A few years ago while I was in Grad School, I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica and live there for a month during a Primate Behavior and Conservation course, put on by DANTA. It was one of those things that I asked my parents if I could do it, and I was totally expecting them to say no. Instead, my dad, The Intrepid Traveler, decided not only to let me go, but since I had never traveled by myself (much less out of the country by myself), he decided to go with me.
The plan was to go down about a week early and do some Site Seeing on our own. Then when it came time for the course, The Intrepid Traveler would go to the airport, and I would meet up with my new classmates. Sounds like a great plan, right? Flawless even? When the Intrepid Traveler is involved, nothing ever goes according to plan, but it is always an adventure!
As much as he travels, you would think he would speak 50 languages and have friends in every village. He would blend in. Disappear. You would never see him again. But the truth is he could get lost in his own museum (Love you, Dad!).
First of all, we asked AT&T if my phone would work in Costa Rica, and they said yes. It did not. We rented a car rather than get driven around in taxis. This also did not work. We are used to roads in Texas. Where if you miss your exit, you can just take the next one, and turn around. I thought it was that way in all of the US, but apparently not (more on that a different day). But apparently, missing your exit in San Jose is a much bigger deal than we thought. Somehow we managed to always find our destinations, but I think that was mainly the tourism people being used to stupid Americans, and giving really good landmarks as directions. It also didn’t help that neither of us speak Spanish. Yes, yes I know. We are the stupid Americans that don’t bother to learn other languages and expect everyone to speak English. But Spanish is HARD! The good thing was though, that we made a great team…more or less. Most everyone we encountered did, in fact, speak English. Of course they had Spanish accents but they were speaking English, so that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Except for my Dad. They would be speaking to him, in English, and he would look at me and asked what they said, because their accents were too thick for him to understand. So I was a great translator! From Broken English to English! I wonder if I could turn that into a career….
Now since this was a few years ago, and all but about 6 of my pictures somehow got corrupted by the time I got back to the US (I’m still upset about that!), I’m a little fuzzy on our adventures. However, I know that Dad and I went to a coffee plantation which was really cool, because we were the only people on the tour and go to look around at everything there. We also stayed at some really cute hotels, ate at great restaurants, and got to go white water rafting. My favorite city in Coast Rica was La Fortuna. There is a massive volcano that we could see from our hotel window, and the town had a very relaxed, surfer attitude. Our first night in Costa Rica, we actually found a restaurant called Tex Mex. We thought that would be a safe bet to ease ourselves into the culture, so we decided to check that out. It turned out that the owner of the restaurant was from Las Vegas, Nevada, and came and sat down with us to tell us the secrets of Costa Rica. Such as, cover your luggage (or anything you have in the back seat/hatch back) with a black blanket so it is less obvious you have anything in there. I remember this vividly, because at our hotel the next morning while eating breakfast, my father asked the boy working there if he could buy the blanket from our room to cover our stuff. The poor kid. He probably had no idea what my dad was thinking. I’m sure he thought Dad was going to murder someone and wrap them up in the blanket or something. As it turned out, the owner of the hotel wasn’t there at the time to ask, so the boy just said we could have it. I’m sure he didn’t want to upset the homicidal American by telling him he COULDN’T have the blanket. So as a thank you, Dad tipped the kid extra. At least we think we tipped him extra. I never could get that exchange rate right.
Come to think of it, we did see on the news that night a boy who was being publically flogged for giving stuff away at a hotel….I’m sure it was just a coincidence.
White water rafting was a blast. We had never done it before, so we were stoked! After going through a little demonstration with the guides, we headed down the river. During the calm parts of the river, the guide also served as a naturalist tour guide, teaching us (but mainly me, because I think I’m the only one that cared) about the birds we saw, and he even made a special stop to find a species of bats called Long Nosed Bats, that are known for sleeping under leaves and on crooked tree trunks.
We found them, and I got a great look at them before they flew right over our heads. So cool!
After a week of driving around lost in Costa Rica (and in the rain because apparently it was the monsoon season…oops) it was time to go our separate ways. Dad was to get to the car rental return and go to the airport, and I was to go to The Hotel Aeropuerto. That morning as we were leaving the hotel to head to the car return I said, “Shouldn’t we get directions?”
Dad’s. Exact. Words. “I’m sure we can find it.” Oh good. Since that’s been the way this WHOLE trip has been going, right?
We were up on a mountain heading into San Jose, and you could see the airport from where we were, so I thought maybe, just maybe, he could get us there. Except that every time we would exit off the highway, or even go straight on the highway, I swear the airport got further and further away. It was like it was in a parallel airport universe. We ended up pulling over and asking directions a couple of times. When that didn’t work, Dad actually got a guy to drive in front of us and LEAD US TO THE CAR DROP OFF. The whole time I was thinking, he’s going to drive out into the middle of nowhere and demand more money. He’s going to rob us. He’s going to get lost himself, because he doesn’t have permission from the Airport Overlords to enter the parallel universe. But it worked. He got us to the drop off. I couldn’t believe it. I guess all the years of travel have paid off for Dad!
The final challenge was telling my taxi driver where to take me from the drop off. Dad sometimes speaks really quietly because his ears are a little out-dated and he thinks he’s speaking at a normal volume. He told the driver to take me to the Aeropeurto Hotel, but he said hotel so quietly, I was afraid the driver would take me to The Aeropuerto! Not the same thing, so I tried to make sure it was HOTEL Aeropuerto, but when I started to say it, the driver just nodded and waved me off. Fingers were definitely crossed as I headed away from Dad, but I ended up at the right place.
So a few things I learned about Costa Rica while I was there:
Summer is the rainy season. Don’t go then. Mud slides are a daily occurence, and the mosquitoes get bigger and meaner with every raindrop. They are like Gremlins.
Pay very close attention to the road signs. If you miss your exit, just pick a new destination further down the road. It would be easier than trying to turn around.
The hearts with halos that you see painted all over the road and intended to remind drivers to be careful – every heart represents a pedestrian that was killed by a car. And only if they died on the scene. If they died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, they don’t count. There are halo hearts EVERYWHERE.
I wish I had pictures of this trip. I guess it’s just an excuse to go back. Now that I know what I know, I think it would go much smoother. Maybe I’ll even take my dad again…?