Friday, January 30, 2015

Jacó, Costa Rica

Jacó, Costa Rica • The Beach Town

Day 6 of the Silverman/Karlin + 1 Simmons Adventure in Costa Rica

December 25th.  Some people celebrate Christmas on this day.  In the US, nearly every restaurant, every business, every Starbucks, and every everything is closed on December 25th.  We planned ahead and bought food and water bottles on the night of the 24th just in case Costa Rican businesses followed the same tradition.  We even planned the day as a transportation day, and intended to spend some hours driving from La Fortuna to Jacó.  Quite in contrast to what we expected, nearly every business we saw, all the way from La Fortuna to Jacó, was open.  It was nice to see that in Costa Rica, people celebrate this one-day holiday for one day, instead of an extended "holiday season".

On the way to Jacó, of all things we imagined we wouldn't find in the rainforest, we came upon a falafel stand.  Who knew the rainforest had so many of these things?  WiFi, cable, falafel...what's next?  Falafel is amazing, so we stopped to pick up some hummus, pita bread, falafel, and candy for the car.  Excellent decision.  Interestingly, this falafel place was participating in a project to save and help the stray and abused animals around the area.  The owners, a group of Israelis who moved to Costa Rica, have a passion for helping animals and help rehabilitate and place them in adoptive homes.  Generally, around Central America, I have seen many, many stray dogs.  Now that I have a beloved little beagle, I have a soft spot in my heart for dogs.  A while ago, I asked about community service projects in Guatemala to help their stray dog population, but unfortunately was told that the people living there also need help, and the people tend to take priority over the animals.  Still, while I was there on a human-based community service trip, I couldn't help but share my tortillas with the stray pooches.

Our first impressions, driving into Jacó, were that it was larger and more touristy than La Fortuna.  More stores, touristy shops, and chain restaurants were visible.  We even spotted a Pizza Hut and a Subway.  The town is primarily known for its fantastic beaches and surf contests.  On the beach, it seemed it was allowed to park your car wherever.  People drove nearly up to the water, and then plopped down on their towels.  Forget parking lots.

Jacó Beach
To find the condo that we rented, our directions were the Costa Rican usual: Drive into town on the road, see the KFC, turn left, drive 0.5 km.  No address.  No street name.  There actually aren't that many roads, so this works pretty well.  We quickly settled into the condos, explored the pool, and walked over to the beach just in time for sunset.

Monte Carlo Condos
Day 7 - December 26, 2014

In the morning, while everyone was deciding what to do, I hopped into my bathing suit, and strolled over the pool.  Swimming in a warm pool in January has a magical way of warming the soul.  Interestingly, this pool also had a pool bar.  I alternated between relaxing on a lounge chair and doing water ballet until the group decided we would go ATVing that afternoon.

Swimming at the Monte Carlo Condos
This was my first experience driving an ATV (all-terrain vehicle). And I don't mean one of those huge SUVs that a dealership claims is meant for all types of terrain.  I mean a little, unenclosed, motorized,  no-seat belt, thing that drives through rivers and over big rocks and anything else in its path.  As soon as I saw the ATV and strapped on my helmet, I knew my mom would love ATVing since she tries to get every off-road experience possible in her Jeep.  I picked the bright red ATV, the same color as her Jeep.

That's me!
Samara didn't want to drive, and I definitely did, so we shared an ATV and went plowing through the rivers, off ledges, up and down steep hills, and over bumps.  Before this, I hadn't driven in several months since I don't have a car....and I semi-neglected to mention that to Samara.  I just promised we wouldn't crash.  At least we didn't get stuck in the river like Jordan...heehee.

ATVing Through the River
We were driving and following a guide around this guy's property, who had moved to Costa Rica from the US.  The longer we stayed in Costa Rica, the more people we met who had decided to retire there as early as possible from the US, Canada, and other cold places.  Food for thought...  Anyways, this guy had a bunch of cows on his property, and every time we drove toward and past them, they would slowly look up from chewing the grass and stare at us...maybe with interest, or amusement, or annoyance...who knows?  I couldn't help but wonder what they were thinking.

Look how sunny it is here!
After ATVing, we went straight back to the pool.  I spent nearly everyday of this trip in a bathing suit doing some type of water activity, ranging from white-water rafting, to swimming, to chillin' at the hot springs, and wading in waterfalls.  This must be what they call "the good life".  Lots and lots of time in a warm swimming pool surrounded by palm trees and 80ºF sunshine.

Day 8 - December 27, 2014

We woke up early on the eighth day of the trip in order to get to Manuel Antonio National Park before the tickets sold out.  Back in 2009, when I was traveling in Granada with Katie and Sima, we got in line for tickets to La Alhambra at like 5 am, and didn't get tickets the first day, so we had to do that a second time, even earlier.  I'm pleased that getting into Manuel Antonio was not reminiscent of that experience, though the Alhambra was lovely.

Playa Manuel Antonio
There was a lot of confusion getting our tickets for Manuel Antonio.  Someone by the parking lot connected us with a guide at what seemed like an unusually high price, and would only take cash for reasons that he couldn't articulate.  We're pretty sure we got scammed, but recovered some of the money when we realized they never scanned our entrance tickets, and we re-sold them to other people after our visit.  Take that, scammers!

Inside the national park, the guides walk around with telescopes and point out animals nearly everywhere.  During our very mosquito-filled, slow walk through this rainforest area, we observed a sloth, a bat, a rainbow grasshopper, a crab, an iguana, and some monkeys.  Many people in our group really, really, really like sloths, but my favorites were the iguana and the rainbow grasshopper.  I wonder if the rainbow grasshopper's survival is hindered by its brightly colored legs.  Usually, things survive best when they can go unseen in the wild.  I like monkeys too, but they're sorta vicious and they steal your things.  One really cool part about this tour was that we could put our cameras up to the telescope to take pictures of the animals we saw.

Iguana at Manuel Antonio National Park
This same process does not work with a microscope, unfortunately.  Trust me,  I have tried three or four times to take pictures of neurons with my phone through the microscope.

As soon as we finished our telescope tour, we grabbed a spot at the beach, which is inside the national park, and went running into the Pacific ocean.  Seriously, I wasn't kidding about the amount of fabulous water activities on this trip.

Surf Contest at Playa Hermosa
Later that night, we went to Playa Hermosa to check out a local surf contest.  I don't know how to surf, but was very impressed by the skill some of these people had out there.  I had some great surfing photos with the sunset, but I um....very sadly lost my iPhone in the ocean that night.  I went running into the ocean, and searching through the waves, but it was gone forever.  We scoured the beach, in case it had washed up (it didn't), and then had a moment of silence for it.  Bye, bye iPhone.

Luckily, I travel prepared.  At the beginning, I started with three cameras: the black Sony Cybershot, the pink Sony Cybershot, and the iPhone.  Now, I was down to only my pink camera.  But at least I had thought to bring it as a backup.

Day 9 - December 28, 2014

On the morning of the 28th, I woke up with no idea what time it was since I no longer had a phone, and my watch was at home for safekeeping.  I was going all old-school, rising and snoozing with the sun.  This is a very strange experience for an American Millennial.  All I knew when I woke up was that it was light outside and everyone else was still asleep.  Rather than feeling a wave of freedom from this unplanned release from "the grid", I started to worry about being late for my massage appointment.  Yes, I know how that sounds.  Major #firstworldproblems.  Just wait until you hear about the rest of the day.

At 7:06 am, I found Samara awake and asked what time it was.  Seems like I woke up early enough to catch some sun at the pool before the masseuse arrives!

After showering, I realized I still had sand in my hair and stuck to my cursedly narrow feet.  Beach people (Katie), how do you get rid of this stuff?  Whatev.  Back to the pool to dry my hair in the sun.  In Chicago's December, I would get icicles in my hair if I attempted to dry it outside.

While laying in my sun chair, it occurred to me that on my last trip here, and this one, I was told to avoid drinking the water, only to eat pasteurized cheese/ice cream/milk, and to take all the usual precautions.  It seems like Costa Rica has come a long way since my last visit.  All these products are pasteurized now, and we are told nearly everywhere that the water is filtered and purified.  Personally, despite my typically excellent judgement, I've been a lot less careful about food and water on this trip than usual, and I'm still not sick.  I've had ice cream, a few drinks with ice, and a tomato.  I actually drank iced tea made with spring water collected at a waterfall while ATVing.

On the 28th, it was impossible to be unhappy about losing my phone, because it was such an unbelievably fabulous day.  I've never had a day quite like this before.  Ever.  The group decided to book a masseuse and two chefs for the day.  This morning I had a massage by the pool, under the palm trees, in the sun.  It was glorious.  All ten of us spent the day at the pool, got a one-hour massage, and then ate the lunch and dinner our chefs, Andrea and Jenny, prepared for us.
Spicy Tuna Rolls
This afternoon, our chefs made us a most delicious lunch of grilled mahi mahi, grilled chicken, veggie/chicken bean dip, spicy tuna rolls, bananas flambee, and more.  We're all in a food coma right now.  There's enough food for at least thirty people.  Between the massage and lunch, we mixed some colorful drinks at the pool bar (pineapples, bananas, strawberries, ice cream, etc.).  Someone in the group pointed out, with good reason, that this was turning into a Kardashian-style vacation.  Back to the pool!
What a day!
Shortly after lunch, our chefs had already started on dinner.  We're pale, and were starting to get a little sunburned, so we decided to get dressed and explore the shops in Jacó.
Shopping in Jacó
Dinner brought a wealth of chicken and beef fajitas, fettuccine alfredo that was soooo good, guacamole and a chicken dip, and passion fruit jello/cheesecake for dessert.  This was probably the most luxurious day of my life.  We resumed our food coma, packed up the leftovers, which we ate for the next three days, thanked our chefs, and drifted off to sleep.

Day 10 - December 29, 2014

Today, we're going white water rafting.  The only reason I'm not starting my day in the pool is that my shoulders are starting to get a bit red.  We'll be on level 2-3 rapids since we don't really know what we're doing, and I'm hoping I don't fall out of the raft.  Although, the river isn't actually that cold.  As I climbed into the raft, it occurred to me that I never bought water shoes...too late.  Gym shoes are sorta good for everything (except ballet).
This photo is from just before Whitney fell out.
Before we went out on the river, our guide told us that we could expect to hear him yelling about which sides to paddle on, and when to lean into the raft.  Leaning in is the most important so you don't fall out.  From time to time, we got out of the raft for a short hike to see a waterfall, and for a snack.  At one waterfall, we had fun tossing little bits of cookies into the water and watching the fish dart up around our ankles to eat the cookies.  We later found out they were mini piranhas.

Day 11 - December 30, 2014

On this awesome day, we started out at the pool, and then went on a crocodile tour with the Crocodile Man Tour company in the afternoon.  We got onto the river for the tour just before the sun began to set - perfect for pictures!  As we cruised along, our guide pointed out - in both English and Spanish - birds and crocodiles.  He explained that a crocodile will either become male or female depending on the temperature its egg incubates at.  The ideal temperature produces about half of each gender, to balance the population.  He also told us that adult male crocodiles eat their young because they perceive them as threats.  Eww.
Sometimes I get too close to crocodiles.  Check out those teeth!
It was a cooler day, which was lucky, because crocodiles are cold blooded.  On cooler days, they come up out of the water to collect heat from the sun, as all cold blooded beings do.  When they get overheated, they simply open their gigantic jaws to cool off.  A while back, when I was in the Florida Everglades, I noticed that some alligators were sitting in the sun with their mouths open, and I wondered why.  Now I know that behavior helps cool them down.

Sometimes I feel a connection to these reptiles.  I act just like a cold blooded reptile, sitting in the sun to warm up every chance I get.  If I didn't understand biology, I would suspect that I wasn't actually warm blooded.

We found out why the tour was named the Crocodile Man Tour when the boat stopped near the edge of the river, a large crocodile swam over, and our driver hopped out with a bucket of fish.  The driver used the fish to coax the crocodile out of the water and fearlessly made the crocodile walk back and forth and behave before eating the fish.  I've never seen someone interact so closely with a crocodile before, and I'm amazed that he hasn't lost an arm yet.  I think crocodiles are amazing.  They look like they're coated in armor, they walk like tanks, and they just appear out of the water.  I will never tire of photographing them.

Hungry Croc
Pleasantly, there was an incredible sunset that night, and we had the good fortune of enjoying (and photographing) it from the boat.

Sliders at Los Sueños Marriott Resort
Later in the evening, we drove to the very isolated, very luxurious, other worldly Los Sueños Marriott Resort for dinner.  The place had more pools than land, and beach chairs lined every pool.  They even brought in sand to make their own beach.  Also, there was a grand piano...which I normally would not associate with swimming and beaches.  We were very impressed, but already had our own idea of how paradise should look (the Baldi Hot Springs).  I ordered the sliders for dinner - not very Costa Rican, but definitely very delicious.  After dinner, we enjoyed the warm evening air, took a last look around, and packed up for our drive to San Jose in the morning.

A few more photos:

Smile for the camera!

pool bar + smoothie = good times!

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