located and give me precise directions.
I finally found the veterinarian. He spoke good English and showed me around his clinic. I was very impressed with his equipment and found that in some ways they do things better there then what we do here in the states. He had a lot of plans to upgrade his hospital and want to make it more state of the art (at least by Costa Rican standards).
After leaving the vet we continued on to Nosara on the paved road to Samara. After the turn of to Nosara the road deteriorated into the typical pot holed road that Costa Rica is famous for. We arrived at the Gilded Iguana at about 3pm. The property consists of three buildings that contain rooms (I think 12 in all) Our room was on a second floor and wasn’t fancy but it was huge. It included a small refrigerator and coffee pot with café Britt coffee. The room had bug screens and louvers on three walls to allow fresh air to come in.
Kat was tired and took a nap so I hung out in the bar and had a few beers with the hotel owner, Patti, and a few expat locals. Everybody was very friendly. The bar/restaurant area is on the ground floor and is covered with graffiti and drawings from past guests.
After Kat woke up we went across the street to Blew Dogs Surf Camp for a late lunch. Blew Dogs is a fun bar with a continuous stream of surf videos playing on the two TVs and also has a pool table. There we met Dave and Phadera who live about 90 miles south of us in California. They were also staying at Gilded Iguana. We all then walked down to the beach which was very pretty. The only drawback to the beach is there are no trees directly on the beach so people have built little shade huts from driftwood that line the beach every 200 meters or so.
After watching the sunset we all headed back to Gilded Iguana and found a small party to be going on in the pool area with some of the locals who work at Blew Dogs. The bartender was making sure that everybody was having a good time by mixing up some really strong drinks! We stayed in the pool area for a few hours before going to bed at around 10pm
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Since it was a gorgeous day we decided to chill at the beach. On the way we stopped at the Super-2000 to pick up some beers and snacks. In the store we met a Tica who had been living in Tamarindo for the past three months working in real estate. Even though she was making a lot of money she said she couldn’t take it anymore and had to move back to Escazu. Other locals told me that they can no longer afford to live in the area and don’t know how they will be able to get to work as their rents keep getting raised and they need to move further and further away.
After the beach we headed back to Pasatiempo for a dip in the pool and a late lunch. We played cards and talked to other people in the restaurant/bar. That night at the bar, it was the weekly Tuesday party that features local bands that played some really good blues music. They stopped selling food at the restaurant when the music started so at around 10pm we were a little hungry and walked into town looking for a snack. We ended up at Fiesta del Mar where I had a tasty dish of arroz con pollo. After that we headed back and went to sleep.
Monday, August 21, 2006
We ate a tipico breakfast of gallo pinto, eggs, tortillas, coffee and juice that was included with the room at the hotel. After breakfast we drove back into town to get some pictures of the church with the volcano in the background.
We then checked out of the hotel and drove around Lake Arenal on our way to Tamarindo. The road around the lake was mostly well paved with only a few rough spots. We made it to Liberia in good time and the good road continued to Belen but after that the road condition really deteriorated the rest of the way to Tamarindo.
Once in Tamarindo we were horrified with all the changes since our visit last June. Lots of construction and new buildings - mostly 5-6 story condominiums, a pizza hut, subway sandwiches, TCBY yogurt and a Burger King! After checking in at Hotel Pasatiempo we were also disappointed to learn that several of our favorite staff members were no longer working there. We walked down into town dodging the trucks hauling construction equipment and choking on their dust clouds. We found that several of the restaurants we liked last year were either out of business or had been replaced with new buildings. We ended up at Nibbana (we ate there last year) and found that most of the tables closer to the beach were gone as a result of enforcing the 25 meter rule that nothing can be built or owned by non citizens that close to the water. We had pizza that was ok. We then walked down to Witches Rock surf camp which is now more fancy with higher prices and the waiters wearing uniforms. With advertising “Nachos as big as your ass” you would think this place would be more laid back! We then went back to Pasatiempo for a swim and hung out in their restaurant/bar playing scrabble until it was time to go to bed.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
We took the “back route” to Arenal turning north on to highway 4 and going through Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, San Miguel, and San Carlos. It was a pleasant and easy drive with abrely any other traffic and took us about five and a half hours to get to La Fortuna pretty much without stopping. The highway brought us directly into town and we continued on toward the volcano and our hotel which was 2km past the town of La Fortuna proper. Just as we checked into our hotel, La Pradera, we got a glimpse of the volcano and then it started to rain pretty hard. Our room was decent and had a small porch area with chairs to admire the volcano and was worth the $65/night price (tax and breakfast included)
Since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, we were hungry so we drove back to La Fortuna and ate a somewhat pricey Mexican lunch at Las Brasitas. It started raining really hard. Too hard to even make it back to the car so we ended up lingering over our Imperials a bit longer than we wanted. The rain finally let up and we walked around the town of La Fortuna for a bit before heading back to La Pradera where we hung out in the rather uninspiring bar and the watched the soccer highlights on TV and the bartender explained about the local teams and rivalries. We then went for a nighttime swim and afterwards craved something sweet so drove back to La Fortuna for an ice cream at Volcan Cone and a nightcap at the karaoke bar where we heard a girl with a amazing voice belting out some Diana Ross songs. After returning to the hotel we still couldn’t see but could hear a rhythmic thumping sound coming from the volcano
Saturday, August 19, 2006
After leaving the vet clinic we stopped by a roadside stand where a woman was selling some tasty frozen mango juice in plastic bags where you bite off a corner and suck the frozen juice out. Collin also bought some fresh eggs and fruit from her and we then headed back to Puerto Viejo stopping at the school in Hone Creek where Roberto is a teacher and watched the kids play drums in the soccer field.
We were a little low on gas so we went into town and bought two gallons from a local guy who sells it out of his house from cans. He only marks each gallon up a few hundred colonies so it was a pretty good deal.
We then drove up to Cahuita for lunch but the restaurant, Cha Cha Cha, which was recommended was closed. The town seemed pretty dead but there were people around the national park so we ate at the National Park Café and watched kids playing with a soccer ball on the beach.
We drove back to Banana Azul, had a swim in the ocean and then headed into town for dinner. Since it was Saturday night the town was quite packed with people walking around. We ended up eating at Café Rojo (excellent curry) and a late cocktail at El Dorado before heading back and going to bed.
Friday, August 18, 2006
On the way back we stopped at a local ingenious family’s house where the mother showed us how she made chocolate from the coco bean. Very interesting! We then bought various chocolates and brownies flavored with nutmeg, mint, and clove. All were delicious!
After getting back we went into town for lunch and ended up at Amimodo, a Italian restaurant on the southern edge of town right by the water. We sat outside with a view of the ocean and had some pretty tasty antipasto and pizza. We then checked our email at the internet café and then had some drinks back at El Dorado (becoming our local watering hole). After going back to Banana Azul for a dip in the ocean we drove to Playa Chaquita with Collin, Roberto and the other guests for an awesome dinner at Jungle Love. After returning to Banana Azul, Roberto and I stayed up talking and drinking beer until pretty late.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
After breakfast we decided to head down and check out the beaches towards Manzanillo. Kay from El Dorado said to turn left after the third bridge past Punta Uva but we couldn’t find it and ended up at the end of the road in Manzanillo. We took a turn towards the Marisqueria Arrecife restaurant and ended up at a picture perfect beach that only contained about 12 other people as far as we could see. After a few hours on the beach and swimming we were getting hungry so we drove back north a little bit to the other side of Punta Uva where we had some tasty casados at the Ranchito Beach Restaurant.
After driving back to Banana Azul we met up with the other guests and all headed into town for dinner at El Loco Natural. AWESOME food and live Caribbean style music consisting of a guy singing and playing electric guitar accompanied by another guy playing a homemade standup bass.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
After breakfast the driver from Tricolor car rental arrived right on time at 9am. He didn’t speak much English but we finally figured out that we needed to go with him back to the office at the airport (last time they just dropped off the car and did the paperwork at the hotel). We checked out of the hotel, loaded our luggage in the rental and headed to the office near the airport. The paper work was completed quickly and we were on the road an hour later at 10am.
After filling up the gas tank, we followed directions to avoid downtown San Jose on the way to the highway that would take us to the Caribbean coast but took a wrong turn somewhere, got lost and ended up in downtown San Jose. After consulting the map in the Lonely Planet book we were able to get our bearings. The Holiday Inn was a good, tall landmark located near the road that leads to the highway and we quickly found our way out of the city.
The drive to Puerto Viejo wasn’t bad. There is a toll booth just out of San Jose so it’s a good idea to have some colonies ready (I don’t know if they accept dollars). The highway was in good condition, traffic was fairly light and it rained most of the way to Limon. We saw a few trafficos (traffic police) but since it was raining they seemed more interested in staying dry inside their police cars then pulling anybody over. Once in Limon there was a huge traffic jam that lasted for several blocks until we were able to make the turn south to Puerto Viejo.
The radio stations in Costa Rica that play English music are really eclectic in their selection of music. For example, the Rolling Stones will be followed by Tears for Fears which would be followed by The Bee Gees. Costa Rica seems to be the land of the B sides. I heard songs that I haven’t heard in ages!
We arrived at our bed and breakfast, Banana Azul, which is located about a mile north of town in Playa Negra at 3pm. Our hosts, Collin and Roberto were not there but the caretaker, Alfredo and another guest, Sherri, let us in and helped us get settled into our room. Banana Azul is composed of two buildings, one contains two guest rooms (the “Sloth Cabanas”) above where Alfredo lives and the other building contains our room (”The Red Frog Room”) which is underneath where Collin and Roberto live. They are also building a small 6 room hotel on the property as well. The room was even nicer looking than the pictures on their web page. The property is located right on the beach and was probably less than 100 steps from our door to the water.
The Red Frog Room and Bathroom
We were hungry so we drove into town and walked around looking for somewhere to eat, have a beer, and do some people watching. We ended up at El Dorado which is located on the main street. It turned out that the bartender Kay (pronounced K-eye) had lived just a few blocks from us in San Francisco! I had a yummy quesodilla and Kat had a chicken casado.
We then went to the store to get a few beers and headed back to Banana Azul where we met Roberto who gave us a tour of the rest of the house and property. We then went to the beach for a swim with two of their dogs Sasha and Quira tagging along. After a quick shower we went back town for some dinner. It seemed like all the recommended restaurants were closed on Wednesdays so we went back to El Dorado and had a small pizza. We got back to Banana Azul and met another couple, Richard and Charlotte, who just arrived and then we went to bed.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Our four hour layover in Miami was uneventful and we had some more crappy airport food and walked around the terminals while killing time. Our flight to San Jose was delayed about an hour. Fortunately, when we landed at San Jose, there was someone with a sign from our hotel waiting outside. It turned out that that person wasn’t the driver but a local guy who took us upstairs to where our driver was waiting in his van. The guy explained that he worked for tips so I gave him $2 for carrying our bags. We were at the Orquideas Inn in 15 minutes (we stayed there last year as well), checked into our room and then headed to the bar for a few Imperials before calling it a night.