As I mentioned in my last post, I’m working on my Ph.D. in instructional systems technology at Indiana University. Mainly I’m focused on helping to improve teacher professional development, especially when it comes to technology training.
On the side, I’ve been working for a wonderful tech company here in Bloomington called FormAssembly. If you ever need to make a form for a website, they’re the place to go! I also was incredibly lucky to find myself a wonderful lady-friend, Pamela Sojka, who traveled with me to Costa Rica, which is now where this post is finally headed!
The Journey Begins!
After arriving in San Jose and walking out of the airport we were greeted, as expected, by a swarm (maybe a herd?) of shuttle and taxi drivers, all hungry for fresh gringo blood. Or maybe money. It was a little hard to tell as my Spanish mode was still booting up.
Our goal was to find the cheapest way to get 5-6 hours across the country to the coast, preferably in some type of vehicle that had air conditioning or, at the very least, some good reggaeton to enjoy.
We discovered that all the shuttles for the coast had already left for the day, but one “friendly” taxi driver offered to take us for $200. Each. We laughed at him, he went down to $180 each, we laughed again, he went down to $120, then $100, and we decided let’s maybe see about renting a car instead of dealing with these guys all week long.
So, we found the Hertz dealership inside the airport, the guy convinced us it would be a million times cheaper than shuttles and taxis and even busses, and we thought, this could be a pretty fun adventure, let’s do it!
Important side note: If you rent from Hertz in Costa Rica, make sure you read your contract. More on that later.
Important side note 2: If you do rent a car, don’t forget to bring your driver’s license.
As we were filling out the rental paperwork, I realized I didn’t have my license. The day before the trip I had finally gone to get my Indiana license, and they tore up my Kansas one (still pretty sad about that), and gave me a temporary paper one, which I figured I wouldn’t need since I had my passport.
Turns out, when you want to rent a car, they want to see a license. Laws these days!
Luckily, Pamela had hers, so we told the guy at Hertz she would be driving, even though we were renting a stick shift and she had no idea how to drive it. Long story short, we were so distracted thinking about how we were going to sneak out of there with me illegally driving, that we didn’t realize our rental car didn’t come with unlimited mileage. Mistake number 1.
So, they gave us the keys, Pamela pretended to be checking out the passenger side of the car, then we jumped in and made a break for it when the guy was distracted by other customers. As we peeled out of the parking lot, we ran straight into… a giant parade. Of course.
Turns out it was a celebration for “Guanacaste Day” which was the region we would be traveling to, and which was originally part of Nicaragua, but was annexed by Costa Rica in 1824. So I guess it was fitting that we got to inadvertently take part in the festival for the region we would be spending our trip in.
Eventually we made it out of the city, and the 5 hours to the coastal town of Tamarindo, where we would stay our first night before heading south to Playa Negra.
The next morning we decided, rather than worrying about having myself illegally drive this car all week, or having it get damaged by coconuts thrown by mischievous monkeys, better to just return it here and stick to shuttles and buses.
And that’s when we were made aware of mistake 1, and the fact that we hadn’t actually gotten a plan with unlimited mileage. We ended up paying just about as much as we would have had we gone with Señor Taxi Driver from the beginning of this story, but still, it turned out to be a pretty fun trip, and driving on Costa Rican roads is a whole lot of fun. Just bring your license. And read your contract.
ANYWAY - enough time with travel drama, am I right? Let’s get down to the action!
Getting Down to the Action
And so, the next morning, after saying goodbye to our rental car, we caught a ride down the coast.
Playa Negra is a secluded beach town and home to about 200 people, almost all of which are part of families that have lived there for decades, if not centuries. It contains exactly 7 hotels/hostels/cabins, 4 restaurants, 3 tour agencies, 2 tiendas, and 1 church. If you’re looking for more action than that, then GO BACK TO TAMARINDO!
Our plan for Playa Negra was to book some awesome day trips and activities through Lula’s Tours, as she was attached to our hotel, and everyone online said she was awesome. We met her our first night there, and she was indeed a wonderful and friendly lady, however, she had to leave the next morning for a family emergency in San Jose and we didn’t get to chat with her again until our last day there.
Luckily, as you may remember from 2 paragraphs earlier, Playa Negra is home to 3 tour agencies, and Lula’s was just one of them. So, we checked out Playa Negra Tours, and fortunately they were more than happy to take our money.
One quick note about Costa Rica: We had thought things would be cheaper here, as that was our experience in other central and south american countries, however everything is fairly comparable price-wise to the US. So if you’re looking to vacation on a super cheap budget, Costa Rica might not be the place. However, if you’re looking for a place that is fairly well developed, with an overwhelming majority of laid back, friendly, happy, and relaxed people, that’s home to some incredible ecosystems and biodiversity, Costa Rica is absolutely the place.
Anyway, so aside from spending a day or two become experts at beach lounging, we also booked some pretty excellent adventures.
First up… Sunset horseback riding along the beach: AKA that time Mike learned that he actually wasn’t a cowboy in a past life.
Let me just say this, overall, the entire experience was great, the beach was beautiful, the sunset exquisite, etc., etc. HOWEVER, for someone who has only ridden a horse a few times, and never ridden one going faster than a trot, when a horse starts to canter (which apparently ISN’T EVEN AS FAST AS A GALLOP) it’s a little easy to lose control.
Especially when just a second ago you were just strolling along, taking some pictures of the sunset, and then oh, look, Pamela and our guide are going pretty fast now, I wonder if ole Tranquillo will just keep chilling out… NOPE. He’s going to assume I actually know what I’m doing and just go for it.
So, I learned how to hold on pretty well. And how to finally make a horse stop. And eventually I almost learned how to actually be comfortable on a cantering horse, although I’m still working on that one.
Next up… Sunset snorkeling cruise! This one was pretty amazing. For $85 each, we got to ride on a giant catamaran, spend a few hours snorkeling and swimming, eat a giant feast of a locally cooked dinner, oh, and have access to an open bar of top shelf booze. All while watching the sun set over the ocean. Yeah. Big highlight.
Our final main activity for the trip was… Volcano hike! We took a two hour drive up to Rincon de la Vieja national park. Curious about the name? Well:
“There is a charming legend that explains the origin. The native princess, Curabanda, fell in love with Mixcoac, chief of a neighboring enemy tribe. When Curabanda's father learned of the affair, he captured Mixcoac and threw him into the crater of the volcano. Curabanda went to live on the side of the volcano and gave birth to a child. To allow the child to be with his father, she threw him into the volcano too. For the rest of her life, Curabanda lived near the crater and became a powerful healer. The people referred to her home as ‘Rincon de le Vieja,’ meaning ‘the nook where the Old One lives.’"
Once there, we weren’t allowed to go to the crater, as it was pretty active and rumbly that day (also it was an 8 hour hike which we definitely weren’t prepared for, so the rumbliness gave us a good excuse). Instead, we did the 3 hour side of the volcano hike, which turned out to be amazing.
We ran across all sorts of crazy bubbling vats of mud, hot springs, weird alien landscapes of sulfur and dead plants, giant snakes trying to eat salamanders, and even some monkeys!
And to top it all off, we ended the trip with a hike down for a swim under a giant waterfall. Definitely a highlight of the trip as well.
Aside from those three main adventures, we spent our time in the ocean, hanging out on the beach, chatting with the locals, and eating mangoes with the monkeys that lived along the beach path.
Oh, and I also maybe helped one of the most poisonous sea snakes in the world get back into the ocean so it wouldn't die. Of course, I didn't realize this at the time of helping it, but yeah... definitely carried this guy back to his home (with a stick of course).
Oh, and I also got a heat rash. Not so fun. But, the weather is actually quite nice, I’ve just got weak gringo skin.
[ Here is the complete photo collection from the trip ]
That’s it for this post, and here’s hoping another year won’t go by before the next one!